A fun fact that is more or less lost to people’s memories these days: this chart dates from an era when the weekly Top 40 was unveiled to the public on Tuesday lunchtime, the Sunday chart show on Radio One thus counting down the singles chart a week AFTER it had been compiled and just two days before a new one was announced. Thus the honour of revealing the big news about who was Christmas Number One 1986 fell to Gary Davies on the ‘Bit In The Middle’ lunchtime show on Radio One. A moment I do actually remember listening to, as I was waiting for one particular chart record to fall. But we’ll come to that.
Two albums into their career, Bon Jovi had achieved a modest level of success without attracting much in the way of high profile mainstream attention. The story goes that Jon Bon Jovi was listening back to their second album, 1985s 7800 degrees Fahrenheit, to locate a potential new single. Stuck for inspiration he threw on a tape Canadian rock band Honeymoon Suite and realised to his frustration that it sounded better than his own record. The producer of the latter was one Bruce Fairburn and it was thanks to his influence, plus the song-writing skills of Desmond Child that the next Bon Jovi release Slippery When Wet turned the New Jersey group into true international superstars. Leading the charge was a track which to this day remains one of their most famous hit singles and which thanks to a last-minute bit of studio inspiration reintroduced the talk box to the world of rock music. Bon Jovi had already had their first UK Top 40 hit earlier in the summer with You Give Love A Bad Name but it was easily Livin’ On A Prayer which propelled them into the mainstream. Despite being at the very heart of mid-80s hair metal, the tale of Tommy and Geena and their financial struggles remains an uplifting, stadium-filling, punch the air with joy rock anthem – the kind of tracks some groups strive for years to create and which Bon Jovi put their name to right at the very start of theirs. Released in mid-October 1986, Livin’ On A Prayer had climbed the charts steadily to peak at Number 4 in early December and was still selling strongly into party season, kicking this particular Top 10 off in some considerable style.
Speaking of party season, this was almost certainly the track to which you copped a feel with Sharon from 5C at the school disco. The one and only hit single for American soul singer Gregory Abbott (despite years of subsequent trying for a second), Shake You Down is the kind of smooth ballad which defines a moment in time, the definitive romantic soundtrack to Christmas 1986 and a track which is unable to escape that association, no matter how many cheap to licence “Best 80s Love Ever” compilations it pops up on from time to time. A Number 6 hit just a few weeks earlier, the track was at this stage on a gradual descent down the singles chart – a listing he would oddly never grace again to rank as a true one-hit-wonder.
After the demise of Yazoo, singer Alison Moyet signed a solo deal of her own and established herself in her own right with some style with the release of her 1984 debut album Alf along with its attendant singles. The promotion for that record climaxed in March 1985 with the release of non-album single That Ole Devil Called Love which peaked at Number 2 and as a knock-on effect meant that her next release was more or less guaranteed to be huge. We had to wait almost two years for it to arrive, but November 1986 saw the release of Is This Love the first time from what would become her second album Raindancing (which itself landed in the shops early the following year). Despite a slow start, the brisk and breezy pop record was soon the huge hit it was always expected to be, spent a fortnight at Number 8 over the Christmas period before settling into an extended Top 3 run as one of the first big new hits of the new year.
The second single from A-Ha’s Scoundrel Days album which saw the Norwegian group take full advantage of their pant-moistening appeal amongst the teenage girls of Europe to release some rather bold, incredibly complicated and lyrically dark records, all of which by and large got a free pass because, you know, they were A-Ha records – and A-Ha were great! Following the intense I’ve Been Losing You came the gothic tones of Cry Wolf, a single which would become the second of four singles they released during their career to peak at Number 5….
Oh come on, did you really think I would go an entire piece without dropping in some form of useless statistic? Anyway, the b-side of Cry Wolf was the rather more catchy Maybe Maybe which also featured on the album and could well have been a good choice of single. It did come out as one – in Bolivia according to Wikipedia.
“I saw you (and him), walking in the rain/you were holding hands will I/ever be the same”. Oran ‘Juice’ Jones was notable as the first-ever artist signed to OBR records, a short-lived offshoot of Def Jam records and intended to be a home for black artists who didn’t quite fit the usual profile of the famous hip-hop label. He is to all intents and purposes a one-hit wonder, hit single The Rain the only chart record (despite several grammy nominations) from his debut album Juice and with his two follow-up collections rather less well received. So just what makes The Rain so special? After all the opening couplet hardly sells it as anything more than a typical tale of love gone wrong all done in a smooth soul style which just screams “pencil moustache and trench coat”.
