100. “Yah Mo B There” – James Ingram & Michael McDonald: Yeah, in retrospect, maybe giving this song this title was not a good idea. It certainly makes for an awkward start to this countdown of 1984’s top 100 singles. As a song, though, it isn’t quite so bad – I mean, it’s not too good either, but the wacky synths are a warm welcome. “Baby Come to Me” already left a pretty bland impression of James Ingram and this doesn’t really help matters. If anything, it only dilutes McDonald’s reputation all the more.
99. “Rock Me Tonite” – Billy Squier: What? I assumed that we had heard the last of Billy Squier back in 1981 with his utterly stupid song “The Stroke”. Turns out that this song was slightly more successful than its predecessor, as far as the Hot 100 is concerned (#17 was the peak for the former; #15 for the latter). Anyway, this is Squier at probably his most generic and forgettable. That guitar riff just chugs along with little inspiration and the whole thing just sounds like a ill-fitting attempt to mimic what bands like The Cars were doing much more successfully. If there’s any reason to give this a listen, it’s while watching its cheesy, unintentionally homoerotic music video along with it. The 80s really were an awkward time for videos, it seems.
98. “When You Close Your Eyes” – Night Ranger: The follow-up to Night Ranger’s mega-smash hit “Sister Christian” (more on that one later), “When You Close Your Eyes” feels a little more in the vein of standard Van Halen-esque arena rock. I guess we’ve reached the upbeat arena rock segment of the 80s. I’m really not a fan of the chorus in this one (“When you close your eyes, do you dream about me?”), but some of the other verses make up for this (especially, “I remember we learned about love in the back of a Chevrolet / No good for an old memory to mean so much today”). Like I said, though, it’s pretty faceless. I enjoy it on a surface level, nevertheless.
97. “Magic” – The Cars: And speaking of The Cars! This also falls in the same ring of the “generic power pop” that I mentioned with the last song, only this one is slightly better. It’s not necessarily the lyrics, which are, frankly, some of The Cars’ weakest. I think it’s the emphasis on the synths over guitars that really drive this one home, as does the chorus which, while simple, really does stick. Yeah, it’s flimsy, but it’s still got a fair share of that good ol’ poppy fun.
96. “Major Tom (Coming Home)” – Peter Schilling: Do people tend to prefer the original German-language version of this tune, or the English rendition recorded for US release? I can understand the novelty appeal of the German for English-speaking audiences, but the English version is the one I hold closest to my heart. I grew up listening to this one along with a bunch of other 80s New Wave stuff my mom played for me from time to time. That chorus (“Earth below us, drifting, falling / Floating weightless, coming home”) still gives me chills from time to time. I know that this was intended as a rebuttal of sorts to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, but the similarities pretty much end there. The synthesizers are purely 80s, as are Schilling’s strange, robotic vocals that, nonetheless, don’t take the weight from the tragedy in the lyrics. It’s just a terrifically crafted piece of pop art, and even though the German version is almost identical, it just doesn’t do it for me as much as this one.
95. “New Moon on Monday” – Duran Duran: And the hooks keep on coming with Duran Duran! It’s also the first top ten single we’ve come across in 1984 so far. It’s not hard to see why this wouldn’t stick with quite as much immediacy as “Hungry Like the Wolf”. Don’t get me wrong – even though the 80s penchant for vaguely Asian-sounding keyboard riffs is one of my biggest peeves of the decade, this particular one isn’t all that bad. The bass is also pretty shimmery and boy, do I love that opening line: “Shake up the picture, the lizard mixture / With your dance on the eventide”. Nonetheless, the verses in general are pretty limp and unimpressionable – but Duran Duran has never been much of a verses band anyway. It’s all about the chorus here: ” New moon on Monday, and a fire dance through the night”. This song may be a whole bunch of nonsense, but it’s actually pretty decent nonetheless.
94. “On the Dark Side” – John Cafferty & the Brown Beaver Band: Whew, that band name sure is a mouthful, isn’t it? Truth be told, this band initially didn’t get all that much success due to record companies’ and listeners’ incessant comparisons with Bruce Springsteen & the E. Street Band. This song was added onto the soundtrack to the film Eddie and the Cruisers to immediate success – and now, more people were comparing them to Springsteen than ever before! In all seriousness, though, I like this. It’s clear that Cafferty and folks have an ear for a catchy hook, and the guitar riff that chugs along this one is a mighty fine piece of Heartland rock. It’s nothing life-changing, but still pretty great when the mood calls for it.
93. “Undercover of the Night” – The Rolling Stones: Yeah, I’ll admit – even though I totally slammed “Emotional Rescue” in my 1980 overview over a year ago, I’ve softened on it a little bit. 80s Stones aren’t as awful as I was anticipating, and even though the band members themselves are far from admirable, there remain aspects of their sound I can’t help but gravitate toward. Apparently, Mick Jagger was influenced by William Burroughs while writing this, and lines like “All the young men they’ve rounded up; sent to camps back in the jungle” and “Down in the bars, the girls are painted blue; done up in lace, done up in rubber”… yeah, it’s pretty obvious. The rock scene in the 80s has changed so drastically from the Stones’ 60s origins, but the erratic feel of this – from the bombastic drums, to the funky bassline, to everything else that’s been cluttered inside – demonstrates that the band haven’t done too shabby of a job with keeping up with the times.
92. “Dancing in the Sheets” – Shalamar: A euphemistic play-on-words of a classic Martha & the Vandellas song is enough to get my ears perked up. Truthfully, though, I’m mostly distracted with how similar this sounds to Prince’s “1999” – like a limper demo version of the tune or something. There really isn’t anything here that Shalamar hasn’t already delivered to us in spades. It checks all the boxes for the typical 80s synth-funk track, but doesn’t really elevate this any further. Meh.
91. “Got a Hold on Me” – Christine McVie: Christine McVie’s first solo single away from Fleetwood Mac! Honestly, as with Stevie Nicks’s and Lindsay Buckingham’s efforts at a solo career, it’s so difficult for me to separate the artist from the Fleetwood Mac sound that they are so well-known for. So far, I think McVie’s efforts are the most closely tied to this sound: the earth tones of the production, the marching rhythm, the melodic chorus. On the other hand, this one also leaves much less of a lasting impression on me for the first couple of listens. Nonetheless, it also feels like a grower, and McVie’s optimism is just too compelling to resist.
90. “Tonight” – Kool & the Gang: Whenever I see the title of a Kool & the Gang song that I don’t recognize on these lists, I always hope and pray that it’s one of their upbeat, funkier songs and less of their low tempo love ballads. As I’ve mentioned before, they tend to be much better on the former than the latter. And fortunately, we’ve struck gold here! Well, kind of. See, like “Celebration” and “Get Down On It”, the party vibes in this one are front-and-center, with some particularly fun bass grooves, guitar licks, and synth riffs taking lead. The doo-wop inspired vocals also aren’t all that bad, even if the repeated line “This is the night you’ll see the light” comes off relatively clumsy. Nonetheless, it just fails to reach the level of instant classic that both “Celebration” and “Get Down On It” so effortlessly achieve. In other words, this is a bit rusty. For the most part, though, I’ll take it.
89. “The Longest Time” – Billy Joel: And speaking of doo-wop inspiration. I’ve said many times that I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, but there are songs with which I would hesitate before declaring my love for it amidst peers. Okay, maybe “love” is a strong word here – but when it’s one of the only Billy Joel songs I could stand to listen to, that’s got to mean something. It’s almost completely a capella – save for a droning bass and a snare drum played with brushes – and sung in a doo-wop style that sounds like it was lifted completely from the 50s. Joel sounds just about as decent as he usually does, but his backup performers are phenomenal and deserve much more love. Above all else, though, the melody is a total earworm. Sure, the whole package is probably cheesy as hell and certainly nothing more than a fluke, but it’s hard to deny my body’s instinct to tap my toes and sing along to this one every single time.
88. “Head Over Heels” – The Go-Go’s: I feel like so many people underestimate the waves made by The Go-Go’s at the start of this decade. Their particular flavor of pop-rock gave them a really unique sound that I’m surprised other haven’t been attempted to replicate numerous times at this point. Every single they released during their heyday just sounds like a pleasant slice of sugary sweetness, and “Head Over Heels” is but yet another example of such. The chorus is fun and flows along so wonderfully (“Head over heels, where should I go? / Can’t stop myself, out of control”). Yet it’s the instrumentation that really tie the whole package together: those bouncy pianos, the rad guitars, the handclaps, and of course, that absolutely groovy bass breakdown before the final chorus. I feel like The Go-Go’s were often underestimated for being just a pop band (and also being all-female, because sexism), but their ability to craft some of the catchiest pop singles that would prove to define an entire generation is totally impeccable. They’ve certainly earned more respect.
