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Pop Side Projects Top 20

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Some pop side projects were just fleeting dalliances away from the mothership, while others made a lasting impact… By Jon O’Brien

Pop Side Projects electronic

Whether they’re borne out of creativity, curiosity or just plain boredom, pop side projects have been an intriguing staple of the music scene ever since the days of Plastic Ono Band. Some can end up rivalling, or even surpassing, the success of its members’ main endeavours. Others are blatantly little more than a self-indulgent way to pass some downtime. Most, however, sit somewhere in-between.

But from enduring hip-hop collectives to one-off synth-pop collabs, this countdown is all about those Classic Pop-friendly acts that didn’t necessarily need to return to the day job. 

20 New Build
Essential album: Yesterday Was Lived And Lost (2012)

From Alexis Taylor’s About Group to Joe Goddard’s The 2 Bears, London’s chicest-sounding geeks Hot Chip have essentially become their own cottage industry. Joined by composer Tom Hopkins, guitarist Al Doyle and drummer Felix Martin continued the band’s run of stellar side projects with 2012’s Yesterday Was Lived And Lost, a typically eclectic mix of jittery new wave, hands-in-the-air house and beautifully melancholic balladry recorded as New Build. 

19 Tired Pony
Essential album: The Ghost Of The Mountain (2013)

Gary Lightbody had previously assembled a who’s who of Scottish indie-rock for his first supergroup The Reindeer Section. But the dominance of mid-00s tracks like Chasing Cars then allowed him to rope in an all-time musical hero for his second. Playing everything from the glockenspiel to the mandolin, R.E.M’s Peter Buck helped Lightbody lean into his love of all things Americana on two widescreen LPs tailor-made for journeys across deserted highways.

18 Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder
Essential album: Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder (1985)

Undoubtedly the shortest-lived side project on this list, Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder recorded their one-off LP in just a matter of days. They didn’t exactly strike while the iron was hot, though. This 1985 self-titled effort – which combined The Human League frontman’s arch melodies with the Godfather Of Dance’s gleaming electro-disco – arrived nearly a full year after Together In Electric Dreams and the forgettable sci-fi rom-com it was taken from.

17 Max Q
Essential album: Max Q (1989)

Having conquered the world with sixth INXS album Kick, Michael Hutchence returned to his roots by reuniting with some “rowdy friends from Melbourne” under the guise of Max Q. This included Ollie Olsen, a veteran of the Aussie post-punk scene. The group’s eponymous one-off long-player from 1989 allowed Hutchence to explore the angrier, darker side of his persona, with lead single Way Of The World channelling the doom-laden electro of the era’s stadium giants, Depeche Mode. 

16 Tin Machine
Essential album: Tin Machine (1989)

For some, grunge-foreshadowing quartet Tin Machine was another prime example of David Bowie being ahead of the curve. For others, they were an unlistenable racket even more misguided than his foray into drum’n’bass. Whatever your views on this late-80s leftfield move, you have to admire the commitment. The Thin White Duke has never sounded as aggressive as on their self-titled debut. Tin Machine’s wall of noises remain an important chapter in Bowie’s story – he’d later credit them for helping him to recover as an artist. 

15 The Other Two
Essential album: The Other Two & You (1993)

As their brilliantly self-effacing name suggests, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert were the final members of New Order to embrace the side hustle. But The Other Two proved they weren’t just making up the numbers with two albums of low-key dance pop. Alison Moyet and Kim Wilde were both in the frame to take lead vocals at one point, believe it or not. But surprise package Gilbert’s enchanting tones make you glad she got the chance to finally take centre stage.  

Read more: Album By Album – New Order

14 Arcadia
Essential album: So Red The Rose (1985)

Forget Spandau Ballet. Duran Duran’s most intriguing rivalry developed between its own members during their three-year mid-80s break. Boasting Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor, Arcadia seemed the more likely victors, even more so when Grace Jones, David Gilmour and Herbie Hancock joined them in the studio. Yet the trio’s 1985 debut was left trailing in the wake of the two other Taylors’ offshoot, The Power Station. Le Bon later denounced So Red The Rose as the most pretentious LP ever made.

