1986

Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1985

1986 signalled a sea change in popular music, the quality of which would slowly decline until something of a renaissance as the 1990s began. Wham! announced their split and saw George Michael embark on a successful, more adult contemporary-focussed, solo career. Madonna dominated the charts with five of her singles from the 'True Blue' album making the top 5, a re-release of a song from 1957 became Christmas Number 1 ('Reet Petite'), 'The Chart Show' (one of the greatest pop programmes ever to grace television) debuted on Channel 4, Rock gods 'Queen' set off on their final ever tour together, Dire Straits hogged the top of the album charts for 10 weeks with 'Brothers in Arms' and Paul Simon's 'Graceland' did likewise for 5 weeks in October/November. We said hello to Charlotte Church, Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys and McFly's Danny Jones (all born in 1986) whilst we said goodbye to Phil Lynott.

I listened to the 317 singles which entered the top 40 in 1986 and whittled them down to a best 40 singles of 1986...

(40) (I JUST) DIED IN YOUR ARMS - CUTTING CREW

Apart from the 'ooh-waah!' weirdness at the start of the vocal, this is wonderful pop single. Beautifully constructed by legendary producer Tim Palmer, with just the right level of emotion to distract you from whatever you're doing. The song title was scribbled on a piece of wallpaper by lead singer Nick Van Eede, it's not clear why, and the record company didn't originally want to add (I Just) at the start of the song title but it was pointed out that The Rolling Stones had done it with (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction so they relented. The song reached number 1 in four countries, resting at number 4 in the UK, remaining in the top 10 for four weeks.

If they'd received royalties from every hair dresser who named their shop 'The Cutting Crew' in 1986 , they'd probably have made more from that than from sales of the single.

(39) YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME - BON JOVI

This is probably one of the best named singles of all time. As soon as you hear the title, you hear the song in your head - that's what every record company executive dreams about. Despite the dubious haircuts, Bon Jovi were a good looking band with oodles of charisma so their videos were very engaging, full of energy and positivity, despite the slightly oppressive nature of the lyrics. They never managed a UK number 1, which is surprising indeed but they did have 18 top 10 singles, which is equally surprising.

This was their first hit from their second release, reaching a disappointing number 14 in the chart. Better was to follow however.

(38) DON'T LEAVE ME THIS WAY - THE COMMUNARDS

I have a rule of not including songs in these top 40's if they've previously been released. For example, I didn't include Jackie Wilson's 'Reet Petite' (Christmas number 1 in 1986) because it had troubled the charts in 1957 and, should I venture there in future, it'll be in that top 40 instead. I'm little more fluid with cover versions however, especially when they're as good as this. How do you better a song that's been performed by both 'Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' and 'Thelma Houston'? Well, in stepped Jimmy Sommerville and said 'Hold my Irn Bru' (He's Scottish you see).

The Communards (of which Jimmy was a member) employed the vocal talents of Jazz singer Sarah Jane Morris. I thought this a weird thing to do because she sounded exactly like Jimmy and it was often difficult to discern who was singing what. Aficionados of the original Philadelphia version probably hated this version but The Communards turned it into something entirely different with Jimmy's soaring falsetto, the Reverend Richard Coles slamming the piano keys with unchristian-like velocity and that middle section where everyone does the 'oooooooooooohhh - baby' crescendo into a key change. Just glorious.

It of course hit Number 1 in the UK and stayed there for four weeks.

(37) LET'S GO ALL THE WAY - SLY FOX

In the Google-less days of 1986, I knew not who Sly Fox were nor from whence they came. All I knew was, they had an extremely catchy pop single that I couldn't get out of my head. It didn't really resemble anything else, which is one of the best things about pop music before the 2000s. It used looped digital processed samples as percussion and had lovely twinkling synth sounds decorating the dead-pan vocals. After this number 3 peaking single, they were never heard from again (not by me anyway).

(36) MY FAVOURITE WASTE OF TIME - OWEN PAUL

I'm not sure that 'You're my Favourite Waste of Time' is much of a compliment but it's nice to know you're the best at something I suppose. The song was written and recorded in 1979 by Marshall Crenshaw and later covered by Bette Midler of all people.  One-hit-wonder Owen Paul released his version in May 1986 and took it to number 3. It's a truly joyous song and one that got me reaching for the volume dial on my radio in the heady summer of '86.

(35) TRAIN OF THOUGHT - A-HA

It's a matter of taste this song  I suppose. Extremely unconventional and miles away from the previous hits, 'Take on Me' and 'The Sun Always Shines on TV'.  The lyrics were inspired by Dostoevsky, not the first place one looks for pop single inspiration. The animated video was actually produced before the famous 'Take on Me' one, and was actually the reason they redid the original 'Take on Me' video, which was bland in the extreme.

This song actually sounds like a train, which I suppose is the point. It reached number 8.

 

(34) KYRIE - MR MISTER

How confused I was when this song popped up in the charts. I'd been playing a piece of music on the piano for years; it was 'Kyrie in D Minor' or 'Kýrie, eléison' (translates as 'Lord have mercy'), by Mr. Mozart (more on him later). This wasn't the pop version of that classical masterpiece - it was a whole different thing entirely. The mid-80s was awash with songs that had huge anthemic choruses and this fitted into that brief perfectly, even stripping it back entirely mid-way through the song, singing it a cappella style didn't remove the pomp.

I was disappointed to learn that this band weren't included as a character in the new batch of Mr. Men books.

'Kyrie' reached number 11.

(33) WORD UP - CAMEO

For most people of the era, this song will forever be associated with a bright red plastic cod piece. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I probably wouldn't Google it if I were you. This song came from Cameo's thirteenth album - despite this being only the second time they'd bothered the top 20 in the UK. The song borrows a motif from 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' for reasons known only to Cameo but has a unique (at the time) groove and simple melody which made people like me feel 'cool' because I could sing along, hit all the notes and feel like maybe one day, I could wear a big red cod piece too.

Word Up! settled at number 3 in September 1986.

(32) SING OUR OWN SONG - UB40

Not a band I was overly fond of UB40 but this song captured my imagination. It featured Jaki Graham and Ruby Turner on backing vocals and reached number five in the UK chart. 'Sing Our Own Song' is an anti-apartheid song, and quite a powerful one at that.

(31) LIVE TO TELL - MADONNA

What an intro! The first minute of this song is a sonic masterpiece. Atmosphere is one of the most important things to get right when producing music, and this has more atmosphere than a teenagers bedroom. This song features a very different Madonna to the one we were watching rolling around on a Gondola in the 'Like a Virgin' video (in fact we saw a different Madonna with every single song she released).

Here she is sombre, almost vulnerable, speaking of regrets and fears. Her range as a pop star was expanding with every release - and nobody expected something like this from her. It's still an all time classic song - it's not higher in the list because it doesn't really fit the brief of what a single should be and, In my opinion, it was bold to release this as the lead single from the album 'True Blue' when you had others like 'Papa Don't Preach', 'Open Your Heart', 'La Isla Bonita', 'Where's the Party' and 'True Blue' to choose from. Thinking about it, 'True Blue' is probably the album of the decade *checks notes* actually, it was the best selling album of 1986 - beating Brothers in Arms! (However, it was only 10th biggest seller of the decade - Brothers in Arms was number 1)

'Live to Tell' reached number 2 behind 'Rock Me Amadeus' in May.

(30) STRIPPED - DEPECHE MODE

Depeche Mode became louder, darker, scarier and more confident as time went on. This was a million miles away from 'Just Can't Get Enough' and was probably the reason bands like Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and Marilyn Manson existed and nudged their way into the charts come the 90s. This was the birth of the industrial sound and it wasn't fully embraced by the record buying public in 1986, nor it seems, by the Depeche Mode fan base. It only reached number 15 and only remained in the top 40 for four weeks; it was very definitely before it's time.

(29) LIFE'S WHAT YOU MAKE IT - TALK TALK

The mixture of the piano loop and the wonderous guitar part makes this single a winner well before the vocals even start. It sneaked into the number 16 spot in the chart in January 1986 however, I don't remember this from 1986, my entire memory of the song is from it's re-release in 1990 when it reached number 23. Similarly, their 1984 song 'It's My Life' was re-released in 1990 and reached number 13. Probably the best marketing decision their record company ever made, doubling their royalties without putting much actual work in to do so. Probably.

(28) LAND OF CONFUSION - GENESIS

Hard to believe, but 70s and 80s UK chart regulars Genesis only scored eight top ten hits. Probably because Phil Collins had so many solo hits, it was difficult to tell which were his and which were Genesis. This was unequivocally Genesis though, the searing keyboards, bombastic production and chugging infectious guitar line proving they were probably better as a three than as a Collins solo record or a Mike and the Mechanics offshoot.

The heavy political message of the song was juxtaposed by the whole thing being played out by Spitting Image puppets, making you unsure whether to laugh or cry.  The song reached number 14, one better than their previous release that year 'Invisible touch', which has one of the best mis-heard lyrics of all time : "She seems to have an invisible todger". Have a listen and tell me that's not what he's saying.

(27) PANIC - THE SMITHS

This is absolutely one of the best produced singles of all time. It's flawless which is a feat in itself for a track with so many jangly guitars and syncopated rhythms (a gracious nod to the musicians involved). One of those straight in and out songs which doesn't hang around, outstay its welcome and begs to be played just one more time. Being a protest about 'modern' pop music, when it was played on primetime radio among the songs it outwardly criticised, I'm sure Morrissey afforded himself a wry smile.

If this was Morrissey's commentary about the tepid nature of pop music in 1986, lord knows what he thinks of it these days. Music was recorded by musicians back then, regardless of its perceived quality, I'm sure he'd rather be listening to 1986 than 2026. The Beatles used to release singles that didn't appear on Albums and The Smiths carried that on to a certain extent. Panic didn't appear on an album which probably helped it up to a healthy number 11 in August. If you think it's a crime this didn't break the top 10, just remember that songs such as 'I Want to Wake up With You', Stan Ridgeway's 'Camouflage' and Sinitta's 'So Macho' were all higher in the chart. I know.

(26) BEGINNING (MAMBA SEYRA) - BUCKS FIZZ

I don't know how many drums are used on this single but it's probably more than the rest of the top 40 at the time put together. I'm not aware of another pop song prior to this one that leaned in on the rhythms so heavily, but it lit up the record. The song had actually been recorded by 'The Dooleys' (of 'Chosen Few' fame) under a pseudonym. However, after Jay Aston had left Bucks Fizz and been replaced by Shelley Preston, it was chosen as the former Eurovision winners' come-back single.

The song reached number 8 and became their final chart entry. For those of you not au fait with the back catalogue of Bucks Fizz, I would urge you to give their Greatest Hits a spin, you'll be surprised by how many songs you actually like.

(25) ROCK ME AMADEUS - FALCO

Being a classical pianist by the age of 11, I was probably the only kid at my primary school who knew who 'Amadeus' was. I didn't speak German however so knew only that the song was about Mozart and probably about how he wrote what could have been considered the 'pop' music of his day. It topped the charts in 10 different countries including the UK. It probably wasn't the first 'Euro-dance' track to enter the chart but the genre was far more prevalent in the months and years following.

(24) MANIC MONDAY - THE BANGLES

Written by Prince, the melody of the opening line is exactly the same as that on 1999. For 'Six o'clock already I was just in the middle of a dream', read 'I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray'. The song had been written for Apollonia 6 (a Prince mentored trio) but subsequently pitched to The Bangles who gratefully snapped the song up.  It was a watershed moment that plopped the foursome on the pop map and enabled further chart success.

It's a very simple song with a Nursery Rhyme quality but that's what makes it such a great single - it's hooky and bright. It entered the top 10 and rose quickly to number 2 behind Diana Ross' 'Chain Reaction' in what was probably the worst top 10 of the year - '(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin' was at number 7, 'Hi Ho Silver' at number 6, 'New York, New York' was at number 4 for some reason and 'Love Missile F1-11' by Sigue Sigue Sputnik was at number 3. The 80s clearly wasn't all legwarmers and Rubik's cubes.

(23) THE EDGE OF HEAVEN - WHAM!

I can still feel this in my bones. It had been announced that Wham! were to split up after a concert at Wembley Stadium in the summer of '86. Mr. Michael had become too big for the vehicle he was 'the shy one' of at the beginning. Wham! had become a definition of the mid-80s charts and as news of their split emerged, it ensured that this song entered the chart at number 2, rising to number 1 for the two weeks following. In it's own right, this song is what the pop charts were created for. It's big, brash, loud and glossy, everything George Michael's subsequent pop career wasn't.

(22) TRUE COLORS - CYNDI LAUPER

A truly great pop vocal performance here, probably one of the very best. I'd like to have heard her sing Madonna's 'Live to Tell', it would definitely have given it a certain fractured quality that could have made it even better?

The demo for this song was a gospel-style 'Bridge over Troubled Water' thing, but Cyndi saw through that and completely dismantled it in favour of the stark version that ended up at number 12, criminally. Again, the songs which were higher in the chart tell a story of an eclectic bunch of people going into record shops and buying 'Every Loser Wins' by Eastenders' own Nick Berry (Number 1), 'In the Army now' (Number 4), 'Midas Touch' (Number 10) and that man again, Boris Gardner with 'You're Everything to Me'. You can't say that there wasn't something for everyone in those days I suppose.

(21) ROSES - HAYWOODE

If you're looking to write a good pop song then you'll need a hook, a good melody, some energy, a great vocal and memorable lyrics. You don't always need those things but in this case, they're all present and correct. The guitar part over the inbetween-bits is the hook here. I get chills whenever I hear it and Haywoode's vocal is perfect for upbeat chirpy pop music like this. She'd made six previous attempts to chart but got no higher than number 48 with her 1983 single 'A Time Like This'. 'Roses' was released in 1985 and reached number 65 but it was re-released and made it's way up to number 11 in August 1986.

(20) VENUS - BANANARAMA

This is probably the song Bananarama are most associated with but it probably ushered in a bland new era for them when they'd been doing so well previously. Their collaborations with Fun Boy 3 had been unusual, their debut album was uniquely interesting, 'Robert DeNiro's Waiting' and 'Cruel Summer' were all time classics, even 'Rough Justice' was erring on the more adult contemporary side. However, although Venus is a brilliant pop song, I didn't think it suited them and Siobhan Fahey agreed; after the release of 'Love in the First Degree', she left citing musical blandness and formed the faultless alternative-pop group 'Shakespears Sister'.

'Venus' reached number 8 in July.

(19) DIGGING YOUR SCENE - BLOW MONKEYS

If smooth lounge jazz isn't your thing or you think saxophones are seedy, then I challenge you to deny you like this song. To say its soulful is to say water is slightly wet. It's full of emotion and sexiness and was created by people who knew their musical instruments (including their voices) inside and out. This was their second release and first hit single (number 12) and although they only had one top 10 success ('It Doesn't Have to Be This Way'), they're still around and about in 2024.

(18) OPEN YOUR HEART - MADONNA

Madonna's range as a pop vocalist was stretched once more on this track to the point you believed she was capable of anything. Originally called 'Follow Your Heart' and written for Cyndi Lauper, Madonna's management quickly snapped the song up and with Madge's help, turned it from a Rock and Roll song into a Pop track. This is the highest charting song called 'Open Your Heart' (Number 4) beating Human League (6), Europe (86) and M People (9). Incidentally, Europe's 'Open Your Heart' is brilliant and should have been a top 10 hit for the piano and guitar parts alone. (Incidentally, Madonna's 'Open Your Heart' was stopped from climbing a further place to number 3 by Europe's 'Final Countdown')

(17) HAPPY HOUR - THE HOUSEMARTINS

Paul Heaton is a master wordsmith and an A1 level song writer. The Beautiful South song 'A Little Time' is one of the greatest singles of all time, in fact, most of The Beautiful South's singles were brilliant. 'Happy Hour', lyrically, is superb, taking a swipe at sexism, 'yuppies' and godawful people who think they're something they're not. The chorus glues the whole thing together and Heaton's voice lends a jovial sardonic tone which ensures the song doesn't tip over into anything too acerbic. Genius really.

The song reached number 3 in June behind Wham!'s 'Edge of Heaven' and Madonna's 'Papa Don't Preach'. Not bad for a first hit single.

(16) SPIRIT IN THE SKY - DOCTOR AND THE MEDICS

I can never think of this as a novelty single. The Gothic costumes, backing singers with creepy wigs and accompanying hand dances, over the top makeup, huge theatrics and a glam-rock infused re-imagining of the Norman Greenbaum classic all pointed towards 'novelty'. But you know what? It totally works as a genuine assault on the chart. That filtered guitar riff at the beginning is so crisp, it opens the track perfectly. The original got to number 1 in 1970 and sixteen years later, Dr. and the Medics took it to number 1 again for three weeks.

(15) TOUCH ME (I WANT YOUR BODY) - SAMANTHA FOX

You shouldn't ever really do what pop singles tell you to but, if you have to, make sure you've got at least two bottles of hand sanitizer. This single was a genuine surprise. Someone who was famous for something else entirely, releasing a pop single? When has that ever gone well? Well - right here actually.

Ms. Fox had a perfectly decent pop voice (she'd been auditioned by a record company who were looking for a new British Madonna) and with this track, sold the entire thing perfectly well. I'm a little troubled by the metaphor in the second verse : 'Like a tramp in the night, I was begging for you'. Not entirely sure she knows what a tramp is but regardless of that, a decent number 3 hit was a good way to start a much more dignified career.

(14) WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING - BILLY OCEAN

If the musicians union weren't miffed enough by the advent of synthesizers and miming on Top of the Pops, they were forced to write a strongly worded letter when Billy Ocean's video featured Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito singing backup (as they were in the film 'The Jewel of the Nile' of which 'When the Going Gets Tough' was the theme song) even though they weren't the vocalists on the record. The video was then temporarily banned from Top of the Pops when it turned out that Danny DeVito (who mimed playing a saxophone) wasn't in the Musicians Union and that was 'against the rules'. This begs the question of how Jason Donovan ever got on Top of the Pops?

Whoever wrote that moogling (sic) bassline at the start of the song needs a trophy of some sort. The song hit number 1 and stayed there four weeks in April.

(13) HOLDING BACK THE YEARS - SIMPLY RED

The perfect song to explain my opinion of what makes a great song and what makes a great single. 'Holding Back the Years' is a masterpiece. Vocally, musically, atmospherically, lyrically, sentimentally, emotionally - brilliant song but not the best single. It's a song that takes a while to take hold of you, a good few listens to understand fully - a single should grab you straight away. Mick Hucknall wrote it when he was 17 and on it's first release in 1985, it peaked at 51. This was after the band's breakthrough with the number 13 hit 'Money's Too Tight to Mention'.

The song is backed by a beautiful video, filmed in the gorgeous Yorkshire town of Whitby. Just delightful.

(12) IF YOU WERE HERE TONIGHT - ALEXANDER O'NEAL

One of my favourite songs of all time was the single preceding this Alex classic, 'A Broken Heart Can Mend'. I get the same chills I had on first listen whenever I pop it on. It only managed to climb to number 53 in the UK. However, when 'If You Were Here Tonight' appeared and climbed to number 6, I knew Alex was going to be massive. The decorative piano riff which persists throughout the track is gorgeous, layer that with Alex's Galaxy Caramel voice and you've got something wonderous to put on repeat for an hour (at least). The B-side 'What's Missing' is, if anything,  better than the A-side, making it a must buy (if you've got a time machine).

(11) PAPA DON'T PREACH - MADONNA

From the stabbing orchestral intro to the perfect synth bass, this is a perfectly produced piece of glossy pop loveliness. Of course, there's the Madonna-signature controversial lyrical content but it made for an interesting and compelling song with an actual story and message - something not always present in the bubble-gum pop of the time (such as 'Do Ya Do Ya (Wanna Please Me)' by Samantha Fox).

It spent six weeks in the top 3 and three weeks at number 1. The song was tainted for me slightly when 'vocalist' Kelly Osbourne took it to number 3 in 2002 somehow. This was before downloads counted towards chart positions so people were actively physically leaving their houses to part with actual money to own that song. Ladies and Gentlemen, the power* of reality TV.

*iniquity

(10) BIG MOUTH STRIKES AGAIN - THE SMITHS

Originally the 'La-di-da ha-ha' bits in this song annoyed me. It made me wonder how the record executives involved in making the decisions around the production and release of this song hadn't noticed. Then, I got older and my appreciation of such things matured. These days, I look back on this as a watershed for pop music. Everything about this single is magnificent. Joan of Arc's Walkman, smashing teeth, Roman noses and having no right to take a place in the human race - wonderful wordsmithery by the Smiths - maybe that's how they got their name?

The final chart position of number 26 doesn't in any way reflect the genius of this song - probably because none of us were ready for it. Maybe we're still not.

(9) SLEDGEHAMMER - PETER GABRIEL

I'm not sure there was a human being in the UK who hadn't seen the Sledgehammer video. How successful this song would have been without the video, I'm not sure, but it's very well crafted all the same. The parent album 'So' is one of the best of the 80s and in 'Mercy Street' has one of the best songs of the 80s. A number 4 placing matched that of 'Games Without Frontiers' as Peter Gabriel's highest chart placing to date.

(8) THROUGH THE BARRICADES - SPANDAU BALLET

From their debut, a number 6 hit with 'To Cut a Long Story Short', Spandau managed at least one top 10 hit in each of the first five years of the 80s. They skipped 1985 but came back with a bang in 1986 with 'Fight for Ourselves' and this masterpiece of a song 'Through the Barricades'. It was mature and beautifully structured; it showcased Tony Hadley's voice wonderfully too. This, their last top ten hit, mirrored the first in that it climbed to number 6.

(7) WE DON'T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF - JERMAINE STEWART

This is exactly how to have a hit single. The muted beginning to the song promises so much and then, after the bass-scratch, squirts pop music in your face like a pressure washer. I taped this when it was on the television and watched it back every single night for weeks. It was the song around which all other songs revolved in 1986 for me. Jermaine did have other hits despite his billing as a one-hit-wonder. His 1988 track 'Say it Again' is brilliant.

You don't have to take your clothes off to have a good time, which is a good job because it never gets above 8 degrees here in the North East of England. The track reached number 2 for two weeks stalling behind The Communards' 'Don't Leave me This Way'.

(6) ADDICTED TO LOVE - ROBERT PALMER

There were many moments in my life when I heard a new song and thought music couldn't get any better. Heaven 17's 'Temptation' was one of those moments. Tasmin Archer's 'Sleeping Satellite' was another. 'Addicted to Love' changed my life slightly for three and a half minutes in June 1986. I couldn't understand how a song this good was even possible.

It was originally mooted to be a duet with Chaka Khan. Although she couldn't work a release from her record company to do so, she's still credited with the vocal arrangements - and you can really hear her singing it in your mind's ear. The track features the rhythm guitar work of Duran Duran's Andy Taylor (who was also in The Power Station with Robert Palmer). The video for the song was striking too, utilising a striking Patrick Nagel-inspired backing group (another Duran Duran link; he designed the cover of their album 'Rio'). It reached number 5.

(5) LOVE COMES QUICKLY - PET SHOP BOYS

In my 1985 commentary, I noted how The Pet Shop Boys never struck me as a very good pop group - almost anti-pop in their personae and completely without imagination in their image. However, 'West End Girls' was a genre defining song. 'Love Comes Quickly' is moribund and moody. The Synths in this song are used very intelligently and I don't even mind Neil Tennant's voice on this. Strange on the back of 'West End Girls' and its massive success that this follow up just scratched the top 20, reaching number 19 before falling away.

(4) SANCTIFY YOURSELF - SIMPLE MINDS

Turn this one up to full volume!

I'm not sure how to Sanctify Yourself but Simple Minds seem adamant that you should for some reason. This song has one of the best introductions of the 80s - gets the blood moving and the old right foot tapping. The vocal tune in the verse is all a bit random but the chorus and musical in-between-bits more than make up for it. It reached number 10 in February.

(3) HOUNDS OF LOVE - KATE BUSH

'Its in the trees! It's coming!'

Kate Bush in full flow here. You can tell she's in her element regardless of the insecure and very stark lyric. Consider this : 'I found a fox caught by dogs, He let me take him in my hands, His little heart, it beats so fast, And I'm ashamed of running away from nothing real. I just can't deal with this. I'm still afraid to be there among the hounds of love.'

This is a prime example of Kate being either a very brave songwriter or a very Avant Garde one. Probably both.

Although it didn't resonate at all with the single-buying public, it's another of those (like so many in my to 40) that have the passage of time to thank for us realising just how blessed we were to live through these iconic times and that the songs from those days sound so much better the older they get.

It only rose to a criminally low number 18 - Kate was always more of an albums artist anyway. The parent album, also called 'Hounds of Love' of course hit number 1 for three weeks and remained on the chart for 68 weeks.

(2) HIGHER LOVE - STEVE WINWOOD

 Steve 'Spencer Davis Group and Traffic' Winwood did manage to get Chaka Khan to appear on his record, in this case, performing backing vocals. 'Higher Love' is a song which endures. It was brilliant at the time and it's still brilliant now. That drum intro was a complete accident. It was recorded without the drummer knowing - he was playing around during a break - and it was spliced onto the beginning of the track.

It only reached number 13 in July but I'm sure Steve will take some solace in knowing he's a number 2 in my mind.

(1) BROKEN WINGS - MR MISTER

I was once asked by a very strange friend of mine, 'If you were trapped in a lift forever and had to listen to one song on repeat, what would it be?' Without hesitation, I said 'Broken Wings'. I must have listened to this song at least once a month since the advent of Spotify (before then, it was on a hissy Memorex C90 with the last few seconds missing because the tape ran out). As vocal performances go, this takes some beating. As guitar accompaniments and simple but effective synth bass parts go, it also has very few peers. It's no spoiler to say that when I've done my top 40 of 1989, and I sum up with my top 10 of the 1980s, this will probably be number 1. The public didn't agree however, nudging it up to number 4 in January 1986 behind A-Ha's 'Sun Always Shines', Dire Straits' 'Walk of Life' and Pet Shop Boys' 'West End Girls' which had started falling back down the chart.

 

If you want to see my blog about 1985 click here, or if you'd like to dip into the 70s, click here

 

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1985

Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1985

1985 was a big year for music, not least for the fact Queen, King, Prince and Princess were all in the charts at the same time but also, it was the year of Live Aid. Following on from the success of the Band Aid single which raised millions for famine relief in Ethiopia, scores of the biggest names in music came together to perform in what still remains the greatest single music event in history. Mick Jagger and David Bowie teamed up to cover the Marvin Gaye penned 'Dancing in the Street' for the same charity, scoring a number 1. Russ Abbot had an All Night Holiday, Denise Lasalle warned us all about messing with her 'Toot-Toot' and Rory Bremner released a rather amusing parody cover of Paul Hardcastle's '19' entitled 'N-N-Nineteen (Not Out)'.  Jimmy Nail surprised us all with his decent singing voice on Series 2 of 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet' and subsequently hit the charts with 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore'. Billy Connolly released a 45 of his theme tune to the Kids' TV Show 'Supergran' and the phenomenon that was Whitney Houston charted for the first time with 'Saving All My Love For You'.

I listened to the 292 singles which entered the top 40 in 1985, whittled them down to a short-list of 132 and after a LOT of deliberation, present to you my best 40 singles of 1985...

