OK, so I have kept everyone waiting long enough. Time to wrap up this particular chart retrospective as the first-ever Sunday live Top 40 show from October 4th 1987 reaches its explosive climax.
From the part of her career which the current hits collection tries to pretend hardly existed at all. The movie ‘Who’s That Girl’ was Madge’s return to the big screen following the critical and commercial disaster of ‘Shanghai Surprise’ and was kind of given a free pass by the critics for not being as obnoxiously bad as her other offerings. Still, it made the point rather neatly that music and not acting was her true forte, for the accompanying soundtrack album proved to be quite a success. After the title track topped the charts briefly back in July, this was the second single taken from the film, a pedestrian but still none too offensive pop-dance track which was pretty typical of her mid-80s output. The only real negative about Causing A Commotion was its lack of a proper video, replaced instead by some ropey concert footage during the course of which Madonna appeared to eschew both melody and key in quite a spectacular style.
He would have larger chart hits and receive even greater critical acclaim, but the chart debut of LL Cool J ranks as one of the standout rap singles of its era. Proving that the still-nascent genre could transcend all manner of styles and topics, this was the first-ever hip-hop love ballad, a tender tale of the protagonist wishing for the girl of his dreams to walk into his life and fantasising about the romantic way he would treat her. Pitched wrong this could have been twee and laughable but the then 19-year-old Def Jam discovery somehow infused it with charm and belief and in a manner which ensured the single could hardly fail. This chart coincided with the brief period when Top Of The Pops had been launched as an American TV show and as a result its British counterpart found itself able to recycle the studio performances of a number of stars who were unwilling or unable to appear on the British version. With the Americans insisting on live vocals, it meant that we were able to witness the occasional gem – none more so than LL Cool J’s heartfelt performance of his hit in front of an enraptured studio audience.
A genuine highlight from the last dregs of the pre-shark jumping career Cliff Richard and at a time when his records still became hits on their own merits as pop songs. The second track from his album Always Guaranteed, the gentle ballad Some People was for a long time ranked by Cliff himself as one of his favourite hit singles. The hit went Top 3 in late September to - Living Doll aside – become his biggest chart hit since Daddy’s Home some six years earlier.
The highest new entry of the 10 that had invaded the Top 40 the previous week made a small but significant climb to give one of the quintessential 80s goth bands their first-ever Top 10 hit. The catalyst that sent the group who had never before even made the Top 40 into the upper reaches and onto a celebrated opening performance on TOTP was the work of one producer – Jim Steinman. Despite fears that he would turn them into Bonnie Tyler, his tracks on the subsequent Floodland album turned out to be mini-masterpieces of restraint. You didn’t need a wall of sound to make the Sisters Of Mercy sound epic, so Steinman simply took Andrew Eldritch’s ideas and gave them added polish. Naturally, the 40 piece orchestra bussed in to play on the sessions helped a little but for the most part this was the maverick producer and “proper” rock group dovetailing almost perfectly. Naturally, I come at this from the point of view of a Steinman fan so a hardcore Sisters lover may take a slightly more level view but it is surely high on the list of the producer’s achievements that over a handful of tracks he made the Sisters Of Mercy sound like the best band on the planet.
“So little time, we do nothing but compete”. Prior to this single few would have argued that the Bee Gees were washed up as performers. Like turning off a light switch, the demise of the disco era at the start of the 80s almost instantly rendered their musical style obsolete and out of touch. When 1983 single The Woman In You bombed out at Number 81 the veteran group appeared to be finished for the second time in their career. The turnaround was arguably Chain Reaction, the song they wrote and produced for Diana Ross in 1986. When the warm, nostalgic production sent her to Number One for the first time in a decade and a half it seemed they had inadvertently hit upon a brand new formula for hits.
You Win Again can in that light be seen as ‘Chain Reaction’ part 2 – an inspired 60s flavoured pop song with a feelgood chorus that was all but irresistible. This Number 6 placing was the single’s final stop on its way to a celebrated berth at Number One, dragging the Bee Gees back to the top of the charts for the first time since 1979 and making them quite extraordinarily the first-ever act to have had a seven-year plus gap between Number One hits on two different occasions. Few acts are lucky enough to have chart careers divided into two distinct parts. For the Bee Gees, this was really just the start of Act III.
