Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1984
George Orwell certainly didn't see Madness singing a song about Michael Caine coming did he? Nor did his book about 1984 contain the horrors that were Keith Harris and his stuffed Duck, Orville, singing 'Come to my Party' or Roland Rat (Superstar?) singing 'Rat Rapping'. All far worse than what he predicted.
In 1984, the charts had something for everyone, just like my local branch of B&M. If you were four years old, you had 'Superman' by Black Lace or The theme from Fraggle Rock, if you were 40 you had Cliff Richard, Shakin' Stevens and Elvis crooning at you and if you were 400 years old, there was Status Quo.
Almost every genre was represented too with 'Don't take my coconuts' by Kid Creole, Sarah Brightman's 'Unexpected Song', 'The music of Torville and Dean', the theme tune from BBC's live Snooker coverage and the Flying Picket's cover of The Eurythmics 'Who's That Girl' floating around in the lower reaches of the top 40. But 'Agadoo' and 'Ullo John, got a new motor' aside, what were the best 40 singles of what some would argue, was the best year in popular music?
(40) The Police - King of Pain
This was Sting & Co.'s last original hit single which only managed to reach number 24 in the chart. They'd matured by this point and were writing clever songs with depth (Synchronicity II, Wrapped around your Finger, Walking in Your Footsteps) but these weren't as commercial and fun as Walking on the Moon and Message in a Bottle so the 7"-buying public were looking elsewhere. They metaphorically knocked everything off their manager's desk the day they left the studio for the last time when they released an extremely ill advised remix of "Don't stand so close to me" in 1986, for some reason.
(39) The Pointer Sisters - Automatic
A brilliant single and quite an unexpected one from the R&B trio. Known mainly for their dance tracks, this came out of nowhere and rocketed to number 2, being held off the top spot by Duran Duran's "The Reflex". There's no auto-tune or digital trickery here, that really is Ruth Pointer's actual vocal cords. The fat synths here are brilliant (especially in the chorus) and it really underlined how classic acts were now embracing electronic instruments instead of being a little bit terrified of them.
(38) Kenny Loggins - Footloose
You'd never know if he'd walked past you in the street but our Kenny was responsible for two of the most iconic movie songs of all time. Unknown in the UK before Footloose was released, he'd had no less than 7 top 40 hits in the US. He also wrote 'Danger zone' which featured in the 1986 movie Top Gun but failed to reach the top 40 here. He followed this up by providing a song called "Nobody's Fool" for Caddyshack II in 1998 and "Return to Pooh Corner" in 1994. The latter, I hope, has something to do with Winnie the Pooh.
Anyone who paid attention to the charts in 1984 will have an image of Kevin Bacon leaping through the air whenever they hear this track - and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
(37) Madonna - Like a Virgin
After some success in the clubs with her 1982 single "Everybody", Madonna burst into the charts with "Holiday" in January 1984 and quickly followed that with "Lucky Star" which reached number 14 in March. By no means a well-known pop star at that moment in time, she released "Like a Virgin" which turned the head of anyone who heard it or saw her gyrations on a Gondola in the video. It began a streak of thirty five consecutive top 10 hits in the next ten years, seven of which reached number 1. This song alone sold over six million copies worldwide. An icon indeed. The track also features the impeccable musicianship of Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson of Chic.
(36) Queen - I want to Break Free
Queen confused their loyal fanbase by releasing the album "Hot Space" in 1982 which steered dramatically away from their 70s rock roots into R&B, dance and funk. "Under Pressure" was the only single from the album to break the top 10 and as Brian May recalls, "we hated each other for a while". They took a few years off before returning with the album "The Works" which spawned the number 2 charting "Radio Ga Ga" and "I want to break free" which peaked at number 3. This was despite the video being banned by MTV for the whole cross-dressing thing. This also explains why MTV never showed any Pantomimes.
(35) Re-Flex - The Politics of Dancing
If you wanted to embody 80s music in one song, this is it. Infectious and uplifting with all the best early 80s synthesizer noises, this was Re-Flex's only top 40 hit. Entering the chart at 63 in January 1984, it took five weeks to climb to number 28 for two weeks then dropped out of the top 100 completely 3 weeks later.
(34) Girls Just Want to Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi's debut single spent seven weeks in the UK top 20, reaching as high as number 2 behind Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax". Written by Robert Hazard in 1979 as "Boys just want to have fun", Cyndi, with some lyrical and musical adjustments, turned it into a raucous feminist anthem with as fun a video as you're ever likely to see. Not a bad way to introduce yourself.
(33) Band Aid - Do They Know it's Christmas?
Released near Christmas to raise money for the famine in Ethiopia, this single had sold over three million copies by the end of the year. The brainchild of Bob Geldof was initially hoped to raise seventy thousand pounds, however the single has re-charted and been re-recorded twenty times to date and raised over two hundred million pounds. Despite the rush to get it written and recorded, it's a great single in its own right.
(32) Ultravox - Dancing With Tears in my Eyes
Seven albums into their career and they were still releasing music of this quality. Bands whose introduction to the charts was modest had a tendancy to improve with every release - whereas, those who stormed the charts immediately found it hard to match the quality of their first releases, for obvious reasons. Midge had been around well before Ultravox so I guess he never felt any pressure to match his other hit singles - which is very freeing creatively. The peaked at number 3.
(31) Slade - Run Runaway
Another band well into their career, Slade were 11 albums in and still releasing singles of this quality. It was a brilliant single actually and it was a hit in the USA where they'd failed to chart previously. I'd be surprised if there was anybody in the music industry these days who is capable of writing a song like this. It feels a lot like "Is this the way to Amarillo"; a song which sticks the first time you hear it, sounds so simple but is so well crafted musically, it couldn't be written by anyone new to song writing. Not sure if their lyric "See Chameleon lying there in the sun" was inspired by "Karma Chameleon" but if not, they're the only two songs I'm aware of that contain colour changing lizards.
(30) Bananarama - Rough Justice
Bananarama learned a commercial lesson with this release. It's brilliantly written (all three contributing music and lyrics along with their collaborators at the time, Jolley and Swain), brilliantly produced and performed. It was the kind of stuff I would have loved hearing more of from the Bananas but it's heavy themes didn't resonate with the record buying public and it stalled at number 23.
(29) The Weather Girls - It's Raining Men
You can't imagine anyone else singing this can you? Especially not Geri Halliwell. It's handy that they were called "The Weather Girls" and they just happened to be singing about rain. They didn't mention whether it was going to be sunny later or if a cold front was moving in from the east however. The song was written in 1979 as a post-disco dance track and offered to Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Cher and Barbara Streisand, all of whom decided against it. It was originally released in 1983 but only managed to get to number 73 - it's second release in 1984 reached number 2 behind Lionel Richie's "Hello".
(28) Echo & The Bunnymen - Seven Seas
It was the unusual lyrics in this song that hooked me into buying the 7". Ian McCulloch had one of those voices that were perfect for pop songs - it was such a pity the "Bunnymen" didn't come up with songs this good very often. They only had two top ten hits in the 80s (The Cutter and The Killing Moon which are fundamentally the same song) but bafflingly, their most poppy and commercial release "Seven Seas" only reached number 16.
(27) The Smiths - Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
This is another song that deserves to go in a museum and sent up into space for aliens to understand completely what it feels like to be a human being from a working class town in the North. The Smiths were a band that encapsulated a sense of being. A lot of their songs had you nodding along and saying "Yes, that's exactly how I feel" without being terribly poetic about it. Morrissey absolutely loved Sandie Shaw and the title is a nod to her song "Heaven Knows I'm Missing Him Now". You haven't truly experienced ennui until you identify with the line "I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour but Heaven knows I'm miserable now."
There was a lot of wasteland around where I grew up in the early 80s; buildings that had been demolished and the broken glass and half-bricks left behind for kids to play with - so, the video for this song really resonated too. God bless The Smiths. It got to number 10.
(26) Blancmange - Don't Tell Me
My catnip in the 80s was a synth solo. "Take on Me", "I Won't Let the Sun go Down on me" and "We Close our Eyes" had particular appeal, so when I heard the Synth Calliope at the beginning of this song, I was hooked. Reaching number 8 in the chart, they committed the cardinal sin of making their next release a song which had absolutely nothing to do with their sound, song writing or entire ethos as a group. They released a cover of Abba's "The Day Before You Came" which, being kind, is an awful song anyway, never mind the cover version. Maybe they thought they'd do what Soft Cell had done with "Tainted Love"? That release got to number 22 somehow and their last two singles in 1985 only scraped to number 40 and 77 respectively.
