Now with that done it's time to head down that crazy rabbit hole that is 1988... and wouldn't you know it, we're starting with a 1987 holdover...
- Heaven Is a Place on Earth – Belinda Carlisle – 2 weeks, January 10th to January 23rd
The first number one of the year is unashamedly cheesy, a glorious singalong AOR ballad sounding very much a song in the vein of Heart’s work in the 1980s. Former Go-Go Carlisle delivers the lyrics with great aplomb, helping to push this song into becoming quite anthemic in spite of its cheesiness – her absolutely belting of the chorus is the epitome of this as it makes the song a total ear worm even if the title makes little sense in the whole context of the song. The music is suitably bombastic with its grand keyboards and guitars, especially in the chorus, though the keyboard solo is very underwhelming for a song as over the top as this. The cheese only gets bigger with an obvious truck driver’s gear change but overall Heaven Is a Place on Earth is an endearing ballad with its over the top power, most of which comes from Carlisle herself.
- I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany – 3 weeks, January 24th to February 13th
The original incarnation of I Think We’re Alone Now by Tommy James and The Shondells was a fun and funky rock and roll song, which made up for its somewhat saccharine lyrics with a driven instrumental and a suitably vulnerable sounding performance from James. Those aspects are missing from the cover by teen pop star Tiffany, with the song being injected with a disco rhythm that makes it more generic sounding. A flat sounding bass and drum plod along to the occasionally dirgy keyboard chord, whilst the breakdown in the middle tries to inject some life but doesn’t do much to help. Tiffany’s clearly trying her hardest with the song and occasionally she does OK – see the section before the chorus for some proof of this. But it’s not good enough as the chorus becomes rather limp as a combination of her vocals and the weak instrumentation. These all make sure that the rather sappy lyrics get pushed to the forefront of the song and makes I Think We’re Alone Now a weak teen pop song.
- I Should Be So Lucky – Kylie Minogue – 5 weeks, February 14th to March 19th
Stock, Aitken and Waterman strike again, this time attempting to work their generic pop “magic” onto a certain Australian actress, best known for her work as Charlene on soap opera Neighbours. Kylie has demonstrated that she is a solid pop star with songs released after her time with SAW but this was a resoundingly weak start with a song that was extremely dated as soon as it was released. The keyboards sound whiny and flat whilst the drum machines are so horrendously 80s it’s embarrassing. Kylie’s vocals also hadn’t developed at this time as she sounds rather nasal in this number, especially evident when she tries for the higher notes. Add to the fact that this is another generic silly love song and you have a clear indication of how terrible SAW were for the music scene in the late 80s with their thuddingly generic pop songs. At least we’d see Kylie do much better things in the future.
- Don’t Turn Around – Aswad – 2 weeks, March 20th to April 2nd
A British reggae group covering a song that was originally written by Diane Warren and Albert Hammond, the duo behind Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now? This can’t end well.
This is a very generic break up ballad of a song, which attempts to become more notable as a result of its reggae instrumentation. However, the music is thuddingly dull as well with boring keyboard lines and plodding reggae drum machines, with some synthesised violins thrown in for an obvious attempt to be exciting. Singer Angus Gaye isn’t too bad of a singer but he can only do so much with the very weak lyrics which never stray far away from the typical break up ballad song. This all adds up to a ridiculously boring song that you’ll forget as soon as you’ve heard it.
- Heart – Pet Shop Boys – 3 weeks, April 3rd to April 23rd
Pop music in crisis? Call on the Pet Shop Boys to come to the rescue. Heart begins with a sinister keyboard and guitar riff only made darker with the distorted vocals, synthesised choirs and howls from a wolf. Whilst the lyrics of the song may seem like a standard generic love song they take on a much more worrying tone with the combination of the gloomy instrumentation and Neil Tennant’s vocals; he sounds desperate with being so deeply in love with this woman and makes it seem like he’s actually suffering whenever he’s forced to see her, wondering whether she’ll return his affections or will leave him continuing in this almost pained state. This shows how strong instrumentation and vocals can really transform what might have been a generic love song in another person’s hands into something much more interesting and quite sinister.
