Now we move swiftly along to the final year of the 1980s, 1989, and we must ask the question; will the dark age end?
SPOILER ALERT: No, it does not.
- Especially for You – Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – 3 weeks, January 1st to January 21st
Remember when last year I mentioned that there was a bit less Stock, Aitken and Waterman than I expected? Yeah, that’s not the case this year – of the eighteen songs that topped the charts, seven involved the trio. That’s over a third of the songs this year being infected by their generic and formulaic brand of pop. This is arguably the most famous of the year’s songs, a duet between Kylie and her fellow Neighbours actor Jason Donovan – as if taking actors from a soap opera and giving them record contracts is a good idea! Right away the song is on bad footing with a slow plodding melody brought down with weak, dated sounding synthesisers and a dull drum machine line, making this supposedly upbeat love song a slog to listen through. The solo in the middle is particularly awful, sounding like a really terrible synthesised guitar that must have sounded dated even in 1989. Neither Kylie or Jason are any good; Kylie still hasn’t developed her voice so she still sounds rather shrill and nasal, whilst Jason is a complete non-entity as a singer, getting drowned out in the duet section of the song. Add to that very sappy lyrics and you have an incredibly generic pop ballad that’s very dull and tired – pretty much sums up the SAW aesthetic, really…
- Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart – Marc Almond and Gene Pitney – 4 weeks, January 22nd to February 18th
Last time we met Marc Almond he was tearing through Tainted Love with great passion and conviction, helping Soft Cell to make their version of the Gloria Jones song their very own. He’s working upon a brand new cover this time, a reworking of Gene Pitney’s Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart – and he was even good enough to bring Pitney on board! And it works quite well as this is a fairly solid number. The song kicks off with an orchestral flourish, making it sound like something out of a James Bond movie. This grandeur continues throughout most of the song and feels gloriously bombastic, making it an enjoyable number even if it does get quite slow at some points. Almond is a decent singer and manages to sell his parts convincingly but the real star here is Pitney, who blasts his vocals with great gusto and does well at reaching the highest notes. The two combine to form a really strong version of the song, though it likely wouldn’t be near as good if Gene Pitney was on board, with him being the one to push this song over the edge – as such, Almond can’t really claim another song as his own.
- Belfast Child – Simple Minds – 2 weeks, February 19th to March 4th
As social awareness in pop music became prevalent in the 1980s, likely thanks to the influx of charity singles, Simple Minds must have likely wanted a piece of that pie and 1989’s Street Fighting Years saw them fall over themselves to show just how politically conscious they could be often to embarrassing degrees – the album had a cover of Biko by Peter Gabriel, for fuck's sake! At the centre of all this was Belfast Child, an ode to The Troubles in Northern Ireland that borrowed the melody from Irish folk song She Moved Through the Fair. I know very little of these events, only being aware of songs that tackled the events like Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2, Invisible Sun by The Police and Holy Wars… The Punishment Due by Megadeth. But Belfast Child is closer in quality to Give Ireland Back to The Irish by Wings than any of those classics.
Belfast Child isn’t all bad; the legendary Trevor Horn is producing and he delivers for the most part for the first half, which has a spooky and haunting atmosphere – minus the goofy explosion and yell in the second verse; I know fighting’s going on but it just sounds ridiculous. But that’s quashed quite a bit by the second half of the song which launches into an instrumental that’s greatly overstuffed, killing much of the tense atmosphere of the first half and making it sound like a big goofy arena rock song that’s overloaded with Irish folk instruments and goes on for ages. Jim Kerr’s vocal delivery really doesn’t help with this as he tries to go over the top in this part of the song but his growling tones doesn’t fit in with much of the darker tones of the song. Whilst he does fairly well in the first half of the song by using a softer voice, as well as with the closing lines that take the instruments down to a minimum, being easily the best part of the song, it can’t prevent the fact that he and the rest of the band sound very out of their depth in the world of politically orientated music, leading to a number that’s patronising and overbearing. It may sound hypocritical of me to say this, given I’ve ragged on goofy music a lot lately, but please, Simple Minds, never try to be this serious again. You’re making Don’t You (Forget About Me) seem such a distant memory…
- Too Many Broken Hearts – Jason Donovan – 2 weeks, March 5th to March 18th
From one extreme to another – we go from a song that was far too serious to one that’s far too lightweight. This is yet another SAW song and the instrumentation and lyrics of the song matches their producers, relying on plodding and inane keyboard riffs and drum machines fronted by lyrics that are syrupy love song mush. Sounds familiar to my reviews of my other songs by them? Well, that’s the consequence of listening to all these songs that all sound exactly the same – this one sounds like a dollar store version of I Should Be So Lucky, right down to the chorus that relies on a painfully bad truck driver’s gear change to try and sound big in some manner. At the centre of all this is Donovan, who was shadowed earlier on Especially for You. After hearing his solo performance we can see why he got drowned out by Kylie – he has absolutely no personality with his vocals and often sounds as though he has a cold as he drones his way through the song. Any attempts he makes to reach higher notes in the song come off as flat and uninspired by his snuffly sounding vocals. This all leads to yet another reason why SAW were such a disease on the late 80s pop charts – generic love song lyrics, boring instruments, weak singing. Talk about a terrible formula.
