And so we reach the end of the 1980s. And, in some ways, the decade’s final number one single is quite perfect.
Do They Know It’s Christmas?, by Band Aid II
3 weeks, from 17th December 1989 – 7th January 1990
It’s a charity single, for a start, a ‘genre’ that has dominated the charts since the middle of the eighties. It’s a cover, of course, of the charity single, the one that kicked the whole trend off. Plus, it was produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, giving the trio their seventh #1 of the year. But beyond the good cause, and the production team, the tag ‘perfect’ quickly wears thin.
There’s a reason why none of the three subsequent Band Aids have ever been much played after their original chart runs; while the first is seen as a classic, a perennial returnee to the charts every Christmas. There’s a novelty factor each time, and the urge for people to be seen to be doing something for charity, that means a new Band Aid single will always chart highly. But beyond that initial burst of enthusiasm, there’s always the slow realisation that the new versions simply aren’t as good.
Here, we swap Bono, Boy George, Sting and Paul Young for a considerably younger crowd. Kylie is on opening line duties, followed by Chris Rea and Jimmy Somerville. We meet Jason Donovan, Sonia, Lisa Stansfield, Bros and Wet Wet Wet again, after their recent chart-topping successes. The only singers to reprise their roles from 1984 are two-thirds of Bananarama (Siobhan Fahey having left the year before). To be honest, I struggled to recognise many voices without watching the video, which isn’t a problem you have with the original. One voice stands out above the rest, though: Sir Cliff, who makes it two Xmas #1s in a row (and who will, without wanting to give too much away, soon be making it three).
The production is muted and respectful by SAW’s usual standards, which was probably to be expected. The video is standard: Michael Buerk reporting from Ethiopia, horrifying images of malnutritional babies spliced with footage of Marti Pellow and Matt Goss goofing about. We’ll leave Band Aid II to play out here, bringing the 1980s to a close, and instead muse on the final year of the decade.
1989 has been, I’m going to stick my neck out here, a game-changing year. It’s set the template for modern pop music, in various ways. Firstly, on a purely technical level, songs have started to enter regularly at #1. They’ll continue to do so throughout the 1990s, speeding up the turnover of chart-toppers. As well as that, we’ve had the first ‘modern’ dance #1 from Black Box, from which almost every subsequent dance smash can be traced. We’ve met the first ‘modern’ boy band too, in New Kids on the Block.
Meanwhile, rock music is no longer the force that it has been since the late ‘50s. Rock groups will still make #1, as U2 and Simple Minds have recently done, but often for one week only, thanks to fanbase support rather than genuine cultural heft. And finally, Madonna has defined the ‘modern’ female pop star, and the pop comeback (and comeback video) as a massive event that every pop star since 1989 has tried to mimic.
Next up, we’ll be embarking on the 1990s – the decade in which I came of age, among Britpop, dance, the Spice Girls and boy-bands. I’m looking forward to reliving it. But, you could argue that the nineties began a year earlier, in the final year of the decade that taste forgot…
Let’s Party, by Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers (their 3rd and final #1)
1 week, from 10th – 17th December 1989
Blunderbusses at the ready, for surely you knew it was coming. With a chart-topper in the summer, and one in the autumn, Jive Bunny and his Mastermixers set their sights on the Christmas number one.
And after two rock ‘n’ roll medleys, he’s skipped forward a decade or so, to the glam Christmas classics of the seventies and early eighties. A Noddy Holder soundalike is on C’mon everybody! duties, as well as his classic It’s Chriiiisstmaaaass… line from ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’. This version sounds muted by comparison to Slade’s raucous original, but it only lasts for a verse and a chorus, before Wizzard take over.
Yes, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ finally assumes its rightful position atop the charts. It’s just a shame that it took this crap to get it there. Unlike Slade, Roy Wood endorsed this sampling, and even re-recorded his vocals for the occasion. That done, the 3rd song is announced: Ok Gazza, take it away…
And it’s ‘Another Rock and Roll Christmas’, Gary Glitter’s 1984 comeback hit. Given that he was also involved in last year’s ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’, it’s easy to forget just how big a part of British popular culture he was before his trip to PC World. Presents hanging from the trees, You’ll never guess what you’ve got from me… (We’d rather not find out, Gary.) Apparently he’s been replaced with Mariah Carey in more recent versions of ‘Let’s Party’, though who exactly has listened to this song at any point in the last thirty years is beyond me.
