(Slight edit since first posted).
We don’t like to examine our long-held beliefs, to look at them with new eyes, to try and make sure that what we think is true really is true. But we should. If something is worth believing, it’ll hold up to scrutiny. If we’re afraid to look, maybe we already know that it won’t.
So I am once again considering the summer of 1980. I have never had much love for the Top 40 music of that summer. I was an album-rock guy then (on the radio and as a listener); what I heard then, and what I’ve heard since, seemed pretty weak. Not a lot of great music on the radio back then. Or was there?
How could I find out for sure? I went back and listened to an American Top 40 show from squarely in the middle of the summer—July 12, 1980—and tried to hear it anew. Here’s some of what I heard.
38. “King of the Hill”/Rick Pinette and Oak. I’ve never heard this before, although I’ve heard 10,000 records exactly like it. This one is neither better nor worse than any of them. It’s just there for three minutes, and then it’s gone.
36. “Into the Night”/Benny Mardones. Hey, Casey just played Rick Pinette and Oak, now here they are again. Oh, this is a different song? Well, I’ll be damned.
32. “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer”/Kenny Rogers & Kim Carnes. We’ve gone about 10 minutes without a tasteful adult ballad. Thank goodness here’s another.
31. “Let My Love Open the Door”/Pete Townshend. The man critic Dave Marsh lionized as Chairman Townshend did this?
30. “Should’ve Never Let You Go”/Neil and Dara Sedaka. How cute: Neil and his 16-year-old daughter made a record together, although knowing that they’re father and daughter makes the romantic tone seem pretty skeevy. Plus, Dara doesn’t know the difference between a blue note and a bum note.
29. “Cars”/Gary Numan and 28. “Stand By Me”/Mickey Gilley. Anybody wondering about the existence of parallel universes: they do not exist, but they should.
26. “Sailing”/Christopher Cross. As inoffensive as a glass of milk and about as exotic, sung by a guy with a range of maybe half an octave. And this is going to be the most honored record of the year?
25. “Empire Strikes Back Medley”/Meco. Only a slight improvement over white noise.
24. “She’s Out of My Life”/Michael Jackson. I just sat through the commercial break to be greeted on the other side with this? A deadly slow, string-driven weeper in which Michael emotes so hard his voice breaks at the end? Seriously, who liked this shit in 1980?
Screw this show, I’m outta here.
You could argue that I bailed just before the show got better: Joe Walsh’s “All Night Long,” “Emotional Rescue” by the Stones (of which I am not a fan but compared to the rest of this crap is “Brown Sugar”), “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Blues Brothers (which I liked better then than I do now), and “Biggest Part of Me” by Ambrosia are about to come. The first half of the show did include “Jojo” by Boz Scaggs (of which I am not a fan but see “Emotional Rescue”) and acceptable records by Journey (“Walks Like a Lady”) and Genesis (“Misunderstanding”). But also coming in the second half of the show are “I’m Alive” by ELO (in which Jeff Lynne announces he’s out of ideas), “In America” by the Charlie Daniels Band (whistle-past-the-graveyard bluster in that summer of the Iran hostage crisis), and “Tired of Toein’ the Line” by Rocky Burnette (which could take the chrome off a trailer hitch).
“Coming Up” by Paul McCartney and Wings was spending its third week at #1 on July 12, 1980, but listening to it now, there’s nothing there. Bette Midler’s “The Rose” rode the charts all summer and was one of the biggest hits of the year, but who plays it now? Out of the week’s top 10, you will still hear “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me” by Billy Joel on the radio in 2013, but that’s it. If the rest of it has faded into oblivion, it’s no great loss.
Long-held belief about the suckitude of the summer of 1980: VALIDATED.