- Like a Prayer – Madonna – 3 weeks, March 19th to April 8th
If there were any doubts about the musical skills of Madonna they must have been absolutely shattered by Like a Prayer, a clear sign of Ms. Ciccone’s maturity as a songwriter and performer. This is an absolutely elevating pop song with a strong gospel edge to it with the appearance of the choir that runs all the way through the background of the song, as well as the reliance of the organ chords for the main melody. Madonna’s vocals themselves have an almost operatic feel to them, soaring to great heights in the verses in particular with its ethereal beauty and giving the whole song an uplifting quality to it, making it a joy to sing along to in the chorus. Her vocal improvisation midway through the song demonstrate a more rocky side to her vocals and are equally well done. The instrumental work is all very good too, especially the guitar, played by none other than Prince, following the third chorus and the outro that helps to give the song a harder and slightly more intense edge without taking away from the beautiful qualities of the song. As such, it culminates in a pop song that’s a complete epic number, a song that doesn’t feel long in spite of being nearly six minutes and can be quite comfortably be referred to as Madonna’s magnum opus. A shining light in the dirge of bad number one songs this year.
- Eternal Flame – The Bangles – 4 weeks, April 9th to May 6th
I do enjoy the work of The Bangles – you only have to look at songs like Walk Like an Egyptian and Manic Monday to see how skilled they are. So it gives me little pleasure in saying that I really dislike Eternal Flame. It’s a song that’s far more syrupy than their other work, which can be demonstrated right away from the music – it starts off with a keyboard beat that sounds like it came from a music box, giving me worrying flashbacks to Mistletoe and Wine and making the song sound like a particularly sappy nursery rhyme. The vocals from lead singer Susanna Hoffs have a very lilting quality to them, making them rather syrupy, which isn’t helped by the banal lyrics that fall comfortably into pappy love song territory. There’s a solid guitar solo in the middle that raises the song up a bit but it doesn’t stop Eternal Flame from being one of the weakest entries of The Bangles, being a song that’s far too sugary and goes on for far too long to stand up with their classics.
- Hand on Your Heart – Kylie Minogue – 1 week, May 7th to May 13th
It’s getting really hard to talk about all of these Stock, Aitken and Waterman songs all at one time because they’re all practically the same – weak lyrics, weak music, weak singing; it’s practically a given at this point. Hand on Your Heart is perhaps the best of their number ones of this year as most of the issues of SAW are downplayed a little with this number. The lyrics are still inoffensive and lovey dovey pap but there’s at least an OK chorus to propel things. The music’s fairly catchy and fun for the most part but it can’t help but feel flat at many moments, with many obnoxious sounding drums dating the affair. Kylie’s vocals are fine and not as nasal as her previous outings but still hadn’t quite developed as a singer. This leads to a song that’s OK, still demonstrates the problems of SAW but is ultimately a passable pop song.
- Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey – The Christians, Holly Johnson, Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden and Stock Aitken Waterman – 3 weeks, May 14th to June 3rd
I used to think that the 80s was not too miserable a time, especially not in the UK. Given the sheer amount of charity singles to raise awareness of disasters and starving kids in third world countries I was clearly wrong; this decade was depressing at times. The disaster this time around was the Hillsborough disaster, a human crush which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans at a football game between Liverpool and Sheffield. Given the victims the choice of Gerry Marsden’s Ferry Cross the Mersey makes a great deal of sense, as does the group of singers involved, all Scousers. None of them too bad a job with the song but it’s still quite uninspired, especially with the music that plods along – thanks, Stock, Aitken and Waterman! The song itself doesn’t have any problems – it’s uplifting and joyful in its lyrics – but this version, in spite of its good intentions, decent vocals and a nice guitar solo in the middle, doesn’t really do much to make itself great and goes on for too long. Compare it to the Frankie Goes to Hollywood rendition – which makes sense given the presence of singer Holly Johnson – and it becomes weaker still. Not the worst charity song but still not particularly brilliant.
- Sealed with a Kiss – Jason Donovan – 2 weeks, June 4th to June 17th
The third SAW hit in a row may be their sappiest of the year. It’s a very slow number that begins with a violin but descends into becoming the standard SAW musical pattern of slow drums and plodding piano, accompanied by a weak and uninspired guitar solo – this makes for a melody you’ll forget as soon as the song’s over. The lyrics meanwhile are again simplistic and sappy love song drivel, about how Jason’s leaving his girl but he won’t forget her and he’ll keep her letter sealed with a kiss… bleurgh. Jason is still an unconvincing vocalist but not even the best singers could do much with a song that has lyrics as insipid as this. The most forgettable of the SAW number ones of this year, it’s a dull and uninspired track that’s completely unmemorable.
- Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) – Soul II Soul and Caron Wheeler – 4 weeks, June 18th to July 15th
New jack swing is a subgenre of R&B that seems to be somewhat neglected by the passage of time; despite being used later on down the road by Michael Jackson with his Dangerous album it really never truly became top of the pack in the R&B genre. Which is a shame as I think it’s frequently quite good, which is demonstrated by British R&B group Soul II Soul. Originally Back to Life was released as an acapella number but was remixed for its single version. The combination of both of these forms not only gives the whole number a funky edge but results in Back to Life having a somewhat haunting feel to it due to how isolated the vocals were originally – both of these factors work very strongly in tandem with one another. The vocals from British singer Caron Wheeler are strong and gives the song the power that it thrives upon, whilst the instrumental backing, including the violins, add up to make Back to Life a very effective and danceable R&B number. An oasis in the desert that is the number ones of this year.
- You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You – Sonia – 2 weeks, July 16th to July 29th
Once again SAW are responsible for another bland and forgettable number one single this year, this time using teenage pop star Sonia. Like their previous upbeat songs You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You relies on bored and dated instruments, with the drum machines pounding along at a monotonous pace accompanied with fluffy keyboards. Surprisingly Sonia is a decent singer, carrying some amount of power to her voice which brings the number up somewhat. Of course she’s hampered by the fact that she’s laboured with the usual generic love song mush in the lyrics but ultimately it’s somewhat of a step up from the previous SAW number ones. Having said that, You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You is still far from being a good song and is incredibly unmemorable in spite of Sonia being an OK singer.
- Swing the Mood – Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers – 5 weeks, July 30th to September 2nd
You know Stars on 45? That absolutely dreadful dance melody of old pop songs that became a laughing stock but still hit the US top spot in 1981? This is the British version.
Right away you can tell this is going to be an utter annoyance as soon as the titular bunny blares out the infamous earworm of a call “C’mon everybody, c-c-c’mon everybody!” This leads to a medley of classic 50s pop songs all being mushed together in a dreadful dance mix style, scattering songs such as In the Mood, Rock Around the Clock, Wake Up Little Susie and many an Elvis song together all backed by an annoyingly repetitive and overbearing drum beat. The segues between the songs aren’t too awful but that’s little solace given what happens to many of the songs in here. In particular many of the songs are given the stuttering dance style of the introductory call, with Tutti Frutti by Little Richard being the absolute worst of these. Even worse is what happens to Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock by Elvis – the pitch of their vocals are raised up considerably, removing the glorious baritone of Presley’s voice and making them into rather shrill and very obnoxious. Overall, this leads to a medley where everything is just utterly diabolical – pretty much all of these songs are rock ‘n’ roll classics and to see many of them get mangled so greatly as a result of trying to make them more danceable is just dreadful to see.