(40) IN TOO DEEP - DEAD OR ALIVE

After pillaging on the high-seas (or at least dressing like that's what he'd been up to), Pete Burns and Dead or Alive released this mid-80s disco anthem as the third single from their Youthquake album. Producer Pete Waterman disagreed with the release saying it was too different from 'You Spin me Round' and would therefore alienate record buyers. He was partially correct as the song only reached number 14 but I actually think this is brilliant, regardless of how unalike the two records are. I particularly enjoy the clever synth motif before each verse, being as I am, a connoisseur of such things.

(39) INTO THE GROOVE - MADONNA

Madonna was definitely getting into her groove with this release. To say that she was ubiquitous in 1985 is to understate just how 'everywhere' she was.  This was her first number 1 single in the UK and remains her best selling single to date. The song also featured in 'Desperately Seeking Susan' in which she appeared.  This is a proper pop song; infectious, punchy and provocative, it was clear, even at this moment in time, that Madonna was destined for great things.

(38) LOVE AND PRIDE - KING

This was the debut single of band 'King', getting nowhere when it was first released in 1984. The world clearly wasn't ready for lead singer Paul King's shiny drainpipe trousers. It was re-released after a TV performance generated interest and it shot all the way up to number 2. The video features Paul wasting cans of spray paint and ruining his new Doctor Martens on a demolition site. There's worse things to get up to on a Saturday I suppose.

The B-side of the double seven-inch pack was called 'I Kissed the Spikey Fridge'. Told you there were worse things to get up to.

(37) RASPBERRY BERET - PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION

A wonderful ditty this. Prince tells us about the time he worked in a shop, became entranced by a customer wearing a reddish-brown French hat and then popped off to a local farm with her before getting trapped in a barn by a thunderstorm. It doesn't sound like the best song in the world but it's definitely one of the best 37 songs of 1985.

In the video, Prince sports a lovely cloudy sky print suit with regency neck ruffle - a look that not every pop star could successfully sell as entirely normal. Legend has it that Ian Broudie mis-heard the lyric 'Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees' and, when he found out they didn't actually contain the phrase 'Lightning Seeds', he used it to name his band.

(36) OUT IN THE FIELDS - GARY MOORE AND PHIL LYNOTT

A mini-Thin Lizzy reunion, Gary asked Phil to join him on a song he'd written about the troubles in Northern Ireland and Phil obliged. It's raucous, raw and stark with a brilliant opening thirty seconds. Gary also released the excellent 'Empty Rooms' in 1985 which reached number 23. Out in the fields peaked at number 3 giving Gary his highest chart placing since 1979's Parisienne Walkways.

(35) SHAKE THE DISEASE - DEPECHE MODE

I was laughed out of a classroom at school once for calling this band 'De-Pesh-Ay Mode' - mainly because that's what David 'Kid' Jensen called them on the radio constantly. Apparently it's pronounced 'De-Pesh Mode', not that I'm still haunted by that particular moment in my life. This was a new song which they included on the compilation 'Singles 81-85' and released as a single in April '85. They'd really begun to master the industrial sound at this stage of their career and would only get better.

 

(34) LIFE IN A NORTHERN TOWN - DREAM ACADEMY

What a debut single this was. Problem was, they didn't follow it up; this number 15 peaking single was their only UK chart entry. Co-writer Nick Laird-Clowes had none other than Paul Simon as a mentor and when he told him he was going to call the song 'Morning lasted all day', Simon told him that was rubbish and to try again. 'Life in a Northern Town' was born, a tale of the decline of the Shipping Industry. The African-esque chorus was sampled by Dario G in 1997 for their hit single 'Sunchyme'.

(33) MIAMI VICE THEME - JAN HAMMER

It's Hammer time, and Jan  can be seen programming a Fairlight in the video - oh how jealous I was. I had to put up with a slightly out of tune upright piano in 1985 but it certainly added a certain jaunty air to 'Alex F' that the composer hadn't intended. This was the theme tune to the hugely popular Miami Vice, a TV show I was too young to either watch or understand. The synth stabs part-way through bear too much similarity to the main hook of 'Celebrate' by Kool and the Gang for my liking. However, this was a very exciting record which paved the way for more electronic instrumental singles in the coming years.

(32) THERE MUST BE AN ANGEL (PLAYING WITH MY HEART) - EURYTHMICS

Long before Mariah Carey tried using every single available note in every song, Annie Lennox managed it in this chart topping piece of perfection. It was Dave and Annie's first and only number 1 single after which they diversified from their winning formula of accessible jaunty pop music into more brooding and serious songs which always made the best of Annie's unique and beguiling vocals. I don't care for many Eurythmics songs but I listen anyway for the vocal performances alone.

Stevie Wonder pops up half-way through with his harmonica - a prolific session musician, it would blow your mind if you saw the list of songs he'd lent his vocals, keyboard and harmonica skills to over the years. His harmonica can also be heard on Elton John's "I Guess That's Why they Call it the Blues", Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You" and Prefab Sprout's 'Nightingales".

(31) SUDDENLY - BILLY OCEAN

Ahh, the first song I attempted at Karaoke and quickly realised that 2-Unlimited's 'No Limits' was probably more my style. Billy had started his career strongly with two number 2 peaking singles in 1976/1977 before disappearing from the charts for 7 years. He popped back up again in 1984 with the release of his fifth album "Suddenly".

The song "Suddenly" was a surprise chart success in that the arguably more-radio-friendly "Caribbean Queen" and "Loverboy" had already been released from the album and reached 6 and 15 respectively.  This ballad (usually a mis-step for a Pop/Disco artist) did better than either, nestling in at number 4 in June. This surprise is borne out by the fact they didn't make a video for the song; it was just Billy on stage performing to an audience. Saved them a bit of cash I suppose and it didn't do the chart placing any harm at all. Billy's vocal here is as good as you'll ever hear on a pop record.

(30) ELECTION DAY - ARCADIA

Nonsense was Simon Le Bon's forte. He was able to write lyrics that sounded profound but on looking a bit closer, don't actually make any sense whatsoever. Simon invited Grace Jones to read a monologue in the middle of the song and wrote this for her : "Cut open murmurs and sounds be calm hands on skin. Carry further entangled strands." Nonsense aside, "Arcadia" is was what Simon, Nick and Roger did after Duran Duran took a hiatus. Everything was highly stylised from the look to the album art work and although the parent album was a masterpiece, it wasn't quite what the remaining Duranies were after. Neither though, was "The Power Station", the group John and Andy went on to form the same year.

"Election Day" reached a respectable number 7 in the UK.

(29) THE WORD GIRL - SCRITTI POLITTI

Thank goodness (Or EMI, whichever you prefer) for the series that was "Now That's What I Call Music". Having purchased every edition up to the then-current number 5 (on which "The Word Girl" appeared as track 2), I was baffled by how many songs in the circa. 30 tracks each edition contained that I'd never heard on the radio or Top of the Pops. This was one such song. A bouncy uplifting pop song with chirpy vocals and lovely bright keyboards. I still think "Scritti Politti" sounds more like a kind of skin disease though.

(28) CRY - GODLEY AND CREME

Kevin Godley was not only a member of 10cc but went on to direct music videos such as , U2's "Even Better Than the Real Thing", Erasure's "Blue Savannah" and Blur's "Girls and Boys". Along with former bandmate Lol Creme (which is what you text back if someone asks if you want milk or cream in your coffee), he directed Duran Duran's "Girls on Film", Frankie's "Two Tribes" and The Police's "Don't Stand so Close to me" among many many others. And so, when Godley and Creme released "Cry", and they needed a video, there were only two men for the job.  Before CGI, they used clever wiping and dissolving effects to make people with very different faces slowly morph into each other. (Something Michael Jackson did on his video for "Black or White" but with much more sophisticated tools.)

Serial producer of hit singles Trevor Horn is involved here but it's not clear whose idea it was to increase the pitch of the word 'cry' until only dogs could hear it right at the end. Sort of ruins the experience, like coming out of a film you've really enjoyed and having the ushers throw popcorn at you as you leave, sort of.

Despite it's mesmerising video and heavy rotation on many different mixed-media TV shows, the song only reached a paltry 19. Baffling really as it belies it's simplicity and is imbued with a wonderful, almost unique atmosphere. Try doing that in 2024.

Incidentally, after Gary Moore and Phil Lynott, this was the second time ex-bandmates had teamed up to release a song together in '85.

(27) SAY I'M YOUR NUMBER ONE - PRINCESS

I do feel a bit sorry for singers with such unique voices that could have gone stratospheric but for the right songwriting team. Kiki Dee is one and Lisa Stansfield is another. If only they'd been luckier with the songs made available to them. This was the case with Princess. She was a session singer and was hired by SAW (Stock, Aitken and Waterman) to do some vocal work on a project for Dee C. Lee. After winning over the production team, they worked on a few tracks together. Once this track was finished, no record label was actually interested in it so SAW created Supreme Records and released it themselves. It reached number 7 and based on SAW's output in the latter part of the 80s, you'd never guess this was theirs.  Sadly, her subsequent singles didn't reach the same heights.

(26) ONE VISION - QUEEN

Apart from the bizarre opening minute of the song, this is brilliant. It chugs along, taking you with it and never stops for breath. Brian May's excellent guitar riff is the kind of thing that makes a kid want an electric guitar for Christmas and Freddie's vocals are probably some of the best he ever laid down on tape bar "These are the Days of our Lives".

Bizarrely, the final iteration of the words "One Vision" are actually "Fried Chicken", which is a nod to a part of the writing process where they didn't have words for the chorus and started singing "One prawn, one clam, one shrimp, one chicken...".  It reached number 7 in November.

(25) THE TASTE OF YOUR TEARS - KING

King made two albums and then they were done. Shame really as they had some proper good singles. Despite the uncomfortable imagery that comes with thinking about someone tasting someone's tears, you'd be really proud of yourself if you'd written this song. It's got so much character and so many great moments - especially the second verse where lead singer Paul gets all shouty and passionate. It's definitely moreish and lights that little flame of nostalgia. Paul went on to host various shows on MTV and became a VJ (like a DJ but for Videos).

(24) WALKING ON SUNSHINE - KATRINA AND THE WAVES

I could never see Katrina and the Waves as a serious band after this single. They weren't a bubble-gum pop band full of optimism and jolly intentions - they were a Motown inspired mood band full of introspection and pessimism.  Although "Walking on Sunshine" was a hit, it ruined their ethos and regardless of anything profound they came up with later, they'd always be the "Walking on Sunshine" band. They leaned into this by writing something similar the following year but "Sun Street" wasn't as catchy and only reached number 22. "Sunshine" got to number 8 and is probably one of the most recognisable tracks of the decade.

Katrina re-emerged in 1997, representing the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest and winning with the song "Love Shine a Light" (which gave the band their highest chart placing with a quite impressive number 3).

(23) LOVERBOY - BILLY OCEAN

Robert "Mutt" Lange might not be a hugely familiar name to you but as a producer and a songwriter his accomplishments include producing the second biggest selling album of all time (AC/DC's "Back in Black") and the best selling album by a solo female, Shania Twain's "Come on Over" in 1997. He's also got his paw-prints all over Bryan Adams' "Waking up the Neighbours", The Corrs' "Breathless" and Heart's "All I Wanna do is Make Love to you".

It's clear from the blood-stirring intro to "Loverboy" that his influence was strong in this track. The best thing about it is it's non-linear style - there's no fear here in the production or the structure. Just listen to the experimentation in the middle 8 - it's so unusual for a commercial pop song. It works though and I've still got this on rotation 40 years later. Superb.

(22) SATURDAY LOVE - CHERRELLE WITH ALEXANDER O'NEAL

Cherrelle was and probably still is an unknown to UK music fans. Part of the successful Minneapolis stable headed up by Prince and Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson's Songwriting team), she shot straight into the R&B top 10 with Jam and Lewis' first ever composition "I Didn't Mean to Turn You on" (covered by Robert Palmer in 1986). She teamed up with another singer who'd worked with Jam and Lewis, Alexander O'Neal, on "Saturday Love" before he went on to have a string of UK hits in his own right.

I can't adequately describe the feeling I had when I first heard this. It was an entirely different musical experience to anything I'd heard before. I'd heard a few Prince songs and enjoyed "When Doves Cry" in particular and though this came from two of his proteges, it was the equivalent of having bad eyesight and putting on a pair of glasses. Music suddenly went up to 4K. When Alex's "Hearsay" album came out, I bought it, listened to it over and over for more years than I care to acknowledge and never looked back. It's not hyperbole to say that Jam and Lewis are probably two of the most important and influential musicians of the 1980s (and beyond).

(21) ALIVE AND KICKING - SIMPLE MINDS

Only in the late 90s did I come to appreciate Simple Minds for what they were. Big songs with a huge voice, I always got the impression they were trying to be U2 but without the lyrical gravitas. Jim Kerr's voice was every bit as powerful and expressive as Bono's but the rest of the band lacked an identity and their songs were definitely written more for radio than for their own musical growth and enrichment.

I found the video for this song particularly stressful as they decided to set up all of their equipment at the edge of a precarious cliff. The production on the track was right up my street though with huge reverbed drums, glass piano chimes and soaring chorus vocals that dilate every blood vessel. It's a song that you could release in any year and get a top ten single. 1985 was brilliant wasn't it?

(20) RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT - DEBARGE

In the UK we didn't get a lot of information about American acts like DeBarge. For example, I didn't know if this was the same DeBarge who sang "Who's Johnny" on the Short Circuit soundtrack because that was by "El DeBarge" - I couldn't go to Google so that, and many other musical questions and mysteries, hung around until just now, when it popped back into my head and made me Google it. El DeBarge, it turns out, is the lead singer of DeBarge. Who knew?

Before "Miami Sound Machine" popularised the latin-beat on pop singles, it was present here - written by Diane Warren (who also wrote LeAnn Rimes' "Can't Fight the Moonlight", Aswad's "Don't Turn Around" and Michael Bolton's "How can we be Lovers") and omnipresent in April 1985. It peaked at number 4 in the UK.

(19) DON'T YOU (FORGET ABOUT ME) - SIMPLE MINDS

Simple Minds didn't want to record this song originally because they didn't write it. Several other artists also declined to record it for the soundtrack to the movie "The Breakfast Club". After a lot of persuasion, they agreed to record it and was a good job they did. Despite having a few low-grade hit singles, this catapulted Simple Minds into the zeitgeist and made the record buying public (and the radio) care about subsequent releases. If not for this song, Simple Minds might have continued to hover around the mid-twenties of the chart before vanishing altogether.

Despite the hollow production, this track is a bona fide generational classic.

(18) THINGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER - HOWARD JONES

Howard's chart career was quite short-lived despite him continuing to release albums and perform live to his army of fans to this day. He first charted in 1983 and his last hit fell out of the chart in 1986. This song has some of my favourite lyrics of the decade, framed by a brilliant musical framework. The backing track is a network of intricate motifs and keyboard genius. The single featured the support of backing group Afrodiziak who also featured on  The Jam's "Beat Surrender", Elvis Costello's "Everyday I Write the Book" among others and one of the group, Caron Wheeler, went on to perform lead vocals on the Soul II Soul song, "Back to Life".

Howard sings, "Treating today as though it was the last, the final show, Get to 60 and feel no regret. It may take a little time, a lonely path, an uphill climb, success or failure will not alter it." I think about this verse a lot for many reasons and were it not in a pop song, it should have won some kind of Pulitzer. The song reached number 6.

(17) A VIEW TO A KILL - DURAN DURAN

Being a self-confessed Duranie, I was all over this at the time. Little did I know it would spell the end of the five-some for nigh-on fifteen years. I bought the single and I went to see the film at the cinema three times in the week it was released. The faultless Christopher Walken plays perfectly off Roger Moore even if the movie is a little bit forgettable. The single stalled at number 2 because Paul Hardcastle's "19" was hogging the top spot, something which still baffles me to this day.

(16) THE HEAT IS ON - GLENN FREY

This song sounds like it was great to record. Every moment in it is filled with joy - from the saxophone intro to Glenn's "Woah-oh-wo-ho" and the "Tell me can you feel it" mantra. It's a blast from start to finish. It was written for the movie Beverly Hill's Cop by Harold Faltermayer (he of "Axel F" fame, from the same movie) and recorded by the second solo member of "The Eagles" to have a hit single in 1985 (the first being Don Henley). Competition for places in the charts that year meant it only reached number 12 despite sounding like a sure-fire number 1 all day long.

(15) HOW SOON IS NOW - THE SMITHS

There's many a dissertation that could be written about this song and still not fully capture what listening to it whilst nursing a tot of Jack Daniels whilst staring out of a rain soaked upstairs window can. Morrissey was always able to capture that sense of ennui behind every human interaction, however positive or mundane. The Smiths probably had no right to be in the pop charts at all - very little of what they released had commercial appeal but they spoke to millions of us in a way nobody else could. We loved that they understood how we were feeling and that we had someone up there in the midst of the important people who understood how we were living and more importantly, how isolated or ignored we felt socially or politically.

The work that went in to getting the tremolo guitar line (having to time oscillating amps in 10 second bursts, stopping and starting the tape to do so) and harmonising the slide guitar pays off hugely. This was one of the secrets of creating an enduring record - garnering a sound that nobody else ever had or ever could again. I'm still not sure if the line "I am the son and the heir" is meant to sound like "I am the sun and the air", but maybe that's part of the intrigue. As the song had already been released as the B-Side of "William, it was Really Nothing", when it came out in its own right, it only reached number 24.

(14) THE SUN ALWAYS SHINES ON TV - A-HA

After the huge success of "Take on Me", expectations were high for the follow up. Given the track records of bands who burst onto the scene with a huge smash hit, it was expected that the follow-up wouldn't reach the same heights. In one of those rare moments however, the follow-up absolutely smashed the first single out of the water. I'm talking metaphorically of course because "Take on Me" reached number 2 and this, number 1.

Where the video for "Take on Me" left off, the video for this picked up and led to the band standing on a stage in a church playing a concert to hundreds of mannequins. "The Sun Always Shines on TV" motors along with more energy than I've ever had in my entire life all the way though until the final bass piano note. Morten Harket's vocals soaring over and above everything else like no other pop singer in the world. This was the second of six consecutive top 10 hits in little over 12 months for the band.

One small tip, if the sun is shining on your TV, just shut the curtains.

(13) SHE SELLS SANCTUARY - THE CULT

 

The Cult hadn't done much for me; it wasn't the kind of music I leaned towards naturally and nothing they'd done sounded interesting enough to pay attention to - until this single. This has a unique energy which is as infectious as a Disco or Heavy Metal track, somehow incorporating sensibilities of both. Ian Astbury's vocals suit this perfectly, whereas I find them rather tedious on most of the other songs of theirs I've heard. This got to number 15, their second highest placing bar "Lil' Devil" which reached number 11 in 1987. Nope, me neither.

(12) WE CLOSE OUR EYES - GO WEST

Despite the sweaty video, this is a tour de force. The track is layered with so many cleverly written synth parts and overlaid with Peter Cox's gravelly vocals to the point where you almost have to switch it off halfway through to get your breath back. It was the duo's debut hit, reaching number 5 in February and followed by three more top 30 singles in 1985. Cox's vocal gymnastics are quite something - it's a shame they never really pushed on from this early promise (they didn't manage to enter the top 10 with any of their subsequent 8 singles).

(11) A NEW ENGLAND - KIRSTY MACCOLL

Written by Billy Bragg for his 1983 album Life's a Riot with Spy Vs Spy, the song becomes a little less impressive when you know that the opening lines were taken from a Simon and Garfunkel song (Leaves that are Green) and the tune was taken from a Thin Lizzy song (Cowboy Song). MacColl heard Bragg singing it in his rough busker style and immediately heard it differently in her head with harmonies and instrumentation.  She and then husband, Steve Lillywhite, set about recording it. She thought it was too short so Bragg wrote her another verse (and changed "I'm just looking for another girl" to "Are you looking for another girl").

This gave Kirsty her highest chart placing with a number 7 in February.

(10) BODY ROCK - MARIA VIDAL

This song breaks all the conventions of a hit pop single. The intro is weird, the verse doesn't have a "Whistlable" melody and the singer was a complete unknown. She had no further chart success but continues to provide background vocals for artists such as Seal, Aerosmith and the magnificent Lana Del Rey. She scored a respectable number 11 in the UK with this brilliant track.

(9) KAYLEIGH - MARILLION

Lead singer of Marillion, Derek Dick ("Fish" to his friends), looked like someone you'd get drawn against in the Darts Round-Robin at your local on a Friday night. I didn't like this song originally because it was good, which meant it was competing with Duran Duran's "A View To a Kill" for the top spot. Turned out both only reached number 2 behind The Crowd's "You'll Never Walk Alone" and Paul Hardcastle's "19" respectively.

I remember thinking this song was the spiritual successor to Hot Chocolate's "It Started With a Kiss"; love stories are always a winner, especially when sprinkled with regret, could-have-beens and lessons learned. But with lines like "Dawn escapes from Moon-washed college halls" and "Barefoot on the lawn with shooting stars", you just feel this song in your bones. A forever classic.

(8) THE POWER OF LOVE - JENNIFER RUSH

Hairstyles in the 80s were eclectic to say the least but the one Jennifer Rush sported during the chart run of the uber-successful "The Power of Love" made her look like she'd been electrocuted in a wind tunnel. This was brilliant, if you like this sort of thing, which I don't particularly, but I got why it stayed at number 1 for five weeks and troubled the chart for a total of 33 weeks. It didn't kickstart a successful chart career however as her follow-up single "Ring of Ice" only reached number 14 and everything else barely scraped the top 100. Shame really as her voice was phenomenal and really should have been given more exposure - I think she would have done to Beverley Craven's "Promise Me", what she did to this track but alas, it was not to be.

This was the second single entitled "The Power of Love" to enter the chart in six months (the previous one was by Frankie Goes to Hollywood) and there'd be another barely five weeks later when Huey Lewis and The News released the title track to 80s Blockbuster "Back to the Future".

(7) WEST END GIRLS - PET SHOP BOYS

Second song in a row I don't really care for but understand it's importance and unique genre shifting power. Neil Tennant had been a journalist for Smash Hits before turning his talents to 'singing'. It's probably an unpopular opinion but I thought The Pet Shop Boys could have been even better had they given their songs to other people to perform. They did this several times of course with much success (adding weight to my argument) writing "I'm not Scared" for Patsy Kensit and Eighth Wonder, Dusty Springfield's "In Private" and Liza Minelli's "Losing My Mind".

West End Girls won the best single award at the Brits and an Ivor Novello award no less.  It of course hit number 1 for two weeks and remained in the top 10 for 8 weeks.

(6) TAKE ON ME - A-HA

"Take on Me" had to be released three times before it charted. It was mixed, re-mixed and re-re-mixed with three different videos. Warner Brothers really believed in the band and it's to their credit. Unique isn't the word when you're describing Morten Harket's vocals. Add those to as catchy a track as you'll ever hear and point people in its direction, you've got a hit. It just shows that writing good songs was never enough - even with a little bit of radio airtime; marketing was everything and the pencil-sketch video which took 6 months to make, drew everyone's attention. The song reached number 2 in the UK for three weeks, stalling behind Jennifer Rush's "The Power of Love".

(5) RUNNING UP THAT HILL - KATE BUSH

Talking of unique artists, Kate is truly a maverick and approaches song-writing from as many obtuse angles as she can muster. There are some artists who transcend the singles chart. You have to have some commercial success as an artist so that you can go on being an artist and not have to work a full time job, which gets in the way a bit. It struck me that Kate never worried about commercial success when writing songs - "Army Dreamers" which entered the top 20 in 1980 is a prime example of this. It just doesn't make any sense as a commercial single release - neither did "Wuthering Heights" for that matter but it rose to number 1 because it was so so different to anything before it.

The "Hounds of Love" album should be in everyone's record collection. "Running up That Hill" is probably the most accessible song on it in terms of catchy pop, but the rest of it is just a sublime mix of thoughts and atmospheres, lyrical erudition and expert vocalisation.  For best lyric of the decade, try this for size : "You don't want to hurt me, but see how deep the bullet lies".

(4) WE BUILT THIS CITY - STARSHIP

I was surprised to see how much hate this song received at the time. The band didn't like it much and it's frequently listed on "Worst Songs Ever" lists. However, it's a great single, which is what this list is all about. Whether you're "Knee-deep in the Hoop-la" or "Playing the Mamba", it doesn't matter, the intro to this song drags you by the ankles into the verse and by the end of the first chorus it has your full attention. It reached number 12 in November.

(3) THE BOYS OF SUMMER - DON HENLEY

There are some songs that I am just in awe of. Songs that chill the blood with their minor key changes and brooding vocals which really evoke a set of emotions you'll never feel anywhere else. Although I don't know what this song is specifically about, it's July in a seaside town isn't it? For me, more Scarborough than California, but even so, the smell of the sea, fish and chips, seagulls cascading towards your face and the heat of the day slowly fading as you sip Coors in a bay-side café.  It's actually about the passing from youth to middle-age and lamenting past relationships, but hey, if I can get a 99 with a flake along the way, why not?  It got to number 12 in 1985 and when it was re-released in 1998, it got to number 12 again.

(2) DUEL - PROPAGANDA

 What a song this is by the way. There were a few German acts in the 80s; Falco (who sang in German), Nena with her balloons, Alphaville, Milli Vanilli, Kraftwerk and Trio (of "Da da da" fame) to name a few. Propaganda had already flirted with the charts, releasing "Dr. Mabuse" in 1984 and reaching number 27. This single fared a little better, settling at 21 before falling out of the chart. It's another example of a song which just didn't get enough exposure as it's a fabulous single. Another entry into lyric of the decade here too : "The first cut won't hurt at all, the second only makes you wonder, the third will have you on your knees, you start bleeding, I start screaming". Stick that in your Ivor Novello and smoke it.

(1) EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD - TEARS FOR FEARS

Dear me. If you didn't like this song then you were either paid not to or lying. It's quite clever of them really, writing a pop song in a time signature rarely visited. It's in 12/8, which to those of you not au fait with music theory means, each bar still has four beats (conventional pop songs have this for rhythmic stability) but with an off-kilter undertone created by using three quavers per beat instead of two. It was unusual at the time so it made the track stand out immediately. Other songs using this rhythm include Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel", Toto's "Hold the Line" and R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" albeit a much slower 12/8 where you can actually hear the three quavers per beat.

When I first heard this song I was mesmerised. £1.49 was duly saved up and a trip to Sounds Nice on the high-street beckoned.  The song was originally titled "Everybody Wants to go to War" which was a theme running through "Songs from the Big Chair", its sister album. "Mother's Talk" is about the threat of Nuclear War which was ever-present in the mid-80s and "Shout" is a protest song about such things.

Tears for Fears didn't appear at Live Aid even though they were originally supposed to. Ironic then that this song only reached number 2, being held off the top-spot by the "USA for Africa" song "We are the World". They atoned for their absence by re-recording the song with the title "Everybody Wants to Run the World" for Sport Aid in 1986.

 

If you want to see my blog about 1984 click here, or if you'd like to dip into the 70s, click here

 

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1984

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.

 

If you want to see my blog about 1983 click here, or if you'd like to dip into the 70s, click here

 

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1983

Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1983

It's hard to imagine now but in 1983, when you heard a song on the radio, on Top of the Pops or saw a band perform on The Little and Large show, you either had to tape it on a cassette/video or go to the shop and part with actual money to own it and play it when you wanted to. This spotify-less age meant mix-tapes ruled your days and a lot of songs disappeared into the ether. You'd probably never hear them again save the 'Forgotten 80s' radio show on Absolute Radio on Sunday nights.  Even then, that song you use to love but forgot even existed might be played once a year and you wouldn't be listening at the precise time it was on.

