Welcome to Bottom Feeders, my friends. We are about to embark on a totally excellent adventure, the likes of which has never been attempted before. Over the course of the next … um … uh … who the hell knows. Over the course of a really long period of time we’re presenting to you a look at why ’80s music was radical/gagged you with a spoon.
Over the course of this blog, we’re going to talk about each and every song that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the ’80s, with a twist. We’re only going to look at the ones that charted between 41 and 100. I mean, really, what can I say about “Pour Some Sugar on Me” that you haven’t heard already? But that song that charted at #99 for one week thanks to some podunk station in North Dakota playing the hell out of it for a while â€” that’s a totally different story. We’re going to start with A and work our way to Z, a little bit at a time. Maybe you’ll find some gem that you haven’t heard in 20 years.
As for me, I just love ’80s music! It’s that simple, really. I’m under no illusion that this decade’s shit doesn’t stink, though. In fact, I tend to agree with most people that this is the worst decade for music ever (though at least I don’t have to talk about “Laffy Taffy”) but I still enjoy the good, the bad and the grotesquely ugly.
And there’s a lot of ugly.
We’ll get more into the backstory of how I started collecting and enjoying ’80s music as we go along, but let’s jump into this thing with a look at the decade’s bottom feeders, starting with the letter A.
“Super Trouper”? What an interesting start to this strange adventure. If you had blindly asked me to start naming Abba’s top 40 hits, this probably would have been the first one to come out of my mouth. In fact, I probably would have just assumed it was a top 10 hit. To me, it’s one of the most recognizable of ABBA’s many great hits, but I guess the U.S. was getting tired of them around this time.
“On and On and On” was the third and final single from the Super Trouper LP and might actually be the best song on the album. The more I listen to this song, the more it sounds like a rap to me. If no electro group ever used this as a sample, then they totally wasted a golden opportunity.
ABBA’s final album, released in 1982, yielded a top 40 hit in “When All Is Said and Done” and also “The Visitors.” This has a great touch between being creepy and the glorious pop they were known for. At this point everyone was divorced and having their differences so the group disbanded, which is a total shame. Most people probably won’t agree with me, but I think The Visitors is the best album of their career, and they should have easily had a few more before their sound got old.
“I Got the Feelin’ (It’s Over)” â€” 1987, #56 (download)
The ’80s have a mess of artists that are considered “one-hit wonders” though they technically had another song that charted, but I’d like to really count how many times this happened. Abbott’s first single, “Shake You Down,” went to #1 and the follow-up didn’t even crack the Top 40. It seems weird to think this could happen to any even marginally talented artist. It’s even stranger because “I Got the Feelin'” isn’t all that different than its better-known older brother.
You know, I really liked these boys in Another Bad Creation. What? All right, actually ABC is a band I can thoroughly dig. It’s pretty clear, though, why in the middle of some massive hits these two didn’t work. Poor and poorer in the hook department. Both of these choruses are easily forgettable. “That Was Then But This Is Now” was part of the very mediocre Beauty Stab LP, where ABC tried to add the rock to their pop. “Vanity Kills,” however, never gave the illusion that these guys were a rock group, but didn’t have the same instant star quality of “Be Near Me.”
The way Paula’s career started, I’m shocked she had one at all. “Knocked Out” was the first single from her ginormous debut Forever Your Girl. But despite her label giving the song five months to run its course, it never cracked the Top 40. “(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me” was the follow-up, and was aborted after just three weeks. One would have thought that would be the end of it, but Virgin threw out another single, “Straight Up,” which would go to #1 and be the first of six consecutive top 10 hits. One of those was the re-release of “The Way That You Love Me,” which went to #3 about 10 months after the initial try. Good thing for us that the label kept on pushing. Where would we be with the incoherent, word-slurring mess we see today?
“Right and Hype” â€” 1989, #89 (download)
Abstrac’ completely fell through the cracks thanks to Teddy Riley’s oversaturation of the New Jack Swing market. In the midst of major hits from Guy, Keith Sweat, Heavy D, Al B. Sure, Bobby Brown and countless others, Abstrac’ was a pretty generic copy of the typical sound, with the only difference being that they were one of the first female groups to adopt it.
“Lonely Nights” â€” 1982, #84 (download)
A blip on the radar at the start of a career, Adams didn’t miss the top 40 again in the U.S. until 12 years later, when he started wanting to be your underwear. Poorly produced and way over-synthesized at this point, Bryan didn’t really start getting it right until ’83, when he began his steady trek to douche-land (which I hear is great this time of year).
