Having purchased my pristine copy of Now! 1 from WH Smith’s in Harrogate and dutifully dubbed it onto a pair of C60 cassettes, what was the next stage? Well to listen to it obviously, and that is what I enthusiastically did. No matter what age you are, there is something rather magical about listening to music on headphones in bed late at night. I’d just moved up in the world, attending High School for the first time and having to deal with new friends, new subjects and completely new issues. Somehow listening to “grown up” music at night was an integral part of that life change. There are the opening bars of certain songs that I simply can’t hear without being transported back to being 11 years old, laying awake fretful that my history homework wasn’t going to be up to scratch.
1) Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
History records that Culture Club had topped the charts the year before with ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’, with much tabloid speculation following over Boy George’s sex and sexuality. The record that ultimately pushed them over the top as mainstream superstars was surely this unabashed classic. Just about every aspect of the track is iconic, from the false start intro, through Judd Lander’s harmonica solo, those ripe for satire lyrics (“I’m a man…(!)”) and even the video set aboard a Mississippi paddle steamer. Know this song and you know what an impact it made – all six weeks at Number One and 1.4 million copies worth. Did you know this is the 29th biggest selling single of all time?
2) Men Without Hats – Safety Dance
One of a handful of tracks included on the album to give it a proper contemporary feel, ‘Safety Dance’ was a Top 10 hit at the time Now! 1 came out. Duplicating its worldwide success in this country, it was the one and only big hit single for the Canadian group, at least on these shores. One of those tracks that everyone recognises yet is never really feted as a true classic of its age, the dancing midgets in the video notwithstanding.
3) Kajagoogoo – Too Shy
The sequencing of the tracks means we have to tell the story of Kajagoogoo arse about face, so rewinding from the debut of Limahl as a solo singer, here he is in his finest hour as lead singer of the Bedforshire group. ‘Too Shy’, like most of their debut album, was produced by Duran Duran star Nick Rhodes and much was made at the time of the irony of his producing a Number One hit for another act, something that his own group had yet to manage at that time. The messy fallout involving their lead singer almost certainly irreparably damaged their future chances of success, but ‘Too Shy’ remains one of the defining moments of the sound of 1983.
4) Mike Oldfield – Moonlight Shadow
Is it odd that such a famous multi-instrumentalist should count amongst his biggest hits a four minute pop record featuring an uncredited lead vocal from a woman? It shouldn’t be. ‘Moonlight Shadow’ is the song that proves there is more to Mike Oldfield than meandering 20 minute instrumentals, an exciting blistering pop record that features not only his own self created instrumentation but a powerful and passionate lead vocal from Maggie Reilly. To this day arguments still rage as to whether the song is about the death of John Lennon with Oldfield himself never quite able to settle the debate one way or another, admitting that even if that wasn’t the intent he probably was subconsciously channelling his memories of being in New York at the time. Lyrics aside, just listen to the multi-layered production here and the way the song builds and grows under the vocals, transforming almost imperceptably from a semi-acoustic ballad to a balls out rock song complete with one of the most exciting guitar solos ever put to tape. Four minutes of pure genius beyond a doubt.
5) Men At Work – Down Under
Another Number One and surely yet another track that requires little introduction. A chart-topper on both sides of the Atlantic in 1983 it made brief yet massive stars of the Australian group and introduced the whole world to the concept of the vegemite sandwich. Men At Work were never quite the one hit wonders their reputation suggests, although none of their subsequent singles ever came close to replicating the success of this one. The failure of their first American hit ‘Who Can It Be Now’ to make it any further than Number 45 here remains one of the great unsolved chart mysteries.
6) Rock Steady Crew – (Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew
Here if ever there was one is a genuine snapshot of a moment in time. The most obvious cultural manifestation of the early years of hip-hop was not so much the music, but the dancing that went with it. All of a sudden breakdancing was a worldwide craze, none more so in the UK with groups of teenagers laying out rolls of lino on street corners and practising worms and headspins and whatever they call that move where you try to rotate your legs above your head. It was more or less a given that some impressario would attempt to turn the craze into a pop hit and so it was that New York’s Rock Steady Crew were selected for the honour. The most up to the minute comparison I can make is with the recent George Sampson hit, a record made not so much to be played on the radio but to accompany the video which featured the group pirouetting and spinning in quite breathtaking style. They subsequently discovered that the deal they had signed was a true record business classic that handed them very little of the money they made and when their label folded and was swallowed up by a major, any prospects they had of turning this initial hit into further smashes were very much put on ice. They weren’t the only breakdancers to turn street performances into chart hits – Break Machine would follow in 1984 – but the Rock Steady Crew were the pioneers and have this Top 3 hit as their last place in people’s memories.
7) Rod Stewart – Baby Jane
Here’s the thing about Rod Stewart. He’s had decades of hits and his fair share of Number One records, but by and large his most memorable offerings are the tracks that were just fair to middling hits. With one possible exception, and it was the record that soared to the top of the charts in 1983, his last Number One to date just happening to be one of his best ever songs. With Tom Dowd on production duties, Baby Jane was a lavish epic, featuring Rod at his melodramatic best, pleading with the titular Jane to give cease messing him around and give him his heart back. It isn’t unfair to suggest that he spent the rest of the decade attempting to recreate the majesty of this track without ever quite managing to come close.
8) Paul Young – Wherever I Lay My Hat
With perfect synchronicity, Rod is followed by the man who deposed him from the top of the charts. Paul Young’s musical career had begun as a member of Streetband and subsequently the Q-Tips but with chart success eluding both groups save for the one-off novelty hit ‘Toast’ for his first outfit. Undaunted he signed as a solo artist and began a run of hits that would make him one of the pre-eminent stars of the 1980s. He hit the ground running with this near-classic, a tender reworking of the Marvin Gaye classic that achieves the impossible and is able to stand toe to toe with the original. The production is justifiably famous for the fretless bass introduction, played by Pino Palladino and which made you pay attention the moment it came on the radio. The only sour note really was his appearance on the recent ITV special, devoted to the hits of the year and featuring some of the acts of the time playing their greatest hits. Uniquely amongst all the stars invited to appear, Paul Young declined to sing live and instead mimed (badly) to the original recording for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained.
You may note with some interest that the Paul Young track was the second updated cover of a classic Motown song to top the charts in 1983. When the singles chart appeared to be drowning in a tide of badly chosen cover versions at the end of the decade, people pointed out with some justification that during the course of that year no less than four different oldies were remade and taken to Number One.