Tuesday, 5 May 2009

1984 Band Aid: Do They Know It's Christmas?

Christmas 1984 will forever and a day be associated with Band Aid in my memory banks. For the whole of December it was everywhere. You couldn't move for one of the 'stars' spouting off about the 'great experience' and the 'good cause' on the TV or on the radio, and wherever they where then the song and/or the video weren't far behind.

There isn't much mileage in criticising the song itself; the main movers Bob Geldof and Midge Ure knocked it out almost overnight with no other goal than having a product in the shops to generate income for their cause. And it shows. But it doesn't matter; there are a lot worse Christmas singles doing the rounds than this one, and it raised millions for a good cause and was the biggest-selling single in UK chart history until 1997. So all gravy to them.

But after all the dust settles, the lyrical tone and message of 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' niggles like a loose tooth. The title for a start - over 50% of Africans are Muslim, so why should they know or care whether it's Christmas or not? The aim of Band Aid was to raise money for famine, not to act as some neo Missionary vehicle and though this would have been furthest from the mind of Geldof at the time, it's still subliminally there.

Further - "And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime" Really? Except of course at altitude where there's snow all year round. "Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears" The only water? Except of course the longest river in the world (the Nile) and the river that feeds the biggest man made lake in the world (the Volta).

"Where nothing ever grows. No rain nor rivers flow" Nothing grows? Ever? Africa is the second largest continent in the world, and what irks most about 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' is the way that it brands its entire 12 million square miles as some sun drenched, fly blown, famine riddled hell hole when in fact only a small percentage of it can be accurately described this way. The continent as a whole has wealth enough for all with mainly politics standing in the way of self help. A simplistic view maybe, but no less simplistic than the one forwarded here which actually puts the cause down to circumstance and thereby absolves the country's leaders from any responsibility other than moral.

But I digress. Or rather, I head into areas that are beyond the remit of this light-hearted blog, so I'll stop and just say that 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' marks a different sort of milestone in my musical life in that it's the point where I first started to loathe Bono with the sort of passion usually reserved for child murderers. The impassioned cry of this Christian on the line:

"Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you"

is breathtaking in its absurdity; isn't the attitude the we've spent the past few hundred years being glad it's 'them' and not 'us' part of the problem as Band Aid see it and one which they are seeking to change? And whatever, it's not a very Christian proclamation is it? Bono didn't write it I know, but the fact he was happy enough to reprise his triumph for the re-make of the song in 2004 proved the man has no shame whenever a spotlight is pointed in his direction.

My hatred has only increased as the years have gone by.

Monday, 4 May 2009

1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood: The Power Of Love

You can't argue with the math - third single, third number one. An impressive record by anyone's standards. What makes it all the more noteworthy is that instead of wringing the last drops out of their tried and tested high energy dance formula, FGTH wrongfooted expectations by releasing an uber ballad that riffed on the theme of 'love' with a dead straight bat.

Building from a strummed acoustic guitar, spare piano and a wistful vocal, 'The Power Of Love' builds with a slow burn into a series of waves that hit the listener with all the force of 'Relax', but which wash over rather than pummel into submission, making it a strangely ambient listen for all its bluster.

Instead of being a pop song dressed up in fancy clothes to try and pass it off as something more worthy or 'serious', 'The Power Of Love' only 'works' by virtue of its total package; it would not be the same song if any of it's internal equation were altered in any way. Lyrically direct, 'The Power Of Love' contains none of the ambiguity of 'Relax' or 'Two Tribes'; it's a love song pure and simple and Holly Johnson's vocal does not need to define the love as homo or hetro because it simply does not matter:

"The power of love

A force from above
Cleaning my soul
The power of love
A force from above
A sky-scraping dove"

Straight, direct and with a clarity that excluded no-one from the party, 'The Power Of Love' is devoid of the cynicism or risqué camp that many thought were FGTH's stock in trade and the band resolutely refuse to give a knowing wink to the camera. And by name checking 'the Hooded Claw' they cleverly ensured that a whole different generation, who perhaps saw themselves as too old or too cool to be involved in all the T shirt malarkey, sat up and took notice.

