Jan 10

1987: What The F___ Is Going On?

FT + Popular73 comments • 4,608 views

This post is an introduction, I suppose, to the next few years of Popular. It was going to be part of a regular post but it grew into its own thing, so I’m putting it up as its own thing.

The late 80s are strange times for the British pop charts. They’re one of those exciting periods – like the mid-50s, like the late-70s – where different musics and different audiences seem to be at war, where the very question of what pop is – the role it plays in peoples’ lives – is up in the air. But unlike those there’s no settled consensus on who to back. You might still find people who aver that faceless dance records ruined the charts – certainly the people who marketed pop and pop radio seemed to have a horror of them at the time. You will also still find people who snarl at reissues in the Top 40 on a kind of principle. You will find some with a kind word to say about the brazenly cheap pop of the time and others who think Pete Waterman is one of British pop culture’s great monsters.

And seen from our perspective – from the top of the charts – what we have is something close to chaos, time breaking down so that a record from the fifties and a cover of a record from the fifties, and a record purpose-built for obsolescence before the nineties, and a record that sounded like it was from the next century, all these could tumble into one another at number one. Past, present and future in collision – and plenty of people despaired of all three.

While others jumped right in: Bill Drummond deciding to make a hip-hop record, spending the first months of the year on the aptly named 1987: What The Fuck Is Going On?, getting sued by ABBA and then resurfacing the next year with a number one of his own before telling everyone else how to do it. The story’s not exactly typical of the times but it’s illustrative. Looking back the industry seems at its most cynical and its most gameable, both at the same time.

The ferment of the late 80s happened for a bunch of reasons. The stars of the Band Aid generation had abdicated, split, imploded or disgraced themselves and there was a stardom void ready for canny operators to exploit. There was a massive opportunity for the record business to repackage its long-neglected back catalogues, and singles could play a part in that. And there was house music, the touch paper for one of the great realignments in British pop culture. What all these had in common, I’d speculate, was the cheap money sloshing around during the Lawson boom: “dosh dosh dosh” as Harry Enfield said, and just as in the late 50s consumer boom some of that dosh went into pop. Trading up your old records for CDs; shopping for jeans and wondering about the music from the advert; queueing up for Bros calendars; buying a cut-price package trip to the Balearics – different audiences, spending their money in different ways but it all added up to a tacky, fast, strange time for pop.

(And a good time? Some of it was remarkable. Some of it was unspeakable. I can’t wait to find out what you all think…)


  1. 1
    Steve Mannion on 29 Jan 2010 #

    Bring the noise!

  2. 2
    nickpeters on 29 Jan 2010 #

    Really looking forward to how the next couple of years go down here. I lost a lot of interest in the top end of the charts after 1984 and started working in an independent record shop in 1987 which didn’t stock Top 40. Still, I’d grown up loving pop and the charts and that’s not something you abandon easily.

    Maybe it was because of my then age but most people seemed much more genre partisan in those pre-internet days – the emergence of such divisive genres as hip hop, house and PWL certainly added to that. Maybe it was just that the 80s were very divisive anyway.

  3. 3
    Tom on 29 Jan 2010 #

    (NB: I know we’re not actually in 1987 yet! The last #1 of 86 lingered long into the new year though, and that’s what I associate it with)

  4. 4
    taDOW on 29 Jan 2010 #

    my first knowledge/impressions of the british charts comes at this time (via five minute segment w/ ray cokes on mtv’s video countdown) and the impressions were: 1) songs so incredibly cool you can’t even imagine them getting much airplay at all here topped the charts there 2) songs so incredibly ‘naff’ you can’t even imagine them getting any airplay at all here topped the charts there 3) any song put in a jeans ad there will top the charts. to be honest these impressions, w/ some minor adjustments, hold up for me today.

  5. 5
    punctum on 29 Jan 2010 #

    I’m relishing going through this period; a great time for me personally and some of my favourite number ones are coming up. It’ll be interesting to see how people respond in particular to 1987, the year when so many pop pickers I knew Got Off The Bus.

    I also note that Dale featured Jan ’87 on POTP last week – with one of those definitive “Get Off The Bus” records at number one. Wonder how that went down with the Radio 2 faithful? Not a bad chart at all with only Lionel Richie’s ew-inducing and thankfully unplayed “Ballerina Girl” really lowering the tone.

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 29 Jan 2010 #

    Had you started buying singles by this stage, Tom?

  7. 7
    Tom on 29 Jan 2010 #

    #6 I didn’t really start buying singles until 89, 90 and those were mostly cassingles. I was 14-16 in the late 80s and I’m sorry to say had fairly typical 14-16 year old boy opinions on a lot of the records we’ll be covering. I was still taping stuff off the radio tho – my favourite single of 1987 at the time was “True Faith” I’d guess. But if I didn’t quite Get Off The Bus I certainly hung about on the footplate trying to work out whether this was my stop or not.

  8. 8
    Lex on 29 Jan 2010 #

    #4 – the same is pretty much true now, except replace “jeans ads” with “car ads or ipod ads”, and scrap category 1) altogether :(

  9. 9
    Alan on 29 Jan 2010 #

    #5, i listened to that POTP too, and was reminded of the playground incomprehension caused by that #1. It took me some time to come round to it myself. We should be discussing that soon tho.

  10. 10
    LondonLee on 29 Jan 2010 #

    I try very hard not to check out EveryHit to see what’s coming up but I might have to now as this era is a blur to me now, I was spending most of my money on club music a lot of which actually made the charts which I’m not sure what I made of at the time. Some kind of victory I guess.

  11. 11
    Kat but logged out innit on 29 Jan 2010 #

    1987 is probably my favourite year for #1s ever – only one dreadful one out of the lot, at least 75% of them I would immediately go and listen to right now if I didn’t have this spreadsheet to sort out. Very much looking forward to the forthcoming entries!

  12. 12
    swanstep on 29 Jan 2010 #

    Not sure that I resonate with Tom’s basic idea that music was especially troubled or chaotic or whatever it might be starting in 1987. I was in Australia for most of 1987 and 1988 and it was a mind-bogglingly great time for music there with Crowded House, Go-Betweens, Triffids, Nick Cave&Bad Seeds, Hunter and Collectors all making world-beating records (not that the world, especially not the UK, wanted to listen that much). Late Smiths, early morrissey, pogues, and billy bragg and new order ruled too if you were in Uni.

