488. ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’, by The Police

Part IV of my ongoing campaign to enjoy The Police more

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, by The Police (their 4th of five #1s)

1 week, 8th – 15th November 1981

I do really want to like their records, but there’s always something holding me back. Something about the production, the jaunty reggae rhythms, Sting’s voice… It just doesn’t work for me. Here, the punky edge from their late-seventies records, ‘Message in a Bottle’ in particular, has gone. In its place are synths, and a very MOR piano line.

All of The Police’s chart-toppers so far have centred on not getting what you want (‘Message…’) or what you want not lasting (‘Walking on the Moon’ and, at a stretch, ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’). ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’ falls into the former category. Sting wants to tell a girl all of the feelings he has for her, in his heart, but… alas.

What usually saves Police songs for me are the choruses. They sure could write a killer chorus. The verses might meander, and the fade-outs may be too long, but the choruses kick. Every little thing she does is magic, Everything she do just turn me on… Even though my life before was tragic, Now I know my love for her goes on… The lyrics may look clumsy when typed out, but it’s such an air-punching moment you don’t really notice.

The rest of the song, though? Meh. Something about the mix is quite stodgy, with the voices buried under the instruments. There’s the piano – unusual for a Police song – and African drums. A stripped-back, more guitar-based version would work better for me. But that’s just, like, my opinion. And it’s something I’ll have to get used to as the 1980s wear on: guitars taking much more of a back seat.

This record, the second single from the band’s fourth album, isn’t a giant departure from what went before, but it was different enough for guitarist Andy Summers to object, both to the piano and to the production. It’s definitely The Police’s poppiest #1. And the reason that Sting’s vocals sound so distant may be because the band played over a demo he had recorded months before. And I’m with Summers on this: something about it doesn’t quite click.

So. Four of The Police’s #1s down, one to go. Will the last one – still a year and a half away – finally be the Police song I can love? Well, actually, yes it will. Because their final chart-topper is a decade-defining classic. Until then, then…

486. ‘Prince Charming’, by Adam & The Ants

A very happy new year to all who read this! In the real world it’s just turned 2022, but in Number Ones World it’s the autumn of 1981…

Keeping up the ‘too much sugar before bedtime’ vibe of ‘Stand and Deliver!’, Adam & The Ants second chart-topper comes in with a similarly hyperactive intro. Aaah-haah, heeyyy-haaah! the Ants yodel and chant, like a band who’ve been stranded in the jungle for years, staying alive only by feeding off the flesh of their weakest member…

Prince Charming, by Adam & The Ants (their 2nd and final #1)

4 weeks, 13th September – 11th October 1981

I have the feeling that, back in his youth, Stuart Goddard AKA Adam Ant was the bane of his teachers’ lives (I’m a teacher myself, so can spot them a mile off – the ones you describe as ‘spirited’ and ‘energetic’ in report cards.) Though, to be fair, most pop stars probably were little nightmares in the classroom.

And I think the school analogy can be extended, even after the shouts have faded and the song has slipped into a thumping, clumping rhythm. Don’t you ever, Don’t you ever, Stop being dandy, Showin’ me you’re handsome… It sounds like a playground chant. Prince Charming, Prince Charming, Ridicule is nothing to be afraid of… Or is it a mantra, something that Goddard had to say to himself each morning, before he slipped back into the mascara and lip-gloss required of Adam Ant?

I’m waiting for this song to break out of its plod and really kick. But it never does. There’s a bit more chanting, and a lot of repetition. ‘Stand and Deliver!’ was much more fun. Though, ‘Prince Charming’ is a smash-hit so far removed from the usual structures of a pop song (apparently Goddard chose such a slow pace deliberately, so that it wouldn’t be played in discos) it’s quite impressive how well it did. A sign of just how red-hot The Ants were in 1981.

