Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Every Single UK Number 1 Single (1980-2009) - 1984

If you haven't read the previous entries in this countdown then what the hell have you been doing lately? (Just fooling, I love you guys no matter what time you come in). Click on the earlier parts here to get caught up:

1980 - http://www.thecinecynic.co.uk/2017/05/every-single-uk-number-1-single-1980.html
1981 - http://www.thecinecynic.co.uk/2017/05/every-single-uk-number-1-single-1980_6.html
1982 - http://www.thecinecynic.co.uk/2017/05/every-single-uk-number-1-single-1980_10.html
1983 - http://www.thecinecynic.co.uk/2017/05/every-single-uk-number-1-single-1980_16.html

With those out of the way, let's get started on 1984.

  • Pipes of Peace – Paul McCartney – 2 weeks, January 8th to January 21st

Paul McCartney holds the astonishing record as being the only man who’s had a UK number one as part of a duo (Ebony and Ivory), a trio (Mull of Kintyre by Wings), a quartet (the majority of singles by The Beatles), a quintet (Get Back had Billy Preston credited on it) and as a soloist (this song). It’s a shame that that feat is much more interesting than the song that nabbed him that record. McCartney’s solo work has undeniably suffered from being syrupy, both lyrically and musically, and Pipes of Peace is an example of this. Another song like Ebony and Ivory that has a good message marred by poor delivery, the lyrics of the song are rather sappy and are trying too hard to be something serious and effective but just come across as fluffy. The production of the song is a little over the top too, especially in the opening and conclusion that attempts to tug at the heartstrings with the slow piano and orchestral arrangements – this horribly juxtaposes with the jaunty main section of the song. Overall, this continues to show why Paul McCartney was not well regarded following the end of The Beatles – he’s a writer that just indulges in the sap far too much.

  • Relax – Frankie Goes to Hollywood – 5 weeks, January 22nd to February 25th

Out of nowhere (if Liverpool is to be counted as nowhere) came Frankie Goes to Hollywood. They smashed the charts up with 3 number 1 singles and a number 2 and dropped the mega smash LP Welcome to the Pleasuredome onto the rapturous British public. Then as soon as they arrived they left – follow up record Liverpool didn’t do nearly as well in 1986 and the band, flummoxed by lawsuits, disbanded. But from the year or so that they were massive they left behind a hell of an impact.

Initially banned by the BBC for its sexually explicit content, accentuated by the chorus of “Relax, don’t do it/When you wanna come”, Relax was an announcement. These five lads from Liverpool were going to shake up the British charts in style. And the content of this song is incredibly sexy in all the right ways; the instruments deliver a swaggering performance, with the keyboards and pounding drums hitting the listener with a sense of sexual grandeur. The fine-tuned production work of former Buggle Trevor Horn cannot be understated and he proves here how he can transform a song to the next level – this was really where Horn showed himself to be one of the greatest producers of all time. Then there’s lead singer Holly Johnson, who delivers the sexual lyrics with the best kind of arrogance – self-assured and deeply into the song, Johnson shows that he’s one of the decade’s most enjoyable singers. An utter romp of a song, Relax bought Frankie Goes to Hollywood onto the music scene in absolute style and it’s one of the most seductively brilliant songs of the 80s. Does it still hold up from the decade? Frankie says “Hell yeah”.

  • 99 Red Balloons – Nena – 3 weeks, February 26th to March 17th

Some may cry foul at the appearance of the English rendition of this song hitting the top of the charts at the expense of the German original 99 Luftballons. But in either language this song is a stone cold classic, a pleading cry against nuclear war all wrapped up in an enjoyably fun musical package. The music is gloriously upbeat, with a brilliant keyboard introduction and a drum machine that’s guaranteed to get you clapping along with the beat. The song then steams on through faster verses and attains a brilliant energy, especially when paired with the work of Nena, whose voice is weighed with a sense of gloomy innocence. Her sad vocals work well to contrast with the upbeat music and go along fittingly with the lyrics – detailing an incident of red balloons floating over Berlin being mistaken for UFOs that subsequently leads to war between nations, this song works in the ethos of the Cold War mentality of the 1980s and the fears that all-out war could start with just the press of a button. This all culminates in the more downbeat ending of the song, where the singer gloomily releases another red balloon following destructive war. As such, 99 Red Balloons could really be seen as an encapsulation of the 1980s – sure we could all go down tomorrow in a blaze of nuclear fire but who cares when the music is so damn good?

