Jan 05

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part Four

So here it is then, the ten biggest selling singles for Christmas 1988 and amongst them a number which won’t actually feature in the forthcoming book thanks to the chap below and his presence preventing many from reaching their eventual chart peaks until the first weeks of 1988. Or does this kind of spoil the big reveal?

10: Phil Collins – Two Hearts

It seems almost quaint looking back, but the release of the film ‘Buster’ in the autumn of 1988 was mired in controversy. The reason for the furore was the movie’s alleged glamorisation of the Great Train Robbery and the glossing over of the fact that the driver was so badly beaten he never worked again and died a few years later. In fairness all of this was to overlook the fact that the film itself was a morality tale at heart with the ill-gotten gains causing Buster Edwards nothing but unhappiness and resulting in his returning home to face the music. Nonetheless the fuss led to Prince Charles being officially uninvited to the planned royal premiere, lest he become embroiled in the row.

The soundtrack of the film was by contrast praised to the hilt and was responsible for two singles on the Christmas chart. The first of these was Phil Collins’ own Motown-flavoured romp, the follow up to his cover of A Groovy Kind Of Love which had topped the chart back in September. Still fondly remembered as one of his best singles, Two Hearts is also notable for the innovative video that saw Phil playing all four members of a 60s-era beat combo on a fictional TV show. Little seen but useful to set the scene is the introduction from a cameoing Tony Blackburn who asks “Phil” why the group are the Four Pound Notes. “Well,” he said, “there used to be five of us”.

9: Four Tops – Loco In Acapulco

Beating out Phil however is a genuine set of sixties superstars. The Four Tops had already seen chart action in 1988, a remix of Reach Out I’ll Be There having climbed to Number 11 in the summer. Taken from their well-received comeback album Indestructible as well as the ‘Buster’ soundtrack, Loco In Acapulco was written by both Phil Collins and original Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier. A smash hit worldwide (except oddly in the US), the track wound up as the Four Tops’ first Top 10 single here since When She Was My Girl six years earlier. Less well known is the fact that this was very nearly a posthumous chart placing, and all thanks to a late night recording session in London earlier in the week which meant all four members of the group missed their flight back to the USA. But for a failed alarm call, the most famous vocal group of their era might have all perished on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.

8: Bros – Cat Among The Pigeons/Silent Night

Before X Factor came along it was an almost universal truth that the bookies’ initial favourite for Christmas Number One never made it. Case in point: the Bros Christmas single for 1988 which came at the end of a year when they had swept all before them to become the most screamed at (if not necessarily the most universally loved) pop act of their day. An utterly shameless attempt to capture the seasonal crown, the single combined intense ballad Cat Among The Pigeons (a thinly veiled reference to the Goss parents marital problems) with a brand new recording featuring Matt Goss letting his best choirboy tones loose on the old hymn Silent Night and which thus ensured that the Christmas Top 10 would feature two spiritually themed singles. An instant Number 2 when first released, the single simply could not sustain its initial momentum and so by the seasonal chart itself had faded to this Number 8 placing.

7: Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance

“Wot’s ‘e like anyway?”. The debut hit single for Don Cherry’s daughter, famous at the time for the fact she was heavily pregnant with her daughter Tyson at the time, proudly cavorting on Top Of The Pops with her bump, presumably making her unborn child the shows youngest ever performer to that date. Buffalo Stance was produced in bubbly good humour by Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass and introduced the public at large to many contemporary elements of South London street slang. The phrase “Buffalo Stance” I’m told refers to the style of fashion photography popularised by Jamie J Morgan during the late 80s. The track began life as Looking Good (Diving With The Wild Bunch) a b-side by Morgan-McVey, a short-lived group featuring Morgan and Cherry’s future husband (and father of the bump) Cameron McVey. 1988 was possibly one of the most exciting periods ever to be a dance music fan in the UK, the House explosion on both sides of the Atlantic spawning new talent who would go on to become big names in music and its influences creeping into the mainstream at every turn. Buffalo Stance was a glorious example of House being wrapped around a good old fashioned pop record, an all-time enduring classic being the result. Its ultimate destiny was to be a Top 3 placing in the new year, the single still on its way up the charts at Christmas.

6: Inner City – Good Life

Keeping up the Stateside end of clubland was this equally famous single, the second Inner City hit (following Big Fun) and once again featuring the distinctive tones of Paris Grey on lead vocals. The all but forgotten hero of the piece is British DJ Neil Rushton whose work scouting tracks for a compilation album he was curating led him directly to Inner City producer Kevin Saunderson and a track which he and Grey had created a year earlier only to see languish in obscurity. Once Big Fun had become the huge Europe-wide hit it was destined to be, Inner City were well and truly off and running. Good Life was once more a track still on its way up here, eventually to peak at Number 4 the week after Christmas.

5: Status Quo – Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again)

Even as late as 1988 Status Quo could still bring the magic. Riding high after the success of 1986 album In The Army Now, The Quo returned just over a year later with their 18th album Ain’t Complaining. They had kicked off their account in 1988 with the fun romp of the title track but later singles had stalled and it had taken a charity-sponsored reworking of Rockin’ All Over The World (re-entitled Running All Over The World for Sport Relief purposes) to bring them back to respectable chart positions. Their crowning moment was however to be this single, one which proudly took its place as one of their most famous hit singles. The track’s origins as a heartfelt tale of divorce and failing relationships is all but lost these days, partly thanks to its rewriting (and subsequent chart-topping fate) as a Manchester United anthem in 1994 but there are few tracks more likely to provoke a bout of enthusiastic drunken dancing at a party than Burning Bridges. Little-remarked upon at the time was that the song was based in its entirety around an old English folk melody, the track’s central riff essentially a reworking of Darby Kelly, beloved of folk revivalists the nation over.

4: Angry Anderson – Suddenly

So go on then. Where were you on that night in November 1988 when British audiences finally saw the most iconic Neighbours moment of all – the much anticipated wedding of Scott and Charlene? There is no doubt that to the millions of people hooked on the Aussie soap during its imperial late 80s might the wedding of the teenage couple was the TV event of the year. Accompanying the nuptials was a tender love song recorded by the most unlikely of acts, and one that was inevitably released as a tie-in and lodged itself near the summit of the UK charts. Angry Anderson was best known to rock fans as the shaven-headed frontman of Australian rock band Rose Tattoo. Suddenly was written as a tribute to his wife and although originally intended as a Rose Tattoo track it wound up launching his solo career at home and became his one and only chart single in this country. Smash Hits asked him at the time of its charting whether he’d cried at the wedding scenes. “Yes,” he replied, “my song was playing on the telly”. Sadly for him it ain’t playing on Spotify and yes, this isn’t THE video for the track. But it really is the only one that matters. *blub*

3: Erasure – Crackers International EP

Far and away the best album the duo ever recorded, Erasure’s The Innocents album represented their absolute commercial peak was crammed from start to finish with potential hit singles. After smashes with Ship Of Fools, Chains Of Love and A Little Respect they had an embarrassment of riches to choose from when selecting a fourth single with anything from Phantom Bride to Yahoo or even their epic cover of River Deep Mountain High having Top 10 status written all over them. However the duo were on such a creative roll that they rounded the year off with a special present of their own – a four track EP of totally brand new material which when released at the end 1988 became one of their biggest selling singles to that date. Lead track on Crackers International was the infectious Stop which sounded like it was written as a textbook example of how to write an electropop smash but which for all that was as fresh and exciting as anything they had recorded before or since. All but forgotten it appears are the other three tracks, so for the record they were: The Hardest Part – a typical Erasure mellow track that serves as a counterpoint to the frantic nature of Stop, Knocking On Your Door – a Hi-NRG disco track with more than a handful of Acid House influences and She Won’t be Home – a melancholic Christmas song, the only seasonally themed song on the EP. Locked in place here at Number 3 for Christmas the single would eventually peak at Number 2 in the new year, equalling for now their highest charting single ever.

