Jesus of Cool: We Wuz Robbed! Great #2 Hits of the ’80s

Written by Jesus of Cool, Music

Jon Cummings’ ongoing look at great #2 hits in Billboard history moves into the ’80s this week, with hit tracks from the Bangles, Journey, and Foreigner in the mix.

It’s amazing, the things a guy can learn even at my advanced age. The real treat for me, in slapping together this (too)-long-running series – which already has examined hits from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that ran out of gas just one block short of the Texaco – has been the opportunity to put into context some of the music-geek trivia that’s been crowding out more important information in my head for the last 30 years.

I’m embarrassed to say I was able to sit down at my laptop and reel off the names of about three dozen #2 hits from the grand and glorious ’80s without even cracking open my ever-present Joel Whitburn or Fred Bronson singles bibles. (The fact that I could do that, but can’t tie a Windsor knot, may explain why my career on Wall Street never took off. It also made narrowing down to 10 songs for this list a painful experience.) But it’s one thing to keep song titles and chart placements in your memory; it’s another to marvel at the tricks of fate, poor taste, or record-biz manipulation that launch one single over another on the way to Top 40 glory. Take this first juxtaposition, for example:

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11. “Hazy Shade of Winter,” the Bangles. Here’s the hit that slaps some sense into those who mistake the Bangles for a novelty act, or stubbornly cling to the notion that Susanna, Vicki, Debbi and Michael didn’t really rock. They took a 20-year-old, twee-as-all-get-out Simon & Garfunkel tune and turned it into a fuzz-guitar anthem of ’80s excess, the perfect theme for what should have been a much better movie based on Bret Easton Ellis’ Hollywood-druggies novel Less than Zero. (Funny how the movie biz managed to mangle both Ellis’ book and Jay McInerney’s New York equivalent, Bright Lights, Big City. Of course, casting pretty boys Andrew McCarthy and Michael J. Fox as jaded protagonists didn’t help.) Anyway, how were the Bangles rewarded for their maturity and brilliance in transforming “Hazy Shade of Winter”? They were left in the dust by the god-awful ballad “Could’ve Been,” which might have been less terrible had it not been butchered by that caterwauling, flavor-of-the-month, shopping-mall princess Tiffany. A slightly interesting fact about “Could’ve Been”: Its composer, Lois Blaisch, was “discovered” while singing for her supper at a recently-shuttered restaurant a few miles from my house, called the Hungry Hunter. I knew there had to be a reason why I never considered going into that place … besides, of course, the goofiness of its name, particularly considering that it sat in the middle of a SoCal strip mall…

10. “Open Arms,” Journey. Now, I’m no great fan of “Open Arms” – but this was Journey’s only whiff of the #1 slot, so attention must be paid. It sat for six weeks at #2 during the winter of ’82, behind “Centerfold” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” These days it’s remembered as the quintessential power ballad – it was awarded such status on one of those mind-numbing VH1 specials several years ago – even though it was neither the first nor the biggest such hit (“Keep on Loving You” bested its chart peak, and “The Best of Times” preceded it, among others). I always love a good yarn about a rock band’s ambivalence to the treacly ballad that earned it a bazillion smackeroos, so here goes: Jonathan Cain started “Open Arms” while still with the Babys, but John Waite (that paragon of rock-star integrity) called it “sentimental rubbish.” Cain moved to Journey and completed the song with Steve Perry, and they recorded it over the objections of Neal Schon, who compared it to Mary Poppins. If this story reminds you of a certain classic Behind the Music episode, in which one co-leader of an ’80s rock band recounted his dismay at being forced to play the pretentious schlock foisted upon him by the group’s other co-leader, you’re not alone. And you won’t need me to point out the irony in the fact that, on a number of those evil various-artists compilations of classic-rock remakes that seemingly were created to trick eMusic subscribers out of precious downloads, Tommy Shaw can be heard singing an insipid version of “Open Arms.”

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9. “Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce Springsteen. The closest Springsteen ever got to scaling the singles chart was this song written with the express purpose of … scaling the singles chart. Acquiescing to Jon Landau’s demand for a sure-fire hit to lead off Born in the USA may not have been Bruce’s ballsiest moment, but he managed to turn that shitty suggestion into the shinola of “Dancing in the Dark,” which was a joy to hear on the radio throughout one of pop music’s very finest summers. (The absurdly high quality of that Summer of ’84 is reflected by the two songs that kept the Boss from being promoted to #1: Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” and Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”) Bruce’s chart ascent was aided by his first-ever dance remix, and by the small matter of that video. I’d hate to imagine how slowly the last quarter-century might have unfolded if not for the perpetual delight of Courteney Cox Arquette … My favorite bit of Courteney trivia: She was the first person ever to use the word “period” on American television in reference to menstruation. Thank you, Tampax! Anyway, in honor of Prince trumping Bruce on both the singles and albums charts during the summer of ’84…

