If anything ever deserved to be called 'seductive advertising', it was those glossy tracklisting-heavy double-page spreads that used to appear in Smash Hits at certain times of year to promote the latest forthcoming double-album collection of thirty two-ish recent-ish chart hits(ish).
True, you may only really have wanted about seven of said hits, and equally true, around half of them would invariably have bothered the charts just about long enough ago for you to be unable to properly remember whether you actually liked them or not, but once those tracklistings appeared in their customary whirl of eighties 'designer' visual swishness, the urge to own them was pretty hard to resist. Especially the ones that were released to coincide with the so-called 'Christmas Market'.
Many thousands of words – albeit usually pompous indecipherable gibberish about something to do with 'pure pop' that nobody really understands (though please do have a look at the excellent Now That's What I Call A Music Blog!) - have been penned in tribute to the undisputed market leader, the Now That’s What I Call Music! series, but nobody really seems to have very much fondness for its one-time near-rival, the WEA-bankrolled me-too cash-in Hits series.
Well, that’s all about to change, as we’re about to embark on an epic voyage through the high watermark of late 1986-ness that was the inexplicably dice-themed Hits 5.
Which soft-rock superstar accidentally invented the poorly compressed MP3? Who was guilty of the most profound misunderstanding of a David Bowie lyric ever? And where was 'Belouis' 'Some' while all this was going on? Find out all this, and more, as we take another listen to… Hits 5!
So, on Side One...
A-ha - 'I've Been Losing You'
A-ha were, it’s safe to say, the single biggest pop sensation of 1986; and in a year that also played Top Of The Pops-straddling host to such chart hopefuls as Amazulu, Jaki Graham and, of course, ‘Belouis’ ‘Some’, that’s no mean feat. Although The One That Everyone Remembers was actually a hit late in 1985, 1986 would see them score a whopping five top ten singles, including a chart-topper with The Sun Always Shines On TV, and as a consequence Mags, Pal and Morten spent the entire year on the front of every teen magazine - and indeed ‘postermag’ - in existence.
That selfsame teen mag ubiquity inevitably resulted A-ha being roundly sneered at by fans of ‘quality music’ – in other words, the sort of people who bought Deacon Blue records – for being inauthentic throwaway pretty-boy lightweights who should have been ‘banned’ from the charts in favour of Cock Robin . And yet Pal Waaktaar, Magne Furuholmen and Morten Horten Forten Harket wrote all of their own songs (often with unexpectedly complex arrangements and construction and sub-prog cryptic lyrics) and played all of their own instruments, came across as witty and cultured in interviews (how many other bands in 1986 would have told Smash Hits that their favourite film was If…?), and if they had emerged a decade later would almost certainly have been bracketed alongside The Cardigans and Whale rather than Take That and Sean Maguire. If you’re demanding evidence of this, which some of those disgruntled Deacon Blue fans almost certainly are, look no further than earlier-in-1986 top ten hit Train Of Thought, which married moody panpipe-driven synthpop to existential poetry-inspired lyrics about a commuter going mad and querying the ‘point’ of office doors. How’s about that then, ‘Boyzone’?
Anyway, Train Of Thought was merely their second top ten single of 1986. The fourth (following Hunting High And Low), and the one that duly made it onto Hits 5, was I’ve Been Losing You. With its hard-edged abrasive sound, minimalist chords and lyrics that appear to deal with the aftermath of a lovers’ tiff that may have descended into either metaphorical or literal murder, it was hardly exactly the most conventional pop hit of 1986, but nonetheless it sounded great on the radio – particularly when the volume-crazed brass section chimes in toward the end – and indeed sounded great as the curtain-raiser for Hits 5. Extra points must also be awarded for the brilliantly-timed false ending, which must have confounded a fair few listeners trying to make their own C60 of ‘highlights’ from Hits 5, although as if to balance all of this out there is a brief keyboard phrase that does little bar call to mind the cast of Rainbow singing that Pray Open Your Umbrella song. Still, you can’t have everything, and in terms of 1986 chart pop I’ve Been Losing You comes as close to everything as you probably can have.
