February 1990 is where (or should that be when?) we are at for this mini Top 40 nostalgia trip. Let's continue:
A new entry and the first-ever hit single for the poodle-headed one, one which would go Top 3 and which remains to this day his biggest ever hit single in this country. Although he wrote the song he of course wasn't the first to record it, having penned it originally for Laura Branigan who had an American Top 20 hit with the track in 1983. To British audiences however the song was brand new and whilst in 2008 it is possible to look back and wonder just how a balding star with a voice that reached up to a strangulated whine became one of the biggest-selling acts of the first part of the decade, at the time nobody was in any doubt that he and the song were going to be massive.
A slice of dad-rock whose presence surely nobody can object to. Almost 20 years into his hitmaking career, Rod produced one of his greatest ever vocal performances on this emotionally charged version of the famous Tom Waits song. Frustratingly slow to become a hit when first released, the record caught fire after a barnstorming performance at the Brit awards ceremony, sending it charging into the Top 40 on its way to a Number 10 peak. Call me biased, but this remains one of my favourite songs of all time, the kind of record that makes you want to ruin your voice with cigarettes just so you can pull it off at karaoke.
A rare example of artist and producer peaking together, the Rhythm Nation 1814 album saw the team of both Michael's little sister and producers/songwriters Jam and Lewis turn everything they touched into sales gold, at least in America. On these shores the reaction wasn't quite so hysterical (none of the singles from the album peaked higher than Number 17 here), indeed the reception afforded to New Jack Swing on these shores back then pales in comparison to the reception afforded to anything Timbaland lays his hands on in 2008. As was the practice back then, lavishly produced albums from American stars were mined to exhaustion for singles, gentle ballad Come Back To Me was the third of seven that the long-player would eventually spawn.
True story. Yesterday I was wandering around Oxford Street, snapping up discounted CD copies of albums I'd owned on cassette for years. To my disappointment the only The Beloved disc available was a Greatest Hits collection, meaning the search for a digital version of Happiness goes on. The album represented the long-awaited commercial breakthrough for the act who since the mid-80s had mutated from indie rockers to thundering pop-dance Gods. After sneaking into the Top 30 the previous year with now acknowledged classic The Sun Rising, this barnstorming pop track gave them a first-ever Top 20 hit and persuaded the 16-year-old me to rush out and snap up the aforementioned cassette copy of the album. Their greatest success of course came in 1993 when Jon Marsh recruited wife Helena to duet with him on drippy ballads like Sweet Harmony and You've Got Me Thinking. At the time I just dug out my copy of Your Love Takes Me Higher and silently wept.
The first-ever chart appearance of what is now a very famous record indeed, one which gave Depeche Mode their first Top 10 hit for six years and which would later see them showered with awards either for the song or for its King Canute themed video. Want to know a terrible secret though? I never really cared for it all that much, nor for anything Depeche Mode did over the course of the next decade and a half. I always put that down to being a melody man. I have an ear for a tune, and those fans who to this day snap up in an instant everything the group put out are the kind of people who lock themselves in darkened rooms and analyse every syllable of their deep and meaningful lyrics. I used to have this theory that Depeche Mode actually died in the early 80s when Vince Clarke quit to become a pop star, plunging the rest of the group into a state of mourning that has lasted ever since.
Another hit that serves to raise the average age of the Top 40 performers, the late 80s and early 90s were of course Cher's rock chick phase when she put her mane of black hair to use, squeezed her surgically reconstructed body into leathers and was rewarded with a roughly five year run of hits. This brooding single was actually more country than rock and still holds up well as one of her best moments before she hit record-breaking paydirt as a dance diva in the late 90s.
Great misheard lyrics of James' youth. For a long time I was convinced the second line of the song read "secretaries turn off typewriters and put on their clothes", which still makes perfect sense when you think about it. The first and biggest ever hit for the Scottish band although there is a case for suggesting that 1992 hits such as Just Like A Man and Aways The Last To Know were just as worthwhile. Nonetheless, an entire generation still has a soft spot for the bleak acoustic singalong Nothing Ever Happens', a production that still has the power to give you chills even 18 years later. Never heard this song? Correct this at the earliest opportunity.
The biggest ever hit single for a rock group who exist in the minds of most people only as the punchline of tales about Jon Bon Jovi and his sharp business practices. The group you see hail from the same area of New Jersey as the man himself and in their early years he gave them the helping hand they needed to get a record deal. In return however they had to sign up to his publishing company in a deal that meant he and Richie Sambora received almost 100% of the royalties, an issue that still rankles to this day. Sadly that is actually the most interesting thing you can say about Skid Row, the single representing the sanitised corporate FM radio-friendly rock that the likes of Nirvana were set to skewer just over a year later.
12: 49ers - Touch Me
Cheating a little here, as the Top 40 show was clearly overrunning by this point, thanks to a huge number of new entries low down which required playing although six-minute Chris Rea tracks didn't help either. Consequently the next two hits were missed out altogether, despite being just outside the Top 10. The 49ers for being the prelude to a Top 10 crammed with dance hits, many of which have been conspicuous by their absence in this writeup so far. Italian house hit Touch Me could lay claim to being the Basshunter of its day, a new year dance track that had grabbed itself a Top 3 placing at a quiet time of year. For the curious, it is indeed Aretha Frankin's voice on the track, sampled from her 1987 flop single Rock-A-Lott.
Now, this is what you call a story, a strange tale of manufactured pop and the power of the tabloid pop pages to ruin an act totally. Yell! were conceived as the next big pop duo, formed from two good looking young men (Paul Varney and Daniel James) and launched with this bubbly remake of the famous Dan Hartman track. The mistake they made was to refuse to behave like pop stars, being photographed in Smash Hits looking mean and moody rather than cheery and smiling and insisting that people write about them as serious artists and not "bimbo pop stars". To the pop writers in the tabloid newspapers this was like a red rag to a bull, Piers Morgan in The Sun, Rick Sky in the Daily Mirror and in particular Linda Duff in the Daily Star effectively set out to destroy them. Their case wasn't helped by the fact that Daniel James had lied through his teeth about his age, being closer to 32 than the fresh-faced 23-year old that was claimed, the truth not being hard to conceal thanks to the fact that he had a fairly lengthy CV as a jobbing actor under his real name Colin Heywood, the newspapers gleefully printing stills of him appearing in still-airing Open University programmes that dated from the early 80s. The pair attempted two more single releases but when their cover of Let's Go Round Again missed the Top 75 (despite Stock/Aitken/Waterman being drafted in to help), the Star printed a tale about them bursting into tears in the offices of their management, the press release about their split coming just a day later. The truth of the matter is they weren't actually that bad and could in theory have had a run of hits and a Top 10 album out of the concept. Never again would the red-tops set out to systematically destroy an act but the lesson had been learned. You gave the Bizarre and Splosh (yes, that is what the Star called its pop page back then) columns what they wanted, or else.