I do like an intro with a sense of purpose, with a bit of drama to it. This next number one has such an intro…
Easy Lover, by Philip Bailey (his 1st and only #1) with Phil Collins (his 2nd of three #1s)
4 weeks, from 17th March – 14th April 1985
To be honest, the rest of the song doesn’t quite live up to the theatre provided by the drums and power chords of the opening ten seconds. It sounds as if we could be shaping up for a proper classic… As it is, we have to settle for fun yacht rock.
Is this yacht rock, though? I have to admit that’s a genre I struggle to place. It always makes me think of Duran Duran’s ‘Rio’… But is that yacht rock, or is that just rock with a yacht in the video…? I think ‘Easy Lover’ is glossy and catchy enough to be yacht rock. She’s an easy lover, She’ll take your heart but you won’t feel it… It’s light and breezy – the woman sounds fun, rather than dangerous – perfect for a cruise along the southern Californian coastline.
Unlike some recent chart-toppers, though, the gloss doesn’t render this song too dull. Philip Bailey’s verses are almost funky, and his falsetto has an edge to it. Phil Collins provides a counterbalance, growling out his lines on the bridge… Now don’t try to change it just leave it… and his presence is presumably why the drums are front and centre here. You get the feeling that the pair had fun recording this, maybe even trying to outdo each other, and that adds to the enjoyment. Meanwhile, the guitar solo verges on proper hard rock.
This is a song I didn’t much know beyond the chorus. It’s a good one, though. Fun and lighthearted, clearly born of the mid-eighties but not drenched in the sound and recording techniques of the time. It still sounds pretty fresh thirty-five years on. On paper, a former member of Earth, Wind & Fire collaborating with a former member of Genesis doesn’t sound all that promising, given there wasn’t a huge amount the two bands had in common, but there you go…
Philip Bailey didn’t quite manage the same level of solo success as Phil Collins: ‘Easy Lover’ was his only significant hit away from the day job. And I wonder, is this the only occasion on which two people with the same first name have shared a #1 record…? It feels like something that must have happened more than once, but nothing springs to mind… Oh, and while we’re at it, let me know if you think this is yacht rock, or not, as well…
We finally – hooray! – end our run of ballads, in the most emphatic manner possible. It’s as if the Gods of Hi-NRG dance decided that all the fist-clenching and soft-focus videos had gotten too much, and so sent to earth their only son. Pete Burns…
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), by Dead or Alive (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 3rd – 17th March 1985
This is a record that starts in the middle. In medias res, if we’re being literary. There’s no build up, no intro of any description. Just a slap! around the chops, a sloppy kiss on the mouth, a nose-full of sweat and poppers… A clanging, throbbing synth beat, and a very distinctive voice.
If I… I get to know your name… Pete Burns sounds almost operatic, the way his voice at times soars, then intones, then growls. Just listen to the way he’s going for it in the fade-out. He sounds mildly terrifying. I-I-I… I get to be your friend now baby… If you did meet him in a club, you’d probably go out of your way not to give him your name. He sounds like he’d eat you alive. And I’ve always misheard the line before the chorus for something truly filthy. What I half-thought was ‘open up your loving hole cos baby here I come’ is actually ‘loving arms…’ (I’m quite disappointed…)
I’ve been quite down on the 1980s while writing this blog and, knowing some of the #1s on the way, I will continue being quite down on the 1980s. But this record is the ‘80s at their best. Yes it’s cheap and trashy, tacky and deep as a puddle… But it’s a perfect floor-filler. It’s also something of a line in the sand… We’ve just passed the midway point of the decade, and ‘You Spin Me Round’ is our first Stock Aitken Waterman produced chart-topper. The sound of the late-eighties, for better or for worse, starts here.