- Theme from S-Express – S-Express – 2 weeks, April 24th to May 7th
Coming into this whole crazy countdown I didn’t think I’d gain such an appreciation for house music, but this song amongst a few others really began to change my mind on the subject. Relying on a funky groove, S-Express works very well as a dance number with its long line of samples – it samples from artists including Debbie Harry and Rose Royce amongst many others and they generally flow together very well – there are a few exceptions, such as the strange mechanical laugh found at the very end of the song, but as a whole the use of samples are very well done. Individual sections such as the trumpets and the police sirens all make the song much more enjoyable, as does the hook of “I’ve got the hots for you”. These all serve to make Theme from S-Express a strong upbeat dance song and another important number alongside Pump Up the Volume in the genre of acid house music. Didn’t think I’d have that much knowledge on that topic but life’s odd like that.
- Perfect – Fairground Attraction – 1 week, May 8th to May 14th
I’ll confess, I knew of this song for the longest time from its constant playing on the radio but I never had any idea who performed it. This new found knowledge doesn’t really add to my enjoyment of it as Perfect is really just a not particularly great love song. A lot of the issues comes from the annoying vocals from lead singer Eddi Reader, who sounds like she’s bellowing the lyrics right into your ear. This is most notable with the chorus which becomes a bit of an annoying ear worm thanks to her shouting and the twee singalong nature of it. The last chorus in particular is annoying because of how shrill she gets in the climax. Musically the song’s decent, with a guitar solo that manages to inject some excitement into the rest of the song, which doesn’t stand out with its generic love song lyrics. Ultimately this song really isn’t wo-or-or-or-or-orth it.
- With a Little Help from My Friends/She’s Leaving Home – Wet Wet Wet/Billy Bragg and Cara Tivey – 4 weeks, May 15th to June 11th
Another day in the 1980s, another charity single being released and getting to number 1. This time the single was part of a much bigger project, an entire cover album of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band used to raise money for Childline. This led to a rare and interesting phenomenon – a single release featuring two very different artists. But that’s the most interesting thing about the single as both songs are extremely weak.
With a Little Help from My Friends is one of the standout songs from Sgt. Pepper’s; though it may have been resigned to history a bit by the Joe Cocker cover, the original is still a wonderfully uplifting tune with Ringo Starr earnestly selling the lyrics about confidence with friends around him. All that earnestness is gone with this cover by Wet Wet Wet; it’s ironic that the first line is “What would you do if I sang out of tune?” as lead singer Marti Pellow sounds very out of tune throughout as he mangles the melody of the song. Worst of all is the last verse where he tries to go big with the vocals but falls amazingly flat due to his weak voice. The music meanwhile sounds more twee and flat then the original number, making it a more far outdated affair. I wouldn’t blame you for standing up and walking out on this song.
She’s Leaving Home on the other hand is a song I’m not too big a fan of – it’s twee and sappy, with Paul’s vocals sounding too melodramatic to make you feel for the content of the song of a girl, well, leaving home. But it’s a better effort than the cover by Billy Bragg. Bragg’s voice is probably an acquired taste but I think it’s an absolute annoyance on this song in particular. His deep cockney accent sounds completely farcical and he sounds stupidly bored all through it – even though the lyrics are meant to be quite sad and emotional he sounds so tired of the content, knowing he’s only doing it for a shitty charity single. Meanwhile, the music is monotonous and repetitive with its endless piano and backup singer Cara Tivey sounds more into the song but still isn’t great. These two songs both combine to make a terrible tribute to the Fab Four, and if it weren’t for the fact that it was for charity I would call this absolutely worthless. Even then…
- Doctorin’ the Tardis – The Timelords – 1 week, June 12th to June 18th
Sci-fi records probably make any sane man tremble with fear, especially after the debacle of last year’s Star Trekkin’. The Doctor also has had his run in with the awful novelty song with the shambles of Doctor in Distress, so coming across Doctorin’ the Tardis may be a scary prospect. But that’s where you’d be so pleasantly surprised. Behind the masquerade of The Timelords you’ll find a certain little band named The KLF, perhaps the first troll band in the world. Intended to be written for the sheer purpose of becoming a number one single, this song works really well as a strong dance song. It helps with this song that they're not foisting shitty “comedic” lyrics all on it – the chants of “Doctor Whoooooo” in the chorus are really the only lyrics in this song. Instead it’s a song that relies upon samples to get the job done – the song samples Rock and Roll Part 2 by Gary Glitter, Blockbuster by Sweet and the Doctor Who theme, with the addition of some Daleks samples, and they all blend together to make a great dance song. Though sci-fi records may not be an overwhelmingly good subgenre in music, at least we have Doctorin’ the Tardis to carry the flag for it.
