You can imagine, when this next number one started getting airplay on radios up and down the country, people pausing for a moment. What’s this? It’s an intriguing intro, a mix of country and funk. Not something you hear every day…
Come On Eileen, by Dexys Midnight Runners (their 2nd and final #1) & The Emerald Express
4 weeks, 1st – 29th August 1982
And then a glissando. Do glissandos ever lead to anything bad? You need self-confidence to use them – you don’t just go around throwing glissandos around willy-nilly – but they always enhance. Into an Irish jigging, beer sloshing, knees-up of a song. Try not dancing to this. Just try!
Kevin Rowland’s vocals are as hard to make out as they were on ‘Geno’ (probably the only similarity between this and Dexys’ first chart-topper). I think that’s part of the appeal – when you’re drunk and jiving along you can just make them up! Come on Eileen, I swear I’ll be mean, I’ll come on less, Take off on every wing…
The line that I could always make out was the opening one: Poor old Johnnie Ray… Shout out to Mr. Ray, AKA The Prince of Wails, my favourite of the pre-rock chart-toppers. Footage of him also featured in the video. After that, it’s the story of a boy trying to seduce a well brought-up Catholic girl. You in that dress, My thoughts I confess, Verge on dirty…
I like the fact that she means everything to him… at this moment. Don’t do it, Eileen. He’s not to be trusted! And then there’s the best bit – the middle eight, where we slow down to a beer-hall stomp that gradually gets faster and faster. It’s pure music hall. It’s outrageously catchy. It’s one of the eighties’ biggest hits; but one that sounds completely out of place in this, or any, decade.
Do Irish people secretly hate this song? All the too-ra-loo-rahs might get on my nerves if I were from the Emerald Isle. We just need a ‘begorrah’ to cap it all off. Maybe it’s the Irish equivalent of ‘Hoots Mon’ (though I’m Scottish, and I loved that one). And at least Kevin Rowland is of Irish descent. Dexys had only had one further Top 10 hit since ‘Geno’, and this was the lead single from only their 2nd album. The ‘Emerald Express’ featured in the title was just for show – though the band did go through several line-up changes in their short time together.
And I’m going to end on something of a downer. As fun as ‘Come On Eileen’ is – and it is hard to write a song that is such a communal crowd-pleaser – I feel it’s been bestowed with almost mythic qualities. There’s a scene in ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ where the cool kids hear the song’s opening bars and act as if they’ve heard the voice of God himself. Is it one of the greatest ever chart-toppers? Is it transcendent? Or is it just the perfect song to throw on towards the end of a wedding disco, so that your drunken uncle can do the can-can?
The last few number ones to feature in this countdown have given me the feeling that the eighties are off and running. Those songs, from Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz and Adam & The Ants, may not be among the very best that this decade has to offer, but they are unmistakably of a time and place. You might think ‘Going Underground’, or ‘Call Me’ were #1s from the 1970s, but you wouldn’t make that error with ‘Stand and Deliver!’
Before the eighties got started, we had to pay our respects to the seventies, and even the sixties. John Lennon was murdered outside his New York apartment in early-December 1980, sparking several months of mourning at the top of the UK charts. Three of his records went to number one. Two of which probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t died (‘Starting Over’ and ‘Woman’) and one of which surely had to top the charts at some point: ‘Imagine’. We can just thank our lucky stars it was the original that belatedly did it, rather than a cover by the ‘Cast of X Factor’, or something. It’s tempting to think that the need for something lighter then prompted the success of Shakey and Adam Ant, and the mini-glam revival that they brought with them, though I’m not sure how true that would really be.
And before all that sadness, we made our way through one of the great years for chart-topping singles: 1980. The variety was huge: country yarns from Kenny Rogers, old rereleases (the theme from ‘M*A*S*H’), and reggae covers from Blondie. And then there were the all-time classics sprinkled in amongst it all: ‘Atomic’, ‘Going Underground’, ‘The Winner Takes It All‘, ‘Ashes to Ashes’… This recap barely covers a year and a third, so quick was the turnover at the top of the charts – two weeks being the norm – and that aided the mix.
Things probably weren’t as cutting-edge as last time however. The spiky creativity of new-wave had, in the large part, given way to pop from some seventies leftovers: Bowie, Blondie, ABBA with their final pair of chart-toppers, and ELO finally getting their turn at the top in collaboration with Olivia Newton-John. Even the Bee Gees made an appearance, though as songwriters for Barbra Streisand rather than under their own steam. But it wasn’t all ‘oldies’: The Jam staked their claim as the biggest band in the country with a couple of #1s, and Dexys Midnight Runners hit top-spot with a genre-bending tribute to a soul legend.
