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?