Pop top 40: 5/10/86

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Some say that the magic of ’80s pop was ebbing by ’85-’86, but this chart suggests otherwise.

1 2 WEST END GIRLS –•– Pet Shop Boys – 11 (1) — Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are two of the finest songwriters of their generation. Or, probably, yours.
2 1 ADDICTED TO LOVE –•– Robert Palmer – 14 (1) — Palmer wrote a solid song here, but his delivery is a bit too leering. (Bernard Edwards’s production, however, is great.) I find Tina Turner’s version preferable; she’s better with sludgy rock tempos than Palmer.
3 7 GREATEST LOVE OF ALL –•– Whitney Houston – 7 (3) — Here’s the thing about this single: Whitney could only have pulled it off early in her career, when she was still “pure” and pristine, unsullied by both her future actions and those we attributed to her. Her voice is cool and clear, and her performance on this — seriously, try to give it a listen with fresh ears (I highly recommend with headphones) — is superb. Not just note-perfect (that should be obvious), but I actually believe the way she delivers these admittedly hackneyed Michael Masser lyrics. The problem with this single is Masser’s production, which is far too tinkly-cute, but “that can’t take away” the power and the glory of Houston’s vocal, which, in contrast to much of what would come later, she undersells.
4 4 WHY CAN’T THIS BE LOVE –•– Van Halen – 9 (4) — Sure, David Lee Roth is the more magnetic presence, but I’ll argue that Sammy Hagar is not only a better singer (that’s not a tough competition), but a better fit for VH. His slightly cheesy AOR-belter tendencies collided beautifully with Eddie’s dreams of pop domination — and also, synths. Just listen to the way his voice plays off those chug-a-chug layers of keyboard and guitar here.
5 6 WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY –•– Janet Jackson – 12 (5) — The Jam & Lewis production on this still stuns, and still sounds current. And don’t forget that the accompanying video also introduced the greater world to Paula Abdul.
6 8 YOUR LOVE –•– The Outfield – 13 (6) — Poorly-mulleted journeymen who, had they arrived two years later, would’ve likely been making hair metal. But instead we got sub-Mr. Mister.
7 9 TAKE ME HOME –•– Phil Collins – 9 (7) — One of Phil’s warmest-sounding singles, thanks in equal parts to the way the drums are processed, the Roland TR-909, and the backing vocals from Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Helen Terry (!).
8 11 BAD BOY –•– Miami Sound Machine featuring Gloria Estefan – 10 (8) — The musical equivalent of culinary foam.
9 5 HARLEM SHUFFLE –•– Rolling Stones – 9 (5) — This throwaway cover is full of charm, starting with Mick’s tossed-off vocal and Steve Lillywhite’s trashy-sounding production. It’s always pleased me that Christgau was so enamored of Dirty Work.
10 12 IF YOU LEAVE –•– Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – 10 (10)  — We are all Andie Walsh, and none of us can resist when those strings sweep in.

11 14 LIVE TO TELL –•– Madonna – 5 (11) — The first step towards Evita.
12 3 KISS –•– Prince & The Revolution – 12 (1) — Short sharp shock. This is the essence of one side of Prince, in a tidy 3-minute pop song.
13 16 ON MY OWN –•– Patti Labelle & Michael McDonald – 8 (13) — Of all the unlikely ways to get on MTV in the mid-’80s, doing so with a Burt Bachrach/Carole Bayer Sager composition is way up there. But yet here were the big-bearded former frontman of the Doobie Brothers and the huge-haired former frontwoman of LaBelle, belting their way to MTV and pop (#1), R&B (#1), and adult contemporary (#2) radio domination, in the late spring of ’86 with just such a song. Bachrach and Bayer Sager produced, too, and bathed “On My Own” in all the trappings of “classy” adult pop: this is as un-hip as it gets. But precisely because of that, it works. This is a big, widescreen song, one which ideally requires big voices (it’s no coincidence that Reba McEntire later covered it). And its split-screen he’s in LA/she’s in NYC video is a brilliantly simple conceit, executed perfectly.
14 17 I CAN’T WAIT –•– Nu Shooz – 10 (14) — Utterly awesome beep-boop-boop dance pop. Some call this freestyle, but I don’t fully hear it.
15 18 SOMETHING ABOUT YOU –•– Level 42 – 13 (15) — This was an era seemingly made for one- and two-offs, many of them Brits, to pop up with a sterling pop single and then vanish from American shores. Level 42 took full advantage. While I greatly prefer their subsequent Running in the Family album (massive in the UK, a nonstarter here), this World Machine single is the one that tickled the fancies of US radio programmers. It’s quite joyful.
16 13 AMERICAN STORM –•– Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – 9 (13) — Thanks, payola! Bob Seger himself probably doesn’t even remember this single.
17 21 ALL I NEED IS A MIRACLE –•– Mike + The Mechanics – 8 (17) — All I need is for Paul Carrack to shut the fuck up.
18 10 MANIC MONDAY –•– The Bangles – 16 (2) — How funny that these “Paisley Underground” breakouts had their most “psychedelic” hit with — a Prince song. They did plenty better, however, and so did he.
19 23 IS IT LOVE –•– Mr. Mister – 7 (19) — Probably their least annoying hit, probably because it wasn’t overexposed like their pair of #1 which preceded it. I’m not particularly a fan of their overproduced El Lay studio schlock, but highly recommend the pre-Mr. Mister outfit Pages, which featured lead singer Richard Page and Steve George making some primo yacht rock.
20 25 BE GOOD TO YOURSELF –•– Journey – 5 (20) — Little did we know their string of magic pearls was about to end with the final singles from Raised on Radio: would we have paid more attention had we known? This eventually made it to #4 but isn’t much of a patch on the singles from their previous three albums.