As a song it's always predictable, even on first listen, and you always know exactly where it's going. Though a power ballad at heart, you can't imagine it stripped down or 'unplugged' to acoustics as it would just get repetitive, boring and end up chasing its own tail. But Trevor Horn's production is again the key to the success of the song and the anticipation of a reprise of the previous verse with added gusto and the slam of the orchestration adds a genuine frisson to the experience. Even if a Sinatra was to tackle it he'd need to retain the arrangement to retain the power.

And yet for all of the above, 'The Power Of Love' represents the first time that team Frankie put a foot wrong. By wrapping the single in a sleeve of religious iconography and promoting it with a video that featured the nativity, 'The Power Of Love' has wrongly been branded a 'Christmas song' and is now rarely played outside the festive season. No doubt such cynical promotion helped to blast the song to number one in December 1984, but the intervening years have seen it relegated to almost an also ran status behind the first two singles whereas it is in fact my favourite of the trio. But no matter, the lack of contemporary airplay means that out of the three it's the one that still sounds the freshest. At any time of the year.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

1984 Jim Diamond: I Should Have Known Better

Diamond first came to the attention of UK record buyers as a third of Pd.D who had a number three hit with 'I Won't Let You Down' in 1982. It's rather ironic that his second appearance in the charts was with a song that showed he broke that promise big time.

There's no point in my beating around the bush with this so I'll say right upfront that I cannot abide this song. I didn't like it in 1984, and if anything I like it even less now. Why do I hate it so much? Well not primarily because of Diamond's insistence on randomly singing along to a melody that only he can hear and one which does not follow the simple synthesised plod of the music.

Neither because of the ghastly lyrics that are meant to portray some heartfelt confession but instead clunk like a seatbelt and sound like a drunk burbling to the barmaid at last orders (the bad grammar on "I've never loved no one as much as you" grates like sand in vaseline too). And not because of the general way the song so obviously models itself of Nilsson's arrangement of 'Without You', albeit by someone who has only read about that song second hand and hasn't actually heard it for themselves.

And it's not even because of the overall conceit and overbearing self centred, self pity that runs through the song as a whole which I admit passed me by in 1984 but which now throbs like a hammered thumb: Jim has obviously been horsing around and telling lies to his wife/girlfriend/lover and now she's dumped him because of it:

"I should have known better to lie to one as beautiful as you".

he whinges, but what do you mean Jim? Are you saying that it would be perfectly ok to lie to her if she was ugly? Surely a lie is a lie and you should know better than to lie to anybody? It goes on:

"I saw you walking by the other day.

I know that you saw me, you turned away and I was lost.
You see, I've never loved no one as much as you.
I've fooled around but tell me now just who is hurting who"?

Who is hurting who? What on earth is that meant to mean? Does he think she's ignoring him out of spite? Obviously he does, because he goes on:

"I cry, but tears don't seem to help me carry on".

Now there is no chance you'll come back home, got too much pride"

Again, the egotistical view that only her pride is keeping her from falling back into his arms is breathtaking in it's arrogant self delusion. Not once in the lyric does Jim say he's sorry, it's just one long stream of head in hands self pity and the only thing missing is the usual weak and last resort threat of the coward that he'll kill himself if she doesn't come back. Those supremely irritating "I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I's" on the chorus (which I DID hate in 1984) would be far more honestly expressed as "me me me me me me's" because that's all that Mr Diamond is thinking of here - just who on earth was falling for this rubbish back in 1984?

No, what raised and raises my hackles more than any of this catalogue of annoyances is the strange, grunting exclamation that Diamond makes at 3:08. I have no idea what he's trying to say or what emotion it's meant to convey, but if that's the way he usually carries on then no wonder she dumped him. Good on her I say; if she's as beautiful as he makes out then she can do better than a midget who looks like a spring onion and she's better off without.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

1984 Chaka Khan: I Feel For You

'I Feel For You' was a cover version of a Prince track which, in the form it originally appeared on his debut album, was a synthesiser heavy pop song typical of his early output which took none of the form, content or production risks of his mid to late eighties work.

Though never a premier league vocalist herself, Khan nevertheless has chops enough to get stuck into material like this, and letting her loose on 'I Feel For You' should be a no brainer in terms of upping the soul quotient that Prince's version lacked. Should be, but it isn't; too many cooks are at work on this and the end result is much less than it could have been.

