Don’t Go Away Mad

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(Pictured: Wendy Wilson, Chynna Phillips, and Carnie Wilson.)

In the summer of 1990, I was doing adult-contemporary radio and had stopped listening to the Top 40 at all, so the American Top 40 show from August 4, 1990, hosted by Shadoe Stevens, contains a lot of music I’m not very familiar with. I usually listen to these shows in the car a little bit at a time and then write up my impressions afterward. This time, I decided to do a real-time live blog.

40. “Tic-Tac-Toe”/Kyper. The cue sheet for the show says that “Tic-Tac-Toe” contains content that “may be unacceptable for your station,” and offers instructions on how to seamlessly edit the song out of the show. You could also edit it because it’s awful.

A promo leading into a commercial break mentions that AT40 is provided to stations on CD and plugs Sony CD technology; the cue sheet says (punctuation theirs), “American Top 40 uses ‘hit disc CDs’ provided by Century 21 Programming, Inc.”

37. “Tonight”/New Kids on the Block
3o. “Step by Step/New Kids on the Block
Shadoe says he thinks “Tonight” sounds a bit like the Beatles, which is one way to describe it. I was thinking “mishmash of tempos and styles that would scare off a prog-rock band.” At least the former #1 “Step by Step” knows what it wants to be and sticks to it.

35. “Love and Emotion”/Stevie B. I am three segments into this show and the bass beats are wearing me out. It’s like being thrashed with a rubber hose.

33. “Poison”/Bell Biv Devoe. A few weeks back, Shadoe said that BBD was one of two acts who’d hit #1 on the black singles chart in two different configurations (BBD and New Edition) and that the only other acts to do the same were Parliament and Funkadelic. But a listener wrote in to say that members of Parliament and Funkadelic had also hit #1 black with Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and that the trio Isley-Jasper-Isley had all been to #1 black as members of the Isley Brothers. That’s a pretty good bit of research by a random listener, and a rather big fail for the AT40 research team to miss it.

32. “I Didn’t Want to Need You”/Heart. In which Ann and Nancy have to screech to be heard over guitars that are too loud and a rhythm section that is administering another rubber-hose beating.

31. “Pure”/Lightning Seeds. I am not sure if “Pure” is actually good, but compared to the rest of this hour it’s Mozart.

29. “Across the River”/Bruce Hornsby and the Range. It’s refreshing to hear some halfway-ambitious music for adults after an hour of mostly brainless product.

27. “Banned in the USA”/2 Live Crew. Based on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” with his permission, “Banned in the USA” is 2 Live Crew’s response to the widespread censorship of their album Nasty As They Wanna Be. Shadoe had to play this crud for seven weeks.

23. “Release Me”/Wilson Phillips. “Release Me,” on the other hand, is fantastic. That “Hold On” (also on the show at #39) gets so much airplay 30 years later and this doesn’t ain’t right.

21. “Don’t Go Away Mad”/Motley Crue. By this point, I’m ready for every record to be terrible, so it’s a mild shock that this isn’t.

19. “Have You Seen Her”/MC Hammer. This cover of the Chi-Lites’ 1971 hit is one of the best things on the show, partly because the source material is so good, but also because it feels to me like Hammer legitimately respects it.

17. “Epic”/Faith No More. Given the rest of the stuff on this show, I get the appeal of a rap/metal hybrid, but I don’t condone it.

Shadoe flashes back to the Top Five from the same week in 1982: “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me,” Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra,” “Hurts So Good,” and “Eye of the Tiger.” And I have a new degree of respect for all of ’em.

13. “Hanky Panky”/Madonna. I’m out. I can’t listen to any more of this junk. Seriously, this is the worst AT40 I’ve ever heard.

The last hour has a couple of bits of interest, however. There’s Michael Bolton (“When I’m Back on My Feet Again”), who in 1990 had just embarked on a four-year streak during which he had six Top 10s on the Hot 100 and 12 AC Top 10s, including eight #1s. And it has Mariah Carey hitting #1 with “Vision of Love,” her first hit single and the opening act of a career that has featured 19 Hot 100 #1 hits to date.

Thank you for coming as far as we got on this journey. We may do something like it again, but probably not soon.

14 thoughts on “Don’t Go Away Mad

  1. Scott Paton

    You have described how and why a guy who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Top 40, 1955-forward, just a few years earlier had completely tuned out by the time of this show. You’ve mentioned a dozen records here that, to the best of my knowledge, I have never heard. And I was only 32 in 1990!

    1. Yup, 1990 was a year or two after I tuned out, and I was a little concerned that some of my reaction is based on unfamiliarity. But not all. There is something qualitatively different about this stuff. I have a couple more thoughts along that line, which I’ll post later in the week.

      1. Shark

        I felt the same way. I was only 31 in 1990 but began losing interest in Top 40 radio. The previous year, 1989, yielded lots of great songs from the Doobie Brothers, Tom Petty, the Rolling Stones, Don Henley, Richard Marx, The B52s, plus newcomers like Roxette and Paula Abdul. The dreck from 1990 carried over into 1991, creating an identity crisis for Top 40. That’s when country music got its act together and brought about Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Brooks & Dunn, Pam Tillis, Martina McBride, and a solo career for Wynona Judd.

  2. mackdaddyg

    I was midway through college when this aired. I remember some of the artists, and maybe a couple of the actual songs, but the rest is pure jibber jabber to me.

    The 90s were a long decade for folks like me.

    By the way, “I am not sure if “Pure” is actually good, but compared to the rest of this hour it’s Mozart” was hilarious. Sums up the whole show for me.

