Earlier this week, Elton John announced he would embark on his final global tour, a farewell to performing. The 70-year-old wants to focus more on his family, the “next important chapter in his life.”
He’s calling it the “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour. It kicks off Sept. 8, 2018, and will run through 2021 — so there will likely be opportunities to see Sir Elton more than once.
The music legend is as big a 70s icon as he is an 80s icon. He even had smash hits in the 90s. But can you identify all his No. 1 U.S. singles? For me, there were a few surprises.
For example: “Rocket Man” didn’t go No. 1. It peaked at No. 6 on the U.S. charts. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” didn’t go No. 1 either. And neither did “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” or “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” although that’s not completely true for the former as you’ll soon see.
Elton’s first American chart-topper came in 1972 with the smash “Crocodile Rock,” an ode to all the songs of the 1960s he loved.
He didn’t have to wait too long for his next American Top 40 chart-topper. Just two years later, he hit No. 1 with “Bennie and the Jets.” Goodness, what a fantastic song.
Elton’s next two No. 1s came back-to-back: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (surprised!?) and “Philadelphia Freedom.”
His next No. 1 was the most surprising to me — the song “Island Girl” from 1975. Sure, Elton was at the height of his chart-topping powers. Just didn’t expect this to be one of his chart-toppers.
Elton John’s sixth No. 1 was the smash duet with Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”
It was ten years before Elton hit the top of the charts again. This time, it was part of a quartet featuring Elton, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick, “That’s What Friends Are For.” It turned out to be the biggest hit of 1986, and it was the rare tune featuring Elton not written by Elton and Bernie Taupin.
Five years later, Elton was back atop the American charts with a remake of his 1970s smash, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” this time a duet between Elton and George Michael. And I’ll freely admit I’ve always preferred this version.
And then Elton’s final and perhaps most famous No. 1 came after the death of Lady Diana in 1997. It was his remake of his own “Candle In The Wind.” Originally written about Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jean Baker, (hence the “Goodbye Norma Jean” line) Elton altered his opening line to be “Goodbye England’s Rose.”
And that’s it. Do you plan to go see Elton on his farewell tour?
Photo credit: The header image came from Wikimedia Commons. Link here:
Please forgive the tardiness of this post, but I’m dealing with what I think is the flu. It really kicked my tail Monday night, and I’m only getting up and around Tuesday night. Unfortunately, I’m starting to go downhill again, so this post might not be finished until Wednesday or Thursday.
Monday was the day we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Relative to music, there are lots of speculations on what his favorite song was. However, I had always heard that it was “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” from the late, great Dr. Billy Taylor. I grew up with Taylor’s music from my dad’s jazz collection. His work was always among my favorite:
Alas, this is a blog about 80s music, and when it comes to MLK, there’s one song that sticks out: “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” by U2. Bono was inspired by a book called “Let The Trumpet Sound: A Life Of Martin Luther King Jr.,” and that track became the band’s big breakout chart hit in America, peaking at No. 33.
In my opinion, it’s U2’s best song despite the one lyrical mistake, referring to King’s assassination. It wasn’t “Early morning, April 4.” It was early evening.
Anyway, as I was researching the background of “Pride,” I learned that another 80s rock song is supposedly about Dr. King as well, and it’s another favorite of mine. I had no idea before today that Queen’s “One Vision” is about King.
A quick bit of chartology on the song: It was included on the album “A Kind Of Magic,” but many folks knew it as the opening number from the “Iron Eagle” soundtrack. The song didn’t get past No. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it might be best known for Freddie’s attempt at vocal randomness at the end of the track when he sang, “Fried chicken.”
Some questions may never be answered, but all accounts I’ve seen suggest that Mercury was just having fun during the recording, and they kept it. Roger Taylor has confirmed the tie between the song and Dr. King on video, specifically a documentary called “Queen: Days Of Our Lives.”
Man, this video reminds me how awesome Freddie Mercury was.
Sometimes the universe just gives you a blog topic, a topic that coincides with a real-life (sports) miracle.
Minnesota beat New Orleans 29-24 this afternoon when Case Keenum found Stefon Diggs for an unlikely long touchdown pass to win the game when the Vikings were just trying to get into field goal range for Kai Forbath. It was surreal. The players rushed the field, followed by media, all the while a ref was watching video to make sure it all really happened.