Meanwhile, one of the joys of Hits 5 - and indeed the entire Hits series to be fair - is that, where applicable, it lists and indeed depicts the parent albums that the compiled hits were lifted from. It’s a fair bet that many of the albums in question have barely ever been heard by anyone bar the artists responsible, but I’ve Been Losing You of course hailed from A-ha's chart-topping second album Scoundrel Days, and while its embossed cloud-covered contents will scarcely need much introduction or elaboration, it’s always worth giving a namecheck to the legendarily ridiculous Maybe Maybe, home as it is to the truly unhinged lyric “maybe it was over when you chucked me out the Rover at full speed”. But that's not the next track on Hits 5, of course...
The Bangles - 'Walk Like An Egyptian'
So, you’re a guitar-obsessed mid-eighties teenager who has recently scored their first ever acoustic, with crazy rock dreams of becoming something somewhere between Johnny Marr and ‘Eddie’ from ‘The Banned’ on EastEnders. And then one day, while you’ve barely progressed past the stage of haplessly struggling along to Sunshine Of Your Love, along come four young American ladies with big guitars, big voices, and big hair to match, heightening all kinds of levels of inspiration. Ahem. Biggest guitar, voice and hair all belong to Vicki Peterson, the effortlessly cool lead guitarist and occasional lead vocalist, and inevitably an entire generation of guitar hero/heroine wannabes end up looking up to her, looking down her top, or both.
Yes, everyone had their own favourite Bangle, and indeed some particularly smitten fans no doubt crossed off the others on the cover of the Different Light album, like some crazy before-the-event Richard Herring. Yet the story of how they ascended to bedroom wall saturation is a strange one; originally eyeshadow-toting tie-dyed-in-the-wool neo-hallucinogenic sixties freaks, they’d formed as The Bangs in the early eighties and tiptoed around the nascent ‘Paisley Underground’ scene alongside the not-quite-chart-infiltrating likes of The Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade. Record company interest and the subsequent bankrolling of a hairbrush saw them reborn as The Bangles, four glammed-up girl-next-door-made-good types who nevertheless could attack their instruments with the ferocity of any of those bands that John Peel played. Upon which avowed fan of - and indeed avowed borrower of ideas from - the Paisley Underground Prince Rogers Nelson (who we'll be hearing more from later) offers to give them a helping hand with a song that he’s written with them in mind, or at least with Susannah Hoffs' pants in mind, and the rest is platinum-selling history.
The Bangles' third UK hit of 1986 (the first being, needless to say, the aforementioned Manic Monday, and the second the semi-forgotten If She Knew What She Wants), and indeed yet another to only narrowly miss out on the top slot, the none-more-eighties dance craze-sponsoring buzzsaw guitarsmithery of Walk Like An Egyptian was a bit of a surprising departure from their usually at least moderately ‘sixties’-tinged jangling, but a welcome one all the same, and indeed one that was all over the radio in minutes and frankly too infectious and enormous-sounding to ignore, particularly on account of its clever tactic of swapping lead vocalist for all three verses (hapless drummer Debbie was officially credited with the ‘Whistling Solo’, but even the most Yamaha DX-averse listener in 1986 could tell that it had clearly been rendered by synthesiser, something that was unfortunately underlined when they performed Walk Like An Egyptian on Whistle Test and a mistimed camera sweep caught it being picked out on a keyboard).
The actual Egyptian-walking putative dance craze side of the song was perhaps the only unsatisfactory part of the whole shebang (let’s just sidestep that unfortunate line about “foreign types and their hookah pipes”), not least because it gave rise to an irritating video full of eminently punchable members of the public ‘doing’ walking like an Egyptian, not to mention Princess Diana and Colonel Gadaffi joining in the 'fun' courtesy of ‘digital trickery’ that made the opening titles of Cool It! look like Pixar's most sophisticated offerings. Still, on the other hand, the video did also feature the four Bangle girls doing the purported dance in Turkish pants, Susanna’s famous close-up eye-rolling, and Vicki in THAT party frock, so it was a bit of a win-win situation really.
