586. ‘Everything I Own’, by Boy George

After the exploits and successes of George Michael; another famous, lead-singing George goes solo…

Everything I Own, by Boy George (his 1st and only solo #1)

2 weeks, from 8th – 22nd March 1987

For someone as provocative and outspoken as Boy George, he didn’t half play it safe when it came to the actual music. I commented as much when Culture Club’s two chart-toppers came along: ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ left me a little cold, and while ‘Karma Chameleon’ is a brilliant pop song, it’s more likely to have granny dancing along than reaching for the smelling salts. At the time, I wondered if a double whammy of androgyny and provocative songs might have been too much. Maybe it was enough for Boy George just to be part of the mainstream…

But still, you might have expected him to launch his solo career with something a little more edgy than a cover of a Bread hit from a decade and a half before… ‘Everything I Own’ is a nice song. The original is nice, the Ken Boothe version (on which this take is heavily based) is nice… Did the world need another version? Probably not, but it doesn’t offend. The reggae beat is bright and breezy – a little perkier than in Boothe’s version, as if UB40 were George’s backing band.

The most interesting bit of the song is Boy George’s voice. It’s only three and a half years since he last topped the charts, but his voice sounds like it’s aged by a decade or two… I would make an irreverent joke about it, but the sad truth is that he was by this point a heroin addict, and had been arrested for possession just a few months before this record’s release. Perhaps the success of this song was as much a statement of support from his fans as it was about people genuinely liking the song (his follow-up singles’ lack of success perhaps backs this theory up…)

Culture Club had disbanded the year before, in the wake of diminishing chart returns and Boy George’s increasingly erratic behaviour. The start of their decline can be traced directly back to the astonishingly bad ‘The War Song’ in 1984, which I’d say caused more harm than the drugs ever did. In fact, when I start yearning for a bit more edge from Culture Club and Boy George, I should remember their big anti-war statement piece and be grateful that they largely stuck to soft reggae…

Speaking of soft reggae, I have a ‘soft’ spot for Culture Club’s 1998 comeback single ‘I Just Wanna Be Loved’, which came out when I was twelve. The band have reformed a couple of times now, while George maintains an on-again off-again solo career. He’s arguably been more infamous than famous in recent years thanks to various legal troubles, but he seems to have turned a corner now that he’s in his sixties (!) Whatever you think of him, he’s certainly an icon of the decade, and it’s apt that he managed a brief swansong on top of the charts…

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575. ‘I Wanna Wake Up with You’, by Boris Gardiner

Sigh. Another squishy, easy listening ballad. It seems the general public was in a queasily romantic mood during the summer of ’86.

I Wanna Wake Up with You, by Boris Gardner (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 17th August – 7th September 1986

At least this latest #1 is a reggae ballad. Reggae tinged, at least. There’s the merest hint of reggae in the piano that keeps everything in time, ticking along with a tiny spring in the step, which elevates this record above its gloopy predecessor, ‘The Lady in Red’. I’ve pointed out before the indestructibility of reggae as a chart-topping genre – it’s never been popular enough to dominate any one era, but it also keeps popping up long after other, wilder fads have died away.

I wanna wake up with you… I wanna be there when you open your eyes… The reggae-ness of this song is also the best thing about it (along with the fun, squiggly synths in the intro). The rest is sickly sweet lyrics, and chord progressions so simple that the whole thing could be rewritten as a hymn, the kind kiddies have to sing at Easter assemblies (it had originally been written as a country song). Boris Gardiner croons his way through it like a pro and, like all the best crooners, when he runs out of words he just doo-doo-doos

Gardiner was an established and respected reggae singer, who had been active since 1960 without much major success. His one and only previous UK chart hit, the instrumental ‘Elizabethan Reggae’, had made #14 in early 1970. Which must make that one of the biggest gaps between hit singles, ever. ‘Elizabethan Reggae’ is much more rough-round-the-edges, ‘proper’ reggae. Meanwhile, he wrote the soul soundtrack to the movie ‘Every N***** Is a Star’, the title track to which has been sampled by Kendrick Lamar, and featured in the Oscar-winning film ‘Moonlight’. He had an edge to him, then, and definitely softened his sound for this sweet, if pretty boring, love song. But can you begrudge a bloke one big hit almost thirty years into his career?

