Random Rewind: 1981
In April 1981, the first space shuttle mission flew. Ronald Reagan was on the mend after the assassination attempt in March. Riots in the Brixton section of London shook Margaret Thatcher's Britain, as did the eventually fatal hunger strike by IRA member Bobby Sands. Valerie Bertinelli married Eddie Van Halen, and boxing champion Joe Louis died. And on the radio during this week in that month--25 years ago--we were hearing these records, with chart positions from Cash Box:
1. "Morning Train" (Nine to Five)"/Sheena Easton. (peak) Although I was ostensibly a college radio rock-jock at this time, my taste for bubblegum remained as strong as ever. I ended up naming this as the best single of the whole year.
6. "Keep on Loving You"/REO Speedwagon. (falling) Their breakthrough hit nationwide turned out to be almost entirely unrepresentative of the stuff that had made them stars in the Midwest years before--although if you could pick the ingredients for a massively successful 80s power ballad off the shelf, you'd pick nearly everything they put into this record.
11. "Her Town Too"/James Taylor and J.D. Souther. (climbing) A great radio record, with a cool intro for talkovers, plus it ran in excess of four minutes. I was never capable of meeting the standard for DJ success set by the legendary New York DJ Dan Ingram--being able to complete a full-scale bathroom sitdown in three minutes or less--but I could do it in four.
12. "Take it on the Run"/REO Speedwagon. (climbing) I spent the night in my girlfriend's dorm room now and then during the spring of 1981--and this song was a favorite of somebody on her floor, who would crank it at full volume, often in the middle of the night:. "Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from another you been messin' around." I still can't hear that without wanting to go out in the hall and kill somebody.
20. "You Better You Bet"/The Who. (climbing) A big favorite around the college radio station that spring. For a period of weeks, when I'd tell my girlfriend I loved her, she'd respond with, "You better."
24. "Time Out of Mind"/Steely Dan. (climbing) Their last hit single. We didn't realize it would be nearly 20 years before they'd make another album.
28. "Sweetheart"/Franke and the Knockