Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 45.

When I have featured some acts in this series who made the Australian chart, they have usually only appeared in some of the lower positions, and should’ve done better. But this is a group who actually (although rather briefly) had some decent-sized success, including having one of the most popular hit singles of the early-80s in Australia.

When was watching some videos to determine who I would like to feature, and I saw this one for the first time, I just laughed, as I wasn’t sure how seriously I was supposed to be taking all of this, although the song was definitely catchy. But the singer wore a little bowtie, had a rather high-pitched voice, and liked to do a rather bendy-legged dance. This didn’t seem to be a winning formula, but it actually was.

It turns out that they are The Swingers, a group from New Zealand, who formed in the late-70s, and their frontman Phil had previously been a member of Split Enz, best-known in this country for “I Got You”. Their debut album “Practical Jokers” was released in 1980, as was their debut single “One Good Reason”. But it was in February 1981 when they hit the big time when “Counting The Beat” was released.

This was a chart-topper in both Australia and New Zealand, and this was also the biggest single of 1981 in Australia. I’m not sure criteria was used to calculate this in those days, I don’t think that it was on sales alone. I’m also not sure how many copies you need to sell to do well, but this is reported to have sold 100,000 copies in Australia, which is considered to be a huge amount.

To get a better idea of the tastes of the Australian record-buying public in those days, these are the other hits of the year in the other years of the 80s:
1980: “I Got You” Split Enz
1982: “Eye Of The Tiger” Survivor
1983: “Australiana” Austen Tayshus
1984: “Dancing In The Dark” Bruce Springsteen
1985: “We Are The World” USA For Africa
1986: “Chain Reaction” Diana Ross
1987: “Locomotion” Kylie Minogue
1988: “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” Bill Medley And Jennifer Warnes
1989: “Like A Prayer” Madonna

By this point, they were regularly appearing on Countdown, where people were very keen to see them. But remarkably, they never had another Top 40 hit single in Australia. Although more singles were released, including “One Track Mind” and “Punch And Judy”, which were also enjoyable, it was only June 1981’s “It Ain’t What You Dance It’s The Way You Dance It” that got anywhere near the chart, reaching no. 43.

In 1982, they contributed to Starstruck, a film starring Jo Kennedy about a young woman who aspires to be a pop star, in what sounds like a similar idea to Breaking Glass, only a little more comedic in style. Also in 1982, “Counting The Beat” was released in the USA and the UK, but didn’t chart. Not long after, following a few line-up changes, The Swingers split. But their biggest hit is still familiar, and has on gone to be used on several adverts and the like.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 37.

A while ago, I was watching a repeat of Family Guy (bet then I usually am, because dozens of episodes seem to be repeated every day). This was the episode “German Guy”, and there is a part where a puppet performs a song that I wasn’t familiar with. But as this sounded rather like 80s synthpop which is my kind of thing, I had to discover more, and there is a rather curious story.

The original version of “Der Kommissar” was released by Falco in 1981, the Austrian-born musician (I think someone should’ve told Family Guy that Falco was Austrian, not German). But the lyrics were not in English, so although this did well in some European countries, it was felt that this wouldn’t have too much of a chance of succeeding in the English-speaking markets like this country and the US, where this didn’t make the Top 100.

To seemingly try to make “Der Kommissar” more suitable for the English-speaking markets, in 1983 the American singer Laura Branigan (best remembered for her hits “Gloria” and “Self Control”) made a song called “Deep In The Dark”, which had newly-written English lyrics that were performed to the tune of “Der Kommissar”, but ultimately this wasn’t released as a single.

Also around this time, the British group After The Fire (who had a couple of minor UK hit singles in 1979) released their version of “Der Kommissar”, which had the lyrics translated into English, and was accompanied by a rather bizarre video. In April 1983 this reached no. 47, and was their final hit in the UK, but this did reach the Top Ten in America, so at least one version finally succeeded there.

But Falco did finally find fame in 1986 when he had a Transatlantic chart-topper with “Rock Me Amadeus” (one week at Number One in the UK, and three weeks in the US). And of course, this didn’t contain English lyrics either, making the idea that he wouldn’t ever be able to break the UK and US by releasing non-English language songs somewhat incorrect. By the end of the year he had somewhat gone “down the dumper” though.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 26.

This is a British group who I wasn’t sure about featuring in this series because their story is rather well-known, and they have been popular for decades, but as they have made so many terrific singles, I do want to pick out my highlights. The Human League formed in the late-70s, and their frontman is Phil Oakey. I suppose that their philosophy is we’ve got a synthesizer and we’re gonna use it. In June 1978, their first single “Being Boiled” was released, but this didn’t make the chart.