If you were being unkind you could brand Dead or Alive as a knock-off Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The similarities are there: Liverpudlians, brash dance-pop, the sheer gayness of both bands… But while Frankie’s chart-career was fairly short lived, I’m not sure Dead or Alive exist in the public’s consciousness at all beyond this hit. They were together for a long time, though, much longer than Frankie. They were genuinely huge in Japan (their look was a big influence on J-Pop acts of the 1990s). So huge that Michael Jackson apparently had to rearrange his tour dates in the country to fit around Dead or Alive concerts…
I’m also not sure if the general public realises that Dead or Alive were a band, rather than just Pete Burns (I must admit I was surprised to see three other members in the video…) Burns’ personality looms large. I grew up with the heavily ‘enhanced’ version often seen on reality TV and quiz shows in the ‘00s, but even before he found fame he was a force to be reckoned with, sending customers from the record shop he worked in if he disliked their choice of purchase. My favourite Pete Burns anecdote: upon hearing Culture Club’s comeback single ‘The War Song’, he sent Boy George a wreath with a note that simply read: ‘Condolences…’
A couple of years ago, The Guardian did a feature on the 100 Greatest #1 Singles and placed ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’ at number five, to a lot of derision in the comments section. While I wouldn’t quite have it as the fifth best chart-topper of all time, it is still a very fresh-sounding semi-classic. Though, to be honest, I think I’m just relieved that it’s not a ballad…
More balladry, as we continue into 1985. This winter has been very heavy on the slow dances. The closest we’ve come to a toe-tapper was ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, which isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a floor-filler…
I Know Him So Well, by Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson (their 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 3rd February – 3rd March 1985
Except this next #1, while very much a ballad, has at least got a sense of theatre to it. The intro uses an intriguing combination of plinky-plonky synths and a distant guitar, with a hint of ABBA at their most bombastic (more on that shortly…) Then in comes Elaine Paige. And the second she opens her mouth, you can tell that this song comes from a stage musical.
Nothing is so good it lasts eternally… It’s the diction, you know. Enunciating for the back rows. Proper singing. It’s from ‘Chess’, a musical about, um, chess. Or more accurately, an American and a Russian Grandmaster who compete over the chessboard, as well as for the love of a woman. Elaine Paige is Florence, the Russian Grandmaster’s lover, while Barbara Dickson is Svetlana, his unfortunate wife (in the video Dickson is wearing a luxuriously fluffy ushanka hat, to confirm her Russian-ness).
Why do I enjoy this more than the previous chart-topper: another blockbuster ballad, ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’? In that post, I complained about power-ballads which take themselves too seriously. Power-ballads are inherently ridiculous, and if an artist pretends they aren’t then they end up looking pretentious. And it’s not that Paige and Dickson are taking the piss here; they sing it beautifully. It’s more that any song that’s been wrenched from a musical and slapped on a 7” will sound a bit silly. In Act III of the show all the vocal gymnastics and power chords make perfect sense; as a single it’s very OTT.
The way the chorus comes striding in… Wasn’t it good…! is a brilliant moment, as is the change in octave for the More securi-teee…! line. While the way the two women intertwine their lines towards the end is how all power-duets should end. I can’t imagine that this was at all a cool #1 in the playgrounds of 1985, but who cares for cool? It also helps when your ballad is written by two of the finest pop songwriters of all time, Benny and Bjorn from ABBA, alongside Tim Rice. You can hear it in the little synth and guitar flourishes, and the chord progressions (it’s based on ‘I Am an A’, a song that the band played on tour in 1977 but never released).
Not only does ‘I Know Him So Well’ give us our umpteenth ballad in a row, it gives us our third Cold War chart-topper in the space of a year. The real world encroaching on the pop charts yet again… And before writing this post I had no idea I’d be able to link it with ‘Two Tribes’, but there you go!
Before we go, I have to reveal my most tenuous of connections to this disc. Barbara Dickson is Scotland’s most successful female chart act and, as far as I know, the only chart-topping artist to have attended my high school. While that was a good thirty years before I stepped through the hallowed doors, I can still feel the most tepid of reflected glows as I write this post. Anyway. Up next… Raise your glowsticks to the sky! It’s not a ballad!!
1984 saw a battle take place at the top of the British charts. A tussle to the death between high energy pop and glossy ballads. The final score, I think, was Ballads 5 – 7 Bangers. Dancefloors across the nation rejoiced…
I Want to Know What Love Is, by Foreigner (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 13th January – 3rd February 1985
Except. The contest isn’t finished yet. 1985 kicks off with what is perhaps the ultimate soft-rock ballad… The steady drums, the background synths. A painfully earnest voice: I’ve gotta take a little time, A little time to think things over… And boy, do they take a little time. It’s so slow. What might be a chorus arrives, and dissolves back into the gloop as we plod on.
