Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1981


100. “Time is Time” – Andy Gibb: Boy, the early 80s sure weren’t kind to Andy Gibb, as this continues the  yet another sub-par single from him. It is painfully obvious that he is trying desperately to break away from the disco sound that made he and his Bee Gee brothers famous. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, and it’s even pretty respectable, considering that the 80s were moving in an entirely new direction at this point. Still, this single is replete with flimsy lyrics, formless melodies, and flat vocal deliveries that don’t promise much else more from this all-new sound. This marks Gibb as probably one of the most disappointing of the disco casualties.

99. “Miss Sun” – Boz Scaggs: In the couple of months leading up to this post, I’ve been listening to a lot of yacht rock, among other things, and I especially am a fan of Boz Scaggs. I’ve already talked about how great of a musician he is, but you know it’s a real testament to greatness when even your average-sounding songs are still pretty damn good! The chorus rides on a pretty cheesy metaphor (“Hey, Miss Sun, what could I say / I tried to hold you but the moon got in the way”) and his vocal inflections throughout the verses, though could be expected from Scaggs, still is a funny listen regardless. Still, its hook is catchy and the rising action to the song’s climax is enjoyable through and through. Maybe it’s not one of Scaggs’ greatest compositions, but it’s one that I could see myself replaying again and again in the future.

98. “I’m Coming Out” – Diana Ross: It’s already clear and well-known that this song is awesome on its own, but interpreting it as an LGBT anthem of confidence and self-disclosure makes it all the more awesome. I’m still slowly working my way through Diana Ross’ discography, but I’m mostly excited to approach her early 80s work, ’cause it really seems like she’s on some kind of fire here. Of course, part of that has to do with the amazing production work from Edwards and Rodgers, who also wrote the song and provide the kicking, staccato instrumentation. Diana Ross sings her lines beautifully, with an air of sparkly fun all her own. The chorus has the tendency to get a bit repetitive, and it does get a bit tiresome by the end after all the jazzy solos have passed, but Ross succeeds at keeping the vibrancy alive until the very last second. Such a great little post-disco number.

97. “Seven Year Ache” – Rosanne Cash: I’m not familiar with Rosanne Cash’s work at all, but this song is delightfully catchy and Cash sings it rather nicely. The lyrics are teasingly cryptic, though the few interpretations I’ve seen about it hint that it’s dealing with a failing marriage, whether it be from the husband’s point-of-view or the wife’s. Still, the nice little melody and country sound with a tinge of disco make me feel like this would be an excellent staple at karaoke bars.

96. “Really Wanna Know You” – Gary Wright: As opposed to his previous top ten hits “Dream Weaver” and “Love is Alive”, this next hit single from Wright is neither contemplative of forces beyond his reach nor very self-reflective, but more of an interpersonal piece of work. Except for a few instances of background synthy vibes, the spacey vibe of his previous two singles are all but gone here. Instead, the feel is more of a bouncier pop love song. The general message could be captured in a single line: “You’ve got something about you that I want around me”. I won’t lie, I miss the unbridled ambition found in “Dream Weaver” and “Love is Alive”; in retrospect, this barely even sounds like Gary Wright, and the frequent rhyming of “know you” and “show you” is a tad annoying. Still, I wouldn’t say that this is a bad song – it’s catchy enough, but just a little too bland for anything more than occasional listening.

95. “Modern Girl” – Sheena Easton: In this era when 9 to 5 was at its height – the movie, not the other Sheena Easton song (I’ll talk about that one later) – I’m sure this would have been terrific. Maybe it’s just because I’ve heard so many of these kinds of songs at this point, my brain just kind of glazes over with lines like, “She fixes coffee while he takes a shower” and “She don’t build her world ’round no single man”. I mean, I get it – sometimes I will also make coffee for my boyfriend while he showers and I still keep my feminism On Brand. But I can’t help but feel like this is just girl-power music for the upper middle-class business woman – I have no clue if it was already passé at this point, but it definitely is now. Easton is alright enough, but the melody in the chorus is unforgivably weak and the “na-na-na”s don’t make it any better.

94. “Whip It” – Devo: Unless I go on some kind of New Wave retrospective of some sort, this may be the only time I ever talk about Devo. Which is a shame, because I love Devo and this song hardly does their sound any justice. But I won’t drag this on any further than it needs to be. The catchiness of “Whip It” is absolutely unparalleled and totally 80s, with a powerhouse combination of frantic drums, that bass riff, whipping sound effects, that keyboard, and Mark Mothersbaugh’s peculiar lyricism and performance of such. And all compacted in just a little over two-and-a-half minutes of pop joy. Devo is technically considered a one-hit wonder because of this song and I don’t know how massive overplay over the years hasn’t made me tired of it. I guess it’s one of those songs I take a break from for a while because of such overplay. Yet every time I return to it, it’s always such a good time.

93. “The Beach Boys Medley” – Beach Boys: I mean… this is cute and all, but what’s the point? I guess this must have been pretty cool for listeners in an age before playlists and mixtapes, but if I wanted to listen to a whole bunch of Beach Boys songs in a row, I probably wouldn’t go for having nine of them clumsily compressed in a four-minute track. At the very least, this made me realize fully just how so many of the pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys singles sound so, so similar.

92. “For Your Eyes Only” – Sheena Easton: I’ve yet to get to the Roger Moore James Bond films, and I’m actually kind of dreading the day that I finally begin that trek. Nonetheless, one thing I do have to look forward to with 80s Bond films are all the great songs that come from it (the Bond songs are always the best parts of the movies). In general, I’m just glad that all the really great songs end up on the year-end Billboard chart, because that means I get to write about them! Anyway, “For Your Eyes Only” is among “Nobody Does It Better” and “Goldfinger” as one of the very best of the Bond themes. From the moody intro that pervades through the rest of the song, this feels so bombastic and so fitting for the action franchise. That piano is wonderfully bombastic and Easton herself sounds terrific. I still think “Nobody Does It Better” does… well, better at capturing the Bond mythos in its lyrics, but the couplet, “Maybe I’m an open book, because I know you’re mine / But you won’t need to read between the lines” is just so, so good. Once again, this is among the better Bond themes, and that’s saying a lot.

91. “Suddenly” – Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard: I still have not seen Xanadu… but I will eventually, whenever the mood calls for it. However, this does come across one of those mandatory ballads in musicals during which the audience just kind of tunes out for three minutes, waiting for it to pass over so they can get back to the story. I never liked Cliff Richard much, and while I’m generally pro-Olivia, she’s at a low point here. Not even the dreamy violins backing could save this one.


90. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” – Hall & Oates: I’m a huge fan of the original version of “Lovin’ Feelin'” by the Righteous Brothers, so understandably I was pretty skeptical as to how this one would turn out. The most obvious difference comes with the background instrumental arrangement, with Phil Spector’s lush Wall of Sound being traded out for sparser pop-rock backing with noticeable empty spaces. The classic blue-eyed soul of the Righteous Brothers, moreover, is also swapped for more standard pop vocal harmonizing from both Hall and Oates (they even switch off leads in the very first verse, which is what notoriously did not occur in the original). Generally speaking, this is one of those “pointless” covers, in that you’d probably be better off just putting on the original. Still, it’s not a bad reworking, and I’m even pretty partial to the stripped-down “Baby, baby, I get down on my knees…” section, complete with handclaps. Well worth a listen, I think.

89. “I Made It Through the Rain” – Barry Manilow: I’ve made my displeasure for Barry Manilow so evident throughout all these posts that I could only really sound like a broken record at this point. But yes – this is yet another goopy soft piano pop single from the singer-songwriter. The melody sounds like the same one he’s been recycling again and again, and while his singing here is quite alright, it doesn’t help when he’s singing lines like, “We keep the feelings warm / Protect them from the storm”. Just a bunch of corny rhymes strung together in a pseudo-uplifting anthem – no thanks!

88. “Smoky Mountain Rain” – Ronnie Milsap: The last time we stumbled upon Ronnie Milsap was with 1977’s “It Was Almost Like a Song”, which is awful. This one immediately fares better, with a soaring country pop melody that is instantly a charmer. In these pre-Facebook days, poor Ronnie travels all the way across the country to keep in touch with an old flame, only to find that she’s long gone. It’s an instant heartstring-tugger and the sentimentally catchy chorus does it proper justice – even if I’m still a bit iffy about that weird piano-and-violin crash after, “Smoky Mountain rain keeps on fallin'”. This is certainly miles better than “Song” and really not a bad little ditty at all – though I really don’t like how he holds on the “n” sound when he sings “hurtin'”, but that’s definitely a nitpick.

87. “Tell It Like It Is” – Heart: This is already the second 80s cover of a 60s pop single and we haven’t even stumbled upon Linda Ronstadt yet! Really though, along with all the 60s covers in 1980’s year-end list, I feel like there was some widespread cultural fascination with the decade at this time, kind of like how it is now with everyone’s 90s obsession. But on with the single. If someone’s only impression of Heart was through this recording and their last major hit, 1977’s “Barracuda”, they would probably think them to have a rather peculiar career. It really isn’t all that strange, but it still is a rather odd choice of a cover. Ann Wilson does a pretty good rendition and even bares her rocker teeth a bit near the fade-out. Still, it’s yet another “pointless” cover that kind of misses the mark – just listen to Aaron Neville’s original.

