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Making Blondie: Parallel Lines – Classic Pop Magazine

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Forsaking their punk sound but not their attitude, Blondie: Parallel Lines earned the band global success thanks to a string of hits and the undeniable star power of their charismatic frontwoman… By Mark Lindores

Blondie Parallel Lines
Although they’re regarded as the quintessential New York group, it was the West Coast stop-off on their Plastic Letters Tour in 1977 that proved to be the impetus for catapulting Blondie from the bowels of New York’s Bowery to the upper strata of pop groups.

Despite beginning to achieve recognition in the UK and Australia with minor hits such as X Offender, Rip Her To Shreds and In The Flesh, in their homeland they were still regarded as a niche punk act, CBGB also-rans who were seen as vastly inferior to their peers the Ramones, Television and Talking Heads. 

Outside of the New York scene, Blondie’s appeal was limited to a cult following of punk purists who lusted after singer Debbie Harry thanks to a string of provocative photographs of her taken by guitarist Chris Stein and printed in the celebrated Punk fanzine, earning her the title of Punkmate Of The Month.

Despite touring virtually non-stop in support of their eponymous debut album, the band were frustrated that mainstream success had continued to elude them.

Sensing the limitations they faced due to being signed to indie label Private Stock, manager Peter Leeds invited Chrysalis Records founder Chris Wright to watch them perform at legendary venue the Whisky A Go-Go on Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Strip. 

Wright was immediately won over by their canon of spiky pop confections and the onstage dynamism of Debbie Harry, with her two-tone hair – black at the back and bleached blonde at the front (an effect she later accredited to being an accident as she couldn’t reach the back of her head to apply the peroxide) and sporting a dress which she had fashioned from a hotel pillowcase and gaffer tape – an exciting alchemy of Hollywood glamour and punk’s DIY ethos. Convinced of Blondie’s potential to become pop’s next big thing, Wright bought their contract for $1 million.

Although their second album Plastic Letters – their first on Chrysalis, increased their profile in the UK, Europe and Australia, producing hits with Denis and (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear, it failed to provide them with their much sought-after US mainstream breakthrough.

Deciding their sound was still too angular for US audiences, Wright replaced producer Richard Gottehrer with hitmaker Mike Chapman to refine their sound for the third album.

Recognising the group’s ability to craft perfect pop songs, Chapman was keen to get into the studio and fulfil his task of filing down their sharp edges to make them palatable to a wider audience.

Blondie, meanwhile, had some reservations about whether Mike would be the right fit for them, given his track record writing and producing slick glam stompers for The Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro throughout the first half of the 70s.

After meeting to discuss the direction of the record, Chapman won the band’s trust by convincing them that his intention was to enhance what they already had rather than overhaul it.

The album was also new ground for Mike as it was the first time he was producing tracks in which he’d had no input in the writing. Adopting the approach that, rather than ensure that everyone had a quota of songs on the album, the best tracks would make the record regardless of who wrote them, Mike was happy to relinquish writing.

The material the band presented to him was so impressive he was confident it formed the basis of classic pop, rather than punk, songs. 

As well as the obvious quality of the material, Chapman was impressed by their scope and diversity. Having spent a large chunk of the previous two years touring the world, exposed to different sounds and influences and appearing on TV and radio shows featuring multiple genres rather than America’s fragmented stations, the band absorbed that and incorporated it into their writing.

Aside from the nine tracks penned by various configurations of Blondie members, the album was to be completed by two Jack Lee compositions and a Buddy Holly cover.

Read more: Blondie – Pollinator review

The Lowdown: Blondie & Debbie Harry

Once in the studio, both band and producer were forced to endure a period of adjustment while they adapted to the other’s ways of working. After two albums with Richard Gottehrer, Blondie’s tried-and-tested formula was to record several takes of a song and choose the best one to go on the record.

Chapman, meanwhile, built a song from scratch, bar-by-bar, track-by-track. “I had to explain to them that we were making records here, not documenting a live performance,” he told the BBC in 2013.

Although both parties had agreed to make compromises to ensure the album sessions went as smoothly as possible, once ensconced in New York’s Record Plant studios, it took the band some time to adjust to Chapman’s meticulous attention to detail and quest for perfection, ordering them to perform multiple takes or try different arrangements in order to get the best results.

“Musically, Blondie were hopelessly horrible when we first began rehearsing for Parallel Lines, and in terms of my attitude they didn’t know what had hit them. I basically went in there like Adolf Hitler and said, ‘You are going to make a great record, and that means you’re going to start playing better,’” Chapman later recalled to Sound On Sound magazine.

Beginning in June 1978, the sessions for Parallel Lines began with the song which lay behind most of the tension, Heart Of Glass. Once I Had A Love had existed as a demo since 1975 and had taken on various incarnations before it became the hit we know it as today. 

Chapman had suggested revisiting the disco sound of its original form (known as ‘The Disco Song). Debbie particularly liked the idea as she had become a fan of Giorgio Moroder whilst on tour in Europe (she would, of course, go on to work with him on Call Me) and had even led Blondie in a rendition of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love at CBGB the previous month.

