REMEMBER THE TIME – JULY 1984 by Sharon Davis

By Sharon Davis

Hold on to your braces, we’re hopping across to the eighties for a peek at what was going on in July, when Frankie Goes To Hollywood dominated the top two places in the singles chart, much to the dismay of others like Cyndi Lauper and the Pointer Sisters who were stuck in the top ten with nowhere to go.

One of the most exciting slices of music of our time dominated the chart for nine long weeks – “Two Tribes” – from a group born in Liverpool in 1980 and headed up by lead vocalist Holly Johnson.  This masterpiece in modern music actually entered the chart at number one, during which time their previous single “Relax” shot back to number two – but that’s a whole different ball game as will become apparent in a minute.  As of 2012 “Two Tribes” sold over one million copies as a forty-five which isn’t ‘arf bad for a song that was originally recorded for a John Peel BBC radio session in 1982.  This embryonic track was re-worked until it was launched with an amazing driving and relentless beat that morphed the lyrics into a powerful musical force of rock/funk thanks to its pounding bass line and freaky guitar riff. “There’s two elements in the music, an American funk line and a Russian line” Holly Johnson said at the time of release. “It’s the most obvious demonstration of two tribes that we have today.”  Released at the time when the Cold War between Russia and America had intensified and fears of global nuclear warfare were at a peak, he added, the two tribes potentially represented any pair of warring adversaries like, erm, cowboys and Indians.  Go figure!   Then, almost as a throwaway line, reference is made to President Reagan advertising Van Heusen shirts!

Those of you who remember “Two Tribes” will know there’s a lot going on in this extra long single with sampled speeches and swipes of sound effects.  Then of course, up came the subject of the lyrics and the different meanings associated with them.  For example – “looking for the black gas” which Holly Johnson explained meant the value of oil surpassing that of gold.  He also went on to say the title “Two Tribes” was so named from the line “two mighty warrior tribes went to war” in the film Mad Max 2 starring the lovely Mel Gibson in the lead role.  Lyrics were then tweaked and music remixed for several other versions made available at the time (7″, 12″, album track and cassette) which, while credible, was a strain on their fans’ finances.

Sitting at number two was “Relax”, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut which, upon first issue was a poor seller.  When “Two Tribes” hit the top, its sales were rejuvenated to pass a reputed two million.  Easily one of the decade’s most controversial pieces of music due to its overtly sexual lyrics which, of course, led to the BBC banning it – but not until it hit the top ten.  Strange don’t you think?! “Relax” sat at number one for five weeks to be followed by “The Power Of Love” which quickly followed suit, earning the group the distinction of being only the second group to reach number one with their first three singles. Fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers were first during the sixties.  Then along came the Spice Girls in the nineties who beat them both with six consecutive charttoppers.   

Just a few more words about “Relax” because it really was a musical monster that roared and roared in a subtle way, of course.  It seems Holly Johnson was the only group member performing on it but its producer Trevor Horn said “the whole feeling came from the band.”  Not only did the lyrics cause concern but also the disc’s publicity that included openly gay Holly and group member Paul Rutherford posing in a leather vest and sailor cap, while Holly wore rubber gloves and a shaved head with the by-line “All the nice boys love sea men”. To be honest, the lyrics were as listeners interpreted them and as much as the group defended its work, it’s difficult not to hear naughty words and innuendoes, and I’m too much of a lady to reproduce any here.    The fact that “Relax” was featured in a porn film is, I guess, neither here nor there!

Let’s move on. I feel rather sorry for Nik Kershaw and “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” sitting at number three with an outing that paled by comparison to the pair of explosive titles stopping him ascending.  It was the English singer/songwriter’s debut single where his satirical opinion of the Cold War period (again!) which engaged the two beforementioned world giants, failed to attract record sales upon its initial release.  When re-issued a year later in 1984, it grew legs and ran up the chart into the top ten.

Early in 1984 Pepsi Cola announced their intention to sponsor The Jacksons’ American “Victory” tour.  Part of the deal with the soft drink company necessitated the brothers endorsing the fizzy product via television advertising.  During the filming of one commercial Michael Jackson suffered second degree burns on his scalp after an accident involving a special effects smoke bomb.  The youngster was rushed to hospital and continued to receive daily treatment upon his discharge.  Pepsi Cola’s insurers must have been &^%$£ themselves.  I think I remember that when compensation was paid out Michael distributed it throughout his favourite charities.

By now of course, he had released his “Thriller” album and we all know what happened with that timeless masterpiece: it soared into the stratosphere, taking no prisoners on the way.  But I digress. The “Victory” tour was aimed to promote The Jacksons recently released album of the same name and, of course, to generate loads of dosh.  It was the only elpee to include all six Jackson brothers as a group and was the last to feature Michael, and went on to sell over seven million across the world thanks to the tour that criss-crossed America and Canada.  It was a massive, expensive tour to organise due to the specially made stage and equipment, special effects that made the eyes water, touring and catering staff, technicians, security and all manner of people needed to ensure the smooth flow of these high calibre shows.  However, no matter how carefully planned it was, from the offset it was plagued with problems, too many to go into here. But suffice to say, they included money, sponsorships and ticket allocations resulting in controversy on several levels.  Despite the murky publicity, the tour went on to become a tremendous success.  

And this preamble brings me to the British top ten hit by solo Michael titled “Farewell My Summer Love” released, not on his and the group’s current record label (Epic) but rather on their previous one, Motown, where they were known as the Jackson 5.  When they switched record companies, they left the name with Motown (who owned it) to adopt the moniker The Jacksons.  Briefly, forty of Michael’s unreleased songs were discovered at Motown. Nine tracks were re-mixed for the “Farewell My Summer Love” album and the title track, a mellow, mid-tempo track, was outed as a single.  What a coincidence I hear you say.  Or, as an Epic Records spokesperson said “We’re intrigued that Motown waited until now to cash in on the success we have had with Michael!” 

From music to television now where things were looking up to entertain viewers who loved drama and comedy.  One sit com in particular stood out which, to this day, still guarantees big smiles with its silly storylines from the very talented David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd.  I’m talking about ‘Ello ‘Ello which focuses on the life of a French café owner in Nouvion when the Germans occupied France during World War II.  Rene Artois played by Gordon Kaye and his long suffering wife Edith portrayed by Carman Silvera, own said café, and together they play host to German customers while working for the resistance headed up by Kirsten Cooke’s character Michelle (“I shall say this only once”). Then there was Officer Crabtree, the British spy posing as a policeman who mangled the French language with quotes like “Good moaning”, his most famous catchphrase. The antics these got up to defied belief of course, while the family’s matriarch Madame Fanny La Fan wallowed in bed with occasional visitors who wanted to use the secret radio stashed underneath it to alert London of the local shenanigans.  Of the German contingent, Major Klinkerhoffen, Lieutenant Gruber and Herr Flick headed up the cast, with the portrait of the “Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies” by fictional artist Van Klomp playing a vital role throughout.  Just fabulous!

Others that deserve a mention include the hugely popular police drama Juliet Bravo, with Stephanie Turner playing a credible Inspector Jean Darblay; a crime drama series Berjerac with John Nettles, who later went on to solve too many fatalities in Midsomer Murders; and others like Tenko, Wogan, Countdown through to Thomas The Tank Engine And Friends. 

That’s it for this month, so thank you for joining me.  I’ll be back in a few weeks so do please join me for more nonsense from the past.

Sharon Davis