86. “Watching the Wheels” – John Lennon: John Lennon was murdered in December of 1980, so of course the record company would try to capitalize off this by releasing a handful of singles posthumously! Seriously, though, I never really got what the big deal was with John Lennon and I feel like a good portion of his artistic mythos was due to his untimely death. This particular single is a pretty good encapsulation of his post-Beatles image: “People say I’m crazy… they look at me kinda strange / ‘Surely, you’re not happy now, you no longer play the game'”. Maybe his intentions towards his increasingly progressive image were innocent enough, but I could never get past his inflated ego that hangs in the background of every one of his public protests and statements. And this single is absolutely saturated with this; it’s pretty much just him acknowledging the negativity that had been thrown toward him after his taking a five-year break from the rock world and justifying it by stating that he just “had to let go” of the “merry-go-round” of his international fame. This is as perfect of a single in the wake of death as “Time in a Bottle” was for Jim Croce. And I can’t even use the “separate the art from the artist” argument here, because this is so clearly about himself and his relationship with the public eye, and to ignore that fact would be to misunderstand the single altogether. Anyway, I guess I’m just saying that this is one of the weaker Lennon singles, particularly due to its anchoring to a very specific time, place, and person. These kinds of personal pieces are often hard for me to get into.

85. “What Kind of Fool” – Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb: Would you blame me if I said I thought this would’ve been a cover of The Tams’ 1964 top ten hit of (almost) the same title? Then again, I guess a low-tempo R&B ballad would be more fitting for the two, rather than a reworking of an of-its-time doo-wop hit. This is a pleasant enough recording, with Barbra taking full reign and Barry providing adequate backing vocals. It’s certainly nothing extraordinary, though.

84. “Winning” – Santana: It’s been a while since we’ve seen Santana around. While the group’s last year-end entry was way back in 1970 with “Evil Ways”, they’ve only ever had a few other hits fall just around the bottom of the top 40. With that said, this is a pretty weak song to be marked as Santana’s comeback single. I’m not at all familiar with this phase in the band’s career, but this lead singer is awful. He accentuates every phrase with this weird, nasally whine and the high notes in the chorus (“I’m wiiiiinning!”) seem to be a particular pain for him to reach. The lyrics are pretty simple contemplations on hitting rock bottom in life, only to come back swinging. Maybe others might find this compelling, but it’s just another inspirational wannabe anthem to me. The keyboards are boring and this is also one of the most pointless Carlos Santana guitar solos I’ve ever heard. Skip it!

83. “Treat Me Right” – Pat Benatar: As insipid as Pat Benatar’s lyrics may be at times (“You want me to leave, you want me to stay / You ask me to come back, you turn and walk away”), I will still always enjoy her stuff unconditionally. Okay, maybe not unconditionally, but if it’s got even a little bit of that 80s hard rock quality that I’m such a big fan of, I’m generally a fan. The chord change in the chorus between “Treat me right” and “Open your eyes” is a tad clumsy, but everything else clunks along pretty well for what it is and Pat Benatar sings it all fantastically as always.

82. “It’s Now or Never” – John Schneider: And we’re back with the 60s covers! And this one is just wrong. Elvis’ version of “It’s Now or Never” is one of the few songs by the performer that I really love, particularly due to his seamless melding between old timey romanticism with just a tinge of melancholy. This one just sounds… too happy. I get that the message is essentially “love me before it’s too late”, but I’m not convinced with Schneider’s rendition. The backing country arrangement sounds like the karaoke version of the song, and while Schneider’s singing is adequate, it just doesn’t fit. Count this as one of those pointless cover songs.

81. “Hold on Tight” – Electric Light Orchestra: I guess even Jeff Lynne and folks are hopping onto the country bandwagon, which is something I never thought I’d hear. This one is quite alright, though. The honky-tonk pianos and marching drums add a wonderfully fuzzy atmosphere to the thing, and although the band’s staple harmonies are so distinct, I could easily imagine a stripped-down folk version of this floating around somewhere. The verse sung in French is weird and wonderful, and it reminds me of the similar approach The New Seekers took with their version of “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma”. It’s upbeat, catchy, and yet another infectious earworm from the group, further proving that ELO can do no wrong.


80. “Cool Love” – Pablo Cruise: Predictably, Pablo Cruise have won me over once again with their sleek combination of jazzy guitars, sexy bass, fragrant piano, and a lovely vocal performance. I don’t understand exactly how I could turn my nose at a whole bunch of AC fluff, while embracing something like this with open arms. The lyrics certainly aren’t much better written, but I guess there’s just a certain kind of well-composed charm that keeps me coming back for more Pablo Cruise.

79. “Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg: If “Longer” was Dan Fogelberg’s attempt at capturing what Bread did in “If”, “Same Old Lang Syne” is, in a way, his version of Harry Chapin’s “Taxi”. In that it also captures the sudden reuniting of a former couple and the painful feelings that occur when old memories rise back up again. I will admit, I’m a bit of a sucker for “Taxi” and I’m definitely a sucker for this song. It’s arguably just as cloying as “Longer”, though it’s certainly better written and I do enjoy stories of separated lives somehow finding their way back together. It’s really not as deep a story as those swelling strings and dramatic composition wants you to believe, but the old “things never said” story is still painfully relevant in so many ways. The saxophone solo at the end is actually my favorite thing about it – I’m forever a fan of the “Auld Lang Syne” melody and hearing it in anything always sends chills up my spine. I do kind of hate the title of this one, but it’s a tiny nitpick in the grand scheme of things.

78. “Sweet Baby” – George Duke & Stanley Clarke: The introductory pan flute-like instrument is an absolute lovely little start to the song. After a bit of sad piano-accompanied crooning from Clarke (or is it Duke?), the gears are shifted into a slightly bouncier, more optimistic declaration of love and willingness to try again on a failed relationship. Both leads present here are pretty big names in the jazz fusion scene, but apart from some unusual stylistic turns, there isn’t really much jazz in this strictly R&B/Adult Contemporary number. Though I did like the pan flute, I felt that the sitar solo served nothing to the song except to hammer in the point of its Asian sonic influence that I felt didn’t really add much to the recording. Still, it’s hard to argue with a song that is so well-composed and a very listenable slice of 80s soft pop.

77. “Feels So Right” – Alabama: I really can’t see eye-to-eye with a band whose album cover imagery is historically infatuated with the Confederate flag, but whatever. This song is okay, I guess – it doesn’t really accomplish anything that something like Charley Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” or The New Edition’s “Something’s Burning” already does somewhat better. It’s a sex song for people who find value in the most boring, unappealing kind of sex. There’s also not a single rhyming line throughout the whole song, which wouldn’t all that bad if the lyrics weren’t so lazy, but they are so it’s annoying. I just can’t stand it.

76. “The Stroke” – Billy Squier: This song is so stupid, it’s impossible to hate. If this were only an instrumental track, I would probably be tempted to give it full marks (even if the bizarre “Stroke!” chants were all kept in, for whatever reason). Yet with Squier in the mix, things get iffy. I’m not against his vocal performance – if anything, it falls right in line with the popular “male rock vocalist” sound of the time, nothing more nor less. It’s just that the lyrics are so hard to place! Twelve-year-old me listening to the song for the first time concluded that it had to have been about masturbation (“Put your right hand out, give a firm handshake”, “Stroke me, stroke me”“Say you’re a winner, but babe, you’re just a sinner now”). And for all I know now, it probably is! This just feels so much like a vehicle for the rest of the band that I doubt that Squier really gave much mind to the words. Still, it’s a cool guitar-and-drum pattern and pleasing to the ears, even if it might just be absolute garbage.

75. “Step By Step” – Eddie Rabbit: Eddie Rabbitt may be one of my favorite crossover artists of this era, but I think I may have finally come across a song of his I don’t like. Honestly, the chorus alone almost completely kills the vibe for me. The step system Rabbitt is describing to win a woman’s heart feels too much like “50 Ways to Leave Your Love” to really admire very much, first of all. And secondly, I just don’t like how these lyrics sound like self-help pamphlet for men who have no idea how to ask anyone out. It’s just like how I hate rom-coms that assume that women are easily wooed over by saying certain things in certain ways or waving chocolate or flowers or puppies in front of their face. Maybe it’s a stretch, but the mechanical way that Rabbitt puts forth these instructions so simply insinuates that it really is that easy, when really it’s just kind of insulting. Is this really how men insidiously detail their plan in getting women to love them? I can’t believe this bullshit went to #5 – I trusted you, Rabbitt.

