Saturday, 6 May 2017

Every Single UK Number 1 Single (1980-2009) - 1981

Missed the start of this whole crazy escapade? Then check out my runthrough of 1980 right here:

With that out of the way, let's get started on 1981...

  • Imagine – John Lennon – 4 weeks, January 4th to January 31st
I’m gonna make some enemies, aren’t I? Because I really don’t like John Lennon’s early solo career. At all.

The Imagine album isn’t the worst of his early career; between the horrendously angsty primal-scream-session-disguised-as-music Plastic Ono Band, the overbearing political sentiments Some Time in New York City and all those pissing awful Avant Garde albums with Yoko Ono, Imagine has the virtue of being relatively sane in comparison if a bit uninteresting in places. What I can’t be virtuous towards though is the titular song, which is perhaps one of the most overrated compositions of music of all time. A very bland “look at how peaceful the world should be and look how great it would be if everybody agreed with my line of thinking” song, this song just plods along with its gloomy piano beat which takes what ought to be an uplifting song into a yawner. It’s a very simplistic message and we should be almost thankful that it wasn’t more ham-fisted (too bad he couldn’t remember that for Some Time in New York City) but it quickly gets bland fast. Essentially a glorified primary school hymn, this is an insubstantial bit of fluff that thinks it’s something far deeper than it is.

  • Woman – John Lennon – 2 weeks, February 1st to February 14th

Imagine may have been bland and uninteresting but at least it wasn’t too sappy. I can’t say the same thing about Woman. Like (Just Like) Standing Over it acted as a tribute of sorts to Yoko Ono but whilst that song was upbeat, contemplative and enjoyable this one is just utterly a bore to sit through and has some very sugary lyrics spurting out about how he’s glad to have his woman in his life. Remember the stereotype that Paul McCartney churned out nothing but silly love songs in his post-Beatles career? This feels like one of those songs that Lennon himself attacked McCartney for. And it also hit me – this song essentially has not only the same lyrical themes but also possesses the same melody of There’s No One Quite Like Grandma, down to the sickening key change! Coincidence? Probably so, but it just serves to highlight how sickly sweet Woman is.

Well, I’m sure everybody is frothing at the mouth over me badmouthing songs by not only a Beatle but a dead Beatle – so before people come after my blood, let’s move onto a song that we can all agree is shit!

  • Shaddap You Face – Joe Dolce Music Theatre – 3 weeks, February 15th to March 7th

Knowing my luck though I’m probably going to run into the Joe Dolce fanboys.

I mean, Britain, what the hell were you thinking? This annoying, simpering and absolutely unfunny song holding the top spot for three weeks? And holding off songs like Vienna by Ultravox too? There are days where I question my country and this is one of the time. If you like silly Italian sounding music then maybe you’ll get some enjoyment out of this but I can’t put up with Joe Dolce’s bad Italian accent for three minutes, especially when he punctures his unfunny song with lots of forced “stage banter” trying to get his non-existent audience to sing along. And sing along is the problem as this is one hell of an earworm where the chorus will get rammed in your head for days. We can only be thankful that Dolce never released anymore songs – I fear what his Russian comedy song would sound like…

  • Jealous Guy – Roxy Music – 2 weeks, March 8th to March 21st

Jealous Guy was one of the rare hidden gems in John Lennon’s early solo career, sitting alongside Working Class Hero and New York City as proof that even with all the utter tripe around him John was still capable of writing a good song. A slow, atmospheric and contemplative song reflecting on John’s issues with being controlling towards women and his overall insecurities as a person, the original was already pretty great, but it looks like the contents of Unfinished Virgins in comparison to the cover by art rock legends Roxy Music.

First of all, Bryan Ferry is a better vocalist than John Lennon, bringing his trademark smooth and soulful vocals to the song whilst still keeping the sense of gloominess and reflection that the song needs. Secondly the instrumentation is better especially following the second chorus – there are great guitar and saxophone solos that help to make the song soar whilst the keyboards are fittingly Roxy Music whilst still working well for the song. Additionally whilst it’s longer than the original it doesn’t feel padded at all. Whilst this may not be the greatest song ever recorded by Roxy Music, not even in the 80s (songs in this time like Oh Yeah and Over You have it beat), it’s still a worthy number to be their only song to hit the top spot in the UK.

