Released today in 1987: Father Figure


Epic EMU4


“We became the all-time ultimate pin-up band. And that was what I thought I wanted, but as success has a tendency of doing when it finally comes round, you find it wasn’t really what you were after and you have to re-evaluate. I could easily have carried on like that, I think I am a good enough actor to have pursued a solo career and Wham!, but we felt, ‘why should we?’. We proved that we did it better than anyone else so why bother carrying on an image that wasn’t suited to you anymore? I mean, I’m a more serious person now, I have rapidly got older and I know we could have got away with it, but why bother? It’s much better this way.” So George Michael told Smash Hits in June 1986, shortly before Wham!’s final gig at Wembley Stadium. Confirmation that the band was ending came on the 1st March 1986 edition of the television chat show ‘Aspel And Company’, where Michael admitted, “There’s no point trying to tell people we’re not splitting up… what we wanted to do when we formed the band four years ago had been just about achieved.” The following week, he flew to LA to record his next solo single, his first with no involvement from Andrew Ridgeley. The two had agreed to an amicable split by mid-1985, as Michael explained in a letter to fans that he asked Smash Hits to print: “Basically, Andy and I had decided that Wham!’s natural timespan was drawing to a close, that it was time to move on… the ‘split’ was not to be immediate, as we still had a few records planned, and wanted to play Wembley Stadium during the summer. And that’s still how we feel. Our differences with our now departed management company, unfortunately brought everyone’s attention to our plan, roughly six months early. That’s all. What’s important for you to know is that no matter what you read or hear, Andrew and I are still the good friends we always were…”

It was the change of management company that had heightened speculation that Wham! were about to split, as the rumour was Michael had changed his arrangements without informing Ridgeley. CBS remained neutral: they publicly welcomed solo material from both artists. While an album from Ridgeley wouldn’t be forthcoming until the 1990s, Michael’s solo career was already establishing itself before Wham! had put our their final record. “I’m making a single with Aretha Franklin, and possibly one in June with Michael Jackson,” he said. “With opportunities to work with people like that how can you not be happy?” There was even a rumour of an anti-apartheid single with Stevie Wonder. In the meantime, that Wham! farewell at Wembley – a six-hour extravaganza on 28 June 1986 – sold out in little more than twice that time. A final EP made #1 that summer.

1987 began with the release of the duet with Franklin (another #1), followed by I Want Your Sex, a song with deliberately provocative lyrics which sounded like he had recorded it in his garage and which he appeared to drop from his repertoire soon after. “Sex is natural, sex is good/not everybody does it, but everybody should,” he sang; the promotional clip saw Michael writing the words ‘explore monogamy’ in lipstick on a model’s back in case he was accused of inciting orgies. This scene in the clip was also the only acknowledgement from Michael of the concept of safe sex, and this being the year of the government’s Don’t Die Of Ignorance campaign to combat the rising numbers of HIV cases in the UK the release of I Want Your Sex didn’t seem very timely. Broadcasters were nervous about it too, and it received little airplay except some late-night airings of the video on MTV. It made #3, sales generated by the mild controversy it had caused and audience loyalty.

The rest of the content of Faith, his debut album, was more conventional, although none of the singles made #1 in Britain, the title track (and next single) coming closest when it reached #2. Nevertheless, the album was well received, sold millions worldwide, and won the Grammy for album of the year in 1989, and the 1988 Faith World Tour was a sell-out success. However, these achievements required Michael to work full-time on the Faith album and its related products for over two years, and he found the schedule (writing, recording, PAs to promote singles, video and photo shoots, live dates and rehearsals, world travel, award acceptance, interviews, etc) exhausting. To leave himself time for developing his music, he told CBS he wanted a reduced promotional workload on future records.

☛ What happened next
Michael’s assertion that “I’m a more serious person now” in that Smash Hits interview quoted at the top of this article set the tone for his 1990s career. The pretentiously (and some at the time said, arrogantly) titled second album Listen Without Prejudice Volume One was a rather solemn affair, and he did very little in the way of promotion for it, refusing even to appear in promotional clips for the singles. The album went to #1 all the same, but while it sold millions it was nowhere near selling as many copies as Faith. Michael blamed Sony (who had acquired CBS); they argued that his self-instigated reduced profile lessened the appeal of the product for fans. A lengthy legal dispute between Michael and Sony began, which would ultimately do him few favours, during which time he refused to record any new material, abandoning a Volume Two of Listen Without Prejudice from which just one single, Too Funky, emerged. Successful covers of Elton John (1991) and Queen (1993) songs were released during the dispute (on Fontana and Parlophone respectively) that returned him to #1 in the UK.

