614. ‘A Groovy Kind of Love’, by Phil Collins

Just when I’d made such a big point about us being past the gloopiest years of the decade…

A Groovy Kind of Love, by Phil Collins (his 3rd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 4th – 18th September 1988

It’s Phil, a keyboard, some subtle background strings and percussion, all drenched in glossy, echoey reverb. Only three and a half years have passed since his last #1 – ‘Easy Lover’ – but already Phil Collins feels old-fashioned and left behind by this dancey, sample-heavy era. This feels very 1985… And the use of ‘groovy’ in the title is worth suing for false advertising!

Not that it’s terrible. There’s always space in the musical landscape for a smoochy ballad. It’s just fairly dull, and the lyrics are delivered so slowly that their clunky rhymes stand out even more: When I kiss your lips, Oooh I start to shiver, Can’t control the quiver, -ing inside… When you think of Collins’s hits that didn’t make the top – ‘In the Air Tonight’ and ‘Against All Odds’ both peaked at #2 – you might wonder why this unremarkable one made it.

But then Phil Collins isn’t the only artist to be unfairly represented by his chart-toppers. Sometimes there’s a lull at the top, and something understated and gentle can take over for a couple of weeks. It was also on the soundtrack to the movie ‘Buster’, which I’m guessing helped as well.

For something more interesting we must delve into the history of ‘A Groovy Kind of Love’, which I had never realised dated back two decades, to a #2 hit in 1966 for Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders. (The use of a term like ‘groovy’ makes much more sense in the mid-sixties…) I prefer that version, also a ballad, purely because it sounds like it’s from the 1960s (snappy and guitar-led) and not the 1980s, and I’m biased. Sorry! Meanwhile, the melody is based on a piece by 18th century Italian composer Muzio Clementi, instantly propelling this innocuous ballad into the top two or three oldest #1s, ever. Who knew?

Phil Collins won’t be topping the charts again, but his career will keep ticking away throughout the ‘90s and 00’s, despite him becoming a bye-word for ‘uncool’. It probably didn’t help that he always looked, to me at least, like one of my dad’s old school friends. However, he regained some respect from the hip-hop community, of all places, and still tours despite various health problems. Nowadays his influence is much more recognised, and rightly so. For what it’s worth, he’s the world’s 2nd richest drummer, behind Ringo Starr.

595. ‘La Bamba’, by Los Lobos

We’re hitting a bit of a latin groove in the summer of ’87. After Madonna’s two ‘¿hablas español?’ chart-toppers, here are some actual Mexicans…

La Bamba, by Los Lobos (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 26th July – 9th August 1987

OK. Los Lobos (The Wolves) are from California, but they’re of Mexican heritage, and sound to these untrained ears like the real deal. This is a nice, insanely catchy, interlude at the top of the charts – not just because it’s something a little different, but also because actual guitar-led number one singles were rarer than hens’ teeth in the mid-1980s.

It’s also not often that we get a fully foreign-language record at the top, either. In my initial notes on this, I wrote that it was only the 3rd of the decade. Now I’m struggling to think what the other two were… There’s Julio Iglesias’s similarly Spanish smoothy ‘Begin the Beguine’ (which, to be fair, has a couple of lines of English). Oh yes, and how could I forget Falco’s ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ which, title aside, was fully auf Deutsch.

What is a ‘Bamba’, I’m wondering? It’s not a thing, as such… More of a dance. There’s no direct translation, but the verb bombolear means to shake, or wobble, and so a derivative dance would presumably have a bit of hip wiggling. Put the rest of the Spanish lyrics through a translator, and it turns out to be a bit of a nonsense tune: To dance ‘La Bamba’, You need a bit of grace… I’m not a sailor, I’m a captain… Bam-ba, Bamba…

‘La Bamba’ was originally a hit for Ritchie Valens, and the Los Lobos version featured in a biopic released at the same time as the hit record. Which taps into another emerging theme of 1987: soundtrack hits. ‘Stand by Me’, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, ‘Who’s That Girl’, now this, have all made top-spot at least in part thanks to movies. The Valens film told the story of the first Latino rock ‘n’ roll star, whose rise to fame ended in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper when he was just seventeen.

