Remembering Jerry Lee Lewis

Last time I did a ‘Remembering’ post, it was on the universally loved and cherished Olivia Newton-John, about whom nobody had a bad word to say. Jerry Lee Lewis, though…

We’ve met some wrong ‘uns in our journey through the chart-toppers of yore. Bad types with equally bad music (Rolf Harris), bad types with music that I couldn’t help but enjoy (Gary Glitter). Jerry Lee Lewis was possibly that baddest of them all. ‘The Killer’, so named because he had allegedly tried to strangle a teacher at his high school – or so he said – lived a life that would make your average, run-of-the-mill criminal blush. Drug arrests, assault arrests, two wives dead in suspicious circumstances and – the one that effectively ended his mainstream chart career before it had truly started – a marriage to his thirteen year-old cousin.

He was, in his own words, an unrepentant hillbilly. Unpleasant and aggressive towards his fans, his family, journalists, and other musicians. (When he met John Lennon, he did so after berating the Beatles and their peers as ‘shit’ from the stage. Lennon, legend has it, still kneeled down to kiss Lewis’s feet.) Why then, does he seem to have gotten away with it? Any current artist who did a quarter of the things Jerry Lee allegedly did would have been cancelled into the dust. Is it because it was all so long ago? Is it because people were more able to seperate art from artist? Or is it because he was just so good?

For, no matter how terrible a person he was, he is rock and roll royalty. One of the five deities: Chuck, Elvis, Buddy, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee. Elvis used his voice (and his body), Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry their guitars. Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard had their pianos, which put them at an immediate disadvantage, as pianos are not hugely conducive to rocking and rolling. Pianos are for classical music, for Beethoven and Mozart, for respectable ladies’ front rooms. You have to sit down to play them, and sitting down is the antithesis of rock ‘n’ roll.

So you have to do what Jerry Lee, and Little Richard did. Pound the keys, assault the keys, stamp on them, jump on them… Set the goddamn piano on fire if you have to. (Which Lewis allegedly did when angry at being lower down a bill than Chuck Berry. ‘Follow that, boy’, he said as he left the stage.) Which leads to Jerry Lee’s one and only British chart-topper: ‘Great Balls of Fire’.

Quite often, as with many genres, by the time rock ‘n’ roll made it to the top of the charts it had been diluted. Elvis’s first #1 was the smooth ‘All Shook Up’. Buddy Holly had one chart-topping rocker: ‘That’ll Be the Day’. Berry had to wait until the nonsense that is ‘My Ding-A-Ling’. Little Richard never had one. Which means that ‘Great Balls of Fire’ is probably the purest rock ‘n’ roll chart-topper. It’s unadulteratedly dangerous, and sexy. It has a title that is at once biblical, yet also sexual. Watch the live performance below, probably quite restrained by his standards, and listen to the shrieks form the audience every time he pauses, when he stands, and when he leers at them. The sweat on his brow, the glint in his eye. Anybody capable of that sort of performance was going to have a few skeletons in the closet. He was complicated, unpleasant, the ‘killer’, but he was rock and roll.

Jerry Lee Lewis

September 29th 1935 – October 28th 2022

586. ‘Everything I Own’, by Boy George

After the exploits and successes of George Michael; another famous, lead-singing George goes solo…

Everything I Own, by Boy George (his 1st and only solo #1)

2 weeks, from 8th – 22nd March 1987

For someone as provocative and outspoken as Boy George, he didn’t half play it safe when it came to the actual music. I commented as much when Culture Club’s two chart-toppers came along: ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ left me a little cold, and while ‘Karma Chameleon’ is a brilliant pop song, it’s more likely to have granny dancing along than reaching for the smelling salts. At the time, I wondered if a double whammy of androgyny and provocative songs might have been too much. Maybe it was enough for Boy George just to be part of the mainstream…

But still, you might have expected him to launch his solo career with something a little more edgy than a cover of a Bread hit from a decade and a half before… ‘Everything I Own’ is a nice song. The original is nice, the Ken Boothe version (on which this take is heavily based) is nice… Did the world need another version? Probably not, but it doesn’t offend. The reggae beat is bright and breezy – a little perkier than in Boothe’s version, as if UB40 were George’s backing band.