Like ‘Stand and Deliver!’, ‘Prince Charming’ has another bizarrely entertaining video. Adam plays a male Cinderella, put upon by two dragged-up ugly sisters. Diana Dors, in one of her final screen roles, plays his Fairy Godmother. He goes to the ball, dressed in what is now the iconic Adam Ant look, and the other party-goers gag. At the end, he smashes a mirror, and appears as Clint Eastwood, Alice Cooper, Lawrence of Arabia (?) and, finally, as the Dandy Highwayman from his previous #1. As a video it’s great fun, and as a message it’s actually quite powerful: boys can look rugged as Clint Eastwood and boys can cake themselves in make-up and look like Adam Ant. Ridicule is nothing to be scared of!

I just wish I liked the actual song as much as I do the video. But I’m still finding it a bit of a plod, and isn’t really growing on me. And before you know it, that’s all from Adam & The Ants. They would have just one more hit, the uncharacteristically laid-back (only kidding) ‘Ant Rap’, before splitting up in early 1982. Adam’s solo career will follow on very soon from that, he was very much the driving force behind the band, and we’ll be hearing from him one last time atop the charts very soon.

482. ‘Ghost Town’, by The Specials

When a song both begins and ends with police sirens, then you know things might just be getting a little tense at the top of the charts…

Ghost Town, by The Specials (their 2nd and final #1)

3 weeks, 5th – 26th July 1981

What makes this record great, though, is that the tension, the anger in this record, is controlled and channelled into a brilliant pop song. In The Specials’ first #1, ‘Too Much Too Young’, the message was spat out, obnoxiously. ‘Ghost Town’ still has that two-tone anarchy, but here it’s under control. They have a plan: every note and lyric is set for maximum impact, and it’s catchy as hell.

This town, Is coming like a ghost town… The band look around Coventry, their hometown, and see clubs closed down, disenchanted kids kicking lumps out of each other… Bands won’t play no more, Too much fighting on the dance floor… They look around, and they know just who to blame.

What makes this record great (Pt II) is that they perfect a ‘haunted house’ vibe with creepy organs and eerie flutes, plus the high-pitched, ghoulish backing vocals, but at no point does it sound like a novelty record. It does mean that this song is fated to be wrongly included on Halloween playlists for the rest of eternity; but that’s a small price to pay for such a unique sounding chart-topper.

Is this the most political number one single yet? The Jam might argue their case, but I think, compared to ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Going Underground’ sounds a little one-dimensional, as great as it is. Here the social commentary is blended with the funky horns and the catchy chorus line. The anger comes through slowly, peaking when Neville Staple starts chanting: Government leaving the youth on the shelf… No jobs to be found in this country… before ending with the succinct: The people getting angry!

‘Ghost Town’ was at #1 as riots broke out across the UK in the summer of 1981, with unemployment rates heading rapidly towards three million, making it sound very prescient. Sadly, the band couldn’t enjoy their ‘told you so’ moment: they split up, according to the history books, as they were waiting to record the song’s ‘Top of the Pops’ performance. Many Coventry locals weren’t too impressed either, hearing their home described as a dying town on radios across the land. Perhaps the truth hurt too much?

I’ve got to the end of this post without mentioning my two favourite bits of this song. The brassy middle-eight, that sounds completely different to the other three minutes, all swinging and upbeat, as they reminisce about the good old days inna de boomtown... And then there’s the drumbeat, that only becomes obvious as the song fades out. It sounds really modern, like ‘90s trip-hop. It sums up a very cool, and very important, moment at the top of the charts.

479. ‘Stand and Deliver!’, by Adam & The Ants

I’ve just realised something… The eighties have finally begun. 1980 was full of stars – Blondie, Bowie, ABBA and ELO – but they were stars from the seventies. Our recent number ones have introduced us to some brand new stars, huge names of the early ‘80s: Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz and now, biggest of all, Adam Ant.

Stand and Deliver, by Adam & The Ants (their 1st of two #1s)

5 weeks, 3rd May – 7th June 1981

Punk, New-Wave and something else collide here. What that something is I couldn’t say… but it is very new and very thrilling. And very eighties. It’s frantic – there are horns, sound effects, nonsense chanting, and a band dressed as eighteenth century highwaymen… As I said in my last post, glam is back, baby!

