THIS WEEK IN CHART HISTORY – 26th February, 1984
February 26, 2016
Has there ever been a more openly fractious time in modern UK history than the early to mid-80s? Conflict in the fields, the streets, the Commons, in the distant Atlantic, caused deep fissures to grow across the country. Indeed, the sharp divisions of the pop world have never been more evident than in the first half of the Eighties, with new pop, American rock, MOR, the still embryonic indie and hip-hop scenes, New Romantics, synth oddities, hair metal and disco hangovers jostling for chart position. Punk’s Year Zero punch bled into the revolutionary future-spirit of post-punk, and the floodgates opened. Suddenly, Adam Ant, Kate Bush, Boy George, Phil Oakley, Marc Almond glided to Number One – all maladjusted, beautiful, eccentric and lovable in different measures.
By February 1984, only a few things seemed to unite everybody. One thing that did seem to fuse people in rapturous frenzy – you, or somebody you knew, loved Thriller.
In the official album chart of the 26th February, 1984, it sits at Number 5, 65 weeks after it first entered the charts. In its all-conquering stay in the albums charts, it would spend 8 weeks at Number 1. Thriller was a phenomenon, in every corner of the globe. In late 2015, it became first album ever to be certified 30 times multi-platinum for U.S sales. In the UK, it loomed over ’83 and ’84, eventually and cemented the King of Pop as Emperor of the Eighties.
Thriller remains an astonishing record: brooding, tender, strange, infectious and irresistible. The cherubic ten year old of “I Want You Back” was no more: he wasn’t even smiling on the cover. Peter Pan had grown up, and performing the moonwalk for the first time during “Billie Jean” on the Motown 25 celebrations in March ’83, announced himself as something else entirely.
If MJ was hurtling forward, the more reflective souls of Billy Joel and Paul Young were enormously popular in the mid-80s. Paul Young was an earnest Luton lad come good. He wore a thin tie and a large quiff. His cover of “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)” was a runaway success, propelling his debut No Parlez to sell seven million copies – making it the biggest selling UK-signed album on CBS. By the end of the year he was such a household name, he sang the opening line on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
Billy Joel had tasted success ever since his 1973 debut single “Piano Man”, but the album An Innocent Man would be his highest charting album in the UK, eventually peaking at 2, dominating airwaves. A lot of it was down to the single “Uptown Girl”, a blue-collar, blue-eyed, swooning Frankie Valli homage which went to Number 1 in the single charts. It helped that Christine Brinkley was in the video.
Eurythmics knew the power of video. Annie Lennox was poised and ice-cool, with her cheekbones, glare and buzzcut orange hair. She was at once strikingly individual and chameleonic, playing with gender and identity in videos in a way that was lightyears ahead of its time. MTV had began broadcasting in August 1981, and Eurythmics were a band who seemed tailor made for a video dominated pop-world. Touch was their first UK No. 1 album, with three top ten singles. Later in the year, they took on the Orwellian overtones of the year directly with their soundtrack album 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother).
The first ever Now! That’s What I Call Music is outside the Top Ten for only the second time since its release the previous October. It features eleven songs which reached number one on the UK Singles Chart: “You Can’t Hurry Love” “Is There Something I Should Know?”, “Red Red Wine”, “Give It Up”, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, “Karma Chameleon”, “Too Shy”, “Down Under”, “Baby Jane”, “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)” and “Candy Girl”. The series, now on its 92nd edition, has proved quite popular.
The Smiths’ debut eponymous album goes straight in at Number 2. Not many bands could close their album with a song about Myra Hindley, write their debut single for a Peel session, then perform it Top of the Pops covered in gladioli. The Smiths were utterly singular, and an independent triumph. Labels such as Rough Trade and Factory had banded together to publish their own chart in 1980 to celebrate vibrant, regional post-punk communities. Once the chart was published in Smash Hits, Steven Morrissey was a curious enough popstar, part Oscar Wilde, part James Dean, part Sandie Shaw, to burst through the bubble.
In the singles chart, “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood is at Number 2, remaining unflustered by its Radio 1 ban, which had been in place since Mike Read’s announcement in January. Noting the massive shot in the arm the Pistols received from the station’s consternation in ’77, its arched-eyebrow seediness, its winks and pants begged for punishment: it received it, and promptly went to Number 1. Still, the ban did point to a resurgent brand of conservatism in the pop media, which would do most to curb new pop’s vivid creativity by ’85.
In the news in February: Princess Diana announced her second pregnancy. A day later, the nation had new sweethearts, as Torvill and Dean won a Valentine’s Day Olympic Gold. Tensions continue to grow between the National Union of Mineworkers and Margaret Thatcher’s Government. On Sunday February 26th 1984, Johnny Cash turned 52.
Top of the Pops was broadcast on the 1st March. The performances were by Alexis Sayle with “Ullo John! Got A New Motor?” (no. 35 in this week’s chart), Break Machine with “Street Dance” (no. 11), Matt Bianco with “Get Out Of Your Lazy Bed” (no. 17) and Wang Chung with “Dance Hall Days” (no. 42). Nena’s performance of “99 Red Balloons” was repeated as it reached Number 1 for the first time.
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