100. “Edge of Seventeen” – Stevie Nicks: There’s few better ways to get back into the swing of my Billboard challenge than to revisit an old 80s favorite. Although I’m generally mixed in my opinion of Stevie Nicks’s career post-Fleetwood Mac, there’s never been any denying that this song rules. That chugging guitar riff throughout is what dreams are made of, as is Nicks’s vocal delivery, easily as good as anything she’s done with Fleetwood. Every word and phrase dances around with such vigor, making this a truly pleasant listen from start to finish. Those “ooh, baby”s are everything, and the lyrics are pained, angry, poetic, and extremely badass. I love this song.
99. “Through the Years” – Kenny Rogers: I definitely didn’t miss Kenny Rogers during my hiatus from this project! And I certainly didn’t miss Rogers’s forays into the most ham-fisted kind of adult contemporary soft ballads. Seriously, having never heard this song before, I was able to guess the melody pretty accurately by just reading the lyrics – it’s that dull, and that predictable. It’s precisely the kind of inoffensive song that gets played at 50th wedding anniversaries to the cloying smiles and reactions of family members young and old. Maybe I have no heart… or maybe I’ve heard far too many songs of this exact caliber to really give a damn anymore. Particularly if they’re coming from the likes of Kenny Rogers.
98. “Arthur’s Theme (Best That I Can Do” – Christopher Cross: Interesting that this showed up on two year-end lists in a row. I guess you can just mosey on over to my overview of 1981’s top 100 songs to reread my opinion. For the most part, it hasn’t really changed – although it’s a bit more palatable having been separated from it for a while, so there’s that.
97. “Goin’ Down” – Greg Guidry: Hmm… the intro sounds suspiciously like Herb Alpert’s “Rise” and the melody leading to the chorus sounds a lot like Carly Simon’s “You Belong to Me”. At first these similarities are a tad distracting, but eventually they reach their comfort zone and plateau into a smooth ride of soulful yacht rock. With a cool guitar solo to boot! Still, Guidry doesn’t quite have good enough voice to elevate this to any great standards; same with the sub-par lyrics (“I’m goin’ down for the last time… I’m nearly out of my mind”). Still, I’d place this comfortable alongside any worthy soft rock playlist with little to no complaint.
96. “Working For the Weekend” – Loverboy: The cowbell at the start of this song instantly means that this would automatically make the perfect opener for any 80s homaging playlist under the sun. The rest of the song is alright, too… Well, besides the lyrics. I mean, these lines pretty much add up to a whole lot of nothing: “You wanna piece of my heart / You better start from the start / You wanna be in the show / Come on, baby, let’s go!”. Also, “working for the weekend” could potentially be a great phrase with a lot of meaning behind it, but it ties into absolutely nothing else, making it utterly meaningless. Still, the song is peppy and upbeat, the production is pleasant, and everyone involved present an infectious range of energy that practically floats past the ear (especially those synths!!). It’s great for dancing to, and even better for some nice jazzercise – just don’t think too deeply into what they’re actually singing.
95. “Do I Do” – Stevie Wonder: For the most part, when I’m assigned to listen to a particular record – either for a single review or the Billboard challenge – I’ll opt for the single version or the cut that was most heard on radios at the time of its initial popularity. For some, however, I’ll listen to the album version, which sometimes trail on for quite a bit longer. Thus, I gave a listen to the ten-minute album version of “Do I Do”, rather than the five-minute single edit. There’s just so much to love here! The energy and vitality present from Wonder here makes this sound like an unused track from Songs in the Key of Life. The bass and guitar combo is a totally funky one, and the cameo by Dizzy Gillespie is warmly welcomed as well. The songwriting here is definitely second-rate Stevie, although the line “Yes, I got some honeysuckle, chocolate-dripping kisses full of love for you” is just so, so good. I’ll even forgive the needless rap break at the tail end of the track, if only for the mere fact that Wonder sounds like he’s having so much damn fun. Despite what others might say about Stevie Wonder’s 80s material, at least the existence of this track is a worthy compromise.
94. “Waiting on a Friend” – The Rolling Stones: I don’t love the Stones as much as most, though that’s mainly due to their penchant for selling their music like a product rather than something a bit more genuine. They sold out pretty easily and their music more than reflects it – especially in the 80s. Nonetheless, “Waiting on a Friend” is cozy, comforting, and shockingly charming for a Rolling Stones song. It’s interesting to read that recording for this actually begun back in the early 70s, with lyrics and guitars dubbed in shortly before its 1981 release. There are definitely hints of their older sound laden in here, although its more mature lyrics are newer (“Making love and breaking hearts, it is a game for youth / But I’m not waiting on a lady / I’m just waiting on a friend”). Still, it does seem like Mick Jagger pulls a Mick Jagger and hams it up a bit more than needed. But I just can’t resist that tasty sax.
93. “What’s Forever For” – Michael Murphey: Last time we came across Michael (Martin) Murphey, I was reviewing his “Wildfire” in the recap of Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1975. Let’s just say it wasn’t much of a review. Frankly, it’s not much of a song. And it’s clear that this is precisely the case with “What’s Forever For”. It’s basically just Murphey’s wispy pontifications on whether or not love could exist in a world where people fall in and out of love, all dilly-dally like. Not that it’s really any of his business in the first place. It just sounds like a bunch of stray observations of other people’s lives and relationships, which he punctuates with, “So what’s the glory in living?”. Oh, please! To make matters worse, there’s a key change that does utterly nothing to the sleepy, boring mood of this whole recording. Hard pass.
92. “Man on Your Mind” – Little River Band: Little River Band have hit me on both sides of the scale. While “Reminiscing” and “Cool Change” are some nice, introspective soft rock jams, “Lonesome Loser” and “Lady” are a bit on the duller side. “Man on Your Mind”, on that note, hits somewhere in the middle. The 4/4 drum beat is almost disco-esque in its arrangement, and while the lyrics aren’t quite as universal in scope as their stronger hits, there’s still some crafty lyricism going on here. It’s definitely catchy and a pleasant listen, no matter how many times it’s played.
91. “Kids in America” – Kim Wilde: Here’s a song that pretty much everyone of every age is at least a little bit familiar with. I’ve listened to a variety of renditions of this song, and this one being the original strikes me as slightly odd. The mixing of Wilde’s vocals (which are nothing spectacular) with the synths and drums (which are also a tad dull) give off the impression of this being a demo tape that accidentally got airplay. Still, the melody is too damn infectious, even if the male backing vocals are super corny. The line “There’s a new wave comin’, I warn ya” is, for all intents and purposes, the official kick-off of The 80s as we’ve come to know and love it. Shout-out to Riverdale!
90. “Hot in the City” – Billy Idol: Billy Idol! *all the screams* Actually, this is a pretty awful introduction to Billy Idol for someone who is completely unfamiliar with the decade’s punk icon. His signature growls, snarls, and yelps are pretty much absent here, replaced by some pretty straight-forward pop-rock vocalizing. I tend to turn to the Billy Idol product with a certain expectation of his brand; since it’s nowhere to be found here, that leaves pretty much nothing left to marvel over. It’s not a bad song – it chugs along well and is perfectly listenable. It’s just also rather underwhelming and plainly forgettable.
89. “Should I Do It” – The Pointer Sisters: Continuing their success from previous years, The Pointer Sisters gain yet another top 20 hit with a track that harks back to the sound of female-led Tamla/Motown/Stax tracks from the early 60s. Specifically, this is very reminiscent of Dee Dee Sharp’s smash “Mashed Potato Time”, right down to the melody, chord progressions, and verse structure. Since 1980 and 1981 found the country on the heels of a 60s revival, it’s only natural that one of the most prominent girl groups of this time would take on the classic, bubbly sound from when girl groups were at their commercial peak. The formula is tried and true and I was certainly bobbing my head through the entirety of this one. Nonetheless, The Pointer Sisters are at their best when covering a contemporary, genuine R&B sound. This feels more like a cheap cash-in than much else, and I might as well just give a listen to “Mashed Potato Time” for the desired effect.
88. “(Oh) Pretty Woman” – Van Halen: Haha, what? So, I guess with the surprise success of their cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, Van Halen decided to take a stab at another rock staple from the 60s. Still, the miles between The Kinks and Roy Orbison are astronomical. When Van Halen covers The Kinks, it’s believable because it’s already a relatively sexed-up, power chord-driven party track. In this cover of “Pretty Woman”, it just sounds like David Lee Roth doing bad karaoke. When Roth sings, “Are you lonely just like me?”, I don’t believe it for one second. It’s just a messy, unnecessary recording altogether.
