80s Song Meanings

Story & Meaning of these Top 40 Songs from the 1980s

by Ed Osborne

Welcome to Top 40 Weekly’s new, exclusive “Story Behind The Song” feature: a look at the history and meaning of key singles from the 1980s along with some classic videos.

Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind  Peak #2 for 4 weeks; 1980 

  In 1980 Christopher Cross could do no wrong. His debut album moved several million units past the cash registers, four singles from it were hits, and he walked away with five awards at the Grammies. Not bad for a 29 year old guy from San Antonio whom Warner Brothers Records took three years – from demo tape to live audition – to sign. Cross originally drummed, then switched to guitar, and on the way to solo stardom played in a cover band called Flash. When time came to record his first album, he was joined in the studio by the elite of the LA music scene: Don Henley of the Eagles, songwriter/musician J.D. Souther, and guitar ace Larry Carlton, plus session vocalists Nicolette “Lotta Love” Larson and Valerie Carter. Cross’ first smash, Ride Like The Wind, harkened back to his younger days when he loved watching the Lone 

Ranger on TV. Riding the musical range with Chris was Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers, whose his distinctive voice helped take Wind to #2 

The Manhattans – Shining Star  Peak #4 R&B and #5 Pop; 1980 

  By the time the Manhattans racked up their first big R&B hit in 1972 they’d been together, in one form or another, since the late 1950’s. In 1963 the first Manhattans 45 – Come On Back by Ronnie and The Manhattans – appeared. A third-place showing at the Apollo Theater’s legendary amateur night contest brought the group a deal with Carnival Records and a string of Top 30 R&B chart singles. A shift to DeLuxe resulted in One Life To Live (#3 R&B; 1972), and a further move to Columbia gave them another #3 with There’s No Me Without You. Still, Top 40 success eluded them until Kiss And Say Goodbye topped both the R&B and Hot 100 lists in 1976. Even with such dramatic pop acceptance the Manhattans didn’t reach the Top 40 again until 1980 and Shining Star. Like Kiss And Say Goodbye, Shining Star contained a country flavor that set it apart from the standard R&B style. The down-home element shot Shining Star  into the Top 5, and won the Manhattans a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance – Group. 

Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes  Peak #1 for 9 weeks; 1981 

  The Top 3 records of 1981 – Physical, Bette Davis Eyes, and Endless Love – were also the Top 3 for the decade. Bette Davis Eyes first saw the light of day on an album by its cocomposer, singer Jackie DeShannon, on her 1974 New Arrangement album. According to Kim, she first heard the song about a year before she recorded it. After several days of rehearsal, she and the band laid it down live with no overdubs, and they nailed it on the second take. Carnes wasn’t initially sold on Bette Davis Eyes. However, when keyboardist Bill Cuomo came up with some unique chord changes, she knew she had something. Interestingly, the #2 single for three weeks behind Kim, was Being With You, a song singer Smokey Robinson originally earmarked for Kim. At the 1981 Grammies, Eyes walked off with awards for Record and Song Of The Year. It made its movie debut in John Hughes’ The Great Outdoors, starring John Candy and Dan Ackroyd.  

Kool & The Gang – Celebration  Peak #1 Pop, #1 R&B, and #1 Dance; 1981 

  The roots of Celebration‘s universal message of inspiration lay in the Qur’an. According to Khalis Bayyan (Ronald Bell), musical director for Kool & The Gang, he worked off the passage where God created Adam amidst a celebration of angels. In addition, the group’s 1979 #1 Ladies Night prominently featured the line, “Come on, let’s all celebrate.” When Khalis first heard the playback of Celebration, he knew they’d created an international anthem. The rest of the world agreed. On January 26, 1981, Celebration greeted the returning Americans held 

hostage in Iran for 444 days. When it soared into #1 on the pop chart twelve days later, it marked the first time Kool & The Gang had reached that peak since they’d first charted in September of 1969. Appropriately, Celebration was one of only two songs qualified for platinum certification in 1981 (the other being Diana Ross and Lionel Richie‘s Endless Love).   

Blondie – The Tide Is High  Peak #1; 1981 

  Blondie, the new wave band fronted by Deborah Harry and named after the name  

Manhattan truck drivers called her on the street, racked up four Top 20 hits, all of them number ones, and all but one of which were written by group members. The #1 in question was first recorded by the Paragons, a Jamaican band, and written by its lead singer, John Holt. Blondie first heard The Tide Is High on a mix tape passed along to the group while they were in London. Everyone was immediately taken with it so they rearranged it for Debbie Harry’s female voice, and added island-flavored percussion and horns. Tide hit the British chart in November of 1980 and appeared stateside in January. Music fans took to Tide like a surfer to the perfect wave. Within weeks Blondie’s reggae rhythms were brightening up the Top 10 both here and abroad, reaching #1 in both countries. 