    And on a world scale, proficient pop seemed pretty proficient across the board. One question: U2 went nuclear with Joshua Tree in 1987 and George Michael was super-huge shortly after that IIRC. How is that supposed to be compatible with the “Band Aid generation abdicating”? ‘Coronation’ (of the fittest) seems more appropriate than ‘abdication’.

  13. 13
    Tom on 29 Jan 2010 #

    I think a lot of the confusion would have been averted if I’d said “singles charts” not “pop charts”: Michael straddled both singles and LPs of course and is definitely an exception, though he wasn’t marketing himself as the kind of teen star he had been.

  14. 14
    LondonLee on 29 Jan 2010 #

    I just had a peek at EveryHit and it’s a bit more conventional than I was expecting. When you get to my age you don’t have total recall and have to do the math in your head (1987 = 25 years old = I was doing x) You can see certain future trends appear but I think there’s still a few more years to go before we get to the point I was thinking of.

  15. 15
    Alfred on 29 Jan 2010 #

    1987: the Imperial Phase of the Pet Shop Boys begins.

  16. 16
    Tom on 29 Jan 2010 #

    Yeah, we might have stuff to say about that ;)

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 29 Jan 2010 #

    Will we see our 1st 10 since FGTH in 1987?

  18. 18
    Alan on 29 Jan 2010 #

    can has 86 poll?

  19. 19
    Tom on 29 Jan 2010 #

    At the weekend – still one track to go (I’m working on it)

    (The poll, not the 10!)

  20. 20
    anto on 29 Jan 2010 #

    Good post.
    The middle of 1987 was the time when I started taking a proper interest in the charts and by proxy the charts so in an odd way
    I regard it (in terms of being a fan)almost as a musical year zero.
    Well we all have to start somewhere.

    Swanstep mentioned that 87 was the year U2 got really massive
    but they got short shrift from my Mum who had recalled them a few years earlier playing at the Baggot Inn on Baggot St in Dublin and was of the opinion that they weren’t much cop. Even the success of
    The Joshua Tree wouldn’t convince her. ” All U2 songs sound the same ”
    she said.
    Its coloured my view of U2 ever since.

  21. 21
    JJ on 29 Jan 2010 #

    1987 was the icing on the cake of death that was pop music. Maybe it was my age (15) but following the dross we had been subjected to (Every Loser Wins for God’s sake) it was the year that many teenagers were forced to discover the past, delving into their parents’/older siblings’ record collections, what with “proper” guitar music being dead (except for true Indie offerings eg Creation label).

    At least with the plethora of media channels available to us today we can be a bit more open-minded and explore the full gamut.

  22. 22
    swanstep on 30 Jan 2010 #

    @anto, 20. Lots of people had always thought U2 were horrible…but at least where I was (Sydney), at least for 9-10 months or so they pretty much won *everyone* over. I tried to ignore ’em, but vividly remember two semi-bizarre things: (a) it being an actual topic of conversation at parties; dishy girls would ask you whether you’d heard the new U2 album, and (b) the big alternative/trendy station, JJJ playing *b-sides* of the singles from the Joshua tree on their morning show, which were, surprise surprise, frickin’ great, e.g., the original version of Sweetest Thing, which was the song that finally got my ass down to the record store. It felt like quite a coup: as it were, U2 really captured all the masses, but also boosted their cred significantly with more trendy types. Sneering at U2 resumed shortly thereafter…

    @JJ,21. I’m not sure why you say pop music was dead in 1987. Things like Cameo and Janet Jackson were massive and great. Prince’s Sign of Times double album was not quite as massive as it should have been, but was pretty big and clearly a work of genius and as good as it gets for pop music. Stuff that directly continued early ’80s vibes from both New Order and Depeche Mode was pretty damned nifty. (Siouxsie would get a big hit a year later with one of the best Singles I’ve ever heard: Peek-a-boo – so that early ’80s crowd definitely wren’t dead and buried just yet.) Late Smiths and Billy Bragg in his prime weren’t massive but they were v. poppy and much loved. What more do ya want out of pop music?

    As Tom sort of alludes to there *were* lots of micro-scenes flourishing that unless you were in a band or scene you’d never hear: REM and Husker Du were influencing a lot of people behind the scenes, and the fast development in cheap samplers was clearly about to blow up – *someone* was going to do something interesting with that tech.. Again, if you were in a band/scene templates for the future arrived big time in 1988 from public enemy, nwa, pixies, Janes addict….

  23. 23
    loomer on 30 Jan 2010 #

    I think the real change happened though in 1988. Some of the glitz and glamour of 80s pop was still present in ’87 via the likes of The Pet Shop Boys and even SAW made many of their best records then, still proper dance influenced before they truly became a hit factory, churning everything out with the same backing track – by 1989 the strangehold they had over the charts was terrifying.

    Everything was shook up in 88 when you had Kylie, Bros and acid house. Things would never be the same again and the 80s kinda died, at least in terms of the charts. On the post-Smiths indie scene though, 1988 was a banner year giving us some revolutionary stuff like Pixies, MBV etc and the seeds of Britpop were sewn by the decade’s close with Madchester.

    On the youtubes of TOTP chart rundown videos, I actually thought 1987 was about the best year. This is probably just nostalgia, but look at the amount of classic pop records and radio staples here for instance – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd1HtNFT12I

  24. 24
    Conrad on 30 Jan 2010 #

    your Mum had good taste Anto

  25. 25
    swanstep on 31 Jan 2010 #

    One thing to vaguely keep in mind about 1987 was that it was one of those rare years when mainstream Hollywood entertainment was really on its game: almost every week there was something genuinely fun, often quite trashy but interesting too that it was great to see with a big audience. Raising Arizona, Robocop, Blue Velvet, Fatal Attraction, Princess Bride, Broadcast News, Untouchables, Lost Boys (‘god-damned blood-sucking Brady Bunch’), Dirty Dancing, Near Dark, Withnail and I, Predator, Angel Heart, Evil Dead 2, Wall Street, Moonstruck, La Bamba, Wings of Desire, Witches of Eastwick, Throw Mama from the Train (a great film, seriously!), and House of Games. There are probably others too but those are things I remember (with a bit of prodding now from imdb) thinking were a real hoot at the time. Several I saw a couple of times each with different friends, and several others I was going with someone who’d already seen the thing once before. Something about this crop of movies made even the lesser of them incredibly quotable,and rewatchable with groups. Near as I can remember, only 1999 (rushmore, matrix, fight club, being john malk, etc.) and 2007 (no country, zodiac, there will be blood, sunshine, tell no one, etc.) have zinged as much movie-wise for me since then (I’ve probably become more boringly discerning too I’m sure!).

