I Don’t Need You

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(Pictured: Kim Carnes enjoys a moment backstage in 1981.)

OK, I started live-blogging the AT40 show from August 1, 1981, on Monday, and now I have to finish the job, like it or not.

21. “All Those Years Ago”/George Harrison. Me, last summer: “America loved the idea that Paul and Ringo were backing George on this, and if it portrays a John Lennon that some people didn’t recognize, maybe blame grief for it.”

20. “It’s Now or Never”/John Schneider. There is utterly no reason for this stiff, whitebread version of the Elvis classic to exist.

19. “Sweet Baby”/Stanley Clarke and George Duke. On “Sweet Baby,” two accomplished jazz players who know a little bit about soul and funk can’t muster up either one.

18. “The Stroke”/Billy Squier
17. “Lady (You Bring Me Up)”/Commodores
Squier’s hormonal riffage still amuses the teenage boy in me, and compared to the rest of the show, Lionel Richie sounds like James Brown.

16. “Touch Me When We’re Dancing”/Carpenters
15. “Time”/Alan Parsons Project
14. “Endless Love”/Diana Ross and Lionel Richie
13. “There’s No Getting Over Me”/Ronnie Milsap
But then there’s this. In the past, I have written about the way AT40 will sometimes hit a streak of pure Top 40 pleasure, with one great radio song after another. This is not that. This is a stultifying quarter-hour of radio. This is why MTV had to happen.

12. “Gemini Dream”/Moody Blues. With Long Distance Voyager at #1 on the album chart in this week, Casey introduces “Gemini Dream” with a good bit of trivia: the Moodys are the third group to hit #1 with an album, break up, reform, and then hit #1 with another album, joining the Jefferson Airplane/Starship and the Bee Gees. Surely it’s happened again since.

EXTRA: “I’m a Believer”/Monkees
11. “You Make My Dreams”/Hall and Oates
The best thing on the show is probably “Who’s Crying Now” back at #30, but these are close.

10. “Queen of Hearts”/Juice Newton. “Queen of Hearts” is uptempo without being the remotest bit rock ‘n’ roll, and thereby exactly what pop radio was looking for at this moment in history. Juice scored five big hits in 1981 and 1982 but when fashions changed in 1983, she went swiftly back to playing county fairs.

9. “Hearts”/Marty Balin. Different times: despite being a pure pop record, “Hearts” was one of the top tracks on album-rock radio in the summer of 1981.

LDD: “Love You Like I Never Loved Before”/John O’Banion. Which Debbie dedicates to Mike, a high-school flame. They have both been married and divorced and now they’re in love, she says, even though he is a soldier in West Germany and they haven’t set eyes on each other in 10 years. Good luck, you crazy kids.

8. “Boy From New York City”/Manhattan Transfer. In the last post, I referred to 1981 as “the white tornado.” To wit: “Boy From New York City” is the 38th record on this show so far, counting the extras, and the 32nd credited to white people. It’s like a Republican National Committee meeting up in here.

7. “Bette Davis Eyes”/Kim Carnes. Seventeenth week on the show, nine of them spent at #1. I’m at a loss to fully explain its appeal. I seem to remember that it didn’t stay on radio playlists very long after 1981, but you shouldn’t trust my memory. I don’t.

6. “Slow Hand”/Pointer Sisters. Potentially controversial opinion: this is yacht rock. Take away the Sisters and it’s basically “What a Fool Believes.” [Late edit: wait a sec. “He’s So Shy” is the one that’s yacht rock. “Slow Hand” is something else but I don’t care about it enough to differentiate the two.]

5. “Elvira”/Oak Ridge Boys
4. “I Don’t Need You”/Kenny Rogers
3. “Greatest American Hero Theme (Believe It or Not)”/Joey Scarbury
2. “The One That You Love”/Air Supply
You cannot imagine the horror of living in a world where “Elvira” was on the radio every couple of hours. Thank the gods this show is almost over.

1. “Jessie’s Girl”/Rick Springfield. This sounded better than practically everything else in the summer of 1981, although if this week’s AT40 has taught us anything, that was not an especially high bar to clear.

It’s a familiar theme: by 1981, the jolt that disco gave to pop music in the late 70s had faded away. Mainstream radio pop had retreated into a safe space in which nobody would be challenged. (I’ve seen it linked to the rise of Ronald Reagan and the triumph of backlash politics after the 60s and 70s, but smarter people would have to say.) In any case: a new jolt was needed, and it was coming, starting on one cable system in New Jersey, the same weekend this AT40 aired.

