With the start of a new year – and to do something besides sports ratings, I was inspired by the endeavor to rate every #1 song that was #1 on my birthday. Updating that list was an idea, but I would be adding one song – and having to listen to Toni Braxton again. So let’s do something else – and try something bigger – an entirely arbitrary ranking of every #1 song from the 1980s.
Some ground rules:
- The decade is 1980-1989. Nitpicking would say the decade started in 1981. But common usage has clearly left the barn on that front, so I don’t fight it.
- I am sticking with the #1s on the Billboard Chart. The issues count weeks ending, so I do the same. The first issue is dated the week ending January 5, 1980 and so that is our starting point.
- These are #1s. So, there is no Bruce Springsteen or Eddie Money, but there is Billy Vera and the Beaters and Gregory Abbott. There is a Def Leppard song, but not that one.
- I rate using 5 categories (50 points total):
- Does it Matter? Cultural importance of the song – and this can be a derisive earworm sort as well. If I’ve heard of it (having missed the first half of the decade in terms of cultural awareness), that counts.
- Capture the Decade? A squishy criteria, but is it characteristic of the 1980s in a meaningful way, or was it a simpering one-off?
- Is it Any Good? Pretty straightforward
- Was It Any Good? This is tough. Given I was 2 years old at the start of the decade, my memory of the songs at the time is often nil. But that doesn’t stop me from projecting – so this is some guesswork. But I think I have a handle on things which – if they did not age well, at least had obvious appeal at the time.
- Wildcard – is it kitchy? Was the video amusing? Basically stuff I make up.
- I am basically adding songs each week – so I do not know what the final list will look like.
With that in mind, here is the first batch of songs from the very first week of:
1980. “Please Don’t Go” by KC and the Sunshine Band – Among the most indefensible acts of the 1970s, this was their last #1. Despite the video looking like an outtake from The Wedding Singer, this song has basically no redeeming qualities. At least “Shake Shake Shake” is actually fun. TOTAL SCORE: 12
1981. “(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon. Double Fantasy was released posthumously, and as is often the case with the dead – it figured that his biggest hit would come here. This is not my favorite Lennon song. “Woman” is a much better entry and has survived much better. TOTAL SCORE: 25
1982: “Physical” by Olivia Newton John. Yep, this happened. Olivia Newton-John was famous before this for Grease and had many hits of varying quality. The earworm quality of this song cannot (sadly) be denied and its place in the cultural library cannot be denied either. My mother remembers this song from aerobics class, because well of course they used this song in aerobics class. This song has not aged well at all, but it’d take a heart of stone to not at least smile. TOTAL SCORE: 33
1983: “Maneater” by Hall and Oates. Honestly, it will be hard for Darry Hall and John Oates to score too low on this list because of the sheer absurdity of the videos for their heyday songs. This was no exception – Darryl Hall’s gyrating early on looks like a medical condition more than anything. The videos made it easy to condescend back then – but really their stuff has aged better than it had any right to. TOTAL SCORE: 36
1984: “Say, Say, Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. This is the better of the two songs produced by the short lived bromance. Buying your friend’s life’s work will do that. This was obviously right in the middle of Michael Jackson’s prime as the biggest pop star on earth. I would consider it “lesser” to some of his other stuff clearly. TOTAL SCORE: 35
1985: “Like A Virgin” by Madonna. Of the first batch of songs here, pretty clearly the most culturally significant. Madonna had hits before – but this was the start of where things began to escalate quickly. A catchy song with a lot of time on a gondola. TOTAL SCORE: 43
1986: “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie. Nostalgia for the 1980s conveniently forgets that Richie’s crooning is all over the decade. He has such a big hit that ABC exhumed him to perform at this year’s New Years Eve thing. He wrote Kenny Rogers’ biggest hit. This song is pretty typical of Richie’s solo work – the sort of thing which tearfully gets requested as a dedication and makes me puke in my mouth a little. TOTAL SCORE: 26
1987: “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles. This was the #1 song of 1987, and deservedly so – in that sort of “song of a year” sort of way. It definitely has the markers of the sort of song “everyone knew” at the time. There was a silly dance and the song is clearly ridiculously catchy. TOTAL SCORE: 39
1988: “Faith” by George Michael. The #1 song of 1988, I tried to make sure not to give him extra points for his recent death. But really, I don’t think that is a problem. Faith may or may not be the best album of the decade – but it is among the few which still plays without requiring nostalgia. There are lot of near perfect pop singles on the album, and “Faith” is certainly on that list. TOTAL SCORE: 44
1989: “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison. Like a lot of Bon Jovi – this is not something I thought at the time would actually survive. But sure enough, it’s a staple of classic rock, has been covered numerous times, and really is the best of the “monster ballad” subgenre that came out of the decade. Plus, it gave a terrific punchline to a favorite Chappelle’s Show bit TOTAL SCORE: 37
SUMMARY TO DATE:
- “Faith” by George Michael – 44
- “Like A Virgin” by Madonna – 43
- “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles – 39
- “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison – 37
- “Maneater” by Darryl Hall and John Oates – 36
- “Say, Say, Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson – 35
- “Physical” by Olivia Newton John – 33
- “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie – 26
- “(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon – 25
- “Please Don’t Go” by KC and the Sunshine Band – 12