1985 has become my favourite year of the 80s for music. The tracks being played in the bars and the clubs I went to had morphed from the early 80s disco/soul mixed with the experimentation of Patrick Cowley’s productions, and Ian Levine’s camp, clattery, identikit output, which had begun to sound somewhat dated, into polished pop friendly productions with more of a rock rhythm. It is not to say that the Boystown and Hi-NRG classics hadn’t left their mark on the music played in the gay clubs. The prominent pulverising bass lines of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes‘ and New Order’s ‘Blue Monday‘, along with Bobby Orlando’s synth stabs and cowbells remained in the music, although guitar riffs were becoming more of a feature on American and Italian releases, and new synthesiser technology and instruments brought a clearer and tighter sound, more along the lines of Giogio Moroder’s polished pop/rock AOR productions. Sounds that would develop over the next couple of years also began to mix into the music too, such as Latin freestyle, as heard on the likes of Lime’s Unexpected Lovers LP.
Some of Hi-NRGs most enduring classics were released in 1985, including Lime’s ‘Unexpected Lovers‘, and Bobby ‘O’s almost carbon copy of the song, ‘Whisper To A Scream‘. Other all time Hi-NRG classics from 1985, which have often found themselves on later Hi-NRG compilation CDs, DJ mix sets and on-line platform playlists include Angie Gold’s ‘Eat You Up‘; Bronski Beat’s ‘Hit That Perfect Beat‘; Modern Rocketry’s ‘Homosexuality‘; Phyllis Nelson’s ‘I Like You‘; Jennifer Holliday’s ‘No Frills Love‘ and Jackie Rawe’s ‘I Believe In Dreams‘. Jeanie Tracy’s cover of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way‘ proved to be a prototype for the Communards to cover the song again in a similar style, and have a huge commercial hit with their version in 1986.
Disco diva stalwarts such as Madleen Kane and Pamala Stanley released new tracks in this rockier dance style during 1985. Alongside them, 70s soul divas such as Betty Wright and Natalie Cole released banging dance numbers in this pop/rock dance style, which were quite different from anything they had previously released. Betty Wright’s relentlessly pounding ‘Sinderella‘ is perhaps my all time favourite Hi-NRG track, with its non stop synth stabs and machine gun like clap machines, whilst Natalie Cole’s ‘Dangerous‘ visits the sound scapes of the Pointer Sisters 1984 mega hit ‘Break Out’ LP. Even very long established artists, not normally associated with gay club dance floors, released tracks in this pop/rock dance vein, and club remixes of Santana’s ‘Say It Again‘ and Frankie Valli’s ‘Streetfighter‘ were two tracks that burned up the dance floors in 1985, and possibly help to illustrate the defining sound of the dance floors at Heaven in London and The Saint in New York in that year.
Hollywood film soundtracks heavily featured these pop/rock dance tracks, which then crossed over on to the gay dance floors, and into the Hi-NRG charts in the UK and USA. They also fared well in Billboard Magazine’s Hot Dance Club Play charts. Stephanie Mills ‘Bit By Bit‘, Melissa Manchester’s ‘Thief Of Hearts‘, Patti Labelle’s ‘New Attitude‘ and Carol Lynn Townes ‘Believe In The Beat‘ were all big dance floor tracks in 1985 that came from box office blockbusters. Pamala Stanley’s ‘If Looks Could Kill‘ would be used in the 1986 Arnold Schwarzenegger film ‘Raw Deal’. The ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ movie sound track provided an enduring Saint classic with Rainey’s ‘I Can Fly‘, once it had been given and extended remix courtesy of Disconet. The film also featured ‘(Come On) Shout‘, a little known Patti Labelle style Hi-NRG belter by Alex Brown. The success of the 1984 film ‘Footloose’ enabled Bonnie Tyler’s Hi-NRG disco tinged pop/rock anthem ‘Holding Out For A Hero‘ to finally reach number 2 in the UK charts in August 1985, over a year after it had been initially released, and had originally charted at number 96 for just one week.