‘La Bamba’ has a much longer history, though. It’s a Mexican folk song, of the son jarocho school, meaning that its roots stretch back centuries and that this is actually a pretty unique and culturally significant chart-topper. The earliest recording of ‘La Bamba’ is from the ‘30s. Valens took a song he presumably knew from childhood and gave it a rock ‘n’ roll twist… And it eventually ended up on top of the British charts some thirty years later, sandwiched between Madonna and Michael Jackson. The instrumental fade-out in particular sounds very authentically Mexican, though I think that was cut from the single edit.

Los Lobos had been around since the 1970s, and remain around today – having just released an album last year. This cover was by far their biggest hit, though, and what a hit: a #1 from the USA to New Zealand, via the UK, France and seemingly everywhere in-between. And, like I said in the intro, it’s been a refreshing change of pace. Up next, though, we’re back with the eighties big-hitters. The biggest of hitters: MJ himself.

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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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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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585. ‘Stand by Me’, by Ben E. King

From a sixties legend, to a legendary song from the sixties. Who’d have imagined, as we ticked over from 1986 to ’87, that three of the past four #1s would have featured Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, and now Ben E. King…?

Stand by Me, by Ben E. King (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 15th February – 8th March 1987

Let’s be quite honest, the world doesn’t need to know what I think of ‘Stand By Me’. It doesn’t need me to prattle on about the instantly recognisable bass line, and the passion in King’s voice; about the soaring strings and the gospel influence. What more can you say about it…? It’s a good song. Very good. Amazing. One of the best ever. It’s simple – a basic chord progression, accessible lyrics, fairly limited production – yet it proves the notion that writing a good simple song must be fiendishly difficult.

I usually roll the eyes when someone claims of a song that ‘they don’t make ‘em like that anymore’, but when it comes to ‘Stand by Me’ then it’s hard to argue. It was written by King, alongside Lieber and Stoller, and was based on a spiritual song, which in turn had been based on Psalm 46: “will not we fear, though the Earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea”.

There ends today’s sermon, go forth and prosper (you can perhaps tell I’m not a regular at church…) So, ‘Stand by Me’ is technically a religious song, but whereas other holy #1s have preached – I’m looking at you, Lena Martell and Charlene – Ben E. King’s is a humble profession of faith, as long as someone, be it God or his lover, stands with him. Just a few chart-toppers ago, The Housemartins were being similarly low-key religious, and scoring an equally palatable hit.

When originally released, in 1961, ‘Stand by Me’ made a lowly #27 in the British charts. (Number one that week was ‘Well I Ask You’ by Eden Kane – perfectly pleasant, but somewhat lacking in ‘classic’ status.) Ben E. King wasn’t very well served in the UK: this being his only Top 20, though he did make #2 with The Drifters. And I’d always assumed that ‘Stand by Me’ was a 1987 hit thanks to the Rob Reiner movie – another classic. A tie-in video was made, featuring a young Ben E. King morphing into an older Ben E. King, who is then joined on stage by River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton (a sight which takes on a very bittersweet edge knowing the fate that would befall Phoenix just a few years later).

But it turns out that ‘Stand by Me’ was actually given a final push to the top of the charts by an advert for Levi’s jeans, which takes the wholesome gloss off it slightly. Filthy lucre was ultimately behind this beautiful song claiming its rightful chart position. Still, it feels only right that a song of its stature made #1, and it’s interesting to see how generation-defining classics that missed out first time around – ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Imagine’, this – seem to eventually find a way to the top. Class will shine through in the end…

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579. ‘Take My Breath Away’, by Berlin

Serious question: is this the 1980s’ most iconic riff? It’s not a decade known for its riffs, not like the sixties and the seventies anyway. ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘Money for Nothing’, Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, this…?

Take My Breath Away, by Berlin (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 2nd – 30th November 1986

Of course, purists will argue that any riff not played on a guitar ain’t worth mentioning. But the fact that this is played on a squelchy, echoey synth simply makes it even more representative of the era. Add the drums, the backing melody, the video, the fact that it’s from the soundtrack to one of the decade’s biggest movies, and you’ve got yourself an eighties classic: ‘Take My Breath Away’. Or to give it its full title: ‘Love Theme from ‘Top Gun’’.

