Relished in your own nostalgia or, if you’re too young to have lived it, curiously influenced by a bygone era, no one can deny the eighties was a decade of musical progression in a similar manner to the sixties. From the beginnings of the decade, pop showcased a legacy of youth cultures, from glam to rockabilly, from punk to two tone, from the refurbished mod to ironic ethos of the skinhead, and from frilly-sleeved new romantics to jogging-bottomed breakers. The pioneering genres of electronica and electro saw hip hop become the new rock n roll, but it would take some time to find a niche in the UK. Naturally, by the end of the decade, a new driving force via electronics would saturate the underground, as acid house exploded, and we stomped into the following decade with whistles and white gloves.
While it developed, there was a period, a kind of no-man’s-land of youth culture, a void in creativity in which the hit factories strategically bounded out of the trenches and perpetrated a full-scale attack. Make no mistake, pop crime is wrought in every decade, manufactured atrocities occurred throughout every era since pop begun, but never on this scale. It was mass genocide with diddy-boppers.
“It was mass genocide with diddy-boppers.”
Maliciously, the target was aimed younger than ever before, the demographic was 10 to 14-year olds. The commanders were specialists in the field, making Simon Cowell seem like Beethoven by comparison. Three in control of the fiercest battalion, one Mike Stock, the other Matt Aitken and last, but by no means least, Pete Waterman. Fortunately, I had just surpassed their target audience, and thanks to Zeppelin, Hendrix, and others, our generation rewound to previous eras for protection against the shelling, eagerly awaiting rave. But prior, when I was the right age, I fell hook, line and sinker; most pre-teens do.
This is why it’s important to note, Stock Aitken Waterman may’ve redefined pop crime to an all-time low, but not until near the ending of the decade did the crimewave truly flourish. Plus, they did not offend alone, many tried before, no matter how petty the crime, they committed them. SAW’s first singles, Divine’s “You Think You’re a Man,” and Hazell Dean’s “Whatever I Do,” only charted at numbers 16 and 4, respectively, in 84, their first number one, “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive the following March, but all were petty compared with the carnage of their perpetual recidivism during the decade’s second half, dubbed an “assembly line.”
“Petty compared with the carnage of their perpetual recidivism during the decade’s second half, dubbed an “assembly line.”
I tried not to choose the obvious then, the classically nauseating novelty songs which slayed for humorous effect. From the only way we Tweeted in the 80s for example, the Birdie Song, to ethnic stereotyping for kicks; shaddap your own face, Joe Dolce. Or randomly pushing pineapples, shaking trees, and wishing you could fly right up to the sky. Never forget, there’s no one quite like Grandma.
Neither have I selected the memorable later evils of Stock Aitken Waterman et all, where the naive befell to their despicable set formula, from Bananarama to Cliff Richard, and a showcase of new recruits, many from Ozzy soaps. No, I favoured to concentrate on the period just prior, when I was susceptible to pop crime, an accessory to murder; for actually buying these 7″ monsters, and, at the time, loving them. We tend to block the worst parts of our memories and focus only on the highlights, so to buy a “best of 80s” 16-CD boxset for a fiver from a supermarket is deflecting the whole truth. These are the commonly cited worst songs of the period, Europe’s Final Countdown, Rick Astley, and so on. But to list the renowned offenders would be to simply copy and paste SAW’s discography; the truth being, we had some other serious pop crime in the mid-eighties, which went largely unpunished.
“To list the renowned offenders would be to simply copy and paste SAW’s discography.”
See, credit where credit is due, Vanilla Ice deserves some recognition for not only publicly apologising for his wrongdoing but elucidating the reason for pop crime. “They waved a massive cheque in my face,” he later explained, “What would you have done?” We could do with the staff of the TV show New Tricks to reopen these case files and investigate. The only problem I foresee with that is Dennis Waterman, who was partially guilty himself.
Here then I present evidence to the court, in hope pleading guilty by circumstance may lessen my sentence. Forgive me Marley, for I have sinned. Yes, the pop crimes which I naively involved myself with, the ones I played over and over, and live to regret my foolish immaturity. I warn you now, this was no simple to task to access the archives of my memory, it was dangerous to both mind and ear, musically akin to regenerating Frankenstein’s monster. But do not fear, fear will only lead to the dark-side, and you might just permanently injure yourself mentally by the horror of these video nasties, or even, open the closet to some skeletons you had long forgotten about. Tobacco needs a government health warning, if these tunes resurfaced, it would be advisable to do likewise. You have a lot to answer for, YouTube.
