Nothing's Gonna Change My World: The Ten Least Effective Protest Songs

Protest songs are a notoriously difficult artform. Sometimes, like United Artists Against Apartheid and their 'ain't gonna play Sun City' antics, you can be so blunt and unforgiving about the authorities and your peers that they get spooked and hide it so effectively that hardly anyone actually hears it. Other times, like Scritti Politti and their sarcasm-riven salute to The 'Sweetest Girl', you can be so arch and elliptical that nobody actually realises you were trying to make a point in the first place. And then you can just miss your target altogether. Here are ten songs that, with the best will in the world, are hardly likely to find themselves feted as a lost call to arms...

Julian Lennon 'Saltwater'

A Mellotron-backed lament for global famine, deforestation, the depletion of the ozone layer and the BBC wiping Doctor Who And The Space Pirates, all of which occasion Lennon Junior to blub. The solutions, he appears to suggest, lie in evaluating these phenomena against landmark expeditionary achievements and milestone scientific breakthroughs, including, erm, those inhuman boffins who 'make the deserts bloom'. It also helps, if the video is anything to go by, if a binman looks at the sky sort of wistfully whilst lugging a trashcan. Extra points for sounding the least like The Beatles ever out of anything that the average local radio DJ thought sounded 'just like The Beatles'.

Back To The Planet 'Teenage Turtles'

Crusty techno types have a go back at... what exactly? There's something about those heartless bastards who maliciously go out and work for a living and a 'they' who 'just want people with a brain in their arse' ("'You won't print our lyrics because they say 'arse'!'... erm, we just did" - Smash Hits), but beyond that...? Whatever it is, they're blaming it all on the parents, the schools, the telly 'with adverts', and of course The Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles ("an influence bad, all the little children brain dead, it's sad"), roughly three years after any self-respecting youngster would have given a flying fuck about Leonardo and company. At least Daisy Chainsaw got right to the sodding point. Roll on Britpop, frankly.

Kriss Kross 'It's A Shame'

Daddy Mack and Mack Daddy lift the lid on gang culture, delivering an extended backward-clothed dissection of the major sociocultural lifestyle risk pattern facing underprivileged urban youth in the modern developed world. And their conclusion? It's 'a shame'. They also appear to hold, erm, Pac-Man responsible. Note also the 'meaningful' ending featuring gang members disappearing from the screen one by one. We may well need to call in Roland Barthes to decode the symbolism.

Extreme 'Rest In Peace'

1991's premier exponents of acoustic-funk-metal-with-short-haired-drummer get all gung-ho in the wake of the Gulf War with a scansion-free message for all those lousy goddamn hippies getting in the way with their peace and love when we should just be out there kicking ass - "Make Love Not War sounds so absurd to me, we can't afford to say these words lightly, or else our world will truly rest in peace". There's also a warning not to 'tread on me', a rebuke to a 'hypocrite' who said 'Give Peace A Chance' and caused everyone to 'sit on the fence', and a scarcastic cry of 'Ban The Bomb'. In fairness, they may have just been trying to restore a bit of credibility following their eighteen thousand hit ballads. Either way, seldom was a complex argument delivered with less complexity.

Bill Oddie 'Nothing Better To Do'

With Mods and Rockers on the deckchair-smashing Bank Holiday rampage across the nation's seaside towns, it falls to a Goodie-in-waiting to plead with the Sawdust Caesars to return to their homes and places of business. Despite its dramatic faux-r'n'b pastiche arrangement and Oddie's impassioned delivery and 'in character' spoken word bit as a buck-passing Mod and/or Rocker, it had about as much chance of connecting with them as The Laughing Gnome, and scored a spectacular own goal when the BBC refused to play it out of fear that it would have the precise opposite effect and simply spur all concerned parties on into further acts of throwing tables in Cantonese takeaways.

The Smiths 'Meat Is Murder'

Animal Rights - a complex issue surrounded by a barrage of powerful and emotive debates that perhaps should not be touched on in a single paragraph, let alone as an adjunct of pop music-based levity. Except when they are expressed by Steven Patrick Morrissey in a lyric so flimsy and badly argued that its every last utterance can be dismissed with a simple 'no it isn't' or 'yes it is'. "See Me" - Wendy James.

Tin Machine 'Video Crime'

Bowie and the boys turn their screeching art-rock attention to the thrillseekers gorging on 'Video Nasties', delivering a blistering rebuke to anyone whose average evening's entertainment incorporated cannibals, zombies and drill-wielding painters with a quasi-religious persecution complex and lax definition of the boundaries of 'art'. There was only one problem with all of this. Video Crime came out in 1989, and the Video Recordings Act came into effect in 1984, meaning that all those copies of The Beast In Heat had been flung onto a special bonfire long before they even entered the studio.

Bros 'Try'

Matt and Luke attempt to reverse their Dumper-wards trajectory with an impassioned gospel-inflected ecological plea delivered to some bloke eating crisps, warning that there will be no birds up in the sky unless 'we' stop 'it' now. Presumably the minor landslide of vinyl, cassettes, 'Postermags', badges, t-shirts, leather jackets, pilfered bottle tops and Summer Specials containing bizarre text stories about kidnappers plotting to hold Matt to ransom in 'our 'oliday 'ome' that they had left in their wake did not constitute part of the 'it'.

Transvision Vamp 'Born To Be Sold'

The Crow And Alice-era You And Me theme gets rewritten as a huskily-voiced meditation on the Fame Industry, and everyone from Elvis Presley to Marilyn, Cassius Clay to Billy The Kid (and, inevitably, Morrissey), who became 'slaves of gold' and were, you guessed it, 'Born To Be Sold'. Wendy James, on the other hand, is what she chooses to be; she doesn't need no-one to bleed for her, she's going to make her own history. Let's look forward to her taking up a whole chapter in Dominic Sandbrook's next book.

Five Man Electrical Band 'Signs'

And finally, a bunch of Canadian Prog-Rockers take a brave and controversial stand against something that's been getting away with it for far too long - signs. Yes, actual signs. They won't be doing THAT again!

Still, at least they never saw fit to make a record protesting against the cancellation of a television programme...

If you enjoyed this, you'll probably also enjoy The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society, available in paperback here, from the Kindle Store here, or as a full colour eBook (which really does look quite fab, though I would say that) here.

Slip Inside This House

A look at the various Play School and Play Away albums and their unexpectedly funky and folky grooves...

Rick, Julie And Jonathan Sing Songs From Play School (1969)

That would be Rick Jones, Julie Stevens and Jonathan Cohen, then. Straightforward straight-ahead acoustic-guitar-and-piano nursery school singalong in intent it may well be, but as it's performed by Play School's two most psyched-out surrealist presenters and a jazz-leaning ivory-basher marooned in Children's TV Land, there's some unexpected delights to be found amongst the by-the-book strolls through the likes of There's A Hole In My Bucket and Soldier Soldier, not least folk club-esque takes on a couple of Rick's erstwhile attempts at solo singer-songwriter superstardom, namely a chilled-out bash at You Don't Have To and a duetted version of famously far-out Acid Folk jangler The Flowers Are Mine.

Play School (1970)

The first 'story' album, but with a difference, as everything is drenched in sound effects, bursts of music, and... well, sometimes it's even weirder than that. All the various presenters are on board, many of them performing self-penned efforts, and it really does get a tad mind-expanding at times. Highpoints include Brian Cant blasting into retro-sci-fi orbit with the tale of Professor McSpoon (who invented the rocket that flew to the moon), Carole Ward with the Mr Scruff-sampled tale of All The Fish In The Sea, Lionel Morton taking the slightest excuse to launch into a break-heavy prog monster (as later purloined by DJ Shadow) in Fearless Fred's Amazing Animal Band, and best of all Rick Jones' Splodges, an everyday tale of some amorphous shapes illustrated by squared-off soundwaves provided by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Essential, frankly.

Bang On A Drum (1972)

Never, ever let it be said that the absorption of psychedelia into the mainstream took all the fun out of everything. From its eye-assaulting Airhead-borrowed cover to the gloriously ridiculous Pickettywitch-meets-Mike-Westbrook Pop/Acid Folk/Brit-Jazz hybrid musical mismatch, this is a way better album than any quadrophonic-friendly heavy-hitter in a gatefold sleeve. Most of the presenters around this time were failed or failing singer-songwriters and were cost-effectively allowed to repurpose their little-heard back catalogue for a Humpty-skewed audience, hence this multi-handed effort being jampacked full of such belters as Early In The Morning, Sunbeams Play, The Israeli Boat Song, I Like Peace I Like Quiet, Rick Jones' famously proto-hip hop ode to losing yourself in the music (especially if it's, erm, played by a 'Teddy') Bang On A Drum, and a fantastic jazzy take on the Play Away theme. Raided for samples by The Go! Team, Eric B & Rakim, and none other than Prince Rogers Nelson. Do recommendations really come any higher than that?

