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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532. ’99 Red Balloons’, by Nena

A couple of posts ago, I was a bit down on 1984. Before it had even started, I was pooh-poohing the idea that it was all that great of a year. But… with this next chart-topper following on from the assault to all five senses that is ‘Relax’, maybe 1984 wasn’t such a bad year after all.

99 Red Balloons, by Nena (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 26th February – 18th March 1984

Not that I’m going to start claiming it as the best year ever – not yet anyway – but this is another great slice of synth-pop. The slow-building intro is quite similar to ‘Relax’, and it forms the background to a story of two people in a toy shop, buying a bag of red balloons… Set them free at the break of dawn, ‘Til one by one, They were gone…

And then the beat drops – one of the great beat ‘drops’, from before beat ‘drops’ were a thing – and we have an incredibly catchy, cheese-funk synth riff. And guitars! Punk rock guitars. Forget synth-pop; it’s synth-rock. It feels like an age since we’ve had actual guitars at #1, and they drive the song along through its story of nuclear armageddon. Ninety-nine red balloons, Floating in the summer sky…

The authorities see these innocent balloons and panic. This is what we’ve waited for, This is it boys, This is war… You don’t need a degree in 20th Century history to work out what concerns this record is tapping into. The Cold War was at its height: it’s still February, and this isn’t even the first chart-topper of the year to reference war. It won’t be the last either… Incidentally, the inspiration for the song was said to have come when the band went to a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin, and watched balloons released on stage floating towards the Wall.

Nena were themselves from West Germany – ‘Nena’ being both the name of the band and of the lead singer, in a shades of Blondie. In fact, Britain was one of the few countries where the hit version of ’99 Red Balloons’ was in English. Across Europe and Australia, even in the US, the German original soared to the upper reaches of the charts. I do like Nena’s German-accented English, especially in the worry, worry, super scurry line, though there’s a forcefulness to the German version that probably comes from her being more confident singing in her native tongue (the drums are also heavier in the original, which is another pro).

In the end we’re left with something stark, both musically and lyrically. The driving beat and catchy riff vanish, leaving the echoey synths. It’s all over and I’m standing pretty, In this dust that was a city… The singer finds one last balloon. I think of you and let it go… It’s a powerful ending from a song that sometimes gets written off as a novelty (I was thinking the same before listening to it properly a few days ago…)

Nena (the band) had a few more years of success in Germany, but struggled to score many more hits in English-speaking countries. They split up in 1987, though Nena (the singer) has continued to record, and sometimes collaborates with her former bandmates. And so. I am left to reassess my opinions on 1984, and on synth pop in general. Except, oh dear…. Our next number one will go some way to proving why this year wasn’t so great after all…

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522. ‘Every Breath You Take’, by The Police

We’re back among the classics, after a dubious (though admittedly catchy) detour with New Edition. The Police then, with their final, and their biggest, chart-topper.

Every Breath You Take, by The Police (their 5th and final #1)

4 weeks, 29th May – 26th June 1983

I press play, and before the song is halfway through questions begin to arise. Has this record been dulled by repetition? (At any given moment of the day, a radio station somewhere is playing ‘Every Breath You Take’.) Is it just that little bit too glossy, too polished? Has Sting’s voice tipped over the edge into soft-rock crooning…?

Don’t get me wrong, the opening riff, and the simple but effective chord progression thereafter, is a great hook. It can take its place among pop’s great moments. It’s a record that begins with complete confidence in itself… but I’m not sure it builds upon this strong start. It comes close with the How my poor heart aches, With every step you take… line, which is great. But the rest of the song is a bit cold, a bit clinical and, by the end, a bit boring…

Perhaps the problem’s not musical, but lyrical. It’s become a cliché to point out that this is a stalker’s anthem, but it’s true. It’s not a nice song. Every single day, Every word you say… It’s clearly about a possessive, jealous, and potentially dangerous, lover watching his ex. Yet take the title by itself, with the lines about hearts aching and people belonging to one another, and you can convince yourself that it’s a love song. Apparently it some people play it at their weddings…

I was ready for this to finally redeem The Police in my eyes, to show me why they were the biggest band of the late-seventies and early-eighties, as I’d struggled to love their previous #1s. But it hasn’t… In fact, turns out my favourite is their first: ‘Message in a Bottle’. I just didn’t realise it at the time. I’m in the minority on this, though, it seems – ‘Every Breath You Take’ is a Rolling Stone / Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Greatest of All Time kind of tune. In 2015 it was voted the UK’s favourite ‘80s #1, and in 2019 it was named the ‘most played song in radio history’, taking over from ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’.