So imagine my joy when the internet started to contain all those forgotten songs that I had no hope of ever hearing ever again bar a visit to a local vinyl fair at the leisure centre, trawling through hundreds of singles to pick one out and go - 'how did this go again'? then part with a couple of quid, get it home, pop it on the record player and go 'ah yes, didn't like it did I?'.  The internet has now given me access to every single song I can remember and every one I've never heard of. This list of best singles of 1983 would have otherwise been made up of the songs I remember. As it is, it's made up of songs I totally remember, some I couldn't quite remember but do now and some I'd never heard before. Bless the internet.

I've done a top 60 because there were 20 songs I couldn't possibly leave out of the count down. 1983 was mint.

(60 actually)

(60) Toto - I Won't Hold You Back

The lesser known of the three hits Toto had in this period. The others being 'Rosanna' and 'Africa' of course, but this one is just beautiful. Roger Sanchez revived it in the early 00s and did a good job but this original is up there with anything Fleetwood Mac ever did with this romantic atmosphere.

(59) Michael Jackson - Wanna Be Starting Something

As you'll see, Michael didn't manage to free up any of the budget he spent on the Thriller video to spend on single covers. I have to admit, I've never seen him in jeans, though I'm not sure these are actually jeans, maybe jeggings?  Anyway, whatever it was that was 'too high to get over' and 'too low to get under' had me thinking about this song long after it had finished and still rotates on my Spotify playlist of greatest songs ever, so something went right here.  This was the fourth single to be taken from the album so it was quite something for it to reach number 8.

(58) Duran - Union of the snake

This was just before Duran's decline from the very highest peak of pop stardom you can achieve. They were well produced on their third album 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger', in fact, the songs on this album sounded a lot better than the last two even if the songs weren't actually better, they sounded the best they'd ever (and would ever) sound here. The video for this song was something special too but, Wild Boys aside, their video quality would match their place in the pop world going forward with each one a little cheaper to make than the last.

(57) Irene Cara - Flashdance...What A Feeling

This was the last we saw of Irene in the charts, though after last year's 'Fame', she left with two absolute dancefloor classics. There are probably earlier examples (like the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever) but song and movie tie-ins were becoming much more frequent. The power of the music video meant it could be used as an advert for something else. This song was taken from 'Flashdance' and, with no disrespect, without this song or 'Maniac' by Michael Sambello, I'm not sure this would have been a hit at the box office. For me, it was a dull affair of someone wanting to be a dancer or something but the video for this brilliant tune gave it more gravitas than it deserved. It was the backdrop for the set-piece dance routine where she has to 'wow' the judges to let her into college or something (loving the research I've put into this). That scene has been parodied numerous times since and you could even call it 'iconic' even though it's not. The bit where she dumps a load of water on herself is also iconic for some reason.

(56) Heaven 17 - Crushed by the wheels

Great bass guitar here and, probably, a heavy message about the plight of the working 'man'. Not Heaven 17's greatest hour though - that would come later in the year.

(55) Nick Heyward - Whistle Down The Wind

Oh sweet lord, what a tune. I had the privilege of seeing Nick perform this song at Bents Park in South Shields in 2004 and he was note perfect. This was his first solo single since leaving (and having a court battle) with the rest of Haircut 100. Nick's lyrics were always abstract (or random, not sure which) but here he really speaks to the sentimental side of you, if you've got one.

 

(54) Phil Everly & Cliff Richard - She Means Nothing To Me

The Everly Brothers were probably just as important to the base-rock of popular music as Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry or Little Richard. There are hundreds of 60s, 70s and 80s acts who were massively influenced by 50s music, certainly those who crafted their vocals or played actual musical instruments when they went into the studio.  It was pleasing that Phil and his mate Cliff were able to sell records in 1983 and probably not just to people in their early 40s who grew up in the 50s and 60s listening to their music.  I was 8 and loved this as much as I loved Joan Armatrading or Howard Jones. I'm not sure what my point is however. This got to number 9 and gave Phil Everly his first top ten hit for 18 years.

(53) Elton John - I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues

I've never been able to work out if Elton John is an angry man with diva-ish qualities who treats people badly or if he's a cheeky scamp who likes to dance about in massive glasses being everyone's best friend. Probably both. He'd released a string of awful songs in the 70s with the odd gem scattered amongst them; here, he broke free of that and started releasing some of the absolute best songs of all time. Not sure what changed or what influences in his life had come and gone, but if he could have bottled the inspiration he was having in this period, I'd like a few litres please. This got to number 5.

(52) Prince - 1999

Here he is everyone, he's arrived finally. His previous 'hit', the number 41 peaking 'I wanna be your lover' was ahead of it's time and ahead of everyone who heard it's readiness for such raw energy.  '1999' only got to number 25 because, again, the American invasion hadn't quite happened properly yet. Michael Jackson was probably the only exponent having massive hits. This 25 peak wasn't quite the end of the story for this song though because in 1985, it was reissued with 'Little Red Corvette' on the B side and got to number '2', the highest he ever managed bar 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World'. Stupidly, it was reissued again in January 1999 - I saw it on the counter at HMV in Edinburgh and thought, 'eh?', it's about New Year's Eve 1999, not January 13th 1999. Never mind, it got to number 10 then anyway.

(51) Rocksteady Crew - Hey you

Nothing says 'We use synthesizers' like saying the word 'digital' four times in the introduction to your song. You could tell this was written the first day their keyboard player got a new synth, it's got that 'ooh, an echo setting' vibe all over it. This song sparked my love affair with the 'Now that's what I call music' series.  The first ever album had this on it along with 14 other songs in this top 60 count down. At primary school we had a day when we could bring a Vinyl album in and play it whilst doing work, craft projects I think. My best mate brought in 'Number of the Beast' by Iron Maiden which made me question his ethics and morals. I brought in Duran Duran's first album and someone, I forget who, brought in 'Now that's what I call music 1', though it was just called 'Now that's what I call music'.  This was the first time I heard this song and by 3pm I was singing 'Hey You, the rocksteady crew, Bee Boy Blah Begga-lecka boogaloo'. I've just Googled it and the lyrics are actually 'B-Boy breakers electric boogaloo'. Nope, me neither.

(50) Wang Chung - Don't be my enemy

This is a cheeky little song which probably nobody remembers but you should definitely give it a spin. It's quintessentially what the early 80s were all about and perfectly produced.

(49) Human League - (Keep Feeling) Fascination

Even Phil Oakey admitted the other two blokes who sing on this were better vocalists than him - although, I can't actually tell which of the singing parts are Phil and which aren't, apart from when Joanne and Susan sing of course. The video for this was ground-breaking, like a lot of videos made in the early 80s (because none had really been made before, they were all quite pioneering in some way). They actually painted a house and street red so from above it looked like a big red dot. They room they're performing in is derelict too and I think that street was actually demolished not long after the shoot. This slowly climbed to number 2 in the chart but once there, fell out of the 40 sharpish, it was only on the chart for 7 weeks.  The production was really weird - it wasn't until I heard the digital version of this that I realised my record player wasn't playing up during the intro. It does sound like the belt on the player is slowing down and speeding up. The little tinkers.

 

(48) Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse Of The Heart

The video for this was quite spooky, choirboys with glowing eyes and Bonnie being chased through a wet stately home. Jim Steinman penned this song for a Vampire musical he was writing and you can just hear Meat Loaf singing it - but it suits Bonnie's voice perfectly. She'd not even hinted at performing songs like this before so either she begged her record company to let her realise her potential as a vocalist or it all happened by accident. Whichever, the result is a song that will always get the blood pumping and a lesson to all those weakly 'talented' idiots we're lumbered with in the charts these days. There'll never be music like this in the charts ever again - let that slowly sink in like spilt jam on a cardigan.

(47) Kajagoogoo - Too Shy

Produced by Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes, this was as good a debut hit as you're likely to hear. They had two more hits, the band fell out, Limahl was fired, he went on to have some solo success, Kajagoogoo then had two more hits without him and then saw their last week on the chart ever, less than a year after this hit number 1. Nick Beggs was on lead vocals for some of their best work regardless of chart positions though, it's a mystery why all he seems to do these days is follow Howard Jones around playing weird shaped bass guitars.

(46) The Police - Wrapped around your finger

I completely missed this first time around. I definitely wouldn't have got it anyway - the subject matters of Police songs weren't the type of thing an 8-year-old would be interested in anyway. This was about having an affair with a much older woman, 'Every breath' was about stalking, 'Don't stand so close' was about a 'teacher-pupil' situation and 'Invisible Sun' has elements of war and poverty. The album 'Synchronicity' is titled after a Carl Jung philosophy. I have to admit, I was more drawn towards the theme tune to Inspector Gadget at the time. These days though, 'Wrapped around your finger' has more emotional depth than Inspector Gadget and a little more gravitas than the theme tune to 'Rainbow'.

(45) Toto - Africa

Just in case you didn't know what shape Africa was, Toto have drawn it on the wall behind them, helpfully including Madagascar in case you were in doubt that it was part of the continent despite being an island.  They're not in Kansas any more, but in the song they do say that 'Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus' using a mountain as a metaphor for a mountain.

The structure and instrumentation on this song is as good as you'll hear in 1983, and the result is a song that'll endure forever, probably.

(44) Thompson Twins - Love On Your Side

Joe is giving Allanah a foot-up over Tom's back-garden wall so they can steal his apples. At least, I think that's what's going on, on the cover. What a bad idea to include the lyric (Rap boy rap) on the cover. It's like they wanted to ride the slipstream of the zeitgeist but they didn't need to - they were doing just fine doing their own brand of pop music.  One of the best moments in pop music occurs on this song when Tom sings 'I played you all my favourite records' and then plays an excerpt from their earlier minor hit 'In the name of love' like product placement or when YouTube interrupts what you're watching to tell you about some new self-folding trousers.

They had nine successive top 40 hits, some brilliant and some rather less so ('We are detective'????) The legend goes that their record company demanded that they write 'Hold me now' two, despite their protestations that you can only write what you feel like writing next.

(43) Joe Fagin - Breakin' away

I'm not sure if it's nostalgia or whether this is a great single but I absolutely loved Auf Weidersehen Pet, still do in fact, I watched all four series back to back last year and enjoyed every single second, all over again. This was the song that played over the introductory credits and put me in mind of the theme tune to the likely lads. 'Oh, what happened to you, whatever happened to me? What became of the people we used to be?' - that's such a sad lyric and one I only 'got' much later in life. Similarly with this song, 'Breaking away', it didn't have much effect on me in 1983 but these days, 'Don't want tomorrow to be like today, Until the good times roll around again, Auf Weidersehen'.

(43) Fun Boy Three - Our Lips Are Sealed

After the Specials had hit the top with their seventh hit 'Ghost Town', Terry Hall departed to form 'The Fun Boy Three' which I'm sure was a sarcastic reference to the look on his face most of the time. This was TFB3's seventh single, and by far their best. It was co-written by Jane Wiedlin, of the Go-Go's and 'Rush Hour' fame. It got to number 7 here and the Go-Go's had a top 20 hit with it state side.

(42) Men At Work - Overkill

To me, it seemed everyone looked at Men at Work as a novelty comedy band. When the video to their song 'Down Under' came out, it was played for laughs and kind of undermined the talent behind what they were doing. Madness got away with it because they represented a movement, a style, an identity - it wasn't all about the music, but Men at Work just came over as a group of physical comedians who had a 'Baron Knight's' style song about Veggie Mite sandwiches.  'Overkill' is a fabulous song but only got to number 21. Colin Hay appeared on US sitcom 'Scrubs' singing it acoustic-style before Dr. Cox takes his guitar and smashes it against the wall. Iconic.

(41) Lotus Eaters - The First Picture Of You

The greatest mysteries of all time include the Loch Ness Monster, who shot JR/JFK and how this song only got to number 15. They didn't chart again either. It's such a well written, produced and crafted song - it belongs in a museum - this one in fact!

(39) Paul Young - Wherever I Lay My Hat

Paul took this old Marvin Gaye B-side all the way to number 1. It's not the most politically correct song of all time but Paul's voice turned it from gentle bland faire to true soul classic. I bought the parent album 'No Parlez' on vinyl last year and the whole thing still sounds fresh. It's criminal that 'Behind your smile' wasn't on the album.

(38) Michael Jackson - Billie Jean

See previous comment regarding Michael's single covers. This is the song which launched the already pretty famous Michael Jackson to cosmic stardom. He performed his little moonwalk (a move he nicked from Jeffrey Daniel of Shalamar) on the 25th anniversary Motown concert here 

At the time, everyone thought the song was about Billie Jean King, one of the greatest Tennis players of all time. It wasn't though, it was about fans who claimed their children had been fathered by one of the Jackson 5, but they would go on to say, 'But the ched is not my son'.

(37) UB40 - Red Red Wine

One of my sister's friends said to me, at the time this song was in the charts, 'it's such a sad song, it makes me cry'. I didn't have the foggiest clue what she was on about - as I said above, the true gravitas some of the songs in the charts had didn't hit me until I'd gone through some 'things' and seen other 'things' in the course of my life. Of course, I've had my own 'Red Red Wine' moments now so I totally get why it's so sad - however, my sister's friend was 13 at the time so I'm concerned as to how she'd understood the message of the song to the point it had such an emotional impact.

(36) Prince - Little Red Corvette

I was introduced to this song in the late 80s when a school friend gave me a mixtape of various music from the Minneapolis stable. Safe to say, I never looked back - this song is so smooth and representative of what Prince did best, oozing with personality and atmosphere.

(35) China Crisis - Christian

China Crisis are definitely the best group you've never listened to. Criminally underrated and ignored by the mainstream, their back catalogue is littered with wonderful tunes, if not the most exciting ones, they're quirky, melodic and gently soothing. This song calms me right down and always makes me happy when I hear it. This got to number 12 in January and they wouldn't follow it up until the following year when Wishful Thinking got to number 9 in January 1984.

(34) Tracey Ullman - They don't know

Purists will cite Kirsty MacColl (one of the greatest humans to ever exist) 's version of this song as the best and original (she wrote it after all). However, Tracey was having a great start to her career on TV and now in music, so anything she released was getting attention. There's a note in the middle after the solo where it goes 'Baby!', which was too high for Tracey to sing so Kirsty stepped in to do it for her (or it was copied from the original vocal take on Kirsty's version). Getting your hands on the original MacColl version is quite difficult as at the time, she told Stiff Records that she didn't want to extend her deal with them so, out of spite, stopped printing the single and stopped promoting it so it didn't have a hope of charting.

(33) Michael Jackson - Thriller

The song is great but as previously mentioned, tie-in a song and a movie and you've got gold for both. People who like movies will hear the song and people who like songs will see the video and become aware of the movie, doubling your audience for both!

The 'Thriller' video was, in all respects except length, a movie and the visuals definitely brought the public's perception of the song up from where it would have been without the video. I recorded the video off the telly and learned the dance. There's a bit where three zombies turn to look at the camera half-way through the dance, and I never knew what to do at that point - it still annoys me to this day. Then they released 'The Making of Thriller' on VHS which I rented from the local video rental shop about four times and watched at least three times on each rental period. Safe to say I was obsessed and looking back, I can see why - the 80s was littered with these big events. Wham's video for 'Last Christmas' was a massive deal as was Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'Two Tribes', there was Band Aid and Live Aid of course, and a lot of what Madonna was doing in both music and movies dominated the landscape. If there's one period in history I'm grateful to have existed it's between 1983 and 1986 - add in the release of Tears for Fears 'Songs from the Big Chair' and it pretty much underlines that small section of history as one of the greatest in pop culture. Whatever you think of Michael Jackson, he was absolutely one of the greatest pop stars in the history of history.

Ed Sheeran? LOL!

(32) Rod Stewart - Baby Jane

Red pleather aside, this song is the perfect vehicle for Rod's voice. His heyday was coming to a close and he'd soon be joining the stable of other 70s pop stars who were still capable of having hits but weren't lighting up the record collections of us under 18s like Wham! and Duran Duran were. This song had mass appeal though and hit number 1 without much effort. He managed to outstay all those young pretenders like Adam Ant and Limahl, and he's still releasing records these days!

(31) Men without hats - Safety Dance

We can dance, We can dance, everybody look at your pants. This song was a protest at the fact people were told to stop 'pogoing' on dance floors because they were bumping into people, standing on people and knocking drinks out of people's hands. So the 'safety' dance was one that was much gentler and kinder on people's toes. This got to number 6 and the band didn't trouble the charts ever again. The video is very very strange too.

(30) Ryan Paris - Dolce Vita

If you've read my commentary on my top 40's of the late 70s, then you can add this song to the list of those in my formative years that attached themselves to the part of my brain that absorbs unique sounds. The keyboard sound on Racey's 'Lay your love on me' will always take me back to 1978 - likewise the keyboard motif on this number 5 peaking hit. It's just so sonically pleasing - it makes my brain happy.

(29) Icehouse - Hey Little Girl

Talking of sonically pleasing, this is quite a unique sounding single and as far as I know, the only one of the 1980s that fades in rather than out (there's bound to be more but I don't know of any). I don't know if the lead vocalist was trying to sound like David Sylvian or Bryan Ferry or David Bowie or whether he just sounded like this - maybe he was doing an impression of David Sylvian doing an impression of David Bowie?

(28) U2 - New Year's Day

U2 weren't very well known at the time but it was probably The Edge who carried the band at this point of their career. If you listen to the parent album 'War', there's lots of interesting stuff going on, bombastic drumming, enthusiastic bass guitar and lots of Bono yelling and not quite hitting top notes, but it's in the Guitar layers and textures that the album really lives. It wasn't until 'The Unforgettable Fire' when they started to really gel and well, by the time 'The Joshua Tree' came out, they'd all reached a place where they were all contributing as much as each other. 'New Year's Day' is a favourite among U2 fans and it's easy to see why, bar Bono's shouting.

(27) The Kinks - Come Dancing

Probably the saddest song I've ever heard. Ray Davies sister died of a heart attack whilst dancing at one of the old-time dance halls (The Lyceum). This song isn't specifically about that though, it's a fictional tale of a young boy whose sister goes dancing at the Palais dance hall on Saturday nights.  The reason why this song is so sad is not only because of the inspiration behind it which is tragic in itself but it's that moment in your life when you realise parts of your own life have gone forever. My old primary school was demolished about 15 years after I left it. Seeing a gap where it used to stand was devastating. It wasn't that I wanted to go back there or anything but a lot of my most important memories and friendships were made there. Most of the songs in this list remind me of there too - the song 'Come Dancing' is sung from a time when the Palais has been knocked down and since then a bowling alley, supermarket and now a car park stand on the site. So when Ray Davies sings

'The day they knocked down the palais
My sister stood and cried
The day they knocked down the palais
Part of my childhood died, just died'

you really feel it. There are parts of your life that just ended and you didn't realise until years later when a totem to those times disappears. It makes people go 'why are they knocking that down' when really, its practical use these days is zero, it's just a reminder of when times were different, simpler, better - but only because we were young and all that mattered was dancing, drinking and dating.

(26) Limahl - Only for love

It was actually the best thing for Limahl when he was kicked out of Kajagoogoo, especially when he had a hit pretty much straight away with this and (see previous comments about song-movie tie-ins) 'Never-ending Story'.  'Only for Love' appeared on disc 1, side 1 of 'Now That's what I call Music' and 'Too Shy' appeared on disc 1, side 2. Not sure if any other artist has had two entries on the same volume, can't be bothered to check, but it's a good pop quiz question nonetheless.

(25) Paul Young - Come back and stay

Another single from 'No Parlez', this time an up-tempo affair which showcased the talents of his backing group 'The Fabulous Wealthy Tarts' who were Maz Roberts and Kim Lesley who were instrumental in giving the album its unique signature along with Pino Palladino on bass and the Simmons drum machine. In fact, it was the 'tarts' who made sure this single worked, without them, it wouldn't have been up to much.  They featured on the next album 'The secret of association' and again elevated 'I wanna tear your playhouse down' with their unique sound but then faded into the background for the rest of the album, or, more likely, were absent. Shame.

(24) Spandau Ballet - True

This is one of those songs you recognise from one note. It was massive at the time but I don't think time has been kind. It's a bit boring and not as good as the much more dynamic 'Gold'. This was the third single from the album and if they'd released it a bit earlier, we would probably have already forgotten all about Renee and Renato.

(23) Altered Images - Don't Talk To Me About Love

Don't talk to me about love and don't talk to me about drawing people's heads in proportion to their bodies.  This was the only decent single from the album - which was a bit more grown up than their earlier efforts but then, it was the playful fun vibe that people liked about Claire Grogan and the gang. They'd released two albums and six singles in six months! Because they weren't turning any work down at all (it had taken so long to get any at all, they were flying to Europe for interviews, back to the studio and back out to Europe without a break) they were fresh in the radio station exec's minds - this single was played about ten times in the week before it was released - which was unheard of!

(22) Grand Master Flash - White lines

Now that's what I call music 3. I had the cassette version and I remember on Sunday afternoon with my Walkman and orange sponge headphones curled up on the settee, listening to the whole thing. This is the track that stood out - I'd not heard it on the radio for whatever reason but here it was in all it's glory. It reminded me of those videos you were shown in school about not talking to strangers - only this one was cool people telling you not to do drugs.

I was once on the bus with my wife going to work and there was a bloke on the front of the bus listening to his Walkman, which everyone could hear. He was listening to 'Two Tribes' and from my time listening to 'Now that's what I call Music 3' so many times, I always expect 'White lines' to follow it. So when it was about to finish I said, 'I bet he listens to 'White Lines' next.'  As predicted, 'White Lines' came on. My wife was freaked out. It was just a guess that he was listening to NTWICM3 but now I knew he was, here was my chance to freak out everyone sitting near me too. 'I bet 'Free Nelson Mandela' comes on next', I said loud enough for the people around me to hear ... ... ... 'Freeeee-heeee Nelson Mandela!' Hilarious!

I had to get off the bus before the next song came on - I couldn't remember what the next one was anyway - probably Love Wars by Womack and Womack, which nobody remembers.

(21) Spandau Ballet - Gold

You've got the power to know, you're indestructible!

Great video, great voice and an iconic song to be played whenever anyone wins at the Olympics.

(20) Eurythmics - Who's That Girl

The soundtrack to my summer this. The 6 weeks holidays from school, down the seaside, going on fairground rides, playing on arcades, wading in the sea up to the bottom of your turned-up trousers. The video had various cameos in it like members of Bucks Fizz, Kiki Dee, Hazel O'Connor, Kate Garner (of Hayzi Fantayzee) and Keren Woodward and Siobhan Fahey of Bananarama, the latter of which later married Dave Stewart!

(19) Michael Jackson - Beat It

More Jackson in Jeans but this time completely overshadowed by the quality of the song. Probably his best ever, and with the West Side Story themed video, a masterpiece of pop music. The opening growl is played on a Fairlight - it got me thinking that in the early 80s when this sort of technology was emerging, you really had to seize those new noises. I was writing a song a few years ago and I've got a Fairlight plug-in, which is a software emulation of the original and I came across the instrument that does the opening note for 'Beat it'. Obviously, I can't use this sound in any of my songs because it's already associated so strongly with 'Beat it', it'll never find it's own signature or personality. It's like that for a lot of the new sounds emerging in the 80s, groups had to get the new kit, find all the new cool sounds and get them in their songs sharpish before someone else came along and used it first. Like the synth brass on Van Halen's 'Jump' or the opening to 'Take on Me'.  Anyway, the guitar solo on 'Beat it', speaking of Eddie Van Halen, is stupidly good.

(18) Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)

Probably the most iconic 80s song ever. It's the one Absolute '80s plays whenever they've had a technical breakdown, like its their screen saver. Dave Stewart came up with the bass line when the thing he was playing wasn't working so he played what he'd written, backwards. That sparked the rest of the song. Annie's voice here is just head and shoulders above anything else that you'd heard before, if you'd grown up in the 80s that is. It hit number 1 in the US but only managed a measly number 2 here.

(17) Belle Stars - Sign Of The Times

 

I was really disappointed with the rest of the output from the Belle Stars because this song is superb. The rest of their singles were ok - which often happens I suppose. Bands like this unfairly get labelled as one-hit-wonders when in fact, they had one massive song and a few others that entered the top 40 but weren't given much air-play so the casual music lover would never be aware they even ever released any other music.  Their other notable hit was 'The Clapping Song' which was a novelty cover-version.  'Sign of the times' got to number 3.

(16) Depeche Mode - Everything counts

I liked this song originally because it has a Melodica in it. My teacher at school at the time, Mr Dowson, used to have one in his top drawer and would whip it out whenever we listened to 'Singing Together' on Radio 4. We'd sing songs like 'Green Grow the Rushes 'O' and 'Cockles and Mussels'. I loved it and always wanted a go on his Melodica - but never did because it was full of his saliva.  Anyway, Depeche Mode came to my attention because their album was named after a toy I always wanted but never asked for, for Christmas, for some reason, the 'Speak and Spell'.  This tune is particularly invigorating and stands out because of all the 'found' sounds that Martin Gore used as percussion and the like. It enjoyed a number 6 peak in the UK.

(15) The Thompson Twins - Hold me now

I liked this at the time but didn't buy the single. It was in 1999 when I was watching the Adam Sandler film 'The Wedding Singer' when one of the scenes was preceded by this song that I thought, 'Oh yeah, I loved that song'. Still a few years away from YouTube and even more away from Spotify, I bought the soundtrack to the movie on CD in order to get my hands on a few forgotten gems from the 80s I hadn't heard in over 10 years including 'How soon is Now' by The Smiths.

This was the Thompson Twins' biggest selling single, entering at number 31 it peaked at number 4 and stayed on the chart for 15 weeks.  On the later Thompson Twins albums you can hear some of the melodic motifs from their hits being repeated, and not very well - which just makes you want to go back and listen to this again instead.

(14) Nik Kershaw - I won't let the sun go down on me

Nik in an early version of Sonic the Hedgehog

There was a girl I liked at school and I thought I'd impress her by singing the lyrics to this, directly to her face one playtime. She looked like she was enjoying it until I got to the bit where he says 'Old men in stripy trousers', at which she burst out laughing, said 'I love that bit' and then wandered off.  I used to know all the lyrics to all the songs in the top 10 at the time but this song had particularly unusual lyrics so I found them fascinating.  'Here in our paper houses stretching for miles and miles' and 'Pinball man power glutton, vacuum inside his head' were wonderful word patterns to an 8 year old.  It started my love affair with Mr. Kershaw (not in that way) and he's now the artist I've seen live more than any other.

This didn't crack the top 40 when it was first released but after 'Wouldn't it be Good' and 'Dancing Girls' had both been hits, it was re-released and got to number 2!

(13) Howard Jones - New Song

Howard had a great look in 1983 didn't he? His sound was so different to the other synth solo artists and his voice really carried over the glassy twinkling.  This song has a resemblance to Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel but it's just a passing resemblance. It reached number 3 and launched his career. Howard is the artist I've seen the second-most live - even if I'm terrible at grammar.

(12) KC and the sunshine band - Give it up

Excuse me, can I have my table cloth back now?

Summer sun, playing catch in the park, feeding the ducks, lazy Sunday afternoons. That's this song for me. It's so catchy and up-beat and classic and surely finds its way into most people's top 100 of the 80s. If you want to see someone dancing to this as if they've been told their dog's just died, watch the video for the song. Harry Casey looks like he's being told he won't be fed unless he performs the song for us.

