Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 21.

This is another British group who did some interesting things in the 80s, mostly in the electropop genre, which was rather exciting at the time. Heaven 17 were formed by Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware after they departed The Human League, although of course that group did manage to carry on successfully without them. They recruited Glenn Gregory as their singer.

They had four hit singles in 1981, but all of them missed the Top 40. The best of them for me though was “Penthouse And Pavement”, which reached only no. 57. A further single in 1982 narrowly missed the Top 40 too. But they finally made their breakthrough in April 1983 when “Temptation” was released. This featured the uncredited vocal by Carol Kenyon (although she was credited on her later collaboration with Paul Hardcastle).

This reached no. 2, to become their biggest hit single in the UK. At last they were big news, and they also made the cover of Smash Hits twice, which was proof that they had hit the pop jackpot. They followed this in June 1983 with “Come Live With Me”, to make it two Top Ten hits in a row. They had further hits in 1983 and 1984, with “Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry” being another good one.

Their hits had started to drop off by 1985 though. After a quiet period in the late-80s, Heaven 17 would eventually return. In July 1991, Marsh and Ware’s other group BEF (British Electronic Foundation) released a cover of Sly And The Family Stone’s “Family Affair”, which featured a guest vocal from Lalah Hathaway, and reached no. 37, while Gregory also worked with the group Honeyroot.

By this point, I wouldn’t know for sure of course, but they must’ve looked at the growing market of “squeeze one final success out of your career by doing a remix of your biggest hit one decade on”, and realised that there could be a place for them in that. And it would be a rather novel way to rescue them from being Down The Dumper as well.

So in November 1992, a remix of “Temptation” by Brothers In Rhythm was released, and this did indeed make the Top Ten for a second time (although two places lower than the original version). And suddenly they were back on Top Of The Pops, it was poptastic, mate, and it seemed for a moment that the previous decade hadn’t happened. But Carol Kenyon still didn’t receive a credit, and no new video was made.

That a Greatest Hits album was also released around this time wasn’t a coincidence. They decided in 1993 to release some more remixes of their 80s hit singles, but this just resulted in “Penthouse And Pavement” missing the Top 50 for a second time, which was disappointing. And this was also their final action on the chart, but they have now made eight albums.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 15.

I think that I’ve said before, but because I am always keen to find out more about 80s pop music, I thought that I would check out what was on the singles chart in various other English-speaking countries, including America and Australia, to see if there were any hits that didn’t get big over here, and also to discover how successful British acts were abroad.

In the 70s and 80s, the main pop music show in Australia was Countdown. Plenty of Top Tens from this show have been put online, so I thought I would take a look at some, to discover the musical tastes of the people in a land down under, when they weren’t chundering into their vegemite sandwiches (probably). One of the hosts was “Molly” Meldrum, if he thought that your album was great, then you’d go far!

This was how I discovered I’m Talking, an Australian group who were featured in this series recently. I was watching a Top Ten from October 1983 when a song jumped out at me. It was only a short clip, so I decided to find this in full, and it was just one of those things really. It was so catchy I couldn’t get it out of my head and wanted to discover more about the singer, so here’s the story.

Pat Wilson is an Australian-born singer (no relation to Rebel) who was a writer for a pop music magazine in the early-70s. By the early-80s, she had teamed up with her musician husband Ross, and in September 1983 the single “Bop Girl” was released. This slowly climbed up the chart, and eventually reached no. 2, only being beaten by “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club to the top place.

This lead to a few TV appearances, including the Countdown Christmas special, where a group of children excitedly clapped along to this. It seems that this was also released in a few other countries, making the Top Ten in New Zealand. But in the UK, this wasn’t a hit, and in America, this narrowly missed the Top 100. There’s also some great trivia about “Bop Girl”.

Firstly, this won Pat an award for Best Debut Single. Also, one of the producers was Stig O’Hara from The Rutles. And this was the 11th biggest-selling single of 1983 in Australia (the things you can find out online, remarkable). But the main thing that this is remembered for now is the video which features an early appearance by future Best Actress Oscar winner (and also UK chart-topping singer) Nicole Kidman.

After this, the mini-album “Strong Love” was released (featuring “Bop Girl Goes Surfing”). In May 1984, the follow-up single, also called “Strong Love”, and a duet with her husband Ross, was released but missed the Top 20, and she wouldn’t make the chart again. Pat is still around though, and there are some videos of her performing “Bop Girl” on stage as recently as a few years ago.

Down The Dumper – The 80s Part 15.

Here’s another pop group who did rather well, but it turned out that they would only have two years at the top, although it was right in the middle of an era when many people feel that we were spoilt with great pop singles, and they were responsible for some of them. Altered Images were a New Wave group that formed in Glasgow in the late-70s, and their frontwoman was Clare Grogan. There was a lot of hype around them and many hoped that they would fulfil their potential.

