There is a family photo which adorns the dining room of my parents' house back in Yorkshire. Taken on a family day out during the Easter holidays in 1989, it serves as an eternal reference point of that particular time every time I come home. I'm 15 years old, looking fresh-faced and bright, with a quiff of blonde hair whilst next to me my just turned 13 sister is beaming proudly with a mouth full of teeth braces. I was staring down the barrel of a summer of exam stress as I approached GCSE time, so that holiday was one last release of pressure before the hard work (or so it felt at the time) truly began.
So we should continue to wallow in the nostalgia of the soundtrack of that time. Here is the middle section of the singles chart as unveiled by Radio One on Easter Sunday 1989.
As I mentioned in the first part, 1989 was the spring of Deep House, and years before the name meant "Big Brother contestant turned reality TV star" Chanelle was the one hit wonder who sang this rather joyful four minutes of magic, a track which one would expect to be regarded as something of a classic but which remains rather off the radar to all but those of us with a dedicated memory of those times. Chanelle hailed from New Jersey and was part of the same music scene which spawned the likes of Adeva, Frankie Knuckles and David Morales yet this single confines her to one hit wonder status. In spite of massive club popularity, the track only wound up as a Number 16 hit but still provoked enough memories in people to be revived in a rather disrespectful remix five years later.
Does anything inspire great R&B records any better than a wronged woman? Alyson Williams was the daughter of famed bandleader Bobby Booker and broke into the music business in the mid-80s, quickly carving out a reputation as the guest singer of choice. Her brief foray into chart stardom came thanks to the album 'Raw' which spawned four chart singles for her in Britain during the course of 1989. Sleep Talk was the first of these, peaking here this week at Number 17 after a steady five-week climb. What made this single so outstanding is the tale the lyrics weave, it quickly becoming clear that the singer is ranting at the sleeping form of her man whose nocturnal mutterings have revealed his infidelity. Halfway through he wakes up and starts sweet-talking her only for her to give him both barrels. "I always thought/Now I know/You're just a low down so-and-so." What's not to love?
When I moved to London at the turn of the decade, it was with some joy that I tuned in to Capital Radio and discovered that their annual "Help A London Child" appeal was still running. Back in the 80s, the only reason those of us in the provinces were aware of it was thanks to a multi-year run of charity hit singles released by then daytime stalwarts Pat Sharp and Mick Brown. They were all fun covers of disco classics helmed by (who else) Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Let's All Chant was the first in 1988 (strangely enough credited to Mick and Pat) which wound up a Number 11 hit. …Dancing Yet was the second, reversing the credits and winding up in the Top 10 just in time for the appeal to hit its height. The charity singles continued into the 90s with diminishing returns, but if nothing else the spectacle of the Radio One DJs hosting Top Of The Pops having to introduce their crosstown rivals was worth it for the price of admission alone. I got to meet Mick Brown briefly when he did shows at talkSPORT a few years ago, but at the time didn't dare bring up the subject of his brief sojourn as a pop star. It's like Pat Sharp's mullet, some things are maybe best left to history.
Looking back this was actually quite the chart for people who had spent the previous year hitless and who were finally breaking through. The former teenage presenter of Razzmatazz was supposed to have launched her chart career as one-third of Blue Zone, Lisa the lead singer alongside musicians Andy Morris and her future husband Ian Devaney. After releasing a series of flop singles and a little-noticed album Big Thing in 1988, the group were busy considering their options when Lisa was invited by Coldcut to supply vocals for their latest single, the followup to Doctorin' The House and Stop This Crazy Thing. The energetic house track duly became a smash (thanks, I seem to remember, to relentless promotion by this weeks stand-in chart host Goodier who had a major Lisa Stansfield fixation and used his weekend breakfast shows to plug the record to death). Instantly the label had their problem solved for them with flop act Blue Zone now transformed into a marketable brand centred around their lead singer. Devaney and Morris stuck around, but their records were now "Lisa Stansfield" and commercial paydirt (and a Number One hit with All Around The World) followed. As a footnote People Hold On was revived a decade later as one of the first-ever mash-up hits, her vocals merged nicely by Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Armand Van Helden's Professional Widow which returned the single to Number 4 in early 1997.