Hi-NRG and other dance tracks originating in the gay clubs had less of an impact on the British national charts in 1985 than they did in 1984, although Dead Or Alive began the year by giving Stock, Aitken & Waterman their first number on hit with ‘You Spin Me Round‘, and continued to give SAW another three Hi-NRG inspired chart hits during the year. Intriguingly, a remix of Canadian act Trans-X’s 1983 Hi-NRG club classic ‘Living On Video‘ became a British top 10 hit in the autumn of 1985. Maria Vidal’s ‘Body Rock‘ had been immensely popular in the gay clubs since the autumn of 1984, and a bootleg remix by Dutch DJ and remixer Peter Slaghuis, ensured it remained at the forefront of club Djs sets throughout most of 1985. ‘Body Rock’ crossed over into the national charts, peaking at number 11 in September 1985.
Different music styles were played in the gay clubs on some nights for different audiences. Heaven had a mid-week alternative synth indie night, and some clubs and bars played more traditional British soul/funk and pop chart hits. However the main Friday and Saturday nights at the big gay clubs (Heaven in London, Rockshots in Newcastle, The Nightingale in Birmingham, Fire Island in Edinburgh and those in the gay holiday towns of Brighton and Blackpool) still played Hi-NRG, often mixed with current chart hits. The Record Mirror charts of 1985 show the music moving towards the American style Pop/Rock dance tracks I’ve already mentioned, undoubtedly influenced by the DJ sets being played at American clubs like The Saint. Although some European releases had been hits on gay dance floors in the early 80s, in 1985 European dance tracks, coming most notably out of Italy and Germany, found a massive appeal. Such was the influx of European dance tracks onto the dance floors and into the Record Mirror Hi-NRG chart, that after much deliberation in James Hamiltons’ Discos’ column, the chart was renamed Eurobeat in late 1985, although American, Canadian and British Hi-NRG 130+ BPM tracks still featured prominently. The chart would continue to be called Eurobeat until mid way through 1987, when its name reverted to Hi-NRG.
The Italo disco tracks that took British and American gay dance floors by storm were all major Continental chart hits during 1985. Den Harrow’s ‘Future Brain‘ and Silver Pozzoli’s ‘Around My Dream’ had been top 30 hits in many European territories, whilst Baltimora’s ‘Tarzan Boy‘ became a top 3 UK chart hit in September 1985. Other notable Italo Disco tracks that were hot on the dance floors were Ken Laszlo’s ‘Tonight‘, Yvonne Kay’s (AKA. Spagna) ‘Rise Up (For My Love)‘ and Fun Fun’s ‘Give Me Your Love‘. Taffy’s ‘I Love My Radio‘ was also a top 30 chart hit in several European territories in 1985, but it wouldn’t become popular on UK gay dance floors until the spring and summer of 1986. Euro Disco tracks, especially German ones like Lian Ross’ ‘Fantasy‘, Fancy’s ‘Chinese Eyes‘, Mike Mareen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark‘, Sandra’s ‘(I’ll Never Be) Maria Magdalena‘, C.C. Catch’s ‘I Can Lose My Heart Tonight‘ and ex-Flirts member Linda Jo Rizzo’s ‘Fly Me High‘ were equally popular on dance floors during 1985. All of these artists’ subsequent releases would go on to be popular in gay night clubs throughout the rest of the decade.
