Recently BBC4 were showing Top of the Pops from 1984. I wasn’t alive in 1984, so it was interesting to see a lot of the music in a historical context for the first time. Especially when you see some 1980s bubble-pop, and then John Peel or someone announces “and new in at number 25, a new song by Stevie Wonder, I Just Called to Say I love you” (!) or something along those lines. The charts are usually filled to the brim with shit. This is not a nostalgia thing. I look back at 1993-4, the era I grew up in for pop, and spot so much bloody rubbish in the top ten. That’s not a surprise. What was a surprise was that, if you looked beyond the tosh, there was a lot of really good songs in there too.
Hell, there was at least 40 of them. So I thought, hey, why not do a Top 40 of 1984? So here it is! I wound up with a shortlist of 70 songs and cut down from there. Some songs which tried to sneak a spot on the list but just missed out include: Berserker by Gary Numan, Never Ending Story, I’m So Excited, The Wanderer, The Riddle, Too Late for Goodbyes, Dr Beat, Love Kills or The Killing Moon. Sadly. There’s also no room whatsoever for Band Aid, because I fucking hate that song. It wont come up much though.
For a song to qualify for contention, it had to be in the UK top 40 at some point in 1984.
And without further do, on to 40th place…
40. I Should Have Known Better – Jim Diamond
It is said that when Jim Diamond finally made it to number one, he asked people to stop buying his record so that Band Aid could be number one instead. This is often seen as a great magnanimous gesture, and perhaps it was, but Band Aid is not on this list, and Jim Diamond is. I Should Have Known Better is one of those annoying songs, that, the first time you hear it, it doesn’t do much, but that the song sticks in your head and plays over and over until it beats you into submission and you have to concede it has some charm. Written by Diamond and Graham Lyle (not his last appearance on this list), this was one of only two chart successes for Jim Diamond as a solo singer-songwriter. He did appear as a backing vocalist on two charity songs that made it to number one in the 1980s, before dying aged 64 in 2015.
39. Shout to the Top – Style Council
Paul Weller is that artist that, when you are 16, feels like the most amazing and fresh person to have ever come along, but when you are 31, seems a bit by the numbers at times. To me, at least. I can never tell if I think his way with lyrics carries him into the rarefied air at the top of British pop or not. Sometimes I think yes it does, other times I disagree. That said, he knew a good tune when he heard it (if you think this is the in-road to a George Harrison or ELO reference here, shame on you! Also, hah!) and Shout to the Top is no different here. The Style Council lasted longer than The Jam, before Paul Weller split out on his own. Well, he is a changing man. There’s a melancholic feeling about this song. The man maybe in the gutter, looking at the stars, and announcing his intentions, but there seems a cynicism behind it all. That he knows his words are but unreachable dreams.
The instrumental only version is pretty good, too.
38. Karma Chameleon – Culture Club
One of those songs you couldn’t really countdown the year without mentioning. Being a contrary sod, I prefer Time to any of the Culture Club big hits, but then, Time was a different year entirely. Karma Chameleon, with the chorus known by everyone in the UK, was number 1 for six weeks in 1983, and the biggest selling single of the year. It sneaks in here because it was STILL in the charts through the first few weeks of 1984. The song is apparently about the need to speak out on issues and trying to suck up to the right people. I thought it was about a Karma Chameleon who comes and goes, who comes and goes…
Well, that’s this song stuck in my head for the rest of the day. It’s bloody infectious…
37. Say Say Say – Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney
I like this song. I don’t care if I’m the only one who does. I like how Macca is singing it in his usual style, and then in comes Michael Jackson like the boss on the chorus.
It’s like a mesh of easy listening era Macca with Thriller era Jackson. It shouldn’t work, but the very crossing together of it is what makes it interesting to me. A song which reached 2nd in the UK charts in 1983, it was bubbling around the top 30 at the turn of 1984. As a track produced by George Martin and with Beatles stalwarts like Geoff Emerick work on production, this is likely as close as you’ll get to a Fab Four/Michael Jackson spinoff. Although, the lack of Quincy Jones in the background for this single later gave Jackson the idea he didn’t need Quincy, so… rough with the smooth there.
What this best exemplifies is how in 1984, even the by that time mega rich Paul McCartney was still happy to experiment and test his wings in music. Between this, No More Lonely Nights (a dirge but an attempt at a blues song), Pipes of Peace and the great old kids song We All Stand Together (with the frog chorus) we see Sir Macca trying his range out in every direction. He has no fear of failure and that’s why he is great so often.