They had to bring out players from both teams to kick an obligatory extra point, which of course they did not. Case Keenum took a knee, the only knee taken in the NFL this season that hasn’t caused controversy, I might add. Minnesota is headed to Philadelphia to duke it out with the Eagles for the chance to lose to Tom Brady.
Kidding, Jacksonville. You got this.
The 80s song that comes to mind today is “All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike + The Mechanics, a Top 5 hit from 1986 for this Genesis spinoff band. I think of miracles because of how the game ended, and I think of Mike because Minnesota’s head coach is Mike Zimmer. The Mike in this case is Mike Rutherford, one of the founding members of Genesis.
A quick bit of trivia: Mike + The Mechanics had as many No. 1 hits as Genesis: one. Genesis had “Invisible Touch,” and Mike + The Mechanics had “The Living Years,” featuring the great Paul Carrack on lead vocals in 1988.
In honor of the Vikings today, here’s Mike + The Mechanics and “All I Need Is A Miracle.”
The nerdity that is my obsession with 1980s music and the charts that measured its songs, singers and bands knows only faint bounds. The later we went into the decade, the less I liked, and 1987 was near the end of my run as a devoted listener of “American Top 40” with Casey Kasem.
By devoted, I mean that I listened every week as it came on with no exceptions. I listened by myself with pen and paper, like somebody with a deeper issue. I even put together my own Top 40 rankings each week and kept them on a chart, and there are many people from my young past who can attest to this. I’m sure I’ll tell these stories a billion times as I develop this blog, but I wanted to start this week’s post with a story — a story you’ve heard before about the late, great Prince Rogers Nelson.
However, the version I’m about to tell you came from Casey Kasem on the AT40 (American Top 40) countdown the week of July 25, 1987.
He was introducing Whitney Houston’s hit, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and he spoke of its producer, Narada Michael Walden. Among many albums, he produced most of Whitney’s biggest LPs. Walden was working on “Whitney,” when a messenger stopped by to deliver a note.
Meet me at the basketball court.
Of course, it was Prince — and he was joined by Morris Day from The Time. They wanted to play “21,” the game where every person plays for themselves, and whoever gets to 21 first wins. Well, Prince won 21-16-13 — and he was wearing six-inch heels!
And that’s a story told on American Top 40 nearly 17 years before Charlie Murphy told it on The Chappelle Show.
The rest of this blog post is a recap of that week’s countdown, complete with notes from me and embedded videos. Stay a few minutes, and wander back in time, listening to songs you haven’t thought about in ages. If you enjoy this post and have a week from the 1980s you’d like me to feature, mention it in a comment below.
American Top 40: July 25, 1987
40. Dionne Warwick & Jeffrey Osborne – Love Power (Debut)
Did you know that on this week in 1987, the final Top 40 hits for Dionne Warwick and Jeffrey Osborne debuted? Of course, it’s possible that they could have another hit, but I’m kind of doubting it in a world filled with bubble gum pop and rap. Alas, this song would almost hit the Top 10, peaking at No. 12. It was written by the legendary Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.
39. Outfield – Since You’ve Been Gone (Debut)
38. Cutting Crew – One For The Mockingbird (40-38)
The follow up to their No. 1 smash, “I Just Died In Your Arms,” this was always my preferred tune from the Crew. Side note: We’ve got two crews in this week’s countdown, a Crew and a Crue.
37. Smokey Robinson – Just To See Her (27-37)
36. Wang Chung – Hypnotize Me (Debut)
This is one of my favorite songs of the 80s, from the movie Innerspace starring Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan and Martin Short. I never saw it, but I own the album “Mosaic,” and I revere this song. Seriously. I will fight you over Wang Chung: one of the underrated groups of the 80s.
35. Living In A Box – Living In A Box (Debut)
Ridiculous lyrics, but this one is a seriously silly little song but some definite pre-Astley blue-eyed soul here, no?
34. Dan Hill & Vonda Shepard – Can’t We Try (Debut)
Canadian Dan Hill was 33 when this song hit it big, 10 years after he reached No. 3 with “Sometimes When We Touch.” This tune was Dan’s second and final appearance in the Top 40, and it was the first and only one for Shepard, who would gain fame 10 years after through the show Ally McBeal.
This entire album was terrific (photo of my cassette as proof of ownership) with tunes liked “Conscience” and “Carmelia,” and especially “Every Boys Fantasy,” this week’s first ‘I Love 80s Music’ extra!
And now for “Can’t We Try,” which debuted at 34.