By 1980, they did have some minor hits, and two members had left to form Heaven 17. But Phil wasn’t that concerned, because he discovered two women to replace them, and they never looked back really. 1981 would turn out to be a hugely successful year for them. In May 1981 they made the Top 40 for the first time with “The Sound Of The Crowd”, which is always a pleasure to hear on the radio. Next in August was their first Top Ten hit with “Love Action”, which was followed in October by “Open Your Heart”.

But it was in December 1981 when “Don’t You Want Me” was released that they finally became one of the best groups of the early-80s. This was the biggest-selling single of 1981 in the UK, and this was also a Transatlantic chart-topper. In January 1982, their debut “Being Boiled” was released again, and this time became a Top Ten hit nearly four years on, as interest in their earlier material increased after new fans wanted to discover more. They also won a Brit in 1982.

There would be further hit singles in 1982 with “Mirror Man”, in 1983 with “Fascination”, and in 1984 with “The Lebanon”, “Life On Your Own”, and “Louise”. The later songs hadn’t done as well though. In 1986, they decided to take a gamble and work with producers Jam And Lewis, who were much in demand at this point, and they would help to bring their sound into the mid-80s. Some sessions were reported to be tense, and Phil came close to walking out (I must avoid doing a “but this is Phil walking” pun here).

But even he had to concede that this was all worthwhile when in August 1986 “Human” became their first Top Ten hit single in the UK for three years, and also their second Number One in America. This left them in the rather unusual situation of being a British group who had more chart-toppers in the USA than they did in the UK. They didn’t make the Top 40 in the 80s again though, but at least they were still together.

And just when it looked like they were a group who had finally been confined to the past, 1995 turned out to be their most successful year for about a decade. In January 1995 “Tell Me When” made the Top Ten to become their biggest hit since the days of “Human”. Further hits “One Man In My Heart” and “Filling Up With Heaven” did well too. For some reason, they finished off this year with a remix of “Don’t You Want Me”, but this made the Top 20 for a second time.

Since then, The Human League have become more of a nostalgia group. When they occasionally release new singles or albums, the response is now usually “stop working on new songs and just give us the classics”. They have made nine albums, but unfortunately they are in the position of having had more best-ofs released than studio albums. And in March 2014, “Don’t You Want Me” made the Top 20 for a third time! They’re still on tour, and people will always be fond of them and their songs, together in electric dreams.

The Smash Hits Years – Part 2.

On we go with this series taking a look back at some issues of Smash Hits from the 80s. This is one from 1 October 1981, and features Phil Oakey from The Human League on the cover. By the end of ’81, they will have hit the big time with “Don’t You Want Me”, one of the biggest songs of this era, which was also a transatlantic chart-topper (indeed, The Human League would have more Number One singles in the US than the UK). Oh, and where’s the free badge?

At this point, three years in, Smash Hits is still developing its style, and hadn’t reached its late-80s peak yet. Even now, looking back at those issues makes you realise that there are so many made-up words and in-jokes that it can be tough to decipher them (unless “swingorilliant” has since made the dictionary), and baffling people in interviews by asking them if they think “Ruddy Big Pig” by Reg “Reg” Snipton is going to be the next big thing or whatever it was called.

I think I’m right in saying that the team behind the early days of Smash Hits also later launched Q, a magazine trying to do a similar style, but for older readers, hoping that people would eventually move from reading Smash Hits to Q, and that did work, for a bit at least. Now let’s pick out some of the highlights from this 48-page issue…

The first songwords is “Thunder In The Mountains” by Toyah. Poor Toyah has now been locked in her kitchen for the past two years… And there is a note from the editors, informing readers of changes. The Indie and Disco pages have gone, and there are some new features. Hopefully it’ll be worth the 3p price rise. The interview with The Human League is accompanied by songwords for “Open Your Heart”.

Next is The Pictures, Bow Bow Wow are back, Gary Numan has a plane, Mood Six are the new The Move, a piano is about to fall on someone’s head, and also exciting newcomers Bananarama. I can’t see them getting anywhere?!? Next are more songwords with “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode, and “It’s My Party” by Dave “not that one” Stewart With Barbara Gaskin.

Then there’s an interview with David and Sketch from Linx. The Bitz pages feature all of the latest music rumblings. These include Alexei Sayle’s new album, The Higsons, a review of Madness’s film Take It Or Leave It, the Indie and Disco charts, a profile of Buster from Bad Manners, Suggs’s Top Ten, and a special apology for the wrong Star Teaser grid in the previous issue. Next songwords are “Mule (Chant No. 2)” by Beggar And Co., and “It Will Be Alright” by Odyssey.

