Listening to your favorite Top 40 station during 1981 was like spending time with a schizophrenic relative—everything would be just fine for a while, then something awful would happen, but soon things would be all right again. For a while, until the next dreadful thing happened. Look no further than the the Cash Box chart dated February 7, 1981: Thoroughly respectable records like “Celebration,” “Keep on Lovin’ You,” and “Hey Nineteen” are hanging out alongside the effluvia that is “Passion,” “9 to 5,” “I Love a Rainy Night,” and “Same Old Lang Syne.” Further down the chart, people like Pat Benatar, Bruce Springsteen, and even AC/DC are enjoying unaccustomed Top 40 success, but Ronnie Milsap and Barbra Streisand are down there too, carrying on, blandly. Finding golden nuggets amidst all this dross wasn’t easy then and still isn’t now, but here we go.
13. “Giving It Up for Your Love”/Delbert McClinton (up from 16). Precisely where such a funky record came from in this otherwise dull season is a mystery. From the gods of rock, presumably. Here’s a live performance from about the time the song was a hit.
18. “Miss Sun”/Boz Scaggs (up from 20). From the best-of compilation Hits!, a package that was guaranteed to frustrate. It had only a scanty 10 tracks, poorly selected: two of the four singles and one album cut from Silk Degrees, nothing from Down Two Then Left, two singles from Middle Man, and a couple of random album cuts going as far back as 1972. It did include “Look What You’ve Done to Me,” previously available only on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, and the stylish “Miss Sun,” which scores extra points for an opening that sounds great on the radio.
27. “He Can’t Love You”/Michael Stanley Band (up from 28). Few records kick ass like “He Can’t Love You,” and that wasn’t the only time MSB did it: “In the Heartland,” from 1981’s North Coast kicks too, as does “My Town,” from You Can’t Fight Fashion, released in 1983. It looks to me like all but Heartland are out of print. All three tracks are on Right Back at Ya: 1971-1983, which might also be out of print, but is clearly worth searching for. How in the hell did Michael Stanley fail to become Cleveland’s answer to Bob Seger? No, wait, he did—the rest of the country just never knew it.
38. “Tell it Like it Is”/Heart (down from 30). For all the hits Heart scored in the 1970s, they reached the Top 10 only once, with “Magic Man.” (Surprised? Me too.) This Aaron Neville cover, a single from the Greatest Hits: Live compilation, was even bigger. But their next two albums stiffed, which made their self-titled 1985 album, which produced four Top-10 hits, all the more surprising.
76. “Ain’t Even Done With the Night”/John Cougar (up from 83) As perfect a record as he ever made, and whatever’s in second place isn’t close. The video is not so good, though—Mr. Not-Yet-Mellencamp is whipping his mike stand around like he’s performing an entirely different song, and he didn’t get the same memo from wardrobe that everyone else got, either.