- I Owe You Nothing – Bros – 2 weeks, June 19th to July 2nd
Right away this song is an annoying dated bit of 80s fluff – you can tell that right away from the dated sounded instrumental, including the dreadful keyboards which make themselves most pronounced with the terrible chord blasts in the chorus, that this is going to be a slog through generically shit 80s pop. And it only gets worse thanks to the entrance the vocals of Matt Goss – he sounds oddly feminine but that’s the least of his problems. He’s overenthusiastic and strains all the way through, grunting a lot in the verses and delivering a very silly “oo-er” in the chorus. These all drag down a song that was already an annoying piece of 80s fluff to downright terrible because of how dreadful the vocals are. It plods on and on too, leaving you with a song that you’ll hate the moment it begins.
- Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You – Glenn Medeiros – 4 weeks, July 3rd to July 30th
Fear not, the sappy ballads we know and don’t love haven’t gone away entirely from the charts as a result of all the new SAW pop songs dominating the scene. From the tinkly keyboards and lame saxophone solo right at the beginning you know this is going to be a bore and Medeiros confirms it as soon as he enters. He simpers all the way through the generic love song lyrics and sounds far too wimpy to sell anything, even when he’s stretching for the most intense parts of the song. Add to that a wimpy and predictable truck driver’s gear change and a lame guitar solo and you have a candidate for one of the sappiest and dullest songs of the year.
- The Only Way Is Up – Yazz and the Plastic Population – 5 weeks, July 31st to September 3rd
I live in Essex, round about Colchester way, so I’ve been saddled by the presence of reality TV show The Only Way Is Essex for the best part of about seven years. Perhaps the most embarrassing thing to be ever associated with the county, that show used this song as its theme song, probably much to the dismay of many. Not me – I never liked this song. It’s a song that plods along with an annoyingly squelchy synth line that really grinds on the nerves very quickly. What really kills this song however are the vocals from Yazz – whilst her work in the verses aren’t too bad, her singing in the chorus is absolutely nightmarish. She sounds like some sort of a demon as she bellows the title of the song in a ridiculous voice that almost sounds like Miss Piggy. Lyrically it’s an OK song and I can see why it got so popular – it’s upbeat and energetic with lyrics that are greatly uplifiting and fun for many people. But Yazz herself just kills this song for me – as such, I don’t care that this song was dredged up for a shit reality show because it was already bad.
- A Groovy Kind of Love – Phil Collins – 2 weeks, September 4th to September 17th
Phil Collins, we meet again. I’ve tackled two of his previous forays into songs that tried to be upbeat, now it’s time to get into one of his nauseatingly sappy ballads. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s from a film as well – Buster, a vehicle for Collins where he played the titular character who was a part of the Great Train Robbery of 1963. I haven’t seen Buster so my only exposure to it is the two big hits from the soundtrack – Two Hearts and A Groovy Kind of Love. The latter was the bigger success, a cover of a song by The Mindbenders, and it’s a really saccharine ballad as expected by Collins. From the slow piano opening this song radiates sugar and Collins delivers the song in that appropriate manner with his simpering voice, making the weak willed silly love song lyrics that much more annoying to listen through. This song also drags on to a ridiculous degree – despite only being three and a half minutes you get the feeling that the song’s getting long in the tooth at around about the two minute mark, which is made worse by the truck driver’s gear change and the rest of the song just plodding along for the remaining runtime with absolutely nothing interesting happening. This continues to show why Collins was such a joke in the 1980s with his formulaic and bland songs, whether it be with the upbeat songs or the ballads.
