(Pictured: the group Alabama hangs out in 1980.)
On August 1, 1981, MTV launched, on a single cable system in New Jersey. It would take a while before MTV gained sufficient critical mass to change music history. Out in the pop world of 1981, the beat went on. Here’s a live-blog of the American Top 40 show that aired around the country that weekend.
Casey starts the show by noting that there are eight new songs in this week. New, yes. Different? I wonder.
40. “You’re My Girl”/Franke and the Knockouts. Franke and the Knockouts’ first hit, “Sweetheart,” remains great. “You’re My Girl” is a song you’ve already heard a million times before you’ve heard it once, and you’ll never need to hear it again.
39. “Really Want to Know You”/Gary Wright. In which Gary Wright sounds postively exhausted.
38. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”/Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. This has never done much for me, but at least it’s got some personality.
37. “Don’t Want to Wait Anymore”/Tubes. The band hired super-producer David Foster, and he gave them this generic love ballad that could hardly be by the same band that made “White Punks on Dope” and “Don’t Touch Me There.”
36. “Love on a Two-Way Street”/Stacy Lattisaw. Before playing “Love on a Two-Way Street,” Casey answers a question about songs that stayed the longest in the Top 40 by giving the answer—and then repeating the answer in case we didn’t catch it 10 seconds before. Then, he says, “Debuting this week is that 14-year-old girl Stacy Lattisaw, with her second Top 40 hit on the pop chart called ‘Love on a Two-Way Street.’ Stacy Lattisaw.” FOR GOD’S SAKE MAN YOU JUST TOLD US HER NAME WHY DO YOU HAVE TO SAY IT AGAIN
35. “Feels So Right”/Alabama. Late in 1980, Alabama scored their first two #1 country hits, and sometime that winter, the county fair in my little Wisconsin hometown was able to book them for the grandstand in July. By the time they played, they’d had two more #1s and “Feels So Right” was crossing over to pop. It was the fourth in a streak of 21 consecutive #1 country hits that would last until 1987.
34. “Don’t Give It Up”/Robbie Patton. A “turntable hit” is a song that gets played a lot on the radio without generating many sales. The phrase is obsolete but the concept remains today, especially in country music—radio stations give heavy airplay to certain records that I am convinced no listener actually likes. I also feel that way about the blindingly white “Don’t Give It Up.” It’s hard to imagine that anybody raced out to the record store to buy it, but radio stations liked how it sounded.
LDD: “While You See a Chance”/Steve Winwood. In which Mary, a woman from the Chicago suburbs, makes friends with a train conductor named Bobby, who consoles her with advice after her dream of moving to California falls through: “Life’s not gonna give you anything. You have to make things happen.” Shortly after that, Bobby fell off the train and was squashed against the third rail.
Well, no, I made that last bit up, but if I hadn’t admitted it, would you have doubted me?
33. “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”/Jim Steinman
32. “Double Dutch Bus”/Frankie Smith
“Double Dutch Bus” is rarely mentioned when we discuss the earliest rap records to get traction on the pop charts, and I don’t know if it belongs. But if it’s OK with you, I’d prefer we never speak of it again. Or Jim Steinman either.
EXTRA: “Winchester Cathedral”/New Vaudeville Band. Part of Casey’s series reviewing the #1 songs of the 60s, this is the 154th, from December 1966.
31. “Fire and Ice”/Pat Benatar. I am no Pat Benatar fan, and this isn’t especially good on its own, but it sounds great compared to the rest of this show so far.
30. “Who’s Crying Now”/Journey
29. “A Woman Needs Love”/Ray Parker Jr.
28. “Cool Love”/Pablo Cruise
27. “The Breakup Song”/Greg Kihn Band
Journey and Greg Kihn are the best of this show so far, but even a man with the soul-music cred of Ray Parker Jr. can’t escape the white tornado that is 1981. “Cool Love” doesn’t move me in any direction.
26. “Modern Girl”/Sheena Easton
25. “Medley”/Stars on 45
I’m about ready to tap out here. “Modern Girl” is dreadful. Compared to that, “Medley” is “Stairway to Heaven.”
24. “Don’t Let Him Go”/REO Speedwagon
23. “In the Air Tonight”/Phil Collins
EXTRA: “Good Vibrations”/Beach Boys
Finally, some signs of life. But we’re two hours down and still only up to #22.
Do I want to live-blog the rest of this? Not really. Do you want me to? Well, OK then. Tune in again next time.