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.

Down The Dumper – The 80s Part 16.

This is another singer who I don’t really remember from the time, but recently I have discovered her songs and enjoyed them, although once again this is someone whose chart career lasted barely two years. Princess is an English soul singer, and her real first name is Desiree (not to be confused with the 90s singer Des’Ree of course). She had worked as a backing singer for various groups, and then in the mid-80s she launched a pop career of her own. Was there a chance of this Princess becoming a Superstar?

Princess collaborated with the production team Stock/Aitken/Waterman. Now I must admit that I don’t really have much fondness for SAW’s late-80s work, by which point they were known as “The Hit Factory”. They were behind a large amount of songs around that time, with lots of them making the higher end of the chart, and although most of them sounded the same, it was clearly a winning formula. vlcsnap-00455

But they did work on some good pop singles in the mid-80s though, including Princess’s debut “Say I’m Your Number One”, which was released in August 1985, and became her first and only Top Ten hit (there is also the famous and really great statistic that acts called King, Queen, Prince, and Princess all had a UK Top Ten hit single in 1985). I don’t know if she had to record another version for the radio with the title altered to “Say I’m Your Smash Hits” in the interests of balance though. vlcsnap-00460

Two more singles were released, which were “After The Love Has Gone” and “I’ll Keep On Loving You” (which has to be my favourite single by Princess, very smooth, very soulful). Then in May 1986 the debut album “Princess” was released, and was the only one by her to chart, making the Top 20. But then in July 1986 “Tell Me Tomorrow” became her fourth and final Top 40 hit. vlcsnap-00463

And by June 1987, “Red Hot” turned out to be her final hit, reaching a rather disappointing no. 58, although her debut album had been milked for singles by that point. After her second album flopped, Princess went on to do some more work behind the scenes, but by the late-80s, she had just about left the music business all together, although she did eventually return and release another album in the 2010s decade. Oh, and did I say that she had purple hair? Because that’s rather good too.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 13.

This is a rather rare case of a song being a “double one-hit wonder”, being the only hit single for two different acts in the 80s, what are the odds? The first success of this song was before my time, as they say on game shows too often, but here’s how I discovered this one. A long time ago I was watching an episode of The Simpsons from 1992 when Homer becomes rather fond of a singer and says “I can’t get your song out of my mind, I haven’t felt this way since “Funky Town””.

Now this wasn’t a song that I was familiar with, but because I was amused by the reference, I thought that I should have a listen out for if it ever comes on the radio. I eventually did hear this, I think the first time was on Virgin’s Johnny Boy And The Wheels Of Steel, which as I have said before introduced me to lots of great songs from the early-80s, and at this moment I now realised what Homer was on about, it’s one of the rare things that he has got right. vlcsnap-00273

“Funky Town” was released by American group Lipps Inc. in May 1980, this had already spent four weeks at Number One in America, it was clear to see why as it was a great piece of disco, and in the UK this reached no. 2. I also found some TV performances of this online that were very entertaining. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, this was also featured on the soundtrack to Shrek 2. vlcsnap-00275

Lipps Inc. went on to have no further hits in the UK, but the one they did have has endured longer than most in the disco genre. And then, seven years later, “Funky Town” returned to the singles chart in July 1987 with a cover version by Australian group Pseudo Echo. And well, once again it was an indication of how quickly genres changed in the 80s, this one giving off a big “guy with a mullet playing a keytar” vibe. vlcsnap-00276

When compared to the original, many feel this does come off as second-best, but it’s still very enjoyable and proof that you can’t go wrong with this one. This version spent seven weeks at Number One in Australia in 1986/1987, made the Top Ten in America, and reached no. 8 in the UK, making “Funky Town” a Top Ten hit for a second time. And curiously, just like Lipps Inc., Pseudo Echo never got near the chart in this country again.

The One-Hit Wonders – The 80s Part 9.