Singles time! This is supposedly a golden time for pop music. Will it be reflected here? Again, here are the reviews of the hottest A-sides around reduced to one standout word that may (or may not) describe the quality of these records…

The Police “Invisible Sun”: “creamy”
Elvis Costello And The Attractions “Good Year For The Roses”: “sobbing”
The Human League “Open Your Heart”: “dreamboat”
Shakin’ Stevens “Shaky Sings Elvis”: “burping”
Toyah “Thunder In The Mountains”: “dazzle”
Squeeze “Labelled With Love”: “japesters”
Bee Gees “He’s A Liar”: “plods”
Foreigner “Juke Box Hero”: “leadweight”
Gary Glitter “Then She Kissed Me”: “spongy”
Bad Manners “Walking In The Sunshine”: “slobby”
New Order “Everything’s Gone Green”/”Procession”: “interesting”
Devo “Being Cool”: “pompous”
Tom Tom Club “The Genius Of Love”: “bizarre”
Hazel O’Connor “Hanging Around”: “sweaty”
Secret Affair “Do You Know”: “unremarkable”
Billy Idol “Mony Mony”: “desperation”
Kirsty MacColl “See That Girl”: “snappy”
The Cramps “The Crusher”: “kneecaps”
Associates “A”: “supple”
Bill Nelson “Living In My Limousine”: “slinky”
Dire Straits “Tunnel Of Love”: “chunky”
The Revillos “She’s Fallen In Love With The Monster Man”: “hammy”

On the albums page, highlights include “7” by Madness which scores, er, 8/10, and “Thirty Thousand Feet Over China” by The Passions top scores with 8½/10. Also notable is “Rhythm Breaks The Ice” by Bette Bright, soon to be Mrs Suggs, and helping out on this album is Ian Broudie, 15 years before “Three Lions”. The Get Smart! column is where your music questions are answered (“Simple Minds discography, please”). All of these would be answered nowadays with “go on Wikipedia, you fool”.

Next songwords are “Walking In The Sunshine” by Bad Manners, and “Mad Eyed Screamer” by The Creatures. And there’s an interview with The Creatures, the Siouxsie And The Banshees spin-off group. Look, there’s an Ultravox colour poster. More songwords with “Genius Of Love” by Tom Tom Club, and “He’s A Liar” by The Bee Gees. Then there’s an advert for The Face with Pamela Stephenson on the cover, and a quiz.

Next is an interview with parody group The Hee Bee Gee Bees, featuring Angus Deayton, Philip Pope, and Mike Stevens, soon to be among the cast of Radio Active. And there’s the songwords for “Quite Ahead Of My Time” by David Bowwow. It’s a shame that he didn’t do a collaboration with another group around at the time, they could’ve called it David Bowwowbowwowwow.

Letters! “Could you tell me whether Champagne and Orange Juice doing a gig together would sound like Bucks Fizz?”. Well that’s a great way to earn a £5 record token. Then there’s an advert for music and fashion magazine New Sounds New Styles. The request spot is “Get Off Of My Cloud” by The Rolling Stones. An interview with The Police features the songwords for “Invisible Sun”.

Next are the Star Teaser and Crossword, with correct grids hopefully! Next songwords are “You Sure Look Good To Me” by Phyllis Hyman, and “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Then there’s a stupendous competition to win a video recorder and Madness prizes. We are introduced to new columnist Barry, who knows a lot of things. The new concert column has a review of Depeche Mode. And next time, there’s an Adam Ant poster… nice!

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 13.

Here’s another rather curious pop music story from the 80s. As I have said before, because I wanted to find out more about pop music from the 80s that might interest me, I looked online for weekly music magazine covers. There a few people I noticed that I wasn’t familiar with, so I thought that I would try and find out more about them, and this is one of them.

London-born Honey Bane (although her first name is actually Donna) came on to the punk music scene in the late-70s, when she was barely into her teens, never mind coming out of them, as a member of The Fatal Microbes, who gained some publicity. By the early-80s, Honey worked with Jimmy Pursey from Sham 69, and launched a solo career which would be briefly successful. vlcsnap-00852

In January 1981 “Turn Me On Turn Me Off” was released, and this would become her first and only Top 40 hit single. She then performed this on Top Of The Pops, where she delighted the crowd with her bright pink hair. Honey was interviewed in Smash Hits, and she also appeared on the covers of Record Mirror and Sounds (where she was captioned as “Madonna Bane” curiously, long before that other woman became famous in this country). vlcsnap-00005

Next in April 1981 was “Baby Love”, a rather straight cover of The Supremes song, and a lot of people seemed to be surprised by this, and were insistent that she had betrayed her punk roots. This reached no. 58, to become her final hit single. Some thought there was some record label interference creeping into her career. Honey did go on to release further singles until 1983, including “Jimmy… (Listen To Me)” and “Wish I Could Be Me”. hb17

Also around this time, Honey went on to become an actress, appearing in various films, and also the first episode of Hazel O’Connor’s ITV series Jangles. I don’t know why she didn’t return for the rest of the series, maybe that was always the plan, or something happened behind the scenes, meaning that it’s now just a television memory (sorry). And she later became a glamour model. In more recent years, Honey has continued to be an actress and singer.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 5.

