546. ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’, by Dead or Alive

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…

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540. ‘I Feel for You’, by Chaka Khan

Chakakakakakaka-chakakhan… 1984 truly was the year of the in-your-face intro. ‘The Reflex’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, now this. The most in your face of the lot?

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…

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536. ‘Two Tribes’, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Slap bang in the middle of 1984 comes the year’s biggest hit, from the year’s biggest band.

Two Tribes, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (their 2nd of three #1s)

9 weeks, from 10th June – 12th August 1984

Make that the decade’s biggest hit. No record will spend longer at #1 during the 1980s than this. Nine weeks, in which the best-selling song across the land was an ode to nuclear war. There are very few chart-toppers that have lines like: We’ve got the bomb, Yeah… Sock it to me biscuits now… But this is one. When two tribes go to war, A point is all that you can score…

On this, just their second release, Frankie (and producer Trevor Horn) were clearly sticking to the same formula as their first smash, ‘Relax’. Pounding, aggressive, disco-rock… check. A subject matter (and video) designed to raise eyebrows… check. Just the right mix of catchy and clever…?

Almost. The bass riff is thrilling, the splicing of Russian classical music with high-NRG dance is fun… But to my ears it’s all a bit of a mess, especially in the verses. It’s been a theme this year: hard-edged pop that’s bursting at the seams, constantly threatening to implode but just about keeping it together. ‘Relax’, ’99 Red Balloons’, ‘The Reflex’, now this… Maybe it was the impending threat of nuclear destruction (this is also already the 3rd chart-topper of the year to reference war and/or peace…), or maybe it was cocaine. But something was definitely in the air in 1984.

The video is another event in itself, with Ronald Reagan and Russian leader Konstantin Chernenko throwing one another around a sawdust ring. Chernenko only led the Soviet Union for a year or so – despite being nowhere near as famous as Stalin, Khrushchev, Gorbachev and co., he’s the one immortalised in this video… He grabs Reagan by the balls. Reagan bites his ear off. Holly Johnson drinks it all in as the ringside announcer. As the song reaches its final note, the planet explodes. If I had to choose, though, I think I’d spend my last moments on earth in the ‘Relax’ video, rather than this one.

I want to love this as much as I do ‘Relax’, but it falls short for me… I think it’s because ‘Relax’ is so simple, so gloriously filthy, and so universal. Songs about sex generally work. Songs about geopolitical tension can be hit or miss. Frankie try so hard to make it work – and it is still a banging, clanging, throbbing, pulsing wonder – but I think they overreach and, slightly, overcook it.

There were a million and one remixes of ‘Two Tribes’ – the ‘Annihilation Mix’, anyone? – but I like the classic single mix, with the air raid siren, and the public information announcer opening the song with: The air attack siren sounds like… By contrast, the album version is a little short, and missing the very Russian-sounding middle eight.

No doubt all those mixes helped this record to its giant stay at the top – the longest since 1977 – as well as similar promotion tactics to those that worked so well for ‘Relax’. But that’s not to suggest Frankie Goes to Hollywood weren’t genuinely massive in 1984. As ‘Two Tribes’ set up camp at #1 for the summer, their previous five-week chart-topper climbed back up to #2, making them only the fourth act to occupy both Top 2 positions after The Beatles, John Lennon and, um, John Travolta… They have one final number one coming up this year. And after two synth-rock thumpers, they’ll be changing tack, just in time for Christmas…

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531. ‘Relax’, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Heresss Frankie! In a way, I dread coming across (filthy pun very much intended…) #1 records like this. Huge megalithic-hits that have had everything written about them, and then some. But we gotta cover them all, so…

Relax, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (their 1st of three #1s)

5 weeks, from 22nd January – 26th February 1984

That’s not to say I dislike this record. Far from it: this is almost the perfect number one. It’s catchy, it’s memorable, it’s a real cultural moment… and it pissed off all the right people. In fact, that first bit – ‘Relax’s catchiness – is the one aspect of this song that possibly gets overlooked.

