As I promised, no more Jacksons this week, but we will keep plodding through the letter J as we continue to take a look at songs that reached no higher than #41, a.k.a. “the ass end,” on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the 1980s.
“High on Your Love” — 1980, #70 (download)
Debbie Jacobs had better luck on the dance chart than she did on the Hot 100. She had a few disco hits in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but this annoying track was her highest-charting pop single.
Sigh. Well, at least one of these songs is better than anything on the Stones’ 1986 album Dirty Work. “Throwaway” should be the name of the first song here, as that’s all “Ruthless People” is — a limp, sad snapshot of an artist going through the motions. The actual “Throwaway” isn’t all that bad, though it’s still uninspired; it’s a track from Mick’s album Primitive Cool, which features some of the worst cover art of the decade.
“Back of My Hand” — 1980, #84 (download)
Here’s probably where you should begin your listening this week — “Back of My Hand” is a superb track from the short-lived Jags. They formed in London in ’78 and released only two records: 1980’s Evening Standards, which contains “Back of My Hand,” and 1981’s poorly titled No Tie Like a Present. Listening to this song always makes me want to pull out some Knack.
I’m Rick James, bitch!
I love Rick James, no doubt about it, but I’d be lying if I told you there were more than two records of his worth purchasing in the ’80s — Street Songs (1981) and Cold Blooded (1983). Rick could turn out some blazin’ funk on his singles, but in general his albums are hit-or-miss, possibly because of how many drugs he was on at the time.
“Ebony Eyes” is a duet with Smokey Robinson, but it might as well be a Smokey solo track considering that Rick takes a backseat in the song. Either way, the two of these guys work well together, and I’d venture to say this is Rick’s finest ballad.
I can’t in any way defend the atrocities Rick called music starting with 1985’s Glow, which contains the head scratcher “Can’t Stop” — unless you’re a completist, there’s no reason to venture past 1984. In fact, if you don’t have any Rick James in your collection, I’d recommend a solid greatest-hits package and nothing more. (On a side note, “Standing on the Top [Part 1]” is going to be included later in the series under the letter T: although some people attribute it to Rick James and the Temptations, it’s really a Temptations song written and produced by Rick.)
“You’re So Easy to Love” — 1981, #58 (download)
It’s a good time for Tommy James to show up in Bottom Feeders — the first single from Prince’s new album, Lotusflow3r, is a cover of Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” “You’re So Easy to Love” was James’s 32nd and final Hot 100 hit (solo or with the Shondells).
“Weatherman” — 1986, #95 (download)
I know Nick Jameson as Russian president Yuri Suvarov on 24, but this obscure nugget from 1986 is the former singer’s only hit song. (He also used to produce albums for Foghat and play bass in the group.) Popdose editor-in-chief Jeff Giles no doubt has a stiffy for this track, as his hero Jack Wagner remade it a year later as “Weatherman Says” (you’ll get to hear it many, many, many weeks from now). By the way, well done on the foreshadowing in the comments here, Jeff.
“Breakin’ Away” — 1981, #43 (download)
“Teach Me Tonight” — 1982, #70 (download)
“Boogie Down” — 1983, #77 (download)
“Trouble in Paradise” — 1983, #63 (download)
“After All” — 1984, #69 (download)
Man, Jeff must be busting out the lotion and tissues at this point — we have another Popdose favorite of his here. There’s no way I could add any new facts to the Al Jarreau story that was told during Popdose’s Al Jarreau Week last year, which included one of my absolute favorite Popdose Guides. I will, however, say that I think 1984’s High Crime and 1986’s L Is for Lover are fucking awesome. If you’re going to listen to just one Jarreau song here, go for “Boogie Down.” (In Microsoft Word, “Jarreau” gets underlined in red because it’s not in the dictionary, of course, but if you ask for suggestions for a replacement, the first one is “jarhead.” A little slip here and you’d be reading about Al Jarhead.)
“If You Leave Me Now” — 1989, #44 (download)
Known as the Queen of Soul in the Philippines, Jaya wasn’t the queen of anything in the U.S. In 1989 she was offered a gig to finish recording an album that another artist had started (my research has yet to yield the name of that artist); the only single from the resulting disc, simply titled Jaya, was “If You Leave Me Now,” which was produced by Stevie B. and features his vocals.
I often confuse myself when it comes to the various incarnations of ’60s rock heroes Jefferson Airplane. It’s not hard — the Airplane turned into Jefferson Starship in 1974, then dropped the “Jefferson” part of their name ten years later. The post-’84 Starship incarnation isn’t good, but I never ever find myself going into my collection to listen to anything from Jefferson Starship. I do, however, listen to Starship tunes all the time.
I’m going to blame this one on the media. See, despite Starship’s suckiness, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” and “We Built This City” have been played every day on the radio for the last 20-plus years, and “Girl With the Hungry Eyes” seems to pop up once every three years. I like to think I’m not a commercial whore, but I guess I might be when it comes to Starship. Despite all that, the three songs featured here are better than any the group released later in the ’80s as Starship. “Layin’ It on the Line,” with its super-layered drumming in the chorus, is particularly good.
Best song: The Jags, “Back of My Hand”
Worst song: Rick James, “Can’t Stop”
Next week Bottom Feeders is all over the map, with a very unrated funk group, a Prince protegÃ©, an artist who I absolutely love but until recently never wondered why the hell that was the case, and the group that made “Crimson and Clover” a huge hit in the ’80s.