I remember my plans to record the Top 40 show on Boxing Day 1988 were almost thrown into disarray. After having failed to capture the 1987 Christmas chart thanks to a dodgy cassette which lost one stereo track (and in the process apparently depriving the collectors community of the only clean copy of that programme - unless anyone reading this knows differently), I was determined that the big seasonal countdown for '88 was to be captured for posterity. The spanner in the works was the then annual family outing to Wetherby races on Boxing Day afternoon, the huge risk being that we would not make it back home in time for the 5 pm start of the show. Thank goodness for the winter solstice is all I can say, the fading light meaning that all races were done and dusted by 4 pm and with the roads magically clear, I was poised in front of the hi-fi in my bedroom ready to press record on the brand new (and thoroughly tested this time) cassettes that had been bought for the occasion.
30: Chris De Burgh - Missing You
Merrily winding its way down was this Top 3 smash from Chris De Burgh, finally a successful follow-up to the career-defining Lady In Red which had topped the charts two years earlier. Over two decades later he is still waiting for another Top 10 hit, whilst his legions of fans wonder out loud just why a man whose upbeat rockers are five times as memorable has only ever had hit singles with atypical romantic ballads.
29: Bon Jovi - Born To Be My Baby
By the time of the release of their New Jersey album, Bon Jovi were arguably global superstars. A rock group of stadium-filling pedigree, they really had no need to troop to TV studios to mime singles on pop shows. Yet it seems they were game for anything, hence a memorable "is that really them?" appearance as the opening act on one edition of Top Of The Pops to perform Bad Medicine in October. It is one of those moments that stick in your mind for a long time afterwards, although in the event it didn't do the album's lead single too many favours, the track peaking at a lowly Number 17, just five places higher than this rather limp second single which suffered from a slight sense of bad timing and was little more than an afterthought in the whole Christmas market. Mind you, Livin' On A Prayer aside, back in the 80's Bon Jovi singles didn't really trouble the upper end of the charts too much, and it wasn't until the 90's and singles such as Keep The Faith and in particular Always that they finally crossed over as a mainstream singles selling act. Strange but true.
28: Annie Lennox and Al Green - Put A Little Love In Your Heart
The Bill Murray film 'Scrooged' duly popped up during the Christmas holidays as indeed it seems to every single year these days. If you stuck with the modern-day re-telling of A Christmas Carol right to the bitter end and the closing credits you will have heard this greatly heralded duet that teamed a powerful British singer with an utter soul legend, Revd Green coming out of secular retirement for his first non-gospel recording in well over a decade. The first single ever to feature a solo credit for Annie Lennox fact fans, this soundtrack cover of the famous Jackie De Shannon song somehow managed to be less than the sum of its parts with the two never quite gelling vocally in the manner the producers clearly hoped. Although a US smash for the season, the rest of the world remained largely unmoved and for the Radio One presenters who had championed this single for months, it was rather a surprise that this Number 28 placing for Christmas was as high as it got. Nonetheless, there is something rather magical about the track. Maybe it was its sheer ubiquity on the radio or just the message of universal love in the lyrics, but perhaps more than anything else on this chart this single evokes lasting memories of this particular festive season for me. Thanks to the film it will live long in the memories of others too.
27: Tiffany - Radio Romance
Can there ever have been a star that shone and faded as rapidly as that of Tiffany? Her huge success in the States during 1987 meant that she only rebounded over here the following year and as a direct result we in Europe were playing catch up. So it was that she began the year topping the charts with her debut hit I Think We're Alone Now and ended it with the first single release from her second album. It sounds incredibly cheesy when viewed from a modern-day perspective, back then I kind of had a soft spot for Radio Romance and was utterly convinced it would be huge a Christmas smash. The slightly creepy tale of the girl stalking her man by requesting endless radio dedications to him was wrapped up in a nostalgic 50s production, complete with chocolaty sax and spoken word interlude and what the heck, it just worked as a December hit single. But by this time Tiffany was already yesterday's news and the single would creep to a Top 20 peak and wind up as her last ever Top 40 hit. Still something of a forgotten classic though and enough to give one a warm nostalgic glow whatever era it reminds you of the most.
26: Bomb The Bass - Say A Little Prayer
Tim Simenon's genius was not so much his ability to create big selling dance records but his ability to surprise at every turn. First came Beat Dis, the commercial release of what was effectively the coursework from a sound engineering course he had taken at college. The frantic mix of house beats and samples that sounded like nothing else that had come before stalled at Number 2 behind I Should Be So Lucky. He could have been forgiven for following it with more of the same, which to a certain extent he did with Megablast, only for the single to be also backed on the flip side with the Latin Hip-Hop of Don't Make Me Wait which had a strong case for being the best and most credible pop single of the year. Then he ended the year with this, a jaw-dropping cover of the Aretha Franklin standard that set the benchmark for club covers of soul classics. Shockingly underrated and all but forgotten these days it seems, this was nothing less than a masterpiece, singer Maureen Walsh conveying the right mix of sexiness and heartbreak and with a production that was all at once respectful but totally in keeping with the house vibe of the time. Anyone contemplating taking a standard and "updating" it should use Say A Little Prayer by Bomb The Bass as a point of reference.