Play Away (1973)

A pretty good attempt at doing a full edition in sound only, meaning that there's sketches, gags, poems and free-form parlour games in between all of the music (which, it has to be stressed, there is tons of, and played by Jonathan Cohen's Jazz Club mates to boot). Famed combination of Blaxploitation funk and Dawkins-esque rationalism Superstition is the obvious standout, though the likes of The Party Is About To Begin (which incorporates an interactive clapping game), Words Words Words, Umbababarumba and an energetic rattle through If I Had A Hammer are also ever so slightly good, and then on the non-musical side there's the word-walloping playlet Captain Kipper's Clipper...

Sing A Song Of Play School (1975)

The countercultural excesses of the early seventies are starting to wear off a bit by now, so there's a lot of straight ahead playgroup-orientated tweeness beginning to creep in here, though there's still room for the angular art-funk of Standing On One Leg, Stewart Lee-approved rocker Ground, and the railway-rhythmed Train Song, which both anticipates Station To Station and has clearly benefitted from the input of someone with more than a passing acquaintance with Kevin Ayers' Stop This Train Again Doing It. Also, the legendary proto-Acid Jazz Play School theme itself!

Hey You! (1975)

The Play Away mob make straight for the songs here, but there's surprisingly little attempt to go conventional; Shop Away sets consumerist satire to a neat bit of Fender Rhodes-driven soft-rock grooving, A Rollicking Round sounds uncannily like Jake Thackray circa Bantam Cock, Step Aside can't make up its mind whether it wants to be leftover trad-folk yodelling or proto Barbara Dickson showtune yodelling, Full Circle Medley charts the changing of the seasons like some lost extract from the The Wicker Man soundtrack (only with more references to Match Of The Day), Broadway Twilight sees a just pre-fame Julie Covington slink through a bit of showtune jazz, and thigh-length-booted first crush for an entire generation Toni Arthur sets some real life Wiccan runes to music. You didn't get that with bloody Rainbow.

The Tale Of A Donkey's Tail (1976)

Play School was hurtling towards conventionality at an alarming speed by now, and while this made for perfectly good television it did tend to leave something a bit lacking in the sound-only format. Hence this second story album seems a bit of a comedown after the highs of the 1970 offering, although even the slightly more formula-following stories presented here are at least enhanced by the vocal talents of a pre-Mr Cholmondley-Warner Jon Glover and bird-twitterer extraordinaire Percy Edwards.

Ready Steady Go (1977)

Nobody had told anyone at Play Away about this hurtling towards conventionality business, though, and this little-known third offering is almost as off the wall as its more illustrious ancestors. Jonathan Cohen and his band of Ronnie Scott's escapees once again take the musical reins, while Brian and Toni weave a vague 'night on the town' narrative in and out of the songs about Music Hall, coffee bars and, erm, gambling. And there's a board game on the back cover too!

Play On (1978)

That cover photo of The Toys ditching their Bang On A Drum Premier kit in favour of primary school-style self-made percussion instruments indicates just how much has changed since those musical glory days, and yes, it's no-frills songs to keep the youngsters distracted all the way here. That said, by now we're getting a lot of songs specifically about The Toys, notably Well Jemima Let's Go Shopping and the unwieldly one about Little Ted climbing up the 'perpendicular wall', and these - along with the similarly memorable likes of Sing A Song Of Mrs. Twisty and Paddle Your Own Canoe, not to mention the fact that Floella Benjamin was now on board - will probably provide a more pure nostalgia rush than any of Play On's stablemates.

Hello! (1981)

Play School notoriously got a bit of a zany madcap makeover in the early eighties, leaving little distance between it and Play Away, and this is very much illustrated in this crossover effort blending party tunes with wry lyrics, some of them written by former Clive James co-writer Pete Atkin (though there's sadly no sign of his fellow unlikely Play Away contributor, Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator). And it actually works pretty well, especially on the frantically-paced How High Does A Fly Fly? and the Scott Walker-ish clock-based existentialism of Tick Tock Talk. Ahead lay Bingo, Cuckoo, TTV, Ben Bazell, the Screwball Scramble-esque clock, and THAT new theme tune with Flying Pickets-style 'psh-pshhhhh!' percussion.

Singing In The Band (1984)

The very tail-end of the whole enterprise, and we're into Squeeze/Other Voices territory as the few remaining faithful do their best with a set of songs that bear little or no relation to what came before whilst the threat of an updated replacement loomed close on the horizon. You'll find precious little to please break-hungry DJs, fearless Loungecore expeditionaries or insatiable adherents of the lingering remnants of psychedelia here, though it's worth searching out the single of Reggae Rita, which was backed by a surprisingly credible Dub Version credited to one 'Dr. Dread Gosling'. Also, you can see a copy of the album in Pride.

Not On Your Telly, a book collecting some of my articles on the archive TV we never get to see, is available in paperback here or as an eBook here.

Not On Your Telly

Not On Your Telly is a book collecting some of my articles on the archive TV that we never get to see, with reports from the dustier corners of the archives on the fondly-remembered, little-remembered and just plain forgotten likes of wiped sixties episodes of Doctor Who, sketches edited from Lee & Herring's Fist Of Fun, Play School, R.3, Bizzy Lizzy, Kelly Monteith, The 8:15 From Manchester, Rubovia, Dear Heart, The Tyrant King, Hear'Say It's Saturday! and many many more. And, um, Spatz.

Within its pages you'll find features on The Daleks' first radio appearance, how Bob Dylan ended up acting in a BBC play, what it was like to watch a recovered sixties episode of Doctor Who for the first time, how a throwaway gag about a child who was scared of a panto led to a cowardly act of censorship nearly two decades later, and the enduring puzzle of how and why anyone thought Skiboy was a good idea in the first place. Oh alright, that one's probably beyond explaining.

There's also room for a look at some of the books, films, theatre and pop music that were around when all of this stuff was passing the viewing millions by, including TV-spinoff stage plays, some of the more unusual work comedians had to take to make ends meet in the days before arena tours, and what The Beatles, The Kinks and Pink Floyd sounded like in mono, as well as the unlikely story of the album that inspired Britpop, Well At Least It's British by Alan Klein.

A lot of this has never seen publication anywhere before - there's not just previously edited-out chunks (although there are some of them), but also entire 'new' features, including a history of the BBC's long-running 'Sunday Classics' drama slot, and an attempt to find something to say about that most ignored of Doctor Who stories, The Space Pirates. I'm not giving away whether I managed to or not. This isn't an ideal fun nostalgic present for that difficult-to-buy-for relative, it's for that difficult relative full stop. Especially if they remember Captain Zep - Space Detective.

You can get Not On Your Telly as a paperback here, and as an eBook here. It's also now available from the Kindle Store here.

Fun At One - The Shows I Couldn't Find...

If you've been reading Fun At One, you'll know that there's a lot of fascinating stuff in Radio 1's Comedy Back Catalogue. A lot of it was available during research, some - notably Chris Morris' 1990 debut on the station - was smoked out as a result of the book being published, and some... well it's just as elusive as ever. Here are ten shows that could do with turning up - some of which aren't even in the BBC Sound Archive - so if you know where to get hold of any of them, please give me a shout...

The Baron

Other than a very brief clip of him startling commuters with a portable record player, absolutely nothing has turned up of Radio 1's original camera-shy anarchist of the airwaves.

Star Special - Michael Palin

In the late seventies and early eighties, Radio 1 gave over the post-Top Forty slot on Sunday evenings to celebrities acting as DJs, including David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Neil Innes, Billy Connolly, Clare Grogan, Jasper Carrott, Sparks, Mickey Dolenz, Ian Dury, Debbie Harry, Chas & Dave and countless others. Most of them are out there, but not the appearance by a Ripping Yarns/Life Of Brian-era Palin. You might also want to keep an eye out for him talking about Monty Python: The Case Against on a certain magazine show we'll be hearing quite a lot about in the next couple of entries...

Marvin The Paranoid Android on Studio B15

As part of promotion for The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Marvin The Paranoid Android took part in a phone-in on Radio 1's magazine show Studio B15, with his responses written by Douglas Adams - who also later appeared on Studio B15's& successor Saturday Live to give a similarly elusive plug for The Meaning Of Liff. And that's not the last we'll be hearing about Studio B15...