(11) Lionel Richie - Running with the night

For me, this is Ironing Board Face's best song. It only reached number 9 in the UK and if you listen close you can hear Richard Marx on backing duty.  The string stab in the chorus was the first time I was aware of it anywhere outside of a slasher-horror movie and it works so well. The guitar solo from that bloke out of Toto rivals that one from Eddie in Beat it.

(10) Tears For Fears - Pale Shelter

How someone 18 years old can write a song with this much depth is beyond me. It doesn't matter how you dress it up, this wasn't a single - it wasn't a hit single - but it was and it did. It's the opposite of what you should do to sell records - it's dour, depressing, inward, moribund and claustrophobic. However, it's such a brilliant song that the record buying public showed they could be impressed by someone that wasn't dressed up as a chicken or someone with a fake Italian accent.

As a spooky kind of serendipity or synchronicity, the bedroom on the back of the single cover looks exactly like the bedroom I had when I was 4 years old. The bed up against the window looking out onto the road outside with Superman wallpaper! That could even be me on the bed - I'm not sure how they got that pic but, I'm sure that's me.

(9) The police - Synchronicity II

Speaking of Synchronicity, this has one of the best starts to any pop song ever and for once Sting's voice isn't weedy and whiney. Well it is a bit, but it's not as annoying as it normally is. This is one of those 'story' songs which makes you listen just to find out what happens next. Full of energy and atmosphere - this is one of those songs on The Police's last album that made you sad they'd split up. Especially when you heard Sting's solo work, which lacked the energy of Stewart Copeland's drumming and the inventive chord work and rhythms of Andy Summers.

(8) Elton John - I'm still standing

How good is this? It's complete electricity from start to finish even if these days, Elton sings 'I'b dill dan dig'. I've played this live on more than one occasion and it always goes down well at an 80s night. Elton was well and truly back from his late-70s doldrums.

(7) Duran Duran - Is There Something I Should Know

What a single this is. Some of the best guitar you'll hear on a pop single, marry that with the glossy production, Nick's wonderful choice of synth sounds, Simon's powerful vocals, John's coupling with Roger's drums and you've got yourself a worldwide smash pop single.

It was the Duran's 8th release and their first number 1. It was a 'between' albums song (in that it didn't feature on either 'Rio' or 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger') which probably contributed to it selling over a million copies.  Take that in for a moment - over one million copies! Ed Sheeran recently 'outsold' the rest of the top 30 alone by selling 11,000 vinyl and 19,000 downloads. That's 3% of the performance of this single. Yes, people don't buy physical music any more but it gives you a clue as to why the music industry is little more than an underground industry these days.

(6) Howard Jones - What is love

 A number 2 peak for this convoluted pop record. Only a piano player with immense skill could have written this, such are the chords in some of the inter-bridge and linking parts. It's the reason I bought 'Human's Lib' which remains to this day, one of the greatest ever albums in pop history.

(5) Frankie goes to Hollywood - Relax

I'm surprised Trevor Horn survived the production process on this. The original version of this song which Frankie debuted on 'The Tube' is quite good if a little simple. When you hear the sonic trickery on the final released track, especially the bass sound and rich synth sounds, you can really appreciate how long it took to perfect. It was recorded by members of 'The Blockheads' before being rejected for not sounding modern enough. Then re-recorded with the genius behind 'The Art of Noise' J. J. Jeczalik. None of 'Frankie' appeared on the record except lead singer Holly Johnson. Horn stating that the band he'd seen on 'The Tube' weren't exactly the band they appeared to be.  The record didn't become a hit straight away - it took Radio 1's Mike Read to express a dislike for it and a refusal to play it to bring it to mass attention, make it sell and end up at Number 1 in  the first week of 1984. Top of the Pops just showed a still of the band when it was announced and then played a different song. It was at the top for five weeks, fell down the chart and then climbed back up to number 2 when Frankie released their follow up, 'Two Tribes'. The video for the latter was a huge deal with a late-night special dedicated to its release - such was its controversial content.

(4) Yazoo - Nobody's Diary

Vince doesn't seem to put much effort into Erasure's records these days (their last 3 albums have been turgid affairs) but back when he had the bug of creativity biting him in the back of his brain, this was the kind of magic he was capable of.  It was the only single from Yazoo's second album and peaked at number 3. Although the song was recorded with 'dated' technology, it hasn't aged a day - it still sounds fresh - and the lyrics are some of Alison Moyet's best work.

(3) Heaven 17 - Temptation

When I first heard this song I thought music couldn't get any better. I thought, this is it, this is the best song of all time. I taped it off the radio and listened to it over and over again. Carol Kenyon's vocals are just fantastic. (She also sang backing on Tears For Fears' album 'Seeds of Love'). The song actually has a 60-peice orchestra! It reached number 2.

(2) Police - Every Breath You Take

This song was born out of Sting's affair with Trudy whilst married to her best friend, arguments amongst the band and disagreements on the arrangement of the song. How then this sounds as good as it does is a mystery. Often mistaken for a sweet love song, it's actually from the point of view of a jealous lover. Quite dark really. In the end, it's Andy Summers Béla Bartók style riff that makes the song what it is. Without it, it could have been an empty Billy Preston-esque organ song or even a pseudo-reggae song in the style of 'Walking on the Moon'.

(1) Bananarama - Cruel Summer

Quite simply one of the best crafted pop songs of all time. The fact the members of Bananarama never sounded like they were singing the same note even though that was the intention, gave them this kind of achordal resonance that made their vocals nice to listen to. The guitar work is sublime as is the 80s production - but add this to the hot hot summer we had in 83, and the song jumps out of the speakers. 'Trying to smile but the air is so heavy and dry'. Its inclusion on the soundtrack to The Karate Kid (see my previous comments about movie tie-ins) helped it up to number 8 and gave them success in America.

 

If you want to see my blog about 1980 click here, or if you'd like to dip into the 70s, click here

 

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1982

Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1982

YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1982

 (If the videos aren't working below you can go direct to the playlist here : 1982)

This 1982 list was the hardest to compile so far - I couldn't whittle it down to 40 for a start, I could have easily had a top 100. And putting the 40 in some kind of order? Well... have a look at what I managed to cobble together into the best 40 singles released in 1982...

(40) The Clash - Rock the Casbah

For several years I had no idea what he was singing in the Chorus. I still don't really, I had to google it. Anyway, The Clash using a piano? 'London Calling' was probably the coolest album to own when you were young - this wasn't from that album of course, but I think it's legacy spilled over a little bit. If you right-click on the strip at the bottom of your screen you get an option to 'Lock the Taskbar', which is what I always sing whenever I heard this song now.

(39) XTC - Senses working overtime

I've liked everything I've heard by XTC but I've never been compelled to listen to an album by them. Not sure why. This single is inventive in the extreme. It starts with a weird 'trapped under the floorboards' bit, followed by a build and a straight pop chorus. Engaging and interesting at the same time. It got to number 10 and supported the flat earth theory by telling us that 'all the world is biscuit shaped'. It stops short of saying it's being carried on the back of a massive intergalactic tortoise though.

38) Tight Fit - Fantasy Island

This got to number 5 in 1982. ABBA were shuffling offstage commercially yet here was a song that could have been taken from one of their 70s albums. This was also quite Bucks Fizz - if only they'd had another male member it would have fitted the brief. How much of the songs they recorded were actually sang by the people on stage is disputed. There were rumours their previous hit, 'Lion Sleeps Tonight' was sung by session musicians.

(37) Mickey - Toni Basil

Everything you need to know about this song is in this post here

Basically, Toni Basil is the greatest vocalist of the 80s. No, seriously.

(36) Phil Collins - You Can't Hurry Love

I wasn't sure what to make of this when it first came out. I'd heard it before but didn't know it was a Motown classic - I was only vaguely aware of Motown at the time anyway. It didn't make sense and he was doing his own backing in the video and there were four of him. As the years rolled by, I found out that Phil was brought up on Motown and realised a life-long dream when asked to help write 'Loco in Acapulco' with the Four Tops. His voice actually suits this very well. Nice choice and a great single. It was released in 1982 but hit number 1 in January 1983. Bit of trivia here, it was the first track on the first ever 'Now That's What I Call Music' compilation.

(35) Dionne Warwick - Heartbreaker

When you hear a Bee Gee's penned song you just know it's them don't you? It's not that they all sound the same, it's that they've all got this personality and phased pianos and sensibilities and strong melodies. This song sounds a bit trapped in  the 70s but that's not a bad thing because it' neither the 80s or the 70s any more so it's hanging timeless in  the ether now as a brilliant single. Dionne's voice is so melty isn't it? Mixes perfectly with Barry G in the chorus too.

Dionne hadn't had a top ten hit for 14 years but this gave her two weeks at number two.

 

 

 

 

(34) Roxy Music - Avalon

Roxy Music weren't my cup of tea in the 70s. They became a whole new animal as the 80s began however, with their unique brand of white soul and Bryan Ferry's impression of someone singing whilst trying to dislodge last night's triple-meat kebab with chilli sauce. This charted at No. 13 in the UK. The backing vocals were performed by Haitian singer Yanick Étienne, whom Bryan Ferry heard in the adjacent studio and invited her in to help out. The song's music video was directed by Ridley Scott!!

(33) A Flock of Seagulls - I Ran

It still baffles me to this day how this didn't enter the top 40. It must have done well stateside as Flock of Seagulls were namechecked several times in American movies of the time. Mainly centring around the haircut of the lead singer. (It got to number 9 in the US actually. Ed.)

This probably qualifies as the best single never to be a hit in the UK. Lead singer Mike Score was confronted by a UFO in his youth and wrote this song as a result.  He ran, he ran so far away, couldn't get away though. It's one of those songs that brings back memories of that endless summer of 82. "I Ran" reached number 43, and although a few hits followed it for the Seagulls, they never did anything as good as this again.

(32) Human League - Mirror Man

This is a proper pop song isn't it? If aliens landed and their first question was, 'What is pop music?', you'd have to play them this.

My issue with The Human League was that in December '81 "Don't You Want Me" had entered the chart at number nine and got to number 1 a week later. It's one of the most recognisable songs of all time now - but they just stopped. They didn't captialise on this League fever sweeping the nation.  It took an entire year for them to release this and get to number 2 with it. Then it took them another 18 months to release a new album. (they did have another number 2 single in 1983 in the mean time).

There was potential here that I don't think was ever really reached properly.

(31) Japan - Ghosts

There's some of us that get this and some of us who just don't want to. David Sylvian's stuff is alright I suppose, nothing special, but different enough to prick your ears up to amongst all the other fantastic music of the time. This song is something of a masterpiece though.

Japan only had two top ten hits and this was the biggest. Number 5 to be precise. I still think David, Nick Rhodes and Marilyn should have formed a super group. You never saw them all in the same room did you?

(30) Bucks Fizz - Now Those Days are Gone

The song was nominated for an Ivor Novello award and for good reason. The Fizz are deceptive in that you get the impression that they're a bubble-gum pop group trying to be ABBA but that's not the case at all. Some of their singles were superb - mature, well produced and with real heart. Land of Make Believe is one of the best songs of the decade.

This number 8 peaking single was a real surprise. It began with Mike Nolan singing acapella and the others harmonising until some gorgeous strings and electric pianos creep in towards the middle. The lyrics are as painful as you'd find in any blues ballad and not so twee as to work even 40 years later. I'd say this either inspired the 'Fame' song 'Starmaker' or the same person was involved in writing both songs.

(29) Modern Romance - Best Years of our Lives

A complete change of pace this. Party songs were massive in the early 80s, hence the popularity of Black Lace and my primary school putting their album on repeat in assembly so the teachers could have a child-free hour in the staff room every Wednesday morning. This trumpety gem moved slowly up the chart, but it ultimately became Modern Romance's biggest hit. An alternative version complete with a Christmas feeling helped it to peak at number four in it's eighth week on the chart.

I remember a song of theirs, Cherry pink and Apple Blossom White (I think) which had four minutes of instrumental and 10 seconds of singing in it. Smash hits actually published the lyrics on a full page of their magazine.

(28) Spandau Ballet - Lifeline

Infinitely better than either Gold or True which came from the same album. Even if they did steal their opening verse from ABC's Poison Arrow. It had looked like Spandau's career would be short and sharp as their previous two singles had failed to break the top 30 and a third (Instinction) whilst hitting number 10 was very bland.

This was a bit of a bolt out of the blue and showed they'd found their 'sound'. Should have gone higher than number 7 really.

Spandau have split up, fell out, made up, split up, gone to court, made friends and split up again more times than any other band.

(27) The Psychedelic Furs - Love My Way

It's easy to see where Electronic got their song 'Getting away with it' from - and they did get away with it - a copyright lawsuit that is.

This passed me by at the time, the first I heard of the Furs was their 1986 hit 'Pretty in Pink' which was great. This is a wonderful single though and puts me in mind of Teardrop Explodes. It only got to number 42 such was the quality of everything else happening in the world of popular music at the time.

 

 

(26) Yazoo - Don't Go

Despite Vince and Alison barely acknowledging each other in real life, they managed to come up with some magnificent work between them.  This is one of Vince Clarke's greatest moments - the sequencing itself is quite something.

This single had spent three weeks at number three which, as noted above, was a hell of an achievement given the quality of everything else around at the time.  It was a complete flipped coin to their first hit 'Only You' but was similar to that single's B-Side, 'situation'. It was a staple of the school disco in the early 80s.

(25) Gary Numan - We Take Mystery (to bed)

One of the songs that made me an obsessive Numan fan for life. The bass is infectious, the synths finely balanced and the atmosphere in the bridge/chorus is something that will always make me twitch with excitement. This was Gary's sixth top 10 hit from his first eight solo releases. He didn't get there again although he did hit number 2 in the album charts with his last two, 'Savage' (2017) and 'Intruder' (2021).

(24) Kids from Fame - Hi Fidelity

When I was 7, I wanted to marry Valerie Landsburg, the lead vocalist on this track. I used to watch Fame religiously as it was on after Top of the Pops on a Thursday night. The TV show spawned an album and several singles - this one got to number 5. The album spent 12 weeks at number 1 in the chart and only 18 other albums have bettered this in chart history! It was the 'Glee' of the day I suppose - another TV show that spawned actual chart singles.  Don't pay any attention to the version of the song on the video though, Bruno totally ruins it with his out-of-tune 'Hi Fi Deliteeee' bits.

(23) Hall and Oates - Maneater

I'm probably remembering this wrong but I heard a story where Stevie Wonder apologised to Hall and Oats for nicking the beginning riff of this song for 'Part Time Lover'. Then John Oates said something like, 'Don't worry about it, we nicked it off someone else'. It might actually have been a completely different set of people and songs however so pay no attention to me.

It was a very Motown song anyway so Stevie probably thought he'd written it himself anyway. It got to number 6.

(22) Depeche Mode - Leave in Silence

This was Depeche post-Vince Clarke and what a change. As much as I love Vince, he is very optimistic with his synth sounds. This is much much darker and probably influenced a raft of shoe-gazing bands which followed. 'This will be the last time... I think I said that last time', Dave croons. Brilliant.

(21) Hot Chocolate - It Started With a Kiss

This could have been a movie or a novel. Its such a well told tale, I feel like I'm in the story. Best friends at school who drift apart as they get older and eventually, one stops feeling about the other whilst the other will never let those feelings leave. Eventually, they meet after many years and she doesn't even know who he is! Oh my god, its one of the most heart-breaking songs ever written and Errol really sells it doesn't he?  This only got to number 5; can you imagine something like this being released these days? Hallelujah for being the age I was in the 80s. Kids these days will never have an experience like this song being fresh and new.

"Never thought it would come to this... you don't remember me do you?"

A Bona Fide classic which deserves its own shelf in the music hall of fame.

(20) Whitesnake - Here I Go Again

A humble little sort of secret rock group were Whitesnake. Especially in 1982 when their brand of music was a bit alien to us over here in the UK. This song didn't have it's moment until it was re-recorded in 1987.  The '82 version sounds like something John Lewis would have commissioned for a Christmas advert compared to the '87 version.

It got to number 34 and eventually, with the remix, got to number 1 in the US and number 9 here. Mainly due to the road being well trodden by Bon Jovi and Europe who prepared our palates for it.

(19) Duran Duran - Rio

The swell you hear at the beginning of this song is Nick Rhodes throwing some metal poles onto the strings of a grand piano and then reversing the tape. And what an intro! John Taylor's finest moment and one of the most iconic album covers and pop videos of the era.  Duran were one of the only bands who utilised and highlighted the talents of every single member of the band. Every song on their first three albums had all five members showcasing what they could do with their instruments - rare indeed.

This was the final single from the Rio album which probably explains why it only got to number 9, lower than both Hungry Like the Wolf and Save a Prayer, both inferior songs in my opinion. You can't trust the charts can you?

(18) Mari Wilson - Just What I Always Wanted

Miss Beehive, the 'Queen Of Neasden' had a wonderful voice. There was a woman where I lived in  the 80s who you'd see wandering around the high street with her 60s Beehive hairdo - which I believe she'd had since the 60s and never changed it. Or washed it. She definitely wasn't a Mari Wilson tribute act. She was in Kwik Save at the time.

This got to number 8 but the follow up 'Cry me a River' only barely broke the top 30 and she never charted again. Pity really, she had star quality.

(17) Maisonettes - Heartbreak Avenue

 

There were lots of 60s throw-back songs around in the early 80s. The production on this gave it a timeless feel, like it was an actual 60s group in the 60s singing 60s music.  It got to number 7. The singer 'Lol Mason' had a brother who was in the soap Crossroads at the time this was charting.

(16) Bananarama - Shy Boy

This song has the distinction of being the first song I ever taped off the radio along with 'Sign of the Times' by 'The Belle Stars'.  It's another song which leans into its production values. The muddiness of early 80s production is one of the reasons these songs have endured. Like old black and white photographs, they're not clear enough to make out all the details so you get sounds  that sort of mix together that shouldn't and it gives you a wonderful atmosphere. This song might have left the collective memory of everyone who heard it in 1982 but it still makes me smile even today.

(15) Madness - House of Fun

This got to number 1 but they had much better songs which didn't achieve that status. Everything they released was entertaining and the public and music press were starting to take them seriously, even if they weren't taking themselves seriously at all. They had, after all, two of the best songwriters around at the time so they were bound to come up with stuff of this quality. It was about a lad maturing to the age he was allowed to begin engaging in adult activities. I'm not sure how it didn't get banned, given the stuff the BBC was vetoing at the time.

(14) ABC - The Look of Love

This got to number four and was as glossy a pop song as you were likely to hear. Ever.  The album, The Lexicon of love is still revered as one of the greatest ever pop albums of all time.  Despite a couple of bangers in 'Be near me' and 'When Smokey sings' in later years, they never did live up to this early promise.

(13) Yazoo - Only You

Vince left Depeche Mode and formed Yazoo. A band on the edge of greatness for a band that might not ever have made it. Thankfully, this debut single got to number 2 despite the weird single cover. Acapella group, The Flying Pickets then took it to number 1 at Christmas a year later.

(12) Madness - Our House

Four weeks at number five for one of their best ever singles. From beginning to end it's a perfect pop song and underlines how mature their songwriting was getting after stuff such as One Step Beyond and My Girl.

(11) ABC - Poison Arrow

This got to number 6 and I don't think there was anyone alive in 1982 whom this song didn't appeal to. The various musical sections in this must have been crafted to a tee - there's so much going on, it could never have been written by just one person.

 

 

(10) Fat Larry's Band - Zoom

There were too many people in Fat Larry's band weren't there? They needed their own HR Department. This was the fourth song released from their fifth album and it was rare that such a thing would reach number two but they did. Probably because nobody bought the album - it only got to number 57 despite this being a hit. It's a song that sounds better sung in the shower in the morning.

(9) Simple Minds - Glittering Prize

Despite the empty, quite amateurish production on this song, it's somehow enhanced by it. It's a brilliant song and should have been a number 1 all day long. This was a track from their fifth album, the first four of which didn't make much impression at all - a wonder their label allowed them to keep releasing stuff - but with 'Promised you a Miracle' they entered the public consciousness and this, their second track from the album, got to number 16. They've gone on to release some absolutely iconic songs and like Big Country and U2, had songs you needed to crank up the Hi-Fi to really appreciate.

(8) Stranglers - Golden Brown

Bands were using signature instruments to get a new 'sound' in the early 80s. This was non-more apparent with the Harpsicord on this song - which was also written in 3/4 (a very rare time signature for a pop song). They threw the odd 4/4 bar in there too in order to throw you off and make the song more interesting. Only Genesis and Peter Gabriel had such success with this previously (funny time signatures). It spent two weeks at number two before The Stranglers went back to releasing non-sensical noise as singles and getting nowhere.

(7) Blancmange - Living on the Ceiling

The signature instruments on this song were the Tablas and the Sitar which didn't sound contrived at all - they fitted perfectly. I'm still scared of Neil Arthur btw, ever since I saw him glaring down the camera at me from the Top of the Pops studio.

I did listen to the album that this song was lifted from many years ago and I remember distinctly there being a song about looking for God in a Lampshade. I hope I'm wrong about that though?

(6) Culture Club - Do you Really want to Hurt me?

Eddy Grant, The Police, Musical Youth, Stevie Wonder, UB40, Madness, Bad Manners, The Specials et al. If it was Reggae, pseudo-reggae or a bad parody of reggae, it was all over the charts in the early 80s. This was the least likely reggae hit of the time though - George O'Dowd's white soul voice mixed with some smooth Caribbean-tinged pop music was absolutely amazing. A number 1 hit which deserved it way more than the tripe that was Karma Chameleon.

(5) Bucks Fizz - My Camera Never Lies

Three number one hits from their first five releases, Bucks Fizz were starting to gain some legitimacy and stopped being thought of as some manufactured novelty group trying to be ABBA. They were releasing way better singles than ABBA were at the time anyway. This song has a slow bit, a quick but, a choral part, some brilliant harmonies and excellent musical construction. A classic in every sense.

(4) Irene Cara - Fame

In a photo taken just after Irene stubbed her toe on the ottoman, Irene recorded the theme tune to the TV show Fame.  The TV show used the version sang by Erica Gimpel however - Irene's version had been recorded two years previous but that was the one RSO decided to release. And it was a good thing they did -  hitting number 4 in its first week, it got to number 1 for 3 weeks and was the third best selling single of the year. It's one of those songs that makes an impression right from the first few bars. I love those sort of pop songs.

(3) Dexy's Midnight Runners - Come on Eileen

Spending four weeks at number one, this was another song using a signature instrument to garner that unique sound. The violin or 'fiddle' was paired with a banjo and gave us a staple of the birthday party disco for the next forty years. The bit where it slows down and goes 'come on... eileen ta-loo-rye-ay... come on...' and gets progressively faster - I have no idea how someone didn't end up going through the floor.  Best selling song of the year and it had Siobhan Fahey (of Bananarama)'s sister on the cover and in the video.

(2) ABC - All of My Heart

How could a song sounding this amazing have come out of 1982? A full orchestra and guitars and pop vocals - just superb.  What studio and producer was able to do this? They can't even do it now! I was gigging in Durham a good few years ago and we had a fan who stood right in front of us most of the night, fully appreciating our pseudo-versions of Howard Jones and Duran Duran covers. We played this as our finale and when we finished, he came right up to me and said 'Play it again'. I was terrified but managed to calm him down and politely refuse as the rental time on the PA had expired and the bloke was there to collect it.

(1) Tears for Fears - Mad World

This reached number 3 but didn't sound like anything else I'd ever heard. Their sound was so unique and the messages on parent album 'The Hurting' were ones i wouldn't actually get until about 15 years later - such was the depth of what they were singing about. This is an album that will never be matched or repeated. The song itself spoke to me through the line 'Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson - look right through me, look right through me'.

On the single cover, Curt is in a bad mood because Roland won't buy him an ice cream.

 

If you want to see my blog about 1980 click here, or if you'd like to dip into the 70s, click here

 

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The best 100 songs of all time

The Best 100 songs in the world EVER

Spotify playlist : The Greatest Songs in the World (Ever)

YouTube playlist : The Greatest Songs in the World (Ever)

 (If the videos aren't working below you can go direct to the playlist here : 100 best songs ever)

You can't write a list of the best songs ever written. It's not possible to write a list someone can't debate. Even if you get lots of people to agree on what the best one ever written is, none of those same people will agree on number 2 in the list.

Despite this, I've written a list of the top 100 songs ever written. Not because one opinion is more valid than another and not because I think any of my music taste is somehow more refined than anyone elses, I just want to entertain and hopefully get you to listen to something you might not have heard before - music changes lives and some of the songs on my list helped change, shape and save mine.

So, what makes a great song? I don't mean a good song - I mean a really great song. Lots of things I suppose, but also little things. A big guitar solo or a couplet that you get as a tattoo. A little synth motif that becomes part of the fabric of reality. A story that makes you cry or the singer's way of telling the story that makes you believe every word.  Those things exist in great songs.

A great song is one you keep going back to every few weeks for the rest of your life - like a well stocked buffet.  Enough ramble, here's my pick of the top 100 songs ever written, and a bit about why I'm making such a bold claim!

 

 

(100) Who's that girl - Eurythmics

What sets this song and 'Sweet Dreams' apart (which is the other contender for the list) is the mood. Some of the most popular synth-pop of the early 80s wasn't the jolly blippy-bloopy stuff you probably associate with synthesizers, it was the darker, more brooding stuff.  Gary Numan had Complex, Ultravox had Vienna and The Eurythmics had Who's That Girl. The way the song changes pace at the bridge is very clever and Annie Lennox's layered vocals are as sweet as you'll find in any song throughout the ages. This is a superb song!

(99) Too little Too Late - JoJo

No room for music snobbery here I'm afraid. There's no reason a mid 2000s teen-angst pop song can't be one of the greatest ever written. This isn't as throw-away as the artist may lead you to believe. There's some real pain here, despite the fact JoJo didn't write the song; she sells it. Brilliantly so. Sometimes songs get over-produced and the whole thing seems a bit manufactured but you can tell listening to this that an acoustic version would be every bit as sparkling and gut-punchingly sorrowful. What a wonderful blend of songwriting and performance.

She re-recorded it when she'd grown up (She was 15 when she recorded the original) a few years ago, popped that version on spotify and took the original down. Like she was ashamed of it? The re-recording has none of the emotion of the original, which is weird cos you'd think she'd be able to sing from experience.

(98) Shelter - Duran Duran

This song probably passed a lot of Duran Duran fans by never mind those who only sparingly dip into albums with successful singles on them (like me). Duran had fallen into a bit of a lean spell following an extremely successful period in the 80s. They burst back on the scene after the flop that was 'Liberty' in 1990 with 'Ordinary World' in 1993. It's no accident that I've picked 3 songs from that album in my top 100 and there could have been more.  'Shelter' is a sonic masterpiece. Rumour has it the album was recorded in someone's front room and had no producer. However true, that makes 'Shelter' even better. The verse is unusual, the powerful bridge and synth hits are wonderful and I still love to put this on, turned up loud nearly 30 years later.

(97) Fiction - Nik Kershaw

When I heard Nik Kershaw was releasing his first new album in over 10 years, I was overjoyed until I heard it. I wasn't expecting it to be slow and guitar-led. Gone were the glassy synths. Gone were the jazz chords and multiple key signatures. Gone was the slightly misguided pop star who made a few dodgy albums ('Radio Musicola' and 'The Works') despite still liking them a lot. There was no 'One and Only' on this album but it was a lot more mature and the songs had more depth than anything else he'd done. The songs lingered too. They planted themselves in my head and grew until I loved them more than I'd ever expected to on first listen.