I think fist-clenchers like this (the video below literally opens on a clenched fist…) were ten-a-penny on top of the Billboard charts in the mid-eighties. That’s the impression I have, at least: REO Speedwagon, Boston, Peter Cetera, Mr Mister… All hits in the UK, to some extent, but not chart-toppers. Foreigner made it, though. Something about this one caught the British public’s imagination in the deep midwinter, as couples snuggled together around the fire…
The chorus, when it finally does arrive, a minute and a half in, is instantly recognisable. I want to know what love is… I want you to show me… It’s one that’s become ingrained in the popular conscience, which is usually a sign of classic status. But it just doesn’t do much for me. It’s too serious, too constipated… For power-ballads to work they need to be in on the joke, to an extent.
I don’t think that Foreigner had their tongues in their cheeks when they were recording this. By the second chorus, a gospel choir has been added to the mix, and lead-singer Lou Gramm is adding some (admittedly impressive) soulful adlibs. I think there might be a moment, a time in life, when a song like this clicks for you. I have yet to experience it, though.
As I wait for the song to reach its conclusion, some questions come unbidden to my mind. Did Foreigner have big hair…? (Yes, but not quite as big as it might have been. I think 1986/7 was peak poodle-perm) And who is the woman singing those wild backing vocals…? (Broadway star Jennifer Holliday – she’s the best thing about the song.)
‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ was Foreigner’s only #1, on either side of the Atlantic. They were regulars to the US Top 10 for at least ten years. In Britain, though, this was only their second, and final, Top 10 hit. ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’ made #8. ‘Cold As Ice’ – a much better contender for their sole number one – only made #24…! As it is, 1985 carries on from where ’84 left: slow, steady and earnest. Up next in our ongoing game of ‘Ballad or Banger’… It’s another slow one…
It’s Christmas time… Except, in the real world, we’re as far as possible from the festive season. Hey ho. We pass the midway point of the 1980s then, with the decade’s biggest-selling single. What was, for a time, the biggest-selling single ever. And one that ushers in a new era of popular music…
Do They Know It’s Christmas?, by Band Aid
5 weeks, from 9th December 1984 – 13th January 1985
First, a bit of background. Throughout 1984, news reports had been showing images of an ongoing famine in Ethiopia. Bob Geldof, of The Boomtown Rats, and Midge Ure, of Ultravox and before that Slik, were inspired to form a supergroup in order to record a single, the sales of which would raise money for the starving millions. The song was recorded in a single day, barely a fortnight before it made number one.
The word iconic is bandied around willy-nilly these days. But this is an iconic song. A lot of Brits can sing this word for word, will know what song it is the second those opening chimes come in… Each generation has had its version (we’re up to four now), but this is the original, the one that still gets (over)played each festive season.
It’s Christmas time, There’s no need to be afraid…Paul Young opens proceedings in suitably earnest fashion. In fact, this is a giant reunion of artists whom we’ve already met on this countdown: Geldof and Ure, Young… Next up is Boy George, followed by George Michael… Then I have to check the video as I’m not sure who the fourth voice we hear is (it’s Simon Le Bon, then Sting, then Tony Hadley… with Phil Collins on drums…)
Then it’s time for Bono, a man who is yet to feature on a #1. His time will come. He belts his line out like only Bono can do… Well tonight thank God it’s them, Instead of you…! It’s a line that gets a lot of stick, but I think it’s actually the one line that goes beyond patronising cliché: when you see starving, emaciated people with dead-eyed stares and flies crawling over them yes you feel deeply sorry for them, but there is a part of you that’s thankful. No way would you actually want to be there with them. It’s the next line that’s the dumbest: plenty of people before me have pointed out that yes, there will be snow in Africa at Christmas time, because Africa is the world’s largest continent, one that takes in a huge variety of environments and habitats.
Other people involved in Band Aid: the rest of Duran Duran, U2 and Spandau Ballet, as well as Status Quo, Bananarama, Kool and the Gang, Paul Weller, Heaven 17… The video feels very male-heavy, but the charts at this time were very male-heavy: the last British female singer to score a #1 was Bonnie Tyler almost two years ago. They all record their lines in big headphones and simple, understated clothes – even Boy George! – with weighty expressions on their faces (we’re not the story here…) setting the standard for charity single videos from here to eternity.
(The off-mic stories from the recording are much more rock ‘n’ roll, though. Boy George only made it after catching the last Concorde of the day from New York. Status Quo were too hungover to record any solo lines, and brought a large bag of cocaine to add to the festive atmosphere. George Michael called Paul Weller a ‘wanker’, after Weller accused him of voting for the Thatcher….)