I realize that there are people who feel as warmly about 1981 as I do about 1976 and 1971, and if you are one of them, all I can say is, you do you.

14 thoughts on “I Don’t Need You

  1. Ding ding ding! My Casey Sense is tingling, which means nonsense is afoot….

    … as I suspected, Wiki tells me Surrealistic Pillow peaked at Number 3, which means the Starplane (to paraphrase Michael Palin) sure did not do that thing.
    (The Airplane’s next highest placement: Crown of Creation, at Number 6.)

    I thought Yes might have pulled it off but they have never had a Number One album at any point. Came pretty close a couple of times but no cigar.

  2. Gene Baxter

    I heard recently that the John Schneider single is the most successful Elvis remake of all-time. Can that be true? 😬

    1. John Gallagher

      Surely, someone must have had their tongue implanted in their cheek when they told you this?
      lol. It’s only been released on ONE CD – K-Tel’s Behind Closed Doors

    2. Wesley

      Wrong. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by UB40 passed the number 2 peak Elvis had with it to top the Hot 100 in 1993. “It’s Now or Never” failed to come anywhere close to that.

  3. mikehagerty

    I used to refer to 1981 as “the time when Top 40 radio was choking on Juice (Newton) and Air (Supply). It’s been ages, but I’ll stand by that.

    This is, as has been noted, why AOR took off (in places it hadn’t yet) in ’81 and why, in L.A., Mr. Baxter’s yet-to-be alma mater KROQ suddenly started getting ratings with songs like “88 Lines About 44 Women” by the Nails and “Teenage Enema Nurses In Bondage” by Killer Pussy.

    If those among you who are young or not Californian think I’m making that up, ask Gene.

  4. Chris Herman

    When I heard “Endless Love” for the first time it felt like I’d been force-fed a large bowl of sugar cubes soaked in honey. Even now, I believe if I hear more than 15 seconds of the song I’ll get diabetes. (I don’t like the Mariah Carey/Luther Vandross remake either but I can still listen to it for a bit longer before worrying about my glucose level.)

    Anyway, in my medium-sized radio market in the Pacific Northwest, 1981 marked the year an upstart usurped the local AOR crown from an aging ruler. The aging ruler was 92.9 KREM-FM and the usurper was Rock 106, KEZE, a former easy-listening station that used to play literal elevator music.

  5. Wesley

    I think my local top 40 station somehow avoided playing the Duke Boy’s, er, John Schneider’s take on “It’s Now or Never,” so I’ve mercifully never heard it nor want to do so. The remake of “Boy from New York City” was similarly useless, though I imagine it sounds better than the Schneider thing.

    Another sign of 1981 mediocrity: “Endless Love” having a longer chart run than “(Lady) You Bring Me Up,” thus prompting Lionel Richie to prioritize doing mushy ballads for the rest of the decade.

    Final note: I just realized what amount of flaccid country music had infected the top 40 at this time, especially the top 20. Beside the It’s Now or Never remake, you had Touch Me When You’re Dancing (a country hit for Mama, not to be confused with Alabama), There’s No Getting Over Me, Queen of Hearts, Slow Hand (a country hit for Conway Twitty), Elvira and I Don’t Need You. The sounds of both country and top 40 have changed so much since 1981 that I doubt any of these get much airplay at all on any terrestrial station.

  6. mackdaddyg

    Me, last summer: “America loved the idea that Paul and Ringo were backing George on this, and if it portrays a John Lennon that some people didn’t recognize, maybe blame grief for it.”

    That sums it up perfectly. The more I learn about Lennon, the more I believe he was the biggest jerk of the Beatles. Having said that, he certainly deserved to live a long full life.

    1. A few years back, I gave up on a Lennon biography in the middle of it because he was so relentlessly unpleasant—crude, mean, selfish—that I no longer wanted to spend time with him. His reputation as an avatar of universal love comes partly from Jann Wenner’s fawning coverage of him in the 70s, and Yoko’s careful curation of his image after his death. He did not deserve an early death, for sure. But I suspect if he were here today, he’d have a lot of explaining to do about his behavior back in the day.

      1. mackdaddyg

        Agree completely. I’ll freely admit that if he had made it in this world a lot longer, he might have shown some remorse for his actions as a younger man. I’ve seen it with David Letterman and Gordon Lightfoot, so there’s a really good chance that Lennon would have come around.

        Hearing stuff like “Imagine” and “Happy Xmas” these days – aside from making me change the station as quickly as possible – makes me wonder just how sincere he really was about all of that peace and love stuff. There’s really no way to know.

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