Every #1 Song of the 1980s – Series 4

Click for links to Series 3, Series 2, and Series 1 

As we head into Easter, it seemed more than due time to get us through April in this survey of the 1980s.  You can go to the bottom of this entry for the full tally.  Looking at this list, there is a lot of iconic 80s stuff – not all of it is good, but there are a good number which clearly would fit within the framework of “things which I’d show space aliens who wanted to know the milieu.”

“Another Brick In the Wall, Part 2” by Pink Floyd (1980) – Pink Floyd’s only #1 and last chart hit. If you think about it – it seems weird that Pink Floyd had any sort of success on charts like these. But of course this was from The Wall, pretty clearly the most f’ed up musical in movie (or theater) history. Of course, it means the imagery was remarkable – it’s Floyd, expect no less. Like a lot of the early early 80s, it stands outside of the decade. It’s not my favorite song on the soundtrack of course, so a little gets dinged there. (36 points)

“Call Me” by Blondie (1980) – The year-end #1 song of 1980, Blondie is one of the acts which has not dated meaningfully. Unlike other music of the early early 80s, you can see Blondie’s resonance further on in the decade, even as other artists were more synth based. The New Wave was a defining idea for the decade and Blondie clearly is among the leaders. This is not my favorite Blondie song – but that says more about the catalog. (38 points)

“Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon (1981) – One of the earlier examples of the power ballad format, this was the first of two Speedwagon #1s. For some reason, I always get REO and Supertramp confused when I hear them on the radio. Either way, like Supertramp, REO are on the list with Bachman Turner Overdrive of bands I’d banish from Classic Rock on the grounds they are not classic to anybody. That being said, I am reminded of an old Letterman Top 10 list, “Ways to make Arafat [the former PLO leader] Angry” and one was “Ask him why he doesn’t call it PLO Speedwagon anymore.” (28 points)

“Rapture” by Blondie (1981) – Is this the first occurrence of “rap” on a pop track? I don’t know. There is a shout-out to Fab 5 Freddy though. Like most other Blondie, this is a pretty great song. It is hard to add much more. (40 points)

“Kiss Is On My List” by Hall and Oates (1981) – One of the more forgettable of the Hall and Oates entries on this list. There is nothing “wrong” here – it is a good hook, but overall the song is not as catchy as their other number ones and no visual accompaniment as memorable/ridiculous. (29 points)

“I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (1982) – Coincidentally, I was listening to an old top 40 from 1982 during this song’s 7-week run at the top. It held off the Go-Go’s signature “We Got the Beat”, which will undoubtedly be part of a compilation of great #2s of the decade (if I ever get around to it). Sometimes noting a song like this was among the most successful hit singles of the 80s make me think teenagers then had better taste. This Arrows cover being a #1 now would be unthinkable. This is just an iconic, garage-band sort of rock song – it takes a heart of stone to resist. (38 points)

“Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners (1983) – What is more “of a decade” than a band which you would never hear of again? Dexy’s Midnight Runners certainly qualifies – and this song has persisted, just by simply being so unusual. All these years later, I am not sure if it is good – but I can’t get rid of it either. (31 points)

“Beat It” by Michael Jackson (1983) – The follow up to “Billie Jean” in 1983. Has anybody since the Beatles loaded up like this? Possibly Jackson, in 1970 (“ABC”, “I Want You Back”) and 1979 (“Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”, “Rock With You”). While other artists were better and you sensed songs being ripped from their hearts, Jackson was a master at entertainment craft, and this song exemplifies that as well as any. The driving beat, the Eddie Van Halen guitar solo in the middle, connected with the dancing and visuals. “Billie Jean” deserves its place, but this is the song I prefer of the two. (49 points)

“Footloose” by Kenny Loggins (1984) – The biggest hit of the 80’s soundtrack king’s various 80’s movie hits. My four year old knows and likes this song – which given this seems appropriate. When I was younger, I thought “Danger Zone” was better – but time, parenthood and frankly good sense has righted the ship. It is a silly movie with a silly title song and it takes a total grinch to fight it. (39 points)

“Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)” by Phil Collins (1984) – I like Phil Collins, as noted before. And certainly his voice is one of the indelible parts of 1980s pop music. And when an earnest movie wanted an earnest theme, there he was. It is the sort of ballad which gets #1s and Oscar nominations. It is also hard to stomach, even then. (22 points)

“Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon (1985) – Wait, REO, again? Weren’t we just here? Aside from the hair, there is nothing to see here. (24 points)

“One More Night” by Phil Collins (1985) – One of the big hits from Collins’ No Jacket Required, which had a lot of hits. Alas, all of them are better – I am not sure if I will be uniformly derisive of all of Collins’ ballads, but this is not a good start. (24 points)