You could compare The Police with another band we’ve recently bid farewell to on this countdown: The Jam. Both rose out of the punk scene in the late seventies to become two of the biggest British new wave bands. Both left their punk roots far behind, but The Jam did so with a sense of exploration – look at the funky ‘Precious’ and the Motown influenced ‘Town Called Malice’. Whereas The Police went down a more soft-rock route, culminating in this monster hit.

And it is a good song, I’m not writing it off completely. But it’s a little too cold, too negative, and too overplayed, to be a favourite. To finish, here’s a very tenuous link between this record, and the previous #1 I mentioned in the intro. ‘Candy Girl’ was the first rap chart-topper… while ‘Every Breath You Take’ will be heavily sampled in what I believe is the best-selling rap single ever released…

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517. ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, by Bonnie Tyler

It’s easy to laugh at some of the worst excesses of the 1980s. The size of the hair! The size of the shoulder-pads! Huge mobile phones! Mountains of cocaine! Well, at least two of those things are in play for our next #1: hair and shoulder pads. (I wouldn’t rule out the cocaine, either…)

Total Eclipse of the Heart, by Bonnie Tyler (her 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 6th – 20th March 1983

Like I said, looking back, it’s common to sneer at certain aspects of the 1980s – in a way that doesn’t seem to happen with any of the other decades currently within human memory – but when they combine to produce something as outrageous as ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, then you’ve got to be glad they happened.

First things first: this is a duet. Kind of. There’s a significant, if uncredited, male voice throughout – one Rory Dodd. Make no mistake, though. This is Bonnie Tyler’s song. She sings it like she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown, like she’s just downed that third glass of wine, like her very life depends on belting these lines out. And there are so many great lines. For a start: I’m living in a powder keg and giving off sparks! (For many, many years I had no idea what she was singing here. It wasn’t a misheard mondegreen; I simply had no idea what a ‘baldergag’ was…) Or the howled: And I need you now tonight…

Then there’s the classic chorus line: Once upon a time I was falling in love, Now I’m only falling apart… It’s the musical equivalent of a telenovela actor’s slow-motion swoon, but it works. What is a total eclipse of the heart..? It’s madness brought on by love. It’s poetry, that’s what it is. This was a bit of a comeback for Bonnie Tyler – her first real hit for six or seven years – and you feel that she could sense this as she recorded it. She leaves nothing behind out there, as they say on ‘Match of the Day’.

But actually, Tyler is only 50% responsible for this record’s brilliance. The rest lies with Jim Steinman’s writing and production. The moment when those enormous eighties drums come thumping in – like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound on steroids –is actually hair-raising. Later on there are explosions, thunder and lightning… and sleigh bells. Was this originally meant to be a festive release? Or did Steinman simply see nothing wrong with sleigh bells in a February release? I hope it’s the latter…

This is a power ballad. It’s probably the ultimate power ballad. It’s certainly the first ‘modern’ power ballad to top the charts. (Honourable mentions to Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, and Babs’ ‘A Woman in Love’.) And though it’s a genre synonymous with ‘80s excess, there aren’t too many of them that will top the UK charts in the coming years. In fact, the next #1 to rival ‘Total Eclipse…’ for first-clenching pomposity might well be the next one written and produced by Steinman, which won’t be for another decade…

We can’t finish this post without mentioning the video. Bonnie Tyler is a teacher in a boys boarding school, who spends her nights prowling the corridors in a white negligée, imagining boys at their desks having their shirts ripped open by wind-machines, fencing in the halls and, by the end, prancing around her in loin cloths a la ‘Lord of the Flies’. Well, a song like this couldn’t have any old, common-or-garden music video, could it…?

