We’re moving on this month to a decade that saw punk fashion reacting strongly against the hippie movement when fetish fashion, ripped fishnet stockings, safety pins in clothes and on the body and heavy eyeliner worn by both sexes, replaced sheepskin vests, baja jackets, bell bottoms, kaftans and flower power motifs. It was a culture change from a peaceful to an aggressive generation. And, my, didn’t the music change with it. I know what this gentle soul preferred!
However, as we re-visit the eighties let’s gently ease ourselves in with the top selling single of February 1987, the Grammy award winning “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” from Aretha Franklin and George Michael; the fourth Anglo-American duettists to hit the top. This song fulfilled George’s ambition to record with the Queen of Soul which, as it turned out, was her only British chart topper. The duet was his third consecutive number one since Wham split up (“Careless Whisper” and “A Different Corner”) and was the first he hadn’t written himself. It was also Aretha’s fourth top ten entrant since “I Say A Little Prayer” two decades earlier. Taking the composing credit were Dennis Morgan and Simon Climie, the latter unknown at the time but who went on to have success a year later as Climie Fisher. Ironically, patiently sitting below the top spot were Wham’s backing singers, Pepsi and Shirlie, with their debut “Heartache” which didn’t reach the top. Giving them their birth names, Helen “Pepsi” DeMacque and Shirlie Holliman, this single was followed by “Goodbye Stranger” to peak at number nine. Shirlie’s original singing partner, Dee C Lee, left to join Style Council and later married Paul Weller, the group’s lead singer. That’s nicely rounded off that story, so let’s move on.
One of the landmark records in the history of house music peaked at number three this month, namely, Steve “Silk” Hurley’s “Jack Your Body”. So what exactly was this new kind of music which had nothing to do with bricks and mortar, I hear you ask? Well, simply put, it was a type of electronic dance music created by nightclub DJs and record producers in Chicago. Or, to be even more technical, the music was generally characterised by repetitive 4/4 beats, off-beat hi-hat cymbals, synthesised bass lines with a drum machine beating out the rhythm. Think I’ll stick with the simple version! “Jack Your Body” which, by all accounts, is slang for ‘dance’ or ‘move enthusiastically’ was the first UK chart topper to achieve the majority of its sales in the 12” disc format, and, unsurprisingly, was the only number one since the birth of BBC Radio 1 in September 1967 not to be played prior to reaching the pole position.
Anyway, much more to my liking was the chart climbing track “Almaz” from the established R&B and jazz songstress Randy Crawford. This heartfelt ballad, written by the singer, was about two Eritrean refugees who were Randy’s neighbours. “I witnessed this perfect love affair between them, although she was considerably younger than him” Randy explained in an interview at the time of the single’s release. “(They were a) beautiful couple with their baby. As refugees they were looking for a world where love survives.” The single followed the hits “Street Life” where Randy performed with The Crusaders, and her solo smash, the evergreen “One Day I’ll Fly Away”. As an aside here, the British arm of the music industry honoured Ms Crawford when, in 1982, she won Best British Female Solo Artist at the Brit Awards in recognition of her popularity over here. Quite an exceptional feat for an American singer!
Other singles in this month’s top ten included Curiosity Killed The Cat’s “Down To Earth”, Robbie Nevil’s “C’Est La Vie” and “Is This Love” from Alison Moyet, known for her bluesy contralto voice, and who came to prominence as half of the duo Yazoo. The single, lifted from her second album “Raindancing”, was written by the singer and the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart. The remaining singles in the top twenty was a melting pot of British and American sounds, like Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite” which sat above Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing”, while The Gap Band’s “Big Fun” held hands with The Pretenders’ “Hymn To Her”. See what I mean?
Of the show business deaths this month that included Danny Kaye, Randolph Scott and pop artist Andy Warhol, was the passing of American singer, pianist and actor – the wonderfully delicious Liberace who had an extraordinary talent for most things outrageous. At the height of his career he was the highest paid entertainer in the world, with established international touring schedules and residences in Las Vegas, among other opulent venues. “I don’t give concerts, I put on a show” he told the media. And unlike other entertainers, Liberace would invite his audience onstage after his performances to shake his hand, hug him, or touch his clothes, piano and jewellery, prompting one critic to write “…Behind all the glitz, glitter, the false modesty and shy smile, Liberace exudes a love that is returned to him a thousand fold. Embracing a lifestyle of flamboyant excess on and off stage”, he was once nicknamed “Mr Showmanship”, or as he put it, “I’m a one man Disneyland!”
Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace in May 1919, the son and child prodigy of Italian and Polish immigrants, he went on to enjoy a career in entertainment spanning four decades, living life to the full as he did so, bringing mountains of pleasure to his global fan base. During 1985 he was diagnosed HIV positive and when pneumonia claimed him in February two years later in Palm Springs, California, the glitter ball stopped spinning and the world mourned. Said to be worth in excess of $110 million when he died, the showman bequeathed $88 million to his Liberace Foundation for Creative and Performing Arts.
Then in 2013 came the film “Behind The Candelabra” which dramatised the last ten years of his life and his relationship with Scott Thorson based on the latter’s memoir. In my humble opinion, Michael Douglas played a blinding Liberace, with Matt Damon playing Thorson, and, while the film received its fair share of criticism (of course!) I enjoyed it so much that I was compelled to watch it more than once.
Finally, as I’m writing this blog the sun is pouring through my office window, the pigeons are filling their little tums with seeds scattered on the bird table, and the starlings are knocking seven barrels out of half a coconut shell hanging on the apple tree. Hard to image that this time last year we were in the grips of the “Beast From The East”. Still, always look on the bright side of life!
I’ll be back!
Behind the Candelabra is a 2013 American biographical drama film directed by Steven Soderbergh. It dramatizes the last ten years in the life of pianist Liberace and the relationship he had with Scott Thorson. It is based on Thorson’s memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace (1988). Richard LaGravenese wrote the screenplay. Jerry Weintraub was the executive producer. It premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2013 and competed for the Palme d’Or. It aired on HBO on May 26, 2013 and was given a cinematic release in the United Kingdom on June 7, 2013.