Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Best Of 1986 - part 1

JUMP TO: 40-31 II 30-21 II 20-11 II 10-1

I don't know if it's because I was a little bit older in 1986 - I turned 11 at the start of the year - and therefore more aware of what was going on in the world, or whether that year had a higher rate of notable events than others, but either way, it was a memorable year. Sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

Samantha Fox burst out of her top and into the charts in 1986

On the positive side, it was the International Year Of Peace and I remember our class having to write essays on the subject (and shading our papers in with coloured pencils). Everyone was also rather excited by the return of Halley's Comet, with evenings spent in the backyard staring at the sky through binoculars.

We looked at the sky for another reason entirely when the Challener Space Shuttle had its ill-fated launch, while words and names like Chernobyl, Imelda Marcos, Iran-Contra, Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Fergie (not The Black Eyed Peas singer) all dominated newspaper headlines.

Music was a bit more escapist in 1986 and the year ranks as one of my all-time favourites in terms of the songs and albums released. As we count down my top 40 songs from that year over the next couple of weeks, we'll see some familiar faces coming towards the end of their peak period and an influx of new acts storming the charts.

Starting us off at number 40 is "Who's Johnny" by El DeBarge, who was a new act in the sense that he had just left the DeBarge fold to strike out as a solo artist. His debut single was the theme to classic '80s robot comedy Short Circuit - and was heard in the film when Ally Sheedy's character was showing Number 5 around her house. Later on, Number 5 changed its name to Johnny. Ally even made an appearance in El's music video, although co-star Steve Guttenberg was clearly too busy with all those Police Academy movies to turn up and a cardboard cut-out of him was used instead.

At number 39 is "Shellshock" by New Order, a band who'd steadily changed their style from the guitar-driven feel of previous band Joy Division to the more synth-based sound you hear on this song and another which we'll get to at the other of this top 40. "Shellshock" was taken from the soundtrack to seminal '80s film Pretty In Pink, which also featured era-defining songs by OMD, Psychedelic Furs and The Smiths.

Capping off three years of massive success is the artist at number 38: "Change Of Heart" by Cyndi Lauper, which featured The Bangles on backing vocals. From 1984 to 1986, Cyndi was rarely absent from the charts - but she would only score two more big hits in Australia after this: one in 1988 ("Hole In My Heart (All The Way To China)") and another in 1989 ("I Drove All Night"). "Change Of Heart" was the second single from her True Colors album and reached number 15 in Australia.

With the final single from their Please album, at number 37 is "Suburbia" by Pet Shop Boys, which finally gave them another UK top 10 hit after their number 1 smash, "West End Girls" (since the two follow-ups missed the mark). It was also the first in a string of 10 consecutive songs that reached the top 10 in Britain for the duo. In Australia, "Suburbia" didn't even crack the top 100.

At number 36: "Mean To Me" by Crowded House, the first single from the Split Enz spin-off group, which Australia can mostly claim as our own since two-thirds of the original line-up came from this country. Surprisingly, given the link to Split Enz and the fact that "Mean To Me" is a great song, things got off to a slow start for Crowded House, with this debut single only reaching number 26 in Australia. Their second release, "Now We're Getting Somewhere", proved to have an unfortunate title when it didn't get any higher than number 63. But things finally kicked into gear with "Don't Dream It's Over", which came out at the end of 1986. Despite the huge worldwide success they would go on to have, I've always liked "Mean To Me" the best. The film clip takes a while to get going - with some typical clowning around from Neil, Mark and Paul first.

They were Stock Aitken Waterman's newest success story - at number 35 is "Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend)" by Mel & Kim. The song would eventually be quite a big hit in Australia in 1987, helped up the chart by the success of the Appleby sisters' second single, "Respectable". As the song title suggested, this track did sound incredibly fresh at the time and Mel & Kim were an all-too-brief, but brightly shining, pop act I couldn't get enough of at the time.

A singer who would go on to work with SAW is at number 34: "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" by Samantha Fox, who reached number 1 for three weeks in Australia with this, her first foray into a solo music career. Sam was, of course, a page three girl back in the UK, whose impressive, er, qualities made her topless modelling career a, er, huge success. For a short time at least, her pop career was just as, er, big, with "Touch Me" becoming the third highest selling single for the year in Australia and regular chart appearances continuing until the end of the decade. Away from music, Sam's had an interesting life. From the BRIT Awards debacle in 1989 to becoming a born again Christian in the mid-'90s to publicly declaring her love for her female manager in the early '00s, she's made headlines sporadically for the past couple of decades.

With their biggest British hit, at number 33 is "Lessons In Love" by Level 42, a song I discovered on an Australian compilation called White Soul Music, which also featured 12" mixes of songs by the likes of Wet Wet Wet, Curiosity Killed The Cat, ABC, Kane Gang and Swing Out Sister. The album also included Pepsi & Shirlie and Communards, two acts I wouldn't really class as white soul (even at a stretch), but I wasn't complaining as the album introduced me to some new music I wouldn't have otherwise have heard since only one of the tracks selected was a big hit here. It was one of the earliest times I registered that many groups and songs that were big overseas didn't cross over (or even get released) in Australia.

At number 32: "I Can't Wait" by Nu Shooz, a husband-and-wife duo who'd reached number 3 in the States with this track. They scored a couple of other minor hits over there, but this was it for them in Australia, where it got to number 11. It was my favourite of the two big hits from 1986 with the title "I Can't Wait" - the other by Stevie Nicks is my 77th favourite song for the year. The Nu Shooz song was covered by British girl group Ladies First in 2002, reaching number 19 there, but there's no beating this original.

A band that was coming to the end of a run of classic singles is at number 31 - it's "All The Things She Said" by Simple Minds, which followed "Alive And Kicking" and "Sanctify Yourself" as the third release from the Once Upon A Time album. It didn't do very much in Australia, being their second successive single to only reach number 46, but it's one of my favourites by the group, who would return in 1989 with the more serious Street Fighting Years album.

In Part 2, a bunch of artists I haven't had a chance to talk about in previous blogs as well as an Australian group scoring a massive hit with a well-executed cover version. See you in a few days...

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