Their chart career started off rather quietly, but then in September 1981 “Happy Birthday” was released, this reached no. 2 to become their biggest hit single, and probably soundtracked many a birthday party around this time. And Clare appeared on the cover of Smash Hits. They also appeared on every TV pop show going all across Europe it seems, and they always got everybody having a good time. vlcsnap-00471

Also in September 1981, they released the first of their three hit albums, although none of these made the Top Ten. They would go on to have two further Top Ten hit singles, which were “I Could Be Happy” (in December 1981), and “Don’t Talk To Me About Love” (in March 1983), completing a trio of terrific and very memorable songs, that you can still come across on the radio to this day. vlcsnap-00472

By July 1983 (what a month that was) though, when “Love To Stay” was released, this reached only no. 46. This turned out to be their final hit single, as follow-up “Change Of Heart” didn’t even make the Top 75, and it was also around this time that Altered Images split. This wasn’t the last that we were going to hear of some of the members though. Bassist John McElhone went on to be a member of Hipsway (who had a Top 20 hit single in 1986), and Texas, who since the late-80s have had have lots of chart success. vlcsnap-00473

Clare went on to be an actress, and has appeared in various films and TV shows, including EastEnders and Red Dwarf. Although she didn’t go on to have any further chart success by herself or in other groups, in more recent years, Clare has gone on to perform on the nostalgia circuit (sometimes using the Altered Images names), and everyone still likes to hear her big hits and have a party, just like they did all those years earlier.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 16.

The Eurovision Song Contest has now been going for several decades, and it needs little introduction really. I thought that I would take a look back at story of the United Kingdom’s entry one year in the 80s, and I have decided to choose 1983, partly because this is the year that I was born, and also because this was back in the days when the UK still had a half-decent chance of winning.

The success of Bucks Fizz was only a couple of years earlier at this point, could any group be found that could repeat the magic formula? After having to go through the tense process of A Song For Europe, it turned out that Sweet Dreams would represent the UK in West Germany. This was a trio consisting of Bobby, Carrie, and Helen. They had a dance routine and a rather catchy song, because you’ve got to put on a show as well, but would this be enough to win over the judges? vlcsnap-00422

There was also some publicity, and they appeared in a few magazines, where they were rather optimistic about their chances. When the time came, the performance of “I’m Never Giving Up” led to Sweet Dreams finishing in sixth place with 79 points, which was considered to be rather disappointing at the time. The winner turned out to be Luxembourg for the fifth and final time, and they haven’t entered the contest since 1993. sd1

And in April 1983, “I’m Never Giving Up” was released, and reached no. 21. Sweet Dreams didn’t have any more hits after this though, and it is surprising how many Eurovision acts went on to have no further chart success. A while after this, it was announced that they had changed their name to Dreams and were planning to work on some more songs, but this didn’t really happen. vlcsnap-00423

After Sweet Dreams went their separate ways, Carrie went on to have some further success as a TV presenter, including CITV’s mid-80s game show How Dare You! where she had no problem with joining in with all the zaniness, and later on she used her musical expertise to become a judge on BBC1’s Fame Academy, the musical talent show that Pop Idol could’ve been.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 14.

This is someone who had a brief moment of pop music fame in the 80s. Gary Byrd (although this one was actually credited to “Gary Byrd And The GB Experience”, whoever they may be) was an American singer/rapper, and in July 1983 (what a terrific month that was), “The Crown” was released, which reached no. 6 in the UK (but missed the Top 40 in America). Now I think that there are plenty of interesting things about this one.

Firstly, this was a rather long and ambitious song, as Gary tried to cram the story of about 2,000 years of history into almost 11 minutes, meaning that if the lyrics were published in a magazine such as Smash Hits, they would probably fill two or three pages. And there was no video either (although Gary was interviewed on some TV shows), so when this featured on Top Of The Pops, there was a dance routine by Zoo, although this had to be condensed to about three minutes. gb

It would’ve been great if this had been played in full, but it would’ve taken up about a third of the show. And then there was a guest uncredited contribution from Stevie Wonder (who was also the co-writer and producer, and this was even released on his own label in America). This was a time when Stevie seemed to feature on a lot of hit singles (such as Eurythmics’ chart-topper), maybe he decided that he’d play his harmonica for anyone for a decent price.

I imagine that there is also a chance that this is probably the only hit single to reference a slogan for a cassette manufacturer (“is it you or is it Memorex?“). Also among the backing singers was Teena Marie, who had some hit singles of her own, and this was a song with a message worth listening to. Although “The Crown” would be his only hit single in the UK (with no success for any further singles or albums), this wasn’t the last that we would hear of Gary.