- Ride on Time – Black Box – 6 weeks, September 3rd to October 16th, biggest selling single of the year
Eurodance reached the peak of its popularity during the 1990s but it really kicked off earlier on with this bestselling song by Italian dance artists Black Box. Ride on Time begins in good spirits, with a funky piano riff set alongside the danceable beat. But things go greatly downhill with the entrance of the main vocals by Heather Small, best known for her future work with the M People. Not only do the vocals blast at you in an incredibly loud and annoying manner but atrocious stuttering and repetition effects are used, which often sounds as though Small is burping right in your ear. The song carries on in this vein, squandering a decent instrumental and chorus with Small’s overbearing and horribly throaty vocals, which coupled with the horrendous remixing makes Ride on Time incredibly hard to sit through and leaves you with a headache from how horrendously loud everything.
- That’s What I Like – Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers – 3 weeks, October 17th to November 4th
One number one single by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers was bad enough but a second? After everybody should have realised just how shit Swing the Mood was? Britain, what the fuck were you thinking?
Following the “C’mon everybody!” that we all know and hate from the titular bunny we discover that the loose theme of this medley is summer sounding songs, with the classic rock and roll songs thrown in here and there. The recurring melody this time is the theme to Hawaii Five-O and here it’s presented in a way that seems nasal and flat and frequently feels out of place when placed alongside many of the songs of the medley, such as Let’s Dance, Great Balls of Fire and Good Golly Miss Molly. Once again a fair few of the songs suffer from being remixed which results in them sounding rather annoying – the stuttering repetition at the beginnings of both Let’s Dance and The Twist is a particular sign of this, as is the continued repetition of the first two words of Good Golly Miss Molly right near the end. This all adds up to a song that’s only slightly tolerable than Swing the Mood in the same way that being hit in the face is better than being punched in the balls – it’s still greatly painful and you resent the person who performed it.
- All Around the World – Lisa Stansfield – 2 weeks, November 5th to November 18th
Starting from a TV talent show and ending up at the top of the UK singles charts, singer and sometime actress Lisa Stansfield managed to inject just a little bit of life into the flaccid charts of 1989 with All Around the World. Even though she was only 23 when this song was released, Stansfield has a fairly powerful and soulful voice on this R&B number that manages to carry it up a couple of notches. Her voice digs right into the melancholic lyrics concerning a breakup and the hopelessness of trying to win back her former lover, whilst having some optimism in the idea that she’ll be able to find him again. In particular her delivery in the second verse where she soars to high notes is very good. The music’s a standard R&B ballad backing number that only stands out somewhat by the presence of the violins; aside from that the beat’s pretty average and the keyboard line is a non-presence. It’s really Stansfield who pulls this song up to a rather good ballad as her vocals interject life into a fairly basic R&B number.
- You Got It (The Right Stuff) – New Kids on the Block – 3 weeks, November 19th to December 9th
Oh, the boyband, is there a musical institution that’s more mocked? Notorious for sappy ballads and lame attempts to be upbeat delivered by a manufactured batch of vaguely attractive lads who sound indistinguishable, boybands have been a whipping post for music fans the world over – and rightfully so. New Kids on the Block were arguably the trendsetters for this phenomenon and they really didn’t set a great precedent for the genre. The Right Stuff isn’t a terrible song; the beat’s quite funky and is certainly a monster of an ear worm. But it certainly isn’t anything special, with lyrics that fall into the generic love song trend, especially in the bridge before the chorus where the sickly glittery keyboards emerge, and vocals that are competent but utterly faceless – you can’t tell which of these boys is singing at any given time because none of them have any personality. This leads to a song that gets stuck into your head – mainly due to the annoyingly repetitive and stuttery chorus – but ultimately leaves no real impression other than a ‘meh’.
- Let’s Party – Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers – 1 week, December 10th to December 16th
I don’t think there’s ever been a time where I’ve been more disappointed with my country.
THREE number one singles by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. Bear in mind that Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple are all among the many talented musicians who have never had UK number one singles. And Jive Bunny got three. For utter shame.
If the presence of another Jive Bunny song wasn’t enough to make your skin crawl, then get this – it’s a Christmas song! Right away you’ll be angry as the distinctive “IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!” chant by Noddy Holder from Merry Christmas Everyone by Slade sounds as though it’s been mangled beyond belief. Worse is that Jive Bunny yells like a complete lunatic throughout the entire intro this time, bringing whatever jolly mood there was down several notches – and he just keeps on going, wooing all the way through, making you think of that one party member who’s trying far too hard to be the life of the party and just being annoying instead. All the segues are absolutely forced and give no consideration to changes in tempos, whether it be the transition between the intro and the aforementioned Merry Christmas Everyone or the sudden transition between the main beat of Let’s Party into the seminal I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday by Wizzard. For the final insult on the shit smoothie we have stuttering from Jive Bunny and ridiculously out of place samples – this leads to one of the worst Christmas songs to hit number one and shows just how terrible pop music had gotten by 1989.
