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.

We’re All Gonna Go

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(Pictured: Black Sabbath. Not your standard AM radio fare.)

I recently wrote about the AT40 show for the week of December 5, 1970. Here’s some stuff from the rest of the Billboard chart that week, not just the Bottom 60 but a 20-position Bubbling Under chart too.

41. “Pay to the Piper”/Chairmen of the Board
45. “River Deep Mountain High”/Supremes and Four Tops
46. “Groove Me”/King Floyd
48. “Border Song”/Aretha Franklin
59. “If I Were Your Woman”/Gladys Knight and the Pips
63. “If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Going to Go”/Curtis Mayfield
This is but a fraction of the soul superstars and notable songs on this chart. Also appearing: B. B. King, Ray Charles, Clarence Carter, Johnnie Taylor, Bobby “Blue” Bland, David and Jimmy Ruffin, O. V. Wright, the Moments, the Intruders, and Al Green.

44. “Immigrant Song”/Led Zeppelin
69. “Mr. Bojangles”/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

70. “Amos Moses”/Jerry Reed
71. “Your Song'”/Elton John

81. “Lonely Days”/Bee Gees
In my earlier post about the 12/5/70 AT40 show, I wrote that I loved the way the music sounded on WLS. These songs sounded great in that environment, too. “Immigrant Song” was amazing in that environment.

67. “Rose Garden”/Lynn Anderson. “Rose Garden” was a modern-day extra provided to AT40 affiliates with the 12/5/70 show. The extras are often songs that the oldies, classic hits, and AC stations that typically carry AT40 repeats might otherwise be playing, but “Rose Garden,” despite eventually making #3, seems like an exception.

76. “Paranoid”/Black Sabbath. I love that this was a hit in the same week as “I Think I Love You” and “Knock Three Times” by Dawn. It was actually #1 at WCOL in Columbus, Ohio, at the end of November, sharing the Top 10 with the Partridge Family, Smokey Robinson, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Elvis—and also “Fresh Air” by Quicksilver Messenger Service. “Paranoid” made the Top 10 in Denver, Winnipeg, and Norfolk, Virginia. And in Erie, Pennsylvania, too, but not until March 1971.

68. “Morning”/Jim Ed Brown
91. “Coal Miner’s Daughter”/Loretta Lynn
93. “Where Have All the Heroes Gone”/Bill Anderson
101. “Fifteen Years Ago”/Conway Twitty
102. “I Can’t Believe That You’ve Stopped Loving Me”/Charley Pride
111. “I Wouldn’t Live in New York City (If They Gave Me the Whole Dang Town)”/Buck Owens
112. “I’m Alright”/Lynn Anderson
115. “Flesh and Blood”/Johnny Cash
116. “The Wonders You Perform”/Tammy Wynette
Country crossovers to the Hot 100 were a thing in 1970 just as they are now. (Fun fact: “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” which would hit #1 on the Billboard country chart on December 19, peaked at #83 a week later.) “I Wouldn’t Live in New York City”  is a 1970 version of the 2022 conservative trope about cities being dangerous hellholes no decent person would live in or visit. It likely didn’t offend anybody who actually lived in NYC, however, because the only country radio stations in the metro area in 1970 were in Hackensack, New Jersey, and Mineola, New York. The city didn’t get one of its own until WHN started playing country in 1973.

95. “Lady Love”/The Klowns. After the success of made-for-TV acts like the Monkees and the Archies, Ringling Brothers/Barnum and Bailey Circus tried to manufacture a similar act. They called upon bubblegum god Jeff Barry, who dug a few songs out of his closet, hired some studio musicians, and birthed the Klowns. The Klowns who appeared on the album cover were not the people who performed on the album; they were actors, among them Barry Bostwick, later of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame. Those actors appeared in a Klowns TV special in November 1970, which guest-starred Sammy Davis Jr. and Jerry Lewis. Nothing came of either the TV show or the album, although “Lady Love” lasted two weeks at #95.

120. “Down to the Wire”/Yellow Hand. This band, whoever they were, had friends in high places. Six of the 10 songs on their lone album were by Stephen Stills and/or Neil Young, apparently written for the Buffalo Springfield but never officially released by them. This is the only week on the Bubbling Under chart for “Down to the Wire.” It has 12 listings at ARSA, ten from KIMN in Denver.

The same Norfolk station that charted “Paranoid” in the Top 10, WNOR, had also charted Yellow Hand, on a list that included other oddball singles such as Procol Harum’s “Whiskey Train,” “What Now America” by Lee Michaels, and “Catch the Man on the Rise” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, as well as “Up and Down” by Two Monsters, which is from The Sesame Street Book and Record, the 1970 original cast album that also inflicted “Rubber Duckie” on the world.

