629. ‘Sealed With a Kiss’, by Jason Donovan

From an extremely harrowing chart-topper, to one as lightweight, as ephemeral, as they come…

Sealed With a Kiss, by Jason Donovan (his 3rd of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 4th – 18th June 1989

I am glad that I don’t have to ponder life, death and injustice as I listen to Jason Donovan’s take on ‘Sealed With a Kiss’. I don’t have to think much at all, for this is basically karaoke. Perfectly good karaoke, I mean that as no slight on the singing abilities of Mr Donovan, but it’s karaoke nonetheless. The production (Stock Aitken Waterman yet again, as was almost mandatory in 1989) is exactly what you would hear in a Japanese karaoke booth: a cheap replication of the early-sixties original.

It is an odd choice of cover for the hottest young pop star in the country. The melancholy chords, the tempo, and the tone of the song feel very out of step for the Hi-NRG late eighties. I suppose, though, it’s a current teen idol singing a former teen idol’s hit from nearly thirty years before (the song tells the story of two lovebirds separated for an agonisingly long summer) thereby appealing to both kids and their parents. Yet part of me wishes SAW had tarted the song up in their usual tinny Eurodisco dressing – that might have been quite fun. As it is, the song washes past almost unnoticed.

‘Sealed With a Kiss’ had been a #3 hit in 1962 for Brian Hyland, his biggest British record, as well as making #7 on re-release in the seventies. (Hyland’s breakthrough hit, ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ will also soon be reappearing at the top of the charts, in truly traumatic fashion… I can’t wait!) This cover gave Donovan his 3rd #1 in under six months, which is some going. For me, though, it’s a step down from the classic (yes, classic) ‘Especially for You’ and the perfectly fine ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’.

It was also the 3rd SAW #1 in a row, and I’m not sure how many (if any) other producers have done that. Plus, it’s the second consecutive cover of a golden-oldie to make #1. And, even more interestingly for chart nerds like myself, it was the second chart-topper in a row to enter in top spot. That had only happened once before, in 1973. Pre-1990, entering at the top pretty much announced you as the biggest act in the country (or a charity single). As we move into the 1990s, songs are going to enter at the top of the charts more often, and the turnover of #1s is going to increase. The ‘90s are going to take a while to get through, that’s for sure…


627. ‘Hand on Your Heart’, by Kylie Minogue

It’s only May, but here we are with the 3rd Stock Aitken Waterman #1 of the year (and there are still four more to come…)

Hand on Your Heart, by Kylie Minogue (her 3rd of seven #1s)

1 week, from 7th – 14th May 1989

And yes it’s SAW by numbers – it feels like they were getting lazier, or at least more complacent, by the hit – and for sure there are much better Kylie songs from the time that never made number one (‘Step Back in Time’ and ‘Better the Devil You Know’ spring instantly to mind) but, like Jason Donovan’s recent ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’, it’s hard to get very exercised by this, one way or the other.

It’s a pop song: relatively catchy and completely of its time. Not since the Merseybeat days of 1964, glam in ’73, or the height of disco in 1979, has one sound so dominated the British charts. I still think Kylie sounds a little strained: something about the pitch she’s singing in, and the speed of her delivery. By the time of her ‘comeback’ her voice had matured a lot, either through age or singing lessons.

There are flashes, though. The song takes the form of a stern lecture to her lover, demanding him to swear that they are through, and Kylie is at her best when she’s channelling her inner disco diva with the sultry Look me in the eye and tell me we are really through… and the snappy Why did we ever start? For the rest of the song, though, you can’t escape the feeling that both she and the production team are going through the motions. (Though it’s worth noting that at the same time as this was making #1, SAW were also releasing some of their best work with Donna Summer, and we can quietly imagine a parallel universe where ‘This Time I Know It’s for Real’ was the big chart-topping smash ahead of ‘Hand on Your Heart’.)

