590. ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, by Starship

Question: has a song ever been written specifically with karaoke in mind? Songs are written for movie themes, for radio play, for their stream-ability… So what about a song for karaoke bars?

Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, by Starship (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 3rd – 31st May 1987

For if ever a song were written for drunk people who shouldn’t be let anywhere near a microphone, ‘tis this one. It’s a duet, for a start, and one that’s pretty easy to sing. It’s got a steady, thumping, drum-led pace. It’s got moments for wannabe rock stars to let loose – woah-oahs and heys, that sort of thing – and a solo that begs to be air-guitared along to. Above all, it’s got the sort of message that appeals to people on their third cocktail of the evening. We can build this thing together, Standing strong forever, Nothing’s gonna stop us now…

I’d say that this record is a bit of a bellwether hit: a test of how much you can tolerate the worst excesses of the 1980s. If you can stomach it, this is a classic of its kind. Yes it’s cheesy, ridiculous, over the top… the little break between the bridge and the solo is perhaps the precise moment the ‘80s peaked (these moments keep coming along, and the decade keeps outdoing itself)… but it’s great fun. And it’s from one of the archetypal eighties movies, ‘Mannequin’, in which Kim Cattrall plays a store-front dummy that comes to life. Hi-jinks ensue, presumably (I’ve never seen it…) On the other hand, if you see the eighties as a decade of style (and hair) over substance, in which true musicianship got lost behind synthesisers and shoulder pads, then ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ is presumably high on your list of worst offenders.

A lot of the hate probably stems from what the band Starship once was. Few acts have had a longer journey from their original incarnation to their most successful line-up. Jefferson Airplane, ground-breaking ‘60s psychedelic act, with two tracks on Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Songs Ever, split in two. One half became Jefferson Starship, a more commercial sounding, but still well-respected rock band. Due to legal threats from the other members of Airplane, they had to drop the ‘Jefferson’ in 1984. By the time this happened, none of the original members remained, apart from the female lead on this song, Grace Slick, who had recently returned to the fold. So far, so Sugababes… (Though the three bands chopped and changed members so much I may be mistaken on this, and am happy to be proven wrong…)

So, even though Starship no longer shared a name, and barely any band members, with their predecessors, they seem to have been a shorthand for the way popular music had degenerated since the late sixties. Coming at this as someone who neither lived through it, nor has listened to much (OK, any) Jefferson Airplane, I can kind of get the hate. (Sugababes MK III had some decent songs, but they weren’t a patch on MK I.) But at the same time: it is snobbery.

Where people’s ire should be directed is the truly horrific ‘We Built This City’, Starship’s debut #12 hit, from 1985. That is a song that I cannot abide, one that takes every truly hideous ‘80s production technique in the book and turns them all up to eleven. ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, though…? I’ve belted this out at karaoke nights, and would do so again, happily. In the UK, this was Starship’s only Top 10 hit, though they had more success in the States. When the hits finally dried up in the early nineties, there was one final regeneration for this most Dr Who of rock groups… Into ‘Starship featuring Mickey Thomas’ (the lead male vocalist on ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us’), which they still tour under today.

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579. ‘Take My Breath Away’, by Berlin

Serious question: is this the 1980s’ most iconic riff? It’s not a decade known for its riffs, not like the sixties and the seventies anyway. ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘Money for Nothing’, Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, this…?

Take My Breath Away, by Berlin (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 2nd – 30th November 1986

Of course, purists will argue that any riff not played on a guitar ain’t worth mentioning. But the fact that this is played on a squelchy, echoey synth simply makes it even more representative of the era. Add the drums, the backing melody, the video, the fact that it’s from the soundtrack to one of the decade’s biggest movies, and you’ve got yourself an eighties classic: ‘Take My Breath Away’. Or to give it its full title: ‘Love Theme from ‘Top Gun’’.

Watching every motion in my foolish lover’s game… The lyrics are pure power-ballad tosh: profound, until you actually sit down and listen to them. On this endless ocean, Finally lovers know no shame… I was going to let them off as I assumed the band were German and not writing in their first language… But no, Berlin were from Los Angeles. Yet you’re not here for the lyrics; you’re here for the drama, for the fist-clenching, head-shaking silliness of it all. You’re here for the key change, one of the very best of all time.

