September 1984 was quite a month. It was the height of my baseball geekery, and the Chicago Cubs were on their way to an unlikely division championship. Also that month—on the 1st—the radio station I was working for changed format, from soft AC to top 40. Unlike other format changes I’ve been involved in, which either got me fired or drastically changed my working life, this was one of the greatest thrills of my radio career. I was going to be the program director of a real rock ‘n’ roll station, and get paid for it. (Pay in the technical sense, if not in the having-money sense.) I blogged about the change several years ago, and I haven’t thought of anything else to add, except five of the songs that we started slammin’ on that weekend a quarter-century ago, and their positions on the Cash Box chart dated August 25, 1984:
5. “State of Shock”/Jacksons (down from 4). Despite being billed to the Jacksons, “State of Shock” is a duet between Michael and Mick Jagger, and a fairly pedestrian duet at that. But in the fall of 1984, there was never a chance it wasn’t going to be an enormous hit. (There’s a remarkable number of really lame videos for “State of Shock” at YouTube, and nothing that looks like an official video, so I picked this one.)
9. “Sunglasses at Night”/Corey Hart (up from 12). It seems to me that this song is joining Mr. Mister as a shorthand term for bad 80s rock. Like Mr. Mister, it doesn’t deserve it. If you are able to listen to “Sunglasses at Night” the way we heard it 25 years ago, you may be able to remember how well it fit in with the rest of the stuff on the radio at the time—and how it reflected the cultural moment when wearing shades after dark was not an uncommon way of making a fashion statement.
14. “Rock Me Tonite”/Billy Squier (up from 16). Although some people think the completely ridiculous video for “Rock Me Tonite” sunk Squier’s career, you don’t have to watch it—just listen. The refrain (“take me in your arms/roll me through the night”) and the monster riff that accompanies it were about as balls-to-the-wall as 80s radio rock ever got.
22. “Lights Out”/Peter Wolf (up from 24). The Lights Out album was an up-to-the-second 80s production, different from the down-n-dirty blues grooves Wolf and the J. Geils Band made famous, and the title track is another of the underrated radio records of the age. I’m convinced that Wolf is one of the most underrated figures in rock—his deep understanding of R&B and the blues informs nearly everything he’s ever recorded. (His 2002 album Sleepless is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard by anybody.) Not bad for an ex-radio DJ.
75. “The More You Live, the More You Love”/A Flock of Seagulls (up from 86). Of the four singles by AFOS to chart in Billboard between 1982 and 1984, this was the last and the least successful, failing to make the Top 40 at all, but it’s the one I’ve never been able to get out of my head. The lead guitar has a haunting urgency that’s clearly conveying something we’d better pay attention to. Also: the further we get from the ’80s, the dumber a lot of videos look (cf. “Rock Me Tonite”), so the fact that this one still holds up is becoming a greater achievement every day.
For more ’80s goodness, check this week’s Chart Attack! at Popdose.