The thumping beat that holds this whole mess together is called ‘March of the Mods’, which I don’t think has anything to do with Christmas. Why didn’t they try something from ‘The Nutcracker’, at least? And while I complained about some of the mixing on JB’s earlier #1s, at least attempts were made to stitch those songs together. Here the three Christmas songs and the filler beat slam together like dodgems. I found some cheesy, madcap charm in the previous chart-toppers, but here my patience runs out fast. (The sleeve above lists the record as a double-‘A’, alongside a version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Thankfully the Official Charts Company only lists ‘Let’s Party’, so I’ll follow their lead and pretend the Bunny’s desecration of Rabbie Burns never happened…)
What in the hell is going on…? a voice demands towards the end, a sentiment I wholeheartedly echo. J-J-Jive Bunny! someone else replies. Meanwhile the fake Noddy Holder aggressively bellows Let’s Party! It’s a mess, and not a hot one. Yet it entered the chart at #1, and meant that Jive Bunny joined Gerry & The Pacemakers and Frankie Goes to Hollywood in making top spot with their first three releases (the fact that Jive Bunny did it quickest is another feather in his cap).
He and the Mastermixers still had two Top 10 hits to come, and would continue releasing singles until well into 1991. But, thankfully, they won’t be troubling this blog again. And, despite the clear demand for this single, it was never going to be 1989’s Christmas Number One. We have Bob Geldof to thank for that.
(This is the original video, but with the Gary Glitter verse edited out and replaced with the second verse of ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’.)
(This sounds to me like a re-recording – with slightly more modern production values – but with he-who-shall-not-be-named left in…)
The 1990s, the decade that we are on the verge of entering, will mean many musical delights. Grunge, Britpop, blockbuster movie soundtracks, Girl Power, the Vengaboys… But you could argue that, ahead of everything, it will be the decade of the Boy Band ™
You Got It (The Right Stuff), by New Kids on the Block (their 1st of two #1s)
3 weeks, from 19th November – 10th December 1989
From beginning to end – literally, as the first and last #1s of the decade will be by a boyband – groups of three to five handsome young men in baggy jeans and backward-facing caps will dominate. Boyz II Men, Take That, Boyzone, Hanson, 5ive to name but a few. And all kicked off by five boys from Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Let’s take a moment, before we start dissecting this record properly, to thank the stars that it’s not a ballad. Wherever boybands go, a drippy love song is never far behind. But no, ‘You Got It (The Right Stuff)’ is a classic serving of late-80s R&B fused with hints of new jack swing. The drums ratatat, the synths swoosh, the bassline is actually pretty cool… It all sounds wonderfully dated. And, in true boyband fashion, the lyrics amount to some pretty nothings and some half-hearted innuendo. First kiss was a sweet was a kiss, Second kiss had a twist… What the ‘twist’ is, or indeed the ‘right stuff’ of the title, is never specified. It’s all dates and kisses, with one mildly risqué mention of being ‘turned on’.
The bridge is the most modern part of the record, a soaring template to be followed by every boyband to come. All that I needed was you, Oh girl, You’re so right… You can just picture the clenched fists as the Kids meet that line. And then there’s the hook in the chorus, the oh-oh-ohohohs that’s as catchy as it is annoying. The video – again, as was traditional for ‘90s boybands – sees them dressed like idiots, dancing like idiots, having a great time in a deserted bar. They then chase some girls around a graveyard, for reasons best left mysterious…
To suggest that New Kids on the Block (NKOTB if you’re in the know) were the first boyband is wrong. At the same time, defining a ‘boyband’ is like catching mist in a jar. If you go by the literal definition – boys in a band – then we’re going to go back to the Crickets, at least. If you insist on the manufactured aspect of it, then we start at the Monkees. But what of the Jacksons and the Osmonds? What of New Edition? Bros? (And I was only mentioning acts we’ve met earlier in this blog.)