36. Together in Electric Dreams – Phil Oakey and Moroder
Giorgio Moroder composed the music for Midnight Express, and was also the musician behind some of Donna Summer’s most famous hits. Phil Oakey is Phil Oakey, of the Human League. Together, they produce a song that is more Human League than Moroder, like he got overwhelmed by the pop culture omnipotence. The soundtrack for a mostly forgotten SF film flop, the song actually made more money than the film. It also, noted Oakey, took him ten minutes in total, as Giorgio Moroder wrote the song with “male soloist” in place. Great chorus.
35. Aces High – Iron Maiden
I was quite delighted to see Iron Maiden songs in the top 40 in 1984. Iron Maiden songs that weren’t called Send Your Daughter to the Slaughter! I had to umm and err over Aces High or 2 Minutes to Midnight, but while the latter has the catchier chorus, I think Aces High is the better song. Though I might change my mind again in a week’s time. The song, about an RAF pilot during the Battle of Britain, remains massive popular with live audiences.
34. Islands in the Stream – Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers
A song written by the BeeGees! The duet by two of the genuine A listers of American country music seems to go together so well, it is surprising when you learn that the song was originally intended for Marvin Gaye!
33. What Difference Does it Makes – Smiths
Say what you will about Morrissey, and we are not his biggest fans in the world here, nor do we think he is the sharpest spoon in the drawer, but you can’t deny the impact The Smith had in their day. Hell, I know some people who think they were better than The Beatles, which is just daft, sorry, but anyhow. But really, it is not Morrissey who makes The Smiths and never is, no matter what subject he’s wombling on about. It’s Johnny Marr on guitar, and he’s bloody brilliant here.
32. Apollo 9 – Adam Ant
Perhaps not as well loved as Adam Ant’s big two hits, Prince Charming and Stand and Deliver, but I like this complete wall of noise. And possibly forgotten too, given it doesn’t have a Wiki page, unlike a dozen other Adam Ant tracks. As with his better known songs, it’s a loose connection of lyrics and noise which Ant just about holds together with his own sure fire seeming confidence in the song itself. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
31. Here Comes the Rain Again – Eurythmics
A Scottish duo with good tunes. The genesis of this classic showed the importance of the partnership of Dave Stewart and the great Annie Lennox. They were in New York, on a miserable day, and Stewart sat at a keyboard, looking at the sky, when he played a few notes and Lennox, hearing them, sang “here comes the rain again” out of the blue. Like a hook, the rest of the song fell into place. This is a great song, with a great backing musician, and great vocals, from a great band. What more can I say?
Although, being hideously Glaswegian, I find the rain to be a mutual friend, and not the harbinger of depression, but that’s just picking holes…
30. I Wont run Away – Alvin Stardust
I know. You’re surprised.
Don’t look at me, I’m surprised too!
Alvin Stardust is nearly the epitome of the type of music I don’t really go for. Elvis Lite, look at Shakin Stevens and co. The fact that they were selling easily well into the mid 80s sort of puts pay to that narrative that punk wiped the floor with all that came before it, really. And despite the Middlesex Elvis (I guess its better than being the David-Essex) being exactly the type of performer I run a mile from, this is a really catchy song!
Despite reaching 7th spot in the UK Top 40, it wasn’t his biggest hit by far (he had a number 1 with Jealous Mind) or even his biggest hit of 1984. That was I Feel Like Buddy Holly, and having a phobia of aeroplanes he might, but my own feeling is this one is far superior. And the lyrics by John David are nicely dark, about a mum who accuses a man of domestic abuse against her own daughter. Stardust lets this accusation linger for a good while before we get the twist – he’s got her up the duff, and he’s going to stick around, and offer to marry the pregnant woman. So the song becomes an affirmation on the part of the character within, he wont run away, he’ll face up to his actions and try and make them good. Apparently the mother went through this in her life too, so can be a useful source of support. But, seriously: “it won’t be a surprise coz she knows about you” – Alvin, mate, don’t say that aloud to the mum or your intended, there’s a good chap.
29. Relax – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Famously banned, famously catchy and yet… probably the weakest of the three big Frankie Goes to Hollywood songs from 1984. That’s a spoiler alert, by the way. You all know what this song is about. If you didn’t, the music video gives a few hints. The band claiming it was about motivation wasn’t fooling anyone. There is the famous contretemps with the BBC and Mike Read, but to give the UKIP man his due – however painfully – he didn’t actually ban the song nor did he call it obscene on air. The song has many accolades to it. It made Frankie the third act in British history to hold 1 and 2 in the charts simultaneously. It made Trevor Horn the only producer in music history to be responsible for the Top charting song in the UK and in the US at the very same time when they were two different songs, and so on. It brought out t-shirts. It had “the most obvious sexual innuendo since Walk on the Wild Side” to quote Paul Gambaccini. It’s an event.
