Friday, October 10, 2008

I started something I couldn't finish... Part 1

A couple of years ago I started on the gargantuan (well not really) task on reviewing all the #1 Hit Singles in the UK charts during the 80's... Why? Why not! Call it an exorcism of ghosts from the collective memory of every teenager sitting in front of Top of The Pops on a wet and windy Thursday evening at 7:30pm waiting to see if their hero's would be appearing, or more importantly what Pan's People would be dancing half-naked to. Anyway, here for your reading pleasure and entertainment is what I thought of the hits of 1980... Best line: 'sung by a heavy white chick… A portent of worse times ahead at the local disco…'

Jan 1980

1) The Pretenders – Brass in Pocket (2 weeks at #1)

“I gotta have some of your attention – give it to me!”

The Pretenders take a turn pop-wards in the first number 1 of the eighties! Chrissie Hynde is cool, sexily prancing around in her leather strides. She’s sexy but she’s trashy - with a face only a mother (or Jim Kerr) could love. A catchy song and a worthy way to start the decade… 7/10

Feb 1980

2) The Specials – Too much too young (2)

“Now you’re chained to the cooker making currant buns for tea”

Terry Hall, Jerry Dammers and co warn about the perils of teenage marriage and pregnancy in this social message to urban youth… Another great song and Two-Tone records is flying high, despite Madness jumping ship after their debut “Prince.” More commercial than the ska-tinged debut “Message to you Rudy” and an energetic chart topper that was accompanied by a blistering live version video…. 7/10

3) Kenny Rogers – Coward of the county (2)

“His mama called him Tommy, the folks just called him yellow”

…or Yell for short… How a country singer ever makes it to number 1 in the UK I’ll never know! A heart-warming story about standing up for your girl when she’s being attacked by red-necks. Corny, and alas popular… 3/10

March 1980

4) Blondie – Atomic (2)

“Oh, uh-huh make it magnificent. Tonight. Right”

Blondie start to move away from their New York new wave sound and start to embrace disco. But really, who cares about the song when you’re transfixed watching Debbie Harry in the videos or on Top of the Pops! 6/10

5) Fern Kinney – Together we are beautiful (1)

“Can't you see, it's the chemistry - You really must agree together we are beautiful”

Inoffensive, lightweight, pseudo-disco from Fern. Isn’t she on TV now – or maybe that’s someone else… Not sure how, or why, this made the top but thankfully only stayed for one week… 4/10

6) The Jam - Going Underground (3)

“You'll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns”

Great single from Weller & Co – a defining single from The Jam’s arsenal. Weller’s political rant was probably lost on most of the people (including myself) who bought the record – we just liked to pogo around to it at the school disco. Brilliant! 9/10

April 1980

7) Detroit Spinners – Working my way back to you (2)

“I'll be working my way back to you babe, with a burning love inside”

Motor city and Motown’s popularity remains strong through the 80’s… Smooth harmonies and a pleasant song about trying to get back with your woman after you screwed it up the first time… 6/10

8) Blondie – Call me (1)

“Roll me in designer sheets I'll never get enough”

Debbie’s back and what’s she wearing this time? Unfortunately, Blondie have kinda jumped the shark by this point and this was a disappointing single despite the clarion call of the chorus. Lyrically poor and covering old ground musically… 5/10

May 1980

9) Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s – Geno (2)

“This man was my bombers, my Dexy's, my high!”

Fantastic homage to Geno Washington from Kevin Rowland and the gang - you’ll not hear better brass than on this song… Dexy’s are heading for mass popularity and Eileen is just around the corner. A band who’s output is sadly overlooked due to a forthcoming song with a fast bit and a little jig at the end! 8/10

10) Johnny Logan – What’s another year? (2)

“What's another year for someone who's lost everything that he owns?”

Quite a long time Johnny… but probably just long enough to write another lyrically impoverished follow-up… Popular with the aged, the Irish and especially the aged Irish!

