Continued from I Was A Teenage Top 40 Taper
I’m writing along with my first full run-through:
14. ‘Hello’ – Lionel Richie
I feel fondly towards ‘Hello’ but not for the right reasons. Having discovered pop music and begun to appreciate its power, ‘Hello’ was one of the first singles to reveal that it could also be simultaneously crap and inescapable. Listening back now it’s just creepy. It’s almost impossible not to assume that Richie is actively and enthusiastically singing the part of a particularly determined stalker, one who is quite prepared to play the long game. The video. Yes, the video. Again, one of the first times it dawned on me that popular culture could actually be rubbish. And it reinforces the stalker theme. Horribly.
Whereas ‘Against All Odds’ has come to make perfect sense to me, ‘Hello’ seems less and less comprehensible.
13. ‘Dancing Girls’ – Nik Kershaw
I really did feel warmly towards Nik Kershaw. He was, I came to realise, a little silly. Well, just a little man really, who seemed to think that the harder he pouted the higher his heels would become. So pout away he did whilst his assistant dutifully and secretly added more and more stacking to his shoes. I do half-remember Dancing Girls now it’s started but it’s a bland electro pop porridge, bopping and blooping away in a monochrome fashion with little memorable to cling to and, hence, little to remember it by all these years later with the possible exception of that line “and they … the night away” which I can sense coming before it arrives.
It definitely wasn’t on my top 40 tape.
12. ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’ – Jocelyn Brown
I don’t recall anything about Jocelyn Brown. I do remember the chorus of this song and, as she approaches it she certainly seems to be belting her way through the preamble. “Still, I can’t get off my high horse”. There really was a lot of soul funk around in the mid 80s. I don’t think it really made any impact on me until it began to absorb electronic influences and mutate into driving machine music like Colonel Abrahams.
This was not on my top 40 tape.
11. ‘The Lebanon’ – The Human League
This may have been, but it’s hard to tell. It’s so familiar it could have been there, it could have lurked on an early ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ album. It was certainly all over the radio. That U2-like guitar still carries a sharp edge as it skitters across the top of the fairly gruelly surface of the song and Oakey’s voice is being pushed into territory it clearly should’t be occupying. Perhaps this is an extended metaphor supporting the songs main thrust. But let’s be honest, the song takes itself way too seriously to attempt that and Oakey is way too limited a singer to be attempting this.
I’m discounting this too. Not on my tape.
So, here we go. The real reel.
10. ‘When You’re Young and In Love’ – The Flying Pickets
Is it their song? I know it. It feels like I know it completely from the first words, but is that because of this? Well, maybe. The Marvelletes covered it in ’67 but only reached number 13, whereas this one was hanging about in the charts for weeks and weeks. It’s entirely pleasant.
Novelty or no, there’s a pure sense of wonder when a number of people sing at the same time. I might not make this my pop music of choice, but i would be happy to stand in a room as they sang it.
9. ‘Don’t Tell Me’ – Blancmange
Clattering school-music-room percussion, drums like biscuit tins, wibbly synth lines, a vocal which gruffs up as it taxis for chorus take off. It’s a great song. Whatever happened to Blancmange? They seemed like something of a big deal when I was 13. Could it be (whisper it) that they were not? The more this plays, the more I must conclude that the power comes from familiarity rather than some elemental force. I’d have a tough time selling this in to someone who had never heard it, but for me, that moment where he coos “I’ll say you let me be your friend” as the music calms and spaces out, shedding the growly chorus and bobbing into the verse, is pretty elemental. There’s also something about machine music when it is trying to sound like human music and it starts to click and tick like rapid firing clockwork that really does something to me. Probably started with ‘Two Tribes’ and went right through to New Order and beyond.
8. ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ – Deniece Williams
Is a great tune. I hadn’t thought of this for decades and I can remember most of the words first time through. I guess it’s fairly standard squelchy pop soul of a mid 80s vintage but there’s a certain finger-popping, bobby-soxing charm to it. Let’s give the boy a chance.
7. ‘Locomotion’ – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
This is not, I guess, what Andy McLusley and the other guy thought they would be doing when they came up with the portentous name for their band and started out making relatively influential synth pop. It’s a rather weird flowering into light-touch pop featuring subdued steel drums, an endearingly banal lyric and a general chug that somehow harks back to the early 60s. This is one of the songs I can imagine my parents would have rather enjoyed hearing in the midst of the Radio One playlist. It’s entirely sweet and utterly inconsequential.