1: Five Star: System Addict
I confess, I loved Romford’s would-be-Jacksons siblings, period. My uncle lived in Romford and driving to visit, I’d keep a keen eye out in hope to catch a glance of them, until the Daily Mirror reported they moved to a plastic palace in Berkshire.
Buster Pearson, their Jamaican-born father and manager had an impressive résumé, working with soul and reggae legends Otis Redding, Jimmy Cliff, Wilson Pickett, and Desmond Dekker. From “All Fall Down” their debut single, unconcerned if I fancied Doris or Denise, I loved everything about them, until their flopped hard-edged dance comeback in 1988.
I loved their style, their soulful harmonies, and choreographed moves; ask me my favourite album in 85, it would’ve been Luxury of Life. I was 12, my only defence. I had some years before comprehending the crime of manufactured pop; today I can only cringe. This video for 1986’s System Addict says it all, a warning, I think, about the over usage of computers. Maybe they should’ve been warning about the over usage of shoulder pads.
2: Jermaine Stewart: We Don’t Have to Take our Clothes off
The junior disco at Pontins, Camber Sands in 1986, I didn’t know what to do next, but I knew I’d reached first base with a husky-voiced brunette with zips on her sleeves. Then this song came on, which I liked, but would be the stinger in any chance of ever taking the relationship further. Maybe for the best, the song was commenting on the AIDs pandemic and probably lessened the funky Jackson-a-like Jermaine Stewart’s chances of copping a shag too. I imagine the girl saying, “but you said, in the song….” as she holds up some cherry wine suggesting they danced all night instead. And an infuriated Jermaine replying, “I know what I sung, baby, but that’s not my words, just a song, come on….”
Sadly, and perhaps ironically, though, Jermaine died of aids-related liver cancer in 1997. Still, a foul pop crime, though only a single, first time offence.
3: Falco: Rock me Amadeus
Someone, somewhere thought it would be a good idea to rap in Flemish, and, fortunately for Falco, it was. He is the best-selling Austrian singer of all time. But here’s a massive selling pop crime single which time doesn’t do justice to.
At the time, 1985, I couldn’t get enough of this avant-garde trash, and the plush video of powdered-faced Germanic bourgeoisie busting out of their corsets. More so when I mistook a line, thinking he used both the F and C swear words, which was actually, “Frauen liebten seinen Punk,” “women loved his punk.” But the follow-up “Vienna Calling,” didn’t do it for me, and two things I learned from Rock me Amadeus, if anything, Mozart didn’t rap and the wonder of the one-hit-wonder.
4: Sam Fox: Touch Me
Interesting video portraying Samantha Fox as an established rock chick when the truth was, I always thought, she was famous only for getting her tits out in the Sun newspaper. Hers were, undoubtedly, the first pair of knockers I’d ever seen, and for that I’m truly grateful. But reinventing herself as rock star was a step too far.
Though, it was her mum who sent photos of her in her under-crackers to the tabloids, while the same year, a sixteen-year-old Samantha struggled with a pop career. In ‘83 “Rockin’ With My Radio” was her first single, produced by Ray Fenwick formerly of the Spencer Davis Group. Makes you wonder; mum distracts daughter from the depravities of the music industry my encouraging her to get her tits out for the newspapers. A lesson learned, never trust your mum if you want to be a pop star.
Me, I don’t care, I never wished to wallow in my brother’s obsession with Sam Fox, not because I was a prude, just more of a Linda Lusardi kind of kid, and, secondly, this title track from Jive Records’ 1986 album “Touch Me,” is horrifically criminal, and, nice tits or no, that is all.
5: Trans X: Living on Video
As with poor ol’ Sam Fox, Trans X is listed here due to assumption. Research again proves me wrong. As I figured, here was a mid-eighties single which desperately harked back to the synth-pop sound of the early eighties, rather than took the progressive stance with music technology other similar bands were. In actual fact, the 1985 version I had of it, which I thoroughly loved at the time, was a remix, the original dating back to 1982, bang on time for its style.
