(Above: Michael Jackson, about to debut the moonwalk on Motown 25, taped 3/25/1983.)
The last week in March of 1983 I was looking forward to the end of my freshman year of high school. Baseball fans on the South Side of Chicago were looking forward to opening day, not necessarily realizing that it would become one of the most exciting summers in years. The pop charts featured a wide variety of great songs. Many have been played to death in the 34 years since their release, while others have slipped through the cracks. As we are wont to do on this blog, let’s bring ’em back to the forefront and give ’em a listen.
Outside the Top 40
#95 – Night Ranger, “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” This song is on its way down the charts, having peaked at #40 a few weeks earlier. I’ll put Night Ranger in the guilty pleasure category. This is a song that will get turned up on the rare occasion I find it on the radio.
#90 – INXS, “The One Thing.” This song makes its debut on the chart this week, and will eventually make it up to #30. INXS is a band that I somehow missed in high school, likely due to insisting on finding oldies shows on Saturday nights. Later, in college radio, I played the grooves out of The Swing, the LP that came out the following year.
#87 – Adam Ant, “Goody Two Shoes.” Also making its way down the charts from an earlier peak at #12. It’s interesting to review the morality test in this record, since there’s a lot besides drinking and smoking that can be done nowadays.
#84 – Wall of Voodoo, “Mexican Radio.” This never makes it into the Top 40, but gets a ton of airplay on MTV, which is where I know it from. You’ll never look at a bowl of pork and beans quite the same after seeing this video.
#83 – Saga, “On the Loose.” Talk about a tumble: this was at #35 just last week. Both this song and “Wind Him Up” from the same LP got a lot of airplay on Chicago’s WMET, and both should be getting airplay someplace now. I haven’t heard this in years.
#82 – Lou Rawls, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” No, really. It debuts this week, and it’s wonderful. Why couldn’t we have had this version instead of Bette Midler’s, which I was made to play every week years later at WJTW? Sadly, this only made it to #65, not quite higher than an eagle.
#74 – Heaven 17, “Let Me Go.” This is as high as this song got, and yet I’m guessing that if you have one of those various-artists CDs of 80s new wave, it’s on there.
#69 – Naked Eyes, “Always Something There To Remind Me.” This will become a massive hit later that spring. It’s a Bachrach-David song, previously done by Lou Johnson, Sandie Shaw, the Four Seasons, R.B. Greaves…
#67 – Yaz, “Only You.” This was another staple of college radio, and it reached no higher than this on the charts.
#58 – Sammy Hagar, “Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy.” This song was in the top 40 last week but just fell out. This is another one that I will usually turn up on the rare occasion it finds its way onto the radio. Somewhere, there’s a mixtape that I made freshman year of high school that features this song. The tape was made for the biology class field trip to Brookfield Zoo. I don’t know why that stands out, but it’s a very clear memory – walking around the zoo with a giant boom box playing this song.
#54 – David Bowie, “Let’s Dance.” This song debuts this week and will eventually make it all the way to the top of the charts, making it the second (and final) time that Bowie captures the top spot. The other, of course, was “Fame.” Talk about an artist producing a lot of great music that doesn’t translate to chart success (see “Berry, Chuck“).
#51 – Musical Youth, “Pass the Dutchie.” It’s on the way down the charts, and thank goodness for that.
#50 – The Clash, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.” This is what I love about this chart: these two songs are next to each other. It’s a throwback to 1960s variety, and we don’t see much like it today.
#46 – Kenny Loggins, “Welcome To Heartlight.” This is another example of a song that I haven’t heard in forever, and can’t think of a really solid reason why not. It was a hit (#24), and got adult contemporary crossover play, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard it. It’s not horrid.
#41 – Oxo, “Whirly Girl.” This song got played on my college radio shows a lot, usually at ear-splitting volume. It has one of the coldest endings ever, and I missed it a lot.
This Week’s Top 40
#39 – Phil Collins, “I Don’t Care Anymore.” I was surprised to learn that this was where this song peaked. If you look at the chart positions of Phil Collins songs, there’s almost an inverse relationship between quality and popularity. Remember – “Groovy Kind of Love” was #1. I rest my case.
#34 – Bob Seger, “Even Now.” This one’s on the way up, and it’s also one you don’t hear that often. Give me less “Old Time Rock and Roll” and more of this.
#31 – Thomas Dolby, “She Blinded Me With Science.” On its way up to #5, largely driven by a very strange video that was aired heavily on MTV.
#28 – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Change of Heart.” For some reason, this gets left off the Petty greatest hits collections, and that’s a shame. Long After Dark was another one of those LPs that we wore out in college radio. I think anytime one of my partners in crime at the station got dumped, this got played.
#27 – Prince, “Little Red Corvette,” #26 – Billy Joel, “Allentown,” #25 – ABC, “Poison Arrow,” and #24 – Men at Work, “Down Under.” This is what I mean about this chart. I would listen to this chunk of the chart on repeat. Actually, come to think of it – I do. All of these songs have stuck with me for years, and I seek them out.