Over the years, there have been several pop acts that have featured a married couple. In the 80s, these included Nu Shooz, Techno Twins (who I gushed over in a piece a while ago), and also this one. Timbuk 3 were an American group who formed in the mid-80s, and their earliest line-up consisted of Pat and Barbara MacDonald, and a tape machine. I presume that Pat was married to Barbara and not the tape machine.

Their first album was “Welcome To Timbuk 3”, and the only hit single that they had from this or any other album in this country was released in January 1987. “The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” reached no. 21 in the UK, and did slightly better in America, reaching no. 19. When the album was released in February 1987, this reached no. 51 in the UK, and went one place better at no. 50 in America. vlcsnap-00142

There are some reasons why despite the fact this wasn’t a big hit it still manages to stand out to me. Firstly, there is the rather unusual video, which features some computer-generated images that have had a real mouth put over them to create a rather creepy visual effect. And the video along with the album cover also features a donkey. This is clearly where everything is not what it first seems. vlcsnap-00141

And although you would think from the title that this might be an optimistic song, it is believed to probably be about nuclear war. During the 80s, it is rather odd to think that whatever a song sounded like, when a group were asked what it was about, they often said it was nuclear war. There seemed to be a time when every other song on the chart was a comment on the situation, there was a real fear about the future. vlcsnap-00143

This was a group that had created an entertainingly quirky song, but Timbuk 3 would go on to have no more hits in the UK after this, and they would go on to release six albums all together, the last of these being in 1995, which was also when the MacDonalds divorced. I wonder who got the tape recorder. It turned out that maybe the future wasn’t so bright for them. Whether they like it or not, this will always be the song that they will be best remembered for, a great one-hit wonder of the 80s.

Down The Dumper – The 80s Part 7.

When looking back at pop music from this era, I do find it fascinating to discover more about the acts who only had a small amount of success compared to most. When looking through old books and magazines, you discover that everyone has a story to tell, however well they did, because I mean they must’ve come from somewhere, a record label had enough faith in them to back them and release their singles (for a short while at least), and here’s another interesting story.

Toyah is someone who I have thought about doing a piece where I look back at all of the hit singles one-by-one, along with various TV appearances. But because Toyah was a big success with lots of hits in the early-80s, it would take a long time to put together, so because Toyah qualifies for this series, I’ll just take a brief look at her pop music career in this piece for now.vlcsnap-00033

Toyah Willcox is an actress as well as a singer, and first came to fame in the late-70s appearing in various films including Jubliee and Quadrophenia, and also appeared on the cover of Record Mirror as early as 1979. By the early-80s she had success as a pop star, with three Top Ten hits in 1981, including “Thunder In The Mountains” which reached No. 4. And remember, Toyah was the name of the whole group, not just the frontwoman. She also had a rather striking look (well didn’t they all then), with her bright red or pink hair, and she would always be good value in interviews.t93

vlcsnap-00036

But of course, the years pass, and the tastes change. In April 1987, Toyah was now going it alone and released “Echo Beach”, which was notable for a few reasons. Firstly, of course it was a cover of the Martha And The Muffins song, which had been a hit earlier in the decade, and this was a typically unique take. The video is also interesting, because as well as appearing as a scary green face on a computer screen, it seems that Toyah is trying out a new image, and shreds some pictures of her earlier self. What could this mean? vlcsnap-00041

Well whatever the reasons behind it, “Echo Beach” reached only No. 54, and not only was it Toyah’s final hit of the 80s, but her also final hit single altogether. Unfortunately for her, this was the era when genres like Hip-Hop and House were starting to make an impact on the chart, and the trendy young people who were buying singles in 1987 were more interested in that than anything Toyah had to offer now. No more Smash Hits covers for you!vlcsnap-00039

t38

At least she managed to have hits for about six or seven years before finally vanishing from the chart, which is much longer than most of the acts that will be featured in this series. Toyah is still around of course, and has made many more albums along with lots of tours, she definitely isn’t forgotten by her loyal fans. She has also continued to be an actress and was in CBBC’s sitcom Barmy Aunt Boomerang (that I reviewed a while ago), along with doing some TV presenting as well.