Long before hitting the big time, Stephen Fry contributed a regular parody of Radio 1's Newsbeat to Studio B15, which came to an abrupt end when he turned in a parody of jingoistic Falklands War coverage. BBC Bias in action, there. Though even that wasn't his first appearance - Studio B15 also ran a feature on Fry and Laurie around the time of The Cellar Tapes.

Not The Nuptials

More than likely the least reverential part of the BBC's Royal Wedding coverage - a one-off Radio 1 special by the Not The Nine O'Clock News gang. They also showed up loads of times in various combinations on Roundtable and especially on Studio B15, notably reading out Griff and Pam's 'Valentine Poems' and a behind-the-scenes feature on the making of Series Three. Surprisingly for a show with such an enduringly obsessive fanbase, none of this seems to be out there.


The most media-friendly of The Young Ones was all over the BBC at the height of the show's popularity, most notably guesting on Lenny Henry's Radio 1 show, where he attempted to persuade the host to play an Incredible String Band record. neil was also a guest on countless editions of Roundtable and Saturday Live, showing up on the latter on one occasion with 'Mike' in tow; possibly the only in-character promotional appearance Christopher Ryan ever did. Incidentally, Dawn French and Ade Edmondson, amongst others, also showed up on Lenny's show.

Punt And Dennis - Follow That Star!

When The Mary Whitehouse Experience became a hit, there were numerous attempts to get the cast involved in the more general day to day happenings on Radio 1, including this serialised retelling of the Nativity for Simon Mayo's Breakfast Show in 1989. Unlike just about everything else under the Mary Whitehouse Experience banner, this has never resurfaced anywhere.

The Borderline

A one-off 1991 pilot for a Friday Night variety show recorded at the venue of the same name, hosted by Lenny Henry and with material written by a very young Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews; so obscure that the writers didn't even know it had gone out. Then there's also the dance music shows guest-hosted by Delbert Wilkins, which few heard due to them going out over New Year. And Tracey Ullman briefly had a show too, which there's scant evidence of out there.

Manchester - So Much To Answer For

Not quite his Radio 1 debut - he'd produced and presented Saturday Live for a spell - but Mark Radcliffe's association with the station really began with this idiosyncratic 1990 documentary about the 'Madchester' music scene. Also rather difficult to find is Lard's 1993 series Glitter And Twisted, a comic Glam Rock retrospective presented by Noddy Holder, as indeed is anything of the variously Mark Radcliffe/Mark Kermode-hosted arts show The Guest List.

Radio Fab FM

A couple of hours before The End Of An Era went out on BBC1, Mike Smash and Dave Nice took over Radio 1 for the afternoon. No prizes for guessing what got played.

So if you know where to get hold of any of the above, please get in touch. Or indeed if you know where to get hold of Jake Thackray presenting My Kind Of Folk, or all three of The Goodies on Roundtable, or Spinal Tap on Saturday Live, or Andy Partridge's 'Agony Andy' segments for Janice Long's show, or the Cult Film Corner on Holiday On The Buses, or complete editions of Walters' Weekly, or Radio 1's 'Easy Night' with Kevin Greening, Jo Whiley and Graham Norton, or...

Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1 is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Bits And Pieces - Some Small Snippets Of Radio 1 Comedy You Might Have Missed

To tie in with Fun At One, and following on from the collection of rarely heard shows, here's a handful of shorter and equally elusive clips of Radio 1 comedy...

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore chat to Steve Wright about the Not Only But Also video, and somehow get sidetracked into talking about Derek and Clive.

Lee and Herring cover their ears as The Fake Rod Hull is challenged by Another Fake Rod Hull.

Adam & Joe call the 'CineLine' in their unbroadcast Radio 1 pilot...

John Peel tells Danny Baker about being surprised for This Is Your Life.

The trailer for Lenny Henry's Sunday Hoot.

David Baddiel goes on Steve Wright's show to drum up some contributions for Sound Bites.

Victor Lewis-Smith shows up as a guest on Jonathan Ross' show.

Kenny Everett's original Radio 1 launch trailer.

And bringing us up to date, Phil And Dan promote their Groundhog Day Special.

Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1 is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

The Top Ten Radio 1 Comedy Rarities

If you've read my book Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1, you may have spotted a few interesting little-heard shows and wondered how you might get to hear them. Well, here are ten of the most interesting little-heard shows, featuring a couple of very familiar names...

The Chris Morris Christmas Show (1990)

Chris Morris' little-heard debut appearance on Radio 1 from Christmas Day 1990, proving a little too strong for nervous 'suits' who neglected to invite him back in the New Year.

Rob And Dave's Comedy Phone-In (1990)

Rob Newman and David Baddiel try their hand at being DJs. Some of the musical choices are amusingly at odds with the image that they tried to project only a year or two later.

Steve 'More Music' Nage (1988)

Victor Lewis-Smith poses as Radio 1's hot new signing fresh from in-store radio, but does he manage to fool anyone...?

John Peel With Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Stuart Maconie (1996)

Standing in for Mark Radcliffe on The Graveyard Shift, John Peel and a fantastic line-up of guests discuss the 'Swedish Elvis', which of The Goodies is the best at fighting, when Noel Edmonds did and didn't have a beard, and the true horror of Radio's 'Spam Fritter Man'.

Sound Bites With David Baddiel (1991)

David Baddiel and Armando Iannucci sift through cassettes of music and comedy sent in by talented listeners, including the legendary demo tape from one Cameron Ingrams.

Skyman (1993)

Mark Radcliffe's little-remembered sci-fi sketch and music show, broadcast alongside Out On Blue Six and making up the most mind-melting ninety minutes ever heard on Radio 1.

Jools Holland (1993)

It's widely forgotten now but the post-The Tube Jools Holland fancied himself as a bit of a comic, and was pretty good at it too. Here's an episode of his Madcap Ealing-esque globetrotting sitcom, which sees him in search of the lyrics to an old blues record with a little help from Vic Reeves.

Newsbanger (1992)

The little-heard Radio 1 special of Radio 4's rockarama newsbanana, with a priceless introduction from Simon Bates, and a touching heartfelt message from Armando Iannucci at the end.

John Shuttleworth Presents Alan's Big 1FM (1994)

When Alan Davies goes on holiday for two weeks in the middle of a running storyline on his own show, it's up to John to try and make sense of things.

The Chris Morris Music Show - 'Heseltine' (1994)

And finally, yes, it's THAT one... and in full!

Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1, which covers all of the above and more, is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1

Fun At One is a book about comedy on BBC Radio 1.

Launched in 1967, the BBC’s pop music station often provided an outlet for comics who struggled to get exposure elsewhere, from humorous disc jockeys of the late sixties and early seventies, through to edgy standup comedians in the late eighties, and more than one whose act defies description even today. Noel Edmonds, Kenny Everett, John Peel and Steve Wright all came to attention on Radio 1, while the station would also provide early exposure for Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Stephen Fry and Stewart Lee amongst many others.

Fun At One traces the story of comedy on Radio 1 from its launch – when a team of former Pirate Radio DJs tried their hardest to live up to the claim that ‘Radio One Is One-derful’ – to more recent experiments with podcasting and streaming video, and covers everything from guest spots and interviews to full-on speech comedy shows. Along the way it covers Kenny Everett, Viv Stanshall, Adrian Juste, Lenny Henry, Victor Lewis-Smith, The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Lee & Herring’s Fist Of Fun, The Chris Morris Music Show, Mark & Lard, Blue Jam and much more besides, not to mention such unexpected figures as Eric Idle, Ivor Cutler, Keith Moon, Roger McGough, Jonathan Ross, Vic Reeves, Danny Baker, Jools Holland, John Shuttleworth and – of course – Smashie & Nicey.

With a foreword by TV Cream founder Phil Norman, Fun At One includes transmission details for all of the shows covered, and new interviews with many of the major figures, from late sixties veterans to the station’s newest signings, as well as the first ever first-hand account of one of the most notorious incidents in Radio 1′s history. Fun At One is an essential addition to any library, but particularly one that’s had a large shotgun hole blasted in it by Sir Henry Rawlinson.

You can get Fun At One in paperback here, or from the Kindle Store here.

If you've already got Fun At One, you can find more books by me here.

Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1 is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Hits 5 Revisited: Side Four

We're now onto the fourth and final side of Hits 5, and if ever we were going to tear through the fabric and unleash a cosmic refracted blast of pure undiluted 1986, culminating an unending fountain of Citrus Spring, then that moment is now...

