Recap: #481 – #510

So, to recap…

I was about to write that this is our first full eighties recap, before I remembered that the last recap actually covered January 1980-June 1981. Which just proves what I wrote in that recap, that the early months of the decade felt like a continuation of the seventies. It wasn’t until the very end of that period, when Adam Ant, Shakin’ Stevens and Bucks Fizz burst on to the scene, that the 1980s seemed to really kick off.

And those three acts play a big part in this recap, too. Shaky had two more rockabilly #1s – one great and one meh – while Adam had a big earworm hit with the Ants and another ear-worm on his own. The Fizz, meanwhile, scored a couple of low-key pop classics, which I might just return to in a bit…

In the last recap, I also wrote that it was possibly the strongest bunch of thirty chart-toppers we had encountered yet. Bowie! ABBA! Blondie!… This last thirty has been a bit more up and down. Some real highs; but some pretty low lows. Let’s start with the good bits, shall we? Some of the most illustrious names in early-eighties pop have reached the summit in the last year and a half: the Specials, Soft Cell, the Jam, Madness, Culture Club, Human League… (In fact, as a snapshot of how much has changed, Christmas 1980 saw John Lennon posthumously hogging top-spot, while Christmas ’81 brought the Human League’s electro-million seller ‘Don’t You Want Me’.)

Problem is – and this may well be a problem that haunts me throughout the eighties – I just haven’t connected with a lot of these classics. I enjoyed ‘House of Fun’ well enough, as I did ‘Come On Eileen’ (while wondering slightly what all the fuss is about). I was a bit bored by ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’. I was ready to punch the air to ‘Eye of the Tiger’, but ended up tired of its pomposity. Is this decade cursed? I grew up with my parents’ sixties and seventies compilations, while the music of the nineties and noughties is the music of my youth. The 1980s is a sort of blank space in-between… If anything, reviewing every one of the decade’s chart-toppers will force me to finally make my mind up about it.

Away from the classics, there were some big swerves into cheesy pop. Some vintage camembert – ‘Japanese Boy’ and Bucks Fizz – and some plastic cheddar – Tight Fit and the Goombay Dance Band. In my posts on the latter two, I wondered if computer generated music was leading to cheaper, disposable pop, as some tunes sounded little more than quickly thrown together karaoke backing tracks. But again, disposable pop wasn’t a 1980s invention, and maybe my biases are again showing.

Other notable moments from the last thirty include… Michael Jackson’s first solo #1 (actually, that re-released ballad went pretty much unnoticed), Julio Iglesias making Spanish-crooner-disco a thing, Kraftwerk appearing out of nowhere (in fact, we had a bit of a run of chart-topping Germans), Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder tackling racial inequality head-on, and our recent Reggae Autumn with the already mentioned Culture Club, alongside Musical Youth and Eddy Grant.

I suppose I should dish out some awards then. Let’s start, as is traditional, with The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability. I’ve managed to get each award down to a neat top-three this time, and my three for the ‘Meh’ are: ‘One Day in Your Life’, by MJ, ‘Seven Tears’, by the Goombay Dance Band, and ‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole. And I know it’s a bit lazy to give it to the Eurovision ballad – it’ll be the 2nd in a row to win the ‘Meh’ – but they do tend to be pretty dull records. Nicole, sorry dear, you win. At least you’re not being crowned as the worst…

But before we get to that, here’s this recap’s ‘WTAF’ Award, for the chart-topping songs that were interesting if nothing else. The three up for this are: Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin’s bizarre take on ‘It’s My Party’, Captain Sensible’s bizarre take on ‘Happy Talk’, and Julio Iglesias’s smooth smooth take on ‘Begin the Beguine’. All re-imaginings of golden oldies. All a bit odd. The award, though, has to go to Dave and Babs, for what is a weird chart-topper for the ages, and not just for this recap.

To The Very Worst Chart-Topper. The winner of this can console themselves with the fact that nothing I’ve heard this time has been as bad as last recap’s ‘Very Worst’, the angelic tones of St. Winifred’s school choir. But still. There have been stinkers. The shortlist are all from 1982: Tight Fit’s ear-splitting take on ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, Macca and Stevie’s well-intentioned but subtle as a brick ‘Ebony and Ivory’, and Charlene’s preachy ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’. And if you’ve been paying attention, then you know which way this award’s going. I can’t stand sanctimony – ‘No Charge’ and ‘One Day at a Time’ are previous winners – and so Charlene takes it. No amount of tongue-in-cheek covers by drag queens can save it. It’s a howler.