Let’s say NKOTB are the first ‘modern’ boyband, then. They were managed by Maurice Starr (also the mastermind behind New Edition) and composed of four school friends led by Donnie Wahlberg (brother of actor Mark) and a younger boy, Joey McIntyre. Unlike some boybands, the path to success hadn’t been smooth for NKOTB: they’d been together since 1984 and were on the verge of being dropped by their label before ‘Please Don’t Go Girl’ made #10 in the US. ‘You Got It’ was the second single from their second album, and their first chart hit in the UK. They’d go on to have nine more Top 10 singles between 1989 and 1992, including one further #1 coming up very soon.
And so we enter the era of the (modern) boyband. And for a taster, ‘You Got It (The Right Stuff)’ is neither a classic of the genre, nor terrible. There are much better boyband chart-toppers to come, and much worse.
An under-represented genre at the top of the British charts, in the late 1980s, was the neo-soul of Seal, Sade, and Terence Trent D-Arby… Even Prince went without a UK #1 for a long time. Perhaps Lisa Stansfield’s first chart-topper is as close as we’re going to get…
All Around the World, by Lisa Stansfield (her 1st of two #1s)
2 weeks, from 5th – 19th November 1989
If you’re being harsh you might call this sort of smooth and glossy R&B ‘dinner-party soul’ – soft background music you’d hear while munching asparagus tips in an Islington townhouse. And it would be especially harsh on this record, as it’s a lot more lively than some of its contemporaries. I don’t know where my baby is… Lisa Stansfield purrs in the spoken intro… But I’ll find him… She is famously northern, from Manchester, but she does a passable American accent (which was probably wise, as it might not have made #3 in the US if she’d sounded like someone from ‘Coronation Street’).
The verses are a little too tidy, a little too glossy. Bland, even. This is what the late ‘80s would have sounded like without Stock Aitken Waterman to liven them up (I’ve resigned myself to missing SAW when their hits dry up…) But the chorus picks things up, and it comes with a great hook: Been around the world and aye-aye-aye, I can’t find my baby…
There’s drama too, in the strings and the middle-eight: I did too much lyin’, Wasted too much time… and through the length of the record Stansfield shows off the full-range of her vocal talents. She trills, growls, and hits some impressive high-notes. If you didn’t know what she looked like, you might imagine a black soul diva rather than a skinny Manc lass. By the end, as she starts harmonising with herself, it’s a little OTT; but you can forgive the exuberance.
Lisa Stansfield had been releasing music since 1981 – both solo and as part of the band Blue Zone – but to little fanfare until she teamed up with production duo Coldcut. Earlier in ’89 they had released the house classic ‘People Hold On’, establishing her as a vocalist. ‘All Around the World’ was her second solo hit, helped by her distinctive look in the video, the short hair with Betty Boop kiss-curls.
Stansfield would continue scoring Top 10 hits throughout the nineties, including one further chart-topper to come. Meanwhile, we find ourselves with just three #1s left in this decade! Time flies… And if ‘All Around the World’ gives us a perfect mash-up of late-80s/early-90s sounds, our next chart-topper is an ear-popping vision of the decade to come.
He’s back! The biggest chart star of 1989, the hottest medley-maker of the decade, the most successful rabbit in pop history, returns!
That’s What I Like, by Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers (their 2nd of three #1s)
3 weeks, from 15th October – 5th November 1989
C’mon everybody… Jason Derulo, DJ Khaled, Pitbull: all the biggest morons have their own call-signs by which to announce themselves at the start of a new record, and Jive Bunny is no exception… C-C-C’mon everybody! After that, we’re off on another double-speed tour around some golden oldies: ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘Runaround Sue’ and more… Bill Haley, Eddie Cochran and Little Richard have the honour of appearing on their second straight Mastermixers’ release. (I’ve just realised something truly upsetting – these are as close as Little Richard ever came to a #1 single…) Though, as in the first Jive Bunny record, a lot of the vocals are clearly performed by impersonators. The theme to ‘Hawaii 5-0’ does the job of ‘In the Mood’ here, and bookends the entire party.
As before, the whole thing is completely incongruous, and wholly ridiculous. And yet, I still can’t hate it. In fact, it gives you a new-found respect for what are already classic songs, that they can be dropped from a great height into this hot mess and still shine through. In the Mastermixers’ defence, the transitions between the songs are slightly smoother here than in ‘Swing the Mood’. They were clearly honing their craft.
And let’s be clear: the fact that this topped the charts just six weeks after their first #1 confirms that Jive Bunny fever was clearly sweeping the country in the autumn of 1989. They were just giving the public what they so craved – what they liked, as it were. (The title comes from the Big Bopper’s lascivious Oooh baby that’s what I like… in ‘Chantilly Lace’.)