87. “Round and Round” – Ratt: And now for something a little different… glam metal? I guess Ratt were one of the few bands of the scene to have a successful pop crossover. My guess is that a lot had to do with its strange music video, which features a crossdressing Milton Berle. But anyway, the song itself is pretty bland as far as these types of tracks go. The vocalist’s voice is grating, with little to no personality to it at all. The rest of the instruments just sort of play on autopilot through the whole song. Its one redeeming quality is its pre-chorus, which I find pretty catchy for some reason (“I knew right from the beginning that you would end up winning / I knew right from the start you’d put an arrow through my heart”). This is just a big nothing of a song, otherwise.
86. “Pink Houses” – John Mellencamp: I am generally a fan of the small-town Americana vibe which Mellencamp likes to sprinkle into his music. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of, say, “Jack & Diane”, I do like to admire its surface-level prettiness from afar. That’s pretty much where I stand with “Pink Houses” as well – I admire the sound, but I can’t listen to its lyrics too closely without wishing there was more going on, or rolling my eyes over the wishy-washy, “Ain’t that America” chorus. On the other hand, this was apparently written as a scathing critique of Reaganomics and Republican white nationalism, which automatically makes this more worth my time than most of his other work thus far.
85. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” – The Police: With how much “Every Breath You Take” absolutely turns me off, it’s hard to imagine any other situation where I’d willingly take a listen to the follow-up single to a band’s song about romantic stalking. Nonetheless… god damn it. It’s so hard to deny that the instrumentals here are absolutely lovely. Those twinkly bell sounds alongside the sitar-esque guitar, which evolve into a hiccuping riff after each chorus – just beautiful. The “master becomes the servant” lyrics invite some interesting dynamics; it’s too bad that Sting had to cover this with bloated prose and high-school vocabulary words to make it sound more meaningful than it actually is. Still, I can’t hate it – the sonic qualities are just so pleasant to listen to. If there were an instrumental version, I’d be all over it.
84. “Time Will Reveal” – DeBarge: Some of the vocal acrobatics that El DeBarge attempts with this one are pretty damn impressive, and he certainly has the delicate timbre to pull it off without veering into unpleasant territory. Unfortunately, the song as a whole is pretty boring. It wears its 80s production on its sleeve and often not for the better. It’s corny, sluggish, and just a total drag to listen to.
83. “Think of Laura” – Christopher Cross: Interesting to see another Christopher Cross single around these parts, much less one that made the top ten. His signature vocal delicacy is still ever-present here and the pretty sound melds well with the tragic theme of the song, recounting a life cut short far too soon. Overall, though, this is rather limp – not to say that Cross’s emotions weren’t at all genuine (who’s to know, really?). It just isn’t a very interesting final product. As it stands, I’m all Cross’d out.
82. “Church of the Poison Mind” – Culture Club: God, I love Culture Club. The lyrics here are just as nonsensical as their upbeat singles tend to get (“That religion you could sink it neat / Just move your feet and you’ll feel fine”), and for the better. While the initial melody isn’t quite as immediately compelling as “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” or “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”, it’s got the magic ingredient: that chorus. The background vocalist you hear here is Helen Terry and her contribution to the song is pure dynamite. Boy George sounds just fine, but I’d surely be too intimidated to keep up with Terry – she’s so great! It’s got a great Motown-esque feel to the production and the harmonica bits tie the whole thing together rather well, as they tend to do. Overall, this lands just barely in the upper tier of Culture Club singles… but that’s good enough for me!
81. “Nobody Told Me” – John Lennon: At this point, it’s been about 2-3 years since John Lennon’s death, but the singles still keep on coming. Truthfully, this was a track that Lennon never got to complete, but Yoko Ono went forward with finishing the song and released it as a single. The lyrics and rhythm are pretty standard poetry one would expect from the singer-songwriter (“Always something happening, and nothing going on / There’s always something cooking, and nothing in the pot”) and the arrangement plays it safe with the same ol’ jangly rock sound he had produced his whole solo career. It’s not a bad song in the slightest, but the only reason would have even made the top five is due to the name attached. I wouldn’t be too quick to change the dial on this one, but I’d be more privy to reach for older Lennon tracks instead.
80. “Breakin’… There’s Nobody Stopping Us” – Ollie & Jerry: Ooooh man! So, in case you didn’t know, Breakin’ is the shit. After a second watch about a year ago, it’s quickly become one of my favorite 80s movies ever, and definitely one of the more interesting time capsules of a specific subculture of a very specific time (Wild Style from the previous year is also awesome and so underrated – look it up!). I can’t think of which specific scene in which the title song appears since 60% of the film is dance montage, but this song kicks ass nonetheless. This ultra synth-laden, super danceable sound comes from a genre classified as freestyle, which I’m sure we’ll embark on even more in the coming years. This song seems almost formless in its deviance from the polished, succinct sound of R&B and pop radio – it’s almost closer to disco than anything else, but more aggressive and more catering to a specific urban sonic synthesis. This is pretty much the ultimate breakdancing anthem (or at least one of the most commercially successful), but to me it really feels like one of the most quintessential encapsulations of the 80s as a whole. The synths, drum machine, and record scratches spell it all out so well! I love this.
79. “Holiday” – Madonna: Oh hey, Madonna. About a year ago, I took a trip through Madonna’s entire discography and… yeah, let’s just say we won’t be getting away from her any time soon. Anyway, “Holiday” was her first mainstream hit single, though I was surprised to find that it only went up to #16. It’s a pleasant little slice of dance-pop – but, yes, so, so 80s. I really vibe with the introductory synth riff right before the drum machine kicks in, but from that point on the keys get pretty cheesy. Madonna herself isn’t too bad; she doesn’t give any sense of the cultural juggernaut she would eventually become, but her personality here is pronounced enough to shade in the gaps. The lyrics get a tad repetitive and simplistic… but it is a song meant for dance floors, so I guess I’m preaching to the choir. In any case, this is all good fun!
78. “Thriller” – Michael Jackson: Oh geez, two ultimate 80s pop staples in a row – I don’t know how to handle this!! I really can’t talk about this song without mentioning the elephant in the room: yes, the 14-minute John Landis-directed music video is one of the greatest artifacts of the 80s and really add some entirely new dimension to the song itself. I watched this video so many times as a kid that I can’t listen to that bombastic chorus without mentally performing the zombie dance as well. At its core, though, it’s a nice electro-funk single with nifty verses and choruses and groovin’ transitions between them all. I also dig the bits of horror ambience thrown in for good measure, like the howling wolves, creaking doors, and – yes – the ending Vincent Price rap. I’d hesitate to call this one among Jackson’s very best, but it’s not hard to see how this has pretty much become signature tune with the passage of time.
77. “I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You” – Ray Parker, Jr.: To my dismay and disappointment, Ray Parker, Jr. still hasn’t fallen into complete obscurity with the approach of the mid-80s. Indeed, “I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You” is his fifth top twenty hit (the second without his band Raydio) and his biggest is just around the corner… but more on that one later. We’ve already acknowledged Parker’s whininess and inability to treat women like people, so of course it’s no surprise that he continues the trend here. The speaker of this song is rampant with jealousy over an ex-lover’s moving on faster than he has, which is not necessarily the worst topic to revolve your song around. But when you throw in lines like, “It only breaks my heart, it makes me want you more” and “I’m filled with jealousy, ’cause I want you for myself”, it makes it hard to feel very sympathetic. What does help, however, is the self-awareness of the situation that finally rears its head here; at least Parker acknowledges that he “knows it’s self-abuse” and that he has “no right” to make her his target of negative emotions. Moreover, the synth-laden production is actually pretty easy on the ears – hell, I might actually enjoy this one! It loses points for being yet another example of Ray Parker, Jr.’s saturation of songs about infidelity/heartbreak… but at least this one is listenable!
76. “I’m So Excited” – The Pointer Sisters: One genre of songs I’ve recently found out I actually love so much is the genre of “R&B/disco/funk ladies singing about how much they love sex”. Which is totally a genre I just made up – but it’s fitting! It’s so amazing to me that I’ve been following the Pointer Sisters’ career since the early 70s and they still haven’t gotten old to me. It must be their impeccable talent for cooperating with whatever music trend is happening in that particular year – in this case, it’s the aerobic dance-pop that Olivia Newton-John made cool with “Physical”. But yes, this song is totally about sex, and it’s one of the good ones. The line “And if you move real slow, I’ll let it go” has to be one of the best portrayals of the female orgasm in pop music of its time. Donna Summer should be proud! Overall, though, this is a damn fine piece of upbeat R&B pop with a legendary chorus to beat: “I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it / I’m about to lose control and I think I like it!”. I’m so ready to stop underrating the Pointer Sisters now.
