100. “Refugee” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Yes! Hello 80s! And what better way to kick off the decade than with a band I’ve always considered quintessential to the 80s. After some years of a few mildly successful singles, 1980 finally becomes a big year for the band. The personality of the track comes almost entirely from Petty himself, whose rough vocals are purely rock ‘n’ roll. Add in some guitars, a cool organ, and an infectious call-and-response chorus, and I’m sold.
99. “All Night Long” – Joe Walsh: In addition to being released as a separate single, “All Night Long” from Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh was also featured on the soundtrack to Urban Cowboy, probably the biggest music-related movie of the year. Up ’til now, his biggest single has been “Life’s Been Good”, which I found clever in its biting social satire on a rock star lifestyle. Here, it’s a bit more cut-and-dry: “Start in the morning and get the job done / Take care of business and we have some fun / All night long”. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a good party song every now and then, and this one delivers with some of Walsh’s signature guitar riffs that are just plain cool. It initially feels out of place with Urban Cowboy‘s other more country-oriented fare – although with its bluesy structure and vibe, it eventually fits right into the mold.
98. “Ships” – Barry Manilow: Looks like Manilow just doesn’t want to stay in the 70s! Can he rival Elvis in terms of longevity in the Hot 100 charts? We’ll find out soon enough… but it looks like he just won’t let his soft-pop sound go. This one in particular is as corny as they come, riding on an extended metaphor that relates a father-son relationship with two ships drifting apart. Yet another Manilow single that sounds like a terrible ballad from an off-Broadway musical, with his vocals here being particularly dismal.
97. “Breakdown Dead Ahead” – Boz Scaggs: Once again, Boz Scaggs continues to deliver with a memorable chorus that is just bouncy and fun as hell to listen to. Ultimately, though, this is a bit unsatisfying, especially considering the greatness of which I know Scaggs is very capable. The verses are particularly weak, with the message of the song and even the usually-crafty guitar feeling particularly unsteady on its own feet. It’s got a nice feel-good vibe, for certain, but I can’t also help but feel that it’s one of those “single for the sake of a single” kind of recordings. Boz is better than this.
96. “In America” – Charlie Daniels Band: Ugh. Okay, so a thing to keep in mind throughout these overview of 80s popular music is that, starting from late 1980, this was the decade of the Reagan administration. Likewise, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find more conservative values in popular music of this era, much like that which this song suggests. I really hate most of those “American pride” kinda songs so it almost guarantees I can’t properly judge this song beyond that standpoint. Well, except for the fact that this is almost certainly an attempt to ride the coattails of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, which Charlie Daniels’ rumbling talk-singing replaced with a more fuller toned vocal approach. Otherwise, there’s not much else to say about this one. If “Make America Great Again” anthems are your thing, then go for it, but I think it sucks.
95. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” – Prince: There was never another like Prince and I’m so happy we had him around for as long as we did. This was his first chart success and one of his more simpler ones, but it’s still Prince through and through. The funky guitars and synth-driven melody keep this grounded in disco-pop territory, and the title pretty much says it all as far as lyrical content is concerned. What makes this really special, however, is Prince as a vocalist, with his distinct falsetto practically radiating in sex and longing. His deviance borders on the weird, but his personality is infectious nonetheless. When he sings a line like, “I wanna be your brother / I wanna be your mother and your sister too”, you believe it. Also, the line “I wanna be the only one that makes you come – running!”… priceless. I really can’t wait to listen to more Prince throughout these next few Billboard posts.
94. “Tusk” – Fleetwood Mac: I haven’t listened to Tusk (the album) in quite a long while, but I have always loved it. It’s such a bold move for a band that already has a rich history of making bold moves in songwriting and composition. But Tusk – and “Tusk” – is just plain weird. This single is a great introduction to the quirky, madcap masterpiece that is the album. Sandwiched in between all the dancey pop and new wave, I couldn’t imagine how odd it must have been to hear this song – so layered with acoustic sound – in between all the electronic stuff. But this did happen – the song reached #8 in the US. The tribal drums at the start draw me in instantly, as do the haunting whisper vocals by Buckingham, with Nicks and McVie serving backup. It’s almost totally formless in its composition, its lyrics being seductively vague (“Why don’t you ask him if he’s going to stay? / Why don’t you ask him if he’s going away?”) and refusing to follow the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure found in most pop songs. This is all about atmosphere, though. The production continues to layer new sounds atop of each other, until we’re left with a bombastic finale led by a full marching band and consistent chants of “Tusk!”. It’s wild, meaningless, and so wonderful. I just wish it were twice as long.
93. “You Decorated My Life” – Kenny Rogers: The title of this song alone is enough to make me quit this challenge altogether (but I won’t!). Decorations aren’t exactly something to take a whole bunch of pride in. Sure they look nice, but they’re also frivolous, empty, and easily replaceable. Once I actually listened to the song, it turned out to be worse than I imagined. Much like “The Gambler”, this is essentially just an overlong metaphor where Kenny likens his beloved to a music-maker, an artist, and others. But where “The Gambler” actually had the decency to keep up a bouncy catchy rhythm and (also like “She Believes in Me”) have a story, this is just a borefest from start to finish. The melody is lazy, the lyrics are cheap, and the song refuses to sway from its sleepy low tempo, not even into a dramatic finale like what Manilow loves to do. Kenny Rogers got so boring so quickly.
92. “Broken Hearted Me” – Anne Murray: Well… it looks like the dullest of the AC artists of the 70s have managed to creep their way into this decade. How fun. Though I guess at least Anne Murray has been consistent in her monotony. As I mentioned before, Murray’s voice is pleasant enough, but she’s rarely put out a single that doesn’t blend in with the rest of her AOR fare. This one is no exception, as Murray expresses her heartbreak and loneliness with very similar intonations as all of her other stuff. Come to think of it, this is actually very similar to “You Decorated My Life”, only with opposite subject matter (and slightly better lyrics). Considering that this topped both the country and adult contemporary charts, with “Decorated” reaching #1 and #2 respectively, the soft pop of the 80s doesn’t seem very promising.
91. “Give Me the Night” – George Benson: After my distaste for Benson’s live recording of “On Broadway”, I’m so glad to hear him take more of a funk-disco approach here. Since I wasn’t alive in 1980, I’m unsure if attitudes toward disco still remained generally positive, but considering that this bouncy tune went to #1 in the R&B charts, I’d guess it still had a bit of runtime left. At its heart, this is a seamless melding of funk, disco, and smooth jazz for which Benson is originally known for. His voice doesn’t exactly match up with the power of the instrumentation, but for a dance track professing love for the nightlife, one could do a whole lot worse. The repetition of its title is a bit much, but it makes up for it by including a fun almost a capella bit near the end that drives this single home.
90. “September Morn” – Neil Diamond: Ugh, another one of these. Okay, so in this one, Diamond is talking about reuniting with an old flame after many years apart. I’m not sure how the song title fits into this situation, other than maybe it all takes place on a September morning – though this isn’t exactly made clear. This might actually be worse than “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”, if only because it suffers from a lack of Barbra Streisand and an overabundance of… well, Neil Diamond. It’s just another one of these character-lacking ballads that could have come from practically anyone. I’m also annoyed by the way he sings “way” at the end of each chorus, but maybe that’s a personal issue.
89. “Jojo” – Boz Scaggs: I was kind of hoping that Scaggs’ own contribution to the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, “Look What You’ve Done to Me”, would have made it on the top 100 of the year. This one is just fine – actually quite a bit better than “Breakdown Dead Ahead”. It’s got a jazzy rhythm that works for it particularly well and could easily be mistaken for a Steely Dan single. Scaggs’ personality is on full display here, accompanied by a soaring chorus (one of his best) and a couple of great sax solos. It just barely misses the level of excellence found in his 70s hit singles – “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle” – but it’s almost unfair to compare.
88. “Wait For Me” – Hall & Oates: After a few years without a major hit, the 80s prove to be very welcoming for Hall & Oates. Sorry to say, though, that I’m not particularly welcoming of this song. The speaker here is moaning on his relationship’s potential end, but asks his partner to be patient with him so they can make it work out. This is okay, but becomes quickly annoying when it comes off as completely one-sided, with almost no regard for the emotions of the other party. That’s not to say this is an awful song; the chorus actually has a bit of a pretty ring to it. It’s just that the song as a whole is boring as sin. The constant repetitions of “wait for me” get rather grating pretty quickly, and this is hardly remedied by the “la la la”s the duo throws in for the sake of structure (or an illusion thereof). I can’t say that 80s Hall & Oates have really impressed me much thus far.
87. “Sara” – Fleetwood Mac: Ahh, yes, another cut from Tusk. This was issued as a follow-up single to “Tusk”, so I could only imagine how confused the public must have been to have their second helping from this album be a much more restrained, traditionally produced song. Truthfully, though, this is a rather beautiful song, and it’s almost completely due to Stevie Nicks’ gorgeously cryptic lyrics. What exactly is “The sea of love / Where everyone would love to drown”? What exactly does it mean? Regardless of this, the single did reach the top ten, which leads me to believe that most listeners never bothered trying to translate, settling instead for the pretty piano-rock production that this song encompasses. Yet with every passing phrase Nicks sings, we get a fragment of genuine pain and longing, a glimpse into the whirlwind of emotions she must have been experiencing as she wrote and recorded this. This is one of the best heartbreak songs of all time.
