Thursday, 30 August 2012

Madness 'Uncle Sam'

Chart Peak: 21


Madness' first single of 1985 'Yesterday's Me' became their 20th consecutive Top 20 single in Britain. The follow-up, 'Uncle Sam' had just entered the Top 40 by the end of October and was beginning its climb.

Bad luck again here, because in the event this fell once place short and became the first single of their entire career to miss out on a Top 20 placing. Their next single couldn't even made the Top 30 and the one after that was a farewell release, for a while at least. This track comes from their last studio album of the 1980s, Mad Not Mad, and as the title implies they were at a slightly confused time in their career, even more directly political and gradually shredding the nutty image that had made them famous. Sometimes this worked pretty well - the aforementioned 'Yesterday's Men' was one of their straightest singles and whilst it's probably not anyone's favourite Madness song it's an enjoyable number that should probably be better remembered than it actually is.

The trouble with 'Uncle Sam' is that it seems to fall between two stools, somewhat, attempting both to make a serious point (about the relationship between the British and American military) and to restore the old japery; but it sounds like their hearts aren't really in it. On a commentary track on the now-deleted Divine Madness DVD, keyboard player Mike Barson (who had of course left the band by this point) mentions that nobody plays the off-beat, which would have improved things significantly but still not made this a classic Madness single because the songwriting isn't really up to scratch. It has the air of a forced attempt at a single when they'd left this style behind a bit. Even the video feels a bit like a rehash of past glories, although there's a subtle touch with Lee Thompson's blue face make-up, presumably a reference to their earlier (and better) anti-war song 'Blue Skinned Beast'. And a nice nostalgic view of the old John Lewis Partnership logo at 2:46.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 3, 8, 21, 43
Available on: Mad Not Mad

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Siouxsie & The Banshees 'Cities In Dust'

Chart Peak: 21


This single became the band's 12th British Top 40 single when it raced into the charts on 22nd October 1985 more than 7 years after their first hit 'Hong Kong Garden' back in September 1978.
As I'm sure I've mentioned before, there's a common feature of these earlier Now! albums, with already well-established acts showing up well into their careers. Technically speaking, we're less than half-way through their run of hits, which started with the aforementioned 'Hong Kong Garden' (actually released in August 1978, entering the charts 34 years ago this week) and ended with 'O Baby' in January 1995. But for good or ill, it's arguable that most of the songs that made them famous had already been released by this point, so there's a certain sense that they were preaching to the converted. Certainly, 'Cities In Dust' is not an obvious pop smash and although it might have been expected to climb further at the time of going to press it feels a bit out of place here without much crossover appeal. As gothic post-punk songs about the destruction of Pompeii go, it's not bad but it's hard to imagine it being that interesting to the people who bought this album for UB40 and Tina Turner.

Available on: The Best Of...

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Midge Ure 'If I Was'

Chart Peak: 1


On 1st October 1985, 'If I Was' became the third single featuring Midge to make Number One in Britain. The first was 'Forever And Ever' by the group Slik in 1976 and the second was the Band Aid single. The classic 'Vienna', which also featured his vocal, was kept off the Number 1 spot by Joe Dolce in 1981.
I'm not sure whether it's a significant historical data point or just a reflection of the target age for this compilation that it was considered worth mentioning that 'Vienna' hadn't topped the chart. I don't know exactly when it did develop its reputation as the classic case of a song denied the top spot by frivolous opposition, or at what point everyone forgot it had also been kept off by John Lennon; but that's another story for another album.

In the meantime, we have Midge's consolation-prize Number One to deal with. For a long time I'd casually assumed that this was another example of a lead singer carrying on with his old band's style after they split, but as I figured out a few years back he was still in Ultravox at this point: their last album with him (until 2012) was U-Vox, released almost exactly a year after this. Although the band were generally held to be losing focus at this point (hence the album sometimes being nicknamed U-Bend) this solo spin-off doesn't really sound like a man trying to do things on his own he couldn't have done within the group structure. Although he's working with different people on this track, including Mark King from Level 42 on bass (without the clown costume, let's hope), the effect isn't actually that different from some big Ultravox hits, with that very tight synthetic sound. That doesn't really work in the context of the shy, unconfident lyric - it's a juxtaposition that could have been interesting the other way around but just seems phony this way. Ure's vocal provides the only trace of emotion but it's wasted among the synth pads and the dull melody. Only when the chorus kicks in can I get any sense at all of what attracted people to it in such numbers.