The most interesting bit of the song is Boy George’s voice. It’s only three and a half years since he last topped the charts, but his voice sounds like it’s aged by a decade or two… I would make an irreverent joke about it, but the sad truth is that he was by this point a heroin addict, and had been arrested for possession just a few months before this record’s release. Perhaps the success of this song was as much a statement of support from his fans as it was about people genuinely liking the song (his follow-up singles’ lack of success perhaps backs this theory up…)

Culture Club had disbanded the year before, in the wake of diminishing chart returns and Boy George’s increasingly erratic behaviour. The start of their decline can be traced directly back to the astonishingly bad ‘The War Song’ in 1984, which I’d say caused more harm than the drugs ever did. In fact, when I start yearning for a bit more edge from Culture Club and Boy George, I should remember their big anti-war statement piece and be grateful that they largely stuck to soft reggae…

Speaking of soft reggae, I have a ‘soft’ spot for Culture Club’s 1998 comeback single ‘I Just Wanna Be Loved’, which came out when I was twelve. The band have reformed a couple of times now, while George maintains an on-again off-again solo career. He’s arguably been more infamous than famous in recent years thanks to various legal troubles, but he seems to have turned a corner now that he’s in his sixties (!) Whatever you think of him, he’s certainly an icon of the decade, and it’s apt that he managed a brief swansong on top of the charts…

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585. ‘Stand by Me’, by Ben E. King

From a sixties legend, to a legendary song from the sixties. Who’d have imagined, as we ticked over from 1986 to ’87, that three of the past four #1s would have featured Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, and now Ben E. King…?

Stand by Me, by Ben E. King (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 15th February – 8th March 1987

Let’s be quite honest, the world doesn’t need to know what I think of ‘Stand By Me’. It doesn’t need me to prattle on about the instantly recognisable bass line, and the passion in King’s voice; about the soaring strings and the gospel influence. What more can you say about it…? It’s a good song. Very good. Amazing. One of the best ever. It’s simple – a basic chord progression, accessible lyrics, fairly limited production – yet it proves the notion that writing a good simple song must be fiendishly difficult.

I usually roll the eyes when someone claims of a song that ‘they don’t make ‘em like that anymore’, but when it comes to ‘Stand by Me’ then it’s hard to argue. It was written by King, alongside Lieber and Stoller, and was based on a spiritual song, which in turn had been based on Psalm 46: “will not we fear, though the Earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea”.

There ends today’s sermon, go forth and prosper (you can perhaps tell I’m not a regular at church…) So, ‘Stand by Me’ is technically a religious song, but whereas other holy #1s have preached – I’m looking at you, Lena Martell and Charlene – Ben E. King’s is a humble profession of faith, as long as someone, be it God or his lover, stands with him. Just a few chart-toppers ago, The Housemartins were being similarly low-key religious, and scoring an equally palatable hit.

When originally released, in 1961, ‘Stand by Me’ made a lowly #27 in the British charts. (Number one that week was ‘Well I Ask You’ by Eden Kane – perfectly pleasant, but somewhat lacking in ‘classic’ status.) Ben E. King wasn’t very well served in the UK: this being his only Top 20, though he did make #2 with The Drifters. And I’d always assumed that ‘Stand by Me’ was a 1987 hit thanks to the Rob Reiner movie – another classic. A tie-in video was made, featuring a young Ben E. King morphing into an older Ben E. King, who is then joined on stage by River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton (a sight which takes on a very bittersweet edge knowing the fate that would befall Phoenix just a few years later).

But it turns out that ‘Stand by Me’ was actually given a final push to the top of the charts by an advert for Levi’s jeans, which takes the wholesome gloss off it slightly. Filthy lucre was ultimately behind this beautiful song claiming its rightful chart position. Still, it feels only right that a song of its stature made #1, and it’s interesting to see how generation-defining classics that missed out first time around – ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Imagine’, this – seem to eventually find a way to the top. Class will shine through in the end…

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584. ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’, by Aretha Franklin & George Michael

I spent much of my last new post hailing a brave new world of modern dance. As is often the way, the song that follows a ground-breaking #1 proves the more things change the more they stay the same… Or something… For we are still firmly in the mid-1980s here – ‘peak mid-eighties’, if you will – and when the mid-1980s are giving us songs as fun as this, why would we want to leave?

I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), by Aretha Franklin (her 1st and only #1) & George Michael (his 3rd of seven solo #1s)

2 weeks, from 1st – 15th February 1987

I love the revving guitar in the intro, and the glossy period-piece drums. It’s a lot beefier, a lot more upbeat than either of George Michael’s two previous chart-toppers. There’s a swagger to it, a confidence. It’s very ‘American’, for want of a more sensible expression. On ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘A Different Corner’, Michael was sad and introspective. Here he’s bubbling with confidence. And that’s probably because he’s duetting with an icon. The motherfunking Queen. Of. Soul.

