News headlines in Christmas week 1986 were dominated by the flight of the Rutan Voyager aircraft which became the first ever to fly completely around the world without stopping or refuelling, pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager completing the trip in 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds. Meanwhile, Labour leader Neil Kinnock was front page news after an altercation with two youths who had disturbed him and his wife at a South Ealing curry house and hit him over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. Kinnock sent them packing, although today he would probably have just called for an independent judge-led enquiry. Jockey Lester Piggott was in tax trouble again, having to locate what we were told was a million pounds to hand over in court or face arrest, but the real question on the minds of everyone that Christmas was just what was the average music fan hoping to use to listen to the Top 40 singles on Christmas Day? And how much would it all cost them?
One of Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s more notable early projects and one which marks an important step on their gradual transition from ultra-hip Hi-NRG and rare groove producers into the pop music hit factory they would become at the tail end of the decade. Mel and Kim Appleby were sisters from London although it was originally Mel who was supposed to be a solo star, recording demo tracks in search of a record deal after a brief career glamour modelling. The addition of her older sister on co-vocals proved to be the missing bit of magic and after signing with Supreme records they were teamed with the nascent hit production team. Pete Waterman at first envisaged them as classy soul stars, recording the slick and sophisticated track System for their first single release. When the team retired to a local pub during a break in the sessions the Appleby sisters famously let their hair down in front of their producers for the first time and transformed into a pair of brash, cheeky, hilarious loudmouths. It was at that moment Waterman realised they were charging down completely the wrong path. System was relegated to the b-side and in its place was inserted the upbeat party track Showing Out (originally written for and rejected by Bananarama so the legend goes) as the girls sang about their reluctance to allow anything to get between them and Saturday night. A notable single for its time, the track stirred in influences of the Chicago house style which was by then starting to permeate underground clubs, yet as far as the charts were concerned it was quite simply a bright, brilliant pop track tailor made for both discos and Radio One. Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend) made a slow start, taking six weeks to reach the Top 40 following its September release, but it would subsequently peak inside the Top 3 and become a grand opening to what would ultimately be the pair’s rather tragically short career.
Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s tour-de-force musical Phantom Of The Opera had made its bow during 1986 and as was more or less de-rigueur at the time had spawned a handful of hit singles via some rather unexpected routes. The show’s signature tune had been a Top 10 hit at the very start of the year, sung by Sarah Brightman alongside the unusual choice of Steve Harley whose demos had contributed to the development of the project but who to his disgust was binned from the final production when it became clear the libretto was moving towards a more operatic style which would have been beyond his range as a rock star. The musical opened in October but unusually the next song from the show to chart also featured a male star un-associated with the original cast. Inserted into the role of Raoul for the centrepiece ballad All I Ask Of You was Cliff Richard, whose name value at least helped the song to a Number 3 peak just as Phantom made its stage premiere with immaculate timing. The true male star of the show, Michael Crawford, would not make his chart bow until early 1987 when the original cast recording version of Music Of The Night was released as a single and made Number 7 to match the peak of the Steve Harley single a year earlier.
After three successful albums released through RAK records, second generation star Kim Wilde had switched labels and switched her image too for the release of 1984 album Teases & Dares but although the resulting collection was largely positively received, the big hit singles failed to flow, although the 1985 release Rage To Love had at least given her a first Top 20 hit in three years. Strange to think then that a year later she would be enjoying the biggest international smash hit of her career. A cover of the Supremes classic, the Kim Wilde version of You Keep Me Hangin’/ On was as radical a reworking imaginable, replacing the signature Motown stomp of the original with an energetic pop-rock arrangement, a consequence it was said of her brother Ricky on production duties being unfamiliar with the original and thus taking the song in his own preferred direction. Released in late October 1986, the single shot to Number 2 here (matching her career best peak last scaled five years earlier by her debut hit Kids In America) but perhaps even more significantly the following summer You Keep Me Hangin’ On was lodged firmly at the top of the Hot 100 in America, making her the last solo British female to top the US charts until Leona Lewis repeated the trick in 2008. The icing on the cake for the brother and sister team was apparently a telegram from the song’s composer Lamont Dozier who thanked them for turning his song into a hit once more and simply making him look so good.
A turbulent period in the early 1980s, complete with the death of two of their members within a year of each other, had threatened to bring The Pretenders to a grinding halt. Although the band reassembled with new recruits for 1984 album Learning To Crawl, an appearance at Live Aid the following year marked effectively the final curtain for the first version of the group. Hence their next album Get Close was recorded by Chrissie Hynde with an entirely new line-up of musicians (and at times little more than session players), a move which just happened to give the group a major shot in the arm. The first single from the album was Don’t Get Me Wrong which during the autumn had reached Number 10 and become the first Pretenders single to climb that high in the charts for five years. The follow-up fared even better. Hymn To Her was a gorgeous, heart-breaking ode to motherhood and everything that comes with it, written by Chrissie Hynde’s former schoolmate Meg Keene. The gentle gospel feel of the track made it a perfect choice for a pre-Christmas single although the single was at this stage just starting out its chart life, three weeks into a run which would eventually see it peak at Number 8 in early February 1987, to this day their third biggest hit single ever. Something of a forgotten classic these days, which is a shame as it actually ranks as one of the greatest ever Pretenders hits. In this writer’s humble opinion anyway.
