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Pop Education: Pete Burns’ band Dead or Alive were NOT a one hit wonder

Welcome to our new occasional series, where we set the record - and history - straight!
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Have you ever had a conversation with a Millennial, who was surprised to hear that Rick Astley had more hits than Never Gonna Give You Up? Or that A-ha didn’t retire after Take on Me?

Or have you met someone who believed that Pete Burns‘ band Dead or Alive were most definitely dead – and buried or cremated – straight after You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)?

Such is the curse of acts who produce a hit so huge and so enduring across generations, that all else is overshadowed – even other substantial chart hits.  

WATCH: Pete Burns from Dead or Alive talks about other 80s artists copying his music 

But we at Pop Education believe that history shouldn’t be consigned to the dustbin, and that schooling is important. 

While some people’s definitions of ‘one hit wonder’ might vary, as does what might be considered a real hit, we are of the belief that anything that makes the ARIA top 50 technically qualifies as a hit, anything in the top 40 almost certainly is a hit, and anything that reaches the top 20 is, beyond any reasonable dispute, a hit.

So, with seven top 40 hits each in the UK and Australia, and two top 20 hits in the US, ‘one hit wonder’ is a very unfair label for 80s icon Pete Burns.

Let the history lesson begin…

Pete Burns

1984:

That’s the Way (I Like It)

Aus: 45 / UK: 22 / US Dance: 28

After a string of gothic-tinged dance/rock flops from its debut album, Sophisticated Boom Boom, the band finally charted with this Zeus B Held-produced cover of the KC and The Sunshine Band classic. More noted for its gender-bending video, which depicted Pete strutting around with a bunch of female body builders, this moderate hit gave a hint of what was to come. 

You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)

Aus: 3 / UK: 1 / US: 11 / US Dance: 4

Hooking up with the then-little-known production team of Stock/Aitken/Waterman after becoming enamoured with their hi-NRG sound, the band had to fund the recording themselves after the record company deigned the sound too offensive for mainstream ears. The track went on to sell millions of copies around the world, and usher in a new era, where beats from underground gay clubs would go mainstream, replicated in pop hits by the likes of Bananarama and, later, Kylie Minogue.

Lover Come Back (To Me)

Aus: 11 / UK: 13 / US Dance: 13

Just missing the top ten in both the UK and Australia, this thunderous return was the second single from the Youthquake LP.

1985

In Too Deep

Aus: 31 / UK: 14

Straying from the pounding dance floor formula, this single was nonetheless a solid top 20 hit in the UK.

My Heart Goes Bang (Get Me to The Doctor)

Aus: 41 / UK: 23 / US Dance: 15

The last single from the album saw Pete lose the eye patch, and despite the track being a dance hit, he also lost his hold on the top 20. For now…

1986:

Brand New Lover

Aus: 21 / UK: 31 / US: 15 / US Dance: 1

The first single from the S/A/W-produced third album Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, it’s agreed by the band and fans alike to be one of their best singles. But pop fortune was not on Pete Burns’ side, after a record company distribution stuff-up ruined the single’s chart performance in the UK. The song was, however, a massive hit in the US, and also charted solidly in Australia.

1987

Something in My House

Aus: 19 / UK: 12 / US Dance: 3

Originally conceived as a Halloween stomper, this return to the hi-NRG formula just missed the top 10 in the UK and entered the Aussie top 20. All despite record company misgivings that the track was ‘too brutal’ to be released – and reported concerns about what was described at the time as ‘a mildly suggestive scene’ in the video involving a banana. According to Burns, Mike Stock allegedly objected to the lyrical reference to a ‘wicked queen’, feeling it would limit the song’s appeal.

Hooked on Love

Aus: 33

Only charting in Australia, this single was reportedly the subject of a major battle with the record company, and a video had to be made without the band, using a collage of old clips. It put an end to Dead or Alive ever again releasing anything with a slower tempo as a single – outside of Japan.

I’ll Save You All My Kisses

Aus: 47

Straying somewhat from the usual formula, and with a video that was more in-your-face than anything the band had done since That’s the Way I Like It, the song struggled to get any play at all back home in Britain, and it missed the Aussie top 40.  

1988

Turn Around and Count 2 Ten

Aus: 30 / US Dance: 2

It was a new era, with the band leaving Stock/Aitken/Waterman to self-produce their fourth album, Nude. The rise of House music and the decline of gender ambiguity in UK pop rendered Dead or Alive decidedly unfashionable there, but this song was well received enough in Australia to hit the top 40, and it performed strongly on the US Dance charts. But the track was a truly massive hit in Japan, where it stayed at number one for 17 weeks.

1989

Come Home with Me Baby

Aus: 45 / US Dance: 1

Just missing the top 40 in Australia, the song was huge on the US dance charts, in part due to a popular remix by then-hot producer Lewis Martinee. Pete spoke bitterly of the US record company’s refusal to release it as a proper single despite strong demand, claiming they objected to the male dancers in the video. The star was so depressed by what he saw as the missed opportunity for a major hit, he temporarily lost interest in the pop business. A long period where the band only released music in Japan followed. 

(Although not released as a full-scale single outside of Japan, a third track from Nude, Baby Don’t Say Goodbye, made it to number six on the US Dance chart.)

1996:

You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) – 96 Remix

Aus: 28

Hi-NRG was long dead by 1996, but the band’s career outside Japan was resurrected by the Australian arm of Sony, which produced this techno-tinged remix. An album, Nukleopatra, was also released locally and did moderately well. The track got a major release in the US but was never available in the UK. (Another remix of the track, by Metro, made it to number 23 there in 2003).

Sex Drive

Aus: 52

First recorded by Pete with Italian act Glam (see video below), this song was a substantial dance hit in Australia in 1994. Rerecorded a few years later by Dead or Alive, it was the band’s last charting single in Australia – and remains a nostalgic favourite among reformed 90s clubbers.

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