1990 In Motion: Part Two

The news headlines of this week in 1990? Well there was only one story in town at the end of the day and it was a week which would end with Gazza’s tears, penalty shootouts and press pictures of eerily deserted Trafalgar Square. At the moment this chart was being broadcast though, that was all in the future and indeed this was an evening which would end in no small degree of triumph:

Daily Express Front Cover July 2nd 1990

(and in case you are wondering, Chris Evert “really admires Steffi Graf, who is, after all, a victim of events beyond her control”). We continue the chart show, which by this point was overrunning slightly so the records at 20 and 19 were skipped:

18: Jason Donovan – Another Night

For some reason I remember vividly the review in Q Magazine of Jason Donovan’s second Stock/Aitken/Waterman produced album Between The Lines which in an attempt to put some flesh on the bones of what was otherwise a throwaway recap of a pop album noted that even the most ardent fan of the “Neighbours” star would surely come away feeling more than a little short-changed. The truth was that the album was possibly one of the most uninspired collections of songs the famed production trio had ever put together for one of their acts, material that was, by and large, lacking in fire, inspiration or showing even a spark of the commercial bullseyes they had been hitting up to that point. On the strength of this single, this was quite possibly a fair comment. The second single to be taken from the collection which had been released in May, Another Night was here peaking rather surprisingly at Number 18, his first ever to miss the Top 10 and indeed the first indications that his imperial phase as the heartthrob teen singer of choice was coming to an end. Listen to it and you will understand what I mean. There is nothing inherently bad about the single, aside from the obvious fact that it is a synthetic three minutes of manufactured pop, but the verses are limp, the chorus melody sounds tired and even Donovan himself sounds like he is going through the motions. The very epitome of a “will this do” album filler, yet here it is masquerading as a Top 20 hit single.

17: Poison – Unskinny Bop

If you believe the narrative that the arrival of Nirvana and their grunge-inspired pals in 1991 cast the 80s hair metal bands into well-deserved oblivion, then it is not hard to see 1990 as their final hurrah. The lead single from their third album Flesh & Blood, Unskinny Bop was the third and final Top 20 hit single for Poison, although they would continue to land hit singles until 1993 when they finally departed the charts for good. A raucous and unsubtle paean to what we would presume to be a good old fashioned shag, the band themselves insist to this day that the expression “Unskinny Bop” has no meaning beyond a placeholder lyric whilst the song was being written. Pull the other one.

16: Big Fun and Sonia – You’ve Got A Friend

No, come back. I know what you are thinking and having not heard it myself for 24 years the exact same thought came to my mind too. But trust me, despite the personnel involved this record is musically more worthwhile than it might seem on paper. Summer 1990 saw the children’s helpline Childline go through one of its apparently regular funding crises, prompting founder Esther Rantzen to plead once more for some musical help. The call was answered by PWL who volunteered the services of two of their acts to record a charity record, hoping to emulate the success of the Wet Wet Wet cover of With A Little Help From My Friends two years earlier. The Wikipedia article suggests that the single was originally intended to be a cover version of the famous Carole King song of the same name and was indeed recorded as such, only for the idea to be scrapped and presumably to avoid wasting the already prepared artwork this original song with the same title was substituted in its place. Ignore the fact that it is being sung by cheesy boy band trio Big Fun and the permanently smiling Sonia and what you actually have here is a rather pleasant jazz-pop ballad, the production aided enormously by the presence of saxophone maestro Gary Barnacle who was given an all-too-rare performers credit on the sleeve three years after he had topped the charts performing the solo on T’Pau’s China In Your Hand. You’ve Got A Friend had a respectable enough chart run although it never progressed beyond Number 14 and indeed this week was the last of its four weeks in the Top 20. As things turned out it was the last ever Top 40 appearance for Big Fun, less than a year after their first, a breathtakingly short run even by boy band standards.

15: Bob Geldof – The Great Song Of Indifference

Saint Bob’s attempts to return to a musical career following his mid-80s elevation to Mr Ethiopia had not gone entirely to plan. His 1986 solo debut Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere had been given a polite reception and spawned a solitary hit single in the shape of This Is The World Calling but had remained otherwise unpurchased. Four years later he tried again with The Vegetarians Of Love, a more self-consciously organic and earthy record which also saw the singer attempt to return to some of his Irish roots. All of this was in evidence on the album’s one and only hit single, an acoustic folk song mashed together with an Irish reel. It was memorably produced with the conceit that it was a one-take spontaneous studio jam – complete with Bob asking “are we rolling?” at the start and the singer and band erupting into forced laughter at the end as their musical bedlam finally comes to a halt. “Hehe, let’s listen..” chuckles Bob as the tape abruptly stops. Pull the other one chaps. The song itself was lyrically a rather clunking satire on the kind of people who were by now starting to moan at Geldof’s sub-Bono moralising “I don’t care if the Third World fries, hotter there I’m not surprised” but it was diverting and perhaps crucially different enough to be a worthwhile exercise. A Top Of The Pops performance complete with an elderly Irish dancer (who had to stand stock still during the verses before bursting into action in the chorus) plus the relentless enthusiasm of Radio One breakfast show host Simon Mayo who made the song a Record Of the Week helped The Great Song Of Indifference to this Number 15 peak – believe it or not Bob Geldof’s biggest solo hit ever.

