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.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 4.

Here’s an attempt to create a piece out of just about nothing, I might as well. Recently I reviewed Sky Trax, which was shown in the early days of satellite TV. Also among the music shows on Sky in the 80s was The Eurochart Top 50, featuring the biggest hits from across the continent. When I like to find out more about pop groups, I look for their single releases and TV appearances beyond the UK in countries like America and Australia, rather than across Europe.

I suppose that the main reason for this is rather obviously the language barrier. But I have noticed that there were several pop music shows across Europe in the 80s where there was a chance to perform the latest single, including TopPop in the Netherlands, and Musikladen in Germany. I must admit that I don’t really know that much about European pop music from this era, such as who were chart-toppers in various countries and so on.

So when I was watching a performance online from The Eurochart Top 50, I came across a song by someone that really caught my attention, and it’s still great to be discovering interesting people all these years on. This was from 1986. Now I try not to overanalyse these things, but I am rather fascinated with pop music and pop culture as a whole indeed from this year. I’m not really sure why, but this was the time of my earliest memories, when I was beginning to discover the world around me, maybe I presumed that everything was like this. vlcsnap-00055

The singer was Justine, who had a really striking look, even when compared to some of the rather extrovert pop stars that I have come across from this era. Her look featured waist-length plaited hair, along with lots of jewellery, brightly-coloured fingernails, and a rather small sparkly dress. The song was a rather nice piece of synthpop called “Hurt By You”, and there was a dance routine and everything. I really did want to discover more about her and took up the challenge. Was she Danielle’s long-lost sister? Well, maybe not. vlcsnap-00056

Where did she come from? Where did she get her look from? And the result is that there is just about no additional information at all about her online. “Hurt By You” was her only single, and the B-side was “Where Is The Hero”. These featured on the 7″ version, and the 12″ version featured the extended editions of these songs, that were both about seven minutes long. It seems that this was only released in the Netherlands, and I can’t find any evidence of this making the chart, or if she was actually Dutch. vlcsnap-00061

“Hurt By You” wasn’t released in the UK, meaning that we never had the opportunity to see her do her thing on Top Of The Pops, or have her single reviewed in Smash Hits, where I’m sure that it would’ve been described as “hip” and “fandabidozi” or whatever the trendy words were at the time. The sleeve of the single features Justine and her distinctive look, and it seems to be literally the only picture of her online. I can’t find a music video either. She released no more singles, but she can’t have ever recorded only two songs! vlcsnap-00058

For all I know, her appearance on The Eurochart Top 50 could’ve been the only time she was ever on TV. Well whoever she was, this is a rare case of me being left with more questions and answers, she is someone who really can be described as mysterious! How curious. I’m sure that if she’s still out there she’ll be pleased that I thought about her four minutes of fame almost 35 years on though. She could have grandchildren for all I know by now. Why wasn’t she huge across Europe and everywhere else in 1986.

Down The Dumper – The 80s Part 8.

It’s time for another look back at a pop group whose fame in the 80s turned out to be rather short-lived. Nu Shooz were an American group that formed as early as the late-70s, consisting of John Smith and Valerie Day, who were also married. They weren’t the only husband-and-wife duo who had some chart success in the 80s though. There were also many others including Timbuk 3, Womack And Womack, and is this another opportunity to go on about The Techno Twins again? Well, I suppose it is!

Nu Shooz had released singles and albums as long ago as 1982, but it wasn’t until May 1986 that they had their first (and biggest) chart success in the UK when “I Can’t Wait” was released, which reached No. 2 (it reached No. 3 in America). They also performed this on various shows including Razmatazz and Top Of The Pops, which were definitely the places that you would want to be seen on TV in those days. The rather nonsensical video must’ve given it a boost too. I don’t think they had any magazine covers though. vlcsnap-00048

“I Can’t Wait” was been covered and sampled on several occasions. Over 15 years later, in April 2002 a cover that had a UK Garage reworking was the second and final hit single for Ladies First, which reached No. 19. Now I’m usually sceptical when big hits are covered in rather different musical genres, but I was rather fond of this one, because as you’ll discover when this series reaches the 2000s, I was a really big fan of the UK Garage movement and I thought that it was all rather exciting. But this one isn’t the main focus of this piece of course.vlcsnap-00047