I’m the dandy highwayman, That you’re too scared to mention, I spend my cash on looking flash, And grabbing your attention… It’s a statement of intent, this record: a war-cry to kids across the land to ditch old-folks’ fashions, to slap chunky blocks of make-up on their faces, and join the insect nation… It’s the sort of song your nan would have screwed her face to during TOTP, wondering just what was wrong with young folk these days.

There’s a bit of everything here. We go from the verses, in which Adam Ant sounds like Ray Davies trying his hand at rapping, to a Shadows-esque surf-rock solo with monkish chanting for backing. And the main hook is a killer: Stand and deliver, Your money or your life… And I mean literally a killer – it’s what Dick Turpin would have shouted back in his heyday. Meanwhile, the music video – we need more and more often to start referencing the videos for #1 singles now – sees Adam and his band holding up carriages full of uncool types clutching their lame records. Rather than robbing them, he shows how terrible they look in his foppish, handheld mirror.

It’s certainly a breath of fresh air, and there’s a feeling of a new musical order starting to assert itself. And there’s a great pop song here, underneath all the frippery (that’s a nice way to sum up the entire 1980s, to be honest). Adam and the Ants hadn’t appeared out of nowhere, though – they had been around since 1977, and had been scoring Top 10 hits for a year or so before this smash.

And a ‘smash’ it was. ‘Stand and Deliver’ entered at #1, which means the band were at the same level of popularity as The Jam and The Police. Plus its five-week run at the top is the longest of the decade so far. They were a band that burned brightly, but briefly, and they and their charismatic leader will be back with a couple more equally manic chart-toppers in pretty soon.

476. ‘Jealous Guy’, by Roxy Music

The fourth and final part of Britain’s period of national mourning for John Lennon and we end, quite fittingly, with a glossy tribute.

Jealous Guy, by Roxy Music (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 8th – 22nd March 1981

To my ears, this is an interesting choice of both song and band to end up with the big Lennon tribute hit. ‘Jealous Guy’ wasn’t one of his very biggest hits, and Roxy Music aren’t the first act you’d think of to have been influenced by The Beatles, or John Lennon. Then again, what band that formed in the early ‘70s wouldn’t have been influenced by The Beatles? And maybe a more predictable cover of ‘Imagine’, or ‘Give Peace a Chance’, would have been met with a collective shrug.

I went through a phase, as a teenager, where ‘Jealous Guy’ was my favourite song, ever. It’s overwrought, and needy, you see… It’s Lennon’s ‘emo’ record. Feeling insecure… Swallowing my pain… Shivering inside… Those sorts of things. I still like it, though there are other Lennon tracks I much prefer these days. And I quite like this cover version. Bryan Ferry’s vocals are excellent – tremulous but powerful, and not as theatrical as he sometimes can be – but the music is slightly self-indulgent soft-rock.

It’s slow – though the original is, too – and over-long. I count three solos: guitar (good), synth (fine), saxophone (not for me). At least they kept the whistling. That was always my favourite bit. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered since starting this blog, it’s that whistling in pop songs usually works for me. If every sax solo ever recorded was replaced by whistling then the world would be a better place.

This was Roxy Music’s sole number one single, almost a decade into their chart careers. They had a similar chart run to ELO, who had scored their solitary #1 a year before. Both were a huge presence throughout the seventies (though Roxy Music had a two-year hiatus in the middle), and both scored a belated chart-topper with what was far from their best song. Though, I have to admit, my knowledge of Roxy Music beyond their biggest hits is patchy.

It’s worth noting, as we reach the end of it, the effect John Lennon’s death had on the top of the UK charts for three whole months. Other big, premature artist deaths – Buddy Holly, Elvis – resulted in posthumous #1s, but not in weeks of domination. And it will never happen again, in the download/streaming age, where an artist’s back-catalogue is at our fingertips, and we are no longer at the mercy of re-releases. Anyway. Next time out, ‘normal’ service is resumed.

469. ‘The Tide Is High’, by Blondie

I spoke of the variety that 1980 has offered us in my last post, and talking of variety… For their 3rd #1 of the year, Blondie go reggae.

