Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 41.

When I was taking a look at some singles charts from the 80s, I was hoping to discover some more interesting stories worth sharing. This is a group who I was attracted to, and it turns out that there is a rather odd coincidence. The first thing that caught my attention was their video, which featured some Pop Art and comic book-style imagery mixed in with some live action, and I’ve always liked things like that.

The group are rather interesting too. Perils Of Plastic were a British duo who formed in 1984, consisting of Steve and Steve. Now Steve (not that Steve, the other Steve) was best-known for being a keyboardist, who had worked with various people, including Elvis Costello. While Steve (not that Steve, the other Steve) was the singer, who had also been a member of various groups, including Deaf School. Now wait a moment, there’s a name that I’ve seen before.

When I did my piece on the career of Bette Bright, who had a minor hit in 1980, and went on to marry Madness frontman Suggs, I said she had been one of the singers with Deaf School back in the mid-70s. Their other singer was rather suave, he had a moustache, and was known as Enrico Cadillac. Well it turns out that Enrico and Steve are one and the same, and I was really surprised, I hadn’t realised that you could get from Perils Of Plastic to Bette Bright in only one step. By this point Steve had ditched the moustache though.

Their debut single “Ring A Ding Ding” was released in March 1986. The critics seemed to be rather fond of this. One said “a classy soul-pop pastiche whose throwaway chorus is fiendishly catchy”, while another said “its offbeat charm and involved backing and soulful vocals could give it a respectable chart position”, and others were positive too.

As far the video that I enjoyed, I wondered if I could find any information about who the animators were, or who the director was at least, although we were informed that “Amanda’s dress was designed by Eloise Blot of Dorking”. It turns out that the director was John Gordon-Sinclair, better known as an actor. The single’s cover is also interesting, with a Roy Lichtenstein-style image which says “POP!” (also the initials of the group), changed from the original “POW!”. There was another cover released later simply featuring a picture of the two Steves, so I don’t know if there was any trouble there.

“Ring A Ding Ding” originally reached an unofficial no. 119. But there was a second wave of interest in May 1986, after this was featured on the Hits 4 compilation album (but curiously only on the VHS version, not the actual disc), and the video was also shown on an early edition of Channel 4’s The Chart Show, leading to a new peak of an unofficial no. 108. It must’ve been rather disappointing not to make the Top 100, although I do know that “Ring A Ding Ding” went on to become the 784th biggest-selling single of 1986 in the UK (I haven’t made that up).

I’m fairly sure that this didn’t make the chart in any other countries though. After this, two more singles were released, 1986’s “Womanhood”, and 1987’s “The Love I Love”, but neither of these made the chart either, and I don’t think that there were videos made for them. It seems that there was an album planned at one point, but this wasn’t released, and not long after, Perils Of Plastic were no longer a happening thing.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 21.

Well would you believe it, you wait for me to do a piece looking back at a young female American singer known by a six-letter mononym ending in “A” who had one minor hit in the UK with a single that begins with the word “Baby” in early-1986, who some claimed “could’ve been bigger than Madonna”, and then two (almost) come along at once.

Alisha (not the one who had an attic of course!) began her pop music career in the mid-80s, while she was still a teenager, and her first single “All Night Passion” was released in America in 1984. But her first real success was with “Baby Talk”. This was released in the UK in January 1986, and went on to spend two consecutive weeks at no. 67 (also her only two weeks on the chart in this country).

This was described by one critic at the time as “simple lyrics appealing to mass audiences”, which I think is supposed to be something of a compliment. “Baby Talk” also went on to top the Dance Chart in America, but maybe surprisingly, this only reached no. 68 on the Hot 100, one place lower than in the UK. There was a video made for this though.

And I also found a performance of this on the TV show TopPop, where everybody in the studio was suddenly in the mood to dance, although that’s probably because this was a piece of Freestyle Electro, whatever that is. It does sound good though. Also around this time, her debut album “Alisha” was released, and although this was rather well-received, this didn’t make the chart.

Although her brief moment of fame in the UK was over, Alisha continued to release more singles and albums in America. Her second album “Nightwalkin'” was released in 1987, and her third “Bounce Back” was released in 1990. It was at this point when she had her biggest chart success, when the single, also called “Bounce Back”, reached no. 59. But she never really hit the big time, and not long after, she left the music industry.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 20.