  • Hello – Lionel Richie – 6 weeks, March 18th to April 28th

I can’t exactly say that I’m a fan of Lionel Richie. Like the aforementioned Paul McCartney a lot of his works falls into the very mushy side of things, especially with his ballads which are very sappily written and sung in a weak manner. Hello is perhaps his most well-known song and is also quite infamous for demonstrating these elements. Richie’s vocals are very weedy on this track in particular; this seems to be an attempt to add a layer of desperation to the song but all it does is be annoying, as he simpers through this sludgy number about how he’s so madly in love with this woman and he doesn’t know how to win her heart. This track is just so horribly monotonous and it never picks up in excitement at all throughout its numbing four minute runtime, whilst the sparkly synthesisers only serve to make things more sugary. Sorry Lionel, but it’s not you I’m looking for.

  • The Reflex – Duran Duran – 4 weeks, April 29th to May 26th

As soon as this song begins with the vocals only introduction you can tell that this song is going to be an enjoyable one and Duran Duran don’t disappoint on that front. This song’s gloriously upbeat, a wonderful instrumental mesh of keyboards and guitars as well as pounding drum machines that give the song a gloriously groovy feeling. An instrumental breakdown near the end of the song that puts a lot of focus upon these drum machines only serves to make this more exciting.  Simon LeBon meanwhile continues to show his skills as he smoothly serenades his way through the verses and does well to belt his way through the choruses. Speaking of the chorus, the chants of “why-ay-ay-ay-ay” are guaranteed to get jammed in your head and will have you singing along. Though I have no idea what the song is meant to be about, this is one of Duran Duran’s finest pieces of work.

  • Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go – Wham! – 2 weeks, May 27th to June 9th

Corny, campy and over the top are some of the first words that may come to mind when talking about the musical oeuvre of Wham!. And those words all ring very true, especially when talking about Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. This is not a particularly good song by any means – the music is so joyfully upbeat that it starts to grate on the eardrums like a dentist’s drill due to its nature as an ear worm and the lyrics are very standard 80s love song fluff. And George Michael had yet to truly develop into a singer, with his vocals here being quite obnoxious in their overenthusiasm. He would later go on to work on many stronger songs in his life (Andrew Ridgley though? Not really), but these early days in Wham! did not really show off what he could do and shaking off the shackles of nostalgia will reveal just how truly annoying Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go is.

  • Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood – 9 weeks, June 10th to August 11th

If you needed any further evidence that 1984 belonged to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Two Tribes will act as a demonstration of their immense skills. Beginning with a slow moving piano and orchestra section, described by Holly Johnson as being a ‘Russian line’, interlaced with sounds of air raid sirens, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a gloomy number. But no, the song breaks into a thumper of a beat and a melody with instruments that are all masterfully mixed together by Trevor Horn. This helps to give the song a light and danceable streak in spite of the darker messages that it conveys – like 99 Red Balloons it’s another song that deals with the fears of impending nuclear strikes at the height of the Cold War. And like 99 Red Balloons it manages to take these themes and mix them into a gloriously upbeat pop song that almost makes you forget about the grim themes. Johnson delivers a powerful performance, often speaking some of the lyrics, and this all adds up to make an amazing anti-war song that masterfully blends together the American pop and Russian orchestral styles and manages to get the listener to think without being ham-fisted. An absolute classic of a song.

  • Careless Whisper – George Michael – 3 weeks, August 12th to September 1st

The glorious opening saxophone riff to this song has helped to make Careless Whisper memeable, used ad nauseum as a soundtrack to ‘sexy’ scenes on YouTube videos almost to the same extent as Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On, not to mention its hilarious use in the end credits of Deadpool. But beyond the elements of the song that have been joked about to death we have a song that’s an early sign of the path that George Michael was going to develop down with his solo career. The difference between this song and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go is absolutely astonishing – whereas Go-Go drowned in its corniness and had a silly vocal performance from Michael, this song is much mature, composed and dare I say emotional – it’s amazing to think that these performances came from the same singer in the same year. His performance in the third verse is particularly effective, sounding desperate and vulnerable whilst maintaining the strength in his vocals. These all add up to make this the first bona fide classic that Michael got involved in, a song that’s sad without being sappy and slow moving without feeling dull.

