Popular

21
Aug 09

STEVIE WONDER – “I Just Called To Say I Love You”

FT + Popular84 comments • 6,652 views

#538, 8th September 1984, video

Bad songs earn bad reputations, but the particular disdain this one attracts is tangled up with people’s love for its creator. Everyone’s entitled a clunker sometimes but it’s galling when one becomes a great artist’s most popular song. At the back of our minds we all know that if Stevie Wonder was to go under a bus tomorrow it wouldn’t be “Living For The City” that racked up the RIP downloads.

18
Aug 09

Whoa-oh, we’re (almost) halfway there!

FT + Popular11 comments • 1,230 views

There are currently 15 songs to go before I reach the halfway point of my Popular project. Obviously it’s possible that I’ll slip back behind that point, but I doubt it, and in any case halfway deserves celebration.

So there will be a WEEKEND OF POPULAR held from Friday 2nd October to Sunday 4th October. Come along and mark the beginning of the triumphant second half of this enormous project, which will be much like the first except with more Westlife.*

On the Friday (2nd), the Poptimism Club Night at the Horse Bar near Waterloo will be taken over by Club Popular, where the most banging number ones from 1952 to now will be played. Many will induce you to dance.

On the Sunday (4th), the Hangover Lounge at The Lexington on Pentonville Road will ALSO play host to Club Popular, this time playing the softer side of chart-topping pop. We’re delighted to say that Bob Stanley, of Saint Etienne, will be DJing.

Something might happen on the Saturday too, who knows.

It would be marvellous to see you, especially if you’re a comments box regular we haven’t met yet. Put it in the diaries!

*there is of course a slim chance that I will go crazy and spend the 90s talking about how pop is the female void and rock the male light, before the 00s devolve into a minute annotation of Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom in a really tiny font. Caveat lector.

17
Aug 09

GEORGE MICHAEL – “Careless Whisper”

FT + Popular70 comments • 6,907 views

#537, 18th August 1984, video

Every songwriter seems to have one: the perfect tune they wrote at the very pre-dawn of their career, before fame came knocking. Does it bother Mick Hucknall, I wonder, that he’s never written a better song than one he wrote when he was 17? There are plenty who’d say the same about this, and for certain George Michael never again wrote a lyric as immediate as the “guilty feet” line.

13
Aug 09

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – “Two Tribes”

FT + Popular125 comments • 18,557 views

#536, 16th June 1984, video

In 1982, armageddon came to the pages of 2000AD. The Sov-Bloc, sworn enemies of Judge Dredd, invented a missile defense shield that allowed them to strike at Mega City One with impunity. They did so, having first maddened and weakened its already-decadent populace. In one memorable scene, as the missiles fall, citizens in as yet unbombed zones take advantage of the radiation heatwave to strip down and dance, singing a catchy tune called “Apocalypso”. It was a typical 2000AD touch, absurd but with a kernel of resonant truth. In the face of certain annihilation, what else to do but dance it on? “Two Tribes” – as thrill-powered a record as has ever hit the top – asks the same question and gets the same answer.

10
Aug 09

WHAM! – “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”

FT + Popular78 comments • 7,745 views

#535, 2nd June 1984, video

“We play it in marching band camp. fun song. no sharps or flats! yay”: this YouTube comment nails “Wake Me Up”‘s enduring appeal – it’s a song full of communal, kinetic, shade-free positivity. This might be nauseating but isn’t, thanks mostly to George Michael’s dynamism and his gleeful joy in his own fast-developing gifts. He produced the song as well as wrote it, and keeps things simple, building a supple funk-pop groove from keyboard and bass and then letting his own forcefulness fill the space. Two-thirds through the horns come in and the record bursts into renewed life – that trumpet-and-drum break shunting the track up a level.

4
Aug 09

DURAN DURAN – “The Reflex”

FT + Popular65 comments • 4,247 views

#534, 5th May 1984, video

At school we had a music teacher, and like most music teachers he decided that the way to reach the kids was to indulge their love of pop. So one day he asked us to name a current song we loved, to talk about in a future lesson. Fully three-quarters of the class gave the same answer: “The Reflex”, please.

31
Jul 09

LIONEL RICHIE – “Hello”

FT + Popular46 comments • 3,914 views

#533, 24th March 1984, video

So far in the video decade we’ve mostly met promo clips that enhance their records, at best bringing their imagined worlds to life, at worst providing a harmless bit of period diversion. Even when the video is absurd – Bonnie’s glowing choirboys, for instance – it’s been somehow responding to and enhancing an absurdity in the record. “Hello” is, I think, the first song to be destroyed by its video.

29
Jul 09

NENA – “99 Red Balloons”

FT + Popular45 comments • 7,161 views

#532, 3rd March 1984, video

1984 was pop’s year of war. I’m not talking about Macca or Nena or Frankie: it was the moment I most keenly felt the charts as a battleground. There was a cosmic struggle raging in the Top 40 between the awesome and the terrible and in some huge and undefinable way it mattered which side won each week. Before this point I’d experienced the charts as a source of pleasure – the bad stuff rubbed up against the good but it hardly bothered me. After this, my concept of what pop included started to expand – the war continued but with the Sunday evening chart only one of its (many, many) fronts.

24
Jul 09

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – “Relax”

FT + Popular110 comments • 12,339 views

#531, 28th January 1984, video

In the beginning was the ban. Oh, there’d been a Frankie before, and a “Relax” before, but the ban was the B of BANG!, that Paul Morley-driven hyperconcept which when completed would lead to….. well, something. (A computer game, as it turned out.)

The ban, of course, was consensual. Relax, in its flesh-and-leather sleeve, ached for punishment – as public and official as possible. Mike Read duly doled some out. The record became an instant legend and soon had the sales to match the publicity. Classic McLaren playbook, as many a veteran must have pointed out. And the really clever thing was, when you played it it was hardly obscene at all: its filth was all in the aura and the rumour.

21
Jul 09

PAUL MCCARTNEY – “Pipes Of Peace”

FT + Popular66 comments • 4,276 views

#530, 14th January 1984, video

“In love our problems disappear”: ever since the high days of the Beatles, Paul McCartney had a thing about love. Even after – especially after – he’d had to play the hard-nosed one and break up that band, “love” remained as a presence in his songwriting, something increasingly abstract and mystical: a universal solvent.