Thereafter, his recordings have appeared sporadically. In 1996 he returned on Virgin with Older, a critical and commercial triumph that confirmed him as one of Britain’s premier recording artists. All six of its singles made the Top 3, with Jesus To A Child and Fastlove making #1, his last chart-topping singles. The album was his last album of original material for eight years, although a number of standalone singles and collaborations kept him in the singles chart, with every release in the ten and a half years from late 1991 to early 2002 making the Top 10. A ‘best of’ and an album of standards were money-spinning long-players in the late 1990s. He returned to Sony in 2004 for his next – and to date, last – studio album Patience. It went straight to #1 although it lacked the string of big hit singles that might have been expected. But for some 25 years Michael has positioned himself as an ‘albums artist’ rather than the maker of chart singles he was in the 1980s. The industry pays attention when he releases a record, as do the critics, and his standing remains such that he was asked to participate in the closing ceremony at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 28
BANANARAMA I Can’t Help It (London NANA15)
DEPECHE MODE Behind The Wheel (Mute BONG15)
Billy IDOL Hot In The City (Re-mix) (Chrysalis IDOL12)
George MICHAEL Father Figure (Epic EMU4)
DURAN DURAN All She Wants Is (EMI DD11)


Released today in 1989: Do They Know It’s Christmas?




Single #102 from Stock Aitken Waterman was another track for Brother Beyond, the last they would produce for the group. As the 1980s came to an end, SAW’s working relationships with other acts were also ending. There was one final single each for Bananarama before they went off on their ’89 world tour, Rick Astley before he went off to make a record with new producers, and Samantha Fox, who they had only had a casual arrangement with anyway. The void left by these artists (and those whose association with SAW had ended the year before – see Part 3 of this story) was filled with a number of one-off collaborations.

In most cases, these one-offs were for one single only, including hits for Sigue Sigue Sputnik, The Reynolds Girls and Cliff Richard. There was also a single for Sequal, the only flop SAW had in 1989. The most successful one-off singles though were a trio of charity releases, one for Comic Relief (Help!, which reached #3 and reunited them with Bananarama), one for the Hillsborough disaster fund (Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey, a #1) and the last SAW single of the decade, an update of Do They Know It’s Christmas?. This was another #1; released as Band Aid II, it featured Bananarama, one of the few acts returning from the original. (There was a fourth charity single: another SAW collaboration with Pat & Mick, the proceeds of which the artists donated to Capital Radio’s Help A London Child appeal, as they would with all their singles. This single, I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet, made #9.)

But for some acts there were albums. In 1987, Edwin J Bernard was reviewing the new Donna Summer album All Systems Go for Record Mirror and suggested “Now disco’s back in vogue, Donna would be better served teaming up with SAW – her powerhouse lungs were made for just that kind of OTT production, and not the wimp rock she now chooses to make.” Summer went on to do exactly that and her SAW produced album Another Place And Time (1989) was one of the highlights of the production team’s career. It was also a money spinner for all involved, with lead single This Time I Know It’s For Real Summer’s biggest UK hit since the 1970s and the album yielding several other singles. Newcomer Sonia also made an album with SAW, the lead single from which (her first) was a #1. Mike Stock commented in a memoir, “Despite all the work we put in for artists, it was very rare to get any positive feedback. On only a couple of occasions can I remember an artist ever saying, ‘thank you for giving me a hit record’. Sonia was one who did. On the Sunday when the chart positions were announced on the radio, Sonia rang me at home to thank me. She was so excited.” There was also an album for Big Fun (released in 1990), from which a couple of tasters were taken in ’89.

But it was with two Australian singers that SAW had their biggest hits at the end of the decade. Between them, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan released eight singles from the end of November 1988 to the end of November 1989, all but one of which reached to Top 2 (and the one that didn’t make it peaked at #4, so was hardly a flop). No wonder, then, that these were the only two acts that SAW continued to produce for regularly into the 1990s, barring annual charity singles for Pat & Mick.

The result of all this activity – and Stock estimates he wrote seven albums’ worth of material for these various artists in 1989 – was the most commercially successful year of SAW’s partnership. Of their final 31 singles of the decade, just eight missed the Top 10, with seven topping the chart. Stock resented the cavalier attitude Waterman presented to the press regarding their achievements: “I don’t mind Pete saying anything that makes him look big, as long as he doesn’t make me look small. I felt that it took something away from me when he said things like, ‘I wrote that song on the toilet’.”

But the pressure was becoming too much and tempers were getting frayed. Pete Waterman is prone to hyperbole, generalization, and a lack of attention to detail, so his recollections should be regarded with caution, but in his memoir I Wish I Was Me he describes a PWL Christmas party some 2000 guests attended, most of whom he didn’t know. The Hit Factory had grown out of all proportion. Stock recalls resentment from the British music industry rather than celebration. “We were perceived as a major thorn in the side of EMI, BMG and the major companies who had American, Japanese and German paymasters. They were looking at market shares and asking awkward questions of their crestfallen employees. ‘How can three guys in their own studio take 27% of the market, when we are paying you £1m salaries and you employ 7000 people? What’s going on?’”

But instead of the majors transforming themselves to match the PWL model, in September 1989 David Howells was brought into PWL as Business Affairs Manager to reshape the organization to be run more like the majors.

