Welcome, everyone, to another installment of Bottom Feeders, your weekly look at the Billboard Hot 100 chart from #41 down during the 1980s. This week we tackle the first half of the letter I, and you should really pay attention this go-round since this might be the first time in all these 42 weeks that I can’t say even one song is bad. We’ve had many weeks stand out as really good, but I’d venture to say this is the top week overall. I guess I’ll find out in the comments if you agree.
“Under the Covers” — 1981, #71 (download)
Though Janis Ian (“At Seventeen”) had been releasing albums and singles since 1966, “Under the Covers” was only her third song to hit the Hot 100. It was also her last. Ian is an outspoken critic of the RIAA and believes that downloading and enjoying a track for free will actually help album sales in the long run. Rock on, Janis.
Show of hands — how many of you knew Icehouse had hits other than 1988’s “Electric Blue”? Okay, now keep your hand up if you knew they had a Hot 100 hit way back in 1981. Not too many, huh? Those of you who followed the Australian charts in the ‘80s probably knew, since Icehouse were one of the biggest Aussie acts of the decade. But in the U.S., after “We Can Get Together,” “No Promises” was their next charting single a mere five years later. It’s a shame — Icehouse are a severely underappreciated band here in the States. Their early sound is much more new wave than the slicked-up pop of the later years, but both periods yielded many quality tunes. “My Obsession” should’ve been huge: it was the follow-up to “Electric Blue,” which was cowritten by John Oates and reached #7, yet even with an almost perfect sing-along chorus, it couldn’t muster enough strength to make it into the Top 40.
“Colors” — 1988, #70 (download)
Back when I was helping to create a new database for my company, every time we started talking about using the color palette I’d say “colors” three times in a row just like Ice-T does in the song from the 1988 Sean Penn-Robert Duvall movie. I’m not sure if I’ve referenced any other song more often in the workplace. Since we ain’t exactly talking Roy G. Biv in this song, it’s an unlikely choice for corporate-speak. And it stands to reason that after many of my coworkers read this post it’ll be referenced even more in the coming weeks. It’s a little tricky to keep track of each instance of the word once Ice-T starts saying “c-c-c-c-colors,” but by my count, in just four minutes and 25 seconds he says it 141 times. That has to be some sort of record.
I don’t know what Billy Idol did to escape ridicule, but somehow he has. I say this not because the dude isn’t awesome — he totally is — but here’s a guy who always has his fist in the air, grunting and playing the part of a rock star, and yet so many of his songs are pop ballads. Songs that I would normally think of as cheesy, like “Eyes Without a Face,” “Catch My Fall,” and especially “Sweet Sixteen,” I have no problem with at all, and it seems like no one else does, either. To me his image doesn’t match a good number of his songs in the least bit, and it’s always baffled me why I’ve never heard one bad statement about Billy Idol. Granted, songs like “Rebel Yell” (how did it not chart higher?) and “Cradle of Love” really do fit his rocker image, but if you look back at his successful singles, the dude is really a pop artist.
You might be wondering about “Hot in the City.” It’s another case of a song being rereleased only to chart lower than it did the first time. The rerelease was off Idol Songs: 11 of the Best, which had no new tracks on it, so I suppose releasing one of his first songs again was the best marketing tool to let people know it existed.
Julio Iglesias and Stevie Wonder
“My Love” — 1988, #80 (download)
Upon listening to this song again, it’s much more tolerable than I expected it to be, and it’s just not Stevie Wonder’s presence that makes it so. I mean, it definitely sounds more like a song written for him rather than Iglesias, but the two of them mesh well, and “My Love” is actually kind of catchy considering the crap Stevie was putting out at the same time on his album Characters.
“Closer to Fine” — 1989, #52 (download)
Well, if you’re a regular reader of this series you already know I want nothing to do with the Indigo Girls, but I’d feel like a total douchebag if I didn’t recognize “Closer to Fine” for what it is — one of the most perfect pop songs ever written.
“State of the Nation” — 1983, #81 (download)
This is a difficult-to-find lost gem of the early ‘80s. Industry started out a bit more experimental than this, but once they added singer-keyboardist Jon Carin into the mix in ’83, they came up with the pop sound you hear on “State of the Nation.” I believe their album Stranger to Stranger was the only full-length they ever released, and after their breakup Carin became a semi-permanent session keyboardist for Pink Floyd.
Both of these songs are from Information Society’s excellent self-titled major-label debut, though it was their third release overall. I’m a bit shocked the ABBA cover, “Lay All Your Love on Me,” was released, since the third single, “Repetition,” didn’t do so well on the charts. Information Society is one of only 50-some CDs ever made with CD+G technology, which apparently displayed some rudimentary graphics while the track was playing if you had, like, one specific CD player — either a Commodore Amiga CD32 or the Atari Jaguar (two items I’d never heard of before now).
“Dirty Water” — 1980, #51 (download)
The Inmates were a British garage-rock band who released their first album in 1979. “Dirty Water,” a cover of the Standells’ 1966 hit, was their only song to chart in the U.S.
“Good Life” — 1989, #73 (download)
Inner City were one of the first major bands to have what is known as the “Detroit Techno” sound. 1989 was about the time this sound started hitting the airwaves, but I remember most of it coming from European bands. To my ears, there’s no difference between Inner City and a British band like Soul II Soul. For what it’s worth, Inner City had some success on the dance chart but didn’t make much of a dent in the Hot 100.
Invisible Man’s Band
“All Night Thing” — 1980, #45 (download)
Invisible Man’s Band was the short-lived second group for Keni Burke and three of his brothers, all of whom were part of the Five Stairsteps, whose big hit was the ’70s soul classic “O-o-h Child.” They released only two albums before Keni went solo, which he’d also done during his tenure in the Five Stairsteps. This excellent track comes from IMB’s self-titled debut.
Best song: Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”
Worst song: Inner City, “Good Life”
Next week we close out the letter I with six bands and 15 songs, including one of my favorite underrated musicians and a bunch of tracks from the group that made CBS’s Rock Star look so promising in 2005.