Also appearing on: Now 7
Available on: Pure Hits

Monday, 27 August 2012

Fine Young Cannibals 'Blue'

Chart Peak: 41

The follow-up to 'Johnny Come Home', released in early November.
And so a milestone in Now! history passes quietly, as this is the first track ever to appear that did not make the Top 40. Obviously, this was a result of the album having to go to press before the single was even released, but it was pretty trusting to include this when the FYC had only the one hit under their belt. As it transpired, they guessed wrong this time and the single underperformed, despite the enticement of a free "1986 FYC Picture Calendar". The band were saved from one-hit-wonderhood by their cover of 'Suspicious Minds' in early 1986, although that was notably not included on Now 7... a case of once bitten twice shy maybe?

As to 'Blue' itself, it's more directly political than the more emotional 'Johnny Come Home', and for that reason alone has unsurprisingly not aged as well. It's firmly in the vein of anti-Thatch soul-pop from the mid-1980s, but it doesn't have quite the rousing anger of the Style Council at their best, nor the direct personal impact of some of Jimmy Somerville's work. It's not even the best thing the Cannibals did in this style and to be honest it was probably the wrong choice of second single.

Also appearing on: Now 6, 14, 16 (CD only)
Available on: Fine Young Cannibals

Saturday, 25 August 2012

UB40 'I Got You Babe' (Guest Vocals Chrissie Hynde)

Chart Peak: 1

I Got YouTube

Originally No. 1 in September 1965 for Sonny and Cher, it returned to the top spot almost exactly 20 years later on 27th August with Ali Campbell as Sonny and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde taking the female vocal.

Funny how the memory plays tricks: I'd always associated this "duet" with Live Aid, but in fact neither act was even present. They did, however, reprise it at the Nelson Mandela concert three years later, along with their version of 'Breakfast In Bed', a hit single at that time.

Without that Live Aid context, though, I'm not sure what led them to do this. I suppose it was just a combination of UB40's unstoppable urge to cover every song written before 1980 and Hynde's determination to be a reggae singer. In fairness to them, the studio recording is better than the mumbly soundcheck they seem to have used for the video, but it still succeeds in making Sonny Bono's already rather smug Dylan pastiche (apparently it was based on 'It Ain't Me Babe') sound even smugger still. Like all but their earliest recordings, the band sound half-asleep, twiddling away at a sluggish tempo without feeling. But they could afford to cry all the way to the bank with their second chart-topper.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 4, 7, 9, 13 [with Chrissie Hynde again], 17, 18, 26, 41, 56
Available on: Love Songs

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Arcadia 'Election Day'

Chart Peak: 7


Simon Le Bon, Roger Taylor and Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran are Arcadia. They had raced to No. 7 by 29th October with 'Election Day' their first single.

A product of the split within Duran Duran that also produced The Power Station, Arcadia were the more obviously related act (so much so that even I noticed) because they had the lead singer. Musically, they seemed closer to Duran territory too, sparing us the ham-fisted attempts and funk and hard rock that the Power Station delivered, concentrating instead on the more electronic sounds of the parent act. Simon le Bon once described their sole album as the most pretentious ever made, which is unlikely to be true, but presumably indicates that they were giving freer reign to ideas that wouldn't have been so welcome in the parent band. However, lacking the time or inclination to listen to the whole thing, I can only say that 'Election Day' itself doesn't sound a lot more pretentious than many Duran Duran songs; presumably it was chosen as lead single for that very reason, to avoid alienating their teenybopper fans. Le Bon sings a load of incomprehensible images through his nose, Rhodes plays lots of overdubbed keyboard parts and Taylor is presumably drumming somewhere in the mix, although he's not in the video. The only surprise is when Grace Jones turns up to deliver a speech towards the end. She's not in the video.