  3. mikehagerty

    1990 is about when I fell off the Top 40 wagon, too. By age 34, that’s not uncommon, although from this list, it appears I may have been pushed rather than falling.

  4. Leo Edelstein

    Jim,
    Thanks for taking the hit for all of us.
    I missed a lot of1980 pop music by having discovered talk, public radio and marriage.
    Love your “thrashed by a rubber hose” comment.of
    Leo E.

  5. Alvaro Leos

    All the “I stopped listening to Top 40” comments are pretty much the reason both country music and talk radio started taking off this time. By the way, why did just a year after acts like the Rolling Stones, the Doobie Brothers, Poco, etc. having big hits was top 40 so teen oriented?

    1. Brian L Rostron

      I think it’s remarkable that aging boomer acts were able to dominate Top 40 in the ’80s for as long as they did. What were US teens listening to in, say, 1986? Lots of Phil Collins, with and without Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, etc. Not to mention Glen Frey, Bob Seger, etc. Lots and lots of middle aged white guys.

      1. mikehagerty

        This is why, in markets with a large enough Latino/Black community, Rhythmic CHR took hold. In the major market I’m most familiar with, Los Angeles, KPWR (Power 106) launched in January of 1986—less than two years after KIIS-FM hit a ten share (first time for any L.A. station in more than a decade).

        Power and its imitators around the country ignored a lot of the middle-aged white guys and played R&B in its place, while still positioning as a Top 40 rather than ethnic station (that came later). In 18 months, they were number one.

  6. Wesley

    I was 25 at the time and believe this is when my love for top 40 radio went down as well thanks to many of these listed that I’ve never heard or if I had would never want to hear again. I do recall one local club deejay said “Hanky Panky” was the one record guaranteed to get everyone off the dance floor at the time, and I can’t imagine her performing it in concert. And if MC Hammer’s middling take on “Have You Seen Her” is one of the show’s best features, I can only fear how horrendous the rest of it is.

    As for Shadoe’s comments on this show, he’s the only person I know to ever compare New Kids on the Block with the Beatles, much less something as crappy as “Tonight.” And there’s at least one other act who’d hit #1 on the black singles chart in two different configurations by this time. The Moments topped the chart with “Love on a Two-Way Street” and returned nearly a decade later as Ray, Goodman and Brown with “Special Lady.” When the AT40 research staff comes off as careless and disinterested in overlooking something like this, then you know the show is in trouble.

  7. Jake

    I was 8 at the time and distinctively remember my parents pivoting from our top 40 stations to the local AC station in the summer of 1990, rather abruptly. They were only in their late 20s at the time as well and buying records like Don Henley and Wilson Philips so the teen pop must have left them cold as well.

    As for the 1990-91 timeline, a good majority of the stuff you NEVER hear anymore and looking at the charts of the time I barely remember hearing or seeing it played even then (radio or MTV). It’s truly a black hole for the top 40. I really wonder if anyone has fond memories of this era?

  8. David

    As someone who was 12 at this time, I can testify that it was not only adults who considered Top 40 to be underwhelming in 1990.

    Even in retrospect, 1990 seems like a down year for music. What were the best albums of 1990? Depeche Mode’s “Violator”? Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet”? The Pixies’ “Bossonova”? The Black Crowes’ “Shake Your Money Maker”? Jane’s Addiction’s “Ritual de lo Habitual”? A Tribe Called Quest’s “People’s Instinctive Travels”? Neil Young’s “Ragged Glory”? Uncle Tupelo’s “No Depression”? These are not even these artists’ best work, let alone timeless classics. Things probably weren’t helped by the fact that many of the huge stars of the 1980s took 1990 off (Guns N’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Def Leppard, Peter Gabriel) or released relatively uneven/subpar albums (George Michael, Prince, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Paul Simon, INXS).

    The end of every decade/start of the next decade often seems like a transitional period in music, and the transition from the 1980s to the 1990s was certainly still being felt here. 1990 was much like the weird early 1980s-era, before MTV got its sea legs. The next year, 1991, is where the 1990s really begin. That’s where generational shots get fired and bands that had previously been college rock or were considered “alternative” start releasing decade-defining albums that dominated the album charts and the CD collections of teenagers everywhere, even if–for reasons you all are more qualified to explain–these MTV favorites did not necessarily light Top 40 radio on fire.

    1. Chris Herman

      You’ll definitely get some arguments about the worth of PE’s “Fear of a Black Planet”, Jane’s Addiction’s “Ritual de lo Habitual”, and even The Black Crowes’ “Shake Your Money Maker” but your main point is valid. Just like the American popular music scene before Beatlemania and the British Invasion hit, the period just before 1991-92 was fallow and ripe for change. I had stopped caring about what was in the Top 40 years before and mainly focused on AOR and Alternative by that point. (I might also add album releases by REM and U2 were conspicuously absent during that same time.)

  9. Brian L Rostron

    That photo perfectly captures the appeal and dynamics of Wilson Phillips for me. Yeah, mainstream music in ’90 was played out, with hair metal and Club MTV type stuff becoming self parodies. Even Nikki Sixx was saying that this is what punk had rebelled against in the first place. And when Nikki Sixx is aware of something, it’s probably pretty self evident. On the other hand, Public Enemy followed “It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back” with the even superior “Fear of a Black Planet,” channeling the criticism of Professor Griff into a sonic fury. And there was some interesting stuff on alternative/college radio. I remember Cowboy Junkies cover of “Sweet Jane” for example. I also had a fond spot for Big Audio Dynamite in its many iterations.

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