It’s Unbearable

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(Pictured: One of many things people did in the 80s that seemed like a good idea at the time.)

A while back I wrote about the American Top 40 show from February 1, 1986. Here’s some of the Bottom 60 from that week, with links to official music videos.

41. “Separate Lives”/Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin
52. “Broken Wings”/Mr. Mister
“Separate Lives” had done a week at #1 in early December 1985, followed by “Broken Wings” for two weeks. They were still in the Top Five when Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me” (still at #5 on the 2/1/86 chart) hit #1 for Christmas. I like “Broken Wings” just fine. There’s never been anything else that sounds quite like it. But “Separate Lives” is utterly generic and a black hole on the radio besides, killing your station dead for four minutes.

42. “Stages”/ZZ Top
73. “Sleeping Bag”/ZZ Top
ZZ Top’s 1983 album Eliminator had a huge cultural reach thanks to MTV, but only “Legs” was a significant Top 40 hit. On the Hot 100, “Gimme All Your Lovin'” peaked at #37 and “Sharp Dressed Man” got only to #56. The singles on Afterburner actually did better in the aggregate: four made the Top 40, although each one did less well than the first: “Sleeping Bag” had peaked at #8, “Stages” would reach #21, “Rough Boy” (a ballad on which the band sounds like Survivor on quaaludes) was #22, and “Velcro Fly” was #35. It’s as if the fans (and radio stations) figured out that ZZ Top was simply repeating itself. And almost as if the band meant to acknowledge it, they called their next album Recycler.

54. “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”/John Cougar Mellencamp. The highest-debuting single on the Hot 100 this week, and a great record to have on your radio station as spring arrived.

56. “The Super Bowl Shuffle”/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew. The week after the Bears’ 46-10 demolition of New England in Super Bowl XX, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” took a leap from #84 in its fourth week on the chart. It would eventually top out at #41. I was working at a radio station in an Illinois college town where a significant percentage of the student body was from the Chicago area, so we had to play it. Rap hadn’t become a mainstream thing yet, so it sounded fresh, and its novelty value was undeniable. But today, the awkwardness of the whole thing is almost intolerable. Unbearable, even.

63. “Secret”/OMD. “Secret” was probably my favorite song of the moment in February 1986, in which OMD piles hook on top of hook but couldn’t get higher than #63.

77. “Manic Monday”/Bangles. “Walk Like an Egyptian” is the Bangles record that’s on the air the most these days, but “Manic Monday” was, and remains, a better one.

80. “I’m Not the One”/Cars. “Tonight She Comes” (on this chart at #29) was a new track on a greatest-hits album released late in 1985. It’s pretty thin, and the band sounds tired. “I’m Not the One,” was a remix of a track from Shake It Up, and was available only on the cassette and later the CD release of the greatest hits album. (According to Wikipeda, so who the hell knows.) The Cars would make make one more album (Door to Door in 1987) before splitting up.

85. “The Big Money”/Rush. You do not think of Rush as a singles band, although they hit the Hot 100 eight times, and some of those singles were their most famous songs: “Closer to the Heart,” “Limelight,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer,” and “Fly By Night.” Their lone Top 40 hit was “New World Man” in 1982. “The Big Money” was in its 13th week on this chart after peaking at #45. It would be the last of the Rush singles to make the Hot 100, and I’m pretty sure I never heard it until today.

91. “Calling America”/ELO. In the winter of 1986, it had been nearly three years since ELO hit #19 with “Rock and Roll Is King.” “Calling America,” which nicely updates the signature ELO sound to reflect mid-80s fashions, would get to #18 and be the band’s last Hot 100 hit.

After my original post about the Top 40 of this week, I noticed that I’d done a lot of hatin’ and resolved to be nicer the next time. I kinda was, I think, although it was a challenge. MTV and the Second British Invasion had blasted us out of the 1980-81 doldrums, but the innovations they had wrought were getting stale. Just as pop music needed a creative jolt in 1982, in 1986 it needed another one, and soon.

8 thoughts on “It’s Unbearable

  1. mikehagerty

    Some people will be shocked to hear about the chart performance of the two ZZ Top singles not titled “Legs”. Worth remembering: By 1986, 45 rpm record sales, in decline since peaking in 1974, were darn near negligible. Pretty much anytime after 1978, you really needed to factor in LP sales as well to get a realistic picture….more so with some acts than others.

  2. I hadn’t heard any of those ZZ Top songs since 1985-’86. I put on “Stages” and “Sleeping Bag” for about 20 seconds each to remind myself, and that should hold me for the rest of my life.

  3. Leo Edelstein

    Thanks Jim, a very bearable Bottom 60. First time I hear ELO’s Calling America. Can you add to Magic 98’s rotation?
    1986, we moved from Milwaukee to Menasha, the job didn’t last long, but a step in the right direction.

  4. Wesley

    The Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew getting a Grammy nomination for Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for their song has to be one of the lowest points of an already dubious enterprise. (They lost to Prince and the Revolution for “Kiss,” thank God.) I thought Pia Zadora getting a nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female two years earlier was embarrassing enough, yet the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences proved they could do even worse. Yeah, I know there were worse nominees previously and afterwards, but those two really stuck in my craw about what a tin ear some supposed musical professionals had in judging the supposed best in their industry.

  5. Of the tunes mentioned here, “Secret” gets top prize. I’d purchase the Crush album at the end of the school year, and while it might get ridiculous in places, it never fails to revive the lovesick ex-sophomore wandering the malls with Walkman in tow.

    The original “I’m Not the One” (not that I’m against the remix) is one of the reasons Shake It Up remains my favorite Cars album.

    Two 45s I owned in real time: “Calling America” and “The Super Bowl Shuffle”, the latter purchased on Super Sunday, possibly while the game was in progress. I still don’t know or care jack about football but tie-in novelty records were always my wheelhouse (evident by my Oilers fight songs collection circa ‘80). Also purchased that Super Sunday: my first album to credit Brian Eno as an artist (his ‘81 collab with David Byrne). You don’t get much more small-c catholic than that.

  6. John Gallagher

    Of the two ZZ Top songs listed, I remember Sleeping Bag and Rough Boy, but Sleeping Bag is the only one that made it to Classic Rock Libraries and Sirius.

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