Now that's done, let's head on out to 1987...
- Jack Your Body – Steve “Silk” Hurley – 2 weeks, January 18th to January 31st
I can’t say I’m overly familiar with Chicago House music. I don’t really know much about House music in general and coming from Illinois does not make me any more knowledgeable on the subject. Even looking at a list of “artists in the subgenre” on Wikipedia left me with a stone eyed and confused face. So I wasn’t expecting much from Jack Your Body, but I went out of the song finding it to be a pretty fun dance song. It’s simple in its composition – it relies on the obvious keyboard riff repeated over and over, as well as the repetition of the title to create a danceable hook. The vocals in particular are rather amusing with their loud shrieks and grunts, as well as the shouts of “Jack it up there!” at the end, but it ends up being more endearing than irritating. As a dance song, this isn’t too bad a number.
- I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) – Aretha Franklin and George Michael – 2 weeks, February 1st to February 14th
Once again we come to another instance of the strange phenomenon of an artist’s biggest hit in the UK not being their most well-known – this was the only song by Aretha Franklin to get to number 1. Arguably much of this song’s success was thanks to George Michael, just about to start off fully on his solo career. I Knew seems like an attempt to give him more credibility by dueting with a pop legend but it ends up being a very cheesy song very quickly. Franklin is as strong as ever with her soulful vocals, belting the lyrics out with gusto, and Michael isn’t too bad of a duet partner. But the whole song feels like a generic gospel song, with lyrics about deep rivers, high mountains, low valleys and all that jazz – only God seems to be missing in absent to make this full package. The music’s upbeat if a little dated but this ultimately is only a decent song at best in spite of the presence of Aretha Franklin.
- Stand by Me – Ben E. King – 3 weeks, February 15th to March 7th
With Stand by Me finally reaching the top 26 years after its original release we begin to see a brand new trend on the British pop charts emerge. No, it’s not the trend of a movie or TV series making the song rise up in popularity – or at least not explicitly. Yes, Stand by Me the film was a pretty big success in the US when it came out in August of 1986 and it helped the song to rise up to number 9 on the Billboard charts. But the film didn’t get released in the UK until the middle of March and the song managed to get to the top spot in the middle of February. So what’s the cause of this song’s resurgence? Two words: Levi’s Jeans.
It’s insane to think that one company could hold so much power over the music charts as a result of their products but that was the case with Levi’s for a good fifteen years or so. The first seeds of this phenomenon could be seen in 1986 where I Heard It Through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye made it to number 8. But it really broke through with Stand by Me, and a subsequent smattering of songs would reach the top spot through their use in Levi’s adverts, both old and new.
As for the song itself? Yeah, it’s pretty good. King has a soulful voice and the instrumentation is pretty solid throughout with the violins in particular standing out to give the song a more emotional edge. But it pales in significance to the manner in which it managed to get to the top spot and seems to demonstrate a somewhat sad fact of life – we’ll only enjoy classic songs if they get used in some form of media. Otherwise we get stuck with the pap.
- Everything I Own – Boy George – 2 weeks, March 8th to March 21st
Boy George’s first solo single since leaving Culture Club isn’t exactly stepping too far out of his comfort zone. A cover of the song by Bread, Everything I Own treads down the same reggae path established from a cover by Ken Boothe, which in turn isn’t too dissimilar to the style that Culture Club treaded down with Do You Really Want to Hurt Me. George’s vocals on this song however are rather shaky, especially on the chorus, giving this love song a rather insincere feel to it. Furthermore when he attempts to go for the higher notes he sounds particularly strained, especially in the bridge following the second verse – guess the heroin got to you hard, Georgy boy. Musically too the song is rather weak minded, plodding along without much of interest, and it leads to a song that’s far less interesting than the current tabloid breakdowns of the singer in question.
- Respectable – Mel and Kim – 1 week, March 22nd to March 28th
Welcome to a brand new era of British pop music – the era of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. An era where the cheese was turned up to WAY beyond eleven, where the formulaic nature of the songs were signposted to you from space. It’s understandable why so many of their songs became such big hits which Respectable demonstrates. The song is upbeat and has a fine danceable beat to it, with certain club elements to it (the stuttering “take” before the chorus stands out). Both Mel and Kim have fairly big personalities and decent voices that manage to make the song a little better in quality. These add up to make a song that’s not particularly brilliant and in places can be rather annoying, but it’s a formula that appeals to some people and it’s easy to see why so many of their songs became such great successes.
