Sophistication + pop = sophisti-pop


Alfred and I go way back with sophisti-pop, though he writes about it with more frequency than I, which I assume has to do with the genre stalwarts’s hair. Now he’s taken another swing at the subgenre, this time adding a playlist. And it’s fine, but doesn’t go deep enough for my taste.

Along with exposure to MuchMusic in the late ’80s, one of the other strong, and random, musical influencers of the decade for me was Rock Over London. As I wrote in 2004, it was “a nationally syndicated Westwood One program in the ’80s which brought U.K. imports to American audiences months before they reached these shores. From The Alarm to UB40 and Smiths singles, they covered it all – even Enya!” And that’s where I first learned of the likes of the Christians, and Hue and Cry, and Curiosity Killed the Cat, who I feel like really give this playlist some spice. Oh, that’s right: I put together a Spotify playlist to accompany this, though sadly it’s missing the Christians and Kane Gang selections, and the version of Hue and Cry’s “I Refuse” here is a slightly faster take than the single version I cherish.

To my ears, sophisti-pop has to include some soul/jazz elements to work; it’s kinda-sorta akin to a later, British take on yacht rock (which is not just ’70s soft rock, people; do your homework, please), defiantly ’80s in sound and nature. That’s why, for example, I eschewed “Perfect Way” in favor of “Best Thing Ever” (and seriously considered “Oh Patti” for Scritti’s slot), as “Way” is just too clattering and busy to truly be considered sophisti-pop. It’s also gotta be shiny and gleaming. I seriously considered Deacon Blue’s “Real Gone Kid” for this list — it’s from the right era, and they were from the UK and (mostly) pretty, and popular too, and even dressed right — but it just feels the slightest bit too earnest and folky-ish to click amidst the high-gloss likes of Curiosity Killed the Cat and ABC.

Oh, one more thing: while ’84-’88 is largely the tight timeline for this stuff, there are a (precious) few exceptions, particularly one of its progenitors, Spandau Ballet’s “True.” As opposed to most of their work, “True” is just barely soulful enough to get ’em in, and in fact, is kinda one of the templates for all of it, albeit without the jazziness that most of these songs feature in one way or another.

  1. “Appetite,” Prefab Sprout (1985)
  2. “Best Thing Ever,” Scritti Politti (1987)
  3. “The Captain of Her Heart,” Double (1985)
  4. “Cruising for Bruising,” Basia (1989)
  5. “Digging Your Scene,” the Blow Monkeys (1986)
  6. “Down to Earth,” Curiosity Killed the Cat (1987)
  7. “Each and Every One,” Eveything but the Girl (1984)
  8. “Harvest for the World,” the Christians (1988)
  9. “I Don’t Want To Be A Hero,” Johnny Hates Jazz (1987)
  10. “I Refuse,” Hue and Cry (1986)
  11. “It’s Only Love,” Simply Red (1989)
  12. “Kiss and Tell,” Bryan Ferry (1988)
  13. “Mary’s Prayer,” Danny Wilson (1987)
  14. “Motortown,” the Kane Gang (1987)
  15. “My Ever Changing Moods,” the Style Council (1984)
  16. “The Night You Murdered Love,” ABC (1987)
  17. “The Sweetest Taboo,” Sade (1985)
  18. “To Be With You Again,” Level 42 (1987)
  19. “True,” Spandau Ballet (1983)
  20. “Twilight World,” Swing Out Sister (1987)
  21. “Wishing I Was Lucky,” Wet Wet Wet (1987)
Posted in 1980s, lists, pop

Pop top 40: 7/14/84


Here it is: the summer of ’84, largely thought by my peer group to be the best summer ever for top 40 radio. And this top 2 one-two punch is supreme. Lots of classics in here, too; FWIW, I can hum all but two of the top 30 songs without even having to think twice.

1 1 WHEN DOVES CRY –•– Prince – 7 (2 weeks at #1) — I’ve never used the #1 single’s sleeve as the graphic for this column, but when it’s one as capital-i ICONIC as “When Doves Cry,” how can you not?! I mean, that opening riff, that lack of a bassline, that keyboard riff, those lyrics, and the way he delivers it all like he knows — because he knew — that he’s about to become the biggest star in the musical universe. Everything about this song is fucking perfect.

2 2 DANCING IN THE DARK –•– Bruce Springsteen – 8 (2) — Everyone talks about Arthur Baker’s glorious Blaster Mix with justifiable reverence, but let’s not forget that the original, even in its album version, packs quite a whomp. This sounded like nothing the Boss had ever done, thanks in large part to the fact that producers Jon Landau and Chuck Plotkin knew what they were doing. And god knows he’d never cut DOR like this before. I’m a fan of Bruce dipping his toes into pop, and this certainly succeeds.
3 3 JUMP (FOR MY LOVE) –•– The Pointer Sisters – 12 (3) — Do you like videos that look like they’ve been filmed in gay bathhouses? Or videos with lots of 1984 Summer Olympics-themed footage of track & field athletes jumping? Then you came to the right place! In 1984, the Pointers had 4 top 10 singles; in no other year did they ever have more than one, and in fact, after ’84 they never had another. But the Break Out album (their only top 10, peaking at #8) and its attendant singles burned hotter than hot all through ’84, with this the hottest of them all. It’s always sounded to me like a shampoo commercial, and that’s neither a positive nor negative judgement.
4 6 EYES WITHOUT A FACE –•– Billy Idol – 11 (4) — Talk about a guy for whom music video was seemingly invented: that sneer alone probably sold a couple million records. Fortunately, he backed it up with some sterling pop/rock, and a superb partnership with guitar maestro Steve Stevens. This is a smoldering blaze of a song that gets gasoline thrown on it for its extended, rocked-up bridge (including some great fretwork from Stevens), and it never gets old.
5 5 THE REFLEX –•– Duran Duran – 13 (1) — Good job on the single mix, Nile Rodgers. If only there had been more of a song to remix.
6 4 SELF CONTROL –•– Laura Branigan – 14 (4) — Her fourth of five consecutive top 20 hits, and then — poof. She’d hit #40 with “Spanish Eddie” in ’85 and #26 (her last top 40 single) with “Power of Love” (yes, the same song recorded by Jennifer Rush – Air Supply – Celine Dion), and that was all she wrote. But that tough-as-nails voice, though! She was like a more pop version of Pat Benatar, capable of balladry as well as uptempo machine pop-and-almost-rock. I think, had she wanted to, she could’ve been a huge Italo house star by decade’s end, but she chose not to do so. A series of tragedies befell her and derailed her career, but god, that initial brace of hits (this, “Gloria,” “Solitaire”): oooh. “Self Control” is vulnerable and in control simultaneously, and percolates with a cool energy and will never not sound sublime.
7 8 ALMOST PARADISE –•– Mike Reno & Ann Wilson – 10 (7) — Paradise, this ain’t. Interesting, however, that this came a year before Heart’s big comeback; at this moment, they were kind of in the commercial wilderness. And there’s a reason Loverboy didn’t have many hit ballads.
8 19 GHOSTBUSTERS –•– Ray Parker Jr. – 5 (8) — No. Don’t call.
9 9 THE HEART OF ROCK ‘N ROLL –•– Huey Lewis & The News – 13 (6) — A car commercial if ever there was one.
10 10 LEGS –•– ZZ Top – 9 (10) — Speaking of video (see #4, but really, see this entire countdown, from peak-era MTV), did any rock band lumber out of the ’70s into the light of the ’80s and make more with videos than ZZ Top? Most of their chronological peers faded as video blew up, but the boys from Texas just went from strength to strength, embracing the medium and reaping all of its rewards. “Sharp Dressed Man” only peaked at #56 but based on its MTV rotation you’d be forgiven for assuming it was a multi-week #1. “Legs” was a different matter, however, taking them into the top 10 for the first time, a perfect melding of their classic blues-rock guitar attack with pop structure and a non-fear of synths. And the video! It’s the embodiment of the phrase “women on top” (pun unintended). ZZ could’ve gone the route of so many, especially with a song titled “Legs,” and just made a T&A video. But instead the told a story about a woman who’s picked on and triumphs, thanks in part to “the Eliminator girls.” These women, who appeared in multiple videos from the album, are sexy but never degraded or shown as only their sexuality/sex appeal. Their bodies aren’t half-undressed. They show the video’s protagonist how to beat those who are nasty to her, at their own game. In a lot of ways, I kind of see the “Legs” video as a feminist parable. Also, the song is absolutely awesome.