(25) Ollie and Jerry - Breakin... There's No Stopping Us
Breakdancing films were popping up all over the place and one in particular, "Breakin'", spawned this number 5 peaking single. 80's staple drum machines the TR-808 and Linn LM-1 were up front and centre here, oozing with 80s noises - here I am 40 years later, still listening to this and enjoying it as much as I did back then. There's something magical about music like that. The video for the song features a young Jean-Claude Van Damme doing a manic jig in the background.
(24) Kim Wilde - The Second Time
After a very strong start to her music career (her first five releases went top 20) things went a bit awry with the next three ("Child Come Away", "Love Blonde" and "Dancing in the Dark") which weren't quite as catchy, nor did they sell very well. Kim changed record companies in 1984 but still didn't manage to break the top 10 until late 1986. This song was truly magnificent however despite only reaching number 29. It's bombastic, it's catchy and it's got a great synth part. It just goes to show, even if you've got a brilliant single, you never know if the public will take to it or not.
(23) Alison Moyet - Love Resurrection
Another from the Jolley and Swain stable, "Love Resurrection" has all the sensibilities of "Robert De Niro's Waiting" but without the quirks and with a much better vocalist. Alison's debut album "Alf" was much anticipated after her success with Yazoo and it didn't disappoint. All her singles were immensely chart friendly, especially this one; the chorus allows her voice to soar and carry the words like an Albatross on a thermal. Just wonderful. I had the pleasure of seeing her live a couple of years ago when she supported Tears for Fears on their Tipping Point tour. Her voice is even better in person.
(22) The Bluebells - Young at Heart
There are so many stories attached to this song, I don't think I can fit them all in. Originally recorded by Bananarama and written by Siobhan Fahey and her boyfriend at the time, Robert Hodgens (aka Bobby Bluebell of The Bluebells), it appeared on the Nana's debut album in quite an unrecognisable form. Reworked in 1984, it reached number 8 and became the soundtrack to the summer (well, my summer at least). The violinist Bobby Valentino, who provides what is arguably the hook of the song, took legal action when he wasn't given a writing credit. He won and was subsequently compensated for his efforts.
As was a common trend in the charts, the song was featured in an advert in 1993, prompting the record company to re-release the track (The Bluebells themselves having disbanded long before) and saw it rise all the way to number 1. Just for context, the week it hit number 1, the rest of the top 5 was made up of "Oh Carolina" - Shaggy, "Informer" - Snow, "Mr Loverman" - Shabba Ranks and "No Limit" - 2 Unlimited. A song out of time indeed, probably because there wasn't another song of this quality on general release at the time. The Bluebells even had to reform for their appearance on Top of the Pops!
(21) Bob Marley & The Wailers - One Love/People Get Ready
Originally recorded in 1965 by The Wailers, this was re-recorded in 1977 and released as a single in 1984 to promote the release of the compilation album "Legend". The video (much like The Eurythmics' "Who's That Girl") has a few cameo appearances from Paul McCartney, two members of Bananarama, Neville Staple of The Specials, members of Aswad and Musical Youth and Suggs and Chas Smash of Madness.
(20) Duran Duran - New Moon on Monday
Duran weren't far from a schism but this single from their third album is one of the reasons I'm still quite upset they split up when they did. Simon's voice does a lot of the work here and because of its register, this isn't a song they played live too often. Guitarist Andy Taylor has cited the video as one of the most embarrassing moments of his life - the director asking all five members to dance in the street whilst fireworks go off behind them. Watch it and it'll become the most embarrassing moment of your life too.
(19) Wham! - Last Christmas/Everything She Wants
Another key event in 80s popular culture was the announcement of a Wham! Christmas single. A special slot was created on TV for the premier of the video and we all sat round waiting for it to air. It didn't disappoint and the song has charted every single year since downloads and streams count towards chart positions (2007). The double-A side, "Everything She Wants" is Wham!'s best song by far but it was ignored by radio stations for obvious reasons. They missed out on a Christmas number 1 as the other song George Michael appeared on, "Do They Know it's Christmas" beat it to the top spot. It finally hit the top spot at Christmas in 2023 because of the absence of X-factor finalists and "Ladbaby".
(18) U2 - Pride (In the Name of Love)
A tribute to Martin Luther King, U2 had started to sound much more like a band who could sell singles to the general public. The infinitely catchy chorus and stunning guitar riffs go all the way to making this a single you wanted to replace the needle at the start of the disc and go again and again.
