Saturday, 10 June 2017

Every Single UK Number 1 Single (1980-2009) - 1986

Previous entries if you haven't read this project
1980 -
1981 -
1982 -
1983 -
1984 -
1985 -

Let's now move swiftly along to 1986...

  • West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys – 2 weeks, January 5th to January 18th

Breaking onto the scene in style at the end of 85 was the Pet Shop Boys, the wonderfully charismatic pop duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. West End Girls introduced them to the world and from that song we could tell that they were going to be something special. The keyboards are atmospheric and funky, only accentuated by the bassline, giving the song an edge to it in spite of its danceable qualities. These qualities extend to Tennant’s vocals, which he frequently raps, which have a haunting spirit to them as he digs into the issues of class in the city in the lyrics, inspired somewhat by The Waste Lands by T.S. Elliot – the whole song feels reminiscent to something like The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The haunting synth choirs and the horns in the middle of the song all add up to make a song that serve to introduce the style of the Pet Shop Boys gloriously and is a strong contender still for their best song.

  • The Sun Always Shines on T.V. – a-ha – 2 weeks, January 19th to February 1st

Whilst a-Ha is more comfortably known globally for the absolutely amazing Take on Me that wasn’t their biggest song in the UK. That honour goes to this number which, whilst far less remembered, is no less of a classic. It’s much moodier of a song than Take on Me: whilst that song was much more perkier with its music this song is far more desperate from the opening piano which delves into a more melancholic side of the group. It atmospherically builds up to an explosive synth pop melody with another hooky keyboard line. Lead singer Morten Harkett once again shines through in this song – he doesn’t have anything nearly as flashy as his high notes in the chorus of Take on Me but his work on this song is still absolutely brilliant, especially in the chorus which he wails in a manner that’s haunting and beautiful at the same time. Whilst this song hasn’t gone down in the same echelons of amazingness as Take on Me, The Sun Always Shines on T.V. still perfectly demonstrates how brilliant a-Ha was and shows that they’re more from just a one hit wonder.

  • When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean – 4 weeks, February 2nd to March 1st

We move right along to another song that became far more famous than the movie that it was originally written for. How many people remember The Jewel of the Nile, the critically underperforming sequel to adventure hit Romancing the Stone? And yet this song was its theme tune and broke out from the strains of that film (even with the music video that features stars Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito lip synching the backing vocals). And it’s easy to see why, it’s just so upbeat! Billy Ocean is one of the most enthusiastic singers in 80s pop – if anybody else sang Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car it would be creepy but Billy’s just so happy singing about it that you know he couldn’t harm anybody! And he injects all of his energy into When the Going Gets Tough; all the way from the first verse through to the last chorus he’s bellowing the song and having lots of fun with it. This really pulls the song up and makes it infectious and gives it the quality of being able to be sung along to – the uplifting lyrics about not giving up when times get hard only make this more the case. This is only made more so by the funky bassline and the horns, as well as a saxophone solo (the one that Danny DeVito “plays” in the video) that helps to make the song just so enjoyable. This song won’t leave your head and it’ll put you in an eternally good mood.

  • Chain Reaction – Diana Ross – 3 weeks, March 2nd to March 22nd

The Bee Gees strike back – continuing their run of hits in the 80s as professional songwriters we have this number for Diana Ross, who’s had a surprisingly small amount of appearances on top of the UK Charts (just 4 – 2 solo, 1 with The Supremes and the last with… USA for Africa). Chain Reaction is really a mixed bag of a song though. Diana Ross’s vocal performance is strong as ever, especially in the chorus at the end of the song where she soars at points – the backing by the Bee Gees themselves compliment her vocals greatly. But the music brings down the song a great deal. It’s strangely minimalistic, relying on just a few notes on a flat sounding keyboard, a plodding bassline and some drum machines that can be rather annoying at times. This makes the song much less exciting than it should be because of how weak the melody is. To add insult to injury the song goes through a ridiculous amount of key changes and all of them just sound very forced, especially those that happen at the end. This was almost great and if the music was more exciting it could have been a classic. Instead it’s just merely decent.

