The Flying Pickets

1983 Christmas Top 40

As we hit the mid-80s, 1983 was the year the decade really started to establish a distinguishable style. In the face of the grim reality of a second term of Thatcher government, pop went flamboyant with Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran all hitting their peak. Kajagoogoo went from obscurity to superstardom and back again, Wham! took the proverbial out of social issues and Paul Young finally achieved overnight success after five years. The Christmas chart reflected virtually nothing of this, instead being dominated by TV tie-ins, returning ’70s stompers and the most ridiculous looking band of misfits who ever sang a cappella.

The full top 100 for this week can be found on the Official Charts Company site.

Party Starters

Some party favourites from earlier in the year are still clinging on to top 40 status: Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon, the year’s biggest selling single, is at 35; Eurythmics’ samba whistle afflicted Right By Your Side slips to 28; while the combined might of Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson hangs on to number 25 with Say Say Say. For the fourth consecutive year Kool & The Gang have a hit in Christmas week, this year’s offering Straight Ahead is up to 19. Following George Michael’s first falling out with a record company, Wham!’s unapproved-by-the-band-and-hastily-assembled-for-a-fast-buck Club Fantastic Megamix is at 21. Two different ends of the rock spectrum are represented at opposite ends of the chart: Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark At The Moon (that’s what happens when you bite the head off a bat) is at 38 while Status Quo’s Marguerita Time staggers up 20 places to number 5. Oh, and try not to burn the place down as you hold your lighters aloft for Slade’s My Oh My at number 2.

Party Poopers

As the spirit of ’80s excess kicks in there’s unusually little misery in the chart this year; even the sad songs are floor fillers. Vince Clarke’s collaboration with Feargal Sharkey, Never Never by The Assembly, is fairly self-pitying at number 30. The Thompson Twins are struggling to hold together a dying relationship in Hold Me Now at number 6, while Paul Young’s festive tale of poverty and desperation Love Of The Common People is at 4.

Related:  Off The Chart: 30 July 1984

It’s Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaaas!!!

There are all sorts of Christmas singles around this year, from the tenuous (Elton John’s Cold As Christmas (In The Middle Of The Year), which isn’t even about Christmas and makes no sense at this time of year because it actually is Christmas, at 33) to the desperate (Singalong-A-Santa Again, another half arsed pub singalong Christmas medley from Santa Claus & The Christmas Trees at 39) to the inevitable (Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody at number 20 on the back of their huge success with My Oh My). Another Christmas medley, this time made up of tracks from Phil Spector’s legendary A Christmas Gift For You album, is Christmas Spectre by the Jingle Belles at 37. The Pretenders’ 2000 Miles sparks the “Is it really a Christmas song?” debate that’s been raging ever since at number 15. Irish comedian Frank Kelly, over a decade before he found fame as Father Jack Hackett in Father Ted, drives home the horrible reality of The Twelve Days Of Christmas in Christmas Countdown at 34. Best/worst of all is Minder stars Dennis Waterman and George Cole, in character as Terry McCann and Arthur Daley, pondering Arthur’s wife’s present in What Are We Gonna Get ‘Er Indoors? at 26.

Novelty Island

This time last year, Malcolm McLaren had only just brought scratching to the UK with his hit Buffalo Gals; by the end of 1983 the technique was already ripe for parody. Enter one Roland Rat, a wisecracking puppet rodent who had saved breakfast TV channel TV-am from certain failure earlier in the year thanks to the popularity of his Shedvision Show and travelogue series Rat On The Road. Never one to hide his light under a bushel, Roland set up his own Rodent Records label and launched it with Rat Rapping (Brilliant, Isn’t It), a spot-on parody of hip hop and electro music with a rap which reveals that, being of the genus Rattus, Roland isn’t scratching records, but fleas. Rat Rapping was at 27 this week and eventually climbed as high as number 14 in January.

The number 1

Looking for an a cappella version of a Yazoo hit from eighteen months ago? Look no further. The Flying Pickets were a group of actors who formed a singing group after they were required to sing a cappella in the 1981 stage play One Big Blow. For their début single they recorded a version of Only You which Yazoo had taken to number 2 the previous spring; with its memorable “Ba-da-da-da” introduction, the Flying Pickets’ vocal-only arrangement went one better and topped the chart for five weeks. The group scored another top ten hit the following spring with When You’re Young And In Love and an album Lost Boys reached number 11, but their strong political beliefs – which saw them actually picketing a power station during the 1984-85 miners’ strike – hampered their mainstream success. The group’s two best known members, fantastically sideburned Brian Hibbard and completely bald Red Stripe, left in 1986, although they returned in 1994 for a further album which included a near-hit version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under The Bridge. All the original members continued their acting careers, Hibbard famously appearing in Coronation Street and Emmerdale, while David Brett had a role in the first Harry Potter film. Sadly Hibbard died in 2012 but the Flying Pickets continue to perform, albeit with no original members.

Related:  Off The Chart: 28 April 1980

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