Down The Dumper – The 80s Part 25.

This is a group that sort-of qualifies for this series, hopefully why will become clear, as they were a one-and-a-very-small-part hit wonder. Martha And The Muffins were a group who formed in the late-70s, fronted by the Toronto-born Martha Johnson. In March 1980, “Echo Beach” was released, and became their first hit single in the UK (under this name at least), making the Top Ten. This was also favourably compared to the B-52’s in a Smash Hits review.

This is a song that is still rather familiar many years on, being frequently played on the radio, and influential too, having been covered and sampled by various artists. in 1987, Toyah released her version of “Echo Beach” to try and revive her career, which didn’t really work, and only ended up earning her a place as a previous entry in this “Down The Dumper” series.

And in August 2009 “Echo Beach” was sampled by MPHO for “Box And Locks”, which made the Top 50. What do you mean you don’t remember that one? Also in March 1980, their album “Metro Music” made the Top 40. But every other single and album release got nowhere on the chart, everything was frustratingly overshadowed by one rather famous song, and by 1982 they had split.

But by 1984, they had sort-of got back together, and they were now renamed M + M (not to be confused with a chocolate, or indeed a rapper who wouldn’t find fame for another 15 years yet). I remember that the Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles always used to specifically note that this stood for “Martha And A Muffin”. And that’s it. There used to be other Muffins, but they’ve gone.

The slight name change was because they were now a duo, consisting of Martha and Mark Gane, who eventually married. In July 1984, their relaunch single “Black Stations White Stations” was released, which had something of a dance feel (and did well on the Billboard Dance Chart), and was about the state of what was being played on the radio. There was also a rather eye-catching video.

The lyrics also referenced “this is 1984“, like many other songs in this year. One online commenter said “I had this on a cassette, and played it until the tape stretched”. Now there’s a compliment, considering your song to be tape-stretchingly brilliant. “Black Stations White Stations” reached no. 46 in the UK, but again further singles didn’t succeed. It was good to discover something different by them though, and by the late-80s, they had become Martha And The Muffins again.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 33.

While I always like to find some of the more curious moments in 80s pop music, I do try and stay away from what can be classed as “novelty” songs, or celebrities having an unlikely attempt as showing off some previously hidden vocal talent (that usually remain hidden), but this one was such a strange idea, that I thought that it would be good to feature this.

In the mid-80s, Michael Jackson was arguably the biggest pop star around, releasing some hugely successful singles and albums, so there seemed to be a lot of other people who were being influenced by his work (for example, there was “Superstar” by Lydia Murdock, which was designed to be an “answer” song to the chart-topping “Billie Jean”, and was just about to the same tune too).

This is another song that sounded similar to “Billie Jean”, although I am not sure if this was being played for laughs or was entirely serious. In this 6½ minute epic, “I’m In Love With Michael Jackson’s Answerphone” gives us the story of a girl called Julie, who is constantly on the phone, and she would like nothing more than to get through and talk to her favourite pop star, but she only ever gets his answerphone message (which I very much doubt was provided by the man himself for this).

Her increasing frustration at not being able to talk to Michael (“oh no, not again!“) means that she goes as far as to try and hire a detective to track him down, but she can’t get through to him either (I presume the joke here is that it is Jim Rockford, and every episode of the TV show The Rockford Files began with his answerphone message). This concludes with a “Thriller”-style section.

What is also notable is the lyric “they say you’re weird“, although this was before “Jacko” (as was) was widely considered to be “weird”, maybe she saw the early signs. Believe it or not, when “I’m In Love With Michael Jackson’s Answerphone” was released in November 1984, this failed to make the Top 100 in the UK, but to discover that such a thing exists at all was just so amusingly odd.

I haven’t been able to find out much about who Julie was exactly, but in some European countries where this was released, she was credited as “Julie B”, and one of the writers was Paul Burnett, the former BBC Radio 1 and Top Of The Pops host. Her only other single was “I Can’t Stand The Pain”, which flopped too, and once again, it would be rather odd if she only ever recorded two songs, but that’s what’s out there. I haven’t been able to find any clips or interviews or anything like that either.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 30.

You should know by now that I am rather fond of 80s pop music, and I am always on the look for some lost gems from that decade. I recently looked at some old singles charts, which helped me to determine if there are any more interesting songs out there, and this is definitely one of them. This is a song that I remember hearing a while back, and I never realised that this was from the 80s until recently.