  • This Ole House – Shakin’ Stevens – 3 weeks, March 22nd to April 11th

Oh Shaky, you really thought you were trying to be Elvis, weren’t you? This is a song that’s brutally annoying in its attempts to be fun and upbeat, a song that shows that Shakin’ Stevens was desperately trying to attach itself to the rock and roll revival craze of the 1980s but showed that they couldn’t do anything of any substance. Despite attempting to be an ear worm this is just an incredibly forgettable song with poor production that drowns out the vocals with the instrumental and it makes you wonder why a song as bleh as this made it to the top spot for three weeks. Really the only mildly interesting thing is that it made This Ole House one of the rare songs to top the UK charts twice by different artists (Rosemary Clooney bought it all the way to the top all the way back in 1954). Aside from that titbit, skip.

  • Making Your Mind Up – Bucks Fizz – 3 weeks, April 12th to May 2nd

I understand that not every Eurovision contestant can be ABBA (or Lordi, for that matter) but that doesn’t excuse the generally shocking quality of musical output the contest produces. UK victors Bucks Fizz was clearly another one of those groups attempting to latch itself onto the success of ABBA and the cheesy happy-go-lucky two guys and two gals formula; see also Save Your Kisses for Me by Brotherhood of Man for another example of pandering to that formula. Making Your Mind Up isn’t too bad a song, it’s perky, got a decent saxophone and the vocal performances are pretty alright, but it really doesn’t stick around at all, being merely a somewhat bearable number in the ocean of terrible music that Eurovision produces. 

  • Stand and Deliver – Adam and the Ants – 5 weeks, May 3rd to June 6th

When the 80s is mentioned the first thing you’d probably think of is gloriously cheesy pop songs sung by men who wore more eyeliner than the women of the decade. Few bands really fit that description to the degree of Adam and the Ants and it’s hard not to enjoy them for that. Stand and Deliver is a glorious mix of punk and a more shiny pop sound and it’ll get you amped up by how fun it is. Adam’s delivery is pure camp and as he implores you to join the Insect Nation you’ll be both laughing and getting pumped to the song. It is perhaps a little slapdash, especially near the end of the song with the key change and strange choral chants, but it’s such a fun song that you’ll scarcely notice.

  • Being with You – Smokey Robinson – 2 weeks, June 7th to June 20th

I’m not a particularly massive fan of R&B but I can recognise a good track in the genre when I hear one. Smokey Robinson, the former lead singer of Motown group The Miracles, is a pretty solid vocalist with a high pitched soulfulness to his voice. Unfortunately this song doesn’t really stick out in spite of his good vocals, kind of just trudging along through its runtime with pretty uninspired and generic lyrics about love. The saxophone is able to spice things up but ultimately Being with You is just too uninteresting to really stand out from the Motown crowd. Speaking of which…

  • One Day in Your Life – Michael Jackson – 2 weeks, June 21st to July 4th

What was the first song by Michael Jackson to hit the top spot in Britain? Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough, you might think? Or perhaps Rock with You? You probably wouldn’t expect his first chart topper to be a song taken from his not particularly successful fourth album Forever, Michael. But that’s just what happened, as the song was released by Jackson’s former record label Motown in order to cash in on the recent mega success of Off the Wall. Unfortunately this song is a ballad, one of the things that Jackson always failed on (I knew I should have put on my hater repellent armour before writing this). Jackson is generally good on this song but there’s a few instances of lilting sappiness in his vocal delivery, especially in his delivery of the title. Sappier is the instrumentation which relies on a sludgy keyboard pattern and only makes things more unbearable with harps, harmonicas and even choirs used to try and make this song more emotional, becoming a song that rivals She’s Out of My Life in terms of sludginess. Michael Jackson had lots of worthy songs around this time that could have topped the charts in the UK – but this wasn’t one of them.