33. Atlantic Starr – Always (32-33)
32. Starship – It’s Not Over (‘Til It’s Over) (34-32)
Did you know that this was Starship’s final Top 10 hit and their second-to-last Top 40 tune? I never liked it, but the sound was quintessential ’87.
31. Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam – Head To Toe (18-31)
Lisa Velez first appeared on the Top 40 two years before this smash with the tune, “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” and it was fantastic. For my money, it was the best thing she ever released. However, this track was the first of two consecutive No. 1s for the New York native.
30. Los Lobos – La Bamba (36-30)
29. Bryan Adams – Heart’s On Fire (30-29)
I’ll dig a little deep for this one, but listen to Tom Petty’s “Change Of Heart” and then listen to this tune. It’s not a copy, but they’re definitely compositional cousins.
28. Bruce Hornsby & The Range – Every Little Kiss (16-28)
From one of the best albums of the entire decade, Bruce Hornsby’s third hit has probably been his most covered. A quick did you know? Hornsby played keys for Sheena Easton before breaking it big on his own.
27. Fleetwood Mac – Seven Wonders (31-27)
26. Madonna – Who’s That Girl (33-26)
25. Al Jarreau – Moonlighting (23-25)
It makes me a cringe a little to note that I’m as old as the late, great Al Jarreau was when he hit it big with the TV theme to “Moonlighting.” Also, this was Jarreau’s third and final Top 40 hit.
24. Steve Winwood – Back In The High Life Again (25-24)
23. Whispers – Rock Steady (26-23)
22. Richard Marx – Don’t Mean Nothing (28-22)
This was the first of Marx’s 14 Top 40 hits.
21. Debbie Gibson – Only In My Dreams (24-21)
And this was the first of Gibson’s 9 Top 40 hits.
20. Surface – Happy (Even)
19. Kenny G – Songbird (11-19)
Yes. Kenny G made the Top 40. Six times on his own and several more times as a featured artist with others.
18. Klymaxx – I’d Still Say Yes (19-18)
If you’ll allow me to be a big ol’ softie, I’ve always loved this song, the last of Klymaxx’s three Top 40 hits.
17. Janet Jackson – The Pleasure Principle (Even)
16. Robbie Nevil – Wot’s It To Ya (21-16)
Robbie Nevil is a writer’s writer, a craftsman of the pop hook. Best known for the smash,”C’est La Vie,” the American native reminds me a ton of Brit Nik Kershaw. “Wot’s It To Ya” was one of two Top 10 hits for Nevil.
15. Suzanne Vega – Luka (22-15)
The whole “second floor” joke will never fade away from this song, which eventually reached No. 3. However, I’d submit that it was a terrific piece of late 80s songwriting, in the spirit of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.”
14. Jets – Cross My Broken Heart (15-14)
13. Nylons – Kiss Him Goodbye (14-13)
I owned this 45, and at some point, I was probably convinced that they sang “Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego?” They weren’t. That was Rockapella.
And this was Toronto’s own Nylons.
12. Motley Crue – Girls, Girls, Girls (13-12)
The other crew in this countdown is a Crue, and this track likely holds the record for being introduced most times with the words, “And now welcome to the stage …”
11. Pseudo Echo – Funkytown (6-11)
I’m not sure why anybody thought “Funkytown” needed to be remade only seven years after Lipps Inc. took it all the way to the top, but Pseudo Echo rode that wave all the way to a peak position of No. 6.
10. Exposé – Point Of No Return (5-10)
9. The System – Don’t Disturb This Groove (4-9)
This was quite simply one of the best tracks of the entire decade, and it was the duo’s only Top 40 hit.
8. T’Pau – Heart And Soul (12-8)
7. Crowded House – Something So Strong (8-7)
This was the second and final hit for Crowded House, but it was really the swan song in the States for Neil Finn, the brilliant lead singer of Crowded House. Before CH, he was the face and voice of a group called Split Enz, which peaked at No. 50 with a fabulous track called “I Got You.” Learn something new every day, right?
Another I Love 80s Music extra!
And now for “Something So Strong.”
6. Gloria Estefan – Rhythm Is Gonna Get You (10-6)
5. George Michael – I Want Your Sex (9-5)
The title to this track was so racy that Casey Kasem wouldn’t even say it in this week’s episode. He just said, “And here’s George Michael.” Seriously. Not sure how Casey would navigate 2018.
4. Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) (3-4)
3. U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (7-3)
This was the third Top 40 hit for U2, and it was the band’s second consecutive chart-topper from the album “The Joshua Tree.” U2 has had 16 Top 40 hits in the United States thus far.
2. Bob Seger – Shakedown (Even)
Would you believe that “Shakedown” from Beverly Hills Cop II was Seger’s biggest charting hit? It was his only No. 1.
1. Heart – Alone (Even)
This Billy Steinberg, Tom Kelly composition turned out to be Heart’s biggest hit, spending three weeks at No. 1. However, three years before Ann and Nancy Wilson took it to the top, John Stamos sang it on a sitcom. With odd foreign subtitles and all, from a CBS sitcom called “Dreams” that lasted five episodes, here’s Stamos and Valerie Stevenson singing, “Alone.”
Your final I Love 80s Music extra! For this week anyway:
And here’s Heart’s vastly superior version! OK, that’s it for this week. Check me out next week for another deep dive into a Top 40 pop chart from the wonderful world of the 1980s.
All the hubbub over Prince’s health last year made me think something was wrong. I worked in news for the better part of two decades in some capacity, and I had learned, especially with the advent of Twitter, who to listen to and who not to listen to as it pertained to celebrities. In this case, where there was smoke there was fire.
And less than a week later, Prince was dead.
That was a year ago, about the time I had decided to start this blog: ilove80smusic.com. However, by all accounts, Prince was the inspiration for it — not so much that his death was the inspiration for a new blog but that a new generation of listeners didn’t know jack about the Purple One’s music.
Largely that was Prince’s fault as he didn’t do the Internet.
However, much of the same could be said about 80s music in general. Of course, as a middle-aged dude, I could fall into the trap of Good Ol’ Days syndrome, suggesting that everything was better back in the 1980s than it is today, and with regard to music, I believe it to be true. 100 percent true.
On the other hand, my Boomer friends felt the same way about 1960s music.
And every generation before thinks theirs was the best.
Alas, there’s a real nostalgia going on about the 1980s, and musically I can guide you. And as it pertains to Prince, there were few people who listened to more of his music than I did. I owned every cassette back in the day and, now, most every CD. Heck, the first album I bought was “1999,” and I played the heck out of it, making sure my folks couldn’t hear or understand many of his lyrics.
Nowadays, Prince’s lyrics are subtle and tame compared to most.
Anyhoo, as we mark the one-year anniversary of Prince’s passing, I wanted to count down my five favorite Prince songs with a shout out to a couple of other tracks. Hope you enjoy, and I’d love it if you’d start following this blog on Twitter at @80sMusicBlogger or just me personally @ryanwelton.
5. Let’s Pretend We’re Married. This was the tune that made me a fan. When I bought the 1999 album and heard this track, I heard somebody clearly pushing an envelope. Today, this would be tame. In 1983, this was hyper-taboo.
4. Little Red Corvette. This was the first hit I ever heard on American Top 40. He had one other Top 40 song before this, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” but it was this tune that introduced him to my world.
3. Controversy. The most underrated of all Prince’s songs and albums.
2. Mountains. I’m not going to get much agreement on this one, but I have always loved this track. Super funky without much chord movement.
1. Raspberry Beret. Prince went through a Beatles phase during his Paisley Park years, and this was his masterpiece. Sure, “When Doves Cry” is the song the world points to, but I’ve always felt like Prince was trolling the Beatles during this period just to show he could write as well as they could.
Of course, none of Prince’s videos are on YouTube. However, he didn’t only write for himself, and two of my favorite songs of the 1980s were tunes he penned. “Manic Monday” by The Bangles and “The Glamorous Life” by Sheila E. are master works, and what’s amazing is that Prince was adept at writing for women as he was for himself.
One of my best friends and I bonded over music in the 1980s as friends are apt to do. However, Jonathan and I have always been ridiculously simpatico when it comes to what we consider to be great songs, despite his obsession with Patti Smyth.
Kidding aside, we both loved this tune from a guy named John Hunter, which I’ve always misspelled as Jon Hunter until today. He was with a Chicago-area band called The Hounds, and he had a minor, minor, minor solo hit in 1985 with a song called “Tragedy.”
This was a minor hit, but a major song. One of my all-time favorites of the decade.
And it’s a great video, too. Check it out.
It peaked at No. 39 on February 16 and 23 of 1985, and it was gone just like that. I was able to find this Chicago Tribune article about Hunter’s success with the song and his aspirations to become a great writer. In the article, he talks about getting to move out of his parents’ home and buying a nice car.