74. “All Those Years Ago” – George Harrison: A new Beatles track in 1981?? Well, not really. But this George Harrison single does feature Ringo Starr on drums and Paul McCartney on backing vocals which were added in after the master recording. I really can’t hate too much on Harrison himself, because I think he’s wonderful and he remains utterly incapable of failure on this track as well. I would rather this not be yet another song about John Lennon, but who am I to say he’s wrong for doing so? The keyboards are a nice touch to Harrison’s signature guitar sound and the tune is so catchy I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it out of my head for the rest of the day! Lines like the “All you need is love” callback and “You were the one who imagined it all” are a tad distracting in the grand scheme of things, but this is still a pretty nice and bouncy uplifter that is really hard to hate.

73. “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” – Stevie Wonder: 80s Stevie Wonder strikes again. And here’s a side of Stevie Wonder that we haven’t seen before – meet country-western Stevie! Well, at least the start of the verses have him imitating a bit of the ol’ Southern twang, in probably the single lowest register I’ve ever heard him attempt. And much emphasis on “attempt” here – I’m still not too sure if I really dig it or if he’s just pitchy beyond saving. Luckily, the chorus shifts into a more upbeat, funk-disco mode, which is definitely more of his comfort zone and it’s evident with just how much more comfortable of a listen it is. Still, it’s very clear that his best years are long behind him, especially if all that can be mustered from the chorus is the title repeated again and again. I won’t pretend that this matches up to Wonder’s potential, but it’s certainly not all that bad either!

72. “Hey Nineteen” – Steely Dan: When I first started listening to Steely Dan (nothing too extensive, just a few radio tracks here and there), without paying attention to the lyrics I always thought this song was kind of sexy. I think it was that intro – with that one sliding chord followed by the sleek keyboard instrumentals – that initially seduced me. Of course, knowing what I know now, this is hardly the case. The song is about an aging Boomer who seduces younger women with drugs and alcohol in the hopes that he could recapture a bit of that energy of his youth. He doesn’t even address the young woman by her name, only “Nineteen”, which proves that it’s because of their barely-legal demeanor that he finds them desirable. Yeah, dude, that’s pretty scummy. Yet, Steely Dan’s unlikable protagonist is what makes this song an interesting one. The lush, sultry instrumental arrangement tricks the ear into thinking this is a sophisticated track, but the way these all clash with Donald Fagen’s nasally vocals indicate that this is all a farce. While I’ve grown pretty tired of all the 60s nostalgia that’s been creeping up the charts these past couple of years, this is a pretty huge deal in its willingness to satirize just how ridiculous it is to chase the past so vehemently. Plus, it’s a kickass groove to beat.

71. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” – The Police: Meh. This isn’t really the kind of love affair story that tickles my fancy. It’s clearly a tale of statutory rape dressed up in a bunch of washy synths, cute rhymes, and utter romanticization of the situation. I gave it the benefit of the doubt for a second, in that maybe it’s about a twenty-year-old student lusting after her forty-year-old instructor, and vice versa. But no, the song makes its intentions sparkling clear with its comparing the teacher to “the old man in that book by Nabokov”. This song attempts to do what “Hey Nineteen” did, but with much grosser implications and absolutely no sense of self-awareness. Fuck Sting and fuck this song.


70. “Hello Again” – Neil Diamond: As if we needed another sleepy, insipid piano ballad, Neil Diamond comes along. I’ve never seen The Jazz Singer remake, but I could already picture this being played over the end credits as I ponder over the pointless mess of a film I just watched. This is the most boring Diamond has been in years – which is saying plenty, since I’ve already found him rather boring for quite some time.

69. “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” – Stevie Wonder: What’s this – a Stevie Wonder single from the 80s that’s actually quite good! As if the title doesn’t give it away, Wonder composed this song as an homage to Bob Marley, incorporating a heavy reggae influence into the sound. Interestingly, this actually works pretty well, as Wonder and the terrific background singers keep up with the flow to create a pretty effective anthem of celebration for Zimbabwe independence and general eccentric positivity. The guitar licks are great, as are the midtempo drums and the horns that never overstay their welcome. It’s probably one of the few examples of a non-Jamaican person respectively appropriating the music and culture of the people to create something legitimately good – not great, but sometimes good is just enough.

68. “While You See a Chance” – Steve Winwood: This song is pretty catchy enough, with enough soaring parts and inspirational keyboard chords to boot. I guess it was played after the Red Sox won the Major League in 1990 and, yeah, it totally sounds like the type of song I can see a whole stadium of people getting down to after their team has proven successful. Or a song to end a movie with or something. You get the idea. With its distinguished keyboards and Winwood’s ability to hold a neat tune (quite a long way since The Spencer Davis Group!) it’s a hard song to really hate on, due to how effortlessly positive it is. Still, I think it could have been a bit more catchier – I can’t imagine really remembering anything about these wavy synths or the overall melody after I finish this paragraph. Still, I can’t imagine anyone regretting they had listened to it.

67. “I Can’t Stand It” – Eric Clapton: I listened to this song five times in a row, and I can’t tell you a single thing I found notable or cool or even memorable about it. I can’t stand this song. Eric Clapton needs to go away!

66. “Games People Play” – The Alan Parsons Project: Well, this is very different from the Joe South song of the same name; I’m just glad this song wasn’t a cover of that song, because I couldn’t imagine it going well! This is actually pretty fun. The synths that open the song and drive smoothly throughout make me feel like I’m in outer space, traveling amidst glowing planets in hyperspace or something. It’s a tad similar to the riff from “Baba O’Riley” (which also sounded intergalactic to me). It’s a weird little pop song, quietly dealing with issues such as paranoia and governmental/social corruption wrapped inside its progressive pop bubble of whooshing keyboards and uptempo guitar and drums. It’s so deceptive with tricking listeners into thinking they’ve got just another peppy pop song on their hands, but with a little more digging it’s revealed that there’s much more craft behind the costume.

65. “Another One Bites the Dust” – Queen: Yaaass, Queen. I’ve made my love for Queen known in several places now, so I’ll try not to sound like a broken record this time around. But it’s gonna be pretty hard, since I’m already sounding like everyone else’s broken record by repeating how great this song is. That bass – phenomenal. That Rodgers-esque guitar riff – kickin’. Freddie Mercury’s performance – legendary. I always think that the sudden octave change in the second verse stopped taking me by surprise years ago, but I’m still blown away with each listen. And I love how this particular verse steadily climaxes to a big ol’ explosion of sound, only to sudden revert back to the spare drums and bass of the intro. And the solo is just a weird little compilation of the spookiest, most surreal sounds that ever came from a lone keyboard. This is just a fun little-big song, through and through, Yes, it’s much simpler in scale than a whole bunch of their earlier stuff, and yes this has been played to death on every classic rock radio station in the world. But how can songs that make me this happy be any bad at all?

64. “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” – Christopher Cross: I thought rather highly of Christopher Cross’ two singles from 1980’s year-end list, both of which were sizable hits for the singer-songwriter. His success had him performing the theme to one of the biggest films of the year, a comedy about a sloppy drunk rich guy who falls in love with a commoner. The first verse is fine and actually quite nice with articulating how it feels to lose someone you love. The magic is quickly lost, though, with the second verse, which names the film’s protagonist and reminds us all that this is all just part of the advertising plan. There are a lot of good parts in “Arthur’s Theme”, but the blandness of it all is just a painful reminder that Cross isn’t hitting it up to past potential. Which is a shame, since “When you get caught between the moon and New York City” is actually kind of a cool line. Eventually, though, this song would win an Oscar for Best Original Song. Cross was on top of the world! It does surprise me, then, to find out that this was actually the last major hit he’s had. Everyone always says that the 80s were a decade ripe with flash-in-the-pan acts that suddenly fizzle out, so I guess Cross may very well be the first of such casualties.

63. “Ain’t Even Done With the Night” – John Cougar: This was one of John Mellencamp’s first hit singles, wherein he had to go by a stage name because his birth name was deemed too German-sounding for the Reagan era. Let that sink in. Anyway, this is quite an alright little slice of heartland pop-rock. The writing is a bit shaky and it isn’t particularly catchy – but it also ain’t particularly bad either. It’s riding right on acceptable.

62. “America” – Neil Diamond: If someone were to play the beginning chords of this one and tell me that it was patriotic pro-America anthem, I wouldn’t have believed it. Eventually, though, the rhinestoned nature of the recording typical of a Neil Diamond sing-a-long tune bares its teeth. And this one is particularly, painfully corny. I’ve already stated how all those typical nationalistic songs make me feel weird and this one is no exception, even if the message at its core is one that I can generally agree with. I just can’t shake the feeling that this song has fallen in a similar fate as “Born in the USA”, with its central message being obscured by conservative figureheads who use the song for their own means simply because it says “America” a whole bunch of times. But back to the song – did I mention it’s corny? Well, this is made ten times worse by the closing refrain where Diamond recites the first few lines of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” to the roar of a cheering, probably fist-pumping crowd. It’s just so bad. Centering America as a generally good thing and using the concept as the main point of a song is probably just generally a bad thing that should never be done. The popularity of Neil Diamond will never cease to befuddle me to my core.