87. “Vacation” – The Go-Go’s: YES. Ever since I first embarked on this project, I’ve been anxiously anticipating covering the 80s. So much music from the 80s in general gives me so much joy, but I’ve been especially excited to stumble across The Go-Go’s, one of the first bands to get me into 80s music in the first place. An all-female pop-rock band with a bombastic aesthetic and catchy songs – what’s not to like?! And I know that “Vacation” is widely known to be one of their lesser singles, but it still went to #8 and it’s always been one of my favorites. The introductory keyboard riff reminds me of my childhood with how free and breezy it is, and the way Belinda Carlisle sings, “Can’t seem to get my mind off of you…” makes for such a fabulous set-up to the rest of the bouncy, timeless tune. Yes, it relies a bit too much on repetition to be considered particularly well-crafted, and the lyrics are a little silly at times. Still, I love it. Surely the fact that this never gets around to a second verse must be one of pop music’s biggest tragedies. Nonetheless, this only makes it easier to listen to it three or four more times in a row.
86. “Mirror, Mirror” – Diana Ross: Of course 1982 would prove to be yet another year in which Diana Ross finds commercial success. Mildly setting aside the disco and R&B production stylings of her hit singles of recent years, this one goes for a bit more of a funk-rock approach. Diana continues to sound great, and the lyrics opt for a pretty cool storybook metaphor narrative. It did take me a couple listens to really warm up to its repetitive nature, especially with its chorus that really dances around its “mirror, mirror, mirror” hook, despite it being a bit weak. Nonetheless, the atmosphere is pretty groovy, and I just can’t find the will to hate it even a little bit.
85. “Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It) – Kool & the Gang: Hmm. In general, the 80s seem to be relatively hit-or-miss for Kool & the Gang. While “Ladies Night” and “Too Hot” felt like lackluster attempts at disco staples during disco’s final breaths, “Celebration” felt fresher, breezier, and certainly more fun. So which direction does “Take My Heart” go? Well… it’s not good. While the initially jaunty keyboard riff sets the stage for something smooth and groovy, it soon becomes apparent that it’s got nothing much else going for it. The band kind of takes this one on autopilot – while it probably makes good background music, a closer inspection reveals nothing else of note. I’ll prefer to skip this one.
84. “Make a Move on Me” – Olivia Newton-John: It’s a bit unusual that Olivia Newton-John had been able to make it this far into the 80s – but she certainly had some help from her poppy smash hit “Physical” (more on that one later). This one is her follow-up to that one, veering sharply away from the dreaminess of her Xanadu tracks and more toward the higher-tempo pop-country of her earlier hits. It’s a cute little song – kind of like a hornier “Take a Chance on Me” – and she certainly sounds comfortable in these digs. While the verses lack that little something extra, the chorus is instantly memorable and even a bit proto-Madonna in its attitude. This isn’t amazing, but I like it anyway!
83. “Any Day Now” – Ronnie Milsap: Yet another perfectly pleasant single from Ronnie Milsap, this one actually making its start as an original composition from none other than Burt Bacharach. It had been covered a few times throughout the previous twenty years, but Milsap’s was the first to crack the top 20. His is the only version I’ve heard, though I can’t imagine anyone else’s being significantly better. The lyrics are actually quite sad, detailing the futility of whirlwind romance, and Milsap sings it quite wonderfully alongside the simple country production. It’s quite a beautiful ballad with a classic sort of charm all its own.
82. “Get Down On It” – Kool & the Gang: As if it wasn’t already apparent, “Get Down On It” confirms that Kool & the Gang are at their best when performing poppy, funky party jams. Indeed, this song is instantly as much of a dance floor staple as “Celebration”, although it admittedly just isn’t as polished a recording as its predecessor. There is an awful lot of awkward empty spaces in the verses, and although the song only runs at a little over three-and-a-half minutes long, the repetition in its nonsensical chorus gets rather tiresome and even a little annoying by the outro. Still, it’s hard to deny the fun, positive vibes emitted by this one, something that Kool & the Gang have always accomplished so impeccably.
81. “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” – Michael McDonald: So, one thing I’ve recently been getting into is yacht rock. Well, it’s actually been going on for a while, after I discovered the Beyond Yacht Rock podcast nearly a year ago. But then I showed the podcast to my boyfriend Malcolm, who has now become obsessed with the genre; thus, it’s a genre that I second-handedly listen to quite a lot. “I Keep Forgettin'” is a song that always pops up from time to time, a song that I initially recognized as being the primary sample for in Warren G’s “Regulate” (you can probably tell which of the two of us is the hip-hop head). The sample itself is one of my favorites ever, so it’s no surprise that I’d dig the original recording purely for the backing instrumental alone. Michael McDonald is a pretty welcomed presence as well, with his signature honey-slick voice never failing to deliver on every count here. McDonald has become a bit of a punchline these days, which is a shame since it’s clear that he possesses some genuine talent even outside of the Doobie Brothers. If I had any real complaint, it would be that the backing vocals near the end of the song are a bit much… but up until then, I’ll gladly drift away on this single’s wave any day.
80. “Here I Am” – Air Supply: So, I’ve given a couple more listens to Air Supply’s first two hit singles – “All Out of Love” and “Lost in Love” – since writing about them for my 1980 post, just to see if my initial admiration was ill-advised. It turns out I was correct the first time around: those two songs really are a couple of strong, rather well-crafted adult contemporary style singles. Given how rare these gems have been to find in the endless sea of soft-pop shlock, it’s no surprise that Air Supply have yet to accomplish this level of craft yet again. “Here I Am” is is another example of their falling just short of a good ballad. I gave this one three listens in a row and each time it just refused to stick. The vocalists are pleasant-sounding as always, but that’s about it. Nothing about this screams top ten material to me at all. I’ve just about given up on these guys, sadly.
79. “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” – The Police: Time to find out if The Police will continue their streak of performing songs about such seedy subjects as rape and pedophilia! Thankfully, the subject matter of this song is actually relatively wholesome… albeit a bit voyeuristic, but anyway. Stewart Copeland’s drumming is a definite stand-out, but the foreground of the track seems to belong to guest pianist Jean Roussel, who brings in such a wide array of sounds and riffs that layer upon each other again and again. While sometimes this can get overwhelming, the messiness is actually a bit strangely pleasant. Complete with a madcap outro where all elements seem to fit together quite, well, magically, it’s safe to say that this is the first good Police song I’ve come across so far, at least in the year-end lists.
78. “Crimson and Clover” – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: When I looked up the music video to this song on YouTube, I was amused to find the comments section replete with gay women declaring how this song became their awakening of sorts. And how could it not be? Jett’s re-appropriation of Tommy Shondell’s psychedelic pop classic contains lines like, “I’ve been waiting to show her / Crimson and clover”, though unlike other gender-swapped covers, all pronouns remain intact. The result is a song that is gay as fuck – no complaints here!! Honestly, though, Joan Jett is great, but this is a bit too simplified to be anything particularly amazing. Still, even though it does fall into the 60s nostalgia trend, it retains the slinky, sleazy charm of the original, amplified and sexed-up for modern listeners. The results are beautiful.
77. “Yesterday’s Songs” – Neil Diamond: Okay, so… despite my past apprehension, I’ve actually warmed up a bit more to Neil Diamond in recent months. I even think “Cracklin’ Rosie” is a pretty nice song! I think I may actually get his appeal, even if it does amount to not much more than empty catchiness and knee-deep sentimentality. “Yesterday’s Songs” is certainly exemplary of this. It’s yet another song about the fleeting nature of love and the need to live in the now, but the light, whimsical nature of its tropical production and lovely backup singers elevate this one ever-so-slightly above average. This certainly makes up for the abysmal Jazz Singer cuts, though I won’t be declaring this one a classic anytime soon.
76. “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” – Elton John: The homage to John Lennon’s untimely death bleeds over into 1982 with Elton John’s tribute to his deceased friend. Although I’m generally distrustful of songs that attempt to cash in on someone’s death, as well as not being all that satisfied with John’s work as of late… there’s just something about this one. The garden metaphor is pushed a bit far, sure, but there’s no denying the raw emotion felt in John’s voice as he squeezes out every word alongside its swelling instruments. Maybe it shouldn’t have been released as a single, and maybe it’s just cloying enough to represent the most embarrassing of what audiences in the 80s were eating up. But for the moment, it’s just fine.