Red Box - 'For America'

So, after eight whole tracks (well, seven whole tracks if we don’t count True Colors, which we definitely shouldn’t) of musical and lyrical blandness with too much post-Berlin warbly synth bass, we’re finally clear of the ‘ballads’ side of Hits 5; and good thing too, as the overall uninterestingness of the music on offer has led to a corresponding lack of interest in the ensuing writeups. Try as you might, you just can’t get people to read an entry on a Lionel Richie song that probably even Lionel Richie himself has forgotten about, no matter how many ludicrously obscure references to 1986-specific catchphrases you contextlessly crowbar into it. Thankfully, we’re now onto the fourth and final side of this hit-compiling double album, and indeed onto a selection of much more interesting artists who came and went in a whirlwind of none-more-1986-ness. Not least the ones that have the honour of opening side four…

Better known to their friends and family as Simon Toulson-Clarke and Julian Close, Red Box formed in the early eighties with the intention of fusing synthpop with influences from Native American folk music and globo-politically-conscious lyrics to match. Initially signed to infamously eccentric indie label Cherry Red, they were soon snapped up by WEA, whose apparent sanity-defying belief that the wordy musos with their tin can drum sounds could become a sound commercial prospect was proved not to be quite such a defiance of sanity after all when Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo) barged its way through the post-Live Aid chart clamour for dreary stadium rock to become one of the biggest hit singles of 1985.

By the end of the year they had an entire album pretty much in the can, but oddly, the label chose that exact moment to get cold feet about the angular uncommerciality of the whole enterprise, seemingly having completely forgotten their chart-hogging antics of about five minutes previously and darkly muttering that they were contractually bound to deliver something ‘for America’. Upon which Toulson-Clarke and Close duly wrote and recorded For America, a song that piled on the ethnic chanting and percussion even more heavily whilst also taking Uncle Sam to task for his less than enlightened military track record and national obsession with style over content. And, to the surprise of all concerned, it was an even bigger hit, bagging the duo an appearance on Wogan where they played with cardboard instruments to make a satirical point about something or other. Parent album The Circle And The Square was admittedly a flop, barely scraping the top seventy five in the UK on original release, though it stands up as one of the best releases of the decade and has recently been reissued on CD with tons of bonus tracks, including one which is possibly the only known record ever to sample Michael Parkinson.

Other than the fact that its pointedly Reagan-baiting lyrics are troublingly just as topical and pertinent now as they were in late 1986 (well, apart from the “urelei-urelei-urelei-urelei-urelei-urelei-ay urelei-urelei-urelei-urelei-urelei-urelei-USA” bit, but then nobody could understand that even at the time), one of the most interesting features of For America is that – production aside – it doesn’t really sound like a pop record from late 1986. It’s all violins and accordians and ethnic drums and it shovels on the World Music thing to an extent that even Hollywood Beyond would have considered a bit much, and then probably done an advert for The News On Sunday with Boys Wonder while scoffing Cheese Dips in protest. Similarly, the vocals are delivered in a soft non-commital style quite at odds with the aggressive barking favoured by other chartbound critics of US foreign policy at the time (reinforced by a video that combines the band being comically attacked by flying examples of American iconography intercut with shots of foxy chicks in ‘Uncle Sam-antha poses for FHM’ getup), and yet which one had unsuspecting pop loving youngsters joining in with the sarcastic “every house should have its hat on”? And yet it remains by far the best song on the whole of Hits 5, and arguably one of the best songs of the eighties full stop. And there you were dismissing it as mock-indie for the Roland Rat – The Series demographic. See? It’s better than that Rod Stewart song already. And there’s plenty more long-forgotten offbeat interestingness to come…

The Psychedelic Furs - 'Heartbreak Beat'

As we saw a couple of tracks ago, bagging the title theme to a big-budget film was a surefire way of scoring a massive transatlantic – and often even worldwide – hit in the mid eighties. The rarely mentioned dark side of this phenomenon, though, was that it was really all just about the song, or maybe even all just about the film, and nobody much cared who was singing it. There was never much chance of a substantial follow up hit, and for every million copies of Take My Breath Away sold, there were a million copies of Like Flames that remained resolutely unsold. Survivor, Kenny Loggins and a certain other individual we’ll be hearing a lot more from very soon hardly exactly found themselves in a position where ‘the charts’ had to take out a restraining order on them, and let’s just say the designer-clad vox-popped pop fan who confidently told BBC2′s Juice that Hip To Be Square by Huey Lewis & The News was “headed for Christmas Number One” is probably glad the show has never quite achieved cult status.

In this context, you have to feel some sympathy for The Psychedelic Furs. For the first half of the eighties, they’d been the nearly men of the post-punk scene, continually pushing their Berlin Bowie-inspired take on guitar pop close but not close enough to the top forty whilst Smash Hits continually touted them as a ‘weird’ band it was OK to like. Then in 1986, out of the blue, film director of the moment John Hughes decided to name his The Breakfast Club-following opus after the band’s ignored-yet-influential 1981 single Pretty In Pink, and stumped up the cash for them to record a brand new spruced up version for the soundtrack. Thus is was that The Psychedelic Furs ended up accompanying the ill-fated tug-of-love between Andie, Blane and Duckie alongside The Smiths, New Order, Suzanne Vega and, but of course, ‘Belouis’ ‘Some’, and as any feature presentation deemed to constitute a ‘Bratpack film’ was seriously big business with easily Americana-impressed teens at the time – to the extent that ordinarily perfectly sane schoolchildren began wearing letterman jackets and high-fiving each other in the corridors – it was a foregone conclusion that a song that had previously never troubled any charts outside of John Peel’s Festive Fifty would become a huge international hit. Not that the tame guitar sounds, twinkly synth bits and truly lamentable infiltration by the hated American Saxophone were in any way any kind of improvement on a record that was perfectly good to begin with, but it’s since led to the original version becoming a heavily-rotated staple of oldies radio, and that can only be a very good thing indeed.

While follow-up to a hit film Pretty In Pink went on to do very well indeed, follow-up to a hit single Heartbreak Beat didn’t fare quite so well, only proving a moderate hit in America and not even charting in the UK at all. In retrospect, it’s not difficult to see why – cut from very similar musical cloth to the remade Pretty In Pink, it probably offered too much of what fans of the film were expecting, including more of that sodding saxophone, and not enough of what fans of the band were expecting. This is something of a pity as it’s actually a pretty good song, just swamped by the not particularly sympathetic production and further shoved into the background by yet another of those ‘arty’ black and white videos that were ten a penny in 1986, although they do win points for using sixties iconography rather than its tiresome ‘fifties’ counterpart. Actually, perhaps this was the main cause of its lack of chart prowess, as even certain megastars with a fondness for all things paisley sometimes had difficulty getting their latest waxing into the top ten…

Prince - 'Anotherloverholenyohead'

With the obvious exception of David Bowie, Prince is quite possibly the closest thing that the million-selling mainstream megastar pop industry has ever had to a true auteur. Throughout his career, he’s pretty much done whatever he wanted both musically and visually, making no end of artistic about turns that have left fans, critics and nervous record company executives alike bewildered, with albums, singles, films and tours flopping or even being cancelled full stop, only for him to be back on top months later seemingly without having batted an eyelid. For no matter how far away from the beaten track he might have got at times, the fact remains that the overwheming majority of his output has highly commercial without ever straying into sell-out territory, and that’s more than enough to balance out his occasional diversions into his own creative universe. Anyway, when you’ve got a workrate as prodigious Prince, that sort of thing is bound to happen occasionally. Not for nothing did his record label, some seven years after Hits 5 was released, attempt to sue him for flooding them with too much releasable material.

1986 was no exception to this rule, as he took the unusual step of following two massively successful years’ worth of hit singles, albums, and even films (well, film singular, namely Purple Rain), and indeed a time in which he actually seemed to become more popular for turning his nose up at Live Aid, with the highly personal and wilfully uncommercial homage to Film Noir and silent comedy Under The Cherry Moon, and its accompanying understated-jazz-funk-filled soundtrack album Parade. Although extracted single Kiss would become a huge hit and ultimately one of his signature numbers, neither film nor album were particularly rapturously recieved by audiences or critics, selling and box-office-ticket-shifting only respectably (albeit by Prince’s extremely lucrative standards) but treasured by the devoted minority who ‘got’ them, and awaiting rediscovery at a later date. In many ways, Parade was Prince’s Dog Man Star, complete with the Brit Award-disrespecting antics, and the remainder of the singles culled from the album were about as successful as We Are The Pigs. The last of these, late in 1986, was the awkwardly titled Anotherloverholenyohead, though by that time the Sign O’ The Times album was more or less in the can so Prince probably couldn’t have cared less.