    Anyhow… if you weren’t there in 1987 you might think it was a non-entity of a year movie-wise because there wasn’t a single overwhelming massive hit/cultural phenom. going down (Avatar, Dark Knight, ET, LOTR, etc.). But that would be a mistake. There was a really high popular culture energy level in movies right then, which might chime with what Tom was suggesting preemptively about music going vigorously in lots of direction at once in 1987.

  26. 26
    Mark M on 31 Jan 2010 #

    Re 24: Let’s not rob the British film industry of rare moments of connecting with the audience by crediting Hollywood with Withnail and I. But, yes, there seemed to be plenty to see and it also seemed relatively possible to find interesting stuff, at least in the Greater London area: I saw Blue Velvet in Purley, and She’s Gotta Have It (can’t find a UK release date, but it was presumably either very late 86 or early 87) at the old cinema at the end of Queensway that later became a TGI Fridays and is now empty.

  27. 27
    swanstep on 31 Jan 2010 #

    @Mark M., 25. Quite right – Wings of Desire isn’t strictly hollywood either of course… so I really meant ‘Hollywood’ loosely, i.e., to cover all of popular film (neither Wings nor Withnail were Fatal Attraction-level hits, but they were v. popular esp. with students, played for months around Sydney, etc.). There was quite a bit of Brit film activity at the time now I think about it, e.g., the excellent Mona Lisa and High Hopes (the beginning of Mike Leigh’s imperial period!), but Withnail was the biggie if you were a student. ‘Twas the Trainspotting of the time I suppose.

  28. 28
    rosie on 31 Jan 2010 #

    Mark @ 25: Now now – don’t run down the British film industry just because it doesn’t specialise in Hollywood-type lowest common denominator tosh (like “Thrown Momma From The Train”, for heaven’s sake!

    There were a few British goodies that year. Wish You Were Here is one. The Joe Orton biopic Prick Up Your Ears for another (although I will always remember the Gate Cinema displaying it slightly differently). Then there was an undeservedly forgotten gem – The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. Not as puerile as Withnail but nothing at all for a national film industry to be ashamed of.

    Blue Velvet is a fabulous film by the way.

  29. 29
    swanstep on 31 Jan 2010 #

    @Rosie, 28. Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about Prick Up your Ears (I didn’t see it at the time, but I remember it running for absolutely ages). Another 1987 indie flick I didn’t see (coz’ it got bad reviews) was Salvation (a comedy about televangelism), but it had a New Order song on its soundtrack ‘Touched by the hand of God’ which had a hysterical hair metal parody vid. According to wiki, that vid. was directed by Kathryn Bigelow of Hurt Locker fame now (but she had the great vamp. flick Near Dark in 1987, and reached pop trash critical mass a few years later with the mighty Keanu/Swayze-fest Point Break.)

  30. 30
    lonepilgrim on 1 Feb 2010 #

    perhaps also worth mentioning that Alan Moore and Dave Gibson were producing ‘Watchmen’ between 1986 and ’87

  31. 31
    Mark M on 1 Feb 2010 #

    Probably should think about the fact that this was one of those times when the notion was certainly circulating that the future was not on its way – not in a apocalyptic 70s or early 80s manner, but more in a kind of ‘this is sort of how it’s going to be from now on’. We’ve discussed lots of this already – the synth thing, the striving for ‘timeless’ fashion. Lots more is well known – the backlash against modernist architecture – London is spotted with horrible faux-Georgian top-end housing estates dating from this time. (Both the fashion and the housing thing connected in that they were associated with a return to natural materials). But also, technology was somewhat out of favour – the PC revolution seemed to have failed to happen. There was some stat we were taught for my MA that I wish I could find about the number of the BBC Micros that were bought but never taken out of their boxes. The PCs that did take off in Britain were Amstrads, which really could do little more than a typewriter that could move paragraphs around. Likewise, we’re in that period between ZX Spectrums and MegaDrives. The most visible advances were mobile phones – jokes that were years away from being either useful or widespread – and CD players, mostly marketed as a way of hearing the past better (the unintended consequences of making music digital lurk over a decade hence…) Now, there are lots of opposing tendencies – not least the fact that electronic music was so far from dead – but this were certainly ideas afoot at the time…

  32. 32
    rosie on 1 Feb 2010 #

    Mark M @ 31: I don’t know that the social changes which undoubtedly happened were quite a as gentle as that. Certainly towards the end of the year – I don’t want to be too previous about this because I’m hoping to delurk from the main strand to talk about the soundtrack to my life a couple of times in this interesting year – there were two events, notionally unlinked but oddly co-resonant, both taking place over the same long weekend, which are still remembered and felt rather apocalyptic if you were there. Another (bunnyable) event seems to me to have done more than anything else to expose the fundamental tackiness of the era.

    And in the spring there was a general election in which I played my small part in changing the way British elections would be run – in the Pembridge ward of the Kensington division I ran what I believe to be the first all-electronic committee room. It ran on my home PC, a Tandy 1000 running Datamaster, hooked up to a primitove Hewlett-Packard laser printer which my upstairs neighbour (a jazz journo called Jan Diakow, who may have been known to some Populistas) had arranged for me to collect from East Ham. Driving from Notting Hill to East Ham and back was itself a mind-fucking experience! The electronic committee room collapsed in the evening under the printer’s inability to generate knocking-up sheets at more than a snail’s pace, but it was the future.

    There’s some quite good pop music ahead, too. As well as some that gives me a headache every time.

