Billboard Top 10, February 1, 1986

Since I’ve done the Billboard Top 10 from 20 years ago, why not do 30 years ago? Welcome to 1986, the time of big hair and Fairlight synthesizers. Let’s do this.

#1: That’s What Friends Are For – Dionne

I didn’t realize that this was Dionne Warwick until I looked it up on YouTube. Wikipedia tells me that it was actually credited to “Dionne and Friends”, and that it was a benefit single for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. This was back when AIDS was much more deadly than it is now. Dionne’s friends were apparently Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder. This song is programmed to be bland and inoffensive; it has echoed drums and echoed synthesizer plinking in the background, and the singers are all emoting in that carefully measured heartfelt way that people do when they’re being all sincere and stuff. I only lasted through 2:32 of this song, and that’s mostly because I was too busy looking things up to hit Pause. But it seems almost churlish to be too critical of a song that raised money for a good cause. I hope it made a difference.

#2: Burning Heart – Survivor

I had never heard this song before now, but I recognized the decade it was recorded in after about 11 notes. It’s 1980s arena rock, and tells an epic story of a battle between East and West. (You do remember Communism, don’t you?) I survived 2:25 of this song, but that’s mostly because I was in awe of how perfectly it reflected the time it was made in. But I don’t want to listen to it again, as there are about 83 other songs that sound just like it.

#3: I’m Your Man – Wham!

Yet another song that screams “1980s”. Was there ever a decade that was so musically distinctive? I think it was because everybody was discovering synthesizers even though there weren’t all that many things you could do with them yet. If you’ve heard of Wham! or of George Michael, you already know what this sounds like: bouncy, upbeat pop without a trace of rock and roll in it. I only needed to listen to 0:57 of it before I decided
that it was time to move to #4.

#4: Talk To Me – Stevie Nicks

Yay! More synthesizers and echoed drums! (Note: sarcasm.) Maybe there were only actually 14 pop songs released in the 1980s, and we just didn’t realize that they were all the same. Ms. Nicks’ voice sounds a bit gritty on this – she was heading into Bonnie Tyler territory, though not quite into the Marianne Faithfull zone. I lasted 1:29. How did I survive this decade? (Oh, wait, I know – alternative music. It still was alternative then – none of it was on the charts because Nirvana hadn’t happened yet.)

#5: Say You, Say Me – Lionel Richie

Electric piano (which sounds like it was borrowed from Supertramp)! Synthesizer! An echoed vocal track! Oozes of sincerity! (Is “oozes” a verb? It is now.) The thing about this is that Richie actually has a good voice – given the right material, he would sound soulful. I’d like to have heard him tackle “The Dark End Of The Street”, for example – if he had managed to resist the temptation to overemote, he could have made it sound good. But it’s not like he needs to take my advice on what to do – this song went to #1 for four weeks, and he’s sold 100 million albums in his lifetime. But Richie, as a solo artist, has travelled a long way away from when he was the front man for the Commodores and they recorded “Brick House”.

#6: My Hometown – Bruce Springsteen

The Boss’s “Born In The USA” album was still churning out hit singles a year and a half after the album’s release in 1984 – this was the seventh one. All of them are great, of course. The album has sold 30 million copies, and if you haven’t listened to it, you really should. I’ll forgive you if you leave this blog entry and go straight there right now.

#7: When The Going Gets Tough – Billy Ocean

This song was created too soon. If Ocean had been around a couple of decades later, he could have had some more interesting synthesizer options to play with. But it’s early in 1986, so all he has is the Fairlight. I really don’t want to hear any more Fairlights. Possibly ever. I lasted 1:21. Wikipedia tells me that Ocean – whose real name is Leslie Charles – was born with an extra pulmonary node in the center of his lungs. Apparently, this is a good thing to have when you’re a singer.

#8: Spies Like Us – Paul McCartney

I have always believed that McCartney doesn’t owe us anything any more after what he did in the Beatles. It doesn’t really matter if he does anything else that doesn’t suck – he’s already produced a lifetime’s worth of awesome. And it’s not as if everything he has done in his post-Beatles and post-Wings solo career is awful. But this song, which was featured in the movie of the same name, was Macca’s attempt to produce a contemporary 1980s sound. It’s so 1980s – and, yes, it has Fairlight synthesizers in it – that it’s hard to tell that it’s Beatle Paul on this record. I could only tolerate 1:19 of this, and that was pushing it.

#9: Walk Of Life – Dire Straits

Does Mark Knopfler ever have any moments in his life when he doesn’t sound laid-back and cooler than anyone else in the room? In his proctologist’s office, perhaps. But no matter. I love this song. It could probably revive the dead. It has a synthesizer in it, which is playing the melody even, but there’s an actual guitar there providing the rhythm. This might be the first guitar I have heard in this chart. I nearly wept in relief.

#10: Go Home – Stevie Wonder

This song is basically Stevie playing with all of the rhythm settings on his synthesizer. Let’s add some of this, and then some of this, and then some of this. It’s a bit of a relief to discover that he still sounds like Stevie Wonder. You can’t go too far wrong if you still sound like Stevie Wonder, though I think I still like his 1960s and early 1970s songs better. I think I will take Stevie’s advice now and go home – back to my own time, where the songs don’t all sound the same.


About davetill

I'm a writer and occasional web designer. I live in Toronto.
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