The Fifty Tracks of My Years from September 1985 to August 1986
Popular music can take us to a particular point in our lives. It is the soundtrack of our youth, birth, marriage, random bus journey, schooldays or not-so-happier times. Throughout my life, music has played a massive part. You can either see this on East of the M60 in written form, or in my professional capacity with Future Directions CIC on Fun Time Friday. As my co-star on Fun Time Friday Kevin Phoenix says, ‘music is also a time machine’.
Which is exactly what our third Fifty Tracks of My Years sets out to be, like the previous two seen in 2020 and 2021. We span a period from the 1st September 1985 to the 31st August 1986. As with last year’s entry, these reflect the tunes I loved at the time, no necessarily the ones I still enjoy listening to today.
If the 1984 – 85 academic year was a seminal point for me, 1985 – 86 was even more so. I spent the whole of this period at the school’s SENCo unit, again with ‘day release’ at mainstream infant classes, apart from four days in April 1986.
Those four days were an assessment period at the Ewing School in West Didsbury. From the 22nd to the 25th April 1986, I made what would become the first of many taxi journeys to and from Central Road (more of which will be covered in next year’s instalment). Part of me was thinking ‘I love this journey’ – due to the change of scenery and long ride. The other was listening to Piccadilly Radio in the taxi! The bonus of bonuses in 1986, apart from having a double decker bus to yourself and sitting upstairs at the front.
The other part of me (only very very slightly) missed the shorter journey to my local school. Ultimately, what happened in those four days in West Didsbury was more than a new beginning. It opened my eyes to another part of Greater Manchester, that there was more to GMC boundaries than seeing fagnolia and brown TMBC vans or the bright yellow Oldham ones with the block logo. It was all for the best as it fired up my enthusiasm for the local bus scene. Especially with the amount of colour, choice and crappier buses that were to follow on the Wilmslow Road/Palatine Road corridor.
What made Ewing School so great, and sold it to me and my family was the school’s family atmosphere. A lot of this due to a brilliant pupil to teacher ratio, one-to-one speech therapy sessions, and its support between teachers and staff. Back then, the school was about to enter the height of its powers, thanks to its late great headteacher, Mr. Williams.
Needless to say, next Christmas’ entry will mention Ewing School in greater. For now, for your eyes and ears, and sheer anorakdom, here’s the countdown with some detailed reflections on most of the tunes.
The Fifty Tracks of My Years (1985 – 1986)
- West End Girls, The Pet Shop Boys.
- Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune), It’s Immaterial.
- A Different Corner, George Michael.
- Leaving Me Now, Level 42.
- A Kind of Magic, Queen.
- Chain Reaction, Diana Ross.
- Don’t Leave Me This Way, The Communards with Sarah Jane Morris.
- Sledgehammer, Peter Gabriel.
- Calling All The Heroes, It Bites.
- Something About You, Level 42.
- Take On Me, a-ha.
- Kiss, Prince and the Revolution.
- Set Me Free, Jaki Graham.
- Rock Me Amadeus, Falco.
- Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, Aretha Franklin.
- Have You Ever Had It Blue?, The Style Council.
- Move Away, Culture Club.
- So Macho, Sinitta.
- What Have You Done For Me Lately?, Janet Jackson.
- Lessons in Love, Level 42.
- The Sun Always Shines on TV, a-ha.
- Holding Back The Years, Simply Red.
- Dancing On The Ceiling, Lionel Richie.
- Manic Monday, The Bangles.
- Invisible Touch, Genesis.
- We Built This City, Starship.
- Friends Will Be Friends, Queen.
- Spirit In The Sky, Doctor and the Medics.
- Absolute Beginners, David Bowie.
- Papa Don’t Preach, Madonna.
- What’s The Colour of Money, Hollywood Beyond.
- Part-Time Lover, Stevie Wonder.
- Holding Out For a Hero, Bonnie Tyler.
- When The Going Gets Tough, Billy Ocean.
- The Power of Love, Huey Lewis and the News.
- I’m Your Man, Wham!.
