As I explored in my blog post about Hi-NRG coming out of the gay nightclubs and into the UK national charts in the first half of 1984, Hi-NRG continued to be part of the British music scene through the summer and autumn of 1984. In August of that year Divine’s ‘You Think You’re A Man‘ hit number 16 and Hazell Dean’s ‘Whatever I Do, Wherever I Go‘ peaked at number 4 in the UK national charts, and were followed by Laura Branigan’s ‘Self Control‘ and Bronski Beat’s ‘Why‘ both being top ten hits. A couple of very famous San Francisco gay disco tracks had made it out of the gay clubs in earlier years, notably Patrick Cowley & Sylvester’s ‘Do Ya Wanna Funk‘ and the Boys Town Gang ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, reaching number 32 and number 4 respectively in 1982 – but until 1984, although not an unknown occurrence, such tracks making the UK top 40 had been very rare.
Back on 30th July 1983, James Hamilton had already noted in Record Mirror that some of the bigger Boys Town Disco tracks, such as Hazell Dean’s ‘Searchin’‘ and Miquel Brown’s ‘So Many Men, So Little Time‘, were getting club play in straight venues and so ran a spread about this trend stating ‘some of the hottest chart sounds around have come straight from the not-so-straight clubs and those records are starting to cross over’. The feature suggested the record list below as a guide to Boys Town disco, and mentioned some of the gay nightclubs around the UK that played Boys Town.
James Hamilton further discussed in his December 31st 1983 column how Hi-NRG and Boystown Disco continued through the year to attract mainstream following in the North of England and in Scotland, and DJs were suggesting that Hi-NRG was about to hit the national charts: ‘Tees Valley Roadshow’s Graham Murray & Alastair Jones are just off to work in Germany, leaving Cleveland in the grip of Hi-NRG fever (they say the jocks all know about our Boys Town chart and ignore ‘The Tube’!): meanwhile Gary Oldis has left Aycliffe Bee Jays for Victoria’s in sunny Scarborough, where the pop has a definite Hi-NRG bias (biggest requests still being Hazell Dean ‘Searchin’ and Ronni Griffiths ‘Breakin’ Up’) . . . If Hi-NRG does come galloping down from the frozen North and into the pop charts, as many seem to predict, it won’t be anything new — remember Kelly Marie? . . . Record Mirror’s influential Boys Town/Hi-NRG Disco chart has other less regular contributors but wouldn’t exist without the help of Ian Levine (Charing Cross Heaven), Chris Lucas (Earls Court Copacabana), Norman Scott (Haringey/Brighton Bolts) Tricky Dicky Scanes (London Dicks Inns), Adrian Dunbar (Southampton Warehouse), Gary Allan (Liverpool Concert Street), Bill Grainger (Edinburgh Fire Island)’.
Although Hi-NRG was not the only dance music around in the UK in 1984, there was club and chart success for Break-Dance and nascent Hip Hop tracks, as James Hamilton called it ‘a flurry of beat boxes and a slither of scratching’, as well as New York electro (such as Shannon’s ‘Let The Music Play’), combined with the continued domination of Soul and Funk in British straight nightclubs. Yet, there was a flurry of excitement around Hi-NRG, and it managed to get coverage across the British music press. Prior to 1984, Record Mirror had been a lone voice in the British music press about gay disco music by publishing its Boystown Disco and Hi-NRG charts since 1982, but in July 1984, the teen orientated pop music magazine ‘Smash Hits’ ran an article (see below) about the current success of Hi-NRG, and a brief explanation of its roots in the gay clubs. Even more surprisingly, the rock and indie orientated ‘New Musical Express’ (NME) published its own Hi-NRG charts (supplied by the Record Shack shop in London) in 1984.
