Chart retrospective time once again, although this one is actually rather special. I’m kind of nervous about talking about music from 20 years ago as for many people it will seem like ancient history. Is there really much from back then that has a huge influence on the sound of now? On this occasion though there is a method in the madness. The tape of the Top 40 show I’m about to replay is possibly one of the most significant and valued in my entire collection for it represents a watershed moment in the history of my favourite radio show.

First a brief history lesson. The UK charts traditionally appeared midweek, unveiled by whatever Radio One jock happened to be occupying the slot at lunchtime every Tuesday, and coinciding with Music Week hitting the streets either later that afternoon or the following day. This meant that the Top 40 show on Sunday evening was essentially counting down a chart that was five days old. The excitement wasn’t in the reveal, but the playing of all the hits back to back.

But times were changing. The rival Network Chart on commercial radio was making a great virtue of the fact that its show revealed a chart for the very first time and so was often in effect a week ahead of the Radio One version. With the Network Chart receiving even greater exposure than ever thanks to its use by the ITV Top Of The Pops rival The Roxy, the decision was made to move publication up two days, something that new technology at compilers Gallup had now made possible. It meant that the chart could be produced by Sunday afternoon, barely hours after the last sales had been made. Radio One now had the exclusive, revealing the new chart position by position for the first time and thus making the Top 40 show more of an event than ever.

By a happy coincidence, this event dovetailed nicely with my own taping schedule, and so it was with some joy that I sat poised in front of the radio on the evening of October 4th 1987. One consequence of the new arrangement was that the Top 40 show had actually skipped a week. The programme broadcast on September 27th had featured the chart for the week ending September 26th, as published on Tuesday, September 22nd. With me so far? The chart for the week ending October 3rd was the last Tuesday chart, published on Tuesday 29th September and used by Top Of The Pops on Thursday, October 1st. Radio One had little choice but to forge ahead that Sunday with this brand new countdown.

So this is a chart rundown with a difference as it is as much a radio anorak’s joy as it is a burst of music nostalgia. Remember this was essentially a brand new format, and so featured host Bruno Brookes and the producer trying out catchphrases and techniques to build the tension that had never been used before. Some caught on, others were swiftly discarded.

The Greenwich pips and a crash of thunder and lightning herald the brand new Jam Productions jingle - “The Official Top 40 in Stereo FM – Britain’s Favourite Radio One”. To my teenage horror Bruno had discarded totally the opening patter that I used to mouth along with him line by line, in favour of a brand new script that would have to be learned all over again:

“It’s exactly five o’clock and this is Bruno Brookes live in London with the brand new UK Top 40. Now our direct computer link with Gallup headquarters tells us the news as it comes in minute by minute. The official new chart positions appear on our computer screen. The new entries, the climbers, and a possible new Number One of course. Our new Top 40 format is the fastest and most accurate of its kind anywhere in the world. The entire British record industry, including the stars, are about to discover where their records are in Radio One’s official UK chart. Europe’s most listened to radio show shares its newest technology with you”.

With that, we are off and running with news of “two new entries, the first of which we mentioned just ten minutes ago..”

40: Beastie Boys – Girls/She’s Crafty

Looking back, with the Beastie Boys considered respected and influential veterans of hip-hop, it is hard to understand the furore that the three young Americans caused. Producer Rick Rubin effectively invented the rap-metal genre when he produced the worldwide smash album Licensed To Ill, fusing the angry rantings of the trio with guitar licks lifted from some of the biggest names in metal. Their stage shows in support of the album swiftly became the stuff of legend, thanks in part to a tabloid hate campaign which saw them accused of everything from onstage obscenity to – *gasp* – hurling abuse at disabled children. When their concert in Liverpool descended into chaos in May 1987, the Beastie Boys were poster children for the very worst that music had to offer. Just like the punk groups ten years earlier, the Beasties were something that the media establishment just could not understand and so reacted against it in the most inflammatory way possible.

A generation on, the music seems frankly rather tame although that smash album still has the power to turn heads. By late autumn '87 the fuss had largely died down or gone away altogether and this third Top 40 single wound up being little more than a minor footnote to this most memorable first chapter in their now widely acclaimed career. Girls was supposed to be the a-side of the single but it was either considered too naff or too rude to gain mainstream attention. Thus She’s Crafty was promoted to double a-side status and it is this track that was played on the show. One of the more accessible tracks from the album, it is based around a sample of the guitar lick from The Ocean by Led Zeppelin. I hadn’t cared much for tracks like Fight For Your Right and No Sleep Til Brooklyn but ranked this as my favourite Beasties track of the year.