This is another singer who briefly found fame on the chart in the mid-80s. Regina is a singer from New York, and she had already been in the music business for many years by the time of her hit. She had previously been in a band called Regina Roberts And Red Hot, who had released a single or two as early as 1980, although they weren’t successful.

By the mid-80s, they had split, and she had been working as a songwriter. When one of her songs had been turned down by others, she decided that she might as well record this herself, which turned out to be a rather good move for her. “Baby Love” (not to be confused with The Supremes song of course) featured backing vocals from Siedah Garrett.

There was also a video made for this, and Regina performed this on a few TV shows too. “Baby Love” topped the Dance Chart, and made the Top Ten of the Hot 100 in America, although this would be her only hit. In February 1986, “Baby Love” was released in the UK (on the Funkin’ Marvellous label) but reached only no. 50, and she had no more hits in this country either.

But she did go on to release some more singles, including “Head On” and Sentimental Love”, but along with her only solo album “Curiosity”, these didn’t make the chart, and she had just about vanished from the music scene by the late-80s. And once again we have another example of one of those “she could’ve been bigger than Madonna”-type singers who simply couldn’t live up to the expectation.

But when I came across “Baby Love” for the first time recently, when trying to find some more interesting stories about 80s pop music, I couldn’t help but feel that somehow I had actually heard this before somewhere. And that’s because in October 1991 Dannii Minogue, who was still in the early days of her pop career, released a cover version that I do remember from first time round.

This version did make the Top 20 in the UK, and it was good to know that this did finally have some success on the chart, even if it took about five years, and this performed even better than in Dannii’s home country of Australia (where this reached no. 26 in February 1992). I don’t know much about what Regina has been up to in more recent years, but her moment of fame was definitely an enjoyable one.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 31.

Recently I came across some YouTube accounts that featured various clips from 80s European music shows, including Musikladen Eurotops (The Chart Show also gave us a taste of what songs were popular on the continent with The Euro Chart, which I am fairly sure lasted just one edition). As I am always keen to discover interesting things from this decade, I thought that I would take a look at some of the videos because, law of averages, there should be at least one song that would stand out and would be rather great.

Most of what I watched were Europop songs that even I thought were rather cheesy, but there was indeed one that I did like, and even though probably nobody can ever remember them from the time (well I certainly wasn’t aware of them until recently), I thought that I might as well do a piece and give them their moment in the spotlight all these years on.

My Favourite Toys were a synthpop duo from Berlin in Germany (or West Germany as I suppose it would’ve been back then), consisting of singer Mirjam, and Martin, who played the keyboards, and various other things that made some rather nice plinky-plonky noises, and he had a hairstyle that looked right out of A Flock Of Seagulls of some such group.

Their first single “Just One Kiss” was released in 1985, but it was their second single “Life Of A Toy” that caught my attention, as this is exactly the kind of thing that I like from this era. What surprised me is that the lyrics are in English, because I’m fairly sure that this wasn’t released in this country, which is a disappointment, because if it was, I’m sure this would’ve done rather well.

The video also featured some nice visual effects, but as I can find no other clips of them, this could the only TV appearance that they ever made. And shortly after releasing their second and final single, My Favourite Toys split. Once again, it seems that there was no album, and they can’t really have only ever recorded two songs, but apart from some remixes of this, there seems to be nothing else out there.

But it’s always great to find more songs from 1986 that are just how I like them, I definitely don’t think that the late-80s was a terrible time for pop music! I’m fairly sure that “Life Of A Toy” never made the chart in any country either, and I have no idea what the two members have been up to in the years since this, but I’m pleased to have discovered this.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 22.

This is a British group who became famous in the late-80s, and sum up that era of pop music to me more than most. Part of the reason that Curiosity Killed The Cat succeeded with people was because of their singer, the man who they call Benedict Volpeliere-Pierrot. He was was known for often wearing a beret-style hat, and for his rather bendy-legged dancing.

Before this, Ben was a model and had appeared in a few adverts in those weekly magazines for girls (Jackie, My Guy, Patches, Blue Jeans, there really were too many of them, weren’t there), and he also appeared on the cover of Mike’s Big Super Pop Game or whatever it was called. In September 1986, their first single “Misfit” was released. Now few people seem to believe this, but it really is true.