86. “Take the Long Way Home” – Supertramp: After the first few weird, unneeded seconds, the piano riff and harmonica bring some pleasant sounds to the track. And then Rodger Hodgson starts to sing. Okay, I know I really should start to warm up to these unusual male voices – this is the 80s, after all. Something about Hodgson’s voice specifically just rubs me the wrong way and I can’t quite pinpoint why. But I’ll digress. This song is enjoyable enough, continuing with “The Logical Song”‘s message of going against the grain to achieve true happiness and fulfillment in life. The metaphors here are a bit more abstract that those found in “Logical” – “And then your wife seems to think you’re part of the furniture” – but they still get the point across just fine. Beyond the piano-harmonica combo, it’s not as catchy as I think I’d like it to be, but… eh, it’s fine.
85. “Drivin’ My Life Away” – Eddie Rabbitt: Cool! Our friend Eddie Rabbitt has joined us in a brand new decade. Unlike “Suspicions”, this one really emphasizes the country angle of his style much, much more. This also further emphasizes the upward trend of country music at the start of this decade (partially propelled, once again, by Urban Cowboy). From the lyrics, it seems that the speaker of this particular song is a truck driver, who spends his days out on the open road, listening to radio and stopping by local diners for a cup of coffee every once in a while. It probably wasn’t intended, but I kind of read this song as being pretty desperate – he is “drivin’ [his] life away / Lookin’ for a better way” because his current lifestyle is draining and unfulfilling. Of course, this is negated by the uptempo, happy vibes that the music of this recording emits, but the words still stick. It could be seen as the opposite of “Convoy”, falsifying the outlaw mystic that the C.W. McCall single attempts to inject into the image of the trucker. For that alone (but also for many other reasons), this song is awesome.
84. “Déjà Vu” – Dionne Warwick: The last Dionne Warwick single we came across was so sub-par it hurt – especially considering how talented of a performer I know Warwick is. This one might even be worse, with an atmosphere that is so smooth it turns sleepy and dull lyrics to match. Even Dionne herself sounds bored. I’d prefer to just forget that this one happened…
83. “Heartbreaker” – Pat Benatar: And now for something completely different… really! This track, with its high octane guitar and drums, is just asking to be sung badly at karaoke (guilty as charged). Though this is Benatar’s track through and through. The lyrics definitely fall on the cliché side of “rebellious chick breakup anthem” and the chorus is, frankly, unfulfilling, especially with how bombastic those verses are. But Pat’s voice is perfectly suited for this kind of stuff, endowed with just the right amount of post-punk. Furthermore, the way she transitions to a flawless falsetto at the pre-chorus makes me feel a bit less self-conscious at doing the same with notes I can’t quite hit. She just nails this one.
82. “Stand By Me” – Mickey Gilley: Is it a popular opinion to claim that I think this cover is pretty damn good? Not fantastic by any means – all the empty spaces in between each line demonstrate just how clumsily this translates into a country ballad. Yet… well, I dunno, it is “Stand By Me”, one of the most beautiful love songs of the 60s. Listening to the words of Ben E. King and Leiber-Stoller never fails to warm my heart, regardless of who’s singing them. And Gilley’s vocals here don’t seem disingenuous in the slightest, given that he is a pretty seasoned musician. It says a lot that regardless of how much I do hate Urban Cowboy (I hate it so, so much), the scene that features this song always was a highlight.
81. “The Long Run” – Eagles: Okay, when I say I dislike The Eagles, I don’t mean in that “The Dude from Big Lebowski” kinda way. I think most of my hatred can be safely aimed toward Don Henley. His voice irritates me and his songwriting annoys me even more. This song is one of the more perfect examples of such, with lines such as “I used to hurry a lot / I used to worry a lot” and “People talkin’ about us; they got nothin’ else to do / When it all comes down, we will still come through”. All this is accompanied by Henley’s singing style that sounds like he’s really trying to strain to reach those notes with every ounce of his strength. Moreover, they all just sound tired, as if they were forced to record this lackluster, uninteresting song after countless hours of rehearsal. It could be much worse, but I’d much rather have something much better.
80. “I Pledge My Love” – Peaches & Herb: Oh great, another wedding staple. It’s so strange that Peaches & Herb would strike gold with “Shake Your Groove Thing”, yet not further capitalize on those pop-funk vibes and settle for more lackluster vibes of smooth, cheesy soul, as demonstrated by their early career. But to each his own, I guess. I was already turned off by the intro ( can’t get any lazier than “Always together, together forever / Always together forever”), and was further bothered by insidious rhyme schemes in lines like, “I pledge my love to you / I pledge my love is true”. Their voices are also just so ill-fitting, it hurts. It pains me to give up faith on Peaches & Herb so rapidly, but they leave me no other choice.
79. “Off the Wall” – Michael Jackson: 1980 was the year of Michael Jackson. In this year, he became the first artist to ever achieve four top ten singles off of the same album. I haven’t listened to Off the Wall in its entirety, but I can confidently state that all four of these singles are deserving of their success. “Off the Wall” is probably the weakest of the four, but that’s not to deny that it’s catchy beyond all belief. There’s nothing too deep lyrically: “We’re the party people night and day / Livin’ crazy, that’s the only way”. I used to sing along to this one as a kid, never knowing what it meant to “leave that nine to five up on the shelf”. These days, this line speaks to me more than ever before. As far as good party songs are concerned, this is close to legendary.
78. “Pilot of the Airwaves” – Charlie Dore: The 80s are known among certain groups of people as being a decade rife with one-hit wonders. Somehow, however, through all the list-making, honorary TV shows, and other types of discussions of the topic, this song is never brought up. It might be because of how darn innocuous it is – it’s a simple little song where the speaker professes her love for late-night radio DJs through a clear, wispy vocal style. It just doesn’t quite fit in next to “My Sharona” or “Turning Japanese”. It’s neat in its thematic material that has now become obsolete – the fact that I’m listening to lyrics that express admiration for radio jockeys in an age where such a thing no longer exists is nothing short of surreal. Still, I must admit that I forget everything about the track once it concludes. This doesn’t exactly work in its favor, but it’s not too bad either way.
77. “Should’ve Never Let You Go” – Neil & Dara Sedaka: While this song also features a father-daughter duet, the results are somehow less unsettling of a listen than “Something Stupid”. Part of this may be due to how well Neil and Dara Sedaka’s vocals complement each other, with both of their high tenors blending together nicely in some of the song’s more swelling moments. For a Sedaka composition, the lyrics are pretty weak, but while I probably wouldn’t listen to this one everyday, it’s pleasant enough for what it is.
76. “Hurt So Bad” – Linda Ronstadt: I feel terrible for the way I feel about Linda Ronstadt. I tend to pride myself on how much I pay attention to female artists and try to praise them for just being successful among a sea of men who don’t have to try as hard for equal results. Linda Ronstadt is one such woman – she’s already achieved numerous top ten hits and many more in the top 40 since she came onto the scene a decade ago. Yet I just can’t stand her; every one of her big covers I’ve come across so far have been middling at best. This song is yet another to add to the pile. It’s an interesting rearrangement of a classic Little Anthony & the Imperials track, but boy is it just boring. The bass sounds like it’s doing something interesting, but that’s all negated by a truly dismal guitar. And Ronstadt here, once again, just sounds like she’s really pushing to reach all those high notes, confusing loudness with emotional intensity. It’s not among the worst of Ronstadt’s singles – but that alone isn’t saying very much.
75. “You May Be Right” – Billy Joel: Wherein Billy Joel tries to be a badass. No, really! The first couple of lines are, “Friday night I crashed your party / Saturday I said I’m sorry”. The cover sleeve for the single also features him riding a motorcycle with a leather jacket and shades (and no helmet – gasp!). Is he convincing? Well, no… he’s Billy “Piano Man” Joel. It’s painfully obvious that this new sound he’s doing here – some kind of new wave/country hybrid – is far beyond his comfort zone here. The verses and chorus are fine enough and certainly enjoyable to listen to, but I can’t help that this would be a much stronger cut in the hands of someone more qualified. Then again, this ain’t too bad to begin with, so I may be wrong (but I may be right).
74. “Dim All the Lights” – Donna Summer: Leave it to the Queen of Sex & Disco to continue churning out stellar dance tracks into the early 80s. Like Summer’s best singles, this one is also produced by Morodor as demonstrated by the spacey synths and bumping bass. It does the whole “slow start to double-timed disco pace” that has become an overused disco trope at this point – it worked greatly in “Love Hangover” and “Last Dance”, but comes off a bit clumsily here. Though one could practically hear the gears of the disco machine beginning to rust in this track, any qualms are quickly remedied by the sheer magnitude of Summer herself, who once again puts her all into this recording – even if it is noticeably lacking in the seductive charm that makes her so unique.
73. “One Fine Day” – Carole King: I feel so bad being critical of King’s rendition of a song that she wrote herself. Like, it’s clear that she knows the song well and recognizes the elements that made the original Chiffons recording so legendary, hence how she doesn’t really change anything from this arrangement in hopes to recapture some of that magic. But unlike all of her work in Tapestry (one of the greatest albums of the 70s), she just sounds so stale and forced here. It’s also not helped that the production is dull as dull can get, with a cheap-sounding piano and saxophone to boot. Once again, it’s a lovely song and I can’t knock it for the lyrics at all. It’s just a bit pointless to press play on this particular recording when The Chiffons’ version is as perfect as it could get.
72. “An American Dream” – The Dirt Band: So, 70s country-folk band The Nitty Gritty Band had, momentarily, changed their name to just The Dirt Band for a few years at the turn of the decade. I’m not familiar with the earlier output from the band, but I always took them for having a more harder-edged sound. It’s always seemed to me that a step closer to “Margaritaville” is a step closer to failure. And if I’m interpreting the lyrics correctly, it’s about a man who completely ignores whatever his wife/girlfriend is talking about because he’s too busy imagining how nice life in Jamaica would be. Maybe I’m a bit sensitive to these kinds of things, but that’s pretty off-putting. It’s a weird song, but one that I could imagine working well for summer pool parties thrown by white suburbanites. Although the title alone is a painfully obvious tie-in to the 80s American pride fad that I mentioned earlier. I guess this could’ve been a lot worse (it could’ve been “Margaritaville”), but as it stands it still sucks.