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 3.

I thought that it was about time to review another music video from the 80s that I think is really great. Lots of people consider 1986’s “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel to be one of the greatest music videos of its era, and indeed I agree with that, and it went on to win plenty of awards, however its story is rather well known. What people might not realise is that the followup single has an equally great and creative video, so here’s a look at some of the highlights.

“Big Time” was released in the UK in March 1987 and it reached no. 13, it was directed by Stephen R Johnson, and it’s another four and-a-half minutes of rather strange happenings. It’s another example of the rather clever things that you can do with stop-motion animation and a piece of clay, and a clever technique called strata-cut animation is also frequently used. It’s not easy to describe most of what happens but I’ll have a go. 

vlcsnap-00001

Hi there!

We start off with Peter inside his small home, which then explodes which is rather unfortunate. There is then a rather strange sequence where Peter is stretching his mouth to let those big words come right out, it looks rather painful. Then there is one of my favourite moments where Peter’s head is on a spring while informing us that he’s off one his way to the big city where he’ll be a big noise. He really is thinking big. vlcsnap-00005

Then as we get to the chorus we see a example of some of the strata-cut animation, this is where some images are put into a piece of clay, which is then sliced and animated frame-by-frame to make it look like the picture is animating, I found it mildly scary really. This is followed by another odd moment where Peter is surrounded by some people whose heads keep changing. vlcsnap-00007

Peter then stands on a podium and his head starts to change frame-by-frame as well, and then in another highlight he turns to clay again and he gets rather overexcited about his bed because contains a snow-white pillow for his big fat head. What more could you want. Peter then gets cloned and is accompanied by yet more strange animation as we reach the climax of the song. vlcsnap-00010

Peter is now very pleased that he has finally reached the big time, and his hand even grows a mouth in celebration. Having been one of the pioneers in that area, Peter Gabriel went on to appear in many more groundbreaking music videos in the 90s including “Steam” which was another good one. There are lots of other great music videos of course and I might review a few more soon. vlcsnap-00014

Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 2.

Following on from Thomas Dolby’s “Hyperactive!” which is one of my favourite music videos from the 80s that I reviewed on here recently, I thought that I would take a look back at another rather strange and creative video from this decade. When I discovered this one on YouTube a while ago when trying to find some more 80s hits it was another video that I thought was a classic.

“Bridge To Your Heart” was released in July 1987 and was the biggest hit in the UK for the group Wax, whose members included Andrew Gold, best remembered for his hit songs in the 70s including “Never Let Her Slip Away”, and 10cc’s Graham Gouldman. The video was directed by Storm Thorgerson and it definitely stood out. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights. Hold it… now! vlcsnap-00002

Firstly, as far as I can tell, none of the video is computer-generated, it’s all traditional stop-frame animation. There must have been a huge amount of time and effort put into making this but it was worth it. Being able to watch this video’s fast-moving effects again frame-by-frame does make me see a lot of unusual things that I didn’t notice first time round… I mean, what it supposed to be going on here? vlcsnap-00005

Some of the best visual effects include a lot of fiddling about with photographs, and there is also an animated sequence where a wolf gets so overexcited by someone that their heart explodes. There is also a moment where the lyric “made me the clown” seems to be taken too literally, and I also liked it when a superhero in a newspaper comic strip page comes to life. Now it’s time for an interval where the horns come in. vlcsnap-00008

Then as we get near to the end of the song, there is the inevitable key change! There are also some more great moments, including a bridge being built out of brightly coloured children’s blocks that then tumble everywhere, and what has to be my favourite moment in the video when it seems for a brief moment that Graham and Andrew have gone down the seaside to perform the chorus to the song. vlcsnap-00012

I’m not sure if the video to “Bridge To Your Heart” won any awards, but it was a big hit across Europe, making the Top Ten in a few countries. Along with “Hyperactive!”, this is definitely another one of my favourite music videos from the 80s, easily up there for me with the great “Sledgehammer”. I’ll try and review one more strange music video before the end of the year.