☛ What happened next
The 1990s got off to the best start possible: the first SAW-produced single of the new decade, Tears On My Pillow by Kylie Minogue, went to #1. But it was their last #1 and very quickly, the hits started to dry up altogether. As Stock said, “The days of jolly pop hits seemed to be over and we were facing a gloomy future of grunge.” Minogue was really their only bankable artist; in 1990, she could be relied upon to make the Top 10, but the following year even her chart peaks started to fall short. Jason Donovan’s decline was quicker, with his singles starting to peak in the teens rather than the Top 10 in 1990. He left PWL in 1991; Minogue quit the following year. By that time, Stock Aitken Waterman was no more, as Matt Aitken withdrew from the team in May 1991.

Stock and Waterman continued for a couple of years, and had some success with American acts like Sybil. But the big hits were few and far between and their music sounded dated. They reunited with Bananarama (by then a duo themselves) for the album Please Yourself (1992) but despite some good songs, the energy was missing. In September 1993, an unhappy Stock ended his partnership with Waterman and years of animosity between them began, mostly over royalty payments and asset ownership. “I felt as if over the past ten years I’d lived in a fairy story. We’d made more hit records than The Beatles, and had dominated the industry beyond our wildest dreams, and we weren’t even civil enough to each other to go out for a meal. It was horrible,” Waterman said of that period of legal disputes. There have been brief reunions since, but no hits: although Stock and Waterman have both had successes on their own or with new partners. Aitken has remained for the most part retired. Waterman has stated that the three of them will work together again if a project they are all interested in comes up. Recently they were offered the chance to provide a Stock Aitken Waterman re-mix of a track from Kylie Minogue’s new Christmas-themed album, which was a job they were interested in taking. It was issued as a single last week.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 11
BAND AID II Do They Know It’s Christmas? (PWL FEED2)

Released today in 1989: Dear Jessie


Sire W2668

The MADONNA Story Part 4

At the end of Part 3 of this story, we left Madonna with all of her albums in the UK Top 50 and another Top 5 single under her belt. Her last single of 1987 was The Look Of Love which was the only one of her British singles released between the end of 1984 and the end of 1992 to miss the Top 5. Still, it made #9 and kept her in the singles chart until the end of January 1988; elsewhere, a mini-LP of remixes called You Can Dance gave her a presence on the album chart until the end of the following month. Thereafter, she was absent from the British charts for well over a year. This was because her only release of the year was Ciao Italia, a long-form video featuring footage from her summer 1987 Who’s That Girl? world tour, mostly filmed at dates in Turin and Florence at the end of the tour. Given how prolific she had been since she joined Sire records in 1982, why the sudden lull? Where was she? Well, she was focussing on her acting, taking the opportunity to get some Broadway experience by appearing in a new David Mamet play, ‘Speed-The-Plow’, for which she began rehearsals in February 1988. The play opened in May at the Lincoln Theatre Broadway and Madonna was a cast member until the end of August. Then at the end of September, she returned to the recording studio to begin work on album number four.

That album was Like A Prayer. The title track became one of her best known songs, a pop/rock epic with an appropriate gospel influence and spiritual lyrics. The writing was more confident and her vocals were stronger. Controversy came with the promotional clip filmed for it, the storyline for which involved Madonna as a witness to a murder for which an innocent black man is framed (nothing in the song’s text anticipated this scenario). Imagery such as stigmata and burning crucifixes, and a dream sequence in which she kisses a black saint, offended the Vatican and caused enough of a fuss for Madonna to be dropped from a lucrative contract with Pepsi, who had recent hired her to feature in high-profile advertising campaign. Despite, or perhaps because of, this, the single was one of the biggest hits of the year, #1 in several countries, #2 in a number more, and Top 10 in others. The artistic maturity evident on the song was present throughout the album itself, which was a perfect balance of catchy pop tunes and thoughtful lyrics. Five further songs from it were hits internationally, although each country chose different tracks to promote. For example, at the end of the year, Britain had the twee Dear Jessie as a single while America had the far more robust Oh Father, which wouldn’t be issued as a 45 here for several years.

Then , at the end of the 80s, Madonna was named ‘Artist Of The Decade’ in Billboard magazine and by MTV.

