Can’t Slow Down

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(Pictured: Lionel Richie performs at the closing ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.)

On the weekend of December 29, 1984, American Top 40 counted down the Top 100 hits of 1984. It was an eight-hour show that stations were required to air on either the 29th or 30th; if they wanted to repeat it over New Year’s, they were free to do so. The show was structured so it could be played in two four-hour blocks, should a station prefer to air it that way. In the intro, Casey says the year-end tabulation ends with the second week of December, making it a more accurate representation of the year than shows from earlier years, when the chart ran from November to November.

The music on this show is peak 80s, with a literal ton of iconic records that have never been off the radio in 36 years. We’ll need two installments to get it all in, and we’re going to skip around a lot.

100. “Lights Out”/Peter Wolf.  Introduced with a “number 100” jingle. When you have the top syndicated radio show in the world, you can afford to pay for a production element you’ll use once a year.

95. “Breakin’ (Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us)”/Ollie and Jerry
94. “I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You”/Ray Parker Jr.

89. “Think of Laura”/Christopher Cross
87. “Got a Hold on Me”/Christine McVie
84. “Desert Moon”/Dennis de Young
77. “They Don’t Know”/Tracey Ullman
73. “Breakdance”/Irene Cara
65. “Let the Music Play”/Shannon

Lots of iconic records on the countdown, yes, but also a few that were already being forgotten by the end of 1984 (even Christine, sadly).

93. “Head Over Heels”/Go-Gos. The Go-Gos are a band I respect more than I like, and “Head Over Heels” is the best thing they ever did, by a mile.

86. “Wrapped Around Your Finger”/Police. This is probably my favorite thing by the Police, although it’s slathered with the insufferably showy erudition that makes Sting’s solo work unlistenable. I imagine him writing in his study at home, thinking up the rhyme of “tuition” with “fruition,” and then saying to the cat, “Listen to this, it’s great.”

82. “Cruel Summer”/Bananarama. Casey was always quite interested in the breakdown of foreign acts vs. Americans, male vs. female, the number of songs with girls’ names (six on this countdown, by the way) and so on, although your mileage may vary as to whether it’s information worth knowing. That said, he notes that Bananarama is only the second all-female foreign act to hit the Top 40 in America. Silver Convention was the first.

79. “Penny Lover”/Lionel Richie
48. “Running With the Night”/Lionel Richie
31. “Stuck on You”/Lionel Richie
8. “Hello”/Lionel Richie
In addition to putting four songs on this show, Richie was also Billboard‘s Album Artist of the Year thanks to the mega-gazillion success of Can’t Slow Down. It was not, however, the #1 album of 1984. That honor went to Thriller, just as it had in 1983. Thriller was #1 from December 1983 into April 1984, even though all of its seven singles had been released by the end of ’83. Only four other albums hit #1 in 1984: the Footloose soundtrack, Sports by Huey Lewis, Purple Rain, and Born in the USA.

78. “I’m So Excited”/Pointer Sisters
70. “Strut”/Sheena Easton
58. “Sister Christian”/Night Ranger
47. “I Can Dream About You”/Dan Hartman

46. “Automatic”/Pointer Sisters
44. “The Heart of Rock and Roll”/Huey Lewis and the News
28. “Jump (For My Love)”/Pointer Sisters
20. “Caribbean Queen”/Billy Ocean
14. “Missing You”/John Waite
13. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”/Wham
11. “Ghostbusters”/Ray Parker Jr.

I’ve told the story before, how we switched to a Top 40 format at my radio station in the fall of 1984, and how “The Heart of Rock and Roll” was the first song we played. These and other songs on this countdown remind me of the early days of that format, when it was a thrill to hear my station coming in hot.

69. “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again”/Peabo Bryson
61. “Borderline”/Madonna
52. “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”/Elton John
39. “Union of the Snake”/Duran Duran
36. “Drive”/Cars
29. “Joanna”/Kool and the Gang
25. “I Feel for You”/Chaka Khan
18. “Say It Isn’t So”/Hall and Oates
One of these is the best record on the countdown, but I can’t decide which. Is it “Drive”? It’s probably “Drive.”

68. “Legs”/ZZ Top. Me, at the top of this post: “The music is peak 80s, with a literal ton of iconic records that have never been off the radio in 36 years.” It took 32 songs to reach one of those icons, although your mileage may vary with “Thriller” (#77) or “Heart and Soul” by Huey Lewis (#80).

Coming in the next installment: distasteful hypes, big-but-forgotten singles, and a surprising #1 song of the year.

8 thoughts on “Can’t Slow Down

  1. My vote goes to “Drive” as well.
    I’d somehow forgotten that the Pointer Sisters had such a purple patch. Of their three songs here, “Automatic” is the one I could most go for now.

  2. Jim Cummings

    “Drive”…..sounds better every time I hear it. JB: have a safe and Happy New Year! Thanks for another year of great writing.

  3. I shall cherish this day in which Duran Duran is afforded rare “best-of” status in this pondwater. While all three of their singles…yes, even that devil “Reflex”…would figure in my top 20 from the countdown, the blue ribbon likely goes to the unmentioned “Here Comes the Rain Again” (but only the full version as issued on the 45).

  4. One of these is the best record on the countdown, but I can’t decide which. Is it “Drive”? It’s probably “Drive.”

    I love the Cars. “Drive” is a great, great song. But the answer here is actually the Peabo Bryson song.

  5. Wesley

    I’d go with Drive too, although Say It Isn’t So is one of my favorite Hall and Oates tunes ever, definitely among their top five. It deserved to be number one much more than the song that kept it from the top, “Say Say Say” by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. And although I haven’t heard the survey, I’m worried that’s going to be the surprise #1 for the year, unfortunately.

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