The Novelty Is Wearing Off, 80s Edition! Even More of The Oddest Songs In UK Chart History


The 80s: The Decade of Reagan, Gorbachev and Thatcher.

The Cold War finally looked to be over. And greed was apparently good. 

Unlike some of this selection… 

Sweet People
Et Les Oiseaux Chantaient (And The Birds Were Singing)”

#4 – 1980

In the 2010s we had the RSPB pushing nothing but bird song. This one is a whole lot more soporific. A muzak lullaby set to bird calls. So inoffensive that it verges on offending me.

The Brat
Chalk Dust: The Umpire Strikes Back

#19 – 1982

It starts slowly. The vocals for the first 40 seconds are the Umpire calling out the score. It ends in what may considered bad taste as the incessant whining of the Brat drives the Umpire to default him with extreme prejudice. 

Fortunately, the rest of it is comedy gold as the angry young John McEnroe is taken down a peg or two for his unseemly behaviour on our green and pleasant tennis courts.

Sorry, that should have said, “unfortunately the rest of it is a painfully stilted aberration that will have you wishing they’d stuck to calling out the score.” 

It wasn’t even timely. Superbrat McEnroe’s iconic meltdown happened in 1981 with this charting the month after the 1982 Wimbledon tournament. In which McEnroe lost to fellow shrinking violet; Jimmy Connors, in the final. 

I’m sure this will have cheered him up no end.

Frank Kelly
“Christmas Countdown” 
#26 – 1983

A comic retelling of the 12 days of Christmas.

(I know. It’s May.) But this one is actually good.

It all starts fine as Gobnait (it’s Irish) is delighted to receive the gift of a partridge in a pear tree from Nuala. As each day brings a new batch of birds the problems mount up and once we get onto hordes of maids, Lords and everyone else Gobnait is definitely not in the Christmas spirit. 

A reminder that Christmas may be a time of giving but no one likes a show off. 

Marvin The Paranoid Android

#53 – 1981

Kraftwerk meets new wave meets manic depressive robot. 

In the wake of the BBC TV adaptation of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Marvin was so popular he got his own single. Though not so popular it made the top 40. Britain wasn’t ready for electro emo, which is a shame as this is brilliant. #justiceformarvin.

It helps that Douglas Adams co wrote it but this is what happens when you put some effort in. Unlike this next offering.

Roland Rat Superstar
“Love Me Tender”

#32 – 1984

Some say the mark of a good cover version is one that redefines the original and puts its own mark on it. 

They never reckoned with this. You’ll spend the lengthy intro questioning whether this is actually the Elvis song. Once the vocals start you may still wonder. I question whether the creators ever heard the original. 

Then there’s the fact its sung by a rat that appears to be aspiring to the euphemism of being ‘rat-arsed’. 

As a self styled Superstar Roland’s ego was obviously too far out of control for anyone to suggest a singing career wasn’t for him.

This was his second and final top 40 entry. The first, “Rat Rappin'” was no masterpiece. But this was a real career killer. To top it off, just when you think you’ve heard enough, Kevin the Gerbil comes in. 

One that’ll have you questioning your life choices as you listen. 

The Evasions
“Wikka Wrap”

#20 – 1981

To one that confounds the standard novelty process in being created by competent musicians. 

“Wikka” refers to Alan Whicker.

He’d been presenting Whicker’s World since 1959. Documentary travelogues with his distinctive measured delivery and formal style were ripe for impressionists. 

Which is where Evasions came in. Transplanting his verbose, studied manner to an analysis of the funk, hip hop and disco scene of the times. With an underlying beat that sampled Parliament, Isaac Hayes, Chic, The Brothers Johnson and Anita Ward and accurately echoed the subject matter. 

In an unlikely twist, the internet claims it was so effective that it became popular in the New York dance scene. While I can’t verify that, it is true that it was sampled by Coolio on “1,2,3,4 (Sumpin’ New.)”

Four Bucketeers
“The Bucket Of Water Song”
“#26 – 1980

The Four Bucketeers were presenters of anarchic Saturday morning kids TV show: Tiswas.

Standing for Today Is Saturday: Watch And Smile). As evidenced by the video and song, throwing buckets of water (and worse) over guests, the audience and presenters was a regular feature. 

John Gorman had already experienced novelty fame in the late 60s as member of The Scaffold who had a #1 with Lily The Pink.”

While Chris Tarrant would go on to be a whole lot more sensible as the original host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. 

Without the context of ever having seen the show though, you’re probably marveling that the same country that can produce The Beatles can make this a hit.

Chas And Dave With The Matchroom Mob
“Snooker Loopy”
#6 – 1986

In the mid 80s Snooker was big news in Britain. If nowhere else. The World Championship was a parochial affair featuring a load of Brits, a handful of Irish and Canadians with the occasional Aussie and South African for variety. Its slightly more cosmopolitan these days, largely thanks to being massive in China.

The 1985 World Championship Final was an epic battle that gripped the nation. 