‘Total Eclipse…’ offers a different side of the eighties to our previous #1, ‘Billie Jean’. One is slick and modern; the other completely OTT. If I had to choose which side of the decade I’d like to remember, and which song I’d like to come on towards the end of a night out, then it would be this one. And the British public agrees. Sort of. ‘Total Eclipse…’ was voted as the 3rd best #1 of the ‘80s (with ‘Billie Jean’ in 2nd) but, much more importantly, it won a 2013 poll of ‘Best Songs to Sing in the Shower’.

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507. ‘Eye of the Tiger’, by Survivor

We’re meeting some of the decade’s big hitters now (pun fully intended). ‘Fame’, to ‘Eileen’, to this. And it’s another iconic intro. Synths growing, and growing, while a guitar goes chuckachuckachucka… It’s almost disco… Then Bam! Bam bam bam! The chords smash as hard as Rocky Balboa’s punches.

Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, 29th August – 26th September 1982

I love it when the beat drops, and we settle into a groove. The bass riff is great (it’s heavily-influenced by ‘Another One Bites the Dust’). Right here, twenty-seven seconds in, this could be one of the best chart-toppers ever. Except, from this point on it’s all a bit of an anti-climax. It’s a record that shows its hand too early; and the remaining three and a half minutes are a bit of a plod.

Having not listened to this song properly in years, I was fully expecting to be won over by its poodle-rocking silliness. Big hair, power chords, even the title is ridiculous. But the vocals are too earnest. The lyrics are cheesy, and not good cheese. Cheap triangles of Dairylea cheese. It’s missing something, or maybe it’s just been ruined by its prominence in pop culture. It’s been used too many times with tongues in cheek. Hell, it’s been used too many times without tongues in cheek. (Plus, the band didn’t even that big hair…)

It’s polished. It’s glossy. But that’s not really the problem. Most pop music released in the 1980s was glossy and polished. It’s also got a great hook: away from the intro, the best bit is clearly the He’s watching us all with the eye….. Of the tiger line. But. But but but. ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is, I’m sorry, rock music for people who don’t like rock music. All the ingredients are there, but it never builds to anything. It plays it too safe. It’s just verse, chorus, verse, chorus… fade. There’s no solo! Where’s the solo? You’ve got that iconic riff, and no solo? So wrong.

It’s too earnest. That’s the problem. Earnestness in rock music never appeals to me. File it alongside other motivational classics, such as ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and ‘You’re the Voice’, that I’d happily never hear again. Maybe it’s an American thing… We’ve just had ‘Fame’ (I’m gonna live forever…) and now this (Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past, You must fight just to keep them alive…) While in between a bloke in ill-fitting dungarees from Wolverhampton sang an Irish jig about getting into a girl’s pants.

For me, this song exists solely on a ‘Best Rock Album in the World’ CD that got heavy rotation in our family car way back when. I’ve never seen a Rocky film, and it definitely doesn’t feature in any of my regular playlists these days. It’s a childhood memory, and not even that fond a memory… I didn’t particularly like it even as a kid. (I do have a huge soft-spot for 80s hair-metal, though.) Sadly, ‘Eye of the Tiger’s success won’t herald many other hard-rock chart-toppers, and Survivor themselves wouldn’t have another hit until ‘Burning Heart’, from ‘Rocky IV’. Sadly for them, they weren’t invited back for ‘Rocky V’, and that was that as far as their UK chart career went.

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495. ‘Town Called Malice’ / ‘Precious’, by The Jam

Straight in at number one with the lead-single from their final album… The Jam do Motown.

Town Called Malice / Precious, by The Jam (their 3rd of four #1s)

3 weeks, 7th – 28th February 1982

We’ve been treated to some iconic intros in recent weeks: ‘Under Pressure’, ‘Don’t You Want Me’, ‘The Model’… ‘Town Called Malice’ is right up there too. It’s not really a riff, more an explosion of exuberance, a technicoloured smile with a jaunty bassline and a cheesy organ. I know it’s The Jam, because it’s a well-played classic, but it sounds a world away from their earlier #1s.