28. Smooth Operator – Sade
Smooth. Smooooooth. Smooth. Never has the word smooth fit a track so well. Sade’s lyrics concern a man about town, and how the singer comes to know him for what he really is. It’s a belter of a track, and what’s more, it’s so smooth too.
27. Purple Rain – Prince
When I was a kid, I knew someone who claimed they knew all the lyrics to Purple Rain. I wasn’t impressed, as I thought the lyrics to the song consisted solely of “Purple Rain, Purple Rain…” etc.
“Purple Rain is now a rock monument to go with the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody but the sheer melodrama and emotion save it from museum piece status. It's not an innovative lyric - it's a very Prince lyric of longing and attempted seduction – but it's invested with an insane intensity and melodrama before peaking with as great as guitar solo as has been recorded. Musicians on top of their game are said to make their instruments talk but Prince goes beyond that here, expressing through music what mere words would be inadequate for. There's a good case to be made that one of pop’s greatest decades peaked with that solo and Prince’s wordless howls of lust. Prince wisely never tried to make Purple Rain again. His output was too prodigious for him to consider resting on his laurels – by the time of his death he’d made 39 official albums, a slew of associated projects and allegedly still had vaults full of unreleased material.”
Jon Arnold, 2016
Jon Arnold, 2016
There you go, as usual Jon walks in and writes the best bit of my bloody article. I’m but Richard Curtis in the wind here…
26. Aint Nobody – Chaka Khan
Written by Hawk Wolinski, this is a belter of an R&B track by the ever-impressive Chaka Khan. She got the song despite Quincy Jones wanting it for Michael Jackson. Jackson might have knocked the song out of the park – he did it to all comers in the 1980s – but could he have hit the raw and personal notes Chaka reaches here?
25. 2000 Miles – Pretenders
One of those songs that some people seem to think is a cheery Christmas tale, when in fact it’s about a dead band member! When Chrissie Hynde met James Honeyman-Scott in the mid 1970s, musical frisson was created instantly. He joined The Pretenders and became instantly influential in their move towards becoming the huge band they were, writing song melodies and harmonies for their first big breaks.
“Jimmy came up with a number of interesting effects for the record, such as turning down his low E string while simultaneously tuning up the G for the ending of "Space Invader." The siren effect in "Precious" was created by hitting F# and C notes while running the signal through a Harmonizer. For the harpsichord-like ending of "Kid," a Gibson Dove acoustic was restrung, substituting high E and B strings for the bottom three. "This creates a high-strung guitar sound," Honeyman-Scott explains. "That was tuned to an open D, I think. We layed it down and then did it at half speed and doubled it up to get the top notes again. It's real difficult to do because it's going along very slow and you have to get each note right, but it turns out great. I also used that half-speed technique for the end of 'Mystery Achievement.' That was with the 335."
Jas Obrecht, The Pretenders James Honeyman-Scott, Guitar Player issue April 1981
And then… he died, of a cocaine overdose. Only 25. It was the first of two deaths, as Pete Farndon, their original bass player, and Chrissie Hynde’s former boyfriend to boot, died of a drug overdose in 1983.
And this, this is the bands tribute to their lost mercurial talent, and friend. The double tragedy hit Hynde hard, harder than she will ever willingly admit, according to her band mates and friends.
"It's just a collection of 10 measly songs. It's not a real important deal. I hate this sort of romantic or sentimental take people have on it — you know, the tragic demise, the reawakening. It wasn't like that at all. I even regret naming the album Learning to Crawl, because it just sounds pathetic. I mean, I'm not sentimental."
Chrissie Hynde, to James Henke, Rolling Stone 26 April 1984
Chrissie Hynde, to James Henke, Rolling Stone 26 April 1984
That might be the persona she portrays to the world at large. Chrissie Hynde is an ass kicker, a rock god who doesn’t care. But then once in 1983, she showed us all she did. There it is in one line: I miss you. Sometimes, that’s all you need to know.
24. Dancing in the Dark – Bruce Springsteen
By 1984, Bruce Springsteen’s reputation was well founded for his famous live shows. However, despite 6 albums which had done very well on top of that, he had yet to have a big singles hit that could dominate the radio and turn him into the mega star he was capable of being. While writing the music for his 7th album – Born in the USA – his manager wanted a song which could be marketed as a sure fire hit, and Springsteen, in his despair, wrote a song about how difficult it is to write a big hit. That song is Dancing in the Dark, and it became his first big hit. Fate likes playing silly buggers with people. A top five hit in the US, UK and Australia, it was one of the two memorable songs from an album that shot to the top of the album charts in all the major markets. Like the album naming song, the lyrics often get lost as people react to the beat. Apparently you need to make your protest songs less catchy for people to listen to the actual words. This is perfectly tempo energy, you can sense the frenetic desperate nature in Springsteen’s guitar play.