11 14 INFATUATION –•– Rod Stewart – 8 (11) — FATUATE ME! FAT-U-ATE ME!
12 12 MAGIC –•– The Cars – 9 (12) — Boy, their catalog has not really held up, has it? The new wave elements sound kinda tinny, and the power pop is, well, power pop (which, for me, is inherently a problem from the get-go).
13 13 DOCTOR! DOCTOR! –•– Thompson Twins – 8 (13) — New wave prog pop as thick as canned frosting. And in this case, that’s meant as a compliment.
14 7 TIME AFTER TIME –•– Cyndi Lauper – 14 (1) — A lovely, tender song, so well written and well sung and well produced. But I don’t ever need to hear it again, really.
15 21 STATE OF SHOCK –•– The Jacksons with Mick Jagger – 3 (15) — The biggest tour of ’84 wasn’t the Purple Rain trek nor the Born in the U.S.A. tour; it was the Jacksons’ Victory tour. Since Michael hadn’t toured behind Thriller, this was effectively that tour, only with some more-famous-than-usual backing vocalists. So there was an accompanying album, also titled Victory, but oddly, they didn’t perform any songs from it on the tour. But they guaranteed a splash for its first single by having MJ duet with the other most famous MJ in pop music, Mick Jagger. “State of Shock” was originally recorded by Michael with Freddie Mercury and intended for Thriller (and their demo is worth your time), but never finished due to schedules or some such. The song itself is kind of a throwaway, but it’s a delightfully trashy throwaway; Mick sounds like he spent about 10 minutes cutting his vocal. The best version of it, ultimately, was performed the following summer at Live Aid, as Mick brought out Tina Turner for the climax of his set (backed by the Hall & Oates band!) to perform “Shock.” Their version actually kind of rocks, and has a brilliant tossed-off we-didn’t-even-rehearse-this quality. Worth noting: “State of Shock” was a total flash in the pan, going up and down and off the Hot 100 in just 15 weeks. It scorched its way up to #3 but then crashed just as quickly, as people went, “Wait, what is this shit?” That said, I still harbor an affection for it.
16 17 SAD SONGS (SAY SO MUCH) –•– Elton John – 6 (16) –It became a jeans commercial because it sounded like one.
17 20 BREAKIN’… THERE’S NO STOPPING US –•– Ollie & Jerry – 7 (17) — This breakdance anthem (from the film Breakin’, natch), is the sound of pure electropop joy.
18 16 DANCE HALL DAYS –•– Wang Chung – 13 (16) — The last gasps of new wave pop cresting on the charts. This is arranged beautifully.
19 15 BORDERLINE –•– Madonna – 19 (10) — Her first top 10 single (peaking at #10) — just think of that for a moment — released between “Holiday” (#16) and “Lucky Star” (#4). She sounds so young, so sorta-kinda innocent, so fresh. Reggie Lucas, of Mtume, very much knew what he was doing with her in the studio; he wrote and produced this and it still sounds refreshing today.
20 24 I CAN DREAM ABOUT YOU –•– Dan Hartman – 11 (20) — Philly soul pastiche that’s more “pastiche” than “soul” in Hartman’s hands. He originally wrote it for Hall & Oates to sing, and while I mildly prefer their version (which they eventually recorded in the ’00s), I ultimately just don’t like the song itself very much at all.

21 33 STUCK ON YOU –•– Lionel Richie – 4 (21) — The Commodores were from Alabama, so it’s not at all surprising to hear Richie go in a “down home” country direction. I’m not a huge fan of this song — something about the way it’s arranged, I think, and the soupy guitar lines — but it’s dramatically improved on Lionel’s 2012 album of country revisions, Tuskegee, where he turns this into a duet with Darius Rucker.
22 11 LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE BOY –•– Deniece Williams – 15 (1) — No, let’s not.
23 27 WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT –•– Tina Turner – 9 (23) — I mean, what more can you say about the greatest pop comeback of all time? I saw her on tour in 1993; she was magnificent, in fine voice and possessing endless energy. This song is sublime, now and forever, made for her to sing, and she sings it like she knows it.
24 25 NO WAY OUT –•– Jefferson Starship – 10 (24) — Yes, I know this song is hot trash, but I love it anyway, for some reason. But more interestingly, their Nuclear Furniture album was recorded at The Automatt in San Francisco, which was located (it no longer exists) just over a mile from my current apartment. Among the artists who recorded there: Santana, Journey, Herbie Hancock, the Tubes, Maze, Jane Fonda (two of her best-selling workout albums!), along with a number of Narada Michael Walden sessions, including those for a couple of hits you may have heard of, “Freeway of Love” and “How Will I Know.” Ah, history!
25 32 IF EVER YOU’RE IN MY ARMS AGAIN –•– Peabo Bryson – 10 (25) — Oh, Peabo, you’re a great singer who’s never, ever recorded material worthy of your voice, preferring to stick with mushy, bland, barely R&B corn. And yet you’ve had plenty more pop hits than, say, Jeffrey Osborne, further proving that sometimes there’s just no justice.
26 26 DON’T WALK AWAY –•– Rick Springfield – 8 (26) — One of my favorite chart stats is the fact that Springfield had a rather astounding 17 top 40 hits — yes, 17 — with 16 of them coming in the ’80s. However, coming as he was off the #5 hit “Love Somebody,” he couldn’t have known that he’d never taste the top 10 again, racking up six more hits that peaked between #20 and #28 from here to 1988, starting with this one, at its peak position. I’d argue the chief reason why was stasis: his sound calcified and became a series of one midtempo pop-rocker after another. “Don’t Walk Away,” then, is the sound of a career sadly, but justifiably, on the decline.
27 31 PANAMA –•– Van Halen – 4 (27) — This — all of 1984, really — is the sound of a band locked in a groove, firing on all fucking cylinders. It makes sense that DLR left after this album/tour; after this, there was nowhere for the original lineup to go but down.
28 28 I’M FREE (HEAVEN HELPS THE MAN) –•– Kenny Loggins – 5 (28) — Ridiculousness that’s at least better than “Footloose.”
29 30 SUNGLASSES AT NIGHT –•– Corey Hart – 8 (29) — Inexplicably iconic and incredibly moronic.
30 34 ROMANCING THE STONE –•– Eddy Grant – 9 (30) — a) Boy, there’s…

31 36 SHE’S MINE –•– Steve Perry – 3 (31) — I love this song, a tale of paranoia and jealousy, so fucking much. Part of the reason is its saltine-crisp production by Bruce Botnick (who produced the Doors’ L.A. Woman! Ugh!), part of it is that magnificent, soaring guitar solo that serves as an extended coda for the song, but really, all of it is the commitment Perry gives these lyrics. I will swear up and down that he’s one of the finest rock vocalists ever, and “She’s Mine” is a sterling example. Proof that the ’80s were a weird time: this was the follow-up to the #3 smash “Oh Sherrie”! I love this song in part because it’s so fairly creepy, but that’s certainly not everyone’s cup of pop tea, y’know?
32 23 STAY THE NIGHT –•– Chicago – 11 (16) — David Foster is a master of production, but this is a prime example of what overproduction sounds like.
33 43 ROUND AND ROUND –•– Ratt – 5 (33) — This put Ratt at the top of the L.A. metal scene, because it sounded so fucking great. Beau Hill’s production is incredible, catching every nuance (yeah, I said it) of Ratt’s sound, and in Stephen Pearcy they truly had the perfect (at least for a while) frontman. The singer, the look, the riffs, the songs: they had it all. One of my favorite singles from one of my favorite glam metal bands.
34 22 MODERN DAY DELILAH –•– Van Stephenson – 13 (22) — b) …a lot of…
35 37 ALIBIS –•– Sergio Mendes – 8 (35) — A lost yacht rock gem, with smoooooth vocals from Joe Pizzulo, who sounds engaged.
36 42 THE FIRST DAY OF SUMMER –•– Tony Carey – 6 (36) — c) …forgettable slush…
37 45 SEXY GIRL –•– Glenn Frey – 3 (37) — d) …at the bottom…
38 40 BOYS DO FALL IN LOVE –•– Robin Gibb – 7 (38) — e) …of this chart,
39 51 ROCK ME TONITE –•– Billy Squier – 2 (39) — He didn’t deserve to have his career shattered because of this video. He deserved to have his career shattered because he’d stopped doing what he was so good at — AOR that its best was almost Zep-esque — in favor of chasing the pop dollar.
40 46 TURN TO YOU –•– The Go-Go’s – 5 (40) — f) …isn’t there?

Posted in 1980s, charts

Pop top 20: 7/10/65


And now for something very different: I wanted to challenge myself, as I’m not a particularly big fan of ’60s chart pop. In the last several years I’ve developed a real love for ’40s/’50s material, especially jump blues and country, but the ’60s haven’t ever really grabbed me much, apart from easy listening and the Velvet Underground (heh).

