To recap, then…
The past thirty number one singles have taken us through the customary year and a half, from late ’84 to the early summer of ’86. Slap-bang in the middle of the decade. I like to, wherever possible, theme my recaps, to brand them with whatever act, or sound, has been prevalent at the time. We’ve had a rock ‘n’ roll recap, an Elvis recap, a Merseybeat recap, a glam recap, a disco recap… This, then, is our nineteenth recap: the charity record recap.
Yep. We went through thirty plus years of chart-toppers without a single one donating its proceeds to charity. But of the last thirty chart-toppers, five have been for a good cause (that’s roughly 16%, maths lovers!) We started with the daddy of all charity singles – ‘daddy’ in that it basically birthed the genre, and also because it’s still one of the best – Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’
We then moved on to USA for Africa’s ‘We Are the World’ – a bloated, American take on Band Aid. Two original songs, at least, by legends like Geldof, Ure, Jackson and Wonder. Charity singles then started to evolve, and quickly. Next came the cover versions: The Crowd’s take on terrace anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, and Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s pantomime dame reading of ‘Dancing in the Street’. Finally, this new genre settled on a format, one that will be plaguing the charts from now until the end of time: the novelty charity single. Cliff and the cast of ‘The Young Ones’ pratted their way through a pretty unlistenable cover of ‘Living Doll’.
I’ve had to take an executive decision when it comes to charity records. While it is unlikely I will ever name one as a ‘Very Best Chart-Topper’ (though you never know), I will always try, if at all possible, not to name one as a ‘Very Worst Chart-topper’ either. Their hearts are in the right place, you see. It would be like kicking a puppy, stealing candy from a baby… No matter how bad they are, there will always be another terrible record that isn’t raising money for the poor and the needy.
Away from charity records, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. On the downside, we’ve had records featuring the worst excesses of ‘80s production. ‘19’s choppy vocal line, and ‘When the Going Gets Tough…’ with its monstrous intro. Songs that might have been good, spoiled by the pervading electronic cheapness: ‘Frankie’, ‘If I Was’, and ‘A Good Heart’ all tainted by tinny synths and gimmicky effects.
Some acts, though, made the sounds of the time work for them. A-ha used their synths to theatrical effect on ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, the Bee Gees and Diana Ross managed to meld eighties production with a sixties Motown sound on ‘Chain Reaction’. While Falco programmed his keyboards to give us a fun and funky take on Mozart’s life story with ‘Rock Me Amadeus’: the first Austrian, and the first German-language, number one.
We also met a new set of legends, three acts who will dominate the singles chart in the late eighties/early nineties, and well into the 21st century in the case of one lady. Yes, Madonna finally scored a UK #1 with ‘Into the Groove’: a decent slice of dance-pop, though she’s got much better songs to come. Then Whitney Houston made an understated, jazzy entrance on ‘Saving All My Love for You’. While the Pet Shop Boys scored one of the decade’s strangest and best-loved (just not on this blog…) chart-toppers with ‘West End Girls’.
And before we get to the awards, we also have to recognise that we are still firmly in the age of the power ballad. Jim Diamond gave us our first taste of those big eighties drums, while Frankie Goes to Hollywood went spiritual for their final #1. Foreigner gave us what is, in my book, one of the worst examples of the genre. Jennifer Rush, meanwhile, gave us one of the very best in ‘The Power of Love’.
So. Let’s start with The ‘Meh’ Award for the most forgettable of the past thirty number one hits. There were three songs that really failed to get my pulse raising, for good or bad. UB40 & Chrissie Hynde’s plodding take on ‘I Got You Babe’, Midge Ure’s MOR ‘If I Was’, and George Michael’s (too) understated ‘A Different Corner’. The latter two didn’t connect with me simply because they’re not to my taste. ‘I Got You Babe’ didn’t connect because it’s a pretty insipid cover of a classic. UB40 & Chrissie take it.
Onwards, to the The WTAF Award, which rewards the songs that went for being interesting over being particularly good. Again, I have it down to three. Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’: ground-breaking but gimmicky. Jagger & Bowie’s ‘Dancing in the Street’: camp silliness in the name of charity. And Falco’s ‘Rock Me Amadeus’: German camp silliness in the name of Mozart… I do like me a powdered wig: I’m giving it to Falco!
Now for the two biggies. The 19th Very Worst Chart-Topper. Again, I have three candidates. Cliff, Hank and the Young Ones’ ‘Living Doll’ was pretty dire. Except, it’s a charity record and I’ve literally just promised not to award them this… Bugger. Okay. That leaves us with Spitting Image’s ‘The Chicken Song’, a piss-take of novelty records that manages to be just as bad, if not worse, than the records it parodies. And the ultimate teeth-clenching, constipated, soft-rock power ballad: Foreigner’s ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’.
I should award it to ‘The Chicken Song’, because it is a horrible piece of music. But it’s supposed to be a horrible piece of music. It wants to you to recognise it as a horrible piece of music. It is the naughty child at the back of the class, begging for attention. We must ignore it and hope it goes away. I’m awarding this to Foreigner then, for condensing the worst of the overwrought, over-serious ‘80s into five minutes of fist-clenching earnestness.
Finally, the The Very Best Chart-Topper. To be honest, there isn’t a standout track. This wasn’t a massively strong bunch. Some of the previous ‘Bests’ would walk to the prize here. I liked ‘Chain Reaction’ and my birth #1 ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, but not quite enough to nominate them. I really liked Eurythmics one and only #1, the vocabulary-stretching ‘There Must Be an Angel…’ But, again, is it ‘Very Best’ material? Not for me. So, I have two in mind…
Showing Foreigner that power-ballads can be great if done properly: Jennifer Rush. And the only record of the past thirty that truly gets me tapping my toes: Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round…’ It’s a tough one. Both are good for very different reasons. Both are songs I’ve liked for a long time. If ever there was a time for a tie, it’s this. But that’s a cop out. Put it this way: if I had five minutes to live, I’d want to hear Dead or Alive. They win… Just.
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.
- ‘I Got You Babe’, by UB40 with Chrissie Hynde.
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.
- ‘Rock Me Amadeus’, by Falco.
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.
- ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’, by Foreigner.
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.
- ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
- ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
- ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
- ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
- ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
- ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.
- ‘The Winner Takes It All’, by ABBA.
- ‘My Camera Never Lies’, by Bucks Fizz.
- ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
- ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’, by Dead or Alive