Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1980
The way in which music reached people was the key to how well your single would sell. Disco singles sold because people heard them out dancing. They were the type of songs you could dance to and listen to in the house without dancing. Live music was very popular. People weren't just going to big gigs at big venues for £40 a ticket , they were going to small venues for free to see bands like Madness, The Specials, The Jam - when they were all unknowns of course, and this was where A&R people would go to spot new chart talent.
The following 40 singles are mostly by those who'd worked very hard for years playing souless venues without anyone really listening before selling any records at all. 1980 was right at the edge of a lot of innovations in music, not all of them reaching the mainstream.
(40) Wednesday Week - Undertones
I'm not a fan of songs with one dimension. You know, they start, do the same thing all the way through and then stop. You forget about it immediately. Wednesday Week isn't one of those - it comes straight in, the chorus is a pause and the guitar riff is a lead back into the main part. Stuff like this makes a song memorable. This is one of the first three singles my sister bought (that I used to sneak into her room to play when she was out). This song takes me right back to being five years old and having those first real feelings of excitement about music. It's construction. The words. The emotion. And, wondering what a 'Wednesday week' was - finally deciding it was a week where it was Wednesday for an entire week. These days, I feel really sad when I hear it because I know what it's about now. Back then I felt happy. This is the power of a song. It's both happy and sad, it can make you feel both so powerfully, which is what makes it a great single.
The Undertones were following their best and biggest hit "My Perfect Cousin" with this , and it peaked at number eleven.
(39) Paul McCartney - Coming Up
Paul McCartney was having his biggest hit since Mull Of Kintyre in 1977. It got to number 2 and to my eyes, featured all the people who were in Wings (including Linda on Keyboards) but the song was credited to Paul McCartney. It has been reported that this song prompted John Lennon to return to recording as Paul had finally "done something good".
This is another example of what Paul did so well; he wrote songs with very simple repeating sections and made you think you'd heard them before. The chorus is just 'Coming up, (like a flower)' repeated over and over but somehow, it never outstays its welcome.
(38) UB40 - Food for Thought
I liked a lot of what UB40 did, but a lot of it was a bit samey. The first track I heard by them was the brilliant 'Red Red Wine' and every now and then they'd release something magical. This was their first hit and a bit of a classic. It just has such a nice vibe and atmosphere. Largely because of 2-tone, sidestick drums, bongos, brass, scratchy percussion, moseying bass guitar and pseudo-reggae was the prevailing sound of the early 80s. UB40 got to number 4 and stayed there for two weeks. I don't know if I'll reach 1995 with these lists but if I don't, I highly recommend Ali Campbell's 'That look in your eye' which is a beautiful summer song which is largely ignored by all the retro radio stations. (I'm talking to you Absolute 90s)
(37) Styx - Babe
Not my cup of Matcha this, but a superb single all the same. The Mark One electric piano is a bit much but very very '80s ballad'.
It had taken over seven years and eight albums, but Styx were finally having their first UK hit. Formed in 1964 as 'The Tradewinds', this got to number 6 in the UK. There was a lot of 'this sort of ballad' about at the time, most notably by REO Speedwagon, Chicago and Foreigner.
(36) Adam and the Ants - AntMusic
Just look at this beautiful, beautiful man. I wanted to be him when I was 5 and even stole some makeup from my sister to draw a white stripe across my nose and do a dance for my assembled family one Sunday afternoon to this song. I'm not even embarassed about it; I do it again tomorrow! I love Adam Ant. Who doesn't? Anyway, this got to number 2 (behind John Lennon's 'Imagine').
I've still got my Adam Ant ruler somewhere.
(35) The Tide is High - Blondie
Two years Blondie were in the charts. Just two years! Hanging on the Telephone charted in 1978 and this slow reggae cover version got to number one (their 5th) in 1980. They didn't chart again until 1999. See the commentary for UB40's Food for Thought. This had plenty of sidestick, bongo and brass.
I think Atomic Kitten covered this - more about them later.
(34) Split Enz - I got you
This was their only hit and six is too many in a band isn't it, even if you are wearing different coloured shirts.
