594. ‘Who’s That Girl’, by Madonna

Madonna scores her 4th chart-topper within twelve months, joining a very exclusive club…

Who’s That Girl, by Madonna (her 5th of thirteen #1s)

1 week, from 19th – 26th July 1987

The ‘4-in-a-year club’ are The Beatles, Elvis, The Shadows, Slade and, um, Frank Ifield (do shout at me if I’ve forgotten anyone else!) and one thing you might notice about those five acts are their… well, their manhoods. Yes, Madonna is now officially (probably) the most successful female in chart history!

The sad thing is that, for such a ‘big’ #1, ‘Who’s That Girl’ is a bit of a non-event. It is ‘La Isla Bonita’ Part II, a watered down and remixed version of her previous chart-topper. The intro in particular, with its drum riff, is nigh on identical; while the subsequent latin-funk synths are, if not identical, then heavily influenced by their predecessor.

Plus, there’s even more Spanish thrown in this time. Quién es esa niña…? Señorita, más fina… Who’s that girl? I wasn’t a huge fan of ‘La Isla Bonita’, and it’s therefore inevitable that I’m even less a fan of this diluted version. There’s nothing wrong with it, blandness and lack of originality aside, but it’s well overshadowed by the bolder moments in Madonna’s back-catalogue. And out of her thirteen chart-toppers, it’s the one I’m least familiar with (I could probably have attempted the title line from memory, but that’s it…)

It’s from the soundtrack to a film of the same name. A ‘screwball comedy’, as Wikipedia puts it, that presumably nobody has watched since 1987. And that’s about all there is to write on this most slight and forgettable of #1s. To be fair, in order to achieve four chart-toppers in a year you need a combination of massive popularity and a winning formula. Nobody would deny that at least one of Elvis’s, or The Shadows’, or Slade’s four #1s was a re-tread… ‘Surrender’, ‘Dance On’, ‘Skweeze Me Pleeze Me’… While the sound of 1962-3 was Frank Ifield’s yodel popping up, time and again. The one act who managed to sound new and fresh with every single song was The Beatles, but there’s no point in competing with them…

Perhaps Madonna knew she was treading water at this point, because she took 1988 off and drew a line under what we’ll call Madge MK I. In two years’ time, when she scores her next chart-topper, she’ll be a different beast altogether!

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593. ‘It’s a Sin’, by Pet Shop Boys

Ah, yes. Cleansing the palate after the rotten ‘Star Trekkin’, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a… classic. In fact, with Whitney before and Pet Shop Boys after, we have two beauties sandwiching a stinking turd. Such are the pop charts…

It’s a Sin, by Pet Shop Boys (their 2nd of four #1s)

3 weeks, from 28th June – 19th July 1987

It’s an epic, statement intro, juddering in like a train about to overshoot its platform, followed by a dramatic ‘Skoosh!’ It’s a sound effect last heard on ‘Relax’, and that’s a comparison I think could be maintained for the entirety of this post. Not only in the skooshing, but in the fact that ‘It’s a Sin’ is every bit as gay as its more infamous predecessor.

If ‘Relax’ was an unrepentant celebration of all things queer, then ‘It’s a Sin’ is a little more introspective. A lot more. When I look back upon my life… Neil Tennant announces… It’s always with a sense of shame… I’ve always been the one to blame… Tennant had gone to a Catholic school, where he was taught that pretty much every natural urge he had would earn him a one-way ticket to hell. For everything I long to do, No matter when or where… Or who… It’s a sin…

As serious as the lyrics are, though, the PSBs keep things moving, and shaking. You can pay scant attention to the words, if you wish, and just dance. Tennant himself has said he wrote the song more in a camp than an angry frame of mind. That comes through in the ‘do’ and ‘who’ rhyme, and I can’t help but picture a Noël Coward-esque arched eyebrow on the They didn’t quite succeed… line.

While if you listen harder still, you realise that he isn’t quite as ashamed as he first suggests. In the glorious Father forgive me… middle eight, he ends with a chest-beating moment of affirmation: I didn’t care, And I still don’t understand… It’s a brilliant feat, to write a song about something so unpleasant – his experiences could be seen as child abuse, who knows – but make it so catchy, and so funny. ‘Relax’ was in your face; ‘It’s a Sin’ outs itself more slowly, but just as effectively.

