1980 and all that: 1983 and 1984


I’ll be honest with you. I wasn’t really listening to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ in 1980. Neither was I listening to ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ in 1981 or ‘Know Your Rights’ in 1982.

But come 1983 and 1984 – or at least certainly soon after – I was listening to (or at least hearing on a regular basis) Culture Club’s ‘Karma Chameleon’ and Wham!’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’.

These two songs, together with Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ (1984) formed my three favourite songs of my early childhood. I’ve got a vague memory of rather liking Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacobana’ (from 1978) as well.

At which point I feel almost obliged to take one of two courses of action: express deep shame at the self-inflicted dent to my muso credibility or write off my appreciation as being a guilty pleasure.

I could, of course, point out that I was somewhere between three and six when these songs were my favourites. And people between the age or three and six, excellent though they may be at playing hide-and-seek or building gargantuan Lego towers, are not renowned for their fine musical taste.

But I don’t think my three- to six-year old self was really that wrong. Not really.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’ve got every single Culture Club album, single and Smash Hits poster carefully filed away for posterity. Neither do I have a perpetual shrine set up to the memory of George Michael.

But, given the correct quantity of alcohol to be introduced into my blood stream, it wouldn’t be entirely improbable to see me, at the very least, tapping my foot to either ‘Karma Chameleon’ or ‘Wake Me Up…’ at a wedding reception or similar.

Not that it would be amazingly appropriate to hear ‘Karma Chameleon’ at a wedding. With its chorus of “you come and go” and all other lyrics pointing to inconstancy in “my lover, not my rival”.

The Wham! song is only a little better when it comes to appearing on a wedding reception playlist.

Yes, it may have lines about sending “my soul sky high when your lovin’ starts” and “I don’t want to miss it when you hit that high”, but it also has underlying suspicion, doubt and uncertainty.

“Something ain’t right/my best friend told me/where you were last night” runs the second verse. By the end of the third verse old Mr Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou has quickly concluded that, instead of dreaming in bed, he “should’ve been with you last night” (wherever that was). After all, he doesn’t want to be left “hanging on like a yo-you”.

Well, who does?

Such glum sentiments, as found in these cheesiest of moments from the cheesiest decade of the 20th century, provide a little more justification (were it needed – which, I think we’ve agreed, it isn’t) for why this consummate fan of Nick Drake, Tom McRae and perennial miserablists extraordinaire Radiohead might find something to appreciate in the works of Culture Club and Wham!.

In my old age, I’m beginning to see that deep rooted musical snobbery (“What do you mean you’ve never heard of Calexico or The Webb Brothers?”, “How can you possibly get through life by only having one Cocteau Twins/Stereolab album in your collection?” or “If you’re going to persist in this ridiculous notion that Fleetwood Mac was better once Stevie Nicks and Lyndsey Buckingham signed up, I think we’re going to have to review the terms of our relationship”) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Hey, if Marc Riley can start his show with Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ once in a while, I can write positively about a couple of cheesy classics.

All of which makes me rather proud of my three- to six- year old self for his obvious good sense in liking a couple of rather good pop songs when he heard them. It also makes me a little ashamed about all times I’ve sneered at people for being musical dunces. Which I would never do. Obviously.

With that in mind, there will be more moments of cheese coming over the course of this series. So readers with a lactose intolerance may which to avoid 1985, 1988 and 1993.

You have been warned.

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