Tuesday, 4 July 2017

The Best Of '80s Various Artists Compilations - part 2

JUMP TO: 30-16 II 15-1

What is the best compilation of the '80s? All will be revealed as we count down my 15 favourite various artist albums released during the decade by the major record labels. As in Part 1, links to tracklistings are included in the titles if you can't read them on the pictures.

A great compilation, but it doesn't qualify for this list

Oh, and one thing I omitted to mention in Part 1 is that I also didn't include year-end or decade-end compilations. Only the regular three- or four-monthly collections qualified. Sorry, Smash Hits 87.

Chart debut: December 6, 1982
Peak: number 9
Biggest hit: "Shy Boy" by Bananarama (number 2)
Smallest hit: "Sweet Little Woman" by Joe Cocker (number 42)
Best song: "Shy Boy" by Bananarama closely followed by "Don't Go" by Yazoo
Worst song: "We Can't Be Beaten" by Rose Tattoo
We start this post with an album from a year that's pretty well-represented in this second batch. It was also the year ABBA's Frida resumed her solo career (with a little help from Phil Collins), John Farnham was lead singer of Little River Band and The Pointer Sisters went all-out pop. Besides the obvious big names (Moving Pictures, Hall & Oates, Madness, Olivia Newton-John), there were also some brilliant inclusions from Rough Trade, Melissa Manchester and Missing Persons that you don't really hear anymore.

14. 1982 With A Bullet

Chart debut: May 10, 1982
Peak: number 1 (five weeks)
Biggest hit: "What About Me?" by Moving Pictures (number 1 for six weeks)
Smallest hit: "Beserk Warriors" by Mental As Anything (number 30)
Best song: "Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode
Worst song: "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by Tight Fit, but Bill Wyman's "Come Back Suzanne" is a close second.
Here's another one from 1982, the year "Centrefold", "Mickey", "Just Can't Get Enough" and "What About Me?" were all massive in Australia. 1982 With A Bullet also featured fantastic but now over-looked hits by Duran Duran, ONJ, Jo Kennedy, Barry Manilow and The Church, and had the good sense to stick "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" on the end of Side One so you could take the album off before having to endure it.

13. 1985 Hottest On Record

Chart debut: October 14, 1985
Peak: number 3
Biggest hit: "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" by Tina Turner (number 1 for three weeks)
Smallest hit: "Home For My Heart" by Tim Finn (number 87)
Best song: "Out Of Mind Out Of Sight" by Models
Worst song: "Idiot Grin" by Do-Re-Mi
Hottest on record? Well, it does contain some of the best songs of mid-1985, but there are a few random inclusions by DeBarge, Tim Finn and Do-Re-Mi that the compilers must have thought would perform better given the acts' track records. They're the only songs preventing this album from truly living up to its title, with excellent tracks from Huey Lewis And The News, Models, Eurythmics, The Pointer Sisters, Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder, Go West and The Motels providing a pretty accurate snapshot of what I was listening to and trying to tape off the radio at that point in time.

Chart debut: December 9, 1985
Peak: number 2
Biggest hit: "I Got You Babe" by UB40 with Chrissie Hynde (number 1 for three weeks)
Smallest hit: "Cold Fever" by Models (number 36)
Best song: "Current Stand" by Kids In The Kitchen
Worst song: "I'd Die To Be With You Tonight" by Jimmy Barnes
What is it with starting compilations with minor Queen hits (see also: 1986... Just For Kicks)? That sequencing issue aside, this album (which slots in appropriately between the ones either side) is notable for including the only hits for a solo Midge Ure and the Duran Duran spin-off project Arcadia. Plus, there was the power ballad return of Heart, Pseudo Echo's best single and the feminist anthem from Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin.

