February 26, 1984: Which One of You?

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(Pictured: Michael Jackson, speaking at an event days after he was injured in a pyrotechnics accident while filming a Pepsi commercial.)

February 26, 1984, was a Sunday. All three network newscasts lead tonight with news from Lebanon, where an 18-month international peacekeeping effort in Beirut ends as the last American Marines leave their posts. Last October, 241 Marines died when a suicide bomber drove a truck into a barracks building. Other top stories include the Democratic presidential race; former vice-president Walter Mondale won the Iowa caucuses last Monday night, and the New Hampshire primary is the day after tomorrow. Today, candidate Jesse Jackson speaks at a synagogue in Manchester, where he apologizes for private remarks in which he referred to Jews as “Hymies” and New York City as “Hymietown.” Jewish leaders will not be mollified by his apology. A 10-year federal ban on credit card surcharges ends tomorrow. Supporters of surcharges say they are needed to offset the cost of credit-card transactions. At the White House tonight, the Reagans host a dinner for the National Governors Association. Bob Newhart is the featured entertainer.

It’s the second week of the NASCAR season. Ricky Rudd wins the Miller High Life 400 in Richmond, Virginia, with Darrell Waltrip second. The winner of last week’s Daytona 500, Cale Yarborough, finishes 14th. Five games are played in the NBA today. The Boston Celtics run their league-best record to 43-and-14 with a 119-106 win over Phoenix. The league’s second-best record belongs to the Los Angeles Lakers, who beat the Philadelphia 76ers 101-99.

On TV tonight, ABC wins the ratings race with part 1 of the made-for-TV movie Lace, about a supermodel trying to find out who her mother is. It crushes the first network showing of Star Wars on CBS and NBC’s presentation of Urban Cowboy. The result does not surprise TV observers; Lace is one of the most highly touted movies of the TV season, while Star Wars has already aired on cable and is available on videocassette. In theaters this weekend, top movies are Footloose, the romantic comedy Blame It on Rio, Lassiter (a heist movie starring Tom Selleck and Jane Seymour), and Terms of Endearment. Also playing: The Right Stuff, Broadway Danny Rose, and Silkwood.

Pepsi spokesman Michael Jackson attends a bottlers’ convention in New York City, accompanied by his mother and sisters LaToya and Janet. Black Sabbath plays Kalamazoo, Michigan, and KISS plays Hampton, Virginia. Menudo plays the University of Illinois-Chicago and Genesis plays Birmingham, England. On this week’s Billboard Hot 100, “Jump” by Van Halen trades places with last week’s #1, “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club, now at #2. “99 Luftballons” by Nena is #3, and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper makes a big move from #9 to #4. But Jackson’s “Thriller” is the hottest record of them all. It debuted on the Hot 100 two weeks ago at #20, leaped to #7 last week, and is currently at #5. New songs in the Top 10 are “Nobody Told Me” by John Lennon at #7, “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by the Police at #9, and “An Innocent Man” by Billy Joel at #10. The hottest song within the Top 40 is “Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell, featuring a Jackson cameo, which jumps from #25 to #12. Four songs are new in the Top 40: “Adult Education” by Hall and Oates at #31, “New Song” by Howard Jones at #38, the Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now” at #39, and “Livin’ in Desperate Times” by Olivia Newton-John at #40. The highest debut on the Hot 100 is “They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman at #63. The oldest songs on the chart are “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder (#29) and “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie (#91), both in their 24th week.

Perspective From the Present: Michael Jackson’s cultural pervasiveness at this moment in history was almost oppressive. When he was burned after his hair caught fire during the commercial shoot at the end of January, it dominated the news for days, and his every move was still being covered a month later. In this week, however, he would be temporarily displaced by Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who would upset Walter Mondale in the New Hampshire primary.

