Our semi-definitive guide to the greatest 12″ singles of the 1980s
Sometimes, the radio edit of a chart single may lack that extra something which the 12″ version has. At the other end, some singles are better suited to the traditional two to four minutes of a seven inch 45.
The long single (in excess of five minutes) can fulfil a few other functions. It could either be a floor filler, as part of a series of different mixes to maintain its lofty chart position, or a convenient addition to the playlist. In other words, it is a suitable length to accommodate the DJ’s toilet break, or anything else s/he may do (which is best left to one’s imagination).
For the purpose of this Not So Perfect Ten, we are looking at singles that have had specific 12″ versions. If we focused on long singles that were committed to a standard 45 RPM record, we stray from our objective of highlighting its superiority to the radio edit. (As a consequence, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Innuendo and Richard Harris’ MacArthur Park are disqualified from this countdown).
Here’s our Not So Perfect Ten Great 12″ Singles. Please note that all label information refer to each artist or artistes’ UK releases.
- Blue Monday, New Order (Factory, 1983);
- High Energy, Evelyn Thomas (Record Shack, 1984);
- Two Tribes (Annihilation Mix), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (ZTT Records, 1984);
- Break My Stride, Matthew Wilder (Epic, 1984);
- Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?, Soft Cell (Some Bizarre, 1981);
- Ghost Town, The Specials (2 Tone, 1981);
- Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go), Hazell Dean (Proto, 1984);
- You Think You’re A Man, Divine (Proto, 1984);
- I Just Called To Say ‘I Love You’, Stevie Wonder (Motown, 1984);
- Club Country, The Associates (Associates/WEA, 1982).
1. Blue Monday, New Order (1983)
For this single, we start as we mean to go with a memorable drum machine hook. The hook that spawned a thousand imitators and – almost – single handedly led to High Energy music hitting the dance floors.
With Blue Monday, New Order gave one of the greatest ever 12″ singles committed to vinyl. Its Peter Saville cover, die cut and shaped like a floppy disc, saw the band and Factory Communications losing two pence a copy. They thought it wouldn’t sell many: it only became the UK’s biggest selling 12″ single of all time!
In spite of a forgettable Top of the Pops performance, Blue Monday has spent a total of 74 weeks including reentries in the UK Official Charts. The single first entered the charts on the 19 March 1983 and peaked at Number 9 on the 15 October 1983, before ending its first run on the 03 December 1983. It returned to the charts on the 07 January 1984, beginning an 11 week run that year.
In 1988, this was followed up by Quincy Jones’ radio friendly remix. Entitled Blue Monday 1988, it peaked at Number Three and clocked in at just over four minutes. Its remix was prompted by its inclusion in a Sunkist advert. Both the 12″ original and 7″ remix versions are highly listenable and well worth having in your collection.
2. High Energy, Evelyn Thomas (1984)
At any one time, you could have heard the 7″ and 12″ versions of Blue Monday on Key 103 or Piccadilly Radio. Key 103’s The Top Ten at Ten has a lot to answer for in this tune’s inclusion in our Not So Perfect Ten.
July 1996: I was bored like hell on Tameside College’s Youth Training programme. With the sunshine and a System One 16 – 19 Pass at my disposal, I fancied a walk to Stalybridge. Back then, it had a decent indoor and outdoor market and a good music stall. The music stall made a fantastic (or not-so-fantastic move) in playing that Monday morning’s edition of The Top Ten at Ten, and the year of all years turned out to be 1984. I was probably spending far too much time looking at the CDs whilst listening to the programme.
Before the stall holder asked me if I was buying something (how could you on a bobbins YT Allowance?), Evelyn Thomas’ High Energy came on. Though the 7″ version, which I later purchased, I was stunned and thought “WOW!” (if only I remembered that tune the first time around).
Then in later years, I discovered the 12″ version, which well and truly improves on the 7″ radio edit. Whether you have one or the other (or both), you would be silly to part with your copies for a pittance. As for the song itself, it is a love song set to a high energy beat. It is about yearning, longing and missing somebody special. What’s more, any couple – heterosexual, BAME, neurodiverse and LGBT – can relate to the lyrics easily. A timeless song.
