(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.
7 thoughts on “Let’s Go All the Way”
If you had asked me at the time, I’d have said that I was still very much a Top 40 listener on February 22, 1986—one month from my 30th birthday.
This list makes me not so sure about that. Eight of these songs (Marilyn Martin, Freddie Jackson, Ready for the World, ABC, a-ha, Paul McCartney, Survivor and, inexplicably, Stevie Wonder) I have no memory of. I mean, I’ve seen the titles in Whitburn books, but if you asked me to hum a second of any of them, I’d be lost.
I was living in Las Vegas at the time, and KLUC was not R&B-averse, so that can’t be it. I suspect it was just a weak time in music and these were, by default, the hits.
Further evidence that we share tastes, JB—“Life In A Northern Town”. It really sticks with me because, at that point, I was trying to make a decision about my career—spend another 18 months in Las Vegas (I had an out at the midpoint of my 3-year contract at the ABC TV station there and really didn’t like the town), go forward to Phoenix or back to where I’d been—Reno, where, after having been in Las Vegas, I could make about triple what I’d been making when I left.
I took a long weekend and went back to Reno just to see what that felt like, and the first time I heard “Life In A Northern Town” in the rental car was during a fairly gentle snowstorm. It felt like a soundtrack for what was happening on the other side of the windshield.
It also told me that it’s one thing to get nostalgic about John F. Kennedy and the Beatles, but that life in a Northern Nevada town isn’t all that.
I don’t disagree that Ready For The World was a pretty lightweight group but their “Love You Down” is a very good slow jam, I think.
“Oh Sheila”‘s success is really easy to explain–it’s Prince with all the quirks taken out, which considering Prince was indulging in post-Purple Rain artiness made it an easy add.
As far as why 1986 was so much weaker than the mid-90s when it came to top 40, one big villan-the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. Compare the layered sound of “Thriller” or “Purple Rain” to the just-push-the-synth-presets of late 80s pop and you realize what got lost.
Despite being a forgotten song, Sade still sounds as good now as it did then.
I worked at a local Top 40 from 1983-1988 that played a number of these forgotten songs with some of them charting inexplicably higher than the Billboard and R&R charts. I’m not sure how their local music research was done but it left me scratching my head a number of times over the years.
“The Sweetest Taboo” did a reverse cross-over and after its CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio) chart run became pretty much a Smooth Jazz format staple.
not sure when i lost interest in Pop music, but this list does nothing for me.I was just about to get married,(August Still married!).but more into rock and Southern Rock..i think i lost interest around 1980..this just goes to show how far music had fallen IMHO.
I remember the Marilyn Martin and Aretha Franklin songs getting more airplay than the Freddie Jackson and Ready for the World tunes in my market in 1986. Martin got it because of the heat from duetting with Phil Collins on “Separate Lives” previously. Regardless, none of them get much repeat airplay nowadays. Along with the songs from a-Ha, Survivor and others, much here are weak follow-ups to bigger hits.
“I’m Your Man” has the worst lyrics of any hit George Michael wrote. Sample: “So good/You’re divine!/Wanna take you, wanna make you/But they tell me it’s a crime!/Everybody knows/Where the good people go/But where we’re going, baby/Ain’t no such word as no!” And then’s the immortal chorus “If you’re going to do it, do it right (right)/Do it with me” repeated ad nauseam. Makes “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” sound like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in comparison.