The Tide Is High, by Blondie (their 5th of six #1s)

2 weeks, 9th – 23rd November 1980

It’s a huge departure from their two quick-fire, pounding, disco-rock chart toppers – ‘Atomic’ and ‘Call Me’ – from earlier in the year. I love those two hits and have to admit that, although this is catchy pop, it’s not in the same league. The tide is high, But I’m holding on… coos Debbie Harry, whose voice has lost much of the bite it had in those earlier hits… I’m gonna be your number one…

There are still good things to make a note of. The way Harry flirts with the I’m not the kinda girl, Who gives up just like that… line, for a start. And the extra snarl she gives the hi-igh in the closing lines. Plus there’s a cool drum intro on the album version. But overall, it’s quite sedate, quite pleasant. Quite nice. But I’d say it was the band’s huge fame that took this to the top of the charts, rather than any real ‘wow’ factor that this new single had.

‘The Tide Is High’ is a cover, originally recorded by Jamaican group The Paragons in 1967. Their version has a nice, homely charm to it. Blondie took it, changed the pronouns, and scored a #1 on either side of the Atlantic ahead of their new album. They also made a video for the song: a classic example of the low-budget, pre-MTV age. A flooded apartment, a rocket launch, Darth Vader… What’s not to love?

I’ve recently been listening to all of Blondie’s studio albums and, ‘Parallel Lines’ aside, they definitely come across more as a singles band. That’s not to say the rest is all filler – their first album has some great moments, for example – but the singles they released were consistently outstanding. Few bands can match Blondie’s run of hits between 1976 and 1980.

In conclusion, then… I do like this song. If it were by a lesser band, a one-hit wonder perhaps, then I might be singing its praises. But I expect a little more from Blondie. For this to be their swan-song at the top of the charts feels like a bit of a damp squib. After this came ‘Rapture’ – the first rap #1 on the Billboard charts – and one more studio album, but drugs and in-fighting meant they called it a day in 1982. Then… oh yeah. Forget that stuff about this being a swan-song. Then they reformed, nearly twenty years later, and scored a sensational middle-aged comeback #1, that you’ll be able to read all about if/when I manage to crawl my way to 1999…

467. ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’, by The Police

You’ve probably noticed that we’re taking our time to meander through 1980. The #1 records in this year didn’t hang around long at the top, with lots of one or two-week stays. But here comes the longest-lodging chart-topper of the year, the lead single from The Police’s brand-new album, entering at the top, for a whole month.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me, by The Police (their 3rd of five #1s)

4 weeks, 21st September – 19th October 1980

Ominous synths, and some guitar noodling. Not the blockbuster kick-off you might have hoped for. But if The Police’s last #1, ‘Walking on the Moon’, taught me anything it’s that this is a band who don’t mind dragging things out. Then in comes a familiar reggae-rhythm, and in that moment you know exactly who you are listening to.

Young teacher, The subject, Of schoolgirl fantasy… I have a few issues with this record, this eighties reboot of ‘Young Girl’, but first off I do like the short, sharp, tabloidy snippets that make up the lyrics. She wants him, So badly, Knows what she wants to be… Though, the tone is so fraught, the synths so ominous, that I think it would be better suited to an even more serious subject. A killer on the loose, Jack the Ripper, something like that…

As with the band’s first chart-topper, ‘Message in a Bottle’, I’m waiting for something to grab me. Luckily, like ‘Message…’ this record has another great chorus. It whacks the song right into life: Don’t stand, Don’t stand so, Don’t stand so close to me… It’s driving, and catchy, and I wish more Police singles could have kept this sort of pace up throughout.

‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’ is based on Sting’s own experiences – he was an English teacher before the band took off – and here is where my concerns creep in. ‘Creep’ being the key term. In it the teacher offers the girl a ride, we can assume he sleeps with her, and word travels around… Then we arrive at what is either one of the best or one of the worst rhyming couplets ever to feature in a chart-topping single: It’s no use, He sees her, He starts to shake and cough… Just like the, Old man in, That book by Nabokov… One things for sure: any English teacher worth their salt knows the name of that book!

