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.

Advertisements

540. ‘I Feel for You’, by Chaka Khan

Chakakakakakaka-chakakhan… 1984 truly was the year of the in-your-face intro. ‘The Reflex’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, now this. The most in your face of the lot?

I Feel for You, by Chaka Khan (her 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 4th – 25th November 1984

It probably stands out so much because of the rapping. Only the second example of rap at the top of the charts and, with all due respect to New Edition, this is the real stuff. The Lemme rock you Chaka Khan… lines are delivered at break-neck speed by one of hip-hop’s founding fathers, Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash. It feels incredibly modern, a female singer being introduced at the start of a song, decades before Beyonce and Jay-Z, or Rihanna and Drake.

I did wonder if the rap might have been supplied by the writer of this song, one Prince Rogers Nelson. Prince is someone with a giant discrepancy between his fame and his UK chart-toppers (one, fairly lame, #1 a decade from now). But here at least is one of his songs, transformed from the slinky disco-soul original into a clattering beast of a record.

It seems that every song which topped the charts in 1984 was either a ballad or a banger, and ‘I Feel for You’ is very much the latter. Like Frankie and Duran Duran before, this record grinds and pounds, chops and changes, with that mid-eighties reimagining of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound that’s become the vibe of the year. But while much of ‘84 has been Brit-dominated, this is a very American sounding disc, with its snatches of harmonica and horns, and its new jack swing energy.

Said harmonica was actually played by the last chart-topper but one, Stevie Wonder, while the song also features samples from his 1963 hit ‘Fingertips’, though you’d be hard-pressed to pick them out. It’s a bit of an all-star ensemble then: Chaka Khan, Melle Mel and Stevie Wonder, on a song by Prince. And it delivers: this is a great dance song, with a brilliantly funky bassline, a song that sounds like nothing we’ve heard at #1 before…

You can tell that this was written by Prince. Few people could throw out a line like I wouldn’t lie to you baby, I’m physically attracted to you… and make it work. Khan, in a brilliant move, delivers the lines like Prince, especially in the chorus: I fee-eel for you-oo… The one thing that I would change is that her voice is a little too far back in the mix.

The video ups the ‘80s Americana even further. Khan performs in an inner-city courtyard, with graffiti and wire fences, while a DJ scratches and spins, and break dancers throw shapes around her. It looks a bit funny now, but again must have looked very modern and very cool to suburban Britain in November 1984. In fact, ‘I Feel for You’ feels both new, in terms of its position in this countdown, and pretty dated, when you listen to it through your 2022 ears.

Maybe that’s why Khan’s only #1 isn’t as well remembered as her two other big hits: ‘I’m Every Woman’ and ‘Ain’t Nobody’, which would both chart twice, before ‘I Feel for You’ and then a few years later in remixes. It’s possibly the hip-hop element – of all the genres, rap ages the worst – but it’s a shame. It’s been great to discover this funky gem. Next up: a recap. Could ‘I Feel for You’ contend for the top prize…? Watch this space…

Advertisements

538. ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’, Stevie Wonder

And so we reach the last of 1984’s colossal ballads. ‘Hello’, ‘Careless Whisper’, now this. Fifteen weeks at #1 shared between them. And can I admit, straight off the bat, that this is my favourite of the three…?

I Just Called to Say I Love You, by Stevie Wonder (his 2nd of two #1s)

6 weeks, from 2nd September – 14th October 1984

Yes, yes, yes. It is fashionable – and quite correct – to scoff at this silly little song for being THE Stevie Wonder’s only solo chart-topper. No ‘Superstition’ (a #11), no ‘Sir Duke’ or ‘Master Blaster’ (both #2s)… Only ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’. And while it’s not anywhere near Wonder’s best work, there’s a charm to it.

It’s a lullaby of a song. And I don’t mean that it’s dull, like ‘Hello’; I mean there’s something in its strangely reggae-ish rhythm that just chills you out. Plus, it’s an easy song to remember, and to sing. It’s a song a mother might sing to their baby, or that a dorky boy might sing down the phone to his crush. It’s cute. It’s not Valentine’s Day, or New Year’s, or the 1st of spring (??)… Stevie’s just calling to say he loves you. (In fairness, some cynics have argued that if a man unexpectedly ‘just calls to say he loves you’, then he must just have done something fairly shitty…)

That’s not to say there isn’t quite a lot wrong with this song, though. The production is cheap and tacky – the drum machine is pure karaoke backing track. Then there are the key changes, which start early, on the second chorus, and just keep coming (to be fair, they are so cheesy I can help enjoying them). And then there are the three rinky-dink notes that it ends on, possibly the laziest ever ending to a number one single.