This is a group that almost qualified for my “Down The Dumper” series, but they narrowly missed out. But because I was fascinated by their story, I decided to include them in this series instead. Landscape were an English group formed in 1974. Their frontman was Richard Burgess, they made very early synthpop using the latest technology available, and they were probably the only group that featured someone who played both the trombone and keyboards.

Their first single and album were released in 1979, but it wasn’t until February 1981 that they had some success. This was when they released their best-known song and only Top Ten hit “Einstein A Go-Go”. This led to a few TV appearances, and this was also used on an advert, but it’s the video that really stood out to me. Firstly, it was because of the way Landscape were dressed. They all wore a matching outfit with the exception of the collar, which was a different colour for all of them, making them look a little like a team on The Crystal Maze long before that show existed. l1

But most notable was that the video featured the female half of the music/dance group Shock. These were Barbie Wilde (who had such a fascinatingly varied career in the 80s including being a TV presenter, along with appearing in adverts, music videos, and horror films, that I might do an individual piece about her), Carole Caplin (who about 25 years after this was involved in some political scandal that led to her appearing on the cover of Private Eye), and Lowri-Ann Richards (who was also an actress). vlcsnap-00024

Then their second album “From The Tea-Rooms Of Mars… To The Hell-Holes Of Uranus” was released in March 1981 and reached no. 16. The follow-up in May 1981 was “Norman Bates” which became their second and final Top 40 hit. Now the first time I heard this was a while ago on Forgotten 80s. And it really has to be the weirdest song that I’ve come across for the first time thanks to that show. The video is black-and-white, and the lyrics consist of little beyond “My name is Norman Bates…“. vlcsnap-00163

Then there was “European Man” (Barbie was also in the video to this one), but this wasn’t a hit disappointingly. After one more album, Landscape were reduced to a trio and changed their name to Landscape III, releasing some more singles, before going their separate ways in 1984. Burgess went on to become a leading producer, while Andy Pask was the co-writer of the theme to The Bill.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 4.

One thing that is always interesting when looking back at old music magazines are those articles at the beginning of the year where the writers predict who they are convinced will be the next big thing, and of course most of their choices go on to have no further success and are never heard of again. When I wanted to find out more about 80s pop music, I looked at some magazine covers online, and there was a Record Mirror one that intrigued me.

This was because I didn’t recognise the woman on the cover, despite the insistence that she was going to be “THE VOICE OF 1981”. So I decided to investigate further, and as always there’s a rather interesting story worth sharing. Jane Kennaway was a singer/songwriter, and it seems that fame runs in the family because her dad James was a successful novelist. jk1

In January 1981 the single “IOU” was released (although it was actually credited to “Jane Kennaway And Strange Behaviour”), and this reached only no. 65. I have heard this and I did enjoy it. As well as Record Mirror, Jane was also featured around this time in Smash Hits, and at this point there was some hope that she could still make the Top 40. But although this didn’t happen, she did release some more singles. vlcsnap-00006

In March 1981, the follow-up to “IOU” was “Celia”, one critic was moved enough to say “this is very good”, and there was a video made, but it wasn’t a hit. This was followed in July 1981 by “Year 2000”, and I found this one interesting, firstly because it was produced by Thomas Dolby, who would go on to have some success of his own with singles including “Hyperactive!” (which also has a great video that I did a piece about a while back). vlcsnap-00012

I also noted an online observation that this must be one of the earliest singles released to speculate what the world would be like in 2000, which was still almost two decades away by this point, when people really did think that we’d all be living on the moon by then. There doesn’t seem to be a video for this one though. And going into the mid-80s, there were a few more singles released including “Arabesque” and “I’m Missing You” (which do also have videos), but again these all flopped. jk2

Unfortunately it seems that Jane never got as far as releasing an album, but about a decade ago a compilation was put together of the small amount of singles, live performances, and various leftovers that she made. Although she never became the star that people hoped, it seems that Jane and her guitar are still out there somewhere, and she has continued to work with various singers and groups.