The process of getting the track to its final state proved arduous for everyone involved, with Mike demanding countless retakes, spending days on a drum pattern and constructing the song. Tempers frayed and disagreements were voiced, but once the magical final version was reached, everyone was in agreement. Finally, the extra work had been worth it. 

That experience shaped the recording process for the next two months as the songs were crafted, stripped, scrapped and re-recorded to achieve the best possible results. With Blondie’s superb knack for creating perfect pop melodies and Chapman’s technical expertise in polishing them into radio-friendly gems, the alliance proved mutually reverential.

Read more: Top 20 Reunion Albums

Read more: Debbie Harry interview

Speaking to the BBC in 1999, Jimmy Destri described the experience of working with Chapman as “like going back to school”. “We hated it at first and got into fights but we learned so much from that experience. We all came out of it as better musicians,” he said.

As Heart Of Glass had been so far removed from everything Blondie had recorded so far, they put their trust in Mike and had no qualms about incorporating other styles into the rest of the album.

From the new wave balladry of Picture This, the glacial, synth-laden Fade Away And Radiate (which morphed into reggae), the glam I’m Gonna Love You Too, the perfect pop of Pretty Baby and Sunday Girl and pop/punk hybrids Will Anything Happen? and 11:59, the myriad influences were threaded together by Debbie Harry’s ability to inhabit the character of the song, seamlessly slipping from unhinged stalker (One Way Or Another) to lovelorn chanteuse (Picture This). Upon completion of the album, Blondie immediately flew to Europe to promote it along with lead single Picture This – they were in Germany when Parallel Lines was released on 23 September 1978.

What should have been cause for great celebration was dampened by manager Peter Leeds’ decision to allow a photograph the band had vetoed to be used as the album cover.

Though photographer Edo Bertoglio had shot countless rolls of film, the record company’s decision to use the one shot the band abhorred – a stern-looking Debbie flanked by her grinning bandmates – left the six-piece furious.

Artwork indiscretions aside, Parallel Lines could not have been better received with preceding singles Picture This and Hanging On The Telephone reaching the Top 10 throughout Europe and the UK. 

Arriving in London to take part in a record store signing, the band was met with the type of fan hysteria usually reserved for The Beatles and ABBA – the sheer volume of screaming fans led to streets being closed. 

The album shot straight to No.1 in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe and Australia, replicating that success in the United States in January 1979. Propelled by their biggest hit single, Heart Of Glass, finally they enjoyed the homeland success they had always craved.

By now regarded as one of the biggest pop groups in the world, Blondie’s success was tainted by criticism from their peers on the New York scene who branded them sell-outs for changing their sound, while Debbie was blasted for her overtly sexual image and provocative lyrics – criticisms which have since been revealed to be grounded in jealousy and sexism. 

Despite the united front displayed by the group, the attention given to Debbie also led to friction within their ranks as certain members felt their roles were overlooked. 

Keen to admonish any awkwardness, Peter Leeds issued the band with badges and T-shirts bearing the slogan “Blondie is a group” to get their message across.

With over 20 million copies sold to date, Parallel Lines is a sonic snapshot of Blondie at its zenith. By 1979, the punk scene that branded them “sell-outs” had all but faded away, while Blondie radiated, building a legacy that still thrives more than four decades later. 

Blondie: Parallel Lines: The Songs

Hanging On The Telephone

Hanging On The Telephone had first been released to little notice by West Coast power pop trio The Nerves in 1976. It came to Blondie’s attention when it was included on

a mixtape someone gave them and, wanting to cover it for the album, sought out its writer Jack Lee for permission. Realising it would reach a bigger audience via them than he could ever hope to achieve himself, he was thrilled that they wanted to record it. Producer Mike Chapman’s decision to add the phone ringing as the intro was fought by the band who considered it rather cheesy but he persevered and included it on the final mix. The third single from Parallel Lines in the United Kingdom, it reached No.5 in November 1978.

One Way Or Another

One Way Or Another was based on a riff written in a hotel room in Japan by Nigel Harrison while on tour. As Nigel was too shy to present the demo to Debbie and Chris, Jimmy Destri, who was sharing a room with him when he wrote it, played it to them, convinced that it was the basis for a great song. Debbie completed it with a lyric about an ex-boyfriend who’d been stalking her – brought to life in all its menacing glory with her snarling vocal. Despite only being officially released as a single in the US and Canada, it’s one of the band’s most recognisable songs and finally charted in the UK in 2013, reaching No.98 from download sales on the back of a One Direction cover version.

Picture This

The first single released from the album, Picture This is a superb new wave love song with Debbie’s frank exploration of lust and sexuality as its focus – something for which she was heavily criticised at the time. Breaking down barriers for allowing women to be more open about their desires in music, she was adamant not to censor herself in any way, delivering lyrics such as, “I will give you my finest hour/ The one I spent watching you shower” over a wall of impossibly catchy riffs.