In one corner:

Englishman Steve Davis was a machine – World #1, reigning and three time champion, never lost a final of any ranking event. His nickname a work of irony: Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis. 

In the other corner:

Northern Irish underdog Dennis Taylor – known more for his outsize spectacles than his playing prowess. Taylor had won one of their 12 previous meetings; the first. 

The final is a two-day affair, best of 35 frames. Enough time to paint the house, watch it dry and still catch most of the high octane action. 

  • Davis raced to a 8 – 0 lead. The machine in full effect. It was all over. 

But no. Taylor unleashed his inner Lazarus reducing the deficit to 9 – 8. From there he just about clung on til Davis stood one frame from victory at 17 – 15. 

  • Again Taylor rose up: 17 – 17. 
  • Again Davis imposed himself, leading 62 – 44 with only four balls left on the table.

Davis needed one, Taylor needed them all. He potted Brown, Blue and Pink. Just the Black left and the mother of all comebacks and father of all upsets was his. He tried an audacious double into the middle pocket and missed. 

They traded shots, both had chances at victory but in the words of the song; ‘the black ball wouldn’t go down.’

After 14 hours and 50 minutes playing time, the longest final ever, Taylor finally took his chance. It was 12:23 AM and there were still 18.5 million watching. It remains British TVs highest ever post midnight viewing figure. 

It was the high point of Snooker’s popularity. 

Like we saw in the 90s, the question of how to capitalise on sporting success was answered in execrable song. 

All that tension undone in an instant.

This time it was Chas And Dave that took on the role of experienced old hands. They were the epitome of pub rock with a genial air of salt of the earth cockney geezers down the pub.

They had formed in the sporting world having written and performed songs for Tottenham Hotspur to celebrate their 1981 and ’82 FA Cup final appearances, scoring top 20 hits with both. 

The Matchroom Mob were the stable of players looked after by promoter; Barry Hearn. Each player got their own line to mangle, Taylor standing out amongst a crowded field of ineptness for his strangled shout. 

It is, as these things tend to be, remorselessly catchy. The repeated run through of the order of potting the balls will stay with you forever. 

As it turned out, Steve Davis really was interesting. Outside of Snooker he’s a massive music fan with a passion for prog rock, soul and electronica.

He now DJs, on radio, in clubs and at festivals and has released two albums as part of the experimental electronic outfit Utopia Strong.

Who are actually pretty good. 

Tony Capstick And The Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band
“Capstick Comes Home”

#3 – 1981

We’ve got Ridley Scott to thank for this. Really. 

Before making blockbuster movies he directed commercials. His most famous being an exercise in nostalgia for Hovis bread that saw a delivery boy struggling to push a bike loaded with bread up an idyllic but steep cobbled street. The soft focus sentimentality set to the pastoral tones of Dvorak’s Symphony No.9. 

It was ripe for parody, which is where Capstick comes in. Dvorak this time is the bed for a tall tale that echoes Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch and mocks the rose tinted view of the past as a happier place.

The Hysterics
5 Tracks Of Laughter

#44 – 1981

There’s a famous ad campaign over here for Ronseal, makers of Woodstain.

The strap line being; ‘Does exactly what it says on the tin.’ 

This Hysterics E.P. allies to the Ronseal maxim. It literally is five tracks of laughter. Track 1 is Jingle Bells performed via medium of laughter. The other tracks do away with any allusion to musicality. Gesundheit is the sound of someone rendered hysterical by their sneezes. 

Possibly the most ludicrous release I’ve documented. 

Kenny Everett
“Snot Rap”
#9 – 1983

Kenny started as a DJ, including accompanying the Beatles on their final US tour in 1966 for Radio London. In the 70s he presented Kenny Everett’s World’s Worst Record shows – a kind of British Dr Demento.  

He moved into TV with The Kenny Everett Video Show, mixing music and his comic creations. These included Sid Snot, a leather clad ageing rocker and Cupid Stunt, a B-list pneumatic blonde actress that Everett played in drag complete with beard.

Snot Rap was performed in the guise of these characters trading barbs.

Along with a chorus featuring Cupid’s catchphrase, the wholly ironic; “It’s all done in the best possible taste!”

Which on the show was accompanied by energetically uncrossing and crossing his/her legs to show off his/her racy underwear. 

As you can probably tell from the name “Cupid Stunt,” the comedy was on the side of risqué. It’s hard to believe they got the name past the stuffy BBC executives for a prime time show. I can confirm as an under 10 we found Kenny one of the funniest things on TV and highly educational when it came to matters of sex.

Though it was many years before I worked out ‘Cupid Stunt.’

Star Turn On 45 (Pints)
“Pump Up The Bitter”

#12 – 1988

One of the people responsible for this wrote “Right Back Where We Started From” for Maxine Nightingale. Another was in a prog rock band in the 70s and wrote for The Hollies, Cilla Black, Will Downing and The Salsoul Orchestra. 

How did it came to this then?

A parody of “Pump Up The Volume’,’ Beat Dis,” and “Paid In Full” in the style of North East working men’s club ‘turn.’ 