- Bad Boy, Miami Sound Machine.
- The Power of Love, Jennifer Rush.
- The Chicken Song, Spitting Image.
- Radio Africa, Latin Quarter.
- Camouflage, Stan Ridgeway.
- If I Was, Midge Ure.
- Saving All My Love For You, Whitney Houston.
- I Want To Wake Up With You, Boris Gardiner.
- She’s So Beautiful, Cliff Richard.
- Eloise, The Damned.
- Merry Christmas Everyone, Shakin’ Stevens.
- Too Good To Be Forgotten, Amazulu.
- I Can’t Wait, Nu Shooz.
- Venus, Bananarama.
The full playlist can be found here.
Music already had a great impact on my life in 1985, though once again, I couldn’t gauge meaning in most of the lyrics. Rhythm and arrangement – the beat, melody and instruments gave me that sensory feedback which I got from music.
With pop videos being more a thing I would associate a certain song with a certain pop video. I could sing or dance along to it, that mattered. Even more so with my younger sister starting to put up with my musical tastes – or at least my penchant for radio jingles.
Aah, radio jingles: those bits in between the songs. You know the ones like “Piccadilly Radio/Stereo Power/FM 103” or “275 and 285, and Stereo VHF…” In the same I hoped a certain song came up on the station, I yearned for the same with Piccadilly Radio’s jingles. I knew that three successive plays of Sue Manning Music’s news sting meant ‘way past bedtime’.
Yet, it was one of these nocturnal emissions that influenced my first favourite song of 1985 – 86. One which is still an all time favourite today.
The Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls (1) blew my mind the first time I heard it in 1986. Though their original version was produced by Bobby Orlando two years earlier, the 1985 remix was sensational to say the least. I thought ‘this is the sound of the future… the sound of compact disc instead of vinyl, FM instead of AM, McDonalds instead of Silvio’s Café.’ The Big Mac Sauce in it all is the Fairlight CMI and the echo which got thinking ‘this’ll never date’. Approaching its 40th birthday, the 1985 remix still sounds like something out of the future in 2022.
The second song, It’s Immaterial’s Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune) (2) is also in the same category as the previous: One That I Still Adore To This Day. The first time I heard the song, it was on Piccadilly Radio – on the way to Ewing School in the taxi – on the Tuesday of my four day assessment! Apart from taking me back to that time in my life, I loved the song as soon as I heard it, because of Jarvis Whitehead and Co turning it into a three and half minute road movie. That it peaked in the singles charts that very week was, to coin a phrase, ‘that very moment when the planets aligned’.
The same is true of George Michael’s second Number One single as a solo artiste, A Different Corner (3). That too always reminds me of Ewing School that year, because part of me was wondering ‘will this be as good as being at Bay 8’? (If I was psychic, I wouldn’t have been half as anxious and would have thought then ‘it’ll be great and the influence it would have on your life would be good for your career prospects’).
Saturday morning television has a lot to answer for with my next choice. Level 42’s Leaving Me Now (4) is actually quite a melancholy song. The video, nearly all set in black, is polished like the production of the song. It was about December 1985 when I first saw the video on Saturday Superstore and thought ‘what a tune’. In later years, I found the 12” version – as seen on the World Machine LP – and turn to that version first and foremost.
Family and radio airplay is partly to blame with A Kind of Magic (5). Apart from wanting to go to theatre in the promo video, my six-year-old ears thought ‘top tune’. This was helped no doubt by my family being into Queen’s music and my Mum and Dad wanting the group’s 1986 LP. (For years they had to make do with a taped copy, till I bought the LP on CD years later from Fopp in Town).
Indirectly, family has a lot to answer for with our sixth entry, Diana Ross’ Chain Reaction (6). My late Nana on my father’s side was friends with Pat, a former colleague at a pet shop in Stalybridge (now The Cracking Pint/Crafty Pint micro bar). In 1986, she worked for Decor 8, a national chain of decorating shops, at their branch on Yorkshire Street, Rochdale.
