This Week In 1984: May 20, 1984
Thanks to the gender-bending of Boy George and Marilyn, and the androgyny of Annie Lennox, we'd become used to seeing pop stars exploring all types of gender identity in the mid-'80s. This week in 1984, that continued as one of the world's most enduringly popular bands - comprised of four men - frocked up in the video for their latest single.
The music video, which parodied a long-running British soap opera, helped the song become another top 10 hit for the band around the world... except in North America. Seems a bit of tongue-in-cheek drag action was too much for those conservatives in the US.
A song from a movie set in a typically conservative US town became the new number 1 song in Australia this week in 1984. "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins started a three-week run on top.
Off The Chart
Number 99 "God Bless America" by Models
Peak: number 86
Their immediate follow-up to "I Hear Motion", "No Shoulders, No Head" had missed the top 100 completely - and this latest single from The Pleasure Of Your Company didn't do much better.
Number 98 "Body Work" by Hot Streak
Peak: number 59
Unlike other breakdance-related releases - including another one taken from the Breakin' soundtrack we'll see in July - this one and only single for Hot Streak didn't quite make the grade.
Number 93 "Let The Music Play" by Shannon
Peak: number 62
I guess it's to be expected that the song that launched freestyle - a genre that never took off here - wasn't a hit in Australia. Alongside Madonna's "Holiday", the US top 10 hit also helped establish the post-disco genre of dance-pop.
Number 43 "Wonderland" by Big Country
Peak: number 43
Scotland's Big Country found themselves back in the top 50 with this brand new stand-alone song released between their first and second albums. In the UK, "Wonderland" became the band's biggest hit up until this point, reaching number 8. In Australia, it progressed no further than this debut position - which was probably better than it warranted.
Number 42 "I Want To Break Free" by Queen
Peak: number 8
For the previous decade, Queen had been one of the most consistently successful bands in the world. In Australia, they'd managed two number 1 singles ("Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love") as well as four further top 10 hits. Queen were coming off one of those hits, almost chart-topper "Radio Ga Ga", when they released the second single from The Works, "I Want To Break Free".
Given singer Freddie Mercury's penchant for the flamboyant, the fact that he appeared in drag in the music video wasn't that out of character. But the idea for him - and indeed the whole band - to dress up as parodies of characters from iconic UK soap Coronation Street actually came from Roger Taylor's then-girlfriend. For a band known for earnest anthems like "We Are The Champions" and "Somebody To Love", the video for "I Want To Break Free" was a bit of fun - and most people got the joke.
Most people, except the Americans. Deemed too controversial, the clip was banned by MTV and the single only reached number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100. Coincidence? Besides the Coronation Street pastiche, the video also featured a second sequence in which Freddie performed with The Royal Ballet - a segment for which he shaved off his trademark moustache, despite having kept it for the drag scenes.
Whether or not "I Want To Break Free" would've been as big in Australia with a less attention-grabbing video, we'll never know - it certainly was a strong enough song - but it duly became Queen's seventh top 10 hit. Their eighth wouldn't come for another five years.
Number 34 "Somebody's Watching Me" by Rockwell
Peak: number 12
The Tori Spelling of the music world, Rockwell is the singer otherwise known as Kennedy Gordy, son of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr (and half-brother of Redfoo, but don't hold that against him). Like the story of Tori auditioning for Beverly Hills, 90210 under an alias to dispel assumptions of nepotism, Rockwell's rise to fame wasn't due to him being given any preferential treatment by dear old Dad - in fact, Berry had no clue his son had even been signed to Motown at first.
You can read the full story of "Somebody's Watching Me", which features Rockwell's childhood friend Michael Jackson on uncredited guest vocals and half-brother-in-law Jermaine Jackson on backing vocals, here. Released without publicising his A-list connections (although the Jacko vocal was kind of apparent), the song reached number 2 in the US and peaked just outside the top 10 here. Despite such a solid start, follow-ups like US top 40 single "Obscene Phone Caller" were less successful and Rockwell's career petered out after three albums.
Number 26 "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper
Peak: number 6 I wonder what would've happened if Cyndi Lauper's record company had got their way and released "Time After Time" as the lead single from She's So Unusual. We certainly would've received a very different first impression of the flame-haired singer, that's for sure. In the end, "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" became Cyndi's debut and she quickly showed her range by going from kooky to serious with emotional ballad "Time After Time".
The last track written for the album at the behest of producer Rick Cherotff, who wanted "one more song", "Time After Time" was turned around incredibly quickly by Cyndi and co-writer Rob Hyman (of The Hooters). It was then chosen as her second single and, accompanied by a music video once again featuring wrestler Lou Albano and her ever-sweeping real-life mother, it became another top 10 hit in Australia and Cyndi's first US chart-topper.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1984:
Next week: new singles by two British acts with shared musical history. The first is a singer who was fired by his band-mates and was now making his solo debut. The other is a hugely successful group storming back towards the top 5. The link? The keyboardist for the second act co-produced the big hit by the first act's former band.