“You’re never alone with a Strand”.
1986 was the year of Self Aid, a benefit concert for unemployment held in Dublin on 17 May. At the time, 250,000 people were out of work in Ireland. The 14 hour concert was the largest that had ever been staged in the country while the performances were primarily by local musicians, although Elvis Costello and Chris Rea were designated “honorary Irishmen” for the day. The song chosen for the finale was Let’s Make it Work, written by Christy Moore and Dublin songwriter Paul Doran. It took place in the shadow of Phil Lynott who had died just four months earlier. Singles-wise the story of year was told through two Now albums, two more volumes of the Hits series, another annual round-up from Telstar and a curious spin-off from EMI / Virgin. And for fans of extended versions, the autumn saw the release of Now Dance ’86 – The 12″ Mixes.
Queen start: A Kind Of Magic was not even listed on Now That’s What I Call Music 7 as it was a late entry, its inclusion only finalised after the sleeves went to press. They played Slane Castle on July 5 1986, a memorable performance in the rain on what would become their final tour. The band stopped playing after Seven Seas Of Rhye due to a fight among people in the audience. Brian May was later hit by a beer can and almost refused to play the encore. He later said this was probably his worst concert experience. Tickets cost IR£14.50 and support came from The Bangles, Chris Rea and The Fountainhead.
A memory from Hoops: “Travelled down the day before as we had booked into a B&B in Slane village for the end. Had a great night out in the pub with some likeminded Queen people and they served the black stuff way way way too late as we were singing our heads off as usual – have a very vivid memory of one guy standing on a table full of glasses and singing Break Free for all he was worth. Woke up the next day the worse for wear – the village was filling up fast and we made our way to the site – was up on the hill near the castle. Watching the helicopters come in and the people like ants wandering around the changing rooms backstage. Great show! From where I was the crowd was enormous and singing every song – the only bummer I remember about it was it was way bright and there was no lightshow as such. And you could see the river Boyne behind the stage – a great setting for a gig”.
Dire Straits ruined Brothers In Arms by including the awful Walk Of Life halfway through side one. Peter Gabriel’s most successful solo single came with Sledgehammer and an extremely potent video while Prince wrote Manic Monday for The Bangles who had a very bountiful ’86. On the other side of the scale, Eurythmics had their last brush with the top 10 – Thorn In My Side which originally was served up on Hits 5. Also featuring on the big dice sleeve were Paul Simon’s heavily-caned You Can Call Me Al and the Pretenders’ storming Don’t Get Me Wrong. The big pop album of 1986 was Invisible Touch; the title track is here and was the first of five singles released from the LP. Like Queen, Genesis also had their day out in Wembley [coming a year later in 1987].
The Queen Is Dead was my most played album of the year. During the first couple of weeks it was getting five spins a day. Mid-June was quite hot; the school holidays had kicked in. I’d get up before 6.00am and pick strawberries until lunchtime, come back and play The Smiths and then head off to play golf. Panic was another non-album single and reached #11. I remember the chart rundown as our ship sailed from Rosslare Harbour to Fishguard en route to Italy. That unforgettable school tour. This mini indie sequence also includes The Housemartins’ jangly cynicism of Happy Hour and Public Image Limited’s hot-wired Rise. And then it’s David Bowie’s magnificent Absolute Beginners. Director Julien Temple shot the music video which echoed the 1950s style of the movie.
Rock for the ages next with Robert Palmer’s driving Addicted To Love. After ABBA and before Ace Of Base, Europe came out of Sweden to reach #1 with The Final Countdown. Then there was the great hope Owen Paul; My Favourite Waste Of Time chugs along without breaking sweat. Cutting Crew’s slowburner (I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight continue to pop up all over the place while Status Quo’s slump lasted all through the decade. Thumbs down for In The Army Now. It’s followed by Huey Lewis and The News’ monster hit Stuck On You before Mr Mister’s mournful but epic AOR of Broken Wings. This somewhat unremarkable path comes to an end with Chris De Burgh and the dreaded Lady In Red. Sing when you’re winning: it’s just like reliving American Psycho.
“Every day it seems my smile’s a little harder
And every day, I seem to laugh a little less
Living this way, it seems my sky’s a little darker
You went away and left me lonely in success”.