After a long climb the song eventually peaked at number twelve and showed just what the world was in store for when the Finn brothers went on to form Crowded House. I had the privilege of seeing Crowded House live in 2005 and they were amazing.
(33) Blondie - Atomic
I've heard countless people banging on about how 'Union City Blue' was Blondie's best single. I've never found anything special about it, especially as this song was full of all the ingredients of a hit single and the former wasn't. Atomic spent two weeks at number one.
I've always thought it was inspired by The Shadows (until the singing parts start). Listen for that synth arpeggiator in the background which lifts any song into a disco realm even if it didn't start out as a Disco track. I think that was Giorgio Moroder's doing.
(32) ELO - All over the world
The whole Xanadu project is underrated in my opinion; sneered at even. It's funny what time does to people's attitudes (good and bad). Despite ELO being chart doyens in the 70's, this was the best stuff they ever did and this track in particular was superb. It got to number 11.
The 'ohh-ooh-ooh-ooh' was re-appropriated in the song 'Heartache Avenue' by the Maisonettes (another excellent song).
(31) Change - Searching
Sounds a lot like whoever wrote 'When the Going Gets Tough' also wrote this. This is the world's first glimpse at Luther Vandross whose voice is like Galaxy Chocolate mixed with blended clouds and a cup of silk. Should have been a bigger hit than number 11 - I guess the world just wasn't ready for him.
(30) New Musik - Sanctuary
A bit better than their previous minor hit, "This World Of Water", New Muzik fizzled away after this. I wouldn't be surprised if someone in this band was behind Bucks Fizz's early 80s success (and Dollar for that matter). The music has exactly the same sensibilities. It's joyous and that's what you want in an 80s synthpop record after a long day at school learning the four times table and colouring in without going over the lines.
It got to number 31, and they never hit the top 40 again.
P.S. I just did some research (there's a first) and turns out one of the band went on to produce A-Ha and Aztec Camera
(29) Kate Bush - Babooshka
Need to get one thing off my chest about this and that's the awful grammar in the opening verse. She definitely says 'She couldn't have made a worst move' doesn't she? I've heard it thousands of times now and that's all I can hear. Anyway...
Kate's biggest hit since "Wuthering Heights". This was a tale of a woman whose husband had an affair with a woman he didn't know was his wife using a pseudonym in letters to him
This song reminds me of assembly at school where I wasn't in the least bit interested in whatever the Headmaster was droning on about (probably trying to find out who broke the window in the outdoor toilet block) so I was singing this in my head, off in my own world. Then, a few years later, the school announced that they were doing a play called 'Babooshka' and I was so excited until I realised it was about a woman who goes off to find Jesus, gets lost and is never heard of again. What a lovely story that is for Christmas. Idiots. The one about a woman catfishing her husband would have gone down much better with the Mums and Dads.
The Fairlight computer was being used more and more on hit singles around this time and that sound of broken glass you hear at the end of this song is that very computer!
(28) We are Glass - Gary Numan
Talking about Glass, this is one of Gary's best singles. It got to number 5 and was a cameo for the masterpiece that was the Telekon album. This was the first real glimpse of Mr. Numan that I got and I remember thinking to myself that I should try and hear more of him (I was completely mesmerised) but due to not being old enough to get pocket money, not having anything to play music on anyway and then forgetting about Gary Numan entirely until later in life, I didn't get round to it until the early 90s when the ability to borrow CDs from the library became a thing.
(27) Sad Cafe - Strange Little Girl
'Boys and girls come out to play' is played on a creepy twinkling guitar and then an even creepier voice goes 'lives down the lane' like some kind of weird horror film. This sounds a lot like late Beatles but I love that bass guitar at the start and the odd construction - which means they spent time on this, it wasn't written in a day like most stuff these days.
It was the follow up to their huge "Everyday Hurts" single and peaked at number 32.
