Friday, August 19, 2005

Top 5: Believe it or Not

The date was August 19, 1981. American fighter planes shot down two Libyan jets over the Gulf of Sidra, and Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court. That night, Charlie's Angels was broadcast for the last time on its original network run. In sports, a new record for running the mile was set. When your favorite radio station got done with the news and went back to music, the Top 5 that follows contains some of what they were playing. It's a fine bit of evidence for why the Second British Invasion had to happen. In truth, it was already underway--MTV had signed on about three weeks earlier.

5. "Elvira"/Oak Ridge Boys. In 1981, I was working at a country radio station, and this record blew out the phones from the moment we began playing it. I can think of only a handful of other records that generated a similar listener response. Of course, it's the sort of thing guaranteed to make DJs ill after only a handful of plays. Records that blow out the phones generally do.

4. "Jessie's Girl"/Rick Springfield. Probably the most memorable record of the whole summer. "Jessie's Girl" had already done a couple of weeks at Number One by this time, helped by Springfield's role on General Hospital. MTV would help keep Springfield's career alive for the next four years, even though he never made another record remotely as good as this one.

3. "I Don't Need You"/Kenny Rogers. The superstar collaboration between Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie resulted in some of the blandest records imaginable--but at least Richie, as producer, curbed Rogers' tendency to phone it in. After a string of slapdash records in the late 70s (hugely popular though they were), Richie brought Rogers better material and then made him actually sing it. The hits were big on the pop and AC charts; Rogers' country fans weren't as pleased with them.

2. "Theme from 'Greatest American Hero' (Believe it or Not)"/Joey Scarbury. History will note that between about 1976 and 1982, TV theme songs became major radio hits at a rate unparalleled at any other time. Joey Scarbury's was one of the last. It's best remembered now for being sung by George Costanza on his answering machine in an episode of Seinfeld.

1. "Endless Love"/Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. This song was recorded in Reno, Nevada, between 3:30 and 5:00 one morning--a place and time at which lots of declarations of endless love have been made, later to be broken. Not this one. Nine weeks at Number One made it the biggest hit in Motown history up to that time, even if what's really endless about it is the four minutes and 26 seconds it takes to play.


At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good grief!...what a crummy song list! I forgot about playing those songs on the radio back in 1981. I guess what kept me from taking an axe to the station's transmitter was playing "Start Me Up" from the Stones, "Urgent" by Foreigner, and "The Break Up Song" by the Greg Kihn Band during the summer of 1981.

At 4:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All more memorable than "Jessie's Girl," too.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

The theme from 'The Greatest American Hero' was also featured in 'Fahrenheit 9/11.'

And my cousin is named Elvira - pronounced El-VEER-a, not El-VY-rah. She hates that song to this day.

ps Discovered your blog via Priscilla. Being somewhat of a music fiend with an abnormally long memory for my age, I'm really enjoying it. Keep it up.

At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Top 5 perfectly encapsulates that weird period in the early 1980s when MTV hadn't quite kicked in and "housewife rock" leftover acts from the 70s were having their last gasps on the charts. This is also around the time when country music effectively disappeared from the pop top 40. Despite their crumminess, I still have a soft spot for some of these tunes... and I can't think of 1981 without the name Paul Davis coming to mind! -- Dave P.


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