The fact that Boris Gardiner was forty-three years old when ‘I Wanna Wake Up with You’ hit number one means 1986 is turning into a very middle-aged year for chart-toppers: Billy Ocean, Diana Ross, Cliff, Hank Marvin, Chris de Burgh and now Boris were all aged between thirty-six and forty-five when scoring their recent chart-toppers. That’s some pretty old pop stars (I write through gritted teeth, as I note that I too would now fall into this group…)

I have no idea why this average little ballad was such a big hit (the 3rd biggest seller of the year!) in 1986. Or why this is turning into the eighties’ version of the Summer of Love. Ok, two songs don’t make a summer, but it is tempting to compare the three all-time classics that made up the original 1967 SoL, with the past two drippy, over-produced #1s from the class of ’86, and draw conclusions on the respective merits of the two decades…

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565. ‘When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going’, by Billy Ocean

The 3rd number one single of 1986, and the third one with what I’d term a ‘distinctive’ intro. From the subtle build of ‘West End Girls’ to this: the song’s title chopped, sliced and diced into an uber-‘80s ‘look what my mixing desk can do!’ mess.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going, by Billy Ocean (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 2nd February – 2nd March 1986

Tough-t-t-t-tuh-tuh-tuh-tough ooh! The barking voice reminds me of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’. Nothing that reminds me of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ can be anything other than reprehensible. Luckily, once the intro is out of the way, things settle down and a decent pop song begins to shine through. I like the bass, and the calypso rhythm. It’s a summer smash, several months too early. I’ve got something to tell you, I’ve got something to say… Billy Ocean sings it smoothly; thankfully nothing like the Baha Men.

I wonder if this is based on a traditional tune, as reggae songs are (even though this is reggae in the loosest sense…) The chorus especially has a nursery-rhyme feel to it. But no, ‘When the Going Gets Tough…’ was written in 1985, for the soundtrack to the Michael Douglas film ‘The Jewel of the Nile’ (it seems the song is much better remembered than the movie…) So it may not be an old song, but it definitely has retro touches. The Darlin’… I’ll climb any mountain… is very sixties Motown, as are the Ooh-ohh-ohh-hoos… lifted straight from ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’.

There’s also a very mid-eighties sax solo. But it’s palatable –I have a very low tolerance for eighties saxophone solos – and works well with the song’s overall jauntiness. I like this: it’s catchy, fun, exuberant… once the intro’s over. I mentioned in my last post that A-ha’s ‘The Sun Only Shines on TV’ might have been a ‘shadow’ number one, and I did wonder if this also might have been one. Had ‘Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)’ and ‘Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car’ – Billy Ocean was one for a good, long song title – immediately preceded it? No. This record was a chart-topper, fair and square.

If I had to choose a song to be Ocean’s sole #1 hit, though, I’d definitely go for the even more Motown-leaning ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’, which had been his breakthrough hit, making #2 a full decade before this. Sadly, and reluctantly, I’ve come to accept that I will never be able to personally control the charts… (though the world would be a much better, Ed Sheeran-less place if I did…)

Billy Ocean’s chart career didn’t last far beyond the late-eighties, though he continues to record and perform, his latest album making the charts in 2020. ‘When the Going Gets Tough…’, meanwhile, will be back at the top of the charts before the century is out.