21 27 MOVE AWAY –•– Culture Club – 6 (21) — Speaking of chart strings ending, here’s the final US hit for Boy George and pals. From Luxury to Heartache is a hot mess, but blame George’s smack habit, not producer Arif Mardin, who did the best he could with what he was given. I love the bounce of this.
22 29 NEVER AS GOOD AS THE FIRST TIME –•– Sade – 7 (22) — Listen to me when I tell you: Sade have never released a bad single. While their albums are all good-to-great, whoever’s job it is to pick their singles should get a Christmas bonus every year, forever. And it’s not just down to Helen Folasade Adu, either — the men behind her are just as integral to Sade’s success. She rides this midtempo groove with perfect aplomb.
23 28 ROUGH BOY –•– ZZ Top – 7 (23) — A personal favorite, and a true anomaly: a ZZ Top ballad? Yet it works. It’s the combo of their Texas geetars along with those syn-drums that does it.
24 15 ROCK ME AMADEUS –•– Falco – 14 (1) — The ’80s were a blissfully ridiculous time. Also, Falco’s got a deeper catalog than you may realize; I highly recommend exploring it.
25 32 CRUSH ON YOU –•– The Jets – 5 (25) — The Jets weren’t very good, of course; but for a hot minute, they kind of were the Osmonds of the ’80s, apart from the teen hysteria. But for these 3 minutes and 45 seconds, they were the greatest pop group on the planet.
26 20 WHAT YOU NEED –•– INXS – 17 (5) — No, not really.
27 19 LET’S GO ALL THE WAY –•– Sly Fox – 20 (7) — See Level 42, above, regarding great mid-’80s one-offs. This funks, but lightly. Synthetically.
28 37 THERE’LL BE SAD SONGS –•– Billy Ocean – 4 (28) — But that doesn’t mean I want to hear them, does it, Billy?
29 22 I THINK IT’S LOVE –•– Jermaine Jackson – 12 (16) — Shut up, Jermaine.
30 34 TOMORROW DOESN’T MATTER TONIGHT –•– Starship – 6 (30) — Shut up, Starship.

31 36 NO ONE IS TO BLAME –•– Howard Jones – 5 (31) — You’re to blame, Howard. As is your co-producer, Phil Collins, for this vulgar monstrosity. But you wrote it, and bleated it, so you get the bulk of the blame.
32 33 STICK AROUND –•– Julian Lennon – 8 (32) — Talk about pop nepotism.
33 40 NOTHIN’ AT ALL –•– Heart – 4 (33) — A fourth single which sounds like it. Amazingly, their comeback was so hot at the time that even this fourth single from the #1 album Heart made it to the top 10.
34 35 FEEL IT AGAIN –•– Honeymoon Suite – 10 (34) — Canadians do love their hoary AOR, don’t they?
35 38 MOTHERS TALK –•– Tears For Fears – 5 (35) — Speaking of fourth singles.
36 39 ALL THE THINGS SHE SAID –•– Simple Minds – 6 (36) — I actively loathe their #1 from The Breakfast Club, but I love the ensuing Once Upon A Time album, due largely to Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain’s production. This record booms in that highly specific ’80s way; Iovine makes it snap, crackle, and pop. And Jim Kerr sings his ass off.
37 44 A DIFFERENT CORNER –•– George Michael – 3 (37) — Like the softest kiss on a cheek.
38 24 TENDER LOVE –•– Force MD’s – 15 (10) — One of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’s first hit ballads, this captures the sweet innocence of teenage love expertly.
39 26 I DO WHAT I DO… –•– John Taylor – 10 (23) — A sleazy-sounding rocker (er, “rocker”) from a sleazy movie (9 1/2 Weeks). If you only paid attention to MTV in spring ’86, you’d be forgiven for assuming this spent five weeks at #1. On the contrary, it never got higher than #23.
40 50 HOLDING BACK THE YEARS –•– Simply Red – 6 (40) — Simply Red was a pretty good band for several albums, but goddamn Mick Hucknall’s annoying. This is a strong song, sensitively performed, but I never want to hear it again.

 

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About thomasinskeep

I write about music.
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