2: Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – Especially For You

So let’s figure this out. Their respective characters of Scott and Charlene had just married in one of the highest rated television nuptials of the year, they had both Jason “Scott” Donovan and Kylie “Charlene” Minogue on their label roster, and yet it still didn’t occur to Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and in particular Pete Waterman to combine the two on a duet until it became clear that public demand was all but forcing them to make it happen. I think Pete Waterman’s view was that as Jason Donovan had only released one single at that point there was the potential to derail his career by teaming him up with the already stellar Kylie Minogue but history records it was probably the best move they ever made. Like many SAW songs, it was written on the back of a napkin in ten minutes and indeed was recorded in such a hurry that Matt Aitken travelled to Melbourne where Neighbours was being shot to record the vocals of the pair in a single afternoon, armed with little more than a piano melody and a click track. Every single note of Especially For You was constructed after the fact in the studio but it sounds for all the world like a lovingly crafted masterpiece, the love song now something of a karaoke classic and a reference point for just about every teenager of the time.

From a sales perspective it was nothing short of phenomenal. Released in the last week of November, the single straight shot to Number 2 on its first week, stuck behind a certain Mr C Richard and then refused to budge. The two singles would spend the next month locked in place in an epic stalemate. In an age when midweek leaks of the chart were practically unknown, the tension each week was all but unbearable. Surely it was Kylie and Jason’s destiny to advance to Number One in time for Christmas, but every week they were denied. Even in the minutes approaching the big reveal of the Christmas Number One, plenty were ready to believe that the crown was theirs to take at the death. The single was indeed to make Number One, but not until the week after Christmas when incredibly despite having spent a month in the Top 3 already it lodged itself at Number One for an impressive three weeks and was a hit single well into the first months of 1989. In an age when it was all but assumed that the days of the million selling single were gone forever, ‘Especially For You’ came incredibly close, selling a reported 982,000 copies, its final 18,000 eventually topped up in the 21st century during the download era with the result that the single was finally certified a million seller in mid-2014.

1: Cliff Richard – Mistletoe And Wine

The concept of “Cliff’s Christmas single” did not really exist in 1988, despite his occasional forays into seasonal releases – most notably 1982 Number 11 hit Little Town which was essentially the festive hymn O Little Town Of Bethlehem set to a brand new melody. Yet the single which was released to promote a new Greatest Hits album Private Collection turned out to be one of the defining moments of the latter half of his career and firmly established the idea of an end of year release as a significant part of his promotional arsenal. The song Mistletoe And Wine had been written over a decade earlier as a component part of a stage musical “Scraps”, intended as a re-telling of the seasonal story of The Little Match Girl. A TV adaptation of the musical had been screened at Christmas 1986, the song performed by Twiggy in her role as a whore and with the lyrics intended to drip with irony. Extraordinarily the entire drama is up on YouTube at the time of writing and the song and melody can be seen in their original context.

Having spent years attempting to find a mainstream star to record Mistletoe And Wine which he was convinced had hit single potential, composer Keith Strachan sent a demo of the track to Cliff Richard who responded enthusiastically, his only wish was that for the lyrics to be adjusted to bring out a stronger Christian message.

Recorded during the summer of 1988, the new version of Mistletoe And Wine was the very definition of a seasonal epic with a lavish orchestral backing, the singer himself multi-tracked to provide his own backing choir and with the added touch of choirboy James Rainbird singing a soprano refrain at the end. In comparison to some of the nailed on pop records he had been releasing over the course of the previous few years this was possibly the geekiest and uncoolest Cliff Richard single for some time, the most unabashedly religious single he had released for years. Yet it turned out to be utterly irresistible. Released in late November, the single landed on the singles chart at Number 7 in its first week on release. One week later it was Number One, his second chart-topper of the 1980s following his 1986 comedy remake of Living Doll and his first ‘proper’ single to do so since We Don’t Talk Anymore a full nine years earlier.

The only question now was whether the single could hang on for an entire month and become the 1988 Christmas Number One. It seemed a lot to ask, especially given the seemingly unstoppable presence of the Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan duet Especially For You which had entered the chart at Number 2 the same week that Mistletoe And Wine had climbed to Number One. Yet this was to reckon without the sheer level of demand for the Cliff Richard single which as Christmas drew nearer began to sell in quantities no other record had managed all year. Attempting to nail down exact sales figures for singles of this era is fraught with danger, but it is clear that Mistletoe And Wine was selling upwards of 120,000 copies per week, figures that even the biggest Number One hits of the year had only managed at the very peak of their popularity. In Christmas week itself the single smashed through the 200,000 barrier to become Christmas Number One in some style and perhaps most significantly the biggest seller of 1988 overall, edging past Yazz’s The Only Way Its Up which had topped out at just over half a million copies and until Cliff came along seemed set to end up with the crown of the year’s overall Number One.

Mistletoe And Wine helped to haul its parent album Private Collection 1979-1988 to the top of the album chart as well, ensuring that Cliff Richard would spend Christmas celebrating a sensational chart double. Perhaps just as importantly it established the idea of a Christmastime Cliff Richard release as a viable promotional tactic, one he would use to varying levels of success over the course of the following decade. The track isn’t his biggest selling single ever, that honour remaining with We Don’t Talk Anymore, but it is justifiably one of his most famous. Cliff’s biggest and most iconic release of the decade and in a recording career which has now lasted his entire lifetime easily one of its defining moments.

That indeed brings us to the end of this wander through the Christmas chart of 1988. It would be remiss to end without congratulating Paul Ranklin of Bishop Auckland, County Durham who was the winner of the Top 3 prediction game on the Top 40 show that week, his reward for guessing that it would be exactly the same as the previous week being a copy of every single one of the Top 40 records of the week. If you read this at any point Paul, please let us know if you still have the collection. If that frantic run through these 40 singles has whetted your appetite, watch out for the complete story of the year coming to a bookshelf near you in the next few months. In the meantime I’ll leave you with the pack shot of the original cassettes of this show and for those watching in a non-rubbish browser the complete Spotify playlist of as many of these featured hits as possible.

Jan 05

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part Three

DExp_1988_12_22_001_PAGScanning the news headlines in the week leading up to Christmas 1988 was a grim business in truth. Just a week after 36 people died in the Clapham rail disaster, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing all on board and raining fire on the residents below. For the first time ever the Queen recorded an addendum to her already filmed Christmas message, expressing her sympathies for all the victims of recent tragedies. On a lighter note, a then little known government minister by the name of Edwina Currie was on the rocks after accidentally suggesting that all eggs were contaminated with salmonella, prompting the government to shell out a £20 million investment in the egg market to prop things up. Oh yes, and The Sun published its infamous “Sorry Elton” front cover and paid Elton John £1 million in damages after admitting that just about every revelation they had printed about his private life over the previous year had been totally false.

20: Enya – Evening Falls

Stepping out of her family’s shadow at last, one time Clannad member Enya had become one of the most unexpected Number One hitmakers of the decade when her Orinoco Flow single had shot to the top of the charts in the autumn. To all round general surprise she avoided becoming a one hit wonder, landing a second albeit rather more minor hit single in the final weeks of the year. Lacking the quirkiness and perhaps above all novelty value of its predecessor, the hauntingly beautiful Evening Falls was still diverting enough to justify a short chart run which saw it peak here just inside the Top 20 for the Christmas chart. By no means her last hit either, as history cheerfully records.

19: Londonbeat – 9am (The Comfort Zone)

Despite a smash hit single in 1973 with Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse, Jimmy Helms’ career had stalled somewhat in the intervening decade and a half. A string of solo albums had disappointed, as did some of the soundtrack work to which he had contributed and instead the American singer had been reduced to earning a crust singing radio jingles. Musical salvation would come thanks to the forming of Londonbeat which saw him team up with three other singers in what was at first an experimental close harmony soul group. The four piece had already landed a Dutch hit with the single There’s A Beat Going On before their second single caught the attention of radio programmers over here, propelling them into the charts for the first time. 9am (The Comfort Zone) was if nothing else a diverting record, an atmospheric semi-acapela tale of commuting ennui. Its chart run was respectable enough, this Number 19 peak on the Christmas chart the final destination of the double-a line. Follow-up single Failing In Love Again was prettier but was to ultimately stall at Number 60. As it turned, greater global stardom for the group was just 18 months or so away.

18: A-Ha – You Are The One

All pop groups have a certain shelf life, after which their initial teen audience moves on to other things. 1988 was the year when A-Ha appeared to be about to hit that wall. The title track from the Stay On These Roads album had made a contractually obligated appearance in the Top 10 at Easter, but when they made the bizarre decision to follow it with the impenetrable and experimental The Blood That Moves The Body they ended up with their lowest charting single to date when it stalled at Number 25, their first since their breakthrough to miss the Top 20. Summertime release Touchy! redressed the balance slightly but even that could only reach Number 13, a peak eventually scaled during the new year lull by the album’s chirpy fourth single. None of them were bad records (indeed You Are The One stands proud as one of their best pop hits) but it was proof that even A-Ha were vulnerable to the changing winds of musical fashion.

17: New Order – Fine Time

Having produced the definitive document of their entire career to date with singles collection Substance, New Order found themselves essentially with a clean slate and a chance to strike out in whatever direction they so chose. Their response was to decamp to the newly-cool island of Ibiza for the summer where they immersed themselves in the nascent club scene and the attractions of the Balearic style which would come to define dance music and youth culture for a decade to come. Following tales of wild hedonistic behaviour in between recording sessions (NME and Record Mirror taking delight in reporting in loving detail just who smashed up what and on what substance), the group emerged blinking into the sunlight with what would become their most acclaimed album Technique and perhaps most crucially this lead single. Gone were the lovingly crafted pop symphonies which had been a part of their output for the last three years. In their place was this chaotic melange of beats, vocodered samples and a stream of consciousness monologue from Bernard Sumner which he delivered in a dark, throaty growl that he later confessed was an attempt to sound like Danish synthpop duo Laid Back. I’ve used the phrase a lot in this retrospective, but like so much dance music from the era Fine Time was genuinely like nothing anyone had heard before. On this one occasion their notorious insistence on performing live on Top Of The Pops came to bite them on the backside as the track’s many layers of noise were just impossible to reproduce faithfully onstage and the resultant performance of the track sounded like a cacophonous mess. Nonetheless Fine Time was a respectable Number 11 hit and a suitable herald for the January release of Technique which would go on to become the stuff of legend.

16: Rick Astley – Take Me To Your Heart

After a sensational debut which saw him record the biggest selling single of 1987 and a track which would eventually cement his place in internet legend and western popular culture, Rick Astley had released his second album Hold Me In Your Arms in the autumn of 1988. Although Stock/Aitken/Waterman were on production duties throughout, Rick had successfully lobbied to record some of his own compositions, hence the chirpy She Wants To Dance With Me which was released as the album’s first single. For the second release normality was restored but whilst the production trio were about to embark on their most successful year ever, the formula for Rick was sounding just that little bit tired. Take Me To Your Heart was Rick Astley by numbers, a single which was jaunty and appealing enough but which offered litte that had not been heard before. Indeed the most notable aspect of the track was not its chart run but instead a minor legal kerfuffle as the Inner City hit Big Fun had a bassline that sounded just a little too similar to the Rick single for the comfort of the legal profession.

15: Freiheit – Keeping The Dream Alive

It isn’t about Christmas, doesn’t sound particularly Christmassy and in fact isn’t a Christmas single in any sense of the word, yet this one and only UK hit for semi-legendary German group Freiheit is now something of a seasonal standard thanks to its presence on the chart in this week. The release of Keeping The Dream Alive as a single for the festive market was something of a last minute choice, the band’s British label alerted to its potential only at the start of December and embarking upon a hurried rush release to force it into contention for the Christmas Number One race. As it was the record hit the stores just a couple of weeks too late to be properly established, and despite a late flurry of bets raising the possibility that it might well stand a chance the single floundered thanks to a lack of readily available stock and spent Christmas languishing inside the Top 20, eventually peaking one place higher a fortnight later.

14: Kim Wilde – Four Letter Word

She’d been around since the early 80s and had been top of the US charts two years earlier, but Kim Wilde’s career received a major shot in the arm in 1988 thanks to her role as Michael Jackson’s support act during his European dates during the summer. Hard on the heels of smashes You Came and Never Trust A StrangerFour Letter Word was to wind up her third Top 10 hit of the year, although by Christmas the slushy ballad had only limped to Number 14. In truth it isn’t one of her better offerings, the pitch of the track serving only to expose how weak her vocals could be and how the highest notes were just that bit beyond her. Still, at that time she could do no wrong and for all its vocal flaws, Four Letter Word is actually one of the prettiest songs she ever put her name to and I’d suggest is ripe for rediscovery.

13: Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal

Speaking of Michael Jackson. Compile a Top 10 of the most ludicrous choruses and hook lines of all time and “Annie Are You OK?” repeated ad nauseum must surely be one of them. Winter 88 saw the release of “Moonwalker”, Jacko’s rather rambling flight of fantasy vanity film which remains a must see to this day thanks to some of the lavishly staged musical routines it contained. Chief amongst them was the gravity-defying dance for Smooth Criminal which surely helped the track to Number 8 almost immediately upon release in November despite it being no less than the seventh single release from the Bad album. What is more surprising, that there were two more singles to come in 1989, or that Alien Ant Farm took Smooth Criminal back into the chart 13 years later and somehow made it sound even fresher?

12: U2 – Angel Of Harlem

AKA U2’s Christmas single, albeit one that is either overlooked by the increasingly desperate compilers of seasonal fare or which the band just refuse to licence. Nonetheless this is as festive as you can get with copious references to “a cold and wet December day” and “New York like a Christmas tree…” throughout. Fall, I mean Autumn 1988 marked the unveiling of Rattle And Hum, the travelogue album and accompanying film that represented the high point of Bono’s love affair with the USA. Hard on the heels of The Joshua Tree, U2 were at their commerical and celebrity peak – hailed with some justification as the bgigest band on the planet and in the eyes of most unable to put a foot wrong. Quite simply this was a vanity project for which they had the most unassailable of free passes. Angel Of Harlem was the album’s second single, the follow-up to chart-topper Desire and a single which peaked at Number 9 a week before Christmas and was unlucky not to have a presence in the Top 10 on this chart.