75. “Give It Up” – KC & the Sunshine Band: And now here’s a band I’ve grown tired of since pretty much the 70s ended. And so did the rest of the world, presumably, since besides the couple of hit singles back in 1980, KC’s career seemed to have reached a screeching halt at the end of the disco age. Still, there’s always room for a good, mindless party song, and that’s exactly what’s going on here. The hooks aren’t as effortlessly catchy as those in “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty”, “That’s the Way (I Like It)” or “Get Down Tonight”, but that may actually work in this tune’s favor. It’s slightly more matured and sounds like there’s more to say here. Truthfully, it’s all the same meaningless lyrics one would expect from KC & the Sunshine Band (“Everybody wants your love / I’d just like to make you mine all night”), but it doesn’t really weigh it down as much. It’s “lowest common denominator” pop music. It refrains from being overtly annoying, though, which is probably its strongest quality. I dunno – this one is okay.
74. “Dance Hall Days” – Wang Chung: Mmm, those guitar chords. Ahhh, that sax. Everything else though, I could give or take. The lyrics are just bizarre (“Take your baby by the hand / And make her do a high handstand”) and the whole thing just kind of chugs along lazily, from one segment to the next. The entire sound is a pleasant enough listen, but I guess I expected something a bit cooler and more atmospheric than this final product. Also, I just can’t get past that band name. Asian fetishism really was quite the problem in the 80s. Anyway, this is alright for what it is, warranting and even inviting multiple listens. It’s still missing that little extra something, though.
73. “Cruel Summer” – Bananarama: At this point I should acknowledge the peaking trend of British groups making their way into US pop radio, a trend that really gained its footing in 1983-4. This time has since been dubbed the second British Invasion and is spearheaded by the overseas success of groups like Duran Duran, Culture Club, The Human League, and The Police. While these artists and others had multiple hits throughout the course of the 80s (many of which we’ve already seen), there are others that only attained flash-in-the-pan prestige, like Kajagoogoo and Eddy Grant. Point is, this was really one of the defining trends of the mid-80s, and Bananarama really fits in with the trend. Turning away from the increasing darkness and nihilism of the punk movement, many of these British artists and bands opted for more lush instrumentation and upbeat energies in their records. We’ve definitely heard this with Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” and Human League’s “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”, and the trend continues onward with Bananarama. “Cruel Summer” kicks in immediately with some tropical-sounding keyboard riffs, couple with crashing drums and buzzing synths. Once the vocals kick in, we are taken back to the days of girl groups like the Shangri-Las singing us their woes in a relatively upbeat manner (“Hot summer streets and the pavements are burning, I sit around / Trying to smile, but the air is so heavy and dry”). With the chorus, we get all of the above, accompanied by a subtle yet important Nile Rodgers-esque guitar lick that shines a glimmer of light on the melancholy. And it’s all so lush and lovely… and, yes, so very 80s.
72. “An Innocent Man” – Billy Joel: Goddamn, this is the closest to ethereal that a Billy Joel single has ever really gotten. As you’ve probably noted at this juncture, I’m pretty lukewarm when it comes to Joel, but this is yet another one of his good ones. Sure, it’s not nearly as catchy as “The Longest Time” and probably not as well-structured. But by toning down the production to just the barest minimum and paying tribute to the marvelous Drifters, the results turned out impressively compelling. This is also cranked up a notch when Joel hits those Frankie Valli falsetto notes during the chorus, truly a humble nod to a point of nostalgia he’s presented over and over throughout his 80s material. Like most Billy Joel songs, I couldn’t care less for the lyrics. But it’s all about the production on this one anyway.
71. “They Don’t Know” – Tracey Ullman: Most of this song’s popularity (it reached #8 on the Hot 100 and #2 in the UK) is probably due to its music video, which humorously lampoons gender roles in heterosexual marriage – and features Paul McCartney in an unexpected cameo at the end! Overall, though, this is a sweet little cover song of a Kirsty MacColl song, given second wind by the brilliant, funny Ullman. It doesn’t seem to be anything exceptionally remarkable to my ears, but its pleasant to listen to nonetheless.
70. “Adult Education” – Hall & Oates: Meh. Hall & Oates can be pretty great at times, but their singles that just don’t hit the mark just tend to be a little boring. Unfortunately, this is one of the boring ones. Granted that the line, “Believe it or not, there’s life after high school” is a pretty good one and almost certainly resonated with young listeners (or older ones with nostalgia on the brain!). Other than that, though, the instrumentals are limp and Daryl Hall’s vocals have certainly been better. Fortunately, there’s a good amount of perfectly decent Hall & Oates singles to select from at this point, such as “You Make My Dreams”, “I Can’t Go For That”, and “Maneater”. This one, however, is a snoozer.
69. “Breakdance” – Irene Cara: Up until this point, Irene Cara has proved herself to be the go-to gal for title songs of movie soundtracks, as she accomplished with “Fame” and “Flashdance… What a Feeling”. After these two, this is the third song of hers I’ve listened to… and unfortunately, it is the worst by far. Simply put, this is a post-disco era disco song to the core, certainly not the kind of music breakdancers would get down to. Cara is certainly capable of belting out charismatic dance anthems, but there’s no triumphant belting to be found here. The melody here plays it very safe; the verses aren’t even singing as much as they are mild chants. The single is produced by the disco legend Giorgio Morodor, but this has got to be one of his worst pieces of work thus far. The synths and samples are so cluttered and messy, and the whole product is almost impressively clumsy. It’s a shame because I think that Cara was capable of much more, but once the 80s trends moved on, the sheer datedness of this production may have very well killed her career. This is the kind of song that one would note as demonstrating everything wrong with 80s music – and frankly, I wouldn’t blame them.
68. “Cum on Feel the Noize” – Quiet Riot: Yet another rare instance of glam metal making it big on the pop charts, and probably one of the more famous ones. I actually grew up listening to this version of the song, and not the original by 70s glam rock band Slade. Over time, though, I’ve grown more and more acquainted with the latter record, and while I generally appreciate it more on an aesthetic level, it’s also true that Quiet Riot’s cover doesn’t necessarily take away from it at all. It’s still the same ol’ ankle-deep lyricism and head-banging anthemic chants that amount to little more than partying and getting “wild, wild, wild”. With that said, it also doesn’t add much to it either. The lead vocalist’s voice does grating after a while, as does the unimpressive hard rockin’ guitars and the constant repetition of its chorus. When it all comes down to it, though, it sure seems like a great song to get stinkin’ drunk to.
67. “Cover Me” – Bruce Springsteen: Yeah, more Springsteen! After all this time covering some of the most notable and important songs of the mid- to late 20th century, it’s hard to believe that this is only the second Bruce Springsteen song I’ve come across (the first being 1981’s fantastic “Hungry Heart”). I’ve only just listened to Born in the U.S.A. for the first time within this past year; it’s undeniably great, but it was also a pretty big deal in its time, charting a whole bunch of top ten singles that’s rarely been equalled. “Cover Me” is one of the many highlights of the album, with the rip-roaring energy of Springsteen’s vocals and guitar matched only by the matching charisma of his backing E Street Band. Apparently Springsteen wrote this for Donna Summer, and while I’m a huge fan of this song as it stands, I’d also love a glimpse into that alternate reality. Anyway, this is just a fine, fine slice of high-octane Americana – I can’t really ask for anything more than that.
66. “Lucky Star” – Madonna: And now, more Madonna! I mentioned earlier that I took a trip through Madonna’s entire discography recently, but even with a brief listen through her first few singles, it’s clear that she got much more interesting with time. Much of the material on her first album all contain the same hue of dance-pop, and her first three singles (“Holiday”, “Everybody”, and this song) all sound remarkably similar. I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone who would just happen to confuse this song with “Holiday” – I’ve done that myself from time to time! Still, besides the nursery rhyme “star light, star bright” hook, this tune is relatively faceless if, yes, fun to dance to. Nevertheless, this became Madonna’s first top five hit on the Hot 100, as well as the start of quite the adventure for all of us.
65. “You Might Think” – The Cars: The Cars continue onward with their straight-forward pop crossover with “You Might Think”… and I love it. The introductory keyboard riff (soon accompanied by guitar) just feels so distinctly 80s, and there’s something so charming about that. Moreover, the tempo is perfectly upbeat and the lyrics are even kind of cute (“You might think it’s foolish, what you put me through / You might think I’m crazy, but all I want is you”). Of course, since it’s the MTV age, the popularity of this song was not unlikely boosted by its strange, experimental music video, which honestly doesn’t hold up for many reasons. Nonetheless, this is a nice, feel-good slice of power pop, and sometimes that’s all you need!
64. “If This Is It” – Huey Lewis and the News: Wherein Huey Lewis and the News turn yacht rock, apparently. Truthfully, though, as much as I really dug “Do You Believe in Love”, this one is a drag in comparison. Sure, there are some nice piano bits and synth twinges that flow along nicely. But the best parts of those are pushed so back into the mix it doesn’t even matter. Nothing else about this song leaves much of an impression. It’s not bad, really; just underwhelming and easily forgettable.