☛ What happened next
The word ‘icon’ and its derivatives have been purposefully avoided on If You Were There, but Madonna is truly an iconic figure in popular music. From the outset, it was clear she intended (and expected) to be around for a long time, as she Neil Tennant when he interviewed her for Smash Hits in November 1983. “What do you hope you’ll be doing in 20 years’ time?” he asked her. “Counting my money,” she laughed. “No, I hope that I’m happy and growing as an artist.” In 2003 she was doing both, and continues to do so today. Her list of achievements in a recording career that now spans nearly 35 years are extraordinary, including in the UK alone 13 #1 singles and a further 50 Top 10 hits, and 12 #1 albums. With the exception of her debut, all her studio albums have reached either #1 or #2 and she has had 25 hit LPs in total, including compilations, live albums and film soundtracks for movies she has appeared in. Her acting in some of those films hasn’t received the same critical appreciation as the music she contributed, but she has nevertheless secured praise for some performances, such as her movie version of the musical ‘Evita’ in which she took the role of Eva Peron. She has topped the bestsellers lists for books too, with Sex, a foil-wrapped coffee table book of erotica, and though in the late 90s her desire to shock seemed to have mellowed, the lyrical content of her recent output is similar to the provocative work of like of Nicki Minaj, who guested on Madonna’s single Give Me All Your Luvin’ (2012). That single was one of only a handful of American Top 10 hits in the past ten years; in Britain she has had 3 #1 singles in that period but no Top 10 hits since 2009. But hit singles are not the measure by which to judge established A-list musicians. A better indication is ticket sales and when she tours, her concerts sell out. Her Sticky And Sweet tour of 2008-2009, for example, is believed to be the fifth highest-grossing tour of all time.

Her best asset is arguably her business acumen, which remain undisputed. Negotiating contracts, knowing what commercial decisions to take, where to invest and when to pull out, appear to be innate abilities. An early indication of this skill was seen in her control over her music: she changed producers, co-writers, backing musicians, etc as soon as she knew the next direction she wanted to take her career in. She was accused of ruthlessly discarding colleagues who were no longer useful to her, but it was just good practice to work with the best available talent and to continually update her sound and her image. In that meeting with Tennant, she acknowledged this quite candidly and actually set out her business plan when he asked her about keeping in touch with the New York hip-hop crowd she first worked with: “I used to hang out with them in clubs before I even got a record deal. There’s a little culture going on there ‘cos of those kids making big, getting over. The graffiti writers and the break-dancers. But I think I have much more of an oversight than they do. They just want to prove that they can do something that’s going to be bigger than just the Bronx. I plan on making this go on for a much longer time – I don’t think they have further aspirations.” They had inspired her, she had taken what she needed from them regarding image, attitude, choreography, some musical elements – and then developed it into something else.

That point about ‘oversight’ is how she has survived, together with her ear for a tune and eye for detail. She’ll notice an underground trend and bring it to the masses, a classic example bring 1990 single Vogue. She took a dance craze, found the best producers to work on the music to provide an authentic sound, and marketed the resulting product in a more effective way than anyone else. Whilst no longer an innovator (she follows trends rather than sets them these days, for example the sexually explicit content on her recent albums which was not a feature of her work until others set that precedent), she is still “growing as an artist” as she predicted. She is a star, she is the centre of attention, and she has plenty to say, but an observation made by interviewers and colleagues throughout her career is that she listens very carefully and learns quickly, another explanation of her longevity.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 4
ALTERED IMAGES (Clare Grogan) I Could Be Happy (Epic EPCA1834)
The POLICE Spirits In The Material World (A&M AMS8194)
Neneh CHERRY Inna City Mama (Circa YR42)
DURAN DURAN Burning The Ground (EMI DD13)
ELECTRONIC (Neil Tennant) Getting Away With It (Factory FAC257)
MADONNA Dear Jessie (Sire W2668)
SINITTA Lay Me Down Easy (Fanfare FAN23)

Released today in 1987: Somewhere Somebody

Tent PB41661

Tent PB41661

The FIVE STAR Story Part 4

As always in the world of pop, stars are allowed a certain amount of success before the backlash starts. For Five Star, it began with controversy over the choice of sponsor for their ’86 tour, which was the Cadbury/Fry chocolate bar Crunchie: should they be encouraging their predominately young fans to be eating sweets? Criticism turned to ridicule when it emerged that Ultrabrite toothpaste would be sponsoring their ’87 tour. Regardless, both tours sold out, and in between they took Best British Group at the BPI Awards in February ’87 and had two further Top 10 singles, these being the fifth and sixth singles from the Silk And Steel album which itself had sold over a million copies in the UK alone and been certified four times platinum by the BPI on 30 June 1987.

This was a significant date, as thereafter Five Star’s career went into decline. It was barely noticeable at first, but it was telling that their first single in the second half of 1987, Whenever You’re Ready, peaked at #11: being unable to put the lead single from their third album in the Top 10 was a significant failure, given that they had just taken five Top 10 singles off their previous album. In fact, they never had a Top 10 single again. Just two more tracks from the Between The Lines album were issued as singles, with the album itself – a rushed, patchy affair, released in September – barely managing a chart run that lasted until Christmas.

There were no releases from the group at all in the first half of 1988. When they came back, it was with an unfortunate change of image (all black leather and studs, with abundant hair extensions for the girls) and a new musical direction, away from pop and R&B and towards rock and funk, as indicated by the title of their fourth album Rock The World. The album restored the quality demonstrated on the first two albums but the new image was not well received. Singles three and four from the album, There’s A Brand New World and Let Me Be Yours (both written by Deniece Pearson), made #61 and #51 respectively. In the spring of 1989, standalone single With Every Heartbeat was released and it too failed to make the Top 40. Buster Pearson blamed RCA for the poor chart placings and the ensuing dispute led to Tent ending up without a distributor. The last release under Tent’s contract with RCA, a Five Star greatest hits collection, barely charted. Meanwhile, their lavish lifestyle of the past few years caught up with them and they were forced to move from Stone Court to a more affordable home in Hertfordshire.

