Distractions, such as writing books (have I mentioned there is a book recently?) haven’t left much time free for looks back at old chart countdowns of the past, but regular readers of these pages will be aware that it is something of a December tradition to mark the final days before Christmas with a seasonal chart of yore. Over the past few years I’ve written about 1988, 1995, 1992 and 1999 but this year I thought I’d go back a little further in time.
Just for a change this isn’t a Top 40 show I actually kept a tape of at the time (although a copy of the broadcast is in circulation amongst collectors) but the final countdown of 1986 is one which I still have rather fond memories of. For the 13 year old me it was the final awakening of an obsession that has stayed with me for the rest of my life (anticipating as I was a particular chart record which was set that week) but it is actually a quite intriguing countdown for other reasons. This was a Top 40 which featured song from some very big names indeed, but aside from a few notable exceptions, they were all singles which history records as very much the b-material, the ‘other’ hits that came out in between or in some cases after their classics. All were worthy chart hits, some are a pleasure to revisit but by and large, this is very much the ‘forgotten’ chart of the mid-1980s.
Time then to count down the hits of the Christmas Chart of 1986, all links below pointing to the relevant place in the Spotify catalogue if the urge takes you to hear the songs again in full.
To start with, a single from earlier in the autumn which was finally burning itself out this week. Through The Barricades was the title track of Spandau Ballet’s fifth album, one which in all fairness marked the start of their steady commercial decline as one of the quintessential acts of the early 1980s found themselves out of step and out of fashion, reduced instead to playing to a dwindling crowd of die-hard supporters. Still, there were worse ways to go out, their final Top 10 hit being a five and a half minute epic tale of love and hopelessness across the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland. Weighty matters for a pop record for sure and perhaps not a patch on their classics from earlier in the decade but it apparently remains the composition of which Tony Hadley is most proud. Taken in isolation Through The Barricades is a magnificent, towering pop record – but for the band who recorded True it was merely the start of a gentle slide towards the exit.
Another hit on the way out, but arguably our first example of b-material, a largely forgotten follow-up to a much more famous hit. The fourth single to be released from the Pearson family’s Silk And Steel album, If It Say Yes had the unfortunate task of following Rain Or Shine, their biggest ever hit single and the very pinnacle of their popular appeal. As such this single, released in early November, was a lowly Number 15 hit, their first in five releases to miss the Top 10 and their lowest charting single in a year. Although nobody knew it at the time, Five Star were another act about to start circling the drain although the rapid expiration of their popular appeal would take another year to become apparent.
Having started her career in the 1970s as a member of funk outfit Chapter 8, American soul singer Anita Baker went solo in 1983 and hit commercial paydirt three years later with her second album Rapture and her greatest ever hit single Sweet Love. A Top 10 hit in America, the smooth soul track peaked at a perfectly respectable Number 13 in late November and was gently exiting the Top 40 by the time Christmas rolled around. Oddly enough however it was her one and only Top 40 hit single in Britain, further singles (the last as late as 1994) all fell short of duplicating the success of Sweet Love. The song itself would continue to have a life of its own, returning as a Top 3 hit single for forgotten girl group Fierce in February 2000.
Funny how some things stick in your mind isn’t it? I’ve not heard the recording for almost three decades but I can still vividly recall Bruno Brookes announcing that the Bangles “turn and walk two places” as they opened the Christmas Top 40 show on Radio One by rebounding back up the singles chart as part of what would turn out to be an extended burn-out. Penned by noted songwriter Liam Sternberg, Walk Like An Egyptian had already been rejected by Toni Basil when producer David Kahne suggested it as a track for the second Bangles album A Different Light. Despite following classic singles Manic Monday and If She Knew What She Wants in their sequence of single releases, Walk Like An Egyptian became far and away the biggest of all, the fun track and its iconic video becoming a genuine pop culture phenomenon in the final months of 1986 with the single topping the American charts and becoming a Top 3 hit in this country.
Strangely enough, the track almost caused a huge schism within the group which had always been viewed by the four girls as an equal ensemble with lead vocals shared between them all. Unable to decide who should sing the track, Kahne recorded all four of the group singing the track, the final edit featuring Vicki Peterson, Michael Steele and Susannah Hoffs taking turns on verses, with only drummer Debbie Peterson relegated to backing vocals much to her chagrin. Worse was to come when the video for the track was produced. Although she professed to be unaware she was being shown in close up at that moment, during the verse sung by Susannah Hoffs she rolled her eyes to the side and with one look gave the world a truly iconic image:
With one look the entire world fell in love with her and from that moment on Hoffs was the de-facto star of the Bangles, pushed to the fore in the minds of the media, even if the group continued to insist on sharing vocal duties equally.