TV historians and fans will cheerfully argue for hours down the pub just what it was that made “Miami Vice” so distinctive. Was it the stubble? The jackets? The innovative for the time camerawork and direction? Or was it because it was the first TV series to have a proper soundtrack, with the producers happy not only to licence as many contemporary hits as they could get their hands on to accompany the action but also going as far to hire their own composer to score the incidental music. Jan Hammer was the man charged with soundtracking each episode and he channelled this work into a minor chart career of his own, making a small piece of history in 1985 when the show’s instrumental theme became the first TV theme for 20 years to top the American charts. His biggest UK hit was this reflective instrumental, based on a theme that he had used across many episodes for scenes involving Don Johnson’s James Crockett character. Now a mainstay of just about every “best relaxing music to shag to album on the planet ever” collection, Crockett’s Theme made Number 2 here and came damn close to becoming itself the first instrumental track in a decade and a half to top the charts here.
Long before the semi-ironic hero-worship, long before anyone on 4Chan had thought of “rickrolling”, there was simply this record. I say “simply” for Never Gonna Give You Up was after all the biggest selling single of 1987, a five-week chart-topper and the launchpad of Rick Astley’s career. Many of the stories behind the release of the record have passed into popular mythology thanks to a succession of half-remembered anecdotes by the likes of Kate Thornton on talking heads TV shows. I spent the whole of August 1987 away on holiday so can't offer a first-hand account of the build-up. I simply came back home to find this record at Number One and the short-haired young man grooving unselfconsciously on Top Of The Pops. I therefore can’t really verify personally whether the absence of a video or even a picture of the singer meant that at first people imagined “Rick Astley” was a butch black soul singer from Memphis or Philadelphia based on the way his voice sounded and so reacted with shock and joy when he turned out to be the PWL Studios tea boy. Even a newspaper search from the era turns up little of note, the press not really taking an interest until he climbed to Number One from nowhere, but then again they were different times and music matters were treated with slightly less detail back then, even by the tabloids.
Strangely enough Never Gonna Give You Up wasn’t Rick’s first-ever appearance at Number One. Whilst still an apprentice to his superstar producers, he appeared as part of the ensemble chorus on the Ferry Aid charity single Let It Be earlier in the year and is listed by name on the sleeve. Never Gonna Give You Up was the third Number One single of the year to be produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, just a small herald of the chart domination that was ahead of them.
‘Nuff said really. Landing in the Top 3 with consummate ease, this was the second single to be lifted from the mega-selling album of which it was the title track although the first to actually have a proper video made for it. A rare example of singer and producer working in perfect harmony, Jacko still able to write uptempo songs that had form and melody and Quincy Jones’ masterful production making him sound like nobody else on the planet. Lest we forget, this was an R&B track which featured duelling Yamaha keyboard solos in the instrumental break.
Now, remember what we said about this first chart show of the brand new format still finding its feet and with certain gimmicks not yet in place? Bruno Brookes at this stage hadn’t quite developed the knack of stirring up the tension for the big reveal at the top, although maybe it was plainly obvious at the time what the Number One would be. Still, listening to the tape I can’t help but think this is the one bit of the show that was undersold, Bruno simply saying “Are MARRS still at Number One? We’d better find out” before rolling the jingle and playing the song that gave us the answer…
What if there was a Number 2 record that barely anyone remembered and was effectively lost to history? Released to coincide with the soundtrack of the acclaimed film “Full Metal Jacket” came this extraordinary heavy metal single, credited to soundtrack scorers Abigail Mead (a pseudonym for Vivian Kubrick, daughter of FMJ director Stanley) and producer Nigel Goulding who was responsible for creating the track. More of a tribute to the film than a direct part of the soundtrack, the single was based around the various military cadences heard in the training segments of the film and set them to a crunching funk rock backing. It was a record as diverting as it was different, but radio found it an awkward fit and the single raced up the charts with very little airplay and by word of mouth alone. Uncredited on the track, but effectively its lead vocalist is actor R Lee Ermey who played the uncompromising drill sergeant in the film and whose distinctive voice lead his troops on their marching chants.
Also to note from the tape: the precedent of using the final countdown to run down the entire Top 40 chart from the start hadn’t been established here, and so before playing the Number One, Bruno simply counts down the Top 10. I think the full recap didn’t come in until a couple of weeks later when it was realised that latecomers to the show would have no clue as to what the bottom end of the table looked like. The record that was at Number One on this first-ever Sunday chart?