One Friday, myself and Nana went to Pat’s house in Norden. I was overstimulated and anxious at the flashing LED of their burglar alarm system in the lounge. Still, I found solace with Pat’s dog Pip, and a furry rug in front of a Survival special on their big TV. On the way back, Chain Reaction was on in the background on the car radio at that very point we passed Elk Mill on the A627(M). Even now, I think happy thoughts about this song if in the car with Kevin en route to FD HQ.
Though it began its chart run in the 1985 – 86 academic year, I remember The Communards’ cover of Don’t Leave Me This Way (7) even more in September 1986. Just inside 1985 – 86, I am reminded of my late Nana and a late August trip to Morecambe (with myself, Dad and Sarah). We started the day at Morecambe Amusement Park and went on the log flume. After walking along the promenade, we ate fish and chips with garden peas and bread in a restaurant set back a little from the main drag.
The most eventful part of the trip was the train journey. All was fine on the Class 111 Calder Valley DMU that took us from Stalybridge to Manchester Victoria, then The European to Lancaster before changing for the local train. As for the return journey… fine up to Lancaster where we waited what seemed like a lifetime for the Manchester Victoria train due to a broken down electric loco. At Preston, I tipped the contents of an ashtray beside a window seat. We were so late back, we managed to get the next to last 220 back to Dukinfield and the ticket machine broke down on us!
Apart from episodes of Morph, I got a better view of Aardman Animations’ work in the eighth song of this countdown. I fell in love with the video more than the song with Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer (8). The first time I remember seeing the video was on Saturday Morning Picture Show, BBC Manchester’s summer sibling to Saturday Superstore back then. In later years, I found that the lyrical content was about sex. With this revelation, I thought ‘what was this song doing on a kiddies’ Saturday morning programme?’ (Worse, it could have been the same week when Iggy Pop did some dirty dancing with a teddy bear on Number 73).
Sometimes, tunes can be a guiding light in dark times. I remember spending the first part of August in 1986 in calamine lotion, as shortly after breaking up for the summer holidays I caught chickenpox. It was quite a manic time because my auntie Catherine’s wedding with uncle Wayne was weeks away. The song in question which takes me back to that time was Calling All The Heroes (9) by It Bites. It was bouncy enough to get me forgetting about itchy spots and hit the spot (“Sigh…” – Ed) back then.
The tenth song of my countdown is our second one by Level 42, and the excellent Something About You (10). Once again, I have Mike Read, Crow, Cheggers and Co to blame because they showed the promo video on Saturday Superstore. Better still, trains are involved: BR Southern Region ones, and a nice shot of Waterloo station near the end. Oh, and I loved the song and still do to this day. Even more so if I am in a dreamy mood these days, with the trains coming a close second, imagining myself being loved up on a train with a potential significant other.
Greasy spoons make for classic pop videos
Two things endeared me to a-ha’s first UK Top Ten single, Take On Me (11). Firstly, the video directed by Steve Barron with the grotty café and comic strip storyboards sold me the song. Secondly, the synth hook grabbed me straight away and got me thinking ‘tune’. Like the original version of West End Girls, the original version of Take On Me from 1984 wouldn’t have inspired my five-year-old ears. (The original mix is icier and more clinical, lacking the warmth of the version that nearly topped the UK singles chart).
In my formative years, I seemed to have liked regally titled music acts. I thought King’s Love and Pride was good; anything by Queen was (and still is) unimpeachable; Princess’ Say I’m Your Number One was good but (like King) the follow-up tunes didn’t quite have the same impact on me. Prince, on the other hand, is on my top tier with Queen, Genesis, Supertramp, Half Man Half Biscuit and The Fall. Kiss (12) is no exception, a well produced, instantly recognisable song which (you’ve guessed it!) takes me back to those magical four days in West Didsbury. I first heard it in the taxi as we turned right from Town Lane on to City Avenue and Ruby Street in Denton after the driver picked up another passenger on Smith Street (the late Tony, who shared my taxi with Jaime).
