4. “Breakfast in Bed” by UB40
I’m going to try and untangle just what was going on with UB40 on the Billboard charts in the fall of 1988. On the Hot 100 chart, the band was rapidly climbing with a new version of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine,” which would eventually reach #1 (preceded and followed at the top of the chart by absolute junk). It’s probably more accurate to describe the gently loping, Brit boy reggae of the UB40 take as a cover of Tony Tribe’s 1969 go-round with the song. Diamond reportedly didn’t especially care for the good time vibe of the reggae versions, but, being an entertainer astutely aware of the financial benefits of keeping his audience happy, the solitary man eventually gave in to the Jamaican groove. Though “Red, Red Wine” was a massive, unavoidable hit in the U.S. in 1988, the track was five years old at that point, having originally appeared on the band’s 1983 covers album Labour of Love. And while this was happening on the pop charts, the newly created Modern Rock chart was ignoring “Red, Red Wine” altogether in favor of a cover of “Breakfast in Bed,” which was originally performed by Dusty Springfield on her landmark Dusty in Memphis album but had been transformed into reggae versions many times before, as early as a year or two after the first version. It’s probably also worth noting that the UB40 version of “Breakfast in Bed” featured Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders duetting with regular lead singer Ali Campell, a pairing that had also occurred on a cover of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” that had been the band’s first U.S. Top 40 hit three years earlier. Just writing all that up was exhausting.
3. “Crash” by The Primitives
Now we’re getting somewhere. Much as I acknowledge the distance between this commercial chart and the tracks favored by noncommercial, largely student-run radio stations that were largely inclined towards the same artists, I still find it remarkable how many of the songs on this Top 20 don’t register much at all in my memories of the music that roared across our airwaves that fall. This perfect pop gem, on the other hand, was one of the signature songs of my opening weeks in college radio. “Crash” was the lead single from Lovely, the debut album from The Primitives. Hailing from Coventy, England, the band’s spectacularly catchy songs were largely the handiwork of handiwork of guitarist Paul Court, although it was lead singer Tracy Cattell (known alternately as Tracy Tracy or Tracey Tracey, depending on where you were looking at any given time) who commanded most of the attention. The diminutive bottle-blonde was an obvious asset in an era when bands were still reliant of generous music video airplay in order to succeed. She delivered the songs with a alluring distance and a coy sexuality, playing up a sweet indifference to her own considerable attractiveness. There were some superficial comparisons to Debbie Harry and Blondie at the time of the album’s release, but Harry stalked the stage as someone in total, unquestioned command while Tracey Tracey implied that the pining boys were going to need to come to her. Vital as the lead singer’s presence was, it wouldn’t have mattered if the songwriting wasn’t there. And “Crash” (credited to Court, along with Tracey and bassist Steve Dullaghan) is about as good as any song released that whole fall–hell, that whole year.
20 and 19: “All I Wanted” and “Don’t Walk Away”
18 and 17: “Back on the Breadline” and “Motorcrash”
16 and 15: “Dumb Things” and “Don’t Go”
14 and 13: “Liar Liar” and “High Time”
12 and 11: “Up There and Down There” and “Christine”
10 and 9: “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” and “What’s the Matter Here”
8 and 7: “Wild Wild West” and “All That Money Wants”
6 and 5: “Intoxication” and “Tumblin’ Down”