Even if you’ve never seen it, you’d put a lot of money on the video for this song featuring dry-ice and a wind machine. And it does, as well as lots of bombed out aircraft shells, interspersed with movie footage of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. If there is a story to it, it seems to be that the band are scavengers, returned to the Top Gun Academy following a nuclear apocalypse. It makes as much sense as the lyrics…

It’s a triumph of style over substance – further cementing it as one of the 1980’s defining tunes – but I love it. This could have been quite slow and plodding – it is not a fast song – but Berlin, and lead singer Teri Nunn, give it a ridiculous energy. Also helping is the fact that none other than Giorgio Moroder was on production duty. He adds this to his credits on ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Call Me’ to complete a hattrick of electro-classics (as well as the very first electronic #1 being a cover of his ‘Son of My Father’.) Lady Gaga clearly took ‘Take My Breath Away’ as inspiration for her song on the Top Gun 2 soundtrack but, as much as I love her, she didn’t quite manage to match the original…

‘Top Gun’ has one of the most famous, and successful, movie soundtracks of all time, although this song was the only big UK hit to come from it. This was also the only big UK hit for Berlin, a new-wave band who had been around since the start of the decade. It returned them to the Top 3 in 1990, too, when re-released. And look! It’s only Part I of a quintessential eighties double-header at the top of the charts. Get the hairspray ready for our next #1…

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574. ‘The Lady in Red’, by Chris de Burgh

Oooh baby. Who doesn’t love a #1 song that shimmies in, draped in furs and faux-silk, sounding like a soft porn soundtrack…

The Lady in Red, by Chris de Burgh (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 27th July – 17th August 1986

She’s slick, she’s glossy, she’s the eighties-est thing ever. It’s ‘The Lady in Red’. When Chris de Burgh’s vocals arrive, though, the sexy spell is broken. What diction! Never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight… Never seen so many men asking if you wanted to dance… (There’s no way of accurately transcribing how he pronounces the word ‘dance’. ‘Darwnce’? De Burgh is the only person who has ever pronounced it this way. With a straight face, at least.)

This is a terrible song. The music is the worst kind of soulless soft-rock, all finger clicks and thick, gloopy synths. The vocals are overwrought. The lyrics are at best cringey, and at worst truly vomit inducing. You can imagine Chris de Burgh writing the chorus… The lady in red, Is dancing with me… And thinking hmmm, that’s just not rotten enough. Aha! I know… *whispers Cheek to cheek…*

Two bits stand out as particularly nauseating. The mm-hmm-hmm in the first verse, as Chris closes his eyes and pictures this goddess. And the whispered I love you… at the very end. Both send shudders right up the spine. ‘The Lady in Red’ was his wife, Diane, who was wearing a red dress on the night she chose him over all the other men who’d asked to dance. De Burgh wrote this, his biggest hit, as an apology after they had argued. (Whatever the fight was about, it wasn’t worth this. I’d have taken the divorce…) The song also – according to de Burgh – reduced none other a Lady than Princess Diana to tears. Whether they were sad tears, tears of boredom, or tears of relief when the song finally ended, remains unclear.

I was expecting this to be awful, and it is. But… But. It isn’t as truly heinous as I had imagined. I thought this would walk straight into the Top 5 Worst #1s ever, alongside J.J. Barrie and the St. Winifred’s kids. Yet there is something epic about the way De Burgh wails his way through it, the way he revels in its utter cheesiness, like a pig rolling in its own filth, that just about drags it out of the gutter. But I hardly know… (It has an extra chorus on top of the regular chorus, for goodness sake!) This beauty by my side…. Plus I kind of like the funky, plucked guitar.