1 2 (I Can’t Get No) SATISFACTION –•– The Rolling Stones (London)-5 (1 week at #1) (1) — Yes, sure, Mick’s vocal delivery, but really for me this is about Keith’s fuzzed-the-fuck-out lead guitar licks. And of course Charlie’s four-on-the-floor, because when it comes to the Stones, it always, inevitably, comes down to Charlie.
2 1 I CAN’T HELP MYSELF –•– The Four Tops (Motown)-9 (1) — I find it fascinating that the Four Tops only hit #1 on the R&B chart three times, just once more than they did on the pop chart. Along with this one and 1966’s “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” both of which did the double-dip, their only other R&B chart-topper was this smash (which also hit #11 pop) from 1981. (And dear god, that song is so Vegas/supper-club-circuit-soul.) But back to this song, which I’ve never much cottoned to; it just sounds hoary to my ears. There’s little fresh or exciting about it.
3 3 MR. TAMBOURINE MAN –•– The Byrds (Columbia)-9 (1) — Dylan’s first #1 was as a songwriter, not a performer. I love Roger McGuinn’s rather laconic vocal on this, but what I don’t get is why so many call this song “the birth of folk-rock,” because I don’t hear much if any folk on this at all. This is an electric rock song, pure and simple. That said, you know what I do hear? Much of R.E.M.’s output refracted.
4 5 WONDERFUL WORLD –•– Herman’s Hermits (MGM)-7 (4) — Peter Noone can fuck right off with his Merseybeat bullshit.
5 4 WOOLY BULLY –•– Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (MGM)-15 (2) — Despite never hitting #1 (thanks to the Beach Boys and the Supremes), due to its extended 18-week run on the Hot 100, this ended up as the #1 single of 1965. And I guess I can see why teenagers (who were running the pop music world in the mid-’60s) would love this messy slab of garage rock, but I never can love this. Garage rock is, largely, something I never need to hear again.
6 9 YES, I’M READY –•– Barbara Mason (Arctic)-9 (6) — Someone writing on Wikipedia called this “a fetching soul-pop confection that spotlight[s Mason’s] girlish vocals. One of the first examples of the rhythmic but lush sound that came to be called Philly soul … .” Yeah, that sounds about right. It’s also very necessary to note that, much like Debbie Gibson (discussed last week), Mason was not only still 17 years old when this ascended to the top 5 on both the pop and R&B charts, but she wrote this song herself. (And for the record, the 1980 Teri DeSario/KC cover version is crap.)
7 7 SEVENTH SON –•– Johnny Rivers (Imperial)-6 (7) — Johnny Rivers is a fine singer, and Willie Dixon is a superb songwriter, but the combination of the two ends up leaving me a bit flat — likely because Rivers was never meant to perform the blues, let along melting it into perky pop.
8 11 CARA, MIA –•– Jay and the Americans (United Artists)-6 (8) — David Whitfield’s 1954 original (which spent 10 weeks at #1 in his native UK) is overblown opera-pop pap, the forerunner to Josh Groban’s career. Jay and the Americans’s cover jacks up the drama, unbelievably, in the service of an insane pop-rock reworking, and is infinitely preferable.
9 12 YOU TURN ME ON (Turn On Song) –•– Ian Whitcomb and Bluesville (Tower)-8 (9) — WHAT. THE FUCK. This 1965 “freak out,” which by most accounts only was a US hit thanks to the British invasion, features a teenaged weirdo singing in a breathy falsetto, and occasionally all but replicating orgasm on the chorus. I guess radio really would play anything by Brits at the time. Good lord.
10 10 WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE –•– Jackie DeShannon (Imperial)-8 (10) — I could talk about the loveliness of this David/Bachrach composition, or the fine job DeShannon does delivering it, but really I’d rather quote this line from the song’s Wikipedia entry: “In the Danish zodiac porn comedy I Jomfruens tegn (1973), an extended version is used for the hardcore underwater orgy that ends the film.”

11 6 FOR YOUR LOVE –•– The Yardbirds (Epic)-9 (6) — Totally down with this, which is what I often wish the Beatles had sounded like.
12 13 A WALK IN THE BLACK FOREST –•– Horst Jankowski, His Orchestra and Chorus (Mercury)-10 (12) — Jankowski was a German jazz/easy listening bandleader who had his greatest success with this jaunty little tune, originally titled “Eine Schwarzwaldfahrt.” That likely wouldn’t have been such a big seller in the English-speaking world, so it was retitled “A Walk in the Black Forest” and got to #3 UK, #1 US EZ (the AC chart was then known as the Easy Listening chart), and its peak pop position right here. I’ve been talking for decades about my rather profound love of easy listening music, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that I love this song: its pep, its strings talking to each other, its rolling piano, the sum of all its parts.
13 42 I’M HENRY THE VIII, I AM –•– Herman’s Hermits (MGM)-2 (13) — If I didn’t hate Herman’s Hermits before this song, I certainly did after, always and forever.
14 16 LAURIE (Strange Things Happen) –•– Dickey Lee (TCF Hall)-9 (14) — Oh, ’60s, you did love songs about dead girls, didn’t you? Ugh.
15 8 CRYING IN THE CHAPEL –•– Elvis Presley (RCA Victor)-12 (3) — This song, originally cut by Elvis for one of his gospel albums, had already topped the Easy Listening chart for 7 weeks and the UK singles chart for two. I love not only his vocal on this, Presley utilizing his tender upper register, but the arrangement, which is both simple and almost eerie; the Jordanaires sound positively ghostly on this. One of Presley’s most breathtakingly beautiful singles.
16 14 HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE –•– Patti Page (Columbia)-12 (8) — Creeeeeepy. Also, Page’s first top 20 single since 1958, and her final top 40 single ever. Also, not just creepy but pretty dated and not very interesting at all.
17 26 WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT –•– Tom Jones (Parrot)-4 (17) — This Bacharach/David song is over the top in every possible way, especially in the hands of the bombastic Tom Jones. The production is slightly insane (very UK music hall), and I really don’t like hearing Jones sing about kissing “your pussycat lips,” which frankly kinda squigs me out. On its way to #3 though, so US music fans clearly didn’t agree with me.
18 20 A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN –•– Ronnie Dove (Diamond)-6 (18) — The 4th of 11 top 40 singles for the now-fairly-unknown Dove, who possessed a kinda oddly-pitched voice, singing overly dramatic material. Nothing special here.
19 25 A WORLD OF OUR OWN –•– The Seekers (Capitol)-7 (19) — I’m not a big fan of folky pop, but I am a big fan of cheesy harmony singing, so where does that leave me?
20 27 (Such an) EASY QUESTION –•– Elvis Presley (RCA Victor)-4 (20) — Elvis back in winking “hey girl” mode here, which he finessed so fucking well. Talk about a man who knew how to sing to women, damn.


Posted in 1960s, charts

Pop top 40: 7/2/88


A surprisingly good countdown, with a bunch of true classics contained therein.

