Walk This Way

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(Pictured: Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines with Michael McDonald in his video for “Sweet Freedom.” I’ve used the pic before, but I’m bringing it back so you can see yet again the worst Chicago Bears knockoff jersey in the world.)

This is the second installment of various ruminations inspired by the American Top 40 show from August 16, 1986.

31. “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)”/Glass Tiger
22. “One Step Closer to You”/Gavin Christopher
Listing these songs separately is a distinction without a difference; they are remarkably similar. If I’m recalling correctly, my radio station got rush reservice on the automation tapes that announced “One Step Closer to You” as being by Christopher Gavin. But that too is a distinction without a difference.

30. “Walk This Way”/Run-DMC. Other rap records made the Hot 100 (“The Message,” “The Breaks,” “Rapper’s Delight,” “Planet Rock”), and Blondie’s “Rapture” had been to #1, but Run-DMC was the first rap act to crack the Top 40. While rap was growing in popularity in 1986, I suspect that a lot of people heard “Walk This Way” as a novelty remake and never bought another rap record. Given, however, that within the next decade, rap and hip-hop would become the dominant form of pop music, its success is one of history’s pivot points.

27. “Man Size Love”/Klymaxx
12. “Sweet Freedom”/Michael McDonald
Everybody’s got one obscure movie they love beyond all others, and mine is Running Scared, a buddy comedy featuring the amazing chemistry of Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, playing Chicago cops who want to quit and move someplace warm, but end up saving Crystal’s ex-wife from a drug dealer instead. (Crystal to the villain, played by Jimmy Smits: “You hurt that lady and you will never be dead enough.”) Running Scared never got above #6 in the weekly box office rankings that summer, but four songs from its soundtrack charted, and these two went into the Top 15.

24. “Stuck With You”/Huey Lewis and the News 
23. “Yankee Rose”/David Lee Roth
Of all the Huey Lewis records in the world, “Stuck With You” is the Huey-est. Of all the David Lee Roth records in the world, “Yankee Rose” is the crappiest. (The opening segment of the video contains something to offend almost everybody, even before the song starts.)

21. “Invisible Touch”/Genesis
16. “Danger Zone”/Kenny Loggins
13. “Sledgehammer”/Peter Gabriel
9. “Take My Breath Away”/Berlin
4. “Higher Love”/Steve Winwood
2. “Glory of Love”/Peter Cetera
Any one of these might qualify as the song of the summer for 1986, and I don’t think any of them have been off the radio since then. But on the other hand:

19. “All the Love in the World”/The Outfield
18. “Baby Love”/Regina
17. “Suzanne”/Journey
15. “Friends and Lovers”/Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson
10. “The Edge of Heaven”/Wham
8. “Rumors”/Timex Social Club
5. “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”/Jermaine Stewart

It’s strictly via the eyeball test, but it seems to me that a lot of big hits from 1986 (and not just these) disappeared without a trace as soon as they dropped out of current rotations. Apart from Casey reruns, I am pretty sure nobody has played any of these songs on the radio since 1986. “The Edge of Heaven” was Wham’s sixth Top-10 hit in two years, and their last; they would chart one more time as Wham before George Michael became exclusively a solo act.

6. “Venus”/Bananarama. I cannot remember what I thought of this record in 1986, when I was the morning jock and program director of a Top-40 station. I can tell you now that “Venus” was the kind of record that made your station sound hot and hip, and as a soundtrack for summer fun, you couldn’t do better.

3. “Mad About You”/Belinda Carlisle. I can’t remember how I felt about this in 1986 either, but hearing it again the other day all I could think was, “Holy smokes, this is the best thing on the show.”

1.”Papa Don’t Preach”/Madonna. Casey says that “Papa Don’t Preach” is Madonna’s fourth #1 hit, which ties her with Olivia Newton-John for second place all-time among female artists behind Diana Ross. That’s quite a statistic, from the pre-Mariah, pre-Whitney, pre-Janet, pre-Rihanna world. That Madge accomplished it in less than two years makes it even more impressive. Also impressive: her creative development since her first chart hit in 1983. “Papa Don’t Preach” takes her a long way from the chirpy boy toy who made “Holiday” and “Like a Virgin”—but she had even further to go.