☛ What happened next
Buster Pearson arranged a new distribution deal with Epic for Tent in 1990, but the first album Five Star (entirely written by the group) was only released in America. Its two singles were only minor hits in the UK and so a British release was shelved, as were plans for a third single. The family relocated to the US but 1991’s album Shine flopped both there and here, Epic pulled out of distribution, and the Pearsons were in serious financial trouble. Buster Pearson bankrupted all five of his children to save Tent and the Five Star brand. At this stage, the family would have been well advised to wind Five Star up and concentrate on launching Denise (as she now spelled her name) as a solo artist; the group’s sixth album Heart And Soul would have made a credible solo debut for her. But as a Five Star album it failed to chart, and despite its two singles almost making the Top 75 the group began to break up. Buster Pearson cobbled together a ‘new’ album Eclipse in 2001, comprising remixed cuts from Heart and Soul and some new tracks, but Doris and Delroy had retired from performing by this stage and it was left to the remaining three to promote it and its attendant single. Fans would be disappointed when later live shows, promoted as featuring the original line-up, used stand-ins instead. Occasional partial reunions for live work have taken place over the past ten years, along with reissues of Five Star’s back catalogue. Buster Pearson died in 2012, and in the same year Denise signed with management company Baronet and finally began her solo career. Her album Imprint was released last year.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 23
BIG COUNTRY (Stuart Adamson) Where The Rose Is Sown (Mercury MER185)
BRONSKI BEAT It Ain’t Necessarily So (Forbidden Fruit BITE3)
FIVE STAR Somewhere Somebody (Tent PB41661)
The POGUES featuring Kirsty MacCOLL Fairytale Of New York (Pogue Mahone NY7)
WET WET WET Angel Eyes (Precious Organization JEWEL6)
Kim WILDE Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (10 Records TEN2)

Released today in 1988: Come Out To Play

DEP International DEP31

DEP International DEP31

The UB40 Story Part 4

During the last couple of years of the 1980s, UB40 established themselves as one of the most internationally popular reggae acts. In the UK, their most popular album was 1987’s compilation The Best Of UB40 – Volume One which was to become one of their longest sellers, but their success globally was more significant. Their singles were hits across the globe, they toured extensively and collaborated with big – and in some cases, unexpected – names. Rat In Mi Kitchen, a single at the beginning of 1987 from the critically well-received album Rat In The Kitchen, featured trumpet from A&M records founder Herb Alpert (A&M was the band’s American record company), and the following year their songs with Afrika Bambaataa and the Family (Reckless) and previous collaborator Chrissie Hynde (Breakfast In Bed) were major hits, the latter appearing on the album UB40 and making the Top 10 in the UK and several other countries.

Of particular note was their growing popularity in America, where (as detailed in Part 3 of this story) they had a #1 single in this period. Their last release of the decade Labour Of Love II, a follow-up to their highly successful collection of cover versions, yielded several singles with Top 10 hits both in the UK and the US. Kingston Town and Homely Girl were the British Top 10s, while two singles that missed the Top 40 here – Here I Am (Come And Take Me) and The Way You Do The Things You Do – were the American Top 10s.

☛ What happened next
The high-profile collaborations and the hits continued in 1990, when UB40’s song with Robert Palmer I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight was their next big hit. 1993’s Promises And Lies album would be their biggest selling studio album worldwide, which included another reggae-styled interpretation of an old song, this time (I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You, originally made famous by Elvis Presley. With this single, for the second time they had a #1 song in both the UK and the US (promotion was helped by its inclusion on the soundtrack to the hit thriller ‘Sliver’). in which brought the band their third UK No. 1 and would remain a favourite on American radio stations for years – especially after its inclusion on the soundtrack of the 1993 Sharon Stone film “Sliver.” Higher Ground, another single from the album, also made the Top 10 in the UK. Exhausted by the punishing touring/recording schedule, there was a brief lull in the middle of the 90s where the band took a break from each other and 1996 was the first year since their debut that there was no new release. Before this hiatus, they had clocked up more than 300 weeks on the British singles chart and Ali Campbell had released a successful solo album which included two hit singles.

Thereafter, although new original material was released and sold well, the key releases were collections of past hits and the money-spinning ‘Labour Of Love’ series. In 1994, the content on the first two ‘Labour’ albums was merged and the new compilation made #5; Labour Of Love III (1998) contained their final UK Top 10 single Come Back Darling and made #8; and all three volumes were brought together for a compilation that made #7 in 2003, the year in which they received an Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement and scored their biggest hit of the past 15 years, Swing Low, the official anthem for the England Rugby Team’s World Cup campaign in Australia. Meanwhile the definitive The Very Best Of UB40 1980-2000 also made #7 and spent nearly a year on the chart. By this point, though, hit singles were few and far between. From 1999 to 2003 they had only one hit a year, although by this point they were so established they could shift albums and concert tickets easily without needing a ‘Top Of The Pops’ appearance or much radio airplay. On the 25th anniversary of their recording debut, new album Who You Fighting For made the Top 20 and was characterized by the ‘live’ feel of their early recordings.

