The Top 40 of the Top 40 of the 1980s, 20-11


December 17, 2015 by billysparrow

So, here comes another 10. This batch probably had less last-minute jostling than the previous 20, but there was a bit of shifting earlier in the process. If the previous 20 were songs I’d be excited to hear on the radio, these are ones that I would turn up really loud (not a ballad in this bunch). There’s some great guitar work, stellar use of that ’80s keyboard sound, and demonstrations of the power of clapping and whistling.

But, to paraphrase 1980s icon Mr. T, enough of this jibber jabber. Let’s rock.

(Catch up with the earlier segments of the countdown here and here.)

20. “Hazy Shade of Winter,” The Bangles (Peaked at #2, 2/6/88)

This would be near the top of the list of greatest all-time covers, but that’s another list I won’t be compiling, so please don’t ask. Simon and Garfunkel’s original is, I suppose, pleasant enough, but it pales in comparison to this. I guess you could argue that they’re two different interpretations, with each being equally good on its own merits, but, no offense, that sounds like a really boring argument. Let’s not have it, OK? Instead, let’s just admit that this version is so undeniably better and, for lack of a better term, ballsier. Yes, the Bangles have more balls than Simon and Garfunkel. I think any two Bangles could take Paul and Artie in a fight, even if one of them were tiny Susanna Hoffs.

Anyway, welcome another soundtrack song to the countdown. I watched “Less Than Zero” for a college class presentation on the depiction of drug use in movies. Quite the education I got.

19. “Goody Two Shoes,” Adam Ant (Peaked at #12, 2/26/83)

Speaking of drug use, here is the quintessential ode to sobriety, and the song I assume people sing out loud every time I leave a room. And, to answer the question posed in the chorus–“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?–I obsess over things like Top 40 lists of Top 40 songs for months. I guess that’s a little different from what Mr. Ant intimates in the video. Two roads diverged in a wood…

I came to this song well after it was a hit, and I have no idea how I even became aware of it (I did eventually buy the 45 though). But I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I was frightened of Adam Ant when I was a child, mainly because of the video for another of his songs–played regularly on the aforementioned “Top 40 Videos.” You go watch the video for “Strip” and pretend you’re an eight-year-old and see how you feel. Adam Ant scared me almost as much as the snake in the “Owner of a Lonely Heart” video.

18. “Easy Lover,” Philip Bailey & Phil Collins (Peaked at #2, 2/9/85)

It’s easy enough to hate Phil Collins; there are some questionable songs in the Collins canon. But if you hate this song, there’s clearly something wrong with you. Seriously wrong. If you’re feeling any animosity at all toward this song, you should stop reading and seek some help. Don’t worry; the list will be here when you get back. You focus on you. I know you’ll get through this.

Philip Bailey’s falsetto is probably the reason why the song is such a monster, but it’s OK to toss aside any Collins-directed rancor and admit that he plays a part in the song’s success, too

17. “Heart and Soul,” Huey Lewis & The News (Peaked at #8, 12/3/83)

I know you were waiting for Huey and the News’s inevitable first appearance in the Top 40. The moment has arrived! And fear not; there are more coming.

I’d call this one the best song on “Sports” (in fact, I just did), which is no small feat. Any discussion of seminal pop albums of the 1980s that does not include “Sports” is an even dumber discussion than that earlier one about Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” being as good as The Bangles’. You can hate on it if you must, but you can’t deny five Top 20 hits (out of just nine songs on the record).

And lest you think anyone could have a hit with such a catchy song, here’s the Busboys’ version from the year prior. It stinks. And doesn’t have the awesome hand-clapping/drum machine break.

And a couple of YouTube commenters claim Exile’s version is better than HLN’s. Fools. But go ahead, you decide. And if you decide on Exile, let’s not be friends.

16. “Wild Wild Life,” Talking Heads (Peaked at #25, 12/6/86)

I think the first Talking Heads song I heard was “Burning Down the House,” and I must admit I was not all that impressed. It’s fine, but I didn’t make me run to Sam Goody to get a Talking Heads album. And that was OK, because, at the age of 9, I didn’t really have much cause to discuss the Talking Heads with anyone. I actually didn’t have much cause to talk to anyone about anything at the age of 9 unless it was about the Mets, the Giants, Matchbox cars, or professional wrestling.

Then, at some point in the glorious year of 1986, when I hit 10, the Mets won the World Series, I saw Wrestlemania 2 on closed-circuit TV at Wagner College, and we, to the best of my recollection got both a VCR and cable TV, I came across the video to this song on MTV. It was odd enough to get my attention, and the song eventually wormed its way into my brain. And it’s still there. And now I think the Talking Heads are pretty cool.