8. “U Got the Look,” Prince. No need to feel too bad for Prince failing to top the chart this time – after all, this is the guy who got a Number One single out of “Batdance”! – but this song gets a mention here just because it’s so flippin’ wonderful. The nasty guitar solos … Sheena Easton getting her freak on … the knee-slapping video … boy versus girl in the World Series of Love … slammin’! (Of course, you only get to re-live the video in your head, because the no-longer-sexy MF is hellbent on removing all traces of himself from the internet.) Let’s pause for a moment to marvel at the second verse, in its entirety: “U got the look / U musta took / A whole hour just to make up your face, baby / Closing time, ugly lights, everybody’s inspected / But you are a natural beauty, unaffected / Did I say an hour? My face is red / I stand corrected.” This song should be the national anthem.

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7. “Gloria,” Laura Branigan. I could never figure out how to categorize this hit — it was too late to be disco, too mainstream-American to qualify as synth-pop. Actually, though, “Gloria” originated as an Italian hit for its composer, Umberto Tozzi, in 1979 … which means it could easily be characterized as both disco and synth-pop. Whatever: It’s awesome, and was easily the best pop hit of 1982. It also played a role in a couple of pop-chart quirks during its tenure on radio that fall. (I’m gonna start apeing Fred Bronson’s Chartbeat column in Billboard now, so watch out.) First of all, on the chart dated December 11, the top four songs all had one-word titles – the first time that had ever happened. (Those titles were “Mickey,” “Gloria,” “Maneater,” and “Truly.” Of course, you won’t find the word “maneater” in a dictionary – which means that the chart of March 24, 2001 deserves special mention, since its top four titles were actual words: “Butterfly,” “Angel,” “Stutter” and “Again.”) My other trivial offering is this: While not that many songs named for specific individuals have topped the charts – indeed, not a single one did so during the 1990s – when they have, they’ve tended to do it in clumps. The one-two punch of “Mickey” and “Gloria” on the charts in ’82 was the first time it had happened since “Sherry” and “Sheila” double-dated 20 years earlier. Prior to that, though, it was relatively common for a few years: “Tammy/“Diana,” “Mack the Knife”/“Mr. Blue” … and then there was the chart of March 9, 1959, which featured a top four of “Venus,” “Charlie Brown,” “Stagger Lee,” and “Donna.”

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6. “Start Me Up,” the Rolling Stones. This was, realistically speaking, the Stones’ last shot at attaining one more #1 single to go with the five they earned during the ’60s and the three they added in the ’70s. Whether “Start Me Up” qualifies as their last great single depends largely upon how you feel about “Undercover of the Night” and, to a lesser extent, “Mixed Emotions.” It did, however, offer Mick one more great cock-rock moment before he turned 40 – though radio preferred Christopher Cross’ flaccid “Arthur’s Theme,” and then allowed Hall & Oates’ inexplicable smash “Private Eyes” to leap over “Start Me Up” and end the latter song’s chances. (Honestly, has there ever been a more egregious example of career momentum powering a bad single to the top of the charts than “Private Eyes”?) Anyway, in case you’ve never considered the lyrical sauciness of “Start Me Up,” check out this bluegrass cover by the legendary Folksmen, from the A Mighty Wind soundtrack.

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5. “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” Def Leppard. Like “Dancing in the Dark” above, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was an afterthought during the recording of Def Leppard’s Hysteria album. It was written and recorded at the last minute, after producer Mutt Lange had cast about for a song that would get the band to the top of the singles chart. Oddly, then, the band and their label took their sweet time laying the groundwork for their can’t-miss single; they released three other tracks before it. Which begs the question, in what universe was Mercury Records dwelling when it considered “Women,” or “Animal,” or “Hysteria” more appropriate single choices than “Pour Some Sugar on Me”? I suppose the label’s exercise in momentum-building paid off in the end; “Pour Some Sugar” was unquestionably the radio hit of the summer of ’88, and it finally drove the Hysteria album to #1 a year after its release — though the single somehow failed to smite wimpy ol’ Richard Marx’s interminable ballad “Hold On to the Nights” on the Hot 100. “Hold On to the Nights,” like “Pour Some Sugar,” was the fourth single released from a hit album — in this case, Marx’s eponymous debut. It was all part of an evil trend, which peaked about this time, that stratified pop radio through the release of endless singles from superstar artists’ albums. Among albums contemporaneous with Hysteria, Michael Jackson scored six Top 10s off Bad, George Michael had six off Faith, Whitney Houston had five off Whitney, and the Defs, Marx, INXS, Debbie Gibson and Expose (!) each had four. By the way, Def Leppard went on to release a fifth single off Hysteria – and, sure enough, finally scored a #1 hit … with an insipid ballad of its own, “Love Bites.”