He never sniffed commercial success again, but God bless America, he contributed a wonderful song to the 1980s catalog. Best I can tell from Google, he’s been a music instructor somewhere in Chicago — and best I can tell from YouTube, the band The Hounds has gotten together at least once over the past few years.
Ever since I started this blog dedicated to the greatness of 1980s music a couple of weeks ago, I have intended to delineate some editorial plans for certain days of the week. For example, I think Wednesdays are perfect for one-hit wonders of the decade. Get it? Wonder Wednesdays? It’s alliterative.
And when I refer to one-hit wonders, I’m referring specifically to one-hit wonders of the American pop music charts as tabulated by Billboard magazine. I don’t think I’ll explain that with each blog, but for this era, in America, that was the standard: Billboard.
It also should be said that for every one-hit wonder, from any era, there is likely years and years of struggle, sweat and good old-fashioned hard work that goes into cultivating an audience and creating art. My first one-hit wonder of the 1980s achieved its biggest success in 1988, but they got started in 1980. It’s The Church, an indie band out of Sydney, Australia.
The four-man band got its one and only American chart hit in 1988 with “Under the Milky Way,” a wonderfully haunting song that remains a favorite of mine from the era.
That track peaked at No. 24 in 1988, and the band was never heard from again on the American pop charts. However, they did get some indie play with a tune called “Metropolis” at the end of the 80s into the early 90s. This song was The Church’s biggest chart hit in Australia, peaking at No. 19. Alas, it didn’t even crack the Hot 100 in the States.
In all, The Church had four Top 40 hits Down Under but only one in America. It doesn’t diminish their greatness by any means, especially when you consider that they gave us “Under the Milky Way.” Beautiful song and quintessentially 80s.
I don’t want to make you feel old, but Madonna will turn 60 in 2018. Did that do the trick? Good. Sure made me feel old!
I’m old enough to remember when Madonna first hit the charts in 1982-83 at the ripe old age of 24, ancient compared to some of today’s tween stars. Madonna had been “Burning Up” the dance club charts before breaking through with “Holiday” in 1983. However, I gotta tell you: Nobody thought she was necessarily a huge star after her first two or three chart singles. Her chart resume was good but not great after a year in the spotlight.
And then she set every TV in America on fire on one unforgettable September night.
Billboard magazine tells the story of a few pre-show drinks at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 14, 1984. Madonna stepped down from a giant wedding cake, in a hot white wedding dress, lost a white stiletto and started rolling around on the stage to the delight of every teenage boy in America as she sang her first No. 1 hit, “Like A Virgin.”
Truth be told, watching it back, I’m mostly amazed at how stark the production was compared to today. I’m also remembering her iconic appearance to have been much more risque than it actually was. Compared to some stuff we’ll see on awards shows these days, this was kind of tame.
But believe me when I tell you that Madonna became a star that very night. It changed everything.
Madonna was the decade’s biggest female pop star, and she was its most important. I would argue that Whitney Houston was the decade’s most talented, but I would also argue strongly that Madonna has never gotten enough praise for her musicality. No, the Michigan native was never the best vocalist, but all 19 of her Top 40 hits in the 1980s were musically interesting. They were largely all more sophisticated than the typical three-chord stuff we hear today. Madonna’s songs were equally catchy, interesting and often lyrically provocative, in an era when we shocked rather easily. They are all still listenable.
You can say a lot of things about Madonna Louise Ciccone, but she was never formulaic.
She charted her own path, forged her own style and had an influence on pop culture that I don’t think anybody comes close to matching today. Style and fashion aren’t my areas of expertise, but I can take you on a guided tour of Madonna’s 19 Top 40 hits during the 1980s, ranking them from the least awesome to the most totally tubular.
One note: “Into the Groove” is not on this list because it was never a Top 40 hit. Mind you, this massive radio hit from the movie “Desperately Seeking Susan” was named by Billboard magazine to be the ‘Dance Single of the Decade.’ However, because it was the B side of the Top 40 hit, “Angel,” it was ineligible to chart. For what it’s worth, I would have ranked it No. 4 out of 20. The video was among her best, too.
Let’s count it down.
19. “True Blue” This was the title track to Madonna’s 1986 album, and it got as high as No. 3 on the Top 40. The arrangement was structured like a 1950s tune, and it came during Madonna’s ‘Sean Penn’ short-white-hair era. Good but not great.