11: Petula Clark – Downtown ’88

A candidate for the most outrageous remix of all time? It was certain children’s TV presenters who turned Petula Clark’s most loved hit into something of a cult during the summer of 1988, using it as a bed for write-in competitions during the school holidays. When a re-release of the original failed to catch fire, the staff at DJ mailout service DMC wondered if it would work as a club track (possibly unaware that Petula herself had made a disco version in the mid 70s). They handed the task to Peter Slaghuis (yes, him again) who embarked on what was at the time the most radical deconstruction of a classic hit single ever contemplated. He stripped away virtually the whole of the original production and instead set Petula Clark’s vocals over a stuttering, thundering house rhythm that bordered on disrespect and should in theory have been a disaster. Yet in actual fact it worked a treat, dragging the song into the 80s as a stripped to the bone house track. Just as the mechanical clanks started to overstay their welcome Slaghuis brought the faders back up and allowed Tony Hatch’s original production to force its way back into the mix in manner which made it sound almost triumphant and heroic. The new version of Downtown raced into the Top 5 just a few weeks after it first appeard, helped not a little by Petula herself, who despite knowing nothing of the remix at first or even being involved in its release, gamely made herself available to promote the track to the extent that she appeared on Top Of The Pops waltzing around to a style of music she was almost certainly totally unfamiliar with. Just as the Bomb The Bass record worked by treating the source material with the appropriate respect, Downtown 88 worked as a one off by taking the opposite approach and presuming that nothing was sacred. Naturally enough this is just a little too obscure for Spotify.

Jan 01

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part Two

I remember my plans to record the Top 40 show on Boxing Day 1988 were almost thrown into disarray. After having failed to capture the 1987 Christmas chart thanks to a dodgy cassette which lost one stereo track (and in the process apparently depriving the collectors community of the only clean copy of that programme – unless anyone reading this knows differently), I was determined that the big seasonal countdown for ’88 was to be captured for posterity. The spanner in the works was the then annual family outing to Wetherby races on Boxing Day afternoon, the huge risk being that we would not make it back home in time for the 5pm start of the show. Thank goodness for the winter solstice is all I can say, the fading light meaning that all races were done and dusted by 4pm and with the roads magically clear, I was poised in front of the hi-fi in my bedroom ready to press record on the band new (and thoroughly tested this time) cassettes that had been bought for the occasion.

30: Chris De Burgh – Missing You

Merrily winding its way down was this Top 3 smash from Chris De Burgh, finally a successful follow-up to the career-defining Lady In Red which had topped the charts two years earlier. Over two decades later he is still waiting for another Top 10 hit, whilst his legions of fans wonder out loud just why a man whose upbeat rockers are five times as memorable has only ever had hit singles with atypical romantic ballads.

29: Bon Jovi – Born To Be My Baby

By the time of the release of their New Jersey album, Bon Jovi were arguably global superstars. A rock group of stadium-filling pedigree, they really had no need to troop to TV studios to mime singles on pop shows. Yet it seems they were game for anything, hence a memorable “is that really them?” appearance as the opening act on one edition of Top Of The Pops to perform Bad Medicine in October. It is one of those moments that sticks in your mind for a long time afterwards, although in the event it didn’t do the album’s lead single too many favours, the track peaking at a lowly Number 17, just five places higher than this rather limp second single which suffered from a slight sense of bad timing and was little more than an afterthought in the whole Christmas market. Mind you, Livin’ On A Prayer aside, back in the 80’s Bon Jovi singles didn’t really trouble the upper end of the charts too much, and it wasn’t until the 90’s and singles such as Keep The Faith and in particular Always that they finally crossed over as a mainstream singles selling act. Strange but true.

28: Annie Lennox and Al Green – Put A Little Love In Your Heart

The Bill Murray film ‘Scrooged’ duly popped up during the Christmas holidays as indeed it seems to every single year these days. If you stuck with the modern day re-telling of A Christmas Carol right to the bitter end and the closing credits you will have heard this greatly heralded duet that teamed a powerful British singer with an utter soul legend, Revd Green coming out of secular retirement for his first non-gospel recording in well over a decade. The first single ever to feature a solo credit for Annie Lennox fact fans, this soundtrack cover of the famous Jackie De Shannon song somehow managed to be less than the sum of its parts with the two never quite gelling vocally in the manner the producers clearly hoped. Although a US smash for the season, the rest of the world remained largely unmoved and for the Radio One presenters who had championed this single for months it was rather a surprise that this Number 28 placing for Christmas was as high as it got. Nonetheless there is something rather magical about the track. Maybe it was its sheer ubiquity on the radio, or just the message of universal love in the lyrics, but perhaps more than anything else on this chart this single evokes lasting memories of this particular festive season for me. Thanks to the film it will live long in the memories of others too.

27: Tiffany – Radio Romance

Can there ever have been a star that shone and faded as rapidly as that of Tiffany? Her huge success in the States during 1987 meant that she only rebounded over here the following year and as a direct result we in Europe were playing catch up. So it was that she began the year topping the charts with her debut hit I Think We’re Alone Now and ended it with the first single release from her second album. It sounds incredibly cheesy when viewed from a modern day perspective, back then I kind of had a soft spot for Radio Romance and was utterly convinced it would be huge a Christmas smash. The slightly creepy tale of the girl stalking her man by requesting endless radio dedications to him was wrapped up in a nostalgic 50s production, complete with chocolaty sax and spoken word interlude and what the heck, it just worked as a December hit single. But by this time Tiffany was already yesterday’s news and the single would creep to a Top 20 peak and wind up as her last ever Top 40 hit. Still something of a forgotten classic though and enough to give one a warm nostalgic glow whatever era it reminds you of the most. Oddly missing from Spotify too, her second album one of those which is lost in rights hell and endlessly unavailable.

26: Bomb The Bass – Say A Little Prayer

Tim Simenon’s genius was not so much his ability to create big selling dance records but his ability to surprise at every turn. First came Beat Dis, the commercial release of what was effectively the coursework from a sound engineering course he had taken at college. The frantic mix of house beats and samples that sounded like nothing else that had come before stalled at Number 2 behind I Should Be So Lucky. He could have been forgiven for following it with more of the same, which to a certain extent he did with Megablast, only for the single to be also backed on the flip side with the Latin Hip-Hop of Don’t Make Me Wait which had a strong case for being the best and most credible pop single of the year. Then he ended the year with this, a jaw-dropping cover of the Aretha Franklin standard that set the benchmark for club covers of soul classics. Shockingly underrated and all but forgotten these days it seems, this was nothing less than a masterpiece, singer Maureen Walsh conveying the right mix of sexiness and heartbreak and with a production that was all at once respectful but totally in keeping with the house vibe of the time. Anyone contemplating taking a standard and “updating” it should use Say A Little Prayer by Bomb The Bass as a point of reference.

25: INXS – Need You Tonight

If you are searching for an example of Britain not getting an act when the rest of the world did, then look no further than the fortunes of INXS who spent most of the 80s as a well kept secret in this country whilst the rest of the world fell under Michael Hutchence’s spell. The album Kick was supposed to be the one that finally did it for them, but whilst it was granted the requisite level of promotion and was praised to the hilt in reviews, they still remained bereft of a truly big hit single. New Sensation crept into the Top 30 at the start of the year, Devil Inside inexplicably missed out at Easter and Never Tear Us Apart also only stumbled to Number 24 despite its now near classic status.

Now regarded as the group’s signature song, Need You Tonight was the final track recorded for the Kick sessions, and compared to some of its companions was a raw and spontaneous funk-inspired rock track. The group would later acknowledge that the song had been heavily inspired by the bass and beats vibe of the Queen classic Another One Bites The Dust, the two tracks having more in common musically than is immediately apparent. Yet it was like an open sore that despite having topped the American charts upon first release, Need You Tonight had flopped in Britain and had received a lukewarm reception in Europe. In a last ditch attempt to finally push the group over the edge the single was re-promoted at the tail end of the year. The new version of the song came complete with two brand new remixes. A Ben Liebrand take on the track turned it into a quite extraordinary techno breakdown but the single was led by a far more subtle reworking by fellow Australian Julian Mendelsohn who replaced the finger click rhythm of the original album version with a subtle yet intense house beat, turned up the echo and added in new guitar effects. The result was a track which was different enough to generate the kind of European interest it had been lacking before yet was close enough to the original to be a legitimate INXS track. In Britain the effect could not have been more dramatic. The newly remixed single raced into the Top 20 and within a fortnight was at Number 2 to become what would turn out to be the one and only Top 10 single INXS ever managed on these shores. As time wore on, the original mix of Need You Tonight has been restored as the default choice for radio airplay and rock classic compilations, leaving the Mendelsohn remake largely forgotten – despite it being the one which was a British chart smash hit.