75. “Gloria” – Laura Branigan: Whoa, I thought disco was over! Nah, Laura Branigan’s reworking of the Italian pop show and its subsequent success show that there is always a demand for trashy, bumping, uptempo dance music. The lyrics amount to a whole lot of nothing (“Gloria, I think they got your number / I think they got the alias that you’ve been living under”) but Branigan’s vocal delivery is just so phenomenal, it really doesn’t matter. Those keyboard riffs are also so unbelievably great and make for a song that is sure to put any sad sap such as myself in a great mood. Gloria! Gloria!
74. “Comin’ In and Out of Your Life” – Barbra Streisand: Gosh. I love Barbra, as I’ve stated many times within these posts, but the work she puts out can be rather trying sometimes. Take this song, the type of which I’m positive I’ve heard dozens of iterations from other artists, accomplished or otherwise. The song was written by a duo known primarily for commercial jingles, and boy does the incompetence shine through. The lyrics are just so bland and insipid: “I never felt so good, yet felt so bad / You’re the one I love and what makes it sad / Is you don’t belong to me”. Yawn… Streisand herself is okay, but there’s very little she can work with here. I’ll mark this one as another forgivable misstep.
73. “Don’t Stop Believin'” – Journey: As a millennial, reviewing “Don’t Stop Believin'” is… complicated. You may as well ask me to review “Jingle Bells” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. I’ve been so saturated by pop culture of the past ten years – as well as having been in and out of a fair share of karaoke bars – that I honestly can’t remember a time where this song wasn’t overplayed. Nonetheless, I also can’t remember a time where I didn’t bop my head, badly sing along, and air-play the keyboard riff and guitar solos at any given opportunity. That keyboard riff is one for the ages; it only takes half a second for the brain to kick into overdrive once it starts. Steve Perry, of course, takes the song by the reins and gives his all, in very Steve Perry-like fashion. The whole this is a high-powered kick in the face, a rock anthem meant for the biggest arena possible and the loudest speaker systems. It’s a hugely joyous, optimistic type of song (perhaps naively so, but still) and I just can’t get on the bandwagon of hate for this one. I really wish that this had been a bigger part of my life pre-2007. Nonetheless, the alternative isn’t quite so bad either.
72. “Love Will Turn You Around” – Kenny Rogers: Ugh, Kenny Rogers. Well anyway, this is honestly not quite as bad as some of his other stuff. The jangly guitar riff is kind of a nice callback to Rogers’ country-rock roots, albeit a bit repetitive. The song itself is a bit corny in dealing with the “power of love” topic in a way that makes it akin to music found in Disney movies and the ilk. Also, it’s yet another love song where the man’s emotions are front-and-center – once again, ugh. Nevertheless, it’s nothing too offensive. I don’t like it, but I can’t bring myself to an impassioned enough state to hate it either. Easily forgettable on all counts.
71. “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” – Deniece Williams: So, I had already been well aware of this song, thanks to my mom. However, I always figured the recording was much older than it actually is, hence my surprise at seeing it on this list. Turns out that this actually is a cover of a song originally recorded by The Royalettes in 1965, with this cover actively working to recapture the classic, soulful stylings. On this regard, it succeeds – I sure was fooled! Still, it doesn’t have much else going for it. Williams is enjoyable enough, but the the production that backs her just chugs along with no variation beyond its midtempo bounce. Once the chorus decides to repeat itself again and again at the outro, I’ve long outgrown it. Not a favorite.
70. “Take It Away” – Paul McCartney: This is another light, bubbly solo effort from Paul McCartney (sans the rest of Wings), with inoffensive lyrics and a singable melody. Nonetheless, this is far less as impactful as “Coming Up”, which has since become probably my favorite song of McCartney’s entire singles repertoire. I just love it so much! This one, however, leaves much to be desired. I do love the horns that pop in during the outro, though.
69. “Oh No” – Commodores: Just when last year’s “Lady” got me excited for some more upbeat output from Lionel Richie and the Commodores, here comes yet another treacly ballad to lower my expectations once again. This is surely at least partially due to the massive success of “Endless Love” in the previous year, especially considering the similarities between the opening bars of the two. I’m definitely not the audience for these slow, soulful R&B ballads – they all just sort of mush together in my mind as the same generic ballad formula repeated again and again. This one doesn’t do anything particularly notable and it’s definitely not deserving of being a top 5 hit. It’s worth skipping.
68. “Somebody’s Baby” – Jackson Browne: It’s just now occurred to me that I’ve never actually listened to this song outside of the context of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Honestly, I always thought that this song was actually at least a few years older than it actually is. Having previously made waves with “Doctor My Eyes” and “Running on Empty”, Jackson Browne is an artist that holds more 70s connotations than 80s, which is why I always figured this was a late-70s output as well. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty nice, poppy bit of keyboard-driven radio rock, if a bit repetitive and certainly knee-deep. Its purpose is probably best served in the 30-second increments peppered throughout the film in question.
67. “I Ran (So Far Away)” – A Flock of Seagulls: This song is pretty much everything I love about 80s music, and then some. Those guitars are absolutely unstoppable, further uplifted by the signature drum machine and a vocal melody hook for the ages. Most people tend to remember the absolutely anthemic chorus (and for good reason), but it’s worthy to note that the rest of the lyrics are also surprisingly good, detailing what could possibly be a situation of unrequited, unreachable romance. I personally prefer the album version of the song, which begins with an extended synthesizer intro and ends with a prolonged, cascading guitar solo. In either case, it’s deservedly become an anthem of the 80s as a whole and a wonderful karaoke staple for the past three decades.
66. “Did It In a Minute” – Hall & Oates: Hall & Oates’s hits tend to be super hits (see: “You Make My Dreams”, one of the greatest pop songs of the decade); however, their misses aren’t really equally on scale of badness. For the most part, their lesser sequels are at least competently produced and performed, even if the lyrics and melody tend to leave much to be desired. Such is the case with “Did It In a Minute”, which seems to go in one ear and out the other. The melody hook, while repetitive, somehow isn’t very memorable – not even in an annoying way. The keyboards are nice, but there’s nothing else in this that screams “top ten single” at all.
65. “You Can Do Magic” – America: No clue how America are still hanging around into the 80s, but here we are. Actually, judging by the impression that the band have almost completely reinvented their style without losing their sense of musicality, it makes a bit more sense! The lyrics are a bit clumsy, especially in the chorus where phrases like “you can do magic” and “you know darn well” seem to be in fierce competition for silliness. The initial play-through is smooth and gentle, but after a couple more listens, it’s clear that this is plainly forgettable radio fodder. Methinks America should have just stayed put in the 70s.
64. “You Could Have Been With Me” – Sheena Easton: Of course, since Sheena Easton is a fairly successful pop star in the early 80s, there must been a slow, schlocky amidst her repertoire. To be fair, though, this isn’t awful. The record’s greatest strengths come from the atmospheric drone of those synthesizers, as well as a decent performance from Easton herself. As a song, though, it leaves much to be desired – although the line “Is he a man or a paper tiger?” is just plain awesome.
63. “Our Lips Are Sealed” – The Go-Go’s: And now ensues more Go-Go’s for our enjoyment. From the introductory drum beat that leads into those terrific stuttering guitars, one gets the sense that they’ll be in for a real good time the next two minutes and forty-five seconds. Thematically, this song covers the ground of rumors and the importance of being the better person by brushing this talk away, a topic that resonates particularly with teenage girls, but could also be relatable for anyone of any age or gender. I especially love the bridge before the final verse (“Hush, my darling…”), which seems to speak directly to these young people, assuring them that everything will work itself out with time. Besides this, though, its atmosphere is one of fun-loving frivolousness that never lets up. It’s a pleasantly polished piece of power pop, definitely one of the best ones of the decade.
62. “Blue Eyes”- Elton John: Although not bad, per se, this has got to be one of Elton John’s most boring efforts. I can’t tell if there is meant to be any hint of self-awareness with lines like “Baby’s got blue eyes / Like the deep blue sea / On a blue, blue day”, but it’s pretty schmaltzy and corny either way. And this lack of subtlety is no coincidence – this may very well be John’s first major single without accompaniment from longtime songwriter Bernie Taupin! It certainly shows. Piano ballads are usually emphasized by their lyrical artistry, and this quality particularly falters here. Snore.
