Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Billboard Top Ten February 21, 1987

I was going to limit myself to one top ten breakdown a month, but I've spent the last four days seriously ill and in need of the kind of goofy pick me up you can only get from 80s pop music.

10. Cyndi Lauper "Change of Heart"

Hellooooooo 80s!  The synths and drums are IN YOUR FACE!  This is a sad contrast to Lauper's first album, which had more unique singles like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and "Time After Time."  If you ever needed a master class in 80s overproduction techniques, just listen to this song.

9. Ready for the World "Love You Down"

Soul music had become so processed and systematized by the late 80s that Public Enemy was prompted to write "Who Stole the Soul?"  Is there some slap bass?  Oh you bet!  All over it, baby. This song is the musical equivalent of the lead singer's jheri curl and wispy mustache combo, a true time capsule.

8. Madonna "Open Your Heart"

Okay, now we're in the major leagues.  Yes the gated snare drums are over the top and the synths shinier than a disco ball, but Madonna really adds something here.  Unlike on her earlier records, she's really learned to use the lower register of her voice, and it sounds great, almost enough to make me forget the computerized juggernaut sound beneath it all.

7. Lionel Richie "Ballerina Girl"

Now if there is a true master of mid-80s top 40 pop music, it's got to be Lionel Richie.  Here's a very tasteful little ballad, with strings that remind me more of 70s than 80s pop.  Evidently he wrote it for his daughter Nicole, and for that reason as the father of daughters I guess I can't mock it that much. It does sound like the kind of thing written specifically for father-daughter dances at weddings.  It also marks Richie's last trip into the top 10, a sign that the late 80s were going to be a different pop landscape.

6.  The Jets "You Got It All"

Watery electric piano and smoooooth sax? Aw yeah, it's an 80s pop ballad alright.  I was not surprised to discover that this song was written by Rupert Holmes, the man responsible for "The Pina Colada Song."  I liked The Jets back then, but more for their danceable stuff.

5. Samantha Fox "Touch Me"

Gulp.  This song made 11 year old Bear feel things he hadn't quite felt before listening to the radio.  I had a friend on the wrong side of the tracks who I'd started to drift from -and would eventually end up in Boys Town- who loved this song.  I was intrigued and a bit scared by the raw sexual force that was Samantha Fox, a voluptuous cockney with a limited singing range.  The song's utter lack of quality just didn't register with me.

4. Huey Lewis and the News "Jacob's Ladder"

Now it wouldn't be an 80s countdown without a little Huey Lewis, would it?  I will defend the band's 1983 Sports album as a fun collection of bar band music gone pop.  Unfortunately, by the time they put out Fore! all of their bar band spirit was gone.  The tacky suit on the cover knows the score.  This song just….isn't that good.  It's the musical equivalent of a flat bottle of Perrier overheating in a yuppie's 1987 BMW.

3. Chicago "Will You Still Love Me"

One of the small number of post-Peter Cetera songs by Chicago to hit the top ten.  This is full-on 80s ballad cheese, the kind of thing I imagine teens necking to in the back of their Datsuns after the football game.  Of course, there are a few loud guitar crashes here and there, but it's pretty weak sauce.

2. Georgia Satellites "Keep Your Hands To Yourself"

Yes Yes Yes YES!  Now this is what I am talking about!  A song played by an actual band that doesn't sound like it's been sequenced within an inch of its life.  The drums sound like drums, not bricks hitting the pavement.  It has SWING and RHYTHM and still manages to rock.  I also think it's a pretty funny tune about the reality of eventually needing to settle down and leave one's rough and rowdy ways behind.  Before the Black Crowes showed up the Georgia Satellites revived the southern rock of the seventies on this track.  Is it derivative?  Sure, but it's a helluva lot more fun and real than most of the other stuff on the charts.

1. Bon Jovi "Livin' On A Prayer"

But of course, it had to end with this.  Nothing in recent years chaps my breeches like the idea that Jon Bon Jovi somehow belongs in the same Jersey rock pantheon as Bruce Springsteen.  Bon Jovi has managed to attain this level of praise by never going away, and always having a knack for producing some more lame, middle of the road music just attuned enough the radio of the time to get hits.  I will at least give them credit for two things on this song: 1. Centering the song on gritty working class reality 2. The infectious chorus.  Just remember, y'all, diseases are infectious, too.

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