Friday, August 26, 2016

Billboard Top Ten August 30, 1980

I've recently been obsessed with a time period I like to call Reagan Dawn, which I date as roughly between 1979 and 1982. It coincides with the election of Reagan, along with two big economic downturns. It's the world where I first gained consciousness, and a time when the culture of the seventies gave way to something new. It's also a time whose cultural artifacts seem very rooted in it, and rarely recalled in the present day. Now, on with the countdown!

10. "More Love" by Kim Carnes
Next year Kim Carnes would hit number one with "Bette Davis Eyes," a song that would help define the pop sound of the coming decade. "More Love" still has a foot in the seventies. The chorus reminds me of KC and the Sunshine Band's "Keep It Coming Love." It's got a bit of disco swing in it, but the synthesizers and stripped-down sound are signs of changing times.

9. "Let My Love Open The Door"

For some reason I thought this song came later in the 80s, probably because it sounds ahead of its time. The synthesizer sound was a harbinger of what was to come, and Townsend's softer approach reflected the middle aging of the Boomer generation. It's a great song, and better than any song the Who put out after Quadrophenia in 1973. It's refreshing to hear one of Townsend's more heartfelt songs without Roger Daltry flexing his scrote all over the vocal track.

8. "Give Me The Night" by George Benson
Oh yeaaah! People tend to think of funk as a 70s genre, but the early 80s saw some fantastically funky hits. Rick James, Prince, and the Gap Band might be more remembered today, but this song shows that George Benson knew a thing or two about laying down a killer groove. This song also demonstrates how, like New Wave, 80s funk had more angular rhythms than the 70s variety, perhaps reflecting the "straighter" nature of America's turn in the Reagan Dawn.

7. "All Out Of Love" by Air Supply

Is there a more Reagan Dawn artist than Air Supply? They drew from soft rock explosion of the 70s, but more polished and less funky with a dash of bombast. It was emotive and shimmery and a little over the top, like an early 80s prime time soap opera. No artist ever had a better soft rock name. I mean "Air Supply" is about as evocative of this music as it gets. From Australia, they are also on the edge of the first wave of the Antipodean Invasion of the 1980s, with Men at Work to soon follow. This cultural phenomenon has given me a lifelong fascination with Australia, which I still yearn to visit.

6. "Fame" by Irene Cara

Contrary to a popular misconception, disco did not die right after the Disco Demolition Night in Chicago in the summer of 1979. It was still all over the charts in 1980, but a little more stripped down and less glammed out. This new disco, instead of dying, would quietly form the basis of 80s dance music. Take Irene Cara, who sang this song in 1980, but went on to do "What A Feeling" in 1983, at which point the Reagan Dawn had turned into new morning. This Giorgio Moroder-fied disco does not have the big string sections, replacing it with synthesizer, a sign of things to come.

5. "Take Your Time (Do It Right)" by The SOS Band
Speaking of 80s funk, The SOS gave the world a particularly tasty slice in the summer of 1980. I mean, just try not dancing to this song. I dare you. Sadly these are the kind of funky grooves that would get killed off by the increasing computerization of R&B in the 80s.

4. "Emotional Rescue" by The Rolling Stones
For awhile in the mid-1970s the Stones branched out from blues rock to make some music inflected by reggae, funk and disco. They pretty much got back to basics on 1978's Some Girls, except for the discofied megahit "Miss You." On "Emotional Rescue" they went back to the funk, with Jagger affecting a horrible falsetto. I can't stop being distracted by it, which is a shame, since the groove is so tight. Then he makes things worse with his silly vamping at the end in an intentionally low voice. This is perhaps a taste of a decade of bad decisions that Jagger was about to make.

3. "Magic" by Olivia Newton-John

Like I said, disco was not dead in 1980. Hell, this song comes from a roller disco movie! (Xanadu is one of my fave so bad it's good flicks.) Despite that fact, it is deceptively ahead of its time. The watery guitar and synths would be big 80s pop production elements, although the laid-back drum beat still lingers from the 70s. Olivia Newton-John may have been the representative artist of the Reagan Dawn, hitting her peak in that era with "Physical" in 1981 and soon dropping off.

2. "Upside Down" by Diana Ross

Now this right here is a song. It is appropriate for the dusk of disco, edgier and less ostentatious. The song is built on a wicked, sharp-elbowed groove that has never failed to get me moving. Ross's soft voice provides a sweet counterpoint, yin to the groove's yang. The owl of Minerva flies at dusk indeed.

1. "Sailing" by Christopher Cross

Poor Christopher Cross. In 1980 he wrote and performed what's probably the most successful Yacht Rock of them all, right before the advent of MTV. In the 70s ordinary looking guys could get big if they could write catchy songs, but in the age of videos it would take something more than that. Phil Collins managed to crack to code by making his videos stand out, but in 1981 that wasn't really an option yet. The smooth sound of this track, easy listening but with more of a soul influence, sounds like Reagan Dawn. Cross, like that period, was liminal. Too bad he got caught in between.

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