3. Two Tribes (Annihilation Mix), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1984)
From this entry, we could probably do a spin-off Not So Perfect Ten style post on The Greatest Frankie Goes To Hollywood Remixes. Had East of the M60 been active in 1984 (“It would have been East of the M66 or Von Ryan’s Trans-Lancs Express back then” – Ed) it might have been possible. Alas, my friends, we are in 2020, a similarly jumpy year to 1984. Back then, we had the threat of nuclear war, The Miners’ Strike for Jobs, and Timmy Mallett on Piccadilly Radio 261 (Timmy on the Tranny!).
Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Two Tribes spent an impressive nine weeks on the top spot of the Official Charts. It reached the top spot on my fifth birthday, initially with the 7″ version, a fantastic single in its own right. Then it held on to its top spot with the release of various mixes. There was the Annihilation Mix (the first 12″ mix), then the Carnage Mix – which also spawned a second mix. This was followed by the limited edition Hibakusha mix.
If you thought that wasn’t enough, there was the Keep The Peace mix, which headed an extended EP. That was released on cassette. Not to mention maxi singles, picture discs, and a re-release in 1994.
Two Tribes is another song I remember from my formative years. I am sure that I remember hearing more than one version, such as an earlier one which had more piano than a later version. As to which one is my pick of the 12″ Two Tribes mixes, it has to be the Annihilation Mix.
4. Break My Stride, Matthew Wilder (1984)
I have great memories of the radio edit. This is a tune that I have enjoyed since my formative years. Needless to say, both the radio edit and extended versions get played a lot in East of the M60 Towers.
The first time I heard it, I remember looking at the view of Stalybridge from a landing window of a family friend’s house on James Street. I could have spent hours taking in the view, and I associate Matthew Wilder’s tune with that visit.
Thanks to the internet, and a later purchase of his LP I Don’t Speak The Language, I listened to the extended version. On t’ internets, there are various fan made mixes. This one by The Vinyl Revival is a good one, which remixes the club and dub versions.
For your ears, we have the official Club Version. A fantastic work. Sadly on our shores, he was a One Hit Wonder with Break My Stride peaking at Number Four on the 11 February 1984. His follow up, The Kid’s American, didn’t make the Top 75, peaking at Number 93 on the 24 March 1984.
Instead of fading away from the spotlight, he went backstage and became a notable producer. He has worked with Miley Cyrus, No Doubt, and Walt Disney (working on the official soundtrack for Mulan). No Doubt didn’t do too bad with Matthew Wilder: Don’t Speak was their first Number One in the UK singles chart. Only 12 years after Break My Stride entered the charts at that.
5. Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?, Soft Cell (1981)
Northern Soul and Mark Almond’s Northern English upbringing inspired Soft Cell’s cover version of Tainted Love. The original was released by Gloria Jones, where the song was a classic floor filler at The Torch, Wigan Casino and The Twisted Wheel.
Soft Cell brought this tune into the 1980s with a bit more attitude and synthesizers. It was a well deserved Number One in the Official Charts in September 1981. Like our previous tune, it also reentered the singles chart in the 1990s: four years before the Frankies did, in 1990.
The real icing on the cake is the single’s 12″ version. What makes it all the more special is the segue to The Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go? A match made in musical heaven with more melancholy vocals and moody synths. As well as being made available on 12″, it features (in segued form) on some CD versions of Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing.
As to where I first heard the tune properly, it was in the most unlikeliest of places: the jukebox from The Billy Goat pub in Mossley. For a pre-bus pint after seeing Grimethorpe Colliery Band at the George Lawton Hall. (That was back when you could get a 343 bus after 6pm).
6. Ghost Town, The Specials (1981)
I have said on several occasions that Ghost Town is my all time favourite UK Number One single. My reasons are: 1) how the timing of its release captured the mood (during The Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana, and the Toxteth riots); 2) that the song is political without being too political; and 3) that the whole package is spot on. Probably one of the few singles where the B side is a match for the A side.