  33. 33
    Billy Smart on 1 Feb 2010 #

    I don’t have the equivalent UK data, but here’s the list of each week’s top grossing films at the US box office over 1987;

    Jan 22. Critical Condition (Paramount)1 week
    Jan 29. Platoon (Orion)5
    Mar 5. Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (New Line)1
    Mar 12. Lethal Weapon (Warners)3
    Apr 2. Blind Date (Tristar)1
    Apr 9. Police Academy 4 (Warners)1
    Apr 16. The Secret of My Success (Universal)5
    May 21. Ishtar (Columbia)1
    May 28. Beverly Hills Cop 2 (Paramount)3
    Jun 18. Predator (20th C. Fox)1
    Jun 25. The Witches of Eastwick (Warners)1
    Jul 2. Dragnet (Universal)2
    Jul 16. Revenge of the Nerds 2 (20th C. Fox)1
    Jul 23. Snow White (RE) (Buena Vista)2
    Aug 6. The Living Daylights (MGM/UA)2
    Aug 20. Stakeout (Buena Vista)5
    Sep 24. Fatal Attraction (Paramount)8
    Nov 19. Running Man (Tristar)2
    Dec 3. 3 Men & a Baby (Buena Vista)5
    Dec 17. Throw Momma From the Train (Orion)1
    Dec 24. Eddie Murphy Raw (Paramount)1

  34. 34
    swanstep on 1 Feb 2010 #

    1987 was also the low ebb point for Abba in the culture at large. They’d split for good in 1982 and to some extent bands like Human League had tried to model themselves on them, but relative lack of songwriting and harmonizing talent proved a bit of an obstacle! There were very few Abba records around in stores in 1987 and you’d only very rarely hear their tunes played on the radio or out anywhere. Demand then built over the next 5 years until the Gold compilation came out with a bang in 1992 (Erasure tributes and U2 doing Dancing queen in Stockholm with Bjorn and Benny all happened then too). Suddenly it was all on again, Priscilla and Muriel built on that 2 years later and Abba has been a more or less continuous cultural presence ever since.

    @Rosie. 1987 was when I first noticed couples of my acquaintance in tech fields having rows via unix talk (a simple instant message facility). I was very amused by this phenomenon.

  35. 35
    thefatgit on 1 Feb 2010 #

    @ 30 I think I remember that year being the year of the Graphic Novel. “Batman:The Dark Knight Returns”, “Maus” and “Watchmen” all getting into the best seller lists. All of a sudden it was acceptable for grown-ups to read comics. Of course, the grown-ups had been reading them all along, but finally it was safe to emerge from the closet!

  36. 36
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 1 Feb 2010 #

    rosie, i knew jan diakow pretty well, though i lost touch when i left the wire

  37. 37
    Gavin Wright on 1 Feb 2010 #

    I’ve always thought that the latter half of the ’80s was far weaker for pop (in terms of the singles charts at least) compared to ’80-’84 – this is based almost entirely on retrospective and fairly selective listening though so maybe I’m being unfair. I’d never really thought of ’87 as a watershed year but in number one terms there are certainly some really interesting records coming up so I look forward to this.

    Also this was around the time that I started to become aware of pop – I was born in 1981 and many of the records to be discussed soundtracked numerous childhood birthday parties and the like – so this should make for a particularly enjoyable stretch for me.

  38. 38
    rosie on 1 Feb 2010 #

    thefatgit @ 35: This adult, who will be marking her 21st hexadecimal birthday in 1987, wasn’t in the least ashamed to be seen reading When the Wind Blows several years earlier, and also Raymond Briggs’s riposte to the Malvinas/Falklands adventure The Tin-pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman. Maus was – and remains – magnificent. Suffice it to say that Watchmen is not much to my taste so I won’t dwell on it. Of course, the bande dessinée for grown-ups has never been out of acceptability elsewhere in Europe.

  39. 39
    Mark M on 1 Feb 2010 #

    Re 32: Sure, don’t get me wrong on either front – the (practical and theoretical) frontiers of technology were obviously being pushed along the whole time – but not quite in the way that we’d been led to expect (the emergence of that peculiar piece of intermediate tech, the fax machine, indicates as much).
    And, yes, for several weeks that autumn it was possible to walk around the south-east believing the world had ended…

  40. 40
    LondonLee on 1 Feb 2010 #

    I remember Neville Brody saying in an interview that geographic boundaries meant nothing anymore because he had a fax machine and could send ideas to clients all over the world.

  41. 41
    Steve Mannion on 1 Feb 2010 #

    Also hit movie Jumpin’ Jack Flash demonstrated how the thrils of internet dating and cyberspacial espionage were now within tantalising reach.

  42. 42
    MagicFly on 1 Feb 2010 #

    34 – you’re quite right. I remember buying a best of Abba video collection in 1988 and actually removing its cover, so much did I fear mockery. And yet I would show it to a few trusted friends and utterly evangelise the music, which I’d known since childhood but had only just realised was magnificent. It’s strange to think of Abba existing in an almost underground, illicit state, but for a few years they were pop-cultural contraband.

  43. 43
    rosie on 1 Feb 2010 #

    Yet in 1987 my daughter thought Abba were the bees knees!

  44. 44
    crag on 1 Feb 2010 #

    A few personal thoughts on 1987-i was 13/14 and by this point i had (temporarily)”grown out” of my “classic rock” phase- Bowie, Queen, Beatles etc- and was listening largely to Beefheart, Zappa, Syd and a lot of 60s blues and prog rock. I still followed the charts-partially cos i enjoyed some of it but largely to avoid being the weird kid at school who said things like “The Pet Shop WHO??? Dont you fancy listening to “Starless and Bible Black”by King Crimson?”

    I felt pretty cut off from my pop-pickin’ comtemporaries and the fact i had my first i had MY OWN BEDROOM for the first time probably added to this feeling of isolation. Having (again temporarily as it turned out)left ‘kids stuff’ like comics and Dr Who behind i found the charts the most alienating theyd been in my life(until recently perhaps…) and figured it would be that way for evermore. The whol “things aint what they used to be” vibe prevelant in modern culture at the time- which i already discussed in my post responding to Tom’s Xmas #1s article- certainly didnt help either.

    Basically like everyone else at that age i guess i was a self-obsessed, self-pitying tosspot(yes even more than now…) and by the time i reached 16 the charts “modern pop” spoke to me just as much as stuff recorded before i was born.

