My 80s Playlist: Toyah Willcox picks her favourite 80s tunes from Bowie to Kate Bush

Virgin Radio

5 May 2023, 09:07

Toyah Willcox

Credit: Getty

80s icon Toyah Willcox made her name not just on the charts but on the screen too.

She first kicked things off in the band Toyah until 1983, before embarking on an impressive solo career, with top 10 singles including I Want To Be Free and Thunder in the Mountains. 

Toyah also found fame on the big screen as Monkey in 1979’s Quadrophenia, and worked alongside Katharine Hepburn in The Corn is Green. 

While at the Top of the Tower at Virgin Radio 80s Plus, Toyah sat down with Steve Denyer for My 80s Playlist, and shared the top 80s tunes that made the era. 

Bowie - Ashes To Ashes

David Bowie was well into this illustrious career when he released Ashes To Ashes in 1980. 

The lyrics were a sequel to his 1969 hit Space Oddity, and Toyah shared her personal connection to the track. 

She explained to Steve: “A very powerful Bowie song for me. Bowie always punctuated the points in my life where I felt the carpet had been pulled from under my feet. The first time I heard Life on Mars, for instance, I was doing an audition with Phil Daniels for a play on BBC Two. I sang Life on Mars at my first audition and got the part. Now with Ashes to Ashes, I was already becoming a very cult famous figure within the punk movement.

“Bowie did that for me whenever I felt lost or broken. Bowie put me back together. And Ashes to ashes is one of those songs.”

Kate Bush - Hounds Of Love

Kate Bush was at the height of her art rock powers with the release of Hounds of Love. 

The haunting track reached number 18 in the UK and was part of her chart-topping album of the same name. 

“It was groundbreaking,” Toyah explained. “It lifted Kate from that artist that everyone felt they knew with Babushka and Wuthering heights, it lifted her into the stratosphere of A-list writers. Even in 1985, but to have it come back the way it has, and she's discovered now by a completely new audience, I think is the most perfect trajectory for a career anyone could have.”

Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer

Whenever you listen to Peter Gabriel’s 1986 tune Sledgehammer, you will no doubt be able to see the incredible music video that was etched in your mind since it was first released. 

Released as part of his 1986 album, So, Sledgehammer has its music video to thank for helping it land so high up in the charts worldwide.

Explaining why it made her 80s playlist, Toyah said: “It's very linked to Kate Bush in many ways, is Peter Gabriel.  I'm going for Sledgehammer because his management called me, Hit and Run called me in to listen to his album. I was blown away. I'm very flattered that they wanted my opinion on it. They played me Sledgehammer and I thought it was fantastic. I have loved Peter Gabriel since he went solo.”

“I want to play Peter Gabriel because he inspires me. If ever I need to just open my mind up and feel really creative. It's Sledgehammer.”

Marc Almond - Tainted Love

British synthpop duo Soft Cell’s 1981 classic Tainted Love propelled them into the stratosphere with their unique take on Gloria Jones’ 1965 single. 

Vocalist Marc Almond then re-recorded the classic song in 1991, seven years after Soft Cell called it quits, and this version landed at number 5 in the charts. 

Tainted Love has been covered numerous times by different artists, but Marc’s version remains Toyah’s favourite. 

She shared: “This is the definitive [version] and artists have done it very brilliantly ever since. But Mark's delivery, his vocals. He's a torch singer. You can feel his pain in everything he does. He delivers a very beautiful pain. I think it's quite important within popular music that we recognise broken hearts, we recognise relationships that didn't last and all of that but he does it was such a joyful song.”

INXS - Need You Tonight 

Aussie rockers INXS went to number 2 in the UK charts with their signature track, Need You Tonight, following its re-release in 1988. 

Having frontman Michael Hutchence perform the now iconic track has stayed with Toyah all these years. 

She explained: “That was about rhythm. It was about hitting the beat. You had this gorgeous, beautiful Adonis on lead vocals, Michael Hutchence, and there's such an innocence about what they do. And yet he cannot help exude extreme sexuality. Perfect body, perfect voice. He was flirtatious with the microphone and the camera.”

Alice Cooper - Poison

Taking from his 18th album, Trash, Alice Cooper released smash-hit track Poison in 1989. 

The intensity of the pop-metal song took encapsulated everything that Toyah loved about Alice, and it became a particular favourite for her and husband Robert Fripp during lockdown and their Sunday Lunch social media series. 

Recalling how Alice was sent their cover of the track, Toyah reminisced: “He was played it live on his broadcast. His band said, ‘you need to see this.’ We were made to watch him watching it live. And he was like, ‘Oh, what is this?’ I sent a message to him. I said, ‘I'm really sorry about this, Alice, but you do not know what you mean to me as a teenager in the early 70s. Today, you've proven to me that you can just go through life, being strong, doing what you believe.’ 

“He was so gracious and lovely. He laughed his head off at the Sunday lunch because I was dressed as a nurse and I think he was really embarrassed by it, but he was really lovely.” 

OMD - Enola Gay

Anti-war track Enola Gay by Orchestral Manoeuvre in the Dark (or OMD) was written in protest of nuclear weapons, in particular to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. 

Eventually reaching the top 10 in the UK singles charts, Enola Gay struck a chord with listeners, and Toyah fondly remembered their help over the years. 

She said: “OMD, at the beginning of my career, were very supportive. They openly said they love my work. They love the album Anthem. And they champion me and for a woman in this industry, to have other rock stars supporting you is a really big thing.

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