Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 48.

Let’s go back to the 80s once again. There isn’t really a huge amount to say about this one, which unfortunately failed to cause much of a sensation on the chart, but I liked this, so again I thought that I might as well. Stephany (who mustn’t be confused with Stephanie, another singer on the pop scene in the mid-80s who I think I’m right in saying is Grace Kelly’s daughter) is a singer.

I couldn’t find out that much biographical information about her, but on the basis that the address of her personal website ends in “.it”, I will presume that because of this top-class detective work she is from Italy. In March 1984, her first single “Shame” was released in the UK, which apparently was hot on the radio and the dancefloors at the time.

I am not usually a huge fan of this kind of music from across the continent, but this was one of the catchiest songs in what is supposed to be in the Italo-House genre (and it is rather remarkable to think of how much that part of Europe helped dance music to develop throughout the 80s). I have also found a couple of TV performances of “Shame”.

I particularly enjoyed the one on a show called Xenon Disco, mostly because there were pink and blue neon flashing lights everywhere, which always reminds me of Top Of The Pops in its heyday. This one also required her to make some squeaking noises, which was rather good. It turns out that “Shame” wasn’t really a big success in the UK though, reaching a rather lowly (and unofficial) no. 157.

She did go on to release a few more singles in the mid-80s (although I am not aware of any of them being released in this country). In 1984 there was “Broken Heart”, “Oh! Che Calor” in 1985, and finally “Don’t Let Me Down” in 1986. I have seen the video for this, and I must admit that this was a slice of Europop that was too cheesy even for my taste. You could say that was an, er… shame.

But it was good seeing her again, although “Shame” will always be my favourite of hers. I don’t think that she got as far as releasing any albums, and her pop career had ended by the late-80s. Trying to work out what she has done in the years (and indeed decades) since, I did find a clip of her on TV as a host around the time of Italia ’90, and she does seem to have something of a social media presence.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 47.

Here is another group who didn’t make the big time in the 80s, but they released some good singles that should’ve been more successful. Savage Progress were a British group who formed in the early-80s, but the only year that they made the chart was in 1984. Even at a time when a lot of groups were trying to offer something a little different, they managed to stand out.

In March 1984 “My Soul Unwraps Tonight” was released, which was notable for having some rather unusual lyrics, and I would definitely have to say that this is my favourite single of theirs. One critic said “it stands in mood and effect almost at opposite ends of the spectrum from say Big Country and The Alarm. Very likable”. The video was rather eye-catching too.

However, this didn’t make the Top 100 in the UK. and some consider this to be one of the better songs from this era that didn’t succeed. They did try again though, when in June 1984 “Heart Begins To Beat” was released. Again, critics seemed to approve, and one said “a quirky synth based dance track with melodramatic keyboards and a trebly, twanging bass and sharp insistent vocals”.

But this failed to make the Top 100 as well. They had one last attempt in August 1984 when “Burning Bush” was released. One critic said “a sparkling synthesizer based dance track with its vibrant rhythms, and calm haunting vocal that gives overall a mystical sound”. This was their most successful single in the UK, reaching an unofficial no. 83, but this still wasn’t high enough to be a hit.

They did do better in some other countries though. They reached the Top 20 in Germany, and they made several appearances on music TV shows in that country. Their only album “Celebration” also failed to make the chart in 1984. And they supported Tina Turner and Thompson Twins on tour, and had one of their concerts broadcast on BBC Radio 1.

But despite these rather high profile appearances, they just couldn’t achieve the success that was hoped for them, and by the mid-80s Savage Progress had split. Some of the members went on to work on various other musical projects, but I don’t think that they have ever got back together in the years since, partly because their singer has now left the music business.

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.

Update: I have recently found out that Laid Back did actually (sort of) make the Top 40 in the UK, when “White Horse” was sampled on American singer Monifah’s “Touch It”, which was released in January 1999, and reached no. 29.

Another update: I have now out that in April 2006, a group called Wonderland Avenue released a cover of “White Horse”, which reached only an unofficial no. 126. This is rather faithful to the original, it could be possible that it was this version that I heard on the radio back at that time.

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.