Underneath the stars, there’s a chugging synth beat, and some Christmassy chimes. It’s a tune, especially in the soaring chorus, and there’s a reason why it still gets played today (though after repeated listens you can tell it was thrown together in a day…) And yes it’s patronising, yes it presents a very Westernised view of ‘Africa’ as if it were a country all by itself, and yes the words have been updated in the more recent versions. But, as Midge Ure bluntly put it, ‘it’s a song with nothing to do with music. Its sole purpose was to make money…’ And make money it did: eight million pounds within the year.
I skipped the ‘first of … #1s’ from the top of this post, as I’m really not sure if this is Band Aid’s 1st of four chart-toppers, or their one and only (some of the people on this will feature on the later versions…) Anyway, that’s my problem and we don’t need to go into it. What we do need to go into is the fact that this song came out on December 3rd, and by the end of the year it was already the best-selling single, ever. Its total sales currently stand at over 3.8 million. The following summer would see Live Aid, something that probably wouldn’t have happened had this record not been so successful.
In the intro I mentioned that ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ ushered in a new era at the top of the charts, and I was referring to the era of the charity single. Before this, the earnings of particular records had been donated to charity. But the idea of getting the biggest stars of the day together with the explicit goal of making money for charity started here, pretty much. Since 1984, there haven’t been many years go by without a charity chart-topper of one kind or another… for sick kids, for natural disasters, for Grenfell or the NHS… And, sadly, very few of them are anywhere near as enjoyable as this original…
Frankie Goes to Hollywood complete their hattrick of number ones, with a ballad out just in time for Christmas.
The Power of Love, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (their 3rd and final #1)
1 week, from 2nd – 9th December 1984
This one starts off very slow, very stately – gentle guitars and sparse piano – and completely out of sync with what’s gone before this year. ‘More is More’ has been the motto of 1984, with even the ballads being that little bit extra. This being Frankie though, there’s still a bit of weirdness amongst the calm… I’ll protect you from the Hooded Claw, Keep the vampires from your door… whispers Holly Johnson over the intro.
It slowly builds, though, into a more dramatic, orchestral beast. Soaring strings come in after the first chorus, in which we are told to make love your goal… There are ominous synths, and even a jazz bar piano at one point. It grows into its OTT-ness, and ends up quite camp. Under it all, it’s a simple enough love song. Yes, there’s a lot of biblical imagery – tongues of fire and souls being purged – but the key line might just be the heartfelt I’m so in love with you… I’ve no idea who it’s about, but I believe he means it.
Was this Frankie Goes to Hollywood making a bid for granny-loving respectability, after the huge controversy around ‘Relax’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘Two Tribes’? (I’m not the first person to point out that they went from sex, to war, to religion.) Well, the difference between this and their debut hit is remarkable. The video for ‘The Power of Love’ (directed by Godley & Creme of 10cc) is a straightforward re-telling of the Nativity, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, making their way to the stable in Bethlehem. And no, the baby Jesus is not kitted out in bondage gear. But the sheer straight-facedness of it is actually what makes this record quirky enough for us not to shout ‘sell-out’.
At the same time, I can’t enjoy this as much as the band’s earlier, genuinely thrilling, chart-toppers. That’s to do with my personal tastes – ballads always have to try that little bit harder to crack my resistance – but also because this one goes on a bit, and has one chorus too many. It veers a little too close to self-indulgence.
But it made #1, and with it Frankie Goes to Hollywood became only the second act in chart history to have their first three releases reach the top. They did so twenty one years after another Liverpudlian act: Gerry & The Pacemakers. Their fourth single, ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’, would make #2, but when they came back with their second album in 1986 the magic seemed to have faded. It produced just one Top 10 hit, and the band split the following year.
They didn’t last long, but the hits live on. All their #1s have re-charted in the Top 20 at various points in the decades since. ‘The Power of Love’, in fact, has returned to the Top 10 twice, in 1993 and 2000, as well as a cover version #1 in 2012. And before we go, it’s worth noting that releasing songs called ‘The Power of Love’ was something of a trend in the mid-eighties. This one, Huey Lewis’s, and another, mega-ballad that we’ll be featuring on this countdown soon enough…
On with the next thirty, and in 1984’s ongoing battle between ballads and bangers it’s another… ballad. I make that Bangers 6-5 Ballads.