Walk Like An Egyptian was something of a shoo-in for Hits 5, and sonically perfect for following on from I’ve Been Losing You. But you couldn’t really say that about every track…
Don Johnson - 'Heart Beat'
Although uber-Bangle Vicki Peterson was who all self-respecting adolescents wanted to see getting up to late-night-TV-style shenanigans in 1986, what they actually did get to see on late-night TV - aside from the expected sneak-watch slap-up feed of Spitting Image and The Equalizer - was the dramatically of-its-time Miami Vice.
Frowned on by teachers, self-appointed ‘media watchdogs’, and humourless classmates who liked The Cure, set to a not-exactly-driving AOR soundtrack, and drenched in an eighties fashion overload that was frankly too pastel-shaded to be described as ‘eye-hurting’, the adventures of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs in the murky world of undercover beachfront sex-and-drug-counteracting with suit jacket sleeves rolled up for good measure were a late night draw like few others (apart from V, obviously), usually occasioning a failed attempt at begging parents to allow you to stay up to watch it, followed by subterfugal deployment of the black and white portable with the volume turned as low as it could possibly go. Thus it was that classic episodes such as The One Where That Hooker Was Killing ‘Johns’ But They Couldn’t Work Out What The Murder Weapon Was, The One With The Serial Killer Who Did Stage Shows To An Audience Of Shop Window Dummies, The One With The Retired Judge Who Built His Own Super-Prison In His Basement and The One Where That Drug Dealer Went Mad And Thought A Puppet Was Telling Him To Fly passed into shared folklore in a way that Robert Smith dressed as a washing machine never could.
Part of the reason for the huge success of Miami Vice was its goth-horrifying close relationship with the more commercial end of the music industry, not just via the seemingly non-stop soundtrack made up in equal measures of Glenn Frey-style gritty rockers and treble-heavy synth-instrumental workouts from Jan Hammer, whose Miami Vice Theme and Crockett’s Theme (anyone notice – ahem – a theme developing there?) both became huge international hit singles (Crockett’s Theme, of course, later acting as the soundtrack to a particularly loathesome 1991 NatWest advert that nobody writing this appeared as an extra in honest and you will recieve a writ if you try to claim otherwise), but also courtesy of frequent guest-starring appearances from the likes of Phil Collins, doing a spot of ‘acting’ before being afforded some valuable-ish exposure for their latest single. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Crockett-portrayer Don Johnson (whose first screen appearance, lest we forget, was in the Sweet Gingerbread Man-unleashing big-screen freakout The Magic Garden Of Stanley Sweetheart) should also have had a modestly successful side career as a songwriter, and in turn even less surprising that someone at Epic Records should have put the ensuing commercial two and two together and ushered one of TV’s biggest stars at the time with a ready-made back catalogue into a recording studio to cut his very own album.
Lead single Heart Beat was an entirely predictable top ten smash in America, and as such was naturally assumed to be all set to do likewise over here. Needless to say, it didn’t. Chances are that Heart Beat is one of the least remembered tracks on Hits 5 (and indeed one of the least ‘hit’ tracks on Hits 5, failing to make the top 75 in the UK), and a quick relisten quickly explains why. Like Stay The Night by Benjamin Orr, and indeed a couple of other contemporaneous efforts we’ll be meeting a little further along on Hits 5, it’s one of those compressed-squeaky-lead-guitar festooned gravel-voiced soft-rock workouts with no discernible hint of a tune that were everywhere in the mid-eighties. True, this would probably have made it fit nicely onto the soundtrack of Miami Vice, but it stood absolutely zero chance in a pop chart dominated by the likes of, well, Walk Like And Egyptian and I’ve Been Losing You, and deservedly so. A video full of typical-for-its-time rock posturing and too many close-ups of the ‘other’ band members hardly helped, nor did the fact that it shared its name with the superiorly-theme-tuned BBC children’s art show fronted by Tony Hart, nor indeed did a cover that looked like it had been commissioned from somebody submitting a painting to Hart Beat, and it’s a fair bet that even less people have heard the enthusiastically-plugged parent album, also titled Heart Beat. Though we’d better stop there before some berk does an unfunny ‘Morph Vice’ Photoshop thingy.