Laid Back are a Danish duo consisting of Tim and John, who formed in the late-70s. Their first single was released in 1980, and their first album in 1981. But the song that caught my attention was “White Horse”. This features some rather minimal lyrics, including “don’t ride the white horse“, which is supposed to be slang for cocaine use, although they have always denied that this song is about that (many years later, Goldfrapp released a single called “Ride A White Horse”).

By the end, the lyrics change to “ride the white pony“. It seems that a lot of people couldn’t believe that this rather funky song was made by two men from Denmark, not really a country known for pioneering songs in this genre. The rather strange video must’ve helped to give this a boost too. This was also the song that led to their breakthrough in America, when in 1984 “White Horse” topped the Dance Chart, and also reached no. 26 on the Hot 100.

It was said that Prince was very fond of this, and influenced some of his songs around this time. This meant that they were briefly rather big stateside. As for the UK, in March 1984, “White Horse” reached an unofficial no. 90. After a quiet period, they returned in September 1989, when this was given another go, this time in remix form, although this was rather disappointing by comparison.

This version featured so many late-80s dance music clichés that you could almost cross them off as they came along. And it seemed that not too many people did want to dig this, as “White Horse ’89” reached an unofficial no. 81. Their biggest hit single in the UK actually came in the 90s, when in March 1990 “Bakerman” reached no. 44, and this also had a rather unusual video.

I’m fairly sure that around the late-2000s I heard “White Horse” on the radio, and I presumed that this was a new song, but I can’t find any evidence for there being remixes or samples of this on the chart at that time. I’m very pleased to have finally tracked this down. Laid Back have gone on to release many more singles and albums, and they recently celebrated their 40th anniversary together.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 29.

Following on from The Cool Notes who I looked back at recently, here is another group who had plenty of great hits in the soul genre throughout the 80s. The SOS Band (SOS stands for “Sounds Of Success”) are an American group who formed in the late-70s. In July 1980 they had their first UK hit single when “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” reached no. 51, and this was also their first and only Top 40 hit in America.

Their debut album was also released in 1980, but wasn’t a hit here. They returned in February 1983 when “Groovin’ (That’s What We’re Doin’)” reached no. 72. But it was in April 1984 when they had their biggest success. This was when “Just Be Good To Me” reached no. 13. This is a rather great song, and there have been three covers of this that have been hits too (all of them have different titles curiously).

The most famous of these is “Dub Be Good To Me”, which was a chart-topper in 1990, and really is one of the highlights of that year. But there are also the lesser-remembered “Just Be Dub To Me” in 2003, and “Just Be Good To Green” in 2010. Even though these were all in different genres, whatever spin you put on this song, you can’t really fail with this classic.

Next in August 1984 was “Just The Way You Like It”, which reached no. 32. Not long after, their fifth album, also called “Just The Way You Like It”, made the Top 30. They finished off their most successful year in the UK in October when “Weekend Girl” reached no. 51. In 1985, some of their songs featured on “The Artists Volume III”, an album that also included The O’Jays and Kleeer.

They returned in March 1986 with “The Finest”, which reached no. 17 (and stayed there for three consecutive weeks), and this was also their final Top 40 hit single in the UK. This was later to be covered by Richard X as “Finest Dreams”, featuring a new vocal from Kelis, and was to the tune of an old song by The Human League. This was again proof of how some of their songs had endured.

And not long after this, their sixth album “Sands Of Time” reached the Top 20. In July 1986 “Borrowed Love” reached no. 50, and finally in May 1987 “No Lies” reached no. 64. They had kept those 808s working overtime though. The SOS Band released singles and albums for a few more years after this though, their last one being in 1991.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 28.

This is another one of those cases where I heard a song on the radio one day that I really liked. It was fairly obvious that this was from the 80s, and I needed to find out who it was by. The Cool Notes are a British group who formed in the late-70s. The first singles that they released were in a reggae style (or lover’s rock style to be more accurate). Their first album “Down To Earth” was released in 1981, but by the mid-80s they had developed more of a soul sound.

Now you might know that I have always really liked mid-80s soul music, particularly because most of the songs have a rather similar sound. Now I don’t know much about how they were all put together, but most of them featured that “tink-tink-tink” noise that were produced on those synthesizer things that were called 505s or 606s or whatever it was. I can only imagine that these were rather big and expensive equipment at the time, and they probably had to be passed around the various recording studios.