The heart of the song doesn't present too many problems. Opening with a Melle Mel rap, the same basic rhythm and structure is carried over from the Prince template, only the production is more compressed and crunchy on this, rather like Prince's own sound in his 'Parade' era. Ironically, it has the effect of making Khan's version sound more 'like' Prince than his own version does.

Would they had stopped there then 'I Feel For You' could have become a classic of the decade, but instead of a straightforward cover version that promoted Khan's voice as the star, the end result is a failed experiment of trying to be all things to too many people by covering as many bases as possible.

The recurring rap works well enough, even if it does now date the record as concisely as if it wore deely boppers and leg warmers, but this attempt to build 'I Feel For You' on a hip hop foundation to make it as contemporary as possible is almost immediately sabotaged as soon as Stevie Wonder's soaring R&B harmonica riff starts up.

The schools old and new proceed to grind against each other throughout the song's entire running time like Tectonic plates, and neither of them sit particularly well against the slap funk bass and busy Hi-NRG snyth effects courtesy of The System that are heavy on the cheese and light on substance. Khan's voice too is needlessly processed through a slight echo chamber that gives it a metallic edge and causes it to float curiously above the mix instead of engaging with it at the heart. In terms of soul, it's rather like putting go faster stripes on a Ferrari in that it detracts far more than it adds.

The resultant pick and mix sound is a bit of a mess to be honest, and in what seems to be a recurring theme with a lot of eighties singles, it's not helped by the fact it endlessly recycles all of the above for over five minutes, making the end product more reminiscent of the riot of smudged colour on an artists palette instead of the finished canvas. Rather than sounding truly joyous and celebratory,
'I Feel For You' sounds akin to the forced humour and jollity of a minor celebrity getting a custard pie in the face on Red Nose Day. Spoiled broth indeed.

Friday, 1 May 2009

1984 Wham!: Freedom

Now on a purple patch that saw him writing every other UK number one, George Michael's next outing under the Wham! banner was yet another musical homage, this time to the classic Motown sound crafted by Holland–Dozier–Holland.

From the moment the slightly behind the beat drums, handclaps and descending bassline starts up, then 'Freedom' could be mistaken for a mash up of 'Baby Love', 'Nowhere To Run' and 'Stop! In The Name Of Love', and the aggregate of influences ensure the opening verses are an upbeat gallop in the sunshine.

If you're going to steal then steal from the best, but alas! with 'Freedom' Michael only seems to have part of the map to the treasure. The opening bounces along with confidence for sure, but it doesn't know where it's bouncing to and ends up coming unstuck. Shifts of key crank up the tension and expectation as the track builds to the chorus:

"But you know that I'll forgive you
just this once, twice, forever"

making 'Freedom' run breathlessly through narrow corridors toward an exit door that never appears:

"I don't want nobody, baby, part time love just brings me down".

With no way out, it hits a brick wall dead end of silence where it drops its payload of the payoff line:

"Girl all I want right now is you"

A more anticlimactic resolution to the building excitement you couldn't imagine, especially after Michael had already shown how it should be done with the pop perfection and fish hook chorus of 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go'. Even the brass arrangement, so effervescent and playful throughout seems to give a surprised 'What the.....?' as it jerks back into life to try and regain the lost momentum. Which it does, only to lose it again the next time the chorus comes round.

And it comes round an awful lot, because another of the problems of 'Freedom' is that at over five minutes long, it outstays its welcome by a good two minutes and bores in its repetition. Michael would perhaps have benefited from taking a different leaf out of the Holland–Dozier–Holland book in that the three songs referenced above were short, sharp shocks that came in at under three minutes apiece and by leaving the audience wanting more were all the better for it. By the time 'Freedom' fades into silence there can be few not glad to see the back of it.

1984 Stevie Wonder: I Just Called To Say I Love You

Spare a thought for poor Stevie Wonder: despite a run of copper bottomed, classic five star singles stretching back to 1966, his first taste of a UK number one came through hitching a ride on the back of a wretched Paul McCartney ballad. And if that wasn't ignomy enough, he then has to rely on 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' to mark his first solo appearance at the top.

