Pop top 40: 3/15/87


Radio analyst Sean Ross wrote a great piece this week about why top 40 radio’s ’80s boom ended so abruptly, as the mid-’80s started inching towards the late ’80s. He suggests that part of the reason was that superstars were releasing uninspiring product (and it was product moreso than music). Another aspect was that nascent soon-to-be-called rhythmic top 40 stations were peeling off a lot of would-be R&B and dance crossovers, leaving mainstream top 40 with a lot of slushy ballads and things that got playlisted because of the name attached, not the sound of the record. And as you’ll see, there is a lot of mediocrity on this chart, 30 years ago this week.

1 2 JACOB’S LADDER –•– Huey Lewis & The News – 9 (1) — Sean Ross: “The superstar semi-hits took up real estate that could have gone to something more exciting. We waited for a new Huey Lewis & the News and we were stuck with ‘Stuck with You.'” The Sports follow-up Fore! is fairly derided as a bland-ish retread, but something about its (and the News’s) final #1 (total payola, IMO) has always attracted me. I give at least some of the credit to the song itself, co-written by Bruce Hornsby and his brother; it’s a bit more lyrically and musically complex than your average News single. I also appreciate that it’s not just another Huey Lewis “I like the hot girl” song/video. But to be honest, if I never heard this song again, I doubt I’d miss it much.
2 4 SOMEWHERE OUT THERE –•– Linda Ronstadt & James Ingram – 13 (2) — Future Titanic songsmith James Horner wrote this with the hacky Mann/Weill, and it sounds like it. Ronstadt and Ingram try valiantly to get it over, but you can’t get blood from a turnip, as my grandmother always said.
3 10 LET’S WAIT AWHILE –•– Janet Jackson – 9 (3) — This ballad came late in the Control album cycle for the reason you might guess: it’s slushy.
4 1 LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER –•– Bon Jovi – 14 (1) — At least this ooga-chucka pop metal sounded like something.
5 12 LEAN ON ME –•– Club Nouveau – 5 (5) — Words cannot adequately express how much I loathe and despise this horrible remake of a song I was never that fond of to begin with.
6 9 MANDOLIN RAIN –•– Bruce Hornsby & The Range – 9 (6) — Well, hello again, Mr. Hornsby! Think about it: 1987 was a time when records like this were top 10 singles. (And played frequently on MTV, no less!). His best single, BTW.
7 5 RESPECT YOURSELF –•– Bruce Willis – 9 (5) — But 1987 was also a time when shit like this clogged up the top 10. No amount of TV fame can justify this, not even the presence of the Pointer Sisters (on essentially duet vocals).
8 8 BIG TIME –•– Peter Gabriel – 16 (8)
9 3 YOU GOT IT ALL –•– The Jets – 18 (3)
10 13 NOTHING’S GONNA STOP US NOW –•– Starship – 7 (10)

11 7 (YOU GOTTA) FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (TO PARTY!) –•– Beastie Boys – 13 (7) — I still don’t understand how this got to top 40 radio, even with wall-to-wall MTV airplay. But even though I’m not a huge fan, I appreciate (and appreciated) the fact that this is like a bunch of nitrous hits in the middle of this countdown.
12 16 TONIGHT, TONIGHT, TONIGHT –•– Genesis – 5 (12) — The height of Beer Commercial Hits (TM).
13 19 COME GO WITH ME –•– Expose – 8 (13) — Still magical. Shannon opened the door for freestyle, but Expose truly took the sound of Miami (and, less so, NYC) nationwide. Producer/songwriter Lewis Martineé is a genius.
14 15 I WANNA GO BACK –•– Eddie Money – 13 (14)
15 17 BRAND NEW LOVER –•– Dead Or Alive – 16 (15) — Speaking of brilliant producers of dance music in the late ’80s, hello Stock Aitken Waterman. The key to the marvelousness of Dead or Alive’s best singles is simple: they always had guitar solos, and that makes them stand out. Well, and Pete Burns, of course (RIP). On “Lover,” there’s also a whomping bassline.
16 6 KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF –•– Georgia Satellites – 17 (2) — The would-be ’80s Skynyrd made it to #2 with this! And then, nothing.
17 20 THE FINAL COUNTDOWN –•– Europe – 8 (17)
18 14 I’LL BE ALRIGHT WITHOUT YOU –•– Journey – 15 (14) — This song, this glorious song. As the fourth single from Raised on Radio, it matched its two immediate predecessors by making the top 20 but not the top 10; the times were moving past Steve Perry and the boys, and their brand of pop AOR was increasingly out of fashion. (See also: the career arcs of their late ’70s/early ’80s comrades Foreigner, Styx, and REO Speedwagon.) This was their last top 40 hit for almost a decade, and what a note on which to go out. The ache of this song, exemplified not just by Perry’s gorgeous vocal, but also that Neal Schon guitar coda: I can listen on repeat for hours. And marvel in the fact that the live video for the song actually features live audio. And Randy Jackson in some unfortunate spandex.
19 11 WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME? –•– Chicago – 18 (3)
20 23 DON’T DREAM IT’S OVER –•– Crowded House – 9 (20) — It’s not a dream.