61. “A Little in Love” – Cliff Richard: Why is Cliff Richard of all people suddenly making multiple appearances in this list? I never really liked him much, yet it seems that 1981 is suddenly one of his most successful years. It’s almost as odd as Leo Sayer’s resurgence in 1977. With that being said, though, I liked “A Little in Love”, even if the hook is a little goofy. “You’re just a little in love” sounds like a doctoral diagnosis, but I guess its casual silliness fits the mood of the song. It’s a pretty bouncy, poppy little number, with a catchy melody and a neat sitar washes that flow through its entirety. The production is a little too straight-laced for my liking, but it really ain’t as bad as I was expecting.


60. “Giving It Up For Your Love” – Delbert McClinton: The country-pop takeover continues well into 1981 with this song, which almost seems criminal to call country. With the tempo, saxophone, guitar licks, and poppy melody, one would be more inclined to call this a disco track; it’s really only the slightly weepy keyboards and McClinton’s twangy vocal inflections that point toward this slightly more in the country direction. In any case, this is a dance-pop love song through and through, complete with a repetitive chorus and upbeat, groovy vibes. It’s pleasant enough disco fluff, if a tad forgettable.

59. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” – Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty: Tom Petty makes a swift return to the charts in this year, while Stevie Nicks introduces her first commercial effort separated from the rest of Fleetwood Mac. Nicks’ twangy grit makes some pretty good chemistry with Petty’s signature rocker vocals, even if the song is one of the blander recordings I’ve heard from either of them. Still, the backup vocals are pleasant enough, and there are even some pretty good lines in the midst, amidst the spooky keyboard-laden production.

58. “This Little Girl” – Gary U.S. Bonds: Now here’s a name I would’ve never expected to see in the 80s! Gary U.S. Bonds was a pretty big deal for a very brief time in 1961-2. None of his songs were really outstanding lyrically, but he had a real knack for putting out a good party song now and again, inevitably being one of the many casualties of the cultural shifts of 1964.  “This Little Girl” is a pretty big deal, in that it was the first time in nearly 20 years that Bonds had made any semblance of an appearance on the charts – not just the Hot 100, but any and all charts. As a comeback single, it’s pretty excellent at capturing the classic rock ‘n’ roll vibes that made Bonds big in the first place, while seasoning his sound a bit for an 80s audience. It helps that this song was written by Bruce Springsteen, who is practically the king of making the 60s sound palatable for a modern age, and also that the early 80s were in the midst of their own 60s nostalgia takeover as well. It sounds like it was meant for an early 60s artist, even if that means it has all the lyrical complexity of such a song (“You know I’d hold her tight / I’d never let her go / And late at night / You know I’d love her so”). Yet for someone who has been out of the limelight in literal decades, Gary U.S. Bonds exudes enough confidence to convince listeners that he never left in the first place. I don’t care – I love this song.

57. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” – The Police: Well, it’s better than “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”, but that’s already a pretty low bar in the first place. The message of this song is a satirical one, in which Sting pokes fun at the public’s veering toward songs with nonsense lyrics, like ‘Da Doo Ron Ron” and others. It’s not a very meaningful or worthy message, and it’s handled as clumsily as one could imagine over the course of the tune. Y’know, with lines like, “When their eloquence escapes me / Their logic ties me up and rapes me”. It chugs along mercilessly, tunelessly, and formlessly for four entire minutes. I won’t accept the unspoken rule that satire is somehow above criticism – this song is boring, and the fact that it’s being boring on purpose doesn’t make it any less boring. I’ll give points to the drum work by Stewart Copeland, who is the real star of The Police and definitely deserves more attention than that hack composer Sting.

56. “Who’s Crying Now” – Journey: Hello, Journey! I like Journey. I like their brand of arena rock, Jonathan Cain’s catchy keyboard riffs, and Steve Perry’s howling vocals. They are one of the relatively few rock bands that I think can pull off upbeat anthemic fist-pumpers as well as slower, sleepier ballads, truly a jack of all trades. The piano riff in this particular song oozes with the recognizable dread of a relationship come and gone, and the tragic melodies in the verses and chorus further echoes that. AOR ballads are very, very hit-or-miss for me, but I think that this is one of the good ones. I also like to think that Steve Perry’s vocalizations (“woah, oh-oh-oh, woah…”) immediately before the final chorus and outro solo are an homage to Sam Cooke, but maybe that’s just me.

55. “What Are We Doin’ in Love” – Dottie West & Kenny Rogers: Ugh. For a second there, I thought I would be free from having to endure any Kenny Rogers this year, but of course I’m not. Both West and Rogers are perfectly seasoned vocalists who know how to craft a good single, but they are definitely miscast in this truly rocky adult contemporary ballad. The lyrics are abysmal (“We’re like summer and winter”“We’re like paper and matches”“You like it slow and I like it fast”, etc.), and the production, with misplaced strings and keyboards, doesn’t know if it wants to be country or take the yacht rock route. In any case, it’s dull.

54. “Too Much Time on My Hands” – Styx: I’ve heard this song lots of times in the past, but I somehow always forget that it’s Styx. One reason is because Dennis DeYoung’s voice is nowhere to be found here; his replacement sounds alright, if a bit sharp at… well, a lot of parts. Another reason is the keyboard backing – I understand the complaints folks frequently have with Styx, but I don’t remember their riffs ever being quite so loud and obnoxious. It’s weird, as Styx singles often are, but the lyrics are so basic and even cryptic that the message is annoyingly obscured for the sake of the title being repeated again and again (there are handclaps, though, so that’s cool). It’s a fine enough song, but my complaints with it are similar to my complaints with ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” – it just sucks to see a band with such an original style take a bit of a cop-out route with a basic, synth-driven rock song that will undoubtedly reel in the most listeners. Still, I can’t say that I don’t sing along every time it comes on, so it’s got that going for it.

53. “Together” – Tierra: Tierra probably doesn’t seem like a very notable name for most people, but they hold the distinction of being one of the very few all-Latino bands to have a Hot 100 hit. I’m almost very familiar with this song already, having heard it at multiple family parties and quinceañeras over the years (alongside other lowrider oldies that hit the Hot 100, such as Bloodstone’s “Natural High”, Barbara Lynn’s “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”, and Brenton Wood’s “Gimme Little Sign”), so I already have a lot of bias over being conditioned to automatically enjoy this song whenever it comes on. It’s originally a cover of a single from The Intruders – themselves helming the hit “Cowboys and Girls” – and while I have yet to listen to the original, I’d say that this group does a pretty good job of imitating their sound, with the silky-voiced lead accompanied by a group of falsetto backup vocalists. It’s got a nice smooth disco-soul thing going on, and there’s even a reference to “Cowboys and Girls” at the very end! Lyrically, it’s nothing special and the hook is barely memorable (“Together, baby / Together, ba-by”). Still, it’s a nice and smooth little Latin-tinged love ballad that I can’t help but mellow out to.

52. “More Than I Can Say” – Leo Sayer: And now Leo Sayer is back! This time, he leaves behind his disco shoes to record a cover of a Buddy Holly/Bobby Vee song. The 60s throwbacks strike again. Seriously, though, this is a perfectly pleasant rendition of an already pretty sweet little love song. Sayer does over-sing quite frequently, and I do think the song would be improved if he were a bit more restrained. Nonetheless, the soft electric guitar and silky smooth production ties this up as a pretty amiable recording overall.

51. “Somebody’s Knockin'” – Terri Gibbs: Mmm, that riff at the very start of this is mighty tasty. And the rest of the song isn’t half bad either. Terri Gibbs has an astonishingly unique voice, with just the right shades of masculine husk to make her performance delightfully ambiguous. The pop-country atmosphere of this one, with its marching beat and honky-tonk piano backdrop, is absolutely fantastic and works wonderfully with its lyrics about the devil in the form of a handsome womanizer whom the speaker cannot resist for the life of her. There are just so many different flavors at play here and it’s an instant charmer. It’s a shame that Gibbs never really had much of a career after this brief success; she certaintly deserved it.


50. “Sweetheart” – Franke and the Knockouts: This song is an ear-grabber from the start, but neither the melody nor the lyrics seem to go to any interesting directions that wouldn’t already be expected from any run-of-the-mill session band. Maybe that’s all that Franke and the Knockouts were from the start. The keyboard solo after the second chorus is kinda fun. Everything else – meh.

49. “Hungry Heart” – Bruce Springsteen: Bruce Springsteen had been in the biz for nearly a decade at this point, but “Hungry Heart” was, for some reason, the first single that really made a dent in the charts. I haven’t heard The River in its entirety, but if the whole album is anything like this one single, I’m sure I would love it. The chord progressions of that piano riff really tug at my heartstrings, and this impression is only heightened by Springsteen’s always-impassioned vocal performance. It’s one of those songs that I’ve heard a few dozen times in my youth, though the lyrics never meant much to me until I was much older. A line like, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart” is a simple phrase that can mean so many different things to so many different people. For me, it encapsulates my seemingly eternal journey to find my place in this world, while I wander from place to place, project to project with next to no real payoff. What if there is no payoff? What if we stay hungry until we die? That final verse damn near brings me to tears, especially, “Don’t make no difference what nobody says / Ain’t nobody like to be alone”. The keyboard solo mimics a melody that is so similar to Billy J. Kramer’s “Bad To Me” which, at least to me, captures a weird sense of nostalgia for a simpler time when young romance was still quaint yet realistic. It’s a simple song, but it gets onto so much more than the literal story of the speaker cheating on his wife with a woman from Kingston. I will never tire of this song.

