Over the next couple of months, I’ll be looking at the outer temporal extremes of our song sheet collection. This time, we’ll be quite modern; next, we’ll see what hit songs looked like in the early eighteenth century.

For reasons lost in the mists of time, we stopped collecting single song sheets early in the 1980’s. Maybe because the publishers went off producing them in favour of song albums. Anyway, following an entirely unscientific trawl through some of the boxes, here’s my selection. How many can you recognise or sing bits of from first time around?

It’s 1980 (or thereabouts) – the year of John Lennon’s death. The CND protest started at Greenham Common; Alton Towers opened. A record number of people in the UK were unemployed; Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. The TV show Yes, Minister started broadcasting.

Hazel O’Connor  Will you? (publ. 1980)

O'Connor Will you?
The almost monochrome, androgynous cover

If you think of Eighties popstars, do you picture frilly flamboyance and big hair? This cover certainly isn’t. Instead, this is a continuation of punk; a song from the film Breaking GlassHazel O’Connor starred, composed, and performed as an up-and-coming singer/songwriter trying to make the grade against the odds. The downbeat ending is what you might expect from the grittiness of punk.

Here’s the artist in a live performance from 2020:

Kate Bush  Army dreamers (publ. 1980)

Kate Bush 'Army dreamers'
A very different front cover

Never for ever was Kate Bush’s third studio album, her first No. 1 album, and the first by a female solo artist. So a record that was mould-breaking in its way. I don’t know this music at all; looking at the song cover, I wondered if the text was going to be a little saucy. A soldier enjoying their time in the army.

It is anything but. The song is framed as a slow, melancholic waltz; the ‘little Army boy’ only joined because he couldn’t be a musician or a politician. His mother is at the aerodrome to welcome him home.

I’ve a bunch of purple flowers to decorate a mammy’s hero. Mourning in the aerodrome, the weather warmer, he is colder. Four men in uniform to carry home my little soldier.

Here it is:

Ed Cobb  Tainted love  (publ. 1981)

Tainted love - Soft Cell
Soft Cell’s version of ‘Tainted love’

The 1960s song Tainted love has been recorded by a number of artists, from Gloria Jones to Marilyn Manson. Our version is the one recorded by Soft Cell. The Wikipedia article on the various versions of the song gives a quote from Rolling Stone magazine which made me smile:

“Soft Cell, a tweezy synthesizer and singer duo whose fondest subject was sexual perversion, had a huge turntable hit in the clubs with ”Tainted Love,” which then crossed over to radio, enjoying the longest tenure, at forty-three weeks, of any single in Billboard history.”

The cover of both the single and the song sheet is very striking, although there’s no credit given. The flat, stylised image is again androgynous, like Hazel O’Connor’s character; the gender of both individuals is open to interpretation.

Here’s a taste of the lyrics, followed by a link to the single:

Tainted love, don’t touch me please, I cannot stand the way you tease. I love you though you hurt me, now I’m gonna pack my things and go.

Brian May  Save me  (publ. 1980)

Queen  Save me
Queen ‘Save me’

‘Save me’ from the album The Game was written by Brian May for a friend whose marriage was on the rocks. The lyrics make this pretty clear:

It started off so well, they said we made a perfect pair. I clothed myself in your glory and your love, how I loved you, how I cried.

The Game was Queen’s eighth studio album and is described variously as ‘disco’ influenced, and when they turned towards pop rather than rock. The Wikipedia article quotes some of the critical responses to its original release. As often happens, you’re left wondering whether they’re talking about the same music.

‘Sandwiched between two slabs of Queen’s usual symphonic and/or choral pomp-rock […] lies a filling of utterly unoriginal corn.’ Smash Hits

‘After Zeppelin and even before the Scorpions, Queen are the most exciting band I’ve ever seen or heard. And I’m sure all you lovers of quality music will agree.’ Record Mirror

‘After five years of unchallenging, dismal albums, this was supposed to be Queen’s comeback. But no such luck.’ Washington Post

Which would you agree with? Here’s a link to our single to refresh your memory, or give you a flavour of the album.