I don’t know if WNOR was a good radio station in 1970, but it had to be an interesting one.

The Only Art That’s Really Worth a Damn

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(Pictured: from somewhere in the 70s, Waylon Jennings is silently judging your taste in music.)

The Cash Box chart from November 1, 1975, isn’t going to be for everybody. For me, it’s a great one. I have to go down to #11 and #12 before I find something I don’t like a lot, and I can tolerate both of them, even “Feelings.” It’s not until I get to #20, and George Harrison’s “You,” that I find something I straight-up don’t like. Part of this chart’s appeal has to do with the way I have mythologized the fall of 1975, but not all of it. Any chart that contains my all-time favorite record, the Spinners’ “Games People Play,” just gots to be cool. And some of the most iconic records of the 70s are here, too: “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Low Rider,” “Born to Run.”

But if you don’t dig it, I understand. Let’s see how you might feel about some of the stuff farther down.

43. “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain”/Willie Nelson
74. “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”/Waylon Jennings
83. “What’s Happened to Blue Eyes”/Jessi Colter
“Lord it’s the same old tune, fiddle and guitar / Where do we take it from here?” “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” is Waylon wondering if there was a path to success in country music different from the one Nashville stars had followed for years. As it turned out, he and the other prominent outlaws found it.

55. “(How I Spent My Summer Vacation) Or a Day at the Beach With Pedro and Man Part 1″/Cheech and Chong. In the fall of 1974, “Earache My Eye” rose all the way into the Top 10 because A) it included a song with a monster riff and B) it was actually funny. Neither of those things is true about “A Day at the Beach With Pedro and Man,” which yammers on in its full-length version for seven deadly dull minutes.

65. “Manhattan Spiritual”/Mike Post. Post hit with the Rockford Files theme in the summer of 1975 and applied the same template to “Manhattan Spiritual,” a 1958 hit by British jazzman Reg Owen. Really, it’s quite remarkable how much it sounds like “The Rockford Files,” to the extent you can tell from the wobbly 45 at YouTube.

89. “Come and Get Your Love”/Roger Daltrey. The YouTuber who posted this says it was marketed in some countries as “Get Your Love.” The United States was apparently not one of them, even though a different “Come and Get Your Love” had been to #1 a year before. This “Come and Get Your Love” is arranged and played like it wants to be a soul record. As such, it would be better sung by quite literally anybody other than Roger Daltrey.

94. “Machines”/John Livigni
98. “Wake Up”/Law
It’s an indication of how obscure these records are that they aren’t posted in full at YouTube or anywhere else, which means they’ve disappeared as completely as any record ever does anymore. To have made the national charts for only a week or two, how many copies must they have moved, or how much payola was distributed on their behalf? Law was on the GRC label, which was a money-laundering operation for one of the largest pornographers in the country, although the artists signed to the label or one of its many subsidiaries didn’t necessarily know it. John Livigni, whose record was on the Raintree label (which was based in Los Angeles, Nashville, or Louisiana depending on which Internet source you prefer), changed his name to John Valenti and scored a minor hit in 1976 with “Anything You Want.” But that’s according to Wikipedia, so caveat emptor.

96. “Nice, Nice, Very Nice”/Ambrosia. Novelist Kurt Vonnegut gets a writing credit on “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” because it’s adapted from lyrics he wrote in his 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle. It was going to be a little much for Top 40 radio, but underground FMs were another story. After hearing it on the radio one night, Vonnegut wrote to the band: “Those who know pop music keep telling me how lucky I am to be tied in with you. And I myself am crazy about our song, of course, but what do I know and why wouldn’t I be? This much I have always known, anyway: Music is the only art that’s really worth a damn. I envy you guys.”

Looking Over My Shoulder

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(Pictured: Aimee Mann of Til Tuesday, in the mid-80s.) 

I have fallen out of the former habit of looking at the Bottom 60 of every American Top 40 show I write about, so let’s try and get back into that. First up, a few songs from the week of September 12, 1970.

43. “That’s Where I Went Wrong”/Poppy Family. A very autumnal record that has been a favorite of this website since always.

45. “Indiana Wants Me”/R. Dean Taylor. Up from #86 in its second week on. Taylor had a gift for weirdly intense melodrama, which “Indiana Wants Me” surely is. See also “Candy Apple Red,” in which jilted lover R. Dean commits suicide in a church.

58. “Sunday Morning Coming Down”/Johnny Cash
82. “For the Good Times”/Ray Price
Both of these Kris Kristofferson songs reward repeated listening. Cash carries (yeah I said it) “Sunday Morning Coming Down” with the authority in his voice; “For the Good Times” has a beautiful arrangement by Nashville veteran Cam Mullins.

