My 80s Playlist: Jeff Young chooses his favourite 80s tracks from Tina Turner to Texas

Virgin Radio

3 Mar 2023, 09:17

Jeff Young and Steve Denyer at Virgin Radio Studios

Renowned music maestro and A&R rep Jeff Young is the man to thank for discovering a number of huge musicians from across the decades. 

The music biz veteran, who worked for a number of record labels throughout his career, helped to bring up artists like Neneh Cherry, Texas and De La Soul, and so obviously knows a thing or two about what makes a great 80s hit. 

All this week on Virgin Radio 80s Plus, Jeff spoke to host Steve Denyer about his favourite tracks of the decade for My 80s Playlist, and combined the tracks he worked on in various labels with his personal picks too. 

Japan - Quiet Life

New wave band Japan released Quiet Life from their 1979 album of the same name, and it's said to be based on what the band was going through at the time after being dropped from their US record label. 

Jeff felt nostalgic for the days of club nights with Japan, and reminisced to host Steve: “Because I was in a major record company, they had a whole raft of alternative bands that were being played at alternative club nights, student nights and stuff. So for the first time ever, I found myself rolling around clubs in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, that were either student nights or specialist…or what they would call alternative nights. 

“Although I knew about most of the artists that were being played. It was the Human League, Soft Cell, early ABC, all that kind of stuff. There were other bands that I knew about, but I didn't know about the music, and one of them was Japan. Even though Quiet Life came out in 1980, a couple of years later, it was still a massive tune at all of those nights. And I always love Quiet Life.”

Tears For Fears - Mad World

1982 hit Mad World by Tears For Fears was the band’s very first chart hit, and landed in the top 5 in the UK. 

Originally written by a 19 year old Roland Orzabal, Mad World was meant to be reminiscent of Duran Duran’s new wave track Girls On Film. 

Jeff had quite a close connection with the pop rockers, and explained: “Tears for Fears was on the label that I was working for, and I was also trying to get their records played at these alternative club nights. We released a couple of singles that hadn't really done the business. Then the third thing we released from their album was Mad World. And it was doing okay. 

“Then when we got to about number seventeen, they were on Top of the Pops. And the rest, as they say, is history. The phones exploded the following day. It really was a massive turning point for them.”

Tina Turner - Private Dancer

Speaking of connections, Jeff has quite a big one for Tina Turner’s smash hit Private Dancer. 

The 1984 single was originally intended for Dire Straits’ album Love Over Gold, and the musical expert shared exactly the moment the song changed hands. 

He shared: “Out of the blue, one day, I got a call from one of the label managers. He said ‘Mark Knopfler is here, will you come and see him?’  I popped down and saw Mark, I was still kind of well known as a bit of a soul boy in the building. And Knopfler said to me, ‘Look, I've got this song. And I want a black female vocalist to sing it, if you've got any suggestions,’ I said, ‘Well, I know, I’ll go and have a listen.' 

“I cleared off and had a listen to this song. A couple of days later, he was back. I saw him in the corridor, and said, ‘I've got a suggestion for your song.’ He said, ‘Oh, it's alright. I've already given it to Tina Turner.’ And I said, ‘Okay, well, that makes a lot of sense.’ And the song was Private Dancer.”

ABC - When Smokey Sings

As a love letter to Smokey Robinson, ABC released pop single, When Smokey Sings, in 1987. 

Jeff has nothing but love for this song, and remembered the moment he heard it for the first time. 

He told Steve: “I always loved ABC, when I was strolling around those student clubs in around 1981, 82, Tears Are Not Enough was being played by everybody. Then of course, Trevor Horn worked with them on their debut album. And Martin [Fry] had been ill and he was getting over his illness. He was still with Mark White, the rest of the band had gone. They were writing songs and coming in saying, ‘Oh, what do you think about this? What do you think about that?’ And then one day, they came in, and they played me a demo of When Smokey Sings. It was like, wow, this is it. Thank you so much. And off we went to record the album. 