Let’s do the music first, then. An ominous intro floats in – I’ve always wondered what is being sung here (it’s M-i-ine, Give it to me one time now…) – before giving way to some grinding synths. I’ve been a bit down on synthesisers at times in this blog, but these are great. These are played like guitars, and could flatten a skyscraper. Apparently, singer Holly Johnson was the only band member to feature on the recording. Producer Trevor Horn – last heard on another synth-pop classic ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ – took complete control of what was a jingly demo, and created a monster.

A monster that demands to be played loud. This is no shrinking violet of a song. It’s all out there, slapping you about the face… Which brings us on to the lyrics. Everyone knows what this one’s about… Relax, Don’t do it, When you wanna suck it to it… (there’s some debate about those lyrics, but the band have apparently confirmed them) When you wanna… Come! For reasons of public decency, I will be spelling it as ‘come’ throughout, when we all know it should be… Anyway. Question is, did anyone ever think ‘Relax’ was about anything else? The band half-heartedly claimed it was about ‘motivation’ when the song was first released, but by the time the album came out bassist Mark O’Toole confessed it “really was about shagging.”

And not just any old shagging. The video sees singer Holly Johnson entering a gay bar in his sensible work suit, and after three minutes of face-spitting, banana-licking, tiger-fighting, and cage-wrestling, he ends up straddling a writhing mass of bodies… and that’s just the edited version. Meanwhile, a Roman emperor unleashes a torrent of piss from the balcony (putting the ‘number one’ in number one single…) on the biggest Come! of the song, complete with a super-soaker sound effect. It’s gloriously tasteless, clearly designed to get a reaction. And get a reaction it did…

Two weeks before ‘Relax’ made top spot, the BBC had banned it from being played before 9pm. Radio 1 DJ Mike Read even pulled it off (the record, that is…!) live on air, in apparent disgust. For the five weeks that it was #1, ‘Top of the Pops’ showed nothing but a picture of the band. MTV followed suit. You can kind of see why – even today the video raises an eyebrow – but at the same time would this record have been as huge if they’d just played it without blinking? Maybe not.

But the band new what they were doing. Two of the members were out and proud, and the song’s promo played on this with gay abandon. One ad saw keyboardist Paul Rutherford dressed a sailor, alongside the phrase “All the nice boys love sea men.” The record sleeve, above, which Mike Read took such exception too, features a man and a woman in a little bit of leather and not much else. If you’re of a negative disposition, you could argue that all this represents the worst of the 1980s, a triumph of image and promotion over substance. But… pop music has never just been about the music. Even before Elvis wiggled those hips, pop and sex have been inextricably linked. ‘Relax’ was just the latest update on the theme. Sadly, as we know all to well, this didn’t herald a sea-change in British attitudes towards homosexuality. The AIDS crisis was just around the corner, and Section 28 would be in place by the end of the decade. Yet for the five weeks that this was #1, it must have felt like quite the moment.

It all ends in a cresecendo, and one final, bellowed Come! Then we all slink off to the bathroom to hose ourselves down… 1984 truly will be Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s year. Three chart-toppers with their first three releases (the first act to do this since fellow Liverpudlians Gerry & The Pacemakers), and fifteen weeks at number one. Two of the biggest-selling hits of all time. And their very own t-shirt. Is ‘Frankie Say…’ the most famous rock logo, aside perhaps from the Rolling Stones’ lips and tongue? Possibly. So, much more to come from Frankie, then, before long. Though it is worth saying that, of their three #1s, this is my favourite. Everything that was great and gaudy about the mid-1980s wrapped up in a four-minute mini masterpiece.

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524. ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’, by Paul Young

Delving deeper into the decade, we arrive at another synthed-up, peak-eighties sounding hit…

Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home), by Paul Young (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 17th July – 7th August 1983

First things first, let’s mention the things I like about this record. The bassline, or whatever effect has been applied to it, is very eighties but very cool. It’s bendy, and twangy. It sounds like a beast emerging from the depths… There’s an ominous edge to its funk, that reminds me of something I can’t place.