63. “Miss Me Blind” – Culture Club: At this point, it really feels like Boy George and folks just can’t go wrong! I’ve been listening to this song for years, but it somehow never occurred to be how much the tropical-tinged production sounds somewhat similar to “Holiday” – not extremely similar, but I’m sure the transition from one to the other is smooth as hell. But anyway, like “Church of the Poison Mind”, this one falls among the lower tiers of good Culture Club singles, but it’s still pretty damn good! The production is smooth and relaxing and Boy George’s presence continues to be infectious. It’s yet another song about queer heartache, sure, but it never fails to put me in a good mood regardless. It’s too bad that this would be their final top ten hit in the US… but there’s still more to come on this list!
62. “Love Somebody” – Rick Springfield: Out of the numerous artists whose careers I’ve watched rise and fall through the course of this challenge, the continued success of Rick Springfield after “Jessie’s Girl” is the most baffling to me. I’ve yet to come across any song of his that marks him as particularly exceptional. And this remains true with “Love Somebody”… but somehow, it works. Okay, so it’s pretty middling arena rock with lyrics that don’t account for much outside of, “You’re such a tough little sister looking for Mr. Right / On the wrong side of town”. And Springfield still can’t sing. On the other hand, listening to this actually does get me mildly pumped up, and the energy of both Springfield and his backing band absolutely radiates. And what do you know – there’s actually a pretty great, if cheesetastic, guitar solo after the bridge! I’m not about to become a Rick Springfield fan or anything… but for this song, I’m more than willing to toss aside my criticisms for three-and-a-half blissful minutes.
61. “State of Shock” – The Jacksons: It’s interesting to see that the Jacksons still had some pretty sizable hit singles despite Michael transforming into a huge superstar in his own right. It should be noted, of course, that this was to be their final top ten hit – and by just glancing at the lyrics, it’s pretty easy to see how. With lines like “You get me on my knees, well, please, baby, please” and “I love the way you walk and talk, baby, talk”, this whole song just comes off as totally clunky and mismanaged. The verses in general are just totally clumsy; given that the pre-chorus is actually kind of fun, the transition in quality between the two melodies is just jarring and not good.Oh yeah, and this also features vocals by Mick Jagger, who belts alongside Michael Jackson to take over basically the bulk of the vocals on this track. The guitar in this song is actually quite cool, but everything else surrounding it feels so sloppy and unfinished. I suspect that the only reason this went to #3 is due to the names attached to it – otherwise, this really should have been shoved under the radar, never to speak of again.
60. “Legs” – ZZ Top: I’m not all too familiar with ZZ Top, but what else I have heard from them sounds remarkably different from “Legs”. Notably, this song departs a bit from their Southern rock roots and adds a prominent, pumping synthesizer to the mix. This results in the sort of weird hybrid track that would have been huge during the immediate post-disco era. Nonetheless, it’s popularity was heightened by the MTV effect. As more and more of these singles have at least part of their fame due to their music videos, I’ve got to figure out a way I could more effectively introduce the art form into my write-ups. Anyway, this song is just fine – “she’s got legs; she knows how to use them” is a catchy line and everything else around it just kind of hangs on for the ride. I’m not a fan of the vocalist’s odd rasp of a voice, but that is just a minor complaint – the guitars more than make up for it.
59. “Almost Paradise” – Mike Reno and Ann Wilson: I don’t know who decided that the bombastic singer of Heart would match well with the faceless personage of Loverboy’s vocalist… but I guess they needed a romantic ballad to help sell Footloose! The soft synths of the intro are pleasant, but once the vocals kick in… ugh. I know I have a bias against 80s sellout ballads, but this is “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” levels of dull. Worst yet, it’s clear that Ann Wilson is restraining herself; knowing that she’s so much more talented than this songs lets on just makes it even more of a painful listen.
58. “Infatuation” – Rod Stewart: Shockingly, 80s Rod Stewart hasn’t been totally awful for me thus far. Although “Passion” is a snoozefest, it turns out I actually like “Young Turks” quite well! So, how does his hit from 1984 fare? Well, it’s somewhere in the middle for me. Jeff Beck plays guitar on here and his presence is warmly welcome, bringing some interesting, much-needed life back into Stewart’s music. Check out that guitar solo! On the other hand, though, this is essentially Stewart’s attempt at 80s funk by way of Mick Jagger, and his performance here is sloppy and disappointing. Toning this down – along with the obviously cluttered production, jesus lord – might actually make for a more enticing track. As it stands, though, this isn’t among his better ones.
57. “Love is a Battlefield” – Pat Benatar: Hooray, more Pat Benatar! While the first three Benatar singles we’ve come across so far (“Heartbreaker”, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, and “Treat Me Right”) have been more or less rewrites of one another, “Love is a Battlefield” is the first truly original tune that stands apart from her typical style. It’s all about that chorus, which is instantly anthemic in all the best ways. Benatar sure can sing, as she’s repeatedly demonstrated, and while she tones herself down a bit here she nonetheless stands tall, especially on those crucial high notes. I do wish the production were a tad more interesting, as this could have been a much more interesting, mind-blowing track with something other than the typical drum machine and autopilot guitar solo. Oh well – it’s one of my favorites, anyway.
56. “Islands in the Stream” – Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton: And now for our first number-one single of the year!… coming from Kenny Rogers. Blah. Okay okay, Dolly is here too, but even the sight of Kenny Rogers’s name is enough to turn me off of any song at least a little bit. I’ll talk a bit more about this song once I get around to it on my Every Hot 100 Number-One Single challenge – but essentially, it’s okay. I have to be in the right mood to enjoy these kinds of sing-alongs, but it’s pleasant enough and helped by that good ol’ Barry Gibb production. Not sure how I’d feel about it being played ad nauseum for weeks upon weeks… but as it stands, I enjoy this one just fine.
55. “I Want a New Drug” – Huey Lewis and the News: Argh, this is so 80s it hurts. I’m wondering if Huey Lewis and the News are just a one-and-done for me. So far, no other single of theirs hits me quite as pleasantly as “Do You Believe in Love”. I guess the clumsy rhyme schemes on the verses certainly don’t help matters (“I want a new drug, one that won’t go away / One that won’t keep me up all night, one that won’t make me sleep all day”), nor do those plainly obnoxious guitars. Lewis himself is also just totally phoning it in, which is even more obnoxious. This song alone somehow manages to wipe away whatever veneer of charm was still hanging onto Huey Lewis and his News. Here’s to hoping they prove me wrong in the future.
54. “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” – Elton John: Needless to say at this point, Elton John’s transition to the 80s have been relatively seamless up to this point. With this track, he brings back longtime companion Bernie Taupin and composes yet another piano track with his signature crooning style. Only this time, the piano is a synth, John is accompanied by some doo-wop backup vocalists, and his usually introspective lyrics aim outward, talking about the music itself. There aren’t too many other extraneous details other than what I’ve just described – but as John has proven time and time again, these aren’t needed. Therre’s something about a song inviting a collective sense of sadness between listeners, young and old, that is so continually endearing and enduring, and John includes yet another notch. I’ve yet to listen to this song when I’m truly, deeply depressed, but I have a feeling that the chord shift when he sings “Sad songs they say, sad songs they say” would absolutely tear me apart – and I’d welcome it completely. This song rules.
53. “Running with the Night” – Lionel Richie: 1984 seems to have been a big year for Lionel Richie – this is the first of four songs he has on this year-end list! As I’ve mentioned before, Richie’s solo career has been very hit-or-miss for me thus far, and this is a particularly unusual one in that it relies much more on tinny synths than his previous R&B fare. It’s definitely a lot more poppier – if not for the voice, there would be nothing here that would automatically point it to Richie. The AOR-inspired instrumentation is smooth and invigorating, and even includes a nice little guitar solo from Toto’s Steve Lukather! Nonetheless, while this is definitely one I would spin on an 80s playlist, it unfortunately lacks a distinct personality and just kind of goes from one ear out the other. Not bad, but just another one to add to the pile of 80s kitsch.
52. “That’s All” – Genesis: Four years since “Misunderstanding” and now we have another hit single from Genesis – this one being their first top tenner! I know a lot of old-school Genesis heads really detest their Phil Collins-led fare, but I’m not gonna lie – I really dig this song. The main piano-led melody is perfectly bouncy and Collins’s vocals aren’t half bad. The weak spot is in the lyrics, which are a tad reductive (“I could say day, you’d say night / Tell me it’s black when I know that it’s white”), but that’s the give-and-take of pop radio. It’s all in that bounce, anyway; in particular, the melody that kicks in the first half of the chorus (“I could leave but I won’t go…”) is so goddamn lovely and keeps me coming back for more. Once again, not a perfect song by every means, but worth a replay or seven.