Fade Away And Radiate

A haunting love song written about dead celebrities, the “blue, blue neon glow” description of a screen projector’s relay of “dusty frames that still arrive” evokes the immortalisation of screen idols such as Marilyn Monroe, whom Debbie had fantasised was her birth mother as a child. Beginning with a sole wistful vocal before being accompanied by a drum tattoo and synths, the song builds to an almost prog arrangement complete with extended guitar solo performed by Robert Fripp and a reggae climax.

Pretty Baby

A chugging pop anthem inspired by the movie of the same name featuring the screen debut of child actress Brooke Shields whose dangerous, Lolita-esque sexuality saw her go on to land starring roles in The Blue Lagoon and an infamous Calvin Klein jeans ad proclaiming, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” One of Parallel Lines’ poppiest moments with its singalong chorus and feelgood melody, Pretty Baby saw the band ostracised by punk purists who accused them of selling out. 

I Know But I Don’t Know

A fun, throwaway song written by Frank Infante and performed almost as a duet between him and Debbie, the track is the closest thing to filler on an album packed full of standouts.

11:59

A Jimmy Destri composition, the propulsive 11:59 is about social isolation and the feelings of alienation one can experience even when part of a crowd – something he had personally experienced on New York’s club scene and an emotion perfectly conveyed by Debbie’s urgent vocal. The downbeat subject matter is disguised behind a killer riff and one of Destri’s trademark catchy synth-lines.

Will Anything Happen?

After Hanging On The Telephone had suited them so well, Blondie recorded another Jack Lee-penned song for the LP. Will Anything Happen? is one of the album’s rockier moments, taking the essence of their punky early tracks such as Detroit 442 and fusing it with the group’s pop sensibilities. The song was used as the B-side to the UK 7″ single of Hanging On The Telephone, making the release a Jack Lee double feature.

Sunday Girl

Another of the album’s most unashamedly poppy efforts, Sunday Girl harked back to the band’s love of 60s girl groups such as The Ronettes and The Crystals; a sound they first flirted with on In The Flesh in 1976. Although Chris Stein later told the BBC the track was written about a pet cat he once had, Jimmy Destri completely refuted his story, claiming it was a love song written for Debbie. With a lyric proclaiming the song’s subject “cold as ice cream, but still as sweet”, a description which perfectly matched Debbie’s cool Blondie persona, Destri’s version definitely sounds more believable.

Heart Of Glass

Having been part of their repertoire in various incarnations since 1975, Heart Of Glass, aka Once I Had A Love, was the first song Mike Chapman reworked with the group for the album, providing a crash course of his meticulous way of working, which included countless retakes, multi-layering tracks to create a bigger sound and transforming it into the shimmering disco classic we know today. Inspired by Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk and the Bee Gees with Debbie looking to Donna Summer for vocal inspiration, “The Disco Song” took days to complete and gave the band its biggest hit, topping the charts around the world, including the US and the UK.

I’m Gonna Love You Too

A cover of a Buddy Holly song, I’m Gonna Love You Too illustrates the band’s eclectic influences as it is an amalgamation of 50s rock‘n’roll, Blondie’s punk roots and producer Mike Chapman’s former glories – its stomping glam production harks back to the blockbuster hits he helmed for Mud and Suzi Quatro in the early 70s.

Just Go Away

Closing the album with a solo Debbie Harry composition, Just Go Away is dripping with her sneering, aggressive attitude and recalls the powerful anthems such as Rip Her To Shreds which marked her out as one of the most original and pioneering figures in music.

Blondie official website

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Top 20 No.1s That Owed A Debt To The 80s

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The 80s didn’t stop in 1989, oh no. In the world of music, the last three decades have leaned heavily on that classic decade. Jon O’Brien looks at the best No.1s that owed a debt to the 1980s…

Top 10 80s no.1s

As LadBaby’s sausage roll-themed retooling of Starship’s We Built This City proved last Christmas, the act of reviving a Top 40 hit from the 1980s can still lead to chart-topping success. In fact, over the past 30 years, more than 30 UK No.1s have borrowed heavily from the decade, whether via a subtle or, more likely, a blatant sample, a straightforward or radical cover version, or simply a re-release of the original.

Ignoring the tracks whose inspirations reached pole position first time around (eg Puff Daddy’s interpolation of The Police’s Every Breath You Take on I’ll Be Missing You, or Gabrielle Aplin’s rendition of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power Of Love), here’s our countdown of the 90s, 00s and 10s No.1s which owe it all to the 80s.

20 The Black Eyed Peas: The Time (Dirty Bit) (interpolation of Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes’ (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, No.6, 1987)

It’s easy to forget that will.i.am and co. were once regarded as an alt-hip-hop outfit in the vein of A Tribe Called Quest. The Time (Dirty Bit) sticks rigidly to The Black Eyed Peas’ super-commercial formula – bleepy synths, clubby beats and enough AutoTune to make Daft Punk sound organic, all topped off with a lazy sample of the Dirty Dancing number. Unlike Jennifer Grey’s Baby, this definitely deserved to be put in the corner.