Also from the same week was Jaki Graham’s Set Me Free (13). That I remember from a return journey as we passed Cinecity on Wilmslow Road, Withington. Again, ‘great tune’ I thought. Even more so with Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus (14), particularly the American Edit which got to Number One a month later. Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, Aretha Franklin’s song (15) evokes memories of coming back home from my late Grandma’s house in Chadderton. Since the first COVID lockdown in 2020, it reminds me of the well-known videoconferencing app. That of course couldn’t have been said about Have You Ever Had It Blue? by The Style Council (16) our first entry from the Absolute Beginners movie soundtrack. It was the brass section and jazz notes I loved about that song back then.
I was no stranger to Culture Club’s work thanks to Karma Chameleon, The War Song and Church of the Poison Mind. Often overlooked in my view is Move Away (17), which was billed as a bit of a comeback single for Boy George and Co. I am reminded of the single by something more mundane: a springtime bus back home from my Nana’s house on the 344 route. (Yes, I heard the tune at her house in Top Mossley at the time). As cheesy tunes go, this was Mild Cheddar compared with Sinitta’s So Macho (18), which was Seriously Strong Cheddar. Apart from auntie’s wedding, it takes me back to Junior School the following academic year.
Oozing tons more class thanks to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ production work, I have a lot of love for What Have You Done For Me Lately? by Janet Jackson (19). As yours truly couldn’t understand the lyrics back then (I do now, it’s about some bloke being an utter Richard Cranium), I loved the beat, catchy chorus and keyboard riffs. At the other end of the scale is the excellent Lessons In Love by Level 42 (20). Once again, slick production won it for me. Apart from that, it reminds me of the Whitsuntide school holidays and my holiday to Clynder in Scotland (where more of my Nana’s friends lived at the time).
“From transmitters of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, this is Granada…”
TV presentation was a bit of an emerging interest at that point in my life, so much so that I associated a-ha’s The Sun Always Shines on TV (21) with TV-am (‘Yeah, breakfast TV, the TV-am logo before [the original] Good Morning Britain‘). Listening to it now, I know the song’s premise is ‘everything can be done for TV’ – from VAR decisions to political debates. To my seven-year-old ears, Holding Back The Years (22) by Simply Red was more straightforward: a memorable hook, some great vocals by Mick Hucknall I thought at the time. Dependable.
What I couldn’t compute (though I loved the song) was Dancing On The Ceiling by Lionel Richie (23). Even at seven I thought ‘Why would you want to dance on a ceiling? You would fall off for goodness sake!’ Still, I thought it was better than the saccharine sweet Ballerina Girl. With a bit more urgency and realism is our second Prince related entry: The Bangles’ Manic Monday (24). From the pen of the late great Prince Nelson Rogers, I loved the production and Susanna Hoffs’ vocals. I would also enjoy Walk Like An Egyptian (which we shall deal with next year).
Taking me back to my holiday in Clynder is Genesis’ best known song, Invisible Touch (25). Once again, it was production and great songwriting, courtesy of producer Hugh Padgham and Phil Collins’ vocals. Aboard The European with my late Nana (British Rail Mark 2f air conditioned carriages – way better than anything on today’s routes), we paused at Lancaster for what seemed to be the longest 10 minutes (making the 20 minute loco change at Preston seem trifling). There was probably an issue with the signal which was That Invisible Touch. Still, even arriving a tad late at Glasgow Central, we didn’t keep our friends Ann and Sandy waiting too long for our lift to Puddock Mansion.
As you would notice, a lot of my entries are inspired by my own travels. Even the most mundane of journeys. To this day, I associate the journey on a Mayne of Manchester feeder coach to Rhyl with JAM’s 1984 Radio 1 jingles package (the driver had the said station on that very morning). The 220 and 221 routes – well before I became a more regular user for work – reminds me of We Built This City by Starship (26). As a fully paid-up member of the Homes Under The Hammer School of Literalism in Music well before the series began, I associated Manchester as that city built on rock ‘n’ roll.