61. “One Hundred Ways” – Quincy Jones & James Ingram: Well… James Ingram certainly sounds nice here. And those keyboards and bass backing are pleasantly seductive. Other than this, though, this doesn’t really kick as much as it thinks it does. It’s not awful, just rather faceless.
60. “Personally” – Karla Bonhoff: This isn’t a bad choice for a debut single. The smooth bass and playful keyboards really set forth a slinky mood that is too delectable to ignore. Bonoff herself is pretty great as well – I love how the lyrics talk of how she has a special gift for a significant other “that the mailman can’t deliver”. It’s a sex song, of course, but this is never really spoken outright, only hinted at and danced around. It’s such a great attention-grabber, even if the melody itself isn’t the strongest. This feels like one of those forgotten yacht rock gems that has nonetheless ripened with age. I’m so glad I found it.
59. “Love is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)” – Donna Summer: Donna Summer may be the only major disco artist outside of Giorgio Morodor to end up on the right side of continued success well into the 80s. This song was even nominated for a Grammy! This may sound like a fluke, but one listen to this song reveals that Summer has yet to lose her sizzle. The song benefits from strong production credits by Quincy Jones, who gives Summer’s sound a sharp electro-funk revival. This song is so fun! It is way different from her sprawling dance floor epics of the disco days, yet is still bound to be a guaranteed success at any nocturnal gathering. This may not be the greatest showcase of Summer’s vocal talents, but it’s hard to deny how hard this kicks.
58. “Think I’m in Love” – Eddie Money: Welcome back to the party, Mr. Money. Just like I mentioned the last time Eddie Money came onto these charts, I don’t think he’s a very good singer at all and seems to be the makings of a musician formulated entirely by the label. This is yet another example of such – it may even be a worse effort than “Baby Hold On”, actually. Still, the melody is engaging and the power chords, while stupid, still do their job competently. You just have to get past that voice…
57. “Wasted on the Way” – Crosby, Stills, & Nash: Before I talk about this song, take a look at the single cover. Now you’ll be disappointed to learn that this song sounds nothing like the sound that this cover suggests. Nevertheless, it is a nice song, led by pleasant melodies and introspective lyrics. Even though it quite match up to earlier work from the band, there’s still no denying that the folkiness is rather comforting, and the recording as a whole never overstays its welcome. “Let the water come and carry us away…”
56. “Hooked on Classics (Parts 1 & 2)” – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Oh god… make it stop. So, the previous year gave us the bizarre success of not one, but two medley compilations – “The Beach Boys Medley” and “Stars on 45 Medley”. Both are pretty bad (in retrospect, I was a little too forgiving on the “Stars on 45 Medley”), but this one may just take the cake. This time the gimmick is stretched on to include pieces of classical music. But it’s not like “A Fifth of Beethoven” where just one familiar piece of music is given a modern spin through the length of the average song. No, this one takes seventeen pieces of popular music and plays them in fifteen second snippets, with an obnoxious “boom tiss, boom tiss” beat in the background. It’s as obnoxious as its sounds, and even more pointless. This may have been cutting-edge stuff at the time, but it really feels more like a “classical music 101” record than something one can actually enjoy. And it’s not even a good educational piece at that, since you don’t even get the complete pieces! This is just dreadful – and also a top ten hit. God help us.
55. “Love in the First Degree” – Alabama: This is just a bunch of corny, country-rock schmaltz. The lyrics sound like something that Barry Manilow would’ve hit the top ten with, but even Manilow wouldn’t have rode an entire song on a flimsy “love as a prison” premise. Seriously, the whole song sounds like a huge inside joke, and not a good one at that. The instrumentation is also boring as hell – nothing interesting going on with this one at all.
54. “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” – Diana Ross: It’s probably an unpopular opinion to think that this cover version isn’t that bad… but it really isn’t! Sure, if you’re expecting a Frankie Lymon soundalike, you’re gonna be disappointed. But this is Diana Ross, and her sweet, bubbly vocals are complimented rather well by the upbeat brass backing. It’s nothing unique and the recording as a whole is relatively forgettable – but it could have been much worse, I think.
53. “Caught Up in You” – 38 Special: The chorus pretty much makes the song, even though I’m extremely iffy about “little girl” being used in most contexts. It’s a pretty delightful bit of pop-rock, even if it is relatively faceless. Those guitars are pretty wonderful and a joy to listen and dance along to, even if they lack the bit of power needed to take this just over the edge, like a Journey or Foreigner single. Basically, it’s good enough for what it is, but at least a tad underwhelming for those looking for something particularly life-changing. If not, though, it’s fine enough.
52. “Cool Night” – Paul Davis: Judging by this song and his other top ten hit “I Go Crazy”, it seems that Paul Davis accomplishes the impressive feat of finding inexplicable success in the late 70s and early 80s without being particularly noteworthy otherwise. It seems that he is pretty good at mimicking popular sounds of the day (in this case, yacht rock), while also adding absolutely nothing new to it at all. This one is actually much more boring than “I Go Crazy”, which actually had some nice keys accompanying it. This is just another in a long line of formulaic AOR tunes of this era.
51. “Do You Believe in Love” – Huey Lewis and the News: Ahh, now here’s a good one. Heralded by a supreme guitar-keyboard combo and further supported by strong vocal melodies and harmonies from Lewis and his News, this is a true radio gem from the very first listen. Comparisons have been drawn between this and Electric Light Orchestra’s “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, and while the similarities and definitely present, I would go out on a limb to say that this may be the better pop song, if only for just how much the cheese factor is amped up to wonderful degrees. That chorus alone is just so ridiculously infectious – “Do you believe in love!!!”. This just feels like the 80s in all the best ways, and those are the best kinds of 80s songs, I think.
50. “Keep the Fire Burnin'” – REO Speedwagon: Hmm… maybe REO Speedwagon are better suited for slower power ballads. Not that those were that much better anyway. But this just has Kevin Cronin’s weird vocals and the band’s signature bad lyrics alongside a faster, clumsier rhythm. The rhythm does chug along kind of nicely, however, and I guess this would be a fun song to sing along to if I were to ever give a damn about the lyrics. As it stands, though, this is just mindless radio fodder to the snooziest degree, and the constant repetition of “keep the fire burnin'” doesn’t help matters.
49. “Freeze-Frame” – The J. Geils Band: Oh hey, this one is pretty cool. If nothing else, it’s fun as hell to dance to, especially during the main choral hook when one can practically envision a sea of drunken young people yelling out “freeze-frame!” in blissful call-and-response. In it’s essence, it’s a love song set to the beat of a ton of totally unsubtle photography references and jargon illuminated to the nth degree. But none of that really matters much when that nifty keyboard hook exists, both the main one that highlights the verses and the slinkier one that anticipates the chorus. Both are some of the finest moments of the entire 80s, and this is one hell of an earworm.
48. “Young Turks” – Rod Stewart: Yeah, I guess I must now begrudgingly admit that I actually enjoy a non-“Maggie May” Rod Stewart song. I mean, it’s far from great. The backing drum machine feels a bit hokey and Stewart’s singing voice still isn’t my favorite thing ever. Nonetheless, the imagery of a couple of young lovers fleeing their oppressive abode in order to make a better life for themselves is… pretty admirable. The first couple verses are particularly poignant (“life is so brief and time is a thief when you’re undecided”) and lead into the chorus rather powerfully. After this point, it sort of plateaus into less interesting territory, but it’s still a good tune through and through. If “Maggie May” weren’t so close to my heart, this one would probably be Stewart’s most shining moment.
47. “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me” – Juice Newton: 1981 was a pretty big year for Juice Newton, with two pretty decent hits that ended up being among the top hundred songs of the whole year. And looks like third time’s a charm as well! She keeps up her playful pop-country vibe with some impressive vocals highlighted by a rather fun guitar line that reminds me of some introductory theme song to an 80s sitcom that never existed. Sure it doesn’t have that instant replayability that “Queen of Hearts” effortlessly pulled off, but it’s still a wonderfully polished little pop ditty that shouldn’t be underestimated.
46. “Making Love” – Roberta Flack: Recorded as the theme to the film of the same name, “Making Love” is, to date, Roberta Flack’s final top 40 hit in the US. To be honest, knowing what Flack had been capable of in the past, this is a tad disappointing. It’s a slow-as-molasses love ballad set to the tune of one those treacly keyboards that seems to accompany nearly every bland R&B ballad of the decade. Flack sounds wonderful as always, but the lyrics are just so faceless (“There’s more to love… than making love”) and the production as a whole comes off as nothing more than end credit music. If it were 1982, this would surely be one that I’d skip on the radio every time.