And… I’m not sure I can think of much more to say here. Apparently this was one of the first singles to sell well as a cassette, and would have had two weeks at #1 if there hadn’t been a problem with its pricing… But even I’m struggling to find that particularly interesting. Both the Kylie and the SAW bubbles will burst as the 1980s become the 1990s, but not quite yet. They’ll both be featuring again in this blog before long… In fact, Stock Aitken and Waterman will also helm the next #1, in very tragic circumstances.

621. ‘Especially for You’, by Kylie Minogue & Jason Donovan

As much a festive tradition as endless turkey sandwiches between Boxing Day and New Year’s, the singles chart has its own version of Christmas leftovers…

Especially for You, by Kylie Minogue (her 2nd of seven #1s) & Jason Donovan (his 1st of four #1s)

3 weeks, from 1st – 22nd January 1989

There’s no way ‘Especially for You’ was supposed to be #1 in late January. It had been lodged behind Cliff’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ (has there ever been a more saccharine festive Top 2?) for all four weeks of that record’s chart-topping run, before ascending to its rightful place at #1 on the first day of 1989.

I say ‘rightful’, for yes, as saccharine as this ballad is, there’s something, especially in the verses, that tugs at the heartstrings. It’s not the lyrics, which are the type you knock-out on the back of a napkin: Especially for you, I wanna tell you you mean all the world to me, How I’m certain that our love was meant to be… Or the production, which is as cheap and cheerful as Stock Aitken Waterman ever got.

It’s something I’ve just noticed, after sitting down to listen to this song properly for the first time in decades… It’s a rip-off of ABBA’s 1981 hit ‘One of Us’. Just listen: the intro, the reggae-ish beat, the harmonies…! And when you base a song on one of the best pop group ever’s best hits, then you’re not going to go far wrong.

Though to call it a complete rip-off is harsh – the chorus is its own beast, and a real earworm – and of course there’s the star quality of Queen Kylie, who can carry any old tripe when she’s in the mood. And then there’s Jason Donovan, who will go on to be 1989’s biggest chart star (well, him and a cartoon rabbit…) It was released in the wake of the couple’s wedding on Australian soap opera ‘Neighbours’– one of the most watched episodes of any soap – amid lots of speculation about a romance in real-life, and so it was bound to be a gigantic hit. The most impressive thing is that old Cliff Richard was able to hold off this juggernaut for so long!

No matter, it eventually made #1 and became SAW’s biggest ever hit. (And, I believe, their only release to sell a million copies.) 1989 will be the year that the production trio peak – they’ll helm a quite incredible seven chart-toppers this year – so it’s only proper that they kick the year off with their best (OK, second best, after Dead or Alive). Sadly, that means that the final year of the decade will probably pale in comparison to 1988, which unexpectedly became my best year for chart-toppers since 1980-81.

604. ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, by Kylie Minogue

And so enters a pop icon…

I Should Be So Lucky, by Kylie Minogue (her 1st of seven #1s)

5 weeks, from 14th February – 20th March 1988

I could try and be clever about this, but no. I love Kylie. I know very few people who don’t like Kylie (apart from Americans, who just don’t know who she is) and those that do dislike her are idiots, plain and simple. She’s uncontroversially, undemandingly, unaggressively lovely – the perfect pop puppet.

And this is where it all started (almost), with Kylie at her most puppety – bopping and smiling her way through a Stock-Aitken-Waterman-by-numbers pop tune. (I genuinely think this is ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, just rejigged in a higher key and sped up a little.) There’s very little to write home about on the music front – it’s catchy and frothy, a disposable stick of bubblegum. She has much better to come.

The main thing I do notice is that Kylie sounds a little uncomfortable. The song is pitched a little too high for her, and the lyrics come so thick and fast… In my imagination there is no complication etc… that they always sound on the verge of getting away from her. In the video too, she grins and wrinkles her nose, but seems very aware of how tacky this tune is. Tacky, and trashy but, like all the best SAW, kind of irresistible.