‘West End Girls’ is the Pet Shop Boys’ song which is routinely crowned as one of the best songs of the 1980s, if not of all time. But for me, this one beats it all ends up. Tennant and Lowe wanted Stock Aitken Waterman to produce it, but Pete Waterman hated the demo version. The one that got away… (I’d love to hear the SAW take on it.) Tennant has also likened it to a heavy metal song, in its tempo, it’s portentous chords and it’s overblown production. I’d also like to hear a metal version, and the closest I could find was this take by Finnish (of course they are) band The Jade… None of them can touch the original, though. One of the high points of the entire decade.

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592. ‘Star Trekkin”, by The Firm

Oh. Oh no. Oh God, no…

(Just in case you missed that: Oh. No.)

Star Trekkin’, by The Firm (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th June 1987

I’m an open-minded type. When it comes to this blog, I try my best to find something to appreciate in every song we meet. I managed to tolerate ‘Shaddap You Face’, and I made my peace with ‘Save Your Love’. There are very few #1s that I’ve found utterly irredeemable…

To the ‘Irredeemable Club’, though, we can add this truly heinous number. Just…why? Why take a bunch of lines from ‘Star Trek’ and stitch them into an irritating playground chant? Why the ever-increasing tempo? Why the funny voices? Why the potatoes?? WHY??

I suppose the fact that I’m asking ‘why’ means the joke is lost on me. I’m not a Trekkie; but then again I’m not sure many Trekkies would find this particularly funny. (And, apparently, not all the lines from the song ever featured in the show. It’s life Jim, But not as we know it… for example was invented just for this moment.)

The Firm were a novelty act, helmed by a man called John O’Connor. They’d had minor hits before, but every label they approached was, unsurprisingly, reluctant to release ‘Star Trekkin’. So they went it alone, pressed five-hundred copies, and before they knew it their song was getting pushed by Radio 1. The animated video was rush-released, as the band didn’t want to appear live and lose their mystique…

So on the one hand, I want to applaud this home-made, go-it-alone attitude. Some classic chart-toppers have been made in bedrooms and garages. This, however, is not a classic chart-topper. It’s truly rotten. Not funny. Unlistenable. The end.

Looking back, the obvious comparison to make is with ‘The Chicken Song’, which made #1 a year before this. I gave that a pass as, while it was also annoying crap, it was meant to be annoying crap. Perhaps The Firm also knew ‘Star Trekkin’ was terrible, and released it as a joke, as a prank on an unsuspecting nation. But maybe, just maybe, they thought it was good…

When I was twelve, my brother bought me ‘Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh’ as a Christmas present. Not because he liked the song, or because he thought I liked the song, but because he knew it would annoy me. As a joke. He bought the song, and helped it to #1, with malicious intent. I think the same sentiment probably explains ‘Star Trekkin’s success. People bought it to annoy siblings, flatmates, friends… Nobody bought it with the intention of ever actually enjoying it as a piece of music. Post-‘Star Trekkin’, The Firm had one further song chart at #99: ‘Superheroes’. It follows an ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach and may be – which is a huge achievement, if you think about it – even worse than their sole chart-topper.

591. ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’, by Whitney Houston

And so on to one of the decade’s biggest voices, with her poppiest moment…

I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), by Whitney Houston (her 2nd of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 31st May – 14th June 1987

Her poppiest #1, at least. ‘Saving All My Love for You’ was slinky jazz, and the following two are Whitney Ballads™. Here, though, she sings like the young woman she was, and sounds like she’s having one hell of a time.

Clock strikes upon the hour, And the sun begins to fade… It’s girly-pop 101: the need to dance with somebody, anybody, as long as they love you; from ‘Dancing Queen’ to ‘Just Dance’. It’s slightly contradictory, she is looking for an anonymous encounter with someone who already loves her… A man who’ll take a chance, On a love that burns hot enough to last… but really, who’s looking for lyrical depth?