The video for “Misfit” was directed by Andy Warhol, who was a fan. He died not long after this (but it wasn’t “from shame” as some people have tried to claim), surprisingly though, this only reached no. 76. In December 1986, “Down To Earth” reached no. 3, to become their first hit single. This was followed in April 1987 by “Ordinary Day” reaching no. 11.

And not long after, their album “Keep Your Distance” was a chart-topper for two weeks. In June 1987, it was decided to give “Misfit” another go, as this just had to be a hit, and this time reached a much more satisfying no. 7. There’s no doubt that Curiosity Killed The Cat were one of the hottest bands around at this time. Proof of this was that they were great for Smash Hits.

They appeared on the cover, their interviews were entertaining, and Ben’s name was always spelt wrong (the ultimate honour in pop music was having your name deliberately misspelt in Smash Hits, that was proof that you’d made it). Around this time, Ben also appeared in an advert for Philips, where it seemed that if you played “Misfit” on their fancy new machine, he really would jump out of the screen at you.

In September 1987 “Free” only reached no. 56, although the album had been milked for singles by now. There was change to come. In September 1989, they returned, and “Name And Number” reached no. 14. This was also an influence on De La Soul’s 1991 hit “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)”, and Little Mix’s 2013 hit “How Ya Doin'”. But in November 1989, their second album “Getahead” didn’t do as well as expected.

After another break, they returned in April 1992, under the shortened name of Curiosity, and the line-up had just about reached the “Ben and some blokes” point by now. Their cover of Johnny Bristol’s 1974 hit “Hang On In There Baby” reached no. 3, surprisingly taking them back into the Top Ten for the first time in almost five years. The follow-up singles failed to make the Top 40 though, and by the end of 1993, it really was all over.

Great Moments In Pop – The 70s Part 5.

This is another American group, who had some hits that can be described as rather “zany”. The B-52’s formed in Georgia in the mid-70s, the main core consisting of Fred, along Kate and Cindy, and their rather remarkable hairstyles. They had their first hit single in the UK in August 1979 when “Rock Lobster” was released, which reached no. 37.

This is a song that has become better known in more recent years for being parodied in an episode (or two) of Family Guy. The 80s were actually a rather quiet period for them. They only had three hit singles in the UK, two of which didn’t make the Top 40, which was rather disappointing as 1983’s “(Song For A) Future Generation” is among their highlights for me.

In May 1986 “Rock Lobster” was re-released (and paired with “Planet Claire”), and this time reached no. 12, a 25-place improvement on seven years earlier. It’s a shame that 1987’s “Wig” wasn’t a hit at all, because they performed this on CITV’s Hold Tight! It wasn’t really until the early-90s that they hit the big time though, already over a decade into their career.

In March 1990 “Love Shack” was released, which reached no. 2 (and stayed there for three weeks), and this was also their first Top Ten hit single in America. Folks were lining up outside just to buy this, probably. And once again, this falls right into the “you either like this or find this immensely irritating” category, but I’m sure that this did get many a party started at the time.

Next in May 1990 was “Roam”, which reached no. 17 in the UK, and this was also their second and final Top Ten hit single in America. Their next big hit was in June 1992 when “Good Stuff” reached no. 21. About five years later, this was used as the theme to Carlton’s entertainment guide show, which had the same name, and was briefly hosted by Davina McCall.

Their last wave of fame came in July 1994 when “(Meet) The Flintstones” reached no. 3 (and stayed there for three weeks as the chart just about ground to a halt behind Wet Wet Wet during that summer). This was on the soundtrack to the first live-action film of The Flintstones, and they even briefly changed their name to The BC-52’s for this.

However, after about 15 years of making songs like this, some felt that they were beginning to fizzle out, and their zany routine was becoming tired. Indeed, their final appearance on the UK chart was in January 1999 when “Love Shack” reappeared at the lower end for one week. The B-52’s have also released seven albums, and some best-ofs, a later one was described by one critic as “a cure for nostalgia” (surely such a thing is not possible…), plus several tours.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 20.

A while ago I looked back at the earliest days of The Chart Show on Channel 4, which is one of my favourite music TV shows. This was when they played a lot of music videos, although very few of them actually got anywhere near the chart, and the irony wasn’t lost on me. I found one of the songs featured curious enough to do a more detailed review.