2008 was a messy year for UB40, with one events in particular leading the faintly absurd current situation whereby there are two UB40s. First there was new studio album TwentyFourSeven, given away free as a covermount with a national newspaper. This undermined the full commercial release of the album later in the year, which had an expanded track listing but only reached #81. By this point, Ali Campbell, lead singer on most of the band’s biggest hits, had left, the ‘official’ reason given by the others being that he was focussing on his solo career (he had had a second Top 10 solo album the year before). His brother, Duncan, who had been offered a place in the band at their inception but turned it down, and “who has a voice that’s virtually indistinguishable from Ali’s” according to the band’s official website, replaced him and UB40’s touring and promotion schedule continued. But it did so without Mickey Virtue, who also quit by the end of the year.

When Astro left in 2013, the three ex-founding members started their own UB40 (“UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue”), claiming that their version is the only way “audiences get to experience the closest thing to the sound of the hugely successful original line-up of UB40, as all the hits are played.” Their website is keen to point out that “We would not want anyone to confuse Ali, Astro and Mickey’s band with the band that carried on using the name UB40 after 2008 made up of other founding members and new members they tried to replace us with in their attempt to trade off the reflected glory of the success of the original line-up.” They have a point about ‘reflected glory’, as while the first UB40 continues, two of their most successful albums have been continuation of the ‘Labour Of Love’ series, including a Best of Labour Of Love cash-in in 2009 and Labour Of Love IV the following year. Meanwhile, Ali Campbell’s solo career has yielded a further three Top 20 albums, the most recent of which, Silhouette, billed him as “The Legendary Voice Of UB40 – Reunited With Astro & Mickey”.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 21
The CLASH The Call Up (CBS CBS9339)
BIG COUNTRY (Stuart Adamson) Hold The Heart (Mercury BIGC4)
A-HA You Are The One (Warner Bros W7636)
BREATHE How Can I Fall (Siren SRN102)
BROS Cat Among The Pigeons (CBS ATOM6)
DAME EDNA Theme From Neighbours (Epic EDNA1)
George MICHAEL Kissing A Fool (Epic EMU7)
Gary NUMAN America (Illegal ILS1004)
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES (Siouxsie Sioux) The Last Beat Of My Heart (Wonderland SHE16)
T’PAU (Carol Decker) Road To Our Dream (Siren SRN100)
UB40 Come Out To Play (DEP International DEP31)
Kim WILDE Four Letter Word (MCA KIM10)

Released today in 1989: This Woman’s Work



The KATE BUSH Story Part 4

The biggest selling album of Kate Bush’s career is The Whole Story, the 1986 compilation which featured 12 of her best-known songs released up to the end of that year. With the music available on vinyl, cassette and compact disc (and later, mini-disc), and promotional clips issued on companion VHS and Betamax video cassettes, EMI unleashed a huge advertising campaign for The Whole Story, including television spots. Arguably the title was something of a misnomer. ‘Stories’ usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and yet the order of the story as presented here was apparently random, the track-by-track progression leaping backwards and forwards through her catalogue. As for most people Bush’s story had begun with Wuthering Heights, it seemed odd not to include the original version; instead, a version with a re-recorded vocal was used. The very successful Tour Of Life was not represented in the track listing either, despite the On Stage EP, which included songs recorded at the shows, having been one of her few Top 10 hits. These (minor) points aside, it was a worthy attempt to represent her career to date and was beautifully packaged. The cover utilized an understated font for the text and featured a black and white photo of Bush set against a white background, a timeless design. Inside the gatefold sleeve, effort had been made to provide an accurate overview of her discography, with pictures of records sleeves and video cassette covers together with details of their issue dates and chart performances. Released in time for Christmas, it was an ideal gift for fans and the generally-interested alike.

It also got 1987 to a good start, reaching #1 at the beginning of the year. (It would also top the music video chart, and become one of PMI’s longest-sellers.) Although there was no new release from Bush, she was involved in various projects during the year which kept her name in the press. She won Best British Female at the BPI Awards in February, backing up the numerous readers’ polls in the music press that she had topped. There were a couple of live appearances, including most notably unexpectedly joining Peter Gabriel on stage at one of the final dates in his current tour to perform Don’t Give Up. She provided guest vocals on Go West’s single The King Is Dead; her song from the movie ‘Castaway’, Be Kind To My Mistakes, was released on the film’s soundtrack album; she recorded a new song This Woman’s Work for the soundtrack of ‘She’s Having A Baby’; and she was featured prominently on the charity single Let It Be for The Sun’s Ferry Aid appeal in response to the Zeebrugge disaster. On 16 July, Kate Bush Complete, the sheet music and lyrics to all her commercially released songs together with photographs and a chronological account of her career, was published. Meanwhile, Bush started work on her next album.