24: Bananarama – Nathan Jones

Having ditched Siobahn for Jacquie with almost nobody noticing earlier in the year, it was time for the first ever Bananarama hits collection. The second single to be taken from the collection was a song which had originally featured on their previous album Wow! but which was now entirely reworked for this single release. Nathan Jones was originally recorded by The Supremes in 1971, in what may not entirely have been a coincidence one of their first big hit singles following a change of lineup with the departed Diana Ross now replaced by Jean Terrell. The original version reached Number 5 with Bananarama peaking ten places lower with their take on the track in early December. The hits album (nattily titled The Greatest Hits Collection) was released in October and would ultimately peak at Number 3, oddly their highest charting album ever – despite being rammed with their best ever hit singles, Wow! had failed to climb higher than Number 26.

23: Shakin’ Stevens – True Love

Three years on from ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, Shaky was still playing the seasonal card for all he was worth although by now his star was rapidly waning. His attempt to crack the Christmas market in 88 was this rather vapid cover of the Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly duet which would be done with far greater aplomb a few years later by Elton John and Kiki Dee. Shaky’s version was delivered tenderly enough but somehow could not avoid being just that little bit risible. Number 23 (this was its peak) was possibly a little more than it deserved.

22: Robin Beck – First Time

“Like a break in the clouds/And the first ray of sun/You said let’s share a Coke ™/Something new had begun”. The 1988 Coca-Cola advert featuring couples falling in love over their phallic shaped bottles had run in constant rotation since the summer. For all of this nobody expected the music itself to become a hit, the first Coke jingle to do so since the 70s. Yet from the moment diminutive rock chick Robin Beck edged her way into the Top 40 in early November the single was going nowhere but the top, racing to the top of the charts to match the feat of fellow Coke advert soundtrack I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing a generation earlier. Following this attempts were made to give her a career of sorts, but when follow up single Save Up Your Tears (later to be handed to Cher) missed the chart altogether she became the ultimate one hit wonder. First Time would eventually suffer the fate of being subject to a mid-2000’s dance reworking, the least said about which the better. At least until that particular book comes out.

21: A Tribe Of Toffs – John Kettley (Is A Weatherman)

This is actually a rather heart warming tale. A Tribe Of Toffs were a schoolboy band from Sunderland whose demo tape so impressed BBC producer Paul Smith that he invited them down to London to record their whimsical tribute to John Kettley and assorted other celebrities of the moment. With both song and video made at public expense, the group successfully persuaded an independent label to release the track as a single and so found themselves with a reasonably sized hit single and one which 25 years later remains disturbingly ironic. Subsequent attempts to follow it up were sadly in vain and the group disbanded a couple of years later, but their brief moment in the sun is clearly regarded with affection by everyone involved, even John Kettley himself who appears to suffer some form of rendition of it as an introduction everywhere he goes. If nothing else it cemented his place in popular culture forever.

Dec 22

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part One

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.

39: Boy Meets Girl – Waiting For A Star To Fall

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.

38: Humanoid – Stakker Humanoid

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.

37: Beach Boys – Kokomo

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.

34: Natalie Cole – I Live For Your Love

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.

33: Pet Shop Boys – Left To My Own Devices

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.

32: Gloria Estefan/Miami Sound Machine – Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

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.

Dec 21

Days Of No Trust

24th November 2014

Dear Mr Masterton,

Freedom of Information request – RFI20141879

Thank you for your request to the BBC of 14th November 2014, seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:  

“1) Any available minutes of editorial meetings or internal correspondence from August 2014 to date relating to the decision not to resume broadcasting archive editions of Top Of The Pops on BBC4 hosted by Dave Lee Travis following the end of criminal proceedings against the presenter.

2) Information on the level of submissions made to the BBC from viewers who expressed a wish not to see archive editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Dave Lee Travis returned to the schedules.

3) Information on any audience research carried out to assess the possible public reaction to the screening of editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Dave Lee Travis.
4) Any available minutes of editorial meetings or internal correspondence from September 2014 to date relating to the suitability of convicted violent offender Boy George to be invited to perform on Strictly Come Dancing.”

The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’  The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion.  Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”.  The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

It is a very British thing that an act of parliament designed to aid the transparency of public bodies actually provides a mechanism for even further opacity. The flaw in the Freedom Of Information Act 2000 as it pertains to the BBC is covered in some detail on the now sadly defunct Autonomous Mind blog, but suffice to to say that should you wish to discover how much money the BBC spends on floor polish for its reception areas in a year they are compelled to reveal the information to you, but if you are attempting to discover just why episodes of an archive music show broadcast to a self-selecting audience on a minority arts channel are being withheld from the public they can hide behind the “art or journalism” defence. But it was worth a shot anyway.

My drive to hold the BBC to account for its offensive and utterly perverse decision to withhold from BBC4 broadcasts the continuing 35 year old editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Dave Lee Travis therefore has to turn back to the BBC’s own in-house complaints procedure, an exercise which as regular readers will know is also largely an exercise in futility but a process which has to be followed in order to finally gain access to the decision-makers themselves. Having submitted an initial complaint to the remote office that deals with these matters and received a form letter response which is almost completely unsatisfactory, my next move was to escalate to what their procedures call “Stage 1b” – i.e. write back again within 20 working days and say “I’m not happy”.

Complaint Summary: Withdrawal of Dave Lee Travis hosted editions of Top Of The Pops

Full Complaint: I regret I am unhappy with your initial response to my complaint which failed to address the substantive points I raised. You incorrectly believed I was objecting to Boy George featuring on an edition of Strictly Come Dancing. I agree with the decision to allow this “popular and much loved performer” to feature on the BBC and note that you are prepared to offer a robust defence of your decision to do so. This only serves to highlight the inconsistency of removing archive editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Dave Lee Travis from the BBC4 schedules. He too is a much loved performer and was particularly so when the archive shows were recorded. I restate. It is clear there are no legal, regulatory or ethical reasons for persons holding criminal convictions to appear on BBC Television, nor would such an event violate the BBC’s own internal guidelines. I therefore lack any understanding of why airing 35 year old music programmes hosted by such a person would not be acceptable. I find this lack of transparency deeply insulting and upsetting and the fact that your initial response made no attempt to justify the scheduling decision (in contrast to your defence of the Boy George appearance) only served to make this worse. Balancing “the views of all sections of our audience” should not automatically default to a position of censorship. Natural justice requires that the reverse should be the case. Please either reverse this decision or present to me a detailed justification.

Promised a response within 20 working days, I received a reply back in just four. The poor service drone in the complaints office had little else to offer, unable to deviate from the pre-prepared script and with the process unable to deal with the simple concept of a licence-paying member of the public disagreeing totally and fundamentally with an editorial decision and seeking if nothing else a detailed and rational explanation of said matter.

Dear Mr Masterton,

Thank you for your further comments about Top of The Pops featuring Dave Lee Travis. We always consider very carefully any potential sensitivity surrounding the inclusion of certain individuals in our output, taking into account the nature of their contribution and the context in which it appears. Each case is considered on its own merits and we have made clear our position in relation to episodes of TOTP presented by Dave Lee Travis.