83. “Fire and Rain”/James Taylor
84. “We’ve Only Just Begun”/Carpenters
Both of these debut on the Hot 100 in this week, signaling that the soft-rock 70s had begun.

88. “Montego Bay”/Bobby Bloom
105. “God, Love, and Rock and Roll”/Teegarden and Van Winkle
Two of the first 45s I ever owned; if I’m recalling correctly, Santa Claus brought ’em in December.

91. “Monster Mash”/Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers. Here’s the first return of the 1962 #1 hit; it would be back and bigger in 1973, when it made the Billboard Top 10—in the middle of the summer.

96. “Border Song”/Elton John. This was Elton’s first American chart single, a couple of weeks after his debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. It charted briefly at WMCA in New York and became a Top-10 hit in Memphis, but would peak at #92 on the Hot 100. “Your Song” was not far behind.

100. “Loving You’s a Natural Thing”/Ronnie Milsap. While he was coming up, Milsap made several records in an R&B style. “Loving You’s a Natural Thing” moves him toward the country sound that would make him a superstar before long.

102. “Holy Man”/Diane Kolby. Behold this Christian rock song of praise in which Kolby sings to Jesus like one would to a lover, aroused by the idea that “you’re the one who knows when I will die, die, die.”

And now, the Bottom 60 from another week I’ve discussed here recently: August 31, 1985, with links to music videos from the time:

41. “Do You Want Crying”/Katrina and the Waves
43. “Spanish Eddie”/Laura Branigan
Both of the videos for “Do You Want Crying” and “Spanish Eddie” are very very 80s (and both songs sounded great on the radio back then), but what’s striking as I watch them is how both Katrina Leskanich and Laura Branigan look like the kind of woman you’d run into at the grocery store, and I mean that in a positive way. Nikki Minaj they ain’t.

52. “Four in the Morning”/Night Ranger
63. “Sentimental Street”/Night Ranger
“Four in the Morning” and “Sentimental Street” are bombastic, overblown hogwash that also sounded great on the radio. Like Night Ranger’s stuff generally.

61. “You Look Marvelous”/Billy Crystal. The 1984-85 season of Saturday Night Live featured a great cast, including Crystal, Christopher Guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jim Belushi, Rich Hall, and Martin Short. Although few involved remember the season very fondly today, it featured some great characters, including Crystal’s Latin lover Fernando. I am mildly surprised to have found a copy of Crystal’s album Mahvelous! on a shelf in my office.

66. “Looking Over My Shoulder”/Til Tuesday
73. “Voices Carry”/Til Tuesday
Like Katrina and the Waves, Til Tuesday deserved better than to be a one-hit wonder, although “Looking Over My Shoulder” isn’t as memorable as “Do You Want Crying.”

Another Thing Entirely: on my early-morning Internet rounds today I found a fabulous story about Chicago DJ Dex Card and the rock clubs and concerts he promoted in the Chicago area and southeastern Wisconsin during the late 60s and early 70s. It’s actually the third post in a series. Another tells the story of the Majestic Hills Music Theater near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, an outdoor venue that attracted top artists of 50 years ago, before the more famous Alpine Valley Music Theater was built. Still another charts the frequent appearances of the Buffalo Springfield in the area during their 1967 heyday. The posts are on Kenosha [Wisconsin] Potpourri, which is maintained by local historian Steve Marovich, and is the kind of site every community ought to have. If you’re in Wisconsin, you’ll dig it, and maybe even if you’re not.

/jingle out/

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.

Right Now

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(Pictured: Mariah Carey on MTV Unplugged 30 years ago today, if we can trust the Getty Images caption.)

The March 14, 1992, American Top 40 show I wrote about last week was from an era when the show used Billboard‘s Hot 100 Airplay chart as opposed to the regular Hot 100 (although they didn’t announce that on this particular show). Compared to the actual Hot 100 from the same week, there are some differences. Certain songs riding high on the Airplay chart were not doing nearly so well on the Hot 100. (The opposite was also true.) One example is “Make It Happen” by Mariah Carey, at #8 on Airplay while it sat at #20 on the Hot 100 in its fourth week on.

I didn’t have room for this observation in my earlier post, but I think “Make It Happen” is one of Mariah Carey’s greatest performances. I have always found her technically impressive but emotionally reserved—she rarely sounds spontaneous to me, like she’s always conscious of the fact that she’s putting on a performance, and I might even go so far as to say “curating a brand.” But on “Make It Happen” she cuts loose, and it feels real in a way that her records often do not.

What else is there to see on the Hot 100?

Continue reading “Right Now”