45. “Trouble” – Lindsey Buckingham: Since his fellow bandmate Stevie Nicks had found some pretty pronounced success in her solo career, it makes sense that Lindsey Buckingham would want to try this out as well. His songwriting for Fleetwood Mac resulted in some of the best, earthiest pop melodies of the 70s, so it should come as no shock that his first solo effort “Trouble” is rather good as well! Aided by some truly fantastic backing vocals and effervescent guitars and percussion, Buckingham takes a pretty standard love-themed pop song and transforms it into a feast for the ears. I’m not so much a fan of the rather silly intro – “One, ah-two, ah-three” – but it helps that this passes very quickly and the remainder of Buckingham’s vocal performance is just heavenly. A shimmering pop melody for the ages.
44. “Private Eyes” – Hall & Oates: And now here’s our first encounter with a number-one single from 1982! It’s hard not to see how this reached the top spot. Much like the duo’s previous number-one single, “Kiss on My List”, this one is helped by a bouncy piano line, cool keyboard washes, and an instantly catchy, memorable melody. The two even sound kind of similar! However, where “Private Eyes” falters is in a too-common trap in a lot of pop music: creepy voyeurism/stalking that tries to pass off as romantic. News flash – it isn’t! The chorus for this song is literally, “Private eyes, they’re watching… your every move”, and I know that the “you” in this song is a cheating lover, but invading their privacy… just seems a bit much. This was the case for Raydio’s “You Can’t Change That” and will definitely be the case for The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” (which I will eventually have to write about here, and I’ll regret every minute of it). Anyway, the sentiment here is tamer than most of these other examples, but it still unnecessarily darkens what could otherwise be a fun, harmless pop song. Not my favorite from the duo.
43. “That Girl” – Stevie Wonder: This might be where 80s Stevie Wonder begins to look kind of dubious. The lyrics are rather shaky (“She doesn’t use her love to make him weak / She uses love to keep him strong”) and the production sounds pretty dated and… well, lame. Wonder pulls off the vocal weight pretty well, but there isn’t much here to really exercise his signature vocal acrobatics. Even his harmonica solo feels limp and useless. It’s harmless and not annoying in the least, but it’s facelessness is also sadly undeniable.
42. “Pac-Man Fever” – Buckner & Garcia: This song has become a bit of a legend in circles of one-hit wonder devotees, although I’ve never actually listened to it all the way through until now. Terrible one-hit wonders tend to come in droves and the 80s are especially ripe for this; frankly, though, this isn’t one of them. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was actually surprised with how polished this sounds. Other novelty tracks like “The Chipmunk Song” and “The Streak” have a certain level of shoddiness and even camp to their production, but this one just sounds like any other run-of-the-mill radio pop song, save for the lyrics. It’s definitely a song that could only really exist in this exact time frame and is completely skippable otherwise – but it could have been so much worse! Even the lead vocalist’s performance isn’t all that bad, with lyrics that with a few changes could just as easily be about a night in the club as much as it is about a video game. I don’t know, I just don’t see anything particularly awful about this one. Although maybe being a top 10 hit is a bit much.
41. “Take It Easy On Me” – Little River Band: And time for more from Little River Band! This is some pretty pleasant, perfectly listenable AOR. I’m not sure if the “take it easy” part of the title/chorus is meddling with my opinions, but the first impression I get from this is that it sounds like an Eagles track. The vocal harmonies must also be making an influence as well. In any case, this is one of the most basic, forgettable songs I’ve heard from the band thus far. It’s nice, but doesn’t do much besides offer about three-and-a-half minutes of generic radio fodder. It went to #10, which is shocking at first – until I realize that this is exactly the kind of lowest common denominator music that radio stations eat up. Bleh.
40. “Heat of the Moment” – Asia: I usually consider the top 40 of the Hot 100 as that which are truly the most popular songs in the country in any given time, be it for the week or for the year. While many of such songs on the year-end lists tend to not stand the test of time, “Heat of the Moment” is definitely one that does. That guitar-and-drums combo alone is truly transcendent of any particular time and place, and the vocal harmonies in the chorus drive it up to an entirely different dimension. “Heat of the moment” surely is a catchy line to sing along to, but what is the song even about? Well, the third verse pretty much says it all – although so does the line “you catch a pearl and ride the dragon’s wings”… which I love. This is essentially Pink Floyd’s “Time” for an 80s arena rock crowd. And boy, is it awesome. Not bad for a debut single.
39. “’65 Love Affair” – Paul Davis: Oh… another Paul Davis song. Alright then. Actually, this one drew me in initially with its bouncy keyboards, certainly like nothing I’ve heard in any other Paul Davis song. But everything else about it is just so… bad! The lyrics are hokey as hell, not to mention the awful “yeahhh” after the first verse and the cheerleader chants near the end. The song is called “’65 Love Affair”, but the format of its production is more reminiscent of the doo-wop scene of the late 50s and early 60s. Maybe that’s nitpicking, but how about the third verse which basically posits date rape as an unfortunate obstacle to this otherwise absolutely perfect love affair. Yeah, fuck this song forever. Paul Davis is a scourge on this list.
38. “I’ve Never Been To Me” – Charlene: Haha, what the hell is this? This is exactly the type of terrible one-hit wonder I was talking about. It’s message is so painstakingly obvious and the music itself is cloying as hell. It only took one listen to this song to immediately tire of Charlene’s wispy vocals, but once I further investigated the lyrics with a few more (painful) listens, I just hated it even more. It’s basically a flimsy humble-brag that very vaguely slut-shames its speaker in favor of the docile, domestic woman who remains saddled with husband and child. And that spoken interlude after the second chorus is just unbearable. Really, there’s absolutely nothing about this song I like, and so much about it I absolutely despise. This is one of the worst songs I’ve ever come across on any of these Billboard lists. Maybe I’ll think differently about it with some time away from it… but it’s not looking very promising.
37. “Even the Nights Are Better” – Air Supply: I’ve still basically given up on Air Supply… but this track is a little better. The piano line and melody even sort of remind me of Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic”, which is one of his more tolerable tunes. The verses to this one actually aren’t too bad, but once it gets to the chorus, the cheesiness factor is amped up a considerable amount and to the track’s disadvantage. This doesn’t really renew my faith in Air Supply at all, but at least I can say that this one is fairly listenable in its essence.
36. “Leather and Lace” – Stevie Nicks and Don Henley: With the assistance of Eagles singer Don Henley, Stevie Nicks opts for a more countrified solo effort this time around. Unlike “Edge of Seventeen”, this one actually made the top ten! It’s a pleasant listen for sure, with Nicks herself doing her best to practically hold up the emotional weight and essence of the track. The lyrics are achingly poetic (“Is love so fragile, and the heart so hollow / Shatter with words, impossible to follow”), a quality that’s very warmly welcomed in these charts. I know that this song was meant to be a duet from the start and Henley isn’t even particularly bad at all, but I wish I could just bask in the warmth of Stevie’s voice through the entirety of this track. I could see how this would get annoyingly trite after numerous listens, but I’m enjoying it for now.
35. “Leader of the Band” – Dan Fogelberg: And speaking of trite sentimentality. Okay, I know that this song was written as a tribute to Fogelberg’s father, who died soon after this song peaked on the Hot 100. As an homage to a person whom he admires deeply and truly, it’s pretty nice and I’m sure any parent would be honored to receive this kind of thanks. But perhaps it should have stayed away from such immense radio play? I know nothing about the elder Fogelberg, so as a casual listener I must be swayed and sold by the words in the song itself to convince me of this man’s greatness. And I don’t think these lyrics are really selling me, especially when Fogelberg goes on some odd segue about himself and his brothers – kind of irrelevant, if you ask me. Maybe I’m being too harsh on this, but when the only instruments guiding this song along are a lone guitar and some occasional horns, the lyrics become pretty damn important. I’ll just assume that this is just not for me.
34. “Open Arms” – Journey: And here is the other Journey hit of the year, this one reaching all the way up to #2 making it actually the biggest Hot 100 single for the band. Maybe I’m contradicting myself with the past condemnation of corny love songs… but I kind of love this. I’m tempted to chalk it all up to Steve Perry’s titanic vocal delivery, which just works perfectly with the oversaturated swell of this power ballad. But the main piano riff is nice too, especially with how smoothly it transitions to both the general vocal melody and the guitar flourishes. And that is just a monster of a chorus; much like most of Journey’s other songs, this one was totally made for arena play. It’s even nice enough to wrap itself up immediately after the second chorus, lest it overstay its welcome. It’s true that this is full of cheese – but that’s what Journey is good at!
