A Popular grab-bag.

Stevie Wonder, “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, 8 September 1984

Stevie Wonder might have been impressive in the 1970s, but his mastery of the keyboard and instinct for timeless lyrics are displayed to their best effect here, alongside vocals full of the passion and power we had come to expect from the performer of “Higher Ground”. An undeniable 10.

...is what I might have written if I actually liked this song, which I oh-so-definitely don’t. Rather than being romantic, this always sounds to me like a phone call to Grandma Wonder:

“Oh, hello dear, how lovely to hear your voice. What’s the special occasion?”

“No particular reason, Grandma—no New Year’s Day, no Valentine’s Day, no first of spring: I just called to say...”

John Lennon’s “God” it ain’t.

I could only handle two minutes of re-watching this tedious plinkety-plonk before I had to click across to a studio performance of “Superstition”. No change in the past 25 years, then; I loathed it then and loathe it now. When Stevie calls, reach for the Yellow Pages and let your fingertips do the walking. 1.

Wham!, “Freedom”, 20 October 1984

This mostly passed me by at the time, such was my falling out of love with Wham!, and only reached number three in Australia, but it sounds enjoyable enough today; 6 is fair. The lightness of the music stopped me from studying the lyrics too closely before, but they reward the attention. Sign of an ’80s backlash against ’70s free love, perhaps? Given the growing awareness of AIDS with no treatment in sight, that would have made it a good fit for the times.

There’s something quite touching about the early history of George and Andrew. As Wikipedia’s entry on the latter has it, Ridgeley volunteered to take young George Panayiotou “under his wing”, and their shared musical interests grew out of this schoolyard friendship. I can remember similar friendships at school, formed after a nudge from teachers who thought that these shy kids might get along, and I’m still in touch with some of those friends today; without them my life would have been very different. So for all the jibes about where Wham!’s talent lay, we shouldn’t underestimate Ridgeley’s role in making it all happen. Would Michael even have had a solo career if not for that childhood friendship?

Chaka Khan, “I Feel For You”, 10 November 1984

I was surprised to see such a warm reaction to this at Popular; I’d remembered it as a fairly minor song, although it reached number four in Australia. Re-watching it reminds me of my main problem with it: that Chaka seemed such an anonymous presence, her vocals overshadowed by the rest of the production. She’s pretty static in the video, too. I’d been unaware of her previous hits, and didn’t twig to Prince’s and Stevie Wonder’s involvement, so this didn’t feel like much of an event to me at the time. After repeated listens, I still can’t get past the annoying harmonica sound; it ended up everywhere at the time (because of this?), and sounds so dated. The intro is fantastic, though. 6.

Jim Diamond, “I Should Have Known Better”, 1 December 1984

This reached number one in Australia on 1 April 1985, just in time to be crushed by a famous charity juggernaut the following week. “Congratulations, Jim, this one’s going to run and run... April Fool!”

We knew Diamond from his band Ph.D., whose “I Won’t Let You Down” was a hit a few years earlier; Diamond has an unmistakable voice. I had no idea he was Scottish, though; one of the educational features of Popular has been discovering how surprisingly many UK artists of the day were. (He sounds Scottish to me now, of course, after eight years’ immersion in the accent/s.)

The song isn’t as bad as I’d remembered, and I could see it being even better sung by somebody else. I’m wondering what Whitney or Mariah could have done with it back in the day, not that the results would have been my cup of tea. It could also work toned right down. Anything except that mid-’80s backing, really. 4.

30 August 2009 · Music