So, yes, contrary to what some might say, I have changed from the age of 9. But I’ll still talk about the Mets and wrestling if you want.

15. “Come Dancing,” The Kinks (Peaked at #6, 7/23/83)

It dismayed me to read somewhere that this was one of the worst songs in the Kinks’ catalog. Granted, there are better ones (e.g., “Days,” “Do You Remember Walter?” “Death of a Clown”), but I don’t think this one needs to be thrown on the trash heap. I see on Wikipedia, where I get all my news, that it was generally well received by critics, so maybe I just stumbled on the opinions of some singular dummy. (The Wikipedia page on the song, by the way, is quite comprehensive.)

Whatever the case, I dig that organ sound (play this and Billy Swan’s “I Can Help” on a loop and I would be ecstatic), and it’s just a sweet song. And, look, we’re all sad the palais is gone, but isn’t it nice to think of a time where something could be replaced by a bowling alley?

14. “Walk Like an Egyptian,” The Bangles (Peaked at #1, 1/10/87)

The perceived pummelers of Simon and Garfunkel are back with this one, which doesn’t rock as hard as “Hazy Shade of Winter” but still packs its own kind of punch. And a strong whistling solo.

It’s another song where I have trouble deciding if it’s truly good or I like it just because I’ve heard it a hundred times. Luckily, I gave myself several months to think about this, and over that time, I’ve decided that the aforementioned whistling (which they don’t replicate in concert, much to my dismay), Vicki Peterson’s guitar work, and, well, OK, Susanna Hoffs in general make me confident that I’ll never stop digging this song.

And it’s another song that can’t be separated from the video. Debbi Peterson is really into that tambourine.

13. “The Warrior,” Scandal Featuring Patty Smyth (Peaked at #7, 9/29/84)

I know John McEnroe was a great tennis player and all, but this one song puts Patty Smyth at the top of the Smyth/McEnroe household. I had no ability to understand what was going on in this song when I was 7, but I still liked it. And, to get back to wrestling for a second, perhaps my early fondness for this song predicted my future fondness for both the Road Warriors and the Dingo/Ultimate Warrior. Two of those three dudes are dead now. What a drag.

Anyway, it’s a great song (“Goodbye to You” is good, too, just not as good, despite that keyboard solo) and one I have not tired of in the last 30+ years.

12. “Electric Avenue,” Eddy Grant (Peaked at #2, 7/30/83)

Time for another random memory that will mean absolutely nothing to you. I have an incredibly distinct recollection of hearing this song on the Atlantic City boardwalk and breaking into a strut as I performed my own personal music video for it. I would guess this was around Easter in 1984 (making me 7), for Easter time was when my grandmother and great-aunt would go down to Atlantic City every year, and I would go down with my mom and sister to drop them off and pick them up (they set the “adults don’t need to drive” example I follow today). I should mention that my great-aunt was a nun. Yes, she would spend Holy Week in Atlantic City every year. I don’t think I really appreciated how great that was until much later in life.

But back to “Electric Avenue.” Every time I hear this song, I think of walking on that boardwalk (away from Caesars, heading in the direction of Resorts). But I’d love this song even without the nostalgic attachment. And it’s a strong nominee for Best Use of a Keyboard in a 1980s Song. Good God!

11. “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince & The Revolution (Peaked at #1, 10/6/84)

I feel like this one doesn’t get as much love as “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain” when people consider songs from the “Purple Rain” soundtrack, but I place it well above those other two (though I think both have a chance to crack the Top 200, so don’t be too sad, Prince). I don’t know if I heard this song or “When Doves Cry” first, but I remember both sounding completely bizarre and cool when I came upon them. I don’t know that I’d ever heard a guy talk before a song until this one, and I do not think my seven-year-old ears had heard guitar like that, either. Haven’t heard much like it since, as a matter of fact. Still, I wasn’t a huge Prince fan growing up (I think he still seemed a little too weird and creepy when I was a kid; he would not have been out of place in the “Strip” video), and it wasn’t until about a decade ago that I fully came to appreciate Prince.

This Janelle Monae version of the song isn’t as good as the original, but she did open up for Prince one of the times I saw him live, so it feels like a good connection to me. I’m sure you can find (legally, for the love of Prince) the original somewhere and rock out.

In compiling this list, I realized that there are a lot of lyrics that have gone right past me in these songs, especially in the ones from the earlier part of the decade. And so I am now just realizing that “Let’s look for the purple banana/’Til they put us in the truck” is an actual lyric in this song. Ain’t that something?



One thought on “The Top 40 of the Top 40 of the 1980s, 20-11

  1. […] (Previous installments here, here, and here.) […]

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