I say ignomy, for although I would dearly love to be able to report that the success of this song was due to it trumping all his previous singles (such as, lest we forget, 'Uptight (Everything's Alright)', 'I Was Made To Love Her', 'Superstition', 'Higher Ground' and 'Living For The City' etc) and being the best thing he'd ever released, I can't.

And I can't because it's not;
Wonder had always utilised the most up to date technology in his output, but by the time of the mid eighties his growing obsession with synthesisers and all things electronic had ceased to compliment his music and instead became all consuming and detrimental to it. And this detriment is nowhere more evident than on this song.

With a rhythm set down by an electronic drum beat and percussion straight out of the pre-set options of the nastiest, tackiest home organ money can buy, 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' plods along a narrow, four and a half minute road in virtually the same key and time signature from end to end.

Gone was the rootsy feel, intricate chord structures and sharp, jazz like key changes of old and in their place comes a woozy synthesiser hum that oozes out of the speakers like treacle poured slowly from a tin where it settles like a gooey shroud, smothering any excitement or unpredictability that may have dared to show its face. And when something different does finally come along, it only extends to Wonder singing backing vocals through a vocoder. Rather than revitalising the song, it's the gimmicky headshot that kills it stone dead.

Not since Chuck Berry hit number one with 'My Ding A Ling' in 1972 has an artist of stature scored their biggest hit with such a totally unrepresentative song. 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' is the sort of effort the Wonder of old could have dashed off in his bed before he even woke up and then rejected as being too boring. Simplistic, trite, repetitive, saccharine sickly and overly sentimental; it's tempting to think that his experience with McCartney had shown him that maybe he'd been trying too hard in the past and that success would follow a radical dumbing down:

"I just called to say I love you

I just called to say how much I care
I just called to say I love you
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart"

Maybe that's a cynical view, but though the Hallmark greeting card verse may be direct and to the point, Wonder has proved himself capable of far better than this. Hell, a ten year old child would be capable of better. And at least with a ten year old child the result wouldn't be accompanied by the crushing sense of disappointment coupled with the faint gurgling sound of a talent being pissed down the drain.

1984 George Michael: Careless Whisper

Although it's parent album was Wham!'s 'Make It Big', George Michael obviously thought enough of 'Careless Whisper' to justify its relase as a solo single under his own name. In hindsight, it's easy to see why; far less poppy, far less bouncy and far more brooding and 'grown up' sounding, 'Careless Whisper' distanced itself from the rest of the Wham! oeuvre and pointed the way to the solo career that Michael would shortly embark on.

And right enough, it doesn't sound much like Wham! Whatever else Michael's previous hits may have had, they never had any prominent saxophone riffs, and the one thing everyone remembers about 'Careless Whisper' is the riff that opens it and then re-appears throughout at the end of each chorus. It's as memorable and distinctive as Raphael Ravenscroft's work on Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street' and serves as a stement of intent that everything has gone AOR. But while Ravenscroft was allowed an almost free jazz blowout in the course of his song, the riff in 'Careless Whisper' is mechanically repeated note for note as if it were on a loop, making it's appearance rather monotonous and less of a joy after the intro.

And that, in truth, can be taken as a general criticism of the song as a whole. Yes, it is a far more mature and 'grown up' sound than anything previously offered up by Wham!, but in attempting to put clear water between this and the bubblegum of 'Bad Boys', 'Careless Whisper's soul lite sounds fussy, plastic and overproduced to the point of blandness; it's as if Michael was too afraid or unsure of his talent to 'let go' and swing out on a genuine limb for fear of putting a foot wrong and sabotaging a solo career that he was determined to be taken seriously in.

Vocally it's all there, as good as Michael has ever produced, but the backing music is a playsafe blend of muted bass notes and echoed percussion that would sound more at home in a hotel lift than supporting a genuinely heartfelt lyric that ends up being smothered rather than carried. And against such a smooth palette, the saxophone bursts sound out of place and end up jarring rather than invigorating.

'Careless Whisper' is a solid enough song that sticks out in the Wham! canon like Chandler's tarantula on a fairy cake. Solid, but it's one that doesn't warrant the 'classic' status that posterity has awarded it. It may have been a bold step into the future for George Michael in 1984, but in truth the history of soul music is littered with similar sounding, far more worthy tracks that were granted neither the fame or fortune afforded to this one.