  • Ghost Town – The Specials – 3 weeks, July 5th to July 25th

By 1981 The Specials were on the verge of splitting up. However, they proved they still had some life in them with this excellent track. Beginning with a somewhat spooky keyboard line we move into a sultry and smooth reggae beat that meshes well with the trumpets but it never loses that spooky edge, especially with the ghostly wails in the chorus. Despite the spooky atmosphere the lyrics hold a sense of gloomy wistfulness, remembering a city that used to be brilliant that ultimately fell to urban decay. Potent, sad and yet rather funky, this shows that even near the end of their lifespan The Specials could still write a classic.

  • Green Door – Shakin’ Stevens – 4 weeks, July 26th to August 22nd

The sheer amount of chart success that Shakin’ Stevens had baffles me. A man who was trying so hard to be Elvis Presley but failing so hard getting all these hits to the top spot? Green Door isn’t too terrible of a song and it’s at least produced better than This Ole House but it definitely feels horribly derivative, sounding like a leftover scrap from one of Elvis’s albums. The piano line is done well throughout but the whole song is just far too generic to stand out.

  • Japanese Boy – Aneka – 1 week, August 23rd to August 29th

Japan is perhaps my favourite country in the world so naturally I take interest when the nation is referenced anywhere, such as in a song. Turning Japanese by The Vapors is what happens when you reference the nation correctly. When you reference it incorrectly… you get Japanese Boy.

This is an annoyance of a disco song that crowbars the reference to Japan in a horribly heavy-handed manner, right down to the vocals by Aneka – a Scottish singer named Mary Sandeman putting on a simpering Japanese voice. I generally disagree with people who complain about “cultural appropriation” but there is still a bit of a line and this kind of goes over that. Remove all those Japanese aspects though and all you get is a generic New Wave disco song that would be completely forgotten if it wasn’t for that gimmick.

  • Tainted Love – Soft Cell – 2 weeks, August 30th to September 12th, biggest selling song of the year

This is another one of those songs that immediately come to mind whenever the 1980s are mentioned and for very good reason – this is a great song that manages to be upbeat and danceable whilst also having an undertone of creepiness to it with the gloomy lyrics about a relationship gone sour that’s balanced out with the haunting vocals of Marc Almond. The stark production helps to make this song quite sinister whilst also having a funky beat that makes it enjoyable to dance along to and the chants in the chorus are irresistible. So yeah, a good choice for best seller of the year.

  • Prince Charming – Adam and the Ants – 4 weeks,  September 13th to October 10th 

The screaming vocals of the introduction to this song provide a strange whiplash into the main melody that’s focused upon the acoustic guitars. Unfortunately this leads to a song that doesn’t really feel upbeat or exciting, even with Ant’s vocals proving themselves again. The failure to really go anywhere with the melody really starts to make Prince Charming feel quite lethargic, which is a shame given how upbeat and exciting Stand and Deliver was. This certainly isn’t the finest hour of Adam and the Ants.

  • It’s My Party – Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin – 4 weeks, October 11th to November 7th

First thing to clear up – this isn’t the same Dave Stewart as the one from Eurythmics. Sorry to disappoint you.

Secondly this is an incredibly bizarre rendition of the Lesley Gore classic. Starting off with a cacophony of keyboard effects that threaten to drown out a whiny rendition of the chorus by Gaskin, the song then suddenly slows down to become decent albeit very dated from its production – the drum machines in particularly are laughable in how 80s they are. It tries to make the song far more epic than it really is and it doesn’t really work because of the simple charms of the original. Ultimately I’d sooner listen to that over this utter oddity of an experiment.

  • Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic – The Police – 1 week, November 8th to November 14th

The Police can almost always put on a smile on my face in spite of the fact that many of their songs have incredibly gloomy topics (prostitution in Roxanne and suicide in Can’t Stand Losing You come to mind). Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic is more evidence of this as though the issue might be disheartening – a man who’s in love with a woman madly but just can’t spit out his feelings, a phenomenon that many of us have likely suffered – but the music’s so gloriously uplifting, especially with the wonderful keyboard work in the chorus, that you’ll forget about it. Sting is on point with his vocals as per usual and Stewart Copeland proves himself to be an effective drummer. Even the repeated choruses at the end don’t get stale, showing how gripping the song is. This is a bittersweet but brilliant song that only reaffirms how brilliant The Police were.