As you’d expect from Prince, Anotherloverholenyohead is a mighty good song, but lacks an obvious catchy hook, and also seems to have had random bits of about six other abandoned compositions (and even ’jams’) shoehorned into something that may once have been possibly distantly related to a conventional song structure, and as such while it works brilliantly on the album, and indeed in Under The Cherry Moon, the decision to release it as a single is entirely baffling even by his standards. Unsurprisingly it bombed as a single on both sides of the Atlantic – stalling just inside the top forty over here – though in fairness this may have had as much to do with its status as the umpteenth single from an album that anyone even halfway interested had already bought anyway, which came accompanied by ripoff-friendly well-known widely-available former-singles-themselves tracks as b-sides, as it did with the uncommercial nature of the song itself.

Unfortunately, due to Prince’s entirely predictably paranoid views on ‘the internet’, you won’t find Anotherloverholenyohead, or indeed any of his music, on YouTube (though you’re not really missing anything as the video was just some unexciting studio-based miming in a Cat-from-Red-Dwarf-anticipating suit). How that tallies exactly with him giving away an entire album free with a newspaper against the wishes of his record label twenty years later is anyone’s guess. The video for the next track on Hits 5 really better had be on YouTube, though…

The The - 'Infected'

With every compilation like Hits 5, you always got one song that felt like it shouldn’t have been on there at all. True, there was always a healthy quotient of unlikely hitmakers like, well, Red Box and The Psychedelic Furs, but beyond even these there was always one artist whom even those who liked The Jesus & Mary Chain considered to be a bit ‘out there’, whose record sleeves and interviews scared hapless fans of ‘Belouis’ ‘Some’, and whose presence on an otherwise happy clappy all singing all dancing collection of your favourite best recent hits was surely verging on contravention of the Trading Standards Act. And while Now That’s What I Call Music! 8 infamously boasted Billy Bragg, Hits 5 had The The.

“Hang on”, you’re probably thinking, “isn’t that the The The that later had loads of big-selling albums and recorded with Johnny Marr and all that?”. Yes indeed it is – but that elevation to stadium-filling status would come later. Back in 1986, Matt Johnson’s one-man-band had only recently moved to major label Epic from the near-performance art environs of legendary indie Some Bizarre, and despite gaining a more commercial sound still retained a fascination with macabre lyrical themes and bizarre imagery. This was reflected in the title, lyrics and indeed video (which saw Johnson catapulted around the globe in an ejector seat thingy whilst ‘satirical’ consumerism-related images were projected onto his sunglasses) for title-track-from-the-album Infected, but nonetheless it was a furious and catchy song that really did stand a good change of becoming a hit. Perhaps hoping for a touch of post-Frankie Goes To Hollywood notoriety-instigated exposure, Epic and Johnson really pulled out all the stops for Infected and scored a rare triple-whammy of banned-ness; Radio 1 wouldn’t play the single on account of the explicit – if unerotically graphic – last verse, the IBA banned the video on account of female semi-nudity and burning-at-the-stake antics, and many shops refused to even stock the single on account of the sleeve art showing what can only be described as Satan taking matters into his own hands. All of this combined to counteract any interest that any of the individual bits of controversy may have generated – not many people would really want to buy a record they’ve not even heard in passing – and it stalled just inside the top fifty; though, that said, perhaps late 1986 wasn’t exactly the most sensible time to be releasing a single with the hookline “infect me with your love”.

Quite what the sappier pop kids who considered Rain Or Shine by Five Star a tad harsh on the ears made of Infected is anyone’s guess. Viewed from this distance, however, it’s a remarkable song combining industrial influences with wailing soul diva technopop, and it’s hard to believe it wasn’t more of a hit; the strength of the song alone should have been enough to overcome all the promotional hiccups. It’s almost – almost – the best song on Hits 5, coming a very very close second to For America. And, what do you know, there’s one almost as good again right after it…

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - 'Rage Hard'

There was a time when the tabloid press would have had us believe that Frankie Goes To Hollywood were planning to murder us all in our beds, brandishing copies of Zombie Creeping Flesh and humming the theme from Hardwicke House as they went. And that was just the image; the music was, if anything, even more thrilling, a massive apocalyptic electropop riot with incendiary guitars and provocative lyrics about right-on issues, like The Sex Pistols had wandered into an Isaac Asimov novel, threatening and terrifying Thatcherism from right inside its bloated capital-obsessed heart. Quite simply, they were the most exciting to happen to mainstream pop music in a long time. Yet as the old adage goes, the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and by 1986 they were already starting to look like a washed-up relic from another age, sidelined by the musical after-effects of Live Aid, weighed down by their increasingly embarassing-looking publicity overload, and swamped by their own ubiquity; after all, they even had a totally unplayable ZX Spectrum game based on them. When word filtered out that they were working quietly away on a self-produced and more ‘mellow’ second album, the writing really was on the wall. With ‘FRANKIE SAYS’ in big letters in front of it.

In fairness, their admittedly apallingly titled second album Liverpool has always recieved slightly more stick than it actually deserved. True, it’s not a great album, it’s a massive comedown after Welcome To The Pleasuredome, it lacks any sense of coherency and there’s a couple of tuneless wastes of everyone’s time on there, but the majority of halfway decent tracks don’t deserve to be ignored by association, and occasionally – as on eventual third single Watching The Wildlife – it’s very good indeed. But nobody wanted the album back in 1986, and no small part of that was due to the anticlimactic impact of lead single Rage Hard.

Part of the secret behind Frankie’s success had always been the multiple epic 12″ mixes that were available for each single, turning the familiar radio version into something between a synthpop symphony and a big-budget film soundtrack and introducing all manner of previously unheard song segments and musical effects. Rage Hard feels a little too much like an attempt to do one of these widescreen productions within the confines of a 7″ edit, which kind of misses the point. There’s far too much packed into it for anything approaching radio-friendlyness, and though the extended intro makes for exciting listening in its own right, it takes far too long to get to the point and as a result lost some of the casual fans who’d liked the straight-in-there dynamism of Relax and Two Tribes. It made an impressive debut at number four in the charts, but dropped out again pretty quickly, suggesting that a great many had bought it on the strength of the band’s reputation without actually having heard it. After all this, you’ll probably be astonished to hear Rage Hard described as a great song. Well, it is – it’s just that it didn’t really work as a single in the way that anyone involved hoped it would, and probably did more to hasten Frankie's demise than any tensions with the record label or between band members, and its presence amongst a whole side’s worth of inexplicable chart misses and stray successes by obscurity-bound artists on Hits 5 only serves to underline this. And even if you don’t like Rage Hard, you’ll be begging to hear it again when you find out what’s coming up next…

Meat Loaf And John Parr - Rock'n'Roll Mercenaries

Meat Loaf. He’s one of those people that you automatically think you hate, and then a bit later realise you actually quite like some records by. For all of his endless attempts to remake Bohemian Rhapsody only with different hair, for all of his literally endless songs (well, nobody’s ever actually made it to the end to check), and for all of his lyrics about how with mom and pop we lived in Maine/and my brother Jeff who stole a plane/he crashed it in the pouring rain/we were never the same again/now the years have gone by between now and then/I think about Jeff every now and again et sodding cetera, the fact remains that when his rarely-amended formula works, it really works, and when everything clicks into place the energetic mix of metal, post-prog, rock’n'roll revival stage musical and everything-including-the-kitchen-sink production has resulted in some of the most exciting records in the history of popular music. And this wasn’t solely confined to his earliest efforts, as over the years he’s periodically hit the nail on the musical head again and again. The mid-eighties, it has to be said, was not one of these nail/head moments.

Contractually estranged from his regular songwriting accomplice Jim Steinman, by 1986 Meat Loaf was left scrabbling around for other suitable collaborators, ending up recording the album Blind Before I Stop with former Boney M head honcho Frank Farian. Reputedly, the sessions didn’t work out to either’s satisfaction, but parlous financial arrangements meant that the album had to be released regardless, and despite containing a couple of later live favourites and being plugged with a guest spot on Miami Vice, it failed to do much in the way of substantial business anywhere, and is said to be Meat Loaf’s least favourite of his own releases. All in all, then, it’s quite fitting that the lead single should have been the spectacularly lustre-free Rock’n'Roll Mercenaries. Performed in cahoots with briefly megastar-ish mullet-pioneering singer-songwriter John Parr – whose movie theme-generated hit single St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion) was pretty much a call to arms for the homegrown Bratpack-obsessed crowd quaffing ‘sodas’ (in other words, Yellow Price Cola) in their letterman jackets and ‘sneakers’ – the song appears to have been intended as a blistering attack on music industry fatcats who put profit above art – indeed, it was more than likely influenced in no small part by Meat Loaf’s recent Steinman-injuncting legal headaches – with a stern ‘military fatigues’ video to match, but the somewhat vague lyrics make it sound more like a furious berating of session musicians. Well, they’d been getting away with it for too long.

