1 2 PAPA DON’T PREACH –•– Madonna – 8 (1st week at #1) — God, when she nailed it, she really nailed it, didn’t she? “Papa” is strongly written by Brian Elliot (M just contributed a few lyrics), but it’s produced in a “wow”-inducing manner by Stephen Bray and Madonna. Its arrangement — listen with headphones, and hear how that bassline pops! not to mention the backing vocals — is aces, and this also has one of Madge’s strongest early vocals. You can hear her straining to wring every ounce of emotion she can, out of her voice. And she pulls it off, while still sounding raw and unformed. Hands down, one of her greatest singles.
2 1 GLORY OF LOVE –•– Peter Cetera – 11 (1) — Oh, Peter. You didn’t have to go down the soft-pop road. But you chose to go down the soft-pop road. And sure, you hit #1 with your first two solo singles, but where did it ultimately get you?
3 3 MAD ABOUT YOU –•– Belinda Carlisle – 14 (3) — Belinda Carlisle is one of my BFF Tim’s favorite artists ever. Duran Duran is one of his least, so I love the not-really-ironic-except-for-him fact that Andy Taylor (#38 below) contributes the guitar solo on this, with bigger hair than Belinda’s. This is summertime, beach bonfire fluff, which I think could only have been a hit at this time of year. While she may have started out rooted in L.A. punk, Carlisle is ultimately the essence of a southern California summer.
4 8 HIGHER LOVE –•– Steve Winwood – 10 (4) — I’d happily live in a world in which I’d never heard this Brit bleating, regardless of decade or collaborators. In the mid-to-late ’80s, he was the epitome of “beer commercial rock” (and I use the word “rock” very loosely), which I suppose explains his absurdly massive success, including a pair of #1 singles. Even Chaka Khan’s backing vox can’t save this, and that’s saying plenty.
5 5 WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF –•– Jermaine Stewart – 14 (5) — There’s a really beautiful joy in this song that I think is attributable to two factors: one is Stewart’s vocal, which practically jumps off the record. As for the other, well, do you think this sounds like “How Will I Know”? Because it certainly does, because it was also co-written and produced by that song’s chief, Narada Michael Walden. Also of note is its video, which features some stylish bits of framing and was directed by a very young David Fincher.
6 9 VENUS –•– Bananarama – 8 (6) — Fun ‘n frothy enough, I suppose, but only mid-tier ‘rama.
7 13 DANCING ON THE CEILING –•– Lionel Richie – 5 (7) — More like coasting on the ceiling, off the success of Can’t Slow Down.
8 10 RUMORS –•– Timex Social Club – 10 (8) — Musically tight, if a bit limp. Lyrically, ridiculous in a stupid way. Club Nouveau were much better, apart from their Bill Withers cover.
9 18 TAKE MY BREATH AWAY –•– Berlin – 9 (9) — The #1 single that killed Berlin as a band — and it wasn’t even worth it, because this is bottom-of-the-barrel Giorgio Moroder, drenched in Casio presets. The best thing you can say for it is that Terri Nunn sings it beautifully, but that shouldn’t be a shock; she’s always been an underrated vocalist.
10 12 THE EDGE OF HEAVEN –•– Wham! – 7 (10) — George Michael at his most Wham!-ebullient, turning classic Motown inside-out and somehow ending up with something purely 1986. We should’ve known what was to come, because he certainly gave us enough road markers. Absolutely perfect pop, of its era but still timeless.
11 6 LOVE TOUCH –•– Rod Stewart – 12 (6) — “No” means “no,” Rod.
12 15 SWEET FREEDOM –•– Michael McDonald – 10 (12) — Based on the way MTV rotated this video in the summer of ’86, you would’ve thought it was a 6-week #1 single rather than a #7 pop hit. (It also scaled its way to #4 AC, #8 Dance Club Play (!), and #17 R&B (!!).) Said video, however, is so endearingly goofy, mixing clips of its parent movie, the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines vehicle Running Scared, with scenes of them cutting up with McDonald in a “tropical” locale, it’s hard (I’d argue impossible) not to be charmed by it. And as for the song: well. Written and co-produced by the king of blue-eyed soul, Rod Temperton, and belted by McDonald as if his life depended upon it, this was his last top 10 pop hit, and is actually my favorite McDonald single, solo or Doobies. There’s a simple, breezy magic to this that you didn’t find a lot of in ’86 pop, and dear sweet christ, I love it.
