Let’s go back to the 80s to discover another unusual moment. Jona Lewie (whose real name is John Lewis, but this was already taken by a department store) is an English musician and songwriter, who has been on the scene since the 60s. He had his first wave of fame in July 1972 when he was a member of Terry Dactyl And The Dinosaurs, who had a big hit single with “Seaside Shuffle”.
And I believe I’m right in saying that the sleeve for this single was designed by none other than J Edward Oliver, my favourite comic strip artist, how terrific. They didn’t make the Top 40 again though, and Jona went out on his own not long after. He had released various singles and albums since the mid-70s, but it was in May 1980 that he had more chart success.
This was when “You Will Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties” (which must be one of the longest hit song titles of the 80s) was released on Stiff Records, and reached no. 16. This was a rather unusual synthpop song, and Jona didn’t as much rap, but he didn’t really sing either. He also performed this on various shows including Cheggers Plays Pop and Runaround.
What a delight it must’ve been to be on the scene at the time and be able to have those choices. Next in November 1980 was “Stop The Cavalry”, which reached no. 3 (and stayed there for five consecutive weeks). This isn’t really a Christmas song, but as there is a reference to Christmas in the lyrics, this was released late in the year, and has a Christmas-style feel, this has been accepted into that genre.
This would turn out to be his second and final hit single. He did release more singles for a few years though, but none of them, including “I Think I’ll Get My Hair Cut”, made the chart. His two biggest solo singles have lingered for many years after though. Since December 2007, “Stop The Cavalry” has often returned to the lower end of the chart at Christmas.
This is when a huge wave of classic songs reappear, and I always like to hear this one on the radio all these years on. And “You Will Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties” was used on an advert for Ikea (which featured the man himself), meaning in November 2010 this returned to the chart for one week. Jona is still out there performing, and he does look like Fred Harris, doesn’t he.
I thought that I would take a look back at another all-female group who did some interesting things in the early-80s. The Mo-Dettes formed in the late-70s, and consisted of singer Ramona, (who I think was Swiss somewhere along the line), guitarist Kate (who was American-born), bassist Jane, and drummer June. In 1979, their first single “White Mice” was released.
This wasn’t a hit, but I tracked down the video online, which had some visual effects that looed good for the time, and this was also rather catchy. The eyebrows on display were impressive too. When I took a look at the comments, people had said various things, including how much they liked the song of course, they were great live, and all that, but there were also some unexpected things.
One or two people had said “this is my teacher” (as I believe that Ramona went into teaching after the split). Well I didn’t expect that. And because of her accent, some didn’t seem to realise that Ramona sang this in English. But having enjoyed this, I thought that I would track down their other songs, and it turns out that they did have a couple of hit singles.
In 1980, they released their first and only album “The Story So Far”. They also started to gain some radio airplay, they were featured in Smash Hits, who thought that they were totally sensational and groovy, and they even appeared on the cover of The Face and Sounds, everybody’s third-favourite rock music weekly. Why is this woman smiling? Because she’s about to have a hit!
By this point, Jane had married Woody from Madness (although they later divorced). Bette Bright, who featured in “The One-Hit Wonders” series, also married a member of Madness not long after. In July 1980, “Paint It Black” was released, a cover of the Rolling Stones song, and this reached no. 42, to become their biggest hit single in the UK.
And then, in July 1981, “Tonight” was released, which reached no. 68, which was their second and final hit single, and a few other singles, including “Kray Twins”, missed the chart completely, meaning that they never made the Top 40. After some line-up changes, by 1982, The Mo-Dettes had gone their separate ways, although they are still held in high regard in their genre. But wait!
Because in November 1989, about a decade on from “White Mice”, former The Mo-Dettes drummer June Miles-Kingston (who had worked with several other groups by this point) collaborated with Jimmy Somerville on “Comment Te Dire Adieu” which reached no. 14. She had made the Top 40 at last, and even appeared on Top Of The Pops! And remember, no girl likes to love a wimp.
