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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553. ‘There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)’, by Eurythmics

The Eurythmics grab their only UK #1, then. One week at the top for an act I’d suggest were worth a few more. But at least they grab their chance here, and deliver a classic. Their sole chart-topper comes in at a hundred miles an hour, with an impressive a cappella intro from Annie Lennox.

There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart), by Eurythmics (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 21st – 28th July 1985

La-da-dee-doo-n-doo-n-daaa… That’s what it sounds like to me anyway, leading the way into a song about the joys of being in love. I walk into an empty room, Suddenly my heart goes boom… I always associate Eurythmics with slightly more layered, slightly darker music – ‘Sexcrime’, ‘Sweet Dreams’ and so on – but their biggest chart success came with a pure pop record.

But that’s not to say this is cheap and throwaway. Not at all. ‘There Must Be an Angel’ is quality stuff, all the way through. From Lennox’s opening salvo, through the angelic backing vocals (which I’m guessing are Lennox again – whoever they’re by, they’re impressively OTT), the electronic harp, and the excellent gospel-influenced middle eight, with some clever rhyming: hallucinating with celebrating, deception with intervention… Could this be the activating, All my senses dissipating…? Not many number ones can boast that sort of vocabulary, even if it does sound a little try-hard…

The cherry on top of this great record: a harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder. If that didn’t get you a number one in 1985, then nothing would… This means that as well as his own chart-topper (‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’), Wonder has featured uncredited on three more #1s in the past year (Chaka Khan’s ‘I Feel for You’, and ‘We Are the World’ being the other two).

The video ups the celestial ante even further: Lennox plays a beautiful angel, surrounded by cherubs and angelic choirs, and isn’t sporting her usual cropped hair. (There is an argument for her being the female Boy George, mirroring his androgyny, and they had both featured on the cover of Newsweek the year before.) Meanwhile, Dave Stewart plays a bored – and strangely blonde – Louis XIV watching on.

This is the only chart-topper for the Eurythmics (it bears repeating…), and for either Lennox or Stewart (he is not the Dave Stewart who covered ‘It’s My Party’ with Barbara Gaskin in 1981). In fact, their hit making career as a duo was about to peter out: they’d score their last Top 10 hit the following year with my favourite of theirs, ‘Thorn in My Side’. Lennox would go on to have a hugely successful solo career in the ‘90s, as well as lots of charity work. Stewart would go on to do everything from film soundtracks, to voice acting, to comic book writing.

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552. ‘Frankie’, by Sister Sledge

We pass the midway point of 1985, and it’s turning into a pretty eclectic year… Glossy ballads, Hi-NRG bangers, early EDM, charity plodders

Frankie, by Sister Sledge (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 23rd June – 21st July 1985

And now, out of the blue, Sister Sledge are at number one with a fun slice of retro girl-group pop. And why not? Hey Frankie! I do like the cheesy horns, and the bass riff is funkily cool. Do you remember me…? There are finger-clicks, and silky smooth backing vocals. I’m not so sure about the You were fifteen, And I was twelve… line, though, or the I looked into your big eyes, And said to myself we could have twins… I suppose they were keeping the ‘back in the day’ feel going.

Immediately I can see two comparisons. One is with Phyllis Nelson’s ‘Move Closer’ – another sixties throwback dressed up in the latest mid-eighties style. My favourite bit here is the bridge… Oh, how you brought me down… Followed by some down downs that are cribbed straight from The Shangri-Las. And the other is with KC & The Sunshine Band’s ‘Give It Up’, in which a disco act scored a chart-topper years after their heyday.

The video takes the ‘cheap and cheerful’ vibes to a whole new level. Sister Sledge torment a middle-aged postman through a series of cards and letters that come to life and sing to him. He goes to a bar to dull these terrifying visions, only to find the real Sister Sledge performing. He is Frankie, it turns out. I don’t want to be nasty, but he’s hardly the sort of person you’d see in the street and think ‘there’s the one that got away…’

But it’s fun, just like the song. Except I’m not sure why it was such a big hit now, in mid-1985. Sister Sledge hadn’t been in the Top 10 with an original tune since ‘We Are Family’ in 1979, though a Nile Rodgers remix of ‘Lost in Music’ had made #4 a year before this, so they would have been in the public consciousness. I was surprised to see classics such as ‘I’m So Excited’ and ‘Jump (For My Love)’ missing from their discography, until I realised that I’ve been mixing up Sister Sledge and The Pointer Sisters for most of my adult life.

One final thing I’ll say about this record is that, as fun as it is, it would sound even better if it had been recorded without all the eighties flourishes. Real drums instead of a drum-machine, actual finger-clicks rather than the computerised version, that sort of thing… Phil Collins did it nicely when covering ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. I’m sure at the time it sounded wonderfully modern, and maybe led to it being a bigger hit, but it’s why ‘Frankie’ feels dated, and possibly all but forgotten now.

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