I don’t think Chris de Burgh thought this was cool. I’m not sure he has any idea what ‘cool’ is, and I don’t think he cares. ‘The Lady in Red’ is a stinker; and yet it went to #1 in twenty-five countries… Coolness be damned! Do I want to hear this again, ever? Nope. Do I admire its relentless, undiluted schmaltz? Yes, somewhat (grudgingly…) De Burgh has only had one further UK Top 10 to his name, though he has been in the music business for nigh on fifty years. He continues to record and tour, and to be wildly popular in countries where English isn’t the first language (make of that what you will…)

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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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544. ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’, by Foreigner

1984 saw a battle take place at the top of the British charts. A tussle to the death between high energy pop and glossy ballads. The final score, I think, was Ballads 5 – 7 Bangers. Dancefloors across the nation rejoiced…

I Want to Know What Love Is, by Foreigner (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 13th January – 3rd February 1985

Except. The contest isn’t finished yet. 1985 kicks off with what is perhaps the ultimate soft-rock ballad… The steady drums, the background synths. A painfully earnest voice: I’ve gotta take a little time, A little time to think things over… And boy, do they take a little time. It’s so slow. What might be a chorus arrives, and dissolves back into the gloop as we plod on.

I think fist-clenchers like this (the video below literally opens on a clenched fist…) were ten-a-penny on top of the Billboard charts in the mid-eighties. That’s the impression I have, at least: REO Speedwagon, Boston, Peter Cetera, Mr Mister… All hits in the UK, to some extent, but not chart-toppers. Foreigner made it, though. Something about this one caught the British public’s imagination in the deep midwinter, as couples snuggled together around the fire…

The chorus, when it finally does arrive, a minute and a half in, is instantly recognisable. I want to know what love is… I want you to show me… It’s one that’s become ingrained in the popular conscience, which is usually a sign of classic status. But it just doesn’t do much for me. It’s too serious, too constipated… For power-ballads to work they need to be in on the joke, to an extent.

I don’t think that Foreigner had their tongues in their cheeks when they were recording this. By the second chorus, a gospel choir has been added to the mix, and lead-singer Lou Gramm is adding some (admittedly impressive) soulful adlibs. I think there might be a moment, a time in life, when a song like this clicks for you. I have yet to experience it, though.

As I wait for the song to reach its conclusion, some questions come unbidden to my mind. Did Foreigner have big hair…? (Yes, but not quite as big as it might have been. I think 1986/7 was peak poodle-perm) And who is the woman singing those wild backing vocals…? (Broadway star Jennifer Holliday – she’s the best thing about the song.)

‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ was Foreigner’s only #1, on either side of the Atlantic. They were regulars to the US Top 10 for at least ten years. In Britain, though, this was only their second, and final, Top 10 hit. ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’ made #8. ‘Cold As Ice’ – a much better contender for their sole number one – only made #24…! As it is, 1985 carries on from where ’84 left: slow, steady and earnest. Up next in our ongoing game of ‘Ballad or Banger’… It’s another slow one…

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542. ‘The Power of Love’, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Frankie Goes to Hollywood complete their hattrick of number ones, with a ballad out just in time for Christmas.

The Power of Love, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (their 3rd and final #1)

1 week, from 2nd – 9th December 1984

This one starts off very slow, very stately – gentle guitars and sparse piano – and completely out of sync with what’s gone before this year. ‘More is More’ has been the motto of 1984, with even the ballads being that little bit extra. This being Frankie though, there’s still a bit of weirdness amongst the calm… I’ll protect you from the Hooded Claw, Keep the vampires from your door… whispers Holly Johnson over the intro.

It slowly builds, though, into a more dramatic, orchestral beast. Soaring strings come in after the first chorus, in which we are told to make love your goal… There are ominous synths, and even a jazz bar piano at one point. It grows into its OTT-ness, and ends up quite camp. Under it all, it’s a simple enough love song. Yes, there’s a lot of biblical imagery – tongues of fire and souls being purged – but the key line might just be the heartfelt I’m so in love with you… I’ve no idea who it’s about, but I believe he means it.

Was this Frankie Goes to Hollywood making a bid for granny-loving respectability, after the huge controversy around ‘Relax’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘Two Tribes’? (I’m not the first person to point out that they went from sex, to war, to religion.) Well, the difference between this and their debut hit is remarkable. The video for ‘The Power of Love’ (directed by Godley & Creme of 10cc) is a straightforward re-telling of the Nativity, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, making their way to the stable in Bethlehem. And no, the baby Jesus is not kitted out in bondage gear. But the sheer straight-facedness of it is actually what makes this record quirky enough for us not to shout ‘sell-out’.