As with ‘Swing the Mood’, ‘That’s What I Like’ was a huge hit throughout Europe (though returns were slowly diminishing, and the UK was the only territory in which it made #1). Even the US wasn’t immune to the rabbit’s charms, with this making #69 on the back of a very impressive #11 peak for ‘Swing…’ Twas, for a short time, Jive Bunny’s world, and we were just living in it.
Ride on Time, by Black Box (their 1st and only #1)
6 weeks, from 3rd September – 15th October 1989
I’m a child of the nineties, the decade in which the music we recognise today as ‘dance’ really came into being. There have been dance #1s popping up regularly throughout the second half of the 1980s but, as good as many of them have been (‘Theme from S-Express’ says ‘hello’), they have sounded quite dated – often chaotic mish-mashes of samples and sound effects.
‘Ride on Time’, however, is much less cluttered – just a beat, a few synth hooks, a classic piano riff – but all the more weighty for it. One of the song’s creators mentioned wanting to create a dance track with the power of a rock song. And then there are the vocals. Though I think describing them as just ‘vocals’ isn’t quite doing them justice. They are colossal, momentous… add whatever synonym for ‘very big’ you want. There aren’t many lines, and half of them are just woah-wa-wa-wa-oh, but not for nothing is this record classed under the sub-heading ‘diva house’. The singer does a great job. I hesitate in naming this ‘singer’, as there was a lot of controversy over who they actually were. The record originally used the vocals of a 1980 hit by Loleatta Holloway, called ‘Love Sensation’, which Black Box didn’t have the rights to. They then re-recorded the track with Heather Small, soon to become a star in her own right with M People.
To confuse matters further, the woman in the video and the record sleeve below is model Katrin Quinol, who had been brought in to mime on TV performances and the like. I’m not 100% sure which version I’ve been listening to – a search for ‘Ride on Time Heather Small’ on YouTube throws up nothing – but since Black Box finally bought the rights to ‘Love Sensation’ in 2018 I assume it’s Loleatta Holloway’s big lungs that are blasting my cobwebs away. Sadly she died in 2011, though she did eventually receive enough royalties from the song to, as she put it, buy herself a fur coat.
Every time an electronic dance number one comes along, I feel contractually obliged to mention that it isn’t my favourite genre. I’m guitars and drums all day long. But good dance, just like good rap and good reggae, can transcend my fussy tastes. Good is good, and ‘Ride on Time’ is pretty darn good. (I said a lot of the same stuff about Soul II Soul’s ‘Back to Life’ and, although the two songs have very different vibes, they are two sides of the same futuristic dance coin.) I’d go as far as to say that, in the right nightclub, in the right mood, ‘Ride on Time’ could be euphoric. And it also feels like a direct riposte to the cheap ‘n’ cheesy tat that it replaced at #1…
And as I said above, ‘Ride on Time’ feels much more streamlined and precise after previous years’ big dance hits. But that’s not the only reason, I don’t think, for it being a huge, game-changing hit. It also, cleverly, harks back to disco, with its big-voiced diva on lead vocals, giving a timeless sheen to its very modern sound. And also, we have to nod our heads to acts like Pet Shop Boys, and even Stock Aitken Waterman, for making pop music much more dance-oriented over the past couple of years. In the ‘60s and ‘70s ‘pop’ usually equalled ‘rock’ (think Merseybeat, and glam), while in the 80s ‘pop’ has shifted in a dancier direction. The 90s will see pop shift back to guitars, and then towards an R&B/hip-hop future.
Black Box were an Italian act, kicking off a trend for European DJs and dance acts scoring big hits across the Channel, often in the autumn after Brits had spent the summer on Mediterranean beaches. The Euro-house influences are clear, and very different from the American house we’ve met up to now. Clearer, classier… dare we give into stereotypes and say ‘chic’? My favourite aspect of the song is that the lyrics are clearly Because you’re right on time… But the Italian DJs’ English wasn’t great, and they misheard it as ‘Ride’. Which I think is cute (and much more memorable than the correct phrase).
And yet, for all my talk of game-changing modernity, the charts will do what they always do and completely disprove all my blethering with the next number one. Yes, that damn rabbit is back, next.
