Popular

4
Dec 08

JOHN LENNON – “(Just Like) Starting Over”

FT + Popular65 comments • 3,844 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 • 3,489 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 • 2,408 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.

1
Dec 08

BARBRA STREISAND – “Woman In Love”

FT + Popular49 comments • 3,805 views

#468, 25th October 1980

Barbra Streisand won her fame as a musical star – in other words an interpretative singer. And so “Woman In Love” raises a thorny question: what happens to such a singer when what she has to interpret is gibberish? The brothers Gibb seem to have put together the song from a bunch of resonant phrases that they knew Streisand could really sell – “I am a woman in love!” “I stumble and all – but I give you my all!” – and then polyfilla’d them into place with some vaguely metaphysical cheese.

28
Nov 08

THE POLICE – “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”

FT + Popular40 comments • 2,776 views

#467, 27th September 1980

A cold, claustrophobic record, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” picks meticulously over a grim situation – the interest of a young teacher in a much younger pupil. Sting’s director’s eye takes in staffroom dynamics, teen social hierarchies and the teacher’s own self-consciousness as he reaches in horror for the inevitable literary reference. Unlike many of Sting’s clunkers, the “Nabokov” lyric is in-character, and quite clever: the teacher’s avoidance of the fatal L-word is an attempt to duck the self-condemnation he knows is his due. Sting still sounds a little pleased with himself but it’s hardly a deal-breaker.

26
Nov 08

KELLY MARIE – “Feels Like I’m In Love”

FT + Popular98 comments • 3,613 views

#466, 13th September 1980

One of the things that gives 1980’s number ones a queer, lopsided aspect is the way there’s not much of a middleground between hits which emerged more or less direct from youth subcultures and those shepherded into popularity by the likes of Noel Edmonds. In particular the pre-teen and tween market seems pretty dead at this point. This void would soon be filled with sound and light and ribbons and stripey noses but meanwhile pop was the stamping ground of young adults and not-so-young ones, a world in which hormone rushes had been replaced by messily consequential relationships.

21
Nov 08

THE JAM – “Start!”

FT + Popular60 comments • 2,855 views

#465, 6th September 1980

Not everyone in 1980 wanted to break from the past, but “Start!” is more than just recycling – in fact it’s one of Weller’s more experimental hits. The “Taxman” riff holds the track together, taking the place of a chorus, lending beat and muscle to an otherwise piecemeal record. There’s not even an attempt to disguise the source – especially as one of the fragments the riff glues together is a solo lifted nakedly from the same place. Playing this unifying role the “Taxman” lift is working like sampled breaks will come to operate – and in fact the beatwork is the star of “Start!”, those urgent, clipped shakers and brushes upping the track’s momentum considerably.

20
Nov 08

DAVID BOWIE – “Ashes To Ashes”

FT + Popular85 comments • 1 views

#464, 23rd August 1980

One metatextual break-up record succeeds another: but here David Bowie is breaking up with himself, and pop is breaking up around him, its structures fragmenting and sickening as the track lurches on. The music is a patchwork – snips and echoes of riffs or phrases jabbing across each other, somehow resolving into a song. Bowie himself starts to sing unsustainably high, his vocal line tumbling down and melting on re-entry – “Do you remember a guy that’s been” sounds like “Duhyuh remember agatherspear…”. Where you can decipher them the words are paranoid cut-ups or just nonsense playground rhymes like the chorus – “funk to funky”?

18
Nov 08

ABBA – “The Winner Takes It All”

FT + Popular104 comments • 7,333 views

#463, 9th August 1980

“The Winner Takes It All” is pure theatre. In the sense that it’s a showstopper – Andersson and Ulvaeus had been getting itchy with the singles-albums routine and thinking towards the stage for a while, and this song by itself pretty much demanded that an ABBA musical come into being one day. But also in the sense that the song’s context is a performance – a final performance, with an audience of one – and the song is a sequence of desperate, doomed ploys by its singer to win over that audience, even as he’s flipping up his seat, putting on his coat and hat and walking out of the show forever.

14
Nov 08

ODYSSEY – “Use It Up And Wear It Out”

FT + Popular34 comments • 2,714 views

#462, 26th July 1980

“Use It Up” steamed to number one on the back of its chant-friendly refrain: “one, two, three – shake your body down!”. But, effective though the surging chorus is, there’s a lot more going on here. The band are mix-and-matching a bunch of dancefloor protocols – sweet disco backing vox; whistles and latinate rhythmic tinges; chirruping and squawking synths; steelband suppleness; and finally some lovely scat-singing on the extended version’s coda. The result is pleasingly loose and relaxed, an open-door party where how you move matters a lot more than where you’re from.