An average run as 1985 kicks off at Popular.
I’d always thought Foreigner were American rather than three-quarters British. It’s right there in the band name, of course, but who takes those literally? Next they’ll be telling us that Chicago hailed from Chicago and Boston were from Boston. But to be fair, Lou Gramm was so much of what made Foreigner memorable that a lot of us never paid much attention to the band itself.
This was number one in Australia for five weeks, so we had plenty of time to ponder what love was. Its picture sleeve (a blocky F on a black background) sums up my impression of the song: a big, solid weight dropping onto the charts of the world, like a giant brick plummeting to earth from the void. HERE IS THE QUESTION, it shouts, AND THE ANSWER IS IN HEAVEN. What with the gospel choir and Lou Gramm’s latest release being a Christian rock album, could this in fact be considered part of the 1980s boom in Christian rock? Stryper by stealth?
It’s all too bombastic for me, in a way that U2’s gospel choir experiments never felt. I acknowledge the craft, particularly in Gramm’s performance, but it didn’t move me to part with my hard-earned then and wouldn’t now. 4.
To me this song has always represented Thatcher’s Britain when she was most in command: that 1985 moment when the Tories were riding high, the Cold War gloom had lifted slightly, the miners’ strike was over, bankers were getting rich, and everyone was going to West End musicals. I suspect it fused in my mind with the Goodies’ parody of Evita, which had Tim Brooke-Taylor in drag as Thatcher/Peron singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Marge and Tina”.
I can’t have been alone in seeing it as a UK song that didn’t really speak to Australia, because after entering our charts in March it reached only number 21, although it did hang around for six months. It wasn’t that we weren’t aware of Chess: we sent “One Night in Bangkok” all the way to the top.
Listening to it now, the sense of what might have been had ABBA still been together is strong, but their late singles make me wonder whether this would ever have been an ABBA track, given where their music seemed to be heading. All hypothetical, of course, but it’s fun to wonder. (Actually, I’d be just as happy if the last singles hadn’t existed and their final word was effectively “Like An Angel Passing Through My Room”.)
This is solid in many ways, as one would expect from Benny and Björn (and Rice, come to that), but the staginess of the vocals isn’t really my thing, and as I have no “I was there” nostalgia for the track I’ll give it 5.
Revisiting this was more of a revelation than I expected, because I’d never connected it to Stock-Aitken-Waterman before (nor Divine’s “You Think You’re a Man”), although it’s glaringly obvious now. In early 1985 I didn’t really think of SAW as SAW, I guess; they were just anonymous names in the background. But the first song I thought of as a SAW production (Bananarama’s “Venus” in 1986, an Australian number one) sounds basically like this with different vocals—which was SAW all over, wasn’t it?
The different vocals here were key, though, as Pete Burns was a more forceful and intriguing performer than the later SAW roster. They howl out of the hi-NRG backing and grab our attention, pushing the beats down to where they don’t seem as mechanical and obvious. And of course there was the video; Burns is about the only interesting thing in it, but it hardly needs anything else. (My favourite moment in it is when the other members of the band are spun round at a speed unlike any record anyone’s ever seen. What is that, 8 rpm? Definitely not 45.)
Number three in Australia, and a six from me, which for a SAW track is pretty good going. But who knows, I may yet surprise myself. We shall see, SAW.
There was a study that did the rounds of the web a year or two ago where someone ran an experiment on whether the same songs would rise to the top of the charts in two matched populations. What they found was just how random it can be, and how our notions of what constitutes a quality song can be so contingent on whether it chanced to be a hit. While some songs did comparably well in different charts, some smashes in one chart were nowhere to be seen in another. The kind of study to strike fear into the heart of any record company exec, band manager or aspiring pop star.
All of which is a preamble to how well this song performed in the parallel-world charts of my youth:
Phil Collins: 14-Jan-85*HP-73*WI-03 - Easy Lover (w/ Philip Bailey)
Three weeks in the Australian charts and peaking at number 73. When I hear the name Philip Bailey, I think of “Walking On the Chinese Wall” before this. When I see that that it was number two in the States as well, it’s even more baffling that it was nowhere to be heard on our radios in 1985.
So let’s have a listen...
Standard AOR pop rock, a tad too long, sounds like it could be from 1980 rather than 1985. Harmless enough, but hasn’t got its hooks into me on first listen; I don’t feel inclined to re-listen now, but repeated radio exposure back in the day might have worn me down. 5.