Read more: Duran Duran: The Side Projects

13 The Creatures
Essential album: Boomerang (1989)

Driven by Budgie’s expressive percussion just as much as Siouxsie Sioux’s haunting voice, The Creatures were very much an equal partnership. The post-punk pair, who would subsequently marry (and later divorce) while also pulling double duty in Siouxsie And The Banshees, appeared to delight in wrongfooting audiences with each of their four albums. Indeed, journeying from the tropicalia of the South Pacific to the minimalistic sounds of Tokyo, their near-25-year career could never be described as predictable.

12 The Power Station
Essential album: The Power Station (1985)

Not only did Taylors John and Andy beat the other Duran Duran side project to the punch, they also considerably eclipsed their popularity. Alongside ex-Chic drummer Tony Thompson, the pair had intended for The Power Station to employ a revolving door of frontmen but Robert Palmer impressed so much they gave him the gig full-time. This decision paid off when 1985’s debut, a vibrant mix of funk, synth-pop and hard rock reached the US Top 10, as did the singles Some Like It Hot and swaggering T.Rex cover Get It On.

11 A Camp
Essential album: A Camp (2001)

Capitalising on The Cardigans’ long-overdue success with Gran Turismo, frontwoman Nina Persson decided to embrace her love of classic country pop under the mysterious name of A Camp. Her 2001 debut drew comparisons with the likes of Dusty Springfield and Lee Hazlewood, and would go on to inform much of her regular band’s autumnal opus, Long Gone Before Daylight. The Swede also roped in musician Niclas Frisk and her husband Nathan Larson again for 2009’s Colonia, another wistful throwback to the sounds of the 60s.

10 Mike + The Mechanics
Essential album: Mike + The Mechanics (1985)

Following in the footsteps of bandmate Phil Collins, Mike + The Mechanics saw Mike Rutherford stray even further from his prog-rock roots and firmly into unabashed MOR pop. Formed with Sad Café’s Paul Young and blue-eyed soul journeyman Paul Carrack, the original lineup achieved their biggest hit with funeral favourite The Living Years. But 1995’s more uplifting Over My Shoulder remains the most perfectly-crafted tune any of its ever-changing members have put their name to.

09 The Fireman
Essential album: Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest (1993)

No stranger to conspiracy theories, Paul McCartney found himself at the centre of another in 1993 with whispers he was behind ambient electronica project The Fireman. On this occasion, however, the rumours were true. Sir Thumbs Aloft had been so impressed by Youth’s remixing of Off The Ground’s first single, he asked his fellow bassist to deconstruct the entire record. The subsequent Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest was followed by 1998’s more collaborative Rushes and 2008’s Electric Arguments

08 The Dukes Of Stratosphear
Essential album: Psonic Psunspot (1987)

 The British psychedelia of 1967-68 was the very specific target for XTC’s affectionate parodies under the guise of The Dukes Of Stratosphear. Adopting ridiculous pseudonyms including Sir John Johns and Lord Cornelius Plum, the trio initially denied any involvement. But they eventually came clean with second album Psonic Psunspot, a trippy amalgamation of vintage Beach Boys, early Pink Floyd and late-period Beatles. Soon after, Andy Partridge revealed the Dukes had perished in a “horrible sherbet accident.”

07 The Last Shadow Puppets
Essential album: The Age Of The Understatement (2008)

After breaking chart records with his generation-defining main band, Alex Turner then reached No.1 with an outfit that was more Morricone than MySpace. Featuring Miles Kane, who’d supported Arctic Monkeys with The Little Flames, and James Ford, who’d co-produced the Sheffielders’ sophomore album, The Last Shadow Puppets drew from classic spaghetti western scores and The Walker Brothers’ lush orchestral pop on 2008’s majestic debut album The Age Of The Understatement

06 Apparatjik
Essential album: We Are Here (2010)

Consisting of Coldplay’s Guy Berryman, a-ha’s Magne Furuholmen, Mew’s Jonas Bjerre and prolific hitmaker Martin Terefe, Apparatjik had a relatively unassuming start. They first got together in 2008 for a charity album organised by intrepid documentarian Bruce Parry, with their contribution also selected as the theme to his award-winning series Amazon. Since then, the Anglo-Scandinavian supergroup have produced two albums of soaring electronic prog-pop far more in keeping with Furuholmen and Bjerre’s regular jobs than Berryman’s.