71. “Misunderstanding” – Genesis: Another band I’ve been looking forward to discovering in the 80s – Genesis! It’s not necessarily because I’m a fan, but rather because I’m very unfamiliar with the vast majority of their output. All I really know about them is that fans and listeners tend to shun much of their 80s Phil Collins-led output, feeling that they betrayed their 70s prog-rock roots. Honestly, this is just fine. Those slinky guitars and keyboards are decently catchy and matches well with the general theme of suspicion and infidelity. I like Phil Collins only in small doses myself, but I think his presence is used pretty well in this particular single. The verses are a tad weak, but it also comes off as the type of song that doesn’t really rely on big emotions to get its point across. I’m particularly a fan of the “oh shit” moment present in the minor chord delivery of “he was just leaving”. Altogether, this is pretty decent radio pop; perhaps I’d be less of a fan if I were familiar with Genesis’ earlier output, but it’s pretty hard to say otherwise.
70 “Let Me Love You Tonight” – Pure Prairie League: 70s AC pop meets 80s country in this pleasant, slightly cheesy little ballad. Seriously, that chorus is hilariously schmaltzy – “Let me love you tonight / There’s a million stars in the sky” – but in a more innocuous, happy kind of way, certainly more charming than what could have been. Okay, okay, so at its heart, it’s basically about this guy who wants to convince this newly single woman to sleep with him which… definitely reeks of the “nice guy” syndrome. That dampens the appeal of the song slightly, at least for me, but I still find it to be a pretty nice listening experience, if a bit tiresome after a few trials. I think this is entirely the fault of David Sanborn, whose exquisite saxophone can be heard all over this one. Vince Gill’s vocals are alright too, if a bit lacking in character. Nonetheless, for an AC track that’s less than three minutes in length, there’s a fair bit to enjoy here.
69. “Into the Night” – Benny Mardones: And here’s yet another song that I’m certain I’ve heard numerous times through my life, yet never knew the name to until now. And I’m happy for that! After all, the jazzy atmosphere ever-present in this track is certainly pronounced enough to have left a strong impression on me, even if I knew nothing of the lyrics. This is pretty much the typical image I have of 80s soft pop, knowing that I have yet to really dive into the meat of the genre. The pianos are nice but… yeah, those lyrics. As soon as he sang, “She’s just sixteen years old / Leave her alone… they say”, I let out an audible sigh. I can never understand how all these grown men songwriters have such a fascination for sixteen- and seventeen-year-old girls. I’ve noted this several times on this blog already so I won’t get too into it, but look out for a blog post sometime in the future. I know that the producers just wanted to add a “forbidden love” angle to their song – but why can’t they just make the song on infidelity between already-married lovers like normal people?? And even if we were to briefly disregard that connotation, the rest of the lyrics are truly faceless and bland. It really says a lot when the most powerful parts of the songs come at the end with Mardones’ wordless vocalizing. And it’s true that Mardones’ vocal performance is a big highlight of this one. I just wish that a more interesting story was coming out of his mouth.
68. “How Do I Make You” – Linda Ronstadt: Okay, why did I not know this song existed?! So, I know I’ve said a lot of unfavorable stuff about Linda Ronstadt in the past and I stand by all of that. But if I had known for one second that she had a successful new wave single, I would have possibly reconsidered my take on her! All of her dull midtempo cover songs seem to suffer from a certain kind of stuffiness, but the energy that she gives this particular cover seems completely fun and natural. It’s clear that she’s trying to tap into the whole Pat Benatar thing (this single did perform better than “Heartbreaker”!), but I think her powerful vocals fit the mood perfectly fine. The lyrics themselves rely on too much repetition to make it highly noteworthy – but it’s Linda Ronstadt doing new wave! I didn’t know this was a thing I needed, but I’m so glad I’ve found it.
67. “Fire Lake” – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: “Fire Lake” continues onward with the bad boy image on which Bob Seger has worked for a decade and a half. While I do generally enjoy the output of the group, their style has never been within my personal interests. I appreciate Seger’s lyricism and vocal talents and I even think the Silver Bullet Band are pleasantly consistent, yet I find it hard to listen to their singles on my own free time. This is more of my own fault, though. Nonetheless, this follows along those same grounds. The atmosphere is acceptable in its rebellious-yet-sensitive tastes (“fire lake” is obviously hell here), although there’s little here I can draw to being distinctly Seger-esque. The idea of being wary of the repercussions of risky activities is admirable, but the delivery of this feels very much like an engine running out of steam. Still, I can’t say I have very many complaints about the track – just very little overwhelming compliments.
66. “Fame” – Irene Cara: So, while I am not at all familiar with the movie of this song’s namesake, nor its successive TV show, I am extremely familiar with this single. It’s one of those artifacts of the 80s that somehow escaped the fall into obscurity to make itself still relatively well-known today. Of course, that tends to happen with songs as anthemic as this one – they stay in peoples’ heads for years, even decades at a time. The fact that this one hinges such a formidable word and phrase – “Fame! I’m gonna live forever” – certainly helps as well. But is the song any good? Well, the soaring melody is one for the ages and the late-disco backing is pretty fun also. Maybe this comes from intense overplay, but something seems to be missing – like the song desires to be so much bigger, but is weighted down by simplified lyrics and vocals that perhaps could be a bit more showier. Seriously, I only really know Irene Cara from two songs, and this is the weaker performance of the two. Still, it’s fine – though I could see myself tearing my ears off from constant overplay of this one at the height of its… fame.
65. “She’s Out of My Life” – Michael Jackson: This is probably one of the most low-key songs I’ve come across on this Billboard challenge thus far. Aside from the violins at the intro and the simple keyboard and guitar notes throughout, this is led purely by Jackson’s vocal performance in a more slow, delicate, and restrained recording. I can see how many could be turned off by this, or at least prefer the vibrancy of his more uptempo singles, but I personally find this rather beautiful. The whole thing feels like it’s brimming with so much raw emotion that young Michael barely knows what to do with it all. This is especially seen with the oft-discussed final note, in which he audibly breaks down into tears. I’ll admit that the recording could probably do without that – I was more emotionally charged by his delivery of “Kept my love for her locked deep inside” in the final verse. The decision to keep this so stripped-down was, I think, a good one; it shows that Jackson is more than just a danceable bubblegum pop performer and that there’s truly something special waiting to come out in due time.
64. “Don’t Do Me Like That” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: I’ve always liked this song. The Heartbreakers make for a fun backing band, and Petty’s chorus is delightfully catchy as well, even though his utterances of “don’t do me like that” sound so mush-mouthed they’re almost indecipherable. It’s also a little funny to me how the speaker leads in the lyrics with a little anecdote of what happened once to a friend and his girl, as if that should be any justification on which to hinge the fate of one’s relationship. That’s not really a complaint though – I really have no reason to dislike this song. It’s just way too fun and short and simple enough to not wear out its welcome so quickly. Definitely 80s pleasantry for sure.
63. “Don’t Let Go” – Isaac Hayes: Yes!! I love when artists perform cover songs that are almost completely unrecognizable from the original. In this case, Isaac Hayes took a Roy Hamilton top ten hit from 1958 and totally sexed it up. I didn’t even realize that it was a cover until the “Oowee…/Aww shucks…” of its chorus. Incidentally, the totally dated nature of its lyrics inherently makes this a little bit awkward coming from the mouth of someone as cool and hip as Hayes. Once you get past the novelty of this being yet another weird disco cover with very disco production, it’s pretty weak. I guess the sensibilities of the late 50s just don’t translate quite so well in this particular day and age. Still, this does prominently feature the silky vocals of Isaac Hayes, so there’s no way I wouldn’t like this at least a little bit.
62. “I Can’t Tell You Why” – Eagles: I guess much like how Linda Ronstadt’s surprised me this year, I’m getting the same kind of impression from Eagles on this track. First of all, Don Henley is not on lead here, which is already a huge plus. Additionally, this is far more heavy on the keyboards than their typical California rock sound that I’m used to hearing from them. Lastly – and maybe most importantly – the production is much more lower tempo, jazzier, soulful, and just plain cooler. This is comparable to something I would hear from Eddie Rabbitt or Ambrosia – not Eagles!! Besides all this, though, the lyrics are just as bland as what I’m used to from the band. All you really need here are the lines, “Every time I try to walk away / Something makes me turn around and stay / And I can’t tell you why”; everything else is just filler. Still, this single is shaded with just the right amount of darkness for it to be a pleasant, smooth listen. It’s fun to imagine what direction their career would have taken if they were driven by this sound instead of “Hotel California”.
61. “Daydream Believer” – Anne Murray: I feel like I’m not being very fair to the female performers on this list. Sure, I’ve given praise to Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, and Pat Benatar here, but hardly anyone else. As someone who wants to get better at elevating the ranks of women artists and musicians, I feel like I’ve been letting myself down on this goal this time around. The fact that women are even at all successful in such a fiercely patriarchal industry is enough to laud about. So I guess a lot of the complaints I have about a lot of the female musicians here aren’t so much about the individuals themselves, but rather the double-standards of constraints that are placed on women and the material they get to record. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, Anne Murray has a warm and pleasant voice, there’s no complaints there. But here, she’s given the opportunity to cover one of the most iconic songs of the mid-60s, although saddled with lackluster production that sucks dry pretty much everything that made the original so charming. It’s in recordings such as these where we could really see the suffocating abilities of the label that give her no elbow room to really show off what she’s good at, which she does perfectly well in “Snowbird”, “Danny’s Song”, and even “You Needed Me”. It’s true that Anne Murray is not a huge favorite of mine, but I know that a lot of it is because the adult contemporary music she tends to veer towards is just something that doesn’t appeal to me as much as, say, new wave or funk, and I know that’s my own personal bias. Nonetheless, I know she is so much better than this and that is why this cover frustrates me so much. I hate this single and I hate the obvious restrictions on Murray’s creativity that are so present on this one. She deserves so much better.