19 Dizzee Rascal and James Corden: Shout (interpolation of Tears for Fears’ Shout, No.4, 1984)

Dizzee Rascal was hailed as the voice of his generation with Mercury Prize-winning 2003 debut album Boy In Da Corner. And yet within seven years the grime pioneer was fronting a Simon Cowell-backed Tears For Fears cover with one half of Horne & Corden. Shout, of course, was England’s unofficial 2010 World Cup song. But neither Dizzee’s dodgy rhymes nor Corden’s bellowing could inspire the Three Lions to anything more than a humiliating early exit.

18 KWS – Please Don’t Go (originally recorded by KC & the Sunshine Band, No.3, 1979)

KWS’s house-pop reworking of KC & The Sunshine Band’s lovelorn ballad just about qualifies here – the original reached its peak position in only the second chart week of 1980. The group were hastily assembled to cover Please Don’t Go following a UK rights issue with German act Double You’s similar idea. And then there’s the rumour that it was recorded with an ulterior motive – to persuade Des Walker to stay at the trio’s beloved Nottingham Forest.

17 A1: Take On Me (originally recorded by A-ha, No.2, 1985)

Contrary to what the casual music-buying public would probably believe, A-ha’s sole UK No.1 appeared courtesy of The Sun Always Shines On TV, not one of the 1980s’ quintessential hits. Originally reaching No.2, Take On Me did eventually go one better at the turn of the millennium thanks to an altogether more traditional boyband renowned more for their curtains than their cheekbones. A1’s cover version was accompanied by a Matrix-meets-Tron video, which at the time was deemed cutting-edge.

Read more: The a-ha albums

16 Geri Halliwell: It’s Raining Men (originally recorded by The Weather Girls, No.2, 1983)

It seems fair to say that Geri Halliwell doesn’t possess the powerhouse tones of Martha Wash and Izora-Rhodes Armstead. But what she lacks in vocal ability, she makes up for in sheer enthusiasm on this spirited take on The Weather Girls’ classic. Recorded for the Bridget Jones’s Diary soundtrack in 2001, Halliwell gives it her all on her fourth successive and final UK No.1, with its Flashdance-inspired promo only adding to the sense of pure unadulterated camp.

15 DJ Sammy and Yanou featuring Do: Heaven (originally recorded by Bryan Adams, No.38, 1985)

DJ Sammy would later give Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer a similar trance-lite reworking but it was another AOR veteran that inspired his only UK chart-topper. A No.1 hit in the States, Bryan Adams’ Heaven was all but ignored across the pond. However, the diminutive Spaniard’s cover was practically unavoidable in the autumn of 2002, with a stripped-back Candlelight Mix also catering for those who preferred Magic FM to the Ministry Of Sound.

14 LL Cool J: Ain’t Nobody (interpolation of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody, No.8, 1984)

There have been no less than six hit covers of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s funk classic, ranging from Liberty X’s clever mash-up with The Human League’s Being Boiled to Felix Jaehn’s insipid tropical house makeover. This unexpected chart-topper from one of hip-hop’s elder statesmen sits somewhere in-between. The coquettish call and response is a neat addition, but even LL himself sounds slightly bored with its pedestrian pop-rap production.

Read more: Top 20 Side Projects

13 Eminem: Like Toy Soldiers (sample of Martika’s Toy Soldiers, No.5, 1989)

From Labi Siffre (My Name Is) to Dido (Stan), Marshall Mathers’ sampling habits have always been a little more diverse, and indeed a little more unfashionable, than your average motormouthed rapper. Once again sitting at odds with his enfant terrible reputation, the third single from 2005’s Encore gave the anthemic power balladry of Martika’s US No.1 Toy Soldiers an unlikely new lease of life. The pitch-shifted sample sure isn’t subtle, but then Eminem is always at his most palatable when he plays it straight. 

12 The Bluebells: Young at Heart (originally reached No.8, 1984)

Almost unrecognisable from the Motown-tinged original that appeared on Bananarama’s 1983 debut album, The Bluebells’ Young At Heart has more in common with Dexys Midnight Runners than the brilliantly nonchalant girl group. The fiddle-driven folk reworking gave the Scottish outfit their first UK Top 10 hit in 1984. But it went on to occupy pole position for the whole of April nine years later when it soundtracked that memorable ‘Just Divorced’ ad for the Volkswagen Golf.

11 Room 5: Make Luv (sample of Oliver Cheatham’s Get Down Saturday Night, No.38, 1983)

A geeky guy throwing some shapes in a deodorant commercial was the unlikely catalyst for Oliver Cheatham’s rise to noughties chart-topper. Italian DJ Room 5’s chic reworking of the Detroiter’s sole UK hit, Get Down Saturday Night, got a captive audience pretty much every other ad break in 2003 thanks to its use in a Lynx promo. And Cheatham certainly appreciated the career boost. Not only did he re-record his vocals, he collaborated with Room 5 on his follow-up, too.