Perhaps it could have been about Manchester – The Smiths, New Order – 10cc and the birthplace of Top of the Pops well before Hooky and the boys’ success. The developers in the said song could now be today’s tower block designers, trying to ruin The Briton’s Protection. Since 1985, we have seen Jilly’s Rockworld, The Haçienda and Rafters go the way of the dinosaurs thanks to property developers. Another strange thing I remember about the song at the time I heard it was my father and I saw this giant pop bottle from the top deck window. It was a promotional stand for Sun Charm, giving away cheap pop on what is now the site of Lidl’s car park on Ashton Old Road.
OK, maybe I was psychic then. At least there is little you can say about Friends Will Be Friends (27), another highlight of Queen’s A Kind of Magic LP. It is a straightforward song about friendship. One that I liked them but remembered more in 1995 as it was the finale of my sister’s pantomime Aladdin (with the legendary Tameside Youth Drama Group). Filed under Likeable Cover Versions is Doctor and the Medics’ Spirit In The Sky (28). Once again, yours truly was taken by the zany pop video. Today, I love both the cover version and the original by Norman Greenbaum. Absolute Beginners, the title track of the 1986 film by David Bowie (29) was also pretty likeable as was Madonna’s Number One smash Papa Don’t Preach (30).
The Best of the rest
I often associated Hollywood Beyond’s song What’s The Colour of Money? (31) with the similarly titled Paul Newman and Tom Cruise film The Color of Money. As the film was out months later, I thought it should have appeared in Newman’s follow-up to The Hustler. What I got from the song was a great beat and delightfully trite lyrics (Yes, I would probably dance to this tune!). Having already enjoyed I Just Called to Say Love You, I also loved Part-Time Lover (32), a fairly catchy tune that had the misfortune to stall at Number Three in the UK singles chart. Standing in its way was Dancing In The Street (David Bowie and Mick Jagger dad dancing for Live Aid) and Holding Out For A Hero by Bonnie Tyler (33). Bonnie Tyler’s tune was a cracker – a proper no-holds-barred power ballad from the 1984 film Footloose. It also reminds me of its use in a school Christmas play in 1985.
When The Going Gets Tough by Billy Ocean (34) was another enjoyable romp for my ears. Another piece of film music, this time from Jewel of the Nile with a readymade pop video to boot (a few clips from the film). Of the two songs called The Power of Love that year, the one I liked best was Huey Lewis and the News’ version (35) – as heard in Back to the Future. By contrast, Jennifer Rush’s version, a different song again (38) was good but a little overblown for my liking. It was power dressing, shoulder pads, the overwhelming whiff of Boots perfume counter and that big digital clock at Town Square Shopping Centre in Oldham committed to 7″ vinyl. Without the Red Arrows ride near Chelsea Girl and Peter Lord shoes.
I would say that I’m Your Man by Wham! (36) has aged better. It sounds better than Lisa Moorish’s cover version of 1995. Back when I was six I thought the Wham! original was, ‘yeah, nice tune’. The same was said of Bad Boy (37) which wins my vote for The Cheesiest Piece of Film Music (it was used in Three Men and a Baby). Like Lessons In Love and Invisible Touch, this too reminds me of my holiday in Scotland. As does Spitting Image’s The Chicken Song (39). The reason was its nonsensical lyrics and (though I didn’t know it then) its skit on Black Lace’s Agadoo, lovingly engineered by a future singing dustman on Only Fools and Horses and composer of the Benidorm theme tune. I used to like the chorus, and it wasn’t unusual for me to sing it now and again in Spring 1986.
Yes, radio has a lot to answer for in my musical development. Even songs about radio like Latin Quarter’s Radio Africa (40). Sadly I didn’t get the politics in the song (I do now) but I loved the harmonies. Ditto the above with Stan Ridgeway’s Camouflage (41), also for the former Wall of Voodoo lead singer’s storytelling abilities (their biggest hit was Mexican Radio). Continuing the Great Choruses and Harmonies thread is Midge Ure’s If I Was (42), which I thought deserved a longer run at Number One.
