December 3, 2015 by billysparrow
This has been difficult.
Of course, this is a problem of my own making. I could have easily just continued to listen to the ’80s on 8 channel on SiriusXM, made a mental note when I heard a song I liked more than the others, and gone on with my life.
Instead, I chose to write things down and come up with my top 40 favorite songs of the songs that reached the Top 40 in the 1980s.
For a healthy portion of the last six months–interrupted only by compiling the Top 40 of the Top 40 of the 1990s, which was not nearly as difficult and not really even all that much of a distraction–I have copied and pasted, hemmed and hawed, moved songs up, sent songs down, weighed pure nostalgia against timeless craftsmanship, and generally spent entirely too much time thinking about people like Henry Lee Summer and Oran “Juice” Jones.
And now the moment has arrived. Or at least I think it has. I reserve the right to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, change things after I publish each post, and just not tell you. I believe I’ve earned the right.
So here are the bottom 10 of the Top 40 of the Top 40 of the 1980s as I see (and hear) them. As with the ’90s countdown, you’ll get another 10 on each of the next three Thursdays, and as a special added bonus, in the last post, I’ll give you the rest of the Top 200. Yes, that’s right the Top 200. Because I can’t stand to not honor the 160 songs I had to leave out of the Top 40. I would legitimately lose sleep over it. (And, again, props to this website for making my mission more manageable.)
Here we go…
40. “Why Can’t This Be Love,” Van Halen (Peaked at #3, 5/17/86)
If pressed, I would choose the David Lee Roth Van Halen over the Sammy Hagar version (amazingly, I have yet to be pressed, but it’s good to have a plan in advance). Yet, this is probably my favorite Van Halen song. Who can solve the mystery that is me?
Anyway, I will freely admit that there are, by the way that normal people measure quality, better Van Halen songs (some of the ones where Eddie plays guitar are pretty good), but something about this one struck me when it came out (this is one of several Top 40 of the Top 40 entries I had on 45) and holds up for me today. Is it the synthesizer? Is it Sammy’s scat singing? Is it something worth pondering further?
39. “That’s The Way,” Katrina & the Waves (Peaked at #16, 9/16/89)
Earlier this year, in a heated discussion I was having with myself as I sat alone in my apartment after returning from a Katrina solo show, I declared that I would put Katrina and the Waves’ three best songs up against any other ’80s musical act’s three best songs. One other one will appear elsewhere in this Top 40 and there’s another in the Top 100, but this one was the last of the Katrina and the Waves hits that cracked the Top 40. And it’s a damn catchy one, with that strong organ-heavy beginning, a killer hook in the chorus, and that singalong “Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohhhh-oh-yeah” part.
There was a brief moment in time where I thought this might be just as good as the Katrina and the Waves song everyone knows. It’s not, but I firmly stand behind it as an overlooked gem in the Katrina and the Waves ouevre. Yeah, I said “ouevre.” You got a problem with that?
38. “The Rain,” Oran “Juice” Jones (Peaked at #9, 11/15/86)
The recitation is an underappreciated art form in the music world. It is mainly found in the country genre, with Red Sovine perhaps being my favorite practitioner in that realm. Of course, the most adored one is likely in George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (eternal props to writers Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman for that song).
But I’m not sure even Red Sovine and George Jones have knocked a recitation as far out of the park as the fantastically named Oran “Juice” Jones does toward the end of this one. The parts of the song leading up to it are pleasant enough, but when that recitation hits, the song reaches a whole different, amazing level. “I missed you so much I followed you!” “I gave you things I couldn’t even pronounce!” “Cornflakes without the milk!”
As a side note, Jimmy Kimmel cemented his status as my go-to choice at 11:35 when he had the Juice on his birthday show and sang backup on “The Rain.”
37. “Nobody Told Me,” John Lennon (Peaked at #5, 3/3/84)
This is one of many songs I heard for the first time on “Top 40 Videos” on Channel 9, my only outlet for music videos before cable TV came to Staten Island. It aired every Saturday (at 5, I think), and between that, Saturday morning wrestling, and Saturday afternoon bowling (and the Charles Chips guy every other week), well, I think I went outside some Saturdays, but I can’t be sure.
Every now and then, I forget how much I enjoy this song, but it always comes back around. It’s easily my favorite John Lennon solo song, and I might even like it more than any Beatles song. I should note that I’m not all that revved up about the Beatles. Or maybe I shouldn’t note that. Perhaps it’s best to just move on.
36. “Life in a Northern Town,” Dream Academy (Peaked at #7, 3/1/86)
This is a pleasantly hypnotic little number that I’ve always liked. It’s one of the slower numbers in my Top 40 of the Top 40 (I’m an up-tempo kind of guy), but you can’t deny that monster chorus. It’s also one of those songs that makes me sad for no reason I can really determine.