There is no evidence that Mr Sumners ever had his wicked way with one of his young charges. Though he has gone on record to say that the temptation was real: “I don’t know how I managed to keep my hands off them,” he revealed, in an interview the following year. I mean… I think it might be the modern-day, slightly pretentious, Tantric-sex version of Sting that makes this sit so uncomfortably. Plus, the song comes across as a bit of a humble-brag: oh how awful it was having teenagers throwing themselves at me, so I became a rock star – a profession famous for its limited access to horny sixteen-year-olds…

Anyway. This is an enjoyable song, though I’m still finding it slightly irritating in the same vague and undefinable way that I’ve found all of The Police’s #1s so far. But, not only was it the longest-running #1 of 1980, it was also the year’s biggest selling single. The Police were huge in this moment, at the height of their fame. Four weeks was enough to make this the year’s longest-running, a run which in other years would have been completely average. 1980 will have a total of twenty-four #1s, tied with 1965 for the most up to then. It’s a figure that won’t be matched again until 1996, or beaten until 1998, when #1 turnover was about to reach its peak.

465. ‘Start!’, by The Jam

The Jam make a quick return to top spot, with a very famous bass-line. One that you may have heard before…

Start!, by The Jam (their 2nd of four #1s)

1 week, 31st August – 7th September 1980

‘Start!’ is notoriously indebted to The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ – there’s no avoiding the fact that the bass riff is pretty much a note for note copy – but while the former has a hash-haze to it, the latter is a squeaky-tight, short and sharp blast of punk-funk. That’s right. I’m inventing new genres as I go along…

It’s a song about a one-night stand… It’s not important for me to know your name… Or some kind of fleeting encounter… If we communicate for two minutes only it will be e-nough… At first glance it’s less of a war cry, compared to the band’s first chart-topper, but it’s actually just as cynical. Knowing that someone in this life, Loves with a passion called hate…

I’m really not sure if Paul Weller is grateful for their two-minute connection, or if he’s glad about never, ever seeing this person again. What I am sure about is that this is a great pop song: minimalist, with razor-sharp guitars and cool drum-fills. It’s as natty as The Jam’s mod-suits and shades combo in the video.

Speaking of the video, the single release of ‘Start!’ shaves fifteen seconds off the album version, trimming the gritty solo and losing the horns that play out over the closing refrain. For me the horns add to the funk here, placing the record firmly in the early-eighties, so if you were choosing between the versions I’d go album every time.

Without wanting to disrespect what I think is a great record, I think a sharp-blasting, one-week #1 like this needs only a sharp blast of a blog post on it. ‘Start!’ probably gets lost among The Jam’s better-known hits, ‘Going Underground’ before it and ‘That’s Entertainment’ after (which charted at #21 by selling only imported copies – a sign of the band’s popularity in 1980). It was also the only one of their four chart-toppers not to enter at the top. But it’s good one, and if this post has just turned you onto the song’s quality, then that will be a start!

464. ‘Ashes to Ashes’, by David Bowie

Hot on ABBA’s heels, here’s another triumphant return to the top of the charts for a seventies icon.

Ashes to Ashes, by David Bowie (his 2nd of five #1s)

2 weeks, 17th – 31st August 1980

Unlike ABBA, however, this is only David Bowie’s second visit to the #1 spot, and his first with a new song (his earlier chart-topper being a re-release of his debut hit ‘Space Oddity’). It seems that Bowie could score his very biggest hits only if he was singing about Major Tom.

Do you remember a guy that’s been, In such an early song…? The fourth wall is broken in the first lines, while a woozy, harsh riff plays out on an instrument I am completely unable to name. It’s very new, quite avant-garde, the most eighties moment yet in this countdown. There’s also a reggae-ish feel to it, in the beat, and in the singer’s delivery.

It’s a bit of a hotch-potch, really. As with a lot of Bowie’s work, I wish I liked it more than I do. The verses are where my attention wanders the most. The lyrics and the beat trip over one another, and you’re left a bit lost. For the most part, though, I come down on the side of not caring if music is a bit beyond me, as long as it’s catchy. Luckily, this record has a killer chorus.

