Just landed into my hot little hands: the American Top 40 countdown for the week ending February 14, 1981.
I came away from listening to this one with a big question: was top-40 radio really this depressing in 1981?? Yes, '81 was one of those watershed years in pop music -- disco had clearly overstayed its welcome and (mercifully) imploded, and what we've come to associate most with the 1980s -- the MTV-inspired synth-pop and "hair metal" -- had yet to pull up in the driveway (for one thing, the launch of MTV was still six months away). I guess you could say there aren't a whole lot of inspired moments in this survey.
So, where was Talmadge Gleck on February 14, 1981? I was in 10th grade at Central High School in Cape Girardeau, Mo.. I'd passed my written drivers' test two weeks earlier, and for the moment had my learners' permit. I was fixin' to embark on what would be my first "real" date -- the following Friday (20th). Her name was Lesley, and the movie we'd see was 9 to 5.
Rock radio in Cape, circa early 1981, was all about two FMs: KGMO (mostly top-40, and they missed the phone call telling 'em disco was dead) and KJAQ - "Q-99" (the newcomer automated top-40/AOR mix). AM hit music was pretty much over in Cape Girardeau; weeks before, KGMO-AM flipped to country (KEWI). KJAS and KGIR were already mellowing out. 45 miles to the south, KYMO was still rockin' out on AM from East Prairie. I miss KYMO -- how could a little one-lung 500-watt AM daytimer in a small town of barely 3,000 people have such a big sound, cookin' JAM jingles, reverb and beautifully-engineered uber-compressed audio.
Also this month, cable TV FINALLY made it up to our neighborhood!! And I discovered something really cool: If I hooked the cable to the antenna input of my stereo system, I could pick up all of the St. Louis stations, including the great album rocker "K-SHE 95." Swoon.
Yup, there was good listenin' in Talmadge's basement bedroom on 2048 Anthony Drive!!
February 1981 for me gave feelings of hope, excitement (holy crap on a tongue depressor, a girl actually wants to go out with me!!!), and still having to walk to Mickey D's or Burger Rich for lunch ... Central had an open campus, and those were the only two places close enough to hoof it if one didn't yet have their license.
So, if you're ready, let's saddle up and mosey on up the 40-mile trail ... yippie-aye-yay!
(as usual, the debut songs are marked with an asterisk)
*40) GHOST RIDERS IN THE SKY / The Outlaws
I'd forgotten about their cover of this, um, classic. It got some airplay on Q-99 and KYMO, but that was about it. KGMO didn't touch it with a 10-foot mirror ball.
39) BACK IN BLACK / AC/DC
Yes, Virginia, Acca-Dacca squeaked - or should I say stormed - into the 40 with a track that's become one of the most B2AC classic rock staples in the repertoire. Not many straight top-40s touched it, particularly in the larger cities. Again, Q-99 and KYMO jumped on it. KGMO didn't let it past the lobby.
*38) LIVING IN A FANTASY / Leo Sayer
Out of all these songs, this is the one which causes all of what I was thinking, feeling, worrying, hoping ... makes it all come back. Sayer had some bigger hit songs (love "Long Tall Glasses", looooathe "You Make Me Feel Like Dancin'"), however this one is my favorite. Even today, it's a well-produced little pop record.
37) DE DO DO DO, DE DA DA DA / The Police
You know it. You've heard it a million times. Perhaps you've even bought the 45, or the album (Zenyatta Mondatta). Or even the fictional 'video disc' by Tom Munroe (Rick Moranis on SCTV) ... who turned this song into a piece of lounge music back when Richard Cheese was probably still in diapers!
*36) WHAT KIND OF FOOL / Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb
The sound of Barry Gibb's voice, at least to this 16-year-old's ears, screamed "DISCO" and "1970s!!!" What's more, I cannot stand Babs. Hated the song then ... and I strongly dislike it now.
And yes, KGMO was all over it. The first of many, too many ballads on this countdown. 1981 was full of 'em.
35) AH! LEAH! / Donnie Iris
While 1981 was top-heavy with ballads and country-crossover crap, here's one of those rare "inspired moments" I was referring to. One of the best songs of 1981, it's a piece of power-pop magic.
34) KILLIN' TIME / Fred Knoblock & Susan Anton
I'd forgotten about this record. And this weekend I was reminded of it again. Damn, damn, damn. It's a ballad, and a country-crossover one at that. Knoblock was a half-roasted Kenny Rogers clone. Like passing off dark meat as white.
*33) KISS ON MY LIST / Daryl Hall & John Oates
Lesley's kiss was on my list. But it took another month for that to happen.
*32) RAPTURE / Blondie
What if Marvin Martian ate cars, bars, TVs and guitars instead of hunting down rabbits with an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator®?
31) TIME IS TIME / Andy Gibb
My testicles hurt. That's two Gibb songs already, and we aren't yet into the top 30! Okay, I admit I had a closet semi-like for the song, spitting in the face of my emerging/raging AOR sensibility.
30) HEARTS ON FIRE / Randy Meisner
So, who was the first member of The Eagles to chart on his own? (besides Joe Walsh - he had a solo career before joining the group) Don Henley? Glenn Frey? None of the above; it was Meisner!
29) I MADE IT THROUGH THE RAIN / Barry Manilow
American Top 40 is brought to you by Cream of Wheat. See happy little girls Delilah and Celine just inhaling the stuff? (I think you can tell that I'm not - as Seraphim once infamously said - "a fanilow of Barry Manilow")
28) GUILTY / Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb
Can you say "Gibb fatigue"??!!