10 LMC vs. U2: Take Me To The Clouds Above (mash-up of Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, No.5, 1986 and U2’s With or Without You, No.4, 1987)

You get two bona fide 80s gems for the price of one with this floor-filling mash-up from 2004. Well, parts of them anyway. Firstly, there’s the utterly joyous opening two lines from Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, and secondly, there’s the shimmering guitar hook from arguably U2’s career-best single With Or Without You. The whole thing hangs together surprisingly well.

9 Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull: On The Floor (sample of Kaoma’s Lambada, No.4, 1989)

Jenny from the Block had briefly tiptoed onto the dancefloor with second single Waiting For Tonight. But she stomped all over it with both Louboutins in 2011 when she revived the brief Brazilian phenomenon known as the Lambada. The first and best of three party-starting collaborations with rent-a-rapper Pitbull, On The Floor borrowed the melody from Kaoma’s one-hit wonder, which itself cribbed from an early 80s Bolivian ballad.

8 Eric Prydz: Call On Me (sample of Steve Winwood’s Valerie, No.19, 1987)

Transforming Steve Winwood’s Valerie into an unlikely club anthem, Eric Prydz paved the way for a whole wave of faceless one-hit wonders in 2004. Indeed, pretty soon everyone from Hall & Oates to Boy Meets Girl were getting a similar treatment by opportunist hitmakers who quickly realised that slapping a four-to-the-floor beat on an 80s soft rock hit was a surefire bet. Call On Me enjoyed a briefly-interrupted five-week run atop the UK charts but is perhaps still best known for that gyrating FHM-friendly video.

7 The Tamperer feat. Maya: Feel It (sample of The Jacksons’ Can You Feel It, No.6, 1981)

The Tamperer were one of the few acts to climb to No.1 in the late 1990s, taking six weeks to reach the summit. You have to wonder what took the British public so long. From The Wizard Of Oz-inspired poser (“What’s she gonna look like with a chimney on her?”) to the triumphant sampling of The Jacksons to Maya’s vampish vocals, everything about Feel It screams instant earworm. The Material Girl-sampling, brilliantly-titled If You Buy This Record (Your Life Will Be Better) nearly repeated the trick, too.

6 Michael Andrews and Gary Jules: Mad World (originally recorded by Tears for Fears, No.3, 1982)

Like the original, this stripped-back cover of Mad World took the slow-moving route to success. Tears for Fears’ breakthrough was initially recorded as a B-side to Pale Shelter before getting a release in its own right. And although Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ solemn take on the song appeared on the Donnie Darko soundtrack in 2002, they had to wait until December 2003 to pip The Darkness in one of the most hotly-contested Xmas chart battles for years.

Read more: Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair

5 Roger Sanchez: Another Chance (sample of Toto’s I Won’t Hold You Back, No.37, 1983)

It’s unlikely that many 00s clubbers would have recognised the vocal hook sampled on Roger Sanchez’s wistful house anthem. Another Chance borrowed from yacht rock stalwarts Toto but it was their forgotten No.37 minor hit I Won’t Hold You Back that imbued the track with an overwhelming sense of melancholy. Its striking promo, which saw a young woman looking for love carrying a giant red heart across New York, also perfectly accompanied Steve Lukather’s yearning tones.

4 The Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go (originally reached No.17, 1982)

There’s a certain irony to one of rock music’s most fervent anti-capitalist bands owing their only UK No.1 to a TV commercial for the world’s biggest jeans company. The third of seven chart-toppers to emerge from a Levi’s campaign, the 1991 re-release of Should I Stay Or Should I Go may have sat at odds with The Clash’s punk principles but nine years on, its stop-start riff, tempo-shifting beats and, of course, Mick Jones’ snarling vocals, still sounded as gloriously anarchic as ever.

3 Rui Da Silva: Touch Me (sample of Spandau Ballet’s Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On), No.3, 1981)

A year after Aurora gave Duran Duran’s Ordinary World a subtle dance-pop makeover, Rui da Silva did something similar for their New Romantic rivals. But instead of going for the more predictable Gold or True, the Portuguese DJ opted for Spandau Ballet’s underrated first Top Three hit. Driven by Gary Kemp’s spiralling guitar riff and the longing smoky tones of Cass Fox, Touch Me is more post-party comedown than party starter.

Read more: Making Spandau Ballet’s Journeys To Glory

2 Beats International: Dub Be Good To Me (cover of The SOS Band’s Just Be Good to Me, No.13, 1984)

Amazingly, Jam & Lewis have never scored a UK chart-topper as producers, with a trio of No.2s for their muse Janet Jackson the closest they’ve come. They did, however, inadvertently achieve the feat as songwriters when Norman Cook got his hands on The SOS Band’s signature tune. Beats International threw in everything from Ennio Morricone to The Clash, transforming the sassy funk of the original into an intriguing pop collage befitting of the phrase “jam hot”.

