The Next Big Thing? Part 1

TwitterThe Smash Hits Yearbook was published annually from 1982 onwards. A recurring feature was one in which the magazine tried to predict the chart stars of the future. The article went by a few different names: in the 1983 yearbook it was called ‘With a little luck…’; in 1984 and 1987 it was ’Fifteen for Eighty-Four’ and ‘Seven for ’87’ respectively; and in the others, ‘The Next Big Thing?’. The query in that last title was apt, as over a third of the acts predicted for success never made it. No predictions were made for 1986, but across the other years 57 acts were named who were expected to make it big in the 80s. They can be divided into three broad categories: those who made it, those who didn’t, and those who enjoyed a tantalizing taste of fame before disappearing into obscurity. Over the next three days, If You Were There looks at each of these categories in turn, starting today with those who ‘made it’: that it is to say, each had at least one Top 40 single in the UK.

The Next Big Thing? Part I

The Alarm
Year predicted to break: 1984
Biggest hit: 68 Guns (reached #17 on 15/10/83)
The 1984 yearbook was published on 3 November 1983, and by that time The Alarm had already had their biggest hit single. Nevertheless, 1984 was their most commercially successful year, given they had three hit singles that year (more than any other year of their career) and made the album chart of the first time. Mike Peters announced in 1991 (the last time The Alarm had a charting album) that he was leaving the band but various reconfigurations of The Alarm have operated ever since. Their last hit single (credited to Alarm MMVI) was in 2006.

Animal Nightlife
Year predicted to break: 1983
Biggest hit: Mr Solitaire (reached #25 on 6/10/84)
Formed in 1980 with lots of members and “a wide stylistic range which incorporates jazz and seventies soul” according to the ’83 yearbook, who did indeed break in 1983 and had hits through to 1987. They were originally signed to Inner Vision (with another Smash Hits tip, Wham!; Dee C Lee contributed vocals to both bands) but moved to Island in time for their biggest hit and their debut album, released in 1985. A second LP appeared in 1988 (by which time they were on 10 Records) and then they split.

Aztec Camera
Year predicted to break: 1984
Biggest hit: Somewhere In My Heart (reached #3 on 11/6/88)
Roddy Frame was actually on the cover of Smash Hits itself (the issue of 27 October – 9 November 1983) on the day the 1984 yearbook was published, which was the one predicting his band Aztec Camera would be chart stars. (Being the magazine’s cover star in those days did not necessarily mean the act in question had ‘made it’ of course. But it was unusual for an artist nominated in the ‘The Next Big Thing?’ feature to have already made the cover.) They had already had minor hits in the official chart and several major hits on the independent labels chart, but it wasn’t until 1988, when their recently-released album Love took off, that they had their best-known hits. Frame used the Aztec Camera for all his albums until the mid-90s; since then, he has worked under his own name. His most recent album Seven Dials was released last year.

Billy Bragg
Year predicted to break: 1984
Biggest hit: She’s Leaving Home (duet with Cara Tivey for charity, reached #1 on 21/5/88)
“If Baron Frankenstein built a creature with Joe Strummer’s vocal chords, Paul Weller’s conscience, the heart of a poet and the spirit of a wandering minstrel, he’d more than likely come up with Billy Bragg,” said the 1984 yearbook – and I can’t think of a better way of introducing him, other than he seemed to be Britain’s 80s answer to Bob Dylan. Bragg himself argued that his inspiration was Spandau Ballet: “I saw them on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and I thought, ‘Oh, God, does it have to be this way?’”. He has released over two dozen albums over the past thirty years including live works, compilations and recent collaborations with American alternative rockers Wilco.

Year predicted to break: 1988
Biggest hit: I Owe You Nothing (reached #1 on 25/6/88, having originally made #80 the year before)
See the article of 25 September for more information

Year predicted to break: 1983
Biggest hit: Bad Day (reached #15 on 3/9/83)
Bluesy-jazz/sophisti-pop trio fronted by Carmel McCourt who had hits from 1983 through to 1986.

The Cover Girls
Year predicted to break: 1989
Biggest hit: Wishing On A Star (reached #38 on 1/8/92)
Manufactured female vocal group; their management had decided on the songs and the image they wanted to project, and held auditions to find three girls to front the act. “We’d never met before, but our personalities mix so well that when we got to know each other it was almost like we were three lost sisters who have so much to catch up on,” they said. They had a few years to do so before they finally had their lone British Top 40 hit in 1992 – and promptly split up.

Danny Wilson
Year predicted to break: 1988
Biggest hit: Mary’s Prayer (reached #3 on 30/4/88, having originally made #42 the year before)
See the article of 5 June for more information

The Darling Buds
Year predicted to break: 1989
Biggest hit: Hit The Ground (reached #27 on 21/1/89)
Jangly guitar pop quartet from South Wales with hits from 1988 through to 1992. They split the following year, disillusioned with the recording industry.