#22 – Joe Jackson, “Breaking Us In Two.” Around the end of this school year my junior high and high school friend Bill Ryan turned me on to the whole of the Night and Day LP. I was familiar with “Steppin’ Out” from WLS, but hadn’t heard the rest of the album. I went right out and bought it. Radio never thought to play “Cancer” from it, but they would do well to. This song has a great video, and – after a few drinks – I can kind of nail the vocal on it.
#19 – Christopher Cross, “All Right.” I skipped over Barry Manilow earlier on this chart (he’s at #49 with “Some Kind of Friend”), and am now thinking that these two have an important place here. Again, my comparison to mid-60s charts is valid. There’s songs for rockers, song for punks, and songs for their parents who are displeased with all of it. This would be one of those songs. Mom and Dad were playing this one as you rolled your eyes.
#18 – Eric Clapton, “I’ve Got a Rock And Roll Heart.” Possibly unpopular opinion here: I hate this song. Seriously. If I were making a list of “songs that legendary artists just phoned in,” I’d include this near the top. He could fight it out with Paul McCartney for “Spies Like Us.” Heck, this may become its own topic.
#16 – After The Fire, “Der Komissar.” Depending on where you lived in 1983, you heard this song in English. I preferred the German version, and the popularity of this (it hit #5) likely gave us “99 Luftballons,” so it’s not such a bad thing.
#15 – Michael Jackson, “Beat It.” Spoiler alert: more about Michael higher up the chart.
#14 – Greg Kihn, “Jeopardy.” A great song with a video that – now that I look at it – was done on a camcorder. Another song that MTV played a LOT, since MTV in 1983 leaned very heavily on white males with guitars.
#13 – Frida, “I Know There’s Something Going On.” The drumming of Phil Collins on the track makes this song work. I often thought he should have covered it.
#12 – Bob Seger, “Shame On the Moon.” See #34. Same sentiment applies.
#11 – Dexys Midnight Runners, “Come On Eileen.” This is one of those songs that I still remember the first time I heard it. It was on WLS-FM one afternoon, and it caught my attention immediately. It may have been the first time ever that I thought like a programmer, since I knew it was going to be very popular.
Into The Top 10
#10 – Golden Earring, “Twilight Zone.” This is another one that MTV played a lot. The image of the playing card being shot through the middle is the first thing I think of. I much prefer the LP version to the single, as it’s much, much longer.
#9 – Daryl Hall and John Oates, “One on One.” This later became a staple of AC radio, but – again – I can’t think of the last time I’ve heard this. Less “Maneater” and more this, please.
#8 – Journey, “Separate Ways.” I remember WBBM-FM – then called “96 Now” before deciding on “B-96,” playing this song a ton. You wouldn’t hear that today for sure.
#7 – Styx, “Mr. Roboto.” I’m not going to say I didn’t like it, because I did. To be fair, though, I’d rather hear “Music Time” on the 80s shows than this one.
#6 – Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton, “We’ve Got Tonight.” No Bob Seger here – this one was the hit. Show of hands: if you were a senior in 1983, was this your prom theme? I’d put even money on it.
#5 – Pretenders, “Back On the Chain Gang.” If I were to go back and re-rank this chart on personal preference, this might be at the top. I love this song. It’s a true “place and time” thing for me. I hear this song, and I think of riding home on the school bus, having survived another day of high school, with my Intellivision calling my name. Since school got out at 2:20, that meant a couple hours of Astrosmash until dinner. Life was easy.
#4 – Lionel Richie, “You Are.” If #6 wasn’t played at your prom, this was.
#3 – Duran Duran, “Hungry Like The Wolf.” This is the song that got these guys hanging on the bedroom walls of most of the girls in my high school. A string of hits between this one and 1985 cemented their place. This is as high as this song got.
#2 – Culture Club, “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me.” If your parents didn’t walk into the room, stare at MTV, and say “What the hell is this?” you weren’t watching MTV. Of course, MTV had problems with the blackface in this video. Admittedly, it wasn’t “cool” to like this band at the time, at least not openly. But damn, did they make some catchy music.
#1 – Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean.” This song stays at #1 this week. It’s also an extraordinarily important record on two fronts: one, because it made MTV come to realize that it needed to start to feature artists of color, and two, because of the performance Jackson gave on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever. When I taught a TV history class a few years back I did a unit on the relationship between music and television, and both of these stories factor in that lecture. The Motown 25 show is the one where Michael performed a medley with his brothers, and then performed THIS song, and did the moonwalk for the first time before a national audience, which lost its mind. The special aired in May of 1983, but was taped on 3/25, while the song was enjoying its run at the top spot. It’s the version I have linked here, not the one where everywhere Michael steps lights up.
Looking back at this chart, I’m realizing that for as much as I play the part of a 60s music fan as a programmer and researcher, I’m just as much of an 80s kid. Find me a radio station playing all of these, and I’d probably never turn the thing off. The variety here is a great example of what the pop charts USED to look like.