Funny how some songs can define for you a time and an era in your life more than any of its contemporaries. For me it is this hit single from Red Box, the second chart hit to be taken from their highly acclaimed (yet today all but overlooked) debut album The Circle And The Square. Stuck “in development” for several years, the duo of Simon Toulson-Clarke and Julian Close finally hit the jackpot in 1985 with the worldwide smash hit Lean On Me, the success of which finally made their album a viable commercial prospect. Mixing new wave, art rock and even world rhythms all in one glorious whole and with many tracks featuring an ensemble choir of friends and collaborators (rumoured to also include Buffy actor Anthony Head), the album remains to this day a quite extraordinary listen. Its second hit single (arriving a full year after the first) was actually a sarcastic response to a record company request that the pair included a track “for American radio”. For America was thus a satirical comment on the style over substance of American media with some barbs thrown at military campaigns in Greneda and Nicaragua, all wrapped up in a patriotic-sounding marching band anthem. It is far and away one of the cleverest, most artfully made pop records this side of imperial phase Pet Shop Boys. To add to the irony the single was never a hit in America but made a splash across Europe, reaching Number 10 in this country in late November. Strained relations with their label meant that Red Box went on hiatus in 1987 with Close moving into A&R work instead. Toulson-Clarke returned with a new Red Box album in 1990 with a third following a full 20 year later in October 2010, although we still await a follow-up hit.
Sadly these days it is all too easy to see a Paul McCartney solo single and picture the sadly deteriorated old man whose Olympic Games appearance in 2012 demonstrated to the world that his singing abilities deserted him 25 years ago. Happily this single predates the era, lifted from his Press To Play album which may not necessarily rank amongst his classics but which was notable for a deliberate attempt by the former Beatle to update his sound, notably through the recruitment of the then in-demand Hugh Padgham on production duties. Only Love Remains was its fourth and final single, the follow-up to Pretty Little Head which had made waves in late October by missing the Top 75 altogether. This gentle ballad fared slightly better, but its Top 40 run was brief and unmemorable.
Another all but forgotten single from a major chart superstar, the third track lifted from Richie’s Dancing On The Ceiling album. Whilst the title track had become a deserved worldwide smash hit, sounding fresh and exciting to this day, its chart successors were less well-received. Love Will Conquer All failed to conquer the Top 40, peaking at Number 45 late October and the gentle Ballerina Girl had a similarly slow start, theoretically released for the Christmas market but only selling enough to register as a Top 40 new entry on this particular chart. The early weeks of 1987 were however slightly kinder to the single and it continued to climb, peaking at Number 17 in its fifth week on-sale. But still, nobody remembers it – because it isn’t Dancing On The Ceiling.
A similar story here. What tracks do people remember from Paul Simon’s seminal Graceland album? The title track, You Can Call Me Al, Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes to name but three. All but overlooked is The Boy In The Bubble, its second and final chart single which was also here on its way up, climbing seven places on its way to a Number 26 peak in early January. How does it go again?
32: Cameo – Candy
Once more, think of Cameo in 1986 and what do you recall? Larry Blackmon’s codpiece and Word Up of course. How many people remember this single, the follow-up to that career-defining smash hit and a Number 27 hit in early December? Back And Forth would restore them to the Top 20 later in 1987.
Gary Moore’s eighth studio album was Wild Frontier, a record made both in the shadow of the death of former Thin Lizzy bandmate Phil Lynott at the start of 1986 but also a trip back to his native Belfast which made the rock guitarist re-examine his Celtic roots and work those influences into his music. Preceding the album came one of his more notable hit singles, a thundering, energetic Celtic rock track featuring fiddles, guitars as bagpipes, and a driving, marching drum track all topped by a virtuoso guitar performance from the man himself. The tale of the man wrongly accused of murder but whose alibi would destroy his friend’s marriage remains an exciting listen to this day and after spending a fortnight locked here at Number 31 over Christmas would eventually be lifted to a Number 20 peak early in the new year. The positive reception for the album led Gary Moore’s record label to push him further down a heavy rock direction, resulting in 1989s After The War album which he himself found so dissatisfying that he instead turned back to the Blues, reinventing himself totally for the rest of his life and career.