If you thought the 7″ version was a good one, listen to the 12″ version of Ghost Town. It differs from the radio edit by having an expanded middle eight with a mournful yet effective saxophone solo.
As for the B side, don’t ignore the B side on this single. Why? still packs a punch today, all the more poignant with the Black Lives Matter campaign. With a few changes to the lyrics, it could pick holes at how the far right has gone mainstream.
The second B side track, Friday Night, Saturday Morning, is a fantastic well arranged tune. Lyrically, it can now be seen as a retrospective piece like The Kinks’ Come Dancing did in 1983. Before the pandemic, the stag and hen do crowds could strike a chord with many listeners – whether in the Coventry Locarno or aboard the Rail Ale Trail. Sadly, since 1981, taxi queues have been replaced by staring at the Uber app for an oncoming cab. There are thankfully fewer volunteers for piddle stains on their shoes.
7. Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go), Hazell Dean (1984)
For our next track, we look at the early flowerings of The Hit Factory: Messrs Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Before they made their breakthrough with Dead Or Alive’s You Spin Me Round (Like A Record), their raison d’etre was high energy music for the clubs. Their first foray into this was The Upstroke – basically Mike Stock and Matt Aitken under the alias of Agents Aren’t Aeroplanes. After being dissed by a future Pet Shop Boy for ripping off Frankie Goes To Hollywood, those initial seeds led to the formation of Proto Records.
One of the first acts on that label was Hazell Dean. Previously a soul singer on the EMI label, she turned to high energy dance music. In the summer of 1983, Searchin’ (I Gotta to Find a Man) was a big hit in the gay clubs. It entered the Official Charts in June 1984, peaking at Number Six. The next one, Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go) did even better, peaking at Number Four the following month.
Once more, both the 7″ and 12″ version are fantastic singles in their own right. I remember the 7″ version the first time around in my formative years. Then, thanks to that late great purveyor of recorded music and loose sweetmeats (Woolworths of course), I picked up a double CD album featuring The Hit Factory’s finest works. On the second disc is the 12″ version of that tune, which I took a shine to.
8. You Think You’re A Man, Divine (1984)
Also sharing the same label was another gay icon. Harris Glenn Milstead, better known as Divine, was noted for his roles in Pink Flamingos, Polyester, and the original version of Hairspray. He was described by People magazine as being The Drag Queen of the Century.
He also had a parallel singing career, working with Bobby Orlando and – taking us to this point in our blog post – Stock, Aitken and Waterman. The blueprint for Divine’s work was inspired by New Order’s Blue Monday riff, which is milked in his first UK chart single Love Reaction. A few months later, in July 1984, that Blue Monday style riff paid off with You Think You’re A Man.
You Think You’re A Man peaked at Number 16. An episode of Top of the Pops with a few LGBT performers that Thursday night helped, despite offending several Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells and East Cheam types. Nevertheless, there was a few more crackers from Divine. This time with cover versions of Walk Like A Man and the under appreciated Twistin’ The Night Away and another original song in I’m So Beautiful.
If you are interested in all things Stock, Aitken and Waterman, it is a dereliction of duty to discount Divine’s contribution. Without his recordings, Dead or Alive wouldn’t have had their Number One. Mel and Kim wouldn’t have brought House Music to the mass market (case in point with Respectable), and Kylie Minogue certainly wouldn’t have taken her steps to super-stardom. This 12″ version of You Think You’re A Man is a good starting point.
9. I Just Called To Say ‘I Love You’, Stevie Wonder (1984)
Before Live Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? bagged the Official Charts’ Christmas Number One spot, the UK’s biggest selling single of 1984 was Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say ‘I Love You’. Taken from The Woman in Red soundtrack, it is by any means a fantastic tune. Among Stevie Wonder aficionados, it is the one that is least liked. Probably because of its schmaltzy nature (yet My Cherie Amour too fits that bill), or the fact a film gave him his first UK Number One single of the 1980s.