- Let It Be – Ferry Aid – 3 weeks, March 29th to April 18th
Let It Be was never really my favourite song by The Beatles. It was a little bit too over sentimental and sugary for my liking. So naturally, given my luck, it was the first song to come to the mind of Stock, Aitken and Waterman to record a charity version of following the sinking of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise ferry. With SAW on board this was bound to become a far more dated version of Let It Be and Ferry Aid makes it so right away with the instrumentation being mired down with the sound of plodding drum machines and plonking keyboards. None of the vocals do a particularly bad job but none of them are really inspiring and the day is only saved by pretty good guitar solos by Mark Knopfler and Gary Moore. Worst of all however is the fact that Let It Be indulges in the very worst feature of 80s charity singles – its utter refusal to END. It goes on for six minutes, two minutes longer than the original, and the additions consist pretty much solely of endless choral chants of the chorus. This is another sign of how badly charity singles in the 1980s end up getting dated and it has absolutely nothing of interest to it, good or bad.
- La Isla Bonita – Madonna – 2 weeks, April 19th to May 2nd
Madonna’s next venture in her long pop career was to infiltrate the world of Latin pop, which was achieved by La Isla Bonita. She sings much of this song in a faux-Spanish accent and whilst that could be an obnoxious misstep it works rather well for this song as she delivers the lyrics with a good energy, though the bridge where she reverts back to sounding more like her normal voice is perhaps the best part of her work on this song. The music’s generally lively with its reliance on Cuban sounding instrumentation with the drums, maracas and Spanish guitar, though there are times where the song seems a little more downbeat than it was probably intended. Nonetheless, La Isla Bonita is one of the highlights of the True Blue album and demonstrated how Madonna was able to work well in different varieties of pop.
- Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now – Starship – 4 weeks, May 3rd to May 30th
Remember when there was some dignity to the members of Starship? Jefferson Airplane was formerly a well-respected band who did trippy late 60s classics like Somebody to Love and White Rabbit and even their work in Jefferson Starship wasn’t too bad. But after founding member Paul Kantner left the group, Jefferson had to be dropped, especially due to the new musical direction in which the group was heading into – terrible pop music. Recording absolute dreck like We Built This City, there was little to indicate that Starship were the remnants of a previously exciting psychedelic band.
Their downfall into utterly dreadful pop was cemented by Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, written by my mortal enemy in pop music, Diane Warren. Ms. Warren is an absolutely dire songwriter, creating some of the worst formulaic pop songs that usually fall down the path of being diabetes laden power ballads. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now is one of the most shining examples of this, being very sugary in its delivery with an annoyingly inane keyboard riff and a ploddingly slow beat. Neither vocalist does well at all; Mickey Thomas sounds bored with what he’s singing (don’t blame him) and Grace Slick is an utter chore on your eardrums, yowling and shrieking through most of the verses and chorus. This all comes before the utterly predictable key change (which we’ll have a term for a moment, hold your horses), weaksauce guitar solo and endless repetitions of the annoying chorus. The only thing that this song sort of has going for it is that it’s more of a popular song than the film it came from, romantic comedy Mannequin. That’s the only thing of a good note from this song though, one of the absolute worst power ballads of the 1980s and a reminder that Diane Warren is a plague upon music. Stock, Aitken and Waterman look like Jim Steinman compared to her.
- I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) – Whitney Houston – 2 weeks, May 31st to June 13th
Time we described the name for that key change that I mentioned last song – the truck driver’s gear change. Named by a sadly now defunct site named Gearchange.com, dedicated to listing some of the biggest offenders in music, the truck driver’s gear change was so named because of the key changes that were compared to a truck driver performing a mechanical function. One of the absolute queens of this trope was Whitney Houston and we can see it in full force with I Wanna Dance with Somebody. Right at the end, the key changes with such loudness that it’s ridiculous as Whitney forces her voice to her fullest at this part. It’s not the worst of these gear changes, and not the worst by Whitney herself (we shall return to that later), but it’s really not too necessary and feels rather forced in, almost like it was a part of Whitney’s songs that needed to be crowbarred in.