11) Theme from MASH – Suicide is Painless (3)

“Suicide is painless. It brings on many changes. And I can take or leave it if I please”

Popular TV show by all accounts, although I must confess I always used to switch channels… I don’t know about suicide being painless – this song isn't. Not that it’s a bad song; it’s just kind of depressing. Ian Curtis from Joy Division had committed suicide in May 1980 and hearing this song all the time bummed me out… 5/10

June 1980

12) Don McLean – Crying (3)

“But darling what can I do, for you don’t love me, and I’ll always be crying over you”

What was it with the UK in 1980? Third depressing song in a row and 8 weeks of number 1’s being a real downer! Was Thatcher in office yet? Maybe that was it… I really don’t remember this song at all – I’d probably given up on music all together… Surely the next chart topper will be better… 4/10

July 1980

13) Olivia Newton-John & ELO – Xanadu (2)

“A million lights are dancing and there you are, a shooting star”

Be careful what you wish for… a cheerful record hits the top of the charts and well, it could have been something way better than this… A OK tune and after Grease, Olivia could get away "OK" and still reach #1… 6/10)

14) Odyssey – Use it up and wear it out (2)

“Gonna use it up, gonna wear it out, ain't nothing left in this whole world I care about”

More low-wattage disco from the US. I’m pretty sure no bands from the UK were making this type of music at the time – thank god! The days of Level 42 and Shakatak were still a couple of years down the line, so we were still clinging to the dog-end of American disco! 5/10

August 1980

15) Abba – The Winner takes it all (2)

“I don’t wanna talk about the things we’ve gone through”

The Swedes’ tale of lost love that really hits the mark. Must have been a tough time in the band with the two break-ups but produced some brilliant songs and eloquent lyrics… 7/10

16) David Bowie – Ashes to Ashes (2)

“The shrieking of nothing is killing - just pictures of Jap girls in synthesis and I ain't got no money and I ain't got no hair”

Bowie’s first number one since Space Oddity and lyrically also a follow-up on Major Tom’s progress – still up there floating in a tin can I guess! Average song but a cool video with Steve Strange, some cheap video effects and some silly hats! 7/10

Sep 1980

17) The Jam – Start (1)

“It doesn't matter if we never meet again, what we have said will always remain”

Weller’s rip-off of Harrison’s Taxman and a disappointing follow-up to Going Underground… Another good video with a pop-art theme featuring Weller’s Lichtenstein decorated Rickenbacker guitar. . 7/10

18) Kelly Marie – Feels like I’m in love (2)

“Ain't been this way before but I know I'm turned on”

Was this the UK’s first home grown Disco smash? Possibly, and unsurprisingly sung by a heavy white chick… A portent of worse times ahead at the local disco… 5/10

19) The Police – Don’t stand so close to me (4)

“Book marking, she's so close now, this girl is half his age”

The Police tackle some weighty subject matter in this tale of a teacher/pupil relationship. The controversy couldn’t hide the fact that The Police weren’t the force they once were… 6/10

Oct 1980

20) Barbara Streisand – Woman in love (3)

“I kiss the morning goodbye, but down inside you know we never know why”

Babs could hold down a tune, but I think her lyricist was unavailable during the writing of this one – I’ve never heard such nonsense! Average song and was probably in a film to make it so popular… 5/10

Nov 1980

21) Blondie – The Tide is high (2)

“The tide is high but I'm holding on, I'm gonna be your number one”

And yes, you knew this was gonna get to number one! Blondie mailed this one in and got away with it! A calypso/reggae flavored walk along the beach but the sun was already setting on Blondie’s popularity and ability to write a good tune… 6/10

22) Abba – Super Trooper (3)

“All I do is eat and sleep and sing, wishing every show was the last show”

Not one of Abba’s best by a long shot. A cheerful song about trying to stay focused and happy whilst on tour… The cheesy chorus detracts from quite interesting subject matter… 6/10

Dec 1980

23) John Lennon – Just like Starting Over (1)

“Our life together is so precious together”

John Lennon has been shot dead in New York – a nation mourns! A simple rock’n’roll love song for Yoko… Starting over was a theme for not just this song but the Double fantasy album that accompanied it… 7/10

24) St Winifred’s School Choir – There’s no-one quite like Grandma (2)

“And one day when we're older we'll look back and say: there's no one quite like Grandma”

The good old Christmas number 1! No Cliff Richard this year? Oh well, we’ll buy some other novelty record. I remember the cute girl with the lisp singing this… sickly sweet and corny as hell, but it is true – there is no-one quite like Grandma! 3/10

Ian’s Top 10 Number 1’s of 1980

1) The Jam – Going Underground
2) Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno
3) David Bowie – Ashes to Ashes
4) The Specials – Too much too young
5) The Pretenders – Brass in pocket
6) Abba – The Winner takes it all
7) The Jam – Start
8) John Lennon – Just like starting over
9) The Police – Don’t stand so close to me
10) Blondie – Call me

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