Back in 1981 James Hamilton noted in his Record Mirror Disco column, that despite the “Death Of Disco” at the end of the 1970s, the desire for a different type of dance music was being demanded by the gay clubs in the UK. Gay clubs were looking to faster BPM (usually around 120 – 140 BPM), less funky dance music such as that coming from the USA, Canada, Italy and much of Continental Europe, rather than the soul/jazz funk that was gaining popularity in mainstream British dance club culture. The insight from Record Mirror on 5th May 1981 (see above) illustrated the frustration of DJs in British gay nightclubs, in that they were having to rely on old standards such as “Love Insurance” sung by Sharon Redd (but credited as Front Page), Viola Wills’ “If You Could Read My Mind” or Phyllis Nelson’s “Don’t Stop The Train” to cater to their audiences, and that there was nothing being produced in Britain to satisfy to this market. In an interview, Ian Levine, the main DJ at London’s Heaven, said the scene was looking for music that sounded like Giorgio Moroder, but with a different take.
The songs placed in the Record Mirror Boystown/Hi-NRG charts of 1982 and 1983 show how much of the music being played in British Gay clubs relied on American, Canadian and European dance trends; how heavily it was influenced by the productions of Bobby Orlando & Patrick Cowley in the US, or Lime in Canada, and by American labels such as Megatone and Moby Dick. Megatone and Moby Dick releases, whose productions were originally aimed at a gay nightclub audience, and had some commercial successes in the US with, amongst others, Patrick Cowley and Sylvester’s “Do Ya Wanna Funk“; Paul Parker’s “Right On Target“, and Lisa’s “Rocket To Your Heart” becoming top ten hits in the Billboard Dance Charts in 1982 and 1983, showing how disco music was evolving in different directions in the early 80s.
By 1984, this North American and European influenced less funky, synthesiser led disco was in full swing on the British Gay Scene, leading to the establishment of independent British Hi-NRG record labels such as Passion, Record Shack, ERC, Electricity and Proto amongst others, producing dance records for the scene, as well as licencing a few US and European tracks for UK release. Alongside this, underground imports from America, Canada and Europe would still continue to be big hitters in the Record Mirror Hi-NRG charts, especially if the records had been big hits in super clubs like The Saint in New York.
In January 1984 some of the records that had been hugely popular in the gay clubs for the previous six to twelve months started to make an impact on the British top 40 national charts. On 13th January 1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” went to number 1 for four weeks, although this was considerably helped by its being banned by the BBC! The week of 13th January 1984 also saw Gloria Gaynor’s “I Am What I Am” reaching its top spot of number 13, and Eartha Kitt’s “Where Is My Man” getting to number 36. By the end of January, The Weather Girls “It’s Raining Men” reached number 2, despite initially having been released in the US in September 1982 and in the UK in August of 1983. The mainstream chart successes of these songs started the trend of Hi-NRG disco crossing over into the national charts and becoming one of the major pop chart themes of 1984.
During the spring and early summer of 1984 Hi-NRG sounds continued to come out of the gay discos in the UK and enter the wider public consciousness, making inroads into the national charts, with the artists were appearing on the the biggest British pop programme, the BBC’s ‘Top Of The Pops’.
By June 1984, Hi-NRG dance tracks were filling the top ten national chart places, starting with Hazell Dean’s “Searchin’“, which had been re-released after it became a top 10 hit in the US Dance Charts, peaking at number 6 in the UK Top 40 on 3rd June 1984. The following week, on 10th June, Evelyn Thomas scored a top 5 hit with her eponymous anthem, “High Energy“, and she was followed on by Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” hitting number 3 on 17th June. A high point was the chart of June 24th, when Frankie Goes to Hollywood held both number one and number two spots with “Two Tribes” and “Relax” respectively. The final national UK chart of June 1984 saw the Pointer Sisters reach number 6 with “Jump (For My Love)“, a track that had been in the Record Mirror Hi-NRG chart for 19 weeks, originally on US import prior to its British release, since February 1984.
The national chart successes of this Hi-NRG disco sound would pave the way for the Stock, Aitken and Waterman production team to begin to conquer the charts in the second half of 1984 with their own take on Hi-NRG disco, turning Hi-NRG into commercially successful pop-dance.
Having now posted 88 tracks from the Record Mirror Hi-NRG and Radio Stad Den Haag charts from January to June 1984 on my Youtube channel, I thought it would be fun to see what caught listeners attention in 2021, giving a possible insight as to which tracks have stood the test of time.
Based on my channel’s viewers’ positive reactions, the amount of likes they have given the songs, and the amount of views each of the songs has got, I have come up with a sort of Top 30 for those first six months of 1984.