27) LOVE ON THE ROCKS / Neil Diamond
What the hell IS this? AC-40??!! Any mellower, and you won't be able to tell the difference between AT40 and The Lawrence Welk Show!!
26) GAMES PEOPLE PLAY / Alan Parsons Project
Finally, something uptempo. Games, you say? Okay, Mr. Gibb in the disco with the platform shoe.
25) SMOKY MOUNTAIN RAIN / Ronnie Milsap
Whoops, back to the Nashville pop-country crossovers. Is anyone else getting whiplash??
24) TREAT ME RIGHT / Pat Benatar
"What's with dem electrified gee-tars? You're chasin' away all th' 18-35 wimmen!!"
23) A LITTLE IN LOVE / Cliff Richard
Okay, 18-35 wimmen, you can come back to our station now.
22) HEARTBREAK HOTEL / The Jacksons
"Oh, my lucky stars - a Negro!" Do you realize we're damn near halfway through this survey, and this is the first song by a black artist! (This is 1981, which means Michael Jackson was of the African-American persuasion, and was still in possession of a functioning nose and male genitalia)
This "Heartbreak Hotel" is a different one from the Elvis standard, and I liked it. So sue me.
21) SEVEN BRIDGES ROAD / The Eagles
Been there, done that, got to Troy from Montgomery this way many, many times.
20) HELLO AGAIN / Neil Diamond
19) TOGETHER / Tierra
Cover of a 1967 song by The Intruders. Tierra was a hispanic group which played R&B music.
18) IT'S MY TURN / Diana Ross
Yes, it is. And I'm quitting the game, and putting all of my money and title deeds in the middle.
17) CRYING / Don McLean
After all this MOR, I was beginning to shed some tears myself. Maybe this explains why stations like Q-99 and KYMO leaned heavily toward album rock during this era.
16) I AIN'T GONNA STAND FOR IT / Stevie Wonder
Stevie never let us down, not even in 1981. Wasn't as crazy about his previous single ("Master Blaster"), as I was about "Stand."
15) THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL / ABBA
Clearly, ABBA landed on Free Parking. And won the game.
"I don't wanna talk" about how I detest all but a couple of this group's songs.
14) MISS SUN / Boz Scaggs
A melancholy-flavored hit, but it's one of those singles which makes it feel as if I were my son's age again.
13) EVERY WOMAN IN THE WORLD / Air Supply
This song almost makes me want to consider homosexuality.
12) THE BEST OF TIMES / Styx
Paradise Theater was among the 'must-have' LPs during my sophomore year. TBOT wasn't my favorite track (I think "Snowblind" might have that honor), but the next single later in the Spring of '81 -- "Too Much Time On My Hands" -- would be a fun memory of Lesley's successor, Paula.
11) SAME OLD LANG SYNE / Dan Fogelberg
....and after we finished our mad, passionate sex in the dairy case, we had some wild and kinky sodomy in front of the baking products ("Clean-up on Aisle 5!!"). That was followed by an ugly fight in the breakfast aisle .... then finally, our big breakup in the Express Lane.
Fortunately, they didn't ask for a Kroger Plus card.
(Yes, I like the song)
10) HEY NINETEEN / Steely Dan
Another sweet memory, although I'm fonder of their follow-up single from Gaucho, "Time Out of Mind."
9) GIVIN' IT UP FOR YOUR LOVE / Delbert McClinton
Was this really in the top ten??? It was all over the radio -- both KGMO and Q-99 played it, and often. A good pop song it is, and too bad it's almost never heard anymore.
Right here, we had a "Long Distance Dedication." It was from a shy kid who was afraid of women. Eventually he made friends with some, including the "beautiful homecoming queen." Then one fateful night at the skating rink, Said BHQ asked Shy Kid to skate with her.
He was so thankful that he asked Casey to dedicate the 1978 ABBA song "Name of the Game" to her.
Yeah. That'll show her.
8) KEEP ON LOVING YOU / R-E-O Speedwagon
If ever a song can define not just a particular part of a school year, but the entire high school experience.....
7) (JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER / John Lennon
6) WOMAN / John Lennon
Two songs in the top ten from the same album (Double Fantasy), and adjacent to one another this week. Lennon's murder was two months earlier, and was still painfully in our memories.
5) PASSION / Rod Stewart
"Even the president needs ... PASSION!!" Arkansas' Teenaged Governor Bill Clinton, upon first hearing it, replied, "I know that's right."
4) THE TIDE IS HIGH / Blondie
And it is, too. I bought some more last week. It's really cool how those "2x ultra" detergents yield 64 loads to each container.
3) I LOVE A RAINY NIGHT / Eddie Rabbitt
Yee-haw! Pop Country ruled in 1981 ... if you weren't on a mechanical bull, you just weren't riding.
2) 9 TO 5 / Dolly Parton
What this song needs .... is more typewriter bell!
And make sure your whiplash collar is good and tight before reading any further. #1 this week was:
1) CELEBRATION / Kool & The Gang
Second week on top of the survey. Another one of those "You know it, and you can hum it in your sleep" records. Overplayed in any format, except maybe country -- and even then, I'm not sure it doesn't get played.
Now you can celebrate the end of this post.
Keep your feet on the Ciao, and keep reaching for the niao.
Chris Cornell, My mom, and Me
5 weeks ago