6. ‘Footloose’ – Kenny Loggins
Speaking of 50s throwbacks…That gyrating baseline, that brutish beat. ‘Footloose’ seemed like a creature from another era when it cut a swathe across the 1984 charts. The film itself, although not quite common pop culture currency, helped to reinforce the image, although I never saw it, then or now, and only know the one 2 minute slice I caught a few years ago when I was pleased to see ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ taking a pivotal role. Then the song sounded dangerously other in the context of the charts. Now its the only thing 90% of british music fans know about Loggins. Poor old Messina never even gets a look in. Who was Messina come to think of it? Was his name Dave? That’s sort of a genuine question.
5. ‘One Love’ – Bob Marley & The Wailers
And speaking of songs from another place. One Love was the first proper reggae i’d listened to properly. Back then it seemed completely at odds with everything around it. The rhythm, the guitars, the singing and the lyrics all running in a different direction. As a kid I never really got to grips with it and, in some way, as a result kept the whole form at arms length. ‘One Love’, perhaps the most organic, relaxed and positive song in this run down, was the alien item in the Top Ten when I listened back then. Now it still stands out, but for different reasons.
4. ‘I Want To Break Free’ – Queen
This too caused a bit of a stir, as I recall, in at least two ways guaranteed to get Dads around the country tutting furiously at Top of the Pops. Firstly the cross-dressing video which, as I recall it now, was pretty funny. Secondly there’s a guitar solo in the latter half which, in my father’s memorable words, sounds like “a fart in a dustbin” (it’s just started and, well I never, it really does).
It’s actually plodding rock trying to incorporate a few synth pop flourishes and achieving little in the process. I suppose it could be a cry from Freddie Mercury’s heart. What an odd character he was. Flambuoyant, mysterious, contradictory, troubled, challenging, infuriating and yet, perhaps most surprisingly, completely uninteresting, at least to this 13 and 43 year old.
3. ‘Against All Odds’ – Phil Collins
Hated Collins as a kid. He came to symbolise both political and musical conservatism for me. I don’t know how much reports of his politics were overstated and they probably wouldn’t have hugely influenced for a couple more years at that point, but something about him… here was a man who really could be your Dad, and that’s not what a pop singer is supposed to be. That his music was adopted and held shoulder high by Dads really didn’t help.
I hated this song too. Slow, overbearing and about soppy stuff. No thanks. I suspect this was my most FFWDed song of the ten. Now, I think it might be my favourite.
The lyrics are beautifully observed, and of course would make no sense at all to me for at least another ten years. The music matches their overwrought drama and Collins’ voice provides precisely required grieving ordinary Joe timbre.
2. ‘Automatic’ – The Pointer Sisters
There was a time when ‘automatic’ served as shorthand for ‘excitingly futuristic’. Hang on, i’ll just Google the Pointer Sisters on my smartphone…
Weirdly this is their highest charting single in the UK, although I suspect ‘Jump (For My Love)’ and ‘I’m So Excited’ made more of a long term impression. This sounds like standard desperate futurism by a group 11 years into their recording career. Still, it’s a neat flashback to what happened when soul and disco began to adopt and adapt electronic music, and it’s a fairly insistent piece.
1. Duran Duran – ‘The Reflex’
This is what the future really sounded like back in the early 80s. Duran Duran are what happened when punks decided it was okay to be pretty and famous. I felt a primitive disdain for them as a young lad. I suspect this was not based on a detailed cultural analysis but because girls liked them. Still, several of their singles stand up tall today, and The Reflex was, at the time, the most shocking and disorienting. The cut up vocals, electronic percussion, cascading guitars and veering, digressional structure and pro to digital video set it apart from the crowd. And I didn’t even know who Nile Rodgers was.
I didn’t get half the memory blitzkrieg I was expecting listening back to this rundown, but I did surprise myself with how deeply all these songs are imprinted. Next time, perhaps i’ll add in the gentle squeaking of a cassette sprocket and play it through a tiny mono speaker, or one of the beige single ear-buds that came with the deck and would, soon, become my conduit to late night John Peel shows. By that point, things were changing quickly. Looking back, some things seem to have stayed the same.