(Pictured: Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael, January 1985.)
Once again this year, I ran up a surplus of American Top 40 shows in December, and it’s going to take me well into the new year to catch up, starting with December 15, 1984. There is a very good argument that 1984 is not merely the greatest musical year of the 80s, but one of the greatest of all time. And in this week alone, there’s a remarkable number of future pop and rock classics, all side-by-side jostling for position.
39. “Caribbean Queen”/Billy Ocean
32. “I Want to Know What Love Is”/Foreigner
29. “The Boys of Summer”/Don Henley
26. “Purple Rain”/Prince
22. “You’re the Inspiration”/Chicago
16. “Run to You”/Bryan Adams
15. “Born in the USA”/Bruce Springsteen
8. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”/Wham
4. “I Feel for You”/Chaka Khan
3. “Like a Virgin”/Madonna
That’s what I’m talking about: so many superstars, all young and in their prime, with songs that would be part of Top 40, adult contemporary, classic rock, and oldies playlists for decades to come.
38. “Bruce”/Rick Springfield
37. “Tender Years”/John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band
Casey describes “Bruce,” a song he says Rick Springfield recorded in the late 1970s about being mistaken for Bruce Springsteen. He describes it in such detail that actually playing the song becomes redundant. It’s followed (immediately on the recent repeat, but after a commercial break in 1984) by “Tender Years,” which actually could be mistaken for Springsteen.
35. “Loverboy”/Billy Ocean
33. “Pride in the Name of Love”/U2
31. “Stranger in Town”/Toto
30. “Easy Lover”/Philip Bailey and Phil Collins
25. “We Are the Young”/Dan Hartman
18. “Walking on a Thin Line”/Huey Lewis and the News
17. “Strut”/Sheena Easton
In mid-December 1984, we had thrown the switch on a Top 40 format at my radio station two months before. I loved hearing these songs (and others from this show) because it meant we were rockin’, and for the first time in my career I was playing on my air what I was listening to at home.
28. “Centipede”/Rebbie Jackson
19. “Do What You Do”/Jermaine Jackson
Casey says that this is the sixth time a pair of siblings were in the Top 40 at the same time: Donny and Jimmy Osmond, Donny and Marie, Andy and Robin Gibb, Jermaine and Michael (with two different records by Michael), and Jermaine and Rebbie.
24. “Understanding”/Bob Seger. Seger had a seemingly bottomless well of songs in which an older and wiser guy looks back on his young self and what he went through to become old and wise, delivered at a wistful medium tempo. “Understanding” got up to #17 on the first chart of 1985 and then looks to have vanished until it turned up on a Seger compilation in 2003.
The only Christmas flavor on this show comes midway through the second hour, from a snippet of “Nuttin’ for Christmas” by six-year-old Barry Gordon, which was a hit in 1955. Casey played it in response to a listener question about the youngest person ever to hit the charts. A snippet was enough.
12. “Valotte”/Julian Lennon. It’s hard to recapture the way it felt to hear this visitation from beyond the grave in 1984, especially when it first hit the air. But the record came by its success legitimately because it’s actually good, and not solely because it reminded people of John.
10. “All Through the Night”/Cyndi Lauper. “All Through the Night” should probably go on the list of classics I made earlier because it’s the best thing on a very good show. Listen to the not-just-full-throated-but-whole-body-involved note she holds on the last word: “until it ends, there is no end.” If you’re not getting goosebumps, you’re listening wrong.
2. “The Wild Boys”/Duran Duran
1. “Out of Touch”/Hall and Oates
With a whole raft of enduring classics on the radio in this week, the two most popular songs are a bit of a fizzle. “The Wild Boys” always seemed to me like Duran Duran testing the theory that they could record anything and people would buy it. And if you are surprised to be reminded that “Out of Touch” hit #1, so was I.
Recommended Reading: In 1978, the album Aurora by Daisy Jones and the Six became one of the year’s biggest hits. Their single “Turn It Off” won Record of the Year at the 1979 Grammys, and in the spring of that year, Daisy Jones was the idol of millions of young women around the world. But after a gig in Chicago that summer, at the height of their success, the band suddenly broke up. If you don’t remember all that, you haven’t read the novel Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. And you should.
4 thoughts on “We Are the Young”
Great post about a great countdown, and you’re right the final two are pretty weak.
Is “Walking On A Thin Line” the happiest song about the saddest subject (a homeless Vietnam vet) ever?
I wonder about Seger’s lyrics. Does he simply not know how to write another type of song, or is he just giving the people what they want? Because if 99.9 percent of the public went from teenage poverty to wealth and fame as an adult, every song we’d write is about the awesomeness of our life today.
Hard to disagree with your assessment of “All Through the Night.” It was my favorite on She’s So Unusual from the get-go.
And I’ve always loathed “The Wild Boys.” I enjoy so many of Duran Duran’s other singles, so it’s been a bit of a mystery as to why that is. I think you’ve hit on something with your description of it today that may help.
From the mid-70s on (maybe even earlier), if you weren’t factoring in album sales, you weren’t getting an accurate view of a song’s popularity. Some singles you scratch your head and wonder how it did so well—but singles sales had been eclipsed by album sales in 1969. There was a period of continued growth for both formats, but singles peaked in 1974 and it was all downhill from there.
By 1981, the lower number of singles selling lowered the bar to get to number one. Meantime, in ’78-’79 The Cars’ first three singles (“Just What I Needed”, “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Times Roll”) peaked at 27, 35 and 41 respectively—but the album was 6 times Platinum. Any one of them would be bigger than, say, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” which hit #1 on the singles chart but was on an album that peaked at #33.
There are a few songs on this list I’ve forgotten about. Thanks for reminding me of them!