Great songs usually aren't that great when you first hear them. It's like Ricky Gervais' 'The Office'. People didn't get it and it had barely any audience the first time it was shown. It grows on you when you start to understand it. 'Fiction' is quite simple but so powerful. Instead of using flowery metaphors, it captures exactly the way I've felt so many times in my life and it all floods back each time I hear this. It reminds me that it all could have been so different!

(96) The Troubles - U2

Probably an odd choice for even big fans of U2 this but it baffles me why this was shoved to the back of an album they gave away for free. It's delicate and heartbreaking. It's morose without being depressing. It's a brilliant vehicle for the contrasting vocals of Lykke Li and Bono and not in a 'Kylie/Nick' style either. The last minute of the song is where it's power lies though. It's about contrasts, survival and letting go to save yourself. Definitely don't listen to this if you're not having a good day though.

(95) Maybe in another life - Madness

Madness were one of my first musical loves. Not enough to go and buy anything they did mind, though my music purchases were few and far between until I started getting enough pocket money to buy comics, sweets and vinyl. It wasn't until I bought all of the Madness singles (and B-sides) collected on a box set called 'The Business' in 1994 that I felt the full force of one of the greatest bands of all time. There never seemed to be enough discipline about the Nutty boys to be able to come up with the genius tunes that were 'Our House', 'Yesterday's Men' and 'One Better Day'. This B-Side however was lo-fi, raw and slightly unproduced but that's what makes it so beautiful. Chas Smash sang lead vocals more and more towards their first break-up. He's not the best singer and he can't really phrase very well and his diction is definitely off in places but this song comes from the heart. It got me through some dark days and maybe that's influenced me into picking this in my top 100 but I stand by it - the saxophone complements the lament perfectly too.

(94) Everybody wants to rule the world - Tears for Fears

One of the first songs ever to make me stop what I was doing to listen. I absolutely loved this when it came out in 1985. I'm still sad they didn't play Live Aid and still gutted they fell out and split up in 1990. They weren't the best at artwork but this song is littered with gorgeous sonics, classic riffs, wonderful imagery (There's a room where the light won't find you - Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down - when they do I'll be right behind you), and a fun memorable video.  Songs from the Big Chair will always be a fixture on my record player until I wear out the vinyl and have to buy another copy.

(93) The Fear - Lily Allen

Lily Allen didn't do much for me when she debuted in the charts around 2006. It was all a bit saccharine for me especially with contemporaries Nerina Pallot, Pixie Lott, Little Boots and Sandi Thom littering the top 40 with twee ditties.  Then this came along and, as with many other songs on this list, stopped me in my tracks. It's a commentary on consumerism, excess and societal pressures on appearance, not just for in-the-spotlight pop stars. The chorus is wonderful and that's all down to producer Greg Kurstin who co-wrote the song with Lily. It spent four weeks at number one and each one deserved.

(92) Pop Muzik - M

The vocal stylings, the hook, the sentiment and the unique sound all elevate this simple pop song into 'classic' status. It wasn't meant to have Synths on it at all but eventually someone conviced them to use them. The best thing about the whole thing was that the single had two songs on the A-side and which one you got depended on which groove the needle dropped into first. Whenever this song is on, it always cheers me up. It's the first song on the list that doesn't have some kind of dark theme.

(91) Ashes to Ashes - David Bowie

Ooooooh! Yes! I'm not a fan of Mr Bowie by any stretch and when I first heard this in 1980 I had no idea who he was. I suppose it was the video that made me listen to the song. The visuals were so interesting to a five year old that the song just went in by osmosis.  Having recorded various covers of this song over the years, I've deconstructed it and it gets better the more you dig into the different instruments and effects and weird vocal noises and bass guitar and and and... just, wow. Masterpiece.

(90) Video killed the radio star - The Buggles

A great song is one that sounds good across the ages and this will never sound out of time. Prophetic and cynical, it captured imaginations from the day it was released. Now it's streaming that's killed the radio star - it's killed the entire pop chart in fact. Like Ashes to Ashes, there's so much studio trickery going on here - not autotune or sampled drum loops like they have these days - but real instruments and voices with clever production techniques and real musicians on real instruments. It was all downhill from the invention of midi and virtual instruments. Trevor Horn of course went on to be one of the most influential producers of his age.

If you get a chance, have a listen to the follow up 'Living in the plastic age' which is nearly as good as this.

 

 

 

(89) True Faith - New Order

I first heard this on a late night radio show, one of those that played stuff that wasn't out yet. It took my breath away - so much so that it didn't occur to me to grab a blank tape and record it. It's a triumph of musician and sequencer. The Musicians Union was terrified when synthesizers came along saying it was going to put people out of work. They did, sort of, but it took digital recording platforms to really shove violinists and saxophonists out of the picture. Peter Hook using a bass guitar as a percussion instrument and Bernard Sumner belting out one of the best lyrics of the 80s in :

'My morning sun is the drug that brings me near
To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear
I used to think that the day would never come
Spend my life in the shade of the morning sun'

(88) Goodbye - Spice Girls

Don't underestimate the Spice Girls' impact on popular music in 1996. It started a revolution that's still going today. 'Wannabe' is a brilliant single, launching the power pop fivesome into the stratosphere. Their image, message, energy and dare I say it, voices, created a marketing juggernaut that saw them on every TV show, every pencil case and every 9-year-old girl's bedroom wall. Hallelujah.  Geri was the best member of the group, and the most essential to their aura. When she left, the rest of them just didn't have the same sparkle. Having said that, they released 'Goodbye' after Geri left and if you were swept up in the Spice Girls whirlwind like me, it really felt like the end of an era. The song was about the departure of Halliwell but also I think, about the end of the group. They did go on to release the horrific song 'Holler' two years later before splitting up properly.  I liked a lot of what they did in their solo careers - even Victoria had a couple of enjoyable moments in the charts.  Goodbye was their third consecutive Christmas number 1, when it used to mean something, long before Simon Cowell got his grubby hands all over it.

(87) You Came - Kim Wilde

Simple this; it's the use of the B minor 7 chord in the bridge.  It jars; it makes the part of your brain that expects the progression to go somewhere to go 'eh?'. Apart from that, it's a blazing 80s blur of wonderful melodies and production. I could just as easily have chosen 'Never Trust a Stranger' or 'The Second Time' from Kim's back catalogue, which by the way, is totally worth checking out.

(86) First attack of love - Terry Hall

Terry has popped into my playlists quite a bit over the years. 'Ghost Town', 'Really Saying Something', 'Our Lips are Sealed' and the album 'Home'. I can't put into words what this album means to me. I bought it because I managed to catch a rare playing of 'Sense' on MTV in 1998. That was on this album so into the cassette player it went - and stayed there for months. This track is right at the end of the second side and from the opening bare guitar riff to the final note, it stirs something I only feel when I'm listening to this song. I can't imagine life without it.

(85) Point of view - DB Boulevard

What a great singer Moony is. This got to number 3 in 2002 and I used to watch VH1 for hours hoping the video would come back round. (This was before YouTube) There were a lot of 'producers' in the charts early 2000s and a lot of them were churning out very enjoyable singles. Roger Sanchez's 'Another Chance' and Spiller's collab with Sophie Ellis Bextor are fine examples of this new branch in musical artists emerging and evolving (there are more in this top 100 list too).  Music Videos were reaching a zenith too with songs like 'Starlight' by the Supermen Lovers and Sweet like Chocolate. Point of View has a great video and the song is all 'don't worry, be happy' which is always good. This song is just infectious and I like when it comes round randomly on Spotify.

(84) Too lost in you - Sugababes

The original Sugababes line-up had wonderful vocal chemistry. Formed by the All Saints manager, they didn't have a hugely successful start until Siobhán Donaghy left and Heidi Range joined. Eventually, every member left and was replaced by someone else so they didn't have any founding members.  Like the ship of Theseus.

I loved Sugababes in their middle period as much as I loved All Saints (see later in the list). Their song 'Stronger' is amazing and way beyond anything you'd expect from a percieved manufactured girl group or boy band. There was much more here that you'd find in any Oasis album, any Nirvana track or even a Bob Dylan nasal social commentary whine. The version of this song that starts with conga drums is the best version. The build is fantastic and when the harmonies kick in through the chorus, the hairs on the back of your everything will stand up. Superb.

(83) Don't go breaking my heart - Elton John and Kiki Dee

Has there ever been a better duet? I loathe most of Elton's 70s stuff. It's too jangly and tuneless. It's a bit non-sensical in the main but he gave his head a shake and started writing some superb stuff by the 80s. 'I'm Still Standing', 'I Guess that's why they Call it the Blues', 'Sad Songs', 'The One' and 'Believe' are wonderful songs. 'Don't go breaking...' is a particularly brilliantly crafted song. Real time was spent on writing this. Each piano chord, each vocal note and although Elton's strange vocal delivery isn't for everyone, he chose the perfect foil in Kiki Dee.

(82) The little things that give you away - U2

Whatever you think of U2's slow decline since 2004's 'How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb', their 2017 album 'Songs of Experience' had some real gems. This song comes straight from the top drawer. Lyrically, musically and atmospherically this song takes you to so many places. I'm not even sure what it's about but the lyrics don't ever do that thing where a word snaps you out of the song and makes you go 'why did they say chicken dinner there?'.  Bono's voice is a raw and gravelled as ever here and he's still one of the only vocalists around these days who makes you believe everything he sings.

(81) All around the world - Lisa Stansfield

There's a hint of Barry White here and as Lisa cleans up her Lancashire accent, you never feel that her monologue at the start is out of place. What a voice as well.  Her and Morten Harket should have duetted. Both were able to change their voices entirely depending on what they were singing. It's something inbuilt and natural. Like Kiki Dee, if Lisa had been given some better material after this smash hit, she could have been massive. The fact she was chosen as one of those to honour Freddie Mercury at the tribute concert in 1992 along with Elton John,  David Bowie, George Michael, Seal, Paul Young, Annie Lennox and Robert Plant spoke volumes for her standing in the pop world at the time.

(80) Don't you want me - Human League

This wasn't even going to be released as a single and was even shoved to the back of the album because the band didn't like it that much. Since it stormed to number 1 in 1981 it has since become a bona fide classic regardless of your taste in music. Phil Oakey has a great voice and a lot of their top 40 hits are a joy to listen to.  'Heart like a wheel' and 'Fascination' are my favourites, along with 'Open your heart' and 'Lebanon'. A great band with dodgy beginnings which saw them doing some very avant garde stuff that didn't resonate with the main stream and the eventual formation of Heaven 17, which definitely wasn't a bad thing.

For me though, watching Top of the Pops on that fateful evening, that bass synth intro set me on a path to needing synthsizers in my life forever.

 

 

 

(79) Call me - Spagna

This song has everything an infectious summer anthem needs.  From the velcro-like intro which hooks you in to the Euro-pop stylings that so defined Eurovision for so many years, Call Me is a triumph of a pop song. It goes further than just being a great single, it just cheers my soul up. I know singles do that but this hits a deeper part - a part of me I suppose that remembers those wonderful mid-80s summers with endless sunshine. I'll never get bored of this song.

(78) Secrets - Tears for Fears

Steel yourself. This is a deep cut from one of the greatest bands and songwriters of the modern age. After Tears for Fears broke up in 1990, Roland Orzabal continued alone but commercial success was elusive. The songs however remained at a very high standard, especially with 1995's 'Raoul and the Kings of Spain', a concept album exploring Orzabal's Spanish heritage.  Secrets is about the troubles in relationships, which gives the lyric the necessary weight but the pacing and power of the vocal are superb too so, here it is, the 78th best song ever written!

(77) You get what you give - The New Radicals

This is one of those songs it hard not to like. It defined a moment in time - many songs have done that over the years however so that's not why it's in the list. It's just so different to anything else I'd heard at the time. I wanted to put it on the stereo and turn it up as loud as it would go and dance around the house, over and over again. This song has the genuine power to transform your mood and that's rare.  The lyrics suggest he's going to 'kick' Marilyn Manson's 'ass in'. When asked about it, Manson said he wasn't mad about the threat of violence, more that he'd been included in the same line as Courtney Love.

(76) Saint - Texas

Listening again, maybe this song should have been a bit higher in the list, but there's some quite stiff competition. Texas hit a peak with this album, as if they'd opened a magical songwriting chest that inspired them all for a year. A lot of the other Texas stuff I've heard doesn't even get in the same postcode as this album. It's oozing with atmosphere and listening back to front is an absolute journey. This song manifests in the room as you play it. It's sister song for me is the track 'Move in' which is almost as good and would be just outside my 100. If I ever do an albums list, this is one of the first in.

(75) Quit playing games with my heart - Backstreet Boys

I said before, it doesn't matter how cheesy or credible a band or artist are in the eyes of the general public, genuinely great songs can come from anywhere.  Often on 'worst songs of the 80s' lists, Chris DeBurgh's 'Lady in Red' is a great song. It's the stigma that gets in the way. Anyone seeing the artist above may be forgiven for thinking 'Backstreet Boys were just a boyband' but this song is heartbreaking. As sad and emotionally exhausting as any of your 'Always on my minds', 'Tears in Heavens', 'Hurts' or 'Father and Sons', 'Quit playing games' touches a part of you that needs to be open to it.  If you've ever wished to go back and redo something, live something again, change an outcome - this will have you in tears. 'I wish I could turn back time, impossible as it may seem but I wish I could, so bad...'

(74) Sanctify yourself - Simple Minds

YES! YES! YES!

My favourite thing about Simple Minds is their use of power in songs. Power in the drums, in the bass, in the guitars and of course in Jim Kerr's voice. He's a lot gentler these days but back in the day, he was capable of going from soft and sensual to loud and electric. Alive and Kicking, Glittering Prize, Don't you Forget about me, Waterfront and Belfast Child, all songs you must have on your best songs playlist.

(73) Release me - Agnes

Strange that Agnes only had two hits. Both were brilliant but then, nothing. The first, 'Release me' reached number 3 but the follow up 'I need you now' only got to number 40 in 2009.  This has baffled me since I was old enough to understand the music charts. An artist would release a song every bit as good as another song but one would go top 10 and the other wouldn't chart. Why didn't people hear the other one? Did they hear it and hate it? Were they thinking it just sounded like the one they bought and they were sick of it? Regardless, any artist would have been proud to have this song in their repertoir, even if it was the only one they ever hit the chart with.

She showed her mettle at the tribute concert for Marie Fredriksson when she sang 'It must have been love', dare I say it, better than Marie ever did.

(72) The day the world turned dayglow - X Ray Spex

This is brilliant. Poly Styrene is a legend and rightly so. I talked about this song when I put it at number 2 of the best singles of 1978 here. It's one of those songs you need to know, to know. That's not to say that if you think it's just a load of noise and shouting that you're wrong, but that's what makes music brilliant. Your own opinion.

(71) Nobody's Girl - Nicky Holland

Sadly, even people who follow popular music closely may not have heard this. Nicky was part of the Tears for Fears 'Songs from the Big Chair' tour and began writing music with Roland Orzabal, contributing quite a lot of lyrics and piano to their album 'Seeds of Love'.  She quite deservedly got to release music in her own right - and this, one of the best songs I've ever heard, was written with Lloyd Cole. It's beautifully produced and her unique voice carries the song right to the middle of where songs are supposed to hit you. The rest of the 'Sense and Sensuality' album is lovely too - it's one you can stick on in the background and it accompanies any mood. This could have been her 'Sleeping Sattelite' but Google can't find any singles or what number her album charted at... I guess it got no promotion?

"I've been lost, I've been found, I'm every woman's daughter, and I'm nobody's girl".

(70) It must have been love - Roxette

Timeless, powerful and perfectly crafted. It was the piano solo in the middle that grabbed me on my first listen. Still does. Marie's voice was superb and it's featured again on this list much nearer the top spot. This was of course featured in the movie 'Pretty Woman' but it had been released originally in 1987 in Sweden where it reached number 4, as were subsequent singles 'Dressed for Success' and 'Listen to your heart'.  Once one of their CDs made it over to the USA and a wise old record executive pushed their music to the rest of the world, 'The Look' was released and went to number 1 in several territories. 'Dressed' and 'Listen' were then released worldwide and did just as well so 'It must have been love' was released again and went stratospheric.  After 'Joyride' went to number one everywhere, their career started a slow decline. Only 'How do you do' and 'Sleeping in my car' made any real dent in the top 10. We sadly lost Marie in 2019 and their first album 'Pearls of Passion' will always be one of my favourite albums of all time.

 

 

(69) Redemption Day - Sheryl Crow

This was an album I bought on the strength of one song but I soon realised that Sheryl wasn't her singles. In fact, whatever you heard in the chart wasn't a representation of what she was capable of. You need to listen to the 'Wildflower' album. It's not what the kids are listening to so it only got to number 25 here but it's as good a collection of heart-rending songs as you're likely to hear.

When I first heard the 'Sheryl Crow' album, track 3, 'Home' blew me away. It wasn't a particularly great time when I got this album and the melacholy nature of much of it still gives me goosebumps - especially 'Redemption Day'. It's like, come on - how can a song this good exist? It's politically charged but not in a preachy way, just a sad sort of 'where's your common sense' way. I heard Johnny Cash cover this and for once, he didn't make it his own - and that's rare.

(68) Hounds of love - Kate Bush

What an album. What a singer. What a song writer. I love artists who do exactly what their souls tell them to do. Her song 'This Woman's Work' brings me to actual tears. It's stupidly heartbreaking. I'm surprised that most of what Kate Bush did resonated with enough people to sell enough singles. I can understand her album success but when appealing to the common denominator, she was able to hook them too.  Hounds of Love got five star reviews from all the music press which usually means it isn't worth listening to but wow. Side 1 is as good a side of Vinyl you'll ever hear and the song 'Hounds of Love' is so refreshingly honest, it hurts.

'I found a fox, caught by dogs, he let me take him in my hands, his little heart beat so fast and I'm afraid of running away'

and the genius lyric : "You don't want to hurt me but see how deep the bullet lies"

(67) December - All About Eve

The lyrics of this song, I hope, were written with a powerful truth. I want them to be true so much because they're so lucid and realistic and full of imagery and emotion that you can actually feel. I'd hate to think it was a fiction - but then, even if it is, it's so beautifully written that there has to be some truth in it.

The song is about looking through a keepsake tin and finding a sprig of mistletoe used one December to kiss someone long gone.  She then blames the time of year for bringing back feelings which are only nostalgia, not real feelings of actually missing that person. The line that gets me every time (and the construction of the melody hammers the emotion home perfectly) is 'A fall of snow and the afterglow should be taking our breath away... but the years stand in the way'. Damn!

(66) Until the end of the world - U2

U2's best album. Borne out of them trying to find a new sound, finding a lot of frustration and then almost splitting up. Then came 'One' which you may or may not see further up this list, and the rest is history. To have a truly great album you don't just need great songs or great lyrics or even any of that - I think it's the atmosphere. It's the thing you can't describe. Everything has an aura - places, food, people, tv shows and music. If you've heard this album you'll know what I mean about the atmosphere. Something they managed to capture in Hansa Studios was intangible and something you just can't bottle or recreate. I'm sure if they went back to record this album again from scratch it would sound completely different. This is a record that took a lot of people a lot of time to create.

It's a song that comes from a real place which always gives it gravity. Bono and The Edge fell out temporarily and it inspired Bono to write a fictional conversation between Jesus and Judas which, in the end, results in Judas' suicide. Bono even 'sings' the song as a conversation - there's no discernible tune. And it's brilliant.

(65) Sin of the City - Duran Duran

It wasn't until the internet was a thing that I found out what this song was about. It's about the Happy Land arson fire that killed 87 people trapped in an unlicensed social club in New York City on 25 March 1990. Despite not knowing about this at the first years of listening, it was the piano riff I noticed. Nick Rhodes was integral to the early Duran Duran sound, using synths in a very different way to other bands. It's clearest on the Duran splinter group Arcadia's album 'So Red the Rose' where he goes gale force 9 with the pads and effects - crafted ones - perfectly weighted ones.  He came to the forefront again on the 'Liberty' album and silenced those critics who said he used to just stand around on stage, twiddling knobs. On Sin of the City he produces a chord sequence like no other I've heard. Epic.

(64) No Rain - Blind Melon

This is exactly how I felt in the late summer of 1993. I feel so sad when I hear this song now, especially as lead singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose in 1995. Like another song higher up this list, you can't help feeling that there was a lot of pain in what he was singing and that only serves to turn up the power of the lyric.

'And all I can do is read a book to stay awake
And it rips my life away, but it's a great escape'

These days it's X-box and TikTok.

(63) Black Coffee - All Saints

I might have mentioned this already but there was a peak in the quality of music videos in the early 2000s. The video for this song turns the lyrics up to 11 and it becomes very clear what it's about. It's not the romantic song you think it is, that's for sure. I loved the production on this and 'Pure Shores' - I think the same producer worked on Madonna's 'Frozen'. If they didn't then someone needs to sue someone.  Unlike Bananarama, who all sang the same note most of the time, All Saints were able to sing four different parts and melt their voices together into a wonderful tub of ice cream for your ears. It's pure joy.

(62) She sells sanctuary - The Cult

This has everything that Simple Minds' 'Sanctify Yourself' has but it also has a stronger hook and a singer who wants everyone to know that the heads that turn make his back burn.  It's a hurricane of a song and you're swept up in it along with the cows, cars and plastic bags.

(61) I can't stand it - Twenty 4 Seven

Here's something unexpected and something you've probably never heard. There are a few versions of this and the radio cut that I first heard is nowhere to be seen on Spotify. If you listen to the spotify version, you'll lose all respect for me and give up on the list. I assure you though that the Bruce Forest remix, which was the one radio stations played, is the one with the synth hook and tumble piano in the chorus which is what makes the song so enjoyable to listen to.  I'll find it on YouTube somewhere so check out that version in the playlist above.

Twenty 4 Seven were a foursome who strutted around on stage taking turns to rap and sing. When their song 'Are you Dreaming' was out, I had a friend at school who, every time I saw her for an entire week, we'd rap the chorus together, impromptu, without agreeing to do so before hand. It was weird but going 'Dreaming can be very nice, sometimes hot sometimes ice cold, but they're so real, nightmares can make you feel like jumping up and running away sometimes, dreams are just like people, human beings, fantasies are dreams' was one of the best in-jokes I've ever shared with anyone.  It's weird that I can remember that from 30 odd years ago but I can't remember what I went into the kitchen for twenty mintes ago.

(60) In the air tonight - Phil Collins

Don't underestimate the simplicity of this song. It's actually quite complicated. The initial percussion rhythm was programmed into a (new at the time) drum machine with loads of processing to give it that ethereal, twilight on the moors type feel. It makes you feel like it actually is coming in the air tonight. That drum fill in the middle is iconic for a reason. Bit overdone now I think but pretend you're hearing it for the first time and it gets you right there.  Phil Collins is one of the greatest songwriters of our time and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone up to his standard who's had a hit in the last 20 years.

 

 

(59) Phantom Bride - Erasure

Above all else, the album that this song comes from, 'The Innocents', is one the best sounding albums you'll ever hear. The production on it is so clear, the instruments so crystaline, the vocals so pure and the quality of songs so good, it comes as close to a masterpeice as you can get for a pop album.  Phantom Bride is everything good about the album in one song.

(58) Just one smile - Gene Pitney

What strikes me most about songs from the 60s and 70s is how singers, musicians and performers were there on merit. Whatever they looked like - they weren't taking selfies and dressing in Gucci and flaunting their wealth in vulgar ways (see Instagram circa 2019). Singers could sing, and most had voices so unique you knew who it was immediately. I was listening to the radio the other day, trying to pick something out from the 'songs of today' that I could at least tap my foot to. I couldn't discern any voice as unique. Everything was lost in the mix and so layered with effects and digital stupidity, I didn't know what was going on.

Gene Pitney had one of the most unique voices of the 60s. Along with Roy Orbison, any song he sang became something more than the tune, the words, the structure. I know this list seems to be filled with heavy songs - heartbreaking songs - but they're the ones that hit you the hardest. Just one Smile is just that, heartbreaking.

(57) Advice for the young at heart - Tears for Fears

'Love is a promise, love is a souvenir - once given, never forgotten, never let it disappear.'

The third single from Tears for Fears' masterpeice 'The Seeds of Love'. It's about when you're young, you want to be an adult and when you're finally an adult, wanting to be a child again.  This song was co-written by Nicky Holland (who sang 'Nobody's girl' above), and absolutely came from a place of truth.

'Soon we will be older. When are we going to make it work?'

I feel like that all the time.

(56) The Man with the child in his eyes - Kate Bush

Apart from the horrendous single cover, this is a song of real quality. Apparently she wrote it when she was 13. I was still playing Karate Kid in the back street at 13. It won an Ivor Novello for it's outstanding lyrics. The piano part is full of every characteristic you find in a Rachmaninov. In fact, you could probably sprinkle Kate Bush songs all over the top 100 best ever and none would seem out of place.

(55) Who's that girl - Madonna

I'm probably in the minority of one here but this is pristene pop perfection. Even when Madonna wasn't at the top of her game in the 80s, she was still head and shoulders above most of her peers. It's bright and optimistic and thankfully, doesn't bring the awful movie it was from to mind too much.

(54) Sand in my shoes - Dido

Not convinced by Dido's vocal delivery if I'm honest. At least it's unique and not like all those clones you used to get on X-factor singing the same Whitney Houston song with too many notes per word. Sand in my Shoes is about meeting someone on holiday, getting home to your humdrum life and not knowing if you want to see that person again because you like them or beacause the memory of them is synonymous with the sun, sea and sand escape from real life.  It's wonderfully written and delivered and has lots of those nice musical hooks. It's a shame that songs like this get lost in the ether and dissappear a few months after they were released. Actually, around the end of the 2000s  I was worried Rihanna songs were going to be circulated for the next 20 years but thankfully, they all dissappeared and were forgotten too. Especially that godawful Umbrella song. Um... what was I talking about again...

(53) Land of Make Believe - Bucks Fizz

Bucks Fizz won Eurovision and whilst the gamble was taken to offer them a recording contract based on that one performance, it paid off massively. A string of great songs followed and this went all the way to number 1 in 1982. You forget the ABBA comparisons because they became a group in their own right and this song is right up the street of a 7 year old, which is the age I was when I first heard it. They're on about ghosts and superman and imaginary friends. Inspired.

(52) Criticize - Alexander O'Neal

One of the greatest vocalists of all time. Rolling Stone will only ever go with the cliche choices of Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Beyonce because they're good in their own right but they'd all struggle to outdo Alex in his prime. The 'Hearsay' album is one I'd take to a desert island without hesitation. 'Sunshine' is my favourite song on the album but Criticize is so well written. The bass, the drum sound, Alex singing with very little effort. I first heard this song at a school disco and went out to buy the album that weekend. I've been listening ever since.

(51) Home - Erasure

Oh Erasure. How on earth can you take your uplifting twinkly positivity and turn out a dark, brooding, atmospheric, disturbing and inspiring song using instruments that 'have no soul'. Vince Clarke reaches his Zenith on this album and Andy Bell achieves a clarity in his vocals which rivaled any of his contemporaries. This song takes you out of yourself and it's the sort that you can attach quite powerful associations and memories with. Stunning with a captial S.

