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

Chart Hits '81 V1.jpg

Chart Hits '81 V1 r.jpg

Chart Hits '81 V2.jpg

Chart Hits '81 V2 r.jpg

“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.

Even though it was meant to represent the full year, there are just two overlapping songs with previous compilations namely Bucks Fizz – Piece Of The Action and Shakin’ Stevens – This Ole House which both appeared on the aforementioned Super Hits.

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

  1. Feel the Quality says:

    Squeeze are my go-to answer when asked who I think is the most underrated band ever. They’re also seriously under-valued as songwriters. They were just so damn good during this period. The “comeback” in 87 was glorious.
    I still to this day see people saying that David A Stewart was responsible for It’s My Party. I take great, pedantic pleasure in correcting them.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      I am inclined to agree. I got a taped copy of their singles album 45s And Under during the summer of 1984 and played it hundreds of times. I still have it, although I upgraded to a CD version since. It’s also on my phone and gets an airing whenever I want straight ahead melodic pop. Their Six Of One box that I picked up in the late 90s is one of my most cherished sets too. They also played at my very first concert – along with In Tua Nua, The Alarm and REM – all supports to U2 in June 1985.

      The Dave Stewart confusion never stops. Then there’s the Sad Café Paul Young. . .

      • cosmo says:

        I would like to add my approval to the appraisal of Squeeze. They are one of my favourite bands of that era. (Although I prefer Tempted to Labelled with Love.)

      • Martin Davis says:

        East Side Story is one of my all time favourite albums. First heard it back in Summer 1999 at the age of 11 when my parents forced me to listen to the tape of it during a long car journey. Was rather unkeen at first but it really grew on me.

        Summer 1999 was a time of change for me as I had just finished primary school and my family moved house. East Side Story marked the summer of 1999 for me more than anything on Now 43.

  2. andynoax says:

    I’m pretty sure that this was the first compilation that I ever owned – my recollection is that I got it for Christmas. So my love for the compilation started right here!

    Yes, there are a lot of non-hits but the ones that did make the Top 40 are mostly very good indeed and in almost all cases made the Top 10, even if some of them have become a bit dull through overplays since (hello, Depeche Mode)

    ‘Piece Of The Action’ is a totally top song which gets overlooked as it didn’t do as well as ‘Making Your Mind Up’ and I think the Toyah tune is brilliant though of course it is wildly over the top.

    I don’t share your enthusiasm for Panic, but I do like some of the non-hits. It’s particularly interesting to have 2 that were bigger hits later for others. ‘You Should Hear’, as you pointed out was a huge hit for Melissa Manchester in the US (though not here) and ‘Heart And Soul’ was picked up by Huey Lewis & The News (again, not such a big smash in the UK admittedly)

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Thanks Andy – yes, had forgotten about Huey Lewis having success with Heart And Soul. Certainly much more remembered than Exile’s version. There’s a connection between The Scoop and King Trigger (non-hit act on future Ronco compilations).

  3. Pingback: Chart Hits ’82 Volumes 1 and 2 (K-Tel, 1982) | A Pop Fan's Dream

  4. siouzey says:

    Thunder in the mountains by Toyah is a classic toon, here in N.I they had a then new, “Contemporary Music” pop video strand, and this was on of thee first four vids they showed incessantly! I love it!

    This is a something for all compo, andd for that it gets thumbs up from me.

    Barbs and daves verssion of “Its my party” by Laeslie gore, is an example (to me) of where the Cover version was miles miles better than the original, which was unfortunately (for such a dark song) sung like a hot slut cumming at a weeny roast!

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Agreed! It’s very diverse – we used to play it at my cousins’ house and everybody had a few tracks that they liked. Great cover of It’s My Party – there’s plenty of them that are superior to the originals.

  5. Pingback: Now That’s What I Call Music 1981: The Millennium Series (EMI / Virgin / Universal, 1999) | A Pop Fan's Dream

  6. Martin Davis says:

    I am rather puzzled as to why “One day in your life” was featured here rather than a track from “Off The Wall”.