23. 99 Red Balloons – Nena
Ah, just what we needed, a nice cheerful song about nuclear holocaust. 99 Luftballons, I know, I know. We start, “you and I in a little toy shop”, and you think, ah, this is a nice song. Before the first verse has even ended, the balloons you buy are triggering the missile alerts, and within 3 minutes, Nena is “standing pretty in this dust that was a city”. Well, that escalated quickly, and Nena keeps her calm, cheery self, like she is the last voice you’ll ever hear in one of those Protect and Serve public information videos. The song follows for want of a nail down to a T.
22. Like a Virgin – Madonna
Provocative, yes. Loud, almost certainly so. But one can’t deny the general pop greatness that was Madonna in the 1980s. Written by the duo of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who also wrote True Colors and Eternal Flame.
21. East of Eden – Big Country
Of course Big Country were going to make an appearance on this list. I am me, after all.
Hearing Big Country on the radio is like someones opened a window on a blustery day, is how my dad likens the band. Whilst they were to evolve their sound several times before the untimely death of their lead singer, Stuart Adamson, in 2001, their creative park arguably came with the two albums The Crossing and Steeltown in the early-mid 1980s.
East of Eden is from the latter album, and if it lacks the full guitar as bagpipe substitute wall of noise effects from Fields of Fire (as heard at a Murrayfield near you), it makes up for it with a stone cold dose of 100% pure Scottish guitar. The band released three singles from their second album, and two came out in 1984. (The third Big Country 1984 single, Wonderland, was later added to Steeltown after the fact in the 1990s.) Where the Rose is Sown, a tale told from beyond the grave by a fallen soldier in WW1, gives the listener goosebumps, but it needs to be heard back to back with the next track on the album: Come Home to Me, the same tale told by the family left behind, not knowing his fate. The way one song fades out on death right into the next song kills me, but that’s something you lose with the one single.
East of Eden, on the other hand, is a stark song which encompasses depression. The listener is entrusted to look at the same scene twice, and understand how it can produce conflicting emotions based on the mental state of the singer. “Some days I just don’t worry, I let it pour through me” he sings, before adding “Some days I need to bury the very depths of me”. Yes, I can certainly feel that resonance, and it’s all the more, given what would later happen to the voice singing this song.
Big Country were an amazing band at their peak, and this is a great song.
20. Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Jr
Arguably, the greatest film theme of all time. It’s so damned catchy! “Who ya gonna call?”
Remember, said Jon Arnold, if you miss out Ghostbusters, you are taking things far too seriously. It was already on the shortlist, as you can see from its relatively high placing! However, I have seen his list and it made the top five. Right from the semi-creepy intro, we cut straight into the grooving riff. The one you hummed while chasing ghosts in the playground at school. That’s pop culture’s riff, that is. I’m particularly fond of the beginning of Ghostbusters II, and how the team are reduced to singing it at children’s birthday parties. Taking the meme of the theme and turning it meta within the narrative. Great kids film, great song.
19. Radio Gaga – Queen
I can’t help but wonder if the music video for this one is taking the piss out of those music journalists in the 1970s who called Queen the first fascist rock band. Yes, it plays on Metropolis, but there’s also the hints of the fascist rally, only one led to clap by Freddie in his full pomp. His vocals are at his finest here, comfortably jumping between anger and melancholy without losing a beat. “You had your time, you had the power” he snarls like a wannabe Lord Beeching set on the radio demise. “You’ve yet to have your finest hour” – ah, but what we have here is not the end of radio, but the love song to it, and how the radio transports young minds. Oh, and full marks for the Orson Welles reference.
18. Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
You could replay this today, recast the video with Trump and Putin, and it’d make as much sense as it did back then. It’s a song in which Holly Johnson isn’t so much lead singer as ring master of ceremonies, spitting out lyrics when necessary. It took months to put this track together, second by second, and the effort shows. To say the song was a success is to call Mount Everest “a bit tall”: one of the biggest selling hits of the 1980s, top of the charts for nine weeks. Hell, it even won a Novello!
17. All Cried Out – Alison Moyet
Sometimes a band member is clearly too big for a band to contain. Like Dave Grohl was never going to last as third wheel in Nirvana no matter what happened to the late Kurt Cobain, or in the same vein, Eddie Vedder and Temple of the Dog. Similarly Yazoo with Alison Moyet. Now, that said, I’m not as keen on Miss Moyet as some, but this a fantastic song about moving on from breakup. It’s about that typical bastard who sods off and leaves the girl crying, only to come back, satisfied in his emotional manipulation. Only this time, she turns on him, he’s burned out any love that once illuminated them. Not so much love resurrection as love extinguished. “Don’t look surprised” sings Alison, you did this. As the more pessimistic song, it is perhaps no surprise that I prefer this to Love Resurrection, and equally no surprise that Mr Arnolds prefers them oppositely!