(17) Madonna - Holiday
Madonna's introduction to the wider music scene was quite modest by her standards. A quirky pop song about needing a Holiday reached number 6 in the UK but the look she sported in the video is one which everyone would recognise as Madonna. "Holiday" was re-released in 1985 after she's had four consecutive top 5 hits and it reached number 2 behind her own "Into the Groove". She tried this feat again with "Borderline" (which originally reached number 56) and this also peaked at number 2 in 1986. It wasn't third time lucky however as the re-release of her second single (the number 14 peaking "Lucky Star") only reached number 84. "Holiday" was released again in 1991 and reached number 5.
(16) Talk Talk - It's My Life
"It's My Life" only managed to reach number 46 in 1984 before disappearing. They re-released it in 1985 and it did even worse, only scraping in at number 93. The third release managed to capture a few imaginations and in 1990 it got to number 13, their highest ever chart placing. It throws up all sorts of questions about what used to make people go out and purchase a physical unit of music. This is a brilliant pop song but for whatever reason, it either didn't reach the ears of enough people or I'm completely wrong about how good it is.
(15) Bryan Adams - Run to You
Pop rock wasn't entirely new at this time, but something that sounded this good was. A lot of hair-rock bands like Whitesnake and Foreigner had been floating about in the charts remaining largely unnoticed or ignored but Bryan turned a lot of people onto the concept of loud upfront guitars without the sweat and tight leggings. It's arguable that he paved the way for the likes of Bon Jovi and Europe but "Run to You" is simplicity wrapped up in a joyously produced vocal bundle of rock ebullience.
(14) Hall & Oates - Out of Touch
First appearing in the UK charts in 1976 with "She's Gone" which reached a princely number 46, it took the duo six years to crack the top 10 with "I Can't go for That (No can do)". "Out of Touch" settled at a baffling number 48 in the UK despite it being their best single by far. This is borne out by the fact it hit the number 1 spot in America. It didn't get its moment in the sun in the UK until the group "Uniting Nations" covered it in 2004 and saw it climb to number 7.
(13) Level 42 - Hot Water
When I first heard this, I couldn't get it out of my head, to paraphrase Kylie. That's the mark of a great single isn't it? One that won't leave your head and makes you pop to Woolworths with your £1.49. Mark King's bass is superb and probably better framed in the 12" version of this song but as with a lot of Level 42 singles, the verse completely outshines the chorus (traditionally, the chorus is the main event). None of their first eight releases broke the top 20 and this, their 11th single, just scraped in at number 18.
(12) Tina Turner - What's Love Got to do With it
This is another single that made me reach for the volume button on my cassette radio. That synth-panpipe motif at the start is wonderful and it seems weird now but I remember thinking, "Who is this singing?" Having not released anything in the UK since 1973's "Nutbush City Limit", her comeback single "Let's Stay Together" had completely eluded me despite its number 6 chart placing. "What's Love Got to do with it" hit number 1 in the USA making her the oldest solo female chart topper (she was 44). She never managed a number 1 in the UK but this was her biggest selling single ever and gave her a career high of number 3 (Both "River Deep, Mountain High" and "We Don't Need Another Hero" peaked at number 3).
(11) Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Two Tribes
"Relax" had spent five weeks at number 1, nineteen weeks in the top 10 and sixty-three weeks in the top 100 between November 1983 and April 1985. It had dropped into the top 30 after it's run at the top when "Two Tribes" was released. This reignited sales for both singles and in July 1984, "Two Tribes" was at number 1 (for nine consecutive weeks) whilst "Relax" was at number 2. To say Frankie were a phenomenon is an understatement. They even spawned a T-Shirt craze which was basically a white T-shirt with "Frankie says Relax" written on the front in big black letters. "Two Tribes" was just as energetic and bombastic as "Relax" and was every inch a number 1 single (and even won Holly Johnson, Peter Gill and Mark O'Toole an Ivor Novello award).
(10) Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy - Kiss Me
Original vocalist with Duran Duran, Stephen Duffy fronted the band "Tin Tin" who released a version of this in 1982 but it failed to chart. He then recorded a solo version a few years later and saw it climb all the way to number 4. A few singles at that time contained the sampled "Dum Dum" voice which came on one of the floppy disks supplied with the $8000 Emulator-2 sampler (also used to great effect by "The Art of Noise", a group that included Trevor Horn and J. J. Jeczalic who both worked on the aforementioned "Two Tribes").
This is a wonderfully glossy pop song which frames Duffy's chirpy optimism perfectly.