While we recognise that you disagree with our decision in this instance, there is little more we can offer by way of a response. Your complaint has been considered by senior editorial figures at BBC Four, but if you remain unhappy you may ask the BBC Trust to consider an appeal within 20 working days. You can write to the BBC Trust at 180 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QZ, and you should quote case number CAS-3045775-WNZMXT.

Full details of the complaints and appeals processes are on the BBC Trust website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/contact_us/complaints/appeal_trust.html

Yours sincerely,

Philip Austin
BBC Audience Services

So there you have it. All down to “potential sensitivity” and the “context in which it appears”. None of which goes any way to explaining why the potential sensitivity of inviting a man (Boy George) convicted of violent offences so serious he required jail time to both protect the public and rehabilitate him to perform live on a prime time BBC1 show raises no editorial issues at all. Yet screening repeats of 35 year old programming on a minority channel to a self-selecting audience hosted by way of brief, incidental, onscreen links (and in the case of one recently skipped edition in voice over only) by a man cleared of a long string of accusations and convicted of one so minor his punishment amounted to nothing more than a judge’s admonishment is so unacceptable they cannot be seen at all. We as an audience do not deserve to have our intelligence insulted in this manner.

I’ve no idea exactly what “senior editorial figures at BBC Four” read the complaint or if they even gave it a second thought, but in the faint hope that they also read these words they need to understand the level of anger, disappointment and frustration those of us poring over these repeats with fascination and joy – not just for the entertainment value they provide but their status as valuable cultural and historical documents – feel about censorship motivated it seems solely to avoid having the Daily Mail write nasty things about them. It remains utterly shameful that this is even a consideration.

In the grand scheme of things, 35 year old pop music shows may not appear to be so important but they are actually a symptom of a creeping air of censoriousness and a quite sinister attitude to cultural vandalism that now overshadows British culture. Events over this holiday season have further thrown this into sharp relief. Earlier this month the Radio Times website conducted a poll to find the nation’s favourite Christmas Number One record. Except that the poll was incomplete as the record which topped the charts at the end of December 1969 was missing from the available options – much to the disgust you will note of many of the commenters. When pressed, the Radio Times told enquirers that the song had been attracting “suspicious voting patterns” which roughly translated means people were voting for it and people at the magazine could not comprehend how a recording by the wronged Rolf Harris could still be popular.

More pertinently it is an unwanted reference to the venerable Aussie which has caused consternation to broadcasters wanting to air the 1987 Mel Smith and Kim Wilde rendition of Rocking Around The Christmas Tree this festive period, all thanks to the late Mel Smith’s interjection that he “hasn’t had this much fun since Two Little Boys was Number One” (unless of course you work for the Radio Times in which case the record never existed and most certainly wasn’t Number One). Despite having aired the track intact for each of the previous 26 years, radio and TV channels have taken it upon themselves to vandalise the recording and excise the reference to the Harris track for fear of – well, nobody can actually say for sure.

“All history was a palimpset, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary” wrote Orwell in 1948 in what he intended as a warning. Not a template.

The BBC Trust are indeed to hear from me. Including a request for a personal audience with whoever at BBC Four or above them makes censorship decisions. I want to hear face to face why entertainment history is to be rewritten by those supposedly trusted with its conservation.

Nov 25

(Baring His) Soul Man

image

It is fair to say that not every winner of X Factor has gone on to cover themselves in glory. For everyone Leona Lewis there is a Leon Jackson or James Arthur. Yet no matter how dire a position the discarded contestants find themselves in they can at least console themselves that they did not suffer the same fate as Steve Brookstein. The series’ debut winner in 2004, he released one single, one barely promoted album and was then (we are told) dropped unceremoniously by his label, not even afforded the honour of a return visit to the show when the second series began in late 2005. Hence his status as the show’s “biggest ever flop” according to the Google search illustrated above.

Or is he. For now, after a decade of holding his peace and maintaining a discreet silence Steve Brookstein has gone into print with a tell-all book Getting Over The X which was published earlier this week. For the first time he tells his side of the story, his progress through the X Factor itself, the often spiteful war between the judges which so blighted that first series, the real reason for Sharon Osbourne’s controversial outburst during the final show and just how Simon Cowell attempted to “relax” him prior to the final set of live performances.

The book also details just what happened next. How runners up G4 released their album first to much fanfare, how his own trickled out a few weeks later, topping the charts but unsupported by any further single releases. How his reluctance to produce another album full of covers led to him requesting and being granted a release from his deal and most crucially how the X Factor machine then went out of its way to ensure he became the forgotten man.

It is here that the story truly kicks into gear. Thanks to Max Clifford the media were all but commanded to view him in a negative light. Upbeat stories about his future plans were canned in favour of hatchet pieces about how he’d been such a disappointment, all of which shaped a perception which lasted a decade that the experienced and talented singer was nothing more than a no-hoper. High profile performances at major venues were spun by the press as gigs at Pizza Express or pig farms, with his actual achievements such as releasing two further albums or starring in a successful musical tour all but ignored by the mainstream mass media.

We are all guilty of it. Presuming the worst of a man because the press has conditioned us to do so. And the further you get into the more the more you realise just how heartbreakingly unjust that is.

Whilst the book isn’t quite the foundation-shaking revelation its pre-release hype suggested it aspired to be, with nothing contained inside that will do any real damage to the image of the TV series or the overall X Factor brand, it is still a fascinating insight into just what happens when you are plucked from semi-obscurity only to then be spat out and viewed as an embarrassment to those who were once promising you the world.

The greatest insult fired at the singer, both during the show and in the years that followed, is that he was nothing more than a “pub singer”. As if that was something to be ashamed of. Yet the history of popular music is populated with some of the biggest acts of all whose earliest work was done at pub performances, learning their trade at the sharp end, cutting their teeth in front of some of the hardest audiences of all, and performing to the peak of their abilities in the smallest of venues. Read Getting Over The X and you will gain a renewed appreciation for one pub singer in particular. And possibly think slightly less of Sharon Osbourne.

Recommended.

Nov 21

Tonight Thank God It’s Dido

It may not have escaped your attention that this week will see the release of what is no less than the fourth version of a rather famous charity record, and one which is inevitably going to become the fourth to charge straight to the top of the charts, raise the profile of a great many people and just as an aside raise money for charity.

Given the inevitable cynicism that has also greeted the release of the 2014 version of Do They Know It’s Christmas, it seemed an interesting exercise to dig out the piece I wrote for Yahoo! Music back in December 2004, on the occasion of the arrival of Band Aid 20 at the top of the charts.

~cue wavy lines of time travel~

How many times has it been said of a particular act or genre that “if it didn’t exist then someone would have to invent it”? Well, back in 1984 the concept of an all-star charity record as a mass market product didn’t exist – so Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof invented it. Just about everyone who was anyone in British pop was invited to the famous recording session in November 1984. Duran Duran, U2, The Police, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Wham – you name it they were there, all to record together a song which Bob Geldof and Midge Ure had written in a hurry two days beforehand (and for which they spent the next decade apologising, both feeling they could do a better job). They need not have worried. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ turned out to be an instant classic, a modern day seasonal anthem which still sounds as fresh 20 years later as it did back in 1984. Upon release the single shot straight to the top of the charts, selling an unprecedented 800,000 copies in its first week on sale. It remained there for five weeks, sweeping all competition aside to become Christmas Number One and of course kicked off a veritable fundraising juggernaut which over the course of the next year led directly to the USA For Africa single ‘We Are The World’, Live Aid and the following Christmas a re-release of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ with a new b-side which documented the work that had been done over the previous 12 months to aid famine relief. There were still people willing to buy it as well as the single hit Number 3 for Christmas 1985, pushing total sales of the track to well over 3.6 million, making it far and away the biggest selling single of all time – a record it would hold for over a decade and a half. In short, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ is quite justifiably one of pop’s proudest and most famous moments ever.

