(Above: Madonna, from the video of the song sitting at #1.)
It’s just about the end of August, 1986. My friends from my high school class, in most cases, are headed off to their freshmen years of college. I’m not going anywhere; I didn’t necessarily make the best choices about college at the end of high school and will be commuting to a school in Chicago while living in my parents’ basement. (A year from now the world will change and I’ll start at Lewis University, and find a radio station. We’re millions of miles from there at this point.) There’s a party at the end of summer at my parents’ house as we all say goodbye for several months. (Back in the day, if you went away to school, you stayed there until you got a bus ride back home. There was no coming home every other weekend like they do now.) It was one of the more sobering nights that we had that year, the beer notwithstanding.
The music charts bring back some better memories. I was reminded of the 1986 charts by Sirius XM’s 80s on 8’s VJ Big 40 Countdown. As I prefer to do, we’ll look at some of the highlights hanging out below the Top 40. To the charts we go:
99. Van Halen – “Dreams.” It’s not a song I necessarily need to hear again, but the video featuring the Blue Angels is worth taking out again.
98. Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes – “Walk Away Renee.” Interestingly, I didn’t run across this song from this remake but from the original by the Left Banke, when I heard it on the radio one day that fall while driving back and forth from school. Normally I’m not a fan of the third remake (remember the Four Tops did it also), but this one isn’t terrible. It doesn’t hurt that the song itself is an all-time favorite. This is as high as this one ever got on the chart.
94. GTR – “When the Heart Rules The Mind.” GTR was a project with Steve Howe from Yes/Asia and Steve Hackett from Genesis. This song peaked at #14, and it’s one that I haven’t heard in years. They also did “The Hunter,” which is two places up at #92 this week.
89. The Fixx – “Secret Separation.” An underrated record that I used to sneak in as a “secret weapon record” when I programmed Classic Hits. It’s damned catchy.
87. El Debarge – “Who’s Johnny.” Grand Rapids, MI’s own singing family provided the song for the film Short Circuit. This is another one that works well in the voice of Bob Dylan. Try it.
82. Eddie Money and Ronnie Spector – “Take Me Home Tonight.” This is just starting to make its way up the chart and will be a 45 that I pick up right after hearing it. That’s surprising, since Eddie Money’s not one of those performers I need to hear anytime soon (except “Gimme Some Water,” which rock radio should play instead of the blasted “Two Tickets to Paradise” thing.)
74. The Moody Blues – “Your Wildest Dreams.” This was one of the songs in the box of 45s I opened several months ago, and I wrote about it then. It’s still an amazing record that fits the mood of the party I described.
72. Bruce Hornsby & the Range – “Every Little Kiss.” This whole album is worth playing, and I might need to bring it to my office for this school year. This one is just making its way up the charts this week, and will land at #14.
69. Paul Simon – “You Can Call Me Al.” The video was funny the first six hundred times it ran on MTV. The chart position of this one surprised me; it peaked at #23, which is much lower than I would have guessed.
56. The Blow Monkeys – “Digging Your Scene.” This record does not get nearly enough airplay these days, and someone should do something about that.
55. The Beatles – “Twist and Shout.” Yes, you read right. It’s on the way to an eventual stop at #23, buoyed by its inclusion in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s all over the place, making it feel like a bigger hit in 1986 than it was in 1964 (and just as big as “You Can Call Me Al.”)
Now, let’s look into the Top 40:
40. Loverboy – “Heaven In Your Eyes.” This song was played at a different party with our friends earlier that summer. It’s on the Top Gun soundtrack. Someone at the party got dumped during the middle of it, and put the cassette on. And rewound it. Over and over again. After several plays someone took control of the stereo and order was restored.
34. Gavin Christopher – “One Step Closer to You.” Another great record that should have been a bigger hit. It’s coming off of its peak at #22 and headed for oblivion.
32. Mike & the Mechanics- “Taken In.” I’ve put this on tapes for the car many times. #32 is as high as it got, but I always liked it.
31. Stacey Q – “Two of Hearts.” Right about the time this came out my brother got a Casiotone keyboard that allowed really short samples. Needless to say we all tried to sing this song often. We didn’t do it any worse.
29. John Mellencamp – “Rumbleseat.” This is a jam.
28. Daryl Hall – “Dreamtime.” This is also a jam for very different reasons. Being very single (and a little angry about it, I suppose) when this was out, it was what we’d call “resonant.”
27. Double – “The Captain of Her Heart.” Somewhere, packed away, I have a tape of songs I recorded from WJTW before I left for the Quad Cities in 1989. It was called “Backs of the Racks” and had a lot of great recurrents on it. This was near the beginning of the tape, I think. (I’ve written about it in another post).
25. The Outfield – “All the Love In The World.” When we’d get together in my basement, often my friend John would bring his guitar. He could play this, and, after a few beers, I could hit the notes. There’s no way I could do that now, but when I hear the song come on, I think about trying.
23. Glass Tiger – “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone).” It’s the Goodbye Song of the Summer of 1986.
21. The Monkees – “That Was Then, This Is Now.“ THIS was the “oh wow” of the countdown. I don’t think I’ve heard this one in about 30 years. There was a brief time when the Monkees tried to make a comeback, and damned if it didn’t almost work. Next week it will peak at #20, making this a bigger hit than “You Can Call Me Al.” Roll that around for a minute.
20. Run-D.M.C. – “Walk This Way.” If this doesn’t chart, we don’t get the Aerosmith comeback That leaves me torn, since while I like Aerosmith, I never need to hear “Jamie’s Got a Gun” ever again.
11. Michael McDonald – “Sweet Freedom.” It’s from the film Running Scared, which I saw at the drive-in. That sentence just made me feel really old.
10. Wham! – “The Edge of Heaven.” Guilty pleasure alert: I liked this song. I still like this song, and I don’t care who knows it. So there.
8. Jermaine Stewart – “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” Any time this song played at the bar in college, the title line was followed with a chat of “Bull shit!” in time with the music. To this day, I sing that to myself.
2. Steve Winwood – “Higher Love.” I don’t know who it was at WLRA that sang this as “Bring me an iron lung,” but it’s also the lyric that I sing to myself when this comes on.
And at #1 this week: Madonna – “Papa Don’t Preach.” I will admit to having Madonna’s first two albums, but never had True Blue, largely because I didn’t care for it. I’m back on the wagon in 1989 when Like a Prayer comes out; that album may get its own entry at some point, since it’s really, really good. Anyway – about this song: right about the same time a Christian group put out a song called “Madonna Don’t Preach,” somehow missing the point that this was an anti-abortion record. Turns out that video can’t be found, which isn’t the worst thing.
Within a few weeks of this chart I’ll be driving back and forth to school, discovering more oldies (WJMK went on the air in 1984, and I have better access to the record stores in Chicago), and waiting for my friends to come home. The parties will never be quite the same, since our experiences never truly line up again, but it will give us a lot more to talk about in the coming years, especially as the core group shifts and re-forms.