The first thing I did before putting fingers to keyboard was to compare the weather in February 1985 to what we’re experiencing in 2021. It was a very cold month with rain turning to snow in the north of the country before travelling south, where snow quickly started drifting. By mid-month the weather was brighter and dry while remaining extremely chilly. Then towards the end of the month, temperatures rose to mild. Well, there’s not much difference is there, so let’s talk music…
Oh what a powerful ballad this was and still is – “I Want To Know What Love Is” by the British/American rock group Foreigner. With melting lyrics, dreamy, sizzling melodies and the New Jersey Mass Choir affiliated with the Gospel Music Workshop of America as background singers, offering delicious voices that embrace the music, the song just couldn’t fail. Oh, and Jennifer Holiday is also in the mix somewhere. Yeah: I did say rock group but in my ‘umble opinion, this far outweighed anything they ever recorded. To prove its relevance across the decades, “I Want To Know What Love Is” remains the group’s most requested song and is an enduring radio favourite. At the time of its release, Foreigner kicked Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” from the top of the chart, staying in situ for three weeks. OK. I put my hand up, this song is one of my secret emotional experiences that’s travelled with me through the years as it reminds me of a special time in my life.
While Foreigner looked down from the top, sitting just below was a duet from that record-breaking musical Chess inspired by some of the industry’s finest, Tim Rice and the Abba boys Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Sung by Elaine Page and Barbara Dickson, “I Know Him So Well” was a comfortable mix of vocals against a flowing musical background telling a bittersweet story that went something like this. Florence (Elaine Page) and Svetlana (Barbara Dickson) exchange their feelings for the same guy, a Russian chess champion. Flo is his estranged wife; Svet, his mistress, and their anger was vented to music. Interestingly, the ladies recorded their vocals separately and only met to film the single’s promotional video where they spent some of the time singing back to back. Hah, women scorned are a dangerous breed! The song lived on because two years later Whitney Houston and her mum, Cissy, recorded it together for Whitney’s second album. Their version suffered from lack of promotion but daughter and mum included it in live performances for a while. “Mom adds a brief, welcome moment of grainy soulfulness to the album” and “…a genuine derivative show tune treated here with deadly reverence” were just a couple of reviews. However, more about Cissy’s daughter later on…
“Little Red Corvette”, a breathless ode to casual sex, elevated its creator Prince into stardom. The song is said to be inspired after he fell asleep on the back seat of a 1964 pink Mercury Montclair Marauder owned by Lisa Coleman, his keyboard player. The lyrics were ambiguous enough – using car metaphors – to avoid offending listeners to their real meaning. Oh yeah, I bet that worked! Another version suggested Prince was sleeping with singer Vanity in the back of the car. Whatever, the song is about a one-night stand with a beautiful but naughty lady. Born in Minneapolis, Prince Rogers Nelson, was trained in classical ballet and wrote his first song “Funk Machine” when he was seven. Long story short, Warner Brothers signed him in a three-album deal, where his debut was “For You” in 1978 which he wrote, produced and on which he played all twenty-seven instruments!
When The Los Angeles Times called him “our first post-everything pop star, defying easy categories of race, genre and commercial appeal” the journalist wasn’t wrong. Throughout his career, Prince attracted headlines for many reasons; some good, others not so. Most praised his ground breaking music, but many column inches were given to his erratic, irreverent demands, self-consuming attitude and flamboyant lifestyle. However, Prince was the absolute showman, a multi-talented artist and a sex symbol for his androgynous sexuality which defied racial stereotypes. I could fill pages about this extraordinary guy but suffice to say, he’s bound to crop up in future blogs.