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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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Never Had a #1… Bob Marley & The Wailers

Time to take a pause from our regular procedings, to recognise those artists who won’t feature in our journey through every single #1 single. A moment to mention, then, those who have never had a number one…

First up, Jamaica’s most famous son… (aside from that really fast guy…)

It has to be said that searching out Bob Marley’s biggest UK hits throws up quite the hotchpotch. No ‘No Woman, No Cry’, no ‘Two Little Birds’, no ‘Redemption Song’. First up is a classic, though:

One Love / People Get Ready’ – #5 in 1984

Only one of these records made the charts in Marley’s lifetime (though I might be wrong on that score, as it can be hard to know exactly if his songs peaked at the time or in a re-release). This made the Top 5 in 1984, though it was first recorded by The Wailers as far back as 1965. This hit version comes from 1977, and it featured on the famous ‘Exodus’ album. It’s not a double-‘A’ side; its a medley – containing as it does a slice of The Impressions’ ‘People Get Ready’. It’s got a bit too much of ‘The Lord’ in it for this particular heathen’s liking, but it’s undeniably one of his signature songs.

Could You Be Loved – #5 in 1980

Writing this blog has – as I’ve mentioned a few times before – converted me to reggae. I wasn’t that keen on it as a genre for many years. Which meant that this was always my go-to favourite Bob Marley tune, as it swaps that sloping reggae ryhthm for a chugging, funky disco beat. Couldcha-couldcha-couldcha be loved… chant the backing singers as Marley free-styles around them. It’s still my favourite, though I can appreciate the others much more these days.

Iron Lion Zion – #5 in 1992

I’m gonna be iron, Like a lion, In Zion… Many of Marley and The Wailers’ hits refer to Zion, the promised land according to their Rastafarian beliefs. This one was first written in 1974, but I’m assuming that this hit version from the early nineties had had some period effects added (just listen to that blaring sax). Again, reggae takes a backseat as a more rock-oriented feel takes over. I had never knowingly heard this before, but it’s a catchy, driving tune.

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Buffalo Soldier – #4 in 1983

Another posthumous hit. ‘Buffalo soldiers’ were black troops used by American colonisers in their wars against native Americans in the mid 19th Century. Marley positions himself as a modern day buffalo soldier: Stolen from Africa, Brought to America… Fighting for survival… Pretty heavy stuff for what, on the surface, sounds like another jaunty reggae tune.

Sun Is Shining (Boby Marley Vs Funkstar Deluxe) – #3 in 1999

And so Bob Marley’s biggest UK chart hit is this remix, released almost twenty years after his death. ‘Sacrilege!’ I’m sure many will shout. And yeah, it probably shouldn’t be top of the pile. But I was thirteen when this came out and peaked at #3, and even though I don’t remember particularly liking it at the time, the hook-line of: To the rescue, Here I am… Takes me right back to high school. It’s a pretty standard, late-nineties, Fatboy Slim-ish dance remix. Nothing amazing. The original ‘Sun Is Shining’ is a slow and slinky number from way back in 1971 (though, again, I’m not sure if the linked version is said original as The Wailers recorded and released the darn song three times in the seventies…)

So, there you have a true icon’s five biggest UK hits. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a look at the chart career of an, equally iconic, female singer who, unlike Bob, is still with us, and shimmying like no other…

526. ‘Red Red Wine’, by UB40

If writing blog posts on the past five hundred and twenty-six UK #1s has taught me anything – and I’m not sure that it really has – then it is this: I like reggae…

Red Red Wine, by UB40 (their 1st of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 28th August – 18th September 1983

I was never that convinced by the genre, having spent too much time in beach bars on holiday, where the same dull ‘reggae chill-out’ playlists are looped year on year. But tracking the genre’s progress, from Desmond Dekker, past ‘Double Barrell’, Johnny Nash and Althea & Donna, to last year’s Reggae Autumn, I realise that I’ve enjoyed most of it. And when this record’s slow-shuffling rhythm kicks in, my heart does a little flip…

Red, red wine… Goes to my head… It’s a song about drinking, which is usually a good thing, even if it is about drinking away your misery… Just one thing, Makes me forget… Red, red wine… It’s laid-back, it’s cool, the chimes in the background sound like my school bell. It’s a bit lightweight, I guess, if you wanted to nit-pick, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The video ties in with the theme, set as it is in a pub. The band order beers, though, not red, red wine. I suppose it would have been a bit of a stretch, in 1983, to have a bunch of Birmingham lads ordering bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Sadly, though, this #1 isn’t heralding a second consecutive Reggae Autumn. Unlike in 1982, when we went from Musical Youth, to Culture Club, to Eddy Grant, this is an isolated outbreak.

