The American Top 40 shows from the 80s don’t wear very well, at least not with me. They’re badly padded and frequently contain stretches of songs even I don’t remember. But I’ll still listen to one now and then, because during the mid 80s, I was program director and morning guy on a Top 40 station and AT40 affiliate and it’s fun to recapture those days for a little while. And recently I’ve been listening to the show from September 21, 1985, which was a very 80s week indeed, with Madonna, Prince, Huey Lewis, Phil Collins, Wham, and Tina Turner all riding high.
38. “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”/Paul Young. When this guy chose the right songs—as he did earlier in 1985 with his spectacular version of Hall and Oates’ “Every Time You Go Away” and would do in the early 90s with the Chi-Lites’ “Oh Girl”—he sounded great. Other times, he misfired. “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” is an old R&B song by Ann Peebles, but I wondered both in 1985 and again the other day how come this record just isn’t better.
37. “Miami Vice Theme”/Jan Hammer. Synergy, everybody—this record debuted in the Top 40 the week before the second-season premiere of Miami Vice.
36. “No Lookin’ Back”/Michael McDonald, 27. “Shame”/Motels, and 26. “Every Step of the Way”/John Waite. Maybe it’s my obsession with the 70s talking—the way I have sought out every last obscure record from that decade, so I’m more familiar with them—but it always seems to me like the 80s countdowns are loaded with stuff that’s completely forgotten now. All told there are maybe a dozen songs out of this week’s Top 40 that still get significant airplay today and about as many I couldn’t hum a note of.
35. “Four in the Morning”/Night Ranger. Sweet mama Night Ranger sounds jive now—like the product of a focus group designed to sell records to teenagers. There might actually be real instruments on this, but it’s as phony as hair extensions.
34. “Life in One Day”/Howard Jones. Catchy enough, and introduced with a shoutout to AM Stereo 1490 WDBQ in Dubuque, Iowa.
28. “I Got You Babe”/UB40 and Chrissie Hynde. UB40 is what you’d get if you drugged Pee Wee Herman and taught him to sing over inept reggae noodling that needs to be speeded up by maybe a third. Few other successful bands in history suck so definitively.
In the second hour, Casey does a feature on the artist who went the longest between Top 10 hits—Dickie Goodman, over 19 years between “The Flying Saucer” in 1955 and “Mr. Jaws” in 1974. Casey often delivers his lines at a slow tempo, as if he’s conscious of the need to fill time, but on this bit he repeats the same information three different times. These shows don’t need to be four hours long as much as they need to be three-and-a-half.
One of the Long Distance Dedications this week is to deceased Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto from a fan, which gives Casey an excuse to play the 1963 #1 hit “Sukiyaki,” regardless of whether that’s a good idea. Another LDD is from an unemployed 17-year-old mother of twins to her 19-year-old husband, who left her “last week.” If I’d just been dumped into such a dire situation, writing to Casey Kasem would be fairly far down my list of priorities. The song she chose was one I don’t remember, Rick Springfield’s “Don’t Walk Away.”
22. “There Must Be an Angel”/Eurythmics. Probably the best thing they ever did.
I find myself with little to say about the warhorses in the countdown after this point, like “Summer of ’69,” “Freeway of Love,” “Saving All My Love for You,” and “Take on Me,” and nothing to say about the obscurities that outrank them, such as Pat Benatar’s “Invincible” and the Pointer Sisters’ “Dare Me,” back to back at #12 and #11 respectively. But I press on.
8. “The Power of Love”/Huey Lewis and the News. We saw them live in August 1985, at the height of their fame. I doubt any band in history had more fun than the News did, and does.
7. “Pop Life”/Prince. This record hits a good-enough groove, but the arrangement is too busy in that uniquely Prince-ian way, and like a lot of other songs in this countdown, it dropped out of sight as soon as it dropped out of the Top 40.
1. “Money for Nothing”/Dire Straits. Making your average Top 40 station sound pretty damn good in 1985.
In the fall of 1985, I was doing a voice-tracked morning show in Illinois and preparing to do a live show starting toward the end of the year. In retrospect, I wasn’t an especially good morning guy. But then as now, we do what makes sense at the time because we can’t think of anything else.