‘I Should Be So Lucky’ caps off our run of four chart-topping pop bangers. And it’s been a case of diminishing returns, moving from the peerless Pet Shop Boys, past Belinda Carlisle and Tiffany to, God love her, Kylie. The full gamut of late-eighties pop, in fourteen weeks of chart-topping singles. And when was the last time, if ever, that we had three solo female #1s in a row…? (And not one of them British!)

I don’t really need to go into the Kylie backstory. ‘Neighbours’, Scott and Charlene, yadda yadda yadda. Plus it’s probably best saved for her next number one, in which a storyline from the show plays out on top of the charts. I was much too young to experience all this first hand, but I will say that meeting Kylie in writing this blog feels like a big step towards my childhood. She was still churning out huge hits when I was a teenager, and even older. And she didn’t feel like a well-regarded legacy act but a genuinely still-popular star. Back then, when she was taking over the world with sophisticated pop classics like ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’, the early SAW hits from a decade previous looked and sounded impossibly naff. They deserve their moment in the sun, though, and there’s plenty more to come before the decade’s out.

This is my final post of 2022, and so I’ll wish all my visitors, readers, likers and commenters a very Happy New Year, and a healthy and wealthy 2023. See you in a few days!


578. ‘Every Loser Wins’, by Nick Berry

Another novelty on top of the UK charts… Unless I’m forgetting someone obvious, Nick Berry becomes the first singer of dubious talent to top the charts thanks to starring in a popular soap opera. We’ve had TV detectives (Telly Savalas) and TV themes (The Simon Park Orchestra), now this…

Every Loser Wins, by Nick Berry (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 12th October – 2nd November 1986

Having already seen the birth of the comedy-charity single earlier in the year, is it time to declare 1986 as the year that destroyed the charts…? Well, I was expecting this to be truly horrific, but to be honest it’s mainly just bland. We nearly made it… Nick croons. He’s not a bad singer, though it’s the sort of voice that you instantly forget, even as the record is still playing… Every loser wins, Once the dream begins…

The worst bit is the horrible three-note synth flourish that pierces the mellow mood every few lines, and on which the song ends. The second worst are the limp lyrics, twisted together to make ungainly lines. The best bit is the moment the big eighties drums come thumping in, raising hopes that this might reach a bombastic finish. But it doesn’t; it slips to an unmemorable, flaccid ending.

Nick Berry played Simon ‘Wicksy’ Wicks in ‘Eastenders’, which had only been on air for a year or so before this record made #1. (While ‘Coronation Street’ had been around almost thirty years without troubling the charts…) The reason I thought that this was going to be horrendous is that I was vaguely aware of a record based on the ‘Eastenders’ theme… That was Anita Dobson (AKA Mrs Brian May’s) disco-lite ‘Anyone Can Fall in Love’, which had made #4 just a few weeks earlier. And again, listening to that for the first time, it isn’t quite as awful as I was anticipating either… I must be in a good mood tonight!

There is a hint of the ‘Enders’ theme in the intro to ‘Every Loser Wins’, too, if you listen close enough. Berry was the show’s first pin-up, his character a happy-go-lucky lad – which makes you wish they’d given him a livelier song to launch his singing career with. I use the term ‘career’ lightly, though he did make #2 a few years later, with a cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Heartbeat’, theme song to the programme of the same name. He retired from acting, and presumably singing too, in 2019.

So. This is far from our one and only soap star chart-topper. It’s not even our one and only ‘Eastenders’ chart-topper… (And, if we’re being thorough, we have already had an one, years before the show was even a twinkle in a producer’s eye, from Wendy Richard in 1962.) Meanwhile, Down Under, a soap had just started airing, one that would go on to dominate our charts during the final few years of this decade. With, it must be said, largely better songs than this!

(Apologies for the quality of the video below… We’re not spoiled for choice with versions of ‘Every Loser Wins’ on YouTube.)