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4. “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Crowded House. It’s quite possible that Neil Finn gets more love from the Popdose crew (as measured by the word) than any other artist, so I’ll be brief. In the alternate universe in which I dwell, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (#20 on the Popdose 100) was merely the first shot in an astounding run of radio-dominating hits by Finn and his mates. Apart from a brief bout of backlash in 1991-92, when the band achieved Bee Gees-level overexposure (what could they expect, when the entire Top 5 consisted of singles from Woodface?), Crowded House has enjoyed uninterrupted, universal adulation for nearly a quarter-century now … and Paul Hester is still alive. (A fella can dream, can’t he?)

3. “Waiting for a Girl like You,” Foreigner. As documented last year in my treatise on the Worst #1 Songs of the ’80s, this single ties with Missy Elliott’s “Work It” as the longest-running #2 hit of all time, having spent an astounding 10 weeks there in late 1981. Unfortunately, it spent nine of those weeks waiting for one girl, in particular, to go away: Olivia Newton-John. ONJ simply refused to give up the treadmill with her atrocious smash “Physical” throughout the holiday season, so Foreigner chose to bide their time on the stationary bike – how far can I overextend this metaphor? – only to watch Hall & Oates run off with the #1 slot in late January with “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).” Nevertheless, “Waiting for a Girl Like You” has outlasted those other hits — even Paul Anka thinks so! Despite its failure to reach the top, the song ranked as Billboard’s 80th-biggest hit of the Hot 100 era a couple years back. Oddly enough, there were several #2 hits ahead of it on that list, for reasons we’ll discuss in the next installment of this series. But first…


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2. (tie) “Material Girl” and “Express Yourself,” Madonna. Why, you may ask yourself, is Madonna here? Hasn’t she achieved enough, with her 12 Number One singles and whatnot? Don’t we read, and see, and hear enough about her already, without having her shoved in our faces in this context as well? I hear your complaints, and I would sympathize with them … but for two facts. The first is that, in addition to her other accomplishments, Madonna is one of the most prolific artists in history when it comes to falling just shy of the top of the charts; she has six #2 singles to date. More important, these two songs in particular are among the most iconic of her career – indeed, if historians were required to choose two Madonna hits to place in the time capsule, these might very well be the ones. She got her nickname from one of them, for crying out loud! And the other is a stone-cold girl-power classic, as documented here just a few weeks ago. In other words, when the history of the ’80s is written – not to mention the history of post-feminism, including Madonna’s shifting stature as an embodiment of materialism, cultural button-pushing and pop activism – “Material Girl” and “Express Yourself” are going to remain essential documents. (Besides, “Express Yourself” was kept out of the #1 slot by Martika’s “Toy Soldiers”! How the hell did that happen?)

As always, we close with a chronological list of some of the decade’s other kick-ass #2 hits, along with the songs that kept them from reaching the top: “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl,” the Spinners (Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”); “Woman,” John Lennon (REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You” and Blondie’s “Rapture”); “Just the Two of Us,” Grover Washington Jr. (Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train” and Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”); “Being with You,” Smokey Robinson (also “Bette Davis Eyes”); “We Got the Beat,” the Go-Go’s (“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”); “Rosanna,” Toto (the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”); “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” Culture Club (Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”); “Electric Avenue,” Eddy Grant (Irene Cara’s “Flashdance What a Feeling” and the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”); “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Cyndi Lauper, and “99 Luftballons,” Nena (Van Halen’s “Jump”); “Purple Rain,” Prince (Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”); “Easy Lover,” Philip Bailey & Phil Collins (Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”).

Also, “Manic Monday,” the Bangles (Prince’s “Kiss”); “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” Wang Chung, and “Notorious,” Duran Duran (the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian”); “C’est la Vie,” Robbie Nevil (Gregory Abbott’s “Shake You Down” and Billy & the Beaters’ “At This Moment”); “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” the Georgia Satellites (Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”); “I Want Your Sex,” George Michael (U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”); “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”, the Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield (Expose’s “Seasons Change” and Michael’s “Father Figure”); “I Don’t Want to Go On with You Like That,” Elton John (Michael’s “Monkey”); “Simply Irresistible,” Robert Palmer (Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine”); “Girl You Know It’s True,” Milli Vanilli (the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame”); “Soldier of Love,” Donny Osmond (Michael Damian’s “Rock On”); and “Love Song,” the Cure, and “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” Tears for Fears (Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much”).

Next up: the ’90s, and a couple dozen songs that couldn’t reach #1 because of Mariah Carey and/or Boyz II Men. (And Bryan Adams, for whom Canada still hasn’t officially apologized.)

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