A lot of people who have appeared regularly in soaps have then gone on to have successful pop music careers. But oddly, it seems that people who appeared in Australian soaps have done better on the chart in this country than the British ones. EastEnders launched in 1985, and this was soon attracting huge interest and ratings. Finally, BBC1 had a soap that could rival Coronation Street.

By 1986, a lot of the now rather famous cast decided to have a go at being pop stars, and some of them did better than others. Letitia Dean and Paul Medford made the Top 20, Anita Dobson made the Top Ten, and somehow, Nick Berry had a chart-topper. And along with them, but I’m not really sure why, also in 1986, Tom Watt released a single.

Tom became known for playing Lofty, who people seemed to always get mixed up with Curly in Coronation Street, who was a similarly glasses-wearing character who was better known by a nickname. And he decided to do a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. Well of course. This was accompanied by a rather strange video, that did appear on The Chart Show.

It would seem that Tom had some rather high-profile musical friends, as the video featured appearances by some members of New Order and The Fall. It must’ve been good to have their endorsement, but the sight of people including Bernard Sumner and Brix Smith watching on baffled as Tom mumbled on about how the pump don’t work cos the vandals broke the ‘andles and then did a dance was something.

I do hope that this was played rather regularly down his local pub The Queen Victoria, but despite all of this, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was nowhere being a hit, and Tom’s pop career ended there. I hope he wasn’t jealous of Nick’s success. After leaving EastEnders, Tom has done various things, including being the host of a football show on radio station TalkSport that I used to listen to for a while.

The YouTube Files – 35 Years Of The Chart Show.

This piece is late because the actual 35th anniversary was in April, but I wanted to take another look back at The Chart Show, as some of the earliest editions turned up online recently. The Chart Show was originally shown on Channel 4 on Friday afternoons, and famously had no hosts, with everything being introduced by computer graphics that were impressive for the time (Top Of The Pops launched their first computer-generated opening sequence around the same time, I wonder if it was a response to this, or a coincidence).

It is always interesting seeing the early days of a show before it is properly defined and settles down into a regular format, and it is clear from these editions that there were too many charts mixed in with some bizarre choices for exclusive videos, although at least it gave some lesser-known acts their three minutes of TV fame. At this point as well as the familiar Heavy Metal (later Rock), Indie, and Dance Charts, there is much more.

These include the Reggae Chart, and the Euro Singles Chart, which featured the biggest hits across Europe, including Sandra, a German singer who never really found fame in the UK, and Stephanie (“is this a duff video or what?”). Then there’s the Compact Disc Chart (albums sold on CD) and The Music Video Chart (compilations of videos and concerts released on VHS). vlcsnap-00010

Then there was the UK Hits In The USA Chart, featuring some successful acts during what was called “The Second British Invasion”. One played was “Addicted To Love” by Robert Palmer that was indeed a chart-topper in America (“can you believe the follow-up to this video is just as bad!”), which in the final edition on ITV in 1998 was rather oddly claimed to be the first video ever shown, when it was actually about halfway through the fourth edition (that honour goes to “What You Need” by Inxs).

And then there was the Network Album Chart, and The Chart File (later Chart File Update), which once featured Cherry Bombz, a rock group fronted by Anita, who used to be in Toto Coelo. Er, yes. The exclusive videos (called Video Reveal at this point) were a rather odd mix, including “World Domination” by The Belle Stars (“these girls used to be shy until they started using hair gel”), the failed attempt to reinvent themselves as a trio (that doesn’t even feature on their best-of).

And there was even Tom Watt (who was best-known at the time as Lofty off EastEnders) and his baffling take on Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, where we are informed that “members of The Fall and New Order appear in this vid” and “a big hi to Dick Robins from all at The Chart Show!”. No idea what this was all about, but I’m sure it went down well at his local The Queen Vic.

The show didn’t conclude with The Top Ten, but The Network Chart, showing us some of the hits currently on the up (and not using the official chart like Top Of The Pops did), and The Chart Race, where you had to write in and predict where a few songs would enter the chart. Add to all this the famous video recorder-style graphics, some sludgy-green captions, and the HUD that told us facts that wasn’t on the screen long enough and almost impossible to read anyway.