48. “Time” – The Alan Parsons Project: Cool, another song from this group. I’m just happy that this wasn’t a Pink Floyd cover, because god knows I’ve heard far too many of those in my life. But that’s not to say that all Pink Floyd comparisons stop at the title. This is a pretty cool, chill, dreamy, slightly psychedelic little number about the passage of time and the swiftness of death. This is actually pretty unique for its time and I could imagine it being a tad weird to listen to this alongside all the other bouncy pop hits on this list. It’s very pretty in its essence, but the vocals are a bit much and its sleepiness does wear down on its quality about halfway through the five-minute track, which isn’t beneficial. Still, this is enjoyable for an occasional listen, though maybe not as solid as “Games People Play”.

47. “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)” – The Greg Kihn Band: Oh wow, I’ve been meaning to figure out the name of this song for years now, but had only ever been able to make out the infectious “uh-uh-oh, uh-uh-uh-uh-oh” hook. It would be safe to say that the song totally rides on that hook, but that would be ignoring the kickass guitar riff and uptempo, sing-a-long chorus, which are both memorable in their own right. This is pretty much what The Police was trying to be critical about with “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”, but with the general theme being taken with a more positive spin. It’s just a cute little song about the lamentations of modern breakup songs not being as poignant and instantly commendable at the ones from days’ past. I could empathize with that statement as, these days especially, they sure don’t write songs like “The Breakup Song” anymore.

46. “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” – Pat Benatar: I’m actually a little bit sad that “You Better Run” didn’t make 1981’s year-end chart, since that is definitely my favorite Pat Benatar song. Nonetheless, I’ll settle with this one, which is always a pretty fun listen. It’s pretty much the quintessential Benatar single, with its power-pop guitar riff, kitschy lyrics, and ruff ‘n’ tuff vocals from the performer herself. It’s catchy as hell, but falters a bit with lines like “You’re a real tough cookie” and “Put up your dukes”. It’s one of those songs that I could listen to every once in a while with no objections, but really wears on me with multiple listens. Still, it’s hard to tire of Benatar’s terrific attitude in general, and I’ll always welcome this one.

45. “How ‘Bout Us” – Champaign: This song is smooth and cozy, with an infectious little bounce and guitar licks that further add to the moody, jazzy atmosphere of the whole track. The singers aren’t bad either, even if the lyrics don’t leave them with too much to play off their emotional performances. There does seem to be a little something missing there – I guess some semblance of a personality or a unique feature that elevates it beyond just another 80s R&B number. As it stands, though, that’s really all that’s there. The background musicians are terrific, though, and I’d like to know more about them rather than the leads.

44. “I Don’t Need You” – Kenny Rogers: It seems that Kenny Rogers has become my Barry Manilow of the 80s – the inexplicably popular white male performer of the most milquetoast ballads imaginable. Somehow, I don’t remember a single line of this song, despite having just listened to it three times in a row. Basically, the premise is that Rogers is (unsuccessfully) trying to convince himself that he and the lady he loves aren’t right for each other. The lyrics are as bland as they come, and it isn’t helped by its soulless production by Lionel Richie, who is also used to creating some rather bland ballads with the rest of Commodores himself. It’s utterly forgettable, through and through, and the fact that it went to #3(!) for three weeks(!!!) proves that something must’ve gone terribly wrong in 1981.

43. “You Make My Dreams” – Hall & Oates: It’s hard to think of any other song that is happier than “You Make My Dreams” (go ahead and try), and it’s almost overwhelmingly so. The cheesy factor of this “I’m in love and everything is swell and perfect” anthem almost kills the whole song completely – so what saves it? Well, it’s got some pretty good lyrics that are just a notch above the typical love song (The “screamer”/”dreamer” rhyme combo always puts a smile on my face). Daryl Hall’s performance is satisfyingly peppy, with John Oates soulful backup preventing the song from entering corny whitebread territory. The backup guitar, bass, and keyboards are fantastic, with just the right amount of new wave influence to bring them sounding as modern as their competition. It’s one of those songs that theoretically should get increasingly annoying with overplay, but somehow I always keep wanting to play it again and again. It’s all the happiness in the world captured in a tight, peppy 3-minute single.

42. “It’s My Turn” – Diana Ross: Now it’s Diana Ross’ turn to take a jab at a Streisand-esque piano ballad. I’m generally a fan of Diana Ross in general and will probably find something to enjoy in anything she does, even if she just sang the ABC’s. She performs this track effectively enough, but after hearing what else she’s been capable of throughout her solo career, it does fare a bit underwhelming. It definitely feels like a song quickly rushed together in time for the soundtrack release of the film of the same name. Diana deserves better, I think.

41. “Hearts” – Marty Balin: Marty Balin finds himself separated from Jefferson Airplane/Starship and trying out a solo career of his own. I think it works! The atmosphere set forth by this song is interesting in its seediness – the yacht rock instrumentation, carried mostly by the bass and keys, brings to mind a loner on the hunt for the subject of the song while he gloomily croons to himself. The chorus is relatively weak, but the verses hold up the mood of the tune pretty nicely. I particularly dig the line, “Is everything okay? / I just thought I’d write a song / To tell the world how I miss you”. And Balin isn’t too bad of a singer either – he isn’t amazing, by any means, but I wouldn’t mind listening a whole album of songs like these either. “Hearts” is nothing astounding, but still relatively innocuous in its pleasantry.


40. “Crying” – Don McLean: Oh… hello again, Don McLean. It’s been a while since we’ve seen McLean on the charts – specifically, his only two major hits “American Pie” and “Vincent” were back in 1972. Here, he does a cover of a classic Roy Orbison tune, which is risky in and of itself. First of all, no one really asked for it – Orbison’s understated rendition of the tune is quintessential in the way he goes from his signature baritone to a high tenor while the music behind him also swells in intensity. McLean tries a similar approach here, but since his voice isn’t nearly as low as Orbison’s, some of the melancholy gloom is left in the dust. The backup strings are a bit cloying, although I’m partial to the bass chords during the first couple “Crying, over you”s. I can probably best describe this as a very well-produced, well-sung country bar cover of a classic 60s song – it’s hardly comparable to the enormous scope of the original, but I still think McLean kept the heart of the original recording relatively intact and it really could’ve been much, much worse. Still, I’d take Orbison’s version over this one a million times over.

39. “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” – Commodores: I can’t say I was expecting an upbeat single from the Commodores here for once! But it’s easy to see how this entered so highly in this list – it’s a nice bit of Earth, Wind, & Fire-esque disco-funk that really should’ve been released a whole two years earlier. The lyrics are the kinds of sub-par love lyrics one would expect from a disco ballad (“Lady, you bring me up when I’m down / Maybe you’re gonna change my life around”). It doesn’t quite live up to the very best of EWF, Kool and the Gang, or others, but it’s still pretty nice to hear Lionel Richie and folks having a good time for once.

38. “Passion” – Rod Stewart: Critics and fans who felt betrayed by Stewart’s selling-out to disco with “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” probably weren’t consoled when they listened to Stewart’s next major hit single. It’s got the disco flavor once again, but the style tends to gravitate more towards the new wave side of things and is actually a bit spooky and exotic-sounding. This sounds cool for the next minute or so, but Stewart basically just mucks things up again and again with his overblown performance and bad lyrics. I half expect him to belt out, “Boogie with a suitcase!” at some point during those inane verses. I do like the verses that begin “Once in love, you’re never out of danger”, but those happen so infrequently through the whole five-and-a-half-minute(!) single that I just wish they were part of a whole other song entirely. It’s not nearly as insufferable as “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, but it’s still not very good.

37. “Urgent” – Foreigner: I probably already mentioned this before, but boy do Foreigner know how to compose a damn good hook! Even though their verses tend to sound pretty similar from song to song, their choruses immediately come to mind simply by reading the corresponding title for each song. “Urgent” probably sounds most similar to “Hot Blooded” in that sense, but it’s still got the tightest melody and is just generally better-written than any of their other hit singles as of now. That guitar riff is a killer, and the saxophone bits throughout the track are fantastic. And unlike other Foreigner songs with strong choruses and flimsy verses, the power is equally distributed throughout, making this fantastic for karaoke nights. It’s quite the toe-tapping song about a friends-with-benefits relationship (“I’m not looking for a love that’ll last / I know what I need and I need it fast”) and every member of the band performs it rather well. Good song!

