What I love about the record charts of the 1970s is the crazy musical variety they display, Led Zeppelin next to Donny Osmond next to Diana Ross, you know the drill. But that’s not strictly a 70s phenomenon. Take the chart from WBCN in Boston, dated September 9, 1988. WBCN was one of America’s legendary rock stations at the time, but this mix is just bent.
1. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”/Bobby McFerrin (holding at 1). The phenomenon of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is far enough in the rear-view mirror to make us wonder just what the hell we were thinking. It occurs to me now that it was the 80s equivalent of “Dueling Banjos”—the sheer novelty of it made people thirst to hear it, and then to hear it again. At the moment in history when MTV was beginning to replace videos with non-video programming (the game show Remote Control, for example), the video featuring Robin Williams and Matt Frewer was nearly as well-known as the song itself.
2. “Love Bites”/Def Leppard (up from 3)/10. “Bad Medicine”/Bon Jovi (debut). Segue either of these bubblegum metal confections into or out of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” if you dare.
3. “Wild Wild West”/Escape Club (up from 5). A song that would eventually hit to Number One in Billboard, but not for a while—it was at Number 45 during this week and wouldn’t hit the top until November. The video was all over MTV as the summer of ’88 turned to fall, and if WBCN is any indication, album stations were on it before Top 40 stations were.
5. “Running on Love”/Steve Forbert (up from 6). Forbert is a favorite of this blog, although by 1988 he had slipped into “whatever happened to” territory thanks to a five-year legal battle with his record company that kept him from releasing anything. Finally came the album Streets of This Town, produced by the E Street Band’s Garry W. Tallent, which got a fair amount of critical acclaim without regaining Forbert the audience he had in the early 80s.
7. “All I Wanted”/In Tua Nua (up from 9). An Irish rock group from Dublin discovered by Bono around 1983 and signed to U2’s label. An early single was co-written by Sinead O’Connor; another was a cover of the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” A couple of albums followed in the late 80s, but the band was defunct by 1990. I expect this got some MTV play too, given the band’s photogenic lead singer—and it’s not a bad song, either.
The WBCN charts of this period always included a section called “The Boston 3,” spotlighting local artists. On this chart, they’re the Rain, Willie Loco Alexander, and the Lyres. The Rain, as best I can tell, is lost to history; Alexander was a well-known figure on the Boston scene by 1988 and still plays today; the Lyres split in the late 80s before an inevitable 1990s reunion.
I don’t know all of the history of WBCN, whether they were being nibbled by other stations in the market in the fragmenting late 80s and tweaked their format from straight album rock as a result, but it seems likely. If you have any direct knowledge of what the station was going for in that era, hit the comments and help a brother out.
Recommended Reading: Another great moment in the history of WGN—their new midday host, Mike McConnell, got so few calls from listeners during his first week on the air in August that program director Kevin Metheny circulated a memo to selected Tribune Company staffers asking them to call the show and pretend to be real listeners. Since taking over, Metheny, Tribune CEO Randy Michaels, and chairman Sam Zell have been acting like they wanted to drive away every last listener the station had. How that they seem to have succeeded, they’ve noticed it’s a problem.