16. Last Christmas – Wham
A song which annoyed the hell out of me when I was a teenager and a lot of people I knew were singing it due to the Savage Garden cover. But as time passes on and teenage years melt away in the memory, one can’t deny the greatness of George Michael’s work here.
However, what we have here is a song which really ought to have been number one. It lost to some rubbish charity record which isn’t on this list. It wasn’t even number one when George Michael died, it lost to some Ed Sheeran rubbish.
You hear me? There’s still time, people!
The song has gone onto sell over 2 million copies in the UK alone (something in the region of 4 million worldwide). I also love the story of its construction, that George Michael was visiting his own parents and went to the loo, only to come back an hour later. He’d found a keyboard and excitedly created a new song! You literally couldn’t take that man anywhere without the muse striking him.
15. Ultravox – Dancing with tears in my eyes
I think Midge Ure is fairly underrated. Said it. He did also write the Band Aid song, but to be fair to him, he did have Geldof in the corner holding him hostage till he wrote something. (For you legal eyes out there, that’s what we call exaggerated satire, not speculation!)
I like Midge Ure. He wrote some catchy songs – not Band Aid, produced more than one memorable composed riff – not Band Aid – and was a non-malignant presence in the charts (bar Band Aid). The only black blot on his cv is Band Aid, the charity equivalent of being Amanda Palmer. But hey, Mr Geldof seems to portray that whole thing as much about himself – he famously locked Ure out of a press conference. So lets leave it as his door, and ignore Midge’s self-confessed old shame. Love’s Great Adventure was also considered for this list. The music video for this song is all about nuclear holocaust – so it’s Midge and Nena now. Add in Two Tribes, and this list is getting very Cold War.
14. U2 – Pride
U2 fall into the same category as Sting for me. My friends circles don’t really rate them, so much of what I see on social media is disdain at best. Their singers have egos the size of the planet Mars, which takes away from them. However, when you look at the music alone, and perhaps from the sound of the lead singers voice, they do write a number of very good songs. And in the end, is that not the most important thing here? Now, U2 didn’t have Johnny Cash on hand to sing Pride as Sting had with I Lost my Head – though again, here’s the parallel, as Cash knocks One out of the park – but Bono isn’t that bad as a singer. Perfectly serviceable at times, more so in the 1980s when the cult of Bono hadn’t been fully established.
It tells you something profound about Martin Luther King that even 20 years after his murdersongs were being written about him. There’s a straight line from If I can Dream to Pride.
13. Time after time – Cyndi Lauper
Ah, such a lovely song. A ballad, entirely opposite from Lauper’s other famous hit. It’s based around the collapse of Lauper’s relationship at the time, and the title was a placeholder which stuck. So the lyrics tell of a relationship which holds on.
“It’s not until the ageless ballad “Time After Time” that Lauper makes her first songwriting contribution. With its simple keyboard-synth chords, bright, jangly guitars, clock-ticking percussion, and elastic bassline, the song is the album’s finest moment, if not Lauper’s greatest moment period.. It’s this rare balance of camp and candor that set Lauper apart from her contemporaries and continues to retain her place in the pop pantheon.”
Sal Cinquemani, Cyndi Lauper: She’s So Unusual, Slant Magazine 29 September 2003
12. Nobody Told Me – John Lennon
I am not John Lennon’s biggest fan. In fact, I think he was a complete code of conduct violation, to put it mildly. When it comes to The Beatles, I prefer George Harrison (the best song-writer of the four, eventually), Ringo Starr (narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine) and Macca (because Macca) over the saintly Lennon. However, to say just because you dislike someone as a person, they can’t produce any music of note, is churlish and wrongheaded. Lennon did write one of my favourite Beatles songs after all – Help. And so in his solo career, he did write one or two decent songs, and of course, after his untimely murder, a lot of these unreleased songs charted high.
This is older John – philosophically speaking of course – looking back at younger John. The piss and vinegar might still be there, but the self-criticized naivety is replaced with a middle aged knowing. Nobody told me there’d be days like this, he sings, but in a strange twist of fate, there’s no malice. If you can count on John Lennon to be anything, it is bitter and venomous, no matter the target, right or wrong. And to be honest, regardless of his own personal flaws, his targets tended to be the right ones. Tended, not always, you Macca fans.