Rock‘n’Roll Mercenaries, which stalled just outside the top thirty in the UK, is by no means a great song, but it is at least entertainingly silly, with its military two-step chanting backing and ludicrous vocal histrionics over something that, well, doesn’t really matter that much in the scheme of things. It is let down somewhat by the tepid production, which seems to have been tailor-made for hooking a slot on The Chart Show Rock Album or Soft Metal (“it ain’t heavy…”), but it’s still got a verve and sense of absurdity that has been sorely lacking in too many Hits 5 inclusions, especially those by Meat Loaf-level veterans. It’s also pleasingly unlike anything that anyone that famous should have been doing in the immediate aftermath of Live Aid. Hmmm, it’s almost like we’re building up towards giving somebody an almighty hammering…

Spandau Ballet 'Fight For Ourselves'

Over the course of this track-by-track look back at Hits 5, you may well have noticed some low-key animosity towards Live Aid. Without wishing to keep going on about it, let alone devote an entire first paragraph of an entry to it, the fact remains that Live Aid’s fundamental seismic effect on the entire pop industry is key to the story of this most curious of Various Artists compilations. For that one day in July 1985 changed things temporarily, and arguably even changed some things forever, and those who refused to play ball either musically, ideologically, or by not getting involved in the first place, found plenty of metaphorical and literal post-event doors being slammed in their faces. A pop chart that only months earlier had been awash with the likes of Japan, Talk Talk, The Smiths and Propaganda on the one hand, and the at least enoyably silly likes of Modern Romance on the other, was suddenly given over almost entirely to earnest, straight-ahead MOR rock bores – whether pre-existing or born again – and anything slightly left-of-field that did get through, such as For America or What’s The Colour Of Money?, was hardly exactly the foundation stone of a long and successful career. No more would the Top Forty reverberate to the sound of Break Machine.

The one small consolation was that not everyone who joined in the party got to enjoy such commercial benefits. Spandau Ballet – who, pre-Live Aid, were massive in a way that their latterday reputation weirdly seems to suggest that they weren’t, and who managed to just about toe a wobbly line of credibility to boot with their scene-pioneering New Romantic roots, occasional right-on pronouncements, and unstinting support for the charity-driven foundations of the original Band Aid, not to mention their general likeability as people - had been moving towards a slicker and more polished sound and indeed image for several years anyway, but their again-weirdly-underplayed-by-history prominent slot on the bill at Live Aid seemed to be the catalyst for a move into full-on stadium tedium, with saxophonist Steve Norman finally crossing the floor and fully embracing the dreaded ‘American Saxophone’. Unfortunately for them, their existing fanbase just weren’t buying it, either metaphorically or literally, and by the end of the decade they’d all moved on to for once rather successful ‘other projects’. They would in fact enjoy one last gigantic hit single late in 1986 – the to put it mildly not-universally-celebrated riposte to The Troubles Through The Barricades – but the actual single chosen to unleash the parent album Through The Barricades on an unsuspecting public was actually Fight For Ourselves.

There’s not much to say about Fight For Ourselves other than that it’s a transparent attempt by Spandau Ballet to reposition themselves as radio-conquering stadium rockers, and a ropey song without much in the way of a discernible melody; so much so, in fact, that the promo video went out of its way to obscure as much of the actual song as possible with ‘comedy bit’ dialogue about two fans trying to blag their way backstage (and even they probably fucked off pretty sharpish when they heard the song being performed). When the band went to court a couple of years later in an attempt to iron out their much-disputed composer credits, it’s doubtful that any of them were in any particular hurry to have their name slapped onto Fight For Ourselves. In some ways, it was a sad conclusion for a band who had been very much a part of the pre-Live Aid chart-openmindedness, but in other more satisfying ways it’s a metaphorical and literal two fingers to everyone who hopped aboard the post-Live Aid mediocrity bandwagon. And now, we’re on to the final track… but what could it be??

Robert Palmer - 'Addicted To Love'

Well, it’s been quite some journey through the tracklisting of Hits 5. Along the way we’ve reminisced about the mercurial television career of Felix Howard, likened Bruce Hornsby & The Range to burnt toast in audio form, attempted to form a religion based around Nick Kamen, stuck several boots into Live Aid, and been a bit sarky about Roses by Haywoode. We’ve even mentioned ‘Belouis’ ‘Some’ once or twice. No doubt, then, you’re not unreasonably expecting the last track on the album to be some era-defining uber-of-its-time forgotten left-field cerebral pop marvel that will have even Red Box turning in their ’1986′ pass at reception, and finish this epic series of articles with all the spectacle of a post-Bratpack imagined-fifties-Americana-riffing advert recreating one of those big budget gaudy technicolor Hollywood synchronised swimming setpieces, only performed by the Yes Of Course Christmas On 4 robots with Phil Cool emerging from the middle in a fountain of Citrus Spring. And then go on to finally make that third series of The Tripods.

Well, you might indeed be expecting that, but you’d be wrong. The final track on a double album collecting the hits of the closing weeks of 1986 is a song that was a hit back in January 1986. For that was when Robert Palmer, longtime resident of the lower reaches of the top forty and more recently featured vocalist on bizarre rock-and-disco combining Duran Duran offshoot The Power Station, finally broke through to megastar status with Power Station album in all but name Riptide, pioneering designer-clad Madeley-aped ‘smoothie’ image, and – most importantly – catchy radio-dominating single Addicted To Love, decidedly unhindered in its chart prowess by a feminist-and-Musician’s-Union-enraging video featuring Palmer miming in front of a ‘band’ of android-ish Vogue cover-esque lovelies, once perplexingly rumoured to have been Duran Duran in drag, but since revealed to have been genuine models, including ludicrously-knockered future Big Brother housemate Susie Verrico. As you all know the song already, and it doesn’t really belong on Hits 5, there’s not much point in saying much else about it, other than to speculate that the compilers had been holding out for Palmer’s more recent model-assisted hit I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On, only to find that it had been snapped up by rival compilation Now That’s What I Call Music! 8 at the last minute. Like Michael Palin being refused entry to The Reform Club at the conclusion of Around The World In 80 Days, we’ve been left waiting for a bus while 1986 parties on behind closed doors. But that, of course, was in 1989. Anyone got a spare copy of Monster Hits ..?

And, well, that’s Hits 5. Ahead for the listener would lie Bomb The Bass, GCSEs, Alison Lee’s Pants and, yes, Hardwicke House. Of course, there was a Hits 5 video with some exclusive non-album tracks on it,… but that’s another story.

If you've enjoyed this article, you can find more about eighties pop compilations in my book The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society, available in paperback here, from the Kindle Store here, or as a full-colour eBook here.

Hits 5 Revisited: Side Three

And now - you have been warned - we arrive at that most dreaded side of eighties chart hit compilation double albums... the 'Ballads' Side. Can the pan-Kamen leylines running through 1986 make Side Three of Hits 5 into an exception that proves the rule? Let us hope so...

Cyndi Lauper - 'True Colors'

It’s become something of a journalistic cliche to refer to Cyndi Lauper as being Christina Aguilera to Madonna’s Britney Spears. Though on face value there does seem to be something in this, on slightly-deeper-than-face-value it doesn’t really fit at all. Aside from the fact that this analogy does a tremendous disservice to Madonna – unless Britney has somehow managed to sneak out her own personal Dear Jessie without anyone actually noticing – it also conveniently ignores the fact that however she might have been pushed to the public by her record label and management, Cyndi Lauper wasn’t so much an ‘answer’ to Madonna as she was part of a full-on late eighties invasion of ‘kooky’ red-haired American women, with the likes of Katie Puckrik, Laurie Pike, Tori Amos, Sandra Bernhard, Ruby Wax, Rita Rudner and many more wowing Brit-based audiences with their loudmouthed ditzy zaniness, multicoloured ra-ra skirts, eyebrow-raising backcombing, and personalities somewhere between Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and a gold-digging heiress telling Bertie Wooster he’s engaged to them whether he likes it or not.

That said, one sense in which the analogy does fit is that Cyndi Lauper was every bit as alarmingly musically unpredictable as Christina Aguilera, darting between styles, genres, tempos and even levels of frivolity in a manner that continually wrongfooted both those who had liked and those had who hated Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Indeed, her most recent single prior to the one you’ll find on Hits 5 had been the decidedly less than musically and ideologically heavyweight theme to that video shop-hogging film that everyone in 1986 had seen but you, Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough. True Colors, the lead single and indeed title track from her second album, had been written especially for her by mid-eighties uber-hitmakers Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly – chart-topping song-merchants for the likes of The Bangles and Heart – as an overwrought piano-pounding gospel number, but at Lauper’s insistence it became the sparse, haunting, half-whispered arrangement that really did the song justice, emphasised by a surreal symbolism-laden stream-of-consciousness video that seems to have accidentally invented all of Helena Bonham Carter’s bits in Tim Burton’s films. For extra kookiness points, it also features a ra-ra skirt made of dollar bills.