  • Living Doll – Cliff Richard and The Young Ones – 3 weeks, March 23rd to April 12th

If you’ve never watched an episode of British sitcom The Young Ones you are missing out to a ridiculous degree. It’s a series that concerns itself around four university students in Thatcher’s Britain – the self-centred, whiny and hilariously incompetent pseudo-anarchist Rick (Rik Mayall), the violent and confrontational punk Vyvyan (Ade Edmondson), the mopey hippy Neil (Nigel Planer) and suave conman Mike the Cool Person (Christopher Ryan). The series was surreal, often made no sense, featured lots of puppetry and musical acts and all over was absolutely hilarious. One notable feature was the numerous references to Cliff Richard, the favoured artist of Rick – after all, the series is named after one of his songs and a cover is performed by the cast for the opening – which manages to make Cliff Richard listenable. So who else would be more appropriate to feature upon a comedic version of another one of Cliff’s biggest songs Living Doll?

This song was recorded for the British charity telethon Comic Relief and began this tradition of having a pop song sung by a combination of certain comedians and the original artist (we shall get to a few of them later down the line). But this wasn’t just your simple “comedy character sings the song and that’s the joke” kind of deal – this song had plenty of actual jokes (Vyvyan questions the lyrics, Rick finds some parts of the song “politically unsound”, Neil gets injured) and a plot of sorts – the lads wander into the session, accidently knock out Cliff and try to finish the song themselves (he recovers though). Of course the song itself is a lot of pap, a silly love song, and Cliff’s parts are saccharine as ever. And Edmondson, Mayall, Planer and Ryan aren’t exactly good singers – but that’s not really the point. This is the only way to make Cliff Richard sound interesting and it’s a silly and funny version of a song that was previously notable for being rather dull.

  • A Different Corner – George Michael – 3 weeks, April 13th to May 3rd

Wham! was ending by 1986 and George Michael’s stakes upon a solo career were further being created with his second single alone, A Different Corner. I’d dare say it’s better than Careless Whisper – it’s more atmospheric and a bit darker, with the light keyboard and piano melody, as well as the guitar that enters after the first verse, helping to create a sensation of gloom that go along with the lyrics of the song which reflect a sense of fear and worry. Michael’s vocal delivery meanwhile is the strongest we’ve seen up to him from this point – he’s soulful and vulnerable at the same time, with power in his voice seen in the second verse as he belts out the lyrics. This is a sad song that’s bought up by the sheer power that Michael exudes in his voice and it made things clear – if he was going to go down the solo career path he was going to be far bigger and better than he ever was in Wham!.

  • Rock Me Amadeus – Falco – 1 week, May 4th to May 10th

I should first point out that this song has a ridiculous amount of different version – there’s a German version, an English version, plenty of extended mixes, a version named the Salieri cut featuring quotes inspired by the movie Amadeus. That’s the most interesting thing about the song though as the whole affair is a rather annoying mess. The tune is quite banal but is catchy enough that it’ll get wedged right into your head, only made worse by the chorus where “Amadeus” is chanted on and on ad nauseum. Falco’s vocals in the verse aren’t too terrible, even if you can’t understand what they mean, but they’re not amazing, which means that they can’t bring up this song from being a somewhat irritating dance song – the shrieks that sound like they came from monkeys near the end only make things more annoying. Mozart would not have approved.

  • The Chicken Song – Spitting Image – 3 weeks, May 11th to May 31st

The year’s not even half over and already two subversive British comedy shows have had UK number 1 singles – quite the feat. Spitting Image, for those not in the loop, was a satirical show that lampooned many prominent political and celebrity figures of the 1980s, most notably Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and did so with puppets! Horribly disfigured and creepy looking puppets. Those things are nightmare fuel incarnate. In the US they’re probably most known for being featured in the music video for Land of Confusion by Genesis but that wasn’t their only skirmish with 80s pop music. A number of songs were created by the show, including Da Do Ron Run (a parody of the song by The Crystals all about Reagan) and I’ve Never Met a Nice South African, which ripped into apartheid South Africa. The Chicken Song was intended to be a satire of terrible 80s novelty songs played during summer holidays – think Agadoo by Black Lace. But it probably did its job too well as this song is ridiculously annoying with its twee keyboards and vocal melody, as well as its endless key changes. It’s not even that funny, mainly because the lyrics of the song are perhaps a little too on the nose and are not really too far off the actual content of a song by Black Lace. Ultimately it’s a bad song that tried to take the piss of another bad song which resulted in something annoying and unfunny.