Others in February’s top ten included Tears For Fears’ “Shout; Russ Abbot’s “Atmosphere” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark”. Plus these two. “Solid” courtesy of Ashford and Simpson and “Like A Virgin” from Madonna. Recording artists in their own right after a dazzling songwriting career for a host of other artists including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (who recorded some of the sweetest love songs known to women) and Diana Ross, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford celebrated their first significant UK hit with “Solid”. Hitting number three, the single was helped on its way by a video shot in Central Park, New York, that brought to life the story of their bumpy relationship that was ultimately saved by their love for each other. Yup – “solid as a rock”. “Like A Virgin” was, well, the total opposite really. Like “Little Red Corvette”, her song was loaded with hidden innuendos that were open to different interpretations. As her career began to rise, Madonna’s lyrics became more openly explicit with promotional films to match. But that’s a story for another time. So, here we are with “Like A Virgin” which stormed its way to the top in most countries but not the UK where it peaked at number three. I’ll make a brief mention of the single’s video, choosing my words carefully, so here goes. Portraying a sexually independent woman, Madonna rides a gondola down a canal in Venice, prances around wearing a white wedding dress, while flaunting her sexuality with her lover wearing a lion’s mask to re-enact 18th century practices where sex crimes were severely punished in the Italian city. Erm, that’ll do. Anyway, later on, the singer defended the song – “I was surprised by how people reacted…because I was singing about how something made me feel a certain way – brand new and fresh…everyone interpreted it as I don’t want to be a virgin anymore…that’s not what I sang at all.”
Let’s return to safer ground now and re-visit Cissy’s daughter as she released her first album “Whitney Houston” this month. After a sluggish start, extra promotion was applied to the release when the sales pace quickened until it topped the American chart for a staggering fourteen weeks. To be fair, the album did contain three scorching number one singles – “Saving All My Love For You”, “How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love Of All” – which proved beyond doubt her future was secure. In the UK “Whitney Houston” hit the top two, spending 120 weeks on the chart, later certifying platinum status for shipments of over 1,800,000 units. Another interesting titbit, it was also the first album by a black female artist to top the Australian chart where it stayed for eleven consecutive weeks.
With a career that lasted until her tragic death in 2021, Whitney was the most decorated female artist of all time (Grammy, Emmy, American Music Awards, gold and platinum discs by the bucketful), she had the most recognisable voice in the universe, selling over 200 million records worldwide, and considered to be the greatest female artist of all time. Again, it would be easy to write a book here, but suffice to say, Whitney’s talent stretched to acting where The Bodyguard in 1992 was her first, sharing the credits with the lovely Kevin Costner. However, Whitney’s personal life that took in her marriage to Bobby Brown and her escalating love of drugs often grabbed more tabloid headlines than her music. However, for now, in 1985, she was welcomed with open arms: “one of the most exciting new voices in years”…”(she) is obviously headed for stardom” and “her album is an exciting preview of coming attractions.” If only she knew then what was in store….
Some run out notes now…Coca Cola introduced Cherry Coke this month in 1985 (urgh!)…. As part of a world tour Mickey Mouse visited China in honour of Disneyland’s 30th anniversary…. the BBC soap Eastenders debuted. The Corporation wanted a drama series that would attract the same mass audience that their rival ITV was getting with Coronation Street. The plan worked! And finally, the American detective crime drama Miama Vice hit our screens. Starring Don Johnson as Sonny Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as Rico Tubbs, the programme was screened on BBC1. To go along with the storylines loosely based on actual crimes that occurred in Miami over the years, the series popularised Italian men’s fashion, highlighted by sports jackets, t-shirts, white linen trousers and slip on loafers – without socks! The designers, like Versace, also favoured pastel colours which when worn by sun- kissed detectives really looked rather yummy. The five season run was also sprinkled with musicians, Frank Zappa, Sheila Easton, Phil Collins, Little Richard, Eartha Kitt, among them. While on the actor front viewers could spot Bruce Willis, Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, Wesley Snipes and Melanie Griffiths in guest appearances. And all filmed in the glorious sunshine of the South Beach in Miami, often times against luxurious backgrounds of the Florida wealthy.
Let’s hold that warm thought until next month shall we? Pass me the sun lotion….