Oh, and fun fact; the lyrics of the second verse “Do I have to tell the story/Of a thousand rainy days since we first met?/It's a big enough umbrella/But it's always me that ends up getting wet” must have stuck with Sting, because he’d bring them back for O My God on the Synchronicity album and then in Seven Days on his solo album Ten Summoner’s Tales. Not a bad move given how good those lyrics are.

  • Under Pressure – Queen and David Bowie – 2 weeks, November 15th to November 28th

There perhaps is no greater dream team up in music than Queen and David Bowie, proven with this collaboration which is one of the biggest gems in both of their very shiny discographies. I defy anybody to not know the bassline, one of the funkiest and catchiest of all music history. But there’s more to the song than that as both Freddie and David are on their top of their game with their vocals, especially in the second verse and chorus where Freddie’s soaring falsetto and scatting combined with David’s haunting background calls make for an effective performance. Though the song is not only lyrically downbeat but is somewhat musically gloomy this song is still absolutely infectious, which is a true testament to the skills of these musicians. Overall this stands tall in the already incredibly amazing catalogues of both Queen and David Bowie and is haunting, gloomy and yet uplifting and reaffirming.

  • Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar) – Julio Iglesias – 1 week, November 29th to December 5th

Though it may not be the most well-known song on the planet, Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine has received an absolutely ridiculous amount of cover versions in popular music ever since it was first performed in 1935. This rendition by Julio Iglesias takes the song into a more disco oriented direction, making it almost sound tropical with the guitar licks and trumpets in the chorus. Iglesias’ vocals are generally pretty over the top and silly and here it’s no difference as he sings his little heart out throughout in a performance that’s quite endearing in how over the top it is. Overall this version of the song isn’t really too special and goes on for too long but Julio’s somewhat overwrought performance is worth checking out alone in terms of enjoyment factor.

  • Don’t You Want MeHuman League – 5 weeks, December 6th to January 9th 1982

So last year Britain showed how foolish they could be on the charts at Christmas with the nauseating There’s No One Quite Like Grandma. Surely they couldn’t learn from their mistakes and end up causing another shitty novelty song to get to the top spot?

That would be where you’re wrong. In the most glorious of ways.

This is indisputably one of the greatest Christmas number ones of all time, a song that truly captures all of the 80s. This a song that’s a complete joy to sing along to and is another song that can get you feeling good despite the darker undercurrents of the music and lyrics. Phil Oakley delivers a brilliantly dark and melodic performance in the first verse and in the chorus, though Susan Ann Sulley, who sings the second verse, is a little flat. In spite of that this is still a slightly sinister but imminently fun song, and I’m glad that the British public had the good sense to give it the most important number 1 position of the year.


This year was far less enjoyable than 1980. Too much absolute filler dominated the first 8 months of the year and there were a few good songs here and there (Jealous Guy, Ghost Town) that got drowned under songs that were forgettable (Being with You, Green Door) or just plain bad (Shaddap You Face, One Day in Your Life, Japanese Boy). Things got much better in the last third of the year, with classics by Queen and David Bowie, The Police, Soft Cell and Human League showing how good the year could be. But ultimately it wasn’t enough to save a fairly weak year.
  • BEST SONG - Under Pressure
  • WORST SONG - Shaddap You Face
Hope you liked this - if you agree or disagree with any of my opinions don't hesitate to comment below (seriously, I'm really interested to hear what you have to say if you really disagree with one of my thoughts).

Also, I want to pimp out something I just started up; a Patreon. Man's gotta make money, ya know? You absolutely don't have to contribute to it but if you like my stuff and feel like throwing me a bone, you could do worse stuff with your money.

See you next time when we chat about 1982!

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