36. “The Boy From New York City” – The Manhattan Transfer: 1981, why are you so weird?! I had generally considered The Ad Libs’ “Boy From New York City” to be one of the great, forgotten pop singles of the mid-60s, but apparently it’s not as forgotten as I assumed. This cover is actually more commercially successful than the original, which is a bit disappointing. The female lead of this is shrill and unpleasant to listen to from start to finish. Moreover, the backing doo-wop vocalists just sound way too sterilized and polished for me to have any sort of fun listening to this one. While the original is fun and light-hearted, this one seems too weighed-down by conflicting elements and feels like more of a chore to get through. I only hope that a good portion of the listeners that pushed this single to #7 were obliged to go check out the original immediately afterward.

35. “Woman in Love” – Barbra Streisand: This basically sounds just as lovely as one would expect a Barbra Streisand-sung Gibb composition would sound. The backing guitar and strings and lush production terrifically complements Streisand’s voice to a tee, and her performance itself sounds better than it has in years. The song is dressed up as a typical adult contemporary ballad, but it’s also consistently surprising – there’s a new flair or arrangement of nice words or sounds that seem to always be consistently right around the corner. The resulting recording is intense, yet subtly so. This song would probably sound best while stargazing or sitting alongside a desolate beach, as the music of this song washes over you just like the crashing of the waves. It’s lovely.

34. “Living Inside Myself” – Gino Vannelli: This song sounds like an extension of Gino’s previous hit single “I Just Wanna Stop”, while also containing notes of Barry Manilow (without the bombastic romanticism) and EWF’s “After the Love is Gone” (without the cool falsetto). It’s decently performed, with some cool vibrating synths in the background, but the background singers are a little much and I can’t say I’m really blown away by any aspect of this in general. It’s acceptable, but for a #6 peak, acceptable doesn’t really cut it.

33. “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” – Ronnie Milsap: The chord progressions and melody to this one practically demand that the singer sway along to the sentiment of post-breakup cockiness. The country-pop instrumentation is pleasant enough, and I’m even kind of a fan of the performance that Milsap gives in this recording. Still, I can’t help but shake the feeling that Milsap’s ex-girlfriend is giving this a listen, shaking her head, and saying to herself, “Don’t kid yourself, Ron – I am over you”. Nonetheless, this is a relatively innocuous little number that somehow squirmed up to #5. Go figure.

32. “Take It On the Run” – REO Speedwagon: This song was very recently sampled in a song from Pitbull called “Messin’ Around” – go check it out, it’s awful. Not that this song is so much better, or anything. With opening lines like, “Heard it from a friend who / Heard it from a friend who”, you’re bound to not be taken very seriously from there on out. Still, the melody is arena-ready and the instrumentation is acceptable enough (even if that guitar solo after the second chorus is a little silly). I’m not really a fan of Kevin Cronin’s lead vocals, but I can’t exactly say I could imagine anyone else doing a much better job with this. It’s not the type of rock ‘n’ roll that would make parents fear for their child’s innocence, but it’s nothing worth hating on much either.

31. “Elvira” – The Oak Ridge Boys: Wowww, this song got annoying so quickly. That marching beat and the fun melody are both very pleasing to my ears and I found myself singing along during the second chorus. The deep bass “oom papa mow mow” part was a pretty delightful inclusion as well. But after the key change – and the second key change – and the third key change – it soon became clear that each subsequent listen would be out of necessity, rather than want. Regardless, it’s a nice little brass country jam that is one of the brighter, happier inclusions in the 80s country canon.


30. “The Best of Times” – Styx: Bleh. Styx is cool, but I’ve never been the biggest fan of this slushy, soapy ballad. Dennis DeYoung is back here, but the lyrics sound like they were copy-pasted from various other, much better rock ballads. I’m not the biggest fan of the synthesizers, which are usually so fun in their songs, and the guitars also leave much to be desired. Basically, everything after the first chorus feels like placeholders for what should’ve been a more cohesive, complete song. Still, that piano riff is delicately symphonic and the brief “But I know / If the world should pass us by, baby, I know” part is quite the epic, fist-pumping buildup to… a much limper chorus. This one I always skip.

29. “Guilty” – Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb: Who would’ve thought that Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb would be a match made in heaven? “Woman in Love” is terrific, and this one’s got a nice, soothing bounce to it as well. The composition of the song is almost a bit formless – there doesn’t seem to be a defining point where the verses start and the choruses start and everything seems to smoothly blend into each other as the song chugs along. This isn’t much of a complaint, as it’s always pretty nice to hear something a little different from the verse-chorus-verse structure. Altogether, it’s not exactly as “fun” as “Woman in Love”, but its sleekness and sophistication makes it a notch above “What Kind of Fool”. I’ll take it!

28. “The One That You Love” – Air Supply: Meh… as far as I’m concerned, if any Air Supply song should go to number-one, it shouldn’t be this one. I might be wrong in even suggesting that “All Out of Love” and “Lost in Love” are any better than this at all; maybe they’re all just part of the same animal, molded from the same breed of soulless soft pop that gave Barry Manilow so many hit singles. Russell Hitchcock sings this one competently and the production itself is kind of nice, but the lyrics are just so whiny and boring to its very core. I just don’t see any point in giving this a listen or a jab at bar karaoke when “All Out of Love” already exists.

27. “Every Woman in the World” – Air Supply: …Yeah, these two singles are really making me doubt any gram of enjoyment I found with Air Supply’s first two singles in the first place. Once again, is this single really a step down from “All Out of Love” or are they both cut from the same cloth?? In any case, this comes off like a bad ballad from an off-Broadway play, complete with a drab, fake-emotional vibe and melodramatic finish. That chorus is just abysmal“Girl, you’re every woman in the world to me / You’re my fantasy, you’re my reality”. What does it mean when you tell someone they’re every woman? Is that supposed to be a compliment? If we were to assume that every woman in the world includes the most perfect women (whatever that means), along with the most flawed (also whatever that means), wouldn’t that average out to… well, just an average woman? I guess I’d prefer more realistic commendations, rather than empty hyperbole, but this song is just ridiculous through and through.

26. “Love on the Rocks” – Neil Diamond: Hmm.. actually, this isn’t too bad, for a Neil Diamond track. This is like if Diamond had actually fully realized the potential he had early in his career and took a moodier, more poetic approach instead of falling onto the AOR route. Nonetheless, I’m glad we’ve got it now. It’s a typical breakup ballad, but it’s also replete with some interesting metaphors and Diamond sings the whole thing with a fair bit of emotional resonance. It’s certainly more than I’ve heard from him in quite a few years. It still stinks with the obvious air of having been written for a film soundtrack, as his other singles from this year do, but this one is easily the best of the three. This one I actually wouldn’t oppose giving it a relisten every now and then.

25. “Angel of the Morning” – Juice Newton: And we have yet another cover of a song from the 60s – are you surprised? In all seriousness, though, this one actually makes for a rather interesting modern reworking. I do like Merilee Rush’s original quite a bit, but in retrospect it may be a bit too folky and twangy for the subject matter to reach its full potential. With Juice Newton’s slightly huskier vocals and the more lush, pronounced instrumentation, the idea that this is a song about the breaking apart of an affair suddenly becomes all the more believable. The bombastic 80s production actually suits the form of the song pretty well, and I may actually enjoy this cover more than the original. Way to go, Juice.

24. “Stars on 45 Medley” – Stars on 45: Okay, so this single might actually be the culprit that triggered the string of 60s covers that have been so clustered throughout this godforsaken year. It’s essentially a medley of a selection of 60s songs (although the vast majority of them are Beatles songs) in the foreground of a bumping, over-the-top disco beat. Yep, it’s trashy – but also a little fun? The most commendable aspect of this recording is the fact that these studio musicians went such lengths to mimic the musical sound and style of the superstar musicians that they referenced. This automatically makes this a stronger medley than “The Beach Boys Medley”, which is little more than a lazy splicing job. Still, the medleys have kind of lost their appeal these days when much more sophisticated mash-ups are readily available just as easily. Also, I don’t get the point of listening to about fifteen seconds of a song you love when you could just put on the song itself. Still, if you’re going to give this a listen at all, I would recommend the ten-minute 12″ version, which does a bit more with its time than regurgitate overplayed Beatles songs – like regurgitate other overplayed 60s songs!

23. “The Winner Takes It All” – ABBA: Okay, fair warning – if my ABBA love annoyed you at all in recent Billboard posts on the 70s, there’s gonna be a little more of it here. This song is fucking incredible. Members Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog both deny that this song is at all about their divorce, and while I can totally respect that statement, it’s hard not to sense a fair bit of real-life heartache that is so prevalent in this composition. The introductory piano is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard, and the way Fältskog sings the opening lines (“I don’t want to talk about things we’ve gone through / Though it’s hurting me, now it’s history”) further carries this tone. And speaking of those lyrics! This is the saddest that ABBA has ever sounded at this point, with such deliciously melodramatic lines as, “The gods may throw the dice / Their minds as cold as ice / And someone way down here / Loses someone dear”. Yet the bumping pop beat that highlights their best songs is still so present here, making the conflicting emotions of sadness and euphoria feel just as complicated as one’s departure of a long-term relationship. It’s overblown, sure, but I also think it perfectly captures the specific stage in heartbreak when it feels like life truly cannot go on. And Fältskog, once again, is incredibly in staging all this for a very public audience. It’s dripping with melodrama, but that’s just what you’ve got to get used to with ABBA. It’s what they do best.