This is cheese. The lyrics, the castanet flourishes between lines, the strident synth chords before each chorus, and a peach of a key-change. But, there are levels of cheese. And there are two things that save this from being cheesy pop of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman variety. The first is that it’s being sung by Whitney Houston. SAW never had a singer of her capabilities (sorry, Kylie). Check out the way she breathes the ‘falls’ then belts the ‘calls’ in the When the night falls, My lonely heart calls… line. While Sonia ain’t never hit notes like Whitney does in the fade-out. The usual complaints about her over-singing don’t apply here either: it’s much harder to over-sing a bubbly pop tune like this. And even if you do, people are less likely to notice.

The second is that, under all the cheese, the production has quite an edge to it. The squelchy bass in the intro is fun, and the middle-eight breakdown especially has a Prince-like funk to it. It’s worth contrasting the ‘cool’ production on an American hit like this, with the most recent British equivalent, ‘Respectable’. As much as I did enjoy it, and I know it sounds like I’m picking on SAW here, there is a big difference in quality…

Critics picked up on ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’s similarity to Houston’s own ‘How Will I Know?’, and Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, similarities which are there for all to hear, but they didn’t stop it from being a worldwide smash. And, in the UK at least, it marks a significant milestone: the first single issued on CD. The future is rapidly approaching…

And as fun as this song is, it’s skirting very close with being overplayed to oblivion. At hen-parties and ‘80s nights you can safely bet your house on hearing it. I’d suggest it be retired for a decade or so, in order to preserve what is one of the most enjoyable moments, for me at least, in Whitney’s discography.

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590. ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, by Starship

Question: has a song ever been written specifically with karaoke in mind? Songs are written for movie themes, for radio play, for their stream-ability… So what about a song for karaoke bars?

Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, by Starship (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 3rd – 31st May 1987

For if ever a song were written for drunk people who shouldn’t be let anywhere near a microphone, ‘tis this one. It’s a duet, for a start, and one that’s pretty easy to sing. It’s got a steady, thumping, drum-led pace. It’s got moments for wannabe rock stars to let loose – woah-oahs and heys, that sort of thing – and a solo that begs to be air-guitared along to. Above all, it’s got the sort of message that appeals to people on their third cocktail of the evening. We can build this thing together, Standing strong forever, Nothing’s gonna stop us now…

I’d say that this record is a bit of a bellwether hit: a test of how much you can tolerate the worst excesses of the 1980s. If you can stomach it, this is a classic of its kind. Yes it’s cheesy, ridiculous, over the top… the little break between the bridge and the solo is perhaps the precise moment the ‘80s peaked (these moments keep coming along, and the decade keeps outdoing itself)… but it’s great fun. And it’s from one of the archetypal eighties movies, ‘Mannequin’, in which Kim Cattrall plays a store-front dummy that comes to life. Hi-jinks ensue, presumably (I’ve never seen it…) On the other hand, if you see the eighties as a decade of style (and hair) over substance, in which true musicianship got lost behind synthesisers and shoulder pads, then ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ is presumably high on your list of worst offenders.

A lot of the hate probably stems from what the band Starship once was. Few acts have had a longer journey from their original incarnation to their most successful line-up. Jefferson Airplane, ground-breaking ‘60s psychedelic act, with two tracks on Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Songs Ever, split in two. One half became Jefferson Starship, a more commercial sounding, but still well-respected rock band. Due to legal threats from the other members of Airplane, they had to drop the ‘Jefferson’ in 1984. By the time this happened, none of the original members remained, apart from the female lead on this song, Grace Slick, who had recently returned to the fold. So far, so Sugababes… (Though the three bands chopped and changed members so much I may be mistaken on this, and am happy to be proven wrong…)

So, even though Starship no longer shared a name, and barely any band members, with their predecessors, they seem to have been a shorthand for the way popular music had degenerated since the late sixties. Coming at this as someone who neither lived through it, nor has listened to much (OK, any) Jefferson Airplane, I can kind of get the hate. (Sugababes MK III had some decent songs, but they weren’t a patch on MK I.) But at the same time: it is snobbery.