Chart debut: April 28, 1986
Peak: number 1 (three weeks)
Biggest hit: "When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going" by Billy Ocean (number 1 for six weeks)
Smallest hit: "Sanctify Yourself" by Simple Minds (number 46)
Best song: "Chain Reaction" by Diana Ross
Worst song: "Ride The Night Away" by Jimmy Barnes (sorry!)
As 1985 moved into 1986, pop music just got better and, the last two tracks of Side Two aside, this collection gathered a lot of my favourites. From Aussie synthpop (Pseudo Echo, Venetians, Jump Incorporated) to Aussie pop/rock (Icehouse, Hoodoo Gurus); British bands (Go West, Pet Shop Boys, Simple Minds) to female singers (Princess, Diana Ross, Stevie Nicks), 1986 Way To Go had it all - even that song that ended up in a Listerine commercial.

Chart debut: August 27, 1984
Peak: number 2
Biggest hit: "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (number 4 for two weeks)
Smallest hit: "Happy Ending" by Joe Jackson
Best song: "The Reflex" by Duran Duran just edges out "Sweet And Sour" by The Takeaways
Worst song: "Bird Of Paradise" by Snowy White
Proof that sometimes it was better to err on the side of caution and go with eight tracks a side instead of nine, 1984... The Music would have been close to faultless if it had omitted the final song on both sides. But given it's the compilation with the lowest charting biggest hit (i.e. no singles that reached number 3 or higher), it's done pretty well. Besides the tunes mentioned above, highlights include "Doctor! Doctor", "People Are People", "A Beat For You", "Bitter Desire" and that dance version of "To Sir With Love". I even like the Slade song.

9. Choose 1985

Chart debut: December 3, 1984
Peak: number 1 (nine weeks)
Biggest hit: "What's Love Got To Do With It" by Tina Turner (number 1 for one week)
Smallest hit: "I Walk Away" by Split Enz (number 45)
Best song: "Jump (For My Love)" by The Pointer Sisters
Worst song: I have an equal amount of hatred for "Soul Kind Of Feeling" by Dynamic Hepnotics and "Agadoo" by Black Lace.
This was always going to be on the list, wasn't it? But it may not be quite as high as you would think, especially given it was the compilation that easily spent the longest time at number 1 in the decade (in a pre-compilations chart world). But the presence of two tracks I like even less than the included Jimmy Barnes song should help explain why I don't rank Choose 1985 as highly as what's to come. I also never really got into "Ghostbusters" as much as the rest of the world. Bonus points for songs by Machinations, Jermaine Jackson, Split Enz, John Waite, Corey Hart, Hazell Dean and U2 (before they went boring for a while).

8. Summer '87

Chart debut: December 8, 1986
Peak: number 1 (two weeks)
Biggest hit: "You're The Voice" by John Farnham (number 1 for seven weeks)
Smallest hit: "You Give Love A Bad Name" by Bon Jovi (number 32)
Best song: "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Communards
Worst song: "What's The Colour Of Money" by Hollywood Beyond
This is an interesting one. Summer '87 contains some of my absolute favourite songs from 1986 - "Dancing On The Ceiling", "Two Of Hearts", "Heartache All Over The World", "Dreams Of Ordinary Men' and two that feature in my year-end top 10. But then it spoils it by including two tracks that really irritate me: "Missionary Man" and "What's The Colour Of Money". Interestingly, the album sneaked in Bon Jovi's breakthrough hit, even though it didn't reach the top 50 until March 1987. Thanks to its premature appearance on this chart-topping compilation, "You Give Love A Bad Name" probably didn't end up being as big as it could've been.

7. 1984 Shakin'

Chart debut: March 5, 1984
Peak: number 1 (two weeks)
Biggest hit: "Love Is A Battlefield" by Pat Benatar (number 1 for five weeks)
Smallest hit: "Chinese I's (Here Come The Minute Men)" by Venetians (number 63)
Best song: "Twist Of Fate" by Olivia Newton-John
Worst song: "Bon Voyage" by The Little Heroes
Despite having the worst cover art of any compilation not just from the '80s but ever (what even is that?), 1984 Shakin' is a treasure trove of great pop nuggets. Like Pseudo Echo's debut single, ONJ's best song, Real Life's other big hit, long-forgotten tunes by Tim Finn and Cliff Richard, as well as Venetians, QED, Kids In The Kitchen, Hall & Oates... I could list most of the tracklisting, but I won't.

