(Pictured: the Bangles.)
On the weekend of February 22, 1986, the radio station I worked for carried American Top 40, and here’s some of what was on the show.
39. “Manic Monday”/Bangles. If this isn’t one of the most beloved hits of the 80s, and I’m not sure that it is, it ought to be.
36. “Go Home”/Stevie Wonder
35. “Let’s Go All the Way”/Sly Fox
3. “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going”/Billy Ocean
During the 80s, Casey frequently filed “special reports.” Some of them were timely, as in the bit about the forthcoming opening of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park that ran between Stevie Wonder and Sly Fox. But some of them aren’t worth the time, as in the lengthy bit about the longest river in the world before Billy Ocean’s song (which was from the soundtrack of the now-forgotten movie Jewel of the Nile).
38. “Night Moves”/Marilyn Martin
34. “Another Night”/Aretha Franklin
25. “He’ll Never Love You (Like I Do)”/Freddie Jackson
21. “Digital Display”/Ready for the World
It’s possible that my station didn’t play Marilyn, Aretha, and Freddie—the syndicator providing our music didn’t add everything that made the Top 40, often omitting big R&B crossover hits. I remember “Digital Display” only because I’m still trying to understand the popularity of Ready for the World, who somehow got to #1 in 1985 with “Oh Sheila,” which is three minutes of quite literally nothing.
35. “(How to Be a) Millionaire”/ABC. Sweet mama “(How to Be a) Millionaire” is exhausting. You rarely hear people trying so hard to be whatever the hell they think they are. (And I hate those parentheses in the title, too.)
34. “Say You, Say Me”/Lionel Richie
20. “The Sun Always Shines on TV”/a-ha
Consider that these songs were all likely written on a piano or single guitar first, and only later turned into echo-drenched epics consumed by their own self-importance. Lionel gets away with it by being likeable, but as I listened to “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” I found myself wondering how many radio stations added it solely because “Take on Me” had been a big hit and not because anybody actually liked it. I have already told you what I think of “Russians.”
30. “Spies Like Us”/Paul McCartney. The theme song from an extremely minor Chevy Chase/Dan Aykroyd film, this was Paul’s last Top-10 hit until “FourFive Seconds” with Rihanna and Kanye West in 2016.
Less than four weeks after the Challenger disaster, Casey noted that AT40 had received many letters suggesting Long Distance Dedications to the spacecraft and its crew. (I did a full-body dry heave on spec imagining the worst possibilities.) The letter he chose was from cadets at the Air Force Academy, who told him that the son of the shuttle commander was a fellow cadet, and that they all felt a personal loss. They suggested “Come Sail Away” by Styx, which Casey introduced by quoting a lyric line: “They climbed aboard their starship / They headed for the skies.” Which gets it right. (That he used the rarely-heard-anymore 45 edit of the song was a bonus.)
Among the other features on the show, Casey answered a listener question about “heavy metal acts with the most chart hits.” His definition of “heavy metal” is probably neither yours nor mine, but here are the top five: Deep Purple Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Aerosmith, and at #1, KISS (with 18, including eight in the Top 40).
13. “I’m Your Man”/Wham
6. “The Sweetest Taboo”/Sade
I don’t think either of these got much airplay after they dropped off the Top 40, although “The Sweetest Taboo” is pretty good.
9. “Burning Heart”/Survivor
8. “Silent Running”/Mike and the Mechanics
7. “Life in a Northern Town”/Dream Academy
Here are more records on which the echo chamber is the star. Despite that, “Life in a Northern Town” is probably the best thing on the show.
Two segments after “Burning Heart,” Survivor is back for a Long Distance Dedication of “The Search Is Over.” I was always taught to maintain approximately an hour of separation between records by the same artist, a rule that still holds in a lot of places today, but this represented approximately 15 minutes of real time. It’s a strange choice considering the LDD could have run anywhere in the show.
1 “How Will I Know”/Whitney Houston. This record still gets daily airplay on adult-contemporary radio stations, which means somebody must want to hear it again, but not me.
After three solid years in a row for Top 40 music, 1986 represents a definite drop-off, although any year in which Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Paul McCartney are still making hits, and in which superstars like George Michael and Whitney Houston are on the way up, has something going for it.