(Above: The new sign in front of Andrew High. I never sped past this playing the “Miami Vice” theme.)
September 21, 1985 is a Saturday – which is the day that all of the Billboard charts come out. It was a hectic time at the start of my senior year of high school. The night before, we threw a massive party at my parents’ house. They were vacationing on their honeymoon and left me the house. For a two-week period, I hosted a variety of social gatherings, but the bash on the 20th was the biggest of them all. It was raided by the police at 9pm, which is in hindsight a good thing. The cleanup of the mess lasted through the weekend, which kept me from riding along with friends to attend the Farm Aid concert on Sunday the 22nd in Champaign. That night’s party was, for many years, the largest one in Andrew High School history; I can only assume that in the 33 years since someone’s outdone it. I will say this, though – it’s probably the only time that the final invites were given out at the fall honors night the evening before it happened.
If I had to look back and think of “the best years of my life,” I’ll give a nod to the first few weeks of senior year. I had a great group of friends, and – while I wasn’t in one of the cool groups. as discussed here – we were a solid support network. The biggest crises in life involved finding a date for Homecoming, thinking about college, and seeing if someone could buy beer for us for the night of a football game. What an amazingly simple time, in retrospect.
As far as what was being listened to, though, it’s a mishmosh. I tended not to be as fixated on the pop charts by the final year of high school – I was instead putting together tapes of oldies and such to play on the boombox in the backseat of my 1969 Chevy Impala, whose radio had failed earlier that summer. My gut would say that I didn’t like a lot of what was on the pop chart, but it’s also likely that I’d been enjoying more of it than I let on. Let’s see what’s there.
On the bottom of the charts:
100. Depeche Mode – “People Are People.” I can say with certainty that I was not listening to this at that time.
98. Steve Arrington – “Dancing In the Key of Life.” I found this record years later, and it’s not a bad tune. I should have been paying attention at the time.
86. Talking Heads – “And She Was.” We definitely played this one, pausing to yell “hey” at the right moments.
84. Mr. Mister – “Broken Wings.” I think I played this on every adult contemporary station that I worked for, and I’m sure I’ll play it again. It fits the “mayonnaise” description well.
82. Kate Bush – “Running Up That Hill.” My first girlfriend, who I began dating later that year, played a lot of Kate Bush in college. We got back together for a while then, and any time I’d visit, this would be on in her dorm. I even played it on my college radio show, probably in an attempt to score points. It’s a long five minutes.
80. Roger Daltrey – “After the Fire.” We were into all things Who at this time, especially at house parties, so I am sure we played this one.
76. Scritti Politti – “Perfect Way.” Another one that I missed at the time, but discovered later on. I recall playing it on my WLLI morning show more than once.
74. Klymaxx – “I Miss You.” Memory associated with this song: a bus trip to a speaker series at the University of Chicago. It came on the radio, and we all begged the driver to find another station. Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” came on instead, and we cheered. I’d probably do the same today.
73. Cheech and Chong – “Born in East L.A.“ Weird Al clearly wasn’t the only one putting comedy on the charts. This one, though, sounds pretty dated. I do have the Get Out Of My Room LP, which has their outstanding college radio parody on it.
67. Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark – “So In Love.” John Hughes is why you know this one.
64. Oingo Boingo – “Weird Science.” Same with this one.
61. Paul Young – “Every Time You Go Away.” Every. Damn. Sock. Hop.
59. Sting – “If You Love Someone Set Them Free.” I think I had this album at the time, and actually outgrew wanting to hear it. Instead, I went backwards and filled in holes in the Police discography. See also 23. “Fortress Around Your Heart.”
56. Thompson Twins – “Lay Your Hands On Me.” Here’s one that I grew to like a lot more after the fact.
55. Cheap Trick – “Tonight It’s You.” I couldn’t possibly have appreciated how great this record is.
47. Spandau Ballet – “Communication.” Here’s an “oh wow” that I really wish the 80s channels would work in once in ever.
45. Starship – “We Built This City.” Someone in our high school walked through the halls singing this one day as “We killed this kitty with rocks and stones,” and that’s the way I have heard it ever since.
44. Bryan Adams – “One Night Love Affair.” The Reckless LP was definitely played in my house. It still is. 21. “Summer of ’69” I could use to hear less often.
41. ABC – “Be Near Me.” OK, I was right. There’s some great stuff on this chart.
Now, let’s move into the Top 40:
40. Don Henley – “Sunset Grill.” It’s cool to hate on Don Henley, but Building the Perfect Beast still stands as a fantastic LP. I don’t hear this one enough anymore.
39. Tears For Fears -“Head Over Heels.” Same with Songs From the Big Chair. See also 32. “Shout.”
37. Jan Hammer – “Miami Vice Theme.” This one is anthemic to senior year of high school. I bought the 45 and put it on a cassette. While my parents were gone, I drove their ’85 Olds Toronado to school instead of my crappy Chevy. On most occasions I pulled into the school parking lot with this blaring so as to make an entrance. On one occasion our dean of students, Dick Yanz, was stopping cars on the way in looking for parking permits. He knocked on the window, and I rolled it down. “Sticker?” he asked. “Window,” I said and pointed, and pulled away. Sonny Crockett had nothing on me.
34. Howard Jones – “Life In One Day.” We spent most of the summer of ’85 hanging out at my friend Bill’s girlfriend Joni’s house. There was a very small number of cassettes that she had that would get played as we sat on the porch. This was one of them, so I heard this album a lot. It’s a great memory of a great time.
29. Bruce Springsteen – “I’m Goin’ Down.” I love this album. This song? Not as much. I recall a Chicago DJ saying that it sounded like it was written in ten minutes, and it’s hard to argue that.
19. Godley and Creme – “Cry.” The first time I heard this song, I remember being fixated on it, wanting to hear it again. Then I saw the video. It’s always haunted me for some reason, and it’s another one that we should hear a lot more often than we do.
17. Dancing In the Streets – David Bowie and Mick Jagger. This is haunting also, but for different reasons.
15. John Mellencamp – “Lonely Old Night.” This song does not grow old to me.
13. A-Ha – “Take On Me.” This one we got tired of in high school, so you can imagine the burn factor three decades later.
10. Madonna – “Dress You Up.” Guilty pleasure alert: I like this record, and will turn it up when it comes on in the car. For a while Madonna made fun music.
7. Prince – “Pop Life.” One of the other cassettes that Joni played on repeat was Around the World In A Day. This and “Raspberry Beret” are linked with that front porch.
6. Wham! – “Freedom.” Also a guilty pleasure, though I prefer the 1990 remake.
4. Tina Turner – “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” Our high school mascot was the Thunderbolts. Based on the popularity of the Mad Max film, they started calling our football stadium the Thunderdome at the start of games. This made no sense because a) it was an open-air field and b) we sucked. Hard. We went 1-8 my senior year, winning the homecoming game 2-nothing in overtime. That’s a story for another day.
And – at #1 this week – it’s Dire Straits – “Money for Nothing.” We definitely knew this song, and it got played at sock hops. My memory is fuzzy, but I am sure they played the shorter single version. You never hear the full version anymore, largely because of the “little faggot” verse. I understand the sensitivity, but it is also the story of what Mark Knopfler overheard that caused him to write the song in the first place. We’re very likely to forget that the song actually takes issue with that kind of speech if we whitewash it.
A couple of weeks after this chart, I’d have gone to homecoming with a girl I never dated again, got a girlfriend, put off the college decision until the last possible minute based on said girlfriend having another year in high school, and probably had too much beer along the way to barely graduating in the first place. Simpler times indeed.