  • Spirit in the Sky – Doctor and the Medics – 3 weeks, June 1st to June 21st

Pro tip if you’re an aspiring musician – don’t start your career with a version of Spirit in the Sky. This song’s topped the UK Charts three times and of those times two of them have been by fully fledged one hit wonders (the third meanwhile was a Comic Relief single that featured a TV group that would obviously not have another return to the charts – more on that one later). For some reason Doctor and the Medics felt that taking the somewhat pappy Norman Greenbaum original and transforming it into an almost glam metal arrangement was a good idea – what could have been an interesting idea is hampered by the vocals, which are very bland and disconnected from the material, quite a bit of a change from the harder music that the song has. This is a song that just plods along with not even a guitar solo making things interesting because of how utterly simplistic it is. You’ll be praying for this song to be over as soon as it’s begun as it’s just a weak cover of an already rather syrupy song.

  • The Edge of Heaven – Wham! – 2 weeks, June 22nd to July 5th

This was one of the last songs that Wham! released before they split up and it’s not a song that sends the boys out on a particularly high note. It’s a song that bears great similarities to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, being another number that relies on soul stylings and backing vocals in order to sell itself. Like that song it comes up short due to being rather annoying – Michael’s chants of “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” in the chorus grate after a while and the lyrics are rather dull sexual boasts that just feel false. There’s a pretty great guitar solo midway with the song accompanied by what appears to be a talkbox but ultimately The Edge of Heaven is just not a fun song in spite of the attempts of Michael and Ridgely to be upbeat and it sends out one of the most notable groups of the mid 1980s on a bit of a whimper.

  • Papa Don’t Preach – Madonna – 3 weeks, July 6th to July 26th

Madonna carried on her reign on the pop charts in the 80s with this classic song from her third album True Blue. It was from this point that Madonna started to move away a bit from the fluffier oriented nature of her first albums and started to take her music in a somewhat more serious direction. Papa Don’t Preach discusses the themes of teenage pregnancy and attempting to tell your father about what you’ve done, the fact that you’ve gone against his warnings and regret your actions, but being decisive in your decisions. This can be seen in the chorus’s chants of “I’m keeping my baby”. Madonna’s voice suits the song, having a pleading lilt to it, making you believe she’s nervous about telling her father about her new future, which reflects the darker tone of the song. Add in a strong melody, including a classical sounding intro and exit with the violins, and you have a clear sign of the direction Madonna was about to step into as well as an excellent song.

  • The Lady in Red – Chris De Burgh – 3 weeks, July 27th to August 16th

From the very opening drum machine patterns you can tell that this song is going to be an absolute lethargic chore. And sure enough as soon as the boring keyboard drones enter in, followed by Chris De Burgh’s syrupy voice, you’ll be guaranteed to slip into a coma. The lyrics are incredibly sappy love song fare, being an incredibly boring, clich├ęd and all around diabetes inducing song about the love of your life – who happens to wear red. But what drags this down many a peg is Chris De Burgh’s voice – it’s flat and uninterested and when he attempts to go for the soaring moments, which can be seen in the chorus, his voice sounds rough and strained, like he’s pushing his limited vocal range as hard as he can to no avail. Throw in some painful pronunciations – see his mangling of both “dance” and “romance” in the first verse – and you have one of the dullest love songs of the 1980s. Ladies, if your man plays this song to you I’d drop him.