Don Johnson may well be a key component in comprehending and deciphering the cultural maelstrom that gave rise to this double-album collection of putative chart hits, but with no small irony his own musical contribution stalls the momentum of Hits 5 a mere two tracks in. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better…
Paul Young - 'Wonderland'
Let’s be absolutely blunt about this. For all the good that Live Aid may have done in terms of raising global consciousness of issues affecting the developing world, and indeed in raising money full stop, on a purely musical level its effect was little short of catastrophic. It was the bland AOR veterans and their tiresome emphasis on the ‘live experience’ (which apparently had something to do with shoebox-shaped guitars), many of whom had been languishing in whatever the platinum-selling equivalent of career doldrums is only months earlier, that made the biggest and most lasting impression on the day. Suddenly they were back on top, and their resurgence would cast a long shadow over pop music for several years to come. The unfortunate upshot of all of this was that many post-New Wave popsters who had at least been trying to do something a bit different – and indeed some of whom had actually performed at Live Aid, though you’d never know that from the clip shows – suddenly found that nobody cared any more. Not for nothing did Smash Hits forcibly install ‘Belouis’ ‘Some’ as the most prominent resident of ‘The Dumper’.
One of said slightly-quirkier-than-the-norm pop stars who had performed at Live Aid without anyone really noticing was Paul Young, who by the time that Hits 5 was being put together was almost eighteen months absent from the singles chart, and must have been watching the unjust lack of fervour surrounding the likes of Radio Musicola and One To One with no small amount of trepidation. A leading proponent of ‘sophisticated’ pop at the best of times, there had been some talk of his imminent comeback album being characterised by more ‘mature’ sounds, and indeed Between Two Fires would prove to be full of music so laid-back and ambient that it made Come Back And Stay sound like Rocky Sharpe & The Replays at their most Cheggers Plays Pop-courting. And nowhere was this better exemplified than on lead single Wonderland.
Across a whopping five minutes – every single one of them present, correct and jaw-droppingly unedited on Hits 5 – Wonderland charts a low-key path through post-Peter Gabriel swishing noise World Music-isms crossed with what appear to the be drums from Lionel Richie’s All Night Long (All Night), picking out a muted and part-improvised slow-reveal melody hailing from somewhere between Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the cast of Rainbow, with lyrics that don’t really say very much apart from vague promises to take the female addressee back to ‘Wonderland’. There’s probably some scope in there for making an obscure joke about T-Bag-inaugurating 1985 Children’s ITV serial Wonders In Letterland, but unfortunately for TV’s Jennie Stallwood, her first mention anywhere in T-Shirt alone knows how many years will have to give way to some details of Wonderland‘s chart prowess, if you could actually call it that. Although the parent album fared pretty well, the lead single barely scraped the top thirty and Paul Young would have to do some career-trajectory reassessment shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, this did ultimately involve Zucchero.
Though it failed to make much of an impression on Hits 5 listeners at the time, it has to be stressed that hindsight reveals Wonderland to be quite a good song. Placing it third on the opening side of a chart hits compilation, however, is just madness, and while it would undoubtedly have worked very well at the end of a side, here it does more to flatten the mood even than Don Johnson did. Oh well, at least there’s somebody teetering on a rickety microphone stand just around the corner…
Julian Cope - 'World Shut Your Mouth'
While the musical and cultural legacy of Live Aid may have instigated a divebomb bargain bin-wards for far too many of pop’s quirkier early eighties big hitters, it did also conversely provide an unexpected chart inroad for many of those previously considered to be too downright weird for mainstream appeal. At least partly influenced by Live Aid’s clear demonstration of how you could get large numbers of people reacting to solid, economical musical arrangements and carefully-deployed onstage antics, even if they probably cared little or less than little for those who had done the demonstrating, from late 1985 onwards a number of highly unlikely acts would suddenly sharpen up their sound and image in a chart-friendly direction without actually doing anything resembling ‘selling out’. The Housemartins, The Cure and The Jesus & Mary Chain were just a few of those who worked out how to get themselves heard on daytime radio and appeal to the average pop picker without alienating their usual fans, and became regular chart stars in the process. The Smiths would go even further, seemingly hovering on the verge of a stadium-level breakthrough just as Johnny Marr’s hissy fit over having to cover the theme from Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something led to their implosion and a million years' worth of ‘Is Morrissey A Gnu??’ shock exposes in the NME. And the unlikliest and yet most successful of the lot? Julian Cope.
