TV Cream

Pot pourri

“…But was it ever like this?”

That holy trinity of pop anecdotage, Paul Gambaccini, Tim Rice and Jonathan Rice, have this to say about 1986 in their book Guinness Hits Of The 1980s:

“Any objective observer would have to concede that 1986 was not one of the best years of the decade for popular music.”

The evidence, for them, is that “none of its hit singles, not even the year’s number one by the Communards, ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, figured in the top 20 best-sellers of the decade.”

Tsk. Typical. It’s all a matter of numbers and statistics for those three. Might it actually be the case that 1986 was…the best year from the 1980s for pop singles?

‘Kiss’, ‘Ask’, ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’, ‘You Can Call Me Al’, ‘E=MC2’, ‘Think For A Minute’, ‘Fall On Me’, ‘Suburbia’, ‘Cut Me Down’, ‘Live To Tell’, ‘World Shut Your Mouth’, ‘Digging Your Scene’, ‘Manic Monday’, ‘Venus’, ‘Have You Ever Had It Blue?’, ‘Absolute Beginners’ and the best number one of the year, ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ – just some of the ace songs dismissed out of hand by the grumbling trio. They go on to claim:

“One good measure of the weakness of the singles market was that none of the records that became number one in 1986 stayed there for more than four weeks.”

Well, quite. Anyway, in the words of Ian MacDonald, let those with ears, let them hear. Or in the words of Macca in his not-a-smash-hit from 1986, ‘Press’: Oklahoma was never like this – but was it ever like this?



  1. Emma

    June 17, 2008 at 1:20 am

    Wot, no Sigue “Sigue” Sputnik?

    Seriously, I’d also add Belouis Some’s Imagination (alright, I know it was a rerelease), Driving Away From Home, The Captain of Her Heart, Let’s Go All The Way, Calling All The Heroes, Brilliant Mind, Sometimes, Girls & Boys and at the risk of sounding a bit fluffy-dice-Essex, Roses and Lessons In Love.

  2. Adrian

    June 17, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I’ll put my head above the parapet and clain that 1984 was the best year of the 80s for singles. However I will concede that ’86 wasn’t a bad year either.

    It amuses me that David Bowie and much of the music media seem determined to ignore ‘Absolute Beginners’ as a Bowie single, when I view it as the last great Bowie song.

  3. David Pascoe

    June 17, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Didn’t Happy Hour come out in ’86 as well?

    I think one reason it gets overlooked is because Reet Petite is the song everyone most remembers from this year together with “The Chicken Song”. Ergo it must have been rubbish.

  4. James

    June 17, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    “One good measure of the weakness of the singles market was that none of the records that became number one in 1986 stayed there for more than four weeks.”

    Really? I’m a little bit baffled by that claim. Surely if singles are hanging around at number one for Bryan Adams-like times, it’s a sign that there’s nothing popular enough to knock it off. I would’ve thought that in a good year for music, amazing tracks would be coming out every week, toppling each other from number one in a relentless (yet joyously exciting) battle.

    Of course, that was Back When The Charts Mattered (© Paul Morley on any Channel 4 ‘Top 100’ show). These days, unremarkable songs drift in and out of the number one slot on a weekly basis almost by accident. Nobody seems to get that excited any more.

    Still, it was aces when the Ting Tings did it.

  5. Five-Centres

    June 18, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Walk Like An Egyptian, Girlie Girlie, Alone Again Or, Driving Away From Home, Sweet Freedom, and many many more.

    1987. That’s the worst year for music.

  6. Ian Jones

    June 19, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    I beg to differ – surely 1992 must qualify as the worst year ever?

    • Glenn Aylett

      February 2, 2020 at 1:28 pm

      Yes, abysmal, records made up of samples from Sonic The Hedgehog, ear splitting rave crap, boring ballads like I Will Always Love You that stayed at number one for weeks, and smelly grunge acts, can’t think of a worse year, although 1993 was almost as bad with Meatloaf’s dirge at number one for 13 weeks. Thank goodness for Britpop, trip hop and Eurodance that replaced this dreadful era.

  7. Steve Williams

    June 19, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Yes, 1992 was dreadful, and that was a year when records stayed at number one for ever – Stay, Please Don’t Go – and indeed, that was the year I think singles sales were at their lowest. So that disproves the GRRR gang’s theory.

    Course, 1986 was on Pick Of The Pops on Sunday, and in a row Dale played Happy Hour, My Favourite Waste of Time and, brilliantly, New Beginning by Bucks Fizz, which made for a hugely enjoyable ten minutes.

  8. Anonymous

    June 19, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Take your pic from any year in the 90’s

  9. redhairkid

    February 1, 2020 at 11:11 pm

    What about Hi Ho Silver, Invisible Touch, A Different Corner and True Blue? Absolutely brilliant.

  10. richardpd

    February 2, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    A few years ago I put together a playlist of songs from 1986, which was packed with great songs even with a “1 song per artist” limit.

    I agree that the years 1991-3 were quite a malaise for popular music before things improved towards the middle of the decade. 1997 was almost like a year from the 1980s, with almost always a few great songs in the charts.

    • Glenn Aylett

      February 7, 2020 at 2:12 pm

      1991-93 was probably a low point, rave, crusties, grunge, singles at number one for weeks on end and people asking if British guitar music was dead due to grunge and rave culture. Fortunately things began to pick up again in 1994 as the early nineties scenes faded out and Britpop appeared and would peak in 1996, probably the best year of the decade for music. Also the scruffy fashions of the early nineties gave way to the casual look.

      • richardpd

        February 7, 2020 at 11:40 pm

        At least there were some acts like REM & The Beautiful South who made quite a few good songs in their own bubbles without much outside influence.

        • Glenn Aylett

          February 8, 2020 at 1:07 pm

          Queen made their final and best album for years in 1991 and being of a rock inclination at the time, Metallica and Guns N Roses were at their peak. However, 1992 and 1993 were completely wretched and boring, unless you were off your head on ecstasy or into grunge music.
          Interestingly the dance music that followed rave was much more radio friendly and bearable, and I do admit I don’t mind a bit of later Snap, Capella and N Trance. Also Britpop proved British guitar music could still generate a big following and people seemed more optimistic after 1993 as the economy improved.

  11. THX 1139

    February 2, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    I mostly listened to Tom Waits and Ministry 1991-3, but I do have a soft spot for Sesame’s Treet by Smart E’s – the use of the sample of The Count laughing is great.

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