Here’s a Spotify playlist of the week’s top 40, save the two songs Spotify is missing (one of which is below). This is a soft-sounding chart. I can’t emphasize that enough: SOFT.
1 3 JESSIE’S GIRL –•– Rick Springfield (RCA)-19 (1 week at #1) (1) — Not as good as “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” better than “Affair of the Heart.”
2 1 THE ONE THAT YOU LOVE –•– Air Supply (Arista)-12 (1) — You may find my use of this word odd, but “uptempo” — or as close as they got to it — did not, by and large, become Air Supply. Yet this almost jaunty little number was their only US #1. And it may be the worst of all of their hits, of which they had an impressive spate: seven consecutive top 5 singles to open their US chart career, then a pair which got stuck at #38, then 1983’s massive, glorious #2 Jim Steinman-penned single “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” (stopped from the top by Bonnie Tyler’s own Steinman-penned “Total Eclipse of the Heart”), one minor top 20 hit in 1985, and then: nothing, indeed.
3 4 THEME FROM “GREATEST AMERICAN HERO” (Believe It Or Not) –•– Joey Scarbury (Elektra)-13 (3) — Actually not as bad as I recalled, but not very good, either, and it is a TV theme in spades. How the fuck this made it to #2 (and only kept from the top by the #14 song below) I have no idea.
4 6 I DON’T NEED YOU –•– Kenny Rogers (Liberty)-8 (4) — #1 country, #1 Adult Contemporary (for 6 weeks!), #3 pop, written by a relative nobody named Rick Christian a couple of years prior, but more importantly produced, oh so sensitively (and that’s not sarcasm, actually), by Lionel Motherfucking Richie. Richie helmed the entirety of Kenny’s Share Your Love album, post-“Lady,” which also featured the killers “Through the Years” and quasi-title track “Share Your Love with Me,” but “I Don’t Need You” just gets me right here. Gorgeous song, gorgeously produced, and perfectly sung, because Kenny, in his prime, was the man. You’d do well to spend some quality time with his catalog; I highly recommend 2004’s 42 Ultimate Hits, most of which, in fact, are.
5 5 ELVIRA –•– The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)-12 (5) — Not a fan of the Oaks, and even less a fan of this country-pop cornpone.
6 7 SLOW HAND –•– The Pointer Sisters (Planet)-10 (6) — Just like ’79’s “Fire” (also a slow burn of a single), this spent a trio of weeks at #2 and is the Pointers’ co-biggest hit; for all of the hugeness of 1984’s Break Out and its singles, none of them were as big as this. Anita gives this the appropriately sexy-but-not-quite-too vocal treatment, and Richard Perry gives this just the production it needs. And amazingly, this made the 1981 Pazz & Jop top 25, tying with “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and ranking ahead of Squeeze’s “Tempted”! But what I really wanna talk about is the cover released the next year by country’s biggest sex symbol, Conway Twitty. His take, which Wikipedia hilariously notes had “minor lyric changes to accommodate a heterosexual male singer” is just so. much. sexier, mainly I think because he switches the POV from “I want a man” to “you’ve got/want a man,” and in that directness, well. For a good 15-20 years, basically the ’70s and ’80s, Conway was the premier sex symbol of country music, who made ladies respond the way they did to Teddy Pendergrass, turning them into quivering… I’ll stop right there. To put it another, more direct way, he was a panty magnet. And as I’ve discussed on The Jheri Curl Chronicles podcast, he could make any song sound, well, kind dirty. The man had a talent. (He had many, actually.)
7 2 BETTE DAVIS EYES –•– Kim Carnes (EMI-America)-19 (1) — Speaking of 1981 songs with that certain sultry production… 9 weeks at #1, #1 single of 1981 according to Billboard, and Grammys the following spring for both Record and Song of the Year. Its parent album, Mistaken Identity, was actually nommed for Album of the Year (lost to John & Yoko’s Double Fantasy), and said sultry production, courtesy of bizzer Val Garay (who came up engineering for folks like James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt), got him nommed for Producer of the Year (which he lost to Quincy Jones). Carnes’s vocal is lovely, but what really makes this song so memorable is its weirdly mutant new wave/soft rock production.
8 9 BOY FROM NEW YORK CITY –•– The Manhattan Transfer (Atlantic)-11 (8) — Oh dear sweet lord, NO. If there’s something we don’t need, it’s a faux-doo-wop revival from a mixed-gender white quartet. Again: NO.
