Recap: #541 – #570

To recap, then…

The past thirty number one singles have taken us through the customary year and a half, from late ’84 to the early summer of ’86. Slap-bang in the middle of the decade. I like to, wherever possible, theme my recaps, to brand them with whatever act, or sound, has been prevalent at the time. We’ve had a rock ‘n’ roll recap, an Elvis recap, a Merseybeat recap, a glam recap, a disco recap… This, then, is our nineteenth recap: the charity record recap.

Yep. We went through thirty plus years of chart-toppers without a single one donating its proceeds to charity. But of the last thirty chart-toppers, five have been for a good cause (that’s roughly 16%, maths lovers!) We started with the daddy of all charity singles – ‘daddy’ in that it basically birthed the genre, and also because it’s still one of the best – Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

We then moved on to USA for Africa’s ‘We Are the World’ – a bloated, American take on Band Aid. Two original songs, at least, by legends like Geldof, Ure, Jackson and Wonder. Charity singles then started to evolve, and quickly. Next came the cover versions: The Crowd’s take on terrace anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, and Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s pantomime dame reading of ‘Dancing in the Street’. Finally, this new genre settled on a format, one that will be plaguing the charts from now until the end of time: the novelty charity single. Cliff and the cast of ‘The Young Ones’ pratted their way through a pretty unlistenable cover of ‘Living Doll’.

I’ve had to take an executive decision when it comes to charity records. While it is unlikely I will ever name one as a ‘Very Best Chart-Topper’ (though you never know), I will always try, if at all possible, not to name one as a ‘Very Worst Chart-topper’ either. Their hearts are in the right place, you see. It would be like kicking a puppy, stealing candy from a baby… No matter how bad they are, there will always be another terrible record that isn’t raising money for the poor and the needy.

Away from charity records, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. On the downside, we’ve had records featuring the worst excesses of ‘80s production. ‘19’s choppy vocal line, and ‘When the Going Gets Tough…’ with its monstrous intro. Songs that might have been good, spoiled by the pervading electronic cheapness: ‘Frankie’, ‘If I Was’, and ‘A Good Heart’ all tainted by tinny synths and gimmicky effects.

Some acts, though, made the sounds of the time work for them. A-ha used their synths to theatrical effect on ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, the Bee Gees and Diana Ross managed to meld eighties production with a sixties Motown sound on ‘Chain Reaction’. While Falco programmed his keyboards to give us a fun and funky take on Mozart’s life story with ‘Rock Me Amadeus’: the first Austrian, and the first German-language, number one.

We also met a new set of legends, three acts who will dominate the singles chart in the late eighties/early nineties, and well into the 21st century in the case of one lady. Yes, Madonna finally scored a UK #1 with ‘Into the Groove’: a decent slice of dance-pop, though she’s got much better songs to come. Then Whitney Houston made an understated, jazzy entrance on ‘Saving All My Love for You’. While the Pet Shop Boys scored one of the decade’s strangest and best-loved (just not on this blog…) chart-toppers with ‘West End Girls’.

And before we get to the awards, we also have to recognise that we are still firmly in the age of the power ballad. Jim Diamond gave us our first taste of those big eighties drums, while Frankie Goes to Hollywood went spiritual for their final #1. Foreigner gave us what is, in my book, one of the worst examples of the genre. Jennifer Rush, meanwhile, gave us one of the very best in ‘The Power of Love’.

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So. Let’s start with The ‘Meh’ Award for the most forgettable of the past thirty number one hits. There were three songs that really failed to get my pulse raising, for good or bad. UB40 & Chrissie Hynde’s plodding take on ‘I Got You Babe’, Midge Ure’s MOR ‘If I Was’, and George Michael’s (too) understated ‘A Different Corner’. The latter two didn’t connect with me simply because they’re not to my taste. ‘I Got You Babe’ didn’t connect because it’s a pretty insipid cover of a classic. UB40 & Chrissie take it.