It was a long time coming. News was scant in 1988, with Midge Ure’s new album providing a rare opportunity to hear Bush’s voice on a new track via its song Sister And Brother. (It was prepared for release as a single but this was cancelled.) Just as the two years between Never For Ever and The Dreaming had been superseded by the three year gap between the latter and Hounds Of Love, so now there was a four year wait for The Sensual World. Again, the title did not quite match the content. There were moments that were warm and sensual, but much of the rest was dark and stark with a production style that was raw and clinical. The title track was probably the most accessible cut, depicting James Joyce’s character Molly Bloom from Ulysses stepping out of the book and into the real world. (Joyce’s estate refused her permission to use actual quotes from the text.) But for the most part, this was a serious work by a serious artist and there was very little light relief.

The reviews were uniformly positive: “Her confidence grows and we benefit from a music which is so naturally outside, so gracefully above the sweatings and strainings of those who strive to be alternative,” said Melody Maker; “Kate Bush remains alone, ahead, and a genius,” said NME; “wonderful.. incredible emotional depths,” said Music Week. Sales were good too: the album went to #2 and lead single (the title track) reached #12; this despite radio airplay seeming to be at the whim of individual DJs rather than as a result of inclusion on a playlist.

☛ What happened next
In 1990, EMI issued a box set of all Bush’s studio albums, plus albums of B-sides, alternative mixes and rare tracks, as This Woman’s Work. The following year, her cover of Rocket Man, recorded for a tribute album to writers Elton John and Bernie Taupin (a project involving many artists that had been on the cards for several years) was released as a single and was another #12 hit. Then there was a hiatus while she completed work on The Red Shoes (1993), her next album. Lead single Rubberband Girl reached – once again – #12, and the album’s remaining singles all peaked in the 20s. Bush promoted the album for over a year and a short film, ‘The Line, The Cross and The Curve’, based on the album’s songs, was given a limited theatrical release. Then, she retreated into obscurity for several years. At first, fans and the media were unconcerned, as one or two years of limited news about her was par for the course. When nothing else was forthcoming from her for the rest of the 1990s, rumour and speculation about when she would next appear began, punctuated by the occasional piece of hard news (the birth of her son, Albert; the announcement of the occasional ‘lifetime achievement’ type of award at ceremonies where her catalogue was celebrated). Her work was continually reappraised and her standing in the British music industry was undiminished: she was one of our most vital female artists.

When she came back, it was with double album Aerial (2005). The first disc featured a collection of unrelated songs under the title A Sea Of Honey, which included lone single King Of the Mountain, her first Top 10 hit for nearly 20 years. The second disc was a 40+ minute concept piece called A Sky Of Honey which is probably her masterpiece, a song sequence describing the passage of an English summer’s day and set to a background of birdsong. (The titles of the discs and the birdsong explained the album’s cover image. At first glance a mountain range reflected in sea water with the sun setting in the sky behind it, it was in fact a stylized image of a waveform of blackbird song.) On this opus, Bush demonstrated just about every skill she had honed throughout her thirty years as a recording artist.

Her most recent albums, Director’s Cut and 50 Words For Snow (both 2011) were her least satisfying collections to date. The former was a compilation of selected tracks from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes re-worked, the first time since the ‘New Vocal’ of Wuthering Heights that she had revisited old material. The new interpretations added little to the originals (although her status is now such that the Joyce estate allowed her to use his words on Flower Of The Mountain, the new take on The Sensual World), but it was an innovative way of bringing The Whole Story up to date. Winter-themed studio set 50 Words For Snow was similarly inventive but flawed, with just seven songs stretched to fill nearly 70 minutes. What was most disappointing about it was that she was no longer the star of the show: one track was a duet (with Elton John) and on two others she provided backing vocals only (lead vocals coming from Stephen Fry on one and her son on the other). Then again, it was still very much ‘her’ work: she wrote it, she produced it, she had full creative control. It was released on her own Fish People record label.

Nevertheless, these releases met with acclaim from the contemporary reviewers, and the following year 50 Words For Snow won the South Bank Arts Award for best album and was nominated in the same category at the Ivor Novello Awards. Bush herself was once again nominated for a BRIT Award for Best British Female. Also in 2012, a new mix of her song Running Up That Hill featured as part of the Opening Ceremony to the Olympic Games, and this version of the song restored her to the Top 10 in the singles chart. But it was her return to the stage in 2014 that caused the most excitement. She had a 22-night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo theatre which sold out in minutes, received positive press leading to all 11 of her albums featuring in the Top 50 for the chart of the week ending 6 September.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 20
The ASSOCIATES White Car In Germany (Situation 2 SIT11)
The BEAT Hit It (Go Feet FEET11)
The BOOMTOWN RATS (Bob Geldof) Never In A Million Years (Mercury MER87)
David BOWIE Wild Is The Wind (RCA BOW10)
The CLASH (Joe Strummer) Radio Clash (CBS CBSA1797)
Kate BUSH This Woman’s Work (EMI EM119)
Debbie HARRY Brite Side (Chrysalis CHS3452)
Sydney YOUNGBLOOD Sit And Wait (Circa YR40)