But excluding that, the rest of I Wanna Dance with Somebody is a fantastic number. It’s much more of a dance oriented number and it works brilliantly. The keyboard line is pounding throughout the verse and becomes gloriously uplifting in the chorus, which makes it utterly irresistible to dance along to. Speaking of irresistible we have Whitney, who delivers a gloriously powerful performance, especially in the chorus where she gives it all she’s got and it doesn’t sound forced at all. Really it’s that absolutely needless truck driver’s gear change that keeps the song down from real excellence as it just feels stupidly clichéd and absolutely superfluous. However, I Wanna Dance with Somebody is still a strong song even with it and shows how great a vocalist Whitney Houston was.
- Star Trekkin’ – The Firm – 2 weeks, June 14th to June 27th
Britain, what the fuck were you thinking?
Star Trek was making its way back into popularity in the 1980s thanks to the string of successful movies that were being released. Naturally with big popularity there is bound to be somebody who tries to cash in and makes you want the phenomenon to go away. Such is the case of Star Trekkin’; as much as I love Star Trek this song is absolutely abysmal. The vocals are some of the most annoying to ever reach number 1 in the UK – the vocals in the chorus alternate between obnoxiously deep and horrendously squeaky, both of which make you want to claw your eardrums out with a toothpick. But that’s nothing compared to the verses which feature annoying warped voices for the aliens, as well as terrible voices for most of the USS Enterprise. The nadir of this is “Uhura’s” voice which is horrendously nasal, sounding like Lois Griffin as she barks “THERE’S KLINGONS ON THE STARBOARD BOUND” over and over. To add insult to injury the main melody sounds like a particularly banal nursery rhyme with the same lines being repeated over and over ad nauseum in a horrendous sing-song manner, which all add to the song becoming a monster of an ear worm that will never leave your thoughts much to your eternal displeasure. The song’s speeding up at the end is also stupid and annoying, leading to a conclusion of what sounds like demonic chipmunks bellowing the chorus one last time at you, leaving you in more absolute pain as you end.
Star Trekkin’ is a song about Star Trek that’s aimed squarely at people who don’t like Star Trek. It’s aimed at the kind of people who claim to be nerds but only have a knowledge of nerdy things through The Big Bang Theory. It’s a song that makes the dreadful Doctor Who charity single Doctor in Distress sound like Space Oddity. It’s likely one of the reasons why Star Trek gets mocked so much. It’s a song that would make the happiest of men into a complete Vulcan from how dreadful it is. And yet it lived long and prospered on the UK charts. Beam this one off, Scotty.
- It’s a Sin – Pet Shop Boys – 3 weeks, June 28th to July 18th
The complete antithesis to the last piece of absolute dreck is this gem of a number by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Their second album Actually was a real step up from their already good first record Please and leadoff single It’s a Sin demonstrated their skills once again. It’s a mixture of a strong pop song and an even more artistic sounding statement; the whole number has a very haunting feeling to it with its keyboards and synthesised orchestral arrangements, giving the song a much darker feel than West End Girls. Tennant meanwhile sounds much more contemplative in his singing as he soars all throughout the song, belting out the lyrics with fine passion. Those lyrics are also wonderfully sardonic as is to be expected from the Pet Shop Boys, discussing the Roman Catholic upbringing of Tennant and how almost everything he did was seen as being sinful in some kind of way. This overall leads to a song that can be best described as thinking man’s dance music, a spooky and effective number that challenges themes such as religion and yet never gets bogged down by these themes.
- Who’s That Girl – Madonna – 1 week, July 19th to July 25th
Madonna’s steps into the world of cinema have been notoriously poorly received, being nominated for 9 Golden Raspberry Awards and winning 7; you only need to look into career “highlights” such as Body of Evidence, Shanghai Surprise, Swept Away and, yes, Who’s That Girl, to show that Ms. Ciccone works better on the record then on the big screen. That becomes even more evidenced by Who’s That Girl’s title track, which is a genuinely very good song. Like La Isla Bonita Madonna dips once again into Latin pop, with the chorus in particular standing out due to the Spanish lyrics that are included. They’re a little cheesy but do work well thanks to Madonna’s delivery. The music’s pretty solid for the most part if not the most exciting of her career, with the appearance of horns following the second and third choruses being the most notable. This all leads to a song that’s far better than the movie that it was inspired from, even if it does drag around a bit at the end with more needless repetitions of the chorus.