    It does seem though i did have the misfortune of being in my early teens at the one period in pop that has never been “reclaimed”,when mainstream chart music was at its lowest ebb. 70s pop, viewed with such disdain at this time (and yes i remember too how much ABBA had been dismissed to the dustbin of history in the mid 80s)was of course brought back in from the cold by the mid 90s, to the extent an appreciation of, say, ELO was de regeur by 1996- completely unimaginable merely 5 years earlier. However, although the first and last thirds of the 80s seem to have become “acceptable” of late, the period covered of late in Popular seems immune to such revision, even after 20+ years. Certainly I cant spot the influence of for example “Invisble Touch”, “Silk and Steel”or “Back in the High Life” in much of the 2010 charts- but maybe i’m wrong you tell me!

    Sorry about the verrry rambling nature of this post btw- as my lack of posts of late should indicate i find this period(in my life and in pop history)very difficult to discuss objectively and since Tom is roughly the same age as me i want to say well done to him for doing so much better (and so much more consisely) than i’ve managed here!

  45. 45
    Mark M on 1 Feb 2010 #

    Re 44: But as you acknowledge, pop history is always in play. Conversation at work today:
    ‘Oh, so Journey are an old band? I thought that song had been written for the show [ie Glee]…’
    [A perfectly valid assumption, of course, seeing as even if you are old enough, Journey meant bleep all in England at the time. (Huge in Mexico, though). Thus Don’t Stop Believin’, a song stuck in a TV show to act as a nostalgia trigger – see also it’s presence in a chamber music arrangement in The Wedding Singer – pops up as something fresh to a different audience. It’s now part of our pop history of 2010, but I suspect may also get retrospectively woven back into pop history of the early 80s as seen from a British perspective.]

    In 1987, I think listened mostly to Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr, Prince, Eric B & Rakim, Tom Waits, Throwing Muses and Pixies – as far as I know (not having cheated by looking ahead), only one of these acts has a tiny cameo in the Popular story of the year.

  46. 46
    swanstep on 2 Feb 2010 #

    @44,crag. I can’t agree with you about 1986-1987, say, having no influence on contemporary charts. Probably *the* record of 1986 was Janet Jackson’s Control. Most of current Rihanna, Beyonce, even Gaga stuff stems fairly directly from that terrific album. And at least 10-15% of the music in the charts in recent years (not just your endless Coldplays and Snow Patrols but lots of Kings of Leon, 40 minutes to mars, or whatever that band with Jared Leto in it is called, and many others)is really just warmed over Joshua Tree – the biggest record of 1987 (which itself was a streamlining of U2’s first record with Eno producing, the Unforgettable Fire).

    By my estimation, then, somewhere between 25-30% of recent chart songs show direct influence of one of those two records.

    But there are lots of other subtler influences from this period on today’s charts: Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love crops up a couple of times a year on some record with chart action. And while you have to strain a bit to hear it, Crowded House’s ‘Don’t dream it’s over’, and Sugarcube’s ‘Birthday’ as some of the best and most distinctive pop songs ever made are v.v. influential. And you don’t have to press too hard to hear traces of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle and True Faith around these days either.

    And all of *that’s* setting aside all the metal stuff like Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood from 1986 that’s as influential, and in some sense unimprovable-on in its own realm as Joshua Tree has proved in the mainstream (for better or for worse).

    Of course lots of stuff like Invisible Touch, not to mention most of the recent Popular #1s, had relatively little to recommend it at the time and understandably is largely ignored now.

  47. 47
    wichita lineman on 2 Feb 2010 #

    Re 45: “It’s now part of our pop history of 2010, but I suspect may also get retrospectively woven back into pop history of the early 80s as seen from a British perspective”

    I keep hearing Journey referred to as if everyone loved them in 1981/82, it’s bizarre. Maybe the modern way of digesting pop is creating a collective false memory syndrome.

    As for the sounds of 86/87 influencing today’s pop, the soft/poodle rock talked about in the Final Countdown thread is surely due a revival. Maybe Journey’s AOR is the foot in the door for a Precious Metal revival.

  48. 48
    swanstep on 2 Feb 2010 #

    45,46. Yep, the journey of *that* Journey song is an interesting one: the revival appears to have begun with Sandra Bernhard singing it with a pianist accompanying her it in her mid 90s revue: I’m still here damn it! It was a very inner city, lower east side, semi-avant garde thing. It then gradually built, being used to v. dramatic effect in the excellent Charlize Theron movie Monster, then it was used on the Sopranos (at the climactic scene), then it was covered on Glee. Before this long reveival began, even in the US where it had orivginally been some sort of hit, Journey were as likely to be faetured on MTV for the video for ‘Separate Ways’ which is one of the most hilariously horrible of all time and was rightly mocked as such by Beavis and Butthead.

    Anyhow, there’s a similar path back to the light for Abba. Bjorn Again start up around 1988 in a certain sense selling Abba to hipsters in a quasi-avant garde arts festivally way. I guess Bjorn Again have continued, but really they became fairly redundant once Abba’s own stuff was back in increasing near-perennial high rotation after 1992.

  49. 49
    Mark M on 2 Feb 2010 #

    Re 48: “Some sort of hit” – let’s be clear, in the Americas, it was a big hit at the time. It reached No 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the album went to No1. Along with Journey’s Separate Ways and Open Arms, it was an instant AOR standard. I’m sure long before either Sandra B or Adam Sandler’s intervention, it was an American karaoke favourite. In the US, then, whether you like the song or not, it has a proper place* in the history of the 1980s pop. The fictitious part, which the Lineman tells us is already in process, is it’s positioning in British music history of that same era, when no one had a Trans-Am to drive around in while listening to it.

  50. 50
    swanstep on 2 Feb 2010 #

    @Mark M., 49. I think we agree. I said ‘some sort of hit’ just because Popular is very #1-(or close to #1)-centered, and I knew that ‘Don’t stop believin’ had never reached those heights. Beyond that, I lived in the US from 1989-2000s and don’t remember hearing it much until its profile started to rise via hipsters. But of course all hipster-revivalists were depending on everyone knowing/recognizing the song so it *was* in some general way in the air in the US before then. That indeed doesn’t seem to true most other places, e.g., I just checked and in New Zealand Journey got no singles chart action and their only album presence in the ’80s was a pitiful one week at #49. And yet Steve Perry got to #8 with Oh Sherrie, which is similar to DSB, and fellow-travellers like Loverboy, and Boston and Styx and Heart got plenty of chart action, so it’s a bit of a mystery why Journey ‘travelled’ so poorly.