Then there’s Paul Young’s voice, which is also good. A strong, blue-eyed soul voice, that takes command of this song, and sings it with conviction. For I’m the type of the boy, Who is always on the run… You could argue that he over sings it at times, but it’s fine. He’s listing all the ways he’s a dick to women: he loves and leaves them, he gives them the eye before upping sticks and disappearing… It’s basically ‘Desperado’, sung from Desperado’s POV. I think we’re meant to pity him, to sense a hint of regret, or false bravado, in his voice, but I’m not sure we do. In the video, meanwhile, one of the women he’s dumped returns to shoot him… Or, at least he dreams she does.

Away from the bass, and the voice… I’m already checking the runtime. It’s a bit dull. And the dullness lies, yes, in the production. It’s very polished, perfect for playing in the background at a dinner party, but I’m not getting ‘number one single’. Rather, I’m not getting ‘number one single at any time other than mid-1983’. It’s very of its time. If you love eighties music, you’ll like this. If not, then it’ll drag…

I did wonder if ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’ perhaps followed Young’s bigger hits. I could name ‘Love of the Common People’ and ‘Every Time You Go Away’ ahead of this. It smacks of ‘shadow number one’ (a concept I’ve explained in other posts). But no. This was his breakthrough hit. ‘…Common People’ made #2 as the follow-up to this, and ‘Every Time…’ #4 a couple of years later.

I was also amazed to find that this song dates from as far back as 1962. And that it was originally recorded by one Marvin Gaye. Two more different versions of the same song you will struggle to find. The original’s Motown vibe, while far from being a classic, just sounds better to my ears. I have been programmed from a very young age to prefer the sixties, and seventies, to the eighties… Earlier, when I wondered what this bassline reminded of, perhaps it just reminds me of ‘the mid-1980s’ in general…

The last time I focused so much (nay, complained…) about the ‘sound’ of the time was way back in the pre-rock days, when I despaired of the never-ending parade of overwrought ballads occupying top spot for weeks on end. I’ll try not to focus so much on the fact that the 1980s has a certain sound. It just does. It’s the summer of 1983. Paul Young is #1. Get over it!

Young won’t be chart-topping under his own steam again, but he’ll have hits until the early ‘90s. He is still touring and recording as we speak. His voice will appear at #1 again, though. In fact, next year he will utter one of the most famous lines in British pop history… Until then, then…

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518. ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’, by Duran Duran

From Michael Jackson, past ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, to Duran Duran. Our head-first jump into the heart of the 1980s continues…

Is There Something I Should Know?, by Duran Duran (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, 20th March – 3rd April 1983

Please please tell me now! It’s an aggressive intro, as Simon Le Bon pleads, again and again, while those trademark eighties drums blast through the speakers. In come some jangly, filtered guitars, and an insistent, galloping beat. This is a record that grabs you from the start, and doesn’t really give you a chance to decide whether or not it’s any good…

And it is a good record. After a few listens I’ve settled into it, and am spotting some cool touches. There’s a great bassline, for example, and a nice moment when, just before the choruses, everything fades apart from a pulsing synthesiser that sounds like it’s trying to send a message by Morse Code. I also like the soulful urge in the pre-chorus: With broken glass for us to hold, And I got so far before I had to say…

There are bits I’m not so hot on, though. The weird, harmonica-led ‘solo’ feels like a missed opportunity, and the line You’re about as easy as a nuclear war… jars as much in today’s world as it probably did forty years ago. I also find Le Bon’s delivery, as much as I like it in the chorus, a bit much in the verses. Although they have very different voices, it was the same with Limahl in Kajagoogoo’s ‘Too Shy’: there’s something about the new romantic style of singing that’s a bit too arch at times…