    The picture from the front cover “Off the wall” is featured and artists such as ABBA and Shakin Stevens which were on the EPIC Label are featured so is it more likely to be a case that ‘One Day’ was more recently released as opposed to rights issues preventing a track from “Off the wall” appearing?

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Hi Martin, by Christmas 1981 Off The Wall was over two years old and the associated singles charted in 1979 and 1980. Whereas One Day In The Life was a #1 and recent-ish – I remember it peaking in early summer, June or so.

    • Matt Hayes says:

      Michael Jackson wasn’t on any compilations from the time except for a butchered version of Thriller on the first Hits Album and One Day in Your Life which appeared on almost every comp just so the compilers could proudly claim to have a Jacko song included. In reality, I’m pretty sure your comment about licensing is on the mark. One Day in Your Life was on Motown, an song several years old that was dusted off and hit #1, whereas every other solo Jackson song in the 80s was on Epic. I don’t know if Epic wanted an obscene amount of money to license Jackson’s tracks or if Jackson himself didn’t want them included on comps (like Madonna who was always wary of them although several of hers did appear on Hits)… but either way, I would be surprised if it wasn’t the licensing that was the issue.

      • nlgbbbblth says:

        Frequently comes down to cost I think, Matt. One Day In Your Life also ended up on Now Smash Hits (LP only) when something from the Thriller era would have been a lot more suitable.

        The Thriller mix on Hits 1 seems to be the same as the US 7″ promo of the time.

        Madonna being on Sire which is owned by Warner Brothers is the likely reason for her inclusion the Hits albums. After five years of uninterrupted success, compilation albums ended up being placed in their own chart from January 1989. Ashley Abram attributes this to, “pressure from US companies on their UK counterparts i.e. Warner/Sony as they couldn’t understand why their superstars were being kept off the top by Now!”
        Superstars being Madonna – True Blue album was knocked off its #1 perch by Now 7 and failed to regain it during the run up to Christmas 1986 because of Now 8.
        Although Madonna has appeared on two Now spin-offs:
        30 Years – Into The Groove
        00s (first one) – Hung Up

        • Matt Hayes says:

          I think Madonna was also on Now 80s Hits or something similar too. It was considered to be a big deal because she hadn’t previously appeared on a Now album. I think that’s right, anyway…

  7. Martin Davis says:

    Something I find interesting about this album is that Shadap Ya Face by Joe Dolce isn’t included given that it got to No1 and this compilation was meant to represent the whole year.

    Personally I would have had that in place of The Quakka Song.

    Similarly I wonder why the Joe Dolce track was included on the earlier Chartblasters whilst Vienna wasn’t?

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      The Quakka Song was like one of those in-house things. I think Chart Blasters wanted the kudos of having a #1 single while Chart Hits ’81 took a more holistic view and included the better song (Vienna). I suppose they also wanted a “fresh” feel to the compilation so practically all of it had avoided being compiled on rival comps earlier that year.

  8. Ald 1969 says:

    I Got this Double Bogoff for Christmas 81 and loved it, favourite track open your heart by the Human League who i was mad on, but some classic non and low chart tracks as well Heart & Soul Exile and Everlasting love were goodies.

  9. Matt Hayes says:

    The artwork is horrific but it’s actually a decent effort from K-Tel.

  10. Pingback: Jukebox Journals #7: I Dream Of Jukeboxes (afdpj meets nlgbbbblth) – Amazingly few discotheques provide jukeboxes

  11. Joe says:

    Did this take the top spot again in 2022?

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Not this time. Top 10 for 2022

      01 Modern Dance
      02 Chart Hits ’82
      03 Chart Hits ’81
      04 New Hits ’99
      05 Pure Moods
      06 Now That’s What I Call Music 1999: The Millennium Series
      07 Sounds Of The New West
      08 Chart Hits ’83
      09 The A To Z Of Irish Rock
      10 Now That’s What I Call Music 17

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