  51. 51
    thefatgit on 2 Feb 2010 #

    Nostalgia as a highly addictive narcotic, would be class A if you could deal in it. It’s even more seductive to the masses during recession times. It’s very tempting to don those rose-tinted specs, but the view is of course skewed. If the Journey song triggers an AOR revival of sorts, then only the youth who weren’t around back then could possibly buy into it. We’ve seen it all before of course. Music, like fashion is cyclical. Last year, La Roux revived New Romanticism (albeit fed through a kind of cheap, battery-operated, video-game music-filter). We expect this kind of re-invention and nods to the past as par for the course. What seems odd with “Don’t Stop Believin'” is that it was far from popular in the UK the 1st time around, yet we can identify it as part of the current nostalgia boom, but it’s importing United States Of America’s nostalgia.

    Something that happened a lot in ’86-’87: Levi 501’s, leather biker jackets, Marlon Brando, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe (Athena top-sellers) all get referenced, copied or re-hashed around this time. Rock ‘n’ Roll deaths of the ’50s get re-examined. There’s a demand for ’50s americana everywhere, even in the movies.
    Then in ’88-’89, the psychedelic era gets similar treatment…but that’s for a later discussion.

  52. 52
    pink champale on 2 Feb 2010 #

    if it’s any help, i’ve STILL never heard bloody “don’t stop believin'”. i’d also like to offer up the non ‘ardkore early nineties as a pop era impervious to being revived or fondly remembered. though no doubt we’ll see if that’s true when we get there.

  53. 53
    Mark M on 2 Feb 2010 #

    Re 51: more faux nostalgia, of course, came in the form of those I Heart the 80s shows (and their ilk), in which the pundits pretended to have fond memories of many things they had never heard of before being shown the clips.

  54. 54
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 2 Feb 2010 #

    isn’t nostalgia faux by definition? the non-faux stuff is called memory (or documentation) (or history)…

    (and i totally doubt we are the first generation to experience this rejigging of history to include stuff that’s only become a value since: on the contrary, i think we’re a generation so over-saturated with the documentation of trivia* that we’re unusually aware of this process as a falsification)

  55. 55
    lonepilgrim on 2 Feb 2010 #

    1986 also saw the launch of Q magazine in the UK which marked a change of emphasis for music journalism compared to the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds. Because it didn’t reflect weekly music ‘news’ Q concentrated more on career profiles and consumer reviews of new and reissued music. This served to favour a more nostalgic/historicised version of pop and rock that inevitably led to the likes of Mojo and Uncut and the sense that there was a ‘canon’ of music which you ‘had’ to own.

  56. 56
    CarsmileSteve on 2 Feb 2010 #

    47 et al, but isn’t this exactly what happened to Teenage Kicks? 31 with not quite a bullet, but now lauded as a song everyone loved (i mean, i love it, but it seems weird that it wasn’t that big a hit given its subsequent ubiquity…)

    and 55 i think there was a canon loooooooong before Q came along, NME and MM had been myth making and list making for *years* surely?

  57. 57
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 2 Feb 2010 #

    but i think the weeklies deployed “the necessary past” primarily as a counterweight to the overbearing rush and pressure of the shifting present — ftb the sense of losing your bearings because you had to change direction and tastes EVERY WEEK; part of the Q sensibility was that you collected the magazine, for starters!

    (obv *i* collected nmes and sounds and etc, but i was a writer, and mad)

  58. 58
    pink champale on 2 Feb 2010 #

    i’d be suprised if you were the only one here who collected mm and nme, lord s! *mutters darkly about father recently throwing them out for petty house-moving reasons* but yes, q was big on selling back issues, and you could buy a special folder to put them in.

    it seems to me that a big difference with q was not so much that it evented a historicised view of pop, i.e. rock (the q canon seemed to be taken pretty much wholesale from those slightly earlier paul gambo ’100 greatest album’ coffee table books, for a start) but that it had a very calm, ironised, tone of voice that was very different from the more factionalist mne and mm of the late eighties and much more like the i heart the eighties tone you get everywhere now. this sort of thing had crept into the nme by the time i was reading it in the early nineties – hence the jibes about men sitting around in smoking jackets making jokes about pop.

  59. 59
    thefatgit on 2 Feb 2010 #

    I have a tendency to regard Q as an organ that operates from the outskirts of Hipsterville, while NME and MM were around the centre of Downtown Hipsterville.

    The Face, also a monthly, but not entirely devoted to music also seemed to be at the absolute centre of Hipsterville.

  60. 60
    Mark M on 2 Feb 2010 #

    Re 54: I was going to include that qualification about nostalgia, but checked the dictionary says ‘wistful longing for the past’, which is not necessarily fake.

    On the broader point, obviously nations are built on constructing shared pasts that never were.

  61. 61
    Billy Smart on 2 Feb 2010 #

    The absolutely pivotal moment is about issue 8 of Q – the one with The Beatles making of Sgt Pepper on the cover. Astonishingly, this was seen as something of a risk at the time, but sold out almost immediately, copies being impossible to find for years, etc.

    And 23 years on, this publication is the template for every other issue of Mojo and Uncut…

    I have some affection for old-school Q, looking back, though I saw it as the enemy of what I stood for as an MM/ John Peel teenager. I can see now that it was clearly written by a lot of droll and literate middle-aged fellows, with a range of interests that went beyond pop, in features like the Q charts or Tom Hibbert interviews, which were always really funny. This strand of journalism has long since disappeared from Q, but lives on in The Word, a much more pleasurable read than Mojo or Uncut.

  62. 62
    LondonLee on 2 Feb 2010 #

    #51. but it’s importing United States Of America’s nostalgia.

    Journey are bad enough, just hope the same thing doesn’t happen with Kiss.

    The power of US cultural hegemony is rewriting our cultural history: Halloween takes over Guy Fawkes and now apparently we were always Journey fans.

  63. 63
    thefatgit on 2 Feb 2010 #

    And the irony there is 4 lads from Dublin mentioned upthread take the US by storm with The Joshua Tree, and what is essentially an open love-letter to America (or what is essentially an ideal, or sense of what the USA SHOULD be), after The Unforgettable Fire’s unabashed critique of the United States of America! Or if you prefer…let’s sell America back to the Americans!