25: INXS - Need You Tonight
If you are searching for an example of Britain not getting an act when the rest of the world did, then look no further than the fortunes of INXS who spent most of the 80s as a well-kept secret in this country whilst the rest of the world fell under Michael Hutchence's spell. The album Kick was supposed to be the one that finally did it for them, but whilst it was granted the requisite level of promotion and was praised to the hilt in reviews, they still remained bereft of a truly big hit single. New Sensation crept into the Top 30 at the start of the year, Devil Inside inexplicably missed out at Easter and Never Tear Us Apart also only stumbled to Number 24 despite its now near-classic status.
Now regarded as the group’s signature song, Need You Tonight was the final track recorded for the Kick sessions, and compared to some of its companions was a raw and spontaneous funk-inspired rock track. The group would later acknowledge that the song had been heavily inspired by the bass and beats vibe of the Queen classic Another One Bites The Dust, the two tracks having more in common musically than is immediately apparent. Yet it was like an open sore that despite having topped the American charts upon first release, Need You Tonight had flopped in Britain and had received a lukewarm reception in Europe. In a last-ditch attempt to finally push the group over the edge the single was re-promoted at the tail end of the year. The new version of the song came complete with two brand new remixes. A Ben Liebrand take on the track turned it into a quite extraordinary techno breakdown but the single was led by a far more subtle reworking by fellow Australian Julian Mendelsohn who replaced the finger click rhythm of the original album version with a subtle yet intense house beat, turned up the echo and added in new guitar effects. The result was a track which was different enough to generate the kind of European interest it had been lacking before yet was close enough to the original to be a legitimate INXS track. In Britain, the effect could not have been more dramatic. The newly remixed single raced into the Top 20 and within a fortnight was at Number 2 to become what would turn out to be the one and only Top 10 single INXS ever managed on these shores. As time wore on, the original mix of Need You Tonight has been restored as the default choice for radio airplay and rock classic compilations, leaving the Mendelsohn remake largely forgotten - despite it being the one which was a British chart smash hit.
24: Bananarama - Nathan Jones
Having ditched Siobahn for Jacquie with almost nobody noticing earlier in the year, it was time for the first-ever Bananarama hits collection. The second single to be taken from the collection was a song which had originally featured on their previous album Wow! but which was now entirely reworked for this single release. Nathan Jones was originally recorded by The Supremes in 1971, in what may not entirely have been a coincidence one of their first big hit singles following a change of lineup with the departed Diana Ross now replaced by Jean Terrell. The original version reached Number 5 with Bananarama peaking ten places lower with their take on the track in early December. The hits album (nattily titled The Greatest Hits Collection) was released in October and would ultimately peak at Number 3, oddly their highest charting album ever - despite being rammed with their best ever hit singles, Wow! had failed to climb higher than Number 26.
23: Shakin' Stevens - True Love
Three years on from Merry Christmas Everyone, Shaky was still playing the seasonal card for all he was worth although by now his star was rapidly waning. His attempt to crack the Christmas market in 88 was this rather vapid cover of the Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly duet which would be done with far greater aplomb a few years later by Elton John and Kiki Dee. Shaky's version was delivered tenderly enough but somehow could not avoid being just that little bit risible. Number 23 (this was its peak) was possibly a little more than it deserved.
22: Robin Beck - First Time
"Like a break in the clouds/And the first ray of sun/You said let's share a Coke (tm)/Something new had begun". The 1988 Coca-Cola advert featuring couples falling in love over their phallic-shaped bottles had run in constant rotation since the summer. For all of this nobody expected the music itself to become a hit, the first Coke jingle to do so since the 70s. Yet from the moment diminutive rock chick (and one-time radio jingles singer) Robin Beck edged her way into the Top 40 in early November the single was going nowhere but the top, racing to the top of the charts to match the feat of fellow Coke advert soundtrack I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing a generation earlier. Following this attempts were made to give her a career of sorts, but when follow up single Save Up Your Tears (later to be handed to Cher) missed the chart altogether she became the ultimate one-hit-wonder. First Time would eventually suffer the fate of being subject to a mid-2000's dance reworking, the least said about which the better. At least until that particular book comes out.
21: A Tribe Of Toffs - John Kettley (Is A Weatherman)
This is actually a rather heartwarming tale. A Tribe Of Toffs were a schoolboy band from Sunderland whose demo tape so impressed BBC producer Paul Smith that he invited them down to London to record their whimsical tribute to John Kettley and assorted other celebrities of the moment. With both song and video made at public expense, the group successfully persuaded an independent label to release the track as a single and so found themselves with a reasonably sized hit single and one which 25 years later remains disturbingly ironic. Subsequent attempts to follow it up were sadly in vain and the group disbanded a couple of years later, but their brief moment in the sun is clearly regarded with affection by everyone involved, even John Kettley himself who appears to suffer some form of rendition of it as an introduction everywhere he goes. If nothing else it cemented his place in popular culture forever.