Ashes to ashes, Fun to funky, We know Major Tom’s a junkie… Is David Bowie Major Tom, and this record a look back at his struggles with drugs in the late seventies? Is he the Starman turned addict? Is Major Tom actually heroin…? The repeated closing lines… My mama said, To get things done, You better not mess with Major Tom… would perhaps bear this out.

The sinister music video – the most expensive ever made at this point in time – does little to clarify: it features Bowie in a clown suit, being followed by a bulldozer, releasing doves and rocking in a padded cell. (But I did find a great story from the making this video… On location, an elderly dog-walker refused to get out of one shot, and when the director asked if he knew who this man – pointing at the David Bowie – was, the old bloke replied: ‘Yeah, it’s some cunt in a clown suit.’ Bowie wore the insult with pride, apparently, for years after.)

I had a friend growing up who was obsessed with David Bowie, and with this song in particular. He was a bit of a pretentious arse, and perhaps I’ve always unfairly associated ‘Ashes to Ashes’ with him. Except… listening to it properly now, over and over, I’m not sure I wasn’t right all along. It is arty, and clever, and perhaps pretentious. Though both feature Major Tom, the shift from ‘Space Oddity’ to this is huge: perhaps the biggest change in sound between chart-toppers by any act so far. Which is fine. Good, even. Some people have to push the envelope, and Bowie did it better than anybody else, but sometimes it’s beyond me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love a lot of his music. It’s just frustrating that the Bowie I enjoy most never made the top of the charts. Of his five #1s, four are from the eighties, while the seventies’ #1 was actually from the sixties. Hey ho. It’s becoming apparent that very few acts are best represented by their chart-toppers. At least he won’t have as long to wait for his next one…

457. ‘Geno’, by Dexys Midnight Runners

Our next number one starts off with some live chanting, and a short, sharp horn riff, giving the impression that we’re heading off in the same 2-tone, ska direction that The Specials took us… Until it switches tack and suddenly we’ve got a brassy, soulful saxophone line leading the way.

Geno, by Dexys Midnight Runners (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, 27th April – 11th May 1980

And that’s not the only abrupt shift over the course of ‘Geno’ – it’s a song that’s chopped up into lots of little bits. Lots of catchy little chunks. There are the woozy verses… Back in sixty-eight in a sweaty club… with lyrics that need serious Googling thanks to lead-singer Kevin Rowland’s unique delivery… Before Jimmy’s Machine and the Rocksteady Rub…

It’s a potted history of the band, or of Rowland’s formative years, bunking school and sneaking in to clubs to see soul legend Geno Washington step on stage, swinging his towel high… Then the tempo swings again, and there’s an insistent post-punk drive to the middle-eight. Academic inspiration, You gave me none… And then there’s the live chanting, which is actually sampled from a Van Morrison live album.

When writing these posts, I usually jot down my impressions on a song without looking at any other sources. You know, if you read that such-and-such a song is included in the Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 of all time, then it might influence your judgement… But with this record, I’m a bit stumped. The components are catchy, the oh-oh-oh Geno hook is great, but I’m struggling to place it.

It’s another insistent record, yet another chart-topper from ’79-’80 that is brimming with confidence and with ideas. Listening to this era’s chart-toppers is like going to an art school’s open day and being performed at by some very confident young wannabes. It’s all very impressive; but it can get a bit much.

So, do I like this song? Should I be enjoying this? The consensus seems to be that this is a classic… but that’s probably just because the Runners’ next chart-topper is so overplayed and people want to look cool. I think the big negative here is that the song’s topic is quite niche – a description of a gig – and the vocals so unintelligible. Still, it’s not boring, and that is always something.

This was just the second single that Dexys Midnight Runners’ had ever released, after their formation in Birmingham in 1978. Their name is the shortened version of Dexedrine, an amphetamine popular in clubs at the time, and which is referenced in this song: This man was my bomber, My dexys, My high… Oh Geno! It’s also the reason why there’s no apostrophe in the band’s name, which goes against all my English teaching instincts… They will be back, in good time, with one of the decade’s signature hits. One that may be overplayed, but that I will have no problem justifying as a classic!