600. ‘China in Your Hand’, by T’Pau

The 600th #1! Sadly, it’s a very low-key, uneventful record with which to celebrate this milestone…

China in Your Hand, by T’Pau (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 8th November – 13th December 1987

Only joking. It’s the power ballad to end all power ballads. (I’m pretty sure I’ve written that at least three times already, ‘Total Eclipse…’, ‘The Power of Love’… Trouble is this decade keeps outdoing itself in terms of big hair, big chords and big drums.)

There are two sides to this record: the verse side and the chorus side. The verses are a bit folky, slightly new-age. Echoey synths and strings. It’s a movement that seems to be gathering pace, as The Bee Gee’s ‘You Win Again’ had a similarly Celtic air to it. And the ultimate new-age #1 is coming up next year… While the vocals are very Kate Bush. The lyrics meanwhile are at best silly, at worst pretentious: Come from greed, Never born of the seed, Took a life from a barren hand… A prophecy for a fantasy, The curse of a vivid mind… Very ‘angsty teen poetry’ (apparently it’s inspired by Mary Shelley and her novel ‘Frankenstein’). If that was it, I’d find this record quiet annoying.

But that is not it. For we have the flip-side: a storming, chest-beating beast of a chorus. Don’t push too far, Your dreams are china in your hand… Suddenly a gem of a line emerges from the nonsense, and drums pound, and guitars soar. It’s a chorus that obliterates any doubts you have about the rest of the song. You have no idea what it’s about, but it’s OK. It’s still somehow life-affirming.

And yet still that’s not it. For after just two minutes or so the song slows down and begins to fade, and you wonder if it’s ending, though surely not so soon… Then wham! In comes the saxophone. In the video, the first note is timed to match with a statue smashing in slow-motion… It’s perfection. The die is cast. The song remains turned up to eleven for a glorious ninety-seconds of slow fade.

Despite them being perhaps the defining sound of the 1980s, not that many power ballads made #1 in the UK. Glance at the Billboard charts for the same period, and it’s clear that Americans would let any old fist-clencher into top spot: Peter Cetera, Boston, Richard Marx, all clogging things up with their seriousness. While the British public seem only to let a power ballad make #1 if it is either very good – ‘The Power of Love’ – or very silly – ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. ‘China in Your Hand’, meanwhile, is…

I’m really not sure. It expertly straddles the line between sublime and stupid. One minute you think it’s going to fall on one side, then the other. But it’s so sure of itself, and singer Carol Decker commits herself so fully, that it drags you along with it wholeheartedly for the ride. Plus, I’d say the time of year helped. Forget Christmas Number Ones; there are also Winter Number Ones, perfect to cosy up to as the nights draw in. Songs that wouldn’t have been so successful had they been released in May.

T’Pau were from Shrewsbury (the only chart-toppers ever to come from Shrewsbury?) and ‘China in Your Hand’ was just their second release. Their name comes from that of a Vulcan elder in ‘Star Trek’, making 1987 a year in which that show really made its mark on top of the charts. (I’m not going to mention the name of the earlier Trekkie #1, lest I summon it into my head for the next three days). They would have just two other Top 10 hits, but still remain active today. Not one-hit wonders, but not a sustained chart presence either. Though they made their mark, with the power ballad to end all power ballads. Until the next one comes along, that is…




8 thoughts on “600. ‘China in Your Hand’, by T’Pau

  1. The only T’Pau song I really know is Heart & Soul, which I loved. It got to #4, here. I had no idea T’Pau was British.

    I’d like to hear this song but, your video won’t play in the US.

  2. I was expecting not to like it but her voice has a 90’s alternative sound to it…a little different than the standard 80s ballad. I have no clue of her or them…don’t remember them.

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