Apparently this song makes little sense even to people who like it, and doesn't seem to have appealed far beyond the Durannies, which arguably makes it a little out of place here.

Available on: So Red The Rose

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Cliff Richard 'She's So Beautiful'

Chart Peak: 17


Cliff's first Top 20 single since 'Please Don't Fall In Love' in 1983, 'She's So Beautiful' reached number 17 in early October 1985. It is his 68th Top 20 single since 'Move It' in 1958.

Although it doesn't warrant a mention in the sleevenote here, this was one of the songs from Dave Clark's much-hyped musical Time, which I know of mainly from seeing copies of the double-LP soundtrack: it's apparently never been released on CD but is now on iTunes if you use that. Cliff played the lead in the show itself too, and the promo video is obviously supposed to fit the storyline in some way, although the scene where a group of Aryan children are have a flaming globe thrown at them during their game of water-polo is still quite bizarre. Indeed had it been made by almost any other act you'd read it as bitterly sarcastic, but you never quite know with Cliff, do you?

The record itself is notable because - as the single sleeve boasts - it was arranged and produced by Stevie Wonder, who also played all the instruments; his second contribution to Now 6 of course. A decade or so earlier, that could have been a really hot combination, but by the mid-80s he'd already lost a lot of his mojo as a producer and arranger, settling too easy on simplistic progressions and static, swingless rhythms. He hasn't left himself much room for his skills as a player, and of course there's none at all for him as a singer or songwriter. The finished product is hard to pick holes in but instantly forgettable.

Also appearing on: Now 10, 15, 16, 17
Available on: Private Collection

Monday, 20 August 2012

Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin 'Separate Lives'

Chart Peak: 4

Phil made Number 1 early in 1985 when he duetted with Philip Bailey on 'Easy Lover'. This single was released in early November.
Again the sleeve note seems almost keener to talk up a track that isn't on the album than the ones that are. It's another song from a film - in this case The White Night, which I'd never even heard of, but apparently it was where Helen Mirren met her husband. It also produced two major hits in this and Lionel Richie's 'Say You, Say Me': both were Oscar-nominated but Richie won. 

Though Collins would seem well-qualified to write a song about separation, this song was in fact penned by MOR songwriter Steven Bishop (of 'On & On') fame - it was presumably a commercial decision of the filmmakers to call in a higher-profile singer to front the song. Martin, meanwhile, was an experienced backing singer for whom this was presumably supposed to be the big break. Obviously, the song was a success at the time, but now it sounds like an extreme example of mid-80s blandness. I suppose maybe that was part of the appeal; maybe it appealed to people in these sort of situations because it spoke to them without really hitting home emotionally. Either way, what it certainly didn't do was establish Marilyn Martin as anything beyond a half-hit wonder, as her subsequent solo recordings make little impression and she was soon dropped. Like Phil Collins, she's no longer a professional musician, but unlike him she's had to get another job. Apparently she's now an estate agent. 

Phil Collins also appears on: Now 1, 3, 5, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 27, 41, 44, 68
Available on: Hits

Saturday, 18 August 2012

UB40 'Don't Break My Heart'

Chart Peak: 3


The follow-up to the Number 1 single 'I Got You Babe', this track had sped into the Top 20 by the end of October giving them their 15th Top 40 single of the 1980's.
Not only the follow-up, but in fact a vocal version of that single's instrumental flipside. Presumably that came about because they grabbed the instrumental in the rush to release 'I Got You Babe' rather than them throwing some singing on after the fact, particularly since this was around the time of their remix/ragga album Baggariddim, the CD version of which this track ended up on.
Either way there still seems something a bit unfinished about this single. The chorus is memorable and Ali Campbell's wounded voice oddly affecting - evidently this sort of croon suits him better than a lot of UB40's material. The underwhelming verses let the side down somewhat, which might be why this song never seems to get mentioned (barring its appearance on an obscure compilation of "Balearic Pop") even though it's their highest-charting original song in the UK.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 4, 7, 9, 13, 17, 18, 26, 41, 56
Available on: Baggariddim