(50) In your eyes - Peter Gabriel

This is how you do lyrics. "So much wasted, and the moment keeps slipping away". Peter Gabriel must have come from money because he wasn't afraid to do music his way. However extreme or weird, dressing up as a flower or writing avante garde whistling medleys, he didn't stick to a safe commercial path. One of his albums was dropped by his record company just before releasing it (only for them to try and buy it back after the first single went top ten)! However, when he's gone straight down the middle with a conventional stab at pop music, it's been brilliant.

'In your eyes' ticks all the boxes for a love song. And some more boxes that aren't on the list.

 

 

 

(49) Sweetness follows - REM

This is quite a scary song. Depressing and too realistic - borne of 'Everybody hurts' but a little more cryptic, it squeezes your soul and pulls out all your ventricles.  'Lost in our little lives' and 'live your life with joy and thunder' are simple lyrics but so so so effective in context with the moody drawl of the strings. It's just a dark masterpeice, that's all.

(48) Sleeping Sattelite - Tasmin Archer

This song came from nowhere. In fact, one of my mates rang me to tell me to listen to it when it first came out - he loved it so much. I had to just leave the radio on all day to hear it - such was the lack of streaming back then. As soon as it came on I knew it was the one I was waiting for. It glitters from the first note to the last. I bought the album. I loved the album. I still listen to it now. 'Arianne' and 'Halfway to Heaven' should have been top 10 hits too. It's a song that'll be played on radio right up until the universe explodes. And probably after that too.

(47) Ordinary world - Duran Duran

What a glorious comeback single for my one-time favourite band. They were my everything in 1993 and although I'd loved their previous effort 'Liberty', the fans and the radio didn't. They'd lost two members and their 'way' until this perfect peice of emotionally stirring mixture of pop and soul came along. Of course I bought CD1 and CD2 (a tactic bands used to sell more singles by sticking lots of bonus tracks on each CD) with a slightly different mix of the song and an acoustic version on CD2. I used to support bands the way I supported football. I always wanted the bands I liked to get to number 1 and checked the charts methodically when they were published every Sunday. I was desperate for this to get to number 1 (They'd been there twice before) but it wasn't to be. They had to settle for number 6 (a crime) but they did manage one place higher with 'Reach up for the sunrise' in 2004. That's the last we'll see of the Durans in the charts though. In fact, I've got more chance of getting in the charts than Duran Duran have these days.

(46) Knowing Me, Knowing You - Abba

If you've done any level of songwriting, you'll know why this is one of the greatest songs ever written. On the surface, it's the totally 70s production, especially on the twinkling detuned piano and weird reverb at the start. Then it's the evocative lyrics and the harmonies - then, under all that is the simple melody of the verse which flips into that almost angry bridge and chorus.  As long as you don't think about Alan Partridge, you'll know what I mean. Abba are after all, the gold standard of pop songwriting.

(45) Please Push no more - Gary Numan

Did you ever think Gary Numan's cold emotionless voice could break your heart? This is a song which gives you chills but not in the android sense, in the actual 'wow, someone did a number on this fella' way. It's the way he sings 'So that was love?' in a way I think we've all felt at one time. There's such heart in this song that the synth wailing in the instrumental bits sound every bit in place. The album as a whole is probably Numan's best and this song dots the T's and crosses the I's.

(44) What's up - Four Non Blondes

This song was out at such an exciting time for music; American music really. It was all kicking off in 1993 and this was one of the songs which led the way - with Spin Doctors and Blind Melon following. 25 years and my life is still trying to get up that great big hill of hope. I was 18 at the time but I knew what they meant - and knew even more by the time I was nearly 19. I said Hey-ey-ey-yey-yeh, I said Hey, What's going on????  I'm still not sure.

(43) The way I are - Timbaland (Ft. Keri Hilson)

Timbaland almost saved popular music for a moment there in 2007. He almost launched Keri Hilson's career too. He definitely helped One Republic have a career and he nearly had a big chart career of his own. Despite all these nearlys and almosts, this song borrowed a lot from Salt 'n Pepa's song 'Push it', dragged it into whatever the prevailing wind was at the end of the 00's and came up with something catchy, fresh and infectious. I still get happy these days whenever it pops into my ears unannouced. It's almost feminist, sort of too.

(42) True Love Ways - Buddy Holly

I can't get over how fresh and clean this sounds despite it being recorded in the 50s. 1958 to be precise, four months before his untimely death. It's got a lot to do with the gospel song 'I'll be alright' which was played at Holly's funeral. Though I can't find a source to say otherwise, the beginning of the song features studio talk; the engineer telling people to be quiet and the piano player to give Buddy his starting note - it sounds like it's all recorded in one take, live. Couldn't possibly be though could it? It makes you wonder what he would have been capable of in later days - but it's like that with all hugely talented people who are taken too soon; their legend grows bigger than they ever were. Sometimes, that's deserved though.

(41) Martha's Harbour - All About Eve

Some songs don't sound like they were written by humans. It sounds like they were passed down through generations, having been born before humanity like they were part of the evolution of the planet. That might be going a little over the top, but this song is so well written, beautifully crafted, so visual and teeming with metaphors (not obvious cliched ones either) that it couldn't have just been three people in a room, making stuff up. Its a song that connects with your soul, and those are the ones that stay inside.

(40) Time after time - Cindy Lauper

At the time it was a completely unexpected gambit from Cyndi to release such a slow burner of a song. She was meant to be weird and loud and quirky and weird. This was mature and heartfelt and sincere. It shouldn't have worked. It should have been Tina Turner or Alison Moyet really, but once the confusion wore off, you couldn't imagine anyone else singing this. It's just brilliant.

 

(39) The sun always shines on TV - A-Ha

Epic! Or at least it was when that word meant epic, before the Americans started overusing words like Awesome so they lost their meaning. This song is so full of drama, it must have been written in several different sessions. You don't write an intro like that and then follow it up with an actual body of a song which is even better. Morten Harket's vocal is one of the best you'll hear on an 80s single and the way the last minute builds to the high note and eventually, the low piano note leaves you out of breath and not able to listen to anything else for at least a couple of hours.

(38) Temptation - The Everly Brothers

This is one of those noisy 60's tracks with all that church hall reverb and it still sounds better than most stuff recorded these days on little digital boxes does. It was originally written in 1933 and recorded by Bing Crosby. It's a perfect vehicle for the brothers' harmonising and the 'yay, yay, yeah-yow' intro is hooky and brilliant. Real singers, real instruments, real songs.

(37) Anytime you need a friend - Mariah Carey

There's some debate about who the greatest vocalist of all time is and Mariah (Pre-2001) was always there or thereabouts that argument. She gives it her full range on her second album 'Emotion', something I can't recall any other artist doing before her. Not that any other artist has as big a range as her anyway - she did it in a natural way and not in a 'see how high I can sing!' way.  'Any time you need a friend' is a masterpeice of gospel and soul. Her voice never sounded so pure and engaging and the vocal acrobatics (which are a little annoying at times on her later stuff) are perfectly weighted. You listen in a state of awe; bone chilling awe. Wonderful.

(36) Show me heaven - Maria McKee

Some singers don't know how to perform. They do the notes ok but they don't quite understand the words or what the song is about so they just do the whole 'la la la' thing. Maria McKee demonstrates how to perform a song on this track. She changes her voice to suit the mood, the message and the tone. She begins softly and then hits you in the face with a 'I'm not denying'. Remember when films had songs? Songs you could say 'that's from that film' about? When was the last time a song was in a film, specifically written for that film?  Anyway, this is a brilliant song by someone who mysteriously didn't have another hit - apart from 'I'm gonna soothe you', which got to number 35 three years later. Nope, me neither.

(35) If I could change your mind - Haim

You don't know this song. Nobody does and I'm sad about that. Haim had a brilliant first album, a brillianter second album and then an album which is probably one of the worst ever released by anyone ever as a third album. Two of them got to number 1 and one got to number 2. They got so much hate at the Brit Awards for winning best international group because people were like 'I've never heard of them' or 'they don't look like pop stars' or whatever. Their songs are fresh and interesting. Their voices are quirky and bubbly and 'If I could change your mind' is a first-listen classic. If you get a chance, listen to 'The Wire', 'Save me' and 'Days are gone' too. You'll thank me. Twice.

(34) I still haven't found what I'm looking for - U2

I probably don't even need to say anything about this. It's a gospel song about faith, or trying to have faith in a world that tests it to the full. The version they did on Rattle and Hum is probably the definitive one but that wouldn't have been commercial enough to chart (maybe). One of the greatest songs of all time on one of the greatest albums of all time by one of the greatest rock bands of all time - and you'd be pretty hard pressed to disagree with any of those statements however much you hate U2.

(33) I'm with you - Avril Lavigne

This was as unexpected a release from Avril as 'Time after Time' had been for Cyndi.  'Complicated' was a great debut but she was pratting around in a shopping centre on a go-kart so it didn't give me a great deal of hope for her second single. And I was correct - Sk8er Boi was awful. I thought that that was that for the angry JoJo but knock me out with a teaspoon if the first time I heard 'I'm with you' I was like 'Noooooo'. Superb in every sense of the word. I've probably listened to this at least twenty times a year, every year since 2003. It made me buy the album - and what an album it is. The second album was even better. 'Losing grip', 'Don't tell me' and 'My Happy Ending' are almost a soundtrack to my 2004.

(32) I don't care - Shakespears Sister

Obsessed isn't the word. It felt to me like nobody 'got' Shakespears Sister. I hate that 'Stay' is the only song people know and like by them when their grasp on songwriting was as strong as anybodies, they just didn't want to bow to the record execs who wanted trashy throw-away pop like what Bananarama did - the reason Siobhan Fahey left them in the first place to stamp her own personality on the music. It was such a shame she never really embraced Marcella as a true partner in music. They were sort of thrown together - but let's be honest, she wouldn't have made it without her. 'Run Silent' is an amazing song, too lightweight for the record buying public at the time but 'You're History' broke them into the chart and grew them a fanbase. I specifically went to Our Price when 'Hormonally Yours' came out to listen to the album on one of those 'stations' where you put the headphones on and press the button. 'I don't care' came on and didn't leave my consciousness since. I love the poem in the middle, Siobhan is the only person with such a sarcastic and dark demeanour enough to read one out in the middle of a pop song. Marcella providing the sugary antidote to Siobhan's deep gravelled tones. Brilliant. As is the video.

(31) We don't have to take our clothes off - Jermaine Stewart

There's part of your soul missing if this song doesn't get you up and gyrating across the room. It's so full of joy - it's infectious and I'm baffled how music and songs can sound like this but people just don't want to write them any more. It's like they all came out in the mid-80s and then they were made illegal. None the wonder why there's radio stations dedicated to 80s music now. For this song alone, Jermaine needs his own plaque in his own room on his own floor of the music hall of fame.

(30) Toy soldiers - Martika

This song was talked up by Rick Dees before I'd heard it as a song about drug addiction. Not being of the age where song lyrics ever meant much more than just a way to get a good tune into the world, it was probably a good job he said that - other wise I'd probably have just thought the song was about some carved wooden nutcrackers. I think one of the worst things she ever did was to get involved with Prince. Or maybe she wouldn't have had any more hits without him - who can say.

 

(29) I don't want to talk about it - Rod Stewart/Everything but the girl

In a true golden age for popular music, summer 1988, this was played on the radio. I can imagine when young'uns hear a cover version on the radio these days (someone had the audacity to add a dance beat to Tracy Chapman's 'Fast Car' last year), they think it's a brand new song and it becomes their definitive version. Even if you play them the original, the classic version, the best version - they don't get it and why should they? When I heard this, I loved it and it's always going to be the best version. Secretly, Rod Stewart's version is better but don't tell anyone.

(28) Hand on your heart - Kylie Minogue

If you look at the songs written and produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, it will blow your mind.  It's true that a lot of the top 10 hits they had towards the end of their reign sounded spookily similar, however, there are some bona fide classics in their back catalogue. However throwaway you think 'Hand on your heart' is, it's got everything and the lyrics really do hit the right emotional spot. Like a lot of the songs I've chosen, it just lifts you from wherever you are to somewhere a lot higher.

(27) Broken Strings - James Morrisson ft. Nelly Furtado

I'd all but given up on the charts in 2008 until this gem came along. Stuff worth listening to is still out there if you can be bothered to unearth it amongst the vacuous wailings of people who look better than they sound. This is one of the all-time greatest songs for the simple fact it's got heart, a great melody and a true build at the end with all the dramatic qualities you get from any Wagner or Bach peice.

(26) Buffalo stance - Neneh Cherry

Nenah Cherry wasn't a very good pop star. Not in my opinion anyway. She always looked a bit awkward and not very polished or believable, actually. This was a very well crafted song however and her pseudo-rapping suited it (it didn't quite work on anything else she did however). I think it's the backing track that I like most about it - a very good choice of sounds! Well done to the production staff on this one.

(25) Groove is in the heart - Deelite

I know this is mainly samples and weirdness but the talent to put something like this together shouldn't be underestimated. The whole thing sounded like a riot to record and write. There's charisma and coolness all over the record and it's so full of interesting moments you can't help but put it on again and hear something different next time.

(24) Nothing compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor

Quite often, songs Prince wrote that were covered by other people were often better than the version Prince recorded. Manic Monday, I feel for you and Nothing Compares 2 U to name a few. Sinead pitches the emotion required to bring this to life perfectly. Prince wasn't able to do that, strangely.  Like I mentioned before, there's such a difference between singing a song and peforming it. Giving real emphasis to what she's saying is integral to how good this song is - the wrong singer turns this into a flat dull ballad - Sinead breathes life where maybe there wouldn't have been any?

(23) Mad World - Tears for Fears

A better song which sums up isolation, self doubt, alienation and being unable to meld with the social environment is yet to be written. The greatness of this song lies in its simplicity. It's 4-chord verse with stark ghost-like synths provide the perfect backdrop for Curt Smith's fragile delivery. 'The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I ever had', he sings. Bleak.  The bit I identified with in 1982 was 'Teacher tell me what's my lesson, look right through me'. Don't watch the video though, Roland's dancing by the lake takes you out of the dark emotive journey of the song into a 'what is actually going on with his fingerless gloves?'

(22) Live to tell - Madonna

This isn't so much a song as a peice of classical music with pop sensibilities. As with lots of other Madonna songs at the time, it was from a movie I didn't watch but it made an ideal soundtrack for any romantic drama. There's a bit in the middle where it slows right down to the point of stopping - then dives straight back in. Dramatic and atmospheric at the same time.

(21) In my life - The Beatles

Little commentary needed here. Everything John Lennon says in this song is absolutely true for him and probably for anyone who listens to the song. I think we've all met people we never thought we'd lose touch with; one day we saw them for the last time for whatever reason and it's not really until a few years later you realise how much of a positive influence they were on your life.  I think John Lennon must have had a lot of regrets, even at that young age - a lot of affection for his childhood and formative years at least.  This song often finds itself at the top of 'greatest songs ever written' lists in Mojo and Rolling Stone. It's at 21 here because there are 20 better than it... starting with...

(20) Sweet Illusion - Junior Cambell

Probably the best song of the 70s. It's got a real Motown vibe and bright orchestral arrangement which gives it the drive but Campbell's vocals are everything here. There's something about the arrangement which takes it above a lot of songs that came before it that had the same essence. I'm not sure what it is but it works for me.

(19) I don't want to be around - Curt Smith

 

Not everyone's cup of tea this. Probably nobody's cup of tea to be frank but when Curt Smith went solo in the early 90s, he released an album called 'Soul on Board' because his contract said he had to, but he dismissed it immediately and it didn't sell well - but I loved it - still do. Then he went quiet for about 10 years and started releasing music on his own label. Playing intimate gigs in his native New York, his band decided to record some of the songs they'd written and stick them out on his MySpace 0r whatever he was using in 2002. Luckily, I managed to get a copy on eBay and loved every last second of it. 'Mother England' is a highlight with 'Snow Hill' and 'Sorry Town' also brilliant tracks. 'I don't want to be around' is a slow burner but once you get into the big 'chorus' (which isn't really a chorus, it's more of a bigger louder verse) it sweeps you along - made all the better by the abstract lyrics. Superb.

(18) One Day - The Verve

'Urban Hymns' was one of those albums that defined a moment in time. Late 1997, the British pop landscape had been sculpted by guitar bands from Manchester (well, over that way anyway) and The Verve just happened to release Bitter Sweet Symphony at a time when people were rediscovering The Smiths and missing the time when Oasis were new and 'fresh' (which lasted about 6 months for me before everything they did either sounded like a parody of something already released in the 70s or a parody of themselves). How a song like 'The Drugs Don't Work' got to number one, I'll never know. It's brilliant but it's shockingly depressing and has no uplifting qualities in either it's tone or music at all. Emo was here to stay for 8 months before bubblegum pop came back round to dominate the top 10. However commercial the singles were (count 'Lucky Man' in that trio), 'One Day' is so much more than the combination of everything else on the album. Now, this was an album like they were meant to be. Everything ran together like an opera and each theme, mood and atmospheric guitar swirl was perfectly crafted to take you on a trip into your own insecurities and make you question all the choices you'd ever made. 'One Day' stands apart though - totally part of the album's tapestry but even on it's own, it's a love song to someone who has gone forever like you've never heard. It crawls inside you, hurts you from the inside and stays there for 24 years - so far.

(17) Like a prayer - Madonna

Exhibit A. How to write a pop song. Another gospel song in my top 100, it also feeds off 'Live to Tell' with the empty vocal-only sections then jumps back into the dance-rhythm backed pop song. The vocal layering and harmonies are second to none and whatever you think of Madonna as a vocalist, she'd absolutely honed her craft by the 'Like a Prayer' album (before going off and being weird for about 7 years). For someone known as a pop vocalist, she's got an incredible range - see 'I'll remember' and 'Frozen' as examples.

(16) Stay on these roads - A-Ha

Morten Harket's vocals sound good whatever he's doing. This song however was absolutely the vehicle for his voice - all three members are credited with writing the song so I'd like to think Morten just turned up one day and started wailing away only for the other two to build the song around him.  As a love song, it's beautiful. He sings 'Stay on these roads, we shall meet - winter's gone, I'm on my own'.  However you want to interpret the lyrics, it's like you'll meet 'the one' one day, or, the one that got away will come back to you, in a fate driven narrative. Either way, it's another one of those absolute heartbreakers with hope instead of unrequited what-nots.

(15) Solsbury Hill - Peter Gabriel

Another one that speaks for itself. The structure of the song is so unusual that it keeps you interested throughout, the lyrics are sometimes abstract and sometimes so literal, you can't help thinking about what he must have felt like as part of Genesis, who were breaking through when he decided it wasn't for him and regardless of whether he could make it as a solo artist, he was going to do it anyway. Brave or stupid, if you had this song in your locker, of course you'd take the risk.

(14) Are Friends Electric - Tubeway Army

This song was a happy accident. Musically, it doesn't work on paper but the clashing keys and odd lyrics about robots being 'friends' somehow captured a public imagination who were absolutely not ready for this bloke. And he upset the industry and the press in the process. He wasn't seen as someone who had worked for his success, he just turned up one day and started having number 1 hits at the expense of the more glamourous artists of the time. That's what's always been wrong with the music industry and why so many talented artists don't survive. It's like cousins marrying. Eventually, the charts is full of music with three chins and no eyebrows.

(13) Drowning Man - U2

This song absolutely chills me to the bone. It's in a similar vein to Solsbury Hill with its odd meter and Bono's voice has never sounded so raw and full of legitimate emotion - maybe on 'One' but here, when he sings 'Hold on, hold on tightly to this love' and then the beautiful string section comes in it sounds so different to normal pop music, you're in danger of forgetting it's even a song or music you're listening to, you become such a part of what's happening. You just have to let yourself be swept up in it and enjoy everything that's happening. How four 22-year-olds could have produced this peice of music (they had a producer as well I suppose) baffles me to this day. It's an unbelievable track - and that's saying a lot when the album also had 'Like a Song' on it.

(12) Broken Wings - Mister Mister

There's a lot more here than you notice on face value. The bass line at the start really sets the mood and by the time the lyrics come in, the shivers are already creeping up your spine. Granted, the lyrics aren't the most profound, bordering on teenage diary poet, but they're delivered with such passion and commitment, you almost don't notice. I think it might have been influenced by The Beatle's 'Blackbird' but don't quote me on that.

(11) One - U2

No apologies for the amount of U2 songs in the top 100 - they're just that good at writing songs. 'One' is undoubtedly an all time classic and made all the better by the mythology of it being the song they wrote when they were at their wits end with each other and the fact the writing of their new album wasn't going to plan at all. By all accounts, this was the one that made them all understand their places in the band, that they were one, but they weren't the same and that was ok. The lyrics are some of the best you'll hear in a pop song - in fact, the lyrics on the parent album 'Achtung Baby' are some of the best you'll hear. 'Until the End of the World' and 'Ultraviolet' are the highlights. Even live, they, nor anyone else has ever been able to capture the moment they put down on celluloid - this is an absolute masterpeice from the drumming, the guitar layers and the emotional outpourings in Bono's voice, it's just head and shoulders above anything you would have heard in a pop chart 20 years either side of it.

(10) Human Racing - Nik Kershaw

I loved 'I won't let the sun go down on me' because of the 'old men in stripy trousers' line. Beyond that, I didn't take any notice of Nik Kershaw until I was listening to one of the 'Now that's what I call music' albums and this song was the very last track. It was so odd. It didn't sound at all like a single and I'm pretty sure it didn't catch anybodies attention at the time - not in a mainstream way anyway. The lyrics get better with age - especially when you realise the world isn't full of possibilities.

(9) Yesterday - The Beatles

It's simple and really separated Paul McCartney as the leading member of the Beatles. John Lennon wrote some amazing stuff but it was all a bit too messy, arty and abstract for me at times. McCartney wrote accessible songs, ones you could play yourself on the guitar or piano. 'Yesterday' is such a raw song because we can all relate to it and that makes it heartbreaking and brilliant at the same time. It'll never age either.

(8) True Colours - Cindy Lauper

This was 'Yesterday' of the 80s. Sorrowful, deep and full of truth - Cyndi's voice didn't sound right at the time but you can't imagine anyone else singing it now. Her vocal has such a vulnerability in it, you feel every word, every note. A masterpeice in every sense.

(7) These are the days of our lives - Queen

Whilst the pictures painted by this song would have been sad enough, topped with a hint of morality about being in the moment - the untimely death of Freddie Mercury made this song even more poignant. You can't help but imagine him writing these words as he tried to come to terms with his diagnosis, saying thank you for such a life and the chance to live the way he did. It's a song which makes you re-evaluate your own situation too, in a good way. It's not one you can listen to too often though, unless you want to dehydrate yourself through your eye holes.

(6) The Working Hour - Tears for Fears

When you get into the top six of any list, you expect perfection. And that's what we have right here. Roland Orzabal is my favourite ever songwriter but he was given plenty of help with this one. The drum rhythms are all Manny Elias, the piano motifs are all Ian Stanley but the lyrics and vocal arrangements are classic Orzabal. Duran Duran's uniqueness came from the fact you could pick out every instrument, like each of the five had really taken time to write their parts and blend them together so nobody got pushed backwards, they worked as a unit - remove one and it just wasn't the same. This is what happened here - everyone has a moment. William Gregory (founding member of Goldfrapp) plays sax on this and elevates what would probably have been a 9/10 song to a 11/10 song. The production on the parent album 'Songs from the Big Chair' is some of the best I've ever heard - especially the brightness and roomyness of the synths. I could go on for days about this song but just give it a listen and you'll be an instant fan too.

(5) Dignity - Deacon Blue

What's going on here is how to write a pop lyric with meaning, metaphors, psychology, emotion and empathy. It's one of those lyrics you take with you into the rest of your life. It's about a guy who works as a street sweeper (you don't see them any more, with their little metal carts and brooms do you?) and he's happy. What the white collar people in their Mercedes'es forget is that even though they think they're the important people making all the big decisions, society comes to a complete halt without the street sweepers, the shop workers and the care assitants. It's a commentary on how the people on the lowest wages are sometimes the happiest. The guy in the song saves his money for years to buy a small boat and go sailing on his holidays. That one week where he can live out a lifelong dream - Working for something and achieving it instead of inheriting the money and not appreciating anything you have. He has his dignity and that is what separates this song from the pack. However, there's four better...

(4) Silver Blue - Roxette

It's a real head-scratcher how this was left on an album and never released as a single. It's awful to say but Per Gessel ruins it a bit by singing - but by that token it just makes you realise what a fantastic vocalist Marie Fredriksson was. When she comes in on the second verse, shivers shoot up and down you like a cold shower. Again, the production is the key here, listen to those ethereal backing vocals and wonderful fretless bass. An easy choice for the top 5.

(3) Bedshaped - Keane

I couldn't believe what I was hearing when I first heard this. It was the video really that kept me listening. By 2004 I'd all but stopped checking the chart to see who was number 1 and what the new releases sounded like. I still watched VH1 in the background when doing something else and this stopped me doing whatever I was doing. It sings. The whole song sings. I bought the album and the next four after that but the closest they ever came again was 'Bad Dream' - still not in this ballpark though. It's one of those songs a songwriter would clap their hands over and go 'That's it - my work is done. Time to find another hobby'. What a song and I mean WHAT A SONG.

(2) Dancing Queen - Abba

I think I might have used this analogy before but if you were teaching songwriting, structure, harmonies and production all at the same time - this is the song to use as a perfect example of all. The piano motif has been copied endlessly, the way the chorus comes in full power at the beginning, the harmonies between the Abbettes was always superb but on this single they really hit.  This is as close to perfection as a song will ever get I think. Apart from...

(1) Famous last words - Tears for Fears

Words will never do justice to this song. It's power is in the structure. It starts mutedly and builds to this wonderful full middle section before dropping back into a delicate and emotionally charged outro. Roland Orzabal never wanted to sing this song - he didn't think his voice suited it and it's that insecurity which brings the vocal to life. It's mainly about an old couple who met and lived through the war and they're facing the end of their long lives. It's another tear-jerker I'm afraid and you'll be exhaused by the end if you listen to my top 10 in a row. 'All our love and all of our pain, will be but a tune - hand in hand, we'll do and die, listening to the band that made us cry, we'll have nothing to lose, we'll have nothing to gain, just to stay in this real life situation for one last refrain'.

As the day hits the night

We will sit by candle light

We will laugh, we will sing

As the saints go marching in

And we will carry war, no more...

Best. Song. Ever.

 

Do you agree or disagree with anything in the list? Leave a comment below or tell me your top 100! I'll be posting my 'best singles of 1982' soon so follow me on Facebook for notification of that going up and other stuff that's happening!

 

If you want to see my blog about 1980 click here, or if you'd like to dip into the 70s, click here

 

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1981

Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1981

YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1981

 (If the videos aren't working below you can go direct to the playlist here : 1981)

Having a number 1 single doesn't really mean what you think it means. Yes, it's a number 1 and blah blah blah, history, awards etc. But when you think about it, you've just had the most popular song of that moment in time. There have been some awful number 1 singles but they got there because they hit at the correct moment in time. If Ultravox had released Vienna three weeks later than they did, it would have been number 1 without a problem. However, Joe Dolce's 'Shaddap your face' was the right record at the right time. It must have been a nightmare for artists who knew they had a brilliant single, working out when best to release it. However, Human League had absolutley no expectations for 'Don't you want me' to the point Phil Oakey didn't want to release it as a single.

