I’m not saying the late 80 and early 90s were a better time. There weren’t large LED TVs; I didn’t have millions of films¹ and for the first three quarters of that decade-and-a-half United were continuing two decades of mediocrity (comparatively). But those times were good in some ways. At some point, the Little Britain of the mid-80s, Russ Abbott released a pop single. Atmosphere was quite a big hit, though it was 1984 and this meant peaking at number 7; it definitely was a big hit though I am not making it up. And he was nearly 40, balding and only known as being a television comedian. And out of nowhere he came out with this, which at the time was quite the contemporary pop song (Black Lace were being touted as the new Beatles about this time).
It was more of a blip than a sign of Abbott’s arrival as the new ‘King of Pop’, his follow-up single All Night Holiday was shit, really shit. But still he was being pitched as a pop star. In both Atmosphere and All Night Holiday videos he is portrayed as fashionable and cool (purely by 1985s mainstream pop music standards). But he was a balding man in his late 30s, famous for a character where he was Scottish and you couldn’t understand him² and for doing an incompetent James Bond character.
Abbott was not alone in becoming a pop star – and let me be clear I am talking about people being a pop star with mainstream success and sales, not someone being a singer – despite it being unlikely. Jimmy Nail..was fucking massive. Though his main success was 1992 he did have a hit with Love Don’t Live Here Anymore around the time Abbott was running the Top 40. Jimmy Nail. Nail is what can only be described as an ugly man. He burst into the public consciousness as Oz in Auf Wiedersehen Pet. Oz was a loutish brute with a heart of…not gold…but not a stone either,but something in between. Let’s just say he was ugly and hard and Jimmy Nail seemed perfectly cast.
It would be remiss to suggest Nail has had anything other than a successful and diverse career. It would also be a lie to say you watched AWP and thought ‘that Oz character, the one who looks like a bad boxer, if he has a voice than carry a tune he could be quite the pop star (in 10 years)’. So where the fuck did Ain’t No Doubt come from? A drunken brawl between a Pet Shop Boys song and a saxophone soul solo – with a catchy chorus – Ain’t No Doubt was a number one for three weeks. His TV show Spender was out around then and was also a hit. Yes, make no mistake, for a while in 1992 the name Jimmy Nail opened doors – or rather people opened doors for the man with the name Jimmy Nail, I’m talking about Jimmy Nail, and called him “Sir” as they did so. Yes, Jimmy Nail was the shit.
It didn’t end there. He had another hit album, Crocodile Shoes. It featured the top four hit Crocodile Shoes and the number 155 single Only One Heart. His next album had a John Lennon cover on it (he didn’t fuck about with some obvious Lennon song – he did Love, that’s a link to the John Lennon version³ – I can’t find Jimmy Nail’s version on You Tube; I definitely saw him do it on Top of The Pops, though). but that was kind of the end for him. For clarification: I didn’t mean to belittle Jimmy’s music, it was decent adult pop-type-stuff.
What’s my point? Well for a while Nail was a proper pop star; he was a big star. Top of The Pops made a big deal out of getting a video exclusive; He did videos where there was some ridiculous concept where he was cool and did daft facial expressions. Like Abbott before him he was accepted as a pop star. Like a boy band or Simply Red or one of the bigger names in any particular year around then. But he wasn’t a fit for pop music.
So (and I have meandered slowly near to making my point) people like Nail and Abbott had hit singles. Even people like Gazza and Vinnie Jones had hit singles and made money out of a daft cover version (the world would be a poorer place without Fog on The Tyne and Wooly Bully) and they weren’t the only ones. Fucking hell, Glen Hoddle and Chris Waddle charted without resorting to a cover version or singing about football. Anita Dobson had a hit with Anyone Can Fall in Love, a song based on the melody to the Eastenders theme – and adding the ‘not very good at singing’ string to the ‘not very good at acting’ string on her bow.
Ok, so lots of people were having short to quite long pop careers back in the day. Generally people who didn’t really fit the description of pop star but could sing and had a catchy original tune or covered one. Now we have seven or eight pop acts created a year by X Factor and between them they are lucky to get one hit single out of it, if we don’t include the given of the winner’s debut single being the Christmas number one. Two or three personalities will last it out long enough to end up as the entertainment correspondent for This Morning or presenting something on ITV2 very, very badly. These days not even people voted for to be a pop star by everyone interested in pop music can get a hit single.
I was joking about taking a while to get to my point. I didn’t really have a point, I just wondered what Jimmy Nail was up to these days, the rest was just filler.
¹I did have lots of films on VHS but most of those were recorded, illegally, from TV, often over Christmas. True story, watching a comedy film in June while ITV’s scrolling message about people committing suicide at Christmas helpline is not as good as watching it without those AND without paused advertisement breaks, even if they were paused brilliantly by a small, fat loser sat on the floor waiting for the adverts. Sometimes I was more reckless and would lie on the settee and dive towards the video when the little swirling thing appeared in the corner of the TV to tell you it was about time for adverts. Later on we had a remote control, and while I now felt magical with my 21st century magic wand I also missed those more innocent times of having to touch the video cassette recorder (VCR) to pause a recording.
²At least that’s the way I remembered it. Watching a couple of clips on You Tube today shows that not only is it all comprehensible, but that most of it is not even in a Scottish accent as Abbott only manages about 1 word in 10 in any kind of accent other than his own.
³Beautiful song though, listen to the JWL version. Don’t worry about missing out on the Jimmy Nail cover.