My occasional lapses into silence over the last few months have been down to one thing – a feverish desire to finish my next published project. Whilst it still isn’t quite there, I can reveal that the new year should at some point see the publication of The Top 40 Annual – 1988, an extension of the existing series of chart books, this time looking from a year from a more historical perspective.
In going through the research for the book I did however spot one oddity. The presence of Cliff Richard at the top of the Christmas chart and the immediate post-holiday demise of the single meant that many of the Top 10 hits at the end of the year did not actually reach their eventual peak until the start of 1989, thus for now putting them outside the scope of the book. Fortunately I had once before taken a retrospective wander through the Christmas chart of 1988, but given that was six years ago it seemed appropriate to go back and revisit that piece.
So, in the absence of any proper new content from me this Christmas, here is a festive repeat – the reworking of a classic Chart Rewind. Looking at what is now a quite scary 26 years ago this week.
Two more points of note. Christmas Day fell on a Sunday that year, so for the first and to date only time, rather than run a chart show on the 25th itself it was decided that the Christmas Number One would be announced in a delayed chart show broadcast by Radio One on Boxing Day, thus taking into account sales from the whole of the holiday week right up until the moment the shops closed on Christmas Eve. Regular Top 40 host Bruno Brookes was off that week, so the show is presented by Mark Goodier, this being the first anniversary of his debut on the network.
All song links are to the relevant track on Spotify, where available.
40: Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra – Minnie The Moocher
Founded by one time Steel Pulse performer Mykaell Riley, the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra were an all-star collective of black musicians with the stated aim of bringing what was still at times a rather niche musical form to a mass audience. Throughout 1988 the group had won widespread acclaim for their live shows and had released their self-titled debut album through Island Records at the end of the year. BBC Radio One took up the promotion of the album’s lead single as something of a totem, forcing it through sheer unrelenting levels of airplay into the charts at the very end of the year. A chirpy take on the famous Cab Calloway jazz standard, the single was a true slow burner. First released in early November, the single climbed to Number 45 in its second week on sale only to go into quick reverse, falling back to Number 50. However the release of the song coincided with a triumphant series of end of year concerts by the group and slowly but surely the single began to climb again, finally entering the Top 40 a fortnight before Christmas for a short three week run which saw it peak at Number 35. The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra would manage just one more chart single during their existence, the track Lovely Thing from their second album reaching Number 71 in the summer of 1990.
The only new entry of the week on the chart (and that itself was actually quite a big deal at the time), this was the very definition of a sleeper hit, as for a long time it appeared it was going to miss out altogether. Indeed I can vividly remember Waiting For A Star To Fall being touted as the big new release of the moment, way back during the October half term holiday. Despite this it took until the end of November for the single to finally hit the chart, and then a full five weeks before this initial Top 40 entry, by which time Radio One were attempting to sell it as “a great Christmasssy record, perfect for the season” in a desperate attempt to finally make it a hit. It seems almost odd looking back, the record now an acknowledged 80s classic and the subject of two competing remix transformations in the mid-2000s. George Merill and Shannon Rubican had penned several hits for Whitney Houston and were more than a little surprised when she knocked back their latest composition. Undaunted, they released it themselves, and after this slow start (including a paltry eight place rise the next week) the single survived the new year clearout and ended up peaking at Number 9 in mid January, helped no end by its use on the soundtrack of the film “Three Men And A Baby” which was the big festive blockbuster of the moment.
On its way out, but possibly one of the most important Acid House records ever made thanks to its launching of the career of Brian “Future Sound Of London” Dougans. As history now records, the track actually began life as a commission, video artists Stakker (numbering among them future FSOL collaborator Mark McLean) needed a soundtrack for their latest project and so contracted Dougans to produce this track. After circulating as a white label (credited as “Humanoid” by “Stakker”) the track became a surprise Top 20 hit in early December. So ahead of its time, the track returned to the Top 40 at the height of the rave boom in 1992, led by the untouched original 1988 mix. Incidentally, the “humanoid” vocal samples? Lifted from famous video game Bezerk, beating Aphex Twin to the idea by the best part of 13 years.
I never remembered it that way, but Christmas 1988 was quite the period for soundtrack hits. Following the Boy Meets Girl track we arrive at this famous single, recorded for the now legendary Tom Cruise vehicle “Cocktail”. Although only a mid-table hit in this country, Kokomo made an astonishing rise to the very top of the American charts, giving the Beach Boys a to this day unsurpassed 24 year span of US chart-toppers. Something of a fondly remembered novelty to this day, I guess the atmosphere of “Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya” just didn’t fly very well on a cold December evening in the UK.