In the end though, chart positions don't matter. 'Vienna' ended up being a song for the ages whilst 'Shaddap your face' was a song for the moment. Number one or number two doesn't really matter; it's almost arbitrary, a lot like my personal top 40 of 1981 in fact. However, this is definitely the strongest list of songs I've complied since starting in 1973 so sit back, stick the playlist on and read along...

(40) Duran Duran - Planet Earth

Duran Duran were a little bit ridiculous at the start. They fully embraced the New Romantic look of frilly pirate blouses, long floppy foppish hair and that weird dancing people did when Visage came on the radio.  However decent this song was, it didn't suggest the band would be crashing into the chart at number 1 in two years time, nor did we think they'd still be releasing records and touring right into 2021! (They've had some terrible moments in that time sprinkled with gems of genius). I've seen them live four times, twice when the original line-up got back together for the Astronaut Album in 2004. This got to number 12 and they even managed to get on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Which was an acheivement for a band such as this back then.

Some cynics would say they nicked the sound on their first album from Roxy Music.

(39) Dramatis - Love Needs No Disguise

For a Gary Numan fan, this was great. Dramatis were his former backing band who got together after Numan announced he was retiring from touring (a decision he reversed two years later). Maybe I'm biased but I adore this song, the atmosphere is electric - probably not the 39th best single of 1981 but it's my chart so I can do what I like. It spent two weeks at number 33 and then fell out.

(38) Four Tops - When She Was My Girl

This was their first top ten hit since "Simple Game" had reached number three in 1971. This got to number 3 also. There was something formulaic about this sort of music - but no more than that churned out by Stock, Aitken and Waterman or even Swain and Jolley - if it works, it works and when it works well, it's brilliant.

This could well have been a B-Side for one of Michael Jackson's singles from 'Off the Wall'. He would probably have done it better too.

(37) Barry Manilow - Let's Hang On

Nobody gets in the chart these days with a cover version of something first released in the last ten years.  They all have to go back to the 80s or 90s. Back in the day you could have three versions of the same song by different people in the top 40.  The Four Seasons and Johnny Johnson And The Bandwagon had both had hits with this song in the '60s. Then Darts had their very last hit with this song in 1980 when they took it to number 11. 18 months later, Barry Manilow took it to number 12 and gave us the definitive version even though I picture Frankie Valli's face whenever I hear this version.

(36) Sheena Easton - For Your Eyes Only

Nobody had heard of her 12 months ago but Sheena was given the honour of recording the title song for the latest 'James Bond' film. Since being on a kind of documentary about starting in the music industry, she'd had five top 40 hits and one near miss in a year. This number eight peaking single had a good chart run lasting ten weeks, but was her last top ten hit ever. She even performed this at the Oscars. Then Prince got his claws into her and made her into something else entirely...

(35) Ottowan - Hands Up

After dislocating your arms trying to spell out 'D.I.S.C.O.' in the style of 'Y.M.C.A.', Ottowan decided to release a song that would put further strain on your arms. Putting your hands up every time the chorus came around got very tiring. This was a fun Pan Pipe-led tune that no doubt had all the Nannas up on the dancefloor in Benidorm at the time. It spent two weeks at number three.

 

 

 

 

(34) Hazel O'Connor - Will You

This was Hazel's third and final hit. I remember thinking at the time that this was a very mature song - I didn't know what was going on in it but knew that I didn't know what was going on because it had mature themes. It surprised me that Hazel stopped having hits, especially with her starring in Breaking Glass, from which "Will You" was taken.  It got to number eight.

(33) Abba - Lay All Your Love On Me

This only came out as a 12" single. Odd that it sold so well but this was Abba on the slide. Still a great song but quite removed from the style they'd had so many hits with. Erasure covered this and three other ABBA songs for their "Abba-esque E.P" which got to number 1 in 1992. Andy Bell worshipped ABBA and even got the usually retiscent Vince Clarke to dress up in a blue satin jump suit and dance along on stage when they performed it live.

(32) Depeche Mode - Just Can't Get Enough

Speaking of Vince Clarke, he wrote this little ditty. It was like 'Twinkle Twinkle little star' to my young ears and sounded so simplistic, it gave me ideas of grandeur that buying one of those bleepy boxes would mean I could write a simple little bloopy tune and get into the top 10.  Turns out no matter how simple it sounds, it's not simple in the slightest.  This peaked at number eight, Vince left to form Yazoo and thirty years later, Depeche Mode were still having hit singles.

(31) Cliff Richard - Wired for Sound

Cliff likes tall speakers and Cliff like small speakers but he also likes roller skating in a sports hall wearing a walkman with orange sponge ear protectors.  It's a bit table-chair this track but it's decent enough and the video made it memorable enough to endure a decent chart run and end up at number 4.

(30) Rolling Stones - Start Me Up

I used to ask the guitarist in our band to play this for me before each rehearsal - just the intro - cos I loved it. He'd oblige with a sigh and then I'd leave him alone for the rest of the night.  The only thing wrong with this is that Mick Jagger totally over-jaggers the vocal and it's quite repetative and it's quite repetative.  It reached number seven and it's quite repetative.

(29) Adam and the Ants - Prince Charming

I still want to be Adam Ant. The 80s one - not the one now. This entered the chart at number two on the strength of his popularity, then took the tiny step up to number 1 where it remained for four weeks. I loved the Pantomime video with Diana Dors as the Fairy Godmother (one of her last onscreen performances) and Adam as the Prince assuming the Cinderella role. He then dresses up as Alice Cooper and Lawrence of Arabia for some reason.

(28) Linx - Intuition

If you've ever played the arcade game 'Out Run' then you might have thought it was an odd choice to use this song as one of those accompanying you on your hurtle through tropical lands in a Ferrari. However, it wasn't this song, just an 'homage' (by 'homage' I mean CTRL+C then CTRL+V).  It was Linx's highest charting single in reaching number 7.

(27) Foreigner - Waiting For A Girl Like You

This is one of those songs that has loads of potential and you think it's going to be great and then it doesn't quite go where you thought it was going to.  Also, I've always had an issue with the line 'a girl like you'. Surely, you should be telling her you've been waiting for her - actually her - not a girl like her.  That's not going to go down well on your first date.

They'd managed a number 24 with 'Cold as Ice'. This got to number 8 and made sure the parent album 'Foreigner 4' sold oodles.

 

 

(26) Abba - One Of Us

ABBA's 19th and last top twenty hit in their own right. This was like a song from a musical - which is where Benny and Bjorn went next of course. This song also seems to have inspired Ace of Base quite a lot.

(25) Linx - So This Is Romance

Lovely but very much like their other hits. It reached number 15 and was the last time that Linx featured in the top forty.

(24) Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight

Easily one of the greatest songs of all time but not a 'single' for me.  It got to number 4 and remains laced with plenty of metaphorical or is that actual literal commentary about an 'incident' that may or may not have happened. I love songs with a mythology. It might have been scribbled on the back of a tab packet in a cafe on a rainy thursday but the atmosphere turns it into something that will live forever. This should have been one of the songs catapulted into space for aliens to find. Unless it already has been, in which case, as you were.

(23) Alvin Stardust - Pretend

My judgement of this song is clouded by the fact it reminds me of a thoroughly enjoyable holiday in Great Yarmouth, in which, was an adventure playground the likes of which I'd never seen, nor even dared to dream ever existed!  Anyway, this song is very jolly but I don't think I would have noticed it much without that association. It was Alvin's biggest hit since his March 1974 number one "Jealous Mind", and his first hit of any description since the Summer of 1975. This number four peaking hit, had reached number two for Nat King Cole in 1953.

(22) Bucks Fizz - Piece Of The Action

So obsessed was I by Bucks Fizz at the time, I could be heard singing this in the local supermarket whilst the cashier was checking out our groceries.  Only much later did I realise what 'action' the Fizzers wanted a 'piece' of and I was far too young for those sorts of shenanigans. It reached number 12.

(21) Teardrop Explodes - Reward

I was and still am scared of Julian Cope. He looked like the kind of kid at school who would smash your art project and laugh about it right in your face. It was the only single by the band to reach the top ten, and peaked at number six.

(20) Soft Cell - Tainted Love

I know this is supposed to be a kind of classic or whatever but I just don't think Marc Almond has a very nice voice. Obviously the 'doo doo' hook of the song is probably what dragged most listeners in to start with but when Marc starts to 'soul', he misses notes all over the place and starts shouting and going all over the top. If he'd just calm down for a minute, it might have sounded quite nice.

Having said that, it was the biggest selling single of 1981 so I'll move on.

(19) Adam And The Ants - Stand And Deliver

Not content with glamorising pirates, he was now doing it with Highway men. Neither have what you'd call balanced morals. This song's five week stay at number one was the longest for a single in 1981. It was also the third single to enter the chart at number one in just over a year.

(18) Shakin' Stevens - This Ole House

The biggest selling male vocalist of the 80s. Bigger than Sir Michael of Jacksonville. He was in an Elvis stage show when he was discovered and didn't release his first single until he was into his thirties but he mixed it with the young'uns and taught them a thing or two about standing on their toes and pointing into the middle distance. It smashed straight to the top of the chart, naturally, and the video was very literal - dancing about in a delapidated old house that needed it's shingles fixed. Maybe antibiotics would have helped?

(17) Human League - Love Action (I Believe In Love)

 

You know that 'action' Bucks Fizz wanted a 'piece' of? Well, this actual 'love action' was a little different if not related to the same subject area.  I'll let you google it.  Anyway, Human League were starting to get the recognition they deserved. They had been trying for three years before they had a number 12 hit with "Sound Of The Crowd" earlier in 1981. They had even got a mention in someone else's hit the previous year when the Undertones referred to them in "My Perfect Cousin". It reached number three and spent 11 weeks in the top 40.

(16) Dollar - Mirror Mirror

What a single this is mind. I just don't understand why David van Day became so obsessed with being in Bucks Fizz, then stealing the name when he finally managed to become an official member (despite never being in the original line-up) and then even re-recorded all their hits with his voice on them and releasing an album of 'greatest hits'. He had several perfectly good Dollar songs to tout around the holiday camps.  If you ever manage to catch an interview with Cheryl Baker where van Day's name is mentioned, you can actually see her teeth turn to spikes and her eyes turn red. She detests the man.  This was a number four hit!

(15) Toyah - Thunder In The Mountains

I used to sing this in my head in order to get to sleep when I was 6. Odd I know, but I loved this song so much. She did a Mad Max impression in the video too. It got to number 4 and all but ended her career as a top 10 artist.

(14) Madness - Grey Day

I never thought a madness song could be so deep. I'll say this for it, it got me through some really bad times when I was much older (the song passed me by at the time) and that's not the sort of thing you'd ever say about the throw-away comedy-esque stuff Madness were doing in and around this period.  It's a song with a real finger on the button of what it feels like to look out of your window in the morning and forget what happiness is.  This reached number four.

(13) Jacksons - Can You Feel It

This took nine weeks to reach number six, and totalled 13 weeks in the chart.  This was 'sampled' in 1998 and got to number one. The myth goes that the ironically named 'Tamperer' used this track without permission but knew they'd make more money than the copyright lawsuit would cost so went ahead anyway.

(12) Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime

I'm a bit slow admittedly, but I'm not entirely sure what the message of this record is. To me it seems the narrator is saying, he lived his life to a script - getting married, getting a car and a house and couldn't remember really how it all happened. Regardless, it's a superb track co-written with Brian Eno and with a video choreographed by Toni Basil. It reached number 14.

(11) Altered Images - I Could Be Happy

A song doesn't have to be serious or have a hugely deep message to touch part of you. This song is deceptively deep however and tinged with more than a little sadness.  Claire Grogan's chirpy voice hides the message that she'd rather climb a really tall tree or go to Skye on her holidays just to get away from this awful person she's with.  'I could be happy', she sings, 'run away, get away, far away, how do I escape from you?' - meaning that she's probably trapped in a loveless relationship or worse. It doesn't bear thinking about really but the music is suitably jaunty to hide the horror of what's really going on behind the fun vocal so all's well. I think?

 

 

(10) Kiki Dee - Star

I first heard this when it was used as the theme tune to New Faces or Opportunity Knocks or even some other talent show I've forgotten the name of.  Kiki Dee was a fabulous singer and with the right material, could have been massive. It's all about who you know though and she wasn't obviously in league with any good songwriters or Elton John any more.

(9) Randy Crawford - You Might Need Somebody

Randy Crawford has one of those voices. Doesn't matter what she's singing, you just want to listen. She has such a unique vibrato that doesn't do that thing they do on X-Factor or The Voice in order to sound like they can sing, but only to people who don't know what a good singer actually sounds like.  Anyway, Shola Ama did a decent job of this in the 90s but Randy's version is pure liquid gold to the lug holes.

(8) Roxy Music - Jealous Guy

This was more of a Bryan Ferry solo effort than a Roxy track, but it gave them the only number one single of their career. It spent two weeks on top. I was never really a fan of John Lennon's voice and thought most covers of his songs were better than his versions of them. Bryan Ferry knocks this one out of the park to the point I can't even remember what John Lennon's original sounds like any more.

(7) Human League - Open Your Heart

This was the third single from the 'Dare' album. It peaked at number six. I love the line about 'you know your worst is better than their best'.  Human League embraced the Arpeggiator and most of their tracks in this era were heavily based on it. I'm still using mine and thirty years later, I'm still trying to sound 1% like Human League. I'll probably give up in about twenty years.

(6) Kim Wilde - Kids In America

Talking of the arpeggiator, this track begins with the most 80s one of all time.  Kim told a story about how this song was written.  Her brother Marty was in his bedroom next door playing that thumping bass arpeggio over and over - she was banging on the wall telling him to stop.  She didn't know he was busy writing the song that would launch her career.

Kim spent two weeks at number two with this and followed it with a further 16 top 40 hits before the decade ended, more than any other British female soloist in the eighties. Her most recent album 'Here come the aliens' was superb and at least five songs on it would have hit the top 10 were today 1984. Which it is... in my mind.

(5) Bucks Fizz - Land Of Make Believe

I was genuinely terrified of this song. It had the word 'ghosties' in it, which I totally believed in at the time (I did a class project on ghosts when I was nine years old and read sooooo many books about them I was convinced they had to be real - that's a story for another time however). The song sounded haunted too, as did the video and right at the end, a creepy girl's voice starts telling us about an imaginary friend that comes to tea that only she can see. That was it - I spent the next three months under the covers!!

It was number five over Christmas, and had made it to the top by the middle of January 1982, spending two weeks there.

(4) Madness - It Must Be Love

The Ninth successive top ten hit for Madness was a cover version of Labi Siffre's 1971 number 14 hit. They even persuaded Labi to appear in the video. It was one of the first things I learned to play on the piano (the bit at the beginning) and started a life long love affair with Madness. It reached number four in 1981, and then number six ten years later.

(3) Specials - Ghost Town

I don't know that this really reflected what was going on in the summer of 1981. I think it was actually about unemployment and lack of government attention to the working class - and something about the lack of music venues or something. Anyway, this was the seventh and last hit for the Specials, of which all seven made the top ten. As a piece of pop production, it needs to go in a museum - like a proper one, not this on-line one.

(2) Ultravox - Vienna

How devastating. Ultravox didn't do much for me until later in the 80s but this was a bona fide classic that will still stand up to scrutiny in 673858 years time.  As I said right at the top, it doesn't matter that it didn't get to number 1, everyone knows it's infinitely better than anything Joe Dolce could do with his ukelele.

(1) Human League - Don't You Want Me

Where do I start with this? Well, it was the first 30 seconds of this record that turned me into a fan of synthesizers. I didn't know it was a synth at the time, I'm not sure I even knew what a synth was per se, but I knew that bass line intro would embed itself in my soul for eternity. The song had a story that you wanted to know more about. The video was mesmerising. Everything about this song is perfect.

It was the fourth track taken from Dare as a single and it was completely unheard of for a fourth single from one album to be this successful. Five weeks at number 1 and it caused sales of the album to rocket again too. Phil Oakey had one of the best voices of the 80s and still sounds great - they're still touring in 2021!

 

If you want to see my blog about 1980 click here, or if you'd like to dip into the 70s, click here

 

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1980

Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1980

YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1980

(If the videos aren't showing below, you can see the playlist here : 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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1979

Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1979

YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1979

If you can name everyone in the above photograph, you'll know everything in my top 40 best singles of 1979.  When I do these lists, I give each song a mark out of 100 and sort them high to low to get my list. As it's completely arbitrary anyway, it seems the best way of doing it. 1979 scored the highest collective score of all the years I've rated so far (1973-1979).  '79 was a very metallic year for me. All the music sounded like it was made on metal instruments - The Police, Gary Numan, Michael Jackson and Dire Straits - all sounded very bleak, tinny and futuristic to me. Back then, each year had it's own sound, usually something brand new with a bit of retro thrown in. '79 had the most innovation of everything I've heard from the 70s. Lots of experimental music and lots of safe dance music too with repetition to really embed that groove in your brain and make you go out and buy the single.

1979 was when I started to pay attention to the charts rather than have music seeping into my head by osmosis. I remember settling down in front of the television with three channels, waiting for Top of the Pops and watching The Boomtown Rats singing 'I don't like Mondays' and feeling an excitement I felt time and time again throughout the 80s and beyond when I heard a song so brilliant, I couldn't believe humans had created it. The art of creating a brilliant single is an art form. Coming up with something nobody has ever heard before to make sure you stand apart from your peers and possibly even invent a genre - it was possible in the late 70s and early 80s to do that. Nobody has done that for thirty years in fact (since Grunge? Garage? Happy to be corrected!) Everything you hear these days sounds like something you've already heard. Even in 1979 however, there were songs that sounded like other songs in the same chart because that was popular, it was what people wanted to listen to, it was going to shift units. It's the whole point of this blog - those people who 'sold their soul' in order to become famous, popular, make money - rather than write the songs your integrity told you to. You can guarantee the people behind 'The Birdy Song' weren't musical purists but those who were, nobody has heard of and they had to work two jobs. Anyone who makes my top 40 of the year managed to keep their integrity and make money (or something).

I might go totally overboard about some of the songs in this countdown but the further into the 80s we get, it's only going to get worse so I'm not even sorry.

 

(40) Does Your Mother Know - Abba

14 hits in and the boys wanted to have a go on vocals. They'd sung on other songs but not on singles. I guess they thought they'd become popular enough to risk not letting the female half of the group handle the vocals for once. A bit like Roger Taylor singing I'm in love with my car I suppose?
It reached number 14, This was featured on ABBAs best album, "Voulez-Vous" from which it was downhill all the way to them disbanding.

(39) Message To You Rudy - Specials

 Two Tone were a revolutionary record label. Many progressive and charismatic acts recorded for the label and The Specials were probably their greatest exponent.  This was a double A Side (quite a popular trend at the time) and reached number ten.

(38) Wanted - Dooleys

I think (apart from my Dad's copy of 'Pretty Flamingo') that this was the first song I played on Vinyl. I was four years old - my older sister was out somewhere so I snuck into her bedroom and saw the Dooleys album propped up in front of her record player. Looking at the cover (Se above) even then I couldn't understand how this was a good image for a band - terry toweling track suits and roller skates. I knew how to get the disc out of the sleeve, plop it on the turn table, set it spinning and put the needle down at the start of the disc.  'Wanted' was the first track and I loved what came out of the speakers. I've no idea why this album was in my Sister's collection; it wasn't her taste at all. She'd bought the 'Jump to the Beat', 'Upside Down' and 'Wednesday Week' singles, all very energetic, rhythmic upbeat songs. The Dooleys released inoffensive songs, stuff they'd play in supermarkets.  This track was very different though. It got to number 3 and rightly so - it's brilliant (and it's not just misty eyed nostalgia)

(37) Oliver's Army - Elvis Costello

This number two hit was up my alley, regardless of the political commentary which was completely lost on me at the time. It had a catchy chorus so it was always going to appeal to the masses. The piano was very reminiscent of Abba.

(36) Making Plans For Nigel - XTC

I've often thought XTC would have been a good name for one of those bands which emenated from Manchester in the early 90s and sang about mind altering chemicals.  This was late 70s though and you weren't allowed to overtly sing about drugs a la 'Ebeneezer good'. XTC's sixth single was their first hit - the first released copies of the single included a free board game. It got to number 17.  Until I researched this list, I didn't know XTC were responsible for "The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead" which I always thought was a Crash Test Dummies original.

(35) Another Brick In The Wall - Pink Floyd

This was the last number one of the seventies and the first of the eighties. Pink Floyd weren't a singles type of band - in fact, I always found their over indulgent almost jam-like bloated tedious songs overbearing. This was great however as was the film. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yurr meat??

 

 

 

(34) One Step Beyond - Madness

It was hard for people to take Madness seriously as musicians.  However, they were all masters of their craft, especially Lee Thompson the Saxophonist and Mike Barson on Piano.  Whilst they were the perfect singles band, coming up with catchy earworms, in the late 80s they managed to sound soulful and reflective - probably a sign of growing up.  Their first single was a tribute to Prince Buster whilst this, their second single, was a cover of their favourite Prince Buster composition. The video for this was our first look at them as personalities, which was just as important as the music, especially in the advent of the music video and MTV. This got to number seven and was a staple in school discos across the land.

(33) Wonderful Christmas Time - Paul McCartney

None of the artists I love (and own all the albums of) ever did a serious Christmas Single (apart from maybe U2). So I've always wondered what Beatles and Paul McCartney fans thought of this single. I always thought this was from the very early 70s and was surprised to see it was released in 79. The production doesn't sound that fresh but regardless of that, it's wheeled out every Yuletide and I never get sick of it.

(32) Message In A Bottle - Police

This was the first single from the 'Regatta De' Blanc' (White Reggae) album and couldn't be further away from Reggae. This entered the chart at number eight and jumped to number one the following week. The thing that set The Police apart at the time (and ever since I suppose) was the erratic but cracking use of a drum kit, the use of guitar as an orchestra and the bass as both a rhythm section and bolster. Still not convinced by Sting's vocals (preferred him on 'Every Breath' and 'Don't stand' to 'Roxanne' and 'Walking on the moon') but they were signature, instantly recognisable and unique which is something you just don't get these days.

(31) Spacer - Sheila B. Devotion

This song came courtesy of Chic. There were a few songs around this time that had 'Space' themes, especially after Star Wars had become so massive. 'I lost my heart to a Starship Trooper' springs to mind. It's been copied many times, including this cringe-worthy video for 'Crying at the Discotheque' in 2020 by Sophie Ellis-Bextor (which also has shades of 'Dreams' by Fleetwood Mac) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdXecuVl7_4

(30) Complex - Gary Numan

My favourite ever Gary Numan song but not a single. Baffled as to how this got to number 6 - probably riding on the fact his first two songs went to number one. It's depressing, slow, full of paranoia and fear of fame. It's one of the best songs ever written. For those who were into this sort of thing, it actually is a great single - just not something you'd ever hear ABBA do.

(29) Bang Bang - B.A. Robertson

The first and biggest of his five hits - I first heard this on one of those K-TEL compilation albums with a large roller skate on the front. I heard a lot of late 70s singles this way, before 'Now That's What I Call Music' came along in 1983.  I've only recently got the point of the song and it's quite clever lyrically (how sexual encounters can destroy dynasties), which puts it just inside the 'novelty single' circle of the Venn Diagram. BA wrote songs for Mike and the Mechanics and co-wrote 'The Living Years'. Next year's 'Kool in the Kaftan' was even better!

(28) Roxanne - The Police

This charted a full year after it's original release and that was down to it being an American top 40 hit after flopping here initially. It reached number 12 and launched them into the stratosphere. It reached number 17 a year later as part of the "Six Pack" release, and the same position when remixed in 1997. It's not my favourite of theirs by any means but a great single nonetheless.

(27) Some Girls - Racey

That familiar singing organ sound which I'd be drawn towards in 'We don't talk any more' and various other hits that year. Barry Manilow had a go at covering this on his "I Wanna Do It With You" album. I had a full blown argument at school with a lad over what it was Barry wanted to do 'with you'. I still don't think I know what it is.

 

(26) Heart Of Glass - Blondie

Blondie's first number one in the UK, and by the end of 1980, they'd had five! This was the third single from the 'Parallel Lines' album and for a third song from an album that was already out there, it was unusual to get to number 1. I guess they found a whole new audience that didn't already have the album. A fourth single from the album also got to number 1 a few months later. Amazing!!

(25) Lines - Planets

Lots of production on this and sounded a lot like The Specials before they'd hit the charts. A bit of Pseudo-Reggae which was extremely mainstream at the time. This had lots and lots of airplay, the amount of airplay normally reserved for top ten hits. Yet, it only reached number 36!

(24) Bright Eyes - Art Garfunkel

Art Garfunkel got to number one had the biggest selling single of the year with this. It was about Rabbits with bright eyes. It made me think that Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' was also about Rabbits when they sang 'Turn around bright eyes' and they had laser beam eyes in the video which creeped me out more than anything I'd seen in my I-Spy book of insects.

(23) One Way Ticket - Eruption

This was a cover of a Neil Sedaka song which I discovered when I did a deep-dive into his back catalogue a few years ago. They're both brilliant but this was of it's time, given that it's a Disco treatment that sounds a lot like Boney M or Ottowan (or one of those Disco-ey groups). It reached number nine and that was the last we heard of them.

(22) Hold The Line - Toto

The name of the group came from vocalist Bobby Kimball's real name 'Robert Toteaux'. The first time I heard this was at a Tina Turner gig in 1996 when they opened for her. I thought it was great live and the recorded version (now I can get my hands on it (no Spotify then)) is even better. Strange given the quality of this single that their next top 40 hit was four years in the making. It reached number 14.

(21) Off The Wall - Michael Jackson

I'm not sure why that demonic drug-fuelled laughter happens at the start of the track but the bass line was good enough to make this a great single.  This was Michael at his best - forget Thriller and Bad, this is what his voice suited. It peaked at number seven.

(20) Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough - Michael Jackson

This went to number three. The video was parodied brilliantly by Leigh Francis (playing his Bo'Selecta version of Michael) with the lyrics changed to 'Don't stop til you get enough Cola Cubes'

 

(19) Is She Really Going Out With Him - Joe Jackson

This flopped when it was released in September 1978. The world wasn't ready. Also, "Sunday Papers" and "One More Time" flopped after that. But after getting to 21 in the USA, it was released here again and reached number 13. It's typical of that stompy jangly guitar stuff that was happening in the late 70s with Elvis Costello being the leader of the skinny weird looking musical geniuses that littered the top 40 in 1979 (Gary Numan, Trevor Horn, Bob Geldof, Terry Hall, Mark Knopfler et al.)

 

(18) Boogie Wonderland - Earth Wind And Fire & The Emotions

This peaked at number four and became one of the all time classics. They credited The Emotions on the front of the sleeve this time, giving them the recognition they deserved.

(17) Gimme Gimme Gimme - Abba

 

This would probably have been their eighth number one if they hadn't released their second greatest hits album at the same time. It actually got to number three. The precise production on this, the spacing of the instruments and the very deliberately (in my opinion) exaggerated accents from Frida and Agnetha made this such a great track to listen to.

(16) Knock On Wood - Amii Stewart

Amii's Mother Miquel Brown made her chart debut in 1984, then her sister 'Sinitta' followed in 1986. This is infectious and has all the ingredients of a hit single which is probably why it was.

(15) Tragedy - Bee Gees

Imagine writing this - you would just know it was a number one single.  It got to number 1 for two weeks but, they must have thought that their work here was done because they didn't hit the top ten again for eight years. Steps took their cover of this song to number one twenty years later and it was played at each of the 26768 birthday parties I went to that year.