Well just take a listen. The “song” itself only lasts for three minutes of the track’s five-minute length. The remaining two (which shamefully is sometimes faded out early when played on the radio) is taken up with an extended monologue from “The Juice” himself as he welcomes home his cheating other half from her hard day at work and The Rain becomes beyond a shadow of a doubt the greatest record ever made.
Hey hey baby how ya doin' come on in here. Got some hot chocolate on the stove waiting for you. Listen first things first let me hang up the coat. Yeah, how was your day today? Did you miss me? You did? Yeah? I missed you too. I missed you so much I followed you today. That's right now close your mouth 'cause you cold busted. Now just sit down here, sit down here. I'm so upset with you I don't know what to do. You know my first impulse was to run up on you and do a Rambo. I was about to jam you and flat blast both of you, but I didn't wanna mess up this $3700 Lynx coat. So instead I chilled. That's right chilled. I called up the bank and took out every dime. Then I cancelled all your credit cards. I stuck you up for every piece of jewellery I ever bought you! Don't go lookin' in that closet 'cause everything you came here with is packed up and waiting for you in the guest room. What were you thinking? You don't mess with the Juice! I gave you silk suits, blue diamonds and Gucci handbags. I gave you things you couldn't even pronounce! But now I can't give you nothing but advice. Cause you're still young, yeah, you're young. And you're gonna find somebody like me one of these days . . . Until then, you know what you gotta do? You gotta get on outta here with that alley-cat-coat-wearing, punch-bucket-shoe-wearing crumbcake I saw you with. Cause you dismissed!
Having mentioned Yazoo above, what did Vince Clarke move onto next following his parting of the ways from Alison Moyet? Well actually it was The Assembly, intended to be a “Vince plus whoever” project with a rotating cast of guest singers but which was abandoned after the solitary hit single Never Never which featured Fergal Sharkey on vocals. Instead following a music press advert for a new singer he recruited the flamboyant Andy Bell with the duo forming Erasure, far and away the most enduring and successful project of the songwriter’s long and storied career. Initially however the project was a flop. Unfair comparisons between Bell’s tones and those of Clarke’s erstwhile female companion led to accusations that Erasure was just a poor Yazoo copy, the three singles from their debut album Wonderland all failing to make the grade. It was only when the pair moved onto new material, that which would form the basis of their second album The Circus that they finally hit the sales jackpot. Sometimes at first appeared to be struggling just like their previous releases, hitting the shops in mid-October 1986 the single took a full four weeks to even make the Top 40. Once there though it took off like the proverbial rocket and four weeks later was at Number 2, a chart placing it would take the pair six years to exceed. The first in a run of Top 10 hit singles which would stretch over the next 18 years, Sometimes still stands proud if not necessarily as one of the best Erasure singles, certainly one of the most famous.
So often hyped as a contender, yet never actually in contention Open Your Heart was one of a long line of Madonna hit singles which coincided with the end of the year, yet which was never truly in the running to be Christmas Number One. The fourth of five singles lifted from her hit True Blue album, such was the sheer unrelenting nature of Madonna’s chart appeal Open Your Heart still managed to be the smallest despite its three weeks locked at Number 4 over the Christmas period. Being a Madonna single it would not have been complete without a small amount of controversy, this time thanks to the video which pictured Ms Ciccone as the performer at a peep show, her portrayal as the woman in control over the desperate losers in the booths overshadowed by the presence of child actor Felix Howard as the only one who wins her heart at the end.
Originally formed as Force in their native Sweden the newly renamed Europe had released two albums independently before signing a worldwide deal with Epic records in 1985. The fruit of this union was the album The Final Countdown, for some the epitome of 1980s soft metal excess with gigantic perms, leather trousers and polished to perfection synth-led radio-friendly rock to the fore but one which naturally contains the title track, one of the biggest selling singles worldwide in 1986. Originally developed from an instrumental fanfare designed to play the band on stage, The Final Countdown grew instead into the ludicrous tale of space travel as a metaphor for love and briefly turned the group into the hottest property in Metal. Released in Britain in late October 1986, The Final Countdown grew from small beginnings into a single which would ultimately spend a fortnight at the top of the charts in late November and early December, one of only a tiny handful of *cough* heavy metal tracks ever to reach Number One on the UK charts and in the process hand Tempest and his musicians something of a lifelong pension plan. Still recording and touring today after a 1990s hiatus, Europe are actually held in high regard by rock fans for the quality of their live shows and their sporadic releases of new material, yet they still remain faithful to their earlier and somewhat naffer works, The Final Countdown still part of their sets and one which they are happy to acknowledge as their most famous musical moment, even if revisionist history would like to paint it as the shining example of bloated 80s rock excess.