An introduction… A while ago I looked back at the history of pop music magazine Smash Hits, which ran for 28 years, and went from being hugely popular to disintegrating into irrelevance, just like so many of the groups that were featured. Recently I got hold of some editions of Smash Hits from the 80s. I know that all of them from this decade are available to view online, but for me there’s still no substitute for holding the real thing in your hands.
And some of them are from before I came along, but as I’m always keen to learn more about 80s pop music there can be no better way for me to discover groups from this era really. This will be a page-by-page review to some extent, mostly picking out the highlights of notable interviews, reviews, adverts, etc. And I am going to start with Issue 37, which is dated 1 May 1980, about 18 months after the launch. The Number One single on this day was “Geno” by Dexys Midnight Runners.
As we’ll see, the distinctive voice that went on to define Smash Hits articles hadn’t really been developed by this point, and the really big groups from the decade hadn’t really arrived. There are no boy bands here! And would you believe it, on the cover is Siouxsie Sioux. Now having got into rather quirky and pioneering woman from this era recently, it’s good to see her. Scattered throughout the pages are songwords (never described as “lyrics”), beginning with “Wheels Of Steel” by Saxon, and “My Oh My” by Sad Cafe.
Then there’s songwords for “Something’s Missing” by The Chords, “Staring At The Rude Boys” by The Ruts, and “Mirror In The Bathroom” by The Beat. And then we get the Siouxsie And The Banshees interview. They had a huge amount of hits in this decade, but only one of them made the Top Ten. And there is an advert for “a new rock monthly”, which is The Face, another magazine that would define its era for a while.
The next songwords is “Coming Up” by Paul McCartney. Then there’s the Bitz pages, featuring lots of news. We discover among other things that Gary Numan is about to release “a videocassette”, The Photos are going on tour, another plug for The Face, AC/DC have found a new singer, a look at the making of Sex Pistols film The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle, The Cockney Rejects look forward to West Ham playing in the FA Cup Final, Toyah’s Top Ten, laughing at a mistranslation of the lyrics to “Video Killed The Radio Star”, and a new group called “Orchestral Manoeuvres”.
Then there’s an interview with The Bodysnatchers. About a year or two later most of them went into The Belle Stars, who had further success. As a septet that played ska music, they were sometimes called “The Female Madness”. Next songwords is “Dear Miss Lonely Heart” by Phillip Lynott. Then there’s a page about indie music. It does seem a little odd to see “ghettoised” pages about various genres, this wouldn’t last long.
“Don’t Make Waves” by The Nolans is the next songwords. Then there’s a competition to win a mini TV by solving a crossword. Next is a disco music page. Among the hippest sounds of the moment are “The Groove” by Rodney Franklin, and “I Shoulda Loved Ya” by Narada Michael Walden, how funky. Then there’s a double-page picture of The Specials in colour (this was long before full colour). Then there’s an interview with Pete Townshend of The Who because for some reason “I’m The Face” which was recorded in 1964 when they were still called The High Numbers is being released, but this missed the Top 40.
Next songwords is “All For Leyna” by Billy Joel. Then there’s a wordsearch which is a competition to win The Beat prizes. The next songwords is a Request Spot: and it’s “Life On Mars” by David Bowie from 1973. Now on to the singles reviews. This fortnight the reviewer is “A Small Creature (In Shorts)” (?) There’s a big pile to go through, will any of them be hits? Just like in PC Gamer magazine, I shall take one word from the review, that most sums up the song (sort of)…
Lori And The Chameleons: “The Lonely Spy”: “Swirling” The Revillos: “Scuba Scuba”: “Tackiness” The Human League: “Holiday ’80”: “Synthesizers” The Monochrome Set: “The Strange Boutique”: “Clever” Protex: “A Place In Your Heart”: “Plain” Lew Lewis: “1-30 2-30 3-35”: “Rattling” Lightning Raiders: “Psychedelic Musik”: “Riffs” Bob And Earl: “Harlem Shuffle”: “Fandango” Vic Godard And Subway Sect: “Split Up The Money”: “Untidy” Jah Wobble: “Betrayal”: “Haphazard” Clive Langer And The Boxes: “Splash (A Tear Comes Rolling Down)”: “Uncluttered” Dave Edmunds Rockpile: “I Hear You Knocking”: “Crisp” Cockney Rejects: “The Greatest Cockney Rip-Off”: “Blustering” Martha And The Muffins: “Saigon”: “Expounding” Gang Of Four: “Outside The Trains Don’t Run On Time”: “Tuneless” Ian Gomm: “Slow Dancing”: “Tolerable” The Beat: “Mirror In The Bathroom”: “Pumping” Guns For Hire: “I’m Gonna Rough My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Up Tonight”: “Crude” Echo And The Bunnymen: “Rescue”: “Attractive”
And as for albums, Phyllis Hyman, New Musik, and The Cure come out on top with 8/10 reviews. More songwords with “Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio” by The Ramones and “Love and Loneliness” by The Motors”. Now it’s the Letters page, lots of debate here, although I was most amused by Helen M from Ashover’s comment: “ABCDEFGHIJKLM NOPQRSTUVWXYZ. Well, you said it was a letters page”. Then there’s a gigs page, go on, go and see Martha And The Muffins. The final songwords is “A Forest” by The Cure.