05 Gnarls Barkley
Essential album: St Elsewhere (2006)

The brainchild of super-producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, and ex-Goodie Mob vocalist CeeLo Green, Gnarls Barkley marked a significant shift in the UK charts: debut single Crazy became the first ever No.1 based on downloads alone. But while the enigmatic duo’s success was revolutionary, their music always had one foot firmly in the past. 2006 debut St Elsewhere and 2008’s The Odd Couple were packed with breathless, kaleidoscopic jams which sounded like they’d been part of the pop fabric for decades.

04 Tom Tom Club
Essential album: Tom Tom Club (1981)

Named after the Bahamas nightspot they first rehearsed in, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz’s Tom Tom Club perhaps inevitably had a much sunnier disposition than their famously nervy main outfit. The loose collective produced some of the shiniest, happiest dancefloor anthems of the early 80s, with trippy animated videos for Wordy Rappinghood and Genius Of Love only adding to their playful charm. The latter has since become one of the decade’s most sampled tracks, most notably on Mariah Carey’s career-best Fantasy.

Read more: The Lowdown – Talking Heads

03 The Breeders
Essential album: Last Splash (1993)

Fronted by Kim Deal, The Breeders reached the US Hot 100 in 1993 with Cannonball, a feat incredibly never achieved by the hugely influential band she’d split from months earlier. Joined by various members of Slint, Throwing Muses and The Perfect Disaster, the former Pixie had first proved her talents extended beyond snaking basslines on 1990 debut Pod, hailed as an all-time favourite by Kurt Cobain. Averaging a new album every seven years, The Breeders might not be the most prolific survivors of the grunge era, but they remain one of the most influential.

02 Gorillaz
Essential album: Demon Days (2005)

From supergroups to solo albums to soundtracks, operas and world music initiatives, Damon Albarn hasn’t stopped scratching his creative itch outside of Blur. But it’s the post-modern cartoon band co-created with Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett that’s best utilised his insatiable urge. You might have expected the novelty to wear off after 2001’s self-titled debut. Yet thanks to an animated mix of hip-hop, electronica and soul-funk and collaborators ranging from Shaun Ryder to Snoop Dogg, Gorillaz’s mixtape approach remains equally thrilling 20 years on.

Read our review of Gorillaz’ The Now Now

Number 01 in our list of top pop side projects…

Electronic
Essential album: Electronic (1991)

The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and New Order frontman Bernard Sumner had initially intended to explore their love of electronica and Italo house anonymously via Factory Records white labels. Considering the latter’s inimitable vocals were behind the same record company’s most celebrated works, we can’t imagine their identities would have stayed secret for long.

Wisely, the pair decided to abandon this incognito approach for 1989 debut single Getting Away With It, a gloriously bittersweet love song apparently mocking the pure miserabilism synonymous with Marr’s former bandmate (“I’ve been walking in the rain just to get worse on purpose”).

Art Of Noise’s Anne Dudley, ABC’s David Palmer and Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant all contributed to the decade’s last great single, with the latter returning for Electronic’s biggest UK hit, Disappointed, three years later. Its eponymous 1991 parent album proved to be just as majestic, as did belated 1996 follow-up Raise The Pressure, another batch of synth-driven indie gems which appeared to consciously swerve all things Britpop.

Co-produced by Arthur Baker, 1999’s Twisted Tenderness sadly ended up as the duo’s swansong.

Read more: Top 20 Reunion Albums

 

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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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