Welcome to the second half of 1989, the final few months of the decade. We have twenty-three weeks’ worth of chart-toppers left to go. Nine of those will be taken up by a cartoon rabbit, peddling medleys of golden-oldies…
Swing the Mood, by Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers (their 1st of three #1s)
5 weeks, from 30th July – 3rd September 1989
First thing to establish is that, yes, this did indeed happen. I know April Fool’s is just around the corner but no – it’s real. I’m too young to remember it and I can’t recall the last time I heard Jive Bunny mentioned, in any context, so I imagine that those responsible for buying these records, and contributing to his short period of chart domination, regret it wholeheartedly.
‘Swing the Mood’ is a journey through rock ‘n’ roll history, bookended rather incongruously by Glenn Miller’s ‘In the Mood’, which predates rock ‘n’ roll by a good decade. Still, it’s catchy, a great hook, and has even already featured in a #1 single … Yes, in the fade-out to ‘All You Need Is Love’. Then we’re off, off on a breakneck journey past Bill Haley & The Comets, Elvis, Chubby Checker, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers, and Eddie Cochran.
Three former #1s appear – ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and ‘All Shook Up’ – which is not something happens very often (in fact, the only #1 I can think of that features an earlier chart-topper is, again, ‘All You Need Is Love’, which had a snippet from ‘She Loves You’). The whole shebang was the brainchild of a father and son duo from Rotherham, John and Andrew Pickles, though the original ‘Swing the Mood’ had been created by a Doncaster DJ named Les Hemstock. Either way, it’s a South Yorkshire creation, though I could find no information on who wore the (genuinely quite terrifying) rabbit head for promotional activity.
Listening to the various versions of ‘Swing the Mood’ available to us on Spotify and YouTube, it becomes clear that not every song in the medley features the original vocals. Danny and the Juniors sound legit; but that sure ain’t Elvis. This was a problem that plagued Jive Bunny from the start: even as the record was climbing the charts they had to put out a re-recorded version with impersonators singing the bits they didn’t have the rights for.
I mean, I guess it’s fun. I can’t hate it, because I like all the songs featured in it, and the good thing about medleys is that they jump around so fast that you could never call them boring. (Though, for a much better medley of rock ‘n roll tunes, check out Status Quo’s ‘Anniversary Waltz 1 and 2’, which perhaps rode the Jive Bunny wave to reach #2 a year later.) Some of ‘Swing the Mood’s transitions are very clunky, though; and what they do to The Everly Brothers as they segue into ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ is borderline sacrilege. Calling themselves ‘The Mastermixers’ seems a bit of a stretch…
At the same time, medleys had been a big thing throughout the 1980s, and we were probably overdue one at the top of the charts. ‘Stars on 45’, ‘Hooked on Classics’ and the like, had all been big hits. Once the floodgates opened – and boy did they open, with ‘Swing the Mood’ becoming the second highest-selling hit of the year – the #1 hits kept coming. There’ll be more from Jive Bunny very soon…
We’re fresh from a recap – a recap that I dubbed the ‘Stock Aitken Waterman Recap’ due to their domination of the past few months’ chart-toppers – and as we crack on with the next thirty those synthesised drumbeats can only mean one thing…
You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You, by Sonia (her 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 16th – 30th July 1989
Yes, they’re not done yet! The production team get their sixth (!) #1 of the year, while it’s only July. And while the Euro-disco beat and the tinny synths are by this point very familiar, I do sense that this is a step up from their previous #1s with Kylie and Jason, which were starting to feel phoned-in.
It’s got a cooler, dancier production to it, not the relentless, in-your-face cheese of ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ (though the verses do bear a resemblance), or ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Swap Sonia’s girl-next-door charms for a proper dance diva and this mightn’t have sounded out of place at the Hacienda. Listen to the eight minute extended mix, where there are long stretches in which the beat is left to do its thing and it starts to sound dangerously like a proper dance record.
‘You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You’ also has a great hook in the chorus: It doesn’t really matter what you put me through, You’ll never stop, Me from loving you… with a brilliant key-change tease on the ‘never stop’. It reminds me of the records SAW did with Donna Summer; though Sonia’s voice, as fine as it is, can’t quite compete with the Queen of Disco.
