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  • Gavin Scott

This Week In 1989: March 19, 1989

It wasn't every week that the biggest female artist on the planet released a brand new single - but this week in 1989, the Queen of Pop returned to the ARIA chart following an absence of more than 12 months.

Madonna fans' prayers were answered this week in 1989

She wasn't the only star who'd risen to fame earlier in the decade to debut with a new song this week in 1989, but she was far and away the most successful of the artists returning to the chart with fresh material.

The best thing about Madonna's high debut was that it meant that The Proclaimers' days at number 1 were numbered. Yep, "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" spent its fifth and final week atop the ARIA singles chart.


"Big Fun" by Inner City

Peak: number 57

House music had been a chart staple in the UK for well over a year by this stage in 1989, but Australia was still proving mostly resistant to the dance movement. Sure, ultra-commercial fare like Yazz's "The Only Way Is Up" and "Theme From S-Express" by S-Express performed well locally, but other UK top 10 acts like Bomb The Bass, D-Mob, Coldcut, Beatmasters and Inner City had gone largely unnoticed here.

Comprised of Detroit techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson and vocalist Paris Grey, Inner City was one of the most influential house acts in the late '80s and released a string of club hits over the ensuing decade. It all began with dance classic "Big Fun", which was charting in Australia simultaneously with follow-up "Good Life", a song that - spoiler alert - we'll get to next week.

"Surrender To Me" by Robin Zander & Ann Wilson

Peak: number 51

"Up Where We Belong", "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life", "Endless Love", "Separate Lives"... no '80s film was complete without the obligatory love theme duet. This song, which just missed the ARIA top 50, teamed Heart's Ann Wilson with Robin Zander from Cheap Trick and appeared in the Mel Gibson/Michelle Pfeiffer/Kurt Russell film, Tequila Sunrise.

I've never seen the movie and only barely remember "Surrender To Me" (probably because it's fairly forgettable), but both film and song were pretty successful in the US, with the duet reaching the Billboard top 10.

For Ann, it was her second soundtrack power ballad to hit the US top 10 but just miss the Australian top 50 - "Almost Paradise" (with Loverboy's Mike Reno) from Footloose peaked at number 7 in the States but only managed number 52 here in 1984

New Entries

Number 39 "Love Train" by Holly Johnson

Peak: number 35

Here's our first returning star: the former frontman for mid-'80s sensations Frankie Goes To Hollywood - although it wasn't a given that Holly would actually be able to embark on a solo career after he quit the three-time UK chart-topping band. FGTH's label, ZTT, attempted to prevent Holly (real name: William) from releasing music with another record company, but Holly sued and was granted his freedom.

His first post-Frankie single, "Love Train", complete with its cartoony video and Stock Aitken Waterman-ish production, was about as far removed from the hard-edged music of his former band as you could get - although the lyrics were as innuendo-laden as you'd expect from the man who co-wrote "Relax".

Number 37 "Chained To The Wheel" by The Black Sorrows

Peak: number 9

Here's the single that changed everything for Joe Camilleri's latest musical venture, which had so far landed two minor hits in the form of "Daughters Of Glory" and "Hold On To Me". The Vika and Linda-featuring "Chained To The Wheel" not only hit the top 10 on the singles chart but prompted parent album Hold On To Me to re-enter the albums chart, where it peaked at number 7 and spent almost a year in total in the top 50. Despite being another Aussie rock song about a truck (see also: "Driving Wheels"), it was also a song I quite liked - especially the "wheel... chained to the wheel" post-chorus bit.

Number 34 "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart" by Marc Almond featuring special guest star Gene Pitney

Peak: number 24

Returning star number two is Marc Almond, the singer for synthpop duo Soft Cell, who, despite having a number of hit singles in the UK, were one-hit wonders in Australia thanks to number 1 smash "Tainted Love". Marc had previously collaborated with Bronski Beat on "I Feel Love (Medley)" (a number 34 single in Australia in 1985), but this cover version was his only Australian hit as lead artist. His guest on this remake was one of the first performers of the oft-covered track - and our third returning star of the week: Gene Pitney, who'd last been seen on the Australian top 50 back in 1975.

Like this duet, which topped the British singles chart for four weeks, Gene's 1967 version of "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart" had been much bigger in the UK (where it hit number 5) than Australia (where it peaked at number 69). However, Gene did manage a tally of eight top 10 hits overall in Australia - from 1962's number 3 hit "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" to "Blue Angel", a number 2 record in 1975.

Number 3 "Like A Prayer" by Madonna

Peak: number 1

Between her 1984 breakthrough and the end of 1987, Madonna landed 17 hit singles on the Australian top 50 (including four number 1s). Then, no doubt aware that a backlash was inevitable unless she cooled it for a while, the biggest female recording artist on the planet released nothing for more than 12 months. It was just the latest move in a pretty faultless career path to that point - and one which ensured anticipation for the lead single from her fourth studio album was intense.

Musically, "Like A Prayer" was like nothing Madonna had released up until that point and was an even bigger stylistic reinvention than "Live To Tell" had been in 1986. Not only was it a more mature record than anything she'd put her name to before, but its gospel influences and big, bold sound made even naysayers sit up and take notice. "Like A Prayer" was Madonna proving she was more than just a provocative, midriff-bearing pop star.

Not that she didn't still push people's buttons, which is where the music video for "Like A Prayer" came in. Stigmata, an African-American Jesus-type figure, burning crosses and Madonna's dancing-cum-writhing in church... there were plenty of things to which religious conservatives could object. And they did. As a result of the furore, Madonna's much-hyped Pepsi commercial was pulled and she was banned by the Vatican. Naturally, it all just helped "Like A Prayer" become one of Madonna's biggest hits - and, in Australia, the highest-selling single of 1989, spending five non-consecutive weeks at number 1 between late-March and mid-May. Now, that's how you stage a comeback.

Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1989:

Next week: four debuts from Australian pop acts (two groups with keytar players, a dodgy Yazz wannabe and the owner of the highest-selling album in the UK for the year). Plus: the return of one of my favourite singers of the late '80s.

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