This Week In 1984: November 4, 1984
The phrase "jump the shark" is usually employed in relation to the moment when TV shows go from awesome to awful, but it could equally be used to describe the song that ruins a music act's career.
This week in 1984, one of the biggest bands of the previous couple of years debuted with a single that was arguably the sound of them jumping the shark. Yes, it almost got to number 1, but it's viewed fairly dimly these days and was followed by a rapid fall from grace.
The song that blocked our jump the shark single from the top spot for three straight weeks was at number 1 this week in 1984. "I Just Called To Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder spent its third of eight weeks on top.
Off The Chart
Number 100 "Go Insane" by Lindsey Buckingham
Peak: number 100
His last solo album, 1981's Law And Order, produced number 1 hit "Trouble", but this lead single and title track from Go Insane placed the Fleetwood Mac member at the opposite end of the chart.
Number 94 "Shine Shine" by Barry Gibb
Peak: number 87
We saw brother Robin make the top 50 a few weeks ago, but Barry Gibb had no such luck with this genre-blending first single from his debut solo album, Now Voyager.
Peak: number 9
Pop stars and movies are an unpredictable combination. And for every Purple Rain, there's a Give My Regards To Broad Street, which saw Paul McCartney play a version of himself on the big screen for the first time since his days in The Beatles. But while the movie itself was pretty widely panned, the soundtrack did quite well. Mostly containing new versions of songs from throughout Paul's career (both solo and with The Beatles), the album also featured new track "No More Lonely Nights", which became Paul's first non-duet top 10 hit since 1980's "Coming Up". It would be the last time he'd get anywhere near that high on his own, but of course featured on two top 10 hits (with Kanye West, and Kanye and Rihanna) in 2015.
Number 24 "The War Song" by Culture Club
Peak: number 2
Since their breakthrough with "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me", Culture Club had enjoyed a stellar chart career, with four top 5 singles and two other top 20 hits to their name. The lowest they'd reached on the ARIA chart in that time had been the number 26 peak of "Miss Me Blind" — the fifth single from their last album. So it was little surprise that brand new recording "The War Song" rushed straight into the chart at number 24 and had jumped to number 2 within two weeks (and stayed there for three weeks in total).
But despite its success, "The War Song" is credited with ruining Culture Club's career. First there was the song itself and its simplistic "war, war is stupid and people are stupid" refrain. Yes, there was a serious point in there somewhere about the glorification of armed conflict, but the childlike approach to its subject matter undermined any attempt to make a statement. Then there was the overblown Russell Mulcahy-directed music video. New bright red hair! Combat wear as runway apparel! Fright wigs! Stacks of kids dressed as skeletons! A tank! Perhaps what Culture Club needed was someone who'd say "no" every once in a while.
Don't get me wrong — I actually liked "The War Song" at the time, but I was nine years old. And while I still don't mind it, I can see why it dropped out of the chart just as quickly, lasting just 12 weeks in the top 50, which for a song which spent three of those weeks at number 2 isn't great. A similar fate befell the album, Waking Up With The House On Fire, which also peaked at number 2, but spent just 16 weeks on the top 100 compared to the 68-week tally of Colour By Numbers.
Perhaps if Culture Club had better material to follow "The War Song", it might've been viewed as an attention-grabbing novelty in the midst of their otherwise high-quality pop. But Waking Up... is generally considered substandard and rushed. And follow-up singles "The Medal Song" or "Mistake No. 3" (depending which country you lived in) weren't up to much, and performed accordingly.
Number 22 "Why?" by Bronski Beat
Peak: number 10
Bounding up from number 54 to enter the top 50 two places above "The War Song" was the latest from synthpop trio Bronski Beat, whose previous single "Smalltown Boy" dropped out of the top 50 this week. Like its predecessor (and "The War Song"), "Why?" was a song with a political point to make — once again speaking about homophobia. The difference between Bronski Beat's approach and that of Culture Club couldn't have been wider (and not just because of their music videos' respective budgets). Subtle (well, compared to "The War Song") and a sophisticated pop song, "Why?" still resonates today.
After two top 10 hits in a row, Bronski Beat would fare considerably less well with their next two singles (covers "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "I Feel Love (Medley)"), but would revisit those highs in early 1986 once singer Jimmy Somerville had moved on to form Communards. "Smalltown Boy" and "Why?" would also return to the chart — kind of — when both were worked in to "Tell Me Why" by Supermode in 2006.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1984:
Next week: new singles from two of the biggest acts on the planet, the follow-up to the number 1 record of 1983 and the first hit for a two-hit wonder band.