Back in the 1980s – increasingly in the second half of that decade – any song’s use in a film would guarantee success in the singles chart. This one was no exception, enjoying a six-week stint at the top spot on these shores. Weeks after, Stevie Wonder appeared on another UK Number One single – Rufus and Chaka Khan’s I Feel For You – on harmonica.
The song itself, in 7″ form is a classy number. It would never win any prizes for intellectual gravitas, though more than makes up for that in being a great pop tune. The 12″ version has extra bells and whistles including selection of telephones ringing at the start. Where it also differs from the radio version is in its ending. After Stevie holds on to the last note, the radio version goes straight to “bum-bum-bum.”
In the 12″ version, the “bum-bum-bum” is held up for another two minutes. This time with (in my opinion, its crowning glory) a vocoded reprise lasting a minute and ten seconds. Then our Stevie with the refrain of the last verse in its non-vocoded voice.
In my formative years, I was familiar with both the 7″ and 12″ versions. My auntie had a copy of the latter, which my younger sister loved. Forget the purists, I love both versions.
10. Club Country, The Associates (1982)
For our final 12″ version, we look at a band that seriously deserved a lot more love in their day. Apart from jokes and jute, Dundee was noted for The Associates. After breaking in to the Top Ten with Party Fears Two in 1982 (Number Nine in the Official Charts on the 27 March 1982), Messrs Rankin and Mackenzie came up with a stunning follow-up single, Club Country. On their second album Sulk, it is the next to the last track.
Club Country peaked at Number 13 in the UK singles chart, on the 12 June 1982. To the untrained ear, it sounds like night time at a Siberian Health Farm. It is anything but; the song is about Liff Hospital, on the outskirts of Dundee city centre. Before closing in 2001, the Royal Dundee Liff Hospital was previously Westgreen Asylum. It received a Royal Charter from Queen Victoria in 1875. Today, the hospital has been converted into apartments with new build housing on part of its grounds.
As for the song itself, the 12″ version is a worthy addition to your collection. It not only builds on the radio edit you may be more familiar with at all. It also builds on the original album version with the creepy, ethereal middle eight and brooding bass line that leads us to Billy singing “Sad to see that you’re suffering…” An earlier version of that middle eight had ‘glad’ instead of ‘sad’ in its lyrics.
If you haven’t got Sulk in your record collection, do the honourable thing and get yourself a copy straight away. The original vinyl version has an extended version of Club Country which is a bit longer than the single edit (which also appears on V2’s CD reissue of the European version of Sulk). Just to add to the confusion, this LP has had 37 different reissues including a US version with a completely different track listing.
A few honourable mentions
Here’s a few more 12″ versions worthy of your attention.
- The Reflex, Duran Duran (1984): a marked improvement on the already spiffing 7″ version.
- The River, King Trigger (1982): the same great song, with a few more twiddly bits.
- Leaving Me Now, Level 42 (1985): basically the same as the 7″ version, albeit with an extra verse.
- Music For Chameleons, Gary Numan (1982): a massive improvement on the truncated 7″ version.
- Relax (Sex Mix), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1983): the original, and probably the best 12″ mix of the Frankies’ most infamous single.
- Live To Tell, Madonna (1986): one of my Top Ten Madonna songs, only better than the 7″ version I already love.
- Sometimes, Erasure (1986): both the 7″ and 12″ versions of this single (yes, even the censored Hold Tight version) truly rock, but the 12″ one is more immersive and enjoyable.
- Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You), A Flock of Seagulls (1982): the best version of Messrs Score and Reynolds’ most famous tune, without a doubt.
- FLM, Mel and Kim (1987): the extended version of Fun, Love, Money (or its baser true initials, F*****g Lovely, Mate) takes me back to being at Chorlton Water Park at the age of eight.
- Don’t Try To Stop It, Roman Holliday (1983): another case of another great 7″ disc being improved upon in the 12″ format.
Before I leave the dance floor…
Feel free to give us your thoughts on our Not So Perfect Ten finest 12″ versions. As always, add a few more to the mix. If you think our ten honourable mentions deserve greater recognition, feel free to comment.
I’ll be back in a bit. Before you do, I shall leave you with this beauty from 1985.
S.V., 08 August 2020.