    Further down the line, we have Bono attempting phone the President night after night from underneath a GIANT LEMON!?! But again, I am getting a little too far ahead.

  64. 64
    AndyPandy on 2 Feb 2010 #

    48:I’ve mentioned on here before that surely it’s a myth that Abba had to wait until the early 90s and Bjorn Again etc to gain critical kudos. In the 90s they just gained a lot of annoying ironic/camp approval that they’s been better of without.

    Throughout the early 80s New Pop period they were continually lauded by various artists/New Pop sympathetic writers and on multiple occasions by Phil Oakey.It seemed the consensus back then by the anti-rockists that they were the pop masters.
    Blancmange covered “The Day Before You Came” and had a hit with it before the original had hardly left the charts.
    And not exactly hip but showing they even had muso like old rock type props for their sound/production Genesis and Phil Collins used their studios/worked with them.

    44: and didn’t “Valerie” from “Back in the Highlife” era Steve Winwood provide a large part of Eric Prydz’s massive club and possibly embargoed at the moment pop hit from a couple of years ago?

    Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” seemingly did have a sort of underground (metal) following in the UK however as at the start of the millennium (2001/02) I found myself on more than one occasion at a rock disco in Sheffield owing to my then girlfriend being from a rock background (and the place had a nice atmosphere too!). Every week they would play the Journey track in the main/classic metal room and all these rockers loved and obviously knew it and so it seems that it had already become a bit of a cult classic in those circles in this country at least as early as then.

    and that’s bang on by whoever mentioned those annoying “I love the 80s” type programmes and those same “celebs” who would pretend to “remember” things when you just knew they were the kind of people who obviously didn’t have a clue about any of the stuff they were pretending to be nostalgic.

  65. 65
    swanstep on 2 Feb 2010 #

    @64, Andypandy. ‘Valerie’ is from Winwood’s 1982 follow-up to the Arc of a Diver album. 1986’s Back in the High Life was a nifty record but seemed to quickly squander fond-memory points by being very extensively used in beer commercials for Michelob (which combined undrinkable, watery, but quite chemically and hangover-inducing beer with obnoxious, yuppie-/status-seeking packaging/marketing. Ghastly.).

    Also, I agree with you that Oakey etc. name-dropped Abba a fair bit in the early ’80s, but that did seem to fade away. By 1987-1988 one hardly ever heard Abba anywhere, and I vividly remember spending one afternoon in particular looking for some Abba cds and the only ones I could find after trekking around a few stores were expensive yet dodgy Japanese pressings of individual Abba albums. And this was in frickin’ Sydney, city of brides, Abba-central! It really was a quite remarkable state of affairs, perhaps especially for a singles-oriented band whose biggest seller *originally* was a compilation (called ‘The Best of Abba’ down under and something else in UK). I certainly wasn’t alone in being cheesed off about this state of affairs, hence the explosion that Gold represented in 1992. On a personal level, I doubt whether any single cd purchase has ever made me happier – I’d been in a state of Abba deprivation for a few years in a way that now seems quite unbelievable or even impossible.

  66. 66
    crag on 3 Feb 2010 #

    Fair points above about the influence of the mid-80s on much contemporary pop-maybe i’m just too attached to the period(or too detached to whats happening in todays charts?)to subjective about it. Perhaps folks who were around in the 60s couldnt hear that era’s influence on Britpop in the 90s for the same reason?

    Having said that, i still think the period of approx 84-87 still seems largely dismissed by todays tastemakers. I’d imagine stating what a great record, say, “You Wear it Well” or “Crazy Horses” was in the mid 80s would be greeted with howls of derision in “hipsterville” circles yet ten years later after the dust had settled such comments wouldnt have raised an eyebrow but i cant imagine many of todays young dudes claiming a love of Sly Fox or Spagna for example to gain “cool” points.

    Not that any of this affects the quality or otherwise of the actual music of course. Merely an observation…

  67. 67
    rosie on 3 Feb 2010 #

    Crag @ 66: The first time I heard Oasis I thought I was hearing Beatles outtakes. And wasn’t She’s Electric a direct rip of the Kinks’ Wonder Boy?

  68. 68
    crag on 3 Feb 2010 #

    Sorry Rosie i had meant to type “Perhaps SOME folks who were around in the 60s”in my previous post but unfortunately the “some”seems to have got lost in the edit- no offence meant!!
    Also just out of interest can anyone tell me why the last few posts have been dated 3 Feburary-as i type this its still only 11.50pm on the 2nd?Just curious…

  69. 69
    swanstep on 3 Feb 2010 #

    Looking at forthcoming popular #1s has reminded me that, of course, while the film Stand by Me was a 1986 release in the US, for the rest of us it was another one of those fantastically watchable 1987 films.

  70. 70
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 3 Feb 2010 #

    i watched “stand by me” with tony blackburn! (ok he was in the row in front of me)

  71. 71
    LondonLee on 3 Feb 2010 #

    #66: I’d imagine stating what a great record, say, “You Wear it Well” or “Crazy Horses” was in the mid 80s would be greeted with howls of derision in “hipsterville” circles

    I vividly remember being at an art school party circa 1984 and my mate put The Osmonds’ “Let Me In” on the stereo and a couple of us got up and sang along to it very loudly — perfectly seriously with no hint of being ironic (I swear I was a bit teary-eyed by the end. Yes, I was drunk but it’s a lovely song!), but I’m sure most of the people in the room thought we were joking. Next he put on ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’ by ELO by which time everyone realized we were being perfectly serious and started to have serious doubts about our taste.

    I think even back then I resented the cloud of kitsch that had quickly enveloped the pre-punk 70s – this was my childhood and was trying to reclaim it.

  72. 72
    anto on 3 Feb 2010 #

    Re: Abba Influence. Aside from Phil Oakey Elvis Costello admitted to nabbing the Rachmaninov-esque piano flourishes of Dancing Queen and putting them in the capable hands of Steve Nieve on Olivers
    Also the perpetually under-rated Associates were Abba fans.
    Alan Rankine claimed them as his favourite group while Billy McKenzie referred to the Sulk lp as ” Abba on acid “.
    Lastly Neil Tennant has admitted that Abba were as much a reference for the songs on Actually as anything on the House/Electro scenes.

    I’m not denying Abba were being mis-used as a punchline by 1986-87
    it’s just interesting that some of the smarter musicians of the decade still revered their records even before it became trendy again.