(Possibly the worst picture-sleeve yet? It looks like it’s been printed on a school jotter…)

Speaking of ‘Too Shy’, that was actually the first #1 that a member of Duran Duran had a hand in: it was produced by Nick Rhodes. Duran Duran, though, had been around for a lot longer than Kajagoogoo – ‘Girls on Film’ was their first Top 10 hit in 1981 – and would go on to have many more hits. And to me, speaking as someone who doesn’t know them away from the big hits, they are probably the quintessential mid-eighties band. The poster boys of New Romanticism and the 2nd British Invasion. Brash, loud (both musically and in their fashion), and a triumph of style over substance.

But I’m here to have my mind changed on that. I like ‘Is There Something I Don’t Know?’ I don’t love it, but there’s an endearing urgency to the song that sees it through. And in entering the charts at #1, it announces Duran Duran as the biggest band in the nation at this moment (and, unlike many of the biggest British acts since The Beatles, they were about to be huge the whole world over, too…)

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515. ‘Too Shy’, by Kajagoogoo

I think it may have arrived, the moment I’ve been anticipating for a while now… The official start of the 1980s.

Too Shy, by Kajagoogoo (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 13th – 27th February 1983

This is the most eighties chart-topper yet. Everything here has been filtered through some kind of ‘80s-ifier: the synths, the electronic drums, the bass, the icy piano… And that’s before you get to the band’s hair-dos… Just look at those mullets! I really like the intro, though: the slow build up and funky bass riff. There’s also a killer, if slightly nonsensical, chorus: You’re too shy shy, Hush hush, Eye to eye…

Singer Limahl’s delivery is also very of its time. It’s very arch, very airy and knowing. I don’t want to plant the ‘New Romantic’ flag, as I don’t think Kajagoogoo were quite that, but that’s where we’re heading. The rest of this song, though…? It’s OK. The nice touches aren’t enough to cover up the fact that it’s a bit lightweight, and a bit dull in places. I’ve heard of ‘landfill indie’… Can this be ‘landfill eighties’?

While the song is fine, we have to take a moment to examine the band name. Potentially one of the worst band names in history? It’s based on the sounds babies make, apparently. Before Kajagoogoo they were known as ‘Art Nouveau’, which is the sort of name you’d give a fictional parody of a new-wave band. They weren’t around for very long. Limahl left after just two years as lead-singer, citing personality differences, and the band officially spilt up in 1985.

I do think this is a moment where any remnants of what went before have been ditched. There’s no disco here, no post-punk or soft rock. Just pure and unadulterated eighties. Even the big, decade-specific acts we’ve met so far – Adam Ant, Culture Club, Human League – didn’t have the mid-eighties glossiness that ‘Too Shy’ has. But I think we’re set now, and about to foray into the deepest depths of it.

And I have to admit that I’m making that statement not based solely on this one record – though it is very now. I’m also making it with one eye on the chart-toppers that will immediately follow. The next five number ones will feature either some of the decade’s biggest stars, or its biggest songs. Kajagoogoo’s ‘Too Shy’ is the appetiser to a giant ‘80s feast that is on its way…

504. ‘Happy Talk’, by Captain Sensible

In which ‘South Pacific’ meets punk rock meets kids party singalong…

Happy Talk, by Captain Sensible (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 27th June – 11th July 1982

This is a record you can’t properly imagine until you’ve heard it. If that opening sentence left you stumped, then just go ahead and press play before reading my attempts to describe it… I know, right? It’s woozy, a bit trippy, very end-of-the-pier rinky-dink. And to be honest, I quite like it.

Happy talkin’, Talkin’ happy talk, Talk about things you’d like to do… I’ve never seen ‘South Pacific’, and so wasn’t sure how faithful this cover was. But it is pretty similar to the original showtune, with the brass and strings replaced by very ‘of their time’ synths. It reminds me, a little, of Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s wild take on ‘It’s My Party’: another classic tune done up for the early eighties. Only less unhinged.