1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Two Tribes

After 'Relax' had laid waste to allcomers in the charts a few months previous there was tremendous anticipation as to what Frankie would do next - a viable concern or a one hit wonder? The jury was out. But not for long. Because for anyone keen to write them off as a one trick pony, 'Two Tribes' must have come as a swift kick in the nuts.

After 'doing' sex in 'Relax', FGTH now turned their attention to a war, though there was little original in that by itself. With Reagan and Chernenko presiding over world peace as if it were a game of chess, the eighties saw a number of artists turning cold war tension and the fear of nuclear attack into song. Nena had been there, done that (albeit obliquely) just a few weeks previous, and other bands (such as Young Marble Giants - 'Final Day' and the Television Personalities - 'A Sense Of Belonging') had already captured the feeling of morbid dread that prevailed.

With 'Two Tribes' though, FGTH abandoned the quiet anger proto indie template of the above in favour of a brash, in your face all out attack that recalled nothing less than Edwin Starr's 'War', with the iconic phrase 'War, what it is it good for?' replaced by the equally shoutable 'When two tribes go to war, A point is all you can score'.

Whereas 'Relax' thumped along with the subtlety of a metronomic sledgehammer, 'Two Tribes' opens with a creeping Eastern Bloc anthem of doom before grabbing your hand and pulling you headlong into an adrenalin rush of a fluid guitar riff that careers along at breakneck speed to the end, broken only by intermittently pounding drum fills. Like 'Relax' before it, Trevor Horn's watertight production is the true star here. From the off, 'Two Tribes' presents an almost solid body of sound that lets in no air, barely pauses for breath and yet is as flexible and rhythmical as the finest dance music.

Though it does not address East/West tensions directly, a memorable video of Regan and Chernenko look-alikes slugging it out toe to toe in a gravel pit left no doubt at the time as to what it was all about. And cleverly, like Starr's track before it, by avoiding directly mentioning any references to names and places, the song comes with no date stamp that links it to the Cold War (or Vietnam in Starr's case), making it is as applicable now as it was then.

'Two Tribes' came in a variety of original mixes, all of which are worth hearing (especially the 12" 'Annihilation' mix that samples Patrick Allen's post nuclear war public information film dialogue to memorably chilling effect) but the original single version is all you need. The seven inches of vinyl crams a hell of a lot into such a small space, a barnstorming three minute warning of a song that eschewed any fretful hand wringing to proclaim 'We're all going to die. Fuck it, let's dance'. And in 1984, everybody did.

1984 Wham!: Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

If there's one thing George Michael can never be accused of, it's being original. Having already pastiched rap ('Wham Rap') and Kid Creole's Latin big band swing ('Club Tropicana'), in 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go' he presented a sound based on the heavy beat/fast tempo rhythm beloved of the Northern Soul scene. In fact, by opening with a clipped bassline before shifting gear into a keyboard led groove with rolling drum fills, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for The Jam's 'A Town Called Malice' from 1982, albeit a version put through a boil wash and spin-dry cycle to wash out all the grime.

And it's ironic that, after releasing four singles of social commentary dressed up in the finest pop clothes, 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go''s grittier template has absolutely nothing to say for itself beyond 'get up and dance'. Because from the opening chants of 'Jitterbug', 'Wake Me Up' is designed solely to put a smile on your face, which it does with some whipsmart lyrics:

"You take the grey skies out of my way

You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day
Turned a bright spark into a flame
My beats per minute never been the same"

and a bright, swinging chorus of sunshine that only a moron couldn't love. Yes it's vacuous, and no it's not deep, but you could say the same about so many classic pop songs from 'Baby Love' to 'Hit Me One More Time', all of which share the criteria of being constructed with care from parts built to last.

In truth, you wouldn't have needed Ms Ross or Ms Spears to make those songs into hits, both are memorable with a hardwired lifespan that will forever take them outside the era they were released. And although the sight of a young George Michael in his baggy 'Choose Life' T shirt in the video is undoubtedly an iconic eighties image, in truth, 'Wake Me Up' would have been a hit regardless of who was at the helm.