Released today in 1986: Some People



The PAUL YOUNG Story Part 4

For Paul Young, the second half of 1985 began at Live Aid, at which he performed his hits Come Back And Stay and Every Time You Go Away, as well as duetting with Alison Moyet and singing in the ensemble for the concert’s finale with Do They Know It’s Christmas?. Thereafter, the UK saw little of him as promotion of his album The Secret Of Association had ended; he still had singles to promote in the US and other territories and so he went where he needed to. Also, there was the next album to record.

This was Between Two Fires, which was given a surprisingly low-key release in the autumn of 1986. That’s not to say that CBS didn’t back it – there was a comprehensive campaign of press adverts, the usual fly posters announcing its arrival, etc – but interviews with Young himself were in shorter supply than they had been in the past, and the lead single chosen was the ballad Wonderland, a rather fragile song which was hardly likely to draw attention to its parent album. It did at least make the Top 40, which was more than its follow-up Some People did. The album itself sold modestly in comparison to its #1 hit predecessors, managing only a few months on the chart and peaking at its entry position of #4.

In Smash Hits (11-24 February 1987) he spoke about his recent chart performance: “I’m not disappointed. Other people are disappointed because they want me to be mega. I’m just trying things. I quite enjoy the fact that the hysteria’s died down a bit.” He did concede that leading with Wonderland was a mistake however, and the Smash Hits interview was published just as a third track from the album was issued as a single, Why Does A Man Have To Be Strong?. “I made a stupid move not putting it out first. I wrote most of that song in a matter of minutes like a lot of the best songs,” he said. But in a three-page feature, interestingly these were the only ‘business-related’ matters discussed. Throughout the rest of the piece, his focus seemed to be elsewhere. Asked what he’d like to do next, he said “something completely different and off-the-wall… like getting lost for a while, going potholing or looking at animals in Africa.” In fact, family matters dominated for the rest of the 1987, with the birth of a child in March and getting married in November.

His profile for the rest of the 1980s was very low, with no further releases.

☛ What happened next
Young returned in 1990 with the album Other Voices, which included two Top 40 hits – one of which, Oh Girl, made #8 In America. The following year, he had a #4 hit here with Senza Una Donna, a duet with Italian star Zucchero (Young had repeatedly expressed affection for Italy and Italian culture in interview over the past few years). The single, and the Top 20 hit Don’t Dream It’s Over (a cover of a Crowded House track) were tasters from From Time To Time – The Singles Collection, a compilation of his most popular songs that returned him to #1 on the album chart. (Numerous compilations have been issued since, but this remains the only significant seller. Only The Essential in 2003 has sold well enough to chart in the Top 40.)

In 1992 his cover of What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted, recorded for the soundtrack of the film ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’, reached #22 in the US but was not selected for release here. His then released his last studio album for CBS (or, as it had become by this point, Sony) which was called The Crossing. It contained what was probably his best single of the 90s, Now I Know What Made Otis Blue, which almost made the Top 10 here in the autumn of 1993. “Every artist wants to change, yet every record company wants them to stay the same,” he said of his split with Sony. So in the same year, he took the opportunity to do something different with his music. Looking back, he reformed Q-Tips for a brief tour; looking forward, he put together a loose collection of like-minded musicians to form Tex-Mex band Los Pacaminos. Primarily focused on gigs in small venues such as pubs and clubs, eventually Los Pacaminos developed into a more permanent outfit in the early 2000s and have to date released two albums of their own. They have also been the support act at gigs where Young has been headlining.

Young’s solo career since his last major album (1997’s Paul Young, which included a single called I Wish You Love which just made top 40) has largely been associated with the nostalgia circuit. He has performed on 80s revival tours such as the Here And Now concerts, and earlier this year a comprehensive collection of his recordings, Tomb Of Memories – The CBS Years 1982 – 1984, was released. Although in the last 2 years he has had only one hit single and spent fewer than a dozen weeks on the album chart in the UK, his visibility in recent years has improved with spots on celebrity challenge series and panel shows. His musical career and membership of Los Pacaminos continues.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 17
Kate BUSH December Will Be Magic Again (EMI EMI5121)
DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS (Kevin Rowland) Keep It Part Two (Inferiority Part One) (Late Night Feelings R6042)
The COMMUNARDS (Jimmy Somerville) So Cold The Night (London LON110)
EURYTHMICS Miracle Of Love (RCA DA9)
Howard JONES You Know I Love You … Don’t You? (WEA HOW11)
Julian LENNON Midnight Smoke (Charisma VAD1)
Paul YOUNG Some People (CBS YOUNG2)