In the next issue… Phil Lynott! Toyah! The Undertones! Finally, there is a poster of The Chords on the back cover. They are a group that I don’t know that much about, but it seems that one of them went on to be in The Style Council. More of these Smash Hits reviews to come soon, join me when I go back in time again pop fans…
In these pieces about pop music, I have featured mainstream acts who had big success, and then occasionally I have come across something interesting by somebody who had no hits, and there is almost nothing about online about them… and this is one of those moments, which all happened three years before I was born.
A while ago, I found some old copies of Record Mirror from the 80s online. This isn’t a weekly music paper that I remember from the time, so it was great to discover their take on what was happening in the scene, especially the singles review page. This is because of the songs that were made Record Of The Week by groups who would definitely be the next big thing and totally failed, while acts who would be huge were negatively reviewed.
It also made me realise how cynically marketed groups were even then, with some aiming to cash in on the current craze, along with tuneless groups who should never have got near a record deal. I was looking at a singles review page of a Record Mirror from October 1980, and reading about the bundle of soon to be released records that had been chucked on the table for the reviewer to go through that week.
There was also a picture with a caption that managed to catch my eye. This was of a rather glamorous woman called Gay Wild (presumably no relation to Kim, because her surname’s spelt differently… and it isn’t actually her real surname) who was captioned “a cross between Hazel O’Connor and Kate Bush”. Now this really intrigued me because they are two singers who did some innovative things and I have tried to get into them more in recent years.
It’s probably not a surprise to realise that there were some clones around at the time, although many consider Bush to be much imitated, but never bettered. Would her song live up to the comparison? Of course, the question was now, how do can I find out more about Gay Wild (a name that it isn’t that easy to search online for), and how do I get to hear “Action Action”?
The reviewer wasn’t fond of this (or much else really), and this got nowhere near the Top 75. I did manage to track something down on Discogs, which stated that this was her second single, following on from 1979’s “Blue Baby Blue”. It was also stated that “Action Action” was in the New Wave genre. And would you believe it, there was a link to her song, so it was possible to give this a listen at last.
I didn’t think it was that bad really, and of the two, I though her voice was more Bush-like. Maybe just like the picture of her on the cover of her single, her music fell between two stools, ha-ha! This one was also released in Netherlands and Portugal. After this was 1981’s “Mums And Dads”, and I don’t know anything about what happened to her after this. Maybe she could’ve been huge, but it was good to find out a little more about her.
This is a rather rare case of a song being a “double one-hit wonder”, being the only hit single for two different acts in the 80s, what are the odds? The first success of this song was before my time, as they say on game shows too often, but here’s how I discovered this one. A long time ago I was watching an episode of The Simpsons from 1992 when Homer becomes rather fond of a singer and says “I can’t get your song out of my mind, I haven’t felt this way since “Funky Town””.
