To recap, then.
This is our third fully ‘eighties’ recap, and I’d say we’ve reached the peak. In fact, the first of these thirty #1s was the Jam’s farewell single, ‘Beat Surrender’. In the context of this countdown, that wasn’t simply a sign-off from Paul Weller to his fans. It was a sign-off to the post-punk, new wave, early eighties. The days of the Specials, Blondie, Adam Ant and Dexys Midnight Runners.
In its place came THE eighties. The chunk of the decade that has become synonymous with the whole ten years: Duran Duran, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Spandau Ballet, Wham!, Culture Club… (OK, yes, Culture Club did feature in my previous countdown, but we won’t let that get in the way of the narrative…) I was keeping my eyes and ears peeled for the exact start of what we now know as ‘the eighties’, and I narrowed it down to Kajagoogoo’s ‘Too Shy’ – a record completely of its time, in both sound and haircuts.
After that hit the top, the levee broke and we were swamped by classics of the decade… ‘True’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Karma Chameleon’. At the time I pointed out that, as we’d seen in the 1950s, some of these giant eighties hits were being claimed by acts who pre-dated the scene by a full decade or more. For the middle-aged Bill Haley rocking around the clock, we now had the almost forty year old Rod Stewart’s disco-rock stomper ‘Baby Jane’, and the well-into-his-thirties David Bowie scoring his biggest ever hit.
I did, at times, sound like a broken record in complaining about the production values of the age. There was just something too polished, and slightly joyless, about the state of pop in mid-1983: ‘True’, ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’, ‘Give It Up’ all came and went. All well-written and well performed pop songs. All that bit too smooth for my tastes. I noticed, though, that I stopped complaining about the production (or I at least stopped mentioning it quite as often) when 1984 rolled around…
The ‘greatest year for pop music ©’ saw a shift towards an ‘80s Wall of Sound, with producers and artists literally throwing everything at a recording and hoping it stuck. ‘The Reflex’, ‘I Feel for You’, ‘99 Red Balloons’ and, of course, the two Trever Horn helmed Frankie Goes to Hollywood #1s that have dominated the year so far: ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’ (with almost four months at number one between them). They were all a lot more ‘in your face’ than, say, the dinner party vibes given by Paul Young, but also a lot more fun.
Frankie have been given a run for their money, though, by Wham! (never forget the exclamation mark!) and more specifically George Michael, who has scored three chart-toppers of his own in 1984. Two of them were quite retro in their influences: the ‘happiest song ever’ ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and the Motown love-in ‘Freedom’. Oh, and one of the decades most iconic songs, videos, and hairdos, in ‘Careless Whisper’ (that record tipped things back a little too much towards the glossy side for my liking…)
One thing you might have noticed is that almost every act I’ve mentioned so far has been British. Things haven’t been so Brit-centric at the top of the charts since the mid-sixties. Even in the States these were the days of the ‘Second British Invasion’. What then, of the American acts? They may have been pushed to the margins, but we have had the first two hip-hop #1s: the poppy version from New Edition, and the ultra-cool Prince cover version from Chaka Khan. And we had a pop classic from Billy Joel, as well as two massive slush-fests from Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder. And, oh yeah, we had ‘Thriller’ era Michael Jackson squeaking a week with one of the biggest songs ever…
Which brings us on to our awards. The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability is traditionally awarded first, and to be honest there’s been quite a bit of ‘meh’ around. The 1980s, to my ears at least, can get pretty ‘meh’. But funnily enough, that makes it hard to pick a winner. In some ways it feels wrong giving it to The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, as that’s a classic. Except, it’s a classic that’s been given a free ride for too long. It’s so beloved of some that I’m giving it the ‘Meh’ Award out of spite! It’s really not that good, people!
Moving on. The WTAF Award for being interesting if nothing else. There have been a few outliers in the past thirty, songs that bucked the popular trends. UB40’s reggae, Paul McCartney’s ode to peace (and his only truly solo #1), Phil Collins’ Supremes cover… And our past two Christmas chart-toppers. The Flying Pickets’ (almost) completely a cappella ‘Only You’ was fun, but nothing in comparison to Renée & Renato’s ‘Save Your Love’. It was a pretty God-awful song, but boy did Renato go for it. He just about manages to bellow it into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. They win!
I was swithering over awarding ‘Save Your Love’ this round’s Very Worst Chart-Topper trophy, but its campy charms persuaded me otherwise. That means the coast is clear. There is only one candidate for the worst of the past thirty: Lionel Richie’s overwrought and overly creepy ‘Hello’, which even a ludicrous video couldn’t save. I gave The Commodores ‘Three Times a Lady’ a ‘Meh’ award back in the seventies, too. Sorry, Lionel… nothing personal.
And so, finally, onto The Very Best Chart-Topper. Which is nowhere near as clear-cut as the Worst. First, honorary mentions must go to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and ‘I Feel for You’. Great pop songs; but not quite all-time-great standard. I have it down to three, then. The one I should choose: ‘Billie Jean’ (I’m not sure I’ll have a better chance to pick a Michael Jackson song). The one I enjoy listening to the most: ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ (the power ballad to end all power ballads). And the one whose cultural impact just feels too important to ignore: ‘Relax’. Only one of these three songs was pulled off on air in disgust by Mike Read, and only one of these songs features the lead singer yelling ‘Come!’ backed by the sound of a fireman’s hose. Frankie Goes to Hollywood win. A victory for shock over substance…? Maybe. So sue me.
To recap the recaps, then:
The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability
- ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
- ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
- ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
- ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
- ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
- ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
- ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
- ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
- ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
- ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
- ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
- ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
- ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
- ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
- ‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.
- ‘What’s Another Year’, by Johnny Logan.
- ‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole.
- ‘Every Breath You Take’, by The Police.
The WTAF Award for being interesting if nothing else
- ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
- ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
- ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
- ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
- ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
- ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
- ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
- ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
- ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
- ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
- ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
- ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
- ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
- ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush.
- ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
- ‘Shaddap You Face’, by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.
- ‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin.
- ‘Save Your Love’ by Renée & Renato
The Very Worst Chart-Toppers
- ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
- ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
- ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
- ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
- ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
- ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
- ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
- ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
- ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
- ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
- ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
- ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
- ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
- ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
- ‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.
- ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, by St. Winifred’s School Choir.
- ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene.
- ‘Hello’, by Lionel Richie.
The Very Best Chart-Toppers
- ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
- ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
- ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
- ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
- ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
- ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
- ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
- ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
- ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
- ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
- ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
- ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
- ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
- ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
- ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.
- ‘The Winner Takes It All’, by ABBA.
- ‘My Camera Never Lies’, by Bucks Fizz.
- ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.