But I do like the ‘second’ melody – the higher, synth line that compliments the chorus. And if it were a little faster, and the production better, this could be a great song. Seriously. As it is, I like it a lot more than ‘Hello’ and, while I admire ‘Careless Whisper’, ‘I Just Called…’ is a simple love song, simply told. And that’s nice. At least it slightly redeems Stevie Wonder’s UK chart-topping career, after ‘Ebony and Ivory’

I’ve lived abroad for a lot of my life, in non-English speaking places, and I can confirm that this song is universal. ‘Top of the World’ by The Carpenters, ‘My Heart Will Go On’, this. And you can see why… Aside from the blatant sentimentality, which other cultures don’t seem to mind as much, the lyrics are slow and simple, and you can make them out clearly. As I’ve mentioned in posts before, that was a big bug-bear of my late Gran’s: pop singers you couldn’t make out. I never had time to ask, but I’ll bet she approved of this one.

Before we go, it’s worth noting how long songs are staying on top of the charts at the moment. In the last twelve months, we’ve had three 5-weekers, three 6-weekers, and a jumbo 9-weeker. There hasn’t been a one-week #1 for a year and a half. Not sure what this means, if anything, but it’s interesting. What’s also interesting (and slightly depressing) is that this is Motown’s biggest-selling record of all time in Britain. It’s a colossus and, yes, I do kind of love it…

Advertisements

499. ‘Ebony and Ivory’, by Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder

We’re almost at the five-hundredth number one single. Thirty years since the very first chart, twenty years since Stevie Wonder released his first singles, well over ten years since The Beatles disbanded… It’s amazing that we had to wait this long to meet a solo McCartney, or any kind of Wonder, chart-topper.

Ebony and Ivory, by Paul McCartney (his 1st of three solo #1s) with Stevie Wonder (his 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, 18th April – 9th May 1982

I’d have happily waited a bit longer, to be honest. The best you can say about this anthem of love and acceptance is that it’s well-intentioned. Ebony and ivory, Live together in perfect harmony, Side by side on my piano keyboard… If piano keys, inanimate slices of elephant tusk and timber, can sit happily together then Oh Lord, why don’t we…? (To be fair, the metaphor of ebony and ivory as black and white people wasn’t invented by McCartney and Wonder. It had been around since the 1840s.)

Did this song sound clumsy at the time? It’s not as if the early ‘80s were a racial utopia; but given the events of the past few years this definitely sounds clumsy. Yet you can’t judge the past by the standards of today. You also shouldn’t judge a song by the artists involved but, come on, how can you listen to this and not compare it to what you know both McCartney and Stevie Wonder were actually capable of?

Away from the lyrics, the music does little to save this record: soft-rock guitars, horns, and a cheesy-sounding sitar mean that the song coasts along fairly forgettably. And yet, beating at the heart of this record is a good pop song. No way were two of the century’s best songwriters going to get together and write something completely irredeemable. It’s not awful – though I can see why it would be tempting to kick this record more than it deserves – and of course it was a ginormous hit around the globe. (Apart from South Africa, where it was banned after Wonder dedicated it to Nelson Mandela.)

It’s tempting to imagine what John Lennon would have had to say, had he been alive. Is it a coincidence that McCartney started churning out crap like this not long after his one-time partner died? Probably. But compare Lennon’s great protest songs – ‘Working Class Hero’, ‘Give Peace a Chance’, ‘Imagine’ and ‘Happy Xmas’ – to this. Even at his most idealistic (and I gave ‘Imagine’ some stick when it topped the charts) he was hectoring us, berating us, making us confront uneasy truths, rather than simply singing about how nice it would be if we were all chums. Lennon often sang those songs like he knew he’d be disappointed: listen to his sneering It’s easy… on ‘All You Need Is Love’. McCartney sings this like he believes every word.

Anyway. ‘Ebony and Ivory’ has nothing to do with John Lennon. It’s hard on Macca that his late bandmate gets brought up. Hard, but inevitable. The saddest thing here is that this is probably neither McCartney nor Stevie Wonder’s worst musical crime of the decade. There is more to come from both of them as we forage towards the heart of the 1980s. Up next, we hit 500! *Applause* With another song about peace and love! *Groans*