And before I dish out my awards, it’s worth checking in on old Father Disco. Update: he’s still not dead, despite what they’d have you believe. Although the genre’s peak passed several recaps ago, various recent #1s still have that unmistakeable beat, and those swirling strings: ‘Together We Are Beautiful’, TheDetroit Spinners, and Kelly Marie (who upped the tempo even more to give us a glimpse into the future of ‘80s dance-pop), right through to our most recent chart-topper from Smokey Robinson.
To the awards, then. In fact, this time the four winners have fallen into place very easily. There’s not been much deliberation needed at all. First up, The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability. This one required the most thinking – I could have swayed to Fern Kinney, to ‘Crying’, to Smokey, even to ‘Woman’ – but in truth Johnny Logan’s Eurovision snooze-fest was always out in front. ‘What’s Another Year’ takes the crown this time around.
On to The ‘WTAF’ Award, dished out to those number ones that you just don’t quite get but at least they’re interesting. Again it’s an easy decision – the only other possibility being ‘Suicide Is Painless’ for its ten-year overdue success. But no. Step forward Joe Dolce and his Music Theatre for puncturing the Great John Lennon Mourning Period with his slice of Italian nonsense. No, you ‘Shaddap You Face’!
And speaking of easy decisions. It’s not often that a record as ear-achingly bad as ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’ comes along. I haven’t even considered what I would’ve named The Very Worst Chart-Topper if the boys and girls of St. Winifred’s School Choir hadn’t nabbed a Christmas number one. Because, let’s be honest, there can be no discussion. Looking down my ‘very worst’ list, there are some ‘bad’ chart-toppers that can count themselves unlucky to be sharing such hideous company…
And finally: The Very Best Chart-Topper. The sixteenth time it has been awarded and, to be honest, I’ve been planning this one for a while. I try to not plan my awards too far ahead, but since starting this blog, and these recaps, I’ve know that this record would be winning this award. And it helps that it’s only real competition – ‘Atomic’ – is ineligible thanks to my one award per artist rule. ‘Heart of Glass’ won last time out, and so the coast is clear for ‘The Winner Takes It All’ to reign supreme. ‘Waterloo’ finished third, ‘Dancing Queen’ finished second… ABBA’s best single finally wins it.
To recap the recaps:
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.
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.
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.
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.
In a couple of days we’ll continue on through the early 1980s. And up next: things get even more eighties, as the decade’s biggest star scores his first solo #1.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years that 1984 was ‘The Best Year’ for pop music, ever. I would disagree and, from the chart-toppers POV that this blog takes, 1984 is in truth a far from vintage year which we’ll hear all about soon enough. No, my vote for best year of the ‘80s, in terms of #1s, would be 1980 itself. Blondie, ABBA, The Jam, The Pretenders, The Specials, Bowie, Lennon and ELO. Yes, yes, yes. A done deal. Except…
There’s No One Quite Like Grandma, by St. Winifred’s School Choir (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, 21st December 1980 – 4th January 1981
1980 had to go and ruin things with its final #1. For, ladies and gentlemen, I present this year’s Christmas Number One, and the record that kept the late John Lennon from scoring an unprecedented three consecutive chart-topping singles: the sweet, sweet tones of St. Winifred’s School Choir.
Whichever way you try to approach this record – as a novelty, as a camp curio, as a nursery rhyme, as a cynical attempt to cash-in at Christmas – one thing’s for sure. It’s a God-awful piece of music. The budget kiddies-TV backing track, the choir, the little girl who sings the lead… Grandma we love you, Grandma we do… The key-change! (Oh Christ, the key-change…) The stench only intensifies when you find out that this was originally written as a tribute to the Queen Mother for her eightieth birthday!
It’s so bad that it’s almost not worth elaborating. The bit where the lead girl sings about ‘potty time’ (I presume it’s actually ‘party time’) and the bit where grandma is killed off towards the end… We’ll look back and say, There’s no one quite like grandma, She has helped us on our way… It’s all terrible, and you don’t need me to tell you why. Just listen, shudder, then go about your day as best you can (after liking and commenting, ta…) It would also be whacking some very low-hanging fruit to make fun of these seven and eight-year-olds, singing their little hearts out for their dear old grannies.
This song storms instantly into my Top 3 worst chart-toppers so far (alongside ‘All Kinds of Everything’ and ‘No Charge’, in case you’re wondering). But I’ve never bothered properly ranking them because I don’t want to really remember that they exist. It has also caused me to reassess this song’s obvious counterpart, Clive Dunn’s ‘Grandad’, the (almost) Xmas #1 from 1970. Compared to this, ‘Grandad’ is quite the sharp-eyed satire.