The YouTube Files – 1980s American Children’s TV Adverts.

Recently on here I reviewed the 80s cartoon Jem, and I really enjoyed watching this show again. One thing that I noticed about the episodes on the DVD was that the breakbumpers had been left in. It made me wonder if there were any videos online featuring advert breaks that were recorded during Jem on American TV in the 1980s so I could see the bumpers in their original context, and also discover what kind of adverts were being shown for younger viewers in those years.

So I was very pleased when I went on YouTube and discovered a video that was about 28 minutes long featuring lots of advert breaks that were shown during various episodes of Jem recorded off a TV station called KTXH in Houston, Texas in early-1987. This was exactly what I wanted, so credit goes to the uploader “RetroCCN”. I have picked a few highlights from the adverts and trails that were shown, and I’ll add a few more facts that I have discovered about Jem since I completed the original piece. 

vlcsnap-00276

Jem will be right back after these messages…”

Unsurprisingly, there are lots of adverts for toys, such as My Little Pony, Pound Puppies and Sylvanian Families, along with bizarrely terrible local adverts for furniture stores and car dealers, and also a rather large amount for various rather horrible-looking breakfast cereals including Cocoa Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Circus Fun, Golden Grahams, Crispy Wheats ‘N’ Raisins, and Cheerios. vlcsnap-00336

And then… oh no… it’s an advert for Rap’Tou, the rather ludicrous kitchen device that was seemingly advertised in every advert break on daytime ITV and Channel 4 in the late-80s/early-90s. I didn’t realise that this advert was being shown as long ago as this. I imagine that a lot of people had one, and they probably only used it about once. Call now. vlcsnap-00344

We also get some trails for some of the programming that is shown on KTXH. It seems that along with Jem they were rather fond of showing endless cartoons, and on weekday mornings you can watch MASK, He-Man, The Jetsons, Dennis The Menace (no connection to the British comic character of the same name), and Scooby-Doo one after the other. And on weekday afternoons you can enjoy even more with Heathcliff, The Jetsons, Ghostbusters, Rambo, and The Transformers cartoons. That’s a lot of fun. ktxh3

Then we have an advert for a toy of the rather hairy star of the sitcom ALF. This was a show that was very popular on American TV in the late-80s, and it was also shown for a short while in Britain (he even appeared on the cover of Lookin magazine). I only remember it vaguely, and it’s definitely a show that I’d like to rediscover and review on here one day. vlcsnap-00700

Now this is something that I thought was interesting, a trail for the Jem episode “Glitter And Gold” (which was the final episode of the first series), which is voiced by the woman herself. I wonder how many extra clips were specially recorded for use in adverts and trails? Also, I was surprised to discover recently Samantha Newark who was the actress that provided Jem’s speaking voice was actually born in Wimbledon, so it turns out that she was a Londoner just like me all along! vlcsnap-00701

Then we have a trail for some of KTXH’s evening programmes including Square Pegs, Fame, and Little House On The Prairie. Another thing that I discovered about Jem recently was that the only other place it seems that it was shown on British TV beyond TV-am’s The Wide Awake Club in the late-80s was on satellite channel UK Gold early on weekend mornings around 1993/1994. I don’t think it’s been shown on TV in this country since. vlcsnap-00703

This video was definitely an interesting insight into what was advertised on American TV back in the 80s. Of course, there were also a lot of adverts made promoting the range of Jem dolls and various other merchandise, and I might review those in a separate piece soon. Hopefully I will also be able to find some adverts for Jem shown on British TV too, that would be truly outrageous!