Quite possibly one of the most discussed, dissected, inspiring and influential records of its era, the story of Pump Up The Volume has been told far too many times by far more informed people than I to bear repeating here. Suffice to say that the one-off collaboration between 4AD signed acts Colorbox and AR Kane produced one of the defining moments of the nascent 80s dance culture and the single quite deservedly had a two week run at Number One, of which this was the second.
Less well documented is the reason why the single locked at Number 2 for two weeks in mid-September and left Rick Astley to extend his own run at the top to five weeks instead of being deposed sooner - all thanks to his producers with the assistance of a few lawyers.
The tale actually begins earlier in the summer. Although forever immortalised as the team that gave the world Kylie and Jason and indeed Sonia and Big Fun, producers Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman were at one time in the mid-80s the coolest producers to have on board. Kings of the Hi-NRG scene, they could more or less guarantee you a club smash and give you a very good chance of a hit record as well. Not for nothing is ‘You Spin Me Round’ by Dead Or Alive regarded as one of the greatest pop records of its era – the Liverpool-based trio were behind its production. However as their sound moved further towards mainstream pop, the trio wanted to prove a point about never judging a book by its cover. So they created Roadblock, an instrumental rare groove club track which was promoted anonymously to club DJs who presumed it was the work of some ultra-cool Chicago based producers and began spinning it to a rapturous reception. It was a fun surprise but hardly a huge scandal when the trio outed themselves as the brains behind the record, and it went on to become a respectable Top 20 hit in August 1987.
It was during its period as an underground white label pressing that it found its way into the hands of CJ Macintosh and Dave Dorrell who were busy adding the scratches and samples to the final mix of Pump Up The Volume. They used the wailing “heyyyyy” from the opening bars of ‘Roadblock’ in a brief section of their track – no more than seven or eight seconds worth. When he discovered this, Pete Waterman wasn’t happy.
At the time there was no precedent, be it legal or moral, to dictate just how much credit you gave someone for using a bit of their record in your own. Everyone was at it - beat and vocal sampling was an integral part of the growing dance music culture. As far as Waterman was concerned though, his work had been stolen and he was determined to stamp the practice out. The row all culminated in a legal injunction on Pump Up The Volume which led to copies being pulled from the shelves for several days in mid-September and further distribution of the single halted. The track had sold enough copies in the days it was on sale to still rank at Number 2 on the chart (it was selling that fast) but most are in agreement that the lost sales that week almost certainly denied it a week at Number One. 4AD agreed to remove the sample from further copies of Pump Up The Volume, replacing it instead with a loop of the preceding eight bars in a hastily pressed new edit. Restored to the shelves, the single began selling in the same quantities as before and jumped neatly to Number One.
Industry sympathy for Pete Waterman was slightly limited by the fact that his own production of Never Gonna Give You Up was actually based in its entirety on the bassline from Trapped, a hit for Colonel Abrams a year earlier. The music industry held its breath for a proper legal precedent to be created with several other famous cases (such as Loleatta Hollway v Black Box and Allan Klein v The Verve) helping to establish just what you could and couldn't get away with. Eventually everyone settled on a gentleman’s agreement that as long as permission was sought prior to release and appropriate royalty cuts were negotiated, sampling of other tracks was an acceptable part of the creative process.
With that, the historic chart show is over. Bruno thanks us for listening, reminds us that Mike Smith will recap the new chart at 7.30 the following morning and signs off “watch how you go, and have a nice night” – a catchphrase which if memory serves eventually mutates into “whatever you’re doing tonight, have a nice night” but not for the moment it seems.
Over to Annie Nightingale who is so blown away that she breaks all her rules and ensures that the first words out of her lips at the start of the request show are not “HI” but instead “Bruno, thanks for the fab new Top 40”.
Just time for the grand tradition of tapes of the chart show – noting what the first record is on the following show and how much of it we get to before the tape finally runs out. Skin Games by Duran Duran is the answer. The Spotify and playlist of this chart contains every available one of the singles played here, as well as some of the ones that the chart show skipped.
See you at Christmas for the next chart retrospective. I’ve an urge to do 1995 next.