Chart Hits ’81 Volumes 1 and 2 (K-Tel, 1981)

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Review
“There was one of the gang, who had Scalextric
And because of that he thought he was better than you.”

1981 was the Christmas of Race and Chase. It had been launched by Matchbox in 1978 and featured a Bandit car and an American police car. The unique feature of this set was that the cars could u-turn, and jump using a tilting bridge. Hours of fun. Elsewhere my record collection had only just begun and would not have any further additions until after The Big Snow (our massive snowfalls of January ’82). For neighbours and relatives of a slightly older vintage, the top seller was Chart Hits ’81, a gift from K-Tel. Like Ronco’s earlier effort, Super Hits, this was a BOGOF which retailed at a higher price than was usual for a single LP. Some great reward: 38 sensational tracks were crammed into its grooves.

The most comprehensive review of Chart Hits ’81 can be found on Then Play Long. It’s a fascinating piece, although a little sniffy in the assessment of the contents – particularly the unrealistic comparison between the NME’s top 20 singles of 1981 versus the tracks on K-Tel’s compilation. Enough; time to drop the needle on side one. So it begins on a folky trip. Spirogyra’s Barbara Gaskin teams up with prog man Dave Stewart (note no A) for a hypnotic cover of Lesley Gore’s It’s My Party. Four weeks at the top of the charts and the video containing a cameo by Thomas Dolby as Johnny. Second billing goes to the Human League and their Dare taster, the joyfully wistful Open Your Heart. Designated Blue.

For the next while it’s gloriously inconsistent. Alvin Stardust’s anodyne Pretend zips by in 2:38. Next comes the sleek robotic sheen of ABBA’s Lay All Your Love On Me. An early fade of 3:51 vs 4:32. Still amazing. More: Hi-Gloss and You’ll Never Know, a late period disco vibe screaming sunshine. Then there’s Bill Wyman’s cheesy ‘n’ continental Si Si Je Suis Un Rock Star before Kim Wilde’s arrival, the storming drama of Kids In America. Wind it back with Sheila’s lacklustre Prisoner. Were B. Devotion involved at this juncture? Rachel Sweet and Rex Martin’s ham-fisted take on Everlasting Love and the nightmarish future (The) Office horror of The Birdie Song wrap up the remainder of the first quarter.

“This is war” intoned Chris Morris on The Day Today where Ottawan’s Hands Up was used for comedic effect. I listen now and revel in its simplicity. Marvel at the wonderful Swain and Jolley magic on Imagination’s breathless In And Out Of Love while cursing the truncation. Meanwhile Depeche Mode cast a synth spell on the addictive rush of Just Can’t Get Enough. Next comes the glacial Vienna, Ultravox’s defining moment of sparse piano and naked isolation. Uncut. For inspiration, check out the first four songs on The Walker Brothers’ Nite Flights LP. Midge Ure continually cites The Electrician as a major influence.

You can dance: Exile’s Heart And Soul sees the Kentucky troubadours throw a final rock dice before going country. Elsewhere Slade urge us to Look Up Your Daughters but are merely treading murky water before their real comeback. After the pop rush of Bucks Fizz’s Piece Of The Action, Bad Manners unleash their bawdy version of the Can Can. Energy flash. Lastly some culture: Louis Clark and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s 7″ version of Hooked On Classics. Sing it: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Flight Of The Bumble Bee / Symphony No. 40 In G Minor / Rhapsody In Blue / Karelia Suite / Aria From The Marriage Of Figaro / Romeo And Juliet / Trumpet Voluntary / Hallelujah Chorus / Piano Concerto In A Minor / March Of The Toreadors / 1812 Overture / Symphony No. 9.

Forever Michael: Volume 2 launches with a 1975 throwback. Jacko’s sickly ballad One Day In Your Life, the soundtrack of a thousand true life stories, released to cash in on Off The Wall’s momentum. I love it. Motown begets Motown with Smokey Robinson’s smooth jam Being With You. Feel the quality on Squeeze’s ode to moribund living, Labelled With Love. But it couldn’t last. Tight Fit return with a second 60s medley which is almost worse than the summer’s Part 1. Puke: High In The Sky / Mr Tambourine Man / Proud Mary / Oh, Pretty Woman / Sherry / Big Girls Don’t Cry / Yes I Will / Stay / Needles And Pins.

