Andy Stewart

1989 Christmas Top 40

In many ways the last year of the decade wasn’t too dissimilar from the early years – people were still using synths and computers to make their records, except the computers were now the size of a suitcase rather than an entire room, the records could be made in your bedroom instead of a professional recording studio and the drums now sounded like drums rather than someone hitting a biscuit tin with a stone. There was still a yearning for the familiar though, and the Stars On 45 medley craze of 1981 was echoed in 1989 by the likes of Jive Bunny, only now you could simply cut and paste the original records together instead of having to recruit teams of session musicians to painstakingly re-record them. The Christmas number 1 was also familiar, albeit in a depressing way as it showed how far mainstream pop music had deteriorated in the second half of the decade.

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

Party Starters

Lots of famous musicians coming together to re-record a classic for charity? It can only be… no, it’s Smoke On The Water by Rock Aid Armenia at 39, raising money for victims of the previous year’s Armenian earthquake by singing a song about a casino burning to the ground. Still, almost certainly the only Christmas hit single to mention Frank Zappa in the lyrics. Elsewhere the year’s twin behemoths – house music and Jive Bunny – loom large over the chart with no less than four megamix singles in the chart. The actual Jive Bunny track we’ll come to later but there are also places for Deep Heat ’89 at 17, basically an advert for the compilation album of the same name; Alexander O’Neal’s Hitmix (Official Bootleg Megamix) at 24 and Duran Duran’s Burning The Ground at 36, not so much a megamix as an arty montage of bits and pieces from various Duran tracks. Also housed up is Jeff Wayne’s Eve Of The War at 16 and a cover of Odyssey’s Going Back To My Roots at 28 by the confusingly named FPI Project Presents Rich In Paradise. The Stone Roses have set the tone for the early part of the next decade with Fools Gold down at 29 and one of the year’s biggest acts Soul II Soul get philosophical on Get A Life at number 6.

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Party Poopers

Perhaps the ultimate break-up song, The Beautiful South’s I’ll Sail This Ship Alone is at a disappointing peak of 31, the closing line “They said if I burned myself alive, you’d come running back” perhaps a little strong for the taste of most Christmas shoppers. It’s at least above Phil Collins’ Another Day In Paradise at 33, in which a multi-millionaire berates us for ignoring the homeless. Lisa Stansfield at 32 has been All Around The World and she still can’t find her baby – how very careless of her. Playing the sensitive Christmas ballad card are Bros, whose Sister at number 10 would be their last top ten hit; The Christians, enjoying their last top thirty entry with Words at number 18; and Wet Wet Wet, already on their first downward slide with Broke Away only making number 19 and becoming their last top twenty hit until January 1992.

It’s Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaaas!!!

Having already hit number 1 twice this year, Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers are this year’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood, having released their Christmas hit Let’s Party a week early to grab the top spot before inevitably being deposed by the Christmas charity singalong. Down to number 2 this week, Let’s Party is an unholy mash-up of Joe Loss’s March Of The Mods, Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday and, er, Gary Glitter’s Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas, although the latter has been written out of history and seems to have been replaced by Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You on later reissues. It’s holding off a proper forgotten Christmas gem, Jason Donovan’s When You Come Back To Me at number 3, its oblique references to people with “arms full of presents, going to places” probably not quite festive enough to guarantee it a place on any of the multitudinous Christmas compilations that come out every year, yet it’s far superior to the S/A/W production that did make number 1 this year. Madonna’s Dear Jessie at 5 is another of those songs that manages to sound Christmassy without actually having anything to do with the season. All About Eve’s rather vague December sneaks in at 40, while professional Christian Cliff Richard has been strongarmed into helping Van Morrison record his number 20 hit Whenever God Shines His Light.

Novelty Island

It would be uncharitable at this time of year to call Simple Minds’ cover of Prince’s Sign O’ The Times at 37 a novelty hit, so instead we’ll go to number 4 where we find a song recorded in 1960, catapulted back into the chart thanks to BBC Radio 1 DJ Simon Mayo chancing upon it on a compilation of kids’ favourites and playing it relentlessly on his breakfast show. Easily as much a protest song as Another Day In Paradise, Andy Stewart’s Donald, Where’s Your Troosers? is a damning critique of the racist attitudes faced by the indigenous people of the north of Scotland who are brave enough to wear their national dress when venturing south… actually, no it isn’t, it’s a silly song about a man in a kilt. Back in the 1960s Stewart was well known throughout the UK as a star of BBC TV’s The White Heather Club, a show which presented an outdated – even for those days – image of Scotland as a place where everyone played bagpipes and/or fiddles, performed folk dances and sang silly songs about men in kilts. The best bit of the song comes towards the end when Stewart, in a moment of self-awareness, declares that “the song might have more international appeal sung something like this” and launches into a surprisingly accurate impression of Elvis Presley singing the song. Stewart is best remembered for this hit and his altogether more serious A Scottish Solider, while in the next couple of years Mayo’s patronage would also make top ten hits of Patrick MacNee & Honor Blackman’s Kinky Boots and Monty Python’s Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.

The number 1

Well, here we are again. Despite having sold over three million copies the first time around, by 1989 the Band Aid Trust required a further injection of cash and Bob Geldof asked Pete Waterman to produce a new recording of Do They Know It’s Christmas? Perhaps Sir Bob should have given Pete more notice because the line-up he was able to recruit was, in all fairness, not as impressive as the 1984 original: Stock/Aitken/Waterman protégés including Sonia and Big Fun rubbed shoulders with The Pasadenas, Technotronic and Glen Goldsmith; of all the performers present only Cliff Richard, Jimmy Somerville and Bananarama had scored a top twenty hit at the time of the original Band Aid recording. All traces of sobriety were removed from the arrangement as Stock, Aitken & Waterman turned it into an out-and-out pop song, which may well have sold records to those too young to understand what the song was about but did nothing to shield themselves from the critics who were already dismissing their production as lightweight and disposable. Still, it got to number 1, raised more money for Africa and was quietly swept under the carpet after a couple of years.

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