(Pictured: Madonna, touring in support of Like a Virgin, circa 1985. What the hell are those extra hands doing?)
In the winter of 1985, I was program director of a Top 40 station. In retrospect, the actual job was less glamorous than the title makes it sound. I wasn’t doing much programming, really. Our station was run by a roomful of automation equipment playing back tapes from a syndicator. I wasn’t doing a regular airshift yet, either. But it was by-god rock ‘n’ roll radio, it was mine, and that was something. I’d sit at my desk in the same room with all that equipment, bathed in machine noise and music, and I felt like I had arrived.
(Digression: with all of the reel-to-reel decks and cartridge machines broadcast automation required, the whir of motors never stopped, even when the station wasn’t broadcasting. In the early 90s, my station replaced its equipment with the first generation of digital automation, and for the longest time after the changeover it was positively disorienting for me to walk into that room. An utter lack of sound had always equated to catastrophic mechanical failure to an old radio hand such as I, and it took a while to get over it.)
(Digression from the digression: room-size automation systems such as ours had a large beeping alarm called a “silence sensor,” which would go off if a period of seconds went by with no audio. It could be heard from anywhere in the building, and when it sounded, it was a drop-everything-and-run-to-fix emergency. At one of my stations, the silence sensor beep was exactly the same as the beep on the french-fry machine at McDonalds. More than once I involuntarily, automatically jumped up and got ready to run in mid-bite at lunchtime.
The American Top 40 show from February 23, 1985, contained some songs that vividly took me back to that first rockin’ winter, as described on the flip, with links to the official music videos for each.
39. “Tragedy”/John Hunter. We didn’t play this for very long—nobody did, as #39 was its chart peak. But holy smokes, what a hook monster “Tragedy” was. If you can keep from playing air keyboards while you listen, you’re not me.
38. “Tenderness”/General Public. If “Tenderness” doesn’t have the butt-ugliest lead vocal ever put to wax, it’s in the semifinals.
36. “Ooh Ooh Song”/Pat Benatar. I had completely forgotten about “Ooh Ooh Song,” which is an odd combination of feathery vocal harmonies and a headache-inducing instrumental track with as much dynamic range as the dial tone.
33. “Just Another Night”/Mick Jagger. From Mick’s first solo album, She’s the Boss, “Just Another Night” sounds nothing like the Rolling Stones, which I suppose is the point. It does sound like every other record made in the 80s, however.
31. “Keepin’ the Faith”/Billy Joel. I am mentioning this here because of the video, which is every video made in the 80s rolled into one: an introductory scene, dancers, gratuitous cleavage, sunglasses, a hot car, a familiar character actor in a supporting role plus a more famous celebrity cameo, and a rock star who can’t act to save his life. The only things missing are a shattering mirror and fire.
30. “High on You”/Survivor. Survivor doing that Survivor thing: “High on You” has an intro that sounds insanely great on the radio, big drums, and a singalong refrain. Along with Night Ranger, they pretty much cornered the 80s market on pop-rock anthems.
28. “Like a Virgin”/Madonna. I had not heard “Like a Virgin” in a long time before it came up on this show, and I had forgotten what a spectacularly great record it is. Madonna’s chirpy vocal is the weakest thing about it, but thanks to producer Nile Rodgers, her band puts down a track so tight it could make the Funk Brothers say “day-um.”
There’s more to discuss about this show, and we’ll get to it eventually.