I Was A Teenage Top 40 Taper

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I’ll save you the paragraph about how this will make no sense to anyone under the age of 40. Let’s just accept that there was a time when music was not instantly accessible from everywhere, and that kids discovering pop music would tape the Top 40 run-down on a Sunday evening and play and play and play it until the tape ran blank.

I did this. I didn’t do it for long, at least I don’t recall doing it for long, because as soon as I began to have pocket money I started spending it on records and commenced playing those until they were worn flat. I think, on reflection, that taping the radio was almost as much about having and using the technology as it was about wanting the music. But it’s amazing how much something like that can ultimately affect your inner workings for the whole of your life.

I had a digital alarm clock with built in radio and cassette deck. It was amazing. I could set an alarm to start the radio or even leave a tape with ‘Play’ pressed and have that kick in. Why on earth I needed an alarm clock aged 12 I have no idea.

One of the things I did with this machine was start recording the radio. Had I had access to unlimited media, I would have captured unlimited stuff, but instead I had access to one C90. It was a BASF tape with an orange label. On one side I recorded 45 minutes of the Top 40 countdown and on the other I recorded an edition of Michael Bentine’s comedy show. I listened to both over and over and over again and as far as I recall I never recorded over them.

BASF_LH_extra_I_90_071201

I don’t think of them often as a collection, but whenever I hear a song that was on that one side of my orange BASF C90, I get an immediate memory jolt followed by an image of that cassette radio alarm clock with tape in position and me about to press play. I can even feel how those buttons felt to press. Hell, now I come to think of it, I can even remember the specific round buttons that controlled the clock features, and how those felt to use.

Yesterday I heard ‘Against All Odds’ by Phil Collins. I’ve come to believe it to be a great song, a real piece of work, but I used to dislike it. It wasn’t at all what I was about. Hearing it yesterday in the midst of a great edition of ‘This American Life’, it occurred to me that this was one of the songs I used to find a chore when it came up in my Top 40 playback. My opinion of the song has changed, at least in part because I now understand it, but it’s still incredibly tightly bound to my memories of that particular tape and that particular edition of the chart rundown, Sunday evening on Radio 1.

As I was trying to recall the other songs from that tape – I know them when I hear them, but I can’t just conjure them up – it occurred to me with blinding clarity that now, with the infinite resources of the world wide web, fifteen minutes work could probably find me the exact top 40 track listing I had recorded and played so hard and that, furthermore, with Spotify and another five minutes of effort I could recreate it and listen back to it for the first time in 30 years.

So where to start. Wracking my brains, all I could recall with any certainty was that in the mix with Phil Collins was ‘Footloose’ by Kenny Loggins and either ‘Don’t Tell Me’ or ‘Living on the Ceiling’ by Blancmange. As I think about it, I lean towards the former. Then yesterday, as I started to write this, I also got a burst of ‘One Love’ by Bob Marley and the Wailers. I’m sure that was in there too.

I think that should give me more than enough to triangulate the week or weeks i’m looking for. Surely there can only have been one or at most two weeks when those four songs were all in close chart proximity to each other? I purposefully delayed rushing to a computer to so I could savour the moment a little more. The internet has to a large extent destroyed the delayed gratification of a successful information hunt. No more paging through 8 years’ worth of NMEs in my parents’ loft to find the name of that song by Stump…

And then the strangest thing happened. I was at home today and, for the first time in many months, I left Radio 4 playing all morning. Which meant I heard small portions of a re-run of Rufus Hound interviewing Sarfraz Mansoor about his teenage diary. As I pottered into and out of the kitchen I heard him reading back some both effusive and self-centred musings on Live Aid, in a diary entry which ended with the words “Frankie is number one, Axel F is number two and ‘Crazy For You’ number three,” and a bell went off. Surely he couldn’t actually be talking about the same week I was scrabbling to recall? Surely? Surely… not?

But Axel F really does seem like it was probably there and my immediate thought that Frankie Goes To Hollywood, of whom I was a massive 13-year old fan, were not – I would have remembered – was soon eclipsed by the shocking realisation that ‘Frankie’ the saccharine chart-bestriding mega-hit by Sister Sledge almost certainly was. I’m pretty certain that ‘Crazy For You’ was definitely in there. My goodness.

Now I need to know.

So, let’s start by pulling together some release dates.