14: Chad Jackson – Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked)

Winner of the DMC World Championships in 1987, Manchester DJ Chad Jackson landed his one and only hit single in 1990 with a record which whilst being very much of its time has remained quite curiously iconic and perhaps more importantly instantly recognisable ever since. A cut and paste house track, Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked) takes Mark The 45 King’s celebrated house track The 900 Number as its base and stirs in samples from James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Public Enemy, Soul II Soul and most memorably of all the bass break from the O’Jays The Love Of Money to create a single which raced to a Number 3 peak upon release in late May. Despite further releases, Chad Jackson remained a one-hit wonder. But what a hit it was.

13: Betty Boo – Doin’ The Do

Alison Clarkson’s deliberately cartoonish Betty Boo persona belied her roots as one of Britain’s earliest and most credible female MCs, her role as one-third of the She Rockers taking her to New York for recording and touring with Public Enemy, albeit unsuccessfully. After her introduction to the world as the voice of the Beatmasters’ 1989 hit Hey DJ (I Can’t Dance) she launched her own solo career with this deservedly famous hit, one which began her trademark of 60s girl group back-references (in this case Captain Of Your Ship by Reparata & the Delrons). The single barged its way to Number 7 during an extended chart run, this particular week being its eighth week on the singles chart and the first since dropping out of the Top 10. Better known these days for her songwriting talents (her link with Hear’Say’s Pure And Simple being well documented), her former status as Britain’s first ever mainstream female pop-rap star is viewed with a similar level of respect. Throwaway pop hits her singles may have been, but she is rightly regarded as a pioneer and inspiration.

12: FAB featuring MC Parker – Thunderbirds Are Go

Running through these hits it is hard to escape the feeling that this was a period characterised by some rather startling one-off novelties. None more so than this, the highest new entry of the week and a record which you may note was famously the first ever to be played on the BBC’s then brand new Radio 5 service which launched in August 1990. First the track itself, and as the title suggests it is a house remake of Barry Gray’s famous Thunderbirds March, the theme to the Gerry Anderson TV series from the 1960s. Rather cleverly done, the track uses samples of Parker to propel the track during the house breaks with the occasional contribution from Lady Penelope using carefully selected samples to show her at her kinkiest (“Are you going to tie me up?” “YOU BET I AM” “Oh I don’t mind, really”). The single was taken from a fuller project on Telstar Records, an album entitled Power Themes 90 which featured a string of similarly remixed and reworked themes from cult 1960s TV series and which to this day is a much sought-after piece of memorabilia by fans of the genre. Tracking down exactly who was behind the project is however slightly trickier. The credited producers are a collective called 3 To The Power who never appeared on any other work of note. The names of Rod Anderson and Jason Mayo are also on the label along with “executive producers” Gary Schofield, Steve Margo and Neil Palmer, none of whom can be cross-referenced with any other chart singles by the otherwise comprehensive Discogs website. All in all a bit of a mystery, although the presence of Thunderbirds Are Go on the various streaming services suggests it is far from lost in rights hell and somebody somewhere is still making money out of it. FAB and MC Parker would ultimately reach Number 6 but subsequent FAB releases from Power Themes 90 featuring remixes of themes from The Prisoner and Stingray peaked at 56 and 66 respectively.

11: Maureen – Thinking Of You

Just outside the Top 10, a placing it was destined never to improve upon, was yet another soul revival recast as a 1990 club hit. This was effectively the second hit single for Maureen Walsh, previously the featured voice on the Bomb The Bass take on Say A Little Prayer which had reached Number 10 in December 1988. Thinking Of You was the Rogers and Edwards-penned track which had essentially revived the fortunes of Sister Sledge back in 1984, propelling the girls back into the Top 3 and deservedly going on to become one of their most famous recordings. Maureen’s cover dropped the tempo dramatically, re-imagining the song as a soft shuffle in a manner which was actually quite inspired, making this a far more worthwhile exercise than your average early 90s cover version. It is surely worth noting that if released today, Maureen would have been paired with a big name MC to feature on the rap break. Back in 1990, the featured rapper was listed on the record label as “Kev Won”, the identity of whom is lost deep in the mists of time. Spotify again comes up blank for this one, but an excuse to embed a video that is not a SAW track is a welcome one for sure.

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