Well it turned out that this song was “You’re Never Too Young” by The Cool Notes, which was released in August 1984 on the Ambient Dance label, and reached no. 42, to become their first hit single in the UK. I would definitely say that this was up there with “(I’ll Be A) Freak For You” by Royalle Delite as one of my favourites from this era, and that really is a compliment. Being pleased to have discovered the answer to this, I then wanted to know more about them.

Their next single in November 1984 was “I Forgot”, which reached no. 63. But 1985 would turn out to be their most successful year. In March “Spend The Night” was released, and reached no. 11 to become their biggest hit single in the UK. This also got them on to Top Of The Pops, and the first volume of “Now Dance”, at a time when “dance” music was still being defined, although there was little doubt that this one would keep you moving all night long.

Next in July was “In Your Car”, which reached no. 13, although they wouldn’t make the Top 40 again after this. In October was “Have A Good Forever”, which reached no. 73, and in November, their second album, also called “Have A Good Forever…” made the lower end of the chart for a couple of weeks. They continued on into 1986, when in May “Into The Motion” reached no. 66, but in September, “Momentary Vision”, which was another good one, could only reach no. 94.

They kept on with the singles though. The final time that The Cool Notes appeared on the chart was in September 1990 when a remix of “Spend The Night” reached no. 84 (a best-of album was released around this time too). Their final single after about 15 years together in 1991 was “Make This A Special Night”. They had joined Stock Aitken Waterman’s “Hit Factory” by this point, but unfortunately their days when they were guaranteed star makers where now behind them, and this collaboration wasn’t a success.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 25.

This is someone who managed to go in and out of favour on a few occasions over the years, but she ended up having an impressive amount of hits that span 13 years. Cyndi Lauper is a rather quirky American singer who came on to the scene in January 1984 with “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, which reached no. 2, and is her biggest hit single in the UK.

And some reason I remember Harry Hill doing an amusing parody of this on his comedy show which seemed to insist that he played one of the instruments on this. Next in March 1984 was “Time After Time”, which reached no. 3, and was a chart-topper in America for two weeks. In March 2002, Distant Soundz released a cover in the Garage genre that I really like too.

It was also around this time that there was supposed to be a rivalry between Cyndi and newcomer Madonna, and you had to come down on one side or the other, although I think that this was mostly exaggerated. In 1984 she won a Grammy, and in 1985 she was among the many contributors to “We Are The World” by USA For Africa, the American equivalent of Band Aid which was a Transatlantic chart-topper.

The next big hit was in September 1986 when “True Colours” reached no. 12 (and this also was a chart-topper in America for two weeks). This was later covered by Phil Collins, but you really know that you’ve made a song that has endured when the video is shown in the wrong ratio in the afternoon on That’s 80s TV or whatever it’s called. Yes.

The next success was in May 1989 when “I Drove All Night”, which was a cover of a Roy Orbison song, reached no. 7. There would be further hits after this, but only 1992’s “The World Is Stone” made the Top 20. By September 1994, Cyndi had decided to do the by now rather overused idea of taking your biggest hit single from a decade earlier and doing a remix to guarantee one final big hit.

But never being someone to do things conventionally, Cyndi had a creative twist on this, and re-recorded her hit with additional lyrics as “(Hey Now) Girls Just Want To Have Fun)”, which also promoted her greatest hits album that was released around the same time. She had yellow hair too! And this did indeed return Cyndi to the Top Ten for the first time in five years, and what also turned out to be the final time. In February 1997, her 17th and final hit single in the UK was “You Don’t Know”, which made the Top 30.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 8.

I’ll start this piece by going on about something I have written a little about before, but I’ll now expand on it. As I have said, in the late-90s, I used to listen to Virgin among other stations. Virgin gained some publicity when Chris Evans left BBC Radio 1 under a cloud and joined as the breakfast slot host (and he eventually bought the radio station too). He also had a posse, a zoo, a bunch of fawning hangers-on, or whatever you want to call them.