Foreigner – Urgent  Peak #4 Pop and #1 Mainstream Rock; 1981 

  Rock ‘n’ roll has given us some great sax men – such as Sam “The Man” Taylor and King Curtis – yet only the mighty Jr. Walker scaled the charts solo. Walker blew onto the scene with his barn-burnin’ Shotgun single in early 1965. It blasted to #1 R&B and #4 pop and paved the way for 12 more rhythm Top 10’s. His final crossover smash – What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) – duplicated Shotgun‘s chart peaks in the summer 1969. After one final single on the R&B list in 1979, Walker went on wailing on-stage. He was doing just that at New York City’s Lone Star in 1981 when a man he’d never met, Mick Jones, from a band he’d never heard of, Foreigner, implored him to show up at Atlantic Studios after the late show. Walker graciously agreed and lent his trademark sax sound to the proceedings. Powered by Walker’s fiery reed work, Urgent roared to #4. Also, along for the ride on synthesizer was one Thomas Dolby who’d hit with She Blinded Me With Science in 1983

Pat Benatar – Hit Me With Your Best Shot  Peak #9 Pop; 1980 

  Sometimes therapy brings unexpected benefits; in this case a hit record for a struggling Canadian musician. Twenty-something Eddie Schwartz had just finished up a pillow-punching, hostility release session and was standing outside when a song title hit him. He was later approached by a publishing company who requested a demo, so Eddie booked some early morning studio time. On the way to a band gig the night before, lightening – in the form of a melody and chorus – struck again. Come session time, he still had no lyrics for the verses. So Eddie asked the engineer to “roll tape” three times while he sang whatever words came to him. Of the songs submitted, the publisher hated Hit Me With Your Best Shot so much he ordered it erased. Fortunately, the recording engineer saved a copy on cassette. When Pat Benatar heard Hit, she loved it. With a one word change (from “your lipstick case” to “my”), Pat made it a female empowerment anthem, courtesy of a very male Eddie Schwartz..  

J. Geils Band – Centerfold  Peak #1 for 6 weeks; 1982 

  Viewers of the six-month-old all video channel, MTV, were witness to a strange sight in early 1982. There, amongst the new wave hair styles and British pop faces, was a 36 year old West Side Story-looking rocker, Peter Wolf, frontman for the J. Geils Band. Surrounding him was a bevy of young negligee-clad beauties, bumping and dancing their way around a 1950’s era classroom set. For the JGB, Centerfold represented the commercial peak of a 25 year long odyssey that began in the clubs of Boston. Through singer/songwriters, disco, and punk, the JGB doggedly held on to its belief in good old American rock ‘n’ roll laced with blues, racking up 11 chart albums and singles along the way. With 1981’s Freeze-Frame LP came The Big Breakthrough: a chart-topping album that included both Centerfold and the #4 follow-up title track. 

Human League – Don’t You Want Me  #1 for 3 weeks July, 1982 

  First, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware formed Dead Daughters in 1977. Then, they brought on Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright and became The Future, and then, The Human League. After two album releases and some charted singles, Marsh and Ware left over artistic differences on the eve of a German tour. So here’s our poor boy Phil, hanging his head at a nightclub, when he spots two teenage girls dancing together. Problem solved! Phil recruits the girls, Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley, as additions to the band, and off they go. The first album release (Dare) by this new configuration yielded three Top 10 singles in their native England in four months. The third one, Don’t You Want Me, gave Virgin Records its first #1 hit, then repeated the feat in the U.S. More importantly, it kicked off a string of synthesizer-driven pop hits that defined the sound of the 1980’s. 

Soft Cell – Tainted Love  Peak #8 Pop and #4 Hot Dance/Disco – Club Play; 1982 

  Music makes for strange bedfellows. Consider the case of Tainted Love. Its composer was 

Ed Cobb, once of 1950’s hitmakers The Four Preps (remember 26 Miles (Santa Catalina) and Big Man?) who went on to work with the Standells, for whom he wrote the 1966 garage rock classic, Dirty Water. Two years earlier, Texas soul singer Gloria Jones had recorded another of Cobb’s compositions, Tainted Love. Her version sunk without a trace, only to be rescued from obscurity by England’s aficionados of Northern Soul. Tainted Love quickly became one of the all-time spin favs. In 1981 art school techno-poppers Marc Almond and David Ball released their version of it. Produced by Mike Thorne, well-known for his work with the experimental band Wire, Tainted Love raced to #1 in late summer. It appeared on the US list in January of 1982 and began a slooooow climb up the Hot 100. Six months later, Love peaked at #8; ultimately racking up a 43 week chart run.  

Go-Go’s – We Got The Beat  Peak #2 Pop and # 7 Mainstream Rock; 1982 

  It’s March of 1982. Since 1955 only one all-female group has topped Billboard magazine’s album chart: the Supremes. Now the Go-Go’s have done it, too. Yet this “all-girl” group is a real band: the five women play as well as sing. In 1978, Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin were living in the heart of LA’s punk scene so they did what everyone did. They formed a band with Charlotte Caffey called the Misfits. A series of club gigs prompted them to change their name to the Go-Go’s, and Gina Schock came on board to complete the line-up. On a trip to Europe, the Go-Go’s considered covering the 1966 Miracles’ hit Going To A Go-Go. Caffey wasn’t so sure and, while watching The Twilight Zone on TV late one night, came up with We Got The Beat in a matter of minutes. Recorded as a single, Beat was also included on the group’s debut album. After Our Lips Are Sealed peaked at #20, We Got The Beat pounded to #2. 

Bertie Higgins – Key Largo  Peak #8; 1982 

  Many songwriters have turned heartache into hit, among them Bertie Higgins. The true life heroes of Key Largo were Bertie Higgins and Beverly Seaberg. And just like Bogie and Bacall, a couple both on and off the silver screen, Bertie and Bev lived in Florida, the setting for 

B&B’s classic film Key Largo. Bertie and Bev shared a love for each other, and for the Bogie and Bacall movies. Then Bev left Bertie. Two years passed, and still Bertie pined. The only tools at his disposal were his singing and songwriting so Bertie sat down and wrote a come-back love letter to Bev called Key Largo. His plea worked even better than he dreamed it would. Bertie’s love song reached #8 in April of 1982, and Bev came back, 34 years after Bogie and Bacall had their last on-screen kiss in their own Key Largo. Trivia buffs note: Bertie Higgins’s early group, The  Roemans, were Tommy “Sheila” Roe’s backing band.    