Formerly frontman of The Teardrop Explodes, whose response to a brief flirtation with Top Of The Pops-troubling status was to blow the budget for their third album on climbing in and out of speeding car windows whilst an expensive studio remained resolutely un-recorded-in, Cope had embarked on a solo career in 1983, infamously offering up the enjoyable but extremely disjointed and hallucinogen-frazzled World Shut Your Mouth and Fried to a dwindling fanbase, bolstered by a to say the least ‘eccentric’ stage act. Yet just when he was being written off as an audience-endangering acid casualty with slightly less than minimal commercial prospects, Cope suddenly ‘cleaned up’ (well, relatively speaking), and began to make plans for an album combining his deeply unhinged musical imagination with a solidly commercial sound. The resulting album Saint Julian – and indeed its similarly successful follow up My Nation Underground – was a strong effort that threw a much needed note of angular weirdness into eighties pop radio. Apparently Cope himself no longer rates either of these albums, as evidenced by him making that lo-fi concept album about TV’s Funny Bones shortly afterwards as a form of artistic protest, which is a bit of a shame but there you go.
World Shut Your Mouth – confusingly, not from the album of the same name, with Cope declaring that he ‘didn’t realise it was a song title’ until emerging from his acid-heavy episode – was the lead single from Saint Julian, and a mighty lead single it was too, with a taut catchy melody comparable to The 13th Floor Elevators penning an old-skool advertising jingle (indeed, as if to somehow emphasise this point that's just been made up right here right now, there was a memorably bubblegummed-up cover of the Elevators’ I’ve Got Levitation on the b-side), and precision-engineered guitar pop musical backing with just the right amount of psychedelic weirdness hidden in the arrangement, sounding like a Monkees record for the age of the filofax (though ironically not like the actual Monkees record for the age of the filofax, 1986′s That Was Then But This Is Now, which sounded like a load of aimless warbling over a stolen bit of the Tom And Jerry theme). Sure enough, it took Cope into the charts and back onto Top Of The Pops, balancing atop his weird abstract sculpture microphone stand thing, and caused a million school buses the next morning to resonate to the sound of the ‘hard’ kids trying to adopt it as a vaguely rebellious anthem of indeterminate purpose and meaning, albeit without realising that there was actually a ‘world’ before the ‘shut your mouth’.
Following on from two mid-paced so-so efforts (or, in the case of Don Johnson, so-what effort) that stretched the definition of ‘hits’ to its metaphorical and indeed literal breaking point, World Shut Your Mouth boots a bit of energy back into Hits 5 in fine style, heralding the imminent arrival of a couple of none-more-1986 era-definers par excellence…
Bruce Hornsby And The Range - 'The Way It Is'
While we’re continuing to administer a bit of a kicking to Live Aid, it’s worth highlighting yet another of its unexpected and unfortunate side-effects; namely that while everyone who got involved agreed with the cause, not all of them neccessarily entirely agreed with the idea that it represented any kind of a solution. From Daryl Hall’s mid-event anger at being compelled to share a stage with ‘jerks’ who had played Sun City, to Bob Dylan’s onstage demand for some of the funds raised to be diverted towards America’s concurrent Farm Aid appeal, to Andy Kershaw having to almost literally have his arm twisted before agreeing to join the BBC’s presentation team, to the disgruntlement expressed by artists as diverse as Phil Oakey and Morrissey over how they were approached (and then, later, unapproached) about taking part, there was a general feeling that perhaps asking the public to bankroll relief operations was in some way allowing politicians and world leaders to get away with not actually having to do anything to address the underlying problems. If anything, this feeling probably only intensified when Bob Geldof released the rotten This Is The World Calling a couple of months later.