Onwards, to the The WTAF Award, which rewards the songs that went for being interesting over being particularly good. Again, I have it down to three. Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’: ground-breaking but gimmicky. Jagger & Bowie’s ‘Dancing in the Street’: camp silliness in the name of charity. And Falco’s ‘Rock Me Amadeus’: German camp silliness in the name of Mozart… I do like me a powdered wig: I’m giving it to Falco!

Now for the two biggies. The 19th Very Worst Chart-Topper. Again, I have three candidates. Cliff, Hank and the Young Ones’ ‘Living Doll’ was pretty dire. Except, it’s a charity record and I’ve literally just promised not to award them this… Bugger. Okay. That leaves us with Spitting Image’s ‘The Chicken Song’, a piss-take of novelty records that manages to be just as bad, if not worse, than the records it parodies. And the ultimate teeth-clenching, constipated, soft-rock power ballad: Foreigner’s ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’.

I should award it to ‘The Chicken Song’, because it is a horrible piece of music. But it’s supposed to be a horrible piece of music. It wants to you to recognise it as a horrible piece of music. It is the naughty child at the back of the class, begging for attention. We must ignore it and hope it goes away. I’m awarding this to Foreigner then, for condensing the worst of the overwrought, over-serious ‘80s into five minutes of fist-clenching earnestness.

Finally, the The Very Best Chart-Topper. To be honest, there isn’t a standout track. This wasn’t a massively strong bunch. Some of the previous ‘Bests’ would walk to the prize here. I liked ‘Chain Reaction’ and my birth #1 ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, but not quite enough to nominate them. I really liked Eurythmics one and only #1, the vocabulary-stretching ‘There Must Be an Angel…’ But, again, is it ‘Very Best’ material? Not for me. So, I have two in mind…

Showing Foreigner that power-ballads can be great if done properly: Jennifer Rush. And the only record of the past thirty that truly gets me tapping my toes: Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round…’ It’s a tough one. Both are good for very different reasons. Both are songs I’ve liked for a long time. If ever there was a time for a tie, it’s this. But that’s a cop out. Put it this way: if I had five minutes to live, I’d want to hear Dead or Alive. They win… Just.

To recap the recaps, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
  14. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
  15. ‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.
  16. ‘What’s Another Year’, by Johnny Logan.
  17. ‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole.
  18. ‘Every Breath You Take’, by The Police.
  19. ‘I Got You Babe’, by UB40 with Chrissie Hynde.

The WTAF Award for being interesting if nothing else

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
  14. ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush.
  15. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
  16. ‘Shaddap You Face’, by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.
  17. ‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin.
  18. ‘Save Your Love’ by Renée & Renato.
  19. ‘Rock Me Amadeus’, by Falco.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
  14. ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
  15. ‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.
  16. ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, by St. Winifred’s School Choir.
  17. ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene.
  18. ‘Hello’, by Lionel Richie.
  19. ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’, by Foreigner.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
  14. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
  15. ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.
  16. ‘The Winner Takes It All’, by ABBA.
  17. ‘My Camera Never Lies’, by Bucks Fizz.
  18. ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
  19. ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’, by Dead or Alive

562. ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, by Shakin’ Stevens

Oh what sweet joy it is to be listening to this next chart-topper on a sweltering August day…

Merry Christmas Everyone, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 4th and final #1)

2 weeks, from 22nd December 1985 – 5th January 1986

From the glossy, classy soul of Whitney Houston, to Shaky’s festive smash. Cheap and cheerful, that’s the order of the day here. In fact, this might be one of the cheapest, and the cheerful-est, #1s of all time. There’s an oompah beat, a rock ‘n’ roll sax, some shoobeedoobees and, of course, liberal helpings of sleigh bells.