33. “Let’s Groove” – Earth, Wind , & Fire: Disco’s not dead! Okay, maybe it is. But Earth, Wind, & Fire prove with this song that people will always be in the mood for dancing. EWF have always been good at transposing multiple hooks into their singles, and “Let’s Groove” proves that they still possess this knack after all these years. Maurice White still sounds fantastic, as do those horns and that funky percussion. I especially love the juxtaposition of the delicious tenor vocals in the verses with the fun-loving falsetto in that unstoppable chorus. I’m not sure who decided upon those robotic vocals at the start of the song, but I’m forever thankful for them because they trigger a dance reaction in my brain every single time it kicks in. It seems bizarre to think a post-disco era song with the lyrics “boogie on down” would become one of the freshest, hippest dance tracks of the decade, but it’s entirely true here. It’s hard not to feel good during this one.
32. “Eye in the Sky” – The Alan Parsons Project: Yeah, this one is really nice. I’m really digging the smooth, AOR-esque production set alongside the pleasant vocals and refreshingly introspective lyrics. I think the most interesting aspect of this song is that I’m not really too sure what it’s about or at whom it’s directed. Is he talking to a current lover? A former lover? An enemy? An estranged friend or family member? In any case, there’s something about the reiterations of “I can read your mind” that just sends a wonderful chill up my spine. Additionally, the album version of this track is introduced by the instrumental “Sirius”, which elevates the experience a good amount higher than it was by itself. I’ll gladly give this one repeated listens.
31. “Hold Me” – Fleetwood Mac: The holy trinity of Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, and Tusk are well behind the band, but “Hold Me” proves that the tried-and-true pop formulas frequently employed by the group can still turn a few heads. This is essentially a McVie-Buckingham number, with a bright, summery atmosphere that runs throughout its entirety. It’s a nice song to listen to and it contains everything one would expect from a Fleetwood Mac sound. However, I also think that it’s a bit too restrained by its pop sensibilities to take any real risks that would upgrade it to anything of true greatness. While the band is usually so good at crafting catchy, thoughtful choruses, this is replaced here with a repetition of the song’s chorus – not exactly a bad thing, but a tad underwhelming. This isn’t a dud by any means, but with a catalog as extensive as Fleetwood Mac’s, it’s best to just leave this one in the shadows.
30. “Who Can It Be Now?” – Men At Work: This song is so 80s it hurts. The best thing it’s got going for it is, of course, that blaring saxophone that punctuates the jumpy, new wave aesthetics of this song. Combined with the chiming guitars and lyrics of indistinct paranoia, it almost sounds like the soundtrack to some intense horror film – especially after the third chorus, when the backing vocals jump in with some truly spooky “ahhhh”s. If you don’t pay much attention to the lyrics, though, this is a surprisingly mellow, understated pop song. It’s easy to write this off as a poor man’s The Police knockoff, but there’s nothing particularly offensive about it in its essence. I actually kind of like it – although it being a #1 hit may be a little much.
29. “Only the Lonely” – The Motels: Now here’s a truly under-appreciated band and song. This is probably The Motels’ best known hit, but even then it’s one that seems to have been lost in time. Introduced by some melancholy synths, vocalist Martha Davis softly sings, “We walked the loneliest mile / We smile without any style / We kiss all together wrong / No intention”. This song is practically dripping with heartbreak, and all elements of its production and instrumentation meld together beautifully to create this irresistible atmosphere of aching and loneliness. I especially love with the saxophone steps in during the instrumental bridge, insinuating emotions that are too shameful to be spoken. It’s not an incredibly complex song, but somehow through its simplicity all of its best qualities are magnified into something truly special. I love this song.
28. “Sweet Dreams” – Air Supply: Groan. More Air Supply. But why does the intro to this one sound like a horror film? Like, far more so than “Who Can It Be Now?”. But after this is over, it immediately switches over to a standard piano-driven love ballad. It’s supposed to be romantic, but after that introduction I can’t help but feel utterly creeped out when listening to lines like “Close your eyes, I wanna see you tonight in my sweet dreams”. Despite the inclusion of some symphonic strings and a swelling guitar solo (both odd choices, by the way), this song never quite gets past its boring phase. It’s devoid of anything particularly original or unique and comes off as just plain cold. Not feeling it.
27. “Turn Your Love Around” – George Benson: I’m a huge sucker for danceable funk tracks with tasty bass licks, and this record has got exactly that. I’m not sure I like this as much as “Give Me the Night”, but it sure puts me in a good mood. I think its biggest weakness is a lack of a distinct personality. This doesn’t sound much like a George Benson track as it does a standard pop-disco offering that could have come from anyone under the sun. This might be the sole explanation for it reaching all the way to #5. Still, it is a good one. Those horns are pleasantly punchy and Benson does sound pretty wonderful. I’ve probably just gotta sit tight and enjoy this for what it’s worth.
26. “The Other Woman” – Ray Parker, Jr.: Super groan! More Ray Parker, Jr. In case you haven’t been following, I haven’t had the best track record with Parker’s band Raydio – in fact, I absolutely hate them. Turns out that his solo efforts aren’t much better at all. Of course this song is about infidelity – or is it? “The other woman” usually implies an extramarital affair, but there’s no mention of his actual wife or girlfriend anywhere else in the song. In any case, it’s clear that his own personal gratification (sexual or otherwise) is all that matters here, especially in lines like, “I know the rules of the game / You hit once, then break away clean / I should have never gone back, I know / But I had to have just a little bit more“. Snore. But even if these lyrics weren’t all that morally questionable, it’s pretty obvious that this song just doesn’t sounds good. The saxophones are obnoxious, the guitars are practically on autopilot, and Parker can’t hold a pitch to save his life. It doesn’t help that the backing vocals even sounds pretty unenthused. Sure I have biases, but I don’t see any reason to let go of these biases if Parker refuses to put forth any actual good material.
25. “We Got the Beat” – The Go-Go’s: And now some more Go-Go’s to brighten up all our days. Maybe this song isn’t as well-crafted lyrically as “Our Lips Are Sealed” or even “Vacation”, but the simplicity in its formula harks back to days of the early 60s girl groups, which relied on just the bare minimum for fun pleasantries. Clocking in at just two-and-a-half minutes, “We Got the Beat” follows this exact path. Those pounding drums, that repetitive guitar riff, and the infectious verse-chorus-verse structure makes for some instantly awesome pop-rock magic. Not bad for a song that’s about nothing more than hanging out, dancing, and looking cool. This is just plain neat.
24. “Let It Whip” – Dazz Band: Here’s some more pretty standard, basic dance-funk that is still pretty enjoyable and real damn hard to make any complaints about. The lyrics are a whole bunch of nonsense that serve little more purpose than to sound cool (“Let me be your paper man, I’d love to be your joker man”), but it doesn’t really matter when most of them are sung in an incomprehensible falsetto anyway. Instead, the real star of the show is that guitar-bass-synth combination, not at all a bad example of the state of R&B in the early 80s. I’ll gladly dance along to this one if it were to come on at any party, flaws and all.
23. “Shake It Up” – The Cars: Wherein The Cars try their hand at standard radio dance-pop – and it much success, I think! Sure it’s silly, but I think that those that take The Cars’ music too seriously have far too much to lose anyway. I love those buzzing synths at the intro, combined with the more piercing synth riffs later in the choruses. There’s honestly not much else to say about this one, but it is disappointing that so many would willingly dismiss this simply because it’s a more straightforward take on frenetic, radio-friendly pop. It’s a perfectly innocuous slice of frenetic, totally 80s dance music. Shake it up!
22. “Always on My Mind” – Willie Nelson: I’ve listened to quite a few covers of this song through the years, but in my opinion, none of them really come close to touching the quiet tenderness of Willie Nelson’s version, arguably the most famous. As much of a fan I am of the Pet Shop Boys’ synthpop reworking of the song, the lyrics of humanistic heartache really call for something a bit more stripped-down in order to emphasis its biggest strengths. Nelson has got one of the greatest voices of country music and it works wonderfully here as he emits lines like, “Maybe I didn’t hold you / All those lonely, lonely times / I guess I never told you / I’m so happy that you’re mine” with such believable anguish. Further elevated by some truly lovely backing vocals and instrumentals, this is just some remarkably good music. Not much else to say about this simple work of art. Its Grammy wins were definitely well-deserved.