60. “Romeo’s Tune” – Steve Forbert: My research indicates that Forbert never really got anywhere after this single, and that just makes me sad. I guess the cozy sensibilities of his sound just didn’t fit with the direction that 80s pop music ultimately went for. I could imagine this fitting in very easily in the top 100 list from 1975 or even 1971. Still, this is rather lovely and charmingly down-to-earth, it’s hard not to love at least a little bit. I really like the lyrics to this one (peppered with poetically cryptic phrases like “Bring me southern kisses” and “It’s king and queen and we must go down now beyond the chandelier”) , as well as the happy-go-lucky piano and organ combo. Sure it’s sappy, but that only means that it’s coming from a soft spot in his heart. Anyway, Steve Forbert’s alright in my book, if only for “Romeo’s Tune”.
59. “Let My Love Open the Door” – Pete Townshend: I really wanted to offer some strong negative criticism toward this song, but I think this thinking could mainly be the fault of overplay particularly in movie trailers. This very well could be the catchiest song ever, and somehow the odd combination of the synths with acoustic guitar works pretty well. I can do without Townshend’s singing, but even that plays a little bit of a role in just how good it feels to listen to this romance ditty. Although, now that I think about it, this song feels a bit self-congratulatory with the speaker’s professed power he has to rid the subject from all of their problems. This can especially be felt in the bridge, which I’ve never liked: “I have the only key to your heart / I can stop you falling apart / … Release yourself from misery / There’s only one thing gonna set you free / That’s my love”. Like, maybe she doesn’t want your love to open the door to her heart – ever thought of that one? Yeah, that’s the negative criticism I was going for… yet the song is short, sweet, and simple enough to not let it get to me far too much. Meh, what the hell – I like it.
58. “Desire” – Andy Gibb: This may as well be credited to the Bee Gees (or at least give a featuring credit), given that the other three Gibbs are very prominent as background vocalists throughout the whole track. Anyway, I’m not really digging this one. Andy’s vocals are the weakest I’ve ever heard from him, and the backup parts feel like the Bee Gees were brought in and told to just do what they do for atmosphere purposes. Even the lyrics are laughable at parts (“black and white is you and me in a special light”). I just felt that any spark of charisma that Andy Gibb once had (and he did have it at some point) is vanished now, and the fact that this was his final top ten hit makes it all the sadder. His career was tragically short, and I dare say that he maybe deserved a little better than being forever second banana to the other Gibbs.
57. “You’re Only Lonely” – J.D. Souther: The twangy croon in his voice, the subtly melancholic lyrics, the “only/lonely” rhyme – I’m not too familiar with J.D. Souther, but this does come across as a direct channeling into what made Roy Orbison so cool. As it stands, he’s hardly as cool as Roy Orbison, and probably has more in common with Glenn Frey or Don Henley of Eagles. Still, this song is pretty nice at face value. He’s declaring that he’ll be there for the apple of his eye if they are lost, lonely, or sad – that’s nice! Although, his repetitions of “don’t you ever be ashamed” and the ilk makes this feel a bit disingenuous, like he’s trying to play mind games with the subject to convince her to sleep with him. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it’s really easy for this song to slip into an overarching mood of desperation (“darling, I get lonely too”). While I don’t always dislike songs of this nature, this one in particular hardly adds much of an additional interesting quality to it and I’ll admit that I’m not overtly fond of it just at face value. The Eagles sound doesn’t help much, either.
56. “Cool Change” – Little River Band: Now, this is the Little River Band I like to hear. The speaker to this one is someone that I could very much relate to: their “life is so prearranged” and they are itching for a bit of a cool change to mix things up so they can “breathe the air” and accomplish something that satisfies them. While I can’t exactly say that my life is as “prearranged” as this speaker’s, I currently possess a very similar ache to release myself from the cage that is my current comfortable situation, in order to do something daring and different. The music is so damn smooth, and fits remarkably will with lyrics about sailing out in the ocean and becoming one with the environment. Sure, it’s definitely corny at bits (especially the “albatross and the whales are my brothers”), but I also think that the song couldn’t have found me at a more perfect time in my life, hence why I’m so fond of it. Throw in some lovely yacht rock arrangement and a jazzy sax solo, and now I’m in sonic heaven.
55. “All Out of Love” – Air Supply: So… I went out with this guy a while back who was really into Air Supply. He always tried to push me to give them a listen, but I never really did because… well, I’ve heard things. But as I approached the 80s, I realized that given their immense pop culture success and impact, I’d finally be able to give them a listen. Well, I’ve actually been sort of familiar with “All Out of Love” through its usage in TV, movies, and commercials, but never really had a chance to approach it critically. Anyway, I think this finds that uneasy common ground between Barry Manilow and Bee Gees that I didn’t think I wanted to hear, but somehow works alright. The verses aren’t anything we haven’t heard before – all the typical phrases and imagery that come with songs about heartbreak. But it’s that anthemic chorus that really makes this song stand-out – it’s just so damn melodramatic and kitschy, yet somehow endearing. And speaking of melodrama, this song swells and builds into a crescendo that would make even Manilow jealous! So yeah, it’s hardly anything special in terms of lyrics or performance (although I do prefer whoever of the two sings the chorus), but that smooth-as-silk AC production is everything.
54. “Rise” – Herb Alpert: God damn it, I hate when this happens. Okay, so in case you haven’t been keeping track, this is the second time that we’ve come across this single in my Billboard challenge. The first time was in the previous year’s list at #80; I still dig it just as much. It’s interesting to see that this time it’s ranked even higher – it seems that trying to mingle with the cool kids worked out pretty well for Herb! Another thing I never mentioned is that it was fun when I realized that this is where that prominent sample from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” came from.
53. “Emotional Rescue” – The Rolling Stones: Wherein the Rolling Stones are still trying to pull off the whole disco thing. I liked it in “Miss You”, but this is way too much off the deep end. Once Mick Jagger started off in full-on falsetto, I knew that good things weren’t to come. He sings that he’ll “come to your emotional rescue”, but with that damn falsetto and swinging intonations, he sounds like he’s mocking whoever needs rescuing, rather than making himself a convincing “savior“ or “knight in shining armor”. Yeah, these lyrics are also hilariously awful. And just like “Miss You”, this sounds like a demo recorded in a seedy garage or warehouse somewhere, not a pop single that actually gets radio play! Besides Mick, everyone else in the band sounds like they’re playing along to a completely different song; the amount of dissonance heard here is staggering. On top of that, this song is just plain boring. I don’t understand how something as dull as this made it to #3. I’ve listened to it a few times now, and each time I just want it to be over as quickly as possible. I’ve spent too much time on this piece of crap already – moving on.
52. “On the Radio” – Donna Summer: Donna Summer is a beautiful, precious angel sent straight from heaven and songs like these are a perfect demonstration of the fact. To be honest, I kind of wish this particular recording spent a little more time on the signature low-tempo intro, mainly because I think Summer’s voice just sounds so nice in balladry mode. But that’s a little too much to ask for a Summer single anyway, and it wastes no time going into full disco mood very soon afterward. I really like the story behind this song too – the rekindling of a relationship via chance and radio sounds so quaint and so, so 70s/80s. This is yet another disco song you’ll find me singing at any given moment (especially at karaoke!), though the booming bass and general disco production of this one (thanks to Giorgio Morodor, once again) makes this one as blissful as ever.
51. “Against the Wind” – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: I think all of this saturation of Bob Seger is starting to really affect how I respond to each subsequent single on the list. This song accomplishes everything that “Night Moves” does, only “Night Moves” is much better and does much more with its nostalgic storyline. This is just treading a lot of the same old thematic grounds, with the same old vocal stylings and verse structure, with the same old country-rock instrumentation to match. I do like the line “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” though, because… damn, same here.
50. “Him” – Rupert Holmes: I love that sliding bass in the intro; it’s so fun! The rest of the song, however, is not so fun. It’s a song about infidelity that comes from a place of betrayal and genuine hurt, even if the recording is a bit too catchy for its own good. Especially that chorus, which could have easily come off clumsy and silly (“Him, him him / … She’s gonna have to do without him / Or do without me, me, me”). I also just really love the image of the speaker finding a pack of cigarettes that aren’t his brand, a seemingly trivial happenstance that nonetheless adds to his ever-increasing suspicion and paranoia. So it’s less of the sappy, heartbreak stuff, and more of a kind of story-telling song that effectively draws the listener into the cycle and makes the situation all the more relatable and sympathetic. Rupert Holmes isn’t a terrific singer or anything, but the straight coolness of this song (even when it’s so obviously not cool) often makes up for this.
49. “Better Love Next Time” – Dr. Hook: So at this point, Dr. Hook has decided that disco is working so well for him and he might as well churn out more singles from the genre. I was initially turned off by the play on words in the title (seriously, it’s cheap and corny), but upon first listen, I realized that it’s implemented in the song much more gracefully. Also, the song itself isn’t bad! It’s actually a pretty sweet, uplifting take on heartache and breakups, with the chorus essentially dictating that there are much better fish in the sea. This is also some of Dr. Hook’s best singing… which honestly doesn’t really say a lot. But it’s an innocent little song with a sweet melody anyway, if a bit faceless and disposable in its personality.