(26) Neil Diamond - Love on the Rocks
This song has been giving mediocre Karaoke singers a way to impress people who don't really know what a good singer should sound like for years, myself included. Taken from "The Jazz Singer", it's probably just better (as a single) than 'America', 'Hello Again', 'Amazed and Confused' and my favourite 'You Baby'. It only got to number 17, which is a surprise given it's broad appeal and genius build to the chorus. Actually, I'm off to listen to the soundtrack album again...
(25) Kool and the Gang - Celebration
Deliberately commercial and quite repetitive - it's the perfect single. Doesn't go anywhere and isn't the kind of thing you want to put on in the background whilst you read - but it's played on so many appropriate occasions that it's now part of the fabric of reality. It got to number seven.
(24) Olivia Newton John & ELO - Xanadu
Title tracks to films often found themselves in the upper reaches of the chart and this was no different, especially for Olivia Newton John who'd been there with songs from Grease a year earlier. Xanadu got to number one for two weeks. Odd that this was the only time ELO found themselves in the top spot!
Xanadu has been the subject of a few top 10 hits over the years. Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch had 'The legend of Xanadu' and Frankie goes to Hollywood gave it a namecheck in 'Welcome to the Pleasuredome'.
(23) OMD - Messages
Simple but effective. I went off OMD the later into their career they got but I always appreciated what they were doing. I think the thing that put me off was watching Andy McClusky on Top of the Pops 'dancing' but swinging his massive bass guitar around the stage and looking utterly out of place. It was even worse when he put his bass down and started flinging his unfathomably long arms around the place. He was like Mr. Tickle on Meow Meow. Look, there's even a YouTube video calling him out on it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdkMjokbhTI
The song reached number 13. Andy McCluskey was the man behind girl group 'Atomic Kitten'. So you now know who to blame.
(22) Blondie - Call Me
Blondie's forth number one single and more importantly, their third entry on my top 40 singles of 1980! This had a lot of urgency compared to their final number one. It was produced and co-written by Giorgio Moroder (of 'I feel love' fame), and taken from the soundtrack of the film 'American Gigolo' which was terrible by all accounts - not seen it personally.
The solo on this was played on an organ through a flange effect which was another defining sound of the early 80s - effects were becoming more and more elaborate and new sounds were popping up all over the place giving each new single a fresh and unique sound. What a time to be alive!
(21) B.A. Robertson - Kool in the Kaftan
B.A. Robertson was having the smallest of his five hits with "Kool In The Kaftan". This sounds a bit 'throw away' to begin with but it's actually very clever. It's another example of a song which changes gear halfway through (see 'Give me the night' by George Benson) and sends your emotional connection with what's going on, off in another direction. Clever, but not as clever as the same concept (but taken to another dimension) in the song at the top of my count down.
(20) Michael Jackson - Rock with you
The 'Off the Wall' album was already in the shops and this was one of the last tracks released so it didn't get to number one where it deserved to be - it settled for number seven which is definitely not to be sniffed at. This owed a lot to what Chic were doing in the few years previous but the real genius behind this was Rod Temperton of Heatwave.
The song was first offered to Karen Carpenter! I mean, yeah, she had a voice like liquid gold but, really? This was probably one of the last big Disco hits as dance floors became filled with people who'd migrated over from Punk into New Romantic. Still with coloured hairsprayed sticky-up hair but with more makeup and better dancing.
(19) Buggles - Living in the plastic age
Was this better than "Video Killed The Radio Star"? If not, it's just as good, just not as Zeitgeisty and therefore, not something to be played beyond it's chart run - which is a shame. I bet nobody born after 1980 who has heard of 'Video killed' has heard 'Plastic age'. That's how it goes I suppose. Trevor Horn went on to have a huge influence on the musical landscape of the 80s with acts such as Dollar and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, so I doubt he's bothered. I always thought this was by Thomas Dolby and even though I've Googled it and there's even a single cover above with 'Buggles' written on it, I think it still might be.
There's a bit in the break near the end which sounds a lot like 'Pale Shelter' and I wonder if Roland of Tears for Fears might have stored this in his subconscious for later?