1984 Duran Duran: The Reflex

In two short years, Duran Duran had become what it took the Rolling Stones some fifteen years to achieve - that is, to become a bloated, self aware and self indulgent excess of gaudy pretension. Perhaps after seeing 'Is There Something I Should Know' get to number one, Duran Duran genuinely believed they could get away with any venture into musical areas and concepts that previously they might have thought twice about, safe in the knowledge that any cracks could be polyfillered with a new hairdo and a fancy video.

And in 1984, maybe they could. For in truth, 'The Reflex' shares a lot with that previous number one - to whit, a song with a dual verse structure that peters away until the chorus kicks in. But if 'Is There Something' was a shambles, 'The Reflex' revisits the format and actually corrects a lot of the mistakes by delivering a song with a far more precise structure that's confident it knows where it's going.

The pieces actually dovetail this time; the song flows from A to B without any jarring splinters and there is a genuine sense of anticipation in those few seconds of looped, disjointed beats before the change of key to the chorus elevates the song. A more muscled re-run of 'Rio' it might be, but it's far preferable to the weak anticlimax in the 'Is There Something'? effort.

Not that Duran Duran should take all the plaudits for the improvement mind; whilst the album version of the track was fair enough by itself, the shortened single version benefited hugely from an extensive Nile Rogers remix. In fact, Rogers seems to do the impossible here by making Duran Duran sound like Chic. Strip away the eighties gimmicks of the staccato stutter vocal effects and Nick Rhode's now tired Jupiter 8 sound and the heart of 'The Reflex' beats with a slick and polished funk groove where Andy Taylor's choppy, abrasive guitar lines bounce off John Taylor's walking bassline like sparks off a hammered anvil. Add to this a restrained yet prominent gospel-like backing whoops and sha la la's on the chorus and you have one of Duran Duran's most exciting and human sounding recordings to date.

Of course, despite the guiding hand of Rodgers, the band try their best to sabotage all the good work with Le Bon providing one of his flattest, tuneless, goose on the loose vocals, honking a set of half baked lyrics that aspire to the enigmatic and mysterious but instead come across as the work of a miserable and 'misunderstood' sixth form poet bored with rhyming 'rain' with 'pain':

"The reflex is an only child he's waiting in the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isn't that bizarre?
Every little thing the reflex does leaves you answered with a question mark"

But this was typical of those crazy New Romantics - frilly shirts, big hair and too much make up needed a corresponding soundtrack, and so a colourful dog's dinner image needed colourful dog's dinner lyrics to match. And on that score, Duran Duran rarely let them down.

1984 Lionel Richie: Hello

Prior to 'Hello', Lionel Richie was best known as songwriter and vocalist with The Commodores who had UK hits with ballads like 'Three Times A Lady', 'Still' and 'Sail On' in the seventies. 'Hello' was his first and last UK number one to date.

'Hello' is probably best remembered for a sickly and overly long promotional video that were so popular in the eighties and cast Richie as a college lecturer behaving in a highly inappropriate way toward a blind female student by stalking her in school and making silent phone calls while she was in bed. I'm sure his intentions were nothing but honourable, but viewing it with modern eyes it's more than a bit creepy; if he tried anything like that these days then at best he would surely have been in receipt of an ASBO. At worst he'd be signing the register, though watching it again, I'm not sure if his attempts at acting aren't the biggest crime on display.

And it's a shame, because while some videos that are
inextricably linked to the songs they promoted (think A-ha's 'Take On Me' or Michael Jackson's 'Thriller') in a way that compliments and creates a whole package, the nonsense dreamed up for 'Hello' only serves to detract from what is after all quite an emotive ballad that has nothing much to do with an orange clay head (watch the video if you don't know what I'm on about). The end result is that it's now hard to hear Richie singing 'Hello, is it me you're looking for?' without visualising his over the top, bug eyed mugging in the video.

And, once again, it's a shame because 'Hello' is a charming and perceptive song about loving from afar and wanting to talk to the person of your dreams but forgetting how to speak.
Because this person could be anywhere - the person who catches your train every morning, the person you live across the way from, the person who crosses your path but never enters your world - just someone you would love to get to know better but secretly know that inertia or shyness simply won't let it happen. We've all been there, and Richie captures the emotion with economy and perceptiveness:

"Because I wonder where you are,
And I wonder what you do

Are you somewhere feeling lonely,
Or is someone loving you?