We start with a powerful 1-2-3 punch of chart toppers. Billy Ocean’s When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going appeared on The Jewel Of The Nile soundtrack. It was aided by a video featuring Michael Douglas and co-stars Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito as lip-synching backup singers. Don’t Leave Me This Way saw The Communards elevate the Thelma Houston smash to new disco monster levels while Wham! bowed out after making it big with the fantastic Edge Of Heaven. Bananarama are next; a highly-energised version of Shocking Blue’s Venus. Meanwhile Erasure announced themselves [in my world] with the bittersweet Sometimes. The covers keeping coming with Kim Wilde’s peerless take on You Keep Me Hangin’ On. And we don’t have to take our clothes off to go all the way.
My favourite section is book-ended by Now That’s What I Call Music 8 babies. The sisters Appleby took their place on the stage with Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend) while Five Star’s shimmering Rain Or Shine was the biggest of their 15 top 30 hits, reaching #2 that October. Prince had another movie out – Under The Cherry Moon – with its accompanying soundtrack LP Parade. Kiss was stupendously funky; here in 7″ form. The R&B continues with a throwback to 1957; Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite before a surprising appearance from the Godfather of Soul James Brown: Living In America was the say-it-proud theme to Rocky IV. Gwen Guthrie’s classic jam Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent and Cameo’s badass Word Up conclude a most enjoyable sequence.
Level 42 were constant hitmakers all through the 1980s; Lessons In Love was the peak, a #3 hit and the subsequent Running In The Family album and tour saw them sell out five nights at Wembley Arena. Elsewhere Steve Winwood had first charted as part of The Spencer Davis Group in 1965 and went onto further success with Traffic and Blind Faith. Higher Love was a soulful solo smash that’s stood the test of time. Next are Swing Out Sister and the dynamic Breakout; an impressive #4 debut. We end with two slow tunes: Simply Red’s smoky-eyed soul of Holding Back The Years and George Michael’s magical masterpiece A Different Corner, released two months before Wham!’s final 45.
“And rock ‘n’ roll won’t teach me
What the river said that night
I jumped into this beauty
And drifted out of sight”.
Erasure – Sometimes
Bananarama – Venus
The Smiths – Panic
Public Image Limited – Rise
Gwen Guthrie – Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent
Lest we forget
Steve Winwood – Higher Love
Missing tracks and other thoughts
Now That’s What I Call Music 1986 is an even-handed look at the year’s successful singles but lacks the hidden depths of previous years. It’s fair to say that the second half of disc 1 is certainly short on manic pop thrills and becomes a rather pedestrian listen. We don’t get a number one song until The Final Countdown – one third of the way in. Disc 2 is a much better bet; once the big tracks are out of the way, there’s a cracking soul / funk / disco vibe going on from Mel and Kim all the way to Cameo. Get down on it.
22 of the 40 tracks are taken from 1986’s Nows: 13 from Now 7 and nine from Now 8. Two more were included on the Now That’s What I Call Music ’86 spin-off with a further three from the following spring’s Now That’s What I Call Music 9 [Erasure, Europe, Jackie Wilson]. Other contributors include the Hits series with eight songs taken from volumes 4 and 5 while Mr Mister’s Broken Wings ended up on The Greatest Hits Of 1986. Just four numbers missed out on being anthologised during the year: Panic, Kiss, Walk Of Life and Living In America.
1986 saw compilers grudgingly accept that the CD format was here to stay. But its introduction was tentative with Now 8 and Hits 5 getting single disc highlights while Now That’s What I Call Music ’86 was released as a CD-only compilation for the Christmas market. 10 of the latter’s 16 tracks are on this compilation while all bar one of the Now 8 entries had already received a digital release [either on the Now 8 CD or Now ’86]. Likewise for Hits 5; five of its six tracks had already been included on the slimmed-down CD version. Of more interest were the eight songs from Now 7 that had not ended up on the Now ’86 spin-off, the pair from Hits 4 and the two non-CD tunes from Now 9.
21 tracks held the #1 position in 1986 but just seven of them are compiled here. However West End Girls can be found on Now That’s What I Call Music 1985. Of the others, it’s not surprising not to see the omission of Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach and True Blue while novelties such as The Chicken Song and Living Doll rarely, if ever, get included on retrospectives. However I would like to have seen Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus, Berlin’s Take My Breath Away and Nick Berry’s elusive Every Loser Wins make an appearance. Meanwhile So Macho ended up in the top 10 best sellers of the year despite reaching #2. Let he who is without Sinitta. . .