It harks back to both the old fifties classics – ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ etc. – and the glam Christmas hits from Slade, Wizzard and Mud. The lyrics are a check list of cliches: the season of love and understanding, girls under the mistletoe, wishing every day was Christmas, parties, presents, and snow falling all around. Except it lacks both the class of the classics, and the anarchy of the glam hits. And even though it’s a very retro sounding song, the long fingers of the ‘80s can still be heard in the tinny production and the drum machine.

It’s basic, is what it is. It’s never been one of my festive faves, but it’s fine. It’s catchy and light-hearted. Hearing it a few times every year, when well-oiled on mulled wine, and you could almost become fond of it. Except, for some reason, ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ has in recent years become one of the big Xmas perennials, surpassing the likes of Slade, and settling in behind the untouchables: Mariah, Wham! and The Pogues.

Sadly, I think this is indicative of what modern pop music has become, where inoffensive and blandly streamable is the order of the day. Is ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, then, actually a hugely important record, and Shakin’ Stevens a man thirty years ahead of his time? Did he somehow predict that nobody would bother to skip this trifle when it popped up in a festive Spotify playlist…? Maybe, maybe…

The fake ending, and the ensuing key change, have always annoyed me. It would be the perfect time to end the song, keep it short and sweet, but no. It keeps going for another chirpy minute. However it’s hard to begrudge Shaky one last number one, as he does seem like one of the good guys. It may have been almost four years since ‘Oh Julie’, but he’d been consistently scoring Top 10 hits in between, making him the UK’s biggest singles-seller of the decade! Post-‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ he still had six Top 20 hits in his locker, until the singles dried up in the early 1990s. Interestingly, this record had actually been recorded and was ready for release the year before, but was shrewdly shelved to avoid it clashing with Band Aid.

Stevens is still touring and recording, and he even remade his big festive hit in a bluegrass style in 2015. To my ears, it’s much more palatable than the original – partly because I haven’t heard it five hundred times, and partly because it isn’t so darn perky. Anyway. Here ends 1985 – an interesting year which has brought us some of the best and the worst excesses of the entire decade. Roll on ’86…

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561. ‘Saving All My Love for You’, by Whitney Houston

The second last chart-topper of 1985 (an eclectic year of decidedly mixed chart-topping vintage) introduces one of the most famous, most powerful voices in pop history.

Saving All My Love for You, by Whitney Houston (her 1st of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 8th – 22nd December 1985

And it’s a pretty low-key entry for such a mighty voice. The intro is very of-its-time, soft, soft soul… Elevator-soul, I’m going to call it from now on, even though playing muzak in lifts hasn’t been a thing for many years. Houston’s voice also comes in very softly. A few stolen moments, Is all that we share…

Following on from Wham’s ode to spontaneous and anonymous (and possibly gay) sex, this record is keeping the illicit theme going. You’ve got your family, And they need you there… Whitney, the homewrecker, is having an affair with a married man! They’re making love the whole night through, while his children ask why daddy’s not home for dinner… Whitney’s mother, Cissy, was against her daughter recording such an immoral song, but to no avail.

Personally, I like the fact that she’s completely unrepentant. Her friends warn her off, she pines away lonely at home… But, she sings, no other man’s gonna do…. So I’m saving all my love for you… She doesn’t come across as very sorry about it at all. The way she slams her fist down on lines like For tonight, Is the night…! In the video, she’s having a great time at a club with her lover, as the wife serves side-eye from the balcony. (In the end, though, the couple re-unite while Whitney walks home alone. You wonder if this scene was thrown in last-minute, by a nervous record label…)

It’s very classy, and well-produced. I’m even enjoying the lounge-bar saxophone that’s crooning away in the background. I could complain about the slick-as-a-seal’s-arse eighties production, but by this point I’d just be shouting into a typhoon. It’s December 1985, things are glossy, and they’ll be staying that way for some time to come. It does feel like a slightly understated song to have been the breakthrough hit for a voice such as Houston’s, but there are moments where she shows what she’s capable of. The that’s just an old fantasy… line, for example, as well as some impressively long notes at the end of the choruses.