48. “Tired of Toein’ the Line” – Rocky Burnette: What?! What is this?! This is terrible! This production sounds cheaper than cheap. Those lyrics are ridiculous, nearly undecipherable, and repetitive beyond all belief. And they’re filtered through the insufferable voice of Rocky Burnette, who essentially has only nepotism to blame for his one-hit-wonderdom. I feel like he only sings two notes throughout this entire song, and it’s all in this high-pitched, nasally warble that is never, ever pleasant. I hate, hate, hate this.
47. “Stomp!” – The Brothers Johnson: Yes!! So, when we last saw The Brothers Johnson, they were smooth soul through and through. Now, they’re funk-disco – and thank the heavens! This single in particular is produced by the incomparable Quincy Jones, which more than explains its uncanny ability to stay catchy, funky, and fresh from beginning to end. Those strings are unstoppable, as are the terrific handclaps and chants. Additionally, the bass breakdown after the second chorus is so infectious it hurts – but in a good way! This may seem like just another disco song about partying ’til your face melts off, but the fact that something so purely disco could emerge a couple years after disco’s peak and make the top ten is some kind of miracle in and of itself. I love this so much.
46. “Heartache Tonight” – Eagles: So far, it seems that the 80s have offered us a more edgier sounding Eagles, far detached from their country-rock roots. Really, the only real thread that could connect it to their 70s sound is the inclusion of the softer vocals in some of the verses (“Somebody’s gonna hurt someone before the night is through…”). Here, Joe Walsh’s more bluesy influence is far more prominent, so much so that Glenn Frey is noticeably struggling to keep up. Indeed, different doesn’t always necessarily translate to something deeper or generally better. The repetitive chorus gets in your head – as repetitive choruses tend to do – but the lyrics are deceptively vague and don’t really amount to much meaning the more you think about them. Overall, this is a neat little showcase for Joe Walsh’s guitar work, but it basically fails at being anything more.
45. “We Don’t Talk Anymore” – Cliff Richard: I initially didn’t remember much about Cliff Richard’s last major hit “Devil Woman” from 1976’s top 100, but upon relistening I now regret not adding it to my Halloween playlist last month. “We Don’t Talk Anymore”, however, takes on a decidedly different direction in its style. The screeching rock ‘n’ roll guitar is not replaced with smoother synths; even his vocal style is less edgier and more like a R&B/pop singer. It’s actually kind of a pleasant song, with highly relatable subject matter that somehow really works with its upbeat vibes. The speaker claims that he’s totally over his ex-beloved (“I ain’t losing sleep / I ain’t counting sheep”), but upon further investigation, maybe he’s just trying his hardest to convince himself of the fact (“Can you imagine how I feel today”). It doesn’t get much deeper than that, but maybe it doesn’t really need to.
44. “The Second Time Around” – Shalamar: This song is such a delightful listen, and a gentle reminder that the disco machine isn’t ready to stop just yet. That resounding “pew” sound that revolves around the chorus is terrific, as are the background vocalists, who I think are as much of star vehicles as the lead performer himself. The song itself is one of those fairly simple dance ballads about rekindling an old relationship, promising that what was bad will be good again and all that junk. It doesn’t make any dramatic, surprising moves, but it stays consistently pleasant the whole way through.
43. “Send One Your Love” – Stevie Wonder: Up until now, I’ve been consistently excited see that I get to listen to the latest Stevie Wonder hit single of the year. What makes now any different? Well, while I haven’t heard much of it, I’ve heard some not-so-favorable things about Stevie’s 80s output. Since I am such a big fan of his, I am always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – but this… this is different. The first driving verse alone is all that’s needed to turn me off: “Send her your love / With a dozen roses / Make sure that she knows it / With a flower from your heart”. An awful metaphor paired with overused love gestures leaves little to anticipate from the rest of the song. And these love lyrics never elevate past this level of shallowness, from the remainder of the lyrics, to that awful scraping sound in the production, to what has to be Wonder’s most boring harmonica solo to date. This is just dull from start to finish, leaving me little to be excited about for the rest of Wonder’s 80s singles.
42. “Special Lady” – Ray, Goodman & Brown: When we last saw Ray, Goodman & Brown… well, we never actually met Ray, Goodman & Brown per se. But in 1970, when they were known as The Moments, they had a #3 hit with “Love on a Two-Way Street” that, frankly, is awesome. I’ll have to say that with “Special Lady”, they do a great job at updating their style to fit with the sound of the times, while also staying rooted in their 60s soul roots. It’s the kind of typical sweet love song that gets played on weddings, but the clean, solid production and terrific performances by all members makes this one stand out ever-so-slightly. My one complaint is aimed toward the line, “Pop goes the weasel in my mind” – who thought that was a great idea??
41. “Brass in Pocket” – The Pretenders: Here we go with another predictable rave from myself. I love The Pretenders and Chrissie Hynde and have for as long as I can remember. Everything about this particular song – from the marching rhythm to Hynde’s prominent confidence to that miracle of a pre-chorus-to-chorus transition – is pretty much everything I wish defined my own sexual awakening. I just desperately wish it were so much longer, as a song as special (special) as this deserves another two verses or at least a post-chorus bridge. But then again, that pre-chorus alone packs so much of a punch (“Gonna use my arms / Gonna use my legs”, etc.), something more might have been a bit overkill. Finally, that cowbell in the chorus is teasingly subtle, but also just as perfect as the rest of this song.
40. “Pop Muzik“ – M: Being that this also a film blog, I’m now just lamenting that the tag for this music group will now be mixed up with that of the Fritz Lang movie of the same name. But I’ll digress. On the surface, this song should have been the most annoying thing imaginable. In Robin Scott’s attempt at melding the last two-and-a-half decades of pop music in a two-and-a-half minute song, we get a wild dispersing of electronic keyboard sounds, bumping bass, twangy guitars, operatic doo-wop from female vocalists, and what is essentially an early example of White Boy Rap. Still, it’s also kind of brilliant. Like, every single time I listen to the song, I notice a different layer of sound that I didn’t think was there before (possibly a reference to the brill building of the 60s or Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound?). The downside is having to listen to the song multiple times – as much as it is a satire of pop music, it still is a repetitive pop song designed to be infectious. But it works! And I think that’s what’s so frustrating about it: the song is very self-aware, and we as listeners are aware that it’s self-aware, yet we still fall into the trap of singing along to “pop, pop, pop music”. It’s the never-ending cycle and it’s why I find this Billboard challenge so enjoyable. Anyway, this is a great song.
39. “More Love” – Kim Carnes: I love Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, but I’ll have to admit that “More Love” wasn’t always a favorite of mine, at least in comparison to the absolute gold that they had put out throughout the rest of the 60s. But here, in yet another update of a classic single, Kim Carnes tries her hand at fitting this in with those other smooth pop love songs of the year – and it works! While I’m usually not a big fan of this kind of 80s arrangement and production, there are a few little elements at play here that make this a cut above the rest. The synth introduction at the start is pretty darn epic, feeding into the official start of the song that features a bouncy guitar, cool bass, and Carnes delicate-yet-raspy vocal stylings. It sort of plateaus from there, but remains a pretty solid love song throughout – and yeah, it doesn’t hurt that it’s got songwriting credit from Robinson himself! Like I said, this will disappoint anyone looking for anything exceptional, but will greatly please those who simply desire a solid single.
38. “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” – Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer: I was slightly conflicted on how excited to be about this one. For one thing, it’s two pop divas I admire and I’ve adored many of their songs up until now. On the other hand, Streisand in particular has been rather disappointing as of late; plus, their styles are so different, it’s hard to predict the overall quality of their duet (Streisand’s own experience with disco has been rather dubious). Probably to no one’s surprise, this song is as over-the-top as it can get, with both pop queens constantly trying to outdo each other. Once the disco production kicks in after the slow start, it even feels like the bass, drums, guitar, piano, and horns are all competing for center stage as well. The lyrics deal with kicking an unworthy lover to the curb, which – along with the bombastic duet of Streisand and Summer on a disco track alone – makes me wonder how this was never an official queer anthem. This is pure disco trash, but definitely in all the best ways imaginable.
37. “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” – The S.O.S. Band: This is exactly the kind of single that makes me desperately wish that the disco era had never come to an end. Sure, with so much excess in such a compact amount of time, the crash and burn was only expected. Although, I’ve read that this song belongs securely in the post-disco movement, the unofficial response to the “Disco Sucks” phenomenon. I’m still not exactly sure what that entails, but this does not diminish the fact that this is one of the most danceable songs of all time. The pronounced funk elements paired with the vibrant vocals of Mary Davis make this a sweeping dance floor staple for the ages. And the second that chorus kicks in, pure unadulterated euphoria has never been quite so crystal clear. Sure, the bulk of its lyrical content revolves around the repetition of its hook that, frankly, does get a bit old when you pay too much attention to it. But that’s the thing – you don’t analyze these lyrics, you feel them. At the very least, when she sings, “Baby, you can do it / Take your time, do it right…”, it feels that she’s speaking directly to me for some reason. And who am I to not dance my heart off at that very moment? So, I guess if the direct result of the “Disco Sucks” movement means that we get songs like these as a response, it can’t really be all bad.
36. “Too Hot” – Kool & the Gang: So, this is the first time we’ve visited Kool & the Gang since the 70s and… boy, things have changed. It’s hard to believe that this polished, soul production comes from the same guys who gave us “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”. Of course, they’re not the first ones to do so and I was perfectly willing to give them a chance! To be honest, though, this is a bit too smooth; apart from the lovely sax solo after the second chorus, nothing about this marks itself as exceptional above all the other smooth soul of this era. As it stands, it’s acceptable for occasional easy listening, but there’s not much more I could say about it.