18. “Causing a Commotion” This is how good Madonna really was in the 1980s. This was one of a couple hits from her 1987 movie, “Who’s That Girl,” and even children of the 80s barely remember it. However, it hit No. 2 on the singles charts, and it sounds just fine today.
17. “La Isla Bonita” Think about today’s artists and their penchant for playing it safe, and then consider how different most of Madonna’s singles sounded. This was the third single from the album “True Blue,” and it peaked at No. 4 on the American singles charts. It topped the charts in Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland and Great Britain.
16. “Express Yourself” The second single from the album “Like A Prayer” topped out at No. 2 on the singles charts and was probably a bigger radio hit than how I have it ranked here. However, there are a handful of Madonna’s tunes that I think were underrated, even for her catalogue. This one, I think, was perhaps a bit overrated.
15. “Lucky Star” Madonna’s third Top 40 hit was her first Top 5 single, and I think it was her best video — an all-time great in that category just for being iconic. Not that it was the inspiration for Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” but watch that and then watch Madonna’s video and soak in the understated cool that was early-era Madonna.
14. “Holiday” This was Madonna’s first chart hit after three tries, one of three chart hits from the 1983 album “Madonna.” Musically, it reminds me of ABC’s “The Look of Love,” one of the many great early-1980s songs I’ll expound upon on this blog. However, it got Madge into the chart game, if you will, peaking at No. 16.
13. “Papa Don’t Preach” Between Madonna’s crucifix fashions and references to virgins, there was little doubt that Madonna was Catholic. However, her 1985 No. 1 hit took it to a new level with this moral conundrum of a pop song.
Early in the song, Madonna proclaims to know right from wrong before singing this in the chorus:
Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep
Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losing sleep
But I made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby, oh
I’m gonna keep my baby, mmm…
Madonna is neither musically formulaic nor socially predictable. This wasn’t my favorite song but I’ll be damned if it won’t get stuck in your head without much effort.
12. “Who’s That Girl?” The title track from the movie soundtrack of the same name, “Who’s That Girl?” was a chart-topper in 1987. This was one of Madonna’s most forgettable tracks in terms of pop culture impact, but it’s another of those songs that I would say proves her musical worth. And for the record, she’s dressing as if she had been watching Scritti Politti videos.
11. “Oh Father” I remember writing about George Michael on Facebook, noting that his best song in my opinion was one of his deepest if not his most popular, “Praying for Time.” I’m reminded of that as I place “Oh Father” at No. 11 on this list of Madonna’s best for the decade. What it didn’t achieve in typical Madonna pep it did in gravity, and it was sorely underrated musically. For what it’s worth, this was her worst-charting song of the decade, peaking at No. 20 on the American singles chart.
10. “Like A Prayer” We’re back to the religion on display, and as I recall, this one had the Catholic church all in a tizzy because of burning crosses, dancing in neglige and various Catholic imagery. However, the song was beautifully backed by Andrae Crouch’s gospel choir. The truth is, Madonna was much more thoughtful and respectful than not in most ways regarding her themes. And while there aren’t many Madonna songs that made you sit back and say, “Damn, she’s got some soul,” this track came as close as anything she did, and it was a worldwide No. 1: United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Great Britain.
9. “Open Your Heart” The songs from here on out, for me, are all great. Madonna had five singles released from the album, “True Blue,” the most by a lot of any album in the 80s for here. This was the fourth single, and it came with a very enjoyable video where a little kid waits outside while Madonna works the peep show inside. I’m positive I’m not doing it justice, so I’ll leave you to it. And, again, I’ll empathize if the song gets stuck in your brain for hours.
8. “Dress You Up” Madonna wrote many of her own songs, but this was not among them. It was included on the “Like A Virgin” album mostly because she liked the lyrics. It peaked at No. 5, her sixth-consecutive Top 5 hit, but I liked it because musically it carried a melody that could have been part of an older jazz standard. Quick side note: Watch the video and tell me she’s not dabbing at :37 into it.
7. “Angel” Here’s where I’ll get a bit passionate about Madonna. This is a delight to the ears even if it’s a track that doesn’t get mentioned much from her catalogue. The production is smooth, the bass is booming and it’s a great track to dance to in the car when nobody’s looking. It peaked at No. 5 in late 1984, early 1985. To me, this might be her most underrated song. The songs I have at No. 3-1, many 1980s aficionadoes adore. This one, I don’t know.