For Whitney Houston’s Saving All My Love For You (43), I loved her vocals in that song better than in the poppier How Will I Know?. I also loved the soft hook and the saxophone work. Needless to say, I came across the song over another one of those late nights listening to Piccadilly Radio in bed. What I also remembered that night was the Sue Manning Music Christmas jingles they used. Heavenly even to this day – with yours truly imagining a snowy County Bridge with the buses in ‘bed’ till another day – and snowmen beside The Lamb Hotel.
Towards the opposite end of the year, I Want To Wake Up With You (44) by Boris Gardiner was pure sunshine over three minutes. Just the song to put on over a brew, even on the wettest of days. She’s So Beautiful by Cliff Richard (45) is another good shout, and a song I liked thanks to (this is getting predictable!) Saturday Superstore. Apart from being a big mate of Mike Read, Cliffy’s song was used in the long forgotten Dave Clark musical Time. Perhaps my mother was fine with the video because of Cliffy, which is no bad thing in my book.
From schmaltz to bombast is Eloise by The Damned (46). At the time, I had had heard of the group’s lead singer Captain Sensible (thanks to Happy Talk and peddling Weetabix cereals) but not his group. Even though I loved their cover version of the Barry Ryan, I had yet to discover New Rose, Smash It Up and Love Song. Still on the subject of cover versions is Amazulu’s cover of Too Good To Be Forgotten (48). In 1986, it did better than the original song by The Chi-Lites and sounded brilliant for the summer of 1986. It holds up well today, so my young ears must have known a good cover version from a mile off.
At the very same week it peaked at Number Five in the UK singles chart, there was another firm favourite tune of mine at Number Two. That of Nu Shooz’s excellent I Can’t Wait (49). Today it is used for a gambling advert, but the song grabbed me by its industrial style bass and funk notes at the time. Apart from that, the seven-year-old me wondered ‘why would you call a group Nu Shooz?’ Maybe the Eric Hall in me should have suggested that Cassons or Timpsons should have sold a few copies (New Shoes and Nu Shooz: what a missed opportunity), but Galaxy Records was opposite Cassons in Ashton Market Hall back then.
Sticking to the cosmic theme was another cover version and a foretaste of what we would be about to receive in 1987. A Stock Aitken and Waterman produced cover of Shocking Blue’s Venus by Bananarama (50). I thought it was a fresh take on an old song that worked well, yet the back story behind its release was that Bananarama wanted to sound like Dead or Alive, having been sold on The Hit Factory’s services thanks to You Spin Me Round (Like A Record). After much sweating and work, it paid off for what would become Britain’s biggest selling all-female group.
Like it or not, you have got to hand it to Michael Barratt for his services to music. Fifty years is some going, including his commercial peak in the 1980s. As Shakin’ Stevens, I didn’t have much love for his music in my formative years. I thought This Ole House was grating and that Lipstick (Powder and Paint) was fairly good. What you can’t take away from him is he has sung one of my All Time Favourite Christmas Songs in Merry Christmas Everyone (47).
A well deserved Christmas Number One in 1985, it made all the right notes, ticked all the right boxes for young and old music lovers, and it stands up well today. I loved it then, and it felt right at home with the tinsel on the Christmas tree and the Thomas the Tank Engine Christmas special that was shown on Granada Television on Christmas Day. In more recent times, it gives me great memories of Future Directions’ Christmas parties at Stanley Grange, Milnrow Cricket Club and Wythenshawe Forum.
…and the one tune I couldn’t stand at the time was…
Correction: there are two tunes. The first one was Let’s Go All The Way by Sly Fox. Annoying drivel then, annoying now. If there’s any consolation, it is better than the England Football Team’s All The Way, released in 1988 for the European Championships.
The second one I couldn’t live with was My Favourite Waste of Time by Owen Paul. Despite being his only chart single, I thought it was bland as hell thanks to its tight arrangement. I still can’t listen to it now, and it is often the first tune I try to avoid on any compilation album.
Before I go…
What are your opinions on the Third S.V. Formative Years Festive 50? Do you have any fond memories of the aforementioned fifty tunes? Feel free to comment.
I shall leave you with this tune. Goodnight and good riddance.
S.V., 31 December 2022.