21. “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)” – Juice Newton: And now for another country ballad. Although for this one, the country elements are relatively toned down in typical Juice Newton fashion. The twinkling pianos and weeping violins certainly aim for that vibe, but this could also easily pass as an R&B ballad with different recording techniques, especially as it swells to a poppier climax. This is actually relatively sleepy for a Newton song, though she does sing it rather well. It comes off as a love song, but lyrics like, “We have given and we have taken many rides on troubled shores” anticipate a more unsettling underbelly to the relationship. This isn’t a bad ballad by any means, but it is still a pop-country ballad and a relatively uninteresting one at that. Still worth a listen or two.
20. “Don’t Talk to Strangers” – Rick Springfield: Top 20, here we go! Apparently Rick Springfield was a bit of a big deal in the early 80s, as shown by the success of this song and its predecessor “Jessie’s Girl”. I mentioned in my ’81 post that Springfield is a bad singer, and it’s certainly all the more convincing in this track. It follows the same formula as “Jessie’s Girl” with its repetition of the song’s title as a needling drill to the hippocampus as a way to feign catchiness. The music is alright, if pretty standard for a mindless pop-rock radio song. But oh my goodness, these lyrics. The opening lines are enough to send me turning away (“When you were just a young girl and still in school / How come you never learned the golden rule?”), but it only gets worse from there. It basically follows a similar premise as Drake’s “Hotline Bling”, wherein the protagonist is overtly concerned with an ex-lover’s promiscuity now that she’s moved on. You shouldn’t care, dude! It seems that Rick Springfield really has a problem with allowing women to possess any sexual agency that isn’t directly related to him. Not even the French-sung bridge can save this one.
19. “Waiting For a Girl Like You” – Foreigner: The popularity of this song upon release was pretty titanic – so much so that it spent a then record-setting ten weeks at the #2 position without ever achieving the top spot. Poor Foreigner. Actually, this song ain’t too bad for a slinky love ballad, something that comes relatively out of left field for the band. Its finest quality is probably its backing synthesizer, which somehow accomplishes smoothness, spaceyness, and sexiness all in equal measure. It also helps that Lou Gramm is a pretty great vocalist. Who would have thought that the same guy who’d belt out songs as burly as “Hot Blooded” or “Urgent” could soften up his style and still come off entirely convincing? I know I said that Foreigner are best when they’re operating under the high-octane arena rock umbrella – but this could have been so much worse than it is.
18. “You Should Hear How She Talks About You” – Melissa Manchester: Regrettably, I haven’t formed much of an opinion on Melissa Manchester as of this moment. I’ve only ever listened to two of her singles, one of which I thought was just okay (“Midnight Blue”) and another that I just hated (“Don’t Cry Out Loud”). Is this song that will solidify my true feelings about this singer? Well… no. I simply don’t think very much about this one. For one thing, it’s completely different from the other two light adult contemporary singles, this one opting for a punchier, more upbeat new wave agenda. Thus, I’m not fully convinced that this is the best example of Manchester’s repertoire. She sings the song just fine, although there’s nothing about her performance that wows in any way. I enjoy quite a few aspects of the music, such as the vibrant drum machine, backing guitar, and ending saxophone. However, the “talk, talk, talk” part is pretty jarring, and the song in general goes on for way longer than its worth. I dunno. Guess it’s better luck next time for Manchester.
17. “Key Largo” – Bertie Higgins: Uh… I think someone needs to tell Bertie Higgins that the year is 1982, not 1972. In all seriousness, though, this is as schmaltzy as schmaltzy can get. Although I can buy the guitars and piano being pretty pleasant qualities to the track, I can’t imagine this being at all enjoyable to listen to in any context. I dig the Bogart and Bacall references, but musically this is just an absolute slog. One of the more unexciting one-hit wonders.
16. “867-5309 / Jenny” – Tommy Tutone: But this one-hit wonder… man, did it cause quite a controversy. I’d suggest going over at the song’s Wiki page and taking a peep at the nationwide mess caused by this song’s entire hook revolving around a telephone number. What can I say – it is a catchy hook. As a pop song, it’s tightly crafted with a nice jangle guitar and is also immediately catchy. Tutone himself even has a creative new wave appeal to his vocal inflections throughout the track. The lyrics, though, are mildly unsettling, entirely committed to this scenario where the protagonist believes the love of his life is written up on some public bathroom’s walls. Still, it’s hard to deny the simple charms of a song that can depend on a simple phone number for an infectious pop hook – and totally get away with it! I’m impressed, for sure.
15. “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” – Hall & Oates: If this isn’t the single best use of a drum machine in pop music, it would definitely make a convincing argument of such anyway. The production of this one is so dark and seedy, certainly little like anything else Hall & Oates had charted at this point. The combination of that drum machine, the bumping bass riff, and the signature twinkling key riff is absolutely one for the ages. And we haven’t even gotten to the duet themselves; even though Daryl Hall’s vocals are front-and-center here, the backup from John Oates during the pre-chorus and chorus lifts this up to even greater heights. I also love how the lyrics are intentionally ambiguous. Apparently they were written as a spiteful punch toward the record industry, but it can be applied to pretty much any sort of relationship with a strict imbalance of power. This is just so damn cool and soulful, certainly among the best ever released from the group and one of their most-deserved number-ones.
14. “Rosanna” – Toto: I have Toto IV on vinyl, and while I have yet to give it a full listen I do give its opening track “Rosanna” a spin every now and again, just to feed the Toto-sized arena ballad hole in my heart. Its best qualities come with its instrumentation, which is just wild. Those horns! Those keys! Goddamn, those keys – they are way too fun and unpredictable to occupy the confines of a song as lovey-dovey as this. I would hesitate to place this as one of my favorite Toto songs, but it’s certainly worth numerous listens if only for that absolutely tight arrangement. Of course, the song itself is a good one – the backup harmonies are terrific, the breakdown in the chorus is damn good, and it’s just so enjoyable to belt “Rosanna!” at the top of your lungs. But if there’s nothing else one can agreed upon concerning the band, at least it’s true that they are great musicians.
13. “Harden My Heart” – Quarterflash: Oooh, now these are the types of unsung, forgotten gems that I seek to discover when going through this Billboard challenge. It sounds a bit like if Pat Benetar made an attempt at yacht rock, without the spunkiness of the former nor the crafty musicianship of the latter. Although it’s unimpressive on multiple fronts, I wouldn’t be caught dead declaring this a bad song. It’s a smooth bit of perfectly pleasant AOR with which I wouldn’t argue against spending four minutes of my time. Also, the lead singer is also the sax player for the band – and I certainly won’t object against women rocking instruments thought uncommon for women to play. Rock on!
12. “Chariots of Fire” – Vangelis: Before Vangelis made waves with his atmospheric Blade Runner score, he broke onto the scene composing the opening title music for a considerably less good film. Seriously, Chariots of Fire really blows. As for this composition… well, it is well-done. It’s really tough listening to this with fresh ears after the countless parodies of it throughout my twenty-six years of pop culture influence has dulled its edge. Nonetheless, that piano riff is genuinely lovely, seeming even more delicate alongside the sweeping synth and strings in the backdrop. Maybe it’s a bit weird that it went all the way to #1, but I’ll digress on my opinion of that matter. New age instrumentals aren’t really my thing (I’ll stick with pop radio for now), but it’s easy to see how this has become one of the best known pieces of the genre.
11. “Tainted Love” – Soft Cell: This song fascinates me. For one thing, it was one of the first songs I ever remember truly loving when I was eleven and getting introduced to 80s music by my mom. Secondly, it’s remarkable the amount of reworking that went into making this song as distinct from Gloria Jones’s original as possible. The bouncy tempo is turned down a notch or two, the horns are replaced with buzzing synths, and the vocals go from “belting diva” to “brooding loner”. I’ve associated this song with dark, seedy fucking and drugs for as long as I can remember, even before I completely understood the contextualizations with the two. Marc Almond somehow sounds completely apathetic toward his lover and absolutely anguished both at once – an undoubtable side effect of a truly tainted love. The 12″ single transitions from this song into the band’s cover of The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go”, so this may have been my introduction to that song as well. I always liked that version much better and was always bummed when it didn’t automatically transition on radio stations, but the standalone track is infectious as well. I know this song is one of the most overplayed new wave cuts of the 80s, and it probably isn’t really all the great in hindsight. But my god, is it sexy.
