In early March 1986, spring was coming to Macomb, Illinois.
Despite my oft-repeated wisecrack that Macomb wasn’t the ends of the earth but you could see them from there, it wasn’t a bad place to live. And by 1986, it felt a lot like home. It was not a place you’d go to find natural beauty, but in the spring, there’s something genetic in the makeup of a farm boy, even one long gone from the farm, that makes spring-kissed Illinois flatlands look attractive. When the farmers began turning the soil for the first time, it came up so black and rich that if you tossed in a handful of gravel, flowers would grow. You could smell springtime in March, and I’m not even talking about the hog farms.
I was doing the morning show at a Top-4o station that year, and for the first time in my radio career, I felt a little like a star. But if my ego started getting too big, there was always the miscellaneous petty annoyances and/or outright drudgery of my program director’s job to puncture it. And in that particular early spring, here’s some of what we were playing, from the Billboard Hot 100 dated March 8, 1986:
1. “Kyrie”/Mr. Mister (holding at 1). I’ve said before that Mr. Mister has become the punchline for bad ’80s music like Barry Manilow is the punchline for the ’70s, but I’ve never been particularly offended by “Kyrie.” And it was a great radio song, particularly in the car on a lovely spring day, driving too fast with the windows down.
14. “Rock Me Amadeus”/Falco (up from 29). The hottest record in the country that spring, and a record I hated with profound force and passion. If the Germans had won World War II, every record in the ’80s would have sounded like this. All these years later, it can still take the chrome off a trailer hitch.
16. “Russians”/Sting (holding at 16). In which Sting beats us over the head with his fears of nuclear annihilation to the accompaniment of a lugubrious string section/synthesizer brigade and makes four minutes feel like half an hour.
“I hope the Russians love their children too.” Yeah, me too, and if they do, they won’t make them listen to this sort of thing.
24. “Let’s Go All the Way”/Sly Fox (up from 30). The spring of 1986 produced a bumper crop of strange one-shots—Falco, Baltimora, the Force MDs, Robert Tepper—and a few good one-shots, like Dream Academy and Charlie Sexton, whose “Beat’s So Lonely” we didn’t play in Macomb. “Let’s Go All the Way” is somewhere between strange and awesome. One member of Sly Fox had been in Parliament, but “Let’s Go All the Way” was so unclassifiable that it appealed to fans of all genres from funk to that ’80s catch-all “new rock.” And it was so ephemeral that the duo couldn’t figure out how to do it again.
30. “Conga”/Miami Sound Machine (down from 15). Given the popularity of this tune and the TV show Miami Vice at the same time, my partner and I decided that identifying with Miami was the key to success, and so for a week or two that spring, we called ourselves “Miami Mitch” and “Miami Jim,” and we read the weather forecast for Miami every morning. We almost certainly weren’t as funny as we thought we were, and not just with the Miami thing, but in general. But we attacked the mornings with all the exuberance we could manage for two guys who had to get up at 4AM, and who made maybe $25,000 a year between us.