9 10 HEARTS –•– Marty Balin (EMI-America)-11 (9) — I love this ridiculous slab of Jefferson Starship-voiced early ’80s Velveeta, for no damned good reason. Though that E-piano is mighty tasty.
10 14 QUEEN OF HEARTS –•– Juice Newton (Capitol)-10 (10) — On its deserved way to #2, a superb slice of country crossover from the era’s ruling woman (post-“9 to 5,” that is) — from ’81 to ’83, the one female country singer you could bank on hitting the pop charts was Juice Newton. She (and her team) was so smart when it came to her song selection. You can have Dave Edmunds’ version of this; I’ll take Juice every time.
11 8 YOU MAKE MY DREAMS –•– Daryl Hall and John Oates (RCA)-14 (5) — In 1981, Hall & Oates had four singles chart, and this, the fourth and final single from Voices, was the only one of them to not hit #1. (I shouldn’t have to name the three #1s which surrounded it, so I won’t.) It’s a little bit more “old” H&O than “new”/what-they-were-becoming H&O — I prefer high-gloss Daryl & John, as a rule — so call it a B+ single.
12 13 GEMINI DREAM –•– The Moody Blues (Threshold)-9 (12) — Besides the fact that two “dream” songs follow two “hearts” songs, which amuses me immensely, let’s talk about the fact that the Moody Blues cut a disco-tastic ELO song, essentially, in 1981. What the everloving fuck? And even crazier: it’s one of the best things they ever did. (To be fair, I fairly loathe prog rock, and accordingly don’t have much use for the Moodys or their “White Satin” nights.)
13 16 (There’s) NO GETTIN’ OVER ME –•– Ronnie Milsap (RCA)-6 (13) — In the early ’80s, the most consistent country crossover artists were the aforementioned Kenny and Juice, Ronnie Milsap, and Alabama — and all four artists are in this week’s top 40. Milsap had (still has) a silky, soulful voice, and the absolute best taste in material. He also fused R&B and country better than anyone in his generation. It kills me that it took until 2014 for him to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but at least he got in while he’s still here to enjoy it. This, btw, is one of my favorite Milsap singles.
14 24 ENDLESS LOVE –•– Diana Ross and Lionel Richie (Motown)-4 (14) — It’s an expertly-produced spoonful of powdered sugar. In two weeks, this would start an inexplicable nine-week run at #1.
15 17 TIME –•– The Alan Parsons Project (Arista)-16 (15) — I can’t fathom hearing this in top 40 rotation in 1981: nowadays, this sounds like supersoft pop. It’s quite lovely in its own way, but still.
16 19 TOUCH ME WHEN WE’RE DANCING –•– The Carpenters (A&M)-7 (16) — Their first top 40 single in four years (of 20 total), and first AC #1 in six (their 15th overall), would sadly be their last, as a) by the ’80s, the times had passed Richard and Karen by (and especially Richard’s penchant for supersoft pop records), b) less than two years later, Karen tragically died of heart failure brought on by her anorexia. “Dancing” is a lovely little midtempo ballad with subtle country touches — which undoubtedly is part of why Alabama covered it five years later and got a country #1 with it — which Karen, of course, sings impeccably. Richard bathes the proceedings in sweet strings and piano, and knowing that it was their last hit, there’s a real wistful quality to this.
17 25 LADY (You Bring Me Up) –•– The Commodores (Motown)-7 (17) — In the top 20 at the same time were a record produced by Lionel Richie (#4), a duet he produced, wrote, and sang on (#14), and this first single from the final Commodores album on which he appeared. This midtempo funker is smack dab in Lionel’s pocket, and it’s one of my favorite records on which he’s ever appeared. Also, its video, which features the Commodores playing soccer against a team of women — and dancing — and Lionel lip-syncing which playing goalie (!) — is an early-video-age marvel and joy.
18 20 THE STROKE –•– Billy Squier (Capitol)-12 (18) — Did anyone ever ooze a kind of cocky strut in his music more than Squier did across his first three albums? (Spoiler alert: the answer, barring Robert Plant, is “no.”)
19 21 SWEET BABY –•– Stanley Clarke/George Duke (Epic)-14 (19) — A pair of jazz superstars team up for a yacht rock ballad that’s, sadly, a little boring.
20 23 IT’S NOW OR NEVER –•– John Schneider (Scotti Brothers)-10 (20) — Bo Duke had a surprisingly good voice, actually, and racked up a ton of solid country hits in the mid-’80s. However, it’s impossible to hear this song without hearing Elvis, and without hearing Schneider as imitating Elvis, even just a bit. But since it’s not on Spotify, here’s the YouTube clip.