Friday, 28 September 2012

Jaki Graham & David Grant 'Mated'

Chart Peak: 20

Following the Top 5 success of 'Could It Be I'm Falling In Love' earlier in the year, Jaki and David have released this Todd Rundgren track as the follow-up.
Todd Rundgren: a name you might not have expected to show up in the context of Now albums, but he did indeed write this song, which was originally recorded by his prog-rock band Utopia who'd released it as their last single earlier in 1985. He later recorded a Latin-jazz version as a solo artist, which is as good an idea as you'd expect. It's not the most obvious source of material for a soppy soul-pop duet (especially as the follow-up to a Detroit Spinners cover) but in practice it's a fairly straightforward pop slowie, despite the oddly zoological-sounding title. I'm pretty sure this got Rundgren's highest UK chart position as a songwriter, thought of course he's made the Top 10 as a producer for Meat Loaf.

All of which said, it's not really that good a track either, lacking the sort of memorable hook that worked on 'Could It Be I'm Falling In Love'. It's another example of a 1985 Now! missing the big hit and catching the lesser follow-up instead. It feels a bit symptomatic of a broadly underwhelming album, where the couple of genuinely brilliant tracks stand out all the more. Even the Madness track isn't much cop, a sure sign of a disappointing album.

We'll be back in a few weeks when I've decided which album comes next. I'm thinking 46, 56 and 76 may have to wait a while.

Jaki Graham also appears on: Now 5, 7, 8
Available on: Just The Two Of Us

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Cameo 'Single Life'

Chart Peak: 15

Charted at No. 47 on 10th September and rose steadily to reach No. 15 by 15th October.
I'm not sure who those people on the cover are but I'm pretty sure they weren't members of Cameo. I don't think I'd ever heard this track all the way through before, though I did remember the chorus, and had a vague idea I'd seen part of the video before. I was slightly surprised at how minimal it sounded - even this 7" edit is effectively instrumental for much of its running time and the arrangement's pretty sparse, dominated by the slap bass and synths you'd expect on Side Four of a mid-80s Now! album.

In theory, I should hate Larry Blackmon's silly whiny voice and the lyric of this song, which seems to be boasting about the single life, ie pulling lots of girls. But somehow the combination is goofy enough to work. And they do make the effort to clown about in that video. It's not something I'd go out of my way to listen to, and not being a single man I'm not invited to clap along to it, but it's cheery enough.

Also appearing on: Now 8
Available on: Anthology

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Mai Tai 'Body And Soul'

Chart Peak: 9

The follow-up to 'History' gave Mai Tai their 2nd British Top 10 single of 1985 when it reached No. 9 in September.
Quick Youtube note: of the two TotP performances on there I chose the one introduced by John Peel and Janice Long rather than the one with Steve Wright and Mike Read. Well, you would wouldn't you? The sound quality's not great though, so feel free to check out this CD-sourced version if you prefer.

'History' seems to be the better-known song now, but it's 'Body and Soul' that I remember from the time. Mostly I remember hearing that lyric "I need your love tonight not just your hand to hold" and having an idea it was sort of rude but not really being old enough to understand. Listened to now, though, this obviously isn't as good a song as their previous hit. The production makes it sound awfully samey too. Not unpleasant to hear but it wouldn't have been a loss never to hear it either.

Also appearing on: Now 5
Available on: Mai Tai

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Baltimora 'Tarzan Boy'

Chart Peak: 3

Baltimora is really Jimmy McShane - an Irish singer based in Italy. This track was first a massive hit on the continent and then it raced to No. 3 in Britain in early September.
Some people might question the word "really" there: whilst McShane (from Northern Ireland, to be exact) was certainly the frontman of the act, this song is sung with a surprisingly strong Italian act and since his death in 1995 many have speculated as to whether he ever made it to the studio; he did apparently co-write some of their other songs though. Yes, they did have other songs and even other hits in some territories, but this was their only UK chart appearance; even then it took the release of a special "summer mix" for it to make an impact.

As a song, 'Tarzan Boy' is clearly rubbish. To the extent that the words are even audible they make no real sense, whoever's singing doesn't have an especially pretty voice and is often slurred, unless the chorus really is "Nighty-night, gimme the armholes". The production sounds cheap and nasty, especially with 27 years' hindsight, and there's no originality outside the pronunciation. And yet I have to admit that I sort of love this track. I can't even claim the excuse of nostalgia for childhood days, because if I ever did hear it in 1985 I don't remember it; I think there's something refreshingly honest about its silliness and the fact that it makes no pretension to doing anything other than going straight for the jugular of catchiness.

By the way, I didn't really intend to disappear from this blog for over a week. Luckily I should still be able to polish off Now 6 by the end of the month but perhaps the six series should end on this album? I'm open to persuasion on that though.

Available on: 100 Hits 80s Classics

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Maria Vidal 'Body Rock'

Chart Peak: 11

Originally released last year and from the breakdance movie of the same name, 'Body Rock' became a club hit and then crossed over to the pop chart - it made No. 11 in late September/early October.
She did this on Top Of The Pops 27 years ago today, a handy reminder that Steve Wright could be equally annoying when announcing TotP performances in-vision. Maria Vidal only had the one hit, and that at the second time of asking, but she does have a small place in pop history: the character of Gina in 'Livin' On A Prayer' is supposedly based on her in the days when she was the girlfriend of that song's co-writer Desmond Child. She later married Rick Nowels, another man noted for making rock music as bland as possible, and you might expect this to be in a similar vein. Whilst not earth-shattering, though, this is actually sort of pleasant in a vaguely disco-pop way, lacking some of the heavy-handedness of her ex's work.

