More underrated gems from the decade often associated with Duran Duran, Margaret Thatcher and Sinclair C5s.
The 1980s: a pretty pants decade for the working class at the very least, but one of our greatest decades musically. Eclectic to say the least, a decade which started out with The Pretenders and ended with Live Aid II. New Wave and Stock, Aitken and Waterman in other words.
Once more, East of the M60 dons the walkperson, purchases a Sunday Rover and heads to Manchester on the 220 from The Lodge Hotel after a quick pint of Boddingtons Bitter.
- Sanctuary, New Musik (1980);
- Me and Mister Sanchez, Blue Rondo A La Turk (1981);
- Love Is A Wonderful Colour, The Icicle Works (1983);
- Wot!, Captain Sensible (1982);
- The Crown, Gary Byrd and the GB Experience (1983);
- High Energy, Evelyn Thomas (1984);
- Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune), It’s Immaterial (1986);
- Voyage Voyage, Desireless (1988);
- We Have A Dream, B.A. Robertson and the 1982 Scotland World Cup Squad (1982);
- Wait,Robert Howard and Kym Mazelle (1989);
And a solid wooden oldie from the same decade:
- Qwaka Song, The Waders (1981).
1. ‘Sanctuary’, New Musik (1980): New Musik’s debut album From A to B is a most underrated work. Four tracks from the said album were released as singles, with Sanctuary the last of the foursome. This track was by far the sunniest one with a brooding intro yet peaked outside the Top 20. The producer Tony Mansfield was also involved in the Nick Straker Band, whose one and only hit single, ‘A Walk in the Park’ peaked at 20, spending 12 weeks in the singles chart.
Highest UK Chart Position: 31 (7 weeks).
Also available on: ‘Various – Was Het Nu 70 80 of 90 ‘ (Virgin, 2003).
You may also like: ‘This World of Water’ also by New Musik, and ‘A Walk in the Park’ by the Nick Straker Band (both 1980).
2. ‘Me and Mister Sanchez’, Blue Rondo A La Turk (1981): it is November 1981. England had booked their place on the plane to Spain this coming June, and the forthcoming World Cup. Cue the salsa influenced ‘Me and Mister Sanchez’. The samba whistle and eminently danceable rhythm made for a good toe-tapper. Perhaps the single’s poor chart position was a matter of timing. A summer release could have made for a Top Ten hit. Some of the members of Blue Rondo A La Turk would later resurface in Matt Bianco.
Highest UK Chart Position: 40 (4 weeks) – 1 in Brazil.
Also available on: ‘Hits Hits Hits’ (Ronco, 1981).
Similar bands: Matt Bianco; The Gypsy Kings.
3. ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’, The Icicle Works (1983): four minutes of bombast awaits the listener of this tune by Ian McNabb and Co. Their most celebrated work marries psychedelia with driving lead guitars redolent of Gothic rock music. It was released in the run up to Christmas and peaked at 15. In spite of appearing on a number of compilation albums, it receives little airplay.
Highest UK Chart Position: 15 (8 weeks).
Also available on: ‘The Tube’ (K-Tel, 1984); Alternative Eighties (Sony Music TV, 2002).
You may also like: ‘The Back of Love’, Echo and the Bunnymen (1984).
4. ‘Wot!’, Captain Sensible (1982): following on from his cover of ‘Happy Talk’, Captain Sensible took a different direction inspired by rap music. The bass line, similar to Chic’s ‘Good Times’ set to a different pitch, sees our beret donning singer complaining about a noisy drill waking him up. (‘It went “bang” (bang!)/I said “shut up”…’). In the music video we see a weighty bloke outside Sensi’s hotel room wielding a drill. Later, we see the hotel staff doing a conga and ‘Captain, say “Wot”‘ being chanted.
Highest UK Chart Position: 26 (7 weeks).
You may also like: ‘Rapper’s Delight’, Sugar Hill Gang (1979).
5. ‘The Crown’, Gary Ford and the GB Experience (1983): by chance, we have another tune which has sampled the Nile Rodgers bass line from ‘Good Times’. Again, the influence of the Sugar Hill Gang is apparent, though with an infectious chorus and, on uncredited backing vocals, Stevie Wonder near the end of this tune. By far, the greatest version is the 12″ single, over 10 minutes long.