As did we all. Although, as I wrote in the earlier installment, not all of us knew it at the time.

10 responses

  1. “Sledgehammer” is still probably my favorite song on this show, but I did buy the 45 for “Mad About You” in real time–I agree it’s mighty good.

    My sis was addicted to Days of Our Lives in the 80s and loved the Loring/Anderson duet, but I was not a fan. At all. And yes, “Yankee Rose” is awful, not a fun listen. I’d mercifully forgotten about the video’s intro.

  2. I had not seen the “Yankee Rose” video. Yikes.

  3. With all apologies to your “Hangin’ on A Heart Attack” comment, for me, “One Step Closer To You” sounds more like 1986 than anything else here (although I always LIKED the Glass Tiger song).

    In fact, this very point in this very calendar year seems to be right around the dividing line between the more diverse 1980s music I like and remember, and the homogenized, synthesized, reverb-loaded, drum machine-driven muck that sounded so interchangeable on the AT-40 countdown shows from now until Casey’s departure from the show in August 1988.

    And 1989 was even worse. By then, Top 40 music was well into its descent off the cliff.

  4. Oh, God, that picture again.

    Steven Tyler and Joe Perry’s largest contribution to music history may be as the vector that helped rap performers cross over to the hit charts — rather than anything they did in their 50 years of effing, blinding and bashing around onstage and in the studio.

    The Jermaine Stewart tune gained a certain staying power among boys my age, who would sing it sarcastically or otherwise invoke it with a raised eyebrow. I think my high school garage band plowed through the chorus a couple times, though we weren’t invested enough in the joke to actually learn the entire song.

    1. I drank cherry wine once. When I woke up I had no idea where my clothes were.

  5. I’ve watched Running Scared too many times to remember mostly because it’s so much fun watching Crystal & Hines together. To this day, if someone is watching Jeopardy, I will loudly butt in with What is Ipswich clams?

  6. I have been fortunate in never having seen thst DLR video, but the album is pretty decent in spots in its fastest gunslinger in the West band lineup. Drums and guitar are probably a wash with Van Halen, but Sheehan is worlds better than Michael Anthony.

  7. “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” had a backing vocal that was obviously Bryan Adams and helped boost it up the charts. Otherwise, it’s just strained vocals, blaring horns and drumming with a thud to me. I liked “One Step Closer” better in comparison, but even so, it ain’t anything near a keeper to me.

    Totally forgot that “Man Size Love” and “Sweet Freedom” were on the same soundtrack LP. As for as I’m concerned, the 1980s was the golden decade for soundtrack LPs spinning off top 40 hits.

    In terms of quality, “Sledgehammer” would be my pick for the summer of 1986, especially given that incredible video with it, one of the best ever. On the other side of the coin, I’ve heard some decent airplay spins of “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off,” but that could be because I’ve listened to more dance-oriented oldies stations.

  8. I’ve always found it interesting that, after some really great music by vibrant newer artists hitting the Top 40 during the 1983-1985 period, the 1986 charts are suddenly dominated by AOR music being produced by old, white men who had peaked in the late 1960s or 1970s.

    What happened to the teenagers of America all of a sudden? Why the shift? Did they really dig Steve Winwood, Genesis, the Moody Blues, Rod Stewart, Peter Cetera, Billy Joel, Bob Seger, et a.? Or is this the last gasp of Boomer power on the radio?

    And why did everyone start growing out mullets and wearing long trench coats?

    Thankfully, 1987 was a better year for music.

    1. David, by that point, album sales dictated what singles got played. The 45 was on oxygen.

      So—Michael Jackson didn’t have a follow-up to THRILLER until 1987. That alone was a big part of it. Instead of FOOTLOOSE, which had some danceables in the soundtrack, the big music movie was TOP GUN, which leaned a little more AOR.

      Prince had an album in ’86, but it wasn’t PURPLE RAIN or 1999—and didn’t make #1. Madonna had a strong album, but it didn’t show up until the last half of the year.

      So that kind of put the record companies and radio in the position of going to the old reliables—and Top 40 was duller (and whiter) as a result that year.

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