51. “Caribbean Queen” – Billy Ocean: As far as I can tell, I’ve never reviewed a Billy Ocean song on this site before! And whaddaya know – looks like this is the second number-one single on this year-end list. Once again, I’ll go over this a bit more some other time. But in general, I love how swingin’ and catchy it is. The synths are perfectly dated, and the saxophone, keys, and bass guitar mesh together so well to create an easily digestible radio-friendly pop hit. Looking closer, though, problems lie mostly in Ocean himself and especially his corny lyrics (“In the blink of an eye, I knew her number and her name / She said I was the tiger she wanted to tame”). At surface level, though, it’s perfectly innocuous, if easily forgettable. I’m still not exactly sure where the Caribbean part comes into play though…
50. “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” – Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson: If only y’all knew how long it’s taken me to reach the halfway point of this damn overview… you’ll just have to take my word for it. Anyway, this is a novelty duet between Iglesias and Nelson and… yeah, it stinks. It starts off nice enough, if a bit cheesy, with Nelson introducing the tune in his lovely signature timbre. And then Iglesias comes in. To be honest, I’ve never actually listened to any Julio Iglesias before, so it was a hilarious shock to find that he is just as breathy and awful as a singer as his son Enrique. When they sing together during the choruses, their voices never blend together in a pleasant way that one would expect from a romantic ballad as this; in fact, they clash rather jarringly. And this might be easy to look over were it not for the absolutely treacly keyboard-led production that wears its date on its sleeve. And it just goes on and on and on with its humble-bragging about the details of past promiscuous affairs that no one asked for. The venn diagram for this kind of schlock that adult contemporary audiences ate up in this time and what I find to be the most grating music in the world is a circle.
49. “Let the Music Play” – Shannon: Yes! There’s a lot to admire about this track, and while I don’t really know enough about electronic instrumentation to comment on what exactly makes this one so different from everything else on this chart, just a quick listen should help. This song – with its punchy drum machines, quick tempo, buzzy synths, and Latin-inspired rhythms – would eventually be recognized as one of the first tracks in the freestyle genre. It just sounds great! Sure, Shannon isn’t that great of a singer, but the creative, metaphoric verses and that huge chorus more than makes up for that. This song is just cool as hell, and the kickoff of a musical revolution.
48. “Automatic” – The Pointer Sisters: Yeah, more Pointer Sisters! In this one, Ruth Pointer emits a smooth-as-hell baritone throughout the verses which could have gone south so easily… yet it works amazingly well. It has the typical 80s synth and drum machine sound that was evidently in every other song on the radio at this time. This isn’t as automatically catchy as some of their other hits, but their voices coalesce together as well as ever, even during the more uptempo parts that have the potentially to get sloppy, certainly more than others. And these lyrics are great: “All I can manage to push from my lips is a stream of absurdities / Every word I intended to speak wind up locked in the circuitry”. Once again, it’ll be a while before this one really, completely sticks, but there’s a lot to love here!
47. “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again” – Peabo Bryson: So far, I’ve written about Peabo Bryson twice – once about the previous year’s duet with Robert Flack, and again about the soundtrack duet with Regina Belle ten years later. So, how well does Peabo Bryson fare on his own, without the aid of a female companion? Well… it’s okay. I mean, Bryson definitely has the vocal chops to pull off this type of smooth soul ballad, and the chorus melody is sweet enough. But it’s the ballad itself that proves to be lacking – there just isn’t enough meat on the bones to make it particularly memorable in any way. The shimmery piano is here yet again, almost as if its been copy-pasted from a hundred other soul ballads. I do like the bit after the second chorus where the tempo speeds up a bit, though this unfortunately does not last long. The song itself, though, is a bit too long, at nearly four-and-a-half minutes in length. I couldn’t imagine there being much demand for this… though apparently there was, considering this made the top ten. Sigh.
46. “The Warrior” – Scandal: I’m incredibly biased toward female-led hard rock… though this shouldn’t be much of a surprise at this point. On its surface, “The Warrior” feels little more like anthemic fodder for arena rock bands, and that’s pretty much all it is. I could vividly imagine the scenario where Patty Smyth loudly sings, “Shootin’ at the walls of heartache”, to be answered with the sold-out crowd’s reply of, “Bang, bang!” amidst much jumping and fist-punching. It’s allll there. But it’s not just mindless, meaningless catch phrases – this song is legitimately uplifting and powerful. It balances hard rock guitar backing with pleasantly consumable pop melodies in a way that goes down smoothly. Not too much else to say here – it’s a badass song, with a badass vocalist, and while it lacks the little extra something to push it over the edge, it’s not bad!
45. “Hard Habit to Break” – Chicago: I guess this is the part where I really begin to complain about Chicago… not that “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” wasn’t reason enough already. Honestly, this is about as whiny and dull as I was expecting, but somehow even worse. Sure, the fact that Peter Cetera doesn’t completely take over lead vocals here helps (the other co-lead is Bill Champlin, for what it’s worth). But the whole song seems to lack a true sense of cohesive structure, seeming to transition from one melody or section to the next with little rhyme or reason. I suspect that they intended on returning to their prog-rock roots with this scheme, but when it goes from one mode of adult contemporary schlock to the next… well, that’s just boring. That about sums it up, actually: it’s a boring, boring song. Just listening to it bores me to tears, which is never a good sign. The fact that this got to number three (!!) just baffles me.
44. “The Heart of Rock & Roll” – Huey Lewis and the News: … I feel like I’m being too hard on Huey Lewis and the News. Maybe it’s tough love… then again, maybe they just had one fluke good song and are actually legitimately terrible. The lyrics to this one might just kill the song all on their own (“LA, Hollywood, and the Sunset Strip is something everyone should see / Neon lights and the pretty, pretty girls all dressed so scantily”). But once again, there’s just something about this band as represented in this song that I find so utterly obnoxious. I still can’t put my finger on it, but I’ve listened to this song a few times already and it’s just not doing it for me. The heartbeat motif and dull sax solo certainly don’t help matters. I dunno – they probably just aren’t for me.
43. “Union of the Snake” – Duran Duran: This song title runs in close competition with “Karma Chameleon” with being the best song title on this year-end list. Anyway, hurrah for more Duran Duran! Fitting with its title, this song is certainly a more slinkier, strutting effort than we’ve previously seen from the group. The lyrics are as perplexing as ever (“The union of the snake is on the climb / Moving up it’s gonna race, it’s gonna break through the borderline”), but there’s also some cool bits of instrumental flair that keep this one as listenable as ever. It’s at this point where I begin to feel the pastiche of Duran Duran begin to wear off, as I’m unsure if this will be the single of theirs I’ll remember in a year or two. In any case, it’s okay for now.
42. “Twist of Fate” – Olivia Newton-John: As the months and years pass, Olivia Newton-John’s sound only continues to get edgier and edgier. With this one, the synthesizers are certainly sharper than those found in “Physical” and there are even some interesting guitar washes found the chorus. Despite all of these extraneous stylistic choices, though, Newton-John herself still manages find room to shine and show off her signature pipes. This is cool to hear, considering how so many of these transitions often lead pop divas to sacrifice their vocal talent in favor of empty veneers of bland femininity. Anyway, this is predictably energetic and manufactured (it is a soundtrack tune after all), but surprisingly pretty good despite it all. Not among Olivia’s best, of course, but it’s perfectly pleasant!
41. “Drive” – The Cars: True confession time: this was the very first song from The Cars I’ve ever heard. My explanation being that it’s one of my mom’s favorite songs, so I listened to it a lot while driving around as a youngster (fitting, I know). Knowing what I know about The Cars now, though, I still hold a soft spot for this one. The keyboard washes that run throughout are just so damn beautiful, fitting well with its simple, universal lyrics (“Who’s gonna tell you when it’s too late / Who’s gonna tell you things aren’t so great”) and the vocal delivery that dials it back just far enough to cut right to the core. I’m not sure what original Cars fans feel about this song or the band’s mainstream pop transition as a whole… but upon listening to this one with my eyes closed and my mind empty, I just couldn’t care less.
40. “Sister Christian” – Night Ranger: Okay… this song has me conflicted. For one thing, I cannot deny that totally succulent, wordless buildup that bridges the verses to the chorus. The piano and synths at the start of the song are sweet and gentle, but once those drums come in and march along… well, there’s just no way I can’t get pumped up at that. And the buildup of the song in general is just so seamless and rewarding, especially at that final refrain (“Yeah, motorin’!”). On the other hand… yeah, those lyrics. I know the drummer (who also sang this song) wrote this song about his younger sister and his remarking about how fast she’s grown up, but it also feels needlessly cautionary and intrusive. Girls’ and women’s sexuality are constantly being policed by men, and lines like, “You know those boys don’t want to play no more with you” and “Don’t give it up before your time is due” only further exemplify this. There are no such songs in popular music that are directed toward young men, and this protection of women’s celibacy seems little more like a yet another assertion of protection (see: dominance) over his sister. With that being said, I can’t hate it completely – it’s such a total cheese-fest, there’s something for everyone to love here.