At the same time, I can’t enjoy this as much as the band’s earlier, genuinely thrilling, chart-toppers. That’s to do with my personal tastes – ballads always have to try that little bit harder to crack my resistance – but also because this one goes on a bit, and has one chorus too many. It veers a little too close to self-indulgence.

But it made #1, and with it Frankie Goes to Hollywood became only the second act in chart history to have their first three releases reach the top. They did so twenty one years after another Liverpudlian act: Gerry & The Pacemakers. Their fourth single, ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’, would make #2, but when they came back with their second album in 1986 the magic seemed to have faded. It produced just one Top 10 hit, and the band split the following year.

They didn’t last long, but the hits live on. All their #1s have re-charted in the Top 20 at various points in the decades since. ‘The Power of Love’, in fact, has returned to the Top 10 twice, in 1993 and 2000, as well as a cover version #1 in 2012. And before we go, it’s worth noting that releasing songs called ‘The Power of Love’ was something of a trend in the mid-eighties. This one, Huey Lewis’s, and another, mega-ballad that we’ll be featuring on this countdown soon enough…

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541. ‘I Should Have Known Better’, by Jim Diamond

On with the next thirty, and in 1984’s ongoing battle between ballads and bangers it’s another… ballad. I make that Bangers 6-5 Ballads.

I Should Have Known Better, by Jim Diamond (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 25th November – 2nd December 1984

I confess that the only thing I know about Jim Diamond is that he was Scottish. We Scots are brought up to know two things off by heart: our brave football defeats, and the singers that have represented our tiny country in charts around the world. There are actual compilation CDs with titles like ‘The Best Scottish Album… Ever!’, which stick The Bay City Rollers next to Jimmy Shand, but it’s not weird because they’re all SCOTTISH! (as if it was a musical genre to squeeze in between ‘samba’ and ‘ska…)

Anyway… All I knew about Jim Diamond is that he was Scottish and he had a surprise #1 in 1984, sandwiched among all the Wham! and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. A plucky #1. (Any Scottish successes, in sport, or music, or film, must be described as ‘plucky’. It’s a rule.) So it’s nice to finally put a song to the name. And it’s… not bad?

Diamond has a distinctive voice. It’s a good, white-soul voice, but the way he pronounces his vowels is odd… I shooda knohwn baytah… The song starts off nicely enough: standard mid-eighties balladry. I shoulda known better… To lie to one as beautiful as you… He regrets lying to his girlfriend mainly, it seems, because she was hot. Lying to ugly girls is, as we all know, okay. I can see what he’s going for, but it lacks depth. It’s a bit lightweight.

Then halfway through things get simultaneously better, and worse. Some huge drums come slamming in – this might be the first chart-topping example of those huge drums that just scream ‘1985!’ – and Diamond goes for it. Aiyayayayayayay… lo-ove yo-ou! Guitars soar. Fists are clenched. Chests are thumped. This common or garden ballad has become a power ballad.

But still it lacks something. Whether it’s in Diamond’s voice, which struggles the further this song moves from soul into rock, or in the production, which never goes as huge as, say, ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. That’s probably the reason why this record hasn’t taken its place in the pantheon of eighties ballads, and why this feels like a forgotten #1 in between 1984’s other enormous hits.

Still, I do quite like it, and am glad to have discovered it. It sounds like a great one to belt out after a few drinks (which, at the end of the day, may be the one unifying quality every Scottish song has). Jim Diamond’s career makes for interesting reading. He’d been active in the music industry since the late sixties, had been in a band with a future member of AC/DC, and had fronted a Japanese act (??) called BACCO, before finding fame as lead singer of new-wave band PhD. They had one big hit, and then Diamond went solo.

He’s not quite a one-hit wonder, as he would score a #5 a couple of years after his only number one. Diamond continued to record and perform up until his sudden death in 2015, aged just sixty-four. He will also feature, uncredited, on a couple of charity singles still to come. Sadly not, though, on the big one that’s on its way very soon…

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Never Had a #1… Tina Turner

Part II of this look at huge chart stars who’ve never quite made it to the top. Yesterday we featured Bob Marley, whose five biggest UK hits were an eclectic mix. Today we feature a woman whose career spans eight decades… and whose five biggest hits are wall-to-wall classics. The Queen of Rock n Roll: Tina Turner.

