Popular

8
Jul 09

CULTURE CLUB – “Karma Chameleon”

FT + Popular63 comments • 7,160 views

#527, 24th September 1983, video

How to sell a contradiction: “Karma Chameleon” is a song about frustration and confusion that consciously transforms itself into colourful frippery, and by doing this it gets its hooks into you even deeper. And such hooks! Though true to the song the very best ones dance around the tune’s edges – those little harmonica licks in the chorus, for instance, or the gorgeous middle eight: “Every day is like survival / You’re my lover and I’m my rival.”

6
Jul 09

UB40 – “Red Red Wine”

FT + Popular65 comments • 6,283 views

#526, 3rd September 1983, video

UB40, I was aware, made reggae. Therefore reggae sounded like what UB40 made. I can’t have been the only one who made this logical mis-step, and I expect I wasn’t the only one who spent a decade-plus assuming they disliked reggae because of it.

For many people, of course, UB40 will have served as the gateway into reggae: that was the aim of Labour Of Love, after all, one of the best-intentioned smash hit albums of its era. Good intentions don’t always make for good music: so deadening is “Red Red Wine” in its UB40 form that I’ve never had a twitch of motivation even to go back and see what they polished up.

4
Jul 09

New Shiny Thing Syndrome

FT + Popular3 comments • 786 views

I have built a Facebook Page for Popular. I will freely admit that I have not much idea of what I will USE it for: I’m thinking links to the entries, alerts to particularly interesting discussions developing on older entries, and any other material I happen to find of interest to fans of #1 hits. A use case will either evolve or not, I imagine. But anyhow there it is and you can now become a “fan”.

3
Jul 09

KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND – “Give It Up”

FT + Popular33 comments • 2,782 views

#525, 13th August 1983

At first listen – and honestly at tenth listen – “Give It Up” seems like another disco carriage clock hit: thanks for all the hard work boys, now have a number one. On the other hand, if you want a splashy summer hit you could do far worse – this is a little rigid and lacking in bottom end perhaps, but full of bright carnival touches. It’s a marvellously airy record – good (as I’ve discovered this week) for clearing the head on a muggy day. The production aesthetic is “salad of all the trebles” – buzzy synths, high rhythm guitar, falsetto and brass all hustling for prominence. KC himself isn’t the intense central presence he was on “Please Don’t Go” – he’s upstaged by the backing singers, whose “Nana-nana-nanananananaNOW!” is the song’s most delightful (and enduring) element.

29
Jun 09

PAUL YOUNG – “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)”

FT + Popular52 comments • 4,934 views

#524, 23rd July 1983, video

In the mid-90s I worked in the Music And Video Exchange chain in Notting Hill Gate. Paul Young’s No Parlez holds a special place in my affections from those years – not because we ever knowingly played it, but because it was the undisputed number one landfill vinyl “penny each for these, mate” champ. Browsing the 20p albums down in that malodorous Pembridge Road basement, it seemed like every fourth flick would bring you face to face with Paul’s teased-up hair, quizzical expression and sweaty leather suit.

24
Jun 09

ROD STEWART – “Baby Jane”

FT + Popular41 comments • 2,774 views

#523, 2nd July 1983, video

A blowsy wreck of a single, this, keys and sax and guitar and Rod all fighting for the same earspace over an aggressively chuntering rhythm. What you really notice is how one-note and shot Stewart sounds – his great strength as a vocalist, that way he could lead you into a story, completely gone. Though even if he did still have the power to turn “Baby Jane” into something that might intrigue you, that clunking chorus would kill the momentum anyway.

22
Jun 09

THE POLICE – “Every Breath You Take”

FT + Popular47 comments • 3,806 views

#522, 4th June 1983, video

I guess the mid-paced slog of a rhythm which dominates “Every Breath You Take” is meant to suggest its narrator’s implacability – the unresting patience of a stalker. Rock is a generally lively medium though and it takes some craft to build a “classic song” out of stony resolution, so credit to Sting and crew for that much at least. It must have been quickly obvious that “Every Breath” was going to be with us for a lifetime, a grey new fixture in the hall of fame.

19
Jun 09

NEW EDITION – “Candy Girl”

FT + Popular37 comments • 3,328 views

#521, 28th May 1983, video

“Candy Girl” is one of those irritating records that I feel I ought to like more than I do. Certainly within the schema of Popular it should be a pretty ‘important’ single – it’s the first number one with rapping on, for goodness’ sakes. The only problem is that Maurice Starr’s use of the old Jackson 5 playbook is so flagrant and calculated it overshadows anything else going on in the track.

12
Jun 09

SPANDAU BALLET – “True”

FT + Popular73 comments • 4,479 views

#520, 30th April 1983, video

The effect of “True” – potent for some, emetic for others – is a function of how it rubs two impulses up against each other. One is a yearning for depth and the authentic, in the form of soul music. The other is a wish to make your records gleam, to emphasise their sleekness and luxury. Understand this combination and you understand pop in the mid-80s. On the one hand, “You are Gold!” On the other, “Always believe in your soul!”

27
May 09

DAVID BOWIE – “Let’s Dance”

FT + Popular144 comments • 6,876 views

#519, 9th April 1983

One of the odd things about Bowie is how panicky he seems to get when he’s in fashion. The image of him as a “pop chameleon” is surely at least partly cover for a flight-reflex that kicks in when one of his stylistic changes really takes off. In the mid 70s, tasting superstardom on the back of his deviant glam image, he sidestepped into black US pop, making Young Americans and baffling his fans with “plastic soul”. Close to a decade on, and again the fountainhead of art-pop influence, he made exactly the same move, borrowing sounds and musicians from black pop to make a record that’s an exercise in knowing glossiness.