UB40 had been around since the end of the seventies, and were no strangers to the Top 10 in the early eighties. Their name famously derives from the form used to sign-on for benefits at the time (Unemployment Benefit, Form 40). I suppose their early fans might have viewed their first chart-topping hit as a bit of a sell-out moment, lacking the edge of some of their earlier hits, but I have no such history with the band and am enjoying it!

I have to admit, though, my shock in discovering that this isn’t the original version of ‘Red Red Wine’. OK, the fact it’s a cover doesn’t shock me… The fact that it was written in the first place by the famously un-reggae Neil Diamond, does. UB40 didn’t base their cover on his country-ish ballad, but on Jamaican singer Tony Tribe’s version from a couple of years later. Diamond, though, loves these takes on his original, and often performs it live in a reggae style nowadays.

There is an six-minute, extended version of this record, featuring an extended toast/rap from band member Astro (who sadly passed away just last year), but I doubt many people have heard it. That version does start to outstay its welcome… Perhaps, though, it explains the record’s belated success in the US. (It wouldn’t reach #1 there for another five years, until UB40 performed it at a concert for Nelson Mandela.)

They’ll be back on top of the charts shortly, UB40. In fact, they have a pretty impressive span between their three chart-toppers (almost a decade), and are tied with Madness for the most weeks on the UK charts in the 1980s. Impressive longevity. I’ll finish with a joke (not an original one, sadly, but still…) If you were one year old when this record came out, UB40 now…

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510. ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’, by Eddy Grant

The final part of our autumn of reggae comes from Eddy Grant. It’s a cute, catchy tune. But, alas, Eddy does not want to dance to it…

I Don’t Wanna Dance, by Eddy Grant (his 1st and only solo #1)

3 weeks, 7th – 28th November 1982

This record has a likeable homemade feel to it. So homemade, in fact, that I had to double-check that I wasn’t listening to a cheap, karaoke version instead of the original. Once upon a time, not so long ago, the sound of synths in a chart-topper was genuinely exciting. Now they more often tend towards cheap and tacky.

‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’ is a break-up song. But it is such a perky break-up song that you don’t really notice. Eddy is tired of his girl’s flirty ways, and has had enough. I don’t wanna dance, Dance with you baby no more… He’ll remain a gentleman, though. I’ll never do something to hurt you, Though the feeling is bad…

My favourite bit is the unexpectedly scuzzy guitar solo. It’s a really raw moment in what is a pretty safe, reggae-pop number. And in the video he cuts a very Slash-esque figure, plucking it out on a floating raft. Don’t wanna dance, Don’t wanna dance… he chants for the fade-out. It’s an undemanding number, a bit slow and repetitive, but enjoyable enough.

Of the three reggae hits in a row, I’d rate the first one – ‘Pass the Dutchie’ – as my favourite, and this second. ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ was by far the most culturally significant, and best remembered, but it just didn’t grab me. Though I may be getting ahead of myself – I should save all this retrospection for the upcoming recap.

I did wonder if this was the follow-up to ‘Electric Avenue’ – the Eddy Grant solo hit that pretty much everybody knows – and perhaps rode the wave of that record’s success to top spot. But no, ‘Electric Avenue’ was actually this disc’s follow-up, making #2 in early 1983. And we mustn’t forget that Grant has been at #1 once before. Well over fourteen years earlier, in 1968, he and his band The Equals topped the charts with ‘Baby Come Back’, one of the very, very first #1s with a hint of reggae.

You could link this hit – and the gap between group and solo #1s – to Smokey Robinson, who also waited over a decade before his very own chart-topper away from his group. Eddy Grant continues to record and perform, and released his most recent album in 2017. It was titled ‘Plaisance’, after his hometown, in Guyana. Which is nice. Up next, that recap.