- La Bamba – Los Lobos – 2 weeks, July 26th to August 8th
The classic Mexican folk song La Bamba has been handed down a lot over the years, with the most notable version being performed by Chicano rock and roll singer Ritchie Valens, who was one of the casualties in the infamous plane crash leading to The Day the Music Died. With a Valens biopic of the same name coming out in 1987 it only seemed natural for La Bamba to make a return in popularity and it fell down to Californian band Los Lobos to record a cover for the soundtrack. It’s a pretty solid cover, with the music being enjoyably upbeat and fun to twist and groove to (which reminds me, doesn’t this sound just a little bit similar in melody to Twist and Shout? Great artists steal indeed, The Top Notes) and lead singer David Hidalgo does a strong job of imitating the similar style to Valens, being greatly enthusiastic in the lyrics he’s belting out. The addition of an accordion in the third verse is a pleasant surprise and the ending instrumental lead by a Spanish guitar is fantastic, evidence of the skills of Hidalgo. This is certainly a cover that would make Valens proud.
- I Just Can’t Stop Loving You – Michael Jackson and Siedah Garrett – 2 weeks, August 9th to August 22nd
Oh, UK, why do you choose the songs so incorrectly when it comes to Michael Jackson? The Bad LP had many a classic on it, including the utterly badass title track, the hard rock laced Dirty Diana and the pounding Smooth Criminal, yet the only single from Bad to reach the top spot in the UK was this absolutely weedy leading single, a romantic ballad with professional duet machine Siedah Garrett. The fact that this is a ballad is always bad news for me given my hatred of Jacko’s slower songs (for reference, I absolutely despise Man in the Mirror – come at me, fanboys!) and this song is no exception to how sappy he was in the ballads. It starts off well enough with a strong instrumental section that sounds not too dissimilar to Take the Long Way Home by Supertramp but once Jackson enters things go downhill. His voice is at its shakiest and weakest, trying to portray himself as vulnerable but coming off as absolutely annoying. Garrett meanwhile is an absolute non-presence, being such a bland duet partner that sounds no different to the many female R&B singers that walked before her. Dragging down the song further are the lyrics, which are the same nauseatingly lovey dovey kind of pap that formed many of the biggest romantic songs of the era (looking right your way, I Just Called to Say I Love You!), and a very predictable and worn truck driver’s gear change – because of course this song has one. This song is absolutely not a testament to the abilities of Jackson and if I was around in 1987 I would not be hyped up for Bad if this was the lead-off single. Thankfully, it did get better.
- Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley – 5 weeks, August 23rd to September 26th, biggest selling single of the year
There are times when I wish the internet didn’t exist (until I realise that the internet is how I can get my writings to a wide audience). Rabid clickbait sites propped up by hack journalists, porn for everything imaginable, Tumblr; these things found online can make you despair for humanity. And video memes can make you despair too, especially with when you see what songs get chosen to become memes. Such is the case with the Rickrolling meme, where video links with exciting titles turned out to only send you to the music video of Never Gonna Give You Up. It’s a phenomenon that’s not only mind-bogglingly annoying but makes you wonder – what was so deserving of the song Never Gonna Give You Up that it was worthy of being used in this way?
I imagine that irony was the aim of these memes as Never Gonna Give You Up is a rather boring and inane song. Astley’s vocals are ridiculously over the top, sounding like he’s drunk throughout much of it, with the verses standing out in that respect. The rest of the song itself is incredibly flat and often comes across as lifeless in contrast to Astley’s vocals – not too hard to see given it came from Stock, Aitken and Waterman. The synths plod along with an annoyingly twee keyboard tone and the drum machines are dull and uninspired. Despite the songs flat quality it’s still a monster of an earworm, with the chorus being guaranteed to be wedged into your head all day. As such I can only imagine that this song wasn’t turned into a meme because of its epic sweeping musical quality – rather it was chosen for laughs because it was a bit shit.