One of them was eventually given their own show on Virgin (and they would also appear on TFI Friday). This was Johnny Boy And The Wheels Of Steel, and on weekend evenings, he’d play songs from various genres such as synthpop, funk, disco, and so on, all mostly from the late-70s/early-80s. So this is where I heard lots of famous songs for the first time, about 15 or 20 years after they were hits, and I was very pleased to be introduced to them.

I still associate some of them so closely to the show that they could be a genre in itself, I suppose I could call this one “Johnny Boy Pop”. Examples include “The Sound Of The Crowd” by The Human League, “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” by Indeep, “Knock On Wood” by Amii Stewart, and also this one. Re-Flex (not to be confused with “The Reflex” by Duran Duran), where an English band that formed in 1981, and their frontman was John Baxter. rf1

Their one and only hit “The Politics Of Dancing” (“the politics of ooh feeling good“) was released in January 1984 and reached no. 28 in the UK, and no. 24 in America. They also appeared on Top Of The Pops and were interviewed in Smash Hits, so they achieved what must have been the ambitions of most of the bands around at the time. They also appeared on TV across Europe, and they featured a guy with a mullet playing two keyboards at the same time, which is terrific. vlcsnap-00063

“The Politics Of Dancing” has also featured on the soundtrack of several films, and curiously there were two videos made. I really do like this one, and even now it takes me back to when I heard this for the first time. Re-Flex went on to release some more singles in 1984, including “Praying To The Beat” and “Couldn’t Stand A Day”, but although these did make the Top 100, they weren’t hits. vlcsnap-00060

Their first album, also called “The Politics Of Dancing”, didn’t chart either, and was given 5½/10 when reviewed by Smash Hits. They then went on to work on a second album “Humanication” (and they also collaborated with Sting, but please don’t hold that against them), but this wasn’t released, and Re-Flex split shortly after. The album did eventually come out 25 years later. They really are a great example of an 80s one-hit wonder.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 6.

You might be starting to notice that most of the acts that are being featured in this particular series are women that have rather big hair, but you should know by now that I am rather fond of that in 80s pop stars. And I think that the story of this song is interesting, not only because I like it of course, but also because it was the launchpad for someone else’s pop career to take off.

Fonda Rae is an American singer from New York, she came on to the scene with her first single in 1982, the rather oddly-titled “Over Like A Fat Rat”, which is one way to get yourself noticed. Fonda was also a member of Kid Creole’s group The Coconuts, although I’m not sure if she featured on their big hits in the early-80s like “Annie I’m Not Your Daddy”, if she did then technically she’s not a one-hit wonder, but now I’ve come this far, I’m going to continue, so there. fr4

In October 1984 her single “Tuch Me” was released on the Streetwave label. I’m not sure what the curious misspelling is about, and I’ve also seen this one credited to “Wish Featuring Fonda Rae” and titled “Touch Me (All Night Long)”, but as it was just called “Tuch Me” when it appeared on the UK singles chart, that’s what I’ll go with. I’m not sure how much publicity there was at the time, and I’ve been unable to find a video. fr2

However, there was a review of this one in No. 1 magazine, along with the lyrics. After the reviewer had finished giggling about “Over Like A Fat Rat”, and also briefly getting Fonda mixed up with Shannon, another American singer who was having some success around this time with some great songs including “Let The Music Play”, he concluded that “Tuch Me” was “another tasty steal”. I presume that’s a good thing. Honestly, these people and their strange phrases. fr1

“Tuch Me” only reached no. 49 in the UK, although it did spend four weeks on the chart, and it wasn’t a hit in America at all, although it did make the R & B Chart. There is a version of this one that is almost ten minutes long, and it’s a great listen. And in 1985 this was also featured in the film A Nightmare On Elm Street 2. But Fonda would have no further hits. This isn’t where the story ends though. fr3

In 1991, “Touch Me (All Night Long)” was covered by Cathy Dennis (with some reworked lyrics), and this went on to be her first and also biggest hit in the UK, and I was very pleased because Cathy went on to be one of my favourite pop stars from this era. I don’t know much about what happened to Fonda after her brief success, but her moment of fame is still a mid-80s dancefloor classic.

Down The Dumper – The 80s Part 10.

This is a group that I have already done two pieces about, but as they qualify for this series, I thought that I would take a closer look at the story behind this single. The Belle Stars started out in 1979 as The Bodysnatchers, they had some minor success before changing their name and line-up in 1981, and after a few releases, they hit the big time in 1983 with “Sign Of The Times”.

