Wednesday, 7 May 2014

25 Years Ago This Week: May 7, 1989

It was hardly "War", "Fight The Power" or "We Shall Overcome", but 25 years ago this week, a protest song (allegedly) for the house music generation debuted on the ARIA singles chart. It only spent one week in the top 50 and didn't generate much publicity in Australia, but it was a different matter altogether in the UK, where the song originated.

Australia, it seemed, would rather Fleetwood Mac than The Reynolds Girls

Of course, the sentiment of the song - radio plays too much music for oldies and not enough that appeals to younger listeners - was just as relevant in Australia, given FM radio's refusal to play dance, rap or R&B music. But, two perky teenagers from Liverpool in the north of England weren't going to win that battle here.

ARIA Top 50 Singles Chart - week ending May 7, 1989

Winning the battle for number 1 this week in 1989 was Madonna's "Like A Prayer", taking its tally of weeks on top to four. But, another challenger was closing in fast (well, fast for the Australian chart, anyway).


New Entries
Number 50 "The Beat(en) Generation" by The The
Peak: number 50
Three years after "Infected" gave him a top 30 hit in Australia, Matt Johnson sneaked into the top 50 with this lead single from the Mindbomb album. This time, however, The The was an actual band (including The Smiths' former guitarist, Johnny Marr, among its members) instead of just Matt with a bunch of session musicians. Musically, The The sounded nothing like they had on the more electronic "Infected" - a song I quite liked. Whether or not that had anything to do with the lacklustre performance of "The Beat(en) Generation" here (although not in the UK, where it was the act's biggest hit of the decade), I'll let you be the judge.




Number 46 "When Love Comes To Town" by U2 with BB King
Peak: number 23
"Desire" and "Angel Of Harlem" had almost made me think I might be ready to like U2 again after not enjoying any of their songs since 1984, but they lost me once more with this third single from Rattle & Hum, a collaboration with blues singer and guitarist BB King. Seems I wasn't the only one in two minds about the Irish rockers at that point, with Rattle & Hum (the album and movie) dividing critics and resulting in a bit of a backlash against the seemingly pious band. They'd win the world (myself included) over again with their next album and accompanying radical shift in direction, but that was all still a couple of years away.




Number 43 "I'd Rather Jack" by The Reynolds Girls
Peak: number 43
Plucked from obscurity by Pete Waterman to front his diatribe against radio programming in Britain, Aisling and Linda Reynolds would prove to be a turning point in the career of producers Stock Aitken Waterman. Their UK top 10 success with "I'd Rather Jack" proved the point that the Hit Factory could turn just about anyone into a music star. As a result, the message of the song - which was valid enough - was overshadowed by the backlash against SAW that resulted.
The impetus for "I'd Rather Jack" seems to have been the 1989 BRIT Awards, where SAW acts were virtually ignored despite the producers' records being permanently on the UK chart throughout 1988. Such ubiquity had inevitably led to critical derision and stuffy old radio programmers leaving the Hit Factory's songs off their playlists. All that prompted Pete to dream up "I'd Rather Jack" - and the song's lyrics couldn't have made his message clearer:

Can't they see that every generation/Has music for its own identity?/
But why the DJ on the radio station/Is always more than twice the age of me?
Who needs Pink Floyd, Dire Straits?/That's not our music, it's out of date/
Demographic stereo/They never play the songs we know
Golden oldies, Rolling Stones, we don't want them back/I'd rather jack than Fleetwood Mac

In Australia, where no one had any idea what jacking was, the song ended up as a bit of a curiosity. The title was a reference to house tracks like Steve "Silk" Hurley's UK number 1, "Jack Your Body", Hithouse's "Jack To The Sound Of The Underground" and the "Jack Mix" series by Mirage. At the time that, as well as carrying the ARIA chart, record stores also kept a regular dance chart on their counter and it came with little symbols to specify the genre (house, acid house, high-energy, etc.) of the tracks. When no one in my Year 9 music class had heard of "hip-hop" and people assumed I was making the genre up when I mentioned it, it was clear house music had also passed many local music fans by.
I wasn't that crazy about "I'd Rather Jack" - and you might just have noticed I was and still am a bit of a SAW fan. I found the melody uninspired and those sisters with their terrible dance moves weren't my idea of pop stars. As it turned out, the track was the only hit for the girls, who faded back into obscurity shortly after. In fact, very little is now known about Linda and Aisling, who couldn't even be tracked down for the recent Hit Factory reunion concert.