On this night, The Mrs. and I, married less than a year, watched Lace, and like the rest of the country, we were left in shock and awe by Phoebe Cates’ immortal line, “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” (In 1993, TV Guide would name it the greatest single line in television history.) I am pretty sure I had already been fired by the badly run station in the nowhere town. If so, I probably watched Lace that night trying not to think about the uncertainty that would return to our lives on Monday.

8 thoughts on “February 26, 1984: Which One of You?

  1. TimMoore

    I was driving a semi cross country at this time.. so I don’t remember Lace..funny it beat out the other 2 movies that night that have now become classics..

  2. “Black Sabbath plays Kalamazoo, Michigan”
    This was one of the last shows on the 1983-84 Born Again tour — Sabbath’s only tour with former Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan as frontman, and famous for its use of Stonehenge imagery as part of the stage set. (They played the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena the previous November.)

  3. Wesley

    It’s surprising to me now that “Thriller” didn’t make number 1 on the Hot 100, given its huge debut on the chart. Its arrival at number 20 was the highest first week for a single since John Lennon’s “Imagine” landed at the same position on October 23, 1971, and only four other songs had debuted higher to that point since the Hot 100 started in August 1958. And no other song would surpass it for another seven years until Madonna’s “Rescue Me” came in at number 15 on March 2, 1991.

    As jb noted, the media focus at this time 39 years ago was all Michael, all the time, so there may have been a burnout among some radio stations against playing the song. Whatever the reason, it ended up peaking at number 4 the first two weeks of March 1984, blocked from the apex by Van Halen’s “Jump” at number one, followed by Nena’s “99 Luftballons” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which would be 2-3 the first week and then switch spots the second week.

    And I remember almost all these songs except for “Livin’ in Desperate Times,” which is less surprising to me since I was 19 at the time.

    1. I think the thing with “Thriller” as a single was that it was the fifth single from the album, which had been out for a year and four months and which had been #1 37 of those weeks (non-consecutively).

      In fact, the only number one single from “Thriller” was the first one—“Beat It”. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” peaked at #5, “Human Nature” at #7 and “P.Y.T” at #10.

      While Billboard factored in airplay (don’t get me started), it was still largely a sales chart, and by that late date, who wanted a 3:59 edit of what they already had on LP, cassette or CD (available in that format since June of ’83)?

      1. Let’s also not forget that “Thriller” is pretty bad. Even edited, it goes on way too long; the lyrics sound like they were written by someone who had been told about horror movies but never actually saw one; and the Vincent Price “rap” is lame. It always seemed to me like a record radio played because the success of the video forced it.

      2. David

        I believe that “Thriller” was actually the seventh single from the album, not the fifth (which further supports your Jackson “fatigue”/”no one left to buy the thing” theory). “The Girl Is Mine” and “Billie Jean” preceded “Beat It” as singles, which was then followed by “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” (the best song on the album), “Human Nature,” “P.Y.T.,” and–finally–“Thriller.” I believe that “Billie Jean” also hit #1 and did so prior to “Beat It.”

        The slightly odd thing, at least per later practice, was that MJ stopped making videos (or “short films,” in his parlance) after the “Beat It” single. He released the next three singles without videos, but then made a video for “Thriller.” The timing of the U.S. single–January 23, 1984–is also pretty strange, given that “Thriller” probably would have maximized its airplay chances if released before Halloween AND the video premiered on MTV on December 2, 1984. I would guess that the video simply was not ready by Halloween, which delayed the single, but that doesn’t really explain the nearly two-month delay between the debut of the video and the release of the “Thriller” single.

    2. Aaron

      Piggybacking on David’s comment below, airplay on “Thriller” had just about peaked by the time the single was belatedly released. Looking at the R&R pop chart (which was airplay only), “Thriller” hit number one on the chart dated 2/10/84 (equivalent to the 2/18/84 Hot 100, where it jumped from 20-7). By the time the single reached its sales peak, radio was already dropping it.

  4. mikehagerty

    David, you’re right. I somehow zoned “Billie Jean” and I’m sure I have a mental block regarding “The Girl Is Mine”. Those two peaked at #1 and #2 respectively.

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