Everything But The Girl
Year predicted to break: 1984
Biggest hit: I Don’t Want To Talk About It (reached #3 on 23/7/88)
Long running and successful duo comprising Ben Watt and Tracy Thorn, who had numerous hits from 1983 to 2001 and a string of well-received albums.

Holly Johnson
Year predicted to break: 1989
Biggest hit: Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey (charity single with Gerry Marsden, Paul McCartney and The Christians, reached #1 on 20/3/89)
Holly Johnson was another act who was already well-known to readers of Smash Hits as a cover star before his ‘The Next Big Thing?’ nomination, having fronted Frankie Goes To Hollywood and had three #1s with them. As he had released his debut solo single in 1980, he also had the distinction of the longest wait between his first release and a Smash Hits tip for the top. This phase of his career kicked of ten years of chart activity from 1989 through to 1999.

Little Angels
Year predicted to break: 1989
Biggest hit: Womankind (reached #12 on 16/1/93)
“I think people are a bit frightened of heavy metal and we don’t want that. Any sort of person can like us, they don’t have to be a heavy metaller,” said lead singer Toby Jepson. They tried not to scare people by toning down the clichéd rock n’ roll image, but they still had Bon Jovi hair. Smash Hits correctly predicted that they would break in 1989, but they had to wait until ‘93 for their biggest hit. Split in 1994.

Year predicted to break: 1984
Biggest hit: Into The Groove (reached #1 on 3/8/85)
The Madonna Story: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 See 4 December for Part 4

Orange Juice
Year predicted to break: 1983
Biggest hit: Rip It Up (reached #8 on 2/4/83)
The 1983 yearbook, in which Orange Juice were tipped for the top, was published on 7 October 1982; just one month later lead singer Edwyn Collins was on the cover of the magazine itself. He went on to have a bigger hit than any by his former group ten years after they split up when his solo single A Girl Like You reached #4 in 1995. It was one of a number of hits for Collins spanning 1984 to 1997.

Year predicted to break: 1988
Biggest hit: Every Rose Has Its Thorn (reached #13 on 11/3/89)
Hugely successful American rock band, estimated to have sold 45 million records worldwide in their now 35-year career. Their sales in the UK have been modest and their tenure as hit makers here has been limited to the period 1987 to 1993. As shown above, their biggest hit didn’t even make the Top 10, but it was a #1 in the US.

The Primitives
Year predicted to break: 1988
Biggest hit: Crash (reached #5 on 19/3/88)
Indie pop band formed in 1984 in Coventry who released three albums before splitting in 1994. They reformed in 2009 and have now added a further two LPs to their catalogue. Their hit singles remain limited to the period 1987 – 1991.

Year predicted to break: 1984
Biggest hit: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World (reached #1 on 23/4/94)
Another artist (songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, singer, arranger and producer) predicted to break when he’d already had a hit in the UK; he had also been signed to Warner Bros for five years before Smash Hits tipped him and released five albums, including the double album 1999. He went on to become one of the key artists of the 1980s, coming up with hit after hit – all the more extraordinary, as he never repeated himself: the ideas just seemed to flow endlessly. He made several soundtrack albums, some of which were for movies he starred in himself, and kept his sound fresh by changing the backing groups who supported him in the studio and on tour. The Revolution backed him on his most famous works in the 80s (issued on his own Paisley Park record label), replaced by the New Power Generation in the early 90s. The hits kept coming, and he finally had a UK chart topper in 1994. His commercial success has waned in the past twenty years but he remains prolific. Probably a genius.

Year predicted to break: 1989
Biggest hit: Cuddly Toy (reached #4 on 4/2/89)
British band fronted by Andrew Roachford who enjoyed hits throughout the 1990s on a seven-album deal with Columbia records.

Tears For Fears
Year predicted to break: 1983
Biggest hit: Everybody Wants To Rule The World (reached #2 on 20/4/85)
The Tears For Fears Story: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

The Waterboys
Year predicted to break: 1984
Biggest hit: The Whole Of The Moon (reached #3 on 13/4/91, having made #26 in 1985)
Essentially, Mike Scott under an assumed name, but over seventy musicians have represented The Waterboys on stage over the years. Edinburgh-born Scott had released music under his own name and as The Waterboys (and as Another Pretty Face, although he was dismissive of the early recordings he made under that name when Smash Hits first interviewed him). The Waterboys/Mike Scott had hit singles from 1985 through to 1998, and since then has charted with a further five studio studios the most recent of which was Modern Blues earlier this year.

Year predicted to break: 1983
Biggest hit: Last Christmas (reached #2 on 15/12/84, their biggest seller and therefore biggest hit; they improved on the chart position four times, with Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go the first of their #1s on 2/6/84)
Wham! in The George Michael Story: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 coming on 28 December

Tomorrow: the nearly-made-its.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 18
No release scheduled for this date.


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