I Should Have Known Better, by Jim Diamond (his 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 25th November – 2nd December 1984
I confess that the only thing I know about Jim Diamond is that he was Scottish. We Scots are brought up to know two things off by heart: our brave football defeats, and the singers that have represented our tiny country in charts around the world. There are actual compilation CDs with titles like ‘The Best Scottish Album… Ever!’, which stick The Bay City Rollers next to Jimmy Shand, but it’s not weird because they’re all SCOTTISH! (as if it was a musical genre to squeeze in between ‘samba’ and ‘ska…)
Anyway… All I knew about Jim Diamond is that he was Scottish and he had a surprise #1 in 1984, sandwiched among all the Wham! and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. A plucky #1. (Any Scottish successes, in sport, or music, or film, must be described as ‘plucky’. It’s a rule.) So it’s nice to finally put a song to the name. And it’s… not bad?
Diamond has a distinctive voice. It’s a good, white-soul voice, but the way he pronounces his vowels is odd… I shooda knohwn baytah… The song starts off nicely enough: standard mid-eighties balladry. I shoulda known better… To lie to one as beautiful as you… He regrets lying to his girlfriend mainly, it seems, because she was hot. Lying to ugly girls is, as we all know, okay. I can see what he’s going for, but it lacks depth. It’s a bit lightweight.
Then halfway through things get simultaneously better, and worse. Some huge drums come slamming in – this might be the first chart-topping example of those huge drums that just scream ‘1985!’ – and Diamond goes for it. Aiyayayayayayay… lo-ove yo-ou! Guitars soar. Fists are clenched. Chests are thumped. This common or garden ballad has become a power ballad.
But still it lacks something. Whether it’s in Diamond’s voice, which struggles the further this song moves from soul into rock, or in the production, which never goes as huge as, say, ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. That’s probably the reason why this record hasn’t taken its place in the pantheon of eighties ballads, and why this feels like a forgotten #1 in between 1984’s other enormous hits.
Still, I do quite like it, and am glad to have discovered it. It sounds like a great one to belt out after a few drinks (which, at the end of the day, may be the one unifying quality every Scottish song has). Jim Diamond’s career makes for interesting reading. He’d been active in the music industry since the late sixties, had been in a band with a future member of AC/DC, and had fronted a Japanese act (??) called BACCO, before finding fame as lead singer of new-wave band PhD. They had one big hit, and then Diamond went solo.
He’s not quite a one-hit wonder, as he would score a #5 a couple of years after his only number one. Diamond continued to record and perform up until his sudden death in 2015, aged just sixty-four. He will also feature, uncredited, on a couple of charity singles still to come. Sadly not, though, on the big one that’s on its way very soon…
This is our third fully ‘eighties’ recap, and I’d say we’ve reached the peak. In fact, the first of these thirty #1s was the Jam’s farewell single, ‘Beat Surrender’. In the context of this countdown, that wasn’t simply a sign-off from Paul Weller to his fans. It was a sign-off to the post-punk, new wave, early eighties. The days of the Specials, Blondie, Adam Ant and Dexys Midnight Runners.
In its place came THE eighties. The chunk of the decade that has become synonymous with the whole ten years: Duran Duran, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Spandau Ballet, Wham!, Culture Club… (OK, yes, Culture Club did feature in my previous countdown, but we won’t let that get in the way of the narrative…) I was keeping my eyes and ears peeled for the exact start of what we now know as ‘the eighties’, and I narrowed it down to Kajagoogoo’s ‘Too Shy’ – a record completely of its time, in both sound and haircuts.
After that hit the top, the levee broke and we were swamped by classics of the decade… ‘True’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Karma Chameleon’. At the time I pointed out that, as we’d seen in the 1950s, some of these giant eighties hits were being claimed by acts who pre-dated the scene by a full decade or more. For the middle-aged Bill Haley rocking around the clock, we now had the almost forty year old Rod Stewart’s disco-rock stomper ‘Baby Jane’, and the well-into-his-thirties David Bowie scoring his biggest ever hit.