Obscurity knocks for Gerard Kenny on the inexplicable rock tune(less) Outlaw. I’ve also put it on You Tube so you can judge for yourself. The same for Charlie Dore’s lightweight You Should Hear, also a hit for Melissa Manchester under a slightly different title. Hazel O’Connor’s moody cover of The Stranglers’ Hanging Around works well though and carries off that early 80s nightclub vibe with aplomb. It crashes into REO Speedwagon’s hokey 50s pastiche In Your Letter which is quickly forgotten as Madness drive the point home on the frantic Shut Up. An air of menace which still lingers 35 years on.

The final side also begins with a 1-2-3 flourish. Godley and Creme’s Under Your Thumb is nicely sinister while the droning Souvenir is lifted from OMD’s well-crafted Architecture And Morality. Destinations, intentions and opinions. After this comes One In Ten, UB40’s scathing commentary on unemployment. A statistical reminder of a world that doesn’t care. Things turn odd with Toyah’s overwrought Thunder In The Mountains, like Enid Blyton’s Adventure series set to music. I still see the parrot Kiki and dream of Bill Smugs.

Instinction Part 2 comes in the form of Mule (Chant No. 2) from Beggar and Co. Flute loop. Then The Nolans’ spacey Chemistry which is followed by the risible Qwaka Song. The Tweets as ducks. Most mysterious of all, the contrived yet compelling new wave sound of The Scoop and Panic. It all ends with This Ole House. And back to ABBA via Star Sound, also enjoying a second success. Now: Stars On 45 (2) / Voulez-Vous / S.O.S. / Bang-A-Boomerang / Money, Money, Money / Knowing Me, Knowing You / Fernando / The Winner Takes It All / Super Trouper / Stars On 45 (2). It’s the best I can do.

Chart Hits ’81: A sprawling mass of pop gems, synth wonders, odd one-offs, inexplicably popular novelty songs and the ubiquitous medleys. During that Christmas, it saw turntable action in thousands of homes across the UK and Ireland. There really was something for everybody. With that in mind, now is the time for it to finally get pop justice.

“Now it’s history.”

Favourite tracks
UB40 – One In Ten

Imagination – In And Out Of Love

Louis Clark conducting The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Hooked On Classics

Squeeze – Labelled With Love

Lest we forget
The Scoop – Panic

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Super Hits Volumes 1 and 2 (Ronco, 1981)

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Review
The most memorable summer holidays often seem to be from when we were children. A delightful escape from the daily routine, in an unfamiliar location with the thrills of new friends and unusual experiences. For me, ice cream is tied into these memories which I previously set out in Did It Taste Just As Good Then? As I grew older, music started to form part of that experience too. On 15 August 1981 my family travelled 40 miles to Courtown Harbour for the first of three successive holidays at that charming seaside town. Many of the songs on Ronco’s Super Hits Volumes 1 and 2 were key to that week away, their sounds drifting from our car radio and the kitchen of the Edenmore Guest House.

Super Hits was “seen on TV” and is another of those twin releases that started to become prevalent in 1981 – Disco Daze / Disco Nites being another example from the same time. First up on #1 is a Scottish folk singer called Mary. She wears a kimino, puts chop sticks in her hair, draws on slitty eyes and changes her name to Aneka in order to sing a song in a cod Japanese accent about her lost lover. Fabulous stuff. It’s a swindle! Tenpole Tudor as fronted by Eddie Tenpole came to prominence in Julian Temple’s Sex Pistols flick. The raucous Wunderbar sounds alien today. Equally exotic is Toyah and her dazzling I Want To Be Free while Madness give us a realistic ode to British working life on Grey Day.

Sons And Fascination. Sister Feelings Call. Two separate albums. They were assembled from the same sessions and hit the shops at the same time during September 1981 and, in some instances, sold as a double LP set. The two releases are variously categorised as a double album, two single albums or a single album and an EP. Love Song appears here, Simple Minds’ first to reach a slightly wider audience (climbed to #47). Elsewhere Eddy Grant’s booming I Love You, Yes I Love is all about the seduction while Black Slate’s awesome Live A Life remains one the decade’s crucial reggae cuts. Stuck in the middle with you: REO Speedwagon’s eternal prom night standard Keep On Loving You.

So what about Adrian Baker then? He produced Liquid Gold, experienced A Song For Europe twice and his band Gidea Park released a non-stop medley (Beach Boy Gold) in 1978. It was reissued at the end of June 1981 and barely missed out on the top 10. In the USA, he is best known for being the falsetto voice for the touring Beach Boys band for various stages between 1981 and 2004. The ingredients consisted of: Graduation Day / Catch A Wave / Surfin’ USA / I Get Around / Little Old Lady From Pasadena / Fun Fun Fun / Sloop John B / Dance Dance Dance / When I Grow Up / Good Vibrations.

And there’s more for we have come to Stars On 45. A creation of Star Sound, a Dutch novelty act. The band, which consisted solely of studio session musicians under the direction of Jaap Eggermont, formerly of Golden Earring, popularised medley recordings made by recreating hit songs as faithfully as possible and joining them together with a common tempo and underlying drum track. Stars On 45 Medley was massive. Here you go: Stars On 45 / Intro “Venus” / Sugar Sugar / No Reply / I’ll Be Back / Drive My Car / A Hard Day’s Night / Do You Want To Know A Secret / We Can Work It Out / I Should Have Known Better / Nowhere Man / You’re Going To Lose That Girl / Stars On 45.

Back to reality and the end of 1980 with ABBA’s Super Trouper. The tempo drops on Champaign’s soulful How ‘Bout Us and Hazel O’Connor’s slow set staple Will You. Bad for good: Jim Steinman’s wizard a true star, Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through. Next is Macca’s cousin, Kate Robbins who, with Beyond, drops the pleasant More Than In Love while recent Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz appear with Piece Of the Action. Much more pop than Making Your Mind Up. Paul Young and the Q-Tips follow with the wonderful non-hit Stay The Way You Are. Volume 1 ends with a dramatic flourish, Kiki Dee’s Star.

#2: The Human League added another building block to their 1981 manifesto. After The Sound Of The Crowd’s March success, Love Action (I Believe In Love) finally saw them crack the top 10. A shimmering synth masterpiece, the second of three pre-Dare 45s. The promotional video was shot retrospectively – after the success of Don’t You Want Me.

Memory: “Back in December 1981 my music collection numbered zero items. I went to Sinnotts in Waterford to buy the 7″ of the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me. It was sold out with the next delivery not due for two days. I was desperate to spend my couple of pounds so started looking at their ‘reduced to clear’ bin. There were some 12″s in amongst them, so ended up buying The Sound Of The Crowd 12″ for 99p. No way back.”
(As recounted to Rob Grillo and featured in the new edition of Is That The 12″ Remix?)

Medley (again): Why? Because the trend was in full swing during 1981. Producer Ken Gold got inspired by Star Sound and decided on a 1960s smorgasbord. He put together a group of male and female session singers and released Back To The Sixties the group title, Tight Fit. All the way to #4 and instead of the session singers who sang on the record, a group of actor / singers including Lowri-Ann Richards and Robert Pereno, were hired to front the group when Tight Fit first appeared on Top Of The Pops. The full horror: Dancing In The Street / (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction / You Really Got Me / Doo Wah Diddy Diddy / Black Is Black / Bend Me, Shape Me / When You Walk In The Room / Mony, Mony.

On either side: we can’t help but be moved by Hazel O’Connor’s stunning (Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up, which mysteriously stalled at #41 in the UK charts. Shakin’ Stevens takes us back to the sound of 1954 on This Ole House. Meanwhile the Basildon boys, Depeche Mode, get the balance right on their exquisite moog synthesiser second single New Life. Operating, generating. Endlessly inventive. The same cannot be said for Tenpole Tudor who make a second appearance. Swords Of A Thousand Men is clumsy and grates. But The Look improve my mood, the singalong good weather anthem Feeding Time.

We’re never too far from the rockabilly groove. Stray Cat Strut boasts a marvellous guitar solo. Winston Groovy’s sunny brings the third quarter to a jiving conclusion. Inevitable with a name like that. Self-identity, family, and soul fulfillment are the name of the game on Going Back To My Roots, Odyssey’s ace cover of Lamont Dozier’s 1977 tune. The heat is on with Imagination’s sublime Body Talk, a uniquely British take on urban soul that spawned a fantastic LP of the same name and a killer remix album Nightdubbing. Next, a percussive delight from Third World called Dancing On The Floor (Hooked On Love).

