Popular

31
Mar 09

ADAM ANT – “Goody Two Shoes”

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#502, 12th June 1982

Ants largely jettisoned, Adam cast around for a new angle. It was a moment in pop history when sudden changes of image and sound were respectable – even expected for some stars. Compared to today’s performers who tend to cover bandwagon-jumping with a figleaf of artistic intent, there was a refreshing honesty about this pursuit of a new look for a new season: pop and fashion were merging in a blare of colour.

26
Mar 09

MADNESS – “House Of Fun”

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#501, 29th May 1982

“House Of Fun” finds Madness – one of the most consistent and successful singles acts in Britain – on a cusp. They’d made their name with busy, high-impact ska-derived records whose bristling arrangements and comical touches often hid more pointed subject matter. They were heading towards an incarnation as traders in pop art melancholy, an inheritor of the Kinks and prototype for Britpop.

But this record is the band biting off almost more than it can chew. It’s Madness’ skankin’ nutty-boys incarnation pushed to the limits of cohesion, Suggs trying to squeeze a complex sitcom sketch – in which he acts every part! – into under three minutes, jostling for space with a beat and a load of fairground-music instrumental lines.

18
Mar 09

NICOLE – “A Little Peace”

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#500, 15th May 1982

In the world of Marvel and DC Comics, the 100th, 200th (etc) issues of a title were considered real milestones. To maximise sales of these anniversary specials, the companies would often use them to launch particularly big storylines: deaths, marriages, epic battles. But often this meant that the run of issues immediately before the anniversary were especially poor – the title would be in a holding pattern, putting out meaningless and unmemorable issues to kill numbers before the big one, and following it would become a chore. If the long-awaited 500th issue also turned out to suck – well, you can imagine how frustrating that was.

16
Mar 09

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND STEVIE WONDER – “Ebony And Ivory”

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#499, 24th April 1982

An awful suspicion lingers that Paul McCartney wouldn’t have tried something like this if it hadn’t been for “Imagine” doing so well the year before. Some partnerships and rivalries create reflexes that run way deeper than conscious decision can account for, and anyhow Lennon was – naturally – on the man’s mind as he put the Tug Of War material together. A piano ballad whose simple truth can bring the world together as one? What could possibly go wrong?

13
Mar 09

BUCKS FIZZ – “My Camera Never Lies”

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#498, 17th April 1982

“The Land Of Make Believe” was a good song made mysterious by its muffled production; “My Camera Never Lies” is an ordinary song with an arrangement that bristles and shines like a Swiss Army Knife. Unusually, it’s a record almost entirely carried by its backing vocals – all that jittery “ma-ca-muh-ruh-ruh” stuff which gradually takes over the whole track (to be replaced with more conventional harmonies, and children’s voices considerably creepier than the one at the end of “Make Believe”).

The result is jumpy, slightly desperate, annoying in repeated doses, but surprisingly effective. It’s like Bucks Fizz, aware their fame is running out, are trying to cram all of new wave and new pop into a single supercompressed hybrid, halfway between Devo and Dollar.

11
Mar 09

GOOMBAY DANCE BAND – “Seven Tears”

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#497, 27th March 1982

“Seven Tears” is a platonic ideal of rubbish European pop: if it came out today you could half believe it was some kind of plot by the UK Independence Party. In its three and a bit minutes the poor man’s Boney M hit an impressive number of touchpoints:

9
Mar 09

TIGHT FIT – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”

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#496, 6th March 1982

All you need to know about this record – and its relationship to the Tokens’ hit arrangement it’s based on – is on the sleeve. The Tokens’ single comes wrapped in a funny, almost suggestive picture of a girl and a stuffed lion, and its hints toward exotica are playful and gleeful. This lion sleeping tonight could be a sly metaphor, or just a bit of nonsense, the song a liberation tune or a nursery rhyme – and this nebula of possible meaning helps give the song an uncatchable, enchanting quality.

6
Mar 09

THE JAM – “A Town Called Malice”/”Precious”

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#495, 13th February 1982

Almost everyone agrees that 60s Motown is good, but Motown-esque records are far from a stylistic sure thing. This is only partly because most bands don’t have the Funk Brothers as a rhythm section: despite the directness of their formula, Motown songs often come at you obliquely. They cover a hefty emotional punch in gloves of charm, sweetness, melodic nuance or wit. The elemental force of the mighty mid-60s Four Tops hits was so effective because it was an exception, a glimpse of the storm beneath the skin.

17
Feb 09

KRAFTWERK – “The Model”/”Computer Love”

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#494, 6th February 1982

Cometh the hour, cometh the robots: there is no other moment in pop history when Kraftwerk could have got to number one here – and were it not for those meddling DJs, they wouldn’t have. It still feels slightly odd and unlikely to be writing about them – it’s like Noel Edmonds deciding to champion “Jesus” and giving the Velvet Underground a chart-topper.

Not that “The Model” isn’t an obvious hit: it’s never been my favourite Kraftwerk tune, but as those DJs realised its translated awkwardness gives it commercial legs as a novelty record. That isn’t to say I don’t like it: all Kraftwerk’s immense virtues are here too.

13
Feb 09

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – “Oh Julie”

FT + Popular34 comments • 2,466 views

#493, 30th January 1982

Shaky’s first two number ones left us with an open question: was he attracted to rock’n’roll because of the wit and invention in songs like “Green Door”, or was he simply a hard-working stylist with decent taste in material? The shrill “Oh Julie” quickly resolves the issue: it’s written by Shaky himself, and is an excellent case study in why doing your own songs is not always a good idea. Julie/truly, baby/maybe, leave/believe – he clunks his way artlessly through the Ladybird Book Of Rhymes and the song’s one-trick melody certainly can’t save it. Nor does the Elvis imitation: it’s a source of relief when he shuts up and gets on with doing the Shaky shuffle. Short as it thankfully is, “Oh Julie” still manages to be one of the most boring number ones going: a painfully perfunctory exercise in the deliberately generic.