(Pictured: David Lewis, Barbara Weathers, and Wayne Lewis of Atlantic Starr, harmonizing onstage in 1987.)
After the Challenger disaster of January 28, 1986, people walked around in a fog for days. That’s not the reason why the American Top 40 show from February 1, 1986, is such a hazy snapshot of the time, though. I suspect you’d have a hard time finding an AT40 with more records that are utterly forgotten now, or that were nothing special in the first place.
40. “Everybody Dance”/Ta Mara and the Seen
33. “Digital Display”/Ready for the World
22. “A Love Bizarre”/Sheila E
18. “Sidewalk Talk”/Jellybean
Adjacency to Prince or Madonna, or imitation thereof, was a good business move as 1986 began. “Sidewalk Talk,” written by Madonna and released under the name of producer John “Jellybean” Benitez, is sung by Cat Buchanan, who is name-checked by Casey when he introduces the song. Madge sings backup. Prince wrote “A Love Bizarre,” sings on it, and produced it. “Everybody Dance” is produced by Prince associate Jesse Johnson. “Digital Display” sucks on its own.
39. “Day by Day”/Hooters
30. “Everything in My Heart”/Corey Hart
The production of these records hurts my ears: that flinty noise the Hooters put on everything and that drum sound on “Everything in My Heart,” plus Hart’s weird inflections, like he learned the words phonetically.
19. “Party All the Time”/Eddie Murphy
I have disliked “Russians” for years (receipts here), grim and pretentious and awful, although its appeal in 1986, with Ronald Reagan’s finger on the nuclear trigger, is understandable. Casey quotes Eddie Murphy telling an interviewer he was serious about his singing career, but in no universe does “Party All the Time” sound like the work of an artist with something worthwhile to offer. Radio’s rapturous promotion of both is among the sins we’ll have to answer for on Judgment Day.
31. “Secret Lovers”/Atlantic Starr
21. “Alive and Kicking”/Simple Minds
20. “Life in a Northern Town”/Dream Academy
10. “Go Home”/Stevie Wonder
9. “Walk of Life”/Dire Straits
Any one of these might be the best song on the show, but there’s a good chance it’s “Secret Lovers.” Although “Alive and Kicking” got to #3, who remembers it now? “Life in a Northern Town,” about a British childhood in 1963, is both vividly drawn and half-remembered, like a dream can be. “Go Home” is Stevie’s final Top 10 hit to date. Casey precedes “Walk of Life” with a feature on what he calls the most famous “walks of life” in history: Gandhi’s 1930 Salt March, Mao Tse-Tung’s Great March of 1934, and the Trail of Tears. Anybody who’s ever been on the air knows that not every bit is going to be golden, so I ain’t mad about it.
Early in the second hour, Casey does a brief feature on Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” as the first song to hit #1 on the pop, soul, and country charts. He plays about 20 seconds of it, and it stomps every other record on the show.
17. “Goodbye”/Night Ranger
14. “Kyrie”/Mr. Mister
I recently called Night Ranger “bombastic, overblown hogwash that also sounded great on the radio,” and “Goodbye” is certainly that. “Kyrie” is equally ridiculous, although “Kyrie eleison down the road that I must travel / Kyrie eleison through the darkness of the night” is one of the greatest punch-your-fist-in-the-air choruses ever. Casey says “Kyrie” is one of many hit song titles in a foreign language, Greek, adding to a list that also includes French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Latin, and others.
6. “My Hometown”/Bruce Springsteen. Casey reports that Born in the USA has become the third-biggest selling album of all time, behind Thriller and Saturday Night Fever. It’s at #11 in this week after spent 84 straight weeks in the Top 10. Call me if Drake ever does that.
LDD: “Missing You”/John Waite. From high-school junior Jill to her loser friend Todd, who is currently in some kind of double-secret drug rehab program where he can’t receive letters or phone calls. I believe they call that “jail,” Jill.
4. “Talk to Me”/Stevie Nicks
3. “I’m Your Man”/Wham
2. “Burning Heart”/Survivor
There are maybe five songs on this entire list that you’re halfway likely to hear on the radio somewhere today, and these ain’t any of them.
1. “That’s What Friends Are For”/Dionne Warwick and Friends. Given its associated starpower (Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John) and its high-profile cause (AIDS research), “That’s What Friends Are For” (originally recorded by Rod Stewart in 1982) was never not going to be a smash. In fact, it would end up Billboard‘s #1 song for 1986. It’s one of seven singles from this show to make the year-end Top 10, which tells you plenty about the months to come.
There was a lot of hating in this post today. I’ll try to do better next time.