But if anything gives Nobody Told Me an added dignity, it’s this lack of rancor. Strange days indeed, muses the singer, with almost the hint of a laugh betraying the track intent. Sure, his futures not what Beatles John Lennon thought, but that’s the truth of everyone, and the reality isn’t as bad after all. If anything, this is a more adult Lennon accepting his own reality, with vigour. As if after all those years ago, hes showing signs of finally being the man tat all of his acolytes claimed he was. And then, right at that moment of clarity, some fucker shot him.
It’s easy to see Lennon as a hypocrite or arsehole, but life is based on the capacity for change. Robert Byrd, for example, supported the Ku Klux Klan at the age Lennon died at, yet died himself an old man, a friend of the first black President, because he was given the opportunity to grow old and change. Lennon died aged 40. He never got that chance. All we have are snippets blowing in the wind, like Nobody Told Me, hinting at a future course that never was.
11. I Feel for you – Chaka Khan
This was written by Prince, too. Is there anything he wasn’t doing in the 80s?
Another portmanteau performance, we go from one of the Furious Five rapping exstatically about the singer and what he wants to do to her, to a small musical solo, and it’s a good 30 seconds in before the song itself actually starts and we get the actual singer herself, Khan. It jumps at you. Chaka khan as commodity long before Chaka Khan as singer kicks in. It was brave, outlandish and fresh, and there had been little like it in the charts up to this point. Cue a thousand emails about a song which was 34 in the charts in 1974 or something like that. But hell, if this is to be a series, then part of the point is to learn where you musical thoughts are wrong, as much as discovering where you were right all along. The public did buy this album in droves.
Some greats songs in there already, now, quick, someone get Tommy Vance to count down the Top 40! What do you mean he's dead? Peel? Smith? Who's left and not Yewtree'd? Mike Read and Simon Bates? Fecks sake, I'll do it myself...
10. Smalltown Boy – Bronski Beat
Smalltown Boy spoke huge to the LGBT community. Especially when you consider the time period. The chorus to run away could have applied to any young man or woman feeling like a stranger in their own land, in a time period where bigots like Margaret Thatcher propagated and cemented evil policies like Section 28. In such a fervent atmosphere, there seemed little public solidarity, and then it arrived with a falsetto Glaswegian voice on top of the pops. Sure, Jimmy Sommervile might never be chic cool but sod that, he’s important to vulnerable people silenced in their own time, and that is far more noteworthy!
9. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go – Wham
Well, George said he wanted to write a “really energetic song” and boy, did he! Jitterbug into my brain. Boom boom, bang bang, before you go-go. If you put the lyrics out like that, selectively, this song should make as much sense as Joyce in places. But really, the infectious enthusiasm of George Michael is such that the lyrics to this song could be the London A-Z and he’d still sweep you away with the excitement. And that’s what this song is, it’s exciting, it’s thrilling, it’s got a sense of stop the world and look at this band now about it. George Michael wrote better songs, but he never quite captured the essential joie de vivre in quite the same way. Apart from perhaps I’m Your Man, but that doesn’t qualify for this countdown, as it came out in 1986. Many great things were born in 1986 (hi!) but that’s a story for another time. Wake Me Up was Wham’s first number one single of several, and it was not only a huge hit in the UK, it was massive in the US too, with over 2 million copies sold and the single going Platinum.
The song reached number one in nine different countries, and is still considered one of the all time classics of the 1980s, and yet, still isn’t the highest ranking song on this list written by George Michael.
8. Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
It’s funny in a way how this song was written as a take that on women, but all you needed was one or two lyric snips, and a portion of Cyndi Lauper, to completely twist it the entirely other way! She didn’t want to sing the original until she had changed some of the lyics, to turn the song from a moan about women from a male perspective, into a celebration of feminist equality.
This is Cyndi’s anthem. It may feel strange to recall that for a period in 1984-5, Cyndi Lauper was one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Her rise was as meteoric as her fall. She was one of the three people who launched the first WrestleMania into the stratosphere on their fame levels alone, turning Vince McMahon’s company into a behemoth which now owns a monopoly in North America. The fall was staggering. In 1983-6, she had 6 number 5 hits in the US. From 1986 on, she had none. (Quincy Jones equates it with her being an awkward personality during We Are the World, but then, have you seen his recent interviews?)
7. Power of Love – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
So back at number 40, we mentioned how Jim Diamond had finally earned his number one single, only to go on the radio and ask for people to stop buying it so Band Aid could get to the top spot. Diamond’s sacrifice did work 50% of the way, as his track did only last a week on top of the charts. However, Band Aid’s inevitable trudge to the top was delayed by a week by the boys from Liverpool. In doing so, Frankie became the first band since Gerry and the Pacemakers to reach the number one slot with their first three singles. And this is so different to their previous two. Relax is very in your face (steady on, minds in the gutter folk) and catchy. Two Tribes is again a song imbued with the power of the showman. Here, we have a ballad, released in time for Christmas.