Five years on from the original and the single was re-recorded in response to new reports of African famine. With the blessing of Bob Geldof, hot producers of the moment Stock, Aitken and Waterman recruited a new band of acts to perform a new version of the track. The Band Aid II version is now pretty much derided for being filled with teenybop acts such as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Bros (these barbs overlooking the presence of the likes of Chris Rea and Cliff Richard on the track) but at the time everyone pretty much accepted that it was a good idea, sent the record to Number One and raised a few more pennies for charity.

Then last month came the news that a new Band Aid project was in the offing. Apparently the brainchild of a tabloid newspaper, Geldof and Ure were persuaded to assemble a new lineup of stars, one that by definition would be better than the 1989 version and which would hopefully be the equal of the 1984 original. As days wore on the hype increased dramatically as the likes of Coldplay, Dido and the Darkness all signed on for the project. Media interest in the recording session three weeks ago was intense and the world waited eagerly for the grand premiere of the track – now credited to Band Aid 20 as if to erase the memory of Band Aid II (now conveniently revised as an embarrassment). Yet in spite of this the response to the finish product was mixed and the debate ever since has raged over whether this is a record that lives up to the expectations we all had. We were told that the 2004 version would be every bit as good, every inch a classic as the original and the fact that in some ways it isn’t has led to a great deal of head scratching.

Here at Launch we would hate to be seen as anything but scrupulously fair, so let us try to reflect both sides of the argument. Why Band Aid 20 is so good, but first why it is such a disappointment.

– OK let’s start with the obvious. Isn’t the production naff and awful. Whereas the original version was a towering pop record in its own right, the thundering drums (stolen from a Tears For Fears track incidentally) giving way to moaning synths, bells and chimes and of course that rousing sing-along chorus which set the template for all other charity collaborations to come. In contrast the new version is the epitome of daytime radio naffness, a track with no bassline, a jarring clash of musical styles and a sing-along which descends into a second rate gospel jam during the seemingly endless two minute fade. We were asked to judge it alongside the original and as a result it has been found sadly lacking.

– Then there are the little tweaks that have been made to the song, most notably of course the rap break from Dizzee Rascal which smacks really of a desperate attempt to update the now 20 year old song. Leaving aside the fact that it sounds gratingly awful, why bother to re-record the song if it was felt it needed updating. Midge Ure has actually spent most of the last 20 years apologising for the song, claiming he could have made a better job given more time to write it. Indeed it seems strange that nobody thought to venture the idea that maybe an even greater impact would have been made by recording a brand new song with a superstar line-up. Why try (and indeed fail) to recapture lightning in a bottle when you could just cook up a whole new storm, so to speak.

– Finally there is the way the whole project seems so lacking in soul compared to 20 years ago. As I’ve said before, whereas the 84 vintage appeared to be born out of a genuine need to take immediate action to solve a crisis, in 2004 it almost seems like a publicity stunt, or at the very least a newspaper wheeze to get Justin Hawkins, Robbie Williams and Katie Melua on the same record together. If the old clichés about “everyone left their egos at the door of the studio” are true, then why was much publicity made of the spat between Bono and Hawkins over who got to sing the “tonight thank God it’s them..” line? Actually in fairness there were plenty of rows in 84, Geldof documenting with delight in his autobiography the primadonna behaviour of some of the stars, but back then we were less cynical and the concept of the ultimate supergroup had a magic to it. All anyone wants to do these days is read between the lines and look for scandal.

OK, so those are the negatives. What then of the positives.

– Needless to say there is the charity angle. Not that raising money for charity necessarily precludes the project from criticism but it has at the very least captured public imagination and given everyone an easy route to contribute money to a good cause and ease the suffering potentially of thousands thanks to just one seasonal purchase. The music business is notorious for making a lot of people astoundingly rich in a very short space of time. The fact that even its highest profile stars are prepared to spend time arranging to give something back should be enough to warm even the hardest of hearts.

– The single isn’t that awful anyway surely. Yes, you stand it side by side with the original and it doesn’t compare – but then again neither did the 89 version which didn’t even attract a fraction of the bile of Band Aid 20. Bland it may be but in an era where the likes of Coldplay, Dido and Keane are the biggest sellers of long players the production of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ can be said to be well in keeping with the spirit of the age. The Radio 2 audience just happens to be the biggest in the country so you can hardly fault a record aimed squarely at that market. Such is the polarising nature of much of pop music these days that it is probably the highest compliment possible that the Band Aid record is widely judged as “not as good as it might be”.

– Finally there is the potential the single has to give the market a bit of a shot in the arm. Regular readers will remember that earlier in the year I put forward the theory that the CD single has fallen out of favour as a mass market consumer item. People are out of the habit of buying them. All that was needed was a megahit, a track with such widespread appeal that people would go out of their way to pick it up, and maybe discover that they liked buying records again. What is so great here is that ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ has made headlines of its own thanks to a wrinkle over its availability on certain download services and the price to be charged for it. You never know this could well turn out to be the best selling download single to date – and with personal music players set to be one of the seasons must-have presents maybe the catalyst for digital downloads to become – yes, a mass market consumer product. With the singles chart set to merge with the d/l chart sometime in the new year, this could hardly have been timed better. Band Aid may have come along at just the right time.

So there you have it, an argument split right down the middle. When faced with the singles chart itself all argument becomes irrelevant really. After selling a reported 72,000 copies on its first day on sale, the record tops the singles chart with a total of 292,000 units shifted, some way short of the 800,000 copies of the original of course but enough to make it far and away the fastest selling single of the year and on course to easily be its biggest seller. Whether it hangs on to become Christmas Number One of course is another matter altogether, despite the fact that the bookmakers stopped taking bets on it a long time ago and have opened books instead on what will be Number 2 behind it.

Nov 10

Direct From Our Belfast Office

Strange though it may sound, the BBC complaints department is not run by the BBC. A friend in the know described it as “a soulless Capita office in Belfast, where people respond entirely based on stock answers and don’t understand the industry at all.”

Nonetheless when dealing with any public facing organisation and particularly a behemoth as large as the BBC, it is necessary to follow due process when making a formal complaint, starting at the bottom of the food chain and escalating accordingly until someone with any power starts paying you attention.

So it was that a couple of weeks ago I reluctantly joined the purple pen brigade and submitted a complaint to our favourite public service broadcaster using their online form. It was a good exercise in efficient writing, the form sensibly enough restricting the character length of each complaint to avoid essays from the likes of the mentally ill and people like me with an axe to grind. The text of my complaint about their unilateral refusal to reinstate Top Of The Pops repeats hosted by Dave Lee Travis ran as follows:

May I add my voice to those of others angered, baffled and disappointed by the arbitrary decision of the BBC not to restore vintage editions of Top Of The Pops hosted by Mr Dave Lee Travis following the end of legal proceedings against the presenter.

These programmes are shown as archive arts material, of interest to social and musical historians and yet the removal of weekly editions from the schedule means that entire pages are being torn out of the history book, all for the sake of what appears to be a fear of attracting tabloid ire.