One thing I’ve discovered in listening to this song several times in the last six months is that it sure sounds like the second line of the song is “The children drunk lemonade.” That’s some bad English they’re putting together in those northern towns.
35. “The Waiting,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Peaked at #19, 6/20/81)
I take the big Tom Petty hits for granted sometimes. In the initial weeks of putting this list together, this one was hovering around the mid-50s, mainly because I’ve heard it so many times that I wasn’t even sure I liked it all that much. That (and not the waiting) was probably the hardest part of putting the Top 40 of the Top 40 together: trying to figure out if songs I’ve heard a thousand times are really songs that I like or if they’re just songs I’ve heard a thousand times because they’re so omnipresent.
But the more I thought about and the more I really listened (you can, after all, listen as well as you hear…shoutout to Mike and the Mechanics, since they won’t be mentioned again in the Top 40 of the Top 40), the more I realized just how great a song “The Waiting” is. Part of that is because of the lyrics and part of it is because of Mike Campbell, but however it’s divided out, I don’t think you can dismiss “The Waiting.”
34. “I Will Be There,” Glass Tiger (Peaked at #34, 4/11/87)
My favorite of the Glass Tiger hits, though probably the least known of the bunch. I had this one on 45, too, and I remember playing it a lot after I bought it. I’m not entirely sure who exactly I would have been there for at the age of 10, so I guess I just liked the sound of Alan Frew’s voice (with a smidgen of Bryan Adams thrown in).
Speaking of Frew, here’s an unsolicited advertisement for his new “80290 Rewind” CD, on which he covers various hits of the ’80s and ’90s. It’s got some strong stuff on it and is worth a listen. Frew is recovering from a stroke he suffered earlier this year, and here’s hoping he fully recovers and is able to get back out there and sing again soon.
33. “I Wanna Go Back,” Eddie Money (Peaked at #14, 3/14/87)
I just saw the Money Man in concert last night, but this one was already in the Top 40 of the Top 40 before I laid out the dough to hear him sing it (and all the other Money hits). It was a slow climb, though, as this was one I thought might not have as strong a hold on me as it did back in the day. No, I don’t know why I thought a song about wanting to go back to one’s youth would have less resonance as I got older. Again, I’m a mystery.
Anyway, as you will see, I like some saxophone in my pop hits, and this one certainly fits the bill. I’ve also grown quite fond of the little descending guitar line during the breakdown. Some might say I’ve grown too fond of it, because I keep singing it out loud. I’ll probably do so the next time you see me.
In listening to it repeatedly, I’ve also begun debating (again, myself) whether the song’s narrator wants to go back and do it all over, as he did it before, or if he wants to go back and do it all over, as in do it all differently from the way he did it before. I’ve always thought it was the latter, but now I’m pretty sure it’s the former.
Six months of thoughts like this. Help me.
32. “Shake You Down,” Gregory Abbott (Peaked at #1, 1/17/87)
The slow jam of all slow jams. And that’s despite the fact that “Girl, I wanna shake you down” doesn’t strike me as a very romantic turn of phrase. No matter. The smooth voice of Gregory Abbott says it is so, so it is so.
It is also a solid entry in the “Songs That Kind of Sound Like They’re Being Sung by a Creeper” genre that found some traction in the 1980s. “Girl I’ve been watching you/From so far across the floor now baby/That’s nothing new/I’ve watched you so many times before now baby” doesn’t exactly tug at the heartstrings as much as it makes you take note of the nearest exit.
But those aren’t the best lines in the song anyway. Everyone knows that would be “Eeny meeny miney mo/Come on, girl, let’s shock the show.” If I ever see another woman in my bedroom, I’m leading with that one.
31.“Every Little Kiss,” Bruce Hornsby & the Range (Peaked at #14, 7/11/87)
The fourth song from 1987 in a row on the countdown. I had no idea until I put this together just how important that year was in my musical upbringing. But, Wikipedia tells me, this song was originally released as a single in 1986, and was supposed to be the lead single off Bruce and the Range’s debut album. But it stalled at 72 on the Hot 100, “The Way It Is” wound up becoming the big breakout hit, and “Every Little Kiss” was then re-released and eventually made it up to its peak of 14.
“The Way It Is” is a fine song, but this is way better, and certainly deserved to be the lead single (though it’s not my favorite song on that album; that would be “On the Western Skyline,” in case you’re keeping score at home). And it’s the first of several appearances for Huey Lewis on the countdown, as that’s him on harmonica.
I remain a fan of Bruce Hornsby (I prefer the post-Range stuff, though I did wear out a cassette of “Scenes from the Southside”) and wince a little when people mock him. So stop mocking him, OK? I hate wincing.
Ten down, 30 to go. I think there’s still some jostling of songs to do before next Thursday. Keep me in your thoughts.