  • ‘Against All Odds’, charted 7 April 1984, peaked at number 2  – 14 weeks on the chart
  • ‘Living On the Ceiling’, charted 30 October 1982, peaked at number 7, 14 weeks on the chart
  • ‘Don’t Tell Me’, charted 14 April 1984, peaked at number 8, 10 weeks on the chart
  • ‘Footloose’, charted 28 April 1984, peaked at number 6, 10 weeks on the chart
  • ‘One Love – People Get Ready’, Charted 21 April 1984, peaked at number 5, 11 weeks on the charts 

So, I’m looking for a Top 10 some time after 28 April 1984. I could just find the chart listings from that date on and paw through them chronologically but, as I’m seeking the full Proustian rush, I’d prefer to get as close to hitting it first time as I can. I need to follow up the Sarfraz Mansoor angle…

  • ‘Frankie’, charted 1 June 1985
  • ‘Axel F’, charted 23 March 1985
  • ‘Crazy For You’, charted 8 June 1985

That’s a different chart then.

So, time to dive in. Let’s find the chart for 28 April.

Top 10 looks like this:

  1. HELLO – LIONEL RICHIE
  2. AGAINST ALL ODDS (TAKE A LOOK AT ME NOW) – PHIL COLLINS
  3. I WANT TO BREAK FREE – QUEEN
  4. YOU TAKE ME UP – THE THOMPSON TWINS
  5. THE REFLEX – DURAN DURAN
  6. A LOVE WORTH WAITING FOR – SHAKIN’ STEVENS
  7. (WHEN YOU SAY YOU LOVE SOMEBODY) IN THE HEART – KOOL AND THE GANG
  8. GLAD IT’S ALL OVER/DAMNED ON 45 – CAPTAIN SENSIBLE
  9. PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE – DEPECHE MODE
  10. LOCOMOTION – ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK

I’m getting major vibes from ‘Hello’, ‘The Reflex’, ‘You Take Me Up’ (a song I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard a single time in the intervening 30 years but which now, at such a distance, sounds delicious in my head) and ‘I Want To Break Free’, but the rest, OMD, Shakin’ Stevens and Depeche Mode? Nothing. I know ‘People are People’ of course but it’s just not feeling like it was part of my tape, and the others I can’t say I can even recall.

I’m also getting slight twinges of concern that the Official Chart Company only seem to provide Top 10s. It’s possible that the run I’m looking for is 20-5 or similar.

Let’s try the following week, 5 May 1984.

  1. THE REFLEX – DURAN DURAN
  2. AGAINST ALL ODDS (TAKE A LOOK AT ME NOW) – PHIL COLLINS
  3. I WANT TO BREAK FREE – QUEEN
  4. HELLO – LIONEL RICHIE
  5. AUTOMATIC – POINTER SISTERS
  6. LOCOMOTION – ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK
  7. WHEN YOU’RE YOUNG AND IN LOVE – FLYING PICKETS
  8. DON’T TELL ME – BLANCMANGE
  9. ONE LOVE – PEOPLE GET READY (MEDLEY) – BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS
  10. YOU TAKE ME UP – THOMPSON TWINS

This is starting to feel a lot more like it. ‘One Love’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me’ have snuck into the picture and even ‘Locomotion’ has come back to me (“Crossed every ocean, for the sake of locomotion, but it wouldn;t take a notion, [erm…] to change my [erm] soul [?]” or somesuch). Everything in this list now feels right although the Flying Pickets are still not quite doing it for me. 

Quick check of the week after, 12 May 1984.

  1. THE REFLEX – DURAN DURAN
  2. AGAINST ALL ODDS (TAKE A LOOK AT ME NOW) – PHIL COLLINS
  3. I WANT TO BREAK FREE – QUEEN
  4. AUTOMATIC – POINTER SISTERS
  5. LOCOMOTION – ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK
  6. ONE LOVE – PEOPLE GET READY (MEDLEY) – BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS
  7. WHEN YOU’RE YOUNG AND IN LOVE – FLYING PICKETS
  8. DON’T TELL ME – BLANCMANGE
  9. FOOTLOOSE – KENNY LOGGINS
  10. HELLO – LIONEL RICHIE

At which point I realise I’d forgotten about Footloose last week and also that I really don’t remember the Flying Pickets being anywhere near this thing, whilst the Thompson Twins definitely feel like they must have been.

I’m getting more confused.