  • I Want to Wake Up with You – Boris Gardiner – 3 weeks, August 17th to September 6th

From one sappy love song to another, this one is at least a little more interesting than The Lady in Red because of its surprising reggae style. After a fairly dull keyboard intro the reggae piano kicks in and adds a little bit of excitement to the song – but not a great deal as the music is still rather flat, downbeat and trudges along. Same things applies to Gardiner’s vocals – he has a little bit more soul to his voice but he’s not very interesting as he really doesn’t stretch himself and once again makes the song feel like a trudge. And the lyrics, my God, the lyrics. It’s once again a sappy tale of wanting this girl so desperately, being the only person in her life and all that sappy bollocks. This leads to a song that’s only four minutes but feels much longer because of how one note, repetitive and monotonous it is. Because of all this dragging it results in a song that ends up becoming even duller than The Lady in Red. Didn’t think that was scientifically possible…

  • Don’t Leave Me This Way – The Communards – 4 weeks, September 7th to October 4th, biggest selling single of the year

The biggest selling single of the year was also a fairly good one – from the opening this song captures you, with the choral chants and the sinister piano coupled with the drum machine and you could be mistaken for thinking that this was a Frankie Goes to Hollywood song (albeit with weaker production). Jimmy Sommerville sings this song in a falsetto style and whilst I understand that being grating on the ears of many I find it soulful and well done. He is overshadowed vocal wise in the second verse by guest singer Sarah Jane Morris, but their duet in the second chorus works very well with Sommerville’s harmony. The music from the chorus onwards becomes greatly upbeat, giving the song a very entertaining edge, and the instrumental solo is excellent with the hammering piano and the saxophone from Richard Coles working well together. It does go on a little long and the key change is very silly and overdone but it’s a very strong and uplifting pop ballad from The Communards.

  • True Blue – Madonna – 1 week, October 5th to October 11th

True Blue is a song that’s dropped off Madonna’s radar in terms of being played, no doubt because of the fact that it was written about her former partner Sean Penn, who was allegedly abusive towards her (Madonna herself disputed these claims though). That’s not too big a loss as this isn’t the best of her songs, mainly down to the lyrics – they’re pretty standard fluffy love song fare about the true devotion to her man, which can get a little bit nauseating after a while. This is a shame as the music is very good, having an upbeat and tropical feel to it, and Madonna’s vocals are also solid if not a little bit sappy because of the song’s content. Overall, this isn’t too bad a song but it certainly isn’t up there as one of Madonna’s absolute classics.

  • Every Loser Wins – Nick Berry – 3 weeks, October 12th to November 1st

Just like 1984 you’re probably noticing a reoccurring theme – the REALLY bad songs are mostly all very sappy ballads. This song strikes you as being one of those numbers right out of the gate with the sappy opening piano, but things only get worse with Berry’s vocals entering into the fray. His vocals are simpering and inane, which only makes this song about a breakup that much more boring. But the song really gets sappy with the arrival of the keyboards, which are incredibly dated with their 80s sound and syrupy, and the build-up in the second verse with the drum machine that tries to make this song sound that much more epic – but fails astoundingly because of how boring this song is. It’s thankfully quite short and doesn’t drag too long but it’s still a ridiculous bore to sit through.

  • Take My Breath Away – Berlin – 4 weeks, November 2nd to November 29th

There was not many film soundtracks in the 80s that were as brilliant as Top Gun. From the opening blast of Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins to the closing attack of the glorious Top Gun Anthem by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens, the entire soundtrack assaulted your senses with absolutely brilliant music and made you want to hop into a fighter jet and feel the need – the need for speed. Unfortunately though like most soundtracks it was the weakest song that was the most successful in the charts (and the Oscars later on down the line) – the token power ballad. Having said all that though Take My Breath Away isn’t a bad song at all, with a gloriously upbeat and catchy keyboard riff, accentuated by a funky bass line, and pretty good vocals from lead singer Terri Nunn, as well as the titular line in the chorus which is memorably singable. It does suffer from being rather lovey dovey in its lyrics, as well as going on a little too long and featuring a very obvious key change. Take My Breath Away is ultimately the weakest song on the Top Gun soundtrack but that says more about the strengths of that album rather than any particularly bad attributes of the song as it’s a pretty solid power ballad. Still, I wish it wasn’t the most successful song from that soundtrack.