Men At Work –  Down Under  Peak #1 for 4 weeks; 1983 

 Unlike the British Invasion of the 1960’s there had been no corresponding surge of Aussie artists up the U.S. pop charts, although mega-stars the Bee Gees, AC/DC, and Olivia NewtonJohn certainly made a good showing in the 1970’s. As the 1980’s dawned, several other “down under” artists appeared: Rick Springfield, Air Supply, and Men At Work. After taking their native land by storm, the quintet’s Business As Usual long-player, originally rejected by Columbia Records as having no hits on it, was released in America in 1982. Before the year was out, both it and the debut single, Who Can It Be Now?, had hit #1. Singer Colin Hay and company were already an ever-present fixture on MTV when Down Under dropped in November. With its amusing take on an Aussie abroad, Under – its originally sparse arrangement beefed up by MOW’s producer – became a fast favorite, and helped Men At Work win a Grammy for Best New Artist. 

Dexys Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen  Peak #1 Pop and #6 Mainstream Rock; 1983 

  In 1980 Dexys Midnight Runners raced into the UK Top 10 with Dance Stance and 

Geno. A mere two years later the band was falling apart; trying to pull things together enough to record an album and maybe get a hit. Lead singer/songwriter Kevin Rowland had met a gorgeous girl in Sweden who inspired him musically. Calling her “Eileen,” after a misunderstood line in Labeled With Love by Squeeze, Kevin drew the rest of the lyrics from ideas he scribbled on pieces of paper. “Beaten down eyes and sunken smoke-dried faces” came from his time in the factory area of Birmingham. He included the “Johnny Ray” reference (a singing star of the 1950’s) simply because the words worked. “Too roo loo ay a” came out while recording the demo. And the jumpy rhythm was nicked from Concrete And Clay, a 1965 UK #1 by Unit Four Plus Two. The pieces all added up to a 1982 summertime Brit hit and an ’83 spring smash.  

TotoAfrica  Peak #1; 1983 

  Lyrics about Africa don’t usually equal pop success, yet, two #1 records sang of the Dark Continent. The first was based on a South African Zulu folk song entitled Mbube. In 1961, with a folk revival underway in America, a doo-wop group from New York called The Tokens rode The Lion Sleeps Tonight, with revamped lyrics, all the way to the top. The second, Africa, occurred just over 21 years later, recorded by a group from the West coast. The main members of Toto were seasoned studio veterans who had played on records by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, and – most importantly – Boz Scaggs and his Silk Degrees album. With the addition of several other long-time players and friends, the group, now known as Toto, was perfectly poised to capitalize on Degrees’ groundbreaking blend of soul, rock, and pop. On February 5, 1983 Africa hit #1 and two weeks later Toto IV won an Album of the Year Grammy. 

Duran DuranHungry Like The Wolf  Peak #3 Pop, #1 Mainstream Rock and #36 Hot Dance/ Disco – Club Play; 1983 

  Formed in 1978 in Birmingham, England, Duran Duran founding members Nick Rhodes (keyboards) and John Taylor (guitar, later bass) weathered the coming-and-goings of other musicians before settling in with a line-up that included guitarist Andy and drummer Roger Taylor (unrelated), and singer Simon Le Bon. DD began its world conquest in early 1981 with the release of the #12 single, Planet Earth. Careless Memories and Girls On Film followed, the latter helped to #5 by a rather racy video. The band’s Bowie/Roxy Music pretensions propelled Duran Duran to the forefront of the New Romantic movement. Starting in June of 1981, Duran Duran spent over two years on the UK album chart, a feat duplicated by LP #2, Rio. The first single off Rio My Own Way – went to #14 before Hungry Like The Wolf hit #5. Six months later, at Christmastime 1982, Wolf wound up on the US list and the Fab Five invasion of America had begun.  

Marvin GayeSexual Healing  Peak #1 R&B for 10 weeks, #3 Pop, and #34 Adult 

Contemporary; 1982 

  By 1982, it seemed as if Marvin Gaye’s glory days were long gone. After all, his last #1 hit, 1977’s Got To Give It Up (Pt. 1), was already ancient history to the what’s-hot-now-oriented music business. Since then he’d managed just four so-so solo R&B charters and not one on the pop side. Plus, he had left his life-long label, was recently divorced, and dodging the IRS. Visiting the exiled Gaye in Belgium, biographer David Ritz noted some pornographic cartoons in Marvin’s apartment, and told the singer he needed some sexual healing. Marvin tossed the idea back to Ritz, who – with a track by Odell Brown on the tape player – wrote out the first chorus in a matter of minutes. In the studio, Marvin played the non-guitar parts himself, while former mentor and fellow Moonglow Harvey Fuqua backed up Gaye on vocals. Although Sexual Healing ended up as the #1 R&B hit of the 1980’s, Marvin’s personal healing was cut short by his death in 1984.   