I may well be pining for this understated version of Whitney come her final, monster #1 (you know the one). Here she was just twenty-two, with a massively successful career ahead of her. It’s elegant, and very well sung: a grower not a show-er. In the US, ‘Saving All My Love for You’ was the first of seven chart-toppers in a row for her. While never quite as successful in Britain, she would be a big chart presence for the next twenty years. More to come very soon, then, from Miss Houston …

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560. ‘I’m Your Man’, by Wham!

It’s been over a year since Wham’s last number one, but their next chart-topper still feels like a direct follow-up to the Motown stylings of ‘Freedom’

I’m Your Man, by Wham! (their 3rd of five #1s)

2 weeks, from 24th November – 8th December 1985

The beat is breezy, the bassline is pretty cool, and George and Andrew are as perky as they’ve ever been. I did call for some cheesy pop, after what has been a pretty earnest autumn from the likes of Midge Ure, Jennifer Rush and Feargal Sharkey, and cheesy pop is what we’ve got. If you’re gonna do it do right, Right do it with me… they chant in the bridge, in a perfectly inane pop hook.

George Michael does his best to lift things, giving a good vocal performance reminiscent of ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’. But there’s something ever so strained in his ad-libs and in the soaring sax, a feeling that they might be trying that bit too hard to paper over the cracks…? Maybe I’m projecting, because we now know that Wham! split up just six months after this made #1. (‘I’m Your Man’ was the last song the pair ever performed together, at their final Wembley concert.) In the video too, a black and white performance of the song at the Marquee Club, Michael is bearded and manly, ready for his imminent solo career. (To be honest, this might as well be a GM solo number – he’s the ‘man’ in the title, Andrew ain’t getting a look in…)

‘I’m Your Man’ is also perhaps a slightly more adult song than it seems at first glance. It’s apparently about a booty call, or a secret affair. Or, and maybe I’m again projecting with hindsight, it’s about anonymous gay sex. Baby our friends do not need to know! George growls… Got a real nice place to go… Or how about: Wanna take you, Wanna make you, But they tell me it’s a crime… Plus the ‘baby’ in the song is never given a pronoun…

I dunno. I’ll happily read a gay subtext into just about anything. But it’s an interesting distraction from what is a decent, if not mind-blowing, pop song. Wham, and GM, were capable of better. But ‘I’m Your Man’ has lived on, and can possibly lay claim to being the duo’s best loved song, after ‘Last Christmas’. George Michael himself re-recorded it in the mid-nineties, and in 2003 none other than Shane Richie took a cover to #2, all in the name of charity.

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559. ‘A Good Heart’, by Feargal Sharkey

Our next number one reminds me of something… Glossy, confident synths. Broad power chords. A former frontman going solo… Ah yes… It takes me all the way back to two chart-toppers ago, and Midge Ure’s ‘If I Was’.

A Good Heart, by Feargal Sharkey (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 10th – 24th November 1985

I do like the intro here. In fact it might be my favourite part of the song, the way that it gives the feeling of racing down a motorway, with the chiming guitars sounding like cars flying past in the opposite direction. I have no idea if that’s what they were going for, but it’s great. Really great, until Feargal Sharkey starts singing.

And this is no slight on his voice, which is fine. A lovely Northern Irish tenor. But I’m a big fan of The Undertones, and to hear Sharkey’s voice so far away from the pop punk I love is just kind of weird. His blue-eyed soul in the bridge: Well I know, Cause I learn a little, Every day… is at once impressive, and disconcerting. It sort of proves the point I made last time, when writing about ‘The Power of Love’: for whatever reason, I can swallow heartfelt and earnest much more readily when it comes from a female singer.

Away from the vocals, ‘A Good Heart’ falls into the same trap as ‘If I Was’. It’s a little full of itself, a little burdened by the weight of what it wants to be. I’m not sure why everyone was getting so serious in the autumn of 1985, but AOR was clearly the order of the day. I’m starting to long for a cheesy boyband… (OK, I may have sneaked a peek at who’s up next.)

