The Human League

1981 Christmas Top 40

1981 had been something of a transitional year. The past had been condensed into a series of bite-sized chunks thanks to a slew of medley singles – the works of the Beatles (Stars On 45), ABBA (Stars On 45 2), the Bee Gees (Startrax Club Disco), various classical composers (Hooked On Classics) and even Harry Belafonte (The Caribbean Disco Show) had each been condensed into three minutes and the remainder consigned to history while the new wave of synthpop bands – the Human League, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell et al – ushered in the future. The League, themselves written off following the departure of founding members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh the previous year, proved to be more resilient than even the most charitable of observers had expected, casually tossing off what is now their best known song as the fourth single from the all-conquering Dare! album. It had already made it to number 1, but could it hang on for Christmas week?

The full top 75 for this week can be found on the Official Charts Company site.

Party Starters

Plenty of old fashioned soul and disco around, with the classic duo of Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire at 25 and Kool & The Gang’s Get Down On It at 26. The Four Tops, enjoying their biggest spell of success for a decade, enter at 37 with Don’t Walk Away, while Diana Ross is doo-wopping her way through Why Do Fools Fall In Love at number 13. If you fancy getting a bit saucy, Olivia Newton-John’s Physical is at 36, or if you just want to party there’s the largely nonsensical Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey by Modern Romance at 38. ’70s rock & roll revivalists Showaddywaddy are still hanging around, multi coloured suits and all, with Footsteps at 31, or depending on the length of your hair you might want to indulge in a little headbanging to Meat Loaf & Cher’s Dead Ringer For Love at number 30.

Party Poopers

If you are headbanging though, look out for the red herring at number 8: Status Quo’s Rock ‘n’ Roll is, in fact, an acoustic ballad, the wacky funsters. Having split from the Specials in the summer, the Fun Boy Three are at 27 with their cheery début The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum, while Kim Wilde’s tale of an air force pilot who disappears in Cambodia is at 17. Now singing almost exclusively about failed relationships, ABBA score their last top ten hit with One Of Us reaching number 3, and that Sting is back spreading his festive joy again, the Police’s Spirits In The Material World at 12 bringing us wisdom such as “They subjugate the meek but it’s the rhetoric of failure.” Merry Christmas, Sting.

Related:  1980 Christmas Top 40

It’s Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaaas!!!

1981 saw the charts overwhelmed with medley singles, thanks to the success of the Stars On 45 series and all its copyists, so it’s no surprise to see a festive version, Christmas On 45 by the tediously named Holly & the Ivys at number 40; you should be very, very surprised, however, to discover that Holly & the Ivys were actually Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and future Dream Academy frontman Nick Laird-Clowes. For the second year running John & Yoko’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over) is the best selling Christmas song, albeit only at number 28 this year, but the big surprise is the return of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody at 32 – surprising because, despite its ubiquity nowadays, this was the first time it had been a top forty hit since its original release in 1973. Slade were catching their second wind at the time following a successful comeback appearance at the Reading Festival the previous year and a top ten hit We’ll Bring The House Down at the start of 1981; they would go on to even greater success later in the decade, with sales of Merry Xmas Everybody reflecting this.

Novelty Island

Also responding to the medley craze, Chas & Dave’s tribute to music hall Stars Over 45 is at 21. The mysterious Brown Sauce, entering at 33 with I Wanna Be A Winner, were actually Multi Coloured Swap Shop presenters Noel Edmonds, Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin with a song which references the Eric awards given out by the show at the end of each year. (It should be pointed out that the hosts of Swap Shop‘s ITV rival Tiswas had already scored a hit single in April 1980 with The Bucket Of Water Song.) There are novelty-ish singles from 1981’s Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz (the childish Land Of Make Believe at number 5, soon to be their second number 1) and Adam and the Ants, whose bandwagon hopping Ant Rap at number 4 famously namechecks all the band members, three months before they split forever. The week’s highest climber comes from The Snowmen, a four piece band whose identity was never revealed, due to the fact they performed their version of the Hokey Cokey from inside snowman suits, although the unfounded rumour that the lead singer was actually Ian Dury pushed the single to number 18 this week. However, the biggest novelty hit of the year, if not the decade, is The Tweets’ Birdie Song (Birdie Dance) at 22; the twee(t) instrumental had spent seemingly endless weeks at number 2 in the autumn – at one point there were two versions in the chart simultaneously, the Electronicas’ Original Bird Dance reaching number 22 in October – and remains as irritating today as it was then.

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The number 1

Holding off a spirited challenge from the sugary – one might almost say cynical – sweetness of Cliff Richard’s Daddy’s Home at number 2, a band most observers had written off twelve months earlier took the prestigious Christmas number 1 slot with a single the lead singer didn’t even want released. The once artier-than-thou Human League had lost two original members, recruited a brace of new ones and discovered the joy of pop music; Don’t You Want Me was the fourth top twenty hit from the enormously successful Dare! album, one too many for Phil Oakey who protested that the song had only been written as a filler to finish off the LP on time. Nevertheless the single became the League’s biggest UK hit as well as a US number 1 hit and remains one of the decade’s best known songs. Never mind Cliff, there’s always next year. And the next, and the next, and the next…

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