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Ray Parker, Jr. – Ghostbusters  #1 for 3 weeks August, 1984; #1 R&B for 2 weeks 

  “Who you gonna call!?” In 1984 that shouted question and its answering chant, “Ghostbusters,” entered into popular culture as the catchphrase for a generation of music lovers and movie goers. If Ghostbusters sounds like an everyday television commercial, credit writer Ray Parker Jr. who used the scene featuring the four ghostbusters and the telephone number as a creative jumping off point for the lyrics. Not only was “ghostbusters” not your standard moonspoon-June rhyming word, Parker – a bona fide R&B/Pop vocalist – hated the prospect of singing it. Since he also called the shots as the record’s producer, Ray used a vocal chorus for that phrase. Apart from the infectious call-and-response hook, the other piece of musical ear candy was the get-in-your-brain instrumental line, the result of combining a saxophone with a guitar and synthesizer. The song with a title that Ray refused to sing became his biggest hit and garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Song. 

Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want To Have Fun  Peak #2; 1984 

 If you were asked to pick the girl from New York City out of line-up of female artists of the 1980’s, odds are you’d point right to Cyndi Lauper. Indeed, it was Queens-born Cyndi’s East Coast brashness and quirky attire that made her stand out among MTV’s bevy of video cuties. Beneath the flashy exterior, however, lurked a talented artist, one who’d honed her craft through years of working in cover bands, the group Blue Angel, and singing solo. Her first album called, appropriately enough, She’s So Unusual got playing and singing assistance from Hooters Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman (Day By Day, And We Danced). Ironically, the women’s rights anthem, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, was written by a guy, one Robert Hazard. She’s So Unusual generated five hits for Cyndi, sold six million copies, and was nominated for a 1984 Record of the Year Grammy, losing to Tina Turner. Cyndi, however, walked away with the one for Best New Artist.  

Culture Club – Karma Chameleon  Peak #1 for 3 weeks; 1984 

  Caravan Club? Can’t Wait Club? None of these names struck a chord with the band formerly known as Sex Gang Children. Then drummer Jon Moss commented on the band’s mixed heritage, and “Culture Club” was born. With new moniker in place, George “Boy George” O’Dowd and the gang grabbed a record deal and set about releasing hit singles. Yes’ Owner Of A Lonely Heart opened up 1984 at #1, then Karma Chameleon slid in after it. Listeners can be forgiven if they failed to decipher Karma‘s cryptic lyrics which – according to Boy George – are about fear of alienation and how, by not being true to yourself, you suffer cosmic justice. George’s attempt at deep insights aside, meaning hardly mattered. Karma‘s infectious hook and George’s constant media presence propelled the tune up the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. A month later Culture Club received a Grammy for Best New Artist. 

Thompson TwinsHold Me Now  Peak #3 Pop, #9 Mainstream Rock and #1 Hot Dance/Disco – Club Play; 1984 

  A pair of unlucky detectives from one Europe’s most popular 20th century comics, The 

Adventures of Tintin, provided the name for a top 1980’s pop band. The Thompson Twins 

(actually a quartet) self-released the single Squares And Triangles in 1980. Eventually the four expanded to seven, and became well-known for interactive live gigs at which audience members joined the band on stage to assist with percussion. The septet version released just one album, Set in 1982, then disintegrated. And that would have been the end for the Thompson Twins if not for the runaway American club success of In The Name Of Love. It stayed at #1 for five weeks, prompting three of the Twins to carry on. They rebounded with a #2 UK album and two Top 10 singles. Lies/Beach Culture and Love On Your Side from the album took off in US clubs as well. In early 1984, the Thompson Twins hit its peak with the platinum-selling Into The Gap, and transcontinental smash single, Hold Me Now.   


The CarsDrive  Peak #3 Pop and #1 Adult Contemporary; 1984 

  On July 13th, 1985 at 5:49PM The Cars took the Live Aid stage at Philadelphia’s JFK stadium. Of the four songs they performed, three were from 1984’s multi-platinum-selling Heartbeat City: the title tune, You Might Think, and Drive. Drive – like the others – had been written by Ric Ocasek; unlike the others, bassist Benjamin Orr sang lead on it rather than Ocasek. Upon its original release, Drive‘s companion video, featuring Czechoslovakian model Paulina Porizkova, received heavy airplay on MTV. Many, however, remember a far more impactful Drive video moment. During the Live Aid broadcast from London’s Wembley Stadium, David Bowie introduced a heartbreaking montage of famine images from Ethiopia; accompanied by Drive. Subsequently, Drive became a Top 5 hit for a second time in England and all royalties were donated to the Live Aid Trust. Four years later Pauline married the man she met while filming the Drive video: Ben Orr.  

Foreigner – I Want To Know What Love Is  Peak #1 Pop; 1985 

  Despite over 20 million albums sold and ten Top 20 hits, after seven hit making years, 

Foreigner had yet to score a #1 single. Not that they hadn’t come close. In 1980, Waiting For A Girl Like You spent ten frustrating, record-breaking weeks at #2. Now, four long years later, the band of foreigners had a new album and single. In contrast to the band’s trademark blazing rock tracks I Want To Know What Love Is was a Waiting-like ballad. Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins manned the keyboards, Jennifer Holliday of Broadway’s Dream Girls laid down a backing vocal, and the New Jersey Mass Choir contributed an uplifting wall of gospel as backdrop. Even though singer Lou Gramm and bassist Rick Wills doubted the wisdom of releasing another ballad, guitarist and composer of Love Mick Jones was convinced it would make a great Christmas time release. Jones was right. Love became Foreigner’s first – and only – #1 record. 