The only thing I can’t quite get behind is the caterwauling ‘solo’, in which the vocals are looped into something of a grating mess. Still, if the sign of a good pop song is that you’re singing along before the first play has finished then this is officially a good pop song (because I was). It was Sonia Evans’ debut single, reaching #1 when she was just eighteen. Between 1989 and 1993 she’d have eleven Top 30 hits, and even represent the UK at Eurovision, though none of her subsequent singles rose higher than #10.
And just like that, we reach the end of SAW’s golden age. They’re still on production duties for two upcoming #1s, but ‘You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You’ was the last chart-topper that they would write. They may well be a bye-word for late-eighties cheese but, while I have found some of their stuff slightly repetitive, their short burst of complete chart domination has been impressive. And when you see the act that’s about to dominate the second half of 1989, Stock Aitken and Waterman might not be such a terrible thing after all…
This one, our 21st, takes us from late 1987 through to mid-1989: the final fully-eighties recap. And although the highway we’re taking continues on towards electronic dance domination, there have been lots of interesting little side-streets and alleyways to get lost down…
For a start, 1988 saw a bit of a guitar revival, with glossy soft-rock chart-toppers from Belinda Carlisle and Robin Beck, U2 getting a bluesy first #1, Simple Minds going epic, as well as Billy Bragg and Fairground Attraction holding up the indie side of things. I wasn’t expecting that, to be honest, as we delved into the late 1980s, and it was very welcome.
There was also Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’, one of the stranger chart-toppers of recent years, announcing new-age as a bone fide chart force (the genre will have a bit of a heyday over the next few years), as well as the now-obligatory charity singles from Wet Wet Wet and the Hillsborough Collective. Plus it wouldn’t be the late-80s without a golden-oldie making top spot on re-release, as the Hollies did with ‘He Ain’t Heavy…’
Meanwhile, Madonna returned with her first single in almost two years. In one fell swoop, ‘Like a Prayer’ managed to announce her as the biggest act on the planet (sorry MJ), invent the modern female pop star, and piss off the Catholic church. Not bad going, even if the song still doesn’t quite make it into my own personal Madonna Top 5.
Stock Aitken Waterman, of course. If ‘Back to Life’ is a cool Ibiza beach bar then SAW’s take on dance is pure Skegness. They’ve appeared in earlier recaps, but now the songwriting and production trio have begun to dominate British pop to the extent that three of the last four #1s I’ve featured were SAW numbers, and that we could really dub this ‘The SAW recap’. Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan have been their main vehicles, culminating in their classic smoocher ‘Especially for You’, which was based on their wedding storyline from ‘Neighbours’. I have to admit I’ve enjoyed ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, and ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’, though the formula felt like it was wearing thin by the time we came to ‘Hand on Your Heart’ and ‘Sealed With a Kiss’.
Anyway, the main point of these recaps is to dish out some gongs, so let’s snap to it. First up: The ‘Meh’ Award for those chart-toppers you’d already forgotten existed. For the other three awards I’ve got a pretty clear picture, but this one has me a bit stumped. I could throw in the lazy Kylie and Jason songs I just mentioned, but there’s just enough residual pop charm left in them. I could throw in Simple Minds’ ‘Belfast Child’, but that’s too ambitious to be truly boring. So I’m left with Aswad’s cod-reggae ‘Don’t Turn Around’, and Phil Collins’s ‘Groovy Kind of Love’, and I’m in the bizarre situation of re-listening to them to check which is more boring… (bear with…) And it’s decided! I’m going with Phil: one of the slowest number ones of all time.
The WTAF Award feels more clear-cut. Enya was a surprise, but was too chilled-out to be truly ‘odd’. Whitney’s bombastic ‘One Moment in Time’ certainly raised an eyebrow, along with all the hairs on your head, as well as setting off next door’s car alarm; but at the end of the day it’s just a power ballad. No, I’m going for The Timelords’ Dr Who-glam rock-cum-Gary Glitter mash-up, ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’ – a song so cynically aiming for chart domination that it spawned a ‘How To’ guidebook.