After this, he went on to become a presenter on BBC Radio 1 for a few years, and he featured on various shows, including Sweet Inspirations, a late-night show from 1984-1985 that played Gospel music, and this was followed in 1986-1987 by The American Chart Show, where Gary revealed what the biggest hits stateside were, direct from New York.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 7.

This has got to be one of the most unusual hit singles of the 80s, and it also has a rather interesting story. Will Powers was an American singer. But who were they exactly? Well, there was no such person. This was a character who was created by Lynn Goldsmith, better known as a photographer of rock stars. Will Powers (that’s a great pun) was supposed to be a parody of self-help tapes of the “how to get rich instantly!” variety that were popular at the time.

Goldsmith became Powers by having the pitch of her voice altered to make her sound male. In October 1983 “Kissing With Confidence” was released, this reached no. 17, and also featured on the first “Now” album. We were given lots of advice that probably wasn’t supposed to be taken too seriously, such as “practice this chant in the morning as you rise, in the evening as you retire, and just before a date“. This was accompanied by an uncredited vocal from Carly Simon. vlcsnap-00041

I always presumed that this was supposed to be a one-off, but it turns out that there’s much more. There was a whole album of this made called “Dancing For Mental Health”, which featured lots more songs that offered advice on various things accompanied by plinky-plonky music, and also seemed to insist that there was a Will Powers Institute. If we followed the simple instructions, not only would be able to find the path to our own happiness, we would also be able to breathe easier, and probably have smoother trousers too. vlcsnap-00042

I was surprised by how many famous musicians contributed to the album along with Goldsmith, including Nile Rodgers, and Tom Bailey from Thompson Twins. Although there were no further hits, there were some more singles released and videos, including “Smile”, and “Adventures In Success”, which featured some very early computer graphics that would’ve looked fancy in 1983, but now come across as mildly scary. vlcsnap-00039

There was also a variation on the “Adventures In Success” video where various celebrities including Eric Clapton, Holly Johnson, Steve Winwood, and even Arsenal footballer Tony Woodcock were among those praising the institute for the advice that they had offered, claiming to be among the many millions of people around the world now satisfied with who they are. Goldsmith was also interviewed in Record Mirror around this time to explain the idea a little more. vlcsnap-00036

And the video for “Opportunity” featured a woman who had blue hair! Another one! Just when I thought I’d seen them all. I thought that there wouldn’t be any at all, but now there is a surprisingly long list. I’m fairly sure that there were no further albums or singles after this though, and the joke had probably run its course by this point (“Kissing With Confidence” also soundtracked a few adverts), but this was all rather bizarre even by the standards of 80s pop music.

Down The Dumper – The 80s Part 4.

Here’s a look at another pop star whose moment in the spotlight maybe wasn’t as long as they’d hoped for, and this is another interesting story. Mari Wilson was the self-styled “Neasden Queen Of Soul”, and there were pieces in music magazines insisting that she would be the next big thing as early as 1980, the year she released her first single. But it would be a couple more years before she had the success that many had expected.mw124

Mari was known for her very distinctive blonde beehive hairstyle, don’t laugh, it took ages to create. It was as if she had travelled through time from about 20 years earlier. She was also fond of her dresses and jewellery. Her first hit in March 1982 was “Beat The Beat”, but in September 1982 “Just What I Always Wanted” was released and became her first and only Top Ten hit, reaching No. 8. Mari had arrived!vlcsnap-00029

Around this time Mari also appeared on a few magazine covers, including Smash Hits (which was definitely an honour in those days), Melody Maker, and maybe a little more surprisingly, Sounds, which as far as I know around this time was more of a punk rock/heavy metal magazine than the others, so she was an unlikely choice. Maybe like many other people they had simply fallen for her charms. So Mari had now attained a decent level of fame which I’m sure is just what she’d always wan-ted. mw1

Mari would often appear on TV with her rather overstaffed backing group The Wilsations,¬†and she also appeared as a panellist on Pop Quiz. In February 1983 her first album “Showpeople” was released which reached No 24. Would she be able to keep this up? Well, not really. Her only other Top 40 hit was a cover of “Cry Me A River”, and her final hit altogether was in June 1983 when “Wonderful” reached only No. 47, and then that was it, meaning her final chart appearance was less than a year after her big success. vlcsnap-00066

She did remain on the scene for a few years after this though, and by 1986 her look and sound had changed somewhat. She had long since chopped the beehive off and looked almost unrecognisable with much shorter dark hair, and her songs had taken more of a jazz sound. Even this was already well past her chart success though, and the only time you’d be seeing her in a music magazine by this point would be in those “where are they now?”-type articles. vlcsnap-00030

Mari did go on to release many more singles and albums throughout the 80s and 90s, and I imagine that lots of people were fond of her songs, even though you’d be likely to hear only the famous one of them on the radio nowadays. Mari is still out there though, and she must be proud to have played a small part in enhancing what is now considered to be a very exciting era of British pop music.