Chart debut: August 30, 1982
Peak: number 1 (five weeks)
Biggest hit: "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (number 1 for five weeks)
Smallest hit: "Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out)" by Rocky Sharpe & The Replays (number 39)
Best song: "Hungry Like The Wolf" by Duran Duran
Worst song: "Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out)" by Rocky Sharpe & The Replays (ugh)
Deservedly the highest compilation from 1982 on this list, 1982 Out Of The Blue really does cram in a lot of great songs and minimal duds. There's the Ray Parker Jr song that charted higher than "Ghostbusters" and Rick Springfield's other '80s top 10 hit. And from "I Ran" to "I Love Rock 'n' Roll", "It Must Be Love" to "Do You Believe In Love", "Love Plus One" to "One Perfect Day", it's wall-to-wall classics (although I never was that keen on the Adrian Gurvitz song of the same name).

Chart debut: April 7, 1986
Peak: number 4
Biggest hit: "We Built This City" by Starship (number 1 for four weeks)
Smallest hit: "It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back)" by Eurythmics (number 32)
Best song: "Hit That Perfect Beat" by Bronski Beat
Worst song: "Face The Face" by Pete Townshend
You know when the worst song on a compilation isn't so bad that things are getting serious. Controversially dropping the year from its title, All The Hits also only featured one Australian act (Eurogliders) on its tracklisting. Still, with a-ha, The Cars, The Cure, Fine Young Cannibals and Mr Mister, as well as the double of "You're A Friend Of Mine" and "That's What Friends Are For" all making the cut, I'm not complaining.

Chart debut: April 30, 1984
Peak: number 1 (five weeks)
Biggest hit: "All Night Long (All Night)" by Lionel Richie (number 1 for six weeks)
Smallest hit: "Kiss The Bride" by Elton John (number 25)
Best song: "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
Worst song: "Sticky Music" by Sandii And The Sunsetz
With every one of its 18 tracks peaking in the top 25 of the ARIA chart, Throbbin' '84 is a masterclass in how to put a compilation together (although not in how to give it a title). Unfortunately, I don't like two of the songs - "Sticky Music" and "Cum On Feel The Noize" - but every other track is fantastic. Besides the obvious tunes you still hear today all the time, shout out to "Just Be Good To Me", "Blue Day", "Talking In Your Sleep" and "In A Big Country".

Chart debut: August 29, 1983
Peak: number 1 (two weeks)
Biggest hit: "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" by Bonnie Tyler (number 1 for six weeks)
Smallest hit: "Street CafĂ©" by Icehouse (number 57)
Best song: "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" by Wham!
Worst song: "Buffalo Gals" by Malcolm McLaren
Again, the worst song on this album isn't one I actively hate - I just tire of it quickly. Otherwise, The Breakers '83 has very little for me to complain about, with it containing the better version of "Der Kommissar", under-rated singles by INXS, Icehouse, The Style Council and Tears For Fears, and megastars Michael Jackson, Elton John and Prince all on the one side. It's interesting the album's biggest hit is tucked away as the last song - something that's not exclusive to this release. I wonder if market research suggested long-running chart-toppers that people might be sick of aren't the best songs to kick off a compilation with. Or maybe they just wanted a big, melodramatic finish.

Chart debut: August 13, 1984
Peak: number 1 (five weeks)
Biggest hit: "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham! (number 1 for seven weeks)
Smallest hit: "What Is Love?" by Howard Jones (number 31)
Best song: "What Is Love?" by Howard Jones
Worst song: "I've Been To Bali Too" by Redgum
Coming in to this, I pretty much knew what was going to take out the number 1 spot. But then I went down the tracklisting for the punningly titled Hits Huge '84 and thought I'd have to revise my long-held belief about what album was the best compilation of the '80s. Until I came to that Redgum song - the only blight on an impeccable various artists collection. Featuring landmark hits by Wham!, Madonna, Eurogliders and Cyndi Lauper; both Nik Kershaw and Howard Jones; a couple of breakdance tracks; synthpop from Berlin and Wang Chung; great Aussie pop/rock from Electric Pandas, INXS, Icehouse and Dragon; and "Oh Sherrie", it's a worthy runner-up.