Trans-X were from Montreal, their only defence, passing the buck to the DJ for his remix is akin to getting your mum to take your speeding points. Even for 82 it sounds unpleasantly tacky. Mud sticks, it’s barbarism by today’s standards, in a manner Blue Monday doesn’t; I rest my case.
6: Nick Berry: Every Loser Wins
Wicksy, you wet blanket. If promoting your slushy song through your soap opera character isn’t cringeworthy enough, the character dedicated it to mismatched couple, Michelle and Lofty, and labelled it “their song,” only for Michelle to jilt Lofty at their wedding; such is EastEnders. For Berry though, this mawkish crime against pop swashed in enough sentimental sludge for it to hit number one in the charts for three weeks, the second biggest selling single of 86, and helped him ditch his contract with the soap.
Yeah, I bought this one, sucked in under false Disney-esque pretences that every loser does win. In reality of course, they don’t, else they’d be called winners instead by the terms of the word’s definition; idiot. Please, let’s never speak of it again.
7: Huey Lewis & The News: Stuck with You
There is no honour among thieves with pop crime. Huey Lewis cried “Ray Parker Jnr started it, sir!” When he did blatantly nick from Huey’s track “I Want a New Drug” for the Ghostbusters theme, and they settled out of court, but Lewis blabbed, so Parker hit back, a violation of the agreement to not discuss the settlement publicly. They both should’ve been slimed.
It was the reason why Huey Lewis got involved with rival movie Back to the Future, the reason I got into the group. It sure was a captivating moment, Marty McFly avoiding 1955’s bullies on a self-made skateboard with Huey Lewis and the News blasting The Power of Love in your face.
Yet, I cannot think of a better example of a band who got progressively worse as they went on. Someone must have known, and did nothing to stop them. Fore, they called their 1986 album, it destroyed any shards of creditability, foreskin more appropriately, and one which should’ve been circumcised because of the build-up of cheese. I only choose this pathetic pastiche of doo-wop barbershop over Hip to be Square, as that was at least upbeat, that is all
8: Maria Vidal: Body Rock
Graffiti artists might fancy the idea of telekinetic spray cans as featured in the video for Maria Vidal’s Body Rock, but while I supported the commercialisation of hip hop, at the time, this was step too far.
Agreed, left up to the comparatively documentary film, Wild Style in 1983, we may never have heard of hip hop in eighties Britain. Though Beat Street, the following year, was commercial, it had clearer narrative and higher production values. Beat Street was boss, but movies on the subject flowed thick and fast, and increasingly wrecked the reputation of the genre. Breakin’ kicked it off, and its sequel followed within the year, Body Rock took it to a whole other level.
Here is a song which advises one to move out of the way rather than stand up for yourself; hardly “street.” But what is more, it’s a template for the crimes of the hit factory, this and eurotrash, which is why we mention the next pop crime.
9: Spagna: Call Me
Ivana Spagna took it upon herself to assume she was famous enough to mononymous her name, and through her work with Italo disco duo, Fun Fun in her native Italy it might have been true. We didn’t know of her until this monster of a pop crime, Call Me.
Euro-pop would never regain the success of Nena’s 99 Red Balloons upon the UK charts without manufacturing a revolting formula. It’s catchy but empty of content, verses do not matter, just repeat the chorus, spray enough hairspray to bore a hole in the o-zone above you and jump into a stranger with headphone’s Suzuki and you’ll be fine. The criminal aspect so widely attractive to Pete Waterman went unpunished and, still at large, she continues to offend.
10: Peter Cetera: Glory of Love
Nothing wrong with fighting for honour and being the hero, they’ve been dreaming of, but, put a bit of umph in it for crying out loud. Peter Cetera was from acclaimed seventies band Chicago, it was sentimental slush but with grace. Take his song “If You Leave Me Now”, a song he wrote for their tenth album and gained Chicago its first Grammy Award. Begging the question then, what went so terribly wrong in the mid-eighties?
It seems the pop crime pandemic was at large and no one was safe; the soft rock power ballad proves it. This mullet-driven monstrosity is so nasty, so corrupt if you hear it through to the end, you’ll puke, Karate Kid or not. Wax on, wax off, sweep the leg, yes, this didn’t do anything for the sequel expect cause the audience stomach upsets. Yet, as with all these songs, at the time, I thought it was great, I thought it was a romance advise line, and ultimately resulted in years of hurt and anguish; no one was ever this romantic in 1985, not even Chris de fucking Burgh!