39. “Uptown Girl” – Billy Joel: Ah, well… two out of three ain’t bad. Continuing to pay homage to his childhood musical influences, Billy Joel gives us a bubbly little pop song in the style of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Success? Well, yes. Sort of. It’s definitely impressive in the way it channels this retro vibe in its mere existence. With a solid AABA structure, it dances around for a few minutes without ever wearing out its welcome. Yet despite all this, it still contains some insipid lyrics, including the forbidden “girl/world” rhyme. Joel sings in this childish nasal delivery that is charming at first, but quickly grows old. Overall, this song is just okay to fill in about three minutes of radio space, but one would be much better off listening to Joel’s two other hits from this year.
38. “Here Comes the Rain Again” – Eurythmics: Welcome back, Eurythmics! Sadly, Eurythmics would never top the charts again like they did with the previous year’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)”, but charts be damned – they still made some pretty terrific music. In fact, I have always tended to prefer “Here Comes the Rain Again” over “Sweet Dreams”. Partially, it’s because this one never really got as much overplay, but just one quick listen proves it to be absolutely irresistible. The synths are a chillingly perfect sonic representation of depression, carving out a distinct niche for itself apart from the dozens of other synth-pop tracks on the radio. Annie Lennox is profound as ever, emitting simple lines like, “Talk to me like lovers do” with unparalleled melancholy and angst. She is just so, so cool. Sure, the song tends to go in circles after a while, but there’s really not much more I can ask from it. It’s just lovely.
37. “Eyes Without a Face” – Billy Idol: It’s funny to me how even though Billy Idol had at this point become one of the biggest rock stars of the 80s, “Eyes Without a Face” – a ballad in a much different style than he’s used to – is only his first top-ten hit on the pop charts. But no matter – here we are. Instrumentally, this song is so, so lovely. The synth washes that begin the song and run throughout are as lovely as anything else on this list. The drum machines and handclaps are ridiculously 80s, the fletches of bass guitar are subtle and cool, and Idol’s crooning is surprisingly effective. The standout, of course, is the chorus by Perri Lister, who is a ghostly presence in this already hazy song; I don’t know what “les yeux sans visage” has to do with anything else, but it sure sounds pretty. Oddly enough, the song begins to slip once the guitars come in after the second chorus and the lyrics just kind of go off the rails (“When you hear the music, you make a dip / Into someone else’s pocket, then make a slip”). Even stranger is how abruptly this part ends and the song just continues as if none of that ever happened. A version of this song without that interlude would be perfect – as it stands, though, it ain’t bad!
36. “Sunglasses at Night” – Corey Hart: From what I hear, this song’s title was formed when Corey Hart was writing the lyrics and improvised the line, “I wear my sunglasses at night”. So in essence, this song is meaningless. It’s little more than a cheap excuse to exercise the synthesizers and guitars in an attempt to churn out a top ten hit. And it worked! It does help, of course, that this song is effortlessly catchy and the synths themselves aren’t too bad. Hart’s obnoxious lack of talent almost kills this completely and probably would have if not for the instruments backing him. When all is said and done, this is the purest of 80s corniness and while it’s hard to love, it’s even harder to hate.
35. “Borderline” – Madonna: Ah, yes… I already wrote in much depth about this song (just click on the link I’ve dropped), so there’s not much else I can add at this point. Well, except that this song is just as candy-sweet and joyous the first with the thirtieth listen as it was with the first. Love, love, love.
34. “She Bop” – Cyndi Lauper: One of the catchiest songs about female masturbation there is. Really, it’s a little unfair that this song would be among the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen, yet other songs like Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” and The Vapor’s “Turning Japanese” which both have pretty strong connotations of masturbation by men are given a relative pass (another song on the list, “Darling Nikki”, also references female masturbation). But is this song really worth all the hubbub? Hell yes! Lauper’s lyrics in the verses are some of the most fun and creative lyrics of the whole year (“They say I better get a chaperone, because I can’t stop messin’ with the danger zone”), upped by her frequent yelps, squeals, and laughter that only amp up the sexual overtones. Moreover, the synth riff during the verses are tough and bombastic, though they make way for a more carefree rhythm during the unifying, chant-along chorus (“She bop, he bop, and we bop / I bop, you bop, and they bop”). It’s fun, feisty, and oh so sorely needed in this stuffy decade. Leave it to Cyndi Lauper to shake things up for everyone around!
33. “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” – Elton John: And once again, another one of my mom’s favorite songs for which I have a real soft spot. Now, on terms of John’s musicianship, I won’t even try to argue that this is on equal level with his 70s output – that’s just an argument I’m bound to lose. Yet something about this just pulls on all my heartstrings in all the right ways. These lyrics aren’t anywhere near Bernie Taupin’s most complex, but they may be among his most poetic and meaningful. The entire chorus is just so lovely: “Time on my hands could be time spent with you / Laughing like children, living like lovers / Rolling like thunder under the covers”. I particularly love the couplet, “Wait on me girl; cry in the night, if it helps / But more than ever, I simply love you / More than I love life itself”. On paper it doesn’t seem like much, but hearing John sing it is enough to make a tear run down my face – it’s just so beautiful. The instrumentation is just as simple, with John’s signature piano chords leading the march accompanied by some cheesy background singers that are, nonetheless, warmly welcomed. And to top it off, after the second chorus there’s a small harmonica solo by none other than Stevie Wonder! This song is the type that brings about an inexplicable type of nostalgia for something I’ve never personally experienced – in other words, the best kind of song.
32. “Stuck on You” – Lionel Richie: Lionel Richie’s old group Commodores experimented with country-pop a bit with 1979’s “Sail On”, but now here we’ve got Richie himself recording a full-on country ballad! If I didn’t know better, I would have taken this as a song written by Kenny Rogers himself, as his fingerprints of influence are all over this one. Truthfully, though, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been excited to cover a Richie song. The instrumentation is lovely, but this really sounds like just another bland ballad. It works well for the adult contemporary crowd, sure, but for the rest of us, it’s dull and lifeless. I’ll just go ahead and mark this one as “not for me”.
31. “Oh Sherrie” – Steve Perry: Wow, this list probably has the highest number of my personal guilty pleasures than any of these covered so far! This is exactly the type of song that I would choose on karaoke to end the night after one too many beers. Although I greatly prefer Steve Perry’s presence with the rest of the members of Journey, this is exactly what one would expect from a solo track from this bombastic vocalist. Based on the lyrics, it’s clear that the couple at the core of the song should absolutely not stay together (“I want to let go; you’ll go on hurtin’ me / You’d be better off alone / If I’m not who you thought I’d be”). Nonetheless, it’s all about that chorus: “Oh, Sherrie, our love holds on, holds on”. It’s the perfect kind of trash to scream at 3 AM. The song is also bookended by couple measures of some pretty synths, the likes of which I wish were present more in the song instead of the generic keyboards they chose instead. Essentially, though, this is just “Steve Perry: the Song”, and your opinion of that statement would probably determine your view of this song. Personally, I think it’s okay.
30. “The Glamorous Life” – Sheila E.: The album version of this song is awesome, supported by Sheila E.’s extensive percussion solo that really drives the track home. This song is the product of both Sheila E. and Prince, the latter of which wrote it, and boy does it hold up. Sheila E.’s breathy vocals work tremendously well with the saxophone-laden production and lyrics about the cynicism of the materialism and decadence of “the glamorous life” – “without love, it ain’t much”. There couldn’t have been a more fitting song for the decade of excess that was the 80s – and to top it off, it is fun as hell to dance to! This comes off a bit as a lower-tier Prince song, but in the hands of this performer, the magic comes out in such profound ways.
29. “I Can Dream About You” – Dan Hartman: Interesting that this became a top ten hit, considering that it’s one of the most unmemorable songs I’ve come across on this list so far. It’s not necessarily “bad” – the keyboards are fine and Hartman sings pretty competently. There’s just no life in this one, not even during the standard sing-along chorus that is certainly meant to be sung at the top of one’s lungs. I’m just not very convinced that anyone here is having a good time performing this. It makes sense, considering that this is yet another song from a movie soundtrack. Meh… sorry.
28. “99 Luftballons” – Nena: There have been a lot of songs about the threat of nuclear war in the 80s thus far, and they all seem to culminate to “99 Luftballons”. There was an English version released soon after, titled “99 Red Balloons”, but I think that one kind of misses the point. The original German lyrics of “99 Luftballons” (which I won’t get too far into here) more successfully extrapolates an absurd Rube Golberg machine-like series of overblown reactions to menial happenings that eventually lead to World War III. It’s devastating stuff – though it did go to #2 and I’m not too sure if most English listeners really got much of a grasp on this at the time, considering that this social message was blanketed in a catchy rhythm and a series of synth breakdowns. Regardless, those breakdowns truly are awesome, so I wouldn’t blame anyone getting into the song for those reasons alone. It’s just a great song all-around, and it’s too bad that Nena never had another international hit quite as massive.