39: Fleetwood Mac – Little Lies

Speaking of classic albums, the Fleetwood Mac release of the moment was the famous Tango In The Night collection, one which their label spent the best part of two years mining for hit singles with considerable worldwide success. In the UK they seemed to follow an odd pattern of one on, one off as Big Love had gone Top 10 in the spring to become their biggest UK hit for five years only for follow-up Seven Wonders to stall well short of the Top 40. Normality was restored with this third single, a pretty and almost twee Christine McVie sung ballad that would ultimately peak at Number 5 and become their biggest hit single since their first run of hits in the 1960s.

“Now just ten minutes ago we weren’t sure whether Fleetwood Mac were going to make it, they have…” exclaimed Bruno breathlessly after the song faded away. This was all part of the mythology of this exciting new format, selling it as if the chart positions were being revealed line by line. Even the jingles played along, the deep voiceovers announcing each chart position preceded by the sound effect of a dot matrix printer whirring into life and printing out the next record. Really this was all a fiction. Even back then, the chart was in the hands of the producer by lunchtime and they knew exactly what record was where and which ones they would have time to play in the two-hour slot. Nonetheless, it was a masterpiece of radio promotion and made every chart show into a slice of utterly compelling radio.

38: Was (Not Was) – Walk The Dinosaur

The first hits for Was (Not Was) had been a long time coming, as for all the acclaim their first two albums had received amongst industry peers, it was proving a difficult sell to the worldwide audience at large. Not that they were total unknowns in the UK though. The second version of their infamous song Out Come The Freaks single had given them a minor chart hit in 1984, just missing out on a Top 40 play when it peaked at Number 41. Meanwhile, George Michael was such a fan that he recorded his version of Where Did Your Heart Go and made it the double a-side of the final Wham! single The Edge Of Heaven. Commercial paydirt finally came with this novelty track, an enthusiastic and entertaining funk-dance track that naturally spawned its own dance craze and had a suitably cartoonish video to go alongside it. Three weeks after this new entry, the song was at Number 10 and remained the biggest Was (Not Was) hit for the next five years.

37: Los Lobos  - Come On Let’s Go

The single that prevents Los Lobos from being celebrated one-hit wonders in this country. The American group had scored a surprise but nonetheless welcome Number One hit earlier in the summer when their remake of La Bamba had become a smash hit thanks to the Ritchie Valens biopic of the same name which had hit the cinemas at the time (and which prompted the original version to appear for a brief chart run as well). Come On Let’s Go was from the film as well, another Valens track that had never charted in this country but which had become his first-ever minor US hit in 1958. Early in 1988 Los Lobos picked up airplay for their own original single One Time One Night but it failed to chart and left the group with just the two Top 40 hits to their name.

35: Billy Idol – Mony Mony (Live)

The 1968 Number One hit for Tommy James and the Shondells (top of the charts the day my parents got married trivia fans) had been a part of Billy Idol’s repertoire since the start of his solo career, having been the lead track on his first post-Gen X solo EP Don’t Stop back in 1981 (this where he famously twisted the lyrics to become “ride your pony”, the song apparently playing in the background the first time he ever had sex). This live version was released to accompany the belated US release of his  Vital Idol remix album which had actually first come out in the summer of 1985 in the UK and instantly made Top 10 thanks to the presence of an otherwise unavailable remix of White Wedding. The new live version had been recorded earlier in 1987 across two nights at concerts in Seattle and although it peaked at Number 7 here, it shot to the very top of the US charts to become Idol’s biggest hit single ever. It was also the runaway winner in a rather one-sided covers battle in this country, the success of the Idol single neatly squashing a version by Amazulu which came out a few weeks later and spent just a solitary week in the Top 40. Meanwhile, Tommy James himself could hardly believe his luck. Mony Mony went to Number One in the States by replacing the first single by a hot new teenage star called Tiffany. Her hit song? I Think We’re Alone Now – as originally written and recorded by Tommy James and the Shondells.

Now for another of those “concepts that never took off” as the next link on the chart show saw Bruno speaking as if distractedly typing away on a computer keyboard (with suitable sound effects in the background). He used the link to wonder aloud if Five Star were listening “from their home in Sunningdale” to see if they had a new entry. Because it’s good news!