‘The Best’ – #5 in 1989

I should actually do a full ‘Should Have been a Number One’ on what is probably Turner’s signature song, in Britain at least. It deserves the attention. Although released in the final year of the decade, ‘The Best’ sums everything great about the 1980s (a decade I may have been critical of, musically speaking, from time to time…) Throbbing synths, power chords, a belt-it-out-at-the-top-of-your-voice chorus, a galloping black stallion in the video, and one of the most outrageous uses of a saxophone ever heard in a pop song.

Before writing this, I had no idea that the original had been recorded by Bonnie Tyler a year earlier, or that it was written by the man behind so many ’70s glam rock classics, Mike Chapman. All that is interesting, and relevant, but also completely shunted to the background by Tina Turner’s performance in owning would could be, in different hands, a completely ridiculous song. The fact that I can even overlook ‘The Best’s decades-long association with Glasgow Rangers – they enter the pitch to it, and fans even had the song re-enter the chart at #9 in 2010 – is a testament to how good it is.

‘Nutbush City Limits’ – #4 in 1973 (with Ike Turner)

Before her reinvention as an eighties power-rock diva, Tina had a first wave of success with her then husband Ike in the sixties and seventies. And if ‘The Best’ has a rival for its position as Turner’s signature tune, then ‘Nutbush City Limits’ is it… (OK, and ‘Proud Mary’, which doesn’t feature here…) It’s a fabulously funky tale of a little ol’ town in Tennessee, that sounds as crispy as a piece of fried chicken. It’s a (hopefully) tounge-in-cheek ode to her hometown: no whisky for sale, you get caught – no bail, salt pork and molasses, is all you get in jail… Elevating the song further is the rumour that the track’s distinctive lead-guitar was recorded by none other than Marc Bolan…

River Deep – Mountain High’ – #3 in 1966 (with Ike Turner)

Belted out by a young Tina, and produced by Phil Spector using every Wall of Sound trick in the book (it even has Darlene Love on backing vocals), ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ gave Turner her first big hit. Ike was credited, but didn’t actually feature on this version (the couple would go on to re-record it in 1973). It was a big hit around Europe in 1966, but flopped in the US. Spector was so distraught by the song’s failure that he didn’t produce another one for two years, and set off on a very destructive path…

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What’s Love Got to Do With It’ – #3 in 1984

Turner’s certified biggest hit, and her only solo #1 in the US. This was her big comeback after seperating, both musically and romantically, from Ike. While it doesn’t do it for me like ‘The Best’ and ‘Nutbush’ – it tends a little too much towards ‘icky eighties’, especially in the harmonica – I can accept its classic status. In fact, Turner’s outrageous hairdo in the video would be enough to seal this one’s place in the pantheon. ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ went on quite the journey before being recorded by Tina: Cliff Richard turned it down, Donna Summer dithered over recording it, and Bucks Fizz recorded a (pretty decent) version that never saw the light of day until 2000.

We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)’ – #3 in 1985

Turner’s joint-biggest hit is this track from the soundtrack to ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’. She starred in the movie, alongside Mel Gibson. Again, I’m not a huge fan of this one: it’s standard mid-eighties power-balladry (though I do like the snarling guitar). I’d have taken ‘Private Dancer’ (a #26), or ‘Proud Mary’ (never released as a single in the UK!) over this.

Still, there you have Tina Turner’s biggest UK hits that never quite made it to #1. One more ‘Never Had a #1…’ up tomorrow. And it’s the 1980s biggest girl-group!

537. ‘Careless Whisper’, by George Michael

We’ve had a famous chart-topper earlier this year that was obsessed with sex. Here, we have a number one that is all about sax.

Careless Whisper, by George Michael (his 1st of seven solo #1s)

3 weeks, from 12th August – 2nd September 1984

Can I just admit right now that ‘Careless Whisper’ has always left me feeling a little… icky? It’s the epitome of mid-eighties slickness: glossy, shimmering, and very heavy on the saxophone. But it’s an important record. Not only is it the first solo #1 for one of Britain’s biggest ever stars, but it set the template for boyband members looking to break away from their group, from Robbie Williams to Harry Styles.