- He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – The Hollies – 2 weeks, September 18th to October 1st
When wandering through all of these number ones from the 1980s with my housemate we stumbled across this song, wondering how it got to number one in 1988. I joked that, Britain being Britain, it got to the top by being used in a crisps advert. Turns out I was half right – it reached number one by being featured in an advert for Miller Lite beer. This is a greatly typical manner of getting older pop songs to number one in Britain and just shows how greatly we seemed to be influenced by adverts – guess Miller Lite’s a good beer, I don’t know, I’ve never drunk it. As for the song, it’s another one where there’s not too much to say – it’s a solid song with good vocal performances from The Hollies and a solid harmonica solo, though it does go on a little too long. Just like Stand by Me, the method to the madness of this number one is far more interesting to talk about.
- Desire – U2 – 1 week, October 2nd to October 8th
Better late than never, U2 reached the summit of the UK Charts at last with this standout track from their pompous concert documentary Rattle and Hum. The moment the upbeat guitar riff kicks off you’ll shake off any associations from that movie as Desire is an absolute blast of a song. Bono tears into the song with great gusto and you can tell he’s having fun, which makes the already musically upbeat song that much more enjoyable to listen to. In particular he soars on the third verse, where he goes from low and quiet to higher pitched and ferocious with great aplomb and it doesn’t feel like a forced change at all. This is one of his finest performances on a U2 song. The harmonica solo at the end, as well as that awesome bass only section by Adam Clayton adds up to make a song that truly breaks out from the strains of the bloated documentary that it was a part of.
- One Moment in Time – Whitney Houston – 2 weeks, October 9th to October 22nd
Right away One Moment in Time hits you with the twinkling synthesisers and saccharine synthesised string instruments, all to a slow melody. This leads to many a prediction of this song – it’s going to be a sappy ballad that Whitney will oversing and will also feature a corny truck driver’s gear change. Right away you’ll notice that this song is basically a rip-off of My Way with the melody sounding so horribly alike that you’ll be surprised that Paul Anka didn’t sue. Whitney tries her hardest on this song – almost too hard, as there are many very corny moments with her vocals, especially on the chorus where she stretches her voice to the nth degree to reach those high notes. You can practically hear her voice cracking trying to get to that point. The lyrics meanwhile are ridiculously cheesy. This makes some sense given that they were written for the Seoul Olympic Games, which lead to lyrics that try to shoehorn in the Olympic theme (“now I’m racing with destiny”) that feel greatly forced and are just clichéd. And, as is common of Ms. Houston, the truck driver’s gear change is right on cue and in the most clichéd way; she bellows as the key changes and the song swells up to its highest (read: sappiest) point with the orchestra all around the song. Ultimately this is a predictable Whitney Houston ballad that perhaps is only remembered for its ties to the Olympics.
- Orinoco Flow – Enya – 3 weeks, October 23rd to November 12th
Enya and a number one single in the UK – not two things you’d likely see together, is it? This may be one of the few, if not the only, New Age track to reach the top spot in the UK. Orinoco Flow manages to work somewhat because of the presence of Enya, a strong atmospheric singer who has an almost understated power in her voice. Here she’s able to deliver a great performance and is able to give Orinoco Flow a deeply layered feeling to it with the backing vocals fitting over each other in a soothing and yet slightly haunting manner. The lyrics and the music aren’t nothing to truly write home about – the music’s slightly repetitive and the lyrics aren’t amazing either (the repetition of “Sail away” does get overdone) – but Orinoco Flow really manages to be a good song thanks to Enya’s voice and the strong production with the vocal effects, which manage to give this song a dark sense to it in spite of its bright lyrics.