(18) Special A.K.A. - Too Much, Too Young
A number one for Terry Hall and the guys at last. It was a speeded up version of a track from their debut album, and caused quite a bit of controversy. Eventually, Radio One chose to play it but cut it just short of the last line. It was all about one of their female friends who'd gotten pregnant in her teens and basically saying 'your life is now over'. A message of some worth but probably delivered in the wrong way.
(17) Roxy Music - The Same old Scene
This sounds like Duran Duran and I'm sure John Taylor and Nick Rhodes would agree that the album this came from would have influenced them hugely at the time. "Same Old Scene" peaked at number 12 and cements Roxy Music as chamelions of the charts, able to hit the top 10 with all sorts of different styles. This one suited them best though IMO.
(16) Abba - The Winner Takes it All
One of the best singles of the 80's this. Apparently it wasn't about their own divorces but is definitely full of raw personal opinions on the whole subject. You can see where the musical 'Chess' came from when you listen to this. Pity about the video - it was like a bad American soap opera. The song spent two weeks at number one.
(15) Joy Division - Love Will Tear us Apart
Joy Division had released an album and three singles over the previous two years with no mainstream chart success at all. Then, after Ian Curtis took his own life in May 1980, this single was released and made it to number 13. Out of the ashes came New Order who were decidedly hit and miss. Sometimes they were brilliant and others, baffling.
This single has to go down as one of the greatest of all time however. My first experience of the song was on Paul Young's debut album 'No Parlez' and he does it superbly, even if there was a lot of controversy about him recording it in the first place. He also did a version of Pale Shelter which he murdered and I'm pleased it remained as a bonus track on the expanded edition only.
(14) Roxy Music - Oh Yeah (On the Radio)
Superb, and as good as four or five other Roxy Music songs I'd quite happily stick in my top 100 of the 80s.
(13) Diana Ross - Upside Down
This was Diana's biggest hit for nine years, and peaked at number two. It was also her first visit to the top twenty for over four years, but she couldn't fail this time. The parent album had been written and produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers who'd been responsible for all those Chic and Sister Sledge hits of the last couple of years. Listen to that bass guitar man. Just listen.
This was the second of the aforementioned first three singles my sister bought. This was also played to death when she was out.
(12) Olivia Newton John - Magic
Another song from the Xanadu soundtrack, and the best of the lot. It's one of two hits by Olivia that's not on Spotify like she's embarrassed of them. This and 'A little more love' (which got to number 4) are two of my favourite songs ever. Its weird. 'Magic' peaked at number 32 which is criminal.
(11) George Benson - Give me the Night
This always reminds me of Level 42 (even though they didn't chart until 1981). Peaking at number seven, it was one of the big disco hits of the year. He also plays Jazz Guitar in the video whilst on Rollerskates - you know, that perfect combination... like cheese and pickle... Jazz guitar and Rollerskates.
The thing that takes this single into my top 11 for 1980 is the chorus - the way it contradicts everything before it. Only a clever songwriter is able to shift a song's gears like that and there were more examples of this mood-shift in the rest of the chart...
(10) Stevie Wonder - Masterblaster (Jammin)
After entering the chart at number 30, this single made a massive climb to number four. A tribute to Bob Marley, this single peaked at number two a fortnight later. After such a run of superb singles, who knew his most successful would be the awful 'I just called'? I can still hardly believe it.
(9) David Essex - Silver Dream Machine
David Essex was back with his first top ten hit in almost two years with the title song from his latest movie "Silver Dream Racer". This one peaked at number four. It's deceptive in it's simplicity this one. It's got so many great parts to it and the atmosphere of it fading in coupled with David's understated vocal at the start, changing gear at the bridge into the chorus... I told you it was a recipe for success.
Anyone remember that sitcom David was in where he was a lock keeper? I used to like that.
(8) Police - Don't Stand so Close to Me
I'm perennially disappointed that this song didn't develop into what I thought it was going to develop into with that moody intro. The Chorus spoils it - it's too jolly, especially for such a dark subject. I also hate the way Sting rhymes 'Nabokov' with 'Shake and cough'. Also, nobody refers to Lolita as 'that book by Nabokov'. Apart from that, it's brilliant.