- Pump Up the Volume – MARRS – 2 weeks, September 27th to October 10th
Unlike many so-called one hit wonders, who usually have recorded a number of other songs and maybe had a few charting hits, MARRS actually foots the bill of being a one hit wonder to the tee – Pump Up the Volume was the only single they ever released. It’s a significant milestone of a song for that was the only single for a band though, as it really helped to develop the house genre and the idea of sampling in music. Primarily sampling I Know You’ve Got Soul by Eric B. & Rakim, Pump Up the Volume is a very strong dance number, relying upon its titular chant that works very effectively as a memorable ear worm. The beat is very groovy with its pulsating keyboard line and its mix of elements including drum beats and the song samples, which range from samples of songs by James Brown, Public Enemy and Kool and the Gang to clips from movie trailers such as Mars Needs Women. Not all of the samples really work but the whole is still great and Pump Up the Volume is a really great song to dance along to.
- You Win Again – Bee Gees – 4 weeks, October 11th to November 7th
Though they had been making a good living writing songs for other artists during the 1980s the Bee Gees themselves had never reached the same incredible heights that they soared to in the disco era of the 70s. The tide of their fortune started to roll back again at the end of the decade though; You Win Again proved to be easily their biggest hit since Tragedy, striking the top spot in at least six different countries. As a song You Win Again is quite a bit different from the avant garde pop of the sixties and early seventies and the disco music of the mid to late seventies that the Bee Gees produced. It has a more funk drive to it, with pounding drum machines, though the keyboards have a traditional Bee Gees sound to them. Barry sings in a lower register than his usual falsetto and it works with the darker content of the song – bad relationships appear to be the overriding theme. This all adds up to the strongest Bee Gees song from after the 70s and though it lasts a little long and has a weak key change it’s still a strong number from the Brothers Gibb.
- China in Your Hand – T’Pau – 5 weeks, November 8th to December 12th
Power ballads were a massive deal in the 1980s and this is one of the most notable in the UK. It follows along a similar route to the power ballads of bands such as Heart (think Alone as an example). The piano thunders in the opening, making you realise that this song’s going to be a blast of energy, which is only accentuated by the arrival of the vocals by Carol Decker. They’re bombastic and melodic at the same time, which can be most notably seen in the chorus where she pulls out all the stops and gives the song all she’s got. The music of the chorus is clichéd stuff, with the drums crashing in and everything getting louder, similar again to Heart’s Alone. The cheesiest moment of all comes when the song fades out, seeming as though it’s about to go for a truck driver’s gear change, before coming in with a loud sax solo, which is pretty strong in spite of the way it’s framed. China in Your Hand is still an endearing power ballad though in spite of all the cheese it drips both musically and lyrically.
- Always on My Mind – Pet Shop Boys – 4 weeks, December 13th to January 9th
Always on My Mind has become somewhat of a staple of popular music since its release, to the point where you’ll be hard pressed to find somebody who knows that it was Gwen McCrae who recorded it first. Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson both helped to push the song into popular consciousness but the Pet Shop Boys really served to make it their own. Blending their usual strong synthpop melodies works well as it makes a bombastic and gloriously enjoyably version of the song, which is only made better by the presence of Neil Tennant’s vocals. His vocals work wonderfully with the gloomy and bittersweet lyrics of the song, giving Always on My Mind a sardonic edge that works with the darker nature that the song holds. As such this may be the definitive version of a song that’s had many a cover over the year and continues to show the glorious work of the Pet Shop Boys.
FINAL THOUGHTS – 1987 was truly a year of two halves. The first half was one of the driest and least enjoyable spans on the music charts I’ve seen, with songs that for the most part were boring or just plain bad. Though Madonna and Whitney Houston managed to have strong songs in that time, it couldn’t save a period of a year that was so uninspired and culminated with one of the absolute worst songs to ever hit the UK top spot in the form of Star Trekkin’. But after that lowest of lows things could only get better and they did so in pretty solid style. There were a few weak ones during this time (I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, Never Gonna Give You Up) but there were still plenty of excellent number ones from artists such as Los Lobos, MARRS and especially Pet Shop Boys to redeem things a bit. Overall, though this year started in a really rough way it certainly got better as it went along.
- BEST SONG - It's a Sin
- WORST SONG - Star Trekkin'
Once again I hope you enjoyed this summary of this year. What songs did you love and loathe from this year? (If Star Trekkin' was in your love category, then I just don't know what to say about you). 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). Join us next week (either Thursday or Sunday, depending on my film reviews coming up) where we shall be looking at 1988.