Where people’s ire should be directed is the truly horrific ‘We Built This City’, Starship’s debut #12 hit, from 1985. That is a song that I cannot abide, one that takes every truly hideous ‘80s production technique in the book and turns them all up to eleven. ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, though…? I’ve belted this out at karaoke nights, and would do so again, happily. In the UK, this was Starship’s only Top 10 hit, though they had more success in the States. When the hits finally dried up in the early nineties, there was one final regeneration for this most Dr Who of rock groups… Into ‘Starship featuring Mickey Thomas’ (the lead male vocalist on ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us’), which they still tour under today.

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589. ‘La Isla Bonita’, by Madonna

Four Madonna number ones down; four very different sounds from the soon-to-be Queen of Pop…

La Isla Bonita, by Madonna (her 4th of thirteen #1s)

2 weeks, from 19th April – 3rd May 1987

‘La Isla Bonita’ is a Latin-funk tune, with a nice strong bass line, some horn blasts and a sharp Spanish guitar. Everything is fine-tuned, and tight. It has a gloss to it, a modernness to the production, that suggests Madonna had available to her the best studios and equipment. It’s got a steady beat, but it’s still likely to fill a dancefloor.

Except, yeah… I don’t love this one. It’s my least favourite of the four so far. Something about it feels gimmicky to me. Why is she singing in Spanish, for a start? Como puede ser verdad, she purrs in the intro. How can it be true…? If Madonna knows one foreign language, surely it’s Italian?

Anyway, Madonna has fallen in love. Not with a Cuban hunk, rather with an island. I fell in love with San Pedro… Tropical island breeze, All of nature wild and free, This is where I long to be, La isla bonita… Problem is, when non-Latina stars go Latina, they tend to resort to these cliches of warm breezes and Spanish lullabies.

To be fair to Madonna, ‘La Isla Bonita’ may have been her first attempt at Latin music, but it was far from her last. She has a love for it that goes beyond mere musical shapeshifting. Problem is, Madonna is a bit of a trendsetter. She opened the floodgates for every female pop star going to have a ‘Latin phase’: from Lady Gaga to Geri Halliwell. And I’m a traditionalist: no woman has done Latin nonsense better than Rosemary Clooney back in 1955!

So, to me, ‘La Isla Bonita’ feels like a default chart-topper from the biggest star in the world. It was the fifth single to be released from the ‘True Blue’ album, and you have to be pretty darn popular to get the fifth single off your album to number one. This was her 3rd of four #1s between the summers of 1986 and 1987. Again, not many artists manage four chart-toppers in a year.

I was amazed to see that this was Madonna’s 4th most listened-to song on Spotify, above ‘Like a Virgin’, ‘Like a Prayer’ and ‘Vogue’. It just feels like such an average moment in her back catalogue… Not terrible – far from it – but nowhere near her best. Rolling Stone has it as her 40th best song, apparently, and that sounds much more reasonable.

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588. ‘Let It Be’, by Ferry Aid

Uh-oh, charity single ahoy…!

Let It Be, by Ferry Aid

3 weeks, from 29th March – 19th April 1987

OK. That intro might have been slightly tasteless, especially given the disaster that prompted this latest charity chart-topper. On 6th March 1987, a passenger ferry left Zeebrugge in Belgium bound for Dover. The bow door, the one that lets cars drive on, was left open as the ship set off, and it capsized almost immediately. One hundred and ninety three people lost their lives.

Undoubtedly tragic. But the nautical analogy holds up, I think. You’re floating along through the mid-to-late eighties, when along comes a hulking iceberg of a record. Charity songs, with their casts of thousands, their cramming of different styles and voices into one, their overlong runtimes, really do knock the charts off course. And when the record in question is a cover of ‘Let It Be’, one of the world’s best-loved songs, by the world’s best-loved band, you can’t help but wince, no matter how worthy the cause.

But we must listen, and ponder. The best part of an charity ensemble singalong is seeing how many people you can identify. It kicks off with the song’s writer, Paul McCartney, doing his best chirpy Uncle Macca impersonation. Then there’s the still heroin-husky Boy George, carrying the first verse. There’s Andy Bell from Erasure. There’s someone who looks like Marti Pellow (it’s not…) There’s Mel & Kim, again! They (sort of) join the exclusive club of acts who have replaced themselves at #1. There’s Kim Wilde and Nik Kershaw. There’s Kate Bush, who purrs her way through a couple of lines, sounding like she’s been spliced on from a completely different recording. There’s Edwin Starr, of ‘War!’ fame.

