Happy New Year!

As no relevant release was scheduled for 1st January in any year of the 1980s, If You Were There’s first article looks at those acts who didn’t grace the cover of Smash Hits during the decade; there are some surprising people missing.

Perhaps most notable are ‘the King of Pop’, Michael Jackson, and prolific and influential hit maker Elton John. Jackson scored three #1 singles, released what is still the best-selling album of all time, won numerous awards (including a brace of nine-times platinum discs from the BPI) and issued the most successful long-form music video cassette of its time: after Thriller, a promotional video clip was essential if a single was going to chart. The 80s did not yield quite so many sales for Elton as the 70s had or the 90s were about to, but between them his remarkable haul of 34 singles (not including re-issues of past material by his former label DJM, with whom he had a lengthy legal battle) racked up nearly 200 weeks on the chart. Both artists would finally make it in October 1990 in separate issues (Michael Jackson 3 Oct 1990, Elton John 19 Oct 1990), but why were they missing in the years this blog is concerned with?

In general, Smash Hits favoured home-grown talent that had emerged during its own lifetime when it came to the front page (presumably because they were easier to persuade in for a photo shoot). International acts didn’t feature regularly until the final two years of the period – indeed, between August 1981 and December 1985, the only non-Brit was Madonna, once – hence the absence of MJ. In addition, he had firmly established himself in the previous decade, as had EJ.

These editorial conventions explain the omissions of other popular acts. Brits Cliff Richard, Status Quo and Queen (all regular visitors to the top ten) emerged in the 50s, 60s and 70s respectively, while Americans Prince (24 hits), Whitney Houston (three #1s) and Kool and the Gang (nearly 200 weeks on the singles chart) also failed to trouble the art department, despite having their greatest successes in the 80s.

But what of the best-selling UK nationals who debuted in the 1980s and still didn’t secure a cover? Admittedly, Phil Collins was a recognisable face already as a member of Genesis, and as a new soloist was perhaps more of an ‘albums artist’ (his solo LPs spent years on the charts). But the absence of Bucks Fizz (three #1 singles, one of which won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981) is curious: although their biggest hits were squeezed into just a couple of years or so, they were around far longer than some of the people who were cover stars.

The award for most undeserved exclusion, though, goes to Shakin’ Stevens. He was photogenic enough (he made the front of Jackie and Blue Jeans, titles aimed at teenage girls, and also teen magazines Look-in and No1), but his rock n’ roll revivalist records were of a genre not popularized by Smash Hits (nor, for that matter, by the ‘rockist’ papers). Shaky spent the whole of the seventies trying to score a hit (mostly with his band, The Sunsets) and finally did so with his first solo single of the eighties, Hot Dog (released 11 January 1980). A further 29 hits followed (a tally bettered only by Cliff’s 31), including four #1s (equalled by The Jam, Pet Shop Boys, Wham and, through some high-profile collaborations, by David Bowie; they were exceeded only by Madonna’s six) which generated him a total of 254 weeks on the singles chart – more than any other artist in the decade. As a result, he was the most commercially successful British artist in the 1980s not appearing in the Smash Hits hall of fame.


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