21 24 LET’S GO –•– Wang Chung – 8 (21) — On its way to a #9 peak almost entirely on the back of the execrable #1 single that you know, this is about 50x better, and more of a piece with the rest of their discography than that gross #1.
22 22 CANDY –•– Cameo – 12 (22) — The follow-up to “Word Up” is better, too. As I said on Rock Me Tonight, this funks and swings.
23 31 I KNEW YOU WERE WAITING FOR ME –•– Aretha Franklin & George Michael – 4 (23) — Even a hack gets it right from time to time, and that’s what happened for Narada Michael Walden here. This is the epitome of El Lay R&B, and I love it. Aretha and George have genuine vocal chemistry, too.
24 29 MIDNIGHT BLUE –•– Lou Gramm – 7 (24)
25 32 WHAT YOU GET IS WHAT YOU SEE –•– Tina Turner – 6 (25) — The closest thing Tina ever did to a return to “Nutbush City Limits,” with a Clapton guitar solo.
26 34 THAT AIN’T LOVE –•– REO Speedwagon – 7 (26) — Some bands don’t know when, or how, to exit gracefully.
27 33 AS WE LAY –•– Shirley Murdock – 9 (27)
28 18 BALLERINA GIRL –•– Lionel Richie – 15 (7) — C’mon, Lionel.
29 21 TOUCH ME (I WANT YOUR BODY) –•– Samantha Fox – 20 (4) — A trio of top 10 singles (both in the US and UK) for a former “Page 3” topless model? Crazy. Even crazier: they were actually pretty great pop trash. This is no “Naughty Girls,” but it gets the job done.
30 41 THE FINER THINGS –•– Steve Winwood – 6 (30) More Beer Commercial Hits (TM).

31 25 LOVE YOU DOWN –•– Ready For The World – 16 (9) — How in the world this made it into the pop top 10 I have no clue: a sleazy-sounding ode to loving an older woman (“I can do what guys [older than me] can do,” Melvin Riley opines). The sleaze, which I mean in a complimentary fashion, comes from both Riley’s vocal and that magnificently cheap-sounding Linn drum.
32 45 WALKING DOWN YOUR STREET –•– Bangles – 5 (32)
33 42 THE HONEYTHIEF –•– Hipsway – 8 (33)
34 28 AT THIS MOMENT –•– Billy Vera & The Beaters – 22 (1) — Blame Michael J. Fox.
35 59 SIGN O’THE TIMES –•– Prince – 2 (35) — Like nothing else he’d done before, and like nothing else around at the time, and utterly brilliant in its sound.
36 35 WE CONNECT –•– Stacey Q – 14 (35)
37 48 STONE LOVE –•– Kool & The Gang – 6 (37)
38 49 DOMINOES –•– Robbie Nevil – 5 (38) — They all fall down, y’know.
39 43 SKIN TRADE –•– Duran Duran – 7 (39) — After “Notorious” scaled to #2, this barely made the top 40, peaking right here at #39. A shame, because it’s one of my favorite Nile Rodgers non-Chic productions, the essence of slinky.
40 27 OPEN YOUR HEART –•– Madonna – 15 (1) — One of her finest singles ever, this punches you in the face, steals your wallet, and yet leaves you proposing eternal devotion. Credit every element: the songwriting, the production (by Madonna herself, with Patrick Leonard), but most of all, her vocal, which leaves nothing to chance. She’ll make you love her, alright, or die trying.


About thomasinskeep

I write about music.
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