“Broken Land” â€” 1988, #95 (download)
The Adventures released a decent but kind of raw record in 1985, then switched labels and went until ’88 before releasing this one. Basically starting over, they went for a more polished, slick sound this time around, hoping for a hit record. But catchy pop tunes about violence in Ireland didn’t really have too much of a place in 1988. I mean, we had all the Ireland we needed from U2 at this point. Their follow up in ’89 was a dud, so this became their one measly little charting single, probably earning them enough money to get that extra Egg McMuffin for the long van ride to the next gig.
“Remember (Walking in the Sand)” â€” 1980, #67 (download)
Eh, some little band here that ended their career in 1980â€¦hold up, wait a minute, stop.
This was the 11th and final Aerosmith single to chart until their comeback seven years later. Despite the lineup changes after this, it’s a good thing that at least some of the guys decided to keep the group intact, or we might have never gotten the ass-tastic “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”
“Heat of the Moment” â€” 1989, #74 (download)
Although not big on the pop charts, this went to #5 on the R&B side. I’m kind of glad that pop radio called bullshit on this one and didn’t play it. Musically, this is basically a note-for-note remake of Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own,” which hit only a few months earlier. Both songs were written by Babyface and L.A. Reid, so I guess they decided they wanted to make After 7 instant stars by just writing new lyrics to their monster hit. Oh, and did I fail to mention that After 7 was made up of two of Babyface’s brothers and L.A. Reid’s cousin? At least they didn’t just simply cover the original. It would have been hard to justify After 7 singing about slime and proton packs.
After the Fire
“Dancing in the Shadows” â€” 1983, #85 (download)
You know, upon listening to this again, this singer sounds a whole lot like Brad Roberts from the Crash Test Dummies. Didn’t he claim his voice was so deep because he had three nads? Or did I dream that up so I could prove there was another freak like me? That of course has no bearing on this song, which, while completely harmless, was a complete shift from their cover of Falco’s “Der Kommisar.” You just can’t release the mega hit cover song that doesn’t really capture your sound as your first track and expect to have a career. When will they learn?
“Cry Wolf” â€” 1987, #50 (download)
I constantly use a-ha as the example of how to destroy a perfectly good career. Although I kind of like this track, they never stood a chance. “Take on Me” was such a huge hit, with such a creative and intelligent video, that only a flaming bag of poop on the doorstep of every record buyer in the U.S. could have stopped them from being huge. And of course, their Scoundrel Days record was just that. Their follow-up to the platinum Hunting High and Low yielded just this minor hit and was so remarkably poor that there was no way they were ever going to be able to make a comeback. After hearing the original non-U.S. version of “Take On Me,” I started to realize how much a good producer can do to mediocre musicians. There really wasn’t much talent coming out of a-ha, but they were fortunate enough to catch lightning in a bottle one time.
I really love that I get to talk about Air Supply in my first post. If you asked me to name five bands that defined what the ’80s were all about, Air Supply would be one of them. At this juncture, it’s kind of hard to look back and take their brand of sappy ballads very seriously, but back in the early to mid-’80s, they were probably considered one of the better bands. “Power of Love” was the first of three versions to chart in the ’80s. The original version, by Jennifer Rush, was actually released in the U.S. after this one, and Laura Branigan’s version in 1987 was really the only time in the ’80s that it was a big hit. This is my least favorite of all the versions I know and yes, that includes Celine fucking Dion. The keyboard sounds like it has the flu, and it drives me crazy to hear how bad it is. I suppose by 1986, the public had just gotten completely tired of hearing the same damn song over and over because the Diane Warren-penned “Lonely Is the Night” is absolutely no different than any of Air Supply’s other 12 hits, except that it was a dud on the charts.
I was never really into country music until I met my wife five years ago. She’s a fan of the newer crossover stuff and older bands like Alabama that aren’t completely filled with honky-tonk swagger. So after listening to some country music for the past few years, I finally decided to start moving into the country charts for my collection. I’m not even going to try to convey what a task that is, but an artist like Alabama had 7 top 100 hits and about 700 #1 country hits. Alabama always deserved a better fate on the pop charts, though I can’t imagine that they really gave two shits about it. I’m not sure why a record company would do any promotion to pop radio for these guys when every song they released was massive at country stations. Both “Lady Down on Love” and “When We Make Love” are pretty boring songs, but “Close Enough to Perfect” is really quite a sweet, happy song, and should have climbed higher.
So there you are, friends â€” the first twenty bottom-feeders of the ’80s. Next week, we’ll discuss the merits of Al B. Sure and a Herb Alpert instrumental. Until then, think long and hard before you waste that $2 on Air Supply’s greatest hits.