  • The Final Countdown – Europe – 2 weeks, November 30th to December 13th

Unlike the United States hair metal never made that great an impact on the charts in Britain in the 80s. Whilst over the Atlantic bands like Bon Jovi, Poison and Def Leppard were able to top the charts with ease scarcely anybody in the subgenre could rise to the top in Britain. Really, The Final Countdown is the only time hair metal was able to rise to the top – but it was a hell of a track to choose.

That keyboard, man! Everybody knows this riff and it makes you want to blast off into space with its bombastic over the top nature – it’s truly an epic. The blast of the drum fill and the guitars entering in only make this song crazier, almost sounding like a song written by Jim Steinman – and believe me, that’s one hell of a compliment. Lead singer Joey Tempest blasts into the song with great gusto, making the lyrics, which seem as though they’re about departing from Earth and travelling to a new world, even more epic than before – it’s truly irresistible to sing along to, especially with the chants of the chorus. The guitar solo is also pretty glorious and it all leads to form a song that’s amazing on an insane magnitude. Hair metal may have scarcely landed atop the charts in Britain but the song that got chosen to represent the genre was an absolute delight and one of the best songs of the overflowing genre.

  • Caravan of Love – The Housemartins – 1 week, December 14th to December 20th

Clearly the Christmastime success of Only You by The Flying Picketts must have been inspiring to many British groups wanting to cash in on that juicy acapella success (well, one of them anyway); three years later we got this song by the usually instrumentally bound indie group The Housemartins, a cover of the number by the Isley Brothers. However it’s not nearly as good as the previously mentioned Only You and that’s mainly because of the work of lead singer Paul Heaton – his singing sounds like a drunk version of Morrissey, sounding like he’s been down on the communion wine just a little too much, which is a shame as the rest of the acapella singers sound pretty good in their backing vocals. The song also feels stretched out in spite of being only three and a half minutes and the lyrics are pretty weak, a problem with the original of course, being an annoying preaching sermon about the arrival of Jesus Christ. Many members of the band went on to do better things after their breakup in 1988 – Heaton and a few others went on to form The Beautiful South and Norman Cook became Fatboy Slim – but this song is far from their finest work.

  • Reet Petite (The Sweetest Girl in Town)Jackie Wilson – 4 weeks, December 21st to January 17th 1987

Never underestimate the use of a documentary and clay figurines. Nearly 30 years after the song’s original issue, and three years after the death of Jackie Wilson, Reet Petite finally made it to the top spot in Britain, setting a record of time between release of a song and the time it took to get to number 1, thanks to a Claymation video being used in the BBC 2 documentary Arena. Britain, you let old songs get to the top in strange manners sometimes (more on that later).

But I won’t complain about the odd way that Reet Petite reached the top because it’s a very strong rock and roll number. The brass section provides Reet Petite with an enjoyably upbeat feel which can put anybody who hears it into a dancing mood, accentuated by the drum and bass beat – the last chorus is best for this when the trumpets just blare in glory. Wilson is also a very strong vocalist – check out his work in the second verse for the greatest evidence of this. He injects a great amount of enthusiasm into the song, with the chorus in particular being wonderfully positive and fun. Ultimately this is a wonderful old number that may have gotten to the top spot in a strange manner but hey, it’s a fun song so why should we complain?

FINAL THOUGHTS – This was a decent year in number 1s – certainly a far sight better than 1985. This year had quite a few very strong numbers and it was a fair fight to decide what song was best – Pet Shop Boys, a-Ha, Madonna and Europe all put up classics to choose from and it was rather hard to choose – that’s a sign that a year’s doing something right. On the other hand there were quite a few contenders for worst of the year. Like 1984 though they mostly fell under the banner of generic and boring love ballads that were ultimately forgettable and inoffensive instead of being downright excruciating on the ears. That again is a small victory – the best kind. Whilst this won’t go down as one of the best years ever it still was a solid year that produced some really great numbers.

  • BEST SONG - The Sun Always Shines on T.V.
  • WORST SONG - I Want to Wake Up with You
Hope you had enjoyed this countdown greatly. 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: ( and maybe you can throw me a few pennies on Patreon if you really liked my stuff ( Join us on Father's Day where we'll be moving onto 1987!

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