It’s Aretha who kicks off the first verse. In fact, Aretha takes control of the second verse, too. Make no mistake: this is her song. George Michael may have been one of the hottest pop stars on the planet, but he’s very much the understudy here. He was apparently terrified when he got the call – who wouldn’t be? – but he keeps up nicely. Like all the best duets, the couple riff off one another well: I kept my faith… sings George… I know ya did… replies Aretha.

There’s a clear nod to a Motown classic in the chorus: When the river was deep, I didn’t falter… When the mountain was high, I still believed… Which is great. In the video, the pair perform in front of a screen showing other legendary duets – Ike and Tina, Sonny and Cher, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. And I also love the way Aretha starts letting loose in the second half of the song: belting, trilling and whooping, as if she knows this will (unjustly) be her one and only moment atop the British singles chart.

You could say that Franklin’s hit-scoring days were over by 1987, though it wouldn’t strictly be true – she had visited the Top 10 the year before in a duet with Eurythmics on ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’. But if we’re being honest, she never really scored many hits in the UK. She’d had just two Top 10 hits in the sixties – ‘Respect’ and ‘I Say a Little Prayer for You’ – and none in the seventies. In the US she was much more successful, but this record still brought about her first chart-topper since she’d spelled out those seven famous letters.

Meanwhile, this was quite the statement for George Michael in his first release following his split from Andrew Ridgeley. Ahead of him lay ‘Faith’ and solo superstardom (though none of those late-eighties hits will feature in this countdown), and here he was, duetting with one of his heroes. I admit I was surprised to see that ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’ is GM’s 6th most listened to song on Spotify, as I don’t think it’s one you hear too often these days. It feels as if it’s been overshadowed by his other big duet from a few years later, with another famous diva: Elton John. For my money, though, this one’s better, and ripe for re-discovery…

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583. ‘Jack Your Body’, by Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley

1987, then. Officially the ‘late-eighties’. I think you can divide the 1980s into roughly three chunks: the early, new-wave, post-punk years (‘80-‘82), the gloopy, synthy, new-romantic years (‘83-‘85)… I’m excluding ’86 from this, as I’m still trying to wrap my head around that strange year… And the poppier, dancier, HI-NRG years of ‘87-‘89. And speaking of dance music…

(Steve ‘Silk’ is on the left)

Jack Your Body, by Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 18th January – 1st February 1987

We have our first ever house #1. In fact, we probably have our first modern dance chart-topper, if by ‘modern dance’ you mean a repetitive, electronic beat twinned with a repetitive, inane lyric. Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley was a DJ, a leading light in the Chicago house scene, and jacking is a free-style dance move that looks like a cross between the robot and break dancing (and which Wikipedia helpfully reminds us is not to be confused with ‘jacking off’… something not seen on a dancefloor since ‘Relax’).

It is repetitive and, yes, it is inane. The shortest edit I can find of ‘Jack Your Body’ on Spotify is over five minutes, which is three minutes too long. YouTube has the single edit, which has few more vocals thrown in: some Uhhs and a Jack it up out there… to end on. And yet, there is something thrilling about it, something that still sounds fresh and modern. It’s a window into the future, a line in the sand as we reach the halfway point in our journey through the charts… This is a sound that will last from here to eternity. In the UK, there have been several dance #1s this year. Beyonce, no less, borrowed a bass line that sounds a lot like ‘Jack Your Body’ for her recent smash ‘Break My Soul’.

The part of this record I enjoy the most is the complicated bit, around the midway point, where several different synth lines build together. It sounds a little like a fifties piano instrumental gone wrong – like Winifred Atwell on Ecstasy. Dance music isn’t really my thing, as you’ll see as we delve into the nineties, though I’m not morally opposed to it as some rock-leaning people are. Yet I’m glad that this made #1, both for the variety and the statement that it makes, and that I can claim it as a birthday #1 (I turned one year old on its last day at the top).

Being born in January means that I have an interesting mix of birthday number ones: indie faves, nu-metal, a Disney theme, and the only Chicago house chart-topper. Steve Hurley had limited chart success following this hit, but he continues to DJ and in his work as a Grammy winning remixer has worked with Madonna, New Order and both Michael and Janet Jackson.