Perhaps it was the use, especially in Italy, of a few native English speaking American and British songwriters (such as Naimy Hackett and Simona Zanini), and sometimes singers (such as Tom Hooker, Taffy and Simona Zanini), as well as the improvements in production values, that helped Italian songs in particular to become more popular on the dance floors in the English speaking world. Licensing deals enabled some of these tracks to be released in the USA, thereby giving them a much wider international circulation, as well as them benefitting from a US remix. The American Magazine Dance Music Report Hi-NRG top 80 for 1985 wonderfully represents this mixture of Pop/Rock dance and Euro/Italo Disco that burned up the dance floors, perhaps much more accurately than the Record Mirror 1985 Hi-NRG Year End top 30 chart, which still had an over representation of Ian Levine’s Records Shack productions – make of that what you will, but it is not surprising that many in the UK queried the accuracy of the Record Mirror Hi-NRG chart, and accusations of foul play were never far from the surface with this chart! Although in fairness, as a number of British DJs from the scene at the time have subsequently told me, British DJs would play these Ian Levine releases as they were mailed out to the DJs for free by Record Shack!
Outside the gay clubs, major pop phenomena that would remain a constant later in the decade were bubbling to the surface. By 1985 Madonna had already established herself as one of the biggest pop acts of the decade, and James Hamilton would end many of his ‘Discos’ column reviews with a barbed comment like ‘It has to Be Madonna!’. Whitney Houston scored her first big hit with ‘Saving All My Love for You’, and would go on to rival Madonna in the pop dance stakes for the rest of the decade. Two British synth pop sensations, with roots firmly in gay disco, began to make waves in 1985. At the end of the year the Pet Shop Boys released a re-recorded version of their 1984 Bobby ‘O’ produced track, ‘West End Girls’. The track would go on to be a massive hit in early 1986, and would pave the way for their enduring pop career. Similarly, another 80s pop dynamo duo, Erasure, released their first album and two singles in 1985, including ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)‘, although top 40 chart success would elude them until late 1986.
What was noticeable was the that the music played in the clubs, and certainly the lyrics of the songs, had become much less sexually charged nature than they had been in previous years. No longer were titles like ‘It’s Raining Men’ or So Many Men, So Little Time’ so much a feature of the music. With the AIDS crisis well under way, understandably restraint was becoming the order of the day. Another feature of the music being played in British gay clubs were lower BPM tracks like Bucks Fizz’ ‘I Hear Talk‘ and Miquel Brown’s ‘Close To Perfection‘. These lower BPM tracks had their origins in the so called ‘Sleeze’ or ‘Morning’ music played at American clubs like The Saint during the dawn hours, as clubbers came down from the highs of the BPMs, and whatever chemicals they had imbibed! British clubs couldn’t open much beyond 2 or 3 am due to draconian licensing laws, but these tracks were used in Britain either as early evening starter tracks to get the mood going, or as wind down tracks as closing time approached.
For me 1985 was a transformative year. I moved from the parochial provincialism of small town Scotland to London to begin my university studies. Whilst I couldn’t afford to go clubbing very much, I did go to Heaven twice, and was treated PA by the fabulously wonderful Gloria Gaynor on one occasion. Heaven was more than an eye opener – for a 19 year old fairly naive gay man it was more than I had ever expected. Hundreds of gay men dancing together, and the music played on such powerful equipment, beneath the most technically advanced light show – it was an experience I will never forget! I did however use up quite a bit of my student maintenance money by buying too many records. I had found a little specialist record shop that imported and sold all the latest Hi-NRG 12 inch records. Having become quite friendly with the owner, Richard ‘Tricky Dicky’ Scanes, who had been a mainstay of the British gay club scence since the 1970s, and the other guys who worked in the shop, I spent quite a lot of time at Record Cellar, which was a temptingly 10 minute walk away from my college! Although I hadn’t heard some of the records being played in the clubs listed in the Record Mirror Hi-NRG charts, I could listen to those tracks in Record Cellar, and then buy them, usually on the first few bars pricking up my ears!
The prevailing rock/pop dance sound of American Hi-NRG, and the infectiousness of Italo and Euro Disco of 1985 was very well suited to my ears. As I primarily listened to American AOR like Laura Branigan, Pat Benatar, Animotion, Toni Basil and Billy Idol on my walkman, it is no wonder that tracks like David Knopfler’s ‘Shockwave‘, Al Corley’s ‘Square Rooms‘, and a later find, Sean Heyden’s ‘Party Boy‘, that had become favourites on gay dance floors, would become favourites of mine too!