And now, drifting in from somewhere deep in the distance with a ring of familiarity, “Dreams will come true, if you believe they do, when you’re young and in love”…

The next week, 19 May, looks like this:

  1. THE REFLEX – DURAN DURAN
  2. AUTOMATIC – POINTER SISTERS
  3. AGAINST ALL ODDS (TAKE A LOOK AT ME NOW) – PHIL COLLINS
  4. I WANT TO BREAK FREE – QUEEN
  5. ONE LOVE – PEOPLE GET READY (MEDLEY) – BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS
  6. FOOTLOOSE – KENNY LOGGINS
  7. LOCOMOTION – ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK
  8. LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE BOY – DENIECE WILLIAMS
  9. DON’T TELL ME – BLANCMANGE
  10. WHEN YOU’RE YOUNG AND IN LOVE – FLYING PICKETS

I’m getting more initial recognition vibes from ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ than I did for The Flying Pickets, and this is getting even harder to pin down. Where the hell has ‘Hello’ gone?

I look at the following week and suddenly ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ and ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ are getting involved, and those feel like definite ‘no’s for all sorts of reasons.

So, I’m saying… Actually, which week am I saying?

It dawns on me that I need to see the 11-20 brackets. In fact it very specifically dawns on me that I can recall Kid Jensen declaring that Blancmange were down to number 15. Looking at the above that definitely seems like a false memory, but… who knows? Fortunately an off-site google reveals that the Official Chart Company do indeed host the full Top 40s for each week.

I’m in.

Looking at 12 and 19 May, the 11-20 brackets look like this, respectively:

  1. THE LEBANON – HUMAN LEAGUE
  2. LOVE GAMES – BELLE AND THE DEVOTIONS
  3. DANCING GIRLS – NIK KERSHAW
  4. I’M FALLING – THE BLUEBELLS
  5. (WHEN YOU SAY YOU LOVE SOMEBODY) IN THE HEART – KOOL AND THE GANG
  6. SOMEBODY ELSE’S GUY – JOCELYN BROWN
  7. TO ALL THE GIRLS I’VE LOVED BEFORE – JULIO IGLESIAS AND WILLIE NELSON
  8. LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE BOY – DENIECE WILLIAMS
  9. AIN’T NOBODY – RUFUS AND CHAKA KHAN
  10. JUST BE GOOD TO ME – S.O.S. BAND

and 

  1. LOVE GAMES – BELLE AND THE DEVOTIONS
  2. THE LEBANON – HUMAN LEAGUE
  3. SOMEBODY ELSE’S GUY – JOCELYN BROWN
  4. DANCING GIRLS – NIK KERSHAW
  5. HELLO – LIONEL RICHIE
  6. BREAK DANCE PARTY – BREAK MACHINE
  7. I’LL BE AROUND – TERRI WELLS
  8. STAY WITH ME TONIGHT – JEFFERY OSBORNE
  9. I’M FALLING – THE BLUEBELLS
  10. JUST BE GOOD TO ME – S.O.S. BAND

and what strikes me from both these second tier rundowns, apart from the still resonant sadness of the S.O.S. Band, who must have tuned in that second week excited to hear what progress they had made from a promising entry into the Top 20 only to find they were still at number 20, is that none of these songs are hitting my memory button.

Sure ‘The Lebanon’. Once you’ve heard “Before he leaves the camp he stops (He scans the world outside) And where there used to be some shops (Is where the snipers sometimes hide)” there’s no forgetting it, but Belle and the Devotions? Terri Wells? Nope. My brother and I had a minor thing for Nik Kershaw as a kid so I’m sure I would remember if I knew ‘Dancing Girls’. ‘Break Dance Party’? As a kid who already owned ‘Hey You The Rock Steady Crew’ I would have been all over it.

So. Let’s make some decisions.

Definites: ‘Against All Odds’, ‘Footloose’, ‘Don’t Tell Me’, ‘One Love’. 

Pretty sures: ‘Hello’, ‘Locomotion’, ‘I Want To Break Free’, ‘Automatic’.

Apparent must-haves: ‘The Reflex’, ‘When You’re Young and In Love’.

So, having squinted at the two most likely looking top tens, it basically boils down to whether I have ‘Hello’ or ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’. I’m more or less certain that I had ‘Hello’ on one of these tapes, but then that song was so omnipresent that it’s impossible not to feel some sense of icky familiarity with it. I’m going, therefore, to go with Deniece Williams, as that strong recollection must surely have a more singular source?

So, I’m nailing my orange flag to 19 May 1984. What’s more, I’m going to take in the top 15, just enough to slip a consoling arm around Lionel Richie’s shoulders and say “Hello, it is indeed you I’m looking for”.

So, that’s that. Now to build it, listen to it, and write about how it feels…

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2 thoughts on “I Was A Teenage Top 40 Taper

  1. Great post Rob. Music everywhere is a v good thing but it doesn’t teach you to cherish tunes in the way we did. It’s different but not necessarily worse. Make sure to share the Spotify Playlist when you build it.

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