Tied to Their Moment

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(Pictured: Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, 1987.)

Just as I was kind of underwhelmed by the American Top 40 show from June 21, 1986, the rest of the Hot 100 from that week is kind of meh also. There are a few songs of note, however.

41. “Secret Separation”/The Fixx. “Red Skies,” “Saved by Zero,” “One Thing Leads to Another,” “Are We Ourselves,” and “Stand or Fall” were all big radio hits, either on Top 40 or AOR and frequently both. So was “Secret Separation,” although didn’t have the same sort of staying power, despite outperforming most of the others on the American charts. The Fixx is still together with several original members, they released their first new album in 10 years earlier this month, and are still touring.

42. “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”/Jermaine Stewart. Well, son, strictly speaking, you’re right, although as a line of smooth talk, “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” leaves a lot to be desired: “I’m not a piece of meat, stimulate my brain” and “Take my hand, let’s hit the floor, shake our bodies to the music, maybe then you’ll score.” Back in 1986, I hated hearing this low-rent Prince imitation on my air.

43. “West End Girls”/Pet Shop Boys
44. “What Have You Done for Me Lately”/Janet Jackson
48. “Your Love”/The Outfield
49. “Addicted to Love”/Robert Palmer
55. “Take Me Home”/Phil Collins
90. “Kiss”/Prince
If the summer of 1986 felt fallow, maybe it was because the spring had seen several iconic hits riding high at the same time. All of these were just out of the Top 40, and some would be heard on the radio regularly for at least 36 years to come. “West End Girls” might be the best song on the entire Hot 100 in this week, half-sung, half-rapped, a mysterious transmission from Another Place that didn’t sound like anything else. (The contrast with “Opportunities” couldn’t be greater. I would like to be able to explain to you why I hate that record so much. I tried listening to it again while writing this paragraph, but I was literally unable to get through it.)

47. “Bad Boy”/Miami Sound Machine
79. “Words Get in the Way”/Miami Sound Machine
“Bad Boy,” just out of the Top 40 in this week, is a tenacious earworm—seriously, it ought to come with a warning label—but “Words Get in the Way” was the first example of the kind of thing Gloria Estefan would make bank on for the next decade.

65. “Sweet Freedom”/Michael McDonald
96. “Take My Breath Away”/Berlin
I play “Take My Breath Away” on my radio shows once or twice each week here in 2022, but I’m not sure anybody would have bet on such longevity for it in June 1986. Another unlikely bet in June 1986: at WLS in Chicago, “Sweet Freedom” would end up the #1 song for all of 1986, the last year the station published a year-end survey.)

64. “I Must Be Dreaming”/Guiffria. Our friend Wesley made a good point in the comments to my earlier post, noting that “When the Heart Rules the Mind” by GTR, on this chart at #25, “is the type of undistinguished song that helped bring down AOR radio. Generic in all departments.” Record labels and radio became deeply invested in that kind of thing during the middle of the 1980s: “supergroups” making big, windy, empty, radio-friendly hard-ish rock, of which “I Must Be Dreaming” is a grade-A example. GTR was led by guitar heroes Steve Howe (who had already played in a band of similar ilk, Asia) and Steve Hackett of Genesis; Giuffria was led by Greg Guiffria, formerly of Angel. Both were lauded as the next big thing in rock, and were instantly added at AOR and Top 40 radio. They took up a lot of airtime and could do pretty well on the singles chart (Giuffria’s “Call to the Heart” got up to #15), but their style was tied to their specific historical moment. Before long, it would sound positively geriatric in a world dominated by Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Nirvana, and other, newer acts.

While the music of 1986 does not measure up to that of 1984 and 1985, the year itself remains a pretty good one in memory, as I have mentioned here before. I was doing the morning show in small-town Illinois, where we rattled around in a big old rented house. For a while that year, The Mrs. sold advertising for a regional tourism newspaper run by a guy who was a little better at planning and dreaming than execution. For that reason, at the end of the summer, she allowed herself to be drawn back into radio. Funny how that happens.

4 thoughts on “Tied to Their Moment

  1. “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” sounded much better two years later, blasting in our college bar, with the whole room chanting “bull shit!” in time with the music every time the line was sung. I still hear it that way in my head.

  2. Also in 1986, “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco, “Let’s Go All The Way” by Sly Foxx, “Tender Love” by Force MDs, and let’s not forget “All Cried Out” by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force. Actually, let’s forget them all and pretend 1986 never existed.

  3. mackdaddyg

    I was in high school at this point and was kind of still paying attention to top 40 radio, but I swear if you asked me when “West End Girls” came out, I would have guessed it came out a few years earlier. That might explain why I don’t mind hearing it these days.

  4. Wesley

    First, jb, thanks for the shoutout. Second, echoing everyone else, excellent Sidepiece this week.

    Now, for this one, I think you make excellent points about the endurance of both The Fixx (I forgot how many hits they had that I still remember) and the West End Girls through Kiss septet.

    Regarding Bad Boy, I think it’s always telling what songs the so-called “jukebox musicals” omit when they open on Broadway. To me, it’s like the creators wanted to deny that the hit ever happened to the artist involved, like no mention of Go Away Little Girl in Carole King’s Beautiful, for example. I’m not surprised that given its somewhat cheesy Neo-Motown sound, Bad Boy didn’t make the cut for Gloria Estefan’s On Your Feet!

    And I would’ve never guessed Sweet Freedom being the number one song of the year for any station, much less WLS.

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