Tell me how to win your heart

For I haven't got a clue"

And yet what spoils the song is a case of too much 'too'. For a tender paean to unrequited love it's too over egged; the production is too fussy and too dramatic with too many plodding minor chords, too many guitar solos, too much echo in the vocal and too many heavy handed drum interludes etc.

I could go on, but in short it comes across like Nick Drake as produced by Jim Steinman and it's a partnership that should have been annulled before it ever got going. There is probably a cracking demo of 'Hello' somewhere in Richie's vaults that would wipe the floor with the overpolished final version which is essentially a thin person struggling to get out of a fat body.

Not that there's anything wrong with fat bodies per se you understand, and even in this form I wouldn't regard 'Hello' as obese, but had Richie told his producer (James Anthony Carmichael) to 'do it like you did 'Three Times A Lady', then 'Hello' could have rightfully taken it's place on the podium with the best of Motown. As it stands, it's by no means a disaster, but it's just about par when it could so easily have been a hole in one.

1984 Nena: 99 Red Balloons

And still the Germans keep on coming, the fourth Deutsch number one in a matter of months had already been in a number one in its native country and much of the rest of Europe (as "99 Luftballons") the year before, a version that also hit number two in America. Rather like 'Blondie' before them, Nena was the name of the band as a whole rather than the poutingly photogenic lead singer (who name was actually Gabriele Kerner).

There was no mention of 'Red' balloons in the original German version (a 'Luftballon' is apparently any toy balloon) and it was only added in the English translation to make the verse scan properly. It could just as well have been Blue or Green, but you get the picture. Both versions though have a similar theme - that is, a stray crop of 99 Balloons crossing over an unidentified European border and sparking a major nuclear incident (this was the eighties after all). And if the words are different between the versions, the music is the same - that is, synthesiser led soft rock with most of the rock removed.

It's strange that such a weighty subject matter should be accompanied by the limpest of backings. Rather than tub thumping drums and crashing power chords, '99 Red Balloons' flies on the back of cheesy synthesiser riffs with added slap bass fills that don't gel all that much until the song proper actually gets going, and then the guitar riffs and drum rolls are buried so inoffensively low in the mix that they are barely there.

Kerner's tongue lolls around the lyrics in a slightly muddled way as if she has a mouthful of bratwurst; it is literally only today that I've found out that the lyric is actually 'Back at base, bugs in the software' and not 'sparks in the software', and that it's 'opens up one eager eye' and not 'eagle eye'
as I've always thought. So you live and learn. True, though her accented sing/speak delivery adds a touch of the exotic to the song, it does little to convey the urgency of the situation - this is cold war paranoia and nuclear war she is singing about here after all.

I should lay my cards on the table at this point and say I had the most stupendous crush on Ms Kerner in 1984 and listened to '99 Red Balloons' on my Walkman until the tape wore out. And I loved it. Twenty five years on, I can't let my nostalgic heart rule my rational head and I have to admit that the song has not aged well. Though it knocked FGTH off the number one spot, in comparison it can be said that 'Relax' in 1984 was the sound of the present and the future rolled into one stay fresh package.

But by trying to be achingly modern, '99 Red Balloons' pulled virtually every eighties cliché out of its hat, meaning that in Feb 1984 it sounded as contemporary and cool as a phone in the car or Matthew Broderick hacking into the Pentagon in 'War Games' by physically dialling on a telephone and plugging the handset into a computer socket. And how modern do these things seem now? Exactly.

1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Relax

By 1984, with punk and it's following new wave movement a distant memory, the UK charts had become a safe and conservative landscape. It would probably have been pushing it by expecting to see Whitehouse or SPK on Top Of The Pops, but the endless procession of AOR ballads and identikit fops in make up seemed a far cry from the prophecies of Orwell's year of doom and the charts were in dire need of someone to shake things up by throwing a spanner of danger into the corporate machine.