Well, slightly less unhinged. In the video, and on Top of the Pops, Captain Sensible, dressed as half pimp-half pirate, gives the impression that he is well under the influence of something a bit stronger than coffee. There’s a dancing parrot, too, and a backing girl-group called the Dolly Mixtures. You’ve got to have a dream, If you don’t have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?

That there is a hook I can get behind. I’m not one for motivational messages in songs, but this one can’t be argued with. No dreams = no dreams coming true. Simple. Cue the organs. It’s one of the more unexpected themes of 1981-82: chart-toppers that sound like fairground rides. ‘Ghost Town’, ‘House of Fun’, now this. Was it intentional? Or is it just that they were using cheap synths? It also calls to mind Adam Ant’s use of music hall brass from ‘Goody Two Shoes’.

Captain Sensible’s day job was as a member of The Damned (the first British punk act to release a single back in 1976) and this record featured on his first solo album. The giant shift in sound from punk to this might be explained by the fact he had become a pacifist vegetarian the year before. The punk-est moment comes when the Captain leaves a big old pause in the Golly baby I’m a lucky cu…….ss… line that has you wondering if he’s about to drop a giant ‘c’-bomb in this family-friendly single (Although you could also argue that him recording an old showtune in this novelty style is already as punk as it gets…)

I’ve said it many times before: at least make your songs interesting. This one certainly is. A harmless singalong for the kids and their grannies, that actually subverts by just existing. Captain Sensible wouldn’t have many other hits, while The Damned have reformed and disbanded several times over the years. He has also formed his own political party (the ‘Blah!’ Party), and – much more impressively – recorded the theme song for nineties snooker/quiz show ‘Big Break’.

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494. ‘The Model’ / ‘Computer Love’, by Kraftwerk

Atmospheric, electronic, and über-cool… Ja. Kraftwerk ist da!

The Model / Computer Love, by Kraftwerk (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, 31st January – 7th February 1982

She’s a model, And she’s looking good… It has to be said, German-accented English is the perfect voice in which to deliver an electro-pop hit like this. She plays hard to get, She smiles from time to time… While this model sounds a bit high-maintenance: all champagne, nightclubs and envious glances…

A drum-machine keeps steady, deliberate time, while two or three different synths play variations of the main, instantly memorable, riff. There are not many fancy flourishes, no tricks or gimmicks, which can’t be said of some recent electronic #1s (‘It’s My Party’ springs to mind…)

There’s a minimalism to it, a precision. (It’s hard to avoid certain national stereotypes, but I’ll try…!) There’s nothing here that doesn’t need to be. It’s repetitive, certainly; but not boring. It’s a song that seduces you, just like the model in the lyrics. It’s almost lo-fi, which could have something to do with the fact that ‘The Model’ was nearly five years old when it topped the charts.

It was originally supposed to be the ‘B’-side, an older hit included to beef up the appeal of the new single, but radios started to play it and it became a double-‘A’. And it’s the perfect hit for a winter’s week: both in its frosty sound, and in how it sits alongside some very random early-year chartmates in Bucks Fizz and Shakin’ Stevens.

What of that new single, then? ‘Computer Love’ kicks off with another catchy riff – one catchy enough for Coldplay to borrow decades later – but as the record finds its groove you can feel a slightly lighter touch than the heavy, deliberate ‘Model’. There’s almost something disco in the staccato drums, and feathery high notes. It sounds more modern, more ‘eighties’ really, than song on the flip-side. (Though it had only made #36 before being twinned with ‘The Model’.)

It’s another twisted love story, but this time a computer is the object of the singer’s affections: another lonely night, another lonely night… He stares at the screen and longs for a data date. I wonder if the band had any idea, in 1981, of how prescient those lyrics would become in the twenty-first century…? Aren’t we all just staring at our screens, these days, needing a rendezvous?