  • I Just Called to Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder – 6 weeks, September 2nd to October 13th

Poor Stevie Wonder. You probably think I have it in for the guy but I don’t – I love many of his classic funk driven anthems from the 70s such as Superstition and I Wish. But the three of the four UK number one songs that Stevie features on are absolute dreck. I Just Called to Say I Love You is not the worst of these songs but that doesn’t mean it’s at all good. It follows a flat plodding beat with a dull keyboard line that’s far from the inspired musical writings that Stevie has previously been known for. His vocals aren’t awful but they’re not exciting, with not much of his usual passion being injected. Lyrically this is a very sappy number; you could imagine going into Hallmark and finding these words scrawled on one of their greeting cards, with the mealy mouthed lovey-dovey sentiments trickling like treacle over the already sleep inducing number. A horrible key change in the second chorus only makes this song more syrupy, which is only made more painful by ANOTHER one after that accompanied by annoying vocoder effects. Again, don’t hate Stevie Wonder, the man’s a legend. But to have this diabetes laden number be his biggest seller (and the biggest seller of Motown at that)? An absolute travesty.

  • Freedom – Wham! – 3 weeks, October 14th to November 3rd

It’s quite the sign of how 1984 was dominated by a few massive names when out of the past five number ones George Michael was involved in three of them. Despite the promise of Careless Whisper he kept on demonstrating how he hadn’t truly matured and developed with his time in Wham!, and that can be seen once again with Freedom. Similar to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Freedom is a very perky number, but it does thankfully scale back on the annoyance factor of that song somewhat. Michael’s vocals has improved from that song, especially in the verses, but his high pitched yowling in the chorus can be a pretty hard listen. The music’s also once again very fluffy, relying on squeaky overbearing keyboards, though the trumpets at the end are pretty exciting. Overall this isn’t a bad pop song by any means since it’s fun and upbeat in places – also, though it’s five minutes it doesn’t really feel overlong. But I think George Michael spoiled me with Careless Whisper and this feels like a massive step down from that. He would later return to the Freedom well in 1990 and that proved to be a significant step up from this incarnation.

  • I Feel for You – Chaka Khan – 3 weeks, November 4th to November 24th

It’s astounding to think but in the 1980s Prince never had a UK number 1 as an artist. That’s frankly unbelievable given all the amazing songs he pumped out in the decade – 1999, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy, Purple Rain, Raspberry Beret, Kiss, Sign o’ the Times… all pop classics that missed the top spot. In fact his only involvement on a UK number 1 single in the decade came with this song, a cover of a hidden gem on his second LP. This version gets off on the wrong foot, with a cringe inducing rap that crowbars Chaka’s name in far too many times. That same rap gets repeated a few more times throughout the song, much to the annoyance of the listener. But when the song itself starts proper things start to pick up a bit, mainly because of Chaka’s ability to imitate the higher pitched vocals that Prince demonstrated on his first few albums. The music also sounds like it came outright from Prince, with plenty of strong instrumentation work, especially with a harmonica solo in the middle. If there’s one issue it’s probably that some instruments, such as the keyboards and drums, can be a little overbearing at times and threaten to drown out the rest of the song. This all adds up to a rendition of I Feel for You that’s flawed but ultimately a decent cover.

  • I Should Have Known Better – Jim Diamond – 1 week, November 25th to December 1st

There’s a theme this year – the really bad number 1 singles are generally all miserably pathetic ballads. This debut song by Scottish singer Jim Diamond fits comfortably into this category. Right from the offset you can tell that this song is going to be a dour annoyance, mostly because of Jim Diamond’s whiny vocals. He simpers his way through the song and when he tries to reach further than his reach he sounds utterly annoying; listen to him strain for a high note in the second verse (which results in him sounding like he’s doing a bad Italian accent and reminds me of Shaddap You Face – which is BAD), as well as his “I-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay” following the choruses for absolute proof of this. The music’s generally pretty weak for the most part, relying upon boring keyboard notes, though some guitar joining in does provide some relief, and the lyrics are generic lovey crap about Jimmy regretting straying from his lover. This is a snoozer of a soft rock ballad that’ll exit your thoughts as soon as you’re done with it.