Considering most Hi-NRG tracks were released on very small, independent record labels, one wonders why what was essentially gay disco suddenly attracted the attention of the wider music industry. Perhaps the commercial success New Order’s ‘Blue Monday‘ hitting the UK top 40 in September 1983 and peaking at number 9 in October of that year opened the doors (and ears) of the music industry to the commercial possibilities of Hi-NRG amongst the record buying public. Much has been written about the influences behind New Order’s writing and production of ‘Blue Monday’, where they stated that they found the Boys Town Disco as played in the New York gay nightclubs refreshing and energetic. Indeed, ‘Blue Monday’ owes more than a nod of thanks to Bobby Orlando’s and Patrick Cowley’s arpeggiated synth and frantic tempo productions, and perhaps explains why New Order didn’t take any action against Bobby ‘O’ when he released his fairly blatant take on ‘Blue Monday’ in the form of Divine’s ‘Love Reaction‘. By 1984 it was probably inevitable that Hi-NRG would appeal to the wider public, who were ready to indulge in dancing to and buying into this not so subtly sexually charged gay disco, and send the tracks into the top ten of the national charts. Mind you, Hazell Dean and Ian Levine’s Record Shack roster of artists had spent much of their time in 1983 and 1984 touring the whole of Britain in both gay and straight nightclubs, pushing their records with constant PA appearances and bringing Hi-NRG to a much wider audience.
My own journey into Hi-NRG began in July 1984, aged 18. Having realised I was gay at around the age of 13, I was in a no man’s land for the next five years as a teenager, as I was leading very sheltered life, locked away in a remote Scottish boarding school. My school had a very religious ethos, and was distinctly anti-gay – there was certainly no sexual experimentation going, despite the enduring idea amongst the public at large that British boys boarding schools were hot beds of gay sex – sorry to disappoint the British tabloid press on this score! There certainly wasn’t any way of obtaining positive affirmation amongst my peers for being gay, and to have hinted to anyone that I might be gay would have led to complete disgrace. Which is actually what happened to me, resulting in my parents being asked to remove me from the school a couple of terms before I was due to finish school, just before my 18th birthday, as the rumours swirling about me meant my presence was no longer welcomed, and I was deemed to be a poor reflection on the school’s reputation. I was very happy to leave in any case, as I could no longer tolerate the daily torrents of homophobic bullying, which went on right under the noses of the masters of the school, and who were seemingly oblivious to this bullying – or maybe didn’t actually care about it.
Having left school, I quickly found out that there was some sort of gay life in my local city, Aberdeen. In 1984, Aberdeen was one of the few boom towns in Britain, thanks to the burgeoning oil industry and the city’s well respected university, which brought people from all over the world to the city. A gay disco had been held on a Friday night since the late 70s/early 80s in a dive bar near the harbour – not the finest area in town! The bar had a disco on the first floor, which was used as an infamous strippers club on other nights of the week. I recall my first visit to the disco, where I was turned away at the door by being told that the night was a ‘private party’ – it took all my courage to persuade the doorman that I knew what sort of ‘private party’ was being held there, and that I would like to be allowed in! The disco on the first floor was not like a shiny nightclub in a major city – it was very provincial and a bit scummy, with plaster peeling of the walls, and a vinyl dance floor that your feet stuck to thanks to the spilled beer – it wasn’t anywhere near the experience of one of the gay super nightclubs such as Heaven in London or Rockshots in Newcastle.
I have memories of the first couple of times I went to Daisy’s, and thinking to myself, ‘I don’t really like this disco crap they are playing’! I was a few years younger than those who came out to the San Francisco sound of Patrick Cowley, and instead top 40 chart hits such as Divine’s ‘You Think You’re A Man‘, Frankie’s ‘Two Tribes‘, Hazell Dean’s ‘Whatever I Do‘, Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy‘ and the Pointer Sisters ‘Jump‘ were on heavy rotation at Daisy’s in my early disco going days.
Alongside the Hi-HRG chart hits above, the DJs at Daisy’s played a mixture of pop dance (Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin‘, Chaka Khan’s ‘I Feel For You‘, Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Together In Electric Dreams‘) alongside a good smattering of Ian Levine’s copious output and the latest US and European imports that were currently big in the more famous nightclubs of the big cites (Jolo’s ‘Last Call‘, Samantha Gilles ‘Let Me Feel It‘ and Venus ‘One Shot Lover‘ were some of the very popular import tracks). I had become impressed by the way the music was played – I had never heard DJs beat mix before, and I fell in love with how the two DJs took their audience on a disco journey through the evening, with a constant mix of music without any banal microphone talking.