My second favourite part, after the intro, is the echoey guitar in the solo. AOR it may be, but at least the ‘R’ really does stand for ‘rock’ in this record. The bassline is pretty cool, too. On the whole, I like this. I like it better than ‘If I Was’, at least, which seems the obvious comparison. (I’m still undecided, though, on the very strange adlibs, both by Sharkey and by his backing singers, in the outro…)

But then I’m tempted to imagine if Feargal (it’s pronounced ‘Fergal’ btw – I just had to check) Sharkey’s one and only #1 had come with The Undertones. ‘My Perfect Cousin’ at number one! Or ‘Get Over You’. Or even ‘Mars Bars’! Or, of course, ‘Teenage Kicks’… And then I remember that that will get to #1, eventually, and I weep for what became of it…

This is by far Sharkey’s biggest solo hit. He moved into the business side of the music industry in the ‘90s, even turning down the chance to re-join The Undertones in 1999. He’s done OK, though, receiving an OBE for services to the industry. Meanwhile, this record also brings together a past and a future chart-topper: Dave Stewart of Eurythmics produced it, while Maria McKee – her number one still a few years away – wrote it.

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558. ‘The Power of Love’, by Jennifer Rush

Gather round people, and listen. Listen, for this is how you do a power ballad…

The Power of Love, by Jennifer Rush (her 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 6th October – 10th November 1985

Start off slow. That would be the key to effective power balladry. Make the listener wait. ‘The Power of Love’ does exactly that. The first verse is just voice, and some shimmering synths which hint at the drama to come. The whispers in the morning, Of lovers sleeping tight… You can almost feel the curtains fluttering in the morning breeze, two lithe bodies immodestly covered by delicate muslin sheets…

Sorry, got a little carried away there. But this is pretty steamy stuff, to be fair. I hold on to your body, And feel each move you make… You wait for the song to explode, for the climax, so to speak. But it takes two verses and a chorus – two full minutes – for this song to move from plain old ballad, to a power ballad with a capital ‘P’.

It’s the drums. Oh baby, those enormous eighties drums. Doosh…! Doosh…! I first noticed them on Jim Diamond’s ‘I Should Have Known Better’, but those drums sound positively flimsy compared to these beasts. It’s Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound with shoulder pads, jacked up on cocaine. They make a truly ridiculous line – Cause I’m your lady, And you are my man… – work through their sheer beefiness.

After that moment , this becomes weapons-grade power balladry. The best line, the one that’s made for belting out in the shower, or at a drunken hen night, is We’re hea-ding for something… I’d say that this is the first modern power ballad #1. I’ve been watching their progress through the past couple of decades: Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, Streisand’s ‘Woman in Love’, Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’… all of them ballads, all of them powerful. ‘The Power of Love’, though, sets the template from now on.

Having said that, and having grown up in the 1990s, more used to the in your face, ten octaves in one line Queens of Power Balladry: Whitney, Mariah, and Celine (who famously covered ‘The Power of Love’, and took it to #1 in the States), Jennifer Rush sounds like she’s holding back a bit here. She’s not, though. Here voice is wonderful, and she invests what is a trite song with real emotion. The problem is that the Big Three have now ruined power ballads for everybody else with their belting and their melisma-ing.

I think I know why I enjoy this much more than 1985’s other fist-clenching classic ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’: because it’s sung by a woman. Songs like this somehow sound less ridiculous, or at least more enjoyably ridiculous, when a woman sings them. Imagine Michael Bolton singing this song, for example, and shudder… And it seems that the public agreed, in 1985 at least. ‘The Power of Love’ became the first ever million-selling single released by a female artist, and the ninth best-selling single of the decade.

