War and Tragedy and Prince and Bowie

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(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.

6 responses

  1. Thanks for a great entry usual, JB, especially one needed to get one’s mind off the carnage that iHeartMedia has done to U.S. radio today. But let’s not dwell on that in favor of a few personal observations:

    1) It’s been my firm belief that if “I Would Die 4 U” had been combined into an edited medley with “Baby I’m a Star,” the result would’ve been a top 5 smash rather than just the peak at #8. I mean, it followed that way naturally on the Purple Rain soundtrack, and as much as I appreciate Prince’s talent, there’s not much to the song by itself beyond two verses and the chorus.

    2) I think I already mentioned this, but “Method of Modern Love” to me is where Hall and Oates really started to wear out their welcome. Maybe it’s just my aversion to songs that spell out some of the lyrics. But since I do like “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers, maybe that’s not it either.

    3) Glad you learned to surrender to the groove of “Operator.” Holds up well for me too.

    4) Speaking of a 1980s hit where a group started to wear out its welcome, “The War Song” – ugh. Ugh! When it did come on the radio, I had a friend who earnestly sang along, “War, war is stupid/And this song is stupid …” I’ll wager he wasn’t the only one. The ersatz cha-cha melody didn’t help either.

    5) Rick Dees was funny enough I guess on the radio as a deejay in the 1980s, having listened to his countdown show. But I know Casey Kasem. And sir, you are no Casey Kasem.

  2. No. 50 and No. 45 are, respectively, probably the worst songs in the stellar careers of Hall & Oates and Stevie Wonder.

    Desert Moon has slipped through the cracks and been lost to time, but it was a Top 10 hit and I think it measures up against the best of DeYoung’s Styx ballads.

  3. I remember thinking the first time I saw the video for “War Song” on HBO’s Video Jukebox:

    “Well, guess they’re done.”

    My timing was a little off, but for once I saw the writing on the wall.

  4. -That Rick Dees song is horrible, but it was the first to bring that phrase into pop culture where it was then uttered by Bender in The Breakfast Club and then Bart Simpson.
    -Also, it may have been too obvious to include but Kool & the Gang’s biggest one-word song was Celebration. In fact, they had seven straight one-word titled songs hit the Top 20.
    -Tragedy is a great forgotten hit
    -And sitting at #85 this week – George Benson with 20/20.

  5. Here’s a strange bit of trivia…

    One of the many people that Sam Harris defeated during his long run as Star Search champion in 1984 was none other than Jim Photoglo, who’d already had 2 top 40 hits before he’d appeared on the show: 1980’s “We Were Meant to Be Lovers” (#31, one which he was billed as simply “Photoglo”), and 1981’s “Fool in Love With You” (#25). Thus, he actually had a more illustrious chart career than the man who defeated him on national television.

    Despite that promising beginning, his career never took off, and a mere 3 years after brief stint in the top 30, he was reduced to appearing on a cheesy syndicated TV talent show, alongside a bunch of no-name hopefuls. Ed McMahon made no mention of his prior success when he introduced him, and probably only top 40 chart geeks like me knew who he was.

    Photoglo was a bland, easy-listening yacht rocker (his two hits both made the AC top 15), and I believe he probably performed an original composition nobody knew. Harris was a flamboyant showman (think Patti Labelle, in white male form), who would pull out all the stops in every performance, belting out over-the-top renditions of favorites everybody already knew and loved. Poor Jim Photoglo didn’t stand a chance.

  6. Gosh, there was a time when a televised talent show produced some real talent. The Johnny Burnette Rock and Roll Trio won “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour” and went on to record one of the most (if not the most) brutal rockabilly albums ever committed to tape. Never mind that Johnny later turned into a mushy 60’s pop star (Dreamin,’ You’re Sixteen etc).

    Regarding Photoglo: I randomly watched “America’s Got Talent” one night and they were pushing a country singer, Marty Brown, a guy I remembered having a record deal on MCA in the early 90’s who got a lot of press as the “new Hank Williams” or some such hyperbole. So I guess these guys keep trying any avenue they can find.

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