1 George Michael: Fastlove (sample of Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots, No.8, 1982)

A decent Top 10 hit in 1982, Patrice Rushen’s post-disco favourite ended up inspiring two separate No.1s more than a decade later. Will Smith would borrow its melodic refrain for his globe-conquering theme to mismatched buddy sci-fi Men In Black in 1997. But The Fresh Prince was beaten to the punch a year earlier by a man whose vocal talents could also be described as out of this world.

A much more uplifting affair than sombre predecessor Jesus To A Child, and indeed much of parent album Older, Fastlove sees George Michael extol the virtues of the one-night stand against a backdrop of slinky beats, subtle sax hooks and the kind of G-funk synths that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dr Dre record. Unlike Smith’s hip-pop effort, in which he essentially just raps over the existing track, Michael doesn’t allow the sample to dominate proceedings either, only dropping in Forget Me Nots’ cooing chorus during the infectious middle-eight. Michael never bettered this track commercially following its 1996 release – it was his last UK No.1 and remarkably his last ever entry on the US Hot 100 – and you could argue that he never bettered it creatively, too.

Read more: Making George Michael’s Older

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Top 20 No.1s That Owed A Debt To The 80s

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The 80s didn’t stop in 1989, oh no. In the world of music, the last three decades have leaned heavily on that classic decade. Jon O’Brien looks at the best No.1s that owed a debt to the 1980s…

Top 10 80s no.1s

As LadBaby’s sausage roll-themed retooling of Starship’s We Built This City proved last Christmas, the act of reviving a Top 40 hit from the 1980s can still lead to chart-topping success. In fact, over the past 30 years, more than 30 UK No.1s have borrowed heavily from the decade, whether via a subtle or, more likely, a blatant sample, a straightforward or radical cover version, or simply a re-release of the original.

Ignoring the tracks whose inspirations reached pole position first time around (eg Puff Daddy’s interpolation of The Police’s Every Breath You Take on I’ll Be Missing You, or Gabrielle Aplin’s rendition of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power Of Love), here’s our countdown of the 90s, 00s and 10s No.1s which owe it all to the 80s.

20 The Black Eyed Peas: The Time (Dirty Bit) (interpolation of Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes’ (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, No.6, 1987)

It’s easy to forget that will.i.am and co. were once regarded as an alt-hip-hop outfit in the vein of A Tribe Called Quest. The Time (Dirty Bit) sticks rigidly to The Black Eyed Peas’ super-commercial formula – bleepy synths, clubby beats and enough AutoTune to make Daft Punk sound organic, all topped off with a lazy sample of the Dirty Dancing number. Unlike Jennifer Grey’s Baby, this definitely deserved to be put in the corner.

19 Dizzee Rascal and James Corden: Shout (interpolation of Tears for Fears’ Shout, No.4, 1984)

Dizzee Rascal was hailed as the voice of his generation with Mercury Prize-winning 2003 debut album Boy In Da Corner. And yet within seven years the grime pioneer was fronting a Simon Cowell-backed Tears For Fears cover with one half of Horne & Corden. Shout, of course, was England’s unofficial 2010 World Cup song. But neither Dizzee’s dodgy rhymes nor Corden’s bellowing could inspire the Three Lions to anything more than a humiliating early exit.

18 KWS – Please Don’t Go (originally recorded by KC & the Sunshine Band, No.3, 1979)

KWS’s house-pop reworking of KC & The Sunshine Band’s lovelorn ballad just about qualifies here – the original reached its peak position in only the second chart week of 1980. The group were hastily assembled to cover Please Don’t Go following a UK rights issue with German act Double You’s similar idea. And then there’s the rumour that it was recorded with an ulterior motive – to persuade Des Walker to stay at the trio’s beloved Nottingham Forest.

17 A1: Take On Me (originally recorded by A-ha, No.2, 1985)

Contrary to what the casual music-buying public would probably believe, A-ha’s sole UK No.1 appeared courtesy of The Sun Always Shines On TV, not one of the 1980s’ quintessential hits. Originally reaching No.2, Take On Me did eventually go one better at the turn of the millennium thanks to an altogether more traditional boyband renowned more for their curtains than their cheekbones. A1’s cover version was accompanied by a Matrix-meets-Tron video, which at the time was deemed cutting-edge.

Read more: The a-ha albums

16 Geri Halliwell: It’s Raining Men (originally recorded by The Weather Girls, No.2, 1983)

It seems fair to say that Geri Halliwell doesn’t possess the powerhouse tones of Martha Wash and Izora-Rhodes Armstead. But what she lacks in vocal ability, she makes up for in sheer enthusiasm on this spirited take on The Weather Girls’ classic. Recorded for the Bridget Jones’s Diary soundtrack in 2001, Halliwell gives it her all on her fourth successive and final UK No.1, with its Flashdance-inspired promo only adding to the sense of pure unadulterated camp.