This being Paul Weller and The Jam, however, things aren’t as rosy as they sound. The title perhaps gives it away, and a quick google of the lyrics (sorry Paul, but they are quite hard to make out) reveals a deeply downtrodden song. Malice is a town where people dream of rosy days and the quiet life, where decisions have to be made: buy beer or clothes for the kids. Some of it is darn near poetic: Rows and rows of disused milk floats stand dying in the dairy yard, And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts…

When he starts to sing about Sunday’s roast beef, I get a huge sense that this is an early-eighties take on Ray Davies’ suburban odes from a generation earlier. Weller wrote it based on his childhood in Woking, a commuter town outside London. Funnily enough, this middle-eight is the most modern-sounding bit of the song, as we go from The Supremes to The Specials’ ska tones. And at its core – which wasn’t always the case with The Kinks – I think ‘Town Called Malice’ is optimistic. It’s up to us to change, A town called Malice… Life may be shit, but you still have to live it as best you can.

Despite being as biting as ever, The Jam do sound happier than they did in 1980. Success puts distance between you and any hardships you’ve endured, and maybe that left them feeling free to experiment with different sounds. It’s certainly a sneak-preview of the soulful sounds that Weller would push to the forefront with The Style Council. And in my mind this song will forever be associated with the scene in ‘Billy Elliot’, where he dances across the rooftops of County Durham (though, much like the contrast between ‘Malice’s melody and lyrics, Billy was dancing in frustration, rather than joy…)

For the second post in a row, we have a double-‘A’ to write about. I’m not sure how much airplay ‘Precious’ got, but the history books have it at #1 and so we must give it a spin. If ‘Town Called Malice’ was a departure for The Jam, then ‘Precious’ is a giant leap. I’d describe it as ‘disco-funk’. There are chucka-chucka guitars, there are horns… I’m half-waiting for Weller to shout ‘Shaft!’ It’s another moment where you can see that The Jam were nearing the end of their shelf-life.

Not that it’s bad. Or that bands shouldn’t try new things. But when you’ve gone from punk to funk in barely five years, it’s clear that the confines of a three-piece, guitar, bass ‘n’ drums band are not enough to satisfy the members’ creativity. Like ‘Malice’, the lyrics are very hard to make out, but unlike ‘Malice’, I feel no compulsion to look them up. This record is a groove, a mood. There’s a short single edit and a longer album version, towards the end of which things go very acid, with a free-styling saxophone.

It all adds to the fact that this has been a brilliantly eclectic start to 1982, with all four number ones (six songs, if you count the two double-‘A’s) bringing something very different to the top of the charts. And for all this talk of the end nearing for The Jam, they have one more #1 to come: their very last release. They’ll be going out on top, then, one of the decade’s most distinct and successful bands. Until then…

489. ‘Under Pressure’, by Queen & David Bowie

It’s time to sound the ‘iconic intro’ klaxon. That bass line, those two piano notes, the handclaps and the finger-clicks… They’re impossible to mistake. Unless you mistake them for, you know, the song that sampled them…

(It is near-impossible to get a picture of Queen and Bowie together at the time this record came out…)

Under Pressure, by Queen (their 2nd of six #1s) & David Bowie (his 3rd of five #1s)

2 weeks, 15th – 29th November 1981

But we’re not there yet, thankfully. We’ve got the original to enjoy first. It’s one of those #1s that come along now and then, one that I could sing along to pretty much in its entirety – even Freddie Mercury’s ad-libs – and yet haven’t actually listened to in years.

One of the first things that stands out is that we have two of the most iconic singers in rock ‘n’ roll history, trying to out-frontman each other. Mercury in particular seems to be asserting himself as the alpha rock star: scatting, soaring into falsetto, taking the Why can’t we give love, give love, give love… line into the stratosphere.

For me, though, it’s Bowie who gets the best bits. From the opening Pressure!, to the driving It’s the terror of knowing… line, to the closing ‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word… I have never sang this at karaoke, but I can imagine it would be great fun. It’s a song full of little moments, and it would be nigh on impossible to camp it up more than Freddie and David do.

The ‘little moments’ idea is actually worth expanding on here. Although ‘Under Pressure’ sounds nothing like the song that marked Queen’s only previous appearance on this blog, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, it is far from being a verse-bridge-chorus kind of pop song. Like ‘Bo Rap’, it’s lots of little segments stitched together, apparently because the two singers recorded most of their parts in separate studios. According to Brian May: “you had four very precocious boys and David, who was precocious enough for all of us.” It could have been a hot mess, but it somehow works wonderfully.