I didn’t appreciate how early George Michael’s solo career began – just a few weeks ago Wham! were scoring their own first #1 – or how confidently he launched into it. This does not sound like the early fumblings of a boyband star going solo; this is a supremely well-made pop ballad. And, amazingly, he wasn’t even twenty when he and Andrew Ridgeley wrote it… His maturity and attention to detail can be found in the fact that he went through nine saxophonists before finding one who could play the famous riff to his liking.

I will not deny how well made this record is. And there are bits I can appreciate. The sax, for a start. This has to be the most famous use of the instrument on a pop single, alongside ‘Baker Street’, and the solo from ‘True’. And the chorus is timeless: I’m never gonna dance again, Guilty feet have got no rhythm… Both this and Wham’s earlier #1 have centred around dancing: on missing out on it, and now on being unable to do it through guilt…

Towards the end, as George is belting out that we could have been so good together… there is a real confidence on show. It’s a song that takes its time, that fills its five-minute runtime at a stately pace. It’s also an interesting lyric: Time can never mend, The careless whispers of a good friend… It’s a classic of late-night ‘love song’ hours on commercial radio, but it’s clearly a break up song… Now who’s gonna dance with me…? Is it also possible, knowing now what we do, that it’s about George hurting a girl thanks to him being gay…?

The video is everything you want from a mid-eighties ballad: soft-focus, gorgeous hair, pointless but moody ropes hanging from the ceiling, sexy yachts, a Princess Diana lookalike love-interest… But the fact that this record is so precisely of its time is what ultimately hurts it in my eyes. Give me the fun, retro stylings of ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ over this.

I mentioned that this was the launch of George Michael’s solo career, when in actual fact it’s something of a false start. His next solo record will not be for another couple of years, when Wham! were indeed coming to an end. In fact, in the US ‘Careless Whisper’ reached #1 as a Wham! single. George Michael clearly wasn’t yet enough of a name to carry a record over there. That would change though, and quickly.

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533. ‘Hello’, by Lionel Richie

And so the promising start that 1984 had made comes to a crashing halt. Actually, no. ‘Crashing’ makes this sound way more exciting than it is. ‘Shuddering’? Still a bit too dramatic. A whimpering halt….? Yes, that’s it.

Hello, by Lionel Richie (his 1st and only solo #1)

6 weeks, from 18th March – 29th April 1984

‘Hello’ is a dull record. The lyrics are trite… Let me start by saying, I love you…. and Sometimes I feel that my heart will overflow… The pace is that of a glacier. Lionel Richie’s voice, while technically decent, is bland. After two records that showed how fun the 1980s could be – ‘Relax’ and ’99 Red Balloons’ – it’s dross like this that gives the decade a bad name.

It’s not that dull ballads were invented in the 1980s. The fifties, for example, was stuffed to the brim with them. But the production here, the glossy soft-soul gloop oozing from this record’s grooves, is prime mid-eighties. And it doesn’t enhance… There’s a soppy organ, a soppy piano, a soppy brass section. There are some weird swirling synths, which are as close as the music gets to being interesting. And then there’s an insipid acoustic Spanish guitar solo that really tries the patience.

Having never actually listened to this snooze-fest through choice before today, I was expecting a more OTT power-ballad element to it. You know: bad, but ridiculous. Except that’s just the video… In it, Richie plays a drama teacher with the unfortunate habit of creeping around behind one of his female students. Who just happens to be blind. He finally plucks up the courage to call her – the way he sings Hello! Is it me you’re looking for…? down the phone is actually hilarious – and she displays her love by making a truly monstrous clay model of his head.

Play ‘Hello’ away from the video, however, and you lose all this silliness. It is a truly boring experience. It’s only four minutes long, but it feels like twice that. I named Richie’s previous #1 – ‘Three Times a Lady’, with the Commodores – as a ‘Meh’ chart-topper, but this one takes ‘Meh’ to new levels. Why this was top of the charts for six weeks, and why it has since become an eighties pop culture cornerstone, is beyond me.

I have to admit that even his more upbeat hits of the mid-‘80s, the likes of ‘All Night Along’ and ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’, leave me feeling cold. Lionel Richie is, for whatever reason, an artist I don’t connect with. Too slick? Too glossy? Soulless soul? Maybe. Either way, for now I’m reminded why this decade will, at times, be a slog.

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