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509. ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’, by Culture Club

Part two of a three-part reggae autumn, and here’s one of the eighties’ most iconic figures…

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, by Culture Club (their 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, 17th October – 7th November 1982

When I think of the 1980s, as someone who didn’t live through it (OK, I lived through almost half of it, but you know what I mean) certain images spring to mind. Huge mobile phones, Thatcher’s hair, Maradona’s hand… And that’s before we get to pop music. Madonna’s blonde curls, Michael Jackson moonwalking, ‘Frankie Says Relax’.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the eighties has begun, thanks to a glimpse of Boy George’s long hair and beautifully sculpted eyebrows. Again. The ‘80s keep beginning. I said the same thing when we met Adam Ant, and Shakin’ Stevens, and Human League. The ‘sixties’ had a very definitive start-point: the sudden wave of Merseybeat #1s in 1963. The ‘seventies’ meanwhile actually began sometime in mid-1969, with that string of apocalyptic chart-toppers. Stretch your mind back to the fifties and it was Bill Haley who kicked all that off. The eighties, though, has been harder to pin down.

We’re here to talk about music, though, not iconography. Musically, this record isn’t announcing a new dawn. It’s nice, very gentle, reggae. The intro meanders, and the rest of the song never really picks up the pace. My attention, I’ll be honest, starts to wander. Boy George sings it beautifully, which is probably what made this song stand out at the time. That, and the fact that he looks like a girl.

Sorry, that’s obviously not a very ‘2022’ kind of thing to say. But we’re talking about forty years ago, when appearing on Top of the Pops looking like that was to become an instant national sensation. He makes Ziggy Stardust era Bowie look like Dirty Harry. The music wouldn’t have had to be anything special, it was always going to be playing a clear second fiddle. The video backs this up, with George being thrown out of a nightclub, then a swimming pool, then standing trial for simply being himself. Do you really want to hurt me, Do you really want to make me cry…? The jury of black people in blackface is presumably a comment on people acting how society demands, rather than on being true to themselves. (Completely irrelevant side note: that makes two #1s in a row with a music video featuring the artists on trial.)

I do wish I liked this more. It’s a genuine moment at the top of the charts, but I can’t really get into it. The best bit is the middle-eight, when the emotions peak: If it’s love you want from me, Then take it away… But that’s followed by an empty space where some kind of solo should be. There’s just some bass noodling, some light drumming, and an echo. It reminds me of The Police’s ‘Walking on the Moon’, which I found similarly dull.

‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ was a huge breakthrough for Culture Club. Their only previous chart hit had made #100. Following this, for two years, every single they released would make #4 or higher. Maybe my take on this record is clouded by the fact that I know their monster hit is yet to come… In a year’s time they’ll score one of the biggest chart-toppers of the decade. Maybe that’s when the eighties will officially begin? Or maybe – more likely – I won’t know when the ‘eighties’ began until it’s all over, and I can look back.

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508. ‘Pass the Dutchie’, by Musical Youth

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when it comes to the UK singles chart you are never too far away from a country, or a reggae, hit. These two genres seem to withstand the vagaries of taste, and trend, to pop up time and time again.

Pass the Dutchie, by Musical Youth (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 26th September – 17th October 1982

And you’ll be relieved (at least, I am) to find out that this next #1 is of a reggae persuasion, rather than a country one. The intro is exuberant: a young voice announcing that This generation, Rules the nation! Attention duly grabbed, we slip into a gentle rhythm. Pass the dutchie pon de left-hand side…

First things first: what’s a dutchie? It’s a Jamaican cooking pot, which makes sense given the song’s refrain: How does it feel when you’ve got no food…? (And which probably seemed quite relevant given unemployment rates in the early ‘80s…) Except, one of the songs on which this is based is called ‘Pass the Kouchie’, and a kouchie is a cannabis pipe. So, what we actually have here is a bunch of kids hitting #1 with a thinly-veiled ode to the pleasures of the herb! Except all drug references are now food references.