Chart debut: June 29, 1987 (exactly 30 years ago this week!)
Peak: number 3
Biggest hit: "Boom Boom (Let's Go Back To My Room)" by Paul Lekakis (number 1 for five weeks)
Smallest hit: "Rock The Night" by Europe (number 22)
Best song: "Boom Boom (Let's Go Back To My Room)" by Paul Lekakis
Worst song: "At This Moment" by Billy Vera And The Beaters
What makes '87 Right On Track the best compilation album of the '80s? 
1) I can listen to it from beginning to end without wanting to skip a song - something that was especially important when skipping a song used to mean having to get up and move the needle (or fast forward the appropriate amount). That's right, every single track meets my definition of a good song. Every. Single. Track.
2) It features the 1987 Eurodance trinity of "Boom Boom", "Love And Devotion" and "Male Stripper".
3) It contains awesome pop hits by Mel & Kim, Wang Chung, The Pretenders and Wa Wa Nee that are often overshadowed by their other, better known singles.
4) Even the rock songs - "What's My Scene?", "Rock The Night" and "Midnight Blue" - are good.
5) It has amazing one-hit wonders Club Nouveau, Jody Watley and Breakfast Club.
6) And two movie soundtrack smashes, courtesy of Dave Dobbyn with Herbs and Starship.
I rest my case.

Thanks for indulging me as I've celebrated the best compilations from an era of outstanding various artists collections. Tomorrow, it's business as usual as I meet back up with the first ARIA chart I ever collected and take a fresh look at it.


  1. What about '88 The Winners?

  2. I didn't know you loathed "A Soul kind of Feeling". I like that song quite a bit, has a cheesy/jazz vibe to it. I really don't like "Cum on feel the noise" so I'd agree with you there although I have a couple of rock head mates who blast that song up. As always great compilation of mostly brilliant songs!

    1. I actually prefer Cum On... to Soul Kind... For some reason I found the latter kind of smug, if that makes sense.

  3. Including a track on one of these compilations was, in some ways, a double-edged sword. The good - you might help the song/artist gain wider exposure than it otherwise would have. The bad - someone who likes the song/artist might not bother buying the single (or album) if they already have the song they know and like on one of these albums. I do find it slightly strange that tracks like 'You Give Love a Bad Name' and 'Warning!' went on to become (minor) hits months after being featured on these albums. But sometimes an initial flop featured on one of these compilations went on to become a big hit - Sam Brown's 'Stop!' and Womack & Womack's 'Teardrops' are the best examples I can think of. Both were included on '1989 Be Happy', probably as fillers (the album resorts to including several flops), but were later re-used on 'Hits of '89 Volume 1' and 'Hits of '89 Volume 2' after actually becoming hits.

    My main gripe with '87 Right On Track is that 'We Connect' doesn't appear on the CD version. The version of the track included was, I believe, exclusive to Australia as the single version here, and I prefer it, with the longer instrumental break in the middle. I resorted to buying one of those Concept compilations on CD a few years ago which had the track on it (possibly the only place it appears on CD), hoping it would be the same mix, and it was... except it fades out 13 seconds earlier than it should, for reasons unknown.

    1. Yes, replacing At This Moment with We Connect would've made 87 Right On Track even more perfect!

  4. Man I miss this stuff!

    The various artists albums had great songs and all but I also miss the artwork, on those LP sleeves (and yes that "1984 Shakin'" cover is pretty naff) . And also, the titles were great how they included the year, "1986 Way To Go", etc. They linked them in to a particular time period and made it easier to remember which year so-and-so song came out. Except for those ones which gave the following year. Annoying.

    How I wish they had continued that! Imagine collecting "Up Yer Bum '97", "1994…The Cheesy Euro Hits", and "Kiss My Butt '03" on CD.

    1. My parents own 'Ripper '76', which has a torn netball skirt on the cover with the artist names painted on the woman's butt. Well worth looking up the sleeve on discogs if you haven't seen it, for a laugh.