This single was the second one this year to debut on the chart at number one. It stayed there for four weeks.
(7) Stacy Lattisaw - Jump to the Beat
The third of the three first singles bought by my sister and the one I played the most (when she was out). Thirteen year old Stacy released one of the finest singles of the disco era with this. She had previously been earmarked to record "Ring My Bell" , but that had instead been given to Anita Ward who took it to number one in 1979. So this was Stacey's debut and she took it to number three. Her follow up single "Dynamite" failed to make it past number 51, and Stacey was never heard of again in the UK. The same can't be said of the song though as Dannii Minogue took it to number eight in 1991. Stacy went on to record with R&B legend and childhood friend, Johnny Gill (from New Edition) who she convinced to have a go at a recording career when he was 16.
(6) Dexy's Midnight Runners - Geno
Dexy's Midnight Runners had been to number 40 in February with their previous single "Dance Stance". This time they made it to the opposite end of the top 40 and spent two weeks there. This is one of those songs that never sounds out of place anywhere. Not as 'Birthday Party' as 'Come on Eileen' but quite timeless and fitting for lots of occasions. It is a tribute to Geno Washington and meant to sound like his Ram Jam Band.
(5) Madness - Baggy Trousers
This was one of the first music videos I remember seeing, largely because someone playing a saxophone starts flying around in the background as the band play on a school field. The lyrics to this song are a pastiche of life in a school (a kind of inverted reality to 'Another brick in the wall'), where I was at the time, and I connected with it immediately - as did six hundred thousand other people who went out a bought it. It went on to spend two weeks at number three and became their biggest hit so far spending 11 weeks in the 40.
(4) David Bowie - Ashes to Ashes
This single was complimented by one of the best video promos ever made and another one I remember sitting glued to whilst watching Top of the Pops (probably the same episode which featured 'Baggy Trousers'). This single also saw a considerable upturn in fortunes for Bowie (whose 70s singles career was a ratio of big hit to minor hit of about 1:5) after his last single "Alabama Song" had only reached number 23. This one spent two weeks at the top and somehow inspired the video producer to plonk David in a clown outfit walking in front of a JCB.
(3) Martha and the Muffins - Echo Beach
This is a song which plays in my head a lot when I'm at work. I think most of us feel the same sentiments as the narrator; knowing that even though you're at work right now, one day, you'll be somewhere you can enjoy yourself, switch off from the stresses of life and relax. Echo Beach is that place and it can be anywhere - the pub on Friday night, The Bahamas, sitting in front of a good movie with a take away - Echo Beach always feels 'far away in time'. It quickly reached number ten, but only stayed on the top 40 for seven weeks. Toyah covered it in 1987, but failed to make the top 40.
(2) Peter Gabriel - Games without Frontiers
It took a while, but finally reached number four. In turn this helped his third album (titled 'Peter Gabriel', just as the previous two were) to reach number one. He kept singing 'It's a knockout' which was a TV program in which people tried to run obstacle courses dressed as dinosaurs and the like. I think it must have been of continental origin because it was often referred to as 'Jeux sans frontier' (Games without Frontiers) as there were teams taking place from various European countries and Peter Gabriel reappropriates this to give his commentary on war.
The song features frequent collaborator with Gabriel, Kate Bush who provides backing vocals. Also, Atlantic, who had distributed Gabriel's first two albums, hated the third and said he was committing commercial suicide. Then this single started getting traction and Atlantic tried buying the album back but Gabriel told them where to go and allowed Mercury to distribute it.
(1) Genesis - Turn it on Again
It takes someone of real musical skill and rhythmic awareness to write this never mind try and play it. I wonder if the recording of it was as effortless as they make it sound on the record? When Peter Gabriel re-joined Genesis for a tour in 1982, he was going to play drums on 'Turn it on again'. However, after stating 'Yeah, I can play that', according to Tony Banks, Gabriel kept getting lost and hadn't a clue what was going on. It even baffles the best.
It peaked at number eight, and from here on Genesis were commercially massive right into the early nineties.
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