22. “Sukiyaki” – A Taste of Honey: No, not “Sukiyaki”!! Kyu Sakamoto’s bittersweet little song is one of my favorite songs of the 60s and I was immediately ambivalent toward this pop cover. And from the performers of “Boogie Oogie Oogie”, no less! As it turns out, my suspicions were well-placed. Now, I’m not totally opposed to the idea of someone taking the melody of an existing song and changing the lyrics into something else of their own creation. But, in this particular case, changing the lyrics of a mournful anti-war opus and transforming it to a generic heartache ballad just… feels wrong. It doesn’t help that the production covers the syrupy, generic lyricism with a kind of ambiguously Asian instrumentation that hovers around aimlessly. It screams orientalism and the singers whispering “sayonara” at the end don’t help matters. Utterly pointless and forgettable and just plain bad.

21. “Woman” – John Lennon: And back again with the John Lennon singles, this one being more successful. I’m not going to lie – knowing that Lennon was an abusive piece of shit to Yoko Ono (and other women in his life too, if I recall) really does make this some somewhat less than remarkable. I guess if someone had written this song for me, I’d find it touching, but being a relatively detached listener, it comes off as just another treacly love ballad. It’s not awful, but I can’t see it being particularly remarkable either.


20. “I Love You” – Climax Blues Band: I’m pretty happy to see that Climax Blues Band didn’t end up being a one-hit wonder group – I thought “Couldn’t Get It Right” was just plain groovy, even if it was a bit goofy. This one is probably just as goofy, but on the other side of the coin. It just sounds like it was tailor-made to be played as a first dance at weddings, possibly more than any other song I’ve covered on this challenge (well, except for maybe “The Wedding Song”). I like that George Harrison-esque guitar solo, but the rest of it is a little too hokey for me to take all too seriously. Still, I’m glad I gave it a listen; I just think I’d much rather spin “Couldn’t Get It right” once a day.

19. “Slow Hand” – The Pointer Sisters: The cool thing about the Billboard charts in the 80s is that we’re starting to see more women get relatively equal representation near the top of the year-end charts. Don’t get me wrong – the scale still gives male-coded songs a much larger advantage overall (about four singles for every one women-led single), but the top twenty does have eight women-led songs, with only one of them being a duet with a man. I don’t have much hope that this will be that much better in the nearby years, but I’m trying to think positively! “Slow Hand” is yet another stellar single from The Pointer Sisters, with the slow hand in question being a maybe-double-entendre for a man who will stick around for a serious, long-term relationship, while also making love to the speaker slowly just the way she likes it. I love when such a wink-nod at female sexuality is received so positively, and the smooth R&B production doesn’t hurt matters here either. It further proves that The Pointer Sisters were one of the most understated groups of female superstars of the era.

18. “Just the Two of Us”  – Grover Washington & Bill Withers: Bill Wither shows that he still has it after all these years, and he enlists the help of saxophonist Grover Washington to really bring out the very best of this song. It’s a supremely pleasant listen, with the bass, percussion, and sax complementing Withers’ signature melodic croon very nicely. It’s one of those songs where the lyrics don’t really go beyond what the title implies, but somehow none of that really matters. It’s the kind of song to dance along with your loved one, be it in a private residence or in a public place in plain view of all. It doesn’t really stand head-and-shoulders above anything, but it does make you feel really, really good while listening, and sometimes that’s all that’s important.

17. “The Tide is High” – Blondie: Maybe it’s unpopular opinion to state that I love this song – but I don’t care. I do admit, though, that I was introduced to this song through the Atomic Kitten cover, but that’s probably more of an indicator of my age than anything else. I didn’t even know that this recording was a cover until very recently. This song is all kinds of stupid fun and exactly the product one would imagine from Blondie trying out reggae. I will always, 100% of the time sing along with Debbie Harry every time she belts out, “I’m not the kind of girl who gives up just like that, oh no”. The horns and strings are fabulous and its repetitive nature somehow only adds to the charm of the recording. And shoutout to the backup singers with their “woo-hoo-hoo”s. It’s always nice to come across some really chill, light-hearted, affirmative pop-rock in dire times such as these. Also, is this the only song to go to number one that features the words “number one” in its lyrics? I need answers!

16. “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)” – Raydio: I’m not sure if Raydio is my most hated artist that I’ve come across on this Billboard Hot 100 challenge, but they come pretty damn close. I’m just more than slightly peeved by the self-righteous, slightly possessive nature of Ray Parker Jr. and his lyrics. Basically, the speaker of this song is talking to a friend or relative who needs to get his act together in his relationship before his wife or girlfriend leaves him. I think what bothers me most about this song is that it just seems insincere when placed next to songs like “You Can’t Change That”, where Parker literally calls for stalking a woman who has cut him out of her life but who he is still in love with. It still carries that same agenda of treating women like possessions made for men’s own pleasure (“She can fool around just like you do / Unless you give her all the loving she wants”), so he shouldn’t even pretend that he cares about her needs. But then there’s this verse: “When her eyes are begging for affection / Don’t put her off, don’t make her wait / Don’t try to give her that worn out excuse / About being tired and working late”. That’s still not okay! No means no on either side of the relationship – if one or the other doesn’t feel like having sex, there should be no obligation to. I don’t even know where to begin with the line about taking out insurance; frankly, that’s just a little confusing. And even worse is that he inexplicably calls back to his earlier single “Jack and Jill” – which is a bad song! And this is a bad song too. I hope I never have to listen to another Raydio single ever, ever again.

15. “Rapture” – Blondie: Okay, so… it’s accepted that this song is a masterpiece, right? It was the first number-one hit single to feature rapping, and although I would’ve definitely preferred that honor go to Black musicians, this isn’t a bad compromise. This song is bliss from start to finish. The keyboard riff – the main one with the bells – is heavenly. Debbie Harry’s ultra-high vocals are like something out of a dream. And once she starts rapping about a car-consuming alien from Mars, the party truly starts and it suddenly feels like it’ll never end. I can’t even begin to describe the all-encompassing joy I felt as a kid when I heard for the first time the last line of Harry’s rap (“The man from Mars stopped eating cars and eating bars / And now he only eats guitars”) smoothly transition to that kickass guitar solo that finishes the track. Yes, this song is kitschy and weird and silly and probably very, very bad, but that’s precisely why I love it so much. “Rapture” couldn’t have had any better title.

14. “Queen of Hearts” – Juice Newton: Generally speaking, a song that is upbeat and fun will get on my good side much better than songs that are low-tempo and depressing. Of course, there are many notable exceptions, but for sake of simplicity the former tends to be the most true for me. “Queen of Hearts” is one of the fun ones. While a lot of songs from these past couple years has country artists trying to go pop, this one is more like the other way around – pop melodies, with a bit of a country twang. Newton is absolutely adorable and I particularly love the line “The joker ain’t the only fool / Who’ll do anything for you”. The handclaps are fun, the guitar strums are terrific, and this is just overall a delightfully pleasant listen from beginning to end. Yeah, this is exactly the kind of upbeat love song I enjoy the most.

13. “Being With You” – Smokey Robinson: While this is definitely better than “Cruisin'”, that’s not really saying too much. I just really don’t care for this sexy, middle-aged crooner stage of Robinson’s career, especially with production as bland and devoid of personality as this is. It’s interesting to read that he initially wrote this for Kim Carnes – who turned it down – because it really feels like it could’ve been sung by anyone with pretty equal results. The saxophone riff is a total rip-off of “Baker Street”, and that’s really the only interesting quality I can state about this track. Yeah, this is just really sappy. No me gusta.

12. “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” – Sheena Easton: It’s so strange to listen to this song after “Modern Girl”, as now the latter single seems like a sort of apology for “Morning Train”. I wouldn’t blame anyone for seeing this song as regressive in its political structure, as the speaker is a woman whose day seems to stop and start in correlation with her (male) significant other’s workday. But unlike most pop singles, this one was written by a woman – so what gives?? Well, there are constant references throughout the song to the activities that she most looks forwards to: dinners, movies, and sex with her partner. Even though the chorus does revolve around the fact that she waits for him most of the day, it is with this bated breath that he gives her what she most desires. That’s actually a pretty healthy relationship going on there, and I can’t really hate much on a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. The beat is bouncy and pretty damn infectious, and I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing this on overplay during the two weeks that this stayed at number one.