Opening with an ominous bass drum thump of intent that hits like a repeated punch to the chest, 'Relax' explodes into an unstoppable chorus that breaks the butterflies in its path as surely and completely as a millstone grinds corn. And 'Relax' genuinely is virtually all chorus, a refrain repeated throughout that should wear before the song ends, but it's next to impossible not to get caught up in Trevor Horn's all encompassing violent carpet bomb of sound that sweeps all before it like the waters that cleansed the Aegean stables, making the title somewhat ironic.

What delivers the track from total bombast of music by production is the puck-like figure of Holly Johnson and his gleeful vocal. The highly suggestive packaging and S&M themed video weren't needed to court controversy - though no longer as sleazy as it once appeared, 'Relax' is still far removed from the good time camp of the Village People and the openly gay Johnson delivers the suggestive lyrics with the smirking cockiness of the troublemaking kid at the back of the school bus flicking Vs at the cars behind.

"Relax don't do it when you want to go to it
Relax don't do it when you want to come"

So in hindsight, does this contain the 'overtly sexual' inferences that upset Mike Read enough to refuse to play it? Probably. But it doesn't matter, because even if the writers in their naivety meant 'come' as in arriving from somewhere, Johnson's enunciation bends it to the meaning he wants in a way not seen in the charts since Johnny Rotten made it only too obvious that his 'vacant' didn't refer to an empty space.

By the time this left the charts in 1984, FGTH were everywhere. 'Relax' pounded out of every pub jukebox, every nightclub and every clothes shop on the High Street, while every other T shirt worn seemed to proclaim what Frankie were saying; FGTH and 'Relax' were to the eighties what a turkey is to Christmas. It wasn't pretty, but it was, and remains, big and clever and its primal energy and euphoria remain undimmed over two decades on.

1984 Paul McCartney: Pipes Of Peace

In 1984, McCartney was still managing to ride the goodwill carried over from his Beatles years. His solo/Wings career, although patchy, did throw up the odd classic and expectation was still high with every release that he'd finally got his groove back. Unfortunately, 'Pipes Of Peace' falls well short of any 'classic' status and summed up in just under four minutes everything that was wrong with Paul McCartney in the eighties.

For a start, it tries to be too clever for it's own good. With an overly busy tune, a shifting key and a vocal section that is a definite nod to The Beatles' 'Carry That Weight', 'Pipes Of Peace' sounds like an offcut from side two of Abbey Road, a demo of some tunes tried and discarded or else subsequently polished into something quite different. Veteran producer George Martin tries his best with trademark flourishes and military march motifs, but no amount of studio trickery can disguise the fact that the foundations here are shaky from the off.

The three main musical 'parts' sound limp and unfinished by themselves, like three individual pieces of work in progress that are following their own separate paths which would not ordinarily cross. Bringing them together and mounting them as a triptych does not produce an outcome greater than the sum of it's parts; it's as if McCartney is so assured of his own genius that he believes he can throw any old tune together and his natural magic will make it gel. But it doesn't - it sounds forced, laboured and a bit of a mess; in short, a far cry from the clean, direct lines of the best of his previous work.

Secondly, after solving the question of racism with 'Ebony And Ivory', McCartney again goes hunting for bear and tries to sort out another biggie: world peace:

"What do you say?

Will the human race be run in a day?

Or will someone save this planet we're playing on?

Is it the only one?

Help them to see

That the people here are like you and me

Let us show them how to play the pipes of peace"

Had this been the work of a precocious twelve year old high school student entering a poetry competition, then such wide eyed innocent optimism might be passable. But in coming from one of the major songwriters of the twentieth century, it's a shock akin to finding out that '
Oh, I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth' was actually the work of Sylvia Plath and not Pam Ayres who it had been erroneously credited to. A video re-creating the World War One Christmas Day football match (with McCartney playing both the British AND German officer) was a touch heavy handed too, a literal interpretation of the mawkish lyrics that even Pan's People would have though a bit too obvious and unimaginative.

The fact that it was still more or less Christmastime no doubt helped this 'message of hope', complete with a children's choir, to the top of the charts on a wave of gooey eyed sentiment. But this was to be an Indian Summer for McCartney and marked the last time he would appear there in his own right. The goodwill had to run out sometime.