And finally: The Very Best Chart-Topper. I have to admit, unlike the last recap, I don’t love any of them. Not truly. But, there have been some real goodies. The Specials ‘Ghost Town’, for example. That’s the one most people might choose. It’s a great song, and a snapshot of British society in the early ‘80s. But… I would be choosing it partly out of duty, because I feel I should. Then there’s ‘Under Pressure’: David Bowie and Freddie Mercury trying to upstage one another over a classic bassline. And then there’s Bucks Fizz. Yes, Bucks Fizz.

 I was genuinely surprised by how good their ‘other’ #1s were. You know, the ones that aren’t ‘Making Your Mind Up’. ‘The Land of Make Believe’ was a pounding pop beauty. ‘My Camera Never Lies’ was an edgy, new-wave mini-classic. Neither was the ‘best’ of the past thirty chart-toppers, but I don’t think I enjoyed any songs more. It was probably the novelty – if ‘Tainted Love’, or ‘Don’t You Want Me’ were as forgotten as Bucks Fizz’s final two chart-toppers then maybe they’d win – but I can’t help that. Taste is subjective. Pop music isn’t meant to be taken seriously. ‘My Camera Never Lies’ is my 17th Very Best Chart-Topper. Because it’s my party, and I’ll choose who I want to!

To recap the recaps:

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.

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.

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.

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.

498. ‘My Camera Never Lies’, by Bucks Fizz

Precisely a year on from scoring their first number one single, Bucks Fizz score their last. And what they lacked in longevity, they more than made up for in variety.

My Camera Never Lies, by Bucks Fizz (their 3rd and final #1)

1 week, 11th – 18th April 1982

Their chart-toppers have grown less cheesy as we’ve gone on: Euro-camp on ‘Making Your Mind Up’, pure-pop on ‘The Land of Make Believe’. This one is actually quite modern, very early-eighties, power pop. Very, dare I say it… cool? Seriously, this sounds a bit like something Cheap Trick, or The Cars, would have been putting out at the same time.

My camera never lies anymore, Cos there’s nothing worth lying for… The subject matter isn’t your usual pop group fodder, either. The singer has been following his significant other around, taking snaps of her infidelities. He’s both a sympathetic sap; and a total creep. Meanwhile there are angular guitars, power chords, zippy direction changes, and a catchy gimmick in the click click ahhhhs.

I like the lines where the girls have their say in return: It doesn’t matter anymore to you, Cos everything you tell me is boring… It reminds me of ‘Don’t You Want Me’. Mixed-sex bands don’t do that often enough – have a conversation, or a battle, through the lyrics. While the harmonies in the My camera-ra-ra sections are both stupidly catchy, and very complex. I’m starting to think that this is the Fizz’s best #1, though I have the same problem here that I had with ‘…Make Believe’: the drums are too much (on the album version we end with a full-on drum solo).

The band members have gone on record saying that this is their best song, but that it came too early in their career and has been forgotten among their poppier moments. In fact, it’s a shame that Bucks Fizz’s other (better) hits are completely overshadowed by ‘Making Your Mind Up’, and that skirt-whipping move. And it is definitely a shame that you won’t be hearing ‘My Camera Never Lies’ on the radio anytime soon.

Most of Bucks Fizz’s singles were written by Andy Hill, who has written big hits for many big acts, some of which are still to come on this countdown. I’d like to draw a more modern comparison here, with Girls Aloud: another willing pop group with a dedicated song-writing team, who churned out peerless pop in the mid-‘00s. In fact, sticking with this theme, I’d say Bucks Fizz are the very first act on this countdown that feel ‘modern’ to me.

I mean that in the sense that I was born at the tail end of their heyday, while their members were still featuring on kids’ TV into the late-eighties and early-nineties… (‘Eggs ‘n’ Baker’ anyone?) They are the very first, of many, acts I’ll write about here, that were directly part of my childhood, rather than being a famous band my parents listened to, or an act I discovered in my teens or later. Anyway, I’m off now to find a clip of Cheryl Baker walking down Baker Street, singing ‘Baker Street’, on ‘Going Live’ circa 1992, to convince myself that six-year-old me didn’t dream it…

492. ‘The Land of Make Believe’, by Bucks Fizz

And before you know it, it’s 1982! We ended the old year with a killer riff – ‘Don’t You Want Me’ – and we start the new one with another…

The Land of Make Believe, by Bucks Fizz (their 2nd of three #1s)

2 weeks, 10th – 24th January 1982

From Bucks Fizz? Not the band you might turn to if you want a riff-driven hit, but here we are. Nor are Bucks Fizz the band you’d turn to for a song about nightmares, shadows at the window, and ghostly voices in children’s heads… A place we all know… The land of make believe…

This actually quite epic. It sounds like a deluxe kids’ TV show theme. As it plays you can imagine the opening credits: little ones outrunning monsters, saving one another from falling off cliffs, hammy close ups, that kind of thing… Run, For the sun, Little one, You’re an outlaw once again… Was it from a TV show, or a film?