Watching every motion in my foolish lover’s game… The lyrics are pure power-ballad tosh: profound, until you actually sit down and listen to them. On this endless ocean, Finally lovers know no shame… I was going to let them off as I assumed the band were German and not writing in their first language… But no, Berlin were from Los Angeles. Yet you’re not here for the lyrics; you’re here for the drama, for the fist-clenching, head-shaking silliness of it all. You’re here for the key change, one of the very best of all time.

Even if you’ve never seen it, you’d put a lot of money on the video for this song featuring dry-ice and a wind machine. And it does, as well as lots of bombed out aircraft shells, interspersed with movie footage of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. If there is a story to it, it seems to be that the band are scavengers, returned to the Top Gun Academy following a nuclear apocalypse. It makes as much sense as the lyrics…

It’s a triumph of style over substance – further cementing it as one of the 1980’s defining tunes – but I love it. This could have been quite slow and plodding – it is not a fast song – but Berlin, and lead singer Teri Nunn, give it a ridiculous energy. Also helping is the fact that none other than Giorgio Moroder was on production duty. He adds this to his credits on ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Call Me’ to complete a hattrick of electro-classics (as well as the very first electronic #1 being a cover of his ‘Son of My Father’.) Lady Gaga clearly took ‘Take My Breath Away’ as inspiration for her song on the Top Gun 2 soundtrack but, as much as I love her, she didn’t quite manage to match the original…

‘Top Gun’ has one of the most famous, and successful, movie soundtracks of all time, although this song was the only big UK hit to come from it. This was also the only big UK hit for Berlin, a new-wave band who had been around since the start of the decade. It returned them to the Top 3 in 1990, too, when re-released. And look! It’s only Part I of a quintessential eighties double-header at the top of the charts. Get the hairspray ready for our next #1…

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565. ‘When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going’, by Billy Ocean

The 3rd number one single of 1986, and the third one with what I’d term a ‘distinctive’ intro. From the subtle build of ‘West End Girls’ to this: the song’s title chopped, sliced and diced into an uber-‘80s ‘look what my mixing desk can do!’ mess.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going, by Billy Ocean (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 2nd February – 2nd March 1986

Tough-t-t-t-tuh-tuh-tuh-tough ooh! The barking voice reminds me of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’. Nothing that reminds me of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ can be anything other than reprehensible. Luckily, once the intro is out of the way, things settle down and a decent pop song begins to shine through. I like the bass, and the calypso rhythm. It’s a summer smash, several months too early. I’ve got something to tell you, I’ve got something to say… Billy Ocean sings it smoothly; thankfully nothing like the Baha Men.

I wonder if this is based on a traditional tune, as reggae songs are (even though this is reggae in the loosest sense…) The chorus especially has a nursery-rhyme feel to it. But no, ‘When the Going Gets Tough…’ was written in 1985, for the soundtrack to the Michael Douglas film ‘The Jewel of the Nile’ (it seems the song is much better remembered than the movie…) So it may not be an old song, but it definitely has retro touches. The Darlin’… I’ll climb any mountain… is very sixties Motown, as are the Ooh-ohh-ohh-hoos… lifted straight from ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’.

There’s also a very mid-eighties sax solo. But it’s palatable –I have a very low tolerance for eighties saxophone solos – and works well with the song’s overall jauntiness. I like this: it’s catchy, fun, exuberant… once the intro’s over. I mentioned in my last post that A-ha’s ‘The Sun Only Shines on TV’ might have been a ‘shadow’ number one, and I did wonder if this also might have been one. Had ‘Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)’ and ‘Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car’ – Billy Ocean was one for a good, long song title – immediately preceded it? No. This record was a chart-topper, fair and square.

If I had to choose a song to be Ocean’s sole #1 hit, though, I’d definitely go for the even more Motown-leaning ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’, which had been his breakthrough hit, making #2 a full decade before this. Sadly, and reluctantly, I’ve come to accept that I will never be able to personally control the charts… (though the world would be a much better, Ed Sheeran-less place if I did…)

Billy Ocean’s chart career didn’t last far beyond the late-eighties, though he continues to record and perform, his latest album making the charts in 2020. ‘When the Going Gets Tough…’, meanwhile, will be back at the top of the charts before the century is out.

