So, where did we leave off last week? That’s right, the kid finally got some cash money. It’s 1999, and I’m in my fifth year at the beautiful College of New Jersey. All that matters to me at the time is my radio gig at the campus station (and getting more music for it). After months of going to the used CD store and picking up greatest-hits and compilation discs for $7 each, I set a goal for myself. I was going to collect every single song that hit the top 40 in the ‘80s. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
The day was a great one. It marked my first purchase of one of the music bibles — Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Top 40 book. Today I sit here with eight of them right next to me, but back then, it was all about that one glorious book. I collected my Def Leppard and my Men at Work, but I quickly found out that the stuff that really interested me the most were the songs I hadn’t heard before. And then I realized that if I wanted to get the majority of songs in the early ‘80s, I’d have to start buying records. That’s when the collection exploded.
If you are ever near Princeton, NJ, you have to stop by the Princeton Record Exchange. It is a glorious music store. They sell a lot of DVDs today, which cuts down on the record stock, but eight or nine years ago they had a billion LPs for just a dollar. For a college student starting on a new quest, working two jobs to get by, the dollar record was the greatest thing ever. And the dollar record was my downfall into uber-geekdom.
We’ll continue talking about the steps towards my first goal, next week. But now, I present to you the final “A” artists to hit from 41-100 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
You could point to their song “Solid” as the defining moment of their career as singers, and you certainly say their career is defined by writing classic songs such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” or “You’re All I Need to Get By,” but personally, I think they defined themselves every morning when Nickolas Ashford woke up and put the sheen in his hair. I can just picture being around Ashford in a recording booth. Every time he shakes his head you get just a bit more hair juice in your eye.
Neither of the songs we’re talking about today are “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” but they do fit in decently with the decade. “Street Corner” is the better of the two songs, a nice little slab of pop-funk. “Count Your Blessings” is the last song of Nick and Valerie’s to chart and seems like it would’ve been better in 1981.
“Go” — 1985, #46 (download)
I’m sure I’m going to take some heat for this one, but I think Asia is just terrible. It’s not really one thing that kills them for me, but the entire body of work. I actually think that their monster hit “Don’t Cry” is virtually unlistenable. For having some major star power in its ranks, I really would have thought their songs would have a whole lot more substance and wouldn’t be quite as cheesy as they turned out to be. “Go” was the final Hot 100 hit for Asia, off their Astra record. Steve Howe had left at this point and was replaced by the guitarist from Krokus. After this, they broke up, then reformed and went through 10,000 lineup changes, leading to two different bands touring under the name Asia.
“Dreamer” — 1981, #66 (download)
Popular in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, the Association broke up in ’75 but reunited for a TV special about them, for which they put out this pretty average reunion track.
As a whole I don’t think either of Jon Astley’s albums were very good, but both these tracks are fabulous. “Jane’s Getting Serious” comes in at #47 in my Top 80 of the ‘80s list, and the line “Let’s take off our clothes and put this love to the test,” from his second and final hit, is one of my favorite lines in any song from the decade. Folks, let’s get it straight here, we absolutely do have to take our clothes off to have a good time. Astley was once the brother-in-law of Pete Townshend, which is probably why he got to produce some of the Who’s music.
“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” — 1989, #89 (download)
Easily the blackest white man of the decade, Rick’s slicked-up pop version of classic Temptations tune was his last hit of the ’80s, though over the next four years he would chart three more times in the U.S. There’s not a whole lot I actually remember from the ‘80s, but I can think back to when Sinbad appeared on TV and said that he was shocked Rick Astley wasn’t a “brother.” There was also some controversy that he was just the face and the songs were being sung by a black R&B singer. That’s pretty laughable when you think about it. If anyone was trying to pull a Milli Vanilli here, why would you choose the baby-faced white singer to do it?
“How Can I Live Without Her” — 1982, #71 (download)
The early-’80s version of Matthew McConaughey, Christopher Atkins was a shirtless teen dream in The Blue Lagoon. This stinker comes from the soundtrack to The Pirate Movie and is one of many songs from the decade to prove that just because you had the lead role in the movie, doesn’t mean you should have tried your hand at singing on the soundtrack.
“Touch a Four Leaf Clover” — 1983, #87 (download)
“Freak-a-Ristic” — 1985, #90 (download)
“If Your Heart Isn’t in It” — 1986, #57 (download)
“One Lover at a Time” — 1987, #58 (download)
The Hot 100 charts were not kind to Atlantic Starr. Though they appeared on it seven times in the ‘80s, only “Secret Lovers” and “Always” were big hits. However, they were well respected in the world of R&B, having scored 19 chart hits and two #1’s on that chart. They were known for their silky smooth ballads and their great harmonies, like on “Touch a Four Leaf Clover,” but they definitely had a funky side to them too — as you can hear on the dance floor-ready “Freak-a-Ristic” or the poppier “One Lover at a Time.”
“Make Up Your Mind” — 1982, #71 (download)
Have I said that I live for the funk? I really wish that I hadn’t been six years old at this point, as I would have killed to be in the clubs and been able to groove to great songs like this. Now, a song such as “Make Up Your Mind” sounds very dated, but in ’82, this had to be a great tune to get down to.
“Every Home Should Have One” — 1981, #62 (download)
“Baby Come to Me” — 1982, #73 (download)
“How Do You Keep the Music Playing” — 1983, #45 (download)
“It’s Gonna Be Special” — 1984, #82 (download)
“The Heat of Heat” — 1986, #55 (download)
All five of Patti’s Hot 100 hits are included here. Now, you’re probably shocked that “Baby Come To Me” didn’t chart higher than #73, and of course that’s a legitimate feeling. The duet with James Ingram actually did go to #1 on the pop charts — the second time it was released. It was actually the third single off her Every Home Should Have One LP, and originally peaked at #73. It then got used in the show General Hospital and took off. It’s by far her best song — the other four are pretty generic, but decent, R&B tunes. However, I’d like to correct Ms. Austin. She says the “one loving woman” is the one thing that every home should have. Actually, it’s a stripper pole.
Average White Band
“Let’s Go ‘Round Again” — 1980, #53 (download)
After getting pummeled with R&B and featuring Rick Astley, it’s only fitting that the Average White Band would appear in this post. These guys were always a very sharp and catchy funk ensemble, and while “Let’s Go ‘Round Again” dabbled more in disco, the killer funky baseline is still present in their last charting tune.
I really expect better things from a band named Axe. That screams gritty rock and roll to me, and both of these songs are pretty much pop schmaltz. Their original name — Babyface — is much more fitting for these songs. Who knows, maybe Kenny Edmonds would have had called himself Axe if the original name had stuck.
That’s it for the letter “A.” Next week we move on to the letter “B,” with multiple chances to talk about one of my favorite voices of the decade — and one of my favorite album covers! Until then, I hope you are getting freaky with the funk.