Until today, I had never quite realised what this song was about. It’s quite clear though: it’s about pressure, pressure that puts people on streets. It’s about being a good person, about not sitting on the fence, about giving love one more chance… The video doesn’t feature either act, instead it shows crowds of people spliced with shots from old horror movies, buildings collapsing and, most tellingly, scenes from the Great Depression: ‘2 million unemployed’ one sign reads. I’ve never thought of this as a political song, but it is. The Specials have a rival…

Like ‘Ghost Town’, the message here doesn’t detract from the brilliance of the song (clearly, as I’d missed the message for the past twenty years). And in a just world this would be each act’s eighth or ninth chart-topper, given the hits that both had churned out since the early seventies. But it was just Bowie’s third, and Queen’s second. And amazingly, for a band so synonymous with this decade… ‘I Want to Break Free’, ‘Radio Gaga’, Live Aid… ‘Under Pressure’ is their only #1 of the 1980s. In fact, the bass riff from this song will be back at #1 before they are…

467. ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’, by The Police

You’ve probably noticed that we’re taking our time to meander through 1980. The #1 records in this year didn’t hang around long at the top, with lots of one or two-week stays. But here comes the longest-lodging chart-topper of the year, the lead single from The Police’s brand-new album, entering at the top, for a whole month.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me, by The Police (their 3rd of five #1s)

4 weeks, 21st September – 19th October 1980

Ominous synths, and some guitar noodling. Not the blockbuster kick-off you might have hoped for. But if The Police’s last #1, ‘Walking on the Moon’, taught me anything it’s that this is a band who don’t mind dragging things out. Then in comes a familiar reggae-rhythm, and in that moment you know exactly who you are listening to.

Young teacher, The subject, Of schoolgirl fantasy… I have a few issues with this record, this eighties reboot of ‘Young Girl’, but first off I do like the short, sharp, tabloidy snippets that make up the lyrics. She wants him, So badly, Knows what she wants to be… Though, the tone is so fraught, the synths so ominous, that I think it would be better suited to an even more serious subject. A killer on the loose, Jack the Ripper, something like that…

As with the band’s first chart-topper, ‘Message in a Bottle’, I’m waiting for something to grab me. Luckily, like ‘Message…’ this record has another great chorus. It whacks the song right into life: Don’t stand, Don’t stand so, Don’t stand so close to me… It’s driving, and catchy, and I wish more Police singles could have kept this sort of pace up throughout.

‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’ is based on Sting’s own experiences – he was an English teacher before the band took off – and here is where my concerns creep in. ‘Creep’ being the key term. In it the teacher offers the girl a ride, we can assume he sleeps with her, and word travels around… Then we arrive at what is either one of the best or one of the worst rhyming couplets ever to feature in a chart-topping single: It’s no use, He sees her, He starts to shake and cough… Just like the, Old man in, That book by Nabokov… One things for sure: any English teacher worth their salt knows the name of that book!

There is no evidence that Mr Sumners ever had his wicked way with one of his young charges. Though he has gone on record to say that the temptation was real: “I don’t know how I managed to keep my hands off them,” he revealed, in an interview the following year. I mean… I think it might be the modern-day, slightly pretentious, Tantric-sex version of Sting that makes this sit so uncomfortably. Plus, the song comes across as a bit of a humble-brag: oh how awful it was having teenagers throwing themselves at me, so I became a rock star – a profession famous for its limited access to horny sixteen-year-olds…

Anyway. This is an enjoyable song, though I’m still finding it slightly irritating in the same vague and undefinable way that I’ve found all of The Police’s #1s so far. But, not only was it the longest-running #1 of 1980, it was also the year’s biggest selling single. The Police were huge in this moment, at the height of their fame. Four weeks was enough to make this the year’s longest-running, a run which in other years would have been completely average. 1980 will have a total of twenty-four #1s, tied with 1965 for the most up to then. It’s a figure that won’t be matched again until 1996, or beaten until 1998, when #1 turnover was about to reach its peak.