Though it was deservedly yet another chart-topper for Steinberg and Kelly in America, over here True Colors almost unbelievably stalled at number twelve, which makes it all the more surprising that it’s since become so well remembered that some pillock decides to embellish a TV advert with an, erm, ‘slow’ version roughly every three minutes. On Hits 5, it’s a strong start to side three, which of course has the dubious distinction of being the traditional ‘ballads side’. And since these are mid-eighties ballads, chances are that the quality level is about to tail off very dramatically indeed…

Boris Gardiner - 'You're Everything To Me'

A good deal of this re-appraisal of Hits 5 thus far has concentrated on the post-Live Aid struggle between the born-again followers of stadium rock who preached that the exciting new sounds of Brian May’s squiggly soloing had come to replace your old-hat synthesiser (except when he used one on One Vision) and who really understood the lyrics of Born In The USA, and disgruntled Nik Kershaw fans who couldn’t understand why nobody was buying Radio Musicola. Existing entirely independently of this furious equation, however, were the large number of people who, when it comes down to it, simply Like A Good Tune. The same sort of listener who, earlier in 1986, had sent Chris De Burgh to the top of the charts for an obscene amount of time. And who, only a couple of weeks later, pulled off the same trick again for I Wanna Wake Up With You by Boris Gardiner.

Though he had form as a full-on proper serious cred reggae musician, there is no getting away from the fact that I Wanna Wake Up With You was intentionally fashioned for maximum sales-boosting easy-on-the-ear blandness, and indeed seemingly tailor made for Derek Jameson’s Radio 2 breakfast show, where it sat unobtrusively amongst the oft-expressed lack of belief over what ‘the telly people’ were planning to foist on ‘us’ later that day. Small wonder, then, that it should have been followed shortly afterwards by the almost-identical You’re Everything To Me, which closely adhered to the standard form for follow-ups to surprise chart-toppers by rocketing to number eleven and then disappearing from sight - and indeed, it seems, musical history - just as quickly again.

There’s not really that much to say about You’re Everything To Me – even less than there is to say about I Want To Wake Up With You – other than that it’s the commercial track record and enduring massive popularity this sort of musical whitewash that eventually led to the rise of Simon Cowell, and that whether anyone reading this likes it or not, Boris and his ilk outsold The Stranglers, Haywoode and Eurythmics alike in massive amounts, and as such this is perhaps the most out-of-place track on the whole of Hits 5, and certainly the one that paints the least vivid picture of the pop scene in late 1986. Though some of his tracklisting near neighbours weren’t exactly far off…

Rod Stewart - 'Every Beat Of My Heart'

Roderick David Stewart. Rod The Mod. Rod Made About Three Decent Records In 1970 Before Devoting Himself Exclusively To Chatting With Michael Parkinson And Wearing Daft Hats. Yes, whatever the era, whatever the genre, whatever the prevailing globalist sociocultural phase-shift, Rod Stewart has somehow always been around like some kind of post-Glam Rock Zelig, peddling the exact same act to unwavering commercial success and bewildering levels of popular affection, not least since the tiresome Music Festival industry bestowed ‘living legend’ status upon him.

1986, and indeed the eighties in general, was – you will no doubt be unsurprised to hear – no exception to this. While many of his peers at least made some varying attempts to move with the times – even Elton John was moved to ruminate on the Cold War and Apartheid in hit singles, even if he did then go and douse them liberally in ridiculous synthesiser noises - Rod just kept on churning out the same old bagpipe-drenched chat show band blues with the same old themes about travelling very slowly towards your ‘home town’. Every Beat Of My Heart, the title track of his 1986 album, which somehow managed to climb to number two when released as a single, wasn’t his worst crime of the eighties – that dubious honour must surely go to his mauling of This Old Heart Of Mine, which added insult to injury by roping in one of the Isley Brothers to drive the getaway car – but it wasn’t far off.

Sounding like a cross between a bad wine bar band version of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away and the sort of signature tunes the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were hammering out after they got a little too excited about Fairlights and MIDI (and with, inevitably, some bloody bagpipes in the middle), Every Beat Of My Heart chronicles, you guessed it, Rod’s desire to return to his ‘home town’ (apparently by, erm, seagull), a point that is oh so subtly alluded to by a video in which he boards a train and departs sepia-tinted frontier-days America for the comforts of modern-day full colour Scotland, somehow gaining a tie en route. In the circumstances, it’s probably best to deposit this song on a train headed for as far away from Hits 5 as possible. Meanwhile, there should be one pulling in from Chicago in a minute…

Peter Cetera - 'The Glory Of Love'

Given that big overwrought ballad film theme tie-in singles were pretty much the biggest commercial pop proposition of the entire the mid-eighties, and that there’s more than one example of the art form included on Hits 5, it’s something of a surprise that it’s taken until halfway through the third side to come across one. Glory Of Love, however, more than makes up for this wait. Taken from the awkwardly punctuated film The Karate Kid, Part II, where it appeared on the soundtrack alongside such artistically vibrant mid-eighties trailblazers as Carly Simon, Southside Johnny, The Moody Blues and - lest we forget - Fish For Life by bizarre Tears For Fears spinoff Mancrab, it could not have been a more suitable musical accompaniment for a second helping of Ralph Macchio’s adventures in trouncing the evil pupils of that bloke from Cagney & Lacey with the aid of some karate he’d learned by waxing a car, inspiring a million bored transatlantic schoolchildren to fashion those bandage things they’d been using to take their pulse with in double biology into makeshift ‘Karate Kid’ headbands before not actually bothering to see the film itself.

As Peter Cetera’s regular band Chicago had more or less invented the LA Law Theme-style sax-heavy muted-chord soft-rock sound that sonically typified the mid-eighties, it was only fair that he should have enjoyed a slice of solo chart action himself. In fact, probably more due to the radio-conquering appeal of the song itself than any actual levels of excitement over the parent film, Glory Of Love ended up topping the chart practically everywhere in the world; apart from, needless to say, the UK, where the martial arts craze had been and gone ten years earlier and had long since dissipated into the embarrassing realms of ‘Ever Thought Of Sport?’ campaigns and Alex Kingston playing a ‘judo expert’ on Grange Hill. Combined with the underwhelmed reaction towards a film that was generally considered to be no Back To The Future/Teen Wolf, this resulted in the hapless Mr. Cetera stalling at a lowly – yet still impressive compared to some of the chart disasters we’ve had on here – number three on the official Gallup-compiled UK Singles Chart.

Glory Of Love sounds probably pretty much how you remember it sounding – or, if you’ve never heard it before, probably pretty much how you’d expect to remember it sounding – full of soft keyboard tones, phatic exclamations of romantic adulation mixed in with some weird fairytale bits about a castle far away, compressed squealing guitars doing that ‘one random really high note’ thing, slamming drums just before the chorus, and the trademark Cetera low-bitrate-MP3-esque vocals. It’s also got probably pretty much the sort of video you’d expect, made up entirely of soft-focus miming in front of some sliding paper doors that occasionally part to reveal not-particularly-exciting clips from the film. And yet, despite all that, it’s actually rather likeable as this sort of mid-eighties movie-derived musical monstrosity goes, and while it would certainly need more than ‘wax on wax off’ to hold its own against Don’t Leave Me This Way, Suburbia or Some Candy Talking, it’s a pleasant enough and indeed evocative enough easy-on-the-ear mainstream hit covered in lashings of melted processed cheese. More to the point, it’s a flash of brightness on this most tedious of sides of Hits 5. And believe me, things are about to get very dull indeed…

George Michael - 'A Different Corner'

1986 was a big year for Wham!, for fans of Wham!, and for people who hated Wham! alike. For it was the year that pop’s least aware-of-the-major-globocultural-concerns-of-the-early-eighties duo decided to call it a day, with a series of Wembley Stadium-mounted farewell concerts played out to the inevitable end-of-days fan hysteria, and the release of a career-spanning double-album compilation retrospective which appeared to suggest that in their own heads they were possessed of the diversity of David Bowie, the longevity of Prince, and the obscurity-strewn-back-catalogue-ness of The Television Personalities. While Andrew Ridgeley would quietly retire from the public eye, marrying the hot one from Bananarama and investing his musical millions into helping Rohm Dutt quell an uprising of Swampies or something, George Michael had already tested the water for a solo career with two huge hits – gift-that-keeps-giving for chocolate-based pun lovers Careless Whisper in 1984, and A Different Corner shortly before the Wham! day-calling announcement in 1986. At this stage, there was still no hint of anything to do with narcotics, public conveniences, or collaborations with the people behind ITV’s single poorest excuse for a satire show ever (and yes that does include Stuff The Week).

