Monday, February 8, 2016

Billboard's Top Ten February 2, 1985

[Editor's note: I was thinking about this time of year today and a very specific memory bubbled up in my head about listening the Casey Kasem's Top 40 in February of 1985.  I then looked up the charts and was surprised and amused by what I saw.  Every now and then I plan on looking at what the top ten was that week during a year in the past, both for my own amusement and as an exercise in cultural history.]

Starting in late 1984, I began to religiously tune in to Casey Kasem's weekly top 40 countdown, one of the great bygone cultural practices of the spandex decade.  Being a nerd, I took note of which songs were on top, and which were climbing and falling.  This week sticks in my mind, because Madonna's hold on the top slot was finally broken by Foreigner, of all people.  And now, on with the countdown.

Number 10: "The Neutron Dance" by The Pointer Sisters
I remember really liking this song at the time, one of the many tracks from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack to hit the charts.  It marries the Pointer Sisters' soulful singing with the electro-plastic production of mid-80s pop music, which isn't as bad as it sounds.  There's not much funk here, emblematic of how the pop music of the mid-80s drained away groove and feel in favor of big dumb beats.  In many ways we are still living with that change.

Number 9: "Method of Modern Love" by Hall and Oates
I also remember digging this song, which is rarely cited these days by Hall and Oates enthusiasts. Like the Pointer Sisters they had dialed back the rhythm and amped up the gated snare drums and synths.  Listening to it today I can hear traces of Can and Neu!, which makes me realize that the influence of krautrock reached deeper than I ever imagined.  It's got some odd sound textures, making it fairly daring by the pop song standards of the time.

Number 8:  "I Would Die 4 U" by Prince
This too is a lesser single by a renowned artist.  By this time Prince was starting to suck his monumental Purple Rain album dry of singles.  This song is in no way the equal of say "Let's Go Crazy" or "When Doves Cry," but it's a nice bit of pop song, and has enough of the Prince character to make it stand out from the other chart-seekers of the time.

Number 7: "Like A Virgin" by Madonna
I must admit, this song kinda scared me.  I was nine years old, and I had no clue what a virgin was.  Madonna was sexy, but not in the smiley accessible way of Catherine Bach aka Daisy Duke, my first celebrity crush.  I had no way of understanding the words of the song, but the deeper meaning was somewhat apparent, and it frightened the shy little third grader I was.  Listening to it now I can't stop hearing how limited Madonna's singing was at the time (she got a lot better), but also how in the midst of the boring shopping mall facade of Reagan-era America this was something a bit dangerous.

Number 6: "Boys Of Summer" by Don Henley
Okay, here's a song I really liked at the time and I still most confess to have never left behind. The mid-80s had a genius for dark sultry top 40 music with an air of mystery to them.  The rhythm is insistent, like driving a car 70 miles an hour in a rain storm.  The song touches on nostalgia and loss, and hearing it was a kind of early introduction to adult emotions.  The Doppler-effect guitar still spooks me, just like the immortal line about seeing a "Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac."  This song might be better than anything Henley did in the Eagles.

Number 5: "Loverboy" by Billy Ocean
Billy Ocean is one of the great forgotten chart toppers.  Why do some people score hits and then fade out of consciousness?  Perhaps this song is too much 80s.  It's part of that weird mid-80s rocking R&B genre, with synth-drums and squeeeely guitar as far as the eye can see.  It is not something you can listen to and find timeless, that's for sure.

Number 4: "You're The Inspiration" by Chicago
I remember staring with hate-filled eyes at the happy lovers couple skating to this song at the roller rink.  It is hard to imagine that the same band responsible for jazzy rock like "25 or 6 to 4"in the 1970s would conquer the charts with soft rock pablum like this in the 80s.    Peter Cetera's voice has a certain timbre that I can't describe, but which seems perfectly suited for the 1980s and no other time. I am surprised that there's no sax solo here.

Number 3: "Careless Whisper" by Wham!
Oh, but speaking of saxophones, the the sax riff on this song is one of the most memorable of the era when mellow sax ruled the charts.  This was the last song on Wham!'s Make It Big album (don't ask how I know that), and seemed a lot more serious and adult that the jaunty fare like "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go."  There is no Andrew Ridgely on this song, which seems to signal that George Michael is about to strike out on his own.  For some reason Great Britain has kept the groove of soul music alive, and this song actually has some cool musical interplay beneath the requisite sheen.  At the time I found this song rather emotionally moving, but while I certainly no longer feel that way anymore, I don't think it's a punchline to a joke about the 80s, either.

Number 2: "Easy Lover" by Phil Collins and Philip Bailey
I wrote about the video for this song, which is just so much of its time.  The mid-80s had a thing for duets, and this is an odd one on the surface.  Phil Collins, who was drummer for proggy Genesis in the 70s, and Philip Bailey, who lent his falsetto to the great Earth, Wind, and Fire at the same time, make for an interesting combo.  This song has a rocking tempo with some bonafide rocking drums (not a drum machine), giving the right foundation for the kickass guitar riffing.  It's ultimately saved from being butt rock both by those drums and Bailey's always wonderful falsetto, which is too cutting and unique to be constrained by the strictures of mid-80s chart topping pop music.

Number 1: "I Want To Know What Love Is"
Foreigner were world-conquering cock rockers in the 1970s who managed to update their sound to make it in the 80s, adding synths and New Wave beats and saxophones on songs like "Urgent."  It was thus inevitable that they would make a power ballad.  This song starts so moody, with singer Lou Gramm, once "hot-blooded" now talking about his "heartache and pain" walking the mean streets of life with a minor chord synthesizer accompanying him.  The song builds and builds, until a massive gospel choir comes in, turning the very teenage sentiment of "I wanna know what love is/ I want you to show me" into something like a hallelujah.  The choir lifts the song up into something so much better than it has any right to be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love all of these songs even though many aren't objectively that good. Just hearing them makes me happy.