Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Billboard Top Ten May 3 1986

I tend to think of 1986 as peak 80s. It's the year that Top Gun game out, the most 80s movie of the 80s. It's before the stock market fall of 1987 and the ensuing savings and loan crisis and Iran-Contra Affair threw some cold water on the triumphalism of Reaganism. It also saw some songs that we still hear today. And now, on with the countdown!

10. The Bangles, "Manic Monday"

Written by Prince, and it sounds like it. (That's a good thing.) The Bangles keep his patented bounce, but add a bit of their own flavor to it. From this song to Garfield, we really liked to complain about Mondays in the 80s, didn't we? There's just enough of an edge of melancholy to keep this song from being kitsch.

9. Phil Collins, "Take Me Home"

I'll admit it, I really like this song. I've talked at length about Phil Collins on this blog, because he is such an odd artifact of his time. A short, aging drummer with a receeding hairline who someone managed to make it big in the music video era. His best music, like this song, contains a surprising emotional heft. My understanding is that this is a song about someone in a mental hospital who is desperate to go home again. Collins is pretty good at bringing that tragic longing across.

8. The Outfield, "Your Love"
By this time in the 80s the rock music that made it this high on the charts was by fossils like the Stones (more on them later) or pop metal or, as in this case, a kind of sleek, corporate rock. It's actually a gross song about a guy who is going to cheat on his lady with someone much younger. "You know I like my girls just a little bit older/ I just want to use your love tonight." It's catchy and those chiming guitars sound great, but it's all background for maximum skeeviness.

7. Whitney Houston, "The Greatest Love Of All"
This was originally recorded by George Benson in the late 1970s. Here it gets the fully 80s pop R&B treatment, but with strings rather than synths. It's a shame that a singer as gifted as Whitney Houston was always singing songs with such insipid lyrics and treacly backing.

6. Janet Jackson, "What Have You Done For Me Lately"
Surprisingly, this is the first song on the countdown with that classic, in your face mid-80s production anchored by a gated snare sound and metronomic beats. This song introduced the new, tough Janet Jackson that would reach her apotheosis on her next single, "Nasty." It's a mode that really suited her, and the songs from it hold up pretty well despite the production.

5. Rolling Stones, "Harlem Shuffle"
At this point the Stones were completely adrift and almost broke apart. The production is ridiculously 80s, and Jagger's clowning is even more garish. The song is a classic R&B cover, the type of thing they used to do a lot on their early records, except those songs were actually good.

4. Van Halen, "Why Can't This Be Love"
This once great band, which had given hard rock a necessary shot in the arm when they burst forth in the late 1970s, and made of the great mainstream rock albums of the 80s with 1984 are now fully ensconced in their tepid Van Haggar mode. The Red Rocker lacks David Lee Roth's impishness, and Eddie Van Halen's guitar seems almost completely tamed.

3. Prince and the Revolution, "Kiss"
This song was a staple at the grad student parties I went to in the early 2000s. Much funkier than the other stuff on the charts, you just can't help shaking it when this song comes on. Prince's falsetto is also an interesting choice, giving his lyrics less of a leering connotation. As usual, when viewed in context of the other songs on the charts his hits sound that much more fresh and innovative.

2. Pet Shop Boys, "West End Girls"
I loved this song when it came out and I still love it. The sound is so wonderfully moody, I want to live inside of it. It's one of the few examples of the edgier music of the day actually hitting the mainstream. I will still put this on my headphones and strut languidly up Broadway on my way to work.

1. Robert Palmer, "Addicted To Love"
Hoo boy, this is the mid-80s personified, from the sleek as sleek production to the arty misogyny of the video to the love as cocaine metaphor of the lyrics. The riff is simple and repetitive, but former soulster Palmer gives it just enough grunt and sweat to make it acceptably down and dirty, the top 40 equivalent of 50 Shades of Grey, if you will.

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