Wednesday, 7 December 2016

This Week In 1986: December 7, 1986

A few months earlier, Bananarama had taken a former number 1 hit, "Venus" by Shocking Blue, back to the top of the chart for seven weeks. Thirty years ago this week, an Australian synthpop band debuted with another remake of a former chart-topper.

Pseudo Echo did more than just alter the title of Lipps Inc's "Funkytown"

In this case, the original version of the song was only six years old, compared to the 16-year gap between versions of "Venus". Nevertheless, the new take on the song was different enough to become a hit all over again - and also end up staying at number 1 for seven weeks.

ARIA Top 50 Singles Chart - week ending December 7, 1986

Another song that would end up staying on top of the chart for seven weeks was into its fifth week at number 1 this week in 1986. "You're The Voice" by John Farnham was also the only chart-topper that separated the number 1 runs by "Venus" and this week's new remake.

Off The Chart
Number 100 "Change" by Cattletruck
Peak: number 81
This second single from Melbourne's Cattletruck - their first for Regular Records - gave them their first chart appearance. They'd have a slightly better 1987. 

Number 93 "This Is The World Calling" by Bob Geldof
Peak: number 93
Perhaps if the ex-Boomtown Rats singer had been as quick off the mark as fellow Band Aid organiser Midge Ure - and had a song as good as "If I Was" - his solo career might have had a better start. "This Is The World Calling" was co-written with Dave Stewart.

"Wonderland" by Paul Young
Peak: number 51
Is it just me or does this song not sound finished? For the first three-and-a-half minutes, it's almost as if Paul and his band are jamming halfheartedly in the studio, before things finally kick into gear. Even then, it still doesn't really scream "let's release this as the lead single" to me. Not surprisingly, "Wonderland" performed nowhere near as well as "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)" or "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down" - the first hits from his previous two albums. Also unlike those tracks, "Wonderland" was not a cover of an obscure soul record but a song its writer, Betsy Cook, didn't end up recording herself until 1992.

New Entries
Number 50 "More Than Physical" by Bananarama
Peak: number 28
Bananarama's collaboration with producers Stock Aitken Waterman on "Venus" had worked so well that it made sense to release the only other SAW track from their album True Confessions as a single next. It also made sense to remix the album version and turn it into another Bananarama does Dead Or Alive Hi-NRG stomper. Throw in a bunch of shirtless hunks - something that'd become a staple of Bananarama music videos in years to come - and you had a sure-fire hit, right? Well, kind of. "More Than Physical" gave the girl group consecutive top 30 hits for the first time in their career, but it was still only a top 30 hit after a seven-week chart-topping single. As much of a fan of both Bananarama and SAW as I am, even I'll admit "More Than Physical" is only an average song.

Number 49 "Let's Go To Paradise" by Mental As Anything
Peak: number 15
In my most recent flashback to the ARIA chart of 1983, I mentioned Mental As Anything's habit of releasing stand-alone singles between albums - songs like 1986's "Sloppy Croc", an instrumental used in Crocodile Dundee that missed the top 100 completely. "Let's Go To Paradise" not only returned the Mentals to the chart, but gave them their biggest hit since almost chart-topper "Live It Up". The lead single from the Mouth To Mouth album, "Let's Go To Paradise" seems to me like a deliberate attempt to replicate the feelgood vibe of the world-conquering "Live It Up". Greedy Smith even wore another tuxedo in the music video. It worked pretty well with the song becoming one of the band's five biggest hits up until this point.

Number 48 "Guns And Butter" by Do-Re-Mi
Peak: number 48
The problem with having a top 5 smash straight out of the gate is that it's incredibly difficult to live up to. Not that Do-Re-Mi were probably too concerned with chart positions - they don't seem the type of band that would've minded how commercially successful their singles were. But record company Virgin probably did and the fact that brand new single "Guns And Butter" did about as well as Do-Re-Mi's last minor top 50 hit, "Idiot Grin", might explain why it was another year before we heard any more music from them (and why "Guns And Butter" didn't end up being included on second album The Happiest Place In Town).

Number 47 "Bottom Of My Heart" by Kings Of The Sun
Peak: number 47
Here's a band that didn't have to worry about living up to a mega-successful debut single, with this first release by Kings Of The Sun peaking where it debuted. Despite the slow start, Mushroom Records stuck with the band and RCA Records saw enough potential in them to sign KOTS for international release. Even so, after a delay of two years, the hard rock group could only manage a peak of number 48 with second single "Serpentine".

Number 46 "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by Aretha Franklin
Peak: number 36
1985 had been a great year for both Aretha Franklin and Whoopi Goldberg. The former had enjoyed her greatest chart success in years thanks to the Who's Zoomin' Who album and specifically top 10 hit "Freeway Of Love"; the latter was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her first leading role in The Color Purple. In 1986, the pair teamed up for this cover of The Rolling Stones' single from 1968. Both original recording and remake were used in the spy comedy film of the same name starring Whoopi, who also appeared in the music video and was the second funniest thing in it after Aretha's comedy hairstyle. The cover had the blessing of the Stones, with Keith Richards producing the track and playing on it alongside band-mate Ronnie Wood.

Number 17 "Funky Town" by Pseudo Echo
Peak: number 1
Disco classic "Funkytown" had been a worldwide chart-topper in 1980, spending two weeks at number 1 in Australia and reaching the top everywhere from the US to Israel to Europe (although not the UK) to New Zealand. To release a cover version just six years later was a bit of a risk and one Pseudo Echo's record company initially resisted, but singer Brian Canham, whose idea it had been, held his ground and Pseudo Echo's slightly re-named "Funky Town" proved him right. 
With its thundering drums and guitar licks, it gave the song a completely different spin, while retaining the song's instantly recognisable synth hook, now blasted out on James Leigh's keytar. Within three weeks of its debut in the top 20, "Funky Town" was at number 1 and stayed there into February, giving Pseudo Echo the biggest hit of their career. The remake also reached the top 10 in the US and the UK, where the band would unfortunately be branded as one-hit wonders, never able to turn any of their previous Australian hits into overseas successes.
"Funky Town" would also prove to be Pseudo Echo's final major hit locally. Instead of striking while the iron was hot, it was almost two years before the band released their next single - and when they did, it came with a disastrous change in sound and image.

Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1986:

Next week: the arrival of two singles that would swap back and forth at number 1 in early 1987, plus a remixed version of a hit from 1980 and two feel-good songs that could only have come from the mid-'80s.

Back to: Nov 30, 1986 <<<<<<<<<<<<<  GO  >>>>>>>>>>>>> Forward to: Dec 14, 1986

1 comment:

  1. I didn't hear 'More Than Physical' until 2002, when downloading it with a bunch of their other flop singles I hadn't heard before on AudioGalaxy. It's OK, but not one of their best. I actually prefer the more laidback LP version.

    It almost sounds like Mental As Anything were trying to emulate the SAW sound, with the cowbell in the chorus... covering all bases.

    'Guns and Butter' was an interesting song title, if not that interesting a song. It's always stupid IMO when record companies leave flop singles off albums, as if to pretend they didn't happen.

    I don't generally care much for movies, but I love 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' (the movie). A pointless cover, but nice it made the charts as a tie-in.

    'Funky Town' seemed inescapable at the time. In retrospect, it was a huge mistake for them to morph into a 'rock' band... and to not follow up with a new album pronto.