Every #1 Song of the 1980s – Series 3

This series peeks into March after finishing with February.  Some of the years to this point had some solid champions, while others had a lot of one and two week stays.  Of course, the measurements used back then were much less precise (surveys of radio stations, record stores) compared to what we have now.  But I like this better – certainly better than the 8-10 number ones per year.  The ground rules and such are here.  So what are we adding to the list? (Series 2 is here)

“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson (1983) – Do this require a write-up? Really? I am not sure if anything will get a perfect score because I’m a grinch. But in terms of cultural imprint, a time capsule into the 1980s and a pop song which holds up more or less completely? Come on now. (49 points)

“Father Figure” by George Michael (1988) – This is a pretty perfect pop song. The album Faith had a LOT of really good songs, it is arguably the best album of the decade. (I have not put much thought into that – but it is in the picture) So it is something to say that this is the best one – and actually sort of does evoke the Taxi Driver-y video. But the way videos were so prevalent back then, I wonder how much of the is symbiotic – can I remember it another way? I don’t know. (47 points)

“Jump” by Van Halen (1984) – When I waved the criteria wand over this, this came up very high. And it should – Van Halen was one of the decade’s most significant bands, and this was both their biggest hit, and a perfect amalgam of rock and synthpop which would embody the time. It is not my favorite Van Halen song – and probably not in the Top 5 if I think hard enough. (1979’s “Dance the Night Away” is an all-time earworm) But the significance carries it a long way – and it is damn good. (45 points)

“Livin on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi (1986) – It’s my generations (well at least among white people I suppose) “Don’t Stop Believing” or whatever. Some rock song which plays in the bar and everybody knows the words. Like “Jump”, it hits a lot of the significance metrics – although it is not their best song, or the best of their four number 1s. But history has ruled on this, and I can’t blame it. (45 points)

“How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston (1986) – I noted this in Series 2, but given how difficult the end of her deal was, it is striking how easy it looked, especially early. As Bill Simmons noted when writing about her death – she should have been my age’s Streisand – but instead it was gone in 8 years. The spark is so evident here. (43 points)

“Careless Whisper” by Wham f/ George Michael (1985) – The number one song of 1985, it was released in the UK as a George Michael solo song. For the States, it was Wham! brand extension – which did not seem necessary in retrospect. Now this song feels pretty cheesy, but loveable. (40 points)

“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton (1981) – The early 80s had a lot of country crossover and remnants of the 70s. Of course, the former meant Dolly Parton. I remember this being a pretty big deal vaguely – I was 3. Listening to it now – the crossover appeal still holds, even it is dated. (35 points)

“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen (1980) – If there are knowing snickers now about a video like “Father Figure” given the truth about George Michael, the video for Queen’s first #1 in the US is a howler. Like “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie – it is tempting to condescend because it is not in the league of their 70s stuff like “Somebody to Love” or “You’re My Best Friend” or whatever – but it is a bit unfair. After all, if it’s pop cheese – it still helps to be good. It’s dated and a bit silly, but my affection is real. (32 points)

“Kyrie” by Mr. Mister (1986) – This sounds exactly like a random song from the 1980s I’d barely remember. Indeed I did. I barely remember the band – but there they were with multiple #1s. (I know “Broken Wings” more) It is hard for me to generate much feeling. (30 points)

“I Love a Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt (1981) – Early 80s country crossover. Like a lot of the stuff here, it suffers by not really culturally fitting with a lot of the other #1s. It feels like a relic. But to be fair, it is a perfectly fine example of what it is. (26 pts)

“Lost in Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson (1989) – There is very little defensible about this song, aside from the idea that Gibson wrote it herself, and it has some 80s kitsch going for it. I am sure there were people who got married to this. Yuck! (26 points)

“Seasons Change” bu Expose (1988) – Another silly ballad, but unlike Debbie Gibson, I had to remember Expose was a thing. Honestly, this song is fairly inoffensive. (24 points)

“Baby, Come to Me” by Patti Austin and James Ingram (1983) – Sometimes songs like this are the sort of thing that only happened in the 1980s. Yeah yeah there is the synth pop, but songs like this – smooth R and B, something Vandrossy – also is very much a time capsule. Of course when I was a it seemed like stuff only grown ups listen to. It still does. (22 points)

“Do That to Me One More Time” by Captain and Tennilee (1980) – This is a relic of the 1970s and sounds like it. Of course I had to pilfer a Midnight Special clip for a recording. It’s not their best song – and on its own, it’s not terrible (so far only 2 of the 48 songs are outright bad) – but it is decidedly unmemorable.

The tally through early March?

Song Artist
1 Billie Jean Michael Jackson
2 Rock With You Michael Jackson
3 Father Figure George Michael
4 Jump Van Halen
5 Livin on a Prayer Bon Jovi
6 Down Under Men At Work
7 Faith George Michael
8 How Will I Know Whitney Houston
9 Like a Virgin Madonna
10 Centerfold J Geils Band
11 The Tide Is High Blondie
12 Careless Whisper Wham featuring George Michael
13 Walk Like an Egyptian Bangles
14 Karma Chameleon Culture Club
15 Celebration Kool and the Gang
16 So Emotional Whitney Houston
17 Two Hearts Phil Collins
18 Need You Tonight INXS
19 Every Rose Has Its Thorn Poison
20 My Prerogative Bobby Brown
21 Got My Mind Set on You George Harrison
22 Owner of a Lonely Heart Yes
23 Maneater Darryl Hall and John Oates
24 Open Your Heart Madonna
25 The Way You Make Me Feel Michael Jackson
26 Say, Say, Say Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
27 9 to 5 Dolly Parton
28 Straight Up Paula Abdul
29 That’s What Friends Are For Dionne Warwick
30 Physical Olivia Newton John
31 I Can’t Go For That Hall and Oates
32 Crazy Little Thing Called Love Queen
33 Africa Toto
34 At This Moment Billy Vera and the Beaters
35 Kyrie Mr. Mister
36 Shake You Down Gregory Abbott
37 I Love a Rainy Night Eddie Rabbitt
38 Lost in Your Eyes Debbie Gibson
39 Say You, Say Me Lionel Richie
40 (Just Like) Starting Over John Lennon
41 Seasons Change Expose
42 I Want to Know What Love Is Foreigner
43 Escape (The Pina Colada Song) Rupert Holmes
44 Baby, Come to Me Patti Austin and James Ingram
45 Could’ve Been Tiffany
46 Do That To Me One More Time Captain and Tennille
47 When I’m With You Sheriff
48 Please Don’t Go KC and the Sunshine Band
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