27. “Break My Stride” – Matthew Wilder: This is the anthem of positivity and that chorus alone is the reason why. It’s not a bad song by any means, but its electronic production definitely dates it in a huge way, and not always to the best results. There honestly isn’t a whole lot to work with – apart from a few peculiar lines in the verses, the repetition of its catchy-as-hell chorus and the good vibes it emits is definitely what helped shoot this up to the top ten. It’s an immediate relic of the decade, which works in its favor, until you actually have to listen to it and realize that there’s not much there (although the downward key change near the end is an interesting touch). Its hard to hate on its optimism, but I prefer this particular track in small doses.
26. “Somebody’s Watching Me” – Rockwell: In case you somehow weren’t aware, Rockwell is the son of Berry Gordy. This is how he was not only able to attain a solo career in the first place, but also able to get one of the biggest stars in the world to sing the chorus of his breakout single! I say this because Rockwell himself is pretty much a non-factor to the strengths of this song. His lyrics are spoken rather than sung, and while he offers a few fun inflections here and there (“When I’m in the shower, I’m afraid to wash my hair!”), for the most part he’s pretty much phoning it in. Michael Jackson on the chorus, though, is pretty much the heart and soul of this whole track, even though it really is just a repetition of a single line every now and again. I also can’t forget to mention those spooky keyboards, which guarantee this a spot on my Halloween playlist now and forever. For casual listening, though, this is a pass.
25. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” – Stevie Wonder: And here’s another song that I find pretty nice and to which I hope people will finally come around. Yes, I’m serious. Sure the days of the groundbreaking Stevie Wonder of the 70s are a thing of the past at this point, but this is still a sweet little love song and I would be totally won over by anyone who sung it to me as gently and sweetly as he does here. It’s true that the way that Wonder runs through the months and seasons of the year is corny as hell, but I can’t help that it wins me over! This is good, I promise!! (Click the link above for a full review)
24. “Joanna” – Kool & the Gang: And I guess there’s always two sides to each coin. Of course the downtempo single release from Kool & the Gang would be the more successful of the two – that’s just the way the world works, I guess! To be fair, though, this isn’t quite as bad as I was expecting. The chorus has a nice croon to it (“Joanna, I love you…”) and the combination of brass horns and guitars throughout is a delectable choice indeed. I could imagine this getting tiresome after a hundred plays, but the instrumentation is competent enough to make for the occasional casual listen. It’s a love song from a bunch of aging R&B giants, sure, but it’s not too bad!
23. “Hold Me Now” – Thompson Twins: Like so many songs on this list, the production here really stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the song. The keyboards are certainly here, but they hold back enough to let the rest of the instruments shine, namely the marimba and tropical-sounding percussion. The combination of these really add a lush, lovely feel to the entire record that mesh well with the lyrics of longing and unrelenting melancholy. The vocalists, on the other hand, leave much to be desired. There’s nothing about their sound that convinces me that this couldn’t have come from the mouths of anyone else. It’s not that they’re bad – just devoid of any true personality, and the listlessness of the chorus doesn’t help (“Hold me now… whoooa”). I’m also probably one of the only ones on the planet who isn’t won over by that falsetto backing vocals during the final chorus; it may actually be one of the most lackluster falsetto deliveries I’ve ever heard in pop music. Eh, maybe I’m wrong… though I don’t think I am.
22. “Say It Isn’t So” – Hall & Oates: If I’m counting correctly, this is the fifteenth Hall & Oates song I’ve covered on this overview of the year-end Hot 100 lists so far. For the most part, a lot of these singles are starting to run together in a formless clump of Hall & Oates. Everything that you’d expect is here – the staccato guitars, the signature keyboards, the lead vocal/backing vocal team-up – and it’s all done competently. Whether or not this makes for an enjoyable track, though, is more of the question. Much like “Did It In a Minute” and others, I feel like this one kind of chases its own tail without leaving much of an impression. It’s… okay. But I’d much rather be taken back to the days of “You Make My Dreams” and “I Can’t Go For That”.
21. “Let’s Go Crazy” – Prince and the Revolution: My least favorite thing about “Let’s Go Crazy” is that it doesn’t last forever. Seriously, though, this really kicks. If 1983 was the year of Thriller, 1984 is the year of Prince and the Purple Rain soundtrack. “Let’s Go Crazy” is the opener to this record and boy what an opener it is. The droning organ-sounding keys open up the track, followed by Prince’s unforgettable monologue: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life…”. Once the beat kicks in, though… whew. The guitar work on this is sensational, as are those keys that seem to take on a life of its own. This is the party track to end all party tracks; it’s just so tightly packed with life, vigor, and rebellious sexuality. It’s just so damn energetic from start to finish and finishes off with an absolutely killer guitar solo to end them all. This is perfect.
20. “Self Control” – Laura Branigan: Top 20, let’s do this! As is tradition with these posts, I will now give a brief breakdown of how women were represented in this year-end list. In total, only twenty-eight of the 100 songs presented here are credited to women in some way (as either solo artists or part of a band or group). Although this is an improvement from last year, this is still a pitiful number, of course. But what is improving are the amount of the most popular tracks put out by women only. Of the twenty-eight songs, only five of them are credited toward a band or group that represent both men and women; the rest are solo artists or all-female groups. The surge in solo women performers like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and, yes, Laura Branigan definitely help matters this year. Now let’s get to the song! “Self Control” is the fourth Laura Branigan song we’ve come across now and further proves to me that she can hardly do no wrong. The chorus is a remarkably catchy one (“I live among the creatures of the night”), but it’s the melody in the pre-chorus that really wins me over (“You take my self, you take my self-control”). I must admit that this isn’t as much of an immediate winner as “Gloria” or “Solitaire”, but it’s a good slice of synth-pop cheese nonetheless.
19. “Talking in Your Sleep” – The Romantics: Theoretically, this should be the type of song that gets me going. It’s got a funky bass that flows throughout the song, followed by some nice, poppy hooks that wears its 80s kitsch on its sleeve so lovingly. Nonetheless, listening to this with fresh ears has made me realize just how limp of a track this is. It’s easily consumable, which I guess is the whole point, but despite its easily-manipulable format, it never manages to do anything all that interesting with its four minutes. It’s repetitive but never quite sticks, which is disappointing. I’ll stick to “What I Like About You” myself.
18. “Jump (For My Love)” – The Pointer Sisters: Oooh, the synths on this one are the most infectious dancerize joy. Everything else though… well, it’s good! I always enjoy listening to the Pointer Sisters having a good time, and it’s especially apparent here. Just take a listen to that pre-chorus – those cries of, “More, more, more!” are ecstatic as sin. For a song, though, it’s clear that the Sisters have done so much better. This one kind of just follows along with the synthpop trend of the hour, which isn’t inherently a bad thing. It definitely helps that this is catchier than so much of its ilk, and even has a nice bridge of keyboard washes in the bridge to keep things interesting. It’s nothing mind-blowing is all I’m saying. But it’s still so fun!
17. “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper: I guess now is a good time as ever to state that She’s So Unusual is one of my favorite albums of the 80s. Cyndi Lauper is such an electric personality throughout the whole album, but one of the standout tracks actually comes with her toning down her image a bit to perform a sentimental ballad. Accompanied by Rob Hyman of The Hooters (an underrated band, look them up), Lauper sings affectionately about unconditional love and devotion in a romantic relationship, taking pieces of her own personal life to create a vivid portrait of such. The chorus itself is particularly lovely (“If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting time after time”) and the synths that flow in and out give an added emotional resonance to the entire record. While there are at least a few songs from She’s So Unusual that I would place above this one, compared to so many others out there, Lauper really is one of a kind and even this slow, sumptuous ballad exemplifies this.
16. “The Reflex” – Duran Duran: I don’t know what it is about Duran Duran, but every single I’ve heard from them so far seems to just miss the mark of actual greatness. They have a lot of good material, sure, but the best single I’ve ever heard from them – “Save a Prayer” – didn’t even chart in the US! “The Reflex” was heavily remixed for its single release, and it sure makes it obvious. After the second chorus, there is an abundance of scratching, mixing, and vocal chops that make the whole thing come off as totally silly. It’s too catchy to be truly annoying, but boy does it test those limits. Anyway, this lies in the better tier of Duran Duran singles for me, if only because the chorus here is one of their strong ones. It definitely didn’t need to go to number-one, though.
15. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper: Oh yes. Here’s the one that started it all, the one that sky-rocketed Lauper to (almost) the top of the charts and cemented her place in the 80s. Lauper’s voice punctuates this one to a distinctly playful level that I doubt any other pop star of this time could have achieved. Additionally, those synthesizers are used to tremendous effect, crafting a sporty, enjoyable party vibe that meshes well with the overall message of feminist empowerment (“When the working day is done, girls just want to have fun”). Sure, maybe the massive overplay prevents me from giving this the fresh listen it truly deserves, but the 80s connotations it’s attained since its initial prestige more than makes up for it. What a happy lil’ song!