a-ha – Take On Me  Peak #1 Pop; 1985 

  The very first song singer Morten Harket heard guitarist Pål Waaktarr and keyboardist Magne “Mags” Furuholmen play together was a tune that would become their biggest hit together. Pål and Mags were in Bridges when they heard Morten of Soldier Blue, and asked him to join them. He did, on his 23rd birthday in September of 1982, and a-ha – named after a Pål song title – was born. The three moved to London in early 1983; shopping a demo tape that included One Lesson. After months of knocking on doors with no success, a studio manager set up a showcase for the band. Without work permits the trio hadn’t played live in the UK before that night. They got a deal anyway. a-ha’s first album included a revamped One Lesson; now called Take On Me. The single sank without a trace so it was back to the studio for a third take on it. This time a striking video caught the video wave; sweeping Take Me On to #1 in America and #2 in Britain. (Trivia: look for the a-ha poster on the Seinfeld “Pez Dispenser” episode). 

Huey Lewis & The News – The Power Of Love  Peak #1 for 2 weeks; 1985 

  One of the most memorable scenes in Steven Spielberg’s monster hit movie, Back To The Future, takes place as teenaged time traveler Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) swings into a scorching guitar intro at the band audition. From the judging panel comes a less-thancomplimentary dismissal, “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud.” Sharp-eyed film goers caught the insider humor of Huey Lewis, playing the dissenting teacher, attacking Marty’s take on Huey’s own composition. The Power Of Love wasn’t the first choice for BTTF. Huey had first offered Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis In The Nick Of Time, which ultimately ended up in Brewster’s Millions. Next up was Back In Time, which played under the end titles, a song which many involved with Future firmly believed was a much better song and potential hit than Love. Bones Howe, veteran music producer and music supervisor for the film, stood by Love, which became Huey’s first #1. 

REO Speedwagon – Can’t Fight This Feeling  Peak #1 for 3 weeks; 1985 

  These days it’s common for a so-called rock band to record a ballad for play on more mellow radio stations. However, in 1985 such a move risked loss of credibility and, hence, sales with your core fans, plus resistance at rock-oriented stations. So, it was no surprise that the members of REO Speedwagon initially gave a thumbs-down to lead singer Kevin Cronin’s composition, Can’t Fight This Feeling. Feeling had been lying around, unfinished, for 10 years when Kevin began work on it again during a break following the release of 1982’s Good Trouble album. Ironically, the song’s lyrics addressed the need to change and the difficulty of doing so: exactly what REO needed to do after the disappointing sales (compared to those of Hi Infidelity) of Trouble. Kevin’s instincts proved to be right on target as Can’t Fight This Feeling became the band’s first #1 in four years and also reached #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart. 

Duran Duran – A View To A Kill  Peak #1 for 2 weeks; 1985 

  Carly did it. Sheena did it. Even Macca and Sinatra did it. As did Duran Duran, who also sang the theme song for a Bond…James Bond movie, A View To A Kill, in 1985. Unique among the previous Bond film tunes, Kill went all the way to #1 for the first time since the series debuted in 1962. Roger Moore starred as Ian Fleming’s secret agent hero in his seventh, and final, appearance after taking over from Sean Connery starting with 1973’s Live And Let Die (for which Paul “Macca” McCartney and his band Wings did the theme honors). Written by Duran Duran and ace movie music composer John Barry, Kill was the Brit band’s ninth hit in just twoand-a-half years. Paris provided the backdrop for the accompanying video, echoing the setting for Bond’s latest adventures. Following the 007 experience, the quintet split into two factions: three continued under the Duran Duran  banner while the other two joined Robert Palmer in The Power Station. 

Patti Labelle  and Michael McDonald – On My Own  Peak #1 Pop for 3 weeks & #1 R&B for 4 weeks; 1986 

  The first new #1 of 1986, That’s What Friends Are For, was written by husband-and-wife Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, who’d previously worked on the Academy awardwinning #1 Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do).  Their second #1 of ’86 – On My Own –  took a long time to come together as Carole struggled with the lyrics to Burt’s melody. Finally the song jelled. They recorded the track with a live band, then added a vocal by Patti LaBelle, who’d hit the heights once before with Lady Marmalade. Despite Patti’s fine performance, Carole felt there was something missing. She placed a call to Michael McDonald, who’d also recorded the chart topper What A Fool Believes with the Doobie Brothers, and he contributed some singing after the bridge. However, everyone loved the blend of his and Patti’s voices so much, he was brought back in to expand his part. All the fine-tuning was worth it: On My Own ended up the third biggest record of 1986. 

Mr. Mister – Broken Wings  #1 for 2 weeks December, 1985 

  By mid-1984 Mr. Mister had a label, an album in the bins, and three released singles. All they lacked were sales. Evaluating their next move, the band members agreed that I Wear The Face contained too much calculated effort to score a hit, and that, for the second album, they needed to do it their own way. Welcome To The Real World, for which the Misters were completely responsible, hit the stores in May of 1985, and featured more mature lyrics plus a closer-to-live sound. Singer Richard Page, keyboardist Steve George, and Richard’s cousin John Lang magically wrote the first single, Broken Wings, in 20 minutes. Taking its title from Kahlil Gibran’s 1912 book, Wings picked up on Gibran’s themes of unconditional love pitted against worldly trials. Four months after its release, it nested atop the Hot 100. In 1986 Broken Wings  was used in the film, Band Of The Hand. 

