British Female Pop Stars of the 1980’s

1980 fashion

The third instalment in my occasional series which has become widely read, much to my delight , and surprise. For the avoidance of doubt, this piece includes those solo British singers who came to prominence in the 1980’s, who have not been mentioned in my two previous pieces on the 60’s and 70’s, but I think are significant.

The original 60’s piece was a celebration of the breadth of talent British women had to offer back then, with several artists narrowly excluded by my arbitrary judgement of interest, talent, influence and impact. The 1980’s sees the field thin out considerably. American artists dominated, Debbie Harry with Blondie, Chrissie Hynde with the Pretenders were amongst the vanguard of the interesting female fronted bands, whilst Madonna swept all before her as a solo artist. Which is not to say that there was nothing of interest about.

Annie Lennox was arguably the foremost British female artist in the 80’s, but it was with the Eurythmics, her solo career not really launching till the 90’s, and my next piece. I also offer an honourable mention to Corrine Drewery who was the voice of Swing out Sister, but not a solo artist, whose hit single “Breakout” promised so much which was never subsequently realised. The eagle eyed will notice that I have omitted Bonnie Tyler from both the 70s piece, and here. Her chart success and popularity are a given, but for me her music is the distilled result of the best of what has gone before, offering little originality. I would love to have included Kylie, who is really an honorary Brit, and the awesome Bananarama fail to make it as a band even though they did so much for girl groups, for better or for worse.

It is remarkable how Britain continues to produce such diverse female talent, particularly compared to their more conservative American counterparts.

Hazel O’Connor endures beyond her chart success because of one song, with a timeless sax solo, “Will You”. Her talent is undeniable. She starred in the hit new wave film musical Breaking Glass, she wrote all the songs, and Tony Visconti produced the album. “Will You” is an oddity. It was written before the other material and stylistically is quite different, a song George Michael would have killed for. Although O’Connor wrote the song, Wesley McGoogan scored and performed the sax solo, defining the song as a classic. Subsequently, commercially, there was only gradual decline. Why?

By the time Breaking Glass was released punk was dead, new wave had fractured into a myriad forms, and the story looked backwards, not forwards. The music, whilst successful, commercial, catchy and well written had been outpaced. Nowhere was this more painfully evident than when I saw her at a sold out Dominion Theatre in London, supported by the unknown Duran Duran. Twelve months later the Duranies were leading the way, and Hazel would struggle for a headline spot. At various times she dated Hugh Cornwell and Midge Ure, but she had neither the cynical opportunism and determination of Cornwell’s Stranglers, nor the musical vision of Ure. But her reading of the formers’ “Hanging Around” is amongst the most satisfying of her career. Hazel still tours, her phrasing, and singing remains a delight.

Rochdale is a fairly anonymous mill town, but there was nothing anonymous about its resident Lisa Stansfield. A fine singer, her greatest success came with her album “Around the world” and the eponymous single, but for me her best recorded song was a version of “Young Hearts Run Free”. Soul is her strength and it is surprising that she has not fleshed out a pretty successful solo, self-penned career with more covers of standards. Recently she has also become a favourite on the jazz circuit. This clip showcases her at her best, a segue from Live Together into Young Hearts Run Free, live.

Alison Moyet came to attention first as Alf , the voice of Yazoo, before excelling as a solo artist. Her powerful , and deep ,mellifluous, resonant voice appeared to be assisted by a larger than average figure. But in recent years she has slimmed down to an unrecognisable extent, looks great for it, and still sounds fabulous. She is a brilliant phraser of lyrics, nowhere more so than on the wonderful “Love Resurrection”.

Her continuing talent, and new figure, were wonderfully showcased in this tribute to Cilla Black with her reading of “Anyone Who Had a Heart” in 2013.

Enya is of course Irish, not British, yet she resides in the British Isles, so qualifies. Her musical upbringing was impeccable, born into a family of musicians who formed the internationally renowned Clannad. Leaving was brave, but the making of her, propelling her into the vanguard of New Age music, and making her one of the richest female musicians in the world. It was her breakthrough album watermark which sealed her place at the top of her profession, with the catchy Orinoco Flow the song which brought her to everyone’s attention.

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2 Responses to British Female Pop Stars of the 1980’s

  1. GoodTimeTraveler says:

    “It is remarkable how Britain continues to produce such diverse female talent, particularly compared to their more conservative American counterparts.”

    Ha. Ha. Ha.

    Try comparing ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time’ (1984) to ‘We are the world’ (1985).
    The Brits had zero(!) female solos. The US ensemble had several female solos(!).

    Now re-write this piece please.

    • garylongden says:

      I would not measure relative female talent by charity song solos. Conservative does not mean less able. Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross were huge American talents, but the nature of American radio, and television, then, together with the economics of touring in the US, always mitigated against innovation for female singers in the 80’s stateside.

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