35. “Ladies Night” – Kool & the Gang: Now, this is what I’m talking about! That bass, those horns, and the funky feel overall are exactly what I’d expect from the group. Everything else, though, I kind of have a bit of a problem with. For one thing, the lyrics are too corny to ignore: “Oh yes, it’s ladies night, and the feeling’s right / Oh yes, it’s ladies night, oh what a night” as a chorus is a little underwhelming. The repetitive outro (“This is your night tonight / Everything’s gonna be alright”) does little to help matters. On top of this, Robert Bell’s vocals have been much better and even the backup singers seem bored – not good, considering this is “ladies night”!! Maybe this is one of those “you had to be there” types of singles, but it certainly hasn’t aged well at all, I can say that much.
34. “Coward of the County” – Kenny Rogers: I won’t spend a lot of time with this one, because this is honestly one of the most vile songs I’ve come across on this challenge so far (and I’ve covered “Ahab the Arab” and “(You’re) Having My Baby”). The usage of gang rape as a means to help make the “complicated” protagonist a hero of his own story is such a despicable trope and no utilization of it is ever okay. Also awful is that the lesson here is basically a subversion of the “turn the other cheek” mantra and essentially justifies violent hypermasculinity with no critique. But no, the gang rape is definitely the worst part about this song, and it’s so sickening that this went to #3. I was more than willing to keep an open mind with Kenny Rogers, but this is unforgivable.
33. “Longer” – Dan Fogelberg: Now this – this is hilarious. The first verse alone gave me the chuckles: “Longer than there’ve been fishes in the ocean / Higher than any bird ever flew / Longer than there’ve been stars up in the heavens / I’ve been in love with you”. Nature imagery as a metaphor for ever-lasting love isn’t something new, but with every line it really feels like Fogelberg is trying to stretch the nature angle for as much as it’s worth. I kind of see this as a response to Bread’s “If”, which is probably just as wistfully cheesy in its romantic sensibilities. Although, this song isn’t really pulling a rope around my heart the way that Bread’s song had done almost immediately. It’s just another one of those wedding songs, though it’s hard for me to say that I dislike this nearly as much as others. It’s probably the flugelhorn solo.
32. “Sailing” – Christopher Cross: The fellows over at Beyond Yacht Rock often make the case for this song being the pinnacle of yacht rock, and I can totally see how and why. It’s the basic common denominator of all that smooth, jazzy rock with its lush production and lyrics about self-discovery and inner growth. And as subtle and soft as Cross’ vocal delivery is, it undoubtedly adds a significant amount to the song’s overall feel. It’s like his voice is at least partially melded with the smoothness and delicacy of the guitar arpeggio, strings, and percussion that seem to take up the most space in this recording. And there is a lot of space to be taken up here, in a track that is a thoroughly stripped-down version of its contemporaries, merely existing in its own special kind of blissful haze that, after a minute or two, feels like it could last forever. Thankfully, it doesn’t. I know this song has been a bit of a joke in recent years, but I unironically love it.
31. “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer” – Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes: Honestly, despite what I said about “Coward” a few songs up, I think I much prefer outlaw-country-lite Kenny Rogers over emotional-piano-driven-ballad Kenny Rogers. The surge in popularity of these kinds of ballads are precisely why I was reluctant on starting the 80s in the first place… but I have to finish what I started, so here we are. This song is okay, though definitely falling in line with all those other faceless AOR pop songs, this one about a failed couple who can’t seem to get over each other completely. Rogers and Carnes participate in a duet wherein they assume the characters in the song, but Carnes wrote the song herself and I would much rather hear her solo efforts in this. When she sings “Don’t fall in love with a dreamer / ‘Cause he’ll break you every time”, she seems legitimately heartbroken; when Rogers sings it, it sounds somewhat smug for some reason. Anyway, I don’t dislike this as much as I thought I would, but I also wouldn’t be mourning if I never listened to it again.
30. “Let’s Get Serious” – Jermaine Jackson: The music to this sounds like some kind of forgotten track from Stevie Wonder à la Songs in the Key of Life. Makes sense, though, since Wonder himself co-produced this single. I’ve no complaints on this matter. Jermaine, being the second of the Jackson 5 to break out in a solo career, seems to struggle a bit in carving out as much of a defined personality. But that’s okay, because the song is catchy as hell regardless. I could do without the part where he spells out “serious” for us for some reason, but the rest is pretty fun save for some clumsy lines (“In my mind you have taken up permanent space”). It’s pretty hard to fill in Michael’s shoes quite as effectively, but I think Jermaine does a pretty good job.
29. “Cupid / I’ve Loved You For a Long Time” – The Spinners: The Philly Soul masters are still hanging in there, I see. Not for too long, though, as this would be their final top ten single. I do miss hearing Philipé Wynne on lead vocals, but this new guy is very pleasant on the ears as well, especially nailing those Sam Cooke “woah-oh-oh”s. As is stands, this is a nice medley, but it’s clear to see that its success is mostly attributed to the Spinners’ comeback and not necessarily due to how well this fits in with the mold of 80s pop music. It really doesn’t, and this is an average quality recording at best.
28. “This Is It” – Kenny Loggins: I feel like I’m going to spend most of this 80s overview confusing Kenny Rogers with Kenny Loggins. Or maybe I won’t, as considering by this track, Loggins is the much better one of the Kennys. In any case, this track is kind of rad. I just love how Loggins starts off in a whispery croon, only to explode in energy when he sings, “Are you gonna wait for a sign, your miracle? / Stand up and fight”. Along with the smooth, jazzy instrumentals, this song also features background vocals from Michael McDonald, whose performance I really enjoyed in “What a Fool Believes” but who is a bit subdued here even as backup. I think this is just one of those songs that has the same kind of lush arrangement I tend to enjoy in good blue-eyed soul, yet seems to be lacking that missing ingredient to push it over the top. It’s still rad, though.
27. “Biggest Part of Me” – Ambrosia: I really dug Ambrosia in the previous year with their hit single “How Much I Feel”, a staple in AOR. This one is a bit different, in that it’s got a slight tinge of funk to it, with its lyrics less melancholic and more of a feel-good love song. Yet somehow, these particular lyrics manage to have their own special charm to them. While there are a few lines that are cringe-worthy in their attempts to keep up the rhyme structure (“Got a feelin’ that forever / We are gonna stay together”), there are also many that are pretty damn sweet (“There’s a new sun arisin’ / I can see a new horizon / That will keep me realizin’…”). Also that chorus has quite a blissful-as-hell hook, with vocalist David Pack giving it all with a defined falsetto. But even still, I think the true strengths of the song come with the jazzy yacht rock production, with its keyboard-driven foundation and some truly sultry sax and keyboard. This makes the song a bit longer than perhaps it needs to be, but Ambrosia has been consistently awesome thus far, so I guess that isn’t too much of a complaint.
26. “Steal Away” – Robbie Dupree: And the AOR just keeps churning on and on. Those keyboards sound awfully similar to “What a Fool Believes”, and I could bet that I’m not the only one to make that connection. But I think even more important in this particular recording are (a) those terrific chords changes, (b) the backing sitar, and (c) Dupree’s vocals, which aren’t amazing but fit the laid-back mood of the recording rather well. Once I start paying attention to the lyrics, though, I’m left less than impressed. There’s surely none of the linguistic complexity found in “Fool” to be detected here. Still, it’s a nice, bouncy bit of soft pop to which I wouldn’t oppose an occasional listen.
25. “Sexy Eyes” – Dr. Hook: God, the song’s title turns me off immediately. And the music itself isn’t any better. I mean, I guess it’s technically not awful, since it’s got a similar vibe as a whole bunch of disco-soul I enjoy rather well. But this is just the same ol’ “I’m a serious disco man now” shtick that Dr. Hook wants to make happen. I guess I’ve refrained from taking Dr. Hook very seriously up to now anyway, but this has got to be one of their lowest points. I mean, “sexy eyes”? C’mon now…
24. “Yes, I’m Ready” – Teri DeSario ft. KC: So, the original single from Barbara Mason is one of my absolute favorite R&B songs of its era. It’s sweet and lovely, with Mason’s girlish vocals fitting the lyrical content to a tee. This cover, though, is just about as utterly pointless as… well, a Linda Ronstadt cover. Not quite as insufferable whitebread as Pat Boone’s “Tutti Frutti” (though I guess that’s a pretty high standard), but I still felt like I could easily turn on the original and get much more from it. DeSario isn’t a bad singer, but a song like this doesn’t really call for her to stretch her vocal chords much. KC just doesn’t belong in this track at all, period. Yeah, just listen to Barbara Mason’s song.
23. “Still” – Commodores: I haven’t heard very much of Lionel Ritchie’s solo output, but I’m guessing that I’m going to become pretty familiar with it soon, as this is the final major hit from the group before Ritchie left. To be honest, a lot of their slow R&B ballads have kind of collected in a sort of mush of sentimentality. I wouldn’t listen to them on my free time, and the times that I have listened to them they have, with some exception, generally bored the hell out of me. But I think what frustrates me most about this song in particular is how the lyrics spell out exactly why these two people shouldn’t be together (“So many dreams that flew away”, “We play the games that people play”, etc.) with no sign that things have changed, yet the driving line of this all is “I do love you, still”. Needless to say, I don’t see this relationship successfully rekindling itself anytime soon.