13 4 SLEDGEHAMMER –•– Peter Gabriel – 15 (1) — Smart art-pop, so smart it somehow got to #1 (give a lot of credit to its groundbreaking visuals) and turned Gabriel into a global star in the process.
14 16 YOU SHOULD BE MINE (THE WOO WOO SONG) –•– Jeffrey Osborne – 13 (14) — For decades, my friends have known that there are few lyrics I love quoting more than the simple, direct “Can you woo woo woo?” And I don’t even really know what that means — I suspect it can mean anything, which is the point. I wonder if Osborne, an incredibly rich-toned, supple singer, knows what it means himself? He’s traditionally weaker on balladry and strong on uptempo numbers (just wait till next week’s countdown), and he makes this midtempo groove(r) sound like the easiest thing ever. I can happily report that, having seen him live on an unseasonably hot summer’s afternoon a handful of years back, he’s still got it. And he can still woo woo woo.
15 23 FRIENDS AND LOVERS –•– Gloria Loring & Carl Anderson – 7 (15) — A delightfully dippy duet between a soap star (Loring, also Mrs. Alan Thicke and mother to future chart-topper Robin) and a Broadway baby (Anderson, who did his best to make an entire career playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar) whose pairing seems utterly random. The two have no vocal chemistry, but the song’s sentiment was enough to get this to #2 pop/#1 AC. And a concurrently released country version by Eddie Rabbitt and Juice Newton reached the top of the country chart.
16 7 DANGER ZONE –•– Kenny Loggins – 15 (2) — Practically Hi-NRG, it’s so frantic.
17 20 SUZANNE –•– Journey – 9 (17) — Even more frantic — I’ve no idea where in Journey this came from. Okay, technically it came from the pens of Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain, but good god this is fast. Like, aerobics-speed fast. It’s kind of an outlier in the Journey catalog, accordingly. It’s not bad — very little Journey is bad — but it’s kinda weird.
18 26 BABY LOVE –•– Regina – 9 (18) — aka the sole hit from the most successful “Madonna, Jr.”
19 22 ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD –•– The Outfield – 11 (19) — If you wanna hear the absolute bottom of the barrel of corporate rock in the mid-’80s, look no further than the personality-less Outfield.
20 27 WORDS GET IN THE WAY –•– Miami Sound Machine featuring Gloria Estefan – 10 (20) — Written by Gloria and produced by husband Emilio, this was their first top 5 pop single — and their first #1 on the AC chart — and signaled a change in their air: from here on, ballads would be their biggest successes. This is sweet but a bit saccharine. Better ballads would come.
21 11 INVISIBLE TOUCH –•– Genesis – 12 (1) — This should be subtitled “(A Tribute to Synth Drums),” which is much of the reason I guilty pleasure this. (It’s also a strong reminder that Phil Collins knows his damn way around a melody.) Someone should put together a mash-up of this and #11, “Invisible Love Touch.” Or better yet, not.
22 24 ONE STEP CLOSER TO YOU –•– Gavin Christopher – 13 (22) — A pastel candy that melts in your mouth quickly, leaves a delightful aftertaste for about five minutes, and you forget you’ve eaten a further 10 minutes later.
23 28 YANKEE ROSE –•– David Lee Roth – 7 (23) — GUESS WHO’S BACK IN CIR! CU! LA! TION! It’s the man who should’ve, by all rights, been the king of the mid-late ’80s hair metal mountain, but made a series of stupid decisions, sadly. The entirety of DLR’s full-length solo debut, Eat ‘Em and Smile, is brilliant trash, which in its sound harkens back to early Van Halen at their hard-rocking-est. Credit to producer Ted Templeman, and also to Roth’s band, which included Billy Sheehan on bass and guitar wiz Steve Vai. And I cannot recommend enough the — no joke — Spanish-language version of the entire album, Sonrisa Salvaje, which is even more bananas than its English-language parent.