It was not, it seems. But the video more than makes up for that. Cheryl Baker wakes up in her black and white bedroom, stretches her arms, and enters a technicolour ‘Land of Make Believe’ (there’s an entrance sign). There are witches, and wizards (of Oz), boats, pirates, Superman, cocktail bars, sparklers, and clearly six times the budget of most early-eighties music videos. The songwriter has claimed that it is actually a subtle attack on Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government… (Very subtle, as I don’t see it at all.) It’s pure cheese – the band’s dance routines and outfits are somehow even camper than they were in ‘Making Your Mind Up’ – though the two songs don’t sound as if they were by the same band.

This is a classic example of a January hit: a Christmas leftover that made the top in the new year. I’m not sure what makes it a festive song – there are no sleigh bells or mentions of Santa – but it just has that feel. One thing that I would have changed are the very harsh drums: I’d have either softened them – they sound like gunshots – or had them further back in the mix, and brought that epic riff right to the front. Oh yeah, and I’d have lost the creepy kid at the end: I’ve got a friend who comes to tea… Nope. Not for me.

What this does confirm is that, out of all the classic two boys-two girls, Eurovision winning bands, Bucks Fizz were better than Brotherhood of Man. As much as I did fall for ‘Figaro’s cheesy ‘charms’, ‘The Land of Make Believe’ is a solid tune, worthy of making #1 on its own merits. Their next and final #1 will have to go some to get Bucks Fizz above ABBA, though. I have a suspicion that they may have to settle for second place. (ABBA are the Dom Perignon to Bucks Fizz’s, well, Bucks Fizz.)

Back to the movie analogies: if this were a film, it would be a cult classic. It’s the sort of song that doesn’t get much airplay today, but when people look back at it (or discover it, if they were too young at the time) they’ll be pleasantly surprised. Amazed even. And the critics of the time begrudgingly agreed, while Bob Geldof, Phil Oakey (Human League) and Andy McCluskey (OMD) went on record praising the song. A fun start, then, to a new year of chart-toppers!

478. ‘Making Your Mind Up’, by Bucks Fizz

In which we arrive at what is perhaps the Ultimate Eurovision Song. Everything you want and need from a Eurovision winner is present and correct: stupidly catchy, key changes a-plenty, two guys and two girls, a memorable dance routine… and the whole thing as camp as Christmas.

Making Your Mind Up, by Bucks Fizz (their 1st of three #1s)

3 weeks, 12th April – 3rd May 1981

Not that, mind you, I’m claiming this as the best Eurovision chart-topper. Oh no, no, no. There’ll always be ‘Waterloo’ (and Gina G further down the line…) But if you shoved a microphone in someone’s face and screamed ‘Name a Eurovision act!’, half the British population, of a certain age, would say Bucks Fizz.

It starts with a chugging glam-rock drumbeat, and then in come some chugging glam guitars and you suddenly realise that we’re in the midst of a mini glam revival, what with this coming hot on the heels of Shakin’ Stevens’ rockabilly and an actual glam band’s belated #1. Meanwhile the lead guitars are kind of new-wave – seriously, detach them from the rest of this and they wouldn’t sound out of place on a Police record.

You gotta speed it up, And then you gotta slow it down… Not to suggest that this is anything other than a cheese-fest, though. And the lyrics verge from incredibly dumb to bizarrely suggestive. I have no idea if they were trying for innuendo with lines like: Don’t let your indecision, Take you from behind… and You gotta turn it up, Then you gotta pull it out… or if my mind is simply in the gutter.

(Apparently ‘Making Your Mind Up’ was released without a picture sleeve in the UK. Very 1960s…)

For the third time in eight years, a two-guys/two-girls combo won the Eurovision Song Contest. While Bucks Fizz were not ABBA, I’d say they were a step up from Brotherhood of Man. They were only formed a couple of months before entering the contest, but this smash kicked off several years’ worth of hits. And if the song wasn’t enough to win the contest, the band had a trick up their sleeve. In the 3rd verse, on the line: If you wanna see some more… the boys ripped the girls’ long skirts off to reveal much shorter skirts underneath! The continent gasped! I mean, the word ‘iconic’ is overused these days, but…

I have to say that, as revealing as the girls’ costumes were, watching the performance in full for the first time I can say that the boys’ white trousers weren’t leaving much to the imagination either. Bucks Fizz (even their name is ridiculous…) will be back atop the charts soon. Until then, you have two options: roll your eyes and pretend you’re too cool for school; or whip out your scandalously short mini-skirt and go for it. Make your mind up!