Jennifer Rush isn’t quite a one-hit wonder, but this is far and away her biggest hit. It’s huge sales were partly helped by the fact its climb up the charts was as slow-burning as its intro. It took (I believe) a record fifteen weeks to make #1… Rush seems to be semi-retired these days, and has only released one album this century. Still, when you’ve put your name to the ultimate power ballad, you can afford to take a little time off…

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557. ‘If I Was’, by Midge Ure

Fresh from saving the world with Band Aid, the UKs very first charity chart-topper, Midge Ure returns to the day job…

If I Was, by Midge Ure (his 1st and only solo #1)

1 week, from 29th September – 6th October 1985

…with a record that is completely and utterly of its time. There are certain records that transcend, that you believe could have been a hit at any point in time. Then there are records like ‘If I Was’, that you can date almost to the week. This is the mid-1980s, in all its synthy, soaring, clinical glory.

I like the upward-moving chord progression. It gives the song purpose from the start, and gets you ready to expect something great. Something great that never comes… If I was, A better man, Would fellow men, Take me to their hearts…? It’s a very earnest song, in which Ure seems to doubt himself at every turn. If he was a soldier, a sailor, a candlestick maker (OK, one of those three may not be the actual lyrics…) would life be easier? Would he be loved?

It’s all very well being clever in a pop song. But I prefer when the cleverness is hidden behind a great tune. Here the music can’t make up for the lyrics, and it just comes across as a bit pretentious. I want to like the over-the-top-ness of it – the pure eighties-ness of it – but something’s missing. It’s not catchy enough, not silly enough, not something enough… Like I said: it’s clinical. It ends up a bit dull, and a bit long.

My favourite part is the clanging, ascending synth chords that lead up to the chorus. They remind me of a gameshow theme-tune, and are the one moment where Ure lets the silliness shine through. It doesn’t last, though, for straight off comes the chest-thumping chorus: If I was a soldier… Captive arms I’d lay before her…

I genuinely hadn’t heard this record before today, which is an increasingly rare thing as we head closer and closer to my own lifetime. Is this because ‘If I Was’ is very of its time, and hasn’t been played on radio since 1987? Or is it because it’s not very good…? A combination of both, I’d say. I’d also suggest that it only made #1 because of Ure’s Band Aid fame, but that might be a little harsh. He was a big star in Ultravox, and this was the lead single from his first solo album. Ure has been at #1 before, with the teeny-bopping, glam-rocking (and for my money much better) ‘Forever and Ever’, in 1976 with his first band Slik. This would be his last Top 10 hit, though he continues to record and tour, as well as keeping up his sterling charity work.

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556. ‘Dancing in the Street’, by David Bowie & Mick Jagger

At the end of my last post I promised you an all-star duet at #1. Well, has there ever been a more all-star duet atop the charts than this? It’s only David Bowie and Mick Jagger…

Dancing in the Street, by David Bowie (his 5th and final #1) & Mick Jagger (his only solo #1)

4 weeks, from 1st – 29th September 1985

I also promised that this wouldn’t be underwhelming. And this record may be many things, but underwhelming it is not. It starts with a giant whistle, the sort shepherds use to summon their dogs from three fields away, and a rollcall of cities and continents. OK! Toky-oh…! Jagger bellows. South Ameriiiiicaaaa…! Bowie replies.

It sets the tone for the entire song. Every dial here is set to eleven: the horns, the handclaps, the riff… But nothing more so than its two stars. This should have been listed as David Bowie Vs Mick Jagger, as they spend the entire three and a half minutes trying to outdo one another for sheer ridiculousness. It makes for a tremendously fun listen.

Bowie does his best, sounding all white soul on the they’ll be swinging, swaying, records playing line, and doing his best Noel Coward with on the streets of Brazil…  But Bowie, even David Bowie, cannot compete with Mick Jagger when he’s in the mood. The way he soars through just as long as you are there…, the way he makes Philadelphia PA sound like a sexual position, and the piece de resistance: his ridiculously aggressive Back! In! The! USSR! It’s good to hear his voice again, sixteen years on from the Stones’ last chart-topper. It’s great to hear him on such fine form.