  • The Power of Love – Frankie Goes to Hollywood – 1 week, December 2nd to December 8th

Of the four singles released from Welcome to the Pleasuredome, The Power of Love is my least favourite. Though it’s far from bad it’s not near to the amazing nature of the previous two singles and the album’s title track. This track is much slower, relying on piano and strings which try to give the song a Christmas feel to it. It’s all produced nicely enough, especially after the first chorus where the drums and strings truly come crashing in. Holly Johnson also works his damn hardest on this song, using this song as a way of stretching his vocals out and for the most part it works – there’s a few shaky bits here and there but overall he does very well. Lyrically it’s not as exciting as the sexually charged Relax or the Cold War themed Two Tribes but it’s a decent little love song that work well with Johnson’s vocal performance. Overall, whilst it’s the weakest of the singles from Pleasuredome that says more about the high quality of that album than about the quality of the song as it’s still a solid ballad that’s well produced and sung.

  • Do They Know It’s Christmas?Band Aid – 5 weeks, December 9th to January 12th 1985, biggest selling song of the decade

The 80s was truly the decade in which we saw the rise of the charity single. Once in a while all the pop stars would step outside of their fancy mansions, put aside their egos (for the most part) and decide to do something musical to raise awareness of the plight of those less fortunate than them. And it all started here, the biggest seller of the 80s, where Bob Geldof decided to do something about famine taking place in Ethiopia. Writing the song with Ultravox’s Midge Ure he assembled a team of some of the best known British singers at the time – Bono, Sting, George Michael, Boy George, practically all of Duran Duran – and knocked out Do They Know It’s Christmas? in one recording session. His dedication to the project is unquestionably sound and his heart was definitely in a good place with this one.

And the song does work quite well, especially in invoking a warm sense of Christmas joy mixed with the themes of thinking about others around the festive season. The music contains both these dark and light feelings, with slightly ominous sounding bells and drums at the beginning but balancing it with upbeat keyboards, especially in the last section of the chorus. This helps to provide upbeat fuzzy festive feelings meaning that the message of the song doesn’t become hammered in too hard. The lyrics also surprisingly solid too, in spite in some instances of clumsy and perhaps patronising writing (“Where nothing ever grows/No rain or river flows”). But it’s effective in making you think of the less fortunate in the world – Bono’s line “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” is most effective in this instance. The chants of “Feed the world” may go on a little too long at the end but it doesn’t stop the fact that Do They Know It’s Christmas? is a solid charity single, standing out as one of the better numbers of the genre.

FINAL THOUGHTS - One thing that cannot be disputed with 1984 was the sheer amount of singles that were sold this year. Of the top 10 biggest selling singles of the 1980s six of them came from 1984 (Do They Know It’s Christmas?, Relax, I Just Called to Say I Love You, Two Tribes, Careless Whisper and the number 2 Last Christmas/Everything She Wants). No doubt then that this was a greatly memorable year. Quality wise it’s also a fairly solid year, though the most amazing numbers came from one band – if you denied that this was Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s year then you would be a liar and it was a pain to choose between Relax and Two Tribes as the best song of the year. Aside from them, we also saw great hits from Nena, Duran Duran and George Michael, making this a pretty strong year. As mentioned earlier pretty much all the bad songs of the year were boring sludgy ballads. However, whilst they’re all poor songs they’re not on the same level of badness that we’ve seen with the worst songs of the past years – they were simply kind of bleh. Overall, they don’t detract from a year that I had a good time listening to.

  • BEST SONG - Two Tribes
  • WORST SONG - I Just Called to Say I Love You

Hope you enjoyed it - did you agree or disagree with me fervently on any of these songs? If you want to see more from me, give my Facebook page a like: (https://www.facebook.com/CineCynic1996/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel) and maybe you can throw me a few pennies on Patreon if you really liked my stuff (https://www.patreon.com/CineCynic1996). See you next time where we tackle 1985!

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