The Dude: Quincy Jones and his sublime Razzmatazz with a cool vocal from Patti Austin. There’s a fiery disco cookout from The Whispers – It’s A Love Thing. Keep your dancing shoes on for Linx and Throw Away The Key, reputedly the inspiration for Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World. Settle down to Sugar Minott’s laidback Good Thing Going. Super Hits Volume 2’s soulful second half unwinds with more killer disco in the shape of Heatwave’s delicious and euphoric Jitterbuggin’. A song in the key of life.

“Dance with the rhythm of the street in your life.”

Favourite tracks
Madness – Grey Day

Human League – Love Action (I Believe In Love)

Depeche Mode – New Life

Imagination – Body Talk

Lest we forget
Heatwave – Jitterbuggin’

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Chart Blasters ’81 (K-Tel, 1981)

Chart Blasters '81

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Review
Another brick in the wall: Chart Blasters ’81 saw K-Tel dispensing with the space themes and designs, instead relying on the way of exploding fist for its front cover. The chart hits of 1981’s first quarter are documented here; a time when the headlines were grabbed by the capture of the Yorkshire Ripper, the tragic fire in The Stardust and Bobby Sands commencing his hunger strike. Elsewhere the ZX81 was launched, a 1K wonder with a dodgy 16K RAM pack. So can I interest anybody in Perilous Swamp or Sorcerers’ Island?

The record starts with more than a hint of sadness. Roxy Music’s show-stopping cover of Jealous Guy went all the way to the top on a sea of emotion just three months after John Lennon’s death. The kind folks at K-Tel fade this one early – 3:41 to be precise. Cheers then. Next comes The Look’s I Am The Beat is a new wave gem, a less grumpy version of The Jam. And hot on the heels, a pair of rockabilly groovers: Coast To Coast’s memorable take on (Do) The Hucklebuck while the evergreen Matchbox serve up Babes In The Wood.

Four From Toyah EP was the band’s sixth UK single. A chart breakthrough with the new line up. The enigmatic It’s A Mystery was the lead track and was one of the year’s most memorable Top Of The Pops appearances. Meanwhile Phil Collins made his first solo single, the hypnotic In The Air Tonight which was a massive hit on MTV when it launched the following August. Separation anxiety. The track features an amazing drum fill. His debut LP, the intriguing art rock meets MOR ballads – Face Value – followed shortly.

These compilations always turn up hidden gems, tracks that have been subsequently lost in the mists of time. A prime example is Susan Fassbender’s melodic Twilight Café. Highly recommended for dog walking. There’s an excellent and comprehensive piece about Susan Fassbender here. Things take a heavy turn with Slade’s rock juggernaut We’ll Bring The House Down which in turn leads into the frantic Please Don’t Touch, credited to Motorhead and Girlschool. Eskimo Nell gets namechecked. Side 1 ends with the ugly sound of Joe Dolce and the ghastly Shaddup You Face. This means nothing to me.

Side 2 leads with a reissue. Adam and The Ants’ debut single, the jazzy Young Parisians was released before Christmas 1980 and cashed in on the success of Dog Eat Dog and Ant Music. Elsewhere Landscape’s pulsating synth-heavy Einstein A Go-Go is beautifully sequenced with the expansive I’m In Love With A German Film Star (The Passions). The spiky sound of XTC’s Sgt. Rock follows, edgy but fits in perfectly. And the fifth home run is Just A Feeling, yet another Bad Manners hit and one with a killer sax sound. Sweat dance.

Brit funk to the max: get down to Beggar and Co’s wonderful (Somebody) Help Me Out. Check out Disco Daze / Disco Nites for more. Ever lovable, Kelly Marie pulls out a plum on Hot Love complete with insane bagpipe solo halfway through. On Stiff, it’s Dave Stewart and Colin Blunstone’s lush take on What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted? This gives way to terrace tearaway noise of Dancing With Myself, Generation X’s most enduring legacy. Last up is an old folk number, The Oldest Swinger In Town as sung by Fred Wedlock.

Favourite tracks
The Look – I Am The Beat

The Passions – I’m In Love With A German Film Star

Kelly Marie – Hot Love

Lest we forget
Susan Fassbender – Twilight Café

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Posted in Pop UK | 2 Comments