I’m not enjoying this as much as ‘The Model’, though. It’s too light, too ephemeral. There’s not as much to get your teeth into here. But as a chart-topping, double-‘A’ side single, both tracks work very well. And I say that without being the biggest fan of electronic music. It feels like a moment at the top of the charts. True, it’s far from the first electronic #1, but Kraftwerk had been there from the very beginnings of the genre: forming in 1969, scoring their first hit in 1974. In many ways, they’ve been a part of all the synth-based number ones so far, from ‘I Feel Love’, to the Buggles, to ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

Kraftwerk were/are basically two men – Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider (who passed away in 2020) – and a revolving cast of supporting musicians. They are notoriously reclusive, and have released one album in the past thirty-five years. They don’t have many hits to their name in the UK, this one being the only time they ever breached the Top 10. But their legacy cannot be understated. Considering how prevalent electronic music is now – how few acts don’t incorporate at least a smattering of non-analogue sounds – they have to be seen as legends. The NME has argued that while ‘The Beatles and Kraftwerk’ doesn’t have the same ring as ‘The Beatles and The Stones’, it is probably more accurate in reflecting who pop music’s two most influential bands are.

491. ‘Don’t You Want Me’, by The Human League

1981 has had its fair share of iconic chart-topping moments: Bucks Fizz’s skirt-ripping moves, The Specials’ call to arms, Soft Cell’s re-imagining of a soul classic, Mercury and Bowie going toe-to-toe… And it ends with perhaps its most iconic tune.

Don’t You Want Me, by The Human League (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, 6th December 1981 – 10th January 1982

For this is one of the most recognisable riffs ever, I’d say. Up there with ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘You Really Got Me’ for chart-topping riffs. It’s dramatic and ominous, yet catchy and danceable. It’s a synth riff here, but play it on a piano, a guitar, a bloody harp, and people would know it was the intro to ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

The opening lyrics are equally iconic: You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar… a male voice intones… When I met you… It’s sung by an overbearing – ok, creepy – bloke. A Svengali figure. He found this girl, made her a star, and now she’s outgrown him. Don’t forget it was me who put you where you are now, And I can put you back down too…

In the second verse, the starlet has her say. Yes, she was working in a cocktail bar… That much is true… She tells him politely that it’s time for her to make it on her own. The male ‘character’ is so well-formed, such a nasty sounding piece of work, that you wish his female counterpart had a little more bite. Who is she? Did she really just use him? Or maybe her niceness is the ultimate insult…?

Aside from the riff, the next best bits are the lines that accelerate up to the chorus: You better change it back or we will both be sorry! This is a high-quality pop song, well worthy of being the year’s biggest-seller and a Christmas number one. But – there’s always a ‘but’ – I’m not sure if there isn’t a hint of ‘fur coat and no knickers’ about it. ‘Don’t You Want Me’ has a great riff and great hook, but on repeated listen it goes from all-time classic to simply great pop. Two years ago, Gary Numan was doing things with a synth that genuinely stood out. Now, in late-1981, synths alone are not enough to wow.

Phil Oakey, The Human League’s founder, didn’t want this released as a single, and has said in subsequent interviews that he sees the music video as a big factor in its success. And you can see why: it’s moody, noirish… dare I say, once more for luck, iconic? It’s certainly slicker and more expensive than many of the homemade looking MVs from the last couple of years, and it looks forward to a New Romantic future in the make-up, earrings and fringes. ‘Rolling Stone’ has claimed ‘Don’t You Want Me’ as the starting point for the 2nd British Invasion in the US (it hit #1 on Billboard six months after topping the charts here).

The Human League had only the one UK chart-topper, but were scoring hits well into the nineties. They still tour to this day. After I’m done writing this post, I’m going to listen to the album that birthed this hit, ‘Dare!’ to see what all the fuss us about. Maybe I’m being harsh in saying that this record lacks much substance beyond its killer riff. It’s still a great tune, but when songs come along with as much baggage and reputation as this one then I can’t help expecting great great things…