Robert Palmer – Addicted To Love  Peak  #1; 1986 

  One of the most striking and enduring images of the 1980’s music video revolution featured a sharp-suited  Robert Palmer at the mic with a line of black-dressed guitar-totin’ beauties arrayed behind him. Palmer’s first solo effort had charted in 1976, yet, over the next 10 years his only hits were Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor), and two as lead singer for the Power Station. Then, Robert awakened one night with the melody to Addicted coursing through his brain. For the lyric he played off the era’s focus on drug addiction, this time with love as the obsession. Addicted originally featured a duet with Chaka Khan, well-known for her recordings with Rufus (Tell Me Something Good – #3; 1974) and on her own (I Feel For You – #3; 1984). However, the suits didn’t warm to the idea, and Khan’s vocals were removed. Robert won a Grammy for Rock Male Vocalist and Addicted  was nominated for Record and Song of The Year. 

Simply RedHolding Back The Years  Peak #1 Pop and #4 Adult Contemporary; 1986 

In October of 1982, a punk outfit from Manchester, England released its fourth indie single in as many years. It, like the others, sank without a trace. The Frantic Elevators soon sank as well; leaving leader Mick Hucknall band-less. Mick soon hooked up with some other musicians in a new outfit. He wanted to name the band “Red” after his flame-colored hair, however, when he heard his manager responding to inquiries as to the group’s name with “Simply, ‘red,'” Mick adopted that phrase instead. Simply Red released their first single – a cover of the Valentine Brothers’ 1982 R&B record, Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) – in mid-1985. Not only did Money register a #13 peak on Britain’s pop chart, it reached #2 on the American Hot Dance list. After follow-up Come To My Aid stalled at #66 in the UK, Simply Red released a rerecorded rendition of the Elevator’s last single: Holding Back The Years. Although it did poorly in England, Years raced to #1 Stateside; prompting a re-issue back home where it hit #2.  

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – If You Leave  #4 May,1986 

  Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark (later shortened to OMD) took its cue from German electronic music as exemplified by Kraftwerk. OMD brought a cheerful pop sensibility to the mix. Between 1978 and 1985, OMD – built upon the core of Andrew McCluskey and Paul Humphries – released six albums which had brought them public and critical acclaim in Britain. Oddly, their next album, Crush, although one of their lesser efforts, became their best seller todate in the U.S. Then, lightning struck. John Hughes’ Pretty In Pink, his third teen oriented flick in as many years, and its accompanying synth-pop soundtrack album included OMD’s If You Leave. Viewers and radio were quick to pick up on Leave making it a big hit in the U.S., yet, not in England. Although OMD carried on the U.K., Leave pretty much represented their sole impact in the States. 

Bangles – Walk Like An Egyptian  Peak #1 Pop for 4 weeks; 1986 

  Sure the video may have been cheesy, what with the four Bangles dressed up in mock Egyptian gear, however, it made them the darlings of the MTV generation. Three of the Banglesto-be plus a bass player formed a band called the Colours in 1982. The quartet changed its name to the Supersonic Bangs, then simply Bangs, which was the billing on their first single, Getting Out Of Hand. Another Bangs band wasn’t amused and so, facing a possible lawsuit, the LA women decided to choose a new name. After someone scribbled “Bang-less” on a dinner napkin, Bangles it was. With a major label deal in the offing, new bassist Micki Steele joined Susanna Hoffs, and Vicki and Debbi Peterson. In 1986 the four reached #2 with Manic Monday. Later that year, Walk Like An Egyptian appeared; a title that came to songwriter Liam Sternberg during a drunken ferry ride on the English Channel. Fortunately for the Bangles, Toni Mickey Basil passed on Egyptian; giving the Bangles their biggest hit. 

Billy IdolMony Mony “Live”  Peak #1 Pop and #27 Mainstream Rock; 1987 

  In 1987, Tommy James received a unique entry in the rock ‘n’ roll record books. It all started on November 7th, when teen thrush Tiffany took I Think We’re Alone Now to the top of the Hot 100, 20 years after Tommy’s own recording peaked at #4. Tiffany’s triumph lasted two weeks, then was replaced by Billy Idol’s take on Mony Mony, a #3 Tommy James smash from 1968. Mony had held a special place in Idol’s, er, heart, ever since it had provided musical background to a young Billy’s thrilling tryst with a girl. So when Idol went looking for songs with which to kick off his solo career, Mony Mony was at the top of his list. Released on Billy’s Don’t Stop EP in 1981, Mony made little noise. However, six years later, he was a big star and his “live” rendition of Mony went all the way. Mony‘s success marked the first time cover versions of hit songs by the same original artist (Tommy James) had become back-to-back #1’s. 

Wang Chung – Everybody Have Fun Tonight  Peak #2 Pop and #25 Mainstream Rock; 1986 

  After recording several tracks that appeared on indie compilations, London trio Huang 

Chung released its first single, Isn’t It About Time We Were On Television. The answer was 

“apparently not.” The single and the 1982 debut album sank like rocks. 1984’s Points On The 

Curve fared better; giving Wang Chung – as they were now billed – two U.S. charters: Don’t Let Go (#38) and Dance Hall Days (#16). Filmmaker William Friedkin was duly impressed by WC and commissioned them to compose music for To Live And Die In L.A., the title tune to which reached #41 in 1985. Reduced to a duo, Wang Chung returned with Mosaic and the dance-pop songs Everybody Have Fun Tonight and Let’s Go!. The former included the classic line, “Everybody wang chung tonight,” a lyric as meaningless as the name and designed with the same end in mind: to have fun. After Let’s Go reached #9, the Wang Chung fun was over, and the band faded from sight.  