Friday, 17 August 2012

Tina Turner 'We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)'

Chart Peak: 3

For one of the stars of a film to sing the theme music must be a rare occurence, but that's what Tina Turner has done. This single made Number 3 in August and now she stars in the Mad Max film itself.
What are they talking about? It's not rare at all, particularly not with stars who are better known as singers than actors in the first place. I've never actually seen any of the Mad Max films, I was way too young to be more than vaguely aware of them at the time, but this song was hard to avoid, coming out when Turner was at the peak of her UK success (it remains jointly her highest-peaking single here). Although it was written by her regular writers of the time, Britten and Lyle, it has a slightly different mood from a lot of her work, with Turner herself atypically subdued on the vocal. That actually suits the weary, downtrodden tone of the song, which in turn presumably fits the film itself. Even the children's choir is surprisingly tolerable. According to Wikipedia one of them later grew up to become England Rugby Union captain Lawrence Dallaglio, which is amusing if true.
Strangely, she struggled to follow up this success in Britain for most of the rest of the decade, which is why her frequent appearances on early Now! albums didn't continue for a while after this. It took a bit of a rethink to get her chart career back on track.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 4, 16, 17, 18, 21, 25, 26, 32, 34, 44
Available on: American Anthems II

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Level 42 'Something About You'

Chart Peak: 6


Their biggest hit single to date, 'Something About You' had reached No. 9 by late October. It is Level 42's 11th Top 50 hit in Britain.
A couple of warnings about that YouTube link: I'm not sure it's playing at quite the right speed. And it features Mark King as a creepy relationship-wrecking vaudeville clown.
That tally of Top 50 hits is actually quite revealing: their early chart career is full of singles peaking between 1 and 49. I don't think they even dispute that at some point the record company suggested they rethink their musical approach along more commercially viable lines: a slight reworking of their original jazz-funk sound gave them a first Top 10 hit with 'The Sun Goes Down', and this second one moves even further away from the realms of jazz into vaguely soul-oriented (if not especially soulful) pop. It's catchy and slick, like a less dreadful version of Maroon 5, and it sounds good on the radio but nothing to get passionate about.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 7, 10, 13, 14
Available on: Something About You - The Best Of

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Kate Bush 'Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)'

Chart Peak: 3


'Running Up That Hill' shot straight into the Top 10 on release and reached Number 3 in late August - It was Kate's first single for three years.
I've got a couple of days behind on this album, but ironically it might have been more interesting had I got even further back as I might then have had the unusual experience of writing on this blog about a current Top 40 hit: as of today it looks like this song will be in the Top 10 again this week.

At the time, too, this was a major comeback for her, following what then seemed a long three-year wait after the relatively unsuccessful The Dreaming album. Despite the controversial sub-title (omitted on the original single but listed here and on every other release to include the song), this was and still is her biggest hit since 1978 in both the UK and the US. It's an example of one of my favourite pop phenomena - the deserved crossover hit. Many non-mainstream acts have had big hits by exploiting a fanbase or harking back to early glories, but Bush is among the select group of major acts who can produce work that's deep and yet also instantly accessible. Unusually for music of this era, whilst the heavy use of synthesisers and the booming drums suggest this record couldn't be much older than it is, it sounds like Bush is the master of them, not vice versa - you could imagine it being made with almost the same sound any time in the subsequent 27 years without sounding inappropriate. You can easily tell the song's heavy with meaning too, even if it's hard to put your finger on exactly what it means; it is perhaps slightly clearer when heard as the opening track on Hounds Of Love, as an introduction to the ominous themes of that record. It still seems to come from a position of hope though, and it feels artistically honest that the music it's set to has a prettiness that offers the optimism the lyric tries for: "tell me we both matter, don't we?". A track that absolutely fits on this album as a piece of pop but outclasses most of the rest.