“The Power Of Love was never about Christmas or consumerism. The lyrics and melody came to me after thinking a lot about the subject of love. Christmas was the last thing on my mind, even though it was late 1983. I was still unemployed in Liverpool. I’d signed recording/publishing contracts that paid little in advances. I’d also given up my art college grant in order to give music one last chance with Frankie Goes To Hollywood. It’s a paean to love, rather than another person, and I think that’s why it remains universal and resonant.”
Holly Johnson, The Power of Love was never about Christmas or consumerism, Metro 21 December 2012
6. Only You – Flying Pickets
The only A cappella song on the list, and more’s the pity. A cover of Yazoo’s song. Written by Vince Clarke of Depeche Mode and Erasure fame. Brian Hubbard’s vocals didn’t need synthesizers to compliment. This is akin to the Johnny Cash cover, where a stripped down version of a stylised song shows the heart and soul of the song. Only You is not as drastic an example as, say, Hurt, but it works in the same pantheon.
5. When Doves Cry – Prince
The cry you can hear is the sound of Jon Arnold yelling out “tunes!” right about now. He loves Prince. I don’t particularly love Prince, though I am warming to him as I get older. Even getting beyond Mr Scrooge here, this is a brilliant song. No bass at all, apparently, and while I’d say it probably does show, it doesn’t to the detriment of the song. Apparently you don’t need bass guitar for riff.
Although, listen to those lyrics before Prince starts comparing their lover’s argument to his family.
“When Doves Cry, infamously, is a funk song without the most vital part of any funk record – the bassline. And yet, carried by Prince’s somehow vulnerable alpha male vocals and urgent synths it's irresistible. Time and a million imitators have dulled exactly how strange a record it is but it remains a compelling, urgent song.”
Jon Arnold, 2016
4. I Want to Break Free – Queen
A song which was apparently controversial in America, due to the video which has Freddie cross dressing. Shock horror! This is a great but underrated Queen song. Underrated I say only due to perhaps having a tendency to be forgotten next to all the other classic songs they wrote. If you’ve ever heard Freddie’s a capella version of this song, it chills, but it was the full group percussion that made the charts. John Deacon, the bass guitarist who also wrote Another One Bites the Dust, wrote the song. Queen Drummer Roger Taylor wrote the songs These Are the Days of our Lives, Under Pressure and Radio GaGa. Worth remembering when people only think of Queen as Freddie Mercury and perhaps Brian May: there were four equally talented songwriters in that band.
3. Freedom – Wham
Another part of George Michael’s world domination in 1984.
The thing about Freedom is its synchronicity. Each section effortlessly floats into te other, and even though it feels, on deconstruction, like a series of pieces put together akin to Happiness is a Warm Gun, it doesn’t take away from the whole.
Also, it sounds great.
It’s an affirmation song. George’s lover has an open relationship and suggests the singer tries it out too. “I don’t want your freedom, girl, all I want is you!” Girl? And her lover is another woman? Good old George, getting the 1980s bisexual agenda past the censors!
2. Careless Whisper – George Michael
Really, 1984 in British pop music was one man, and that man was George Michael. Three number one hits. Sings on a fourth number one. Should have had a 5th number one, but for that charity single.
This song also produced one of my dad’s favourite bad jokes of all time.
“Why was George Michael covered in chocolate?”
“He was careless with his Whispas.”
And people claim I tell the worst jokes in my family!
This is the reverse to Freedom. There, our singer is the virtuous one, ignoring all others. Here, the shoe is on the other foot. The singer is the cheating partner, and has been found out. “Time can never mend the careless whispers of a good friend.” That’s an amazing lyric. This song is full of lines so smart and on key, they could slide effortlessly into a poem by Betjeman. “Guilty feet have got no rhythm” – that’s another great one, although I’ve never been able to dance. Eeeek.
George Michael wrote this song when he was seventeen. What have the rest of us done with our lives? He grew to dislike the song, and couldn’t understand why people gravitated to it, over 100 other songs he thought were far better.
“So where does that leave Careless Whisper, then? That anthem to doomed love. The song that George Michael doesn’t even have to sing at his own concerts anymore, because the audience does it for him? “I’m still a bit puzzled about why it’s made such an impression on people,” he says. “Is it because so many people have cheated on their partners? Is that why they connect with it?“I have no idea, but it’s ironic that this song which has come to define me in some way should have been written right at the beginning of my career when I was still so young. I was only 17 and didn’t really know much about anything and certainly not anything much about relationships.”
