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Pop CultureAugust 24, 2017

Chartlander: What was on the airwaves the day Robert Muldoon called the snap election

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Every week Chartlander travels back through time, landing in a different year on the official New Zealand singles chart in the hopes of (re)discovering forgotten Top 40 gold. Today we continue our tour of significant election moments.

The date is Thursday the 14th of June, 1984. Tonight, New Zealand’s prime minister Robert Muldoon will get ratarsed and call a snap election. It will become one of the nation’s most notorious political moments, and many people will wonder what it must have been like in his Beehive office in the hours leading up to the announcement – was he, for example, listening to the radio?

Let’s say he tunes into the home of today’s hit music: 2ZM Wellington. What songs from the official singles chart will he hear, and how might they influence his decision-making as the evening wears on? Will Kenny Loggins’ number one hit encourage him to ‘cut footloose’ and schedule the election with only four weeks’ notice?

Maybe Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ will haunt him through the wireless as he imagines it is Marilyn Waring’s deciding vote on the nuclear free bill singing “Is it me you’re looking for?” Maybe Phil Collins’ harrowing divorcecore hit ‘Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)’ will come on and tear his brittle heart asunder. Maybe the Dance Exponents’ ‘I’ll Say Goodbye (Even Though I’m Blue)’ will play in a kind of cruelly obvious foreshadowing. Or maybe he will just slip off his shoes and allow himself the pleasure of dancing alone on the ninth floor to ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’.

☝️ Number One

Kenny Loggins – ‘Footloose’

If the singles chart is anything to go by Kiwis were dancing up a storm in the winter of 1984, and Kenny Loggins’ huge ‘Footloose’ was the main attraction. It remained in the top ten throughout the month-long election campaign; there’s every chance Labour leader David Lange kicked off his Sunday shoes and had a dance to it at some stage after becoming the new prime minister on July 14.

Cover alert: The 2011 remake of Footloose featured a countryfied cover by Blake Shelton.

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#7: Time Bandits – ‘I’m Only Shooting Love’

File under: songs that should have been on a GTA: Vice City radio station but weren’t. Time Bandits would in a couple of weeks become possibly the only Dutch band to have a #1 in New Zealand – until the Venga Bus rolled into town from Rotterdam. ‘I’m Only Shooting Love’ marries Chic-style funk with wussy falsetto vocals to deeply satisfying effect; it should be an essential part of any ’80s-leaning DJ’s repertoire.

#22: Tracey Ullman – ‘They Don’t Know’

To some English-born comedian Tracey Ullman is known only for debuting a series of short animations about a family called the Simpsons on her The Tracey Ullman Show starting in 1987. For a brief time before that (between 1983 and 1985) she also had a successful music career, and this – one of two Kirsty MacColl covers she did – was her biggest hit. An ‘80s throwback to the ‘60s girl group phenomenon, it is as close to a perfect pop song as you could ever hope to hear.

Cover alert: Ullman’s other Kirsty MacColl cover ‘Terry’ was about having a boyfriend who’s in prison.

#28: Shannon – ‘Let The Music Play’

An influential tune in the history of popular dance music, Shannon’s ‘Let The Music Play’ sets the course for a style that would explode later in the decade. It peaked at #2 on the New Zealand singles charts, which is higher than it got in any other country – a point of national pride and proof we sometimes accidentally have good taste.

Cover alert: Jordin Sparks’ 2009 single ‘S.O.S. (Let The Music Play)’ borrows heavily from the Shannon original.

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#21: INXS – ‘I Send A Message’

The second single off 1984’s The Swing LP, ‘I Send A Message’ lived much of its chart life in the shadow of the scorching first single ‘Original Sin’. Produced by Nile Rodgers, this is a funky and commendable choice if you’re looking for a slightly deeper cut in the INXS catalogue; the video is a classic ‘80s marriage of artistic pretension and extreme dorkiness (see: 2:55).

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#34: Mel Brooks – ‘To Be Or Not To Be (The Hitler Rap)’

“Don’t be stupid, be a smarty – come on and join the Nazi Party” seems about a million times too tense to be in the chorus of a satirical comedy rap in the current climate but it was apparently absolutely fine in 1984 when Mel Brooks’ ‘To Be Or Not To Be (The Hitler Rap)’ hit the New Zealand singles chart.

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#44: Frankie Goes To Hollywood – ‘Relax’

The best thing that ever happened to Frankie Goes to Hollywood was getting this song banned by the BBC for lines like “Relax, don’t do it, when you want to come” being simply… too rude. The ban propelled the Trevor Horn-produced hit to #1 in the UK (it peaked at #10 in New Zealand), something the song’s risque video and print advertising had somehow failed to do. The band maintained the lyrics were not rude but in fact about ‘motivation’, until confessing all in the liner notes of their 1984 album Welcome to the Pleasuredome: “When it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, [but] really it was about shagging.”

Cover alert: The band Powerman 5000 covered ‘Relax’ for the Zoolander soundtrack in 2001.

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Footloose fever

New Zealand was in the grips of Kevin Bacon dancing fever in June 1984 and the singles charts bore the brunt of it with three songs off the Footloose soundtrack populating the top 50. Bubbling under Kenny Loggins’ number one hit were Deniece Williams’ ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ at #9 and Shalamar’s ‘Dancing In The Sheets’ at #11. Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ would join them a couple of weeks later; John Cougar Mellencamp’s ‘Hurts So Good’ had already been there back in 1982 and Foreigner’s ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ in ‘81.

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Total this week: 3

The Narcs’ ‘Heart and Soul’ hits the charts next week; The Chills’ ‘Pink Frost’ the week after that. But this week, the Kiwi Flagbearers number just three: Dance Exponents’ ‘I’ll Say Goodbye’ is #20, The Mockers’ ‘Swear It’s True’ #24, and Patea Maori Club’s smash hit ‘Poi E’ at #33.

???? Cover Art of the Week

Patea Maori Club – ‘Poi E’

There is a lot of iconic cover art on the singles chart this week. The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’, New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’, Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson’s ‘To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before’… None of these hold a candle to Patea Maori Club’s ‘Poi E’. Ordinarily an LP cover would be disqualified from this category via a strict single covers only policy, but this one deserves a dispensation. Conceptualised by Dalvanius Prime and brought to life by artist Joe Wylie, ‘Poi E’ remains the pinnacle of New Zealand cover art.

Previous episodes of Chartlander:

#2: November 27, 1999

#1: August 10, 1991

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