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  • Gavin Scott

This Week In 1987: May 31, 1987

It's called the difficult second album for a reason. When you've had major success with your debut release, it's a lot to live up to. And there's the conundrum - do you repeat the same formula and risk boring people or do you try something new and potentially alienate your existing fans?

New hair, old sound: Whitney Houston played it safe in 1987

This week in 1987, the biggest new female artist of 1985-86 returned with the first taste of her second album and it quickly became apparent she was sticking with what had worked the first time. And that was just fine, since it gave her another number 1 single in Australia. 

The song she would eventually knock off the top was still at number 1 this week in 1987. "Slice Of Heaven" by Dave Dobbyn with Herbs held on for a second week.

Off The Chart

Number 100 "Battleship Chains" by Georgia Satellites

Peak: number 82

Debut single "Keep Your Hands To Yourself" had been a top 20 hit, but there was no such luck for "Battleship Chains", which was also released by its songwriter Terry Anderson's band, The Woods.

Number 99 "Skye Boat Song" by Roger Whittaker / Des O'Connor

Peak: number 96

Neither had seen the inside of the top 100 since the mid-'70s, and they only barely made it this time with their duet - featuring bonus whistling! - of the Scottish folk tune. A top 10 hit in the UK. 


"Boy Wonder" by Big Pig

Peak: number 59

The aprons were back - in white this time - but the energy of debut single "Hungry Town" was lacking on this more sedate follow-up. It would be almost a year before the percussion-heavy Big Pig would return with single number three - time spent recording their debut album, Bonk, as well as working out what went wrong with "Boy Wonder", I imagine.

New Entries

Number 50 "Let's Wait A While" by Janet Jackson

Peak: number 21

It might've seemed like Janet Jackson's Control album had run out of steam in Australia, what with its two most recent singles missing the top 50. But this tender ballad about taking things slow completely turned things around. Just falling short of the top 20 - it hit number 21 on three separate occasions - "Let's Wait A While" benefitted from showcasing a completely different side to Janet than the four reasonably similar sounding tracks already taken from the album. In the US, "Let's Wait A While" reached number 2, meaning the five singles from Control up until this point had peaked at numbers 4, 3, 1, 5 and 2 - a clean sweep of the top 5.

Number 48 "Caravan Of Love" by The Housemartins

Peak: number 24

Three years earlier, The Flying Pickets' a cappella cover version of Yazoo's "Only You" had taken out the Christmas number 1 spot in the UK. And in December 1986, it looked like The Housemartins would repeat the trick with their remake of Christian-themed "Caravan Of Love", originally recorded by The Isley Brothers splinter group Isley-Jasper-Isley the year earlier. Unfortunately for the four-piece band with crucifixes shaved into their heads, their vocal update of "Caravan Of Love" was knocked off the UK number 1 position a week shy of Christmas. In Australia, the single gave The Housemartins their only hit locally before they went their separate ways in 1988 (two members to The Beautiful South, one to Beats International).

Number 45 "Rock The Night" by Europe

Peak: number 22

In its 15th week, "The Final Countdown" was still inside the top 10 and it was joined on the top 50 this week by the song that was both its follow-up and its predecessor. As well as being the second single from Europe's The Final Countdown album, "Rock The Night" had also been released in Sweden prior to their international breakthrough hit. In 1985, "Rock The Night" - and Europe themselves - had appeared in a half-hour film called On The Loose and the song had reached the Swedish top 5 (accompanied by its original music video). I've always liked "Rock The Night" and believed it should've done even better than its number 22 peak, but it was overshadowed by the unstoppable force of "The Final Countdown". Internationally, the band would have one more hit from The Final Countdown: obligatory power ballad "Carrie", while in Australia, they'd sneak into the top 50 one more time in late 1988.

Number 44 "Let It Be" by Ferry Aid

Peak: number 28

By 1987, charity ensemble records were the go-to means of quickly raising funds and/or awareness for a given cause. Following the Zeebrugge disaster, in which a ferry overturned off the coast of Belgium and 193 people were killed, The Sun enlisted the help of producers Stock Aitken Waterman to pull together a remake of The Beatles' "Let It Be". Why did the newspaper, not normally known for its altruism, organise the recording? Because many of the passengers had taken advantage of a special cheap deal offered by The Sun to ride on the ferry as it made the crossing between England and Belgium. 

Given the paper's reputation for muck raking, pop stars were initially reluctant to be involved, but the good cause at the heart of the single won out. Dubbed Ferry Aid, the ensemble reached number 1 in the UK, but only just made the Australian top 30, probably because many of the performers (like Nick Kamen, Jaki Graham, Level 42's Mark King and Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot from Curiosity Killed The Cat) weren't that well known here and the tragedy didn't have the same impact as it did in the UK.

Number 34 "Roll It On Robbie" by Redgum

Peak: number 34

In April 1987, the infamous Grim Reaper safe sex advertisement had debuted on Australian TV, shocking the country into awareness about the AIDS epidemic. Folk rock band Redgum took a different approach to encouraging condom use. Telling people to "roll it on Robbie" and "slip it on Sam", the lyrics were direct but friendly: "It's a shower and a raincoat, my bald-headed friend... Cause if you're looking down the barrel, you're going to get shot". Ironically, it was the band that died off, with "Roll It On Robbie" proving to be their final single.

Number 13 "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" by Whitney Houston

Peak: number 1

Whitney Houston (and her record company) must've been pretty happy with how her debut album had been received. And so to follow it up, it was pretty much business as usual - down to calling it Whitney instead of Whitney Houston. Many of the same songwriters and producers were enlisted, including George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam (aka Boy Meets Girl), who'd penned her only upbeat hit to date, "How Will I Know". 

Asked to come up with a song for Whitney the husband-and-wife duo delivered "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" - literally. George took the finished demo to the airport to hand it over to Whitney's A&R guy, Clive Davis, saying that if he didn't want it for Whitney, they'd record it for their own album. Needless to say, Clive liked what he heard - and, when it was released as the lead single from Whitney, so too did the singer's fans, who sent it charging into the chart at number 13 on the way to five weeks at number 1. 

Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1987:

Next week: another future chart-topper from a duo that featured on Ferry Aid, plus the solo debut of a singer from an under-rated late '70s/early '80s funk group. And, the only hit from 1987 - or any year? - named after an assassinated US president.

Back to: May 24, 1987 <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<  GO  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Forward to: Jun 7, 1987

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