A few more Popular comments preserved for the archives. I’ll be more selective about what I repost here this year, as I’m not saying much in some of the threads there now.

Berlin, “Take My Breath Away”, 8 November 1986

The bloke on my school bus who was obsessed with Frankie’s “Relax” was also obsessed with Berlin’s “Sex (I’m A...)”, evangelising both to the point where they were inextricably linked in my mind; revisiting the latter, it feels a bit try-hard, but it seemed daring at the time. By the time “No More Words” was a minor hit in Australia (and a number one in New Zealand), Berlin had carved out an electro-rock niche that typified the North American notion of New Wave. When “Take My Breath Away” came along, so different from their earlier sound, it felt as if they’d abandoned their roots for the quick cash-in. Founder member and main songwriter John Crawford apparently felt the same, which may have hastened the band’s demise the following year.

My brother owned Count Three and Pray, the parent album, and this felt like a total mismatch for it; the rest was produced by Bob Ezrin, a producer worlds away from Moroder. The song’s movie tie-in nature also prejudiced me against it; I never saw Top Gun at a cinema, only on video some years later, so the tie-in video for the song felt like a meaningless advert. That, and the crazy arm movements Terri Nunn made halfway through looked as if she was trying to flap to the moon.

Now that its movie and album contexts are safely in the past it feels easier to assess the song on its own merits. Tom Ewing’s astute comparison with Julee Cruise’s “Falling” (a song I loved) makes me hear new things in this, as does my greater awareness of its place among Moroder’s productions; and I’m really liking it. Just as it was out of place on the album, it’s a song out of its time, as “I Feel Love” was a decade earlier. I thought I’d give it 5, but it’s at least a 7.

Given how ubiquitous “Take My Breath Away” was in late 1986, I was surprised to see it reached only number two in Australia—until seeing that late ’86 was when John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice” was swamping all competition in its home country.

What-Might-Have-Been factoid of the day: Terri Nunn auditioned for the role of Princess Leia.

Europe, “The Final Countdown”, 6 December 1986

“The Final Countdown” entered the Australian charts in February 1987 and stayed for six months, peaking at number two; no Aussie pop fan of the time could forget it, because it became the unofficial anthem for exactly what its title described. Countdown, the ABC-TV pop music showcase that had dominated teenage Sunday evenings since November 1974, went to air for the last time on 19 July 1987, bringing to an end a force that was instrumental in the success of not only many Australian acts but also such Popular titans as ABBA, Blondie and Madonna, all of whom owed key early hits to promotion on the show. It’s impossible for me now to think of Europe’s song without remembering the show that was pop music—which gives this bunch of Swedish hair-metallers an unfair advantage, really.

Amazingly, no metal act—hair or otherwise—reached number one in the Australian singles charts in the 1980s, although Jon Bon Jovi made it in 1990 with “Blaze of Glory”, a few years after Slippery When Wet had spent six weeks on top of the album charts. Van Halen’s “Jump” reached number two in 1984, but that was also their least-metal song to date, with the same out-of-genre synths as “The Final Countdown”. Other than those, and this, the only artists who came close were more heavy rock than heavy metal.

If I’d been a couple of years younger I might have helped their cause, but by 1986/87 I’d passed through my temporary fixation on Iron Maiden and Van Halen. Although Van Halen’s 5150 held some appeal and Def Leppard’s Hysteria held even more, most hair metal seemed like a pale imitation of whatever it was that I’d heard in metal in the first place. I didn’t know about Metallica yet in 1986/87, so the only band I still listened to who were unequivocally metal were Judas Priest, and even they were flirting with synths on 1986’s Turbo. Whether on that album, or “Jump”, or “The Final Countdown”, synthesizers in 1980s metal too often sounded wrong, the spandex leggings to the electric guitar’s leather jacket.

So although I can appreciate Europe’s accomplishment in producing an anthem that captures a certain kind of moment to perfection—that moment when a big game enters its final seconds and this comes blaring over the arena speakers—I can’t say it does a lot for me outside that limited context. 5.

Popular ’86

If I were to name one single that encapsulated 1986 for me it would be the Waterboys’ “The Whole of the Moon”, which was first released in late 1985 in the UK and reached number 12 in Australia in 1986. It instantly brings back memories of sitting in the Sound Lounge of the student union during my first year at uni, a place where I discovered all sorts of weird stuff in its tape collection. (A lot of ’70s prog, mainly, which mercifully didn’t take.) The twelve-inch singles of that and Midnight Oil’s “The Dead Heart” were two treasured purchases that year.

That “The Whole of the Moon” wouldn’t chart strongly in the UK until five years later says something about how out-of-step my tastes were becoming with your and our charts. Apart from the Pet Shop Boys, a-ha and “Living Doll”, I don’t own any of the 1986 UK number ones (“Papa Don’t Preach” might be buried on a tape from a friend somewhere, but Madonna has largely been a blind spot for me, with one or two exceptions). Nonetheless, I seem to have given 6 or more to eight of them—all of those plus George Michael, Falco, Berlin and Jackie Wilson—which seems too generous for what felt like a dud year at the top, then and now.

Other threads I joined briefly were Every Loser Wins, Caravan of Love and Reet Petite, two of which I’d never heard before.

12 February 2010 · Music