Aside from a brief cameo on a Mary J Blige hit 12 years later, Shiver stands proud as the final Top 40 hit for George Benson, a virtuoso jazz guitarist who oddly found his greatest run of commercial success in the 1980s when he turned soul singer and landed worldwide smash hits with R&B hits such as Give Me The Night and the epic ballad In Your Eyes. Shiver was taken from his While The City Sleeps album and saw him back in more familiar jazz-funk territory although the track had enough radio airplay and popular appeal to climb as high as Number 19, his best chart run since the aforementioned In Your Eyes had reached Number 7 three years earlier.
More b-roll material here, a 1986 Eurythmics track which was the ill-starred follow-up to the acknowledged classic Thorn In My Side. A slick and sophisticated ballad, The Miracle Of Love was once again the kind of single which was the obvious choice for an attack on the Christmas market but which ultimately struggled to make any kind of impact, peaking a week after Christmas at a lowly Number 23. Whilst we didn’t know it at the time, Thorn In My Side would wind up the last Eurythmics Top 10 hit to date, their material for the rest of the decade struggling to live up the pedigree of earlier classics as Dave and Annie moved further away from their electronic roots with ever diminishing commercial returns, despite the consistent quality of their music. The Miracle Of Love can in that sense be seen as the very start of a regrettable downward slope.
24: Ray Moore – Oh My Father Had A Rabbit
The singles chart of Christmas 1986 had more than its fair share of novelty hit singles, but with my broadcasters hat on there was possibly none more memorable than this entirely appropriate monument to a sadly missed radio legend. Having started out as a continuity announcer, first for a variety of ITV companies and then the BBC, Ray Moore spent the 1980s as the host of the early breakfast show on Radio 2, more than anyone else in the slot ever establishing the principle that anyone up and about at 5am is seeking solidarity in the lunacy of the hour. Ray Moore’s even lengthening handovers with breakfast host Terry Wogan were even at the time the stuff of legend and whilst BBC Radio 2 was at the time a long way removed from the mainstream ratings juggernaut it is today, the man who could switch effortlessly between smooth BBC tones and his own native scouse accent was one of the most recognisable voices in the country. His hit single Oh My Father Had A Rabbit can actually rank as the first-ever Children In Need tie-in, a two-minute nonsense verse narrated by the presenter as an anthem for his “Bog Eyed Jog” event which formed part of the charity appeal in 1986, the single peaking here at Number 24 just in time for Christmas. He attempted a chart return the following year with a more straightforward single also called Bog Eyed Jog but one which failed to progress beyond Number 61 but by that time Ray Moore’s career was winding sadly down. Having contracted throat cancer earlier in the year, he was eased out of his show in 1988 and died a year later at the tragically young age of 47. A true gentleman, a broadcasting giant and a man who inspired countless others who have followed in his footsteps, it seems only appropriate that he is immortalised in this manner with the silliest hit single of its era.
This was the instantly memorable debut hit single for sophisti-pop trio Swing Out Sister, led by the charismatic Corinne Drewery, and whose blend of smooth jazz, pop and soul filled a string of memorable hit albums during the late 80s and early 90s and led to a touring career which continues to this day. Lifted from their debut album It’s Better To Travel, the brassy and catchy Breakout had peaked at Number 4 in early December and was by this stage on its way out, slowly enough to be joined on the Top 40 by follow-up Surrender which hit the charts in early January 1987.
22: Spitting Image – Santa Claus Is On The Dole
A second novelty hit, this the fondly-remembered follow-up to The Chicken Song which had been a surprise Number One hit earlier in 1986. After a slow start two years earlier, satirical TV show Spitting Image had grown into a huge success, its twice-yearly series on Sunday nights on ITV a fondly remembered cultural fixture of the time. Each episode of latex lampoonery (as the press branded it) climaxed with a song, most written by composer Philip Pope with lyrical contributions from the rest of the team and these musical moments had proven so popular they were compiled into an album Spit In Your Ear from which the earlier Number One hit had been taken. Santa Claus Is On The Dole was an ever-topical account of how “Father Christmas has been sacked and his gnomes are all redundant” and how “..real fairy cake and Rudolph steak” would be his Christmas dinner. As fun as it would have been to find it on Spotify, I’m kind of glad of an excuse to embed the video here – actually taken from the TV show and differing slightly to the single which was in the shops, but if nothing else it is fun to watch the credits roll and note the comedy and satirical royalty who at the time were just starting their careers on one of the greatest comedy shows of the 80s. This isn’t the last we’ll hear of them during the course of this chart countdown either.
One of the most famous examples of “this guy looks great, can he sing a little?”, Nick Kamen started out as a male model, his Presley-esque looks gracing the covers of magazines such as The Face and endless photo stories in teenage weeklies before he was propelled almost by accident to mainstream stardom thanks to his role in the seminal Levis 501s TV commercial which saw him strip down to his boxer shorts in a 1950s launderette, all to the soundtrack of I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Snapped up by WEA records who smelled a potential goldmine, he lucked out again after being handed a track which had been originally intended for Madonna’s True Blue album but which was discarded in favour of what composers Madonna and Stephen Bray felt were stronger tracks. Instead Nick Kamen was given Each Time You Break My Heart more or less ready mixed, his single version essentially the True Blue recording with Madonna’s lead vocals deleted and Kamen’s added in their place, although she can still be heard as part of the chorus. Whilst the TV commercial connection helped the track to become a sizable UK hit, hitting Number 5 in early December, the Madonna link turned Each Time You Break My Heart into a huge worldwide success, turning Nick Kamen into major star across Europe. Whilst none of his subsequent singles made all that much of an impact on these shores, he remained an icon on the continent until well into the 1990s.