36: Hithouse – Jack To The Sound Of The Underground
Or, as it is best known, “the theme to the Mary Whitehouse Experience”. For many years a prominent DJ and mixer in his Dutch homeland, Peter Slaghuis was notable for being one of the few overseas producers to contribute remixes to the Disco Mix Club’s monthly compilations. He was also a member of VideoKids who had released cult club hit Woodpeckers From Space in 1985. When the house music craze took off, Slaghuis anglicized his name to Hithouse and landed a British chart hit with a single whose iconic status belies its mid-table chart peak .An extended 12 week chart run (itself unusual for such a low peaking single) saw it spend a fortnight in the Top 20 at the very start of December, but the single remained popular enough to still be a Top 40 single by the time the Christmas parties rolled around. Hithouse landed just one more minor chart single but Move Your Feet To The Rhythm Of The Beat could only reach Number 69 in the summer of 1989. Peter Slaghuis’ career would ultimately be cut tragically short, the producer dying in a car accident in 1991 at the age of just 30. Of further note here – the clunky Radio One edit that excised the rudest part of the “ooh wee, you bugger” sample in the first ten seconds although mention must also be made of the use of Kelly Charles singing ‘You’re No Good For Me.. I Don’t Need Nobody’ in a sample that beat The Prodigy to the punch by a full six years. Slaghuis will pop up again later on this chart in the most unexpected of places.
35: Alexander O’Neal – The Christmas Song/Thank You For A Good Year
Few it seems are the American stars who can resist the lure of recording their own album of seasonal specials, just on the off-chance that it provides them with a nice pension plan when it continues to sell year after year. In 1988 it was Alexander O’Neal’s turn to have a go, cashing in on the global success of his ‘Hearsay’ album by recording ‘My Gift To You’. His rendition of The Christmas Song was released as a single in a desperate attempt to push it on a largely indifferent British public, who regard such seasonal offerings as something rather risible. He gives it his all, but let’s face it O’Neal is no Nat King Cole and there appeared to be very little seasonal cheer on offer as he growled his way through the standard. Worth it for comedy value alone perhaps.
Speaking of Nat, here is the apple of his eye. 1988 was her breakthrough year thanks to the Eastertime success of Pink Cadillac and er, the others. This was the problem really as although Everlasting and Jump Start were appealing enough pop records, they had only wound up as minor hits in the aftermath of that earlier smash. Attempting to catch a seasonal wave, the record company tried with this tender ballad which just like Waiting For A Star To Fall had been released in November and spent five weeks edging its way towards the Top 40. Even this didn’t help and it was only in the new year that the single finally edged its way towards a Number 23 peak.
Is it a sign of having grown up that you think that the album version of a particular track is the superior one? 1988 was what the Pet Shop Boys themselves refer to as “their imperial phase” when just about everything they touched turned to gold. I remember buying the ‘Introspective’ album (from Woolworths naturally) in the week it came out, the Friday before the October half term, during the course of which I would listen to it relentlessly. The album’s opener Left To My Own Devices was a true tour de force, an epic production which saw the pulsing dance rhythm accompanied by an Anne Dudley-conducted orchestra – the perfect representation of the sound of “Debussy to a disco beat” referenced in the lyrics. In its full length album form the track was undoubtedly the Pet Shop Boys’ personal masterpiece and its seemed an inevitability that the track would be granted a full single release sooner rather than later. Yet the seven-inch version of Left To My Own Devices was somehow an altogether lesser track, the need to edit the track for radio airplay meaning it lost much of its scale and impact. Worse still the single arrived in a remixed form, adding a throbbing dance beat which may well have helped it to work better in the clubs but which only served to grate to those who had been enchanted by the more subtle beauty of the album version. At the very least it was a bigger hit single than its predecessor, becoming their sixth Top 5 hit single and extending their run of consecutive Top 10 hits to eight. Yet for what was perceived to be their masterpiece, the chart life of the single was short and sweet, and following its Number 4 peak the single exited the Top 10 immediately and was lucky to have retained its Top 40 status for Christmas.
Oh way oh way. Or however it went. ’88 was the year Britain finally “got” the Miami Sound Machine, just as the name was about to be confined to history anyway and Gloria Estefan was pushed to the fore as a solo star. Edging its way up the seasonal chart was this frantic bit of Latino pop which despite its eventual Number 16 peak still stands as one of their most recognisable songs of the period.
31: Traveling Wilburys – Handle With Care
A very famous single, albeit one which never quite managed the hit status its legacy suggests. Superannuated supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (their name inspired by Prince Charles of all people, groping for a way to describe the sight of the assembled “house band” that had performed at the celebrated Princes Trust concerts in the summer of 1987) had released Handle With Care in late October and by the end of November it had merrily trundled its way up to Number 21, alerting people to their debut album and doing the job nicely. It had just dropped out of the Top 40 when the news broke that Roy Orbison had tragically passed away of a heart attack, the television obituaries mentioning in passing that he had just returned to the charts in tandem with Harrison, Dylan, Petty and Lynne and playing a brief clip of Handle With Care. That was enough to inspire new interest in the single and it dutifully rebounded back into the Top 40 as an appropriate tribute to the late star. It probably would have received a bigger push, but for the fact that stocks of the single were already run down and in any event his label already had Orbison’s own Mystery Girl’ album ready to roll and which would spawn several hits in 1989 as the final tribute to the legend. Later that year the remaining Travelling Wilburys released The End Of The Line as their next single, the video featuring the group looking poignantly at an empty chair when the time came for Orbison’s verse in the song. The absence of this, and indeed their subsequent albums, from Spotify is actually rather baffling.