The one silver lining though is that after this year Jive Bunny went down like a lead balloon, with his next singles reaching decreasing chart positions before the act mercifully ended in 1991, which makes me really happy. He existed as a fad for about half a year and then died – and I say good riddance to it.
- Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid II – 3 weeks, December 17th to January 6th 1990
1984 and 1989 feel a million years apart when you compare the two renditions of Do They Know It’s Christmas? from said years and not in the way you might expect – whilst the original feels somewhat timeless with its ethereal spookiness, the rendition by Band Aid II, designed to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the song, is a song that was probably incredibly dated almost as soon as it was released. But hey, what did you expect from a rendition produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman? This version of Do They Know It’s Christmas? is littered with cheesy synths and a drum beat that makes the song sound like a very cheap dance remix of the original. And that’s before you get onto the singers – none of these vocalists are on a calibre compared to the original vocalists, with most of them oversinging to a ludicrous degree. Face facts – Cliff Richard, Jason Donavon, Wet Wet Wet and Bros are not even fit to polish the boots of Bono, Sting and George Michael. Concluding with the repetition of the “Feed the world” line going on for way longer than the original, we have a song that’s a gaudy attempt to take the original and apply cheap modern pop sensibilities to it and falling horrendously flat. Those starving African kids were lucky in one respect – they didn’t have to listen to this bollocks.
FINAL THOUGHTS – This year was, to put it bluntly, a fucking nightmare. Everything I thought I knew and loved about the 1980s was severely challenged and beaten down by the absolute piles of drivel that reached the top spot this year. Sure, there was one absolute classic, and two or three decent songs, but at what cost? Seven generic as all hell songs involving an absolutely appalling production trio? Two songs that I hate by bands that I like? And three dreadful medleys by a cartoon bunny? All of these add up to make one of the worst years in the history of UK number ones, if not the absolute worst from the 20th century. What a way to close off a decade – a whimper is not even fit to describe it.
- BEST SONG - Like a Prayer
- WORST SONG - Let's Party
OVERALL THOUGHTS OF THE 1980s – There was some good, some bad and some absolutely ugly in this decade – it certainly wasn’t the haven of absolute amazingness that many people, especially those born post 1980s, would have you believe. Certainly many of the songs that were good were incredibly good – they’re songs that have lasted through decades because of how great they were at the time. Naturally we don’t want to remember the bad songs of the time because… well, they were bad. So we filter them out and in time only recall the best stuff. Trust me, even in the best years of the decade bad songs existed, and some years were incredibly potent with their awful songs. That doesn’t mean at all that the classics shouldn’t continue to be lauded but it does mean that there ought to be some sense of understanding that with all that pleasure in the 1980s there was still some pain.
- BEST YEAR - 1983
- WORST YEAR - 1989
- TOP FIVE SONGS
- Come on Eileen - Dexy's Midnight Runners
- Two Tribes - Frankie Goes to Hollywood
- Under Pressure - Queen and David Bowie
- Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
- Call Me - Blondie
- Star Trekkin' - The Firm
- There's No One Quite Like Grandma - St. Winifred's School Choir
- Mistletoe and Wine - Cliff Richard
- Candy Girl - New Edition
- Let's Party - Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers
Well, that's it. The 1980s have concluded. I hope that you've found this whole decade a lot of fun to read about - it hopefully was more enjoyable than some of the songs I had to listen to. Once again, 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 spare a little change thanks to Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/CineCynic1996).
I'll be taking a brief hiatus from the countdowns, mainly because of plenty of film reviews that are coming up, and hopefully during this time I can write up my thoughts and stack them up ready to go for when I kick off with the 90s. I'm going to say that you can expect me to kick off every number 1 single of the 1990s in August - I'll hopefully have a couple years written by then. Hope to see you return for that, and I hope you enjoy my upcoming film reviews - basically just enjoy my content! Peace out, hombres.