For context, working men’s clubs originated in the mid 19th century as a means for working classes to access education and recreational facilities.

Over time, the recreational part, as in “a bar,” became the focus. On a weekend entertainment would be provided for all in the form of bingo, discos, comedy and live music – the musical acts colloquially referred to as the ‘turn.’

The club circuit was a self contained thing largely separate to the rest of the music industry. It could also be an unforgiving arena for any act not to the audience’s liking. 

Even with that explanation you’ll probably still be baffled…

…Whereas this still makes me smile:

The Firm
“Star Trekkin'”
#1 – 1987

Befitting a Star Trek parody its a low budget affair. The video in particular with the characters represented a la Mr. Potato Head – but with real potatoes – is the perfect economy accompaniment. Each character gets a line which gets repeated each time a new one is added, in the same way as 12 Days of Christmas. Except in this case the speeded up voices advance towards lunacy and disaster. 

It’s reign at #1, sandwiched between Whitney Houston and Pet Shop Boys, offers a perfect summation of the extremes of the UK chart.

See you next time in the 70s…

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
May 24, 2024 8:24 am

Some of this stuff is pushing the boundaries of even my tolerance. But there are some gems shining out from the abyss.

Roland Rat Superstar: “China Girl” by way of Elvis by way of Meet the Feebles? What more could one want?

Answer: Marvin the Paranoid Android. Genius.

I guess we have the Hysterics to thank for the cat and dog-sampled Christmas songs that came in later years. Even beyond that debt, this is great stuff. Guaranteed to wreak havoc on a Christmas playlist near you.

I can’t decide if “Star Turn on 45” is intriguing anthropology, or a fascinating glimpse of Hell. But whatever it is, I can’t look away.

And Cupid Stunt is a damn brilliant stage name.

As always JJ, thanks from the yanks! We appreciate the education.

Last edited 30 days ago by Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
May 24, 2024 6:10 pm

I play Beatle Barkers by The Woofer and Tweeter Ensemble a lot. I think “She Loves You” is the high-point.

Famed Member
May 27, 2024 6:01 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

It’s the precursor to this greatness:

Famed Member
Online Now
May 24, 2024 9:19 am

“The Twelve Days Of Christmas” is a lot like Norm MacDonald’s version, except he was really hoping for a hat.

Back before file sharing, my English friend and I would trade mix CDs with our favorite new songs. One she sent me had “Star Trekking” in the midst of Jamiroquai and Massive Attack. I couldn’t make sense of it but now that you’ve explained it, I still can’t make sense of it.

Famed Member
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May 24, 2024 10:00 am

Among the dozen samples, interpolations, and thefts found within “Wikka Wrap” is this one:

Jazz trumpeter Tom Browne had an unlikely hit in 1980 with “Funkin’ For Jamaica (NY),” which provides the inspiration for the chorus. Starts at 0:50.

Pauly Steyreen
Famed Member
May 24, 2024 10:42 am

Star Trekkin’ is a Dr Demento favorite and the only one I heard before.

I think most of these tracks are a reminder of our very specific, and blessedly forgotten, taste in humor in the 80’s.

Famed Member
May 24, 2024 11:00 am

Oh man, I remember that Hovis commercial. It’s practically the most nostalgic thing ever made.

I also somehow remember Steve Davis. Well I remember trying to watch TV during my year in London, trying to decide between snooker, darts, bowls, and Delia Smith. (I may be mis-remembering Smith.)

Famed Member
May 24, 2024 11:21 am

Haven’t heard any of these. Wasn’t familiar with Alan Whicker, but I liked Wikka Wrap. There was something comforting about seeing a guy looking like he could be me fronting a funk band.

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May 24, 2024 2:08 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

I only know Alan Whicker from this Monty Python sketch:

Famed Member
May 24, 2024 4:11 pm

Brits are far more tolerant of novelty music than Americans

Famed Member
May 24, 2024 6:08 pm

I came for Kraftwerk(at least Apple had the good taste to list Trans-Europe Express(#71)) and stayed for the “manic-depressive” robot. I was waiting for “Marvin The Paranoid Android” to get manic. He just sounds depressed. Nevertheless, I think it’s brilliant, too. (What’s the deal with Sweet Deal’s “Et Les Oiseaux Chantaient(And the Birds Were Singing)”? If there was an album, I bet all the songs sounded more or less the same, and somebody threw a dart when it came time to picking the single. #4?)

“Autobahn” was twenty-three minutes long. Maybe Marvin’s “Miss Gradenko”- side comes out in the unedited version.

“Han-Tyumi, The Confused Cyborg” was Marvin’s upgrade. Actually, the song is part of a suite. Han-Tyumi stays depressed throughout the next track “Soy-Protein Munt Machine”. It’s on “Vomit Coffin” that he switches gears.

I like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard a lot. They remind me of Devo.

Oh, cool. Roland Rat Superstar is King Rat. So that’s where China Mieville got the name for his debut novel.

You could have added Glenn Medeiros’ “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You”. Arguably, that’s the U.K.’s most bizarre #1.

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