Saturday, July 20, 2013

UK #1 '80s Hits That Weren't Even Minor US Hits

I like to think of myself as someone who possesses a comprehensive knowledge of popular music. It irks me when I read about a song or a band that is unfamiliar to me. The trick is, just when I think I've got a handle on all of the music that's ever been popular from roughly 1948 to 2012, I'll read about a "#1 hit" or a "classic single" that I've never heard of. You know why I've never heard of it?

Because it was a "#1 hit" in the UK.

Oh bollocks. You mean to tell me there's a whole other chart history that I need to know about that consists of songs I've never even heard on American radio? Bloody hell.

Well, it's not quite as daunting as it sounds. You see, there's been a lot of overlap between the US charts and the UK charts. It's not like I'm starting from zero. There have been many songs that were #1 hits in both the US and UK. Then there are those songs that were #1 hits in one country, and very big hits in the other country, if not quite #1. This has happened a lot. Then there are those songs that were #1 hits in one country, but only small hits in the other country. Still, all this overlap certainly makes things easier.

But then. Then there are those songs that were #1 hits in one country, but weren't even minor hits in the other country. Now, in terms of US hits that didn't quite take off in the UK, this isn't really a problem for me. But what about those UK #1 hits that didn't even make a dent over here?

Tea and nonsense, I tell you.

The thing is, American culture is so pervasive and omnipresent around the world that even if a massive US hit never charted in the UK, people over there would have probably encountered the song in a movie or a TV show at some point anyway. There isn't really too much music that is so distinctly "American" that it wouldn't make sense to a British person - no, not even rap or country. But Britain, on the other hand - Britain is weird. Britain is kind of insular. There's all kinds of shit that would make sense to the British public that would be completely incomprehensible to an American. All those World Cup songs, for example.

Looking at the UK charts is kind of like living in the Twilight Zone. Right next to songs that are deeply ingrained in the American consciousness are songs have remained completely obscure to the American public at large. They haven't even become cult favorites. You won't find them on AMG five star albums.

Here's my theory: because the UK is relatively small, I think that songs with potentially limited appeal were still able to catch fire somehow. It's like if New England and New York State had a chart of its own, separate from the rest of the U.S. One renegade DJ in Sheffield could spark a month-long obsession with a generic remix of some '60s TV theme, and there you go. I feel like some of these songs became #1 hits almost by accident. And that's one thing you have to say about the American charts, for better or for worse: rarely has a song ever become #1 by accident.

If anything, familiarizing myself with UK #1 hits has shattered a myth or two. For many years, I have been under the impression that the British have had better taste in music than Americans. But maybe that's because the only obscure British music I'd heard thus far was the critically acclaimed British music. Well, funny thing. It turns out that the British record-buying public has liked just as much crap as the American record-buying public; Americans just never got to hear the crap!

And so we come to my new series: UK #1 '80s Hits That Weren't Even Minor US Hits. If some of these songs are crap, they are very bizarre crap. We've got ABBA knock-offs, goofy rockabilly revivalists, tasteless ethnic novelties, flop American singles from the '70s that somehow became popular ten years later, Eurovision contest winners, and songs that are just too plain British for American years. Prepare to get yer knickers in a twist.

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