I note the recent appearance of convicted violent abuser Mr George O’Dowd ("Boy George") on a recent edition of Strictly Come Dancing aired on BBC1. Clearly there are no legal, regulatory, ethical or editorial restrictions on convicted criminals appearing on prime time BBC television programmes, making the absence of Mr Travis from 35 year old programmes aired to a self-selecting audience on a minority arts channel all the more perverse and inexplicable.

The BBC may feel it is required to take into account the views of all its audience, but it is not clear to me why the voices of those demanding censorship should take precedence over those who wish their viewing untroubled by arbitrary restrictions.

Be advised I intend to escalate this complaint to the highest level possible if required. The nature of your reply to this initial query will inform the vigour with which I pursue this matter.

On November 4th I received the following reply which I quote in full:

Thanks for contacting the BBC.

We understand you feel we should continue to show ‘Top of the Pops’ episodes featuring Dave Lee Travis. We also note you felt Boy George was an inappropriate guest on a recent ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ episode.

We can confirm that we will not be showing TOTPs repeats fronted by Dave Lee Travis. We do acknowledge that some viewers will be disappointed not to see these episodes, but we must balance the views of all sections of our audience.We will consider any other archive appearances on a case by case basis according to their editorial merits.

In relation to ‘Strictly Come Dancing’; Boy George is a popular and much loved performer and after careful consideration we felt it was appropriate to invite him on to the programme. We do acknowledge that some viewers disagree and please be assured that this feedback has been noted.

I wasn’t expecting much and received rather less. You will note that there has been no attempt to address or counter the specific points I raised, despite my polite note at the end of my initial overture that this was a serious matter I intended to pursue until I was satisfied with the response. Theoretically they could have saved us all a great deal of time by engaging with me on that basis from the start. But maybe the Capita office in Belfast just don’t have that capacity.

Hopefully you will have spotted the one glaring error there. Either I’ve been sent the wrong stock response or they have completely misread me – assuming that I was complaining about the presence of Boy George on Strictly Come Dancing. As regular readers will be aware, I was not, and maybe I should have made that point clear. I only raised it to illustrate the inconsistency of the BBC’s approach to featuring convicted criminals in its programming. I support Boy George’s right to appear on television. But on that basis, so should DLT.

Perhaps I would not be the first person to contact the BBC with a contradictory point, but the fact that their interpretation of my complaint would mean I am being hypocritical seems to have escaped them. It would be unsustainable to argue against the presence of one convicted criminal on the television whilst pressing for the inclusion of another, yet by the same token in the text above the responder is attempting to do just that. How they imagined this would stand up to scrutiny is a matter of genuine bafflement.

It is interesting that they were prepared to offer up a substantive defence to those objecting to something they thought it was right to show. “We felt it was appropriate to invite him on the programme”. Well fair enough. Nothing about having to balance the views of all though. On the matter of their selective censorship however it is a different matter. No attempt is made to argue my points or defend their stance. “We are right, you are wrong, now go away you ghastly little pleb” is the tone taken. The fact that nobody thought there would be an issue with taking these two opposing stances SIDE BY SIDE in the same short email is utterly extraordinary.

Nonetheless, this was only ever going to be the first part of the process. The exact mechanism for escalating a complaint further is not specified either in their response mail or on the complaints website itself, but it is implied I should write back with the case reference expressing further dissatisfaction. This I have done. Meanwhile I’m also taking a different approach and will be submitting a Freedom Of Information request to the corporation asking for their paperwork on any discussions which took place over the Top Of The Pops scheduling.

Meanwhile episodes of Top Of The Pops on BBC continue to go missing. Including most recently the edition of October 18th 1979 which was the episode which one of the character witnesses in Dave Lee Travis’ second trial attended and where she testified as to his care, concern and above all gentlemanly conduct when her clothes ripped and how he had arranged for her to be assisted and her dignity preserved. So despite the exemplary conduct of the host of that exact show having been attested to under oath in open court it is somehow inappropriate for the BBC to screen it to an adult audience on a digital channel. That is utterly nonsensical. And someone needs to be held to account for this.

Nov 01

Just Pearson About

Funny the cards that fate sometimes deals you. Ask any child of the 1980s what the most iconic moment of Five Star’s career was and they will most likely hone in one on particular moment. It is unlikely to be any of their chart hits (12 straight Top 30 hits in an unbroken run between 1986 and 1988), their expertly choreographed dance routines nor their rags to riches tale of being a family group trained and mentored by their father who released their earliest material single-handedly on his own record label.

No, it was the moment in April 1989 when caller Eliot Fletcher asked them live on Saturday morning television why they were so “fucking crap”. On such moments do reputations pivot.

It is all the more surprising that the group were in a position to provoke such vitriol, as they were hardly around long enough to overstay their welcome. Indeed, despite their hit singles being spread out over a period of three years, their time at the time was confined to just one. Their debut album Luxury Of Life from 1985 had contained a series of minor hit singles, their true mainstream breakthrough not arriving until the release of its final track System Addict in early 1986. It was however their second long player Silk And Steel which contained their most famous singles. Between April 1986 and April 1987 they were hardly ever off the radio or out of the charts. Can’t Wait Another MinuteFind The Time, monster smash Rain Or ShineIf I Say Yes, Stay Out Of My Life and The Slightest Touch. All but one a Top 10 hit. Six perfectly crafted British pop classics all from one album.

It was this record that bankrolled the much-reported extravagance. The luxury mansion, the private recording studio, the fleet of Bentleys. The Pearson clan were a big deal and they revelled in it. Except then the wheels started to come off. Sales of third album Between The Lines and its attendant singles were limp in comparison to past glories. Hence the move in 1988 to a radical change in image. Out went the hooped earrings and multicoloured slacks. In came bleached hair, skintight leathers and a brand new Michael Jackson inspired attitude. Yet by this stage nobody cared. Made for the clubs track Another Weekend was merely a moderate Top 20 hit and when Rock My World, the de-facto title track of their fourth album Rock The World, barely scraped the Top 30 it passed almost without comment – little did anyone know that it was the last time Five Star would ever grace the Top 40 again despite repeated comeback attempts.

Looking back it is clear to see how they went wrong. A change of image and style was indeed called for, but both dad and siblings simply did not see which way the wind was blowing. R&B-led pop was out in 1988. House was in. Could a family group of seasoned performers, talented singers with an already strong pedigree of making hit records have effortlessly segued into the new world of breaks, beats and rhythm? Quite possibly yes. In an age when even Samantha Fox was making Acid House tracks with Bolland & Bolland and being danced to unironically, anyone was ripe for jumping aboard this bandwagon.

At the time though there was one record of theirs I was actually rather sad to see flop. Looking back now the third single from Rock The World has some rather gaping flaws. A little more money spent on production could have meant being able to use some proper musicians, adding real trumpets and strings to the record rather than the quite patently synthesised stuff on offer here. Yet There’s A Brand New World is actually a small gem of a pop record, the kind of cod-rock track that they and indeed their idol Michael Jackson were able to pull off rather well. For all its production flaws, it is up there with some of the best songs Denise Pearson ever wrote for her family, even if it went unrecognised at the time. Released in September 1988 the single was a resounding and quite spectacular flop, Number 61 their most miserable chart showing of their career.

It is worth noting that the single the group were on television to promote in April 1989 was an entirely new track, destined for a new album which never saw the light of day in its intended form (thanks largely to its own failure to reach the Top 40) and instead landed on the Greatest Hits album at the end of that year which marked the parting of the ways between the group and label RCA. Given they were on Going Live to promote a record which virtually nobody bought, in a sense that makes it all the odder that Eliot Fletcher should have dutifully phoned in, beat the queueing system, passed the call screening process, waited to be called back and then sat hopefully on the line to give the group a tongue lashing. Five Star had already slid from view regardless.