Last Sunday saw the airing of a countdown of The Nation’s Favourite 80’s Number Ones, hosted by Zoe Ball, which revealed that the UK’s best loved chart topper from the decade that bought us legwarmers, shoulder-pads and tight perms was ‘Every Breath You Take’ by Sting and the Police. A good choice, but not necessarily the one we would have picked. And this is coming from a writer who was born during the dying months of the decade.
So I’ve taken it upon myself to curate my own Spotify playlist of the decade’s finest number ones – some of which were in the countdown of the show itself and some which I felt were cruelly overlooked – so sit back, stick your headphones on and listen along as you read my thoughts on each of my choices…
1. PET SHOP BOYS – ‘West End Girls’
(#1 for two weeks in January 1986)
When Neil Tennant, the then editor of the most important music magazine of the decade ‘Smash Hits’ and keyboard and programming whizkid Chris Lowe formed Pet Shop Boys in 1984, few could have imagined they’d go onto become one of the most successful duos ever in UK chart history. 40m records sold worldwide later, and that’s exactly what they became, and this moody, part rapped T.S Eliot-esque debut was the first of four chart toppers they’d accrue in the 80s.
2. EURYTHMICS – ‘There Must Be an Angel (Playing with my Heart)’
(#1 for a week in July 1985)
The band that introduced the world to the soaring, soulful tones of Annie Lennox, the Scots songstress and her collaborative partner Dave Stewart owned the 80s with such delights as ‘Sweet Dreams are Made of This’ and ‘Here Comes the Rain Again’ to name but two. But the top spot seemed to elude them – that is until on their 13th attempt, when this appropriately named, heavenly feel good track (with a harmonica solo from one Mr Stevie Wonder, no less) finally sent them to number one.
3. THE HUMAN LEAGUE – ‘Don’t You Want Me?’
(#1 for five weeks in December 1981)
With the launch of MTV, the 80s ushered in the concept of the music video as an essential tool in the marketing mix of any self respecting pop act. The Human League were no different, and with ‘Don’t You Want Me’, the third single from their fourth album ‘Dare’, this brooding, synth laden call and response mourn to a lost love between Phil Oakey and Susan Ann Sulley was backed by an elaborate and iconic ‘video within a video’ visual that ensured it spent just over a month atop the charts.
4. RICK ASTLEY – ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’
(#1 for five weeks in September 1987)
It’s fair to say that the legendary team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman, with their hi-NRG, soulful dance pop productions were to the 80s what Brian Higgins and Xenomania were to the 00s. Their work for Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Bananarama soared to the top of the charts worldwide as well as in the UK, and Rick Astley, Pete Waterman’s former tea boy at the studios soon found himself at number one too with 1987’s biggest seller of the year – this remains a veritable pop classic with a chorus to die for.
5. THE BANGLES – ‘Eternal Flame’
(#1 for four weeks in April 1989)
Fronted by the glamorous Susanna Hoffs, US all girl guitar pop rockers The Bangles bought some serious sass to the charts with hits like ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ and ‘Manic Monday’ (the latter written by another 80s legend in the shape of Prince, no less) – but also more than proved their sensitive side with this stirring, heartbreaking power ballad, and were duly rewarded with a chart topper on both sides of the Atlantic.