“We Are The World” by USA For Africa (1985) – Really, there is nothing more “80s” than this. A song for a cause with all of the big artists of the day, written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. You have a separate shot of Michael Jackson dropped in where he sings his part in one of his shiny Capitain Crunch uniforms. Playing “name that celebrity” never gets old when watching this. I like the separate solo takes by Dylan (which seems from another song – as is often the case with Dylan) and Bruce Springsteen, who sounds like he is on the toilet. (42 points)

“Sara” by Starship (1986) – When I heard “White Rabbit” for the first time as a teenager, I wondered if Jefferson Airplane offered the most drugged out band I had ever heard. Now I realize that Grace Slick must have really been messed up when she agreed to return to Starship for it’s (very successful) 1980’s incarnation. They hit #1 three times, and this is the least offensive of the songs. (23 points)

“These Dreams” by Heart (1986) – An interesting side post (if I ever get to it) should cover the final #1 pop hits for many bands who are pretty darn great or respectable. This was Heart’s breakthrough – and of course it is not a very good song compared to some of their 70s best. It’s not even their best #1 – but that is neither here nor there. Despite Heart’s core as a kick ass rock band, this is pretty darn cheesy. (31 points)

“Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco (1986) – Another artist who has since disappeared, Falco broke through in the States via other artists’ cover of his stuff, most notably “Der Komissar”. This is a song which is very much a time capsule of 1986 – I even remember the chorus from hearing it in grade school. Listening to it now, it does actually grow in stature though. It sits in the same sort of “time capsule” zone as things like dance crazes, The Macarena, Ray Stevens in the 70s. But it really is a superior version of 80s synth-pop. (36 points)

“Kiss” by Prince (1986) – And here we are, the first 50. Prince had four number ones in the 1980s, and surely the stuff from Purple Rain deserves its plaudits. “When Doves Cry” is a great song, with its amazing guitar and lack of a bass. “Kiss” on the other hand, is remarkably stripped down – almost perfect piece of minimalist funk. The lyrics are playful and sexy, and the riff is one of the most addictive in pop history. It’s one of the great songs of the Rock and Roll Era. (50 points)

“Jacob’s Ladder” by Huey Lewis and the News (1987) – Huey Lewis’ third and final number one, I barely remembered this song. Looking at it now, I still don’t remember it. It lacks the garage band or doo-wop sorts of elements which typified the band’s best work. Why did I type so much about this? (21 points)

“Lean on Me” by Club Nouveau (1987) – Along with P Diddy’s, “Public Enemy Number One”, this belongs on the rare air of worst covers ever made. That is gets any score at all comes from the strength of the Withers original, and how I pine for it after hearing this. (23 points)

“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship (1987) – “Sara” is a better song. But this is a more memorable, and stupider video. Much like Chicago in the 1980s, the distance traveled from the band’s beginning to this point is astonishing, and hard to stomach. (26 points)

“I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” by Aretha Franklin and George Michael (1987) – Another song I don’t really have a lot to add to. Both singers sound terrific here, and this is just a solid effort overall. It deserves its success. (34 points)

“Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley (1988) – Would this song have a high score without the Rickroll phenomenon? Probably not. But Rick Astley himself notes that it clearly has helped his work survive, and it is a good thing too. Is this clearly cheesy 80s Britpop? Heck yeah, but it is a very good example of it – it’s cheese does not detract from it’s ability to make me happy when I hear it. (38 points)

“Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson (1988) – For a while, I thought this was the best single released from the Bad album. Heck, I can’t imagine being able to tell my children how real life, like real news, stopped for an album release – but that’s where Michael Jackson was when this album rolled off the shelves. This is still my favorite of the five #1s, although “Smooth Criminal” is clearly the best of the charting singles. (40 points)

“Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” by Billy Ocean (1988) – Everything about this makes me giggle: the ridiculous video, the starting command “Hey, you – get into my car” which reads as rather threatening now, and the song itself which is just a good piece of cheesy 80s popular RnB. (37 points)

“Where Do Broken Hearts Go” by Whitney Houston (1988) – A simpering Whitney Houston ballad – the silly video is not enough to redeem it even as kitsch. But it is clearly of a style which is chart catnip. (22 points)

“The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics (1989) – With this, Mike Rutherford became the third Genesis member to get to #1, one of only two bands to have produced such prolific solo work. (no points for figuring out the other band) This song about the difficulty of communication actually is kind of resonant – especially now as an old fogey. It’s a bit more somber than other stuff that hit in the decade – but unlike a lot of those entries, it’s actually fairly good. (30 points)