In June 1986, their third album (but only hit in the UK) “Poolside” was released, which reached No. 32. This means that it didn’t sell a huge amount, but I’m sure that the people who did buy it enjoyed listening to it, because they put their Nu Shooz on, and suddenly everything is right. I’m awfully sorry… Could they possibly follow “I Can’t Wait” with further chart success? ns1

In July 1986, just two months after “I Can’t Wait” entered the chart, “Point Of No Return” was released. It was another really nice piece of electropop, and it also had a great video that featured plenty of stop-motion animation. But it was scuppered somewhat by “I Can’t Wait” actually still being on the chart, meaning that this one was overshadowed somewhat, and it only reached No. 48. vlcsnap-00050

This turned out to be the second and final hit single for Nu Shooz in the UK, meaning that their whole chart career barely lasted three months out of the four decades that they have been working together, which was rather disappointing. It seems that Smith and Day are still out there though, and as well as still being married, they still perform under the Nu Shooz name.

Down The Dumper – The 80s Part 2.

Here’s a really great example of just how here today-gone tomorrow the pop music business can be sometimes. Doctor And The Medics were a band that formed in the early-80s, and their frontman was “The Doctor”, or Clive from Knotty Ash. They had a rather flamboyant look, I get the feeling that they weren’t to be taken entirely seriously and they knew how daft their image was, and when looking back at some old music magazines recently, I couldn’t help but notice something rather interesting about them. ab28

Among the group were a pair of female backing singers/dancers known as The Anadin Brothers. They were Collette Appleby (no relation to Mel And Kim I imagine) and Wendi West (who went on to marry The Doctor), who had also worked with The Cult. They had a rather striking look with their long black hair, identical dress, heavy makeup and general air of mysteriousness, meaning they were probably the closest equivalent to the mighty Shakespears Sister on the pop music scene in this era which is fine by me. ab22

By the mid-80s they had released a few singles that got nowhere. But then, in May 1986 they released “Spirit In The Sky”, a rather straightforward glam-rock cover of the song that had previously been a chart-topper in 1970 for Norman Greenbaum. Despite being rather faithful to the original version, the public became very fond of it, and just like the original it was a Number One single in the UK. vlcsnap-00026

Suddenly they were a big deal, they seemed to be on Top Of The Pops every week along with many other TV shows, The Doctor appeared on the cover of Just Seventeen (I’m sure that the 12-year-old girls who bought that magazine loved him), Number One, Sounds, and, in a true sign that you’ve arrived, Lookin! It must’ve been very exciting for them to suddenly be the biggest pop group in Britain for about three minutes in 1986. Fame at last! ab47

They then released their first album “Laughing At The Pieces”, which reached No. 25. So it must’ve been felt that there would be some anticipation for what they would do next, but… there wasn’t really. After the follow-up “Burn” reached No. 29, in November 1986 they decided to release another cover. This was “Waterloo”, which of course was the song that won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, and transformed Abba into pop superstars. What was notable about this one was that The Anadin Brothers took the lead vocal. vlcsnap-00024

There was also an amusing video that featured a Eurovision style-show hosted by Katie Boyle, with various celebrities on the judging panel including Captain Sensible. The Anadin Brothers appeared dressed as the two ladies in Abba, which was a rather different look for them. Could they put their stamp on this classic? Helping them out was special guest Roy Wood, who knew a thing or two about famous hit singles himself. vlcsnap-00025

They performed this on Cheggers Plays Pop and Saturday SuperStore, where they took part in a competition to play a gig at a viewer’s home. I’m sure that it was a great moment for the winner to find all of them at their door, and then see them go in and perform “Waterloo” in their front room to an excited crowd, I wouldn’t have minded that myself. vlcsnap-00027

Despite all this, “Waterloo” reached only No. 45, and they never had another hit, meaning that, rather remarkably, barely six months on from their huge success, Doctor And The Medics were all over. They did release a few more singles and albums in the late-80s though, and The Doctor is still around and seems to be proud of his success. Some people get fed up with their biggest hit overshadowing all their other work, but if he wants to perform “Spirit On The Sky” on stage until he’s about 73 then good for him.