Into the middle of all this wandered one Bruce Hornsby, and his overmanned and indeed overhatted backing band The Range, with a catchy rolling piano riff and some scathing lyrics about the eighties ‘greed is good’ culture. Yes, for all that you may hear The Way It Is being used as backing music for football results or on daytime TV blandfests like Ear Nose & Throat Clinic Live, or indeed sampled by rappers mangling the lyrics into something that even Bill Cosby would deem grammatically unsatisfactory, the inescapable truth remains that atop that radio-friendly jazz-funk backdrop sit some rather quite startling couplets about unequal welfare laws and City Boys sneering at the unemployed, and an overall walloping in the throat of ‘Reaganomics’, like the prelude to some particularly amusing episode of House MD (which, to be fair, has probably used it over the closing montage at some point anyway). Whether you like it or not, The Way It Is is the closest that radio-friendly eighties AOR ever got to an iron fist in a velvet glove, albeit one too velvet-gloved for a good proportion of privileged idiots to understand. Indeed, it can only be a matter of time before David Cameron speaks warmly about how he loved the song while he was at university.
Though the ‘quality’ music press may have raved over follow-on single Mandolin Rain (which genuinely does appear to be about medieval instruments falling from the sky), it’s likely that few ever invested in similarly-titled parent album The Way It Is, and Bruce Hornsby’s status as an unexpected champion of the economically undertrodden was sadly short-lived. Which is why it’s all the more pleasing to find The Way It Is hiding near the end of the first side of Hits 5, sounding just as easy on the ear as it did back when your clock radio kicked in partway through the song and the aroma of burnt toast and sound of siblings shouting obscenities at TV-am’s Mike Morris filled the house. Mind you, if you tune said clock radio in to one of those present day ‘eighties hits’ stations and then burn some toast, you can probably replicate that feeling easily enough. But there’s some things on Hits 5 that probably haven’t been heard on the radio from that day to this…
Hollywood Beyond - 'What's The Colour Of Money?'
It’s strange to think that when Hits 5 was released, Channel 4′s irreverent pop music show The Tube was still a towering and subversive presence, and yet barely a month later it was gone, prematurely cancelled at the height of its powers in a storm of Jools Holland foulmouthery-instigated tabloid outrage. That such a convention-challenging youth show had lasted over four years in an era of intense hostility towards Channel Swore/Channel 4 The Big Bore, when the press (tabloid and broadsheet) and politicians alike were actively seeking the next big taboo-buster to get all hot under the collar about - much as they do with the BBC now, in fact - and constantly calling for it to be ‘banned’ in a manner that suggested they hadn’t actually realised that it was the same channel that also showed Cartoon Alphabet, Mama Malone, Everybody Here and Murun Buchstansangur, was in retrospect a remarkable enough achievement in itself. That it should have been utterly unmissable on top of this, in a way that Channel 4 never, ever managed in any of the subsequent attempts at rebottling its lightning, from The Word and Watch This Space to Ring My Bell and Passengers, was little short of a televisual miracle. And yet week in, week out, it offered up an essential watch-on-the-black-and-white-portable mix of live music, unfathomable fashion reports, comedy ‘stings’ from the likes of Mark Miwurdz and Vic Reeves, and opportunites for unsigned acts to get a precious three minutes of national exposure simply by sending in a video of themselves performing.
The most celebrated beneficiaries of this initiative were of course Frankie Goes To Hollywood, though for a time it really did seem that Hollywood Beyond weren’t too far behind them. Essentially a one-man ‘band’ made up of multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Mark Rogers, his home-taped appearance on The Tube singing No More Tears whilst sitting in a big chair that looked uncannily like those used in the Two Ronnies’ ‘Humphrey’ and ‘Godfrey’ sketches was enough to send the major labels into one of those time-honoured ‘bidding wars’, and WEA duly issued debut single What’s The Colour Of Money? in the summer of 1986. Its driving blend of funk, world music, scathing lyrics about commercial exploitation of the developing world (don’t tell him that you think it's green – him, he knows it’s red), expensive arty video retaining the 'Humphrey'/'Godfrey' setting, and Rogers’ arresting visual image meant that, for the briefest of moments, TV, radio and Smash Hits were all over Hollywood Beyond. What’s more, he was called back onto The Tube – for the legendary ‘Eurotube’ special, no less - to review some other sent-in tapes of new bands, discovering The Christians in the process. And then No More Tears itself came out and did nothing. Way in advance of the whole Soul II Soul-instigated ‘global dance music’ scene, and possibly representing too unpalatable a ’dark side’ of the emerging vogue for world music for Paul Simon fans to countenance, there was no permanent place in the pop firmament for poor old Mark Rogers, underlined by the fact that Malcolm McLaren is reputed to have once enigmatically quipped to him “it’s just as difficult arriving too early as arriving too late”.
