(Pictured: David Bowie, avatar of humanity, on the set of Absolute Beginners, 1985.)
Last week I wrote about the American Top 40 show from December 15, 1984. Here’s some of what else was on the Hot 100 in that week. It’s an MTV glory days video-rama.
42. “I Would Die 4 U”/Prince
58. “Tonight”/David Bowie
69. “Blue Jean”/David Bowie
I started writing this post on January 10, the anniversary of David Bowie’s death. It’s been said that Bowie and Prince were the glue that kept the world from exploding, because after their deaths in 2016, everything seemed to go off the rails. Also, it seems to me that Bowie’s stature has actually increased since his death (more than Prince’s stature has), and I’ll say again what I said back then: I hope that Bowie had some idea, before he died, of how beloved he was.
50. “Method of Modern Love”/Hall and Oates. “Method of Modern Love” debuted on the Hot 100 at this relatively lofty position on December 15, 1984. It was not the highest debut of the week, however. That belonged to “I Would Die 4 U.”
45. “I Just Called to Say I Love You”/Stevie Wonder
51. “Solid”/Ashford and Simpson
62. “Hard Habit to Break”/Chicago
64. “The Heat Is On”/Glenn Frey
What was that I said in last week’s post about future pop and rock classics that would never be off the radio?
52. “Misled”/Kool and the Gang. This band had a long string of Top-20 singles in the 80s with one-word titles. “Joanna,” “Fresh,” and “Cherish” you remember. “Tonight,” “Misled,” “Emergency,” and “Victory,” not so much. Your local oldies station isn’t going to play them, but in the middle of the 80s, they were so radio-ready, and the band’s track record was so solid, that nobody was going to ignore them.
53. “Desert Moon”/Dennis DeYoung. Many of us have a place or places in our pasts that we never leave completely behind. The “Desert Moon” video scratched an itch I had in 1984 that I don’t have in precisely the same way today. (But I still have it.)
57. “Operator”/Midnight Star. I felt guilty about liking “Operator” back in 1985—it was not on-brand for my self-image at that moment— but 35 years later I un-self-consciously surrender to the groove and just get the hell down.
61. “Mistake #3″/Culture Club
72. “The War Song”/Culture Club
“The War Song” had gone to #17 in November 1984; nevertheless, I bet you don’t remember it beyond its opening lines: “War, war is stupid / And people are stupid.” There have been more stirring protest songs, and “The War Song” gets tiresome pretty fast. “Mistake #3,” which got to #33 on the Hot 100, is pleasant enough to make #33.
77. “Eat My Shorts”/Rick Dees. Dees may have been funny on the radio, but on records, he was not. “Disco Duck,” platinum-certified #1 single that it was, isn’t funny, although it desperately tried to be. The only thing funny about “Eat My Shorts” is the decision to make it in the style of an R&B love ballad. It was in its first of two weeks on the Hot 100 on December 15, 1984.
80. “Tragedy”/John Hunter. “Tragedy” is a record I’ve written about before, a lost classic, with one monster hook piled atop of another, and it deserved a far better fate than two weeks at #39, in February 1985.
88. “All Right Now”/Rod Stewart. Rod, honey, no.
95. “Sugar Don’t Bite”/Sam Harris. Competitive reality shows are thick on the ground the last two decades, but they go back to radio days, with Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. A predecessor of the modern form was Star Search, which ran for 13 seasons, from 1983 through 1995. It was syndicated to local stations for all that time, frequently running on Saturday evenings before network primetime. Eleven of those seasons were hosted by Ed McMahon. Harris (whose “Sugar Don’t Bite” made #36 and was in its 14th and last week on the chart on 12/15/84) was the first to win the male vocalist category, although first-season vocal group winner Sawyer Brown and third-season junior female runner-up Tiffany had the best careers of the singers who came through the show.
By 1984, MTV was a big deal, and Ann and I, squarely in its demographic back then, watched it regularly. Rock videos had already developed their own grammar, and while that resulted in a certain sameness among a lot of them, it also made MTV a comfortable and familiar environment. I didn’t perceive it as competition for my radio station, not really. We were doing things they couldn’t do, every single day.