Sunday, 21 August 2016

This Week In 1983: August 21, 1983

Easy listening station Smooth FM is currently Sydney's most listened to radio station. My parents have it on constantly and whenever I'm there I always hear something I love from the '80s. The other day it was Stephanie Mills' "Never Knew Love Like This Before" and "These Dreams" by Heart

Elton John and Spandau Ballet - on radio playlists in 1983 and 2016

This week in 1983, two ballads you could pretty much guarantee to hear on Smooth FM reasonably regularly made their debut on the ARIA chart. One was what we'd come to expect from the male singer in question, the other was somewhat of a change of direction for the band behind it.

ARIA Top 50 Singles and Albums Chart - week ending August 21, 1983

There was a changing of the guard at the number 1 spot this week in 1983, as "Flashdance... What A Feeling" made way for "Australiana" by Austen Tayshus... for the time being.

Off The Chart
Number 89 "Sex (I'm A...) / Metro" by Berlin
Peak: number 89 
It would get a second lease of life in 1985, but despite flopping twice, this double A-side synthpop 12" single still sounds great - and was a highlight of Berlin's recent Australian tour.

Number 73 "Pieces Of Ice" by Diana Ross
Peak: number 73
She'd started the decade with some of her biggest solo (and duet) hits in Australia, but this forgettable US top 40 single saw Ms Ross back in the pop wilderness as far as local fans were concerned.

New Entries
Number 50 "Maggie" by Foster & Allen
Peak: number 17
It was a bit of a week for big ballad hits - and it doesn't get more easy listening than this, although I doubt "Maggie" would crop up on Smooth FM. The song was an adaptation of folk tune "When You And I Were Young, Maggie", which had been first recorded in 1905 but dated back even earlier than that. Although this version by Irish duo Mick Foster and Troy Allen didn't get any further than number 17 (a spot it held for four non-consecutive weeks), it stayed in the top 50 well into 1984, by which point every grandmother in the country must have had a copy.

Number 45 "Maxine" by Sharon O'Neill
Peak: number 16
From "Maggie" we move now to "Maxine", a tune about a very different kind of girl. The song and its pretty depressing music video tell the story of a prostitute in Sydney's Kings Cross, and the dark tale provided New Zealand-born singer/songwriter Sharon O'Neill with her biggest hit locally. "Maxine" also reached number 16 back home in NZ for Sharon, who started her music career there with hits including a duet with future Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens

Number 44 "Show Me Some Discipline" by Sunnyboys
Peak: number 44
Their last single, "This Is Real", had missed the top 100 completely, but Sydney's Sunnyboys were back in the top 50 for the fourth time with this single that would be included on their upcoming third album, Get Some Fun. Not as catchy as "Happy Man""Alone With You" or "You Need A Friend", "Show Me Some Discipline" was accordingly a lesser hit.

Number 43 "Temptation" by Heaven 17
Peak: number 38
When The Human League split in two in 1980, Heaven 17 was the other group formed by departing members Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware. Together with vocalist Glenn Gregory, they'd released a series of critically well received singles while their now much poppier former band hit number 1 around the world with "Don't You Want Me". But Heaven 17 had their own pop smash up their sleeve, and "Temptation" gave the trio a UK number 2 hit and their first Australian top 50 entry. 
Thanks to wailing guest vocals by Carol Kenyon and the presence of a 60-piece orchestra, the song's inherent drama was ramped up even more, resulting in one of the decade's most exciting synthpop releases. Nine years later, Brothers In Rhythm gave "Temptation" a remix that actually improved it - something that almost never happens when a song is already brilliant to begin with.

Number 37 "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" by Elton John
Peak: number 4
Here's the first of this week's easy listening ballads that you still hear played today. In the UK, "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" had been the first single released from Elton's Too Low For Zero album. In Australia and the US, "I'm Still Standing" had been chosen instead. Locally, that seemed to be the right decision, with "I'm Still Standing" peaking one place higher on the ARIA chart. In America, "Kiss The Bride" also came out earlier, but "I Guess That's..." ended up being the biggest hit of the three on the Billboard chart. Order of release oddities aside, the love song (featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica) is one of the highlights of Elton's '80s output and much better than the three other ballads he released during the decade that also hit the Australian top 5: "Blue Eyes", "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" and "Nikita".

Number 23 "True" by Spandau Ballet
Peak: number 4
Also peaking at number 4 on the ARIA chart was this worldwide mega-hit by Spandau Ballet. The much-sampled "True" was a pretty big shift in musical direction for the band that'd made its name with new wave tracks like "To Cut A Long Story Short" and "Chant No.1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)". A sentimental soul ballad, "True" was the title track of Spandau Ballet's third album and turned the band into one of the world's biggest acts in the mid-'80s. Like 99 percent of the group's material, it was penned by guitarist Gary Kemp, who was influenced musically by Al Green and Marvin Gaye, and lyrically by his unrequited crush on Altered Images singer Clare Grogan. As well as its chart position and enduring status as a much-played easy-listening hit, "True" shares one more thing in common with "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" - both songs' music videos were directed by Australian Russell Mulcahy.

Listen to every top 50 hit (that's on Spotify) from the second half of 1983 on my playlist:

Next week: the arrival of four big hits, including a major comeback for a New Zealand band that now called Australia home and the breakthrough of a British soul singer with a song originally recorded by Marvin Gaye.

Back to: Aug 14, 1983 <<<<<<<<<<<<<  GO  >>>>>>>>>>>>> Forward to: Aug 28, 1983


  1. It looks like Róisín Murphy got some ideas from Diana Ross's outfit in this video for Moloko's 'The Flipside' video.

    'Maggie' doesn't sound very 1983.

    I like 'Maxine' and its video is interesting, but the "case 1352" lyric always seemed a bit lazy in a we-can't-think-of-anything-else-to-rhyme way.

    Quite shocking that 'Temptation' only peaked at #38 here (and the remix even lower). When adding the Australian peaks to its wikipedia page a few months back, I got into a discussion with one of the session musicians who played trumpet on the track... while still at school! He still receives royalties from his contribution.

    My parents also have the radio set to Smooth FM (maybe it's a national station?). The Elton John track, like so many of his others to me, is one that could have been released any time between about 1972 and 1987.

    It's hard to have an opinion on 'True', due to being so overplayed, but it's pleasant enough. I preferred 'Gold', though.

  2. Maxine by Sharon O'Neill is a terrific song - easily her best one, and its saxophone break is iconic! I always liked her, and enjoyed many of her other songs too, especially Asian Paradise, Danced In The Fire, Losing You and Power.

    Agree re Berlin - this electric number works really well.

    And a top Elton John ballad that was always on the radio. He's sung it at each of the five concerts of his that I've been to!

  3. The horrors that Australians have sent to the top of the charts, but a classic like Temptation peaked at number 38? What an outrage! At least they had the good taste to make it rightfully huge in the UK. I can't agree that the Brothers in Rhythm remix was an improvement - for a start, the beautiful orchestral arrangement of the original was forced to take a back seat to a soulless 90's synthetic dancebeat. And the subtle way Carol Kenyon built her vocals from the first entry was replaced with her belting it out right from the start, robbing us of that great moment when she eventually lets rip in the original version. Credit to Brothers in Rhythm for giving this song a well-deserved renaissance, but I think it diminished the impact of the original and it has dated badly.