Hollywood Beyond’s lone and inevitably overlooked album If quietly arrived in 1987, and has since become a major collector’s item, but for most pop fans in 1986 the only permanent reminder of What’s The Colour Of Money? was, well, What’s The Colour Of Money? appearing on side one of Hits 5. And though time may have lent a sheen of naiveity to the lyrical sentiments, and a sheen of annoyingness to the overused accordian, it still sounds pretty good – so good, in fact, that you’d find it hard to believe that someone who could come up with something so sophisticated and yet slick and catchy should have ended up a permanent resident of all of those statistically dubious Greatest One-Hit Wonders In The World… Ever!-type albums. However, not every indirectly chart-climbing The Tube-sourced phenomenon of 1986 was quite so intriguing…
Nick Kamen - 'Each Time You Break My Heart'
Towards the end of its run, The Tube was notoriously enlivened - if that's the right word - by the presence of short-lived co-anchor Felix Howard, a thirteen-year-old model whose Bruiser de Cadenet-anticipating presentational style – most kindly described as ‘unique’ - infamously saw him run out of anything to say whilst interviewing a touchingly sympathetic ‘Dinners’ McCartney. Yet as much as the audience may have chortled at his Jools-stalling haplessness, it was young Felix who had the last laugh, being hand-picked to appear in the video for Madonna’s Open Your Heart and going on to become a big cheese on the business side of the music industry. And he wasn’t the only vogueish – nor indeed Vogueish – male model to benefit from the erstwhile Mrs. Penn’s patronage in 1986.
Nick Kamen, male model, hogger of the cover of The Face, and star of the much-emulated Levi's advert in which he stripped to his boxers in a laundrette, leading to ad-soundtracker Marvin Gaye being propelled chartwards and TV’s Oblivion Boys being propelled into one of the most unfunny parodies of anything ever, had already been the subject of a million ‘who is this mystery hunk?’ pieces in gossip columns by the time he caught the ever-roving eye of Madonna. With the aid of regular collaborator Stephen Bray, she wrote and produced Each Time You Break My Heart for him, and doubtless smiled in satisfaction as it became a huge hit not just in the pretty much already guaranteed UK market but across the globe as well. Waxy of complexion, surprisingly strong of voice, romantically linked to female-model-of-the-moment and regular Tatler cover star Talisa Soto, and equipped with a seemingly endless supply of stylish jackets and brylcreem, Nick Kamen seemed to have been tailor made for the mid-eighties pop charts. Yet despite all this, second single Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever only just scraped the top twenty, the more angular Nobody Else sank without trace, and all that remained for the briefly-popular jeans-discarder were the lucrative European and Japanese markets, some success as a songwriter, and a surprising subsequent career as an artist. In many, many respects, his story was the story of Chesney Hawkes five years before the event.
The automatic assumption, then, is that Each Time You Break My Heart will prove to be one of the more easily glossed-over selections on Hits 5. In fact, it’s actually rather good; perhaps a little too much like a Madonna record with someone else singing on it, but given this is mid-eighties Madonna we’re talking about, this is in no way a bad thing. The case-overstating video, with its Levi's-riffingly tedious adherence to the mid-eighties concept of ‘style’ as something from an imagined early sixties Americana, complete with mind-numbing ‘diner’ setting and one of those old microphones that you’re more likely to see in a behind-the-scenes photo of The Goon Show than in any performance by a Motown great, does give some indication of why the public seemingly got tired of him so quickly, but that’s just the video. Why this infectious and well-crafted song is so bafflingly absent from eighties-skewed oldies stations and hits compilations is a more puzzling matter altogether. Still, it’s here at the end of side one of Hits 5, which is about as high as this kind of honour gets. But will things stay as interesting once we’ve flipped the record over…?