This is a really fun record. You can imagine Musical Youth as the children of Dave and Ansil Collins, or the younger brothers of Althea and Donna. They were British-Jamaicans from Birmingham, aged between eleven and fifteen when this record made top spot. I was fully prepared for this to be a cheese-fest – ‘Musical Youth’ conjures up images of an after-school theatre club – but it’s pretty authentic. Yes, it’s on the poppier side of reggae, but there’s an grittiness to it that shines through.

The star of the show is the band’s youngest member: Kelvin Grant was only ten when he recorded that memorable opening line, and his subsequent tongue-twisting raps. (Legitimate question: Is he rapping? Or is he scatting? Or is there another reggae-specific term for what he’s doing? If he is rapping, then I’d say we have our first rap chart-topper!)

Musical Youth didn’t last too long beyond their sole chart-topper. They had one further Top 10 hit, but they packed a lot into their short time together. They worked with Donna Summer, won a Grammy (‘Pass the Dutchie’ also made the Billboard Top 10) and were the first black act to be played on MTV, which seems amazing given that MTV had been around for over a year before this record came out…

Sadly, the members haven’t had the happiest of lives since their early fame. Legal troubles broke the band up, and bassist Patrick Waite ended up in prison before dying aged just twenty-four. Musical Youth are now a duo, but they have continued to record and perform. More happily for fans of the genre, we are hitting a bit of a reggae groove at the top of the charts. More to follow…

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501. ‘House of Fun’, by Madness

On then with the next five hundred. With only the second ska act to hit top spot…

House of Fun, by Madness (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 23rd May – 6th June 1982

In many ways this is a world away from The Specials, both the punky snarl of ‘Too Much Too Young’ and the subtle anger of ‘Ghost Town’. And yet there are clear similarities too. There are a lot of the same instruments here, for example. They’re just being used in a more fun way. A lot of horns (‘horn’ being the key word here…)

Not many songs have been written about the ordeals of teenage boys trying to buy their first box of condoms. There may only have been one: this one. But ‘House of Fun’ is pretty definitive. After this, nobody else needed to bother. Sixteen today, And up for fun, I’m a big boy now, Or so they say… The lad knows what he wants, but he can’t bring himself to say it. He asks for ‘balloons’, ‘party poppers’ and ‘party hats with the coloured tips’…

Welcome to the house of fun, Now I’ve come of age… Fittingly, the song title itself is a double-entendre. The ‘House of Fun’ refers to the terrifying world of sex that this boy is glimpsing… Welcome to the lion’s den, Temptation’s on its way… But it’s also the name of the joke shop that the cashier packs him off to with a flea in his ear.

I’m loathe to say it, because I don’t think our sense of humour is as unique as we like to think, but this is very British. Very music-hall-for-the-1980s, pantomime, nudge nudge wink wink… It’s cheeky, and chirpy, and genuinely funny in the third verse when the boy’s nosy neighbours enter the shop and sense gossip unfolding. Madness are not a band I know especially well, away from the big hits, and I’ve always found them slightly… annoying? ‘Driving in My Car’ and ‘Our House’ are a bit too perky for my liking. Here, though, the cheekiness of the song sees it through. I’m glad that it was this record that gave the band their sole number one.

Another similarity to their chart-topping ska predecessors is the way in which this record mimics ‘Ghost Town’s fairground vibe. That was the haunted house, obviously, while this is a runaway rollercoaster. The album version in particular has a pretty cool finale in which the song crashes to an end and fades out on an old-fashioned organ. Interestingly, ‘House of Fun’ existed for a long time without the chorus, which was created in order for it be released as a single.

Madness, then, join the illustrious club of huge acts with just one #1 to their name… Dusty Springfield, Status Quo, ELO… ‘House of Fun’ was the band’s eleventh Top 10 single. I was first aware of them thanks to lead singer Suggs’ solo career in the mid-90s, when he re-introduced the world to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’. But his band were untouchable in the early-‘80s, with only one release from a run of sixteen (!) failing to make the Top 10, between 1979 and 1983. They are the band with the highest number of weeks in the charts for the entire decade (tied with UB40), and were scoring hits well into the 21st century.

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