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554. ‘Into the Groove’, by Madonna

You can dance… For inspiration… With these words, we welcome an icon. The most successful female artist in British chart history. Come on… I’m waiting…

Into the Groove, by Madonna (her 1st of thirteen #1s)

4 weeks, from 28th July – 25th August 1985

Madonna’s first of thirteen (13!) chart-toppers is an ode to the joys of dance: Get up on your feet, Yeah step to the beat… Her boy has to prove his love for her by boogying. She feels free, she feels sweet sensations… It’s a revelation. For someone who grew up with provocative, cone-bra, sex book Madonna, this early hit feels a little trite, a little bit too teenybopper.

But it’s impossible not to at least tap your feet to this record even if, like me, you’re a terrible dancer. It’s got that hi-NRG beat that recent hits from Chaka Khan and Dead or Alive had, which is a very welcome development after some stodgy production and tempo from the class of ’83-’84. May the BPMs keep rising for the remainder of the decade.

One of the (many) criticisms aimed at Madonna over the years is that her voice is a little… limited? Which I think is harsh, but her early hits do bear this out somewhat. Her voice on this one is high-pitched, and a little one-note (plus, the song being at least a minute too long doesn’t help). Over time her voice will deepen and improve.

As I’m writing, and listening, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s not more to this tune than first meets the ears. When she sings that at night I lock the doors where no one else can see…. and complains that she’s tired of dancing by herself… Is this actually a bit filthy? Is the order to get into the groove actually total smut, if you see what I mean? Or am I just desperate to hear controversial, attention-seeking Madonna from the off? A quick internet search proves I’m not alone in thinking this… That’s more like it, Madge!

‘Into the Groove’ is a decent enough debut for Madonna as a chart-topper. A solid enough song for someone who is the template for every single-named female pop star hereafter, from Kylie to Rihanna to Gaga. But in my perfect world her first #1 would have been the throbbing ‘Like a Virgin’, or the ultimate school dance smoocher ‘Crazy for You’ – both of which had been huge hits without making top spot. Madonna was already a giant star when she finally scored a #1 (shades of Elvis back in 1957), and ‘Into the Groove’ was from the soundtrack to her first film, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’. Love or loathe her, Madonna was one of the biggest artists in the world in this moment, and will remain so for the next twenty years.

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545. ‘I Know Him So Well’, by Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson

More balladry, as we continue into 1985. This winter has been very heavy on the slow dances. The closest we’ve come to a toe-tapper was ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, which isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a floor-filler…

I Know Him So Well, by Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 3rd February – 3rd March 1985

Except this next #1, while very much a ballad, has at least got a sense of theatre to it. The intro uses an intriguing combination of plinky-plonky synths and a distant guitar, with a hint of ABBA at their most bombastic (more on that shortly…) Then in comes Elaine Paige. And the second she opens her mouth, you can tell that this song comes from a stage musical.

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally… It’s the diction, you know. Enunciating for the back rows. Proper singing. It’s from ‘Chess’, a musical about, um, chess. Or more accurately, an American and a Russian Grandmaster who compete over the chessboard, as well as for the love of a woman. Elaine Paige is Florence, the Russian Grandmaster’s lover, while Barbara Dickson is Svetlana, his unfortunate wife (in the video Dickson is wearing a luxuriously fluffy ushanka hat, to confirm her Russian-ness).

Why do I enjoy this more than the previous chart-topper: another blockbuster ballad, ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’? In that post, I complained about power-ballads which take themselves too seriously. Power-ballads are inherently ridiculous, and if an artist pretends they aren’t then they end up looking pretentious. And it’s not that Paige and Dickson are taking the piss here; they sing it beautifully. It’s more that any song that’s been wrenched from a musical and slapped on a 7” will sound a bit silly. In Act III of the show all the vocal gymnastics and power chords make perfect sense; as a single it’s very OTT.

