A ho-hum run at Popular, with one or two exceptions.

Madonna, “Into the Groove”, 3 August 1985

Madonna’s albums were another of my brother’s departments, but I liked some of the tracks on the first two, especially “Burning Up”. It was to be a while before I really appreciated her in my own right. Re-listening to this, I can remember what triggered the switch: it was when she lost the squeaky cuteness in her voice, which I always found off-putting. Squeaky cuteness didn’t bother me in other performers’ songs, though, so perhaps it was the overtones of predatory squeaky cuteness that were, um, unsettling. As in the cover of Like a Virgin. Not for nothing did we and our friends call her “Madoona”. (A doona in Australian English is a duvet [UK] or comforter [US]. We were teenage boys, after all.)

Plenty of other things about Madonna marked her out as a performer worth attention, of course, including her playful shifts in persona in 1984-85. But “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” (the first being her first Australian number one, for five weeks from 10 December 1984) both appealed to me more than “Into the Groove”, and personally still feel like the biggest early-Madonna landmarks.

Madonna owned the Australian charts for eight weeks in mid-1985, first for the double A-side of this and “Angel”, then for “Crazy for You”. This is certainly the highlight of that trio, but it just wasn’t for me, and these days I can only hear it as ’80s nostalgia rather than as a rediscovery... plus the production sounds a bit too ’80s-thin from this distance. 6.

UB40 and Chrissie Hynde, “I Got You Babe”, 31 August 1985

“Guest vocals by Chrissie Hynde”...

“I got you, babe, a clean towel and washcloth, and there’s extra blankets in the wardrobe if you need them. Oh, and breakfast is from 7 till 9.” —UB&B40.

I wonder if there’s a parallel-universe Popular where those who bought this and “We Are the World” are bemoaning the ones who bought “You Spin Me Round” and “Into the Groove”. This spent three weeks at number one in Australia, and even back then, the idea of it being recorded by two people who had no particular reason to perform together seemed utterly pointless. Still, a cover version can reveal new aspects of the source material, and can add memorable flourishes of its own... nope. Still pointless. The backing is wafer-thin, and one more serving may very well cause me to explode. 2.

David Bowie and Mick Jagger, “Dancing in the Street”, 7 September 1985

Bowie seems to have invented ridiculous big-trouser dances five years before M.C. Hammer. The hands in pockets at the top of the stairs wasn’t a good look.

As over-the-top as this was, it did at least have the saving grace of alerting those of us too young to remember it to the original. (“I Got You Babe” had never really gone away, at least where the AM radio hits ’n’ memories format was concerned.) But as the final number one for two once-great performers, this was a tawdry swansong. I’m relieved to learn that they considered it a one-off for Live Aid—if it had been, it might today have a kind of kitsch charm—but why did they agree to extend its life? Charity is all well and good, but when you’re a millionaire it’s got to be better to write a fat cheque than to don a silly costume and go out shaking a bucket. If you saw someone boogyin’ up to you in those outfits, you’d be dancing around them in the street. 3.

Midge Ure, “If I Was”, 5 October 1985

Reading Midge Ure’s Wikipedia entry was a revelation. Not only did he play a part in “Vienna” and “Fade to Grey”, he was briefly in Thin Lizzy (in between Gary Moore and Snowy White) and turned down the lead singer spot in the Sex Pistols (imagine how different history would have been if he’d taken it... all those London punks dressed up for tourists would have been up here, for a start). A pretty fascinating musical history for someone who wasn’t one of the Big Names.

I was genuinely surprised by the dislike for this track at Popular, when there were so many more offensive 1985 number ones than this. Okay, he messed up the subjunctive, which should really only be of concern to word-tragics like myself, but otherwise it’s a pleasant listen, even though I couldn’t recall it at all until re-watching the video. I suspect it’s precisely because it evokes fond memories of “Vienna” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”, and doesn’t sound very 1985 to my ears as a result. A number 10 in Australia, and a 6 from me.

Jennifer Rush, “The Power of Love”, 12 October 1985

This spent two weeks at number one in Australia, and did nothing for my 17-year-old ears; I imagine I saw it as another sign of a duff chart year, at least in terms of number ones. But my reaction today is surprisingly positive. There’s an earnestness about Rush’s performance that disarms my default dislike of power ballads; the jerky upper-body dance moves on the video only add to that. The European underpinnings may have turned off the American market, but endear it to me: I hadn’t realised that this could be considered part of a mid-’80s mini-invasion of German-related acts, but musically it makes sense.

The lyrics capture that falling-in-love feeling of blissful security tinged with apprehension, and the apprehensive aspect makes for an unusual and effective hook. Tom mentioned the curious disconnect between lines, making them sound contradictory at first. Maybe that’s part of what sold the song: it keeps us focussed on the words, trying to make sense of them—and when you succeed you feel rewarded, like after completing a crossword. I enjoyed that puzzle... I enjoyed that song.

It’s never going to end up on my iPod, but I can see the appeal. 5.

Feargal Sharkey, “A Good Heart”, 16 November 1985

In Australia, people my age were too young and too opposite-end-of-the-earth to remember “Teenage Kicks” (John Peel’s broadcasts didn’t carry that far), and when this was your first exposure to Feargal his high vocals had a certain novelty value. We duly gave “A Good Heart” two weeks at the top in February 1986.

Now, though, it feels like one of the most dated tracks of the time. The energetic concert video is an utter mismatch for its soundtrack; the puttering keyboards and incongruous soul-singer backing sap all the life out of it, and that strangled squawk of guitar doesn’t inject any back in. I had expected to give it 4 or 5, but 3 is looking pretty reasonable.

20 October 2009 · Music