Top 5: Islands in the Stream

Sailing the river of time that was the 1980s, let’s go ashore in five early December weeks, take the top five songs from each one, shake ’em all together, and see if it makes a post.

Cash Box, week of December 2, 1989:
1. “The Way That You Love Me”/Paula Abdul
2. “Angelia”/Richard Marx
3. “We Didn’t Start the Fire”/Billy Joel
4. “Love Shack”/B-52s
5. “Another Day in Paradise”/Phil Collins

Comment: Icons of a time long gone. How far, how long? We don’t automatically remember that for nearly a decade, Phil Collins was one of the biggest pop stars in the world. And Billy Joel just had a double hip replacement.

Cash Box, week of November 28, 1987:
1. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”/Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
2. “Mony Mony”/Billy Idol
3. “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”/Belinda Carlisle
4. “I Think We’re Alone Now”/Tiffany
5. “Should’ve Known Better”/Richard Marx

Comment: The late fall of ’87 was a very good season for Tommy James, whose songs rode to Number One in consecutive weeks under cover of Billy Idol and Tiffany. Idol’s “Mony Mony” is often supposed to be more bad-ass than the original, but when you listen to ’em side by side, James kills it. As for “I Think We’re Alone Now,” every generation needs a remake of it.

Cash Box, week of November 30, 1985:
1. “Separate Lives”/Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin
2. “We Built This City”/Starship
3. “You Belong to the City”/Glenn Frey
4. “Broken Wings”/Mr. Mister
5. “Miami Vice Theme”/Jan Hammer

Comment: On December 2, 1985, I was supposed to launch a new morning show on WKAI, but we’d gotten snowed in back home in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving weekend and didn’t get back to town until later that Monday. (That night, the Miami Dolphins handed the Chicago Bears their only loss of that NFL season.) I can’t listen to any of these songs, or even look at the record charts, without thinking of those early mornings on the windswept Illinois prairie, and the way I saw my present as mere prelude to a much greater future. Turns out I was wrong about the future, but each of us was wrong about a lot of things when we were 25.

Cash Box, week of December 3, 1983:
1. “All Night Long”/Lionel Richie
2. “Say Say Say”/Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
3. “Uptown Girl”/Billy Joel
4. “Islands in the Stream”/Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton
5. “Love Is a Battlefield”/Pat Benatar

Comment: Another transitional period in my radio career. I’d been at WJEQ for a month, and I didn’t like it. For a long time I thought the management of the place had hidden its deficiencies from me while they were wooing me, but now I know that the pathology of the place was visible on the day I interviewed. I talked myself past it because I needed a job.

Of the 25 songs I’m mentioning in this post, the one that sounded best on the radio is probably “Islands in the Stream.” Here’s a clever homemade video.

Cash Box, week of November 28, 1981:
1. “Physical”/Olivia Newton-John
2. “Private Eyes”/Hall & Oates
3. “Waiting for a Girl Like You”/Foreigner
4. “Arthur’s Theme”/Christopher Cross
5. “Here I Am”/Air Supply

Comment: Although “Physical” spent more weeks at Number One than any other single in the 1980s, it’s “Private Eyes” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You” that have never been off the radio since 1981. (In contrast, “Here I Am” seemed trivial even while it was current.) “Arthur’s Theme” is memorable for the lines “If you get caught between the moon and New York City/The best that you can do is fall in love,” which are as empty of meaning as anything ever written in English, but highly evocative of a particular time—when Dudley Moore was big box-office, and AM radio stations still played the hits.

“Which answer is true based on what we learn in the story?

2 responses

  1. “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” “We Built This City” and “You Belong To The City” = among the worst records the decade of my upbringing had to offer.
    (Nothing worse than multiplatinum rock stars singing about “the street.”)

    On the other hand, I went to YouTube and put on “Private Eyes” immediately after I read this post; I will be surprised if I listen to it fewer than three times straight through.

    Richard Marx sang my senior prom theme. (Not in person, of course.)

  2. One of my favorite moments of college was seeing ELO/Hall and Oates tour in fall 1981 just as “Private Eyes” was breaking into the Top 10. Hall and Oates were supposedly the opening act, but the show clearly was a double-bill by the time it got to Bloomington … and deservedly so. “I Can’t Go for That” wasn’t yet a single, but when we heard it in concert, we were blown away, and I wasn’t at all surprised to see it snap “Physical’s” run at No. 1 in Billboard.

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