1984: Glory Days

(First in a series of posts about 1984.)

The Billboard chart dated September 1, 1984, is pretty fabulous, loaded with iconic 80s stars and memorable 80s hits. Just look at the Top 10:

1. “What’s Love Got to Do With It”/Tina Turner
2. “Missing You”/John Waite
3. “Stuck on You”/Lionel Richie
4. “Ghostbusters”/Ray Parker Jr.
5. “When Doves Cry”/Prince
6. “She Bop”/Cyndi Lauper
7. “Sunglasses at Night”/Corey Hart
8. “Let’s Go Crazy”/Prince
9. “If This Is It”/Huey Lewis and the News
10. “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again”/Peabo Bryson

If you turn on your local good-times/great-oldies radio station, it won’t be long before you hear something from 1984. A friend of mine considers it Top 40’s best year in the 80s. It’s hard to argue that it isn’t one of the best of all time. Also in the Top 40 during this same week: “Drive” by the Cars, “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen, Chicago’s “Hard Habit to Break,” Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and “Lucky Star” by Madonna, none of which have been off the radio since.

Those and other records on this chart remain highly evocative of their times even after 30 years.

10. “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again”/Peabo Bryson (holding at 10). “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again” never became a classic despite being a remarkably big hit in its time, a lovely song, and a fine performance by Peabo. If I had to pick one song from this Hot 100 to listen to right now, this would probably be it.

18. “State of Shock”/Jacksons (down from 7) and 20. “Dynamite”/Jermaine Jackson (up from 24). Thirty years later, the way Michael Jackson’s less-successful siblings glommed onto the demand for their brother makes the Victory tour one of the most distasteful pop-music hypes ever. What percentage of the people who bought tickets for Michael cared one damn bit about seeing the other Jacksons? Five percent is probably too high. (Ticket pictured above: face value $28, equivalent to about $64 today, which was lots more than pop and rock concert tickets generally cost back then.) In keeping with the shadiness of the whole thing, “State of Shock” is a lazy production; “Dynamite,” on the other hand, is just that—so maybe the tour wasn’t such a bad deal.

21. “Cruel Summer”/Bananarama (up from 26). Although the ragged unison vocals are nothing special, there’s never been another record that sounds like “Cruel Summer.” The video is the essence of MTV’s glory days, distilled to four minutes.

24. “Sexy Girl”/Glenn Frey (down from 20). What Frey brought to his partnership with Don Henley is analogous to what Paul McCartney brought to his partnership with John Lennon, in that Frey and McCartney mitigated their partners’ harsher impulses, impulses that are very clear in both Henley and Lennon’s solo work. The difference is that McCartney wasn’t boring. Frey’s solo work is remarkable in its dullness. The best you can say about “Sexy Girl’ is that it’s the closest Frey ever got to the soul music of his hometown, Detroit. The worst you can say is that it objectifies women in a way that didn’t bother people much in 1984, but it would now. That, and it’s boring.

78. “Dance Hall Days”/Wang Chung (down from 71). Writing recently about Nelson George’s Soul Train book, I marveled, as George did, at the strangeness of British new wave acts appearing on Soul Train during the 80s. But Don Cornelius was actually wiser than we realize. Billboard‘s dance and disco chart was frequently topped by such acts in the 80s: ABC in 1982, Thompson Twins in both 1982 and 1983, Human League in 1983 and 1986, Wang Chung in 1984 (with “Dance Hall Days”), and Tears for Fears in 1985. It made sense for Soul Train to book the artists that kept the dance floors hopping, even if they were pale British kids.

Even weirder: the dance and disco chart was also topped by the Greg Kihn Band (“Jeopardy”), the Romantics (“Talking in Your Sleep”), and Huey Lewis and the News (“I Want a New Drug”) during the first half of the 80s. Hall and Oates scored several #1 dance hits too.

Coming Monday: what precisely is evoked by these evocative songs, as our 1984 special continues. (Jingle out.)

5 responses

  1. Oh, God, you had to remind me of “Sexy Girl.” I was content to have forgotten that existed.
    That was a year or two before Frey went over all Miami Vice and got *dangerous* on us (“You Belong To The City,” “Smuggler’s Blues.”)

  2. It’s been a surprise for me in recent years to rediscover just how many songs I liked in the first half of the 1980s, and this post continues that process. I still think 1982 is the last year for consistently great singles all year long, but it’s been a delight in being reminded that 1983 and 1984 had their fair share of great singles, too. I noted in a comment last year that I stopped listening to current music in fall 1985, but I suspect there are more fine songs from that year that I need to be reminded about also.

  3. Steve: Heard an AT40 from ’85 today with this power-pop Top 5: The Power of Love, St. Elmo’s Fire, Freeway of Love, We Don’t Need Another Hero and Summer of ’69. Only the Tina song fails to get airplay on our oldies station (probably because of its similarity to the still-hot What’s Love Got to Do With It?).

  4. Glory days, indeed. This 1984 series should be fantastic – looking forward to it.

    I second your thoughts on the Peabo song. Gonna go give that one a listen.

  5. Chuck: Yep, the main SoCal oldies station also plays three of those save for Tina Turner’s hit, but the Aretha song doesn’t get heard much, either.

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