15 DJ Sammy and Yanou featuring Do: Heaven (originally recorded by Bryan Adams, No.38, 1985)

DJ Sammy would later give Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer a similar trance-lite reworking but it was another AOR veteran that inspired his only UK chart-topper. A No.1 hit in the States, Bryan Adams’ Heaven was all but ignored across the pond. However, the diminutive Spaniard’s cover was practically unavoidable in the autumn of 2002, with a stripped-back Candlelight Mix also catering for those who preferred Magic FM to the Ministry Of Sound.

14 LL Cool J: Ain’t Nobody (interpolation of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody, No.8, 1984)

There have been no less than six hit covers of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s funk classic, ranging from Liberty X’s clever mash-up with The Human League’s Being Boiled to Felix Jaehn’s insipid tropical house makeover. This unexpected chart-topper from one of hip-hop’s elder statesmen sits somewhere in-between. The coquettish call and response is a neat addition, but even LL himself sounds slightly bored with its pedestrian pop-rap production.

Read more: Top 20 Side Projects

13 Eminem: Like Toy Soldiers (sample of Martika’s Toy Soldiers, No.5, 1989)

From Labi Siffre (My Name Is) to Dido (Stan), Marshall Mathers’ sampling habits have always been a little more diverse, and indeed a little more unfashionable, than your average motormouthed rapper. Once again sitting at odds with his enfant terrible reputation, the third single from 2005’s Encore gave the anthemic power balladry of Martika’s US No.1 Toy Soldiers an unlikely new lease of life. The pitch-shifted sample sure isn’t subtle, but then Eminem is always at his most palatable when he plays it straight. 

12 The Bluebells: Young at Heart (originally reached No.8, 1984)

Almost unrecognisable from the Motown-tinged original that appeared on Bananarama’s 1983 debut album, The Bluebells’ Young At Heart has more in common with Dexys Midnight Runners than the brilliantly nonchalant girl group. The fiddle-driven folk reworking gave the Scottish outfit their first UK Top 10 hit in 1984. But it went on to occupy pole position for the whole of April nine years later when it soundtracked that memorable ‘Just Divorced’ ad for the Volkswagen Golf.

11 Room 5: Make Luv (sample of Oliver Cheatham’s Get Down Saturday Night, No.38, 1983)

A geeky guy throwing some shapes in a deodorant commercial was the unlikely catalyst for Oliver Cheatham’s rise to noughties chart-topper. Italian DJ Room 5’s chic reworking of the Detroiter’s sole UK hit, Get Down Saturday Night, got a captive audience pretty much every other ad break in 2003 thanks to its use in a Lynx promo. And Cheatham certainly appreciated the career boost. Not only did he re-record his vocals, he collaborated with Room 5 on his follow-up, too.

10 LMC vs. U2: Take Me To The Clouds Above (mash-up of Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, No.5, 1986 and U2’s With or Without You, No.4, 1987)

You get two bona fide 80s gems for the price of one with this floor-filling mash-up from 2004. Well, parts of them anyway. Firstly, there’s the utterly joyous opening two lines from Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, and secondly, there’s the shimmering guitar hook from arguably U2’s career-best single With Or Without You. The whole thing hangs together surprisingly well.

9 Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull: On The Floor (sample of Kaoma’s Lambada, No.4, 1989)

Jenny from the Block had briefly tiptoed onto the dancefloor with second single Waiting For Tonight. But she stomped all over it with both Louboutins in 2011 when she revived the brief Brazilian phenomenon known as the Lambada. The first and best of three party-starting collaborations with rent-a-rapper Pitbull, On The Floor borrowed the melody from Kaoma’s one-hit wonder, which itself cribbed from an early 80s Bolivian ballad.

8 Eric Prydz: Call On Me (sample of Steve Winwood’s Valerie, No.19, 1987)

Transforming Steve Winwood’s Valerie into an unlikely club anthem, Eric Prydz paved the way for a whole wave of faceless one-hit wonders in 2004. Indeed, pretty soon everyone from Hall & Oates to Boy Meets Girl were getting a similar treatment by opportunist hitmakers who quickly realised that slapping a four-to-the-floor beat on an 80s soft rock hit was a surefire bet. Call On Me enjoyed a briefly-interrupted five-week run atop the UK charts but is perhaps still best known for that gyrating FHM-friendly video.

7 The Tamperer feat. Maya: Feel It (sample of The Jacksons’ Can You Feel It, No.6, 1981)

The Tamperer were one of the few acts to climb to No.1 in the late 1990s, taking six weeks to reach the summit. You have to wonder what took the British public so long. From The Wizard Of Oz-inspired poser (“What’s she gonna look like with a chimney on her?”) to the triumphant sampling of The Jacksons to Maya’s vampish vocals, everything about Feel It screams instant earworm. The Material Girl-sampling, brilliantly-titled If You Buy This Record (Your Life Will Be Better) nearly repeated the trick, too.