Also appearing on: Now 8 [with Peter Gabriel], 16
Available on: The Whole Story

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Elton John 'Nikita'

Chart Peak: 3


'Nikita' became Elton John's 27th Top 30 single in October 1985. It had reached Number 4 by the end of the month. The single also features the talents of Nik Kershaw and George Michael.

They don't actually specify which talents, although George Michael's backing vocal is easy enough to identify (he was even more prominent on the follow-up 'Wrap Her Up') and Kershaw apparently plays guitar, which was after all where he started out. It's a strangely downbeat start to Side Two of the album and, if memory serves, this is the full-length album version that seems to go on for ages.

Of course, we all know now that Nikita is a boy's name but at the time (before Elton John was out) it was promoted as being a song about a girl on the other side of the Iron Curtain. What's interesting about that is that of course Elton didn't write the lyric, it's by his regular oppo Bernie Taupin who must therefore have been in on the joke. Video director Ken Russell apparently wasn't (or chose to ignore it if he was). But all I really noticed at the time was the car, if I'm honest.

Sexuality aside, it's an odd song to come back to now because the division of Germany proved not to be as permanent as it seemed at this time, and less than five years after this song was in the chart it became an anachronism. By that time, though, the production of this song already sounded out of place, although most of it has aged better than I feared, possibly because that rather cold atmosphere it conjures up seems to fit the subject matter. The same cannot be said for the synthesiser solo in the middle, however.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 11, 12, 18, 22, 56, 61 (with 2Pac), 62
Available on: Ice On Fire

Monday, 13 August 2012

Marillion 'Lavender'

Chart Peak: 5


The follow up to 'Kayleigh' made swift progress to reach Number 5 in September.

It also produced one of the more memorable Top Of The Pops performances of the era, although nostalgists should note that the presenters manage to get the title wrong both before and after the song. Admittedly, 'Lavender Blue' is the folk song on which this is based (it also seems to be the title of the 12" version, which might be what confused Mike Read) and that's apparently a deliberate ploy to reflect the childlike idealised vision of love that this song's about; that in turn is supposed to contrast with the more jaundiced view in 'Kayleigh'. It's the sort of high-concept idea that often puts me off prog rock (yes, I went there) particularly when it's parcelled out and sold out of context. And dropping in a reference to the not obviously child-oriented Joni Mitchell seems odd too.

It's actually not an unpleasant record to hear, and has the advantage of not having been as overplayed in the long run as their other Top 5 single (though it was apparently a big radio hit at the time). The biggest problem, apart from the secondhand nature of the best parts of the song, is the air of seriousness imparted by the production and Fish's vocal, which is hard to reconcile with the words "dilly dilly" in the chorus (I don't think calling somebody a dilly is an insult in Glasgow, which would have made an odd sort of sense).

Also appearing on: Now 5, 10
Available on: The Best Of Both Worlds

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Gary Moore 'Empty Rooms'

Chart Peak: 23 [original version: 51 in 1984]


This track made Number 23 in August as the follow-up to 'Out In The Fields'.
You must try to restrain your enthusiasm, sleeve-note writer! Moore wasn't the first act to follow a big hit by returning to older material, although he went slightly further than most by re-recording 'Empty Rooms' entirely from the previous single version (which was itself a remix of the original 1983 album cut). This version went down so well it ended up going on his next album as well.
It's one of Moore's mellower songs, as much blues as rock, and shows some soul, although it's a bit overproduced, particularly in this version. The brief acoustic guitar passage in the middle rather leaves me wishing he'd done more of that before the electric solo comes in and takes over.

Also appearing on: Now 5 [with Phil Lynott], 9
Available on: Ballads & Blues 1982-1994

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Bryan Adams and Tina Turner 'It's Only Love'

Chart Peak: 29


Two of 1985's hitmakers have teamed up for one of the most explosive duets ever recorded.