Now this wasn’t a song that I was familiar with, but because I was amused by the reference, I thought that I should have a listen out for if it ever comes on the radio. I eventually did hear this, I think the first time was on Virgin’s Johnny Boy And The Wheels Of Steel, which as I have said before introduced me to lots of great songs from the early-80s, and at this moment I now realised what Homer was on about, it’s one of the rare things that he has got right.
“Funky Town” was released by American group Lipps Inc. in May 1980, this had already spent four weeks at Number One in America, it was clear to see why as it was a great piece of disco, and in the UK this reached no. 2. I also found some TV performances of this online that were very entertaining. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, this was also featured on the soundtrack to Shrek 2.
Lipps Inc. went on to have no further hits in the UK, but the one they did have has endured longer than most in the disco genre. And then, seven years later, “Funky Town” returned to the singles chart in July 1987 with a cover version by Australian group Pseudo Echo. And well, once again it was an indication of how quickly genres changed in the 80s, this one giving off a big “guy with a mullet playing a keytar” vibe.
When compared to the original, many feel this does come off as second-best, but it’s still very enjoyable and proof that you can’t go wrong with this one. This version spent seven weeks at Number One in Australia in 1986/1987, made the Top Ten in America, and reached no. 8 in the UK, making “Funky Town” a Top Ten hit for a second time. And curiously, just like Lipps Inc., Pseudo Echo never got near the chart in this country again.
Recently I have enjoyed having a look through various old music magazines online to see if there is anyone featured from the early-80s who I wouldn’t remember from first time round, but if I had been a few years older I’m sure I would’ve liked. I remember coming across a piece about this singer, and I wanted to find out more about them, and once again, even though they had only one hit single about four decades ago, it turns out that they had a rather interesting career in pop music back in those years.
Bette Bright was born Anne Martin in Whitstable in Kent (I haven’t been able to find out exactly when though). She entered the music scene in the mid-70s as a singer in the group Deaf School. They started to earn a good reputation, in July 1976 they appeared on the cover of Melody Maker, and they also made a few TV appearances, where they performed some of their songs including “What A Way To End It All”.
A couple of years later, Bette went out on her own and released five singles (I think that all of them were covers), but only one was a hit. Some of these were credited to Bette Bright And The Illuminations, a backing band that at this time included members of Visage and the Sex Pistols. In September 1978 her first single “My Boyfriend’s Back” was released, and one critic described her voice as “cutesy-cutesy”. This was around the time that Blondie broke big in the UK, so suddenly lots of singles were being released by women who sounded like Debbie Harry for a quick cash-in, but I don’t think that this was the intent with this one. Also around this time, Bette had striking bright red hair.
The next single in February 1979 was “The Captain Of Your Ship” (I can’t help but always think of the version used in the 90s Mullerrice advert). And would you believe it, also in this month, Bette appeared on the cover of Record Mirror. She also toured around this time and was certainly starting to grab an increasing amount of people’s attention, it now only seemed to be a matter of time before she would finally have some chart success.
In February 1980 “Hello I Am Your Heart” was released, and this was somewhat reggae tinged, and I’d have to say this is among my favourites of hers. Bette earned a few more magazine articles, including a review of the single in Smash Hits, who thought it would be an, er, smash hit. But it was a hit, reaching no. 50, and spending five weeks on the chart. I’m not aware of any music video or TV appearances promoting this one though.
Then in July 1981 there was “When You Were Mine”, an early Prince song, that was released on a fancy picture disc. And finally, in September 1981, there was “Some Girls Have All The Luck”, a gender-flipped take on “Some Guys Have All The Luck”. This was followed in November 1981 by the album “Rhythm Breaks The Ice”, also featuring a few original songs, but it wasn’t a hit. By this point, her backing band featured Ian Broudie, who would later find fame with The Lightning Seeds.
By this point, Bette had started to date Graham “Suggs” McPherson, the frontman of Madness, and in December 1981 they got married. Although Bette wasn’t a chart-topping singer herself, at least she was married to one. They have had two children, and almost 40 years later they are still together, how lovely. Bette practically quit the music scene at this point, although she did appear in the video for the Madness single “One Better Day”, and also participated in the eventual Deaf School reunion. She should’ve been huge!