I also bought these three compilations on tape for my walkman in the autumn of 1985. They proved to be a fabulous introduction into Euro and Italo Disco. I loved every track on them, from Fancy’s ‘Check It Out‘ and L-Vira’s ‘Talkin’ Bout Rambo‘ to Valerie Dore’s ‘The Night‘. I never tired of listening to them!
What I had learned in my first forays into collecting these records during 1984 and 1985, was that certain names kept cropping up in the credits on the back of the sleeves. I realised that if certain song writers, producers and remixers had a hand in the track, the there was a distinct probability I would like the track. I learned that records produced by the likes of Harold Faltermeyer, Ian Anthony Stephens, Fancy, Bobby Orlando, Phil Harding and Richie Zito that would unfailingly be my kind of thing! I also learned that there would be go to record labels that might guarantee an addition to my record collection: Passion Records and Fantasia Records from the UK; Megatone Records, TSR Records and JDC Records, from the US; and Germany’s ZYX Records all became a major focus of my musical passions. Once I found out about the second hand vinyl mecca of Record and Tape Exchange in Notting Hill, I would search out anything on those labels and by those producers, occasionally at bargain basement prices.
The credits on record sleeves gave me another factor to consider in picking up a piece of unknown vinyl. There were certain names amongst the guys who mixed and remixed the 12 inch versions for the dance floor which kept cropping up, and whose work guaranteed a good dance mix. The names of interest amongst these remixers, who were mostly American, and could turn a three minute pop song into 6 or more minutes of dance floor heaven, were John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, Shep Pettibone, Sergio Munzibai & John Morales, Michael Barbiero & Steve Thompson, The Latin Rascals amongst several others. There were also talented Dutch remixers like Ben Liebrand and Rutger “Rutti” Kroese whose mixes caught my ear.
In his ‘Discos’ column throughout much of 1985, James Hamilton led a long running battle against British record companies who had fallen into the habit of releasing one 12 inch mix, and then another remix a few weeks later to keep up sales figures. Most extended remix versions were fabulous for the dance floor, although there were some remixes didn’t work well at all, and seemed to me to be a bit of an ego trip on the remixer’s part often adding nothing to the original track, and in some circumstances, taking away some of the best elements of the track. As one person commented in James’ column, American releases were better value than British releases, as all the mixes would be on one 12 inch, rather than on several as had become the British record industry way of doing things. I learned later in my record collecting life that not only did US 12 inch singles include all the mixes, they were better pressed and had better sound quality than British 12 inch singles.
Although James Hamilton railed week in, week out, about copious remixes, new remixes of tracks could keep those tracks alive for months and months on the dance floor. Indeed, remixes of Den Harrow’s ‘Future Brain‘, Ken Laszlo’s ‘Tonight‘ and Lian Ross’ ‘Fantasy‘ continued to be played well into 1986 in the clubs, once they had been given a remix make over.
For further digging into Hi-NRG and Italo Disco from 1985, here are a few more outstanding tracks that failed to make either the Record Mirror, RSDH charts, or any of the other charts from 1985 that I have published, but that were popular at the time, that remain on collectors’ radars and have appeared in DJ mixes in more recent years:
I have now posted over 230 Hi-NRG, Euro Disco and Italo Disco entires from the Record Mirror Hi-NRG Radio Stad Den Haag, and other Hi-NRG charts of 1985 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 1985 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 2022. Click on this YouTube link for a playlist of all 40 tracks.
As much as I love all these records from 1985, after much deliberation I have tried to think about, and with difficulty choose, the ten records from 1985 that I would keep from the flames if I was forced to. Here are my ten top favourites (in no particular order), and they are all tracks that take me back to Daisy’s in the summer of 1985, and then my first few months in London, and so have a very special place in my heart:
In the next post we’ll finally move on to the music of 1986!