22. “Shining Star” – The Manhattans: For a second, I was hoping that this would somehow be a recharting of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s 1975 hit of the same name. But no – this song isn’t nearly as good. First of all, “shining star” is something you call a child, not a loved one. At least in EWF’s lines, the phrase works well as a message of empowerment. But okay, I can accept “shining star” as a mere metaphor and can easily move past this complaint. And once I do, the real power of the song begins to show itself. Although the guitar and keyboard at the start promises something somewhat more modern-sounding, the harmonies and soulful groove feel positively rooted in the mid-70s, and all for the better. I especially love the empowered chord changes in the pre-chorus (“Honey, I’ll never leave you lonely…”), with the harmonies continuing their magic all the way up to falsetto range. It’s relatively simple at its core, but simplicity is often an advantage in songs like these.
21. “With You I’m Born Again” – Billy Preston and Syreeta: So I guess on top of everything else, 1980 is the year of industry regulars dueting with up-and-comers in uniquely low-tempo ballads. And boy, this is so low-tempo it’s almost no-tempo, especially at the introduction, which supplants a stage musical-like feel that continues through it’s duration. Essentially, this is just chock full of love metaphors that we’ve heard a million times before, accompanied by some particularly terrible lines (“I was half not whole, in step with none”). This doesn’t even sound like Billy Preston at all, and you’re gonna have a hard time convincing me that they didn’t just use a stand-in. I hope I never have to listen to this dreck ever again.
20. “Babe” – Styx: In case you need a reminder: I like Styx – like really like them. And maybe it’s because I have a certain amount of sentimental value for this song, but I really don’t dislike it as much as so many seem to. I think it’s those twinkling keyboards that not only instantly bring me back to childhood, but also are quite lovely on their own. At the same time, though, I totally get the complaints as well. Once Dennis DeYoung’s voice comes in, it’s about as subtle a transition as a needle popping a balloon. The lyrics are awfully one-sided as well (“You know it’s you, babe / Giving me the courage and the strength I need”), along with the fact that there probably should have been another verse and chorus before that totally pointless guitar solo. And it’s probably just poorly dated, but the sentiment hinging around the term of endearment “babe” just doesn’t sit well with me. But nonetheless, I’ve listened to this song dozens of times, and for that keyboard alone I’ll probably listen to it at least a dozen times more.
19. “Please Don’t Go” – KC & the Sunshine Band: It probably says a lot about my age that I had no idea that the KWS cover of this song from the 90s was, in fact, a cover. And it’s also probably just my being an awful millennial when I say that this sounds much better in an uptempo, rave-pop arrangement rather than… this. But also, we all know that KC & the Sunshine Band do dance music so well and the act of doing a slower ballad was likely an act placed on them by the label. Still, I can’t pretend that I’m not utterly bored to tears listening to this. Still, it gets better as it goes on, once the hand claps and strings add a bit of flavor, and the lyrics aren’t terrible which is probably the least I could ask for. Nonetheless, the best thing about this single, easily, is its album sleeve.
18. “Upside Down” – Diana Ross: At this point, Diana Ross had not had a huge hit since “Love Hangover” in ’76. Luckily, the folks over at Chic offered their big, crowd-pleasing sound to a new disco-tinged single that truly kicks. The whole song is hook, layered upon hook, layered upon hook. I’ll admit that Ross’ vocal performance has been better, but she does offer just the right amount of confidence to make this one truly stand out. And yes, the funky instrumental arrangement by Rodgers and Edwards is awesome as well, but the Ross’ delivery makes this the fun, catchy love song that it so truly is. I’ve sort of fallen off the wagon with my self-assigned goal of listening to every studio album from Diana Ross, but whenever I do get back on it (and believe me, I will), this will be one album I’ll be anticipating the most.
17. “Ride Like the Wind” – Christopher Cross: With such a dreamy, atmosphere-driven song that “Sailing” was, I can’t say I was expecting to hear what a more uptempo Cross would give us. Surprisingly (or maybe not), this is a good song, although it’s a bit jarring to picture the same guy that gave us “Sailing” now playing an outlaw on the run to Mexico. This also sounds just a bit too light-hearted for its own good, given the subject matter, but who am I to gripe about solid keyboards, epic strings, and percussion that really kicks? Also, hey! – this is the second song on this list to feature backing vocals from Michael McDonald, although he feels a bit less natural and more extraneous here. Cross himself isn’t bad either, although I’d rather listen to “Sailing” a couple more times before I revisit this one again.
16. “Little Jeannie” – Elton John: While I love most of Elton John’s earlier output, lately he’s been disappointedly hit-or-miss for me. This one lies somewhere in the middle – I can take it or leave it and hardly give a damn either way. It just sounds like a combination of varying little elements of John’s past songs, proven successful and melded together in hopes to create the ultimate Elton John single. But no, the results just culminate to a bit of a dull, faceless tune. I’m also not too sure what “I want you to be my acrobat” means, nor what it could imply, but every interpretation of the metaphor I can conjure isn’t particularly favorable. Better luck next time, Elton.
15. “Lost in Love” – Air Supply: More Air Supply – hurrah! Honestly, though I prefer “All Out of Love” slightly more than this, it’s still rather easy to detect its charms. After the first verse, the lyrics just kind of encircle each other again and again until the finish, making this a fairly easy song to sing along with after the first couple choruses. And boy what a chorus it is, though, once again, the chorus for “All Out of Love” is a little bit better at that “immediate earworm” effect. Lead vocalist Russell Hitchcock is still a favorite of mine and he shines here as well, although I think the octave change during the final few choruses were a tad unneeded and make the song come off as awkwardly shouty by the end. Still, I could see myself giving this constant replays in the future.
14. “Working My Way Back to You / Forgive Me Girl” – The Spinners: Oh interesting, another Spinners medley! Actually, this one came first and was the inspiration for the band to attempt it again with the “Cupid” medley. This one, however, is easily the better of the two. The “Working My Way” part alone is so damn blissful, magical, and among some of the best singles that the group has ever put out. But what specifically makes it stand out above the rest? The tempo is fairly steady, as is the verse-chorus-verse structure, and while the vocals are great, the lyrics are a bit more questionable (“Thought I could have my cake and eat it, too”). Still, this is a great example of the sum being more than its parts, with these particular parts just happening to be exactly what listeners needed at the time. In any case, it’s so nice to see The Spinners continuing to make waves in their own special way.
13. “Cruisin'” – Smokey Robinson: As Smokey leaves The Miracles, his sound gets noticeably more smoother and seductive, almost fully removed from the happier vibes of his former group. While his signature rhyme scheme is still present (“Let the music take your mind / Just release and you will find”), they tend to take a backseat (I’m sorry) to the soulful production and instrumentation. The line, “I love it when we’re cruisin’ together” is a nice hook that slips well off the tongue, but the rest of the song just seems to glide along with hardly any rhyme or reason. There’s also no reason that this needed to be nearly six minutes long, when it could have been fine with being half as long. Something about Smokey on this track always felt weirdly ingenuous to me, but it’s an okay track, I guess.
12. “Cars” – Gary Numan: And now for a much better car-related song. Gary Numan and his album The Pleasure Principle was a big stepping stone for me in discovering 80s new wave and synthpop and “Cars”, of course, is one of the largest contributors to this. I could only imagine how out-of-left-field that must have sounded back in late ’79. Once we get deeper into the 80s, this purely synth-driven sound would become too common to even mention, but Numan was one of the forerunners of this, and “Cars” is truly unlike anything else on high radio play during this time. Its simplicity is totally deceptive, as it’s only really composed of two riffs played over and over again and lyrics that don’t amount to much more than living in a car in this modern age. But boy, does this song stick. And I should definitely stress that this was one of its kind in this era of modern music. The vast majority of this list has been made up of soft pop, soft rock, and post-disco music that don’t amount to much more than romance, heartbreak, and fun party times. Although the mood of this song stays consistently upbeat and spacey from start to finish, surely helped by Numan’s robotic vocals, it’s Numan himself that injects the song with a dose of pathos in lines like, “I can lock all my doors / It’s the only way to live”, “I can only receive / …It keeps me stable for days”, and “I’ve started to think / About leaving tonight / Although nothing seems right / In cars”. It’s sadly ironic that a song so important at ushering in a new technological sound in music has its speaker crying out for help to be saved from the upcoming age in technology that leaves him so cold and helpless. I’ve loved this song since I was eight, and I’m pretty certain that I love it even more now, albeit for additional reasons.
11. “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” – Rupert Holmes: This song has always annoyed me at least a little bit. For one thing, the tropical island mood it emits with its jazzy guitar and drums is so shallowly deceptive. Unlike “Margaritaville”, which actually arranges its instruments so it fits its lyrics (it’s still not a good song, mind you), there’s absolutely nothing else about this song that would qualify it for its summertime sunshine mood besides the mention of “piña coladas” and the ocean – oh, and the sounds of crashing waves that it inexplicably copies and pastes in the bridges after the chorus. The song thinks its being so natural in its connotations, but anyone paying attention to the lyrics can see just how transparent this attempt actually is. At it’s core, this song is about two terrible people who should definitely not stay together, although the song tries to play it off as a morality tale in romance where you shouldn’t knock what you got. No, the point is that they both plotted behind the other’s back to run away from the other with no heed or warning – instead of just, y’know, discussing things and quietly breaking up mutually the way that adults do – and it just happened to blow up in each other’s faces like some screwball comedy. I just hate how this song tries to subvert this situation into something darkly romantic and I find it all so awfully condescending. Then again, I do tend to like songs that paint a realistic picture of doomed relationships (“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, for instance), and the two people here are practically blueprint examples of this. So in that sense actually, they probably deserve each other – and good riddance for that.
