You Keep Me Hangin’ On was a bigger hit for Kim Wilde in the US than it was in the UK: while she made #2 here (her first Top 10 single in five years), it went all the way to the top of the Billboard chart there. Conversely, the lead singer on the first hit version of the song, Diana Ross, would have better luck with her recording career in Britain than America. Her continued chart presence in the UK in the 1980s is an example of how the UK and US markets were very different: despite sharing a language and many of the same cultural reference points, success on one side of the Atlantic didn’t necessarily mean success on the other, no matter how established the artist. For instance: Chain Reaction, released in the States at the end of 1985, was Ross’s final Hot 100 single, and it barely made it, peaking at #95. It was only when the single went to #1 in the UK a couple of months later that it was re-promoted (with a new mix) in America and improved on its previous position, this time making #66. British audiences loved the video, with its black and white sequences paying homage to the American soul and R&B shows of the 60s that Ross had appeared on herself; wearing an era-appropriate wig and dressed in the clothes of the day, it was almost incredible to believe it was contemporary footage of her, as she didn’t appear to have aged since her time with The Supremes. Perhaps British audiences are more receptive to nostalgia; written by The Bee Gees, Chain Reaction was deliberately reminiscent of Ross’s Motown recordings, but she was a Motown artist no longer.
She had started the 1980s there, as she had been throughout her career both as a member of The Supremes in the 60s and as a solo artist in the 70s. Her final album for the label, 1980’s Chic-produced Diana, was a fitting end to her 20 years with Berry Gordy: it was the biggest seller of her solo career, with several of its tracks being substantial hits, including Upside Down (which made #2 in the UK and #1 in the US) and I’m Coming Out (Top 20 UK, Top 10 US). The fate of one of its singles showed the difference in the UK/US markets: while disco was becoming increasingly unpopular in the States, here a song like My Old Piano could still be a sizeable hit, despite sticking very much to the late-70s Chic formula. It made #5 here while struggling to #109 there. Nevertheless, Ross finished her Motown career (for the time being) with a TV special in March 1981 which featured Michael Jackson, and her biggest US single of the decade, the Lionel Richie duet Endless Love, which went to #1 that summer and was one of the highest-selling singles of the year. (It made #7 here.) Also in ‘81, she signed with RCA for a reputed $20m, an amount Motown was unable to match.
Her label debut album Why Do Fools Fall In Love’s title track was a Top 10 single in the UK and the US, but follow-up single Work That Body, spoofing the current craze for fitness records like Jane Fonda’s Workout Record, missed the Top 40 there while making #7 here, probably because of there being a stronger tradition for campness and irony with British audiences. (That said, she did however take the kitschy Michael Jackson written and produced Muscles into the American Top 10, which it narrowly failed to do here.) Generally, in the first half of the 1980s her singles fared better in the US, most notably the Richie-penned tribute to Marvin Gaye Missing You which wasn’t a hit here but made the Billboard Top 10. But overall, as a maker of hit singles the UK was home to the loyalist audience: she had at least one hit single here every year between 1970 and 1996. She ended the 1980s by making a well-publicized return to Motown, this time as a part-owner of the label with shares in the company, and released Workin’ Overtime, her first album to miss the Top 100 in the States. Here, though, it was a hit, as was its lead single.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Oct. 13
CHINA CRISIS Arizona Sky (Virgin VS898)
Peter MURPHY Tale of the Tongue (Beggars Banquet BEG174)
Kim WILDE You Keep Me Hangin’ On (MCA KIM4)