1 2 DIRTY DIANA –•– Michael Jackson – 9 (1st week at #1) — Talk about a song that hit the top on sheer momentum: this was the fifth and final #1 off Bad, but when’s the last time you heard it? Or heard anyone say they like it? Robert Christgau famously called this song “as misogynistic as any piece of metal suck-my-cock,” and he’s not wrong. This takes the paranoia and distrust of women of “Billie Jean” to its worst possible extremes; the only saving grace here is Steve Stevens’s ridiculously shredding solo.
2 1 FOOLISH BEAT –•– Debbie Gibson – 11 (1) — The youngest artist ever to have a self-written, -produced, and -performed #1 (she was 17 at the time), Gibson clearly knew what she was doing. I’ve always been surprised that her star fell so quickly, because being such a consummate pro, I would’ve thought she’d have been more able to ride shifting pop trends than she was. But still, five top 5 singles — and a pair of #1s — is an achievement that many would give up an arm for. Her other #1, also a ballad (“Lost In Your Eyes”), is utter pablum, but “Foolish Beat” is smart. Just start with that title! I’m actually more than a little surprised that some enterprising indie kids haven’t covered this tale of heartbreak by now, because it could stand up to a genre-revisionist treatment quite nicely, methinks. In summary: if you were expecting me to poop all over this, you’re wrong.
3 5 THE FLAME –•– Cheap Trick – 13 (3) — I mean, I really can’t begrudge Cheap Trick’s only (soon-to-be: the very next week) #1 record. Bun E. Carlos: “Tom Petersson rejoined in 1988, and then the vice president at Epic Records told us he had these two songs and they’re both gonna be #1. He goes, ‘We got one for you and one for the group Chicago, but you can have first choice.’ He said, ‘I think the one ‘The Flame’ would be good for you guys.’ The other one was ‘Look Away,’ and it sounded like some girl singing on the demo. We really didn’t like that song anyway, so ‘Sure, we’ll do ‘The Flame.’ We’re game.'” Robin Zander sings the hell out of it, too.
4 4 MAKE IT REAL –•– The Jets – 12 (4) — This pile of nuclear sludge was co-written and -produced by the manager of the Polynesian-American would-be (and briefly-were) Osmonds; that’s really all you need to know about it.
5 6 THE VALLEY ROAD –•– Bruce Hornsby & The Range – 10 (5) — This is a C+-at-best of a song, a middling adult contemporary (where it hit #1, in fact) song. But the video is just — ugh. Hornsby has a smarmy perma-grin plastered on his face — if you’ve ever wondered what the DNA of both Dave Matthews and John Mayer is, here you go — and because part of the chorus goes “walk on, walk on,” it features lots of people, you’ll never guess, walking. Mostly doing “funny walks.” Which aren’t funny at all. Bruce Hornsby was an asshole, y’all.
6 9 MERCEDES BOY –•– Pebbles – 9 (6) — I wanna ride, and I suspect you do too. And this made it — I hadn’t recalled this — to #2! Were it not for the aforementioned Cheap Trick, Pebbles would’ve had a #1 pop single. If only.
7 10 POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME –•– Def Leppard – 11 (7) — One of the greatest records of “Mutt” Lange’s career, hands down, and arguably the single that took Def Leppard from a big rock band to international superstars. It was, amazingly, the fourth single from Hysteria, and the one that saved it: not only did the success of this monster send its parent album to #1 almost exactly a year after its release (it spent six weeks there across three stints, trading off with the likes of Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses [’88 was a good year for hard rock] and, er, Steve Winwood and Tracy Chapman), but this #2 smash (kept from the top by the fast-rising Richard Marx, see #15) also led to its follow-up, the ballad “Love Bites,” giving the Sheffield band their one and only US #1 single. They even got the ridiculous “Armageddon It” into the top 3, and with glam tribute “Rocket”‘s bringing up the rear, Lep ended up with six top 20 singles from Hysteria (started by the #19 “Animal” and the #10 title track). But goddamn, this record: full of absurd double- (and single-) entendres, including the so-obscene-it’s-hilarious I-can’t-believe-they-got-this-on-top-40-radio “You got the peaches, I got the cream”; awesome drumming from Rick Allen, outfitted with a kit that allowed him (and still does to this day) to drum with one arm and both feet; that incredible twin-guitar attack of Phil Collen and the late Steve Clark; Lange’s arena-sized production; and of course, Joe Elliot’s son-of-glam super-sized vocals. If you wanna call it hair metal, be my guest, though to me this is just one of the finest hard rock singles of its era, and a guaranteed party-starter from here until the end of time. God bless ’em.
8 11 NOTHIN’ BUT A GOOD TIME –•– Poison – 11 (8) — This is almost the photo negative of the preceding single, a fluffy, light, and oh so silly hair metal record. It’s ain’t bad, but it ain’t great either, and it does not ensure a “good time.”
9 16 NEW SENSATION –•– INXS – 8 (9) — — The best single from the overrated Kick from a band I’ve always found overrated themselves. This, at least, swings.
10 3 TOGETHER FOREVER –•– Rick Astley – 12 (1) — I’ve always attested that the best Stock Aitken Waterman production is Bananarama’s “I Heard A Rumour,” but their numbers two and three records are this classic and the classic that preceded it in his discography. Obviously “Never Gonna Give You Up” is sublime, but there’s a certain jouissance to “Together Forever” that nudges it just ahead of the former for me. Pledges of life-long devotion are never a bad thing, either. This is a great song, produced deceptively simply, and Astley sings his heart out on it. A perfect single.

11 15 NITE AND DAY –•– Al B. Sure! – 13 (11) — It had already topped the R&B chart two months prior, and was just shy of its #7 pop peak this week. Oh, and it may be the best record in this entire countdown. Even with the likes of Def Lep and Rick Astley, discussed above, there’s a real magic to this single, largely I think down to its production by Sure! and his right-hand man Kyle West. This is feather-light new jack swing, next-gen R&B that, real talk, paved the way for the likes of Tevin Campbell and Jodeci (both of whom Sure! and West would work with). There are so many perfect little touches: the keyboard squiggles in the verses, those heavenly stacked all-Sure! backing vocals, the way the verses ascend into the chorus like the clouds exposing a brilliantly blue sky.
12 8 ALPHABET ST. –•– Prince – 10 (8) — Even Godlike geniuses should not always be given total control of their videos. The song, for me, is midlevel Prince — still better than most music in the world, but when it comes to Prince, I expect better.
13 14 I STILL BELIEVE –•– Brenda K. Starr – 14 (13) — Did you know that Starr’s father was the organist for the Spiral Staircase, responsible for the glorious 1969 single “More Today Than Yesterday”? (For my money, “Yesterday” does in one record everything that Three Dog Night attempted and failed over their entire career.) That record peaked at #12, one notch higher than Starr’s own enduring single, which — more fun facts — was produced by Eumir Deodato! Sure, this has been covered by Mariah Carey, but Starr’s is the superior version, very classically late-’80s NYC pop ballad, with a singer who you can hear is a ’round-the-way girl. This is absolutely of a piece with the ballads by all of the ladies of freestyle, from Sweet Sensation to Exposé, yet for some reason (and it’s not just Mariah), this one’s endured. Of which I strongly approve.
14 12 KISS ME DEADLY –•– Lita Ford – 14 (12) — You should get a cream for that, Lita.
15 19 HOLD ON TO THE NIGHTS –•– Richard Marx – 7 (15) — I’m a surprising sometimes-defender of Marx, but this ballad is a bit too schlocky by half.
16 7 ONE MORE TRY –•– George Michael – 12 (1) — The organ’s very churchy, but nothing else about “One More Try” is. GM of course sounds impeccable, but for my money it’s the least interesting of all of Faith‘s singles, and a bit of a plod. Not bad, just not up to the standards of Faith.
17 18 BEDS ARE BURNING –•– Midnight Oil – 14 (17) — THEY! WERE! SO! STRIDENT! Talk about a band without a sense of humor, or any idea how to have a good time: Midnight Oil were all political and serious, all the time. That said, back in the summer of ’88 I dearly loved their US breakthrough Diesel and Dust (the other side of the TDK 90 I had it taped on was Tracy Chapman, which makes all the sense in the world). What they had to say was extremely important, but it’s not much fun to listen to these days.
18 20 LOST IN YOU –•– Rod Stewart – 9 (18) — Rod’s Out of Order album, which inexplicably housed a quartet of top 20 singles, was co-produced by Andy Taylor and Bernard Edwards, so why does it sound like a musical abortion? And if it’s a video set in a strip club you wanna see, well, Mötley Crüe did it much better the previous year.
19 21 RUSH HOUR –•– Jane Wiedlin – 9 (19) — It’s a cute enough pop ditty, but — well, I hate to say it, but her music was more interesting when she was high. That said, I once spent a wedding reception seated next to Wiedlin, and she’s a perfectly lovely person and fine conversationalist.
20 23 HANDS TO HEAVEN –•– Breathe – 12 (20) — Headed to #2 (stopped cold by the heinous song below it in this countdown), this really is the definitive sophistipop ballad, isn’t it? I’ve always regretted that Alfred and I didn’t include this in our definitive sophistipop guide. They performed much better in the US — a trio of top 10s from their debut (of which this was the biggest), and even two smaller top 40 singles from the 1990 follow-up — than in their native UK, where only this even made the top 40, a rare instance of sophistipoppers succeeding more bigly on the other side of the ocean from their home. Soft, jazzy pop like this is pablum to me.