Except… Controversial postscript alert! Turns out ‘Jack Your Body’ should never actually have been a number one single. The 12” was too long (ooh-er!), running to over twenty-five minutes which meant it should have counted towards the album rather than the singles chart. Apparently nobody at the Official Charts Company had bothered listening to it until it made the top and so, rather than delete it, they quietly let it remain there. Luckily the worst thing that happened was that ‘Reet Petite’ and then our next chart-topper were both denied an extra week at number one…

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582. ‘Reet Petite (The Sweetest Girl in Town)’, by Jackie Wilson

The 1986 Christmas #1, then. And, giving Paul Heaton a run for his ‘best vocals of the year’ money, in comes Jackie Wilson. The late Jackie Wilson. With a song recorded over thirty years before…

Reet Petite (The Sweetest Girl in Town), by Jackie Wilson (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 21st December 1986 – 18th January 1987

One thing you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been following our chart-topping journey for a while is that when it comes to Christmas hits, all logic goes out the window (often along with taste and decency). Think ‘Lily the Pink’, ‘Two Little Boys’, ‘Ernie’, and ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’… Think, if you can bear it, of ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’. Think, too, of the festive horrors still to come…

Luckily for us, though, while the appearance of ‘Reet Petite’ at Christmas #1 is clearly a novelty, this isn’t a saccharine twee-fest, or a misguided attempt at humour. Rather it’s simply a stonking, barnstorming, a-whooping and a-hollering classic re-release. It’s got nothing to do with Christmas, nothing to do with peace, love, or the blessed infant; it’s simply an ode to an ‘A’-grade hottie…

She’s so fine, fine, fine, So fine, fa-fa-fa fine… yelps Wilson… She’s alright, She’s got just what it takes… She fills her clothes, from head to toes, as well as being a tutti frutti and a bathing beauty. I don’t know about you, but I’m imagining a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Betty Boop. While the lyrics may be largely nonsensical, and often just exclamations stitched together into pidgin sentences, Wilson sells them with his trademark energy.

Is it a bit much? Maybe. Does it verge on gimmicky when he rolls his ‘r’s on the title line? Perhaps. But who cares when it’s just so darn exuberant, when it’s bursting at the seams with such fun. Wilson competes with the brassy horns, that are just as much the lead instrument as his voice is, and that constantly threaten to outdo him while never quite managing.

So, ‘Reet Petite’ is a great song, and a welcome addition to the Christmas Number One pantheon. Back in 1957, when it was Wilson’s first single after leaving his vocal group The Dominoes, it had made #6. It was re-released thirty years on after demand had grown following the screening of a clay animation video for the song on a BBC 2 documentary. I’ve included the 1987 video below… I don’t know if I’ve been spoiled by the Aardman standard of clay-mation in the 90s and ‘00s, but it’s a bit… odd. Slightly terrifying in places, too. Clearly you had to have been there.

Sadly, by the time Jackie Wilson scored his one and only UK chart-topper he had been dead for three years. He’d seen out his final years semi-comatose in a nursing home, after suffering an on-stage heart attack in 1975, and his star had fallen so far that he was initially buried in an unmarked grave. All of which makes his posthumous return to the charts, which coincided with his body being moved to a proper mausoleum, even more bittersweet.

This will kick off a strange era of re-releases, from adverts, movies and TV shows, several of which will go to #1 in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But, here and now, 1986 comes to end. And a strange end it’s been: from hair metal, to indie lads, to a doo-wop classic. We head into the late-eighties next, with another abrupt change in direction…

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581. ‘Caravan of Love’, by The Housemartins

Reintroducing that most niche of chart-topping genres: the festive a cappella #1…

Caravan of Love, by The Housemartins (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 14th – 21st December 1986

Following on from the Flying Pickets’ ‘Only You’ from three years before, The Housemartins give us more warm and fuzzy feelings for Christmas, using only their voices (and some finger clicks). Hand in hand we’ll take a caravan, To the marvel land… One by one we’re gonna stand up with pride, One that can’t be denied…

The lyrics are uplifting – everyone being free, the young and the old, love flowing – vaguely religious, but not preachy. The harmonising is beautiful, led by a spectacular lead vocal from Paul Heaton (imagine an angelic Morrissey…) My judgement may be clouded by the fact that I’m literally listening to his honeyed tones as I type these words, but is this the 1980’s best chart-topping vocal performance? The he’s my brother… line is the pick, up there with the finest fifties doo-wop.