6. “Material Girl” It’s not so much that I love the song, it’s that this woman is called the “Material Girl,” and the video is as iconic as any that were made in the 1980s. Besides, as I noted earlier in this post, everything Madonna did musically in the 1980s was interesting at worst. Juxtaposed against her previous hit, “Like A Virgin,” this was quite the change of pace.
5. “Live To Tell” When one thinks of Madonna, one doesn’t think “balladeer.” However, two of my favorite Madonna songs, two of them in the Top 5 were ballads. This track was made for Sean Penn’s movie, “At Close Range,” during the time when they were together. It was also included on the album “True Blue,” the first of five singles from that CD. As a musician, I listen to the melody and the progressions and am fascinated by how not formulaic this song is. And if you’re curious: She wrote it. (Note: She co-wrote it. Very few huge pop songs are credited to just one writer.)
4. “Like A Virgin” This was not only Madonna’s first No. 1 hit, it was the song that launched her from fame to uber-fame. Written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, this smash stayed atop the Billboard singles charts for six weeks. The VMA appearance launched it into the annals of pop culture history, but the song itself held enough greatness to put it at or near the top of all sorts of all-time and end-of-decade charts. In addition to that, I have to give it props for having one of the better opening lines in all of pop music: “I made it through the wilderness. Somehow I made it through.”
3. “Cherish” These last three songs I would include on my personal decade-favorites lists. In fact, for my taste, I would say that Madonna had three truly great songs, this being the first of them. The song is joyous, playful, super positive and catchy as all-get-out without being formulaic, to repeat a theme I’ve focused on throughout the blog. The song was the third single from the “Like A Prayer” album in 1989 and peaked at No. 2. It’s tough to listen to this song and not come away with good energy.
2. “Crazy for You” The first thing I would tell you is that in a decade filled with good soundtracks, the CD from the movie “Vision Quest” was among the best. The second thing I would tell you is that “Crazy for You” might be the best ballad by any singer of the decade. Sure, there are some just as good, but I can’t think of any better. This was Madonna’s second No. 1 hit, and I’ve always loved that two-chord hook that takes you into the verse. It’s something I’ve used from time to time when I write songs.
1. “Borderline” Greatness. This isn’t merely my favorite song from Madonna, it’s one of my 25 favorite songs of the entire decade, regardless of genre or performer. It’s melodically beautiful. The production is smooth. It’s soulful. And it was her second chart hit ever, her first Top 10 track, and it still gets radio play today.
Because it’s terrific.
Take that, 2017. 1983 totally kicks your musical tush.
By the way, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that “Borderline” was written by a fellow named Reggie Lucas, who was best known for his work with Mtume and for co-writing Stephanie Mills’ hit “Never Knew Love Like This Before.” Go listen to that song, and soak in the similarities between it and “Borderline.”
I’m such a big fan of this song that I sat down and did a cover version of it AFTER I had written this blog post. Love this song. Hope you enjoy the cover!
That’s my list in all its glory. If you enjoyed the post or taking this li’l trip down memory lane, I’d love it if you stopped by ilove80smusic.com periodically. I’ll be posting a few times every week on songs, videos and topics that mean quite a bit to those of us who grew up during the era.
When I think of music in the 1980s, I think of an early part of the decade when all styles of music could hit the American charts: easy listening, country, pop, show tunes, instrumentals, you name it. The middle part of the decade saw less country and more hard rock and metal, and the latter part of the decade featured the beginnings of a form of teeny-bopper music that prevails today and mainstream rap.
I didn’t spend weeks combing through my music collection or YouTube to come up with this list, but I’ve been thinking about the 10 songs that defined the 80s. These aren’t definitive tracks in terms of social messaging or long-term influence, necessarily per se, but they’re definitive in some form or fashion, and I think so more than others.
Throughout the life of this blog, I’ll regularly put together lists and offer some reasoning for my choices. This Top 10, by the way, isn’t in any particular order. Feel free to disagree with me and add your comments, or hit me up on Twitter @ryanwelton.
I’ll start with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” a song I chose because it introduced the world to “Thriller” in late 1982 and was a turning point for the gloved one in terms of fame. He had always been famous and talented, and I profess that “Off the Wall” was actually his best work. However, the moment Michael moonwalked to this song, he became legendary and his status rose throughout the 1980s to the point where he was referred to as the “King of Pop” by the early 1990s.
