Scritti Politti – Perfect Way
One of the most interesting developments in pop music in the digital age has been the homogenization of the world pop charts. Because everything now is instantly downloadable or accessible via YouTube from anywhere on the planet, the “regional” hit has virtually disappeared. The top ten on any given week in the UK now looks remarkably like the top ten in the US or in Germany or any other country.
This, of course, was not always the case – particularly with the UK and US charts. Up until about 2005, the British and American Top 40s were their own unique creatures, and many British superstars remained virtual unknowns in the States, never able to make the great pop leap across the Atlantic. Girls Aloud? In the US, they were Girls Unheard. Bucks Fizz? Bucks Flat. Cheryl Cole? Cheryl Cold. You get the picture.
For a brief period in the early to mid 1980s, however, this gap between the US and UK charts narrowed, due to the rise of the predominant pop culture phenomenon of the time: MTV. When it debuted in 1981, US airwaves were saturated with hits by bland corporate rock bands such as REO Speedwagon and Styx. All of a sudden, however, weird, asymmetrically coiffed artists with strange indecipherable accents and even stranger names like A Flock of Seagulls, Kajagoogoo and Duran Duran began appearing on TV screens. The music was bizarre and fresh and catchy, and when kids in the US screamed “I Want My MTV,” US radio stations listened. The result was a whole new British chart invasion.
One of the more unusual artists to make the leap across the pond during this time was Scritti Politti. Green Gartside was not a UK superstar like Simon LeBon, the Kemp brothers or Limahl (are you quite sure about Limahl? Ed.) But Gartside had the looks AND the hooks that translated successfully to a US radio and MTV audience. (Floppy haircut and poppy synths? Check.) And he had the chart success in the UK to back it up: Wood Beez, Absolute and The Word Girl had all been huge British hits. Yet for some reason, Gartside’s US label ignored these singles and decided to release Perfect Way as the lead single in America. A skittering, jittery splash of pop perfection, it dominated US pop airwaves in the fall of 1985, eventually reaching no.11 on the Hot 100. It’s not instantaneously catchy, taking several plays to reveal its charms – but after a few spins it is irresistible. Listen to the way Gartside builds the chorus incrementally until it explodes (“I’ve got a perfect way to make a certain a maybe, I’ve got a perfect way to make THE GIRLS GO CRAZY”) and try to resist. You can’t.
By the time it was released in the UK, however, Perfect Way was the fifth and final single from the brilliant Cupid and Psyche 85 album, and it could only crawl to a lowly no.48. Maybe it was fifth single indifference, maybe it was the fact that on first listen it does sound like an album track or a catchy throw-away, but in any event this was another example of where the American charts got it right, and British pop fans were denied a brilliant hit. Gartside, on the other hand, went on to produce the great lost Chaka Khan single Love of a Lifetime and a genius single of his own Boom! There She Was, both of which may merit their own discussion here at a later date.
Entered chart: 01/09/1985
Chart peak: 48
Weeks on chart: 5
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Britney Spears. The staccato beats and twisty lyrics would compliment her hiccupy delivery and make this cover a perfect addition to her next inevitable Greatest Hits CD (her fifth?)