This isn’t actually the first time we’ve heard from St. Winifred’s School Choir – the school is in Stockport, Greater Manchester, and they provided uncredited backing vocals on Brian & Michael’s Mancunian anthem ‘Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs’. It is though, thankfully, the last time we’ll hear from them. The choir has released eight (8!) albums, and if you’d like to hear their takes on ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Bright Eyes’ and ‘Rivers of Babylon’ then you’ll have to search for them yourself cause I ain’t linking!
So there we are. The first year of the 1980s finally draws to a close. Though its final chart-topper was a complete and utter howler, I am still ranking it among the very best years for the quality of its number ones. I fear I may not be so generous about what remains of this decade…
(I’m breaking my rule on not posting ‘live’ versions here but, to be honest, each one’s as bad as the next…)
It’s been well over a decade since we heard this voice at the top of the charts, one of rock’s most famous. It’s great to hear it again… just a shame about the circumstances.
(Just Like) Starting Over, by John Lennon (his 1st of three #1s)
1 week, 14th – 21st December 1980
Three clear notes are struck – three notes that always make me think of a yacht coming into harbour – before an old-style acoustic intro. Our life… Together… Is so precious… Together… John Lennon made no secret for his love of rock ‘n’ roll music, and this is his tribute to the stars he grew up with, those who caused him to pick up a guitar: Elvis is the one who comes across most in the vocals, but there’s Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent in there too.
It’s a love-letter too, to his second wife, Yoko Ono, who appears on the cover and on the ‘B’-side… But when I see you darling, It’s like we both are falling in love again… It’ll be, Just like starting over… As controversial as her role in The Beatles’ final years is (and I think she gets a very bad rap), Lennon loved her dearly.
When the beat kicks in, the production is very early-eighties gloss. Thick, echoey drums, noodley guitar licks and the like. It’s got a karaoke backing-track feel to it – if that isn’t a huge insult to one of the 20th century’s most revered musicians – and doesn’t scream ‘lead-single from John Lennon’s first album in five years’. He chose it as the lead, though, not because he thought it was the best song on the LP, but because the theme of ‘starting over’ fit in with his comeback.
‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ doesn’t scream ‘huge #1 hit’ either, to be honest. It’s fine, it’s catchy, it’s far from Lennon’s greatest moment. I prefer the rock ‘n’ roll covers he had put out a few years earlier: they’re rawer, cooler. This needed a push to return him to the top, and that push came on the evening of December 8th, when a deluded fan, Mark Chapman, shot him in the entrance to his apartment in New York.
This single had peaked at #8 a few weeks earlier, but had dropped to #21 the day before his death. When the news broke, fans rushed out to buy his records as a mark of respect – in those pre-download days you had to make do with what was on the shelves – and this single was waiting for them. It’s the same reason why ‘Way Down’ became Elvis’s ‘funeral number one’. And ‘… Starting Over’ must have seemed nailed-on to become Christmas #1 too… yet fate had other ideas.
Unlike Elvis’s death, this chart-topper kicks off a run of Lennon-mania at the top of the charts. Between December 1980 and the following March, four out of the six UK number ones will be by John Lennon, or a cover of. The two records that disturb this run…? Um, classics, the pair of them… The first of which is up next.
I had no idea, when I wrote this post on ABBA’s final UK #1, that I would be publishing it the day after ABBA returned triumphantly to the top of the charts with their comeback album. It’s a nice bit of symmetry…
Super Trouper, by ABBA (their 9th and final #1)
3 weeks, 23rd November – 14th December 1980
In my eight earlier posts on ABBA, I believe I’ve given very short shrift to those among us that dislike Sweden’s greatest gift to the world (sorry IKEA, sorry Vikings…) Until now, that is. For I do kind of understand why ‘Super Trouper’ might get on your nerves.
That’s not to suggest anything but love for this, their final UK #1. Ask twelve-year-old me, and he’d probably name ‘Super Trouper’ as his favourite ABBA song. The chorus is pitched perfectly at a kid’s ears: the soopapa troopapa backing vocals, the computer game synths… But the chorus, unexpectedly, is the worst part of this song.