“Even in demo form, you couldn't miss it. The lyrics are fantastic, as Martin's lyrics always are. They put this fantastic sort of faux Motown feel around the whole track. It was just a superb piece of music.”

Stevie Wonder - With Each Beat Of My Heart

Stevie Wonder’s With Each Beat Of My Heart was released in 1987 as part of his Characters albums. 

Radio DJ Jeff recalled the moment he met Stevie for the very first time, explaining: “He came into a room and there were about five or six of us and I hadn't had a chance to tell him I was there. Somebody said something funny, and we all laughed, and he immediately pointed towards me and said, ‘Who's that?’ And I said, it's Jeff Young,’ Stevie went ‘Oh, hi. How are you? I didn't know you were in the room.’ He had that thing that they say about blind people, that extra special hearing thing that they have.

“I was in an immensely privileged position in that period and the album that came out after I'd finished trying to get the label deal done was Characters, and With Each Beat Of My Heart was to track off the album.”

Was (Not Was) - Walk The Dinosaur

1987 top 10 hit Walk The Dinosaur, from Was (Not Was) features enough horns and cowbell to get anyone moving, and that’s what Jeff loved about it. 

He said: “I did love the band. I thought the band were fantastic. Don and David Was wrote absolutely fantastic lyrics. And they wrote great pop songs as well as some of the more obscure things that they did as well."

De La Soul - Say No Go

In a departure from the new wave rock sound of the decade, Jeff opted for 1989 hit Say No Go by hip hop group De La Soul, who he helped to bring to the UK scene. 

“I think I had a big hand in it,” Jeff said of promoting the band on national radio. “Being the national station, and they would give you records a couple of weeks early. So you had a couple of weeks ahead of people. There's nothing like it for DJs, if they can't get a record that they want, they all go absolutely mental. So the best thing to do is make it scarce.

"De La Sol, that album, Three Feet High and rising, was kind of the arrival of the super-sampling era if you like, because Hip Hop always used various, very clever samples. But De La Sol took it to another level. It was a fantastic album.”

Scritti Politti - Oh Patti

Oh Patti turned into one of Scritti Politti’s biggest UK hits when it came out in 1988 as part of their album, Provision. 

Oh Patti included a feature from legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, and speaking about the unique collaboration, Jeff explained: “This is basically a favourite of mine. I always liked Scritti, even in the early 80s…they evolved the sound, it became a lot more electronic and stuff. I've always absolutely adored Miles Davis. 

“Miles was going through an interesting period because all of a sudden, he'd started to do covers of pop songs, which nobody expected. He did Time After Time, he did Human Nature. For some reason, I know that he likes Green [Gartside - lead singer] and I think they approached him and he said ‘yeah, I'd love to play on one of your songs’ and they released Oh Patti, with this wonderful solo.”

Texas - I Don’t Want A Lover 

Going all the way to the beginning, Jeff picked the 1989 debut single from Texas, I Don’t Want A Lover, as his favourite track from the band he helped produce.

On the acts he’s most proud of, Jeff admitted the Scottish rockers are “one of them”, adding: “They went on to have such a long career. You know, quite often bands lost one or two albums. I mean, you never know when you sign a band how long they're going to last. Some of them are five minutes, some of them are five years, you know, not many of them are 25, 30 years. So Texas will be one of them.”

The Stone Roses - Fools Gold 

Brought out alongside What The World Is Waiting For, The Stone Roses released Fools Gold in 1989, which reached the top 10 of the UK singles charts. 

It was The Stone Roses’ impact on the club culture that drew Jeff in. He told Steve: “They were one of the first acts that kind of got played in dance venues. And they were a band, if you see what I mean, rather than a Mark Moore or whoever, some kind of rave record out of America, so yeah, they kind of forge the way for bands such as them to get involved in club culture and be played at those fantastic events.”

You can listen to Virgin Radio 80 Plus HERE. You can also listen on DAB+ in London and Central Scotland and onsmart speakers across the UK, as well as via the Virgin Radio UK app.