11. “Theme From the Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)” – Joey Scarbury: If there’s any theme song from a TV show that deserves to reach near the top of the pop charts, it’s this one. That chorus is the chorus to end all choruses, from now until forever – it’s just so big and happy and sounds exactly like an intro to a TV show should sound! Besides that, though, this is a whole lot of mediocrity. There’s some cool synths before the guitar solo and the guitar solo itself is fun, but that’s about it. I don’t know anything about the show, but I’ve heard this song dozens of times through my life, which should probably say a lot about its staying power.


10. “Keep on Loving You” – REO Speedwagon: Ah, yes. Here’s the one song that always makes me think, at least momentarily, “Maybe REO Speedwagon isn’t so bad… maybe they’re kind of brilliant”. Luckily, this moment usually passes – especially since I still don’t like the lead singer’s voice. Still, this is a really monumental power ballad and easily the best single they’ve ever put out. That’s not without its qualms, though. The lyrics are slightly annoying in their juvenile nature, with the line “I don’t wanna sleep / I just wanna keep on loving you” being especially irksome. It’s such a short song too; it’s like they forgot to record the second verse and chorus before the guitar solo (which is actually kind of cool, albeit silly) and just decided to roll with the punches anyway. And did I mention that I really don’t like Kevin Cronin’s vocals?? Still, this is made up for by the cool backup vocals and the fact that this is would probably be my go-to power ballad if I were ever in the mood for such a thing, for some reason.

9. “9 to 5” – Dolly Parton: I recently watching 9 to 5 for the very first time, so my love for this song might be slightly biased due to my love for its corresponding movie. Nonetheless, Dolly Parton is wonderful in pretty much everything she does and this is no exception. I probably shouldn’t think so highly of a song that is pretty much an anthem of sorts for office workers, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t the most fun song ever written. Parton proves that she’s far from a country star and belts out every line of tune with an unparalleled confidence. “It’s a rich man’s game, no matter what they call it / And you spend your life putting money in his wallet” is as poignant a lyric as “You got dreams he’ll never take away” is an empowering one. This does, once again, suffer from the “soundtrack single” syndrome, where its personality as a standalone single is dwindled without the connotation of its film, but for a soundtrack single it sure is pretty enjoyable.

8. “I Love a Rainy Night” – Eddie Rabbitt: Oh. I had no clue that Eddie Rabbitt had a number-one single, but I guess here we are now. It’s catchy and all, but it is ever-so-disappointing knowing that this came from the same artist that gave us such interesting singles as “Suspicions” and “Drivin’ My Life Away”. This just feels very pop-radio-ready, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave a whole bunch to be desired from an artist who obviously deserves much better than lines like, “I love to hear the thunder / Watch the lightning when it lights up the skies / You know it makes me feel good”.

7. “Kiss on My List” – Hall & Oates: This song marks an interesting transition point between Hall & Oates’ bouncy, midtempo fare and their more upbeat pop singles like “You Make My Dreams”. This song pretty much captures all that most people love about music from the 80s (even though this first part of the 80s isn’t faring too well, to be honest). It’s got cheesy lyrics, accompanied by some synthy riffs, handclaps and bizarre backup vocals, and a catchy melody, especially in the chorus. I can’t really fault this song for being as unapologetically happy as it is, even though it ultimately doesn’t do as much for me as many of the group’s other singles. Still, I sing along every time!

6. “Celebration” – Kool & the Gang: After the one-two punch of failure that was found in “Ladies Night” and “Too Hot”, Kool & the Gang are back to quality with “Celebration”. “Woo-hoo”! This song, along with pretty much every one of Earth, Wind, & Fire and Parliament’s hit singles make for the most perfect party playlist ever. The lyrics are achingly simplistic (“Celebration / We’re gonna celebrate and have a good time”), yet the pop-funk production and sing-a-long melody make this one an instant classic for festivities of all shapes and sizes. Still, from the group that brought us such fire singles such as “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”, this is somehow a tad underwhelming – I guess it’s just a bit safer than I would like. No risks are taken; it does its job and does it adequately. This may sound like a mark-down, but you best believe that I’ll be dancing – in my chair or on the dance floor – whenever this one comes on, anytime and anywhere.

5. “Jessie’s Girl” – Rick Springfield: This is the second time we’ve seen Rick Springfield on the year-end charts; that makes him not a one-hit wonder, so everyone can stop putting him on their “Best One-Hit Wonders” lists or whatever. Anyway, the song. I do not like this song. What kind of awful friend do you have to be to be so envious of your bud’s girlfriend that you write an entire song about how you wish she were yours? And that’s not even touching upon how creepy this song is. “And she’s loving him with that body, I just know it” indicates that Springfield frequently imagines the two making love, which is nothing less than psychopathic. And I imagine that we, as listeners, are supposed to sympathize with this guy – we’re supposed to hope and wish and pray that he gets Jessie’s girl in the end! That possibility is absolutely preposterous to me, no matter how much the narrative tries to spin itself in the speaker’s favor. On top of all this, this song is fake-catchy – in that it thinks that just repeating the same line again and again is enough to make a melody – and Springfield is a bad singer. Never again!

4. “(Just Like) Starting Over” – John Lennon: If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ll know that I recently wrote a semi-long review on this song for my One Random Single a Day challenge. The tl;dr version: I like it! It’s one of the few Lennon singles I like quite a bit, and I’m glad that this one went to number one for five weeks instead of any of the others.

3. “Lady” – Kenny Rogers: *mumbles under breath* Kenny Rogers… Yeah, I guess it was inevitable that I would stumble across this song eventually, given that it was one of the hugest hit singles of the 80s. It’s actually pretty unusual for a Kenny Rogers single. For one thing, it was written by Lionel Richie, which automatically makes this way more of an R&B number than a country ballad. Personally, I would’ve much liked hearing Richie tackle this one. Yes, I know that would mean Richie technically having two separate songs titled “Lady” under his belt, but Rogers’ voice is just so gritty and grimy and feels totally out of place with something so soft and delicate. Also, this is such a minimalist single for being an adult contemporary ballad. Barry Manilow set the standard of these piano ballads starting simple and growing until it reached an overblown crescendo, then stop suddenly right after the climax. Here, the song starts quiet, has a few little waves of heightened intensity, but still remains relatively restrained throughout its entirety. I guess that’s pretty respectable, but it pretty much just makes for a boring soft pop ballad, for slightly different reasons than a Manilow ballad is boring. I was waiting for some kind of hook or melody to pop in, but that doesn’t really happen. The song just kind of starts and stops at its own convenience, so it almost feels like it wasn’t even there in the first place. I haven’t even talked about the lyrics, but that’s mainly because I completely tuned out after he sang “I’m your knight in shining armor and I love you”. This is just four solid minutes of complete nothingness and it’s ridiculous that this held the top spot for six weeks. Jesus.

2. “Endless Love” – Diana Ross & Lionel Richie: Alright… so 1981 is the year of the syrupy love ballads and the 60s cover songs, apparently. Both artists featured here sing their parts of the duet just fine, but goddamn is this hokey. I guess I’m not really a person who’s found much value in declaring one’s love “endless”, “eternal”, “long-lasting”, or any other such adjective. If people want to get married, that’s cool, but songs like these just don’t do much for me. I don’t find it particularly beautiful, just another love song in the line of other such songs to which couples perform their first dance at their weddings. I apologize if this sounds like a cynical interpretation of an innocuous song, but I guess I’m just as far removed from songs of these types as humanly possible. I sincerely wish I liked it more.

1. “Bette Davis Eyes” – Kim Carnes: Now, this is music. Here’s a quick reminder that, while this is my 25th post in my Billboard Hot 100 challenge, this is only the sixth time that a woman or woman-fronted group has topped the year-end charts. To be honest, though, few songs from this year are more deserving of the title. This song is wonderful, fun, perplexing, enigmatic, and definitely the most perfect song to dance around to while alone in your bedroom. Kim Carnes is an angel sent from heaven above to deliver us the joy that is so perfectly encapsulated in this song. I’ve seen enough Bette Davis movies to know that if a woman is described as having Bette Davis eyes, y’all should run and hide immediately. The synthesizers in this are amazing and fluzzy (my own word for a combination of fuzzy and fluffy). Carnes’ voice is so unusual and her delivery is unmatched. I love the way she says, “she’s precocious/ferocious!” and the way she draws out the “s” on “eyes” at the end of the final chorus. Overall, though, this song is as smooth and sexy and terrific as they come and I honestly couldn’t be more proud of this having spent nine weeks at the top of the charts. I tend to be underwhelmed with whatever song is chosen to top the year-end charts, but it couldn’t be further from the truth year. In a mixed bag of a year that is 1981, “Bette Davis Eyes” is the perfect topper.

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5 Responses to Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1981

  1. Pingback: Takin’ It Easy: January ’17 in Film | Films Like Dreams, Etc.

  2. Pingback: One Random Single a Day #75: “Glad All Over” (1980) by Suzi Quatro | Films Like Dreams, Etc.

  3. Pingback: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1982 | Films Like Dreams, Etc.

  4. Pingback: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1983 | Films Like Dreams, Etc.

  5. Pingback: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1984 | Films Like Dreams, Etc.

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