Explosive? Well I guess you could say it bombed chartwise... Actually, that's slightly unfair. Though not a major hit, it did chart higher than 'Summer Of 69', which is probably the most famous song from Adams' breakthrough album Reckless. Believe it or not, that TotP playout was the longest clip from the studio track I could find on any video site, so I had to go back to the vinyl to hear the song. Well, try to hear the song at least - there isn't really much of one there. Adams and Turner do their best to make a big noise but they haven't really got anything much to work with and it can only be a tribute to their respective fanbases that they even got this into the Top 30.

Bryan Adams also appears on: Now 34, 43, 45 (with Chicane)
Tina Turner also appears on: 1, 4, 16, 17, 18, 21, 25, 26, 32, 34, 44
Available on: Reckless

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Simple Minds 'Alive And Kicking'

Chart Peak: 7

Their second Top 10 single of the year, 'Alive And Kicking' had reached Number 7 by 22nd October. It is their 6th British Top 20 single.

Way back in the earlier days of this blog, this track got a mention
when it appeared on Now 23. I didn't have much to say about it then and I've even less to add now. They succeeded in what they were trying to do, I just wish they hadn't.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 5, 7, 14, 15, 23 [this track], 30
Available on: Massive Hits!: Driving Rock

Monday, 6 August 2012

Eurythmics 'There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


The first UK Number 1 single for Annie and Dave - it made the top in July 1985. 'There Must Be An Angel' featured the magic harmonica of Stevie Wonder as did Chaka Khan's 1984 Number One 'I Feel For You'.

I suppose at the time it wasn't obvious that their first chart-topper would also be their last, nor that this would prove to be their final appearance (together) on a Now album. It's not such a loss, though, as I've long felt this to be roughly the point where they lost what was initially interesting about them and went almost entirely mainstream. I can't claim to have been capable of, or interested in, such sophisticated analysis when I was seven, but it's an easy judgement to make in hindsight. It's even carried over into the video, where Annie Lennox abandons her former androgyny in favour of an admittedly OTT femininity. 

Of course, there's nothing wrong with making pop music, but the song itself isn't strong enough really. It's apparently supposed to be blues-influenced, and you can hear that especially in the middle eight, but it's not an idiom they seem able to write in naturally - Lennox's overuse of melisma in the verses feels especially forced. And as well as being the third track in a row with the word "Heart" in the title, it's the second in a  row overproduced by Dave Stewart. The track only really comes alive when Stevie Wonder shows up and plays his solo, and even that suffers from seeming dropped into the song rather than an organic part of it. It was probably a mistake to mention 'I Feel For You' in the sleevenote, actually, it just reminds me how much better that was. 

Also appearing on: Now 2, 4
Available on: Ultimate Collection (2 disk set)

Friday, 3 August 2012

Feargal Sharkey 'A Good Heart'

Chart Peak: 1 (2 week)


'Listen To Your Father' and 'Loving You' were Top 30 hits, but it was the 3rd solo single 'A Good Heart' that gave Feargal his first British Top Ten hit since 1983 when he took the lead vocal on the Assembly track 'Never Never'.

Presumably the sleeve notes had already gone to press by the time this single actually topped the chart, though it was already an almost unprecedented success for him: only his third Top 10 hit and his second Top 5. Like Nik Kershaw, Sharkey only managed a relatively short time in the pop spotlight: he only released three solo albums and the other two only managed one hit single between them. Whereas Kershaw made a more or less conscious choice to step away from fame, and has continued to tour and release the odd album, Sharkey seemed to suffer a fairly abrupt loss of audience during 1986 and, not being much of a songwriter, he seemed to run out of steam as a performer and thus began the backroom career in the music business that continues to this day. He notably refused to take part in the reunion of the Undertones in 2003.