The video is even more extra. The two middle aged men (Jagger was forty-two, Bowie thirty-eight) prance and flounce around like the campest of pantomime dames. At one point they appear on the verge of a proper smoochy kiss. Again Bowie tries his best, again he is blown away by the force of nature that is Sir Michael of Jagger. The boy was unplayable, as they say on Match of the Day. On YouTube some wag has made a music-less version of the video, and it is as hilarious/terrifying as you’d imagine. It is a completely random, and yet somehow perfect, way for both of these stars to bow out from the top of the charts. And this curio, this borderline novelty single, ends up being one of the biggest hits either man ever had…

But why? I hear you asking. Why now? Why ‘Dancing in the Street?’, which was originally a #4 for Martha Reeves & the Vandellas in 1969. Well, why did most records make #1 in 1985…? For charity, of course. It was for Live Aid, and therefore for those affected by famine in Africa, like Band Aid and USA for Africa before it. The pair were originally meant to perform the song via video-link during the Live Aid concerts, but that would have involved one of them miming to a backing track. Neither was willing to do that, so they went to Abbey Road studios and recorded it instead.

In many way this is the template for how to do a charity record. Don’t bother writing some overblown twaddle about how we’re all God’s children, don’t bother getting everyone from Bobby Davro to Engelbert Humperdinck in the same room… Just get two genuine icons of popular music singing along to a well-loved classic, having the time of their lives. Sadly, very few future charity records will actually take this advice. This is a decent pop record, but I think it might actually be the pinnacle of its particular genre: the greatest charity single of all time…

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555. ‘I Got You Babe’, by UB40 with Chrissie Hynde

Every time a reggae chart-topper comes along, I feel duty bound to mention how writing this blog has taught me to finally enjoy the genre… ‘Israelites’, ‘Double Barrel’, ‘Uptown Top Ranking’… All Jamaican gold.

I Got You Babe, by UB40 (their 2nd of three #1s) with Chrissie Hynde (her 1st of two solo #1s)

1 week, from 25th August – 1st September 1985

Sadly, though, the reggae run ends here with this Sonny & Cher cover. I can’t get into this one. It’s very slow and sloping, as most reggae hits are, and that’s fine. We all need to chill out sometimes. But the relaxed pace rubs up against some very jagged edges. The gunshot drums are jarring, for example, as are the synths that dial out the same, repetitive riff.

They say we’re young and we don’t know, Won’t find out until we grow… Interestingly, the original was sitting at #1 exactly twenty years before this version made it. And it’s actually quite surprising how much Chrissie Hynde sounds like Cher. They do have quite similar, deepish voices; but it took them singing the same song for me to realise it. Hynde’s vocals are, for me, the best bit of this record.

UB40 keep the false ending from the original here, but that just reinforces how dull their interpretation is. The I got you babes… that take us through to the end feel unnecessary. The video is similarly underwhelming. It’s a live version of the song, in which the band and their guest singer go from a soundcheck to a showstopping performance, complete with fireworks and cheering fans. It’s not bad, but you do wonder what about this made it a big hit…

Something I also mentioned in my post on Sister Sledge’s ‘Frankie’, which was another retro hit (though a pastiche rather than a straight cover), comes to mind here: I think it would sound better if they hadn’t made it sound so up to date. It’s the modern touches – the synths and the drums – that stick out. And yes, that’s my anti-eighties bias coming out for the umpteenth time, but I can’t help myself!

We last heard from Chrissie Hynde on ‘Brass in Pocket’, this decade’s very first chart-topper. UB40 made #1 a few years afterwards with ‘Red Red Wine’. Both acts have one further #1 to come, but both will have to wait until the nineties are in full swing. Meanwhile, up next we have another all-star duet cover of a sixties classic (and I mean all-star.) But I’m not sure I’ll be calling that one ‘underwhelming’. We’ll see…

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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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