- First Time – Robin Beck – 3 weeks, November 13th to December 3rd
Never underestimate the power of advertising – that seems to be a reoccurring theme of this retrospective. We see this for the second time this year with First Time, a song that likely would have got buried under the swarm of other AOR rock ballads coming out in the late 1980s if it hadn’t been for its presence in an advert for Coca-Cola. That association with the advert is really all that can propel First Time as it’s ultimately a very generic 80s love song ballad, almost like a song that was rejected by Heart around about this time. Beck does OK in places but manages to strain herself vocal wise in the chorus and bridge in particular. This leads to a song that really doesn’t have a whole lot going for it – it’s a weak love ballad that felt like it was written by committee (plot twist: it was!) and wouldn’t have any traction if it weren’t used for such a major product.
- Mistletoe and Wine – Cliff Richard – 4 weeks, December 4th to December 31st, biggest selling single of the year
Remember how I mentioned in my review of Living Doll that it takes a lot to make Cliff Richard sound interesting? Like being involved with TV comedy characters? Yeah, when he doesn’t have something like this you get a song as nauseating as Mistletoe and Wine.
Right away you know that this is going to be a glurge fest – the presence of a tinkly music box that plays the main melody may be the most syrupy thing on a UK number one since There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma. Not even 5 seconds in and I needed an insulin shot from this song. And it only gets worse as Mistletoe and Wine is one of the sappiest songs of all time, not just Christmas songs. The lyrics are generically shit “LOOK AT HOW MAGICAL CHRISTMAS IS” stuff, with references to Santa, Christian rhyme and trees that are trying to get right up into your face all about Christmas to the point where you’ll want to celebrate Kwanza instead. Richard’s lilty voice doesn’t help as he only serves to make the song more syrupy with his lacklustre tones. Those all pale in comparison to ridiculously over the top music – it’s overloaded with sleigh balls, orchestras, choirs (including one very annoying choirboy right in the third chorus and delivering a solo at the end – accompanied by a reprise of the music box melody for extra sugar), warbling and a horrible earworm of a melody. Worse still, the song goes on for an age, repeating the chorus ad nauseum with the ludicrous musical accompaniments to make sure that this is a song that’ll never leave your head during the festive season. The fact that there isn’t a truck driver’s gear change is honestly flabbergasting. This all adds up to a song that’s as sickly sweet as a poorly made Christmas cake and will turn even the most dedicated of Christmas lovers into the Grinch in an instance.
FINAL THOUGHTS – This is the point where a dark age of the UK charts began, which would go on for a few years after this. There were a lot of songs that were just bad, predictably written, boring or absolutely annoying. Sappy ballads and uninspired dance pop songs dominated the charts and whilst there was a bit less Stock, Aitken and Waterman this year than I expected (they’ll spread their influence more, don’t you worry) these number ones nearly always fell into their vein of generic pop. Once again there were a few highlights but they weren’t as good as the best songs of previous years, leading to 1988 being very hard to sit and listen through. And things wouldn’t recover for a while, the dark age has only just begun. But that’s for another time…
- BEST SONG - Desire
- WORST SONG - Mistletoe and Wine
Hope you enjoyed reading this countdown; I apologise for this and the next couple of entries being very negative in tone - you've gotta work with the material you got sometimes. Anyhow, usual drill. If you want to see more from me, give my Facebook page a like: (https://www.facebook.com/CineCynic1996/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel) and if you really enjoy my work both in reviews and countdowns you can buy me supper thanks to Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/CineCynic1996). The next chapter, 1989 and the conclusion of the 1980s, likely won't come along for a little bit of time (perhaps July 8th/9th, round about then) mainly thanks to my intention to watch and review a bunch of new films that come out in the next couple of weeks. But who knows - fate may give me an opening to push 1989 in a week early. Either way I encourage you to stay tuned, I'll be doing plenty of content still on this blog. See you next time!