For a brief moment back there, he was a genuine star, with this massively successful rendition of the song written by Maria McKee about her relationship with Benmont Tench, one of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers (she didn't get round to recording her own version of the song for another 20 years); famously, he went on to record Tench's answer song 'You Little Thief' as the follow-up to this, and was rewarded with another Top 5 hit (though no Now appearance). Doubtless he relished having the level of stardom that allowed for such in-jokes; you can see in the videos to both singles that he was keen to push his image as a big headliner, commanding a brightly-lit stage in a sharp suit, with a backing group who seem to have been chosen for their lack of resemblance to the Undertones. Whatever you think of this approach, with hindsight it doesn't quite pay off in this case. Sharkey's voice still impresses, conveying brilliantly the vulnerability and fear of the protagonist: he always sounds small and by the end of each verse he feels reluctant to sing at all, as if he's trying to hide the emotion, whilst he's following the lead of the backing singers on the chorus; but it's all undermined by Dave Stewart's booming production, and the proto-Robert-Palmer moves in the video. It's somehow worse to do that to a record that could have been better had it sounded more intimate. That's why I didn't buy the copy I saw selling for 50p the other day. 

Also appearing on: Now 4
Available on:Feargal Sharkey

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Nik Kershaw 'When A Heart Beats'

Chart Peak: 27


Following the success of 'Wide Boy' and 'Don Quixote', Nik aims for his eighth consecutive Top 20 single with 'When A Heart Beats'.
Ah well Nik, you can't win them all. In fact, not only did this single fall short of the 20, it proved to be his last ever Top 40 hit. In truth, he might not have been that bothered, as it's evident that by this point he was losing whatever interest he'd ever had in pop stardom. It's said that his next album Radio Musicola was intentionally pitched over the heads of his teenybop audience with its attempts to satirise the media and the pop industry. This single, not officially an album track but added as a bonus to the cassette and CD versions, seems to be pushing a similarly anti-corporate line but in all honesty it's not very compelling or memorable and I can't say it deserved any more success than it got. Bit unfortunate for this album to get such an unsuccessful song so early in the run.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 3, 4
Available on: The Collection

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Queen 'One Vision'

Chart Peak: 7


Queen's first single of 1985 - released in early November. 'One Vision' is a tribute to Bob Geldof's "Live Aid" work and is destined to become the group's 27th Top 40 single in Britain.
Yes, we're still in the sixes, and back to vinyl this time. Back to the familiar Queen opener on a Now! album too. Now 6 is also the first one not to have a pig on the cover, beginning the series of themed designs that lasted a few year: this one is obviously supposed to be a jacket, Now 7 was a bag, Now 9 a school folder etc. My copy isn't in the best of condition but I bought quite early on before I realised how common this album was. Anyway, it's enough for the purposes here, and this present track is not a difficult one to hear in any case.

'One Vision' was arguably a very important song in consolidating the comeback they'd made in 1984. It obviously wasn't part of their landmark performance at Live Aid, but was released soon only a few months afterwards to pick up some of the momentum while it was still fresh in people's minds. Indeed, whilst sources seem to vary as to whether the song is actually about Live Aid, it's often said to be inspired by the confidence the band had regained that day. Certainly the single was rushed out within weeks of recording, over six months before the album where it ended up. It also has a writing credit to the entire band,  before this became their standard practice, which suggests a level of enthusiasm and collaboration between the band. Whilst the optimistic lyric, partly cribbed from Martin Luther King, doesn't necessarily stand up to great scrutiny - it's not really a powerful statement if nobody could disagree with it - it's good fodder for Freddie Mercury, at the top of his game, to bellow. The riff is powerful, simple and indeed powerfully simple, an obvious ancestor to 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love' by the Darkness; in fact that's an interesting comparison, because the latter song expresses similar sentiments but in a more smirking way. Queen at their best could be utterly ridiculous but be saved by the total commitment they showed to the song. Even the joke they sneak in at the end, a massive build-up that ends "Gimme... Fried chicken!" works entirely because it's delivered with such conviction. The official Olympic version of the song omits that and is all the poorer for it.

Also appearing on: Now 2, 3, 4, 7, 15, 16, 19, 21, 25 [with George Michael], 32, 33, 54 [with Vanguard]
Available on: Rock Anthems