10. “The Rose” – Bette Midler: I tend to unconditionally love all the pop divas, from Judy Garland to Rihanna, but Bette Midler has never one I’ve particularly gravitated toward. Sure, I sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” for a talent show once when I was twelve, but other than that I never had much of a listening relationship with her music. With that said, I’m all too familiar with “The Rose” and I do not like it. Midler’s vocal performance is exceptional, there’s no denying that bit, but the lyrical content really tests my patience. It’s essentially a ten-layer cake of metaphor piled upon metaphor that results in nothing more than an overdone “love conquers all message”. As for structure, it’s essentially the same melody repeated again and again across three verses, with the final verse swelling in an overblown, Manilow-esque crescendo. I’m sure this song means a whole lot to a whole bunch of thirteen-year-old girls out there, and that’s terrific, but it’s a bit too boring to bring myself to care much more about it.
9. “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” – Billy Joel: So far, it seems that 80s Billy Joel is trying very hard to convince listeners that 70s Billy Joel was never a thing. He’s put away his piano, picked up a guitar, threw in some handclaps, and seems to be trying to do the whole badass posturing… with not very successful results. Sure, this song is catchy as all hell and that’s probably the only reason why it did so well in sales and radio play. But essentially, he comes across as the stereotypical middle-aged guy who can’t see eye-to-eye with all the new styles and songs that the younger folks are listening to. With such an aversion to accepting and consuming changing cultural patterns, he adamantly refuses to accept such high brow terms as “new wave” because it’s all just rock ‘n’ roll at the end of the day! Silly kids. In terms of music, though, besides the catchiness factor, this is dull and predictable. I think Billy Joel thinks that the nasally vocal style he’s appropriated here is edgy, but it just reminds me of Frankie Avalon, which is never a good thing. Still, I can’t say this is all bad, as there are some neat little rhymes and lines thrown in there. I just wish it weren’t from Billy Joel is all.
8. “Funkytown” – Lipps Inc.: Here’s another song that I’ve heard so many times in my lifetime, I can’t even begin to conjure up an exact moment where I was listening to it for the first time. It’s just ingrained in every memory of a family or school party I have, as well as any memory I have of riding in the backseat of my mom’s car. Let’s be real, though: this realistically isn’t that great of a song. The speaker of this song wants to go to Funkytown and… yeah, that’s about it. It’s repetitive and folds upon itself like so many of these dance songs do, but unlike the certain amount of sleek sophistication found in “Take Your Time (Do It Right)”, “Funkytown” is loud, kitchy, and a little obnoxious in its piles of electro-funk sound effects. Cynthia Johnson has a powerful voice, for sure, but I think she deserves better than belting out, “Won’t you take me to Funkytown?” from now until the end of time. But it does have quite a polished production, which allows its greater elements to shine through a bit. Like the guitars that suddenly kick in during the chorus, and the violins that carry the melody for a bit shortly thereafter, and the rhythmic cowbell throughout. Some songs are the sum of their parts, but the parts of “Funkytown” may in fact be stronger than its sum. It does get in your head, though, so I’ll give it that.
7. “Coming Up” – Paul McCartney: Oh, interesting. Now, here’s some solo stuff from Paul McCartney. While I did say I was getting tired of his appearing on the charts, this is his first major hit single separate from Wings, so I’ll give it a chance. From the get-go, the introductory guitar lick reminded me of something from a Talking Heads or Television song, so that immediately piqued my interest. Next was Paul’s weird sped-up vocals, which I wasn’t quite expecting, but something about it gives me the feeling of a golden age Frankie Valli/Four Seasons falsetto lick. This combination of an art punk sound with classic pop attitudes make this one quite a delightful listen – even if I don’t know what McCartney is singing about half the time. The most I can conjure is that it’s a peaceful, optimistic hit that, frankly speaking, hits right to the heart of me, and I couldn’t hate it even if I tried. Not too bad, considering that this came from the same sessions that gave us the worst Christmas song of all time.
6. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” – Queen: Wherein Freddie Mercury and friends goes all Elvis on everybody’s asses. Seriously though – as a kid, before I knew much about music, I always attributed this to Presley himself until I realized that it’s from a music group that is so much cooler. And for a bit of a change, Freddie himself tries his hand at the guitar! This is a simple love song, through and through, and I think that’s why it’s so great. By stripping everything down to the basics, we come rising back up with a song that really could have been written in any era of pop music, be it during the 50s rockabilly scene, or the 60s psychedelic era, or the 70s soft rock phenomenon (wow, I’ve covered a lot in this Billboard challenge so far). And it’s its simplicity that makes this so damn wonderful. Freddie croons along with the other members offering backup vocals, but everything else is rather sparse save for the driving guitar, drums, and awesome bass. It’s the direct opposite of something like “Cars” or “Tusk” in that it isn’t very innovative at all and does a whole lot of recycling – yet the results are still just as catchy and wonderful.
5. “Do That To Me One More Time” – Captain & Tennille: Uh… what?! I thought I was through with the whole Captain & Tennille schtick. In fact, I thought that was the whole point of the disco movement – to usher in a new sense of vibrancy and diversity in the music scene and push out the vanilla offerings of C&T and their ilk! Anyway, this song did go to #1, so I’m gonna have to treat it with some kind of dignity. Yes, it is about sex, whether or not you fall for its playing coy with its “kiss me like you just did” line. The sultry production and delicate guitars practically gleam in its sexual overtones. Yet, this song is sexy in the same way that something like “Afternoon Delight” is sexy. Toni Tennille’s vocals might not have been my favorite, but they were perfectly fitting with their style of light AM pop stuff and definitely doesn’t carry enough subtlety to work on their own in a smooth soul number. It’s like ice cream and vinegar. I will say that the production on this one is rather nice, but I’ll be damned if this ever comes up in any post-coital playlist I may encounter in the future.
4. “Rock With You” – Michael Jackson: This song lacks Michael Jackson’s infectious falsetto as seen in “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, the upbeat party vibes of “Off the Wall”, and the soft sadness of “She’s Out of My Life”. What does it have to offer? Pure, unadulterated disco soul. The way he croons along with the beginning lines – “Girl, close your eyes / Let that rhythm get into you / Don’t try to fight it / There ain’t nothing that you can do” – presents some of the sultriest vocals we’ve seen from him thus far. I also love the way he sings, “Girl, when you dance / There’s a magic that must be love”. This one feels the most like a nighttime kind of song to me, which leads me to believe that it’s the second-closest of these four Off the Wall singles to straight disco, right behind “Don’t Stop”. Although Jackson’s vocals fit this mood to perfection, upon closer inspection the real star of the show in Quincy Jones’ production, which once again delivers on practically every level imaginable. There’s not much more to be said on this that hasn’t already been said a whole bunch of times. It’s as euphoric as ever.
3. “Magic” – Olivia Newton-John: I’ve never seen Xanadu, but apparently it was a pretty big deal in its time. I’ve been aware of “Magic” for a while, but never gave it a good listen until now. Honestly, though, the mid-tempo range is a bit weird to me – something about it feels like it’s just slogging by, with little rhyme, reason, or purpose. When she sings, “You have to believe we are magic”, it feels just a tad bit flat and unconvincing. But I guess it isn’t all bad – the tone of its production gives it a dreamy, almost hypnotic feel to the whole song. Newton-John herself even seems pretty confident in the work, which is a pleasant surprise given that artists’ departures from their staple genre don’t often result in such graceful results. Yeah, this isn’t too bad – just not quite “#1 for four weeks”-worthy, I think.
2. “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” – Pink Floyd: I know it’s absolute blasphemy to speak any ill of Pink Floyd around these parts, but I’ll just say it: I really don’t care for The Wall. I understand why music-lovers enjoy it so much, but I’m more inclined to put on Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon, or even the earlier work with Syd Barrett than The Wall. On top of this, I’ve heard the second part of “Another Brick in the Wall” strictly through radio overplay so… many… times. My brain has become so numb to it at this point. “We don’t need no thought control” might have seemed cool at some point to me in high school, but it’s just tough trying to listen with fresh ears. And I don’t usually say this about single edits, since it makes sense how most of them would end up on radio, but this single edit is just pointless. It’s a verse repeated twice – the second time with a choir of schoolchildren – and then an outro guitar solo. To be fair, I can see how this one verse does stick with people, but the average listener would likely not think much of it all besides as something to quote later in jest. The guitars are pretty rad, though, both with the licks and chord progressions in the verses and with the solo itself. Not much else to say about this one – I just want to leave The Wall behind me completely.
1. “Call Me” – Blondie: It wasn’t until researching this song did I realize that it’s the theme song to American Gigolo – and that’s more of an incentive to finally watch American Gigolo! If you’ve been paying attention and read through my ’79 post, you’ll know that I love Blondie and Debbie Harry with all my heart. I first got into their 80s pop music at a young age, and through that discovered their earlier punkier albums. But “Call Me” was one of the first songs I ever heard from the group and I loved it despite not really knowing what it was about. Frankly, I still don’t know, but the repetition of the “call me” hook leads me to believe it’s little more than a plea for some lovin’ from a person of interest. Even though this is detached from the obvious disco sound of “Heart of Glass”, it was still produced by Giorgio Morodor and his fingerprints can be found all over the backing keyboard playing throughout, as well as his signature thumping bass. It’s just so energetic to its core, from the mood-setting drums-to-guitar intro all the way to the finish, and it never lets up at any point in between. And of course, Debbie Harry herself is just wonderful, with her brief lines in Italian and French (“Appelle-moi, mon chéri”) further adding to the multi-textured collage of this song. Yeah, I’ll be predictable and say that I love this song to bits. But I’m also really excited, because this is the first time in a long, long time the #1 song of the year has been something I legitimately love, which gives me nothing but high hopes for what the rest of the 80s has to offer.