In '89, New Jack Swing was about to change the way America viewed soul music for the next six years. In former New Edition singer Bobby Brown, producers Jam and Lewis found the perfect muse and for a while he was one of the hottest stars in America. Don’t Be Cruel had actually been released in 1988 in this country but had missed the Top 40 despite enormous success back home. After My Prerogative reversed his chart fortunes and became a January hit, the earlier single was reactivated and duly charged into the Top 20. Back in '89 my own personal weakness was for R&B hits that had a rap break in the middle and Don't Be Cruel pressed all those buttons perfectly in a manner which would sound cheesy in this day and age but which at the time made it one of the coolest singles ever. His biggest hits and "Mr Whitney Houston" notoriety were still several years in the future.
Amazing though it may sound now, with both this record and indeed the song itself now firmly established as one of the most famous power ballads of the late 80s, there was a time when Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly's most famous composition was at risk from not even charting at all. Eternal Flame had been released in Britain at the start of February but with the last Bangles single In Your Room having been little more than a minor mid-table hit at the end of the previous year, they weren't exactly a priority for either promotion or airplay. I can distinctly remember hearing the track aired on the radio whilst on the school bus home during the half-term that year, falling in love with it instantly and then watching with ever-increasing dismay as it failed to materialise inside the Top 40 as the weeks went by. Let's not be coy about this, had the heartbreakingly beautiful song passed the public completely by there would have been something badly wrong with the world. Gradually though the odd bit of airplay continued as producers dropped it into running orders, buoyed by the fact that the track was slowly but surely turning into a smash hit back in America. Little by little the sales grew but it still took no less than eight weeks for the single to finally penetrate the Top 40. Just as the Jennifer Rush classic Power Of Love had proved four years earlier, a play on the chart show was actually all a classic in the making needed. Once the single had indeed penetrated the Top 40 there was virtually no stopping it and within a month it was Number One. On the chart this week, Eternal Flame was the highest climber, charging up 20 places in a manner which strongly suggested there was only one place it was going to end up. I didn't actually find the Atomic Kitten cover version a few years back all that offensive, but in truth, it is unlikely that any other version would be able to top the original for emotion, production and sheer popular impact. This was the defining moment of the Bangles' career and arguably one of the most iconic hits of its era.
Another from the "was a flop in '88" pile, the debut single for Sam, the daughter of sixties star Joe Brown had seen massive airplay for this powerful track fail to turn into the hoped-for sales as it limped to an incredibly disappointing Number 52 in June 1988. Undaunted, her label tried again the following spring and this time managed to hit chart paydirt. Stop duly became a March 1989 Number 4 smash hit, even if it did eventually turn out to be as good as she would get as a solo star with none of her subsequent singles quite living up to the impact of her first. Sam Brown's promotion of the successfully re-released Stop was particularly notable thanks to her blonde hair which was cut into a short bob for the filming of the video but which in the intervening period she had grown out to shoulder length. She thus performed the single on TOTP and other outlets sporting a strikingly different image to that which she had in the video - something that would be unthinkable these days.
Our final stop before the Top 10 is perhaps the most fascinating one of all, a record which essentially told two tales. On the surface of it, Fuzzbox were the guilty pleasure of 1989, four girls in a band who sang radio-friendly pop singles such as the summertime smash Pink Sunshine and this earlier single, a thundering rock tribute to the Thunderbirds. On the other hand, the record marked for many a rather disgraceful sellout. Fuzzbox started out as post-punk band We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Going To Use It, formed of four Birmingham schoolfriends whose musical talents were minimal at best, but who gathered quite the following on the indie scene in 1986 thanks to a string of records that were fun, noisy and clearly not to be taken seriously. Their one and only Top 40 hit single in their first incarnation was Love Is The Slug which crept to Number 31 in November 1986. Then they signed to a major label and were effectively turned into glamorous puppets, all but barred from the studio for the making of "their" big label debut Big Bang which thus demonstrated a musical competence and commercial ear which had been strikingly lacking on their earlier work. Pop groups being an artificial creation of managers or marketeers are nothing new, but Fuzzbox were possibly a unique example of a group who had formed on their own terms and indeed made records in that manner only to sell their souls for the sake of a proper payday. The howls of disgust from longtime fans were loud and long but ultimately it hardly mattered what they thought. The pages of Smash Hits came calling and the singles flew up the charts regardless. Whether you saw them as sell-outs or superstars, the commercial reward was more than satisfactory, even if the International Rescue video had to be a rather incongruous Barbarella spoof as director Adrian Edmondson couldn't secure the rights for the girls to portray the Thunderbirds in line with the lyrics of the song.
And on that note, we must pause once more before re-living a rather special Top 10 countdown.