Number Ones: #92


  • SWING OUT SISTER Surrender (Mercury)
  • Week Ending 24th January 1987
  • 2 Weeks At #1


January. The time for fresh starts; out with the old, in with the new. A whole year ahead, full of possibilities. What surprises might lay in store? Who will emerge from nowhere to take the charts by storm? Will I discover a band that becomes a lifelong favourite?

All of these questions are poised to be answered as Christmas becomes New Year, the novelty records disappear and retrospective lists are consigned to the bin. It’s a chance for second bites at the cherry, for overlooked acts to perhaps get a shot at the Top 40, for some of the promising records lost in the seasonal madness to belatedly gain some traction. And, it is fair to say, a time for record labels who had held back certain releases due to uncertainty around their opportunities for success, to take advantage of (then) traditionally quieter sales periods.

The usual result of all this is a hectic, but exciting, time for chart followers (and indeed, personal chart compilers). More new entries than normal, some quirky chart movements and generally an air of clearing out the overplayed, over-familiar hits that had, by this stage, begun to outstay their welcome. I loved it.

By the close of 1986, I felt very much like the sentiments articulated in Nik Kershaw’s Radio Musicola. The brand of pop music I’d latched onto in late 1983 had fallen out of favour, which was frustrating enough, but the general direction (chart) pop appeared to be heading in didn’t fill me with much pleasure. It felt too plastic, too dumbed-down, and records which wouldn’t have had a hope in hell of being big hits in 1983 or 1984 (at least to my mind) were suddenly going Top 3. As if I didn’t have enough confusion and bewilderment in my personal life, the one thing I’d been relying on to help me through was experiencing its own turbulent sea-change.

Fortunately, brilliant albums were still appearing with remarkable regularity, and having also started to buy a few carefully-selected titles on CD, I found something new to engage in, a way of hearing music in amazing clarity.

The uselessness of the UK Top 40 was annoying, but maybe there was another path. Especially as my early interest in songwriting (triggered by Howard Jones and Nik Kershaw, then further inspired by a-ha) was now getting more serious, and some days I’d spend longer creating my own material, figuring out arrangements and coming up with ideas for artwork than actually playing the music in my collection. My circumstances had probably created a need for expression, and briefly it overtook the music being made in the real world in terms of importance.

Then, in early 1987 I heard the new single from Swing Out Sister. Surrender was the follow-up to Breakout, one of those irritating major hits from late 1986 that contributed to my ire at the state of affairs. It wasn’t their second release, as a flop – Blue Mood – had got their career off to a less-than-auspicious start, but most people (myself included, although I probably would/should have been aware of them via Record Mirror) considered it their second.

What a contrast it was, too. Surrender was darker, more introspective, a throwback to the cinematic, dramatic pop romance of an ABC in Lexicon Of Love mode, only with a late-80s approach.  It was also a lot funkier, parping horns punching out a nagging motif and the rhythm is a fantastic mix of the acoustic and electronic, in the days before three became two and drummer Martin Jackson departed the scene.

As much I’d been addicted to Radio Musicola, Bizarre Love Triangle and the other favourites from albums at the end of 1986 by Duran Duran, a-ha and Paul Simon, it was refreshing to find something brand new, and rather unexpected, to get obsessed about. Surrender was my first #1 single not to already be known to me from its parent album since Notorious announced the return of Duran, the previous October.

The extended mix was a particular delight, lingering on the groovy bassline elements and allowing the drums extra space to build up some serious steam. It’s still one of my favourite 12″ versions of all-time, and the band thankfully had the good sense to include it as a bonus track on the original CD issue of their debut album, It’s Better To Travel, which followed in May of 1987 (and is featured among my Top Albums Of All-Time posts).

Having had my preconceptions over one chart act turned upside down, the exact same thing was about to happen again…and that one would really prove a surprise…..

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