Next week: more new entries (so I won't bang on about one song for so long!) - including the solo debut of one of the '80s hardest working singers, the arrival of the biggest Swedish act since ABBA and that Tina Turner re-release people have been getting excited about in the comments section. Before then, I'll conclude my trip through my top 100 songs for 2003.


Back to: Apr 30, 1989 <<<<<<<<<<<<<  GO  >>>>>>>>>>>>> Forward to: May 14, 1989


6 comments:

  1. I first heard 'I'd Rather Jack' on Triple M's 'Top 8 at 8'; supposedly voted for by (presumably teen) listeners, but suspiciously containing many dance/pop tracks that would later bomb on the charts (e.g. Mandy Smith's 'Don't You Want Me Baby' even cracked it a few months later). Nonetheless, it was about the only place you could hear anything remotely dance-ish on Melbourne radio at the time, outside of Take 40 Australia. They often played the 12" versions of tracks, too. I remember that week on rage, they aired the 'I'd Rather Jack' video just before the top 50 began, and then again soon afterwards when it debuted at #43. I was a bit surprised that it didn't last a second week on the chart, or climb any higher. I loved that the song name-checked Yazz. Pity they refused to cancel that holiday, they could have become the next Mel & Kim ;) OK, well not quite as classy.

    The The The (ha ha, 3 in a row) track was being flogged on Triple M for several weeks before it entered the chart. I quite liked it, and was surprised it wasn't a bigger hit. Probably one of the only songs with brackets mid-word.

    Rage aired the full-length (about 6 or 7 mins long) video for 'When Love Comes To Town' in the top 50 which was torture to sit through.

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    1. Andy - troubled 80s teen14 May 2014 at 07:27

      I remember the Top 8 at 8 in Sydney too, although 1989 seems a bit early for it - perhaps it spread to Sydney a bit later? This was still very much a time when a standard 2MMM DJ response to hearing a dance/pop track was 'Who on earth requested that?!'

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    2. Was John Peters the host too? He hosted the one that aired in Melbourne.

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  2. I thought Desire was great track and deserved to be No.1, but I was never a fan of U2. However, they won me one more time with 'Mysterious Ways'. I have never seen the Rattle & Hum movie, I should check it out.

    Gavin, thanks for enlightening me with the whole 'Jack' thing. I had no idea and to be honest never thought about it, just took the song title by face value. Only recently I saw the video on rage, and boy, its pretty bad, but I didn't mind it back then. I remember Molly on Hey Hey, talking about the song in his Melodrama segment. He praised it and was all over it, well, we know how Molly always had a problem with radio. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't 'Buffalo Stance' pretty much the first hit song in this genre that really made Australia sit up and notice? BTW, is it just me, but the brown headed girl reminds me of a young Linda Ronstadt.

    Finally, I thought 'The Look' was a US No.1 after all the other countries got onto it - as that's usually the norm. I seriously need to pull out my ARIA sheets and revisit them. But then again, visiting this site is easier and more interactive :)

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    1. I've got a snippet of a Reynolds Girls interview somewhere on a DVD, where the blonde one (I think that was Linda from memory) answers the question about what 'jack' is referring to with (paraphrasing): 'jacking is a type of dance, like this (demonstrates the 'dance' they do in the chorus to the 'I'd rather jack' line)'.

      I remember hearing or reading somewhere that Roxette broke in America after a US student who went on exchange to Sweden brought back the 'Look Sharp!' cassette and asked the local radio station (or maybe it was 'college' radio) to play 'The Look' from it.

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  3. Andy - troubled 80s teen14 May 2014 at 07:25

    I didn't realise that the same problem with narrow-minded radio programming was also a UK issue, not just Australia.

    I do remember that whenever it was raised as an issue in Australia back in the late 1980s, that the standard industry line was that the demographic who the advertisers appealed to was an older demographic who were into AOR etc and not into house, hip-hop, hi-NRG etc. However that never quite made sense to me, as there was still plenty of success for dance-oriented and electronic music in Australia at this time, so money was being spent by consumers buying the singles.

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