Highest UK Chart Position: 6 (9 weeks)
Also available on: ‘Superchart 83’ (Telstar, 1983); ‘Chart Hits ’83’ (K-Tel, 1983).
You may also like: ‘Rappers Delight’, Sugar Hill Gang (1979) or ‘Do I Do’, Stevie Wonder (1982).
6. ‘High Energy’, Evelyn Thomas (1984): this underplayed gem was released at around the same time when ‘high energy’ dance music began to make inroads into the UK singles. The arrangement befitted the new style but Steve Levine’s lyrics would have fitted just as nicely on a Northern Soul release. It peaked in the spring of 1984, not long after the release of Hazell Dean’s first single, ‘Searchin’ (I Gotta Find A Man)’. High energy went mainstream; Evelyn’s single reached a very good #5. Again, the 12″ version is superior.
Highest UK Chart Position: 5 (17 weeks).
Also available on: ‘Disco Beach Party’ (Stylus, 1985).
You may also like: ‘The Upstroke’, Agents Aren’t Aeroplanes (1984); ‘Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)’, Hazell Dean (1984).
7. ‘Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune)’, It’s Immaterial: I have fond FOND memories of this tune myself, it always reminding me of my four day assessment at The Ewing School in West Didsbury. In just over 3 minutes (or 9 minutes on the 12″ version), it is akin to a road movie set to song, with the promotional video giving a good sense of movement. Underplayed? Most definitely. Sadly, this was their only Top 20 hit.
Highest UK Chart Position: 18 (7 weeks).
Also available on: ‘Life’s Hard And Then You Die’, their debut album (1986).
8. ‘Voyage Voyage’, Desireless (1987): a real 1980s one hit wonder, Desireless, the singing persona of Claudie Fritsche-Mentrop, was previously a fashion designer. Her one and only hit re-entered the UK singles chart on the 14 May 1988. It previously entered the chart on Hallowe’en 1987, peaking at 53 for six weeks. Probably one of the biggest selling foreign language singles of the 1980s on these shores.
Highest UK Chart Position: 5 (13 weeks).
Also available on: ‘The Hits Album 7’ (CBS/BMG/WEA, 1987).
Similar artists: Celine Dion, Vanessa Paradis, Mylene Farmer.
9. ‘We Have A Dream’, B.A Robertson and the 1982 Scotland World Cup Squad: as with Blue Rondo A La Turk, Brian Alexander Robertson also has links with the Spanish World Cup. The early 1980s was also fertile ground for cheesy football singles (even ‘Tottenham, Tottenham…’ featured on a Ronco compilation album), but the best of the bunch is probably Scotland’s effort. The narrative, sing along chorus and the bagpipes – sensational! Though their 1982 World Cup campaign was forgettable, this song still gets a great reception each time it’s played at Hampden Park.
Highest UK Chart Position: 5 (9 weeks).
10. ‘Wait’, Robert Howard and Kym Mazelle (1989): one of Robert Howard’s side projects was a collaboration with Kym Mazelle. Her duet was her second and only Top Ten hit. By then, courtesy of Factory Records and Stock Aitken and Waterman, House music began to make inroads into the charts, and this is a fine yet forgotten example.
Highest UK Chart Position: 7 (10 weeks).
Also available on: ‘Choices – The Singles Collection’, The Blow Monkeys’ compilation album (RCA, 1989).
But Wait There’s More!
At odds with the usual Not So Perfect Tens, we have an eleventh one, this time, a serious clunker. Here it is:
11. ‘Qwaka Song’, The Waders (1981): who remembers ‘The Birdie Song’ by The Tweets? Absolutely awful, yet you would still dance to it given the chance, wouldn’t you? Especially after a few pints of Harp. There was also a version with duck noises.
The Waders version was released as a non-charting single, yet appeared on K-Tel’s ‘Chart Hits ’81’, probably to make up the numbers on its second LP or cassette. Believe me, it makes The Tweets rather listenable.
S.V., 18 May 2014.