Billy Vera & The Beaters – At This Moment  Peak #1 Pop and Adult Contemporary; 1987 

When Billy Vera’s At This Moment reached #1, 19 years had passed since his first single as a singer hit the chart: Storybook Children, a duet with Judy Clay. Billy racked up his first #1 as a songwriter in 1979 when Dolly Parton conquered the country chart with I Got The Feeling. That year Billy also formed the Beaters to – in Billy’s words – “meet some girls!” That they did, and more. A live recording of I Can Take Care Of Myself from a performance at L.A.’s Roxy cracked the Top 40 in 1981. Unfortunately, Billy’s label pulled the plug just as another in-person track, At This Moment, was gaining momentum. Four years later Vera got a call that would change his life. A producer for NBC-TV’s Family Ties wanted to use At This Moment in a twopart episode. By the time Vera negotiated a reissue deal for the song, he had missed the summer rerun season. Fortunately, the song was used again in the opening show of the 1986 season. On January 24th, 1987 At This Moment topped the Hot 100.

INXS – Need You Tonight  Peak #1; 1988 

  The genesis of INXS dates back to 1972 when a 12 year old Michael Hutchence befriended Andrew Farriss, who was already dreaming of a career in rock music. A few years  passed before Michael joined Andrew in his musical endeavors as part of the Farriss Brothers. Three years later, in 1979, INXS – a variation on a roadie’s suggestion that they call the band “In Excess” – stepped into the spotlight at the Oceanview Hotel in Toukley, Australia. With several singles and albums under their belt, the sextet set their sights on America, making their chart debut in the spring of 1983 with The One Thing and appearing at the second US Festival in May. 1985’s #5 hit What You Need, recorded in Michael’s birth city of Hong Kong, broke INXS wide open, and paved the way for their multi-platinum selling sixth album, Kick. Need You Tonight charged to #1 followed by three more Top 10 from Kick before 1988 came to a close. Michael dove deeper and deeper into the high life, committing suicide on November 22, 1997. 

The Beach Boys – Kokomo  Peak #1; 1988 

  By 1988 all but the most ardent fans had written off the Beach Boys. Gone were Dennis Wilson, a victim of his own excesses, and brother Brian, gone solo after years wrestling with his own demons. Their most popular albums were repackages of their 1960’s hits, yet, the Beach Boys name still had drawing power. So when their producer Terry Melcher contacted the music guy at Touchstone/Disney – which had a new Tom Cruise movie in the works – he listened. John Phillips (formerly of The Mamas & Papas), Scott McKenzie (singer of San Francisco; 1967), 

Mike Love of the BB, and Melcher came up with Kokomo. Never mind that the real Kokomo and 

Jamaica are worlds apart, everyone in both camps loved the song. For the California boys Kokomo ended a 24 year absence from the top slot they’d held with Good Vibrations in December of 1966.  

The Escape Club – Wild, Wild West  #1 November, 1988  

  The classic image of an American frontier standoff – two gunfighters poised to draw their guns – isn’t what Britain’s The Escape Club envisioned when writing Wild, Wild West. Rather it was their comment on modern life in a world that saw Margaret Thatcher of England and Ronald Reagan of the U.S. wielding their power just like in vintage cowboy movies. By the time TEC recorded West, they had been around for five years, had released a failed album, and were under orders from EMI to produce a hit. The band was excited about West‘s sales potential. EMI was not. However, the ears at Atlantic Records in the U.S. agreed with The Escape Club. They signed the band and released the album. MTV jumped on the video, and radio airplay and dance club spins followed. In the end Wild, Wild West toppled the American West’s Beach Boys from the #1 position. 

Taylor Dayne – Tell It To My Heart  #7 January, 1988 

  Along with Whitney Houston, Taylor Dayne kicked off America’s ongoing love affair with contemporary music divas. Taylor’s singing debut occurred in the fourth grade, and by high school she was taking voice lessons and classical training. After several years with bands in her native Long Island, Taylor recorded two dance songs for an independent label. The next record she released – also on an indie label – was Tell It To My Heart, a song Taylor discovered by asking a music publisher to send her some songs rejected by other artists. Through her producer, Ric Wake, she was snapped up by Arista Records which released Tell It To My Heart as her first single from the like-titled album. Both album and single were a stunning success, with the Tell It To My Heart album yielding three more Top 10 hits within a year.  

Bobby BrownMy Prerogative  Peak #1 Pop and #1 R&B for 2 weeks; 1989 

  Whereas Motownphilly was an aural arrival announcement for Boyz II Men, My 

Prerogative was Bobby Brown’s on-record renouncement of drug-use rumors. According to 

Teddy Riley (and contrary to the writing credits), he and Aaron Hall of Guy wrote My Prerogative with Bobby in mind. Since his defection from New Edition, Brown had been the target of some particularly nasty professional and personal gossip. My Prerogative fired back at them, claiming that whatever Bobby does is his own business. For the record, Bobby and Teddy worked on the New Jack Swing arrangement, Teddy played keyboards, and Teddy and Aaron sang backup. My Prerogative hit the street right after the title track from Bobby’s latest album, Don’t Be Cruel, wrapped up a two week stay at #1 on the rhythm list. My Prerogative matched that feat, then went Cruel one better by topping the pop chart as well.

