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  • Gavin Scott

This Week In 1986: April 13, 1986

This week in 1986, my favourite group of all time entered the ARIA top 50 with their debut single. Of course, they weren't yet my favourite group of all time - that'd take a few more years and several more singles. But it was a promising start.

It was second time lucky for Pet Shop Boys with "West End Girls"

Except, of course, this wasn't really the start. The song dated back to 1984 and had already been released once (at least in the UK). And, the pop duo had charted in the ARIA top 100 with their third single earlier in 1986. But, this was when things really got going.

Speaking of going... "When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going" by Billy Ocean was starting to make a nuisance of itself at number 1, spending its fifth straight week on top, much to the chagrin of Martin Plaza stuck behind at number 2 yet again.

Off The Chart

Number 97 Love Will Grow - Rosebud Volume 1 by The Stems

Peak: number 72

An improvement on their debut top 100 appearance with "Tears Me In Two", this EP by the Perth indie band doesn't ever seem to have been followed by a second volume.

Number 96 "Is That It?" by Katrina & The Waves

Peak: number 82

Since you ask, Katrina... yes, it pretty much is. There were no more top 50 hits for the almost one-hit wonders, with this lead single from Waves the first of three further top 100 entries. You can read about the other two here and here.

Number 91 "For America" by Jackson Browne

Peak: number 84

After the sunny duet with Clarence Clemons, "You're A Friend Of Mine", Jackson Browne took a turn for the serious with this socio-political first single from Lives In The Balance

Number 86 "Give Blood" by Pete Townshend

Peak: number 77

Here's another act following up a top 10 single with a flop. Featuring Toto's drummer, Paul Young's bassist and Pink Floyd's singer/guitarist, the track is OK but understandably not the hit "Face The Face" was.

Number 78 "Somebody" by Bryan Adams

Peak: number 76

I seem to write about a non-top 50 single from Bryan Adams every few weeks. This time, it's a song that was originally released between "Run To You" and "Heaven" that either didn't come out locally or, if it did, missed the top 100 entirely.

New Entries

Number 48 "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A. (A Salute To 60's Rock) / Under The Boardwalk" by John Cougar Mellencamp

Peak: number 18

After the surprising failure of "Small Town" in Australia, John Cougar Mellencamp was back in the top 50 - and achieving his best placing since "Jack & Diane" (number 7 in 1982) - with the third single from Scarecrow. As its subtitle suggests, "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A." is inspired by music from the '60s and the good-time, throwback feel of the song jarred with the more earnest, political feel of the rest of the album, so much so that it almost didn't make it on. The single didn't come completely without social commentary, however, with the music video depicting an African-American vocal group collaborating with a Caucasian band. On the single's double A-side, JCM gave his salute to '60s soul, with a remake of "Under The Boardwalk" by The Drifters.

Number 49 "Calling America" by Electric Light Orchestra

Peak: number 47

They'd been scoring big hits in Australia since "Livin' Thing" (number 2 in early 1977), but it'd been three years since the world had heard any new material from Electric Light Orchestra and it would seem that music had moved on in their absence. This lead single from Balance Of Power, which also just scraped into the top 50 albums chart, sounded like vintage ELO - and that was exactly the problem, since that sound had become dated by 1986. "Calling America" would be the band's final top 100 appearance in both Australia and, ironically, the US.

Number 42 "Far Side Of Crazy" by Wall Of Voodoo

Peak: number 23

Here's another band last seen on the ARIA chart in 1983, but in the case of Wall Of Voodoo, that had been only their first top 50 appearance. Like breakthrough hit "Mexican Radio", "Far Side Of Crazy" blended new wave sounds with spaghetti Western guitar riffs, but there was a major difference in the group's sound: they had a new lead singer. Following the departure of Stan Ridgway (along with a couple of other members), the remainder of Wall Of Voodoo hired Andy Prieboy and carried on as (more or less) normal.

Number 40 "Eloise" by The Damned

Peak: number 8

Punk legends The Damned had been releasing music almost as long as ELO, but only hit their commercial stride in the mid-'80s. Their biggest hit of all was this remake of the 1968 single by Barry Ryan, a three-week number 1 in Australia in early 1969. With singer Dave Vanian's vampire-like stylings and the song's tendency for the melodramatic, "Eloise" was certainly the most flamboyant song on the top 50. Unfortunately, it was a one-off thing in Australia, with none of The Damned's six other UK top 40 hits from 1985-1987 making any impact locally. 

Number 36 "West End Girls" by Pet Shop Boys

Peak: number 5

Of the many groups to hit the ARIA top 50 this week, only one would go on to become my all-time favourite. That's right, Pet Shop Boys have pride of place as my top group thanks to a decades-long career of intelligent synthpop. It all began with "West End Girls", an early version of which had been given a limited release in 1984. Then came the first version of "One More Chance" and the original version of "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money)", which reached the Australian top 100 earlier in 1986.

In 1985, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe signed a major label record deal, and their early singles were remixed and given a full promotional push by Parlophone. The result: "West End Girls" reached number 1 in both the UK and the US. The half-spoken, half-sung track established Pet Shop Boys' deadpan delivery - both in terms of Neil's vocal and, in the music video, Chris's tendency to stand around in the background looking surly.

In Australia, the track was a top 5 hit and remains to this day as Pet Shop Boys' highest charting single locally under their own name (although "Absolutely Fabulous" by Absolutely Fabulous, which was essentially PSB with dialogue snippets from the TV comedy, reached number 2). I like "West End Girls" - and it's one of the rare songs I know all the words for - but it's not my favourite single by the pair. Not even close.

Number 29 "Baby, You're So Strange" by Icehouse

Peak: number 14

As I mentioned when we saw "No Promises" debut last year, it'd been a long time since Icehouse had seen the inside of the Australian top 20 (after landing there with their first six singles). But with "Baby, You're So Strange", the band managed what they hadn't been able to do with such under-rated songs as "Don't Believe Anymore", "Taking The Town" and "Dusty Pages". In theory the second single from Measure For Measure, since "No Promises" was also included on their fourth LP, "Baby, You're So Strange" was the most raucous the band had sounded - and the song certainly made people sit up, take notice, and go out and buy the album. Measure For Measure duly became Icehouse's fourth top 10 album - a strike rate they managed up until 1990's Code Blue

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

Next week: two bands return with their first new music in two years - one, a headline-grabbing pop outfit from the UK and the other, an American hard rock group testing out their new lead singer. Plus, two more bands punk roots debut with their first new songs in two years.

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