I did, at times, sound like a broken record in complaining about the production values of the age. There was just something too polished, and slightly joyless, about the state of pop in mid-1983: ‘True’, ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’, ‘Give It Up’ all came and went. All well-written and well performed pop songs. All that bit too smooth for my tastes. I noticed, though, that I stopped complaining about the production (or I at least stopped mentioning it quite as often) when 1984 rolled around…
Frankie have been given a run for their money, though, by Wham! (never forget the exclamation mark!) and more specifically George Michael, who has scored three chart-toppers of his own in 1984. Two of them were quite retro in their influences: the ‘happiest song ever’ ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and the Motown love-in ‘Freedom’. Oh, and one of the decades most iconic songs, videos, and hairdos, in ‘Careless Whisper’ (that record tipped things back a little too much towards the glossy side for my liking…)
One thing you might have noticed is that almost every act I’ve mentioned so far has been British. Things haven’t been so Brit-centric at the top of the charts since the mid-sixties. Even in the States these were the days of the ‘Second British Invasion’. What then, of the American acts? They may have been pushed to the margins, but we have had the first two hip-hop #1s: the poppy version from New Edition, and the ultra-cool Prince cover version from Chaka Khan. And we had a pop classic from Billy Joel, as well as two massive slush-fests from Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder. And, oh yeah, we had ‘Thriller’ era Michael Jackson squeaking a week with one of the biggest songs ever…
Which brings us on to our awards. The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability is traditionally awarded first, and to be honest there’s been quite a bit of ‘meh’ around. The 1980s, to my ears at least, can get pretty ‘meh’. But funnily enough, that makes it hard to pick a winner. In some ways it feels wrong giving it to The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, as that’s a classic. Except, it’s a classic that’s been given a free ride for too long. It’s so beloved of some that I’m giving it the ‘Meh’ Award out of spite! It’s really not that good, people!
Moving on. The WTAF Award for being interesting if nothing else. There have been a few outliers in the past thirty, songs that bucked the popular trends. UB40’s reggae, Paul McCartney’s ode to peace (and his only truly solo #1), Phil Collins’ Supremes cover… And our past two Christmas chart-toppers. The Flying Pickets’ (almost) completely a cappella ‘Only You’ was fun, but nothing in comparison to Renée & Renato’s ‘Save Your Love’. It was a pretty God-awful song, but boy did Renato go for it. He just about manages to bellow it into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. They win!
I was swithering over awarding ‘Save Your Love’ this round’s Very Worst Chart-Topper trophy, but its campy charms persuaded me otherwise. That means the coast is clear. There is only one candidate for the worst of the past thirty: Lionel Richie’s overwrought and overly creepy ‘Hello’, which even a ludicrous video couldn’t save. I gave The Commodores ‘Three Times a Lady’ a ‘Meh’ award back in the seventies, too. Sorry, Lionel… nothing personal.
And so, finally, onto The Very Best Chart-Topper. Which is nowhere near as clear-cut as the Worst. First, honorary mentions must go to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and ‘I Feel for You’. Great pop songs; but not quite all-time-great standard. I have it down to three, then. The one I should choose: ‘Billie Jean’ (I’m not sure I’ll have a better chance to pick a Michael Jackson song). The one I enjoy listening to the most: ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ (the power ballad to end all power ballads). And the one whose cultural impact just feels too important to ignore: ‘Relax’. Only one of these three songs was pulled off on air in disgust by Mike Read, and only one of these songs features the lead singer yelling ‘Come!’ backed by the sound of a fireman’s hose. Frankie Goes to Hollywood win. A victory for shock over substance…? Maybe. So sue me.
To recap the recaps, then:
The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability
‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.
‘What’s Another Year’, by Johnny Logan.
‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole.
‘Every Breath You Take’, by The Police.
The WTAF Award for being interesting if nothing else
‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush.
‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
‘Shaddap You Face’, by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.
‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin.
‘Save Your Love’ by Renée & Renato
The Very Worst Chart-Toppers
‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.
‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, by St. Winifred’s School Choir.
‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene.
‘Hello’, by Lionel Richie.
The Very Best Chart-Toppers
‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
I Feel for You, by Chaka Khan (her 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 4th – 25th November 1984
It probably stands out so much because of the rapping. Only the second example of rap at the top of the charts and, with all due respect to New Edition, this is the real stuff. The Lemme rock you Chaka Khan… lines are delivered at break-neck speed by one of hip-hop’s founding fathers, Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash. It feels incredibly modern, a female singer being introduced at the start of a song, decades before Beyonce and Jay-Z, or Rihanna and Drake.
I did wonder if the rap might have been supplied by the writer of this song, one Prince Rogers Nelson. Prince is someone with a giant discrepancy between his fame and his UK chart-toppers (one, fairly lame, #1 a decade from now). But here at least is one of his songs, transformed from the slinky disco-soul original into a clattering beast of a record.