Look, do we really need an entry on A Different Corner? Can’t we just pretend it’s failed ‘compliance’ like Morris Mitchener, and move on to the much more interesting next track on Hits 5? What do you mean, the people who’ve been reading the series so far expect that at the very least it will be listened to and commented on? That’s how the USSR got started! Oh alright then: weedy instrumentation, lack of any tangible melodic structure, overwrought woe-is-me lyrics, overenunciated vocals, unlikeable singer posing in what appears to be a Habitat catalogue shot in ‘arty’ black and white. There. That’s your lot.

A Different Corner, incidentally, was a chart-topper back in April 1986 – literally a different corner of the year – so what in the name of sanity it was doing tainting a collection of hits from the tail-end of the year is anyone’s guess. It’s not like The Final and indeed the single itself hadn’t been bought in their millions already anyway. So let’s just treat it as the abberation in every sense of the word that it is, and get on with the serious business of making surreal throwaway jokes about some of the least epochal pop singles of all time…

Shakin' Stevens - 'Because I Love You'

Even though he’d literally only just scored a well-deserved chart-topper with fifties-meet-eighties high watermark Merry Christmas Everyone, 1986 was a bit of a ‘Whither Shaky?’ moment for everyone’s favourite Madeley-walloping neon-collared neo-Rock’n'Roller. Seemingly feeling that the denim-dominated black-shirt-white-tie rockabilly-for-the-ZX81-era thing was in danger of outstaying its welcome, Shaky would spend the next two years attempting to diversify his sound with a little-remembered Motown Phase, a surprisingly successful flirtation with House Music, a smattering of covers of obscure T-Rex numbers, and even an album-side-long frantic live medley of some of his old favourites, though there was of course still room for a memorably swaggering revival of What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?, accompanied by an equally memorable video featuring comedy copper-infuriating postbox-leaping antics, punk-serenading silliness, and an early appearance by one Vic Reeves. He did stop short of ‘goth’, however.

Needless to say, this excursion into experimentalism didn’t last, and 1988′s I Might was proudly promoted as a good old rockin’ and indeed rollin’ return to what ‘the fans’ really wanted, albeit shoved into a sleeve depicting Shaky amongst a small army of Viz characters for good sales-attracting measure. And, to be fair, the genre-hopping years had indeed seen a slight dip in chart statistics, though what’s surprising in retrospect is that the most successful of those singles – barring What Do You Want To Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For? – was the one that was perhaps the furthest removed from Shaky’s traditional musical style; synth-driven lighters-in-the-air ballad Because I Love You.

Though the video is basically laugh-free nothingness made up entirely of Shaky doing decidedly un-Shaky-like soft-focus ‘meaningful’ looks to camera in some sort of Camp David-esque woodland retreat, the first verse at least is a lot more folky and interesting than memory would suggest; it’s only later that it becomes swamped in tedious sub-Paul Young fretless bass and that ubiquitous mid-eighties ridiculous Nikita-esque synth trumpet sound. On top of that, it’s also a rather wishy-washy song, with bland lyrics and a melody so weedy it might as well be spluttering to a halt while being beaten into last place in a school sports day by Einstein from Skool Daze.

Shakin’ Stevens, whether the irony merchants or indeed the ‘cool’ merchants like it or not, has made some great records. This, while not actually being a bad record, is not one of them. Still, at least it’s pleasant and unassuming and musically keeps itself to itself, which you can’t exactly say about every track on Hits 5

Whitney Houston - 'Greatest Love Of All'

You really have to be careful how you talk about Whitney Houston. It’s all very well and good having found the majority of her music intolerable, and having laughed for about three days solid at Mark Radcliffe’s sarcastic “isn’t that right, Whitney?”, and always hearing Armando Iannucci’s remix of I Will Always Love You in your head rather than the original, and indeed resenting the role she inadvertently played not just in the rise of X Factor culture but also in Glee opting to abandon all of that pesky razor-sharp satire of the fame industry and surrealist bits with Brittany in favour of endless episodes where they all sing one song each by a ‘musical legend’ and NOTHING ELSE, but there’s plenty of people out there who don’t feel like that, and if you do feel like that, well, you can always just sod off and listen to Moose. At the end of the day, unlike many of her peers, she made some good records in her time and didn’t really do any harm to anyone but herself, and it’s not really fair to upset her fans when there isn’t really any good or worthwhile reason to do so. And anyway, all of those grumblings belong to the ‘future’, and we’re currently stuck squarely in late 1986 and Hits 5.

In fact, Whitney’s greatest musical moment was technically still in the ‘future’ too, as 1987 would see her release second album Whitney and a startlingly good run of singles that included Love Will Save The Day and So Emotional, for which her confusingly-titled debut album Whitney Houston and its attendant singles seem in retrospect to have been merely a warm-up. That’s not to say they were in any way poor songs though – yes, as ever, there were far too many ballads, but they were at least tuneful and likeable ballads, and she hadn’t got into that thing of using three hundred and seventy eight notes where one would have done yet either. Greatest Love Of All had in fact originally been the b-side of an earlier single, but was re-recorded for single release and album-tacked-on-ness at Whitney’s own insistence and against her record label’s advice, which shows she had a bit of commercial sense about her at that point too.

So much so, in fact, that Greatest Love Of All is one of the few songs on Hits 5 that really needs no introduction nor indeed discussion; it’s a soaring yet surprisingly subdued-for-its-time ballad with powerfully-delivered lyrics about – what else? – overcoming the odds, not to mention a borderline-tongue-in-cheek video worthy of, well, Glee, and you’ll still hear it at least once a week even now. See ‘Belouis’, we told you the post-New Romantic thing had a limited shelf life, but did you listen? That said, not all hit ballads by established ‘soul greats’ would go on to enjoy such enduring popularity…

Lionel Richie - 'Love Will Conquer All'

The problem with side three of Hits 5 – the ‘ballads side’, if you will – is that most of the artists featured on it have enjoyed long and hugely successful careers, meaning that it’s virtually impossible to make talking about their songs in any way evocative even of 1986 in general, let alone late 1986 in particular. Perhaps this is some sort of karmic retribution for the relentless rubbishing of the Live Aid-fuelled resurgence of the whole stadium megastar industry thing that dominated earlier ramblings about Hollywood Beyond and Nick Kamen, but at the same time this stuff really was huge in 1986 in particular and therefore it’s only fair and right that it should be so heavily represented on an album collecting some of the hits of the year. The only real downside to this is that it makes it virtually impossible to crowbar in any arcane humorous references to All The Bunch Love Dairy Crunch, Yes Of Course Christmas On 4, or That’s All From This Week Next Week For This Week We’ll See You Again On This Week Next Week Next Week So Until Next Week From This Week Next Week Goodbye.

Lionel Richie has been a huge star from the late sixties right up to the unexpectedly witty and self-parodic appearance he more than likely made on at least one television chat show last week, meaning that he’s about as 1986 as Ya Kid K pulling up on a Ninja Scootech to get some Tab Clear from Netto. His string of well-remembered hits of the year – which ranged from clue’s-in-the-title weedy ballad Ballerina Girl to the frankly inexplicable Dancing On The Ceiling, a song which he had apparently deliberately written in a fit of tongue-in-cheek subversiveness after seeing himself described as a ‘balladeer’ – fit about as well into the panoramic Phil-Cool-drinking-Citrus-Spring-while-watching-The-Trial-Of-A-Time-Lord meta-construct as the famously ridiculous spontaneous papier-mache-modelling of his head in the Hello video resonates with Threads. In between those two point-straying singles came the one – yes, yet another ballad – that would end up closing the third side of Hits 5; Love Will Conquer All.

If you’re struggling to remember how Love Will Conquer All went, that’s probably because the single itself failed to conquer much of anything at all, missing the top forty completely on release (though it was a top ten hit in America). The surprise, then, is that it’s actually quite good, veering off into Will Downing-esque ‘Smooth Jazz’ territory with plinky plonky synth tones, and accompanied an amusing video in which Lionel drives virtually the entire length of America through adverse weather conditions to find out why some woman with a very long phone number won’t return his calls. True, it’s not particularly musically distinguished or exciting, but it’s the sort of song you really wouldn’t mind hearing on an oldies station. If they really had to play something other than ‘Belouis’ ‘Some’, that is. And with that, the ballads side is over, and we’re into a fourth side that’s practically collapsing under the weight of 1986-reference-friendly forgotten pop ephemera…