14. “Dancing in the Dark” – Bruce Springsteen: Hey, now even Bruce Springsteen is jumping on the synthpop bandwagon! You can call it a sellout – I call it awesome. Springsteen’s energetic vocal delivery is a perfect match with the uptempo synth riffs that pulse and propel this track into something truly awesome. I’ve always really loved the lyrics to this one too, which really is an amazing thing to state about a song that is meant for dancing. In particular, the opening lines really jump out at me (“I get up in the evening, and I ain’t got nothing to say / I come home in the morning, I go to bed feeling the same way”), as do the lines, “They say you gotta stay hungry / Hey baby, I’m just about starving tonight”. It’s an anthem of deep-seated restlessness, an absolute synthpop classic… and one of Springsteen’s best songs.
13. “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” – Deniece Williams: And here’s another one about which I’ve already written in depth! To sum it up, I think this one is just okay. Listening to it one more time as I type this, though, and I’m actually tapping my foot and singing along. It seems to be the type of song that works well in small doses every once in a great while – nothing wrong with that!
12. “All Night Long (All Night)” – Lionel Richie: Departing a bit from his usual fare of slow, R&B love songs, Richie decides to grant us the gift of an actual party song! Well, kind of. The verses are decidedly slow and smooth, and it’s only when the chorus kicks in that things get turned up to… well, medium gear. It’s still pretty soft and gentle for a party song, though there are some nice bits of tropical instrumentation strewn throughout that make it worth a listen. Much has been made of the breakdown before the final chorus, which features some chanting in an African-sounding dialect. In truth, this chanting is just a bunch of gibberish meant to mimic a foreign language, which is… just strange. Honestly, though, besides the aforementioned production, everything about this song just bores me to tears. I guess it could have been so much worst, but if the point of this song was for Richie to get me to “raise the roof and have some fun”… well, it failed.
11. “Missing You” – John Waite: One of the most peculiar things I’ve realized about these lists as I go through them is that they tend to get less and less interesting as I move up to the top ten and even the top twenty. This is usually where the most generic-sounding fluff can be found, since what I like to call “lowest common denominator pop” is the often the type of music that gets the most plays and sales. It’s also where all the overplayed songs end up, for obvious reasons, so these songs may also seem less interesting due to over-saturation. Whatever the reason, “Missing You” definitely fits in this stereotype of less interesting top-twenty songs. Waite’s voice isn’t the worst thing in the world, but he does nothing to make the emotional appeal any more palpable besides getting slightly louder during the chorus. Some of these lyrics are slightly interesting (“There’s a message that I’m sending out, like a telegraph to your soul”) and the production and instrumentation are nice little slices of sombre pop-rock. Overall, though, this remains unimpressive.
10. “Karma Chameleon” – Culture Club: Top ten, yes!!! And way to kick it off with the very first Culture Club song I’ve ever heard. What I’ve come to find is I enjoy Culture Club’s more textured, melancholic songs over their spritely, uptempo ones. This is good, of course – the melody in the verses is absolutely exquisite and the song demonstrates the same kind of batshit crazy lyrics one would expect from Boy George and co. (“Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams / Red, gold, and green; red, gold, and green”). Nonetheless, this is one of the more easily consumable selections from the Culture Club catalog, sacrificing wit and charm for ankle-deep pop sugariness. That’s how this was able to stay at the top for three weeks! Despite all of this, though, the melody just works for me too well to pass it over completely. It’s fine!
9. “Ghostbusters” – Ray Parker, Jr.: Ray Parker, Jr. may be my worst enemy on these Billboard charts, and his theme to the film Ghostbusters is his worst attack of them all. That synth riff is ridiculously catchy, but Parker himself is just so out of his element. Overall, this song also overflows with the most rampant 80s sonic cheese there is, bleep-blooping all over the place like it’s no one’s business. Not much more to say about this one (for now) – it must just be a time-and-place kind of thing.
8. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” – Yes: Oh geez… I’m glad that this is a number-one hit upon which I could delve in the future, because I really need to familiarize myself with Yes before I even touch upon a proper review of this. At face value, though, I’ve always loved the main riff to this and practically everything else about it is so fascinatingly weird. It’s so damn overproduced and strangely experimental for a pop radio hit… and I kind of love it.
7. “Hello” – Lionel Richie: Ugh, thank goodness I’ll be away from Lionel Richie for a little while after this song. Generally speaking, this stands as yet another member of the dreary R&B slow jam club, although this has some tinges of synth inflections that keep things pretty intriguing. There are also some cool things done with the rest of the instrumentations (including a Spanish-style guitar solo) and the melody in the chorus is lovelier than much of Richie’s other songs. Nonetheless, I am really not a fan of these lyrics (“In my dreams I’ve kissed your lips a thousand times”) and it still falls in the camp of dull, boring, soulless hits with which Richie has become synonymous.
6. “Jump” – Van Halen: Much like the year-end chart of 1978-79 saw many non-dance artists turning over to the disco side, it looks like the overall trend of 1984 is that of bands and artists adding synthesizers to their arrangement to great success. “Great success” would be underemphasizing the success of “Jump”, though – it stayed at the top spot of the pop charts for five weeks!! Goodness gracious, the synths here are so full and lush and totally awesome. Unfortunately, though, these synths are probably the best part of the song – I’ve never been the biggest fan of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen, and I can’t say that this song has ever persuaded me to that side any more. At least this one’s still got a nifty guitar solo!
5. “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” – Phil Collins: Ah, now here’s a good ballad. I think what really gets me about this song is that I’m so thoroughly convinced that Collins is singing here about a longtime partner who is choosing to leave for their own reasons. The line, “You’re the only one who really knew me at all” pretty much sums it up – breakups are simply all the more excruciating when it’s with someone with who you’ve spent a good chunk of your life, and the feelings are so concrete in this song. Collins sings the hell out of it and I love the way the instrumentals swell and swell as his words and feelings get more intense. It’s a damn fine, heartbreaking piece of work.
4. “Footloose” – Kenny Loggins: There’s not a whole lot I like about Footloose – in fact, I probably like the soundtrack even less. I can’t say I hate its title song too much, though. Kenny Loggins has proven time and time again to be an incredible vocalist; all he’s doing here is dialing his prowess back a bit in an attempt to let the guitars, keys, and general melody do all the talking. The energy in this one is off the charts and makes for a ridiculously peppy hit that charts into some slightly embarrassing territory at times. Still, the pre-chorus here is the absolute best and the optimism presented throughout makes this impossible to dislike. Now if I had been around during the height of its popularity, I may speak differently…
3. “Say Say Say” – Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson: It’s a little strange listening to the original version of this song, since I am actually a lot more familiar with the acoustic cover by Kesang Marstrand. But even without this bit of context, I can tell that this is one of the lesser singles from either of the two… well, obviously. The standard dance-pop production of this tune is so different from what either of these two performers have done in the past, and I can only see it as a feeble attempt to somehow meet in the middle. As a result, the single is only mildly catchy, mildly annoying, and mostly forgettable. Hard, hard pass!
2. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” – Tina Turner: It’s just now occurred to me that the vast majority of this top ten consists of musical acts that have been working in the business for at least a decade, most of which achieving their biggest hit this year. This is the first time we’ve seen Tina Turner at all since 1971 and her very first solo hit on any of these year-end charts. In terms of her performance, I’m not gonna lie – I’m a little underwhelmed. I know that she’s fully capable of so much more raw power and energy. The smooth adult contemporary backing here isn’t half-bad, but it also gives the impression that Turner is holding back to make for a more palatable track. I guess that’s what is so frustrating about the top songs of this year: they all seem to play it so safe. Surely there’s someone out there who dared to shake things up this year and found commercial success in doing so??
1. “When Doves Cry” – Prince: Ah, yes, my friend. It’s been a long time since I was truly, utterly satisfied with the number-one of its respective year. This year, I think they did well. Prince was one of the straight-up weirdest musicians up there, and it’s kind of a goddamn miracle that the Purple Rain soundtrack made as big of a splash as it did. The lyrics here are so fervent and vivid (“Dream, if you can, a courtyard, an ocean of violets in bloom / Animals strike curious poses; they feel the heat, the heat between me and you”) and the production is so unique and unlike anything else imaginable. Even more impressive is that there is no bass in this song at all – how does that even happen?? Of course, the game-changing factor here is Prince himself, who oozes sex and dysfunction from every pore of his body and lays it all out in a lush sonic landscape that just feels so vast and sprawling. The album version is definitely the better listen than the single version for that very reason – it just goes on and on and on until it practically implodes from its own weight. I myself can go on and on and on… but I should leave some room for when I get to write in-depth on this track in the future. RIP Prince Rogers Nelson.