And then, in June 1986, after barely two months, The Chart Show was rather abruptly cancelled by Channel 4, and replaced by Rewind. Wait, what? Well, there was a return eventually of course, but lots of ideas tried out in the early days were dropped quickly, with the majority of the extra charts featured gone by the end of 1986, and the more familiar format that would run for another 12 years began to take shape.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 8.

This is a group that never had a hit single in the UK, but here’s the story of how I discovered them. A while ago, I was watching some music videos on YouTube. I noticed that some various clips of Countdown had been put online. But this isn’t the game show, it’s the Australian music show that ran in the 70s and 80s, and was essentially that country’s equivalent of Top Of The Pops, so it was the place where you wanted to be seen if you were a pop star.

I decided to look at some Top Tens, because I didn’t know much about that country’s pop chart history, or how many British acts had done well enough to become popular Down Under, and I thought that it would also be an opportunity to discover some Australian acts. I chose to look at some from 1986, because as you might know by now, the pop culture of that year fascinates me possibly more than any other. vlcsnap-00201

I noticed a song on one chart that was only played for about ten seconds, but I did like the sound of it, so I decided to find it in full, and also find out more about the group’s story. I’m Talking were an Australian group that formed in 1983, and had something of a pop-funk sound. Their lead singer was Kate Ceberano, who was joined in 1984 by London-born Zan Abeyratne. I presumed that they were a female duo (and of course I am rather fond of them), but it seems that they were a full group, with a saxophonist and everything. vlcsnap-00204

They had a few hits, including a cover of “Love Don’t Live Here Any More”, but it was “Do You Wanna Be” that really caught my attention. I’m Talking had three Top Ten hits in Australia, and this was their most successful one, reaching no. 8 in May 1986. And their album “Bear Witness” also did well. I was surprised to discover that there was also something of an attempt to break them in the UK. vlcsnap-00205

In 1986 “Do You Wanna Be” was their first and only single to be released in this country (and was even advertised in Smash Hits). This was accompanied by a Stock/Aitken/Waterman remix, and they also supported Five Star on their tour. This wasn’t a hit though, no further singles were released, and I’m Talking split in 1987. After this, Ceberano went on to have further success in Australia with a solo career, including lots more hit singles, and 17 albums. it1

And would you believe it, not so long ago, Ceberano and Abeyratne got back together over three decades on to do it all over again, and perform some of their best-known songs on stage, I presume that the saxophone had to be dusted off first, but it seems that all of this was well received. If you’re not familiar with I’m Talking, I would definitely recommend them.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 7.

This is a look back at a famous song from the 80s that I am fond of because it has always been rather familiar to me. Paul Hardcastle had been a pioneering producer who worked with various groups. In May 1985 he suddenly hit the big time when “19” was a chart-topper for five weeks. His only other Top Ten hit was in February 1986 with “Don’t Waste My Time” (featuring a guest performance from Carol Kenyon, best known for Heaven 17’s “Temptation”).

Both are memorable and good songs, but they’re not the one that stands out to me. Over the years, various songs that have been used as the theme to Top Of The Pops have also been released as singles, including “Yellow Pearl”. In 1986, it was time for yet another of the occasional relaunches, which they seemed to be rather fond of, as things went in and out of fashion. The new theme music that was introduced was Hardcastle’s “The Wizard”. vlcsnap-00171

This would be used rather frequently, and it seems that there was enough interest for this to be released as a single, so in October 1986 this was. This meant that the video was shown, and then there was the rather odd situation when after this entered the chart of Hardcastle’s performance of this in the studio even though it was being played all the time anyway, but this did give us a chance to hear a longer version. The things he could do with a keyboard. vlcsnap-00173

Also featuring was a vocal part, that was voiced by Geoffrey Bayldon, who was probably best-known for Catweazle, I’m not really sure of the story of how he ended up on this one though. “The Wizard” reached no. 15, and turned out to be Hardcastle’s final UK Top 40 hit single. As the years went by, several variations and remixes were used, and this was also used as the theme to the short-lived American version that launched in 1987. vlcsnap-00170

Even when I hear this now, I still think of the opening sequence with the exploding saxophones and everything, which I do enjoy. This even survived the next relaunch in 1989. But as the cycle of time goes on, after 5½ years of loyal service, in 1991 this was replaced as the theme, as it had began to sound as dated as its predecessor. Hardcastle do go on to have some more minor hits going into the late-80s.