(9) Prince - When Doves Cry
It's all about the spaces in this song. It's not over produced, it contains very little instrumentation, it has unique drum sounds and a wonderfully simple synth hook between verses. The lyrics are thought provoking and Prince's voice is allowed to sparkle amongst the motifs. They certainly don't write them like this any more. This was the first single from the "Purple Rain" album and if it was something you bought into, this period of Prince's career will still be regarded today as one of the most significant in the history of pop. This was his first UK top ten hit, reaching number 4.
(8) Dead or Alive - You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)
Whoever you were, this song will have had your attention. It was the first number 1 hit for production team "Stock, Aitken & Waterman" (who removed all the musicians from the process of making records), and Dead or Alive's only number 1 hit. Pete Burn's vocals were always quite intense but on this song, they're slightly terrifying. The energy suits the urgency of the track though so it all combines to create a classic which has never aged a day.
(7) Tears for Fears - Shout
"Songs from the Big Chair" was one of the albums of the decade and spawned two of the singles of the decade. "Shout" graced the top ten for seven weeks, peaking at number 4. The Linn drum rhythm provides the platform for the entire thing but its the expert production that brings the song to life. Roland Orzabal has gone on record recently to say he wishes he could go back and rewrite the lyrics for the verses but to us Tears for Fears fans, the song remains a nugget of perfect pop.
(6) Wham! - Wake Me Up Before You Go Go
Just nine original singles released, all nine went top ten and four got to number 1. This song was the first of those four chart toppers (remaining there for two weeks) and what an in-your-face single this was. Bouncy, optimistic neon-tinged glittery pop fronted by the increasingly flamboyant George Michael who was starting to establish himself as a bona fide pop star. Wearing white jeans and a "Choose Life" T-shirt at the start of the video, he swaps this for a pair of tiny shorts, a day-glow hoodie and a fetching pair of yellow neon fingerless gloves. Meanwhile, Andrew opts for a Legionnaire's hat with back-flap. Needless to say, neither fashion statement caught on as much as leg warmers and Deeley boppers.
(5) Nik Kershaw - Wouldn't it be Good?
Nik is a jazz musician first and foremost. Trying to pick some of his songs apart is futile for all but the best musicians. The chord structures, rhythmic patterns and chord progressions on his first album "Human Racing" were beyond us mere mortals. The result on "Wouldn't it be Good?" is a convoluted and intriguing verse and bridge which perfectly sets up the simpler radio friendly chorus. An absolute gem of a song; Nik's first hit and a number 4 which he bettered only twice.
(4) Bananarama - Robert De Niro's Waiting
Another single with a brilliant intro. It's so clean and shiny, it immediately sets the tone for the rest of the song. The song is about the love of a celebrity; in this case, the Banana's love for Robert De Niro. They never had a number 1 single but this one didn't do too badly, reaching a career high of number 3. Siobhan Fahey did have a number 1 in 1992 with the "Shakespears Sister" track "Stay" which remained at the top for eight weeks!
(3) Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy
Synthesizers have always been a bit cold haven't they? It took a while before the general music buying public saw them as anything other than soulless computers being prodded at by androids. In steps "Bronski Beat" with a masterclass in framing an extremely clever lyric with perfection. The notes they don't use are more important than the ones they do - there's so much space in the musical accompaniment that Jimmy Somerville's perfect falsetto glides around and at times, becomes another instrument in the pop orchestra. This reached number 3 but nothing they released beyond this ever carried the same gravitas, preferring instead to turn their hand to disco and emotionless pop before Jimmy upped and left to form "The Communards".
(2) Duran Duran - The Reflex
Watch the video for this song and you'll want to be Simon Le Bon. He was the pop star at the time and the perfect front man. Strange that parent Album "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" had been out for four months and, this being the third single released from said album, it crashed straight in at number 1. Totally unheard of! Part of the reason could be the fact the single had been remixed from the album version by Nile Rogers who added all the "Ta na na na" parts and juiced up the rhythms. It wasn't released as the lead single because the record company thought people would be put off by the "Why-ay-ay-ay-ay don't you use it" parts, completely ignoring the fact it was moments like this in songs which made them stick in your head.
(1) Cyndi Lauper - Time After Time
Magical. A far superior song to "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" which got to number 2 earlier in the year, this only reached number 3. This is another song from this decade which will stand the test of time and sound good in whichever year its played. The video however contains a lot more caravans than you'd think.