34: Five Star – Strong As Steel

It was their home in Sunningdale (complete with a recording studio) that ultimately bankrupted the family group who had been hailed as the British Jacksons for the previous two years. 1987 was in all truth the year that the wheels began to fall off what had previously been a chart juggernaut. Their third album Between The Lines was released that summer and was in itself very very good indeed and a piece of work which still holds up well to this day. However their move towards a more sophisticated soulful sound only served to alienate the legions of teen fans who had followed their every move up to that point. Their fall from chart grace was as swift as it was severe. By the end of 1987 they had gone from being a guaranteed Top 10 act with every release to struggling even to make the Top 20. Strong As Steel was the album’s second single and ultimately peaked at a none too shabby Number 16. For all it represents as the start of their downward career trajectory, it actually ranks as one of my favourite Five Star singles.

Back to Bruno then: “there’s still information coming in, a little bit of movement around the middle of the chart, but we’ll get to that in due course”. Lies, all lies. We'll get to the middle of the chart in due course, but first here comes a climber…

31: Mick Jagger – Let’s Work

A minor footnote in the long and storied career of the Rolling Stones frontman you might think, but I have fond memories of this single and the occasion of its charting. Let’s Work was one of the fruits of Jagger’s collaboration with Eurythmics main man David A Stewart who produced and co-wrote several of the tracks on Jagger’s second solo album Primitive Cool. As part of what was going to be an intensive promotion for the new album and its lead single, Jagger even made the time early September to record a special Top Of The Pops performance of the track, ready for when it became a hit.

Except to everyone’s frustration it wasn’t going that way. Despite respectable airplay from Radio One, the single was loitering just outside the Top 40, having moved 60-46-41 since its release. Faced with the prospect of having a superstar performance in the can and never having the chance to use it, the Top Of The Pops producers tore up their own rulebook and featured the single anyway, despite its lack of Top 40 status. It was easy to see why. Jagger cleared the entire studio for the performance, making use of all three stages on the Top Of The Pops set at the time, as well as the gantry used by the presenters for their links. On one he had the band, on another a choir of children, whilst the third was left empty for him to strut his stuff. Miming to the single he leapt from one stage to another, dancing across the heads of the invited crowd and looking for every inch like the huge international superstar he was. After the performance aired, everyone held their breath and waited as the single… climbed eight places to Number 33. A week later it was here, at Number 31 and clearly destined to go no higher. For all the hype, the single (and subsequently the album) was something of a flop. Nonetheless, the TOTP performance was the stuff of legend and for me living proof that one TV performance can change your view of a song forever.

30: Heart – Who Will You Run To

“You’re not sure what you want to do with your life, but you sure don’t want me in it”. The second single lifted from Heart’s Bad Animals album and the direct follow-up to the chart-throttling success of Alone which had given the Wilson sisters their first ever UK Top 10 hit earlier in the summer. This, like subsequent singles from the album failed to have quite the same impact and in fact by early 1988 their label had given up on the album and was cheerfully re-promoting old singles from the 1985 Heart album that had marked their American comeback. Nonetheless the single is a fine slice of late 80s hair rock, and much fun can be had from noting how Ann Wilson is only ever shown in close-up in the videos from the time, sidestepping the thorny issue of just how fat the unfortunate woman had become.

29: Jellybean featuring Steven Dante – The Real Thing

One of a brief flurry of hits from producer John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez who in the mid-80s was most famous for helming some of Madonna’s early singles (Holiday is his most famous production) and inviting himself into her bed in the process. His solo album Just Visiting This Planet spawned four hit singles although for the longest time you struggled to find it online, a situation thankfully now corrected. Guest singer on the track Steven Dante signed a solo deal following the chart run of this hit (here on its way up to an eventual Number 13 peak) and had his one and only solo chart single in the summer of 1988 with I’m Too Scared.

24: Shakin’ Stevens – Come See About Me

The limitations of the two-hour Top 40 show format meant that only the singles making forward progress at the lower end of the chart were played. The downside is that we skip over tracks from the likes of Def Leppard and The Communards to this relic. Shaky spent 1987 fanning what turned out to be the dying embers of his mainstream career with a series of singles promoting the album Let’s Boogie. That said, the album contained an intriguing selection of covers, none more so than his summertime single of that year A Little Boogie Woogie (In The Back Of My Mind) which makes him one of the few men to have a chart hit with a straight cover of an old Gary Glitter track. The more restrained Come See About Me was a rather dull retread of the Supremes’ third single, although by landing at Number 24 it had the strange honour of outperforming the original which had made Number 27 in early 1965.

With that, it is as good a time as any to take a pause here after 10 songs aired. As is traditional with these retrospectives there is a Spotify playlist of all the locatable tracks from this chart, and just for completeness, I’ve also included the other singles from this first section which were skipped over on the show.


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