24 33 STUCK WITH YOU –•– Huey Lewis & The News – 3 (24) — 1986-87 were coasting years for a lot of artists who became superstars in the pop heyday of ’83-’84. Lionel Richie (#7) was one prime example, and Huey and his News are most definitely another. Fore! was a huge #1 album, and this lead single became their third #1 single, but compared to much of what preceded it, this is pretty damn soulless. (And they weren’t exactly a band known for soul.)
25 29 THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW –•– The Monkees – 7 (25) — I’ve hated few comebacks more, ever. Didn’t like the Monkees originally, and positively hated their freeze-dried comeback on the back of MTV’s airing of their ’60s TV series. This has nothing to recommend it.
26 14 NASTY –•– Janet Jackson – 14 (3) — Talk about a statement of intent — even moreso than “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” this showed us what Janet (and Jimmy & Terry) had up her sleeve. Guileless perfection.
27 31 MAN SIZE LOVE –•– Klymaxx – 7 (27) — Klymaxx were a great band, but this soundtrack cash grab is as bloodless as it comes. Much like with Debarge, soundtracks did these ladies no (artistic) favors.
28 30 RUMBLESEAT –•– John Cougar Mellencamp – 8 (28) — The perfect marriage of his earlier, slightly trashier work (lyrics), with what was to come (music).
29 19 OPPORTUNITIES –•– Pet Shop Boys – 12 (10) — A smart counterpunch, singles-wise, to its predecessor, “West End Girls,” this helped fully show what PSB were capable of (as did, of course, the entirety of their stunning debut, Please). This hits harder than you think, too.
30 43 WALK THIS WAY –•– Run DMC & Aerosmith- 4 (30) — Rick Rubin is a very rich man because Rick Rubin is a very smart man, and this is Exhibit A.
31 36 DON’T FORGET ME (WHEN I’M GONE) –•– Glass Tiger – 6 (31) — Oh, but we’ll try our best.
32 32 TAKEN IN –•– Mike + The Mechanics – 8 (32) — Pillowy-soft balladry that deserved someone better than M+tM to deliver it.
33 40 LOVE ZONE –•– Billy Ocean – 4 (33) — Now, this is plush, sexy balladry with just the right singer.
34 37 THE CAPTAIN OF HER HEART –•– Double – 8 (34) — Of course they were Swiss — and their name is pronounced “doo-BLAY.” It’s just so… continental, all sax and Montreux piano bars and steak tartare on fine china. Naturally, it makes me swoon beyond belief.
35 35 HANGING ON A HEART ATTACK –•– Device – 10 (35) — How were Device and Animotion not the same band? I actually prefer the slightly more quote-unquote rock edge of Holly Knight and friends, and of course thanks to her prowess, their song structure is solid. This song is deliciously absurd; $5 to anyone who can adequately explain the title phrase to me.
36 21 DIGGING YOUR SCENE –•– Blow Monkeys – 16 (14) — Note-perfect sophisti-pop.
37 17 MODERN WOMAN –•– Billy Joel – 11 (10) — Shitty soundtrack work-for-hire even by his low standards. And considering his marital record, I doubt he knows much about women from any time period, modern or otherwise.
38 25 TAKE IT EASY –•– Andy Taylor – 12 (24) — Tim (see #3 above): “This sounds like Rick Springfield covering T. Rex, in a very bad way.”
39 44 DREAMTIME –•– Daryl Hall – 3 (39) — I ❤ Daryl Hall, as anyone reading this should know. But thanks in large part to producer Dave Stewart, this song is a clattering mess. There are fine singles on Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine — especially “Someone Like You” — but this isn’t one of ’em. Another one that, based on its MTV rotation, you’d be forgiven for assuming was a #1 record. (It peaked at #5 in
40 46 TWO OF HEARTS –•– Stacey Q – 6 (40) — Friends are often perplexed as to the depth of my rancor for this top 10 hit, and the reason is fairly simple: it’s as vapid as dance-pop of the era got. Even Regina had more going on. And good god, Stacey Q was a horrid singer.