I've never actually seen the film Body Rock, and I don't know if many people did. It seems to have been one of those dance-craze cash-in movies of the sort that still gets made to this day. Since the film's about breakdancing, you might have expected something a bit more hip-hop oriented for the title song, but it doesn't quite seem to have worked out that way. I presume they were aiming for something more obviously commercial in order to promote the film, but with the song not even charting here first time around (and missing the US Top 40) it seems to have been a bit of a forlorn hope. Still, it left us with a decent, if clichéed, pop song.

Available on: 101 80s Anthems

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Jan Hammer 'Miami Vice Theme'

Chart Peak: 5

The biggest instrumental hit of the year was recorded by a German - Harold Faltermeyer. The second biggest has been recorded by a Czech - Jan Hammer. The 'Miami Vice Theme' raced to No. 5 in late October.
So, er, well done Mr Hammer. He fared even better in the US, where this topped the chart (the last instrumental to date to have done so). Even though I wasn't allowed to watch it, I know that Miami Vice was a popular TV show but I don't really get why anybody would want to buy a single of this. Sure, it works pretty well as a soundtrack to people running along with immaculate hair and guns in their hands, preparing to burst through a doorway; mind you, of course, my idea of how to soundtrack that is doubtless influenced by having grown up in the 1980s. But what I struggle to imagine is somebody going out and buying the 7" single, taking it home and playing it. When would that be appropriate? If you were actually running about with a gun in your hand and bursting through a doorway, you'd probably make the needle jump.

As far as I can tell, it wasn't that uncommon for a TV theme tune to be released as a single in the 1970s and 1980s, but only a few charted, especially non-vocal ones. There must have been something particular about this (and Howard's Way) that crossed over. Maybe it was some aspirational way for people to buy a piece of the programme itself. Either way, it's kind of lost on me now.

Also appearing on: Now 10
Available on: '80s Pop #1's

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Paul Hardcastle 'Just For Money'

Chart Peak: 19


The long-awaited follow-up to '19' is this track which features the combined talents of Lord Olivier, Bob Hoskins and Paul Hardcastle.

Featuring the single after the big hit feels like a bit of a throwback to Now 5, although '19' did at least get some representation in the series thanks to Rory Bremner. It was always going to be a hard act to follow, and I don't think anyone would have predicted that he'd try to do so with a cockney gangster movie in sound (that being a much obvious move in the pre-Guy Richie days than it would be now). Co-written by his manager's brother Kim Fuller, later to script such classics as Spiceworld The Movie and From Justin To Kelly, it's a bit of a hidden gem, or at least a song that it makes a nice change to hear. It suffers slightly from not quite seeming sure whether it's meant to be a novelty or a morality tale and, like '19', the weakest point is the exposition from the female singer, which breaks the old "show, don't tell" rule, and is probably the most dated part of the record now. Still, well done getting Olivier on there. I don't imagine he listened to the finished track very often.

Also appearing on: Now 8
Available on: Paul Hardcastle

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Communards 'You're My World'

Chart Peak: 30


The first single from ex-Bronski Beat singer Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles. 'You Are My World' entered the Top 40 in late October.
Although there were only two Now albums in 1985, with but thirty tracks between them, a lot of fairly minor hits seem to have crept in. In this case, one presumes that Somerville's past success suggested this would follow suit - but for a while it looked like Now had backed the wrong horse, as the first single by the new line-up of Bronski Beat was the Top 3 hit 'Hit That Perfect Beat', whilst this struggled to make even the top 30. The race isn't always to the swift of course, and the Communards went on to enjoy the biggest-selling single of 1986; even this song did slightly better in remixed form in 1987, though still not a Top 20 hit.

I guess you could see this debut single as an attempt to set out the duo's stall, combining the high-NRG dance music we already expected from Somerville (and of course his distinctive voice) with classically-trained pianist Coles. Curiously, it lacks the obvious political edge of a lot of their previous and subsequent work and if I'm honest there's something slightly half-baked about it which might account for the underwhelming chart performance. Knowing they could do better, I'm slightly underwhelmed.

I don't know for sure whether Coles is the only member of an act on Now 6 to have become ordained as a priest, but I'm fairly confident he's the only one who's had a conversation with my Mum on Twitter. He seems a nice chap. If you're reading this, Rev, sorry I don't like your song more.

Also appearing on: Now 8. 9, 10, 12
Available on: Communards

Monday, 3 September 2012

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions 'Lost Weekend'

Chart Peak: 17


The follow-up to 'Brand New Friend', which was the group's first Top 20 single, is this track 'Lost Weekend'. It charted at Number 37 in early November after just one week on release.
It's not actually a deliberate joke that a post about a song called 'Lost Weekend' should have been done on Friday or Saturday night and now arrives on a Monday. I've just been struggling a little on this one because it's the best track we've had for a while and deserves a good write-up, but doesn't have that many great distinguishing features. In fact, I have no memory of hearing this at all during the 1980s and recall growing up with the distinct impression that Lloyd Cole was a pseud. Indeed, he still seems to be one, though the declining fortunes of his career do seem to have humbled him somewhat and made him more likable.

Even during his mid-80s pomp though, there's little denying that he and his band came up with some good pop songs, and this second and final Top 20 hit is possibly the best of them. Like the Madness track, it was produced by Langer & Winstanley: the band themselves apparently weren't keen on the idea but it works on this track by setting the wisecracking Cole against a fairly jaunty sound, it seems to add the right level irony as well as distracting attention from his less-than stellar single. It's not wholly surprising that bassist and co-writer Lawrence Donegan had once been a member of the Bluebells, in some ways this seems closer to them than the sort of record Cole would have intended.

Available on: The Singles