What began to appeal to me about the music I was hearing at Daisy’s was that I realised it wasn’t mainstream – it was was gay disco music, and belonged to us, the gay community. Many of the artists, Hazell Dean, Norma Lewis, Carol Jiani, Miquel Brown and the other Record Shack Divas, amongst others, spent their careers supporting the gay community with PA appearances in gay clubs and at Gay Pride events – indeed Hazell Dean remains a major supporter and contributor to gay rights today.
I found the music, with its in you face attitude and lyrics of empowerment and self worth, was a huge inspiration to me as a very young gay man, who had been told at school I was almost beyond redemption, and that getting into the music had became part of my bid for freedom to be who I was and who I wanted to be, and to leave my recent past of homophobic harassment and intimidation behind. I was very fortunate to find myself coming out just as gay disco music itself was finding it way into the mainstream – which was very powerful for a less than worldly wise 18 year old, and encouraged me to remain well and truly outside the closet. I really began to get the excitement generated in Ian Levine’s pounding, clanky and clattery Record Shack productions sung with gusto by his stable of booming voiced divas, and found myself buying Miquel Brown’s ‘Black Leather‘, Earlene Bentley’s ‘Caught In The Act‘ and Barbara Pennington’s ‘All American Boy‘ at the local HMV record store. I was also fortunate enough to meet Hazell Dean and Marsha Raven after their PA performances at a swanky straight club called ‘Champers’ in Aberdeen in 1984, and their lovely attitude was another step on my road to my own acknowledgement that as a gay man, I had every right to be equal in society.
I didn’t know about the Record Mirror Hi-NRG charts back then, but found a few Hi-NRG mixer LPs and the Passion Tracking Compilation LPs at the local HMV record shop, and these were a means of getting to further experience the sound of Hi-NRG disco. Once I started to dig deeper into the tracks I was hearing and dancing to at Daisy’s, and finding I was building a small record collection, I wanted to know more, much more, about this form of Disco music. I would find out about, and buy many of the import tracks that were popular at Daisy’s a few months later, once I started to buy Record Mirror and discovered there were a couple of import record shops in London who would sell these import records by mail order – I haven’t stopped digging and investigating 37 years later!
As much as I love all the records from 1984, after much deliberation I have tried to think about, and with difficulty choose, the ten records I would keep from the flames if I was forced to from 1984. Here are my ten top favourites (in no particular order), and they are all tracks that take me back to Daisy’s in 1984, and so have a very special place in my heart:
To give an idea of what a Friday at Daisy’s sounded like in summer/autumn 1984, here is a mix I did from some of the songs the DJs played back then, and are subsequently responsible for my enduring love of Hi-NRG disco:
I have now posted over 160 Hi-NRG and Italo Disco entires from the Record Mirror Hi-NRG Radio Stad Den Haag, and other Hi-NRG charts of 1984 onto my YouTube channel to a great deal of interaction from my subscribers and the many new friends I have made doing the YouTube channel. For fun, I have come up with a sort of chart of these 1984 entries, based firstly on the number of likes each track gets, then on the number of views. Hopefully it gives an insight into which tracks have stood the test of time in 2021. Follow this YouTube Playlist to find all the songs.
For further digging into Hi-NRG and Italo Disco from 1984, here are a few more outstanding tracks that failed to make either the Record Mirror or RSDH charts in 1984, but have come across collectors’ radars and appeared in DJ mixes in more recent years:
In the next post I’ll move onto the Hi-NRG and Italo Disco charts for 1985.
1985 was probably my favourite year for the music, and I have hundreds of tracks to put on my Youtube Channel. So there may be some delays between each blog post as I put each relevant song onto Youtube – bear with me and see you in 1985!