Back to business, then. Our next #1 ups the pace, thankfully, after the past two treacly chart-toppers. It’s a soaring piano ‘n’ strings intro, a mish-mash of ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’ – in my head anyway – which means disco is back, baby, for four weeks at least…
Don’t Leave Me This Way, by The Communards with Sarah Jane Morris (their 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 7th September – 5th October 1986
In comes a throbbing, Hi-NRG synth beat, and a high-pitched voice: Don’t leave me this way, I can’t survive, Can’t stay alive… Jimmy Somerville is the latest addition to our list of androgynous eighties voices, a worthy successor to Boy George, Limahl, Pete Burns and co. He hits some genuinely astonishing high notes, especially as the song builds towards the end. The only downside is that he makes this bloody hard to sing along to…
Aaaaah… Baby! That’s a great hook – one that is fun to sing along with – especially when, ahead of the final chorus, the ‘Aaaah’ is drawn out even further and followed by a ridiculously life-affirming key-change. Over the top brilliance! Meanwhile guest singer Sarah Jane Morris, who wasn’t officially a Communard, complements Somerville’s falsetto with a warmer, deeper voice on the second verse and in her Come satisfy me… lines.
Oh and there’s also the ear-catching solo, with a clattering piano and horns. I’m enjoying this. It’s fun, frothy, and full of life (something much of 1986 has been lacking…) ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ was a cover of a cover. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ disco-soul original had made #5 in 1977, while a pure disco version by Thelma Houston (on which The Communards’ take is based) had made #13 around the same time.
Houston’s version had been taken on as a gay anthem, with significance added to the lyrics as AIDS swept through the community. Both Communards were gay, Somerville having left the poor area of Glasgow he’d grown up in for London, becoming a sex worker in Soho. He’d been in the Top 10 before, with Bronski Beat, but this was his first and only #1. And if he had the interesting back-story, then keyboardist Richard Coles has had the more interesting after-story, becoming an actual Church of England priest, and radio presenter.
Sarah Jane Morris, meanwhile, worked with the duo on several more songs, before moving into jazz and opera. The Communards were only together for two albums, and for three Top 10 singles. A short and sweet chart-career, though one that did give them the biggest-selling single of 1986. This has felt like a bit of a palate-cleanser after the mix of novelties and mawkish ballads that had begun to bog things down. A straight-up, pop banger for the ages. Aaaaaaaaaah… Baby!