To the Very Worst Chart-Topper, and a toss-up. Cliff gave us Christmas goosebumps – and not in a good way – with ‘Mistletoe and Wine’. Except, I have one eye on his Crimes Against Christmas to come (plus, he’s already won one ‘Very Worst’ award back in the ‘60s, which I now regret, but hey ho…) All of which leaves the coast clear for Glenn Medeiros’s simpering ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You’. Which, to be honest, isn’t truly awful. But then I don’t think any of the past thirty #1s have been truly awful. It’s just wrong place, wrong time for poor Glenn.
And finally, The Very Best Chart-Topper for the period dated December ’87 to July ’89. I like ‘The Only Way Is Up’; but not that much. I love Pet Shop Boy’s take on ‘Always on My Mind’; but they won this award last time (and, as great as they were, I can’t have anyone winning it twice in a row). Then there’s the Madonna-shaped elephant in the room: ‘Like a Prayer’ felt seismic, thrilling, fairly shocking, but perhaps on reflection it’s been eulogised too much over the years. She’d had better songs before it, and she’s got better to come. No, the winner this time is a song very much of its time… S’Express and their manic, pounding, sample-crazy floor-filler ‘Theme from S-Express’. Very much the sound of the late-eighties, and our 22nd ‘Very Best Chart-Topper’.
To recap the recaps, then:
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.
‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole.
‘Every Breath You Take’, by The Police.
‘I Got You Babe’, by UB40 with Chrissie Hynde.
‘Who’s That Girl’, by Madonna.
‘A Groovy Kind of Love’, by Phil Collins.
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.
‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin.
‘Save Your Love’ by Renée & Renato.
‘Rock Me Amadeus’, by Falco.
‘Pump Up the Volume’ / ‘Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)’, by M/A/R/R/S
‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’, by The Timelords
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.
‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene.
‘Hello’, by Lionel Richie.
‘I Want to Know What Love Is’, by Foreigner.
‘Star Trekkin’’, by The Firm
‘Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You’, by Glenn Medeiros
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.
‘My Camera Never Lies’, by Bucks Fizz.
‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’, by Dead or Alive
Back to Life (However Do You Want Me), by Soul II Soul (their 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 18th June – 16th July 1989
Until now, though. For ‘Back to Life’ is a cool record. A mix of hip-hop beats and soulful vocals. It’s a little bit of dance, a little bit of house. Wikipedia lists it as ‘proto-jungle’, which sounds slightly terrifying but very fun. Yet for all these influences, it’s not a cluttered track. The production is sparse – just a beat and some strings for the most part – and ‘sparse’ is not something I’ve not been able to say about the sample-heavy dance hits we’ve met in recent years.
It started out life as an a cappella track, which makes sense, as Caron Wheeler’s vocal turn is the stand out star of this record. It’s her that makes me want to announce this as the start of the nineties, six months early, as the next decade will be dotted throughout with dance tracks ft. female divas. Elsewhere, the beat and the production is unfussed, and unhurried, almost unbothered whether you like it or not, whether you think it’s upbeat enough to dance to. It’s very contemporary, a world away from SAW’s cheap and cheerful approach, until a scrrraaatch on the DJ’s decks places it firmly in 1989.
Proto-jungle is not my kind of thing (I prefer my jungle fully formed…), but a good record is a good record, and this is a good record, if you know what I mean. It’s moving things along, like a mini ‘Rock Around the Clock’ or ‘I Feel Love’, and for that I respect it. It’s the future, and we’ll be hearing a lot more like it soon…
Soul II Soul were a musical collective of some nine members, founded by DJ Jazzie B, who ran a club night in Brixton that played music with British, African, Caribbean and American influences. They had even hosted a hot new LA rap group called NWA in 1988. ‘Back to Life’ was just their fourth single, and their second Top 10 hit. ‘Keep On Movin’’ had been their breakthrough, but for me that one’s lacking ‘Back to Life’s hook. Impressively, ‘Back to Life’ also made the Top 10 in the US, where it had homegrown hip-hop/R&B to compete with.
As I mentioned above, the difference between this and the earlier dance #1s, like ‘Pump Up the Volume’ or ‘Theme from S-Express’, is that it’s not at all heavy on the samples. There’s just one: the drums from funk band Graham Central Station’s ‘The Jam’. Or two, if you count Caron Wheeler’s a cappella original. This was Wheeler’s last single with Soul II Soul – she would leave to pursue a solo career before returning in 1996.
So, we start a new chart-topping chapter here. And appropriately enough, before we delve further towards the nineties, we have a recap…