Music of 1986

Like Punk Never Happened: January 1-14, 1986

Nick Rhodes with ‘Moist’ by Nancy Dwyer: “I don’t know why I like this.”

Duran Duran are completely disgusting, and crass and offensive….  Rock music is finished – it’s dead wood.

Mick Hucknall (of all people)

I don’t think anyone could call Duran Duran satanic.  Duran Duran are just awful.

Midge Ure

1985 was a great year for Duran Duran given how much hate mail they received from their colleagues in 1985.  It was the year they did side projects, and the Bond theme.  It was also the year that Simon Le Bon got a boat called Drum and almost drowned.  If you nodded your head when you read that then you were probably about my age in 1985, because only someone about my age in 1985 would have given two hoots that someone called Simon Le Bon had a boat called Drum.

The first issue of Smash Hits for 1986 was a kind of year-in-review issue for 1985 and contains some reminders of that year that make you shake your head.

Cameo (famous in New Zealand for Word Up) had a minor hit with She’s Strange.   The video memorably features the lead singer wandering through a set of washing lines with pegged up neon lycra leggings, and this promo shot.


If I was trying to read minds I would suggest that the dude in the middle is thinking: “shoot me, just f*&king do it”, but the video is a powerful summary of plastic’s new foray into clothing and all the modernity that this was thought to represent.  Far more serious things were occurring than Lycra however.

Perhaps the moment of greatest shame for the West during the depths of the Cold War – a pop period delivering Two Tribes, and Russians – would be this.


Wham have a very peculiar place in the history of East-West relations in the 1980s being the first western pop band to play China after the Cultural Revolution.  Although they probably thought they were the vanguard of Western freedoms they actually seem to have played to an audience of party hangers-on (the tickets were expensive) who didn’t  understand what was happening at the concert.  Footage of the concerts is notable for Andrew Rdigley’s tartan pant, shirt, overcoat combo, and lines of seated Chinese in the audience staring and hesitantly clapping in off time.  There is a very funny article about this tour on the BBC website, the highlight for me being this gem:

A cassette tape featuring Wham!’s songs on one side, and Cheng Fangyuan’s Chinese covers on the other, was handed to each concertgoer.  The Chinese version [of Wake Me Up], performed in the opening act, by singer Cheng Fangyuan added some Communist flair:

Wake me up before you go go.

Compete with the sky to go high, high.

Wake me up before you go go

Men fight to be first to reach the peak

Wake me up before you go go

Women are on the same journey and will not fall behind.

Women are on the same journey.  Funnier and more honest would have been “women are on a similar journey; slightly behind”.

1985 also seems to be the year that Andrew Ridgley’s reason for existence began to be openly derided.  Presumably because Make It Big made it abundantly clear that George was phenomenally talented and that Andrew looked nice.  Andrew started crashing racing cars to find something to do with his time.

I’m sure George Michael had a lot of memorable things to say during 1985 but this line stands out ironically for a man who would become famous in a later decade for batting for the other team:

The earth’s never moved for me.

You don’t say.

George also released a song with Elton John in late 1985 called Wrap Her Up.  It’s terrible, although watching it reminds me that Elton and George were both in the closet then, and that in the wild hedonistic ride of the 80s homosexuality was definitely not part of the acceptable vocabulary.  So, Wrap Her Up is two gay men singing about getting women delivered to them like a present; one of those unwelcome presents you kind of pretend to be thankful for in order to be polite while wishing you had gotten something else.

Also, this is what Elton was doing in 1985-6 to try and combat his baldness.


I believe that this is a permed mullet.  It’s one step from here to the bald man with a pony tail.  People sometimes ask me why I don’t grow my hair longer; I think that Elton John is the reason.  I grew up watching his battle with hair and concluded that you just need to face baldness full in the follicles.

In New Zealand his single Nikita would be at number one by the end of January.  The less we make of the untouchable ice queen theme the better.

It’s often worth following up on the smallest things in Smash Hits.  One tiny sidebar tells us to look out for Belouis Some’s latest single Imagination, “If there’s any justice in this world, this will be a ruddy hit this time.”  I’ve not heard of him and the video for Imagination explains why: it looks very expensive but also totally unplayable on TV which seems like a real money loser for his record label.  Before you watch it you should know – and I can’t believe that I’m saying this for a song in Smash Hits in 1986 – it’s not work friendly because (a) it features lots of  boobies, (b) a very full bush, and (c) one of the funniest sexy eating scenes predating Hot Shots.  There was a bit of this erotic sex fantasy stuff about;  Frankie’s banned Relax video being a case in point.

Into this heady mix came AIDS.  The Listener began 1984 by contemplating the emergence of this new disease in 1983, and it puts a difficult and dark bass note through a lot of the frothy pop of the period.  It also made homosexuality, always bubbling under in the 80s, face a new kind of stigma – one that bubble machines like Smash Hits faithfully steered away from.

All of that, of course, was a long, long way from my 12 year old mind.  At the end of 1985 I finished Form Two.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

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