Every woman, every man, Join the caravan of love… Stand up, stand up… It’s a clarion call, but is it for a revolution, or for God? The song had been written by one half of the Isley Brothers (Isley-Jasper-Isley) the year before, with religion in mind. The video for the Housemartins’ version makes the religious intent very clear: Heaton plays a preacher in a pulpit, and the band have crucifixes shaved into their heads… I’m normally one for the separation of church and pop; but this I can just about stomach, because it’s about love rather than sanctimony.

Speaking of Morrissey, this single-week number #1 represents one of the very few moments that ‘80s indie made the highest reaches of the charts (much like Europe flying the flag for hair metal last time out…) The Housemartins had made #3 earlier in the year with the jangly ‘Happy Hour’, and their albums had pithy titles like ‘London 0 Hull 4’ and ‘That’s What I Call Quite Good’. They were clearly going for the Christmas #1 here, ticking all the feel-good boxes, gaining support from both indie kids and their grandmas, but were foiled at the last by an even more unexpected hit… More on that next time.

They split in 1988, but this is just the start for two of The Housemartins… Heaton went on to form ‘The Beautiful South’, before going solo. In a fun coincidence, he is literally on top of the UK albums chart as we speak… Meanwhile bassist Norman Cook became a DJ and producer with Beats International and then as Fatboy Slim. And I can think of at least three ‘90s chart-toppers that he’ll account for…

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580. ‘The Final Countdown’, by Europe

I take back what I said about our last #1, Berlin’s ‘Take My Breath Away’, having the ultimate ‘80s riff. For I had forgotten about this baby…

The Final Countdown, by Europe (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 30th November – 14th December 1986

Da-da-daadaa… A handful of synth notes that have entered our collective consciousness, in a way that few songs manage. I’d say there aren’t very many people who wouldn’t Dada-da-da-da… back at you if you abruptly Da-da-dada’d in their face (there’s a sentence I never imagined writing…)

Is this as close as we’ll come to that most eighties of genres – hair metal – having its moment at #1? I had previously suggested Doctor & The Medics, or Survivor, but this trumps them hands down. It isn’t particularly metal, save for the shredding guitar solo, but boy do they have hair to spare. In the video, lead singer Joey Tempest (pause to relish the name…) bounds onto the stage in a leather jacket and trousers, doing things to his mic stand that make you hope he bought it dinner first. His hair is glorious, though the amount of hairspray used was probably a major factor in our current climate crisis, while his face is prettier than most boyband idols.

I love rock music – proper rock music, by men with beards – and songs like ‘The Final Countdown’, by preening, prancing, clean-shaven hair metal bands like Europe, really get the rock snobs’ goats up. But I have a secret love for ‘80s hair metal that I file under ‘guilty pleasures’, because in some ways it is the purest form of rock and roll. It exists solely for pleasure: no introspection, no shoe-gazing, very little thought at all; just rocking out in ridiculous clothes, and getting laid.

Speaking of getting laid… Is ‘The Final Countdown’ about going to space, with lyrics inspired by David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, as the band claim…? Or is it a five-minute extended metaphor for sex? Since release, it’s moved into the sporting arena, and is regularly used as a hype song before matches. It also gets an airing every New Year’s Eve, around the globe, and charted again in 1999 ahead of the millennium celebrations. The band weren’t very impressed by that remix (their drummer claimed he ‘wouldn’t have pissed on it if it were on fire’…) In fact, certain band members weren’t impressed with the original, thinking it a poppy betrayal of their metal roots.

There haven’t been too many light-hearted chart-toppers as we’ve plodded through the mid-eighties, so I will welcome Europe with open arms. They didn’t hang around long – this was their only Top 10 hit – but they reformed in the 2000s and are touring and recording to this day, remaining very successful across, well, Europe – especially in their native Sweden. Adding to the ‘peak-eighties’ feel of this record is the fact that we’ve now had two successive number ones by acts named after geographical locations. Berlin, Europe… Not to mention Japan, and Asia. Write an iconic synth riff, do a line of coke, and name your band after a continent. The 1980s in all its glory…

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579. ‘Take My Breath Away’, by Berlin

Serious question: is this the 1980s’ most iconic riff? It’s not a decade known for its riffs, not like the sixties and the seventies anyway. ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘Money for Nothing’, Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, this…?

Take My Breath Away, by Berlin (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 2nd – 30th November 1986

Of course, purists will argue that any riff not played on a guitar ain’t worth mentioning. But the fact that this is played on a squelchy, echoey synth simply makes it even more representative of the era. Add the drums, the backing melody, the video, the fact that it’s from the soundtrack to one of the decade’s biggest movies, and you’ve got yourself an eighties classic: ‘Take My Breath Away’. Or to give it its full title: ‘Love Theme from ‘Top Gun’’.