  73. 73

    With apologies to Gentleman Tom:

    The late 10s are strange times for, well, the world, and life. They’re one of those terrifying periods – like the early, Threads watching 80s, like, well, any time before Harold McMillan said “You’ve never had it so good” – where different ideologies, different orientations, different breakfast options, seem to be at war, where the very question of what politics, and well, the world, is – the role it plays in peoples’ lives – is up in the air. Though maybe now there is a settled consensus on who to back. Tories = rubbish! Trump = liar! Britain leaving the EU = well, May’s sweating, Juncker’s fretting, but perhaps we’ve noticed they’re not getting anywhere.

    But you’ll still find non-gammon people who aver we’re better off out – certainly, you’ll meet non-racist, non-sexist, no-problem-with-immigration left-of-centre young people from not-especially-gentrified northern milltowns who love European travel, culture, and football, and would never say “Bloody Foreigner, demanding to know what love is” who reached some wafer-thin, split-second conclusion they should take the choice of Mr. Burns’ mystery Brexit box. I, as much as I regretted my decision as soon as the first reports of post-referendum hate crime, was living in a box in early 2016, and hope and trust this won’t be the elephant in my Popular room, was one of them.

    You will also find people who sneer at “millennial vegan snowflakes who can’t get on the property ladder because all their money goes on avocado toast” as banter without principle. You will find many with a kind word to say about – nay, believe the jam-making, questionably tracksuited Captain Birdseye-with-a-cold one is our saviour (I’m still just about one of them, I joined Labour during his ascent, and thought Brexit would make it easier for him to become PM as it would trigger a snap election……….) who think Jeremy Corbyn is one of British politics’ great closet Leave voting, hard-left, dodgy artwork sympathising chancers. (Even though Dennis Skinner voted out, Tony Benn 99.9% would, and maybe EU neo-liberalism isn’t working wonders for Italy, Greece or Spain… but though he never influenced my decision, to paraphrase a parents’ scolding phrase of yesteryear, “if Farage said jump in the canal would you bloody do it?”)

    And seen from our perspective – from a British institution that no regime, not even a Canadian “who’s buying this after ten weeks?” behemoth (no, not THAT one) can buy, sell, or end – what we have is something close to chaos, time breaking down so that a bullying, burnt-ochre blowhard who wanted to take America back to the 19 (18?)50s, another Canadian, chilled-out, boyband-looking hearthrob born twice as close to West End Girls as that record is to now (and who could pass for someone born after that), and an alleged Hair-Blair-bunch, establishment banker who married your gran (but at least he wasn’t Marine Le Poison Pen), all these could tumble into one another running the world.

    Past, present, future, love, hate, progressivism, and reactionaries, in collision – and so many are desperate to pick a team (though you can’t blame anyone who wonders what team there is for them to pick, with the cold, relentless pace of events amplified by sociopathic media, and our “oh god what now” breaking news culture, which I fear has almost broken some of our most admired contributors, and their friends – i.e. Twitter was once a pal, now I worry it’s a cloak-and-dagger threat to everything Marcello Carlin, Billy Hicks, or Justin Lewis held dear.)

    But just when I think I’m out of the entire Internet, Popular pulls me right back in.

    The ferment of the late 10s happened for a bunch of reasons. The stars of the New Labour, nu metal, or so post-modern, so post-everything generation had abdicated, split, imploded or disgraced themselves and there was a void ready for the extremes of good and evil to exploit. There’ve been massive opportunities for the Ye Olde Englande business to repackage the dubious art of getting back things that were never that great, or never even existed in the first place, and everything from Downton Abbey to the Starshaped Festival has played a dubious part in that. But there’ve also been great realignments in left-leaning, forward-thinking pop culture: increased fights for LGBT and women’s rights, the increased calls for everything from comics to sport to reflect a modern, diverse world and stand up for the underrepresented and marginalised, the wind-in-sails, all-hands-on-deck fightback against the alt-right, police harassment of minorities, and as we saw this weekend, the huge rallies to end America’s gun lunacy. Who will win out in the end though? Who knows. But, though, who knows how the chart toppers of the late-10s will reflect our times and said culture wars, I’m going to get back on this bus. But I’ll just have to make sure I nail my colours to the right mast this time, and don’t throw anyone under said bus. As much as it would never be my intention to do so, I’m sorry if my past naive political decisions have caused such throwing.

    2016-17, though, was a time of absolute heaven-and-hell madness for me for reasons nothing to do with Brexit, and fluctuating health was the reason I barely posted on Popular. But I’ll talk more about that where relevant, and I’m doing okay now, life is pretty much back to normal, and looking forward to this year.

    What do all these have in common, I’d speculate? Well, social media’s made it easier for so many people to mobilise. Unfortunately, it’s often your naïve, meme-sharing auntie who didn’t know who Britain First were, Gamergate bros who spend all day trolling feminists in their mum’s Dorito-stained basement, and of course, the four most important words in the English language: “Never Read the Comments.” But just as in the late 60s, 70s, 80s, 1780s, the trash-talking has been repelled, and the good people in the world are cutting through the dense jungle of pop culture to get somewhere. I know some cynics see it as the regressive left, virtue signalling, and all those cringeworthy phrases, but in the laissez-faire late 90s, McCain would never have run adverts saying “Love doesn’t care what gender you are”, Center Parcs would never have condemned and refused to work with the Daily Mail, and my football team would never have had the strength to campaign against the sport’s lingering homophobia. (Unfortunately we had to campaign extra hard due to the whole Andre Gray business, but even he can eventually be linked to something positive on this site as his girlfriend was part of the bunny that was probably my favourite chart-topper of 2015.)

    Everyone’s nailing their colours to the mast in different ways and it’s all adding to a strange, anxious and “what the f*** is going on” time. But, as 1987 pointed out, though it might be a very difficult journey towards it, there is a future.

    (And a good time, eventually if the good people win? Some of it could be remarkable. Some of it could be unspeakable. But I can’t wait to get back on the Popular mystery tour… and on a lighter note, Drake, let someone else have a go!)

    Sometimes I think Britain, and the world, and music, is f***ed. But Popular somehow always seems to step in at the last minute and restore my faith in it. The sun’s shining, and there’s a bit more daylight.

    It’s great to be home.

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