Another act who had taken off in some style in 1986 after initial early struggles, the self-styled “fourth best band in Hull” had broken through commercially with the single Happy Hour, a track which shot to Number 3 in the summer thanks in part to the eye-catching (and given the way things played out at the end of the year, desperately ironic) claymation video. Follow-up single Think For A Minute had peaked 15 places lower in October but the group would return to the business end of the chart in December with their most striking musical moment yet. Originally recorded by the second-generation American group Isley Jasper Isley who had reached Number 52 with their version in late 1985, The Housemartins’ quirky acapella take on the song was swiftly added to their live repertoire and indeed formed part of a session they recorded for the John Peel show on Radio One early the following year and just prior to their first commercial success. Peel loved the concept so much that he invited the group back to record an entirely acapella session, this time masquerading as the Fish City Five, a moniker they also used in order to play as their own support act for a famous homecoming concert back in Hull. The next logical step was to release Caravan Of Love as a single, and so it was that almost exactly three years after the UK charts had its first entirely vocal Number One hit it had a second as The Housemartins landed their biggest chart hit ever exactly one week before Christmas. Given that the Flying Pickets take on Only You had easily and famously been the Christmas Number One of 1983 it seemed almost a racing certainty that Caravan Of Love would spend a second week at the top and duplicate the feat. They were even preparing for a triumphant appearance on the Christmas Day Top Of The Pops on that basis:
Fate, and wouldn’t you just know it, another claymation video had other ideas….
One of the more famous and highly regarded soul singers of the late 50s and early 60s, Jackie Wilson never lived to see his greatest British chart triumph. Felled by an onstage heart attack in 1975, he fell into a coma which lasted until he passed away in 1984. Reet Petite was one of his earliest hits, originally released in Britain in 1957 and a Number 6 hit early the following year – penned as it so happened by Berry Gordy, one of his first ever successful compositions. Its apparently random revival almost 30 years later came thanks to an edition of the BBC2 documentary strand Arena, concentrating on upcoming British film studios and which featured the work of animation house Giblets. Their segment of the programme featured a claymation Jackie Wilson accompanied by what are best described as three lips on stalks, dancing in a manner of alarming ways to his most famous hit single. It was eye-catching enough to prompt an opportunistic re-issue, now with the new video attached.
Reet Petite still might not have taken off, but for the fact that classic soul was suddenly back in vogue. The first instalments of the famous Levis 501 adverts had not only propelled Nick Kamen to stardom but also led to their soundtracks marching into the charts. Thus I Heard It Through The Grapevine had reached Number 8 in the spring, simultaneously with What A Wonderful World reaching Number 2. Against this backdrop it wasn’t hard to see how Reet Petite and its video would become a smash hit too. Released in late November, the single bounded 63-40-14-2 where it sat just before Christmas, one place behind The Housemartins. The 13-year-old me was suddenly intrigued. If the single made Number One it would shatter into oblivion a pair of notable chart records, and I was enormously keen to watch it all happen. One week later the 1950s song was at the top of the charts, embarking on what would actually be a startling four-week spell at the top – this was no Christmas novelty it seemed. 29 years and six weeks after it first hit the charts, Reet Petite set a new record for the slowest climb to Number One by any single ever, the late Jackie Wilson similarly waiting longer than any other act before him for his first-ever chart-topping hit. (Both records were subsequently shattered by Tony Christie in 2005 when Is This The Way To Amarillo gave both artist and song a Number One hit after a wait of over 34 years).
Perhaps even more extraordinarily the Jackie Wilson revival would continue into 1987, even without the aid of animated videos. I Get The Sweetest Feeling would hit Number 3 in February followed by Higher And Higher going Top 20 in July. Three years after he passed away and more than two decades after his greatest success, Jackie Wilson was one of the more prolific chart acts of the year – and of course, he was the 1986 Christmas Number One.
Fancy a listen back to the whole of the countdown? Well just click any of the individual song links, or enjoy the playlist which should appear below in all non-rubbish browsers. Merry Christmas.