It seems that every song which topped the charts in 1984 was either a ballad or a banger, and ‘I Feel for You’ is very much the latter. Like Frankie and Duran Duran before, this record grinds and pounds, chops and changes, with that mid-eighties reimagining of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound that’s become the vibe of the year. But while much of ‘84 has been Brit-dominated, this is a very American sounding disc, with its snatches of harmonica and horns, and its new jack swing energy.
Said harmonica was actually played by the last chart-topper but one, Stevie Wonder, while the song also features samples from his 1963 hit ‘Fingertips’, though you’d be hard-pressed to pick them out. It’s a bit of an all-star ensemble then: Chaka Khan, Melle Mel and Stevie Wonder, on a song by Prince. And it delivers: this is a great dance song, with a brilliantly funky bassline, a song that sounds like nothing we’ve heard at #1 before…
You can tell that this was written by Prince. Few people could throw out a line like I wouldn’t lie to you baby, I’m physically attracted to you… and make it work. Khan, in a brilliant move, delivers the lines like Prince, especially in the chorus: I fee-eel for you-oo… The one thing that I would change is that her voice is a little too far back in the mix.
The video ups the ‘80s Americana even further. Khan performs in an inner-city courtyard, with graffiti and wire fences, while a DJ scratches and spins, and break dancers throw shapes around her. It looks a bit funny now, but again must have looked very modern and very cool to suburban Britain in November 1984. In fact, ‘I Feel for You’ feels both new, in terms of its position in this countdown, and pretty dated, when you listen to it through your 2022 ears.
Maybe that’s why Khan’s only #1 isn’t as well remembered as her two other big hits: ‘I’m Every Woman’ and ‘Ain’t Nobody’, which would both chart twice, before ‘I Feel for You’ and then a few years later in remixes. It’s possibly the hip-hop element – of all the genres, rap ages the worst – but it’s a shame. It’s been great to discover this funky gem. Next up: a recap. Could ‘I Feel for You’ contend for the top prize…? Watch this space…
Time for more effervescent pop from George and Andrew, as Wham! cement their place as the teen idols of the day…
Freedom, by Wham! (their 2nd of five #1s)
3 weeks, from 14th October – 4th November 1984
Like the duo’s first #1, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, it’s another backwards facing hit. And if that sounded like a subtle dig, then I didn’t mean it to. It’s wonderfully retro, a tribute to Motown and sixties vocal groups and the perfect follow-up to ‘Wake Me Up…’, which was pitched half a decade earlier, towards the days of doo-wop.
Every day I hear a different story, People say you’re no good for me… The chord progression in the verses sounds so familiar. I don’t know if it’s because ‘Freedom’ sounds like something, or if something released since has sounded like ‘Freedom’, or if it’s just such good pop that it sounds timeless. The verses, and the bridges – ending in that and you do-o-o… – are so strong that the chorus, when it comes, feels a little pedestrian. I don’t want your freedom… It follows the beat too much, and gets a little slowed down by it.
It’s not as instant as WMUBYG-G (what an ugly acronym) but then I did rather excitedly claim that as the catchiest song ever! It’s still a great slice of pop, though. Yes, Wham were teeny-boppers, but they proved that being a teeny-bop act needn’t mean being second rate. And the lyrics here are (slightly) darker than before. George’s girl is treating him properly bad, like a prisoner who has his own key, not just sneaking off to the dancing without him.
It is also a bit too long: five minutes even with an edit. The ‘solo’, where the boys adlib over that deliberate beat feels like they were killing time for some unknown reason. It’s not fair to compare – each song should be taken on its individual merits yadda yadda yadda – but WMUBYG-G was shorter, and even sweeter for it. (There are even seven-minute long mixes of ‘Freedom’, which is definite overkill.)
The video for this one is interesting, taking the form of a travelogue from the duo’s tour of China in 1985 (it must have been made several months after the song was a hit). They were the first Western act to play there since Mao’s rise to power, and they sold out stadiums despite nobody knowing who they were. One wonders if using the song for this video was intentional: I don’t want your freedom… sung over images of communist China?
So. Three of the past five chart-toppers have been written and performed by George Michael. (And Andrew. Let’s not forget Andrew!) Over half of the year so far has seen either Frankie Goes to Hollywood or George Michael at #1. Wham! won’t be back at the top in 1984, but under normal circumstances they would have been. They were about to release probably the world’s favourite Christmas hit (sorry Mariah…) only to see it kept off the top by… Well, we’ll save that for another time.