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  • Gavin Scott

This Week In 1986: July 20, 1986

Cover versions are tricky things. Get them right and they can provide you with major chart success. Get them too right and they will become such massive hits they'll overshadow anything else you ever release. 

"Spirit In The Sky": one of the most played songs at funerals

Just ask the band behind one of the new entries on the ARIA top 50 this week in 1986. Their remake of a number 1 single from 1970 scaled similar chart heights - but not even a subsequent remake could provide them with another hit.

Scaling chart heights this week in 1986 was "Greatest Love Of All" by Whitney Houston, which stole the number 1 spot from Samantha Fox's "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" after just one week. Sam would have her revenge soon enough.

Off The Chart

Number 99 "Kind Words (And A Real Good Heart)" by Joan Armatrading

Peak: number 99

Poor Joan, the singles from her 1986 album, Sleight Of Hand, had about as much luck on the ARIA chart as those from previous release Secret Secrets.

Number 88 "No Money Down" by Lou Reed

Peak: number 75

Australian singles chart success had mostly passed Lou Reed by - even "Walk On The Wild Side" only reached number 100. Thanks to its freaky animatronic video, this single from Mistrial did a little better. 

Number 78 "Like A Rock" by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Peak: number 75

A year later, he'd have two singles in the top 50 simultaneously, but the title track of the rock'n'roll band's fifth album sank like a... stone.


"Bad Boy" by Miami Sound Machine

Peak: number 55

Australia had proved to be quite partial to Miami Sound Machine's Latin-flavoured party jams, with both "Dr Beat" and "Conga" having made the top 40, but the fiesta faltered for the time being as "Bad Boy" became the first of several flops for the group locally. In the US, the second single from Primitive Love became MSM's biggest hit to date, reaching number 8.

New Entries

Number 49 "Look Away" by Big Country

Peak: number 24

It'd been a couple of years since Big Country's rousing semi-eponymous single, "In A Big Country", had reached the ARIA top 10 and, in that time, nothing the Scottish band had released had come close to matching that success. This lead single from third album The Seer still fell short, but did provide Stuart Adamson and co. with another top 30 hit to call their own. Their biggest hit on the UK chart, "Look Away" takes a while to get going before kicking into gear in the chorus, but let's face it - it's no "In A Big Country", is it?

Number 44 "Love Touch" by Rod Stewart

Peak: number 12

Apparently Rod Stewart isn't a fan of this song, which featured in the Robert Redford/Debra Winger/Daryl Hannah film Legal Eagles. That makes two of us. Although, to be fair, this isn't one of his most objectionable songs. Enough people liked the tropical pop of "Love Touch" for it to become Rod's biggest hit in Australia since 1983's "Baby Jane". While record label wrangling kept "Love Touch" off the Legal Eagles soundtrack album, this "song" by Daryl did make the LP.

Number 35 "Exotic And Erotic" by Sandy Marton

Peak: number 19

How has this Eurotrash delight been absent from my life until now? Despite this single from Croatian-born, Italian-based Sandy Marton making the ARIA top 20, I've never heard it before (although the chorus reminds me a little of Sabrina's "Sexy Girl") The synthpop track seems to have taken its time reaching Australia, having been released in 1985 in Europe.

Number 28 "Spirit In The Sky" by Doctor & The Medics

Peak: number 3

In 1970, the original version of "Spirit In The Sky" had peaked at number 1 in Australia and the UK, and reached number 3 in the US for Norman Greenbaum, who seemingly wrote the gospel rock tune on a whim. Sixteen years later, the track was the perfect song for psychedelic-influenced act Doctor & The Medics to cover. Their fairly faithful version returned the song to the UK number 1 spot for the second of its three visits to the top. The third would be a remake by Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates and TV family The Kumars for Comic Relief. In Australia, The Doctor (real name: Clive Jackson), his band and, of course, his gravity-defying hair got as far as number 3. When follow-up "Burn" flopped, the band resorted to another cover - but their take on ABBA's "Waterloo" was also not so warmly received.

Number 24 "Papa Don't Preach" by Madonna

Peak: number 1

We'd already had a taste of Madonna's third album thanks to soundtrack single "Live To Tell", but the debut of "Papa Don't Preach" coincided with the actual release of True Blue, which arrived on the chart the following week at number 2 (blocked from the top spot by Whitney Houston). Accompanied by yet another image change - a bleached blonde pixie cut - "Papa Don't Preach" was Madonna's most serious single yet, dealing with the subject of teen pregnancy. 

Naturally, it was controversial, although it's interesting that Madonna's lyrical input to the track was relatively minor and only after the song had been found for her by the same A&R guy who'd pitched "Like A Virgin". Accompanied by another iconic video - the Italians Do It Better t-shirt, the dance routine in the black bustier, Danny Aiello playing her dad - the song raced to number 1 around the world, including Australia, where it was her fourth chart-topper.

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

Next week: the longest breakup in pop history finally reaches its conclusion as one of the most popular acts of the '80s debuts with their farewell single. Meanwhile, another of the decade's biggest groups falters with their latest release, bringing about their inevitable demise.

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