Watching every motion in my foolish lover’s game… The lyrics are pure power-ballad tosh: profound, until you actually sit down and listen to them. On this endless ocean, Finally lovers know no shame… I was going to let them off as I assumed the band were German and not writing in their first language… But no, Berlin were from Los Angeles. Yet you’re not here for the lyrics; you’re here for the drama, for the fist-clenching, head-shaking silliness of it all. You’re here for the key change, one of the very best of all time.

Even if you’ve never seen it, you’d put a lot of money on the video for this song featuring dry-ice and a wind machine. And it does, as well as lots of bombed out aircraft shells, interspersed with movie footage of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. If there is a story to it, it seems to be that the band are scavengers, returned to the Top Gun Academy following a nuclear apocalypse. It makes as much sense as the lyrics…

It’s a triumph of style over substance – further cementing it as one of the 1980’s defining tunes – but I love it. This could have been quite slow and plodding – it is not a fast song – but Berlin, and lead singer Teri Nunn, give it a ridiculous energy. Also helping is the fact that none other than Giorgio Moroder was on production duty. He adds this to his credits on ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Call Me’ to complete a hattrick of electro-classics (as well as the very first electronic #1 being a cover of his ‘Son of My Father’.) Lady Gaga clearly took ‘Take My Breath Away’ as inspiration for her song on the Top Gun 2 soundtrack but, as much as I love her, she didn’t quite manage to match the original…

‘Top Gun’ has one of the most famous, and successful, movie soundtracks of all time, although this song was the only big UK hit to come from it. This was also the only big UK hit for Berlin, a new-wave band who had been around since the start of the decade. It returned them to the Top 3 in 1990, too, when re-released. And look! It’s only Part I of a quintessential eighties double-header at the top of the charts. Get the hairspray ready for our next #1…

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578. ‘Every Loser Wins’, by Nick Berry

Another novelty on top of the UK charts… Unless I’m forgetting someone obvious, Nick Berry becomes the first singer of dubious talent to top the charts thanks to starring in a popular soap opera. We’ve had TV detectives (Telly Savalas) and TV themes (The Simon Park Orchestra), now this…

Every Loser Wins, by Nick Berry (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 12th October – 2nd November 1986

Having already seen the birth of the comedy-charity single earlier in the year, is it time to declare 1986 as the year that destroyed the charts…? Well, I was expecting this to be truly horrific, but to be honest it’s mainly just bland. We nearly made it… Nick croons. He’s not a bad singer, though it’s the sort of voice that you instantly forget, even as the record is still playing… Every loser wins, Once the dream begins…

The worst bit is the horrible three-note synth flourish that pierces the mellow mood every few lines, and on which the song ends. The second worst are the limp lyrics, twisted together to make ungainly lines. The best bit is the moment the big eighties drums come thumping in, raising hopes that this might reach a bombastic finish. But it doesn’t; it slips to an unmemorable, flaccid ending.

Nick Berry played Simon ‘Wicksy’ Wicks in ‘Eastenders’, which had only been on air for a year or so before this record made #1. (While ‘Coronation Street’ had been around almost thirty years without troubling the charts…) The reason I thought that this was going to be horrendous is that I was vaguely aware of a record based on the ‘Eastenders’ theme… That was Anita Dobson (AKA Mrs Brian May’s) disco-lite ‘Anyone Can Fall in Love’, which had made #4 just a few weeks earlier. And again, listening to that for the first time, it isn’t quite as awful as I was anticipating either… I must be in a good mood tonight!

There is a hint of the ‘Enders’ theme in the intro to ‘Every Loser Wins’, too, if you listen close enough. Berry was the show’s first pin-up, his character a happy-go-lucky lad – which makes you wish they’d given him a livelier song to launch his singing career with. I use the term ‘career’ lightly, though he did make #2 a few years later, with a cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Heartbeat’, theme song to the programme of the same name. He retired from acting, and presumably singing too, in 2019.

So. This is far from our one and only soap star chart-topper. It’s not even our one and only ‘Eastenders’ chart-topper… (And, if we’re being thorough, we have already had an one, years before the show was even a twinkle in a producer’s eye, from Wendy Richard in 1962.) Meanwhile, Down Under, a soap had just started airing, one that would go on to dominate our charts during the final few years of this decade. With, it must be said, largely better songs than this!

(Apologies for the quality of the video below… We’re not spoiled for choice with versions of ‘Every Loser Wins’ on YouTube.)

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