My Youtube channel has a regular world wide viewer audience from Mexico, the US, Japan, the UK, Poland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and many other countries, who are quite proactive in viewing, liking, and very occasionally disliking, the tracks I post. Here are the tracks the channel viewers have liked the most in 2021, taken from the January to June 1984 Record Mirror Hi-NRG and Radio Stad Den Haag chart entries I have posted:
This is a really fabulous chart, with more of an underground rather than overtly commercially popular flavour, not only for bringing in some lesser known songs, but also for being such a varied mix of British, North American and European tracks, and not focussing on the well known big hits. However, it’s not a chart I could have come up with myself, as I would not personally have chosen some of these songs to be in my own top 30!
There are some real surprises amongst the songs here, and what is really noticeable about this chart, is the fact that none of the famous Hi-NRG international chart hits from this period did well for likes and views on my channel. Indeed the original 12″ of Evelyn Thomas “High Energy” was one of the least liked and least viewed of the 88 songs I posted. However, the viewers responded really quickly and positively to the Belgian Remix of “High Energy“, sending it straight up to number 1 in my chart within 48 hours of my posting it on the channel!
No way in the world would I have guessed that Mimi’s “The Man’s So Real” would be number two, or Astaire’s “Love Trap” at being number three – their popularity in 2021 were a real surprise. It’s interesting to note that all but five of the songs are in the higher BPM range of 130-149 BPMs, so the channel listeners definitely have a liking for faster paced songs in 2021.
Amongst the most popular UK releases, aside from Mimi, Evelyn Thomas and Astaire in the top three places, were Kevin Anthony Roberts’ re-works of Northern Soul classics on his Electricity Records label from Kofi & The Lovetones, Velvette and Linda Lewis , which all fared well.
From the Youtube reactions, it is apparent that Bobby Orlando’s productions still command a great deal of kudos with four of his records (Wow’s “Bring On The Men“, Hotline’s “Guilty“, New York Models “Fashion” and his own “I Pretend“) in this top 30.
American productions with soulful power torch song vocals and a slight pop-rock twist (Scherrie Payne, Gem, Pamala Stanley and Nina Schiller), which were hugely popular in The Saint in New York back in the day, and European synth/dance (Digital Emotion, Rofo, David Christie, The Twins and Electric Theatre), Italo Disco (K. Barré and Cyber People) and Canadian Disco (Gillian Lane) all got a strong showing in this 2021 chart.
These 30 wonderful songs perfectly illustrate what I have loved about Hi-NRG and Italodisco since I first started dancing to it back in 1984. Along with pounding beats and bass, soaring vocals and percussive breaks, the songs have a frisson of excitement, with undercurrents of some slightly forbidden sexual desire and longing, focussing on the allure of the night and finding attraction and satisfaction, as in Paul Parker’s “Desire” and Cinema’s “I Love Men“. Other songs speak of losing love and surviving lost loves in the best disco tradition, all mixed in with the dark synths of European space disco and the individuality of Italo Disco.
The chart is none the less a really classy selection of very strong and powerful Hi-NRG tracks that would have got me dancing in a club at any point in the last 37 years! Might, I wonder, would a triple CD set of these tracks be commercially successful in 2021, supposing anyone knew how to get all the relevant copyright permissions, let alone all the original recordings, for commercial release? Such a compliation could be a marvellous introduction into the world of Hi-NRG for those who don’t know what it the genre is – which in reality s nothing more than upbeat, feel good dance music!
In the absence of such a physical collection of these songs, I have created a playlist of all these tracks on Youtube, and it can be found here: YouTube Hi-NRG Top 30 January – June 1984
Sadly only a few of these tracks are on Spotify, and those that are on Spotify are mostly shortened, ‘re-recorded’ or updated remix versions, so I couldn’t create a playlist there, but I did try!
One song that I was surprised didn’t enter either the Record Mirror Chart or The Radio Stad Den Haag Chart, despite being released in both the UK and Holland, was this ultimate piece of classic Hi-NRG by Canadian Disco Diva, Karen Silver:
Karen Silver – “I Don’t Wanna Fall In Love Again” (Canadian Power 12in)
Amongst the wonderful things about doing this blog, my Youtube channel and my mixes, is that I get into great on-line interactions, conversations and reminiscences about clubbing back in 80s, and lots of people have given me their memories of the songs, and how much this music means to them. They have also been kind enough to suggest songs I didn’t know, and two of their brilliant suggestions have been these tracks, which they fondly remember being played in Heaven in London and in South Africa back in early 1984:
Virgina David – “Am I Normal” (UK RCA 12in)
Gail Houston – “Forever” (US Esquire 12in)
To round this post off, here’s a mix I made last year, based on the Record Mirror Hi-NRG charts from May 1984, a couple of months before I was to start going clubbing and experiencing the music for myself:
In the next post I’ll return to the Record Mirror and Radio Stad Den Haag charts for July 1984.