Popular

17
Dec 08

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – “This Ole House”

FT + Popular43 comments • 4,235 views

#477, 28th March 1981

The last time “This Ole House” came up, a commenter on ILM quite rightly pointed out what I somehow hadn’t twigged – that it’s a song about dying. Of all songs on that theme, it’s surely one of the most stoical in its way – a joyful “whatever” in the teeth of advancing decrepitude. Liveliness was about all Shakin’ Stevens had going for him, but goodness he worked it.

Shaky sidesteps new wave and new pop and reaches back to the rock’n’roll revival that played such a part in the mid-70s’ charts. That had a cabaret tinge and so does he, but there’s an energy in his pastiche that – at this stage anyway – keeps it bearable. His other great advantage over fellow revivalists was knowing how to present that energy on video – on the clip for “This Ole House” he’s in perpetual motion and as the song cuts from room to room to roof it’s like Shaky’s dancing with the house itself.

16
Dec 08

ROXY MUSIC – “Jealous Guy”

FT + Popular55 comments • 4,380 views

#476, 14th March 1981

A band who helped define the 70s cover a song from the 70s by a man who barely outlived the 70s – and yet the cool precision of “Jealous Guy” makes it a recording utterly of the 1980s. The record’s attention to clinical detail seems to will compact discs into being: every instrument is perfectly, unhurriedly placed. Synthesiser washes like marble tiles; thick brushstrokes of guitar; the thread of whistling that plays the song out – “Jealous Guy” is immaculate.

12
Dec 08

JOE DOLCE MUSIC THEATRE – “Shaddap You Face”

FT + Popular62 comments • 3,859 views

#475, 21st February 1981

The extended artist credit is a giveaway: Aussie origins or no, this is a music hall number – perhaps the last such to get to No.1, complete with comical national caricature and audience participation. On record, the all-join-in section demolishes the song’s momentum, turning it into a chore. On screen, blackboard at the ready, Dolce made more sense, and at the time “Shaddap You Face” was a welcome relief after two months of piety. But almost anything would have been.

People upset that Ultravox were kept from the top by this have a good case: for a start, “Vienna” is a great deal funnier. The laughs in Joe Dolce arrive from i. the deathless comic value of a mock Italian accent, ii. the joy of yelling “Shaddap-a you face!”. I can vouch for ii, having submitted it to continuous testing that spring, but it’s not a gag whose appeal has crossed the gulf of years.

11
Dec 08

JOHN LENNON – “Woman”

FT + Popular58 comments • 3,060 views

#474, 7th February 1981

A basis purely in sales makes the UK chart faster-moving than playlist-led equivalents, and more responsive to the pleasures of any niche large enough to hit its thresholds. It’s a combination of that and the BBC’s dominant media position that has made caring about it such a British disease. But its calibrations are fragile – the Top 40 is easily knocked off-course by events. It would take a few more years for the mechanism to appear by which non-pop news and the charts could link up: Lennon’s death was a massive story but also still a pop event, so it was pop which felt its impact most. To a fan, the procession of Lennoniana at the top end of the charts was dignified and just. To a kid who’d only just started to fall for pop, it was like the Top 40 was simply broken: week upon week of this hairy guy wandering round a big white house.

9
Dec 08

JOHN LENNON – “Imagine”

FT + Popular131 comments • 5,982 views

#473, 10th January 1981

“John Lennon’s life was no longer a debate” – in a song which has a good claim to be the stupidest lyric ever recorded, this is a glimpse of insight. Lennon’s murder didn’t turn him into an icon – he was one anyway – but it froze his iconicity into a certain pattern: troubled genius, artist, lover and man of peace. The perfect demonstration of this was the release of Albert Goldman’s Lennon biography, which aroused raving outrage simply by detailing the numerous ways in which Lennon was a perfectly typical 60s and 70s rock star. There was more to him than that, but there’s more to him than “Imagine” too.

Popular ’80

FT + Popular/131 comments • 3,622 views

I give every song on Popular a mark out of 10. This is your opportunity to pick any that YOU would have given 6 or more to from 1980 – and you can talk about the year in general in the comments box.

Number One Hits of 1980: Which would you have given 6 or more to?

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Poll closes: No Expiry

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8
Dec 08

ST WINIFRED’S SCHOOL CHOIR – “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma”

FT + Popular58 comments • 5,297 views

#472, 27th December 1980

For every pop lover there comes a moment of reflection and perhaps even self-doubt, when they turn on the telly and see that for the first time their contemporaries are top of the charts. There on the screen are people your own age who spat in the face of caution and jumped two-footed into the pop life, living the dream while you sit at home in your lonely fandom drawing cheques on rock’n’roll you know deep inside you can never cash.

Of course, when it’s St. Winifred’s School Choir up there this painful realisation is a little bit easier.

4
Dec 08

JOHN LENNON – “(Just Like) Starting Over”

FT + Popular65 comments • 3,865 views

#471, 20th December 1980

I don’t remember John Lennon being killed. It would be more accurate to say I don’t remember John Lennon being alive. His murder is the first thing I knew about him, a founding fact of pop music: John Lennon is dead. For me he has been dead longer than Bolan or Hendrix or Buddy Holly, who also came packaged in their deaths, but who I heard about far later.

3
Dec 08

ABBA – “Super Trouper”

FT + Popular48 comments • 3,514 views

#470, 29th November 1980

The mockery of pop stars who write songs about how tough their lives are is as routinised as any of the tour grind they complain about: a reliable cue to take a celebrity down a peg. “Super Trouper” seems to have escaped this, maybe because ridicule was diverted to its silly, awkward title – or maybe because its exhausted candour rings too true. “Wishing every show was the last show”; “bored of a success that never ends”; “how can anyone be so lonely?” – as sung here these aren’t just the decadent complaints of over-indulged divas, they’re the sound of a miserable woman who’s stuck on a golden treadmill and wants off.

2
Dec 08

BLONDIE – “The Tide Is High”

FT + Popular49 comments • 2,423 views

#469, 15th November 1980

Horns pitched to sound like strings; strings played low and swinging like horns; a pot-pourri of roughly Caribbean percussion – instrumentally, “The Tide Is High” is delightful escapism. Even so it’s a little bit of a let-down. Debbie Harry gives a gentle, intimate performance, but gentle intimacy isn’t really what you go to Debbie Harry for. Once she savaged her rivals and dismissed her lovers, now she’s playing a long game – with supreme and justified confidence, of course, but the woozy, flippant Blondie on show here lack the flash and fire of previous encounters. “Tide” is a postcard from a band on holiday, something to cheer up a dreary Autumn: the holiday just ended up a little longer than anyone thought at the time.