Number Ones: #85


  • HEAVEN 17 Contenders (Virgin)
  • Week Ending 1st November 1986
  • 1 Week At #1


(Excerpts from the previously-unpublished Diary Of A Music Blog Contender)….

Saturday, July 27th 2019.

The afdpj blog has reached its 85th Number One, and a write-up is needed. It’s been over a week since the last post. Argh. But this heat. This heat! Will it never end? I have to come up with some interesting recollections about a single which peaked at #80 on the UK charts almost 33 years ago, and which out of blind loyalty (or youthful naivety) I had at #1 on my own Top 40 for a solitary week, while it feels as though the very bowels of Hell itself are opening up. This heat!

Contenders well and truly brought Heaven 17’s love affair with the record-purchasing public to an end (hideous 1990s remixes aside). On a downward slide ever since 1983’s Crushed By The Wheels On Industry gave them a third Top 20 hit in a row, the third and final release from 1984’s How Men Are opus had only managed #52 – ..(And That’s No Lie), my first #1 of 1985.

Their next release was a project with former Temptations singer Jimmy Ruffin, a stylish ballad called The Foolish Thing To Do which deliberately and respectfully aped the stylings of classic 70s soul. It was a perfect vehicle for Ruffin, still sounding as commanding and evocative as ever, and as a composition it was easily the best thing Heaven 17 had put their name to since Temptation, while the production was arguably even more sophisticated than the version of Let’s Stay Together they created with Tina Turner a couple of years before.

The Foolish Thing To Do got some airplay and TV promotion via The Tube, yet it became the first Heaven 17-related single to miss the Top 75 over Easter 1986. Following a six-month gap (during which a long-awaited remix album Endless was released), the trio returned to action on their own. Fourth album proper, Pleasure One, was preceded by the swaggering, relentless groove of Contenders.

The problem, sadly, is that however much I personally don’t mind its lack of an actual melody or real chorus, the harsh truth is it lacks an actual melody or real chorus and thus its commercial failure isn’t as easy to rail against, as it might be with something that does possess those attributes. It’s like a nice intro, for four minutes.

Glenn’s vocals are impeccable and somewhat imperious. The musicianship is razor-sharp. The production is, if anything, just that bit too clean and precise. For a band seemingly intent on making (white) soul music at this point in their career, Contenders has very little soul and although it does swing, it doesn’t ever quite get going. It spends its entire length threatening to build into a funk which never arrives.

The US club mixes do their best to add some snappy synth and percussive embellishments, but the original 7″ mix is a curiously brittle thing. Perhaps they believed (or hoped) their fanbase would lap it up nonetheless (and yours truly certainly did…double-pack 12″ and all!), keeping the obvious standout track from Pleasure One – the more typical Heaven 17 pop of Trouble – for the future.

Trouble would gets its chance in January 1987, but as with ..(And That’s No Lie) exactly two years earlier, it peaked in the 50s (one place higher at #51). It just failed to give Heaven 17 another #1 on my own charts, reaching #2, but I did still buy the double-pack 12″.

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