Paula Abdul – Straight Up  #1 for 3 weeks February, 1989; #2 R&B for 2 weeks 

  Even before her current “job” on American Idol, Paula Abdul’s entertainment biz resume was impressive. Her initial career choice of sportscaster was put on the backburner when, while attending Cal State Northridge, the Los Angeles Lakers chose her for their cheerleading squad. Before the season was out, she became the troupe’s choreographer. Then, the Jacksons asked her to work with them on a video, quickly followed by Janet Jackson‘s request for similar assistance. 

Paula’s career in video choreography skyrocketed, ultimately leading to a recording opportunity. 

Her first single, Knocked Out, broke into the R&B Top 10, as did its follow-up, (It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me. As Love Me entered the pop chart, a San Francisco radio station started spinning Straight Up from the album. Her label wisely threw its promotional efforts behind Straight Up, and Paula gained her first Pop and Dance Music #1.

Simply Red – If You Don’t Know Me By Now  Peak #1 Pop & Adult Contemporary; 1989 

1972 was a banner year for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who’s new label placed three singles in the pop Top 10, all of which hit #1 on the R&B side: Me And Mrs. Jones, Backstabbers, and If You Don’t Know Me By Now. For the latter, Gamble and Huff drew upon their real-life marital problems to craft a stunning ballad originally slated for The Dells. When that deal fell through, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes – with drummer Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals – scored their first crossover hit with it. Sixteen-plus years later Manchester, England’s Mick Hucknall and his band Simply Red decided to cover Teddy’s classic on their third album. Whereas Gamble and Huff framed Teddy’s voice with one of their majestic productions, Red producer Stewart Levine scaled things back so Hucknall’s vocal was very frontand-center. On July 15th, Simply Red slid into the top slot, besting the Blue Notes’ #3 peak, and helping G&H grab a Grammy for Best R&B Song. 

Bangles – Eternal Flame  Peak #1 Pop & Adult Contemporary; 1989 

  Formed in Los Angeles in 1981, the Supersonic Bangs included sisters Vicki (lead guitar) and Debbi (drums) Peterson, Susanna Hoffs (guitar), and Annette Zilinskas (bass). As The Bangs, they released the 45 Getting Out Of Hand b/w Call On Me before changing their name to avoid legal conflicts with another band. Michael Steele, who’d previously played with the pioneering proto-punk Runaways, took over at bass in 1984, and in 1985 the Bangles Beatlesque All Over The Place LP hit the streets. Two years later Manic Monday moved to #2. Other hits followed and things were looking great for the foursome. However, Susanna’s big screen appearance in The Allnighter coupled with increasing media focus on the pouty brunette stirred up group tensions. Hoffs – inspired by a memorial to Elvis she’d seen at Graceland – helped pen the group’s ironically titled chart-topping single. By year’s end, all that remained of the Bangles was their own vinyl Eternal Flame. 

Tone Loc – Wild Thing  Peak #3 R&B and #2 Pop; 1989 

  Following in the wake of white rappers the Beastie Boys and hip-hopper Bobby Brown, 

Tone Loc was the next performer to bring the urban-based genre into the suburbs of middle 

America. Born Anthony Smith in Los Angeles, the singer’s stage alias was derived from his Spanish nickname, Antonio Loco. Signed to Delicious Vinyl, Tone Loc suggested he record one of his own compositions, however, founders Michael Ross and Matt Dike felt Wild Thing was too raunchy for pop ears. So, they called on one of their other artists – USC student Marvin Young – to help out. They caught Marvin hanging out in his dorm room, where he knocked out new lyrics in 30 minutes. In the studio, Ross and Dike wove a sample from Jamie’s Cryin’ by hard rockin’ Van Halen into Wild Thing. Wild Thing and its album, Loc-ed After Dark, both sold over two million copies, and Loc-ed also became the second rap LP – after Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel – to top the pop list.  

The B- 52’s – Love Shack  Peak #3 Pop and #1 Modern Rock for 4 weeks; 1989 

  On an October night in 1976, Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, and Cindy and Ricky Wilson followed up an evening of drinking at a Chinese restaurant by forming a band. The Athens, Georgia gang took for their name a slang term for the girls’ large bouffant hair styles, played locally, and also hit the road to New York for weekend gigs. By late ’78, they had an indie single out called Rock Lobster, which dented the UK Top 40 via a major label re-release in 1979 and reached #56 Stateside in 1980. The B-52’s career was just shy of a breakthrough when Ricky Wilson died. The rest responded by taking a three year hiatus from music. The remaining four members reemerged in 1989 with Cosmic Thing, produced by Nile Rodgers and Don Was. Love Shack blasted off the album, and soared to #3 on the Hot 100. The B-52’s received one of pop culture’s ultimate honors when they performed Love Shack as Glove Slap on The Simpsons.  

Young M.C. – Bust A Move  #7 October, 1989; #9 R&B 

  The London-born Marvin Young, a.k.a. Young M.C., met Michael Ross and Matt Dike at USC where he was studying economics. At the time, Ross and Dike’s own economic efforts lay with their newly formed record label, Delicious Vinyl. Marvin joined forces with them and recorded DV’s first single release, I Let ‘Em Know, as Young M.C.. Unfortunately, Know failed in the marketplace. Marvin responded to the setback by writing two multi-platinum songs, Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina, for Tone Loc. He finally scored on his own with Bust A MoveMove’s witty story line about romantic frustration that turns out OK in an encounter with a bridesmaid – told in clever rhymes by Young M.C. – earned him a Grammy for Best Rap Performance.

This content was created and written by Ed Osborne. © 2023 Ed Osborne. All Rights Reserved.