George Michael, to The Big Issue, Christmas 2009, No 876
But you know, that’s fate. Sometimes it takes decades to achieve perfection. And sometimes, the world decides you perfect offering is the thing you wrote in 5 minutes when bored at the back of a bus as a teenager.
But more over, I know why Careless Whisper lasted. Because it’s a fucking awesome song.
Really, it would have had to take one of the greatest songs ever written to topple George Michael from the top slot this year.
No, not Band fucking Aid…
(PS I really really really don’t like Do They Know its Christmas, both as a song, and as what happened to the money. But I keep it quiet, and it’s probably not come up before…)
The top charting song of 1984 is....
1. What’s Love Got To Do With It – Tina Turner
And what we’ve got here is one of the greatest songs ever written. It’s a song I loved when I was a kid and it would appear on the radio, because the aesthetic qualities of sound to vocals appealed to me. As an adult, the context added to it, even if it’s a song which creates all kinds of emotional responses.
Anyone can write a love song. Most of us have been there. Anyone, equally, can write a break up song. And the break up song is perhaps what Graham Lyle and Terry Britten had originally intended when they wrote the track in the early 1980s. Britten calls it a love song! That it took on a life of its own was something no one could foresee.
Indeed, the track which is the soundtrack to Tina Turner’s life was first offered to Cliff Richard! He turned it down, and then it was the turn of Bucks Fizz to nearly get it. That is one harsh alternate universe, right there. That song exists incidentally, and does it best to prove a great song isn’t artist proof. Anyhow, their producer thought the song wasn’t suitable for a female vocalist, an opinion up there with “guitar groups are on their way out” and “Katharine Hepburn is box office poison”. Tina Turner got out their first with her version, and even then, there were signs that the song meant a great deal to her personally. (Yes, I know she didn’t want to sing it herself, preferring rockier songs, until she heard the end results – I’m talking metaphorically here!)
In 1984, Tina Turner had not had a hit single in over a decade. She’d also just achieved a divorce from Ike Turner, her singing partner for most of the previous 20 years. A relationship had started, seemingly under duress, when Tina was 20 and Ike 28, and it had been a nasty one. As documented in I, Tina, Ike would hit her with weapons, try and instigate sex through intimidation, and was frequently beaten. She attempted suicide at least once. To say the relationship was unhealthy is putting it more mildly than it deserves, but Turner was kept under considerable pressure to “stand by her man” both by his family and by promoters who threatened to sue (and did when the divorce happened). A woman's career threatened over abuse, remind you of anything in the news recently?
Anyhow, Tina Turner got her divorce, and Ike Turner died an alcoholic drug addict in 2007, still trying to make excuses for his behaviour.
And so we have a breakup song which, through this context, becomes oh so much more. Those lyrics in Tina Turner’s hands have an entirely different context. Even if that context only became apparently with her autobiography’s release in 1986.
She trounces most of the myths for domestic abuse apologists with aplomb. They still love the person? “You must understand though the touch of your hand makes my pulse react… it’s physical, only logical.” Just a trigger stimuli, no real feeling behind it. This is a relationship beyond repair, and little wonder why from the revelations Tina gave in her autobiography.
I’m sorry, Bucks fucking Fizz? A male vocalist for this song? What the hell were they thinking? Sorry, had to get that out there.
It is frankly astounding that the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inducted Ike AND Tina Turner together in 1991, long after it was known how abusive their relationship had been. Even with their get out of jail card that Ike actually was in jail at the time. Ike Turner denied his ex-wife’s account in a curious way, saying “Yeah I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife… there have been times when I punched her to the floor without thinking, but I never beat her.” (Spin Magazine, 1985). Uhm…err… wow. It’s men like that who needed the #metoo hashtag and subsequent climate as much as your Harvey Weinsteins or more so, for the Weinstein can surely not exist without knowing he is in the wrong. In a climate such as now, when powerful men are being revealed as sexual predators on a daily basis, there is a valued claim that Whats Love Got to Do With It is actually even more timely than it was in 1984. Men like Ike Turner are ten a penny, and always have an excuse for why they aren’t that bad.
Tina is right. Be like Tina Turner.
What has love got to do with it, any of that? Absolutely nothing at all.
Tina Turner, incidentally, hasn’t let Ike Turner define what she is, and is married again, having been in a relationship with Erwin Bach for over 30 years.
Well, that reminded me of a lot of really good songs. I guess once you look beyond Agafuckingdoo and that terrible charity single I haven't mentioned, 1984 was a pretty good year for pop music. Hell, I might even have a shot at other years in the future, providing the pitchforks aren't about to appear at the door. Music, eh? It's such a subjective thing.