There are two guitar solos, from Gary Moore, and Mark Knopfler. Moore’s in particular is pretty blistering, marking this out from the usual charity single fare. There are two guys – one with a bottle of beer, the other smoking a fag – who aren’t quite giving the occasion the respect it deserves. Turns out they’re one half of Curiosity Killed the Cat. This is the second best aspect of a charity single: flash in the pan acts immortalised by being in the right place at the right time. (Also present here is Taffy – no, me neither – who qualified for a line or two thanks to her recent #6 hit ‘I Love My Radio’.)

By the end it’s descended into a pub-singalong, as all charity singles must. I refer to Wikipedia, because it looks like there are at least five-hundred people in the throng, to find it’s actually a ‘Who’s Who’ of previous chart-topping acts: Bucks Fizz, Suzi Quatro, Alvin Stardust, Bonnie Tyler, Doctor and the Medics, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and The New Seekers. Alongside The Drifters… the actual Drifters??… Gloria Hunniford, and Anne Diamond. Of course. They all look far happier than they should, given that it was the deaths of almost two hundred people that brought them all together.

I haven’t commented much on the music, because what’s the point? Charity singles aren’t bought to be listened to. Before you press play, imagine what a cover version of ‘Let It Be’, recorded for charity, in the late-eighties, would sound like. I’ll bet you come pretty close. (Oh and don’t forget to throw in a completely incongruous, but brilliant, guitar solo.) It is what it is. We listen once, and we move on.

587. ‘Respectable’, by Mel & Kim

I’m a fan of sweeping statements regarding where and when we are in popular music history, so here’s another one: ‘Respectable’, by Mel and Kim is an era-defining record.

Respectable, by Mel & Kim (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 22nd – 29th March 1987

Tay-tay-tay-tay-tay-t-t-t-t-tay-tay, Take or leave us… The hook that runs through this hi-NRG, trash-pop hit is jarring. It’s obnoxious, confrontational, and completely intentional – designed to be played at ear-splitting volume by thirteen year old girls across the country, as their parents bang angrily on the walls. Whether or not you can, forgive me, take or leave this song is a good indicator of how much, or how little, you’ll enjoy this blog for the next few months…

For me personally…? When I first listened to it a few days ago, I enjoyed its in-your-face brassiness. When it comes to pop, for me, the trashier and more disposable the better. In the few days since, though, I’ve caught a cold and, let me tell you, ‘Respectable’s pounding beat and constant, jabbing synths wear thinner when you’ve got a stuffy nose and a high temperature. (And if you think the single edit is jarring, try the six-minute extended mix…)

But it’s the sound of the future, both immediate and a little further off. Immediate, because it was produced by Stock-Aitken-Waterman, whose blend of hi-NRG, disco and Europop will be the sound of the late-eighties. They’ve already had one #1: Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round’, which is probably their best, and between March ’87 and January 1990 they will score a whopping twelve more!

In terms of a further-off future, ‘Respectable’s lyrics put me in mind of a certain girl group still a decade hence. Take or leave us, Only please believe us, We ain’t never gonna be respectable… Like us, Hate us, But you’ll never change us… They don’t care if you think they’re out of line, they’re just out for a good time. Again, these are simple sentiments aimed at tweens, rather than a new feminist manifesto, but when the Spice Girls did it there were theses published on ‘Girl Power’.

Mel and Kim were sisters, and this was their second of four Top 10 hits. They would presumably have had a few more, but tragically Mel died aged just twenty-three in 1990. The cancer that would kill her had been re-diagnosed shortly after ‘Respectable’ made #1. Kim went solo after that, and scored a handful of hits in the early nineties.

A very heavy footnote, then, to what has been one of the lightest number ones for quite some time. It’s tunes like this which have me thinking that, while nobody is claiming the late-eighties to be a classic era for pop music, I will enjoy it more than the decade’s soft and gloopy middle years…

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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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