“Eternal Flame” by The Bangles (1989) – Oh, the rock ballad. The Bangles were not immune, though clearly doing this was not a consensus opinion. They broke up four months later. This is an okay song I guess – but the crass commercialness of it – hey, a ballad – and leaning into girly stuff which sells in our patriarchal cultural paradigm etc etc – ick! (30 points)

“The Look” by Roxette (1989) – Somewhere between the one-hit wonder, and the enduring superstars is something like Roxette. The Swedish duo’s shelf life was short (2 years?), but remarkably successful. This was their first US hit and (self evidently) their first #1. “Listen to Your Heart” has endured more just by the covers it has inspired, but this is a pretty good 80s song. I still like the hook a lot. (34 points)

“She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals (1989) – I think their The Raw and The Cooked (a terrific title) was the top selling album of 1989. This is a very hard song to forget because of Roland Gift’s falsetto throughout. It’s also a very hard song to get out of my head when it enters – although most of the time this reality is annoying. (30 points)

“Like A Prayer” by Madonna (1989) – We end the survey of the 80s through April with one of the biggest deals I can remember as a kid with pop music. Pepsi was sponsoring the launch of the video – and it was supposed to get this huge rollout, until the video itself appeared. Then, of course, with its religious imagery and such – Madonna was tempting derision from those who find derision professionally, as she often does. That said, the plundering of gospel here does make for a pretty good song – and a video which can poke various bears gets extra points anyway. (42 points)

Whew, the scoreboard through April.

Song Artist
1 Kiss Prince
2 Beat It Michael Jackson
3 Billie Jean Michael Jackson
4 Rock With You Michael Jackson
5 Father Figure George Michael
6 Jump Van Halen
7 Livin on a Prayer Bon Jovi
8 Down Under Men At Work
9 Faith George Michael
10 How Will I Know Whitney Houston
11 Like a Virgin Madonna
12 The Tide Is High Blondie
13 Centerfold J Geils Band
14 We Are the World USA For Africa
15 Like A Prayer Madonna
16 Rapture Blondie
17 Man in the Mirror Michael Jackson
18 Careless Whisper Wham featuring George Michael
19 Footloose Kenny Loggins
20 Walk Like an Egyptian Bangles
21 Karma Chameleon Culture Club
22 I Love Rock and Roll Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
23 Celebration Kool and the Gang
24 So Emotional Whitney Houston
25 Two Hearts Phil Collins
26 Need You Tonight INXS
27 Call Me Blondie
28 Never Gonna Give You Up Rick Astley
29 Every Rose Has Its Thorn Poison
30 My Prerogative Bobby Brown
31 Got My Mind Set on You George Harrison
32 Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car Billy Ocean
33 Owner of a Lonely Heart Yes
34 Maneater Darryl Hall and John Oates
35 Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 Pink Floyd
36 Rock Me Amadeus Falco
37 Open Your Heart Madonna
38 The Way You Make Me Feel Michael Jackson
39 Say, Say, Say Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
40 9 to 5 Dolly Parton
41 Straight Up Paula Abdul
42 The Look Roxette
43 I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) Aretha Franklin and George Michael
44 That’s What Friends Are For Dionne Warwick
45 Physical Olivia Newton John
46 I Can’t Go For That Hall and Oates
47 Crazy Little Thing Called Love Queen
48 Africa Toto
49 Come on Eileen Dexy’s Midnight Runners
50 These Dreams Heart
51 The Living Years Mike and the Mechanics
52 At This Moment Billy Vera and the Beaters
53 She Drives Me Crazy Fine Young Cannibals
54 Eternal Flame The Bangles
55 Kyrie Mr. Mister
56 Shake You Down Gregory Abbott
57 Kiss Is On My List Hall and Oates
58 Keep on Loving You REO Speedwagon
59 I Love a Rainy Night Eddie Rabbitt
60 Lost in Your Eyes Debbie Gibson
61 Say You, Say Me Lionel Richie
62 Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now Starship
63 (Just Like) Starting Over John Lennon
64 Seasons Change Expose
65 Can’t Fight This Feeling REO Speedwagon
66 One More Night Phil Collins
67 I Want to Know What Love Is Foreigner
68 Escape (The Pina Colada Song) Rupert Holmes
69 Sara Starship
70 Lean on Me Club Nouveau
71 Baby, Come to Me Patti Austin and James Ingram
72 Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) Phil Collins
73 Where Do Broken Hearts Go Whitney Houston
74 Could’ve Been Tiffany
75 Do That To Me One More Time Captain and Tennille
76 Jacob’s Ladder Huey Lewis and the News
77 When I’m With You Sheriff
78 Please Don’t Go KC and the Sunshine Band
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