6 Michael Andrews and Gary Jules: Mad World (originally recorded by Tears for Fears, No.3, 1982)

Like the original, this stripped-back cover of Mad World took the slow-moving route to success. Tears for Fears’ breakthrough was initially recorded as a B-side to Pale Shelter before getting a release in its own right. And although Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ solemn take on the song appeared on the Donnie Darko soundtrack in 2002, they had to wait until December 2003 to pip The Darkness in one of the most hotly-contested Xmas chart battles for years.

Read more: Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair

5 Roger Sanchez: Another Chance (sample of Toto’s I Won’t Hold You Back, No.37, 1983)

It’s unlikely that many 00s clubbers would have recognised the vocal hook sampled on Roger Sanchez’s wistful house anthem. Another Chance borrowed from yacht rock stalwarts Toto but it was their forgotten No.37 minor hit I Won’t Hold You Back that imbued the track with an overwhelming sense of melancholy. Its striking promo, which saw a young woman looking for love carrying a giant red heart across New York, also perfectly accompanied Steve Lukather’s yearning tones.

4 The Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go (originally reached No.17, 1982)

There’s a certain irony to one of rock music’s most fervent anti-capitalist bands owing their only UK No.1 to a TV commercial for the world’s biggest jeans company. The third of seven chart-toppers to emerge from a Levi’s campaign, the 1991 re-release of Should I Stay Or Should I Go may have sat at odds with The Clash’s punk principles but nine years on, its stop-start riff, tempo-shifting beats and, of course, Mick Jones’ snarling vocals, still sounded as gloriously anarchic as ever.

3 Rui Da Silva: Touch Me (sample of Spandau Ballet’s Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On), No.3, 1981)

A year after Aurora gave Duran Duran’s Ordinary World a subtle dance-pop makeover, Rui da Silva did something similar for their New Romantic rivals. But instead of going for the more predictable Gold or True, the Portuguese DJ opted for Spandau Ballet’s underrated first Top Three hit. Driven by Gary Kemp’s spiralling guitar riff and the longing smoky tones of Cass Fox, Touch Me is more post-party comedown than party starter.

Read more: Making Spandau Ballet’s Journeys To Glory

2 Beats International: Dub Be Good To Me (cover of The SOS Band’s Just Be Good to Me, No.13, 1984)

Amazingly, Jam & Lewis have never scored a UK chart-topper as producers, with a trio of No.2s for their muse Janet Jackson the closest they’ve come. They did, however, inadvertently achieve the feat as songwriters when Norman Cook got his hands on The SOS Band’s signature tune. Beats International threw in everything from Ennio Morricone to The Clash, transforming the sassy funk of the original into an intriguing pop collage befitting of the phrase “jam hot”.

1 George Michael: Fastlove (sample of Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots, No.8, 1982)

A decent Top 10 hit in 1982, Patrice Rushen’s post-disco favourite ended up inspiring two separate No.1s more than a decade later. Will Smith would borrow its melodic refrain for his globe-conquering theme to mismatched buddy sci-fi Men In Black in 1997. But The Fresh Prince was beaten to the punch a year earlier by a man whose vocal talents could also be described as out of this world.

A much more uplifting affair than sombre predecessor Jesus To A Child, and indeed much of parent album Older, Fastlove sees George Michael extol the virtues of the one-night stand against a backdrop of slinky beats, subtle sax hooks and the kind of G-funk synths that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dr Dre record. Unlike Smith’s hip-pop effort, in which he essentially just raps over the existing track, Michael doesn’t allow the sample to dominate proceedings either, only dropping in Forget Me Nots’ cooing chorus during the infectious middle-eight. Michael never bettered this track commercially following its 1996 release – it was his last UK No.1 and remarkably his last ever entry on the US Hot 100 – and you could argue that he never bettered it creatively, too.

Read more: Making George Michael’s Older

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Gorillaz free show announced for NHS workers

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Gorillaz free show

Gorillaz have confirmed their return to the live stage with a free show for NHS workers and their families on Tuesday 10th August at London’s The O2 arena.

This special Gorillaz free show, to thank and recognise all NHS staff who continue to work tirelessly to keep us all safe, marks the reopening of the venue as well as the band’s first live performance with an audience in over two years and takes place the day before their scheduled sold-out gig on Wednesday 11th August 2021.

All ticket holders will need to present a NHS COVID Pass on entry to gain access to the venue. Further information below.

Gorillaz drummer Russel Hobbs said: “Reap what you sow, y’know what I’m saying? We don’t just want to say thank you, we want to do thank you too, because we care about the people who care for us.”

Steve Sayer, VP & General Manager at The O2 said: “This is such a big moment for us. Our first live show in over 500 days, with one of the UK’s best bands playing to an audience made up of NHS staff and their families. We have missed the fans and live performances so much, we couldn’t be more proud to reopen with this event and to welcome such a great audience.”

For tickets and information on the Gorillaz live show, see here.

 For full ticket and information on the 11th August public show here.

Gorillaz free show

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