This song hit No. 1 and stayed there for seven weeks, the longest chart run Michael had at the top for his career.
My second choice for this list is Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” At some point I’ll come up with a list of his best popular work and the music you’ve never heard. This is not my favorite song, and it’s not even my favorite two or three tracks from the soundtrack to “Purple Rain.” Those would be “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Take Me With U” and “The Beautiful Ones.”
However, this was Prince’s biggest chart hit, and it cemented his status as a creative great.
Next on my list is a song that actually came out in the late 1970s but breathed most of its life in the early 1980s, and many music lovers call “The Clash” the best band to have ever lived. The influence and impact of The Clash on rock-and-roll and punk music is inarguable, and “London Calling” to me exemplifies the band’s importance in the 1980s.
Before bands like Ratt and The Scorpions and Warrant and Skid Row took over the American charts, the hardest rock and roll you’d find on the radio came from Australian band, AC/DC. However, despite the fact that the album “Back in Black” has sold 50 million copies and is the second-most popular album of all time, the song “Back in Black” only peaked at No. 37 on the American charts. The impact of this song goes beyond the success of the album. If you listen to Brian Johnson’s cadence in the song’s verse, you’ll quickly understand that he’s basically rapping. I’ve called “Back in Black” a song that is as influential and important in rap as it is in rock-and-roll.
Likewise, I challenge you to listen to NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” and not believe that they, too, could have done a kick-ass version of “Back in Black.” While Public Enemy was the cerebral rap group, NWA was both cerebral and filled with raw emotions. They channeled anger in a way that met the moment, and their influence today is to rap as The Clash’s is to punk. Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella and MC Ren never hit the American singles charts but they had and still have every bit the influence of their counterparts if not more.
Of course, the precursor to NWA and Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Run DMC and beyond was a tune from the Sugarhill Gang that really brought rap to the mainstream. The song is called “Rapper’s Delight,” and like “London Calling,” it birthed itself in the late 1970s but mustered its magic in the early 1980s.
The New Wave, second British invasion era of the early 1980s was the product of groups like Heaven’s 17, Human League, Bronski Beat, Madness, Squeeze and Culture Club. However, when Duran Duran hit the charts in 1983 with “Hungry Like The Wolf,” they became the closest thing our decade had to The Beatles. That’s why they earned the moniker, the Fab Five. In all, Duran Duran had 15 Top 40 hits in America, their biggest being “The Reflex” in 1984.
Also during that early part of the decade came a song that makes this list primarily because of its longevity and influence in modern pop culture. Journey had much bigger hits, chart-wise, than 1981’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” but with its inclusion in hit TV shows such as “Glee,” the song has become a catch-all anthem and one of the most-successful tracks in digital history. This song might have peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard charts, but I highly doubt any single song made the band more money than this one.
As for these last two, I figure I’ll have some explaining to do. For those of us who grew up in the music video era, or at least the era when MTV played videos, several videos stand out. There was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” There were the creative works of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” and The Cars’ “You Might Think.” There was Peter Gabriel’s outstanding video for “Sledgehammer,” and of course the video that kicked off the MTV era, “Video Killed The Radio Star,” by The Buggles.
However, a-ha’s “Take On Me” was both endearing and hyper-cutting edge. Its style underscored music video as an art form and raised the bar for every producer in the business. The song is still beloved, and the first thing people typically talk about when they talk about a-ha is the video.
And last on this list is Debbie Gibson’s “Only In My Dreams ,” which debuted on the Top 40 in June 1987 and forever changed American pop music. Before her, there had been boy bands and girl bands and young female singers, but Gibson’s debut (and Tiffany’s) paved the way for what I call the “kiddo machine,” a music industry largely dominated, at least in pop music, by teenagers and those in the early 20s.
When you consider who might have been the prototype for a Taylor Swift, my thoughts turn to Debbie Gibson. Debbie had nine Top 40 hits on the American charts, and I wouldn’t consider any one of them to be especially memorable. Not bad, just not long-lasting. However, she established the market for the type of act that exists on charts today from Selena to Demi to Taylor. She is an influence who I don’t believe is given nearly enough credit, actually.
Think about Taylor, if you will.
She first hit the American charts when she was 16-17, too. However, Swift has had an unbelievable 35 chart hits in America. Anyway, I think this list deserves a quick hat-tip to either Debbie Gibson or Tiffany, and Gibson charted first.
What did I overlook? Comment below, or tweet at me @ryanwelton.