One of the reasons I loved this song as a child is that it name checks Scotland’s biggest city in its opening lines: I was sick and tired of everything, When I called you last night from Glasgow… (Glasgow! My gran and grandpa live in Glasgow!) Childhood associations aside, that line is pure ABBA. Then they go and rhyme it with ‘last show’. Most bands using English as a first language would have tossed it out with the first draft. Besides, Glasgow is hardly the first place you’d think of to encapsulate the life of a world-famous pop star…
Or maybe that’s the point. Because ‘Super Trouper’ is all about the drudgery of pop stardom. All I do is eat and sleep and sing, Wishing every show was the last show… (A super trouper is a stage light, whose beams might indeed blind those on stage.) ABBA weren’t the first, nor the last, band to write a song about how terrible it is being famous. But somehow they manage to do it without the message grating. It’s a gift, definitely, to be able to wrap lines bemoaning a success that never ends in glossy pop chords, and getting away with it.
This record might not hit the heights of some of the band’s earlier hits, but there’s still one moment of pure ABBA Gold. Frida’s vocals in the bridge: So I’ll be there, When you arrive… In ABBA’s final number one, it’s the last of many moments of pop perfection. From ‘Waterloo’s glam-rock pre-chorus, to this. Thank you, as they themselves would say, for the music. Just in case anyone’s interested, I would rank ABBA’s nine #1s thusly:
That list only tells half the story, though, as many of the band’s classics, and some of my favourites, never got to number one. I will do a ‘Best of the Rest’ soon, and I can’t wait. Following this final chart-topper, they would have just two more Top 10s, releasing what many think is their best album, before finally fizzling out in 1982.
I don’t know quite how true it is, but popular knowledge would have it that ABBA were done and dusted, the carpet pulled over them like an embarrassing stain, by the late eighties. My parents liked them, though they are definitely not representative of society as a whole. But then the ‘90s brought ‘ABBA Gold’, Erasure’s covers, and ‘Mamma Mia’. By the time the stage-show had been made into a movie, everyone loved ABBA again. Unless you’ve already moved to your doomsday bunker in the woods, you’ll have heard that they reformed earlier this year, and have released said #1 album, their first in forty years. Who knows, there may still yet be time for them to add to their tally of #1s…?
I spoke of the variety that 1980 has offered us in my last post, and talking of variety… For their 3rd #1 of the year, Blondie go reggae.
The Tide Is High, by Blondie (their 5th of six #1s)
2 weeks, 9th – 23rd November 1980
It’s a huge departure from their two quick-fire, pounding, disco-rock chart toppers – ‘Atomic’ and ‘Call Me’ – from earlier in the year. I love those two hits and have to admit that, although this is catchy pop, it’s not in the same league. The tide is high, But I’m holding on… coos Debbie Harry, whose voice has lost much of the bite it had in those earlier hits… I’m gonna be your number one…
There are still good things to make a note of. The way Harry flirts with the I’m not the kinda girl, Who gives up just like that… line, for a start. And the extra snarl she gives the hi-igh in the closing lines. Plus there’s a cool drum intro on the album version. But overall, it’s quite sedate, quite pleasant. Quite nice. But I’d say it was the band’s huge fame that took this to the top of the charts, rather than any real ‘wow’ factor that this new single had.
‘The Tide Is High’ is a cover, originally recorded by Jamaican group The Paragons in 1967. Their version has a nice, homely charm to it. Blondie took it, changed the pronouns, and scored a #1 on either side of the Atlantic ahead of their new album. They also made a video for the song: a classic example of the low-budget, pre-MTV age. A flooded apartment, a rocket launch, Darth Vader… What’s not to love?
I’ve recently been listening to all of Blondie’s studio albums and, ‘Parallel Lines’ aside, they definitely come across more as a singles band. That’s not to say the rest is all filler – their first album has some great moments, for example – but the singles they released were consistently outstanding. Few bands can match Blondie’s run of hits between 1976 and 1980.
In conclusion, then… I do like this song. If it were by a lesser band, a one-hit wonder perhaps, then I might be singing its praises. But I expect a little more from Blondie. For this to be their swan-song at the top of the charts feels like a bit of a damp squib. After this came ‘Rapture’ – the first rap #1 on the Billboard charts – and one more studio album, but drugs and in-fighting meant they called it a day in 1982. Then… oh yeah. Forget that stuff about this being a swan-song. Then they reformed, nearly twenty years later, and scored a sensational middle-aged comeback #1, that you’ll be able to read all about if/when I manage to crawl my way to 1999…
Is there a softer-rock intro than that of this next #1? Woozy guitars, soaring strings, a gentle riff…
Woman in Love, by Barbra Streisand (her 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, 19th October – 9th November 1980
We came through the plodding soft-rock of the mid-to-late seventies – the David Souls, the Commodores, ‘If You Leave Me Now’ and more – and made it to the promised land of New-Wave. But any fears I have that this record might be the start of another soggy patch of MOR balladry are banished pretty quickly. Yes, this is glossy, and soppy, but if it isn’t a bit of an earworm too…
Life is a moment in space, When the dream is gone, It’s a lonelier place… OK, the lyrics are the usual love-song piffle: grand imagery that actually means very little. But Barbra Streisand sells it, cooing the verses and belting the chorus… It’s a right I defend…! she hollers. The right to be a woman in love. It’s hard to dislike any song when the singer goes for it as she does.