465. ‘Start!’, by The Jam

The Jam make a quick return to top spot, with a very famous bass-line. One that you may have heard before…

Start!, by The Jam (their 2nd of four #1s)

1 week, 31st August – 7th September 1980

‘Start!’ is notoriously indebted to The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ – there’s no avoiding the fact that the bass riff is pretty much a note for note copy – but while the former has a hash-haze to it, the latter is a squeaky-tight, short and sharp blast of punk-funk. That’s right. I’m inventing new genres as I go along…

It’s a song about a one-night stand… It’s not important for me to know your name… Or some kind of fleeting encounter… If we communicate for two minutes only it will be e-nough… At first glance it’s less of a war cry, compared to the band’s first chart-topper, but it’s actually just as cynical. Knowing that someone in this life, Loves with a passion called hate…

I’m really not sure if Paul Weller is grateful for their two-minute connection, or if he’s glad about never, ever seeing this person again. What I am sure about is that this is a great pop song: minimalist, with razor-sharp guitars and cool drum-fills. It’s as natty as The Jam’s mod-suits and shades combo in the video.

Speaking of the video, the single release of ‘Start!’ shaves fifteen seconds off the album version, trimming the gritty solo and losing the horns that play out over the closing refrain. For me the horns add to the funk here, placing the record firmly in the early-eighties, so if you were choosing between the versions I’d go album every time.

Without wanting to disrespect what I think is a great record, I think a sharp-blasting, one-week #1 like this needs only a sharp blast of a blog post on it. ‘Start!’ probably gets lost among The Jam’s better-known hits, ‘Going Underground’ before it and ‘That’s Entertainment’ after (which charted at #21 by selling only imported copies – a sign of the band’s popularity in 1980). It was also the only one of their four chart-toppers not to enter at the top. But it’s good one, and if this post has just turned you onto the song’s quality, then that will be a start!

456. ‘Call Me’, by Blondie

In which Blondie return after only six weeks away – that’s a very short time between chart-toppers, really – with another disco-rock stomper.

Call Me, by Blondie (their 4th of six #1s)

1 week, 20th – 27th April 1980

About a year ago, when records like ‘Tragedy’ and ‘I Will Survive’ were monopolising the chart’s top-spot, I killed disco off. It had peaked, I said. New-wave, post-punk, electronica were about to take over. But it’s not been that simple… Acts keep sticking a disco beat on their songs and scoring hits: Pink Floyd, Fern Kinney, Dr. Hook… And the masters of it, Blondie.

As with ‘Atomic’, there’s another whip-snapping intro, a drum-roll, and a beat that grabs you along for the ride. And what a ride. Colour me your colour baby, Colour me your car… Not sure what that’s all about, to be honest, but this isn’t the sort of song where you stop to think about the lyrics.

Again, as she did in the band’s previous #1, Debbie Harry is letting loose compared to the ‘Parallel Lines’ hits. Call me! she hollers at the top of her voice… On the line, Call me call me any anytime… It’s pretty clear what kind of call she’s talking about (think Donna Summer in ‘Hot Stuff’…) Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, any day, any way…

‘Call Me’ didn’t feature on any Blondie album – it was recorded for the soundtrack of ‘American Gigolo’, starring Richard Gere, which perhaps explains the unrepentant lyrics and why it followed so hot on ‘Atomic’s heels. The soundtrack version is a full eight minutes long, with beefier synths, and a verse about being taken out and shown off, as all the best gigolos want to be. The producer behind the soundtrack was none other than Giorgio Moroder, which means he’s now been involved in three UK chart-toppers with three different acts, and this won’t be his last…

Few bands have the sort of golden runs that Blondie were having in 1979-80. In just over a year they have had four chart-toppers, all of which I’d say were at least eights out of ten. (If you insist: ‘Heart of Glass’ 9.5, ‘Sunday Girl’ 8, ‘Atomic’ 9, ‘Call Me 8.5) Their one release that didn’t top the charts in amongst all this was ‘Dreaming’, a #2 and another stone-cold classic, much more post-punk than disco (and another 8.5, since you ask.)

Sadly, they have but one chart-topper to come, and – without wanting to give too much away – one that isn’t quite in the same league. And of course they’ll have a huge comeback almost twenty years later, but as great as that #1 is I would count it as something separate. Anyway. Let’s leave Blondie here, at the peak of their powers, and their chart success. A band that sound great anywhere, anytime, any day…