Their following singles didn’t do as well, but it was thought that there would still be a lot of people eager to discover what their next move would be. In June 1984 “80s Romance” was released, which was to planned to be the first idea of what they would have to come on their second album. Barely a year on from their Top Ten hit though, it all went rather wrong for the stylish septet.

The video for this one is rather curious. The first two minutes or so consist of a look behind the scenes, showing how everything was put together. There’s also a reference to Canary Wharf which I thought was rather odd as that hadn’t yet been built in 1984. But then I remembered that’s what the actual area of London is (which was still barely developed at the time), the building is actually called 1 Canada Square, unless they could see five years into the future.

The video continues with the behind the scenes look, and there are lots of clapperboards and cameras in shot and the like, along with a dance routine that they couldn’t do properly, with one letter each of “romance” painted on their T-shirts, along with some terrific lyrics like “this is 80s romance/textbooks in our pockets/mud on our faces!” (well I think that’s right).

The combination of all this didn’t go down very well though. Smash Hits were rather harsh about this one by their standards, saying “a weak melody and some godawful lyrics”, while Record Mirror went even further, simply saying “horrible record”. Oh dear. “80s Romance” reached a very disappointing no. 71, work stopped on the new album, and The Belle Stars split very shortly after.

But that wasn’t the end just yet, as The Belle Stars returned in 1986, but now as a trio, with something of a different look and sound, and they had lost so many members that the saxophonist was reassigned as the drummer. Unfortunately despite their new single “World Domination” being rather good, nobody was bothered by this point, and what was left of The Belle Stars split for good.

After going their separate ways, most of them also left the music business altogether, and apart from a best-of, the only work under The Belle Stars name since was a brief tour of the nostalgia circuit in the early-2000s, that seemed to consist of three random women, and there is currently no active version of the group, not even performing “Sign Of The Times” down the pub or anything.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 3.

I am stretching the rules a little for this piece, because this is a group whose biggest success didn’t actually make the Top 75, and indeed it barely made the Top 100 (and this is back in the days when the 76-100 positions weren’t considered to be “official” as such on the singles chart), but once again I found their story interesting enough to feature. You might remember a while ago now when I went mildly giddy whilst reminiscing about Shakespear’s Sister. Well they weren’t the only group that formed in the 80s to feature a member of Bananarama!

The Shillelagh Sisters were a group that formed in 1983, and they are notable for their singer and frontwoman being Jacquie O’Sullivan, whose connection to Bananarama at this point was appearing with the other members in the video to “Who’s That Girl” by Eurythmics. This was a group whose songs had something of a country/rockabilly sound, featuring the double bass and saxophone along with guitars. tss1

They had a rather distinctive look that consisted of dungarees, big boots, and lumberjack shirts. Jacquie also had a rather striking hairstyle that featured waist-length plaits. They were grouped into a rather short-lived genre of female-fronted rockabilly-style groups that were around at the time, that also included The Boothill Foot Tappers and Yip Yip Coyote. tss3

Their first single was a cover of “Give Me My Freedom” which was released in April 1984, and this received plenty of promotion. They did a session for John Peel on the radio, appeared on Channel 4’s The Tube, did some music magazine interviews including NME‘s “Portrait Of The Artist As A Consumer” column, and there was also a video made. You could even by the single on a shamrock-shaped picture disc. tss2

But all of this didn’t get too many people that excited unfortunately, as “Give Me My Freedom” reached only No. 100. In August 1984, “Passion Fruit” was released as their second single, which was notable for the B-side being a cover of “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, but this fared even worse, not making the Top 100 at all, and not long after this, The Shillelagh Sisters went their separate ways. vlcsnap-00044

We would be hearing from Jacquie again of course, when she joined Bananarama in 1988, and featured on some Top 10 hits, meaning that she did finally have some chart success. She then left in 1991, and after this worked on some other projects including rejoining The Shillelagh Sisters, and also forming a new group called Slippry Feet, which she must’ve hoped would give her more of a chance to express herself. vlcsnap-00043

But instead of coming anywhere near Shakespear’s Sister’s chart-topping success, Jacquie (who has her 60th birthday soon!) would have no such luck with any of her post-Bananarama albums and singles, and she disappeared off the scene altogether not long afterwards, and has barely been heard of since, although she has had further success away from the music business.