The way the chorus comes striding in… Wasn’t it good…! is a brilliant moment, as is the change in octave for the More securi-teee…! line. While the way the two women intertwine their lines towards the end is how all power-duets should end. I can’t imagine that this was at all a cool #1 in the playgrounds of 1985, but who cares for cool? It also helps when your ballad is written by two of the finest pop songwriters of all time, Benny and Bjorn from ABBA, alongside Tim Rice. You can hear it in the little synth and guitar flourishes, and the chord progressions (it’s based on ‘I Am an A’, a song that the band played on tour in 1977 but never released).

Not only does ‘I Know Him So Well’ give us our umpteenth ballad in a row, it gives us our third Cold War chart-topper in the space of a year. The real world encroaching on the pop charts yet again… And before writing this post I had no idea I’d be able to link it with ‘Two Tribes’, but there you go!

Before we go, I have to reveal my most tenuous of connections to this disc. Barbara Dickson is Scotland’s most successful female chart act and, as far as I know, the only chart-topping artist to have attended my high school. While that was a good thirty years before I stepped through the hallowed doors, I can still feel the most tepid of reflected glows as I write this post. Anyway. Up next… Raise your glowsticks to the sky! It’s not a ballad!!

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538. ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’, Stevie Wonder

And so we reach the last of 1984’s colossal ballads. ‘Hello’, ‘Careless Whisper’, now this. Fifteen weeks at #1 shared between them. And can I admit, straight off the bat, that this is my favourite of the three…?

I Just Called to Say I Love You, by Stevie Wonder (his 2nd of two #1s)

6 weeks, from 2nd September – 14th October 1984

Yes, yes, yes. It is fashionable – and quite correct – to scoff at this silly little song for being THE Stevie Wonder’s only solo chart-topper. No ‘Superstition’ (a #11), no ‘Sir Duke’ or ‘Master Blaster’ (both #2s)… Only ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’. And while it’s not anywhere near Wonder’s best work, there’s a charm to it.

It’s a lullaby of a song. And I don’t mean that it’s dull, like ‘Hello’; I mean there’s something in its strangely reggae-ish rhythm that just chills you out. Plus, it’s an easy song to remember, and to sing. It’s a song a mother might sing to their baby, or that a dorky boy might sing down the phone to his crush. It’s cute. It’s not Valentine’s Day, or New Year’s, or the 1st of spring (??)… Stevie’s just calling to say he loves you. (In fairness, some cynics have argued that if a man unexpectedly ‘just calls to say he loves you’, then he must just have done something fairly shitty…)

That’s not to say there isn’t quite a lot wrong with this song, though. The production is cheap and tacky – the drum machine is pure karaoke backing track. Then there are the key changes, which start early, on the second chorus, and just keep coming (to be fair, they are so cheesy I can help enjoying them). And then there are the three rinky-dink notes that it ends on, possibly the laziest ever ending to a number one single.

But I do like the ‘second’ melody – the higher, synth line that compliments the chorus. And if it were a little faster, and the production better, this could be a great song. Seriously. As it is, I like it a lot more than ‘Hello’ and, while I admire ‘Careless Whisper’, ‘I Just Called…’ is a simple love song, simply told. And that’s nice. At least it slightly redeems Stevie Wonder’s UK chart-topping career, after ‘Ebony and Ivory’

I’ve lived abroad for a lot of my life, in non-English speaking places, and I can confirm that this song is universal. ‘Top of the World’ by The Carpenters, ‘My Heart Will Go On’, this. And you can see why… Aside from the blatant sentimentality, which other cultures don’t seem to mind as much, the lyrics are slow and simple, and you can make them out clearly. As I’ve mentioned in posts before, that was a big bug-bear of my late Gran’s: pop singers you couldn’t make out. I never had time to ask, but I’ll bet she approved of this one.

Before we go, it’s worth noting how long songs are staying on top of the charts at the moment. In the last twelve months, we’ve had three 5-weekers, three 6-weekers, and a jumbo 9-weeker. There hasn’t been a one-week #1 for a year and a half. Not sure what this means, if anything, but it’s interesting. What’s also interesting (and slightly depressing) is that this is Motown’s biggest-selling record of all time in Britain. It’s a colossus and, yes, I do kind of love it…

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