(14) Walking On The Moon - Police

A deserved number one for this. I didn't want to believe he was talking about actually walking on the moon. I always thought it was a metaphor for that feeling you get when something good happens. Like 'Walking back from your house, walking on the moon', like he'd been to see his girlfriend and they'd had a lovely evening in with the scrabble board and a pizza and he was walking home on joyful cushions of air, like you do on the moon? No? Just me? Well, you definitely don't want your leg to break if you're on the moon. There aren't any hospitals up there.

(13) Cars - Gary Numan

It reached number one for a week on first release. It's been released about five hundred times since and always hovers around the top 40. I'm a huge Numan fan and have every album he's ever released. It all started with one note. It's the one at 2m 55s in, where the counterpoint synth comes in and plays an augmented ninth. It's beautiful. I was hooked. And over 40 years later, here's him doing today even better than he did back then :

(12) Lost In Music - Sister Sledge

The third and least successful release from the 'We are Family' album became the most successful when it was re-released five years later.  It got to number 17 in 1979. The B-side "Thinking Of You" was released as a single too and got to number 11. They then hit number one with 'Frankie' but to my knowledge, haven't troubled the charts with anything original since.

(11) Angel Eyes / Voulez Vous - Abba

It's like ABBA had an energy factory they used to inject the stuff into their singles. Voulez Vous is a monster of a song and dare I say it, Erasure made it slightly better in 1992? Not convinced about Angel eyes though. This reached number three.

 

(10) We Don't Talk Anymore - Cliff Richard

It's that metallic singing organ again that imprinted itself on my psyche! This was the first time Cliff had been to number one since the late sixties! It inducted him into the same club as Elvis in having a number 1 in each decade the charts were a thing. He did it in 59 and 79, just creeping into that decade's last opportunity for a chart topper. He went on to hit number 1 in five separate decades too! Nearly six but his Millenium Prayer was knocked off the top in the first chart of 2000. It was a karaoke favourite of mine way back when.

(9) I Don't Like Mondays - Boomtown Rats

It's the first video I remember watching on Top of the Pops. I'm sure it wasn't the first time I'd watched Top of the Pops but it's the first one I can recall because it was stark. The bloke at the piano in the white room and Bob looking all riled up directly into the camera from a few centimeters away.

This was number 1 for four weeks. The song was based on the true story of American schoolgirl Brenda Spencer who shot dead a number of other school children, apparently because she didn't like Mondays. It was banned by many radio stations across the US for fear of it upsetting the victim's families.

(8) We Are Family - Sister Sledge

It reached number eight but I don't think there was a person alive in the 80s who didn't know this song.

(7) Pop Muzik - M

If you were writing a book on how to write a perfect pop song, this would be one of the chapters. This got to number 2 and became one of those on the countdown with Ultravox's Vienna as a 'number 2 that should have been number 1'. It went back to number 15 when re-released ten years later.

The original 12 inch single was released as a special double grooved record. You put the needle down at the beginning of the record and never know whether you'll get "Pop Muzik" or "M Factor". I don't know how that didn't catch on. Maybe it was too expensive or too annoying. I like the mystery of the whole thing personally. Life isn't like a box of chocolates, it's like a 12" single by M.

(6) I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor

I used to use the opening lyrics to this song as a drama workshop. Getting people to act 'Go on now go, walk out the door' as if it was a high tension drama.  This spent four weeks at number one and is another all time classic from 1979.

(5) Angel Eyes - Roxy Music

I refuse to believe that this song was released in 1979 or that it was written by actual humans. It's wa-aa-aay ahead of it's time and too perfect to be something you just sit and knock up on a piano or guitar.  Only got to number four as well.

True Roxy fans won't have liked this or anything the did around 78-82, but it was much more appealing to me; much more commercial, memorable and catchy - isn't that why you release a single? To appeal to the masses?

(4) Dance Away - Roxy Music

For everything I said about 'Angel Eyes', multiply that by 0.25 and you've got another brilliant tune. They'd split up in 1976 so it's a good job Bryan Ferry was struggling with his solo stuff or these two singles might never have happened and that would have been tragic.

(3) Night Owl - Gerry Rafferty

I loved  this when I first heard it in 79 and forgot it existed for about twenty two years until a mate at work reminded me about it. I downloaded it that night and it's been on my playlist ever since.  A street and a half ahead of Baker Street this and full of the type of production and atmosphere other bands could only dream of. Note and lyric perfect.

(2) Video Killed The Radio Star - Buggles

Talking about all time classics coming out of 1979, this was one I first heard on that aforementioned K-TEL compliation alongside 'Bang Bang' and Joy Sarney's 'Naughty Naughty Naughty'.  They were in fact predicting the future and they were sort of correct.  The radio was still quite important way up until the mid 90s I'd say when people started to get all the music channels in their houses and t'internet was cheap enough to access.  Just one week at number 1 strangely.  The Buggles were Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, both of whom were in the re-formed 'Yes' a year later. Geoff went on to be a member of 'Asia' and released at least one solo album, while Trevor went on to some great production work with 'Dollar', 'ABC', 'Art Of Noise' and 'Frankie Goes To Hollywood' amongst many others. Video hadn't killed the radio star at that point, but the video to this single was the first to be shown on 'MTV' and so ironically was part of the process.

(1) Are Friends Electric - Tubeway Army

Superb and a four week stint at number one. As distinctive as it is haunting and as unusual as it got in 1979 save anything John Foxx did. This was about Gary's vision of the future in which robots or androids are used for various things but especially, company.  They all looked the same, like tall grey men. The B-side "We Are So Fragile" was brilliant as was the album 'Replicas'. This was one of those genre defining moments that never happen these days. I'm not sure how many bands followed because of this record but there are hundreds who cite Gary Numan as a huge influence on them. Gary was by no means the first to have a synthesizer based hit but nobody had one this big and the hook in it, the 'der ner' bit, was an accident. It's a musical anomaly which shouldn't work and it doesn't if you write it in dots on a manuscript - but in real life, it does! Happy accident indeed. Gary was hugely influenced by Ultravox before him who were in turn influenced by David Bowie's 'Low' album. Giorgio Moroder was having minor hits prior to this and Kraftwerk had already been in the top 10 but this was the marker. This is what they all had to aspire to.

1978

Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1978

YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1978

I realised something, listening through every single ever to make the top 40 in 1978. Something I suppose I already knew but didn't really notice to any great degree.  That is the comings and goings of genres. Having started in 1973 with these lists, I've heard the natural evolution of commercial popular music through the improvement in technology, the introduction of production techniques to make sounds not previously heard and the introduction of music and lyrics which represent everyday people. '78 was still a glittering landscape of luscious pop, real people playing real instruments and whistlable melodies but there were a few movements which defined the age. Disco was huge; to the point it had the Beach Boys and Johnny Mathis recording Disco songs in the vain hope of a top ten single. This is called selling out. I had a friend who hated people who sold out - she'd speak about it with this look on her face, like it was dirty and wrong. I don't care much if what they're doing is enjoyable - so what if someone who takes themselves too seriously suddenly appears on Big Brother? If you're about credibility and respect then by all means, continue making music for your diehard fans and missing the top 100 by about 200 places. If you're all about having a career that pays the bills then ring Stock Aitken and Waterman.  By 1979 there was too much Disco around, too much shouty loud punk music.  It was interesting to start with but soon got tedious. I understand that there were people who latched on to it, used it to cement their identity in society and some from that era still dress in ripped T-shirts and leather. It was just that about two in every five records released was either Disco or Punk. Trying to add another pebble to that huge beach and make it sound different was very difficult and only a few succeeded.

When Punk first arrived, as I say, it was interesting. People went and bought it. Two years later and punk wasn't cracking the top twenty any more. Things were changing and getting better - much much better in fact. Some of the tunes released in 78 are superb. You'll find quite a few songs in my top 40 you've never heard before but I urge you to give the playlist a spin - it'll improve your life by several percent.

 

(40) Dollar - Shooting Star

Before David Van Day was a complete douche, he was a decent popstar. Dollar were often dismissed as lightweight but they were every bit as enjoyable as Abba at times. This song is a wonderful piece of 80s pop, even though it's two years early. It got to number 12 and was the first of their ten hits.

(39) PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED - PUBLIC IMAGE

Hello? Hello! A true original, John Lydon.  This was a great single - it did the punk thing with a difference.  John had left the Sex Pistols by this point and formed a collective that could express his bursting creativity.  This got to number nine and in my opinion at least, influenced U2's 'Boy' album. When PiL did stuff you could actually listen to, it was very good.

(38) Racey - Lay Your Love On Me

This first hit for Racey spent three weeks at number three in January. As a tiny person in 1978, I picked up on Racey because their singles had a distinctive sound that stuck in my head. They didn't sound like anything else I was aware of at the time so I gravitated towards it.  They had a track called "Kitty" on their album "Smash And Grab". Toni Basil later picked up on the track, changed a it a bit, renamed it 'Mickey' and had a massive worldwide hit with it in 1982 reaching number 2. I don't much care for their 50's stylings or the girl doing the hand-jive sitting on a piano in the video. Although this has more in common with Showaddywaddy and Darts, it sounds like it has something in common with the 2 tone movement which was just around the corner.

(37) BLACK SABBATH - HARD ROAD

Whoops, how did this get in here? Probably because it's great and my predjudices have been put to one side for the moment.  It's much better than Paranoid yet that's the track everyone associates with Black Sabbath. It has a very heavy Beatles influence (or maybe a John Lennon one?). This was eight years after Paranoid and just as they were getting good, Ozzy left. This only got to number 33 and shows you the difference between a great song and a great single. They're not necessarily the same thing.

(36) Elvis Costello - (I Don't Wanna Go To) Chelsea

Elvis Costello's second hit of four in 1978. This one peaked at number 16, one place short of his previous hit, "Watching The Detectives". I heard somewhere that Elvis had the most weeks on the chart of any artist who'd never had a number 1. He's always been a bit niche; like Squeeze and The Cure. Sort of popular but not really even though most of his music is intelligent and catchy. It just lacked something to make it appeal to the masses - but maybe he didn't really want to. I always felt there was a bit of Buddy Holly in his image but again, maybe that was intentional too?

This song was 'parodied' by 'Graduate' (the band that would become Tears for Fears), in their song 'Elvis should play ska'.

 

(35) PATTI SMITH GROUP - BECAUSE THE NIGHT

Patti was a pioneer. A bigger influence on the same people as Suzi Quatro had influenced four years previous. A huge influence on the lead singer of X-Ray Spex, who feature later on in the top 40 and you can see why. Written by Bruce Springsteen, this got to number 5 in April.

 

 

 

(34) The Bee Gees - Night Fever

Saturday Night Fever had taken over the consciousness of the parts of the world that had popular music as one if it's main pillars of society.  The Bee Gees had 11 top 40 hits in the 70s but countless others with other artists singing songs they'd written. When you talk about a sound defining an era, the wah-wah guitar was their weapon of choice and they wielded it better than anyone. They managed to create a world through their music in the late 70s which we all felt safe in, felt happy in and wanted to look exactly like John Travolta in.  Talk about 'Racey' coming up with a sound nobody else had managed and capturing my imagination, The Bee Gees made this sound up and anything else that came after it just sounded like a bad parody.

(33) Magazine - Shot By Both Sides

Brilliant!!! Even though the lead singer looks like what Robocop looks like when he takes his mask off near the end of the film.  This only got to number 41... criminally missing out on the top 40 - should have been top 10 at least.  Ignore the TOTP video version - go with the original Spotify one - the TOTP performance was one of those where the band had to come in that day and record a version of the song to mime to. The voice is too loud and he doesn't sing the chorus with the same intonation as the original.  That aside, it's a must have on your playlist for grey monday mornings and is going straight on my personal best of the 70s list I'll do after my 1979 list.

(32) FOREIGNER - COLD AS ICE

Although every time this song starts it reminds me of the 'Neighbours' theme tune, it's still great. Bloody Foreigner, coming over here, stealing our ice. This got to number 24 and it wasn't until 1981 that they cracked the top 10 with 'Waiting for a girl like you' and then number 1 with 'I want to know what love is'.  Their last hit was in 1985, a number 28 with 'That was yesterday'. Lou Gramm did have a solo career but never troubled the charts.

(31) MANFRED MANN'S EARTH BAND - DAVY'S ON THE ROAD AGAIN

It's lovely this isn't it? We see a welcome return of the 12/8 beat which has been notably missing in the charts the last few years.  The Earth Band only had three hits but they were all brilliant.  'Joybringer' made my '73 list but their other one 'Blinded by the light' just missed this list. Check out the video on the playlist above; it's live and sounds exactly like the record but with a better keyboard solo and more emotion!

(30) Samantha Sang - Emotion

It's those pesky Bee Gees again! In February 1978, number 31, 32 and 33 were all Bee Gee-penned songs on the way up the chart.  This track featured the Gibbs on backing vocals and was in the top forty for 12 weeks despite only reaching number 11. In fact, it might as well have been sang by the Bee Gees as Samantha's vocals get swamped in the chorus. One of a slew of 70s songs which were either re-relased or covered in the thirty years following.  Just before it fell out of the top 40, there was another version of it in the charts, albeit on the B-Side of 'Too Much, Too Little, Too Late' by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams.

(29) CLOUT - SUBSTITUTE

A terrific pop record this, most enjoyable and very very 70s. This got to number 2 and was their only hit. Shame, they were one of the only woman bands around who played guitars, drums, bass, keyboards. Why is a debate for another time but suffice to say, 70s attitudes towards race, gender etc. are something we can quite happily leave in the 70s.

(28) GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR - HEY LORD DON'T ASK ME QUESTIONS

Bits of Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, The Clash and John Lydon here. Entirely original though having said that, and a great single. Just reached 32 which shows what kind of competition there was around at the time.

(27) T.Connection - On Fire

Number 16 for this full force disco track. It's got a lot of Disco Inferno about it but before you think it's going to go there, it veers off and hits you with the synthy backing vocal with which to hook you to the chorus.  Loads of 70s string motifs and plenty of different drum sounds coupled with a wasp synth, it's gonna get you!

 

(26) Abba - Take A Chance On Me

People wonder why ABBAs chart reign only lasted three years. It's simple enough, people had too much ABBA.  This track was number one for three weeks but it was their last for ages - other things were happening in the pop world and they soon became old hat.  It was two and a half years before they got there again.  I like the Erasure version of this and Erasure's version of Voulez-Vous better than Abba's; no doubting their songwriting, musicianship and vocal performances but by the time we'd had the ABBA annuals, the merch and eventually, The Movie, we were all but done and had started to take notice of The Police and Kate Bush instead.

(25) ANDREW GOLD - NEVER LET HER SLIP AWAY

What a songwriter this bloke was. Everything he released was gold (pardon the pun). This got to number 5 and was his biggest hit. His memory was insulted by the godawful 'band' Undercover who only released covers. They got to number 5 with this song as well!  Gold played on various other songs in the 70s (most notably Linda Ronstadt's) but he went on to form the band 'Wax' who had a number 12 in 1987 with 'Bridge to your heart'.

(24) Earth Wind And Fire - September

A classic in all senses of the word. Sparkly outfits and trombones with all wavy space effects in the video was bound to be a hit. The first of Earth Wind And Fire's three consecutive top five hits and also the biggest with a number three peak.

(23) Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street

I've never warmed to this song and I don't know why. I always thought it was a waste of a good sax solo. Listening to it now, I don't even like the sax solo. However, it's a classic that everyone on the planet in 1978 had heard so it's here at 21. It took six weeks in the chart to reach number 3 and after a full 12 weeks in the chart, people were getting sick of it. Strangely, the band I mentioned who covered Andrew Gold's 'Never let her slip away' covered 'Baker Street' in 1992 and managed to get one place higher than Gerry.

(22) Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights

I fell in love with Kate Bush in 1978. She was fascinating and this song was just the type of weird I needed in my life. She was a bit unhinged I thought, skitting about in a forest in a floaty dress and flowers on her head. In 1980 I went to one of my school friend's birthday parties and a woman who looked exactly like Kate Bush answered the door. I was convinced it was her; turned out to be my friend's mother. I spent the entire party staring at her and eating the cakes which she'd baked with actual money in them. I went home with about 25p that night. It was more money than I'd ever seen in my entire life. (Wuthering Heights spent four weeks at number one incidentally)

(21) JOHN TRAVOLTA AND OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN - YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT

Grease was another omnipresent film in 1978 which also starred John Travolta. It was one of the first Vinyl LPs I 'owned' (it wasn't mine, not sure whose it was actually) and I used to play it over and over. This was just one of the songs from the film which got released as a single. This one got to number 1 in May. Morrissey got to number 19 in 1992 with a song called 'You're the one for me fatty'. Nothing to do with this song, I just wanted to tell you that.

(20) Earth Wind And Fire - Fantasy

More Earth Wind and Fire amazingness which only got to number 14. To have so many members, so many instruments to co-ordinate, to sound this good, must have taken such a long time in the studio. Bands these days don't book studio time, they turn up with tracks already mostly complete on their laptops. Just bask in the greatness of this song; music how it was meant to sound before the robots took over...

Black Box took their cover of this to number five in 1990.

(19) BUZZCOCKS - EVER FALLEN IN LOVE

Have you ever heard a song called Jilted John by Jilted John? The one that goes 'Gordon is a Moron'? Well, I'm yet to be convinced that the bloke who sang that (the same bloke who played 'John Shuttleworth') wasn't the lead singer of the Buzzcocks. Whilst this song is a bona fide classic, the singer sounds like one of those kids at school who would tell you your parents were poor and he lived in a castle in the country and owned a horse.

It sounded very punk but I don't think it was. It was too commercial. It got to number 12 but each of their next three singles peaked at a lower position than the last. Being an 80s officianado, I'll always prefer the Fine Young Cannibals version, which hit number 9 in 1987, however much the purists scream at me.

 

(18) THE POLICE - CAN'T STAND LOSING YOU

I'll tell you why this works. It's the first time a guitar has been used like that on a pop record. The drums are a main instrument, up front and centre and full of personality. The Police embraced their Reggae influence, most notably in the title of their first album. I've never thought Sting was a great vocalist but his voice suits The Police more than it does anything he ever did after that. It was angry and shouty with an edge which he completely lost in later years. I suppose we all calm down and mellow out in later life when we realise we can't fight the system, don't we?

(17) E.L.O. - Mr Blue Sky

 

A brilliant single from the hairiest pop star on the planet and in the 70s he had some competition.  This was the first of three consecutive number 6 peaking records. The 'Out of the Blue' album spawned four hit singles (this never happened at the time) which showed how popular ELO had become after a slow slow start.

(16) Olivia Newton John - A Little More Love

Criminally missing from Spotify, you'll have to check out the YouTube playlist for this one. Riding on the back of her rise back to popularity through the movie Grease, this got to number 4. The producers employed that multiple voice falsetto that was so popular at the time on the chorus which was probably the best example of this production technique.

She'd been missing from the chart from 1974 until the summer of 77 when she hit number six with "Sam". 'You're the one that I want' had spent nine weeks at number 1 and that was followed by 'Summer Nights' which spent a further 7 weeks on top. Those two were with John Travolta but she had a solo hit with 'Hopelessly Devoted to You' on her own. EMI capitalised on that with 'A little more love' which spent nine weeks in the 40. What was weird about it's chart performance was that it's ninth week was at 16 and the following week it disappeared.

(15) Rod Stewart - Do You Think I'm Sexy

No Rod, I really don't. However, Rod is the original 'move with the times' artist that Madonna proved to be as she jumped feet first into the 90s. From crooning cracked-throat ballads to gale force twelve disco - this was some transformation. Another artist who 'sold out'? Who cares, he looked like he was having fun and so did we with this fun uptempo romp. I actually think he was taking the michael a bit with this song; the lyrics are far from serious, couple that with his performance in those famous leopard print trolleys - I think his tongue was firmly in his cheek. This got to number one unsurprisingly. That lead synth at the beginning is hookier than velcro.

(14) FRANKIE VALLI - GREASE

Another song from the Grease soundtrack and another Bee Gees written hit. Just two weeks at number three for this, despite it being the title track to the movie. This was Frankie's most successful solo single though; he never troubled the charts again after this though.

(13) Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive

Talking of the Bee Gees, the brothers Gibb reached number four with this. I've just noticed that they were on the RSO label which also released the 'Grease' soundtrack. The B Side to this single was a song that just three months later was taken to number four by 'Yvonne Elliman' which appears in my top 10 of 1978. This song was made by the bass line, a very popular instrument in the 70s.

(12) RAYDIO - JACK AND JILL

Have a listen to the lyrics to this. It's an attempt to legitamise having an affair. Despite the horrible sentiment, this is a wonderful single. The hook here is the screech by the backing singers after each line of the chorus.  It was written by Ray Parker Jr. (of Ghostbusters fame) who was the lead singer. He wrote a reply to this song from the point of view of Jill which had the line 'By the time poor Jack returned up the hill, somebody else had been loving Jill'.

I wonder where the Jacksons got the idea for 'Can you Feel it' though.

(11) Heatwave - The Groove Line

Another band in flares with fancy footwork in the vein of Earth Wind and Fire, but with a song which has so many great elements to it, it had to be a hit. The vocal is excellent, the bass line is sumptuous and the changes of pace, perfectly excecuted. It was written by Rod Temperton of 'Thriller' fame and you can tell. It reached number 12 here and shifted 2 million units in the US.

 

(10) OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN - HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU

What a lovely song.  I saw Grease at the pictures when it first came out; we were in the front row - I would have been three and a bit years old but the film was a PG so armed with a Parent, I got in. My two enduring memories of the film when I originally watched it were of the hotdog chasing a bun around on the cinema screen behind John Travolta as he sang 'Sandy'. The metaphor of the hotdog leaping into the bun at the end of the song was lost on me for a good twelve years hence. The other was of Olivia Newton John singing in the garden in just a nightie. I just thought it looked really chilly.   The song itself spent two weeks at number two and was Olivia's biggest solo single.

(9) THE JACKSONS - BLAME IT ON THE BOOGIE

When I started going to Nightclubs, especially those that had themes (like Tall Trees in Yarm), Disco was always the most popular type of night to have followed by an 80s night the following week.  This was always played along with Dancing Queen and YMCA. We'd all be up doing the actions, making most of them up (I know the action for sunshine, good times and boogie, but not moonlight). This song was in the same chart at the same time by two different artists.  Strangely, the original version by the original writer (Mick Jackson (not Michael Jackson, a completely different Jackson called Mick)) didn't fare very well.  Mick got to 15, The Jacksons got to number 8. Don't feel too sorry for him though, the royalties from this song alone would have made him king of a small country.  The same thing happened a year later; Mick released 'Married Men' the same time as Bonnie Tyler. She got to 35 and he didn't chart at all! The Jackson's version featured the first time I heard Michael do his 'Hee Hee' thing. He was finding his feet after a slow start to his solo career which he'd put on hold for about six years, only to explode in 1979 with Off The Wall.

BTW, we don't talk about Big Fun (RIP Music in 1989).

(8) ANDREW GOLD - HOW CAN THIS BE LOVE

I'm a sucker for a jolly ditty and this is the jolliest dittiest song in this countdown.  This only got to number 19 but he remains the only Andrew to have a solo top 10 hit.

(7) Chaka Khan - I'm Every Woman

A number eleven placing for Chaka with her first hit. She then had to wait over five years before her next hit. And what a hit - Ain't Nobody was going to be offered to Michael Jackson for the Thriller album (by the writer) if the label didn't release it as a single for Chaka and Rufus. The label relented and it hit number 1 on the Billboard 100.

(6) KATE BUSH - MAN WITH THE CHILD IN HIS EYES

This was most unexpected. How could the shrieking wailing Kate of Wuthering Heights bring her voice down to a level that cuddled your ears instead of sticking pencils in them, pointy end first? She was 13 when she wrote this. THIRTEEN!! I wrote a song about how much I liked pigeons at 13 which was just 'I like pigeons' repeated four or five times.  She won an Ivor Novello award. I won some funny looks off the people at the bus stop. This got to number 6!

(5) JOHN PAUL YOUNG - LOVE IS IN THE AIR

I remember hearing this on the radio sitting in the back of a car. I started looking out of the window at the sky to try and see 'lovers in the air'. I imagined them to be like sacks of flour which could flap like birds wings and fly. I don't see the world much different to the way I did back then if I'm honest.  JPY got to number 5 with this 'disco' song (I don't think it's disco at all but it was touted as such). There were three Paul Youngs knocking about at the time. There was John Paul Young, the Paul Young who was in Sad Cafe (and later, Mike and the Mechanics) and the Paul Young who was in Streetband and the Q-Tips who would go on to be one of the bestselling solo artists of the 80s.

(4) YVONNE ELLIMAN - IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU

This was taken from the 'Saturday Night Fever' soundtrack, which was naturally written by the brothers Gibb. Her first hit 'Love Me' was gorgeous, and also written by a Gibb (Barry). She was actually earmarked to record 'How deep is your love' because she'd showcased her ability to belt out a ballad. 'How Deep', 'Stayin' Alive' and 'Night Fever' all went to number 1. Elliman's effort was the fourth taken from the soundtrack and hit number 4. Yvonne was very dismissive of the song in later years, giving an indication as to why she didn't 'strike while the iron was hot' with a follow-up single. She didn't much care for Disco (like a lot of people by the time 1979 rolled around) and wanted to sing stuff that suited her husky voice. She didn't release any singles from her subsequent album!  Kim Wilde took her version to number 12 in 1993.

(3) BONEY M - RIVERS OF BABYLON/BROWN GIRL IN THE RING

The first contemporary songs I ever remember hearing were in 1978 and this sticks out in my memory. I was with my family in a fish and chip shop somewhere like Scarbrough (or similar seaside town in Yorkshire) and this was on the radio. Again, the Boney's talent for making nursery rhyme-like songs marketable for a chart performance was in full effect here.  Rivers of Babylon was at number 1 for five weeks then started to fall and ended up at number 18. Then, possibly at the behest of the record label, DJs flipped the record and started to play 'Brown Girl in the Ring' (which is actually a nursery rhyme sang by children in the eastern Carribean).  The single went back up into the top 10 for nine weeks, staying at number 2 for a week. The 'Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl in the Ring' single is the sixth best-selling single of all time in the UK with sales of 2 million

(2) X-RAY SPEX - THE DAY THE WORLD TURNED DAY-GLO

Remember Patti Smith? Whatever she did for women in music, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex did in the UK probably twenty fold. John Lydon didn't like anything back then (or at least he would tell us everything was awful) but he was extremely complimentary about this. It's a song about plastic, disposable society, the real world and how evil it is (a long time before Greta Thunberg got involved). Not just that but watch the video in the playlist. Poly has presence, attitude, an identity; she's fascinating, her voice is ridiculous and the song is one you can stick on repeat for as many listens as you can manage. Gives me goosebumps every time. There's a fascinating documentary on Poly here - she sadly lost her battle with cancer in 2011.

(1) Village People - YMCA

No introduction needed; this single had a three week stint at number two to close 1978. It then began 1979 with three weeks at number one. It was the first and biggest hit for the Village People and spent 13 weeks on the 40. It's another song to suffer from overplay, but what the hell, we all love flinging our arms around trying to make the letters 'Y', 'M', 'C' and 'A'. I tried the same thing with D.I.S.C.O. and dislocated both shoulders.