Also on this record’s side is the fact that it was written by two out of the three Bee Gees, who had spent the last couple of years ruling the charts (in the US in particular.) Pair the Gibb brothers’ pop nous with Streisand’s vocal chops and you’re on to a winner. Sometimes, yes, the Broadway-ness of ‘Woman In Love’ gets a little too much. It’s not subtle but, if you’re in the mood for it, perhaps three or four glasses of wine deep into a karaoke evening, then it’s a classic.
Streisand was of course already a huge star by this point in her career. ‘Woman In Love’, and the album it came from – ‘Guilty’, which features her and Barry Gibb clinching on the cover – was definitely the peak of her pop chart powers, in the UK at least. (In the US she had been charting since the mid-sixties, and had scored four chart-toppers before this, her last.)
While you could, and I did, draw a line from this back to seventies soft-rock, I feel like this is a different proposition from David Soul or Leo Sayer. Bigger, bolder, more muscular. Aggressive soft-rock? Can that be a thing? It’s definitely a window into what awaits later in this decade. In my post on David Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’, I wrote that that record was the most ‘eighties’ moment yet at the top of the charts. I’d add ‘Woman in Love’ here – for completely different reasons. In fact, this is something of a template, a ‘Women Singing Power Ballads 101’, that will last on through Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, well into the next century.
Not only has 1980 had a lot of #1 singles, it’s had a wide variety too. Ska-punk from The Specials, TV-show weirdness from M*A*S*H, pop-perfection from ABBA… now this. Is it too early, ten months in, to name 1980 as the best year of the entire decade…??
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.
Grab something tight, get the hairspray out, down your Lambrini… We’re off to the dancin’.
Feels Like I’m in Love, by Kelly Marie (her 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, 7th – 21st September 1980
This is a pure sugar-rush of a song, a blast of amyl in your nostrils. The beats-per-minute are up, the synths are heavy, the bass is funky… There are times when a track like this sounds cheap and tacky; but there are others when this might just sound like the best thing ever recorded.
It’s also a song that doesn’t waste any time in getting going. Quick crescendo, a glissando, then boom. My head is in a spin, My feet don’t touch the ground… Kelly Marie is in love: spinning head, shaking knees, heart beating like a drum. Well, she’s either in love, or off her tits on disco biscuits. Whatever. She’s having a great time, and that’s the main thing.
This is pure disco, in one sense, and it had been recorded at the genre’s peak, well over a year before becoming a hit. We have Kelly Marie’s homeland to thank for the song’s eventual success. She’s fae Paisley, and the record had been popular in Scottish clubs long before it took off nationally. (Dance music is, for whatever reason, always more popular on the Scottish charts, to this day.) Plus, somehow this sounds exactly like a disco record from Paisley should. And I mean that as a compliment. Probably. It feels like the dance music of the future, too, though: it’s got the pace of Hi-NRG, and the trashy aesthetic of the Stock Aitken Waterman to come.
I have to admit I love the kitschy little details here: the ‘aaahs’, the ‘ch-chs’ and, most of the all, the ‘pew-pew’ heartbeats, which are the tackiest sound effects to feature in a #1 single since Anita Ward’s bell. There are also horns, though only in one version, which I don’t think was the original. (I’ll link to it here, because as with The Jam’s ‘Start!’, the horns only improve things further.)
‘Feels Like I’m in Love’ has an interesting history to it. It was written by Ray Dorset, the lead singer-songwriter of Mungo Jerry. They recorded it in 1977, but it was only ever released as the ‘B’-side to a Belgian single. Theirs is a much more sedate version, lacking in sound effects, and if you struggle to imagine Mungo Jerry performing this song, then get your head around that fact that Dorset wanted to pitch it to Elvis! I’d pay good money to hear that. Sadly, the King died before he could get round to it. Happily, some genius on YouTube has recorded his take on what it may have sounded like, and it is… something.
Kelly Marie also had a long route to the top, where her stay was brief. She’d had a few hits in Europe, including a #1 in France, and would have a few smaller hits after this. Her biggest hit was remixed and re-released in 1990, but that version has had something sapped out of it. The original ‘Feels Like I’m in Love’ is her legacy to the world and, to be fair, there are far worse legacies to leave than this fun slice of Paisley-disco.
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!