10. “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” – Chicago: Woohoo, top ten. And it all kicks off with… Chicago. Of course. I have a lot of complicated feelings about Chicago and you can find them all strewn throughout my blog, if you are that patient. I haven’t heard much of Chicago’s 80s output – and for reasons that are probably perfectly exemplified through this very track. Gone is the horns- and guitar-driven soft rock, and in come the pianos and endlessly wistful ballads chocked with all the schmaltz. To be fair, though, there are some interesting things going on with the guitars and the synth backing of this particular track, particularly in that instrumental bridge after the second chorus. Unfortunately, you have to squeeze through Peter Cetera’s incessant whine to hear it all. Is that really worth it? Up to you. The fact that this was #1 for two weeks should indicate the sad state of affairs found in popular music of the early 80s.
9. “Abracadabra” – Steve Miller Band: GROAN. And here comes my absolute least favorite Steve Miller Band song. Much like Chicago, the band opted to jazz up their song in order to appeal to audiences that had evidently grown out of the sound of their mid-70s peak. For the most part, I don’t mind a lot of this update – the drums are pretty kickin’ and the bass and synth riffs are ripe for building a sharp song around. Unfortunately, this is not the song. Steve Miller has never sounded worse and I’m not even sure if I could really call this flat delivery “singing”, so to speak. And… oh, god, those lyrics. “Abra-abracadabra / I wanna reach out and grab ya”? Seriously?? This is barely a hook, and it’s also incredibly stupid. You are a grown-ass man, Steve. The rest of the song is chock-full of such compelling lines as, “‘Round and ’round and ’round it goes / Where it stops nobody knows” and “I feel the magic in your caress / I feel magic when I touch your dress”. There are barely any rhymes in this one that aren’t completely embarrassing. Maybe my hatred for this song is ill-fated, but I really, really can’t stand it. And of course this song went to #1 for two weeks, because we can’t have good things.
8. “Hurts So Good” – John Cougar: Unlike “Ain’t Even Done With the Night”, this is pretty well-crafted and certainly a catchy bit of guitar-driven heartland fare. Mellencamp’s ragged vocals must have sound pretty refreshing in an era of radio hits wherein such vocal delivery was few and far between. This song is sung well and played well, and fulfills its promise at being a light-hearted bit of commercial rock radio. Not much else to say about this one – but it’s well worth anyone’s time, I think.
7. “Jack & Diane” – John Cougar: The most important quality this song has going for it: the line “life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone”. One would expect the surrounding narrative to be something of at least some major substance. Nope – it’s basically just a vague, formless narrative of two kids growing up in a small town, yearning for something a little more. Think “Young Turks”, but without any of the emotional pull that made “Turks” at least a little bit interesting. All we really know of the two is that Jack is a football star and Diane… well, she’s a girl, so we apparently don’t need to know anything about her. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for that beginning guitar riff and a few other instrumental bits alongside the plainly inane lyrics. Other than that, though, I’ll pass on this one.
6. “Don’t You Want Me” – The Human League: And yet another one of the major synthpop songs that got me into 80s music at a young age. I have a feeling I’m gonna stumble upon a bunch of these in ensuing posts. I’ve actually heard quite a few songs from Human League, but none of them have been quite as clever, tight, and enjoyable as this one is and continues to be after countless listens. Of course, its standout quality is its interpolation of both male and female perspectives on the same breakup narrative. In this case, the woman gets the last word (“I knew I’d find a much better place / Either with or without you”), but the chorus certainly emphasizes the immediate conflict of feelings that can certainly accompany the situation. For the record, the guy just sounds like a total ass, and I’m more than convinced that she is much better without him. But I think most people remember this for its more superficial elements – namely its pounding synth riff and that truly anthemic chorus. It’s hard to deny the merits of those, and those alone would work perfectly well to earn this its reputation as one of the best remembered songs of the year.
5. “Centerfold” – The J. Geils Band: Yeah… I think I prefer “Freeze-Frame” over this one. Okay, so the pros of this one are many. Namely, I really enjoy those bagpipes (something not often heard in pop music) and the handclaps and “nah-nah-nah”s in the chorus are also pretty catchy. However… amy god, this guy really has some real serious virgin-whore complexes to work through. In case you’re unaware, the song is about a man whose world is shook upon discovering that his high school crush is now the titular centerfold of a “girly magazine”. Number one: why are you still concerned about this girl (now woman) years and years after high school? Number two: it’s fucked up that you believe that she was “pure like snowflakes”, yet now “to see her in that negligee is really just too much”. Try not to slut-shame women for once, bud. Number three: why does this disturb you enough to write an entire song about this?? Women have the capacity to be sexual – period. End of story. You never had the guts to ask her out when you had the chance, so she doesn’t owe you anything – least of all her virginal purity, whatever the fuck that means. Ugh. Also, the song just kind of goes off the rails once the the lyrics end and the final minute just winds up in this mindless montage of vocalization and whistling. This song isn’t nearly as fun as it thinks it is. I would have hated being around during the six weeks this song spent at number-one.
4. “Ebony and Ivory” – Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder: You know how I mentioned that this early part of the 80s was in a sad, sad state? Well… here we are. The “ebony and ivory” of the lyrics are literally referring to keys on a piano, but I don’t think it takes much stretching of brain power to figure out the metaphor here. A lot of people like to harp on the “ebony and ivory living in perfect harmony” hook, but I think the lines, “We all know that people are the same where ever you go / There is good and bad in everyone” are far more humiliating. This is just an embarrassing song in general, and it would have for sure not made a dent in the charts had there been two other names tied to it. As it stands, it was number-one for seven weeks. Jesus.
3. “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: I’ll just get one thing out of the way immediately: this is a cover of a song from 1975 and its opening lines suffer from the infatuation of a minor that a repulsive amount of songs suffer from (“I knew he must have been about seventeen”). I don’t condone this bit of problematic context at all, and it doesn’t make it any better that Joan Jett is a woman singing about an underage male. With that being said… I think what most people remember about this song is its rough-and-tumble guitar riff, accompanied by Jett’s sleazy vocal delivery which leads into one of the easily memorable choruses of the 80s, maybe even of all time. I does get old really fast, but its bare-bones formula simply works and it works well. It’s hard not to tap along to the arena rock qualities of this particular single. It’s a damn shame about the ephebophilia, though.
2. “Eye of the Tiger” – Survivor: Oh boy, here we go. Okay, those beginning riffs are absolutely kickass, no doubt about that. You can practically feel the training montage fall off the shoulders of this track so effortlessly and easily. Other than that, though… what else does this song really offer? The lead vocalist does his job pretty well, which is certainly helpful for any arena rock anthem, and the melody line is a pretty easy one with which to follow along. But as a hard rock single, it does feel just as vanilla as Foreigner’s worst output. The fact that it was used as the Rocky III theme does also dull its blade a bit. If it didn’t have those commercial attachments to it, perhaps it would have been a bit more ambitious with its efforts to create something truly remarkable. When the guitarist plays through the signature riff at the outro, it even sounds less enthusiastic as the introduction. Almost as if he is as sick of this track as we are – surely, not a good sign. Ah well, this hit the top of the charts for six weeks and remains a staple anyway, so what do I know?
1. “Physical” – Olivia Newton-John: And here it is – the biggest song of all of 1982. This was number-one for ten weeks, which was a pretty huge deal. It had tied with Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” for the most weeks at the top, otherwise unparalleled by any other song to ever chart at the time. Of course, a good amount of the success probably had a lot to do with the controversy of Newton-John previously shedding her good-girl image (not unlike her character Sandy in Grease) and suddenly releasing something danceable and sexy. This was certainly helped by its music video which… was also sexy. The song itself is ripe for guilty pleasure status, with such sleazy lines as “I gotta handle you just right / You know what I mean” and “There’s nothing left to talk about / Unless it’s horizontally”. The song is about as shallow as a kiddie pool, which can be expected if your song’s entire hook is “Let’s get physical… let me hear your body talk”. Still, it’s all good harmless fun and it’s evident that Olivia herself is having a good time – especially when her chorus switches to, “Let’s get animal, animal”. It’s super ridiculous, which could only explain how it got so popular at the start of such a ridiculous decade in pop music. Let’s just say that I’m pretty giddy for all the good trash to come out of the following years.