21 29 ROLL WITH IT –•– Steve Winwood – 4 (21) — This is absolute nadir of adult contemporary “beer commercial rock,” and it’s vulgar and gross and I loathe it with all my heart.
22 28 MAKE ME LOSE CONTROL –•– Eric Carmen – 7 (22) — Carmen struck while the iron was hot and went one notch higher than his Dirty Dancing comeback smash “Hungry Eyes”; that made it to #4, but this climbed to #3. It’s a slight ’60s Brill building pastiche (I mean, dance with the one who brought you, I guess) with thundering drums, and I’d like very much to never hear it again.
23 13 CIRCLE IN THE SAND –•– Belinda Carlisle – 12 (7) — For whatever reason, this song always makes me think of lost love; it’s got a very appeallingly wistful feel to it.
24 30 PARADISE –•– Sade – 8 (24) — You wanna talk consistency? 33 years on, these UK legends have released nine albums, including a live disc and two compilations, and every single one has made the US pop top 10. Their days of hit singles are long behind them — this was their final single to hit the US top 20, and their sole R&B #1 — but consistency is the very essence of their game. This single’s a fine distillation of their formula-not-formula, a jazzy R&B record with a tinge of funk (in this case, the bass), topped by Helen Folasade Adu’s super cool vocals.
25 27 TALL COOL ONE –•– Robert Plant – 12 (25) — a/k/a The One Where Robert Stopped Running Away From His Led Zep Legacy. And the video came complete with a dance!
26 32 PARENTS JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND –•– D.J. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – 7 (26) — Jazzy Jeff was the talented one, in case you were wondering.
27 34 SIGN YOUR NAME –•– Terence Trent D’Arby – 6 (27) — I’ve no interest in arguing whether it was his big mouth that hurt his career in the US, but Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby is indisputably one of the greatest, most audacious debut album titles ever, and is a solid soul-pop record (though I’ve never quite gotten those who gush over it — it’s fine, but he’s no Prince, people). Released as the follow-up to the #1 “Wishing Well,” this climbed to #4, but it doesn’t move quickly enough for me; its tempo is just sluggish.
28 40 1-2-3 –•– Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine – 5 (28) — Astoundingly, this was the fifth and final single from 1987’s Let It Loose, which took four singles before it finally gave Gloria and her band of merry men their first #1, the lovely ballad “Anything for You.” (All three of her/their #1s, in fact, were ballads.) So at this point, this was pure gravy, basically a well-earned victory lap, as clearly evidenced by its “live” video, in which no members of the MSM, Gloria included, even try to hide their mile-wide smiles — and why would they? (Added bonus: Gloria in leather chaps!) This single is pure unadulterated joy and I love it utterly and if you disagree with me you are WRONG!
29 17 EVERYTHING YOUR HEART DESIRES –•– Daryl Hall & John Oates – 12 (3) — After three years off, post-Live Aid, Daryl & John returned with a new record deal on Arista, and a slightly less slick sound on Ooh Yeah!. But, as I touched on in my 2016 PopCon paper “What Does An Imperial Phase Sound Like?,” the times had, suddenly, passed the boys by. Lead single “Desires” performed quite ably, making it to #3 pop and even #12 R&B (!), but not even Hall’s ever-more-resplendent lion’s mane of blonde hair could cover up the fact that their Imperial Phase had ended. Subsequent singles tanked (apart from 1990’s not very good Jon Bon Jovi [oh, the indignity!] co-production “So Close,” which Clive Davis’s payola got to #11), and their hitmaking days were over like that. On the whole, Ooh Yeah! is no patch on their previous work, either, so I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. Saddened, sure, but every artist’s string of hits has to end sometime.
30 38 THE COLOUR OF LOVE –•– Billy Ocean – 6 (30) — The follow-up to the vomitous #1 “Get Outta My Dreams” (etc.) is a wallpaper-bland ballad that Billy doesn’t even seem to sing as if his heart’s in it.

31 39 JUST GOT PAID –•– Johnny Kemp – 8 (31) — Identikit early new jack swing from Teddy Riley, who could and would do plenty better, with a personality-less singer on the credits.
32 31 SUPERSONIC –•– J.J. Fad – 11 (30) — How did this wonder, a west coast rap single by a female trio (produced by Dr. Dre, Yella, and Arabian Prince, I might add), scrape up to #30, you ask? Sales: it sold over 500K and was certified gold. Oh, and it’s also a little marvel of a late ’80s pop-rap song that never fails to bring a smile to my face…
33 45 DO YOU LOVE ME –•– The Contours – 5 (33) — …as opposed to this 1962 zombie of a record, resurrected by the horror that was Dirty Dancing. I hate every single thing about this record, and I couldn’t really tell you why, apart from that I generally loathe “instructional” dance records, from “The Twist” all the way to “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).” If you really wanna see me angry, play this. I dare you.
34 41 I DON’T WANNA LIVE WITHOUT YOUR LOVE –•– Chicago – 5 (34) — Bill Champlin is a key figure in yacht rock, and he’s singing lead here (as he did on most Chicago singles between the eras of Peter Cetera and Jason Scheff), but this most definitely ain’t yacht rock. This is Adult Contemporary gruel, co-written by Diane Warren and produced by Ron Nevison. This lead single from Chicago 19 (to be followed by “Look Away,” which bridged years chart-wise and was the #1 song of 1989 and may be even worse), this is terrible — but its we-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-we’re-doing video must be seen to be believed. Seriously, watch it.
35 42 I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY –•– Kylie Minogue – 9 (35) — I don’t care for Kylie’s cover of “The Locomotion,” which came after this and was a top 3 smash in the US, but that’s less her fault and more that song. This however is one of my favorite of her Stock Aitken Waterman singles, with a mature vocal that belies her young years and a confident step in both her vocal and the song’s lyrics. It only made it to #28 in the US — I presume, perhaps, because it just sounded too not-American? — but deserved much better.
36 47 I DON’T WANNA GO ON WITH YOU LIKE THAT –•– Elton John – 3 (36) — Last year, I said I’d give this an A-. These days, make it a straight-up A. Everything else I said at the time still applies, especially regarding that absolutely bananas Shep Pettibone “’80s-est thing the ’80s ever ’80s’d” remix.
37 25 NAUGHTY GIRLS (NEED LOVE TOO) –•– Samantha Fox – 19 (3) — Full Force: what a nutty career they’ve had, from “I Wonder If I Take You Home” and “Roxanne, Roxanne” to “All I Have to Give” and “Don’t Phunk With My Heart.” Their work on the first Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam album is still my favorite, but this comes close. And it is/was so unexpected: what were these six hip-hop guys from Brooklyn doing writing and producing for a topless model from London? Making magic, it turns out, because both this and “I Wanna Have Some Fun” are pretty cracking singles, and definitely a couple notches above the likes of “Touch Me.” Love the orchestra hits in this — Full Force loved orchestra hits — and the fact the even when singing, Fox sounds so British; the contrast between her vocals and the hip-hop-influenced beat is magical.
38 44 LOVE CHANGES (EVERYTHING) –•– Climie Fisher – 8 (38) — Oh, the joyfulness of this! I discovered “Love Changes (Everything)” first on the syndicated radio show Rock Over London — which was really more like indie and pop music from the British isles — because this fabulous, vibrant Stephen Hague production (remixed slightly by Bob Clearmountain) had climbed to #2 in the UK (kept from the top by Pet Shop Boys’ “Heart”). I remember being stunned when it actually made inroads in the US, because something about this just seemed so classically Brit/pop to me. Hearing it now, it makes total sense: this is very much of a piece with the likes of Go West, only far superior. Rob Fisher knew from great pop singles, having been half of Naked Eyes; Simon Climie was a superb vocal foil for him. This is pure Vitamin D.
39 43 TROUBLE –•– Nia Peeples – 8 (39) — Paula Abdul before Paula Abdul, but without the songs. Also, Peeples inexplicably has her own Vevo channel.
40 35 HEART OF MINE –•– Boz Scaggs – 10 (35) — Don’t know how this made it into the pop top 40, because I cannot imagine top 40 radio playing this in 1988, but an unsurprising #3 on the AC chart. Smooth, because it’s Boz, but way too glossy, because it’s produced by Stewart Levine (“Holding Back the Years,” “Up Where We Belong”). A huge hit at the time on VH1.

Posted in 1980s, charts

Pop top 30: 6/24/78


Alfred was the one who originally, specifically asked me to do a chart from the ’70s, and since I’ve already done one from the first half of the decade, it makes sense to go for one from the disco years. And is it ever! To paraphrase Barry White’s hit at #24: oh, what a chart for dancing! However, a warning: Grease content ahead.

1 1 SHADOW DANCING –•– Andy Gibb (RSO) -11 (2 weeks at #1) (1) — Thanks to the production and songwriting prowess of his big brothers, Andy was able to make some pop singles almost as good as theirs. Almost.
2 3 BAKER STREET –•– Gerry Rafferty (United Artists) -10 (2) — No, this isn’t yacht rock.
3 4 IT’S A HEARTACHE –•– Bonnie Tyler (RCA) -14 (3) — She could’ve had a career like Bonnie Raitt’s, I think, but someone somewhere made some poor choices. At least we’ll always have “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
4 2 YOU’RE THE ONE THAT I WANT –•– John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (RSO) -13 (1) — I pretty much hate this song, except for Olivia’s verses. Travolta is a horrendous singer (if that’s what you’d even call him), and the chorus is appalling. ONJ does the best she can with what she’s given. That said, credit Grease with the start of the “sexy Olivia” makeover/narrative, which I am not mad about. (See also: “A Little More Love,” “Physical” and everything that came after “Physical.”)
5 6 TAKE A CHANCE ON ME –•– Abba (Atlantic) -10 (5) — What glorious popcraft they made. This song is so great that I even like Erasure’s cover of it, and I generally am not a fan of Erasure at all. But of course it’s no patch on the perfection of Benny and Björn’s production: turning the “take a chance, take a chance, take a ch-ka-chance-chance” refrain into the rhythm track was a stroke of genius.
6 9 YOU BELONG TO ME –•– Carly Simon (Elektra) -11 (6) — Oh, goddamn. I tend to run a bit hot & cold on Simon, but when she hits it, watch out. From 1972’s “The Right Thing to Do” to the Chic-produced 1982 single “Why,” as well as 1987’s pop comeback Coming Around Again, her career has plenty of high points — but maybe none higher than this sultry midtempo “don’t you dare fuck anyone else” plead which Simon cowrote with the godlike Michael McDonald. I mean, think about that: it takes a lot to make a pleading song sultry, yet Simon does so with seemingly no effort. Arif Mardin’s production bathes the song in warmth, and David Sanborn’s sax is an able dance partner for Simon as the song vamps its way out. This song is absolutely perfect, a rare McDonald composition sung better by someone else. And one more thing: Boys in the Trees is one of the sexiest album covers of all time.
7 12 USE TA BE MY GIRL –•– The O’Jays (Philadelphia International) -9 (7) — Their 8th R&B #1 on Philadelphia International, and their first pop top 10 since ’75’s “I Love Music” (on its way to a #4 peak), “Use Ta Be My Girl” is a premium example of the O’Jays as the finest vessel for Gamble & Huff’s superlative songwriting and production. This is sweeping, symphonic soul that fit into disco playlists without actually being disco, anchored of course by Eddie Levert, Sr.’s incredible vocals (yep, Eddie Jr. and Gerald, later of LeVert, got it from their Daddy).
8 10 LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN –•– Sweet (Capitol) -19 (8) — Kind of a fluke final hit, coming three years since their last top 10 in the US or UK, ’75’s “Fox on the Run.” This is all pomp and no circumstance, all but prog rock distilled into single essence. And accordingly, it’s not that good.
9 16 STILL THE SAME –•– Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (Capitol) -7 (9) — Seger’s Stranger in Town, along with 1976’s Night Moves his most-certified studio album, at 6M US, was also his first top 5 album, and it’s easy to see why: the singles taken from it were this one, “Hollywood Nights,” “We’ve Got Tonite [sic],” and “Old Time Rock and Roll.” If you’re over 35, chances are you know each and every one of those songs, maybe even by heart, whether you want to or not. This was the biggest hit but feels a little flat now, though the songwriting’s solid.
10 11 DANCE WITH ME –•– Peter Brown with Betty Wright (Drive) -17 (10) — Written with his partner in crime Robert Rans, and produced by TK house producer Cory Wade, this was Brown’s biggest hit, going top 10 on both the R&B and pop charts, and justifiably so: this is state of the art disco that also scores high on the quality meter. Fun fact: Brown and Rans later became very, very, very rich, because they wrote a little song you may have heard of called “Material Girl.”

11 13 THE GROOVE LINE –•– Heatwave (Epic) -8 (11) — Before he became Quincy Jones’s right hand man in the studio — and especially as a songwriter, perhaps you’ve heard a few of his compositions? — Rod Temperton led this shit-hot UK funk band. You can’t argue a lick with a CV that includes “Boogie Nights,” “Always and Forever,” and this, no, you can’t.
12 14 TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD –•– Meat Loaf (Epic / Cleveland International) -15 (12) — [insert joke about warmed-over leftover meatloaf here]
13 15 BECAUSE THE NIGHT –•– The Patti Smith Group (Arista) -12 (13) — It’s still shocking, almost 40 years later, to see that Patti Smith had a top 20 single — and with a Springsteen song, no less! Her band was so tough, and they had to be, to back her up. Superlative.
14 5 TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE –•– Johnny Mathis / Deniece Williams (Columbia) -13 (1) — Fitting that years later they sang the theme for Family Ties, because this kind of sounds like a TV theme itself. “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” is a little too sweet and too cute.
15 7 FEELS SO GOOD –•– Chuck Mangione (A&M) -20 (4) — A flugelhorn player hit the top 5 in 1978: it was a different time. This is also an all-time smooth jazz jam, though I actually prefer 1980’s “Give It All You Got” (which hit #18, but like this was a #1 AC record).
16 18 EVERY KINDA PEOPLE –•– Robert Palmer (Island) -14 (16) — One of the few white musicians capable of pulling off credible pop-reggae, and a better singer than you likely recall.
17 20 BLUER THAN BLUE –•– Michael Johnson (EMI-America) -10 (17) — Achingly, beautifully sad, this song says so much.
18 21 YOU’RE THE LOVE –•– Seals and Crofts (Warner Brothers) -11 (18) — Wherein the folky light-rock duo add a touch of the disco rhythm to their sound, with solid results.
19 22 EVEN NOW –•– Barry Manilow (Arista) -8 (19) — Once a Broadway baby, always a Broadway baby.
20 23 LAST DANCE –•– Donna Summer (Casablanca) -7 (20) — The first disco record to go from ballad to disco tempo within the space of a single, I can still remember how stunning this sounded on the radio in ’78 (I was 7 years old at the time). Songwriter Paul Jabara deserved every single award he received for this, which included both the Golden Globe and the Oscar. And as for Summer, watch this clip of her performing at the Oscars and marvel and the control and power she displays. She could belt and bellow without breaking a sweat; what a phenomenal singer and artist.

21 8 ON BROADWAY –•– George Benson (Warner Brothers) -16 (7) — Great singer, ridiculous guitar player, jazz legend: that’s George Benson. “On Broadway” has always read a little kitschy to me, but then again, I’m no Broadway baby.
22 28 I WAS ONLY JOKING –•– Rod Stewart (Warner Brothers) -9 (22) — Underproduced, in a fine way, because it specifically spotlights Rod’s voice, which was at its best right around this time.
23 29 FOLLOW YOU, FOLLOW ME –•– Genesis (Atlantic) -10 (23) — The sound of three guys free to mold their prog songs into pop songs and actually have, y’know, hits. Shame the song isn’t stronger.
24 25 OH WHAT A NIGHT FOR DANCING –•– Barry White (20th Century) -9 (24) — “All the discotheques better be ready/We’re gonna hit ’em, hot ‘n heavy,” he sings — yet, fascinatingly, this is barely midtempo, almost a slow dance. Not a White classic, but subpar White is like subpar pizza, still pretty good.
25 31 MISS YOU –•– Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones) -5 (25) — Like most great disco songs, this comes down to its rhythm section: Charlie Watts showing you that most great disco is four-on-the-floor, and Bill Wyman playing one of the funkiest basslines he’d ever play. Credit too Mick & Keith, whose production on this is so goddamn smart. Yeah, it’s a disco song, but it’s still inherently a Stones song, too.
26 17 WITH A LITTLE LUCK –•– Wings (Capitol) -14 (1) — Paul sounds great bathed in waves of synthesizer, doesn’t he? He also sounds gloriously happy: credit his beloved Linda for that.
27 33 WONDERFUL TONIGHT –•– Eric Clapton (RSO) -7 (27) — One of the whitest love songs ever recorded, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
28 30 ALMOST SUMMER –•– Celebration Featuring Mike Love (MCA) -9 (28) — A Beach Boys cast-off that reeks of hot garbage in the sun.
29 34 I CAN’T STAND THE RAIN –•– Eruption (Ariola America) -16 (29) — Eruption were a Euro funk group under the wing of Frank Farian, he of Boney M and Milli Vanilli fame. Accordingly, they sound very Euro-slick and not very interesting on this Ann Peebles cover.
30 37 ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG –•– Billy Joel (Columbia) -7 (30) — Apparently true, because Billy Joel’s still with us.

Posted in 1970s, charts

Pop top 40: 6/12/82


This is not the best chart, despite my love for 1982 pop. As we were moving into mid-1982, new wave hadn’t quite caught fire yet in the US (though notice the Human League sneaking closer to the top, the first clear sign, with Soft Cell about the crack the top 20 as well), and the disco boom was 2+ years bust, which left primarily super soft adult contemporary balladry and AOR as the main components of top 40 radio. Programmers were still by and large scared of R&B thanks to “disco sucks,” save a title here or there, so the hits of ’82 were very, very Caucasian. And a little uninspiring.

1 1 EBONY AND IVORY –•– Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder (Columbia)-10 (5 weeks at #1) — Like a mouthful of dish detergent.
2 2 DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS –•– Rick Springfield (RCA)-15 (2) — One of the greatest lyrics of all time, don’t argue with me, is “Did you fall at first sight/Or did you need a shove?” It doesn’t hurt that it’s set to Rick’s smoothest pop-rock groove ever. It’s always saddened me that this couldn’t get to #1 (stopped by the atrocity above it); this is so much better than “Jessie’s Girl,” the one that did go the distance. Also, always worth repeating one of the most surprising chart stats of the ’80s: Springfield had 17 top 40 hits. 17.
3 6 DON’T YOU WANT ME –•– The Human League (A&M)-15 (3) — Casey Kasem, announcing this as the #8 single of 1982 on the American Top 40 year-end countdown: “More new wave music hit the charts in 1982 than in previous years — and this is the biggest new wave hit of the year. It’s by the English band from Sheffield whose members all play the same kind of instrument,” he says bemusedly, “synthesizers!” That said, the only other new wave record to make the entire year-end top 100 was down at #21 below. That also said, these two records were, in the US, on the true crest of the wave. We had no idea what was coming. “Don’t You Want Me” is so well-written that it’s never burned for me a bit. A truly genius pop record from a band who made quite a few of them.
4 5 THE OTHER WOMAN –•– Ray Parker Jr. (Arista)-13 (4) — He was great at yacht soul, and he was also great at what I call AOR&B. RPJ could rock up his R&B like no one else at the time — it helps that his primary instrument was the guitar, which he could play the fuck out of — and nothing exemplifies it like “The Other Woman.” Lyrically, this is an only-in-the-early-’80s record: the opening lines of the first verse are “I’m just an average guy/I fool around a little on the side.” Good to know, Ray! And it turns out, this time he fell in love with his “other woman.” Well, I mean, you get what you pay for, right? <laughing> But seriously, this is a killer little single, maybe his best, and it sounds so awesomely 1982.
5 7 ALWAYS ON MY MIND –•– Willie Nelson (Columbia)-15 (5) — Amazing that this song, originally an Elvis record, has been remade in two fairly definitive versions, being of course this one and the 1987 take by the Pet Shop Boys. And they couldn’t be more different. Willie’s version is one of the prettiest of his singles, delicately produced, and his voice (always an incredible instrument) sounds just lovely.
6 8 HEAT OF THE MOMENT –•– Asia (Geffen)-9 (6) — Did you know that the #1 album of 1982 was Asia? The late ’70s and early ’80s were monster years for AOR, and British prog supergroup Asia rode the fuck outta that wave. Even without a #1 single — this made it to #4, while follow-up “Only Time Will Tell” crept to #17 — their eponymous debut spent nine weeks atop the Billboard 200 across May, June, and July of ’82. By and large the album succeeds at distilling the poppiest elements of prog (its members had logged time in Yes, Kimg Crimson, and ELP) into slick radio-friendly rock. As both a fan of early ’80s AOR and a decided non-fan of prog rock, I approve of this heartily. And “Heat of the Moment” is also a snappy little pop-rock record.
7 10 ROSANNA –•– Toto (Columbia)-9 (7) — The first cassette I ever owned was Toto IV, gifted to me by one of my best friends on my 12th birthday (Dec ’82). This was its first single, which got stuck at #2 for five weeks, and while it’s definitely classic yacht rock, it’s by no means the best single from the album (that would be third single “Africa,” their first and only #1).
8 11 CRIMSON AND CLOVER –•– Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (Boardwalk)-7 (8) — I’ve never cared for Tommy James and the Shondells, and not even Joan Jett could change that.
9 4 867-5309/JENNY –•– Tommy Tutone (Columbia)-21 (4) — Bar-band rockers who got lucky.
10 12 IT’S GONNA TAKE A MIRACLE –•– Deniece Williams (ARC)-11 (10) — This is a cover of a minor 1965 single by the Royalettes, but to my ears Williams’ version has always read very ’50s; it’s also gorgeous and stately.

11 3 I’VE NEVER BEEN TO ME –•– Charlene (Motown)-18 (3) — One of the most gloriously, epically bad top 10 records of all time. It’s supersoft pop on par (this ain’t a compliment) with “You Light Up My Life,” completed note-perfectly by one of the most ridiculous sets of lyrics in history (to wit: “I’ve been to Georgia and California/And anywhere I could run/I took the hand of a preacher man/And we made love in the sun … I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me”). A karaoke classic, and one whose lyrics I quote all the time — weirdly, especially with my Mom. I think that her “appreciation” of this song in ’82 was one of my first clear signals that she had a sense of humor.
12 17 BODY LANGUAGE –•– Queen (Elektra)-7 (12) — Speaking of ridiculous… If you didn’t know without a doubt that Freddie Mercury was gay after hearing this song, you weren’t paying attention. Also, I love that he finally got Queen to go full-on synth funk on this absurd song. In fact, I love everything about “Body Language.”
13 16 MAKING LOVE –•– Roberta Flack (Atlantic)-15 (13) — Somehow, a Robert Flack theme from a film about a man discovering that he prefers men to women — starring Harry Hamlin, in 1982, and I cannot emphasize these points enough — made it into the top 15. It’s a Bachrach/Bayer Sager song (with Bruce Roberts), and sounds like it. I kinda love the overly soft synths: I mean, my god, this is not that far away from bathhouse new age music, if you think about it.
14 14 MAN ON YOUR MIND –•– The Little River Band (Capitol)-11 (14) — LRB had 13 top 40 singles in the US. 13, stretching from ’75 to ’83! This one, at its chart peak, was the third consecutive US top 40 hit from their ’81 album Time Exposure, their only album to do so. It was also their next-to-last top 20 single, and I suspect the reason is a simple one: they were not very good at videos. Really not very good.
15 18 LOVE’S BEEN A LITTLE BIT HARD ON ME –•– Juice Newton (Capitol)-6 (15) — Speaking of videos, you should watch this one immediately, because it’s so wonderfully cheesy, and knows it. Juice Newton was the queen of country-pop crossover in the early ’80s, and this one interestingly was a much bigger pop (#7) than country (#30) hit. It’s also a cracking little single, uptempo and entertaining as hell.
16 19 LET IT WHIP –•– The Dazz Band (Motown)-8 (16) — A precious few R&B records broke through in ’82, one of the biggest being this #1 R&B (5 weeks)/#5 pop smash by the former jazz fusioners the Dazz Band. They themselves didn’t really have much personality, but this one shot sure did.
17 20 HURTS SO GOOD –•– John Cougar (Riva)-8 (17) — When I took a look at the career of the great John Mellencamp last week, I ranked this his 6th-best single, largely because of how damn tough this record sounds. Credit mostly Kenny Aronoff‘s drumming and Don Gehman’s smart production.
18 9 ’65 LOVE AFFAIR –•– Paul Davis (Arista)-16 (6) — I love this stupid song, which hearkens to the days “when rock’n’roll was simple and clear,” yet does so with silly early ’80s pop production (including lots of synthetic handclaps).
19 13 EMPTY GARDEN (Hey Hey Johnny) –•– Elton John (Geffen)-13 (13) — Only John/Taupin could work such an awkward word as “flagstones” into a hit record. I find this a bit overproduced and a bit maudlin, but considering it’s John’s tribute to his late friend John Lennon, it’s hard to find too much fault.
20 24 CAUGHT UP IN YOU –•– 38 Special (A&M)-7 (20) — These wild-eyed southern boys first hit top 10 pop paydirt (#10), and #1 on the AOR chart, with this single from their most successful album, Special Forces. They did so by wedding their southern rock grit with slick arena-ready AOR production, with a songwriting assist from, I kid you not, Survivor’s Jim Peterik. I’m not sure southern rock has ever been so tidily distilled into popcraft as right here.

21 29 TAINTED LOVE –•– Soft Cell (Sire)-22 (21) — Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret is a stunning album, basically made in a tiny studio by just Dave Ball (playing everything) and Marc Almond (singing), with Mike Thorne behind the boards, understanding that the best thing he could do was as little as possible in this case. Not only will I argue that much of the roots of electroclash can be found here, I will also never not be amazed that their sleazy little Northern Soul cover topped the charts basically all over the world, and even made the US top 10 (in a slow climb that helped it, at the time, shatter the record for the longest stay on the Hot 100, at 43 weeks). What a brilliant single.
22 15 DID IT IN A MINUTE –•– Daryl Hall and John Oates (RCA)-13 (9) — One of their more rockin’ Imperial Phase hits, even being led by electric piano, the third and final top 10 single from Private Eyes is no patch on its predecessors (the title track and “I Can’t Go For That,” both #1 singles), but is likely better than you recall.
23 21 RUN FOR THE ROSES –•– Dan Fogelberg (Full Moon)-11 (18) — Fogelberg was capable of great AC/pop records with a dash of folk, and bathetic ones, too. This falls into the latter category.
24 26 WITHOUT YOU (Not Another Lonely Night) –•– Frankie and the Knockouts (Millenium)-11 (24) — I’m quite the stan for their 1981 #10 single “Sweetheart,” but I had to look this one up; I’m not sure I’d ever heard it before. At its chart peak, their third and final top 40 record is completely nondescript 1982 pop-rock.
25 31 ANY DAY NOW –•– Ronnie Milsap (RCA)-7 (25) — If Juice Newton was the post-Dolly country crossover queen, then Milsap was the post-Kenny king. This Chuck Jackson cover is, of course, anchored by Milsap’s sterling piano and beautiful vocals. On its way to #14 pop, but it made it to #1 on both the country and AC (5 weeks!) charts.
26 28 WHEN IT’S OVER –•– Loverboy (with Nancy Nash) (Columbia)-10 (26) –I always misread this as “with Niecy Nash,” which would make this slog of a power ballad better.
27 33 TAKE ME DOWN –•– Alabama (RCA)-4 (27) — Alabama were the biggest country act of the ’80s, notching, and this is not a typo, 21 consecutive #1 country singles. This was the seventh in that run, also their third (and final) top 20 pop single. It sounds like country because everything Alabama touched sounds country, but in reality, this is southern soft-rock more than it’s country — which helps explain its crossover performance.
28 32 PLAY THE GAME TONIGHT –•– Kansas (Kirshner)-6 (28) — Just as in ’91/’92 the charts saw the last gasps of hair metal gods gracing the top 40, in ’82/’83 the bloated corpses of ’70s prog-AOR giants were still roaming the land, looking for entrance into the charts one last time. I mean, look at these guys: talk about having faces for radio.
29 34 ONLY THE LONELY –•– The Motels (Capitol)-8 (29) — Martha Davis had this peculiar, almost-catch in her voice, that made it stand out from any other female singer of the era. Credit producer Val Garay for the atmospheric sound of most of their hits, and for knowing just when to include a sax solo.
30 30 WHEN HE SHINES –•– Sheena Easton (EMI-America)-11 (30) — Just as mawkish as “Butterfly Kisses.”

31 35 BREAK IT UP –•– Foreigner (Atlantic)-5 (31) — The follow-up to the all-time longest-running #2 record ever, “Waiting for a Girl Like You” (since tied with Missy Elliott’s “Work It”), they were clearly trying to prove again that they could, y’know, rock. But this thuds rather than rocks, and accordingly only made it to #26. Way to wreck all that hitmaking goodwill, guys. [2nd song on this countdown I had to look up.]
32 23 FANTASY –•– Aldo Nova (Portrait)-12 (23) — Top comment on this song’s video on YouTube: “You may be COOL, but you’ll never be ALDO NOVA stepping out of a helicopter under armed guard wearing a leopard skin body suit with cowboy boots COOL.” I mean, what else can you say?
33 37 FORGET ME NOTS –•– Patrice Rushen (Elektra)-7 (33) — Funny that while Rushen is known as a pianist, this song is known more than anything for its epic, supreme, all-time-classic (cf. “Fastlove”) bassline.
34 49 STILL THEY RIDE –•– Journey (Columbia)-4 (34) — Like Foreigner above them, Journey were on the fourth single from a mega-selling album, and also following up a #2 hit ballad (in their case, “Open Arms”). Unlike Foreigner, this has scope — and Steve Perry. And made it to #19.
35 36 I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START –•– Eddie Rabbitt (Elektra)-10 (35) A schlocky #2 country single that got no further on the pop chart that might’ve benefitted from a more lush, AC production. [3rd song on this countdown I had to look up.]
36 40 PERSONALLY –•– Karla Bonoff (Columbia)-7 (36) — She can’t mail it in. She can’t phone it in. She can’t send it in. Because what great songwriter and one-off hitmaker Karla Bonoff has to give you is SEX.
37 41 AFTER THE GLITTER FADES –•– Stevie Nicks (Modern)-5 (37) — Foreigner, Journey, and Stevie Nicks were all closing out the single cycles on huge 1981 rock albums with fourth singles, all of which (relatively) underperformed. One of the most country-sounding entries in Nicks’ catalog, this actually made it to #70 on the country chart!
38 38 FRIENDS IN LOVE –•– Dionne Warwick and Johnny Mathis (Arista)-9 (38) — There’s Adult Contemporary, and then there’s Adult Contemporary, if you get my meaning. Trust me, don’t put yourself through this.
39 39 MURPHY’S LAW –•– Cheri (Venture)-10 (39) — Now, here’s a fucking diamond in the rough, a gem I only discovered a couple of weeks ago, thanks to of all things, Chromeo’s 2009 volume of the DJ-Kicks series. Their mix concentrates mostly on forgotten/neglected early ’80s new wave/funk gems, a lot of them Canadian. That includes this one-shot from a Quebecois female duo who made it into the US R&B top 5 thanks to (in all likelihood) a funny pitched-up voice on the chorus, a loping bassline, and a clever conceit (15 years before “Ironic,” I might add). The vocals coo, and the groove never quits. Seek this out, because it’s beyond awesome.
40 43 HOPE YOU LOVE ME LIKE YOU SAY YOU DO –•– Huey Lewis and the News (Chrysalis)-5 (40) — Talk about a bar band that got lucky.

Posted in 1980s, charts

When you want it the most, there’s no easy way out: the resurrection, and the best, of Céline Dion


Today, Carl Wilson, author of Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste (which is itself an expansion of his 33 1/3 volume about Céline Dion’s biggest album), has published an article for Maclean’s titled “How Céline Dion became cool.” As Wilson discusses in his piece, coming off of things such as her performance of “My Heart Will Go On” at last month’s Billboard Music Awards, and the recent MTV News column “Céline Dion Is on Another Level of Cool” — and, I’ll add, her recent spate of appearances killing the red carpet — Dion is not only having what we might call a moment, she’s having in many ways a complete re-evaluation of her career and reputation.

Dion has never, ever been seen as “cool” — until now. Since the passing of her beloved manager and husband, René Angelil, she clearly no longer has any fucks to give. And why should she? Her music has never been considered even remotely hip, and she’s gotta have more money than the GDP of Canada, so why not just live her life and enjoy it? She works because she wants to, not because she has to. Which leaves more time for things like these amazing red carpet appearances. Amazing, her attendance last month at the famed Met Ball was the first time she’d ever gone! Her recent “love letter” to the LGBTQ community, commissioned by Billboard, reads less as a PR piece and more like heartfelt words from a woman who knows pain and prejudice (hey, multi-millionaire superstars hurt, too).

Without Barbra Streisand, there’s no Céline Dion, and without Céline Dion, there’s no Adele. Every generation has (and arguably, requires) its huge-lunged diva singing songs of love and pain. There’s a resonance to Dion’s songs; she’s not just singing generically. Sure, her widescreen 70mm mostly-soft pop isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that voice. Goddamn, that voice. And when she marries it with the right material — to wit, not just the Titanic theme, but Jim Steinman’s genius “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” — the results can be pretty magical. Personally, I wish she’d do more good uptempo material, like “Misled” and even the shuffling “That’s the Way It Is” (a true breath of fresh air in late ’99, as I was working at an AC station and dying for tempo). She may never make a great album, and I’m okay with that. I’m just glad she’s around, and glad she’s learned how to wink at herself, and that she’s doing it quite a bit right now.

And who knows? Maybe in five years she’ll head to Malibu and record with Rick Rubin. I wouldn’t be mad at that.

1. “Misled” (The Colour of My Love, 1993)
2. “The Show Must Go On” (featuring Lindsey Stirling) (single, 2016)
3. “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” (Falling Into You, 1996)
4. “That’s the Way It Is” (All the Way… A Decade of Song, 1999)
5. “Tell Him” (duet with Barbra Streisand) (Let’s Talk About Love, 1997)
6. “My Heart Will Go On” (Let’s Talk About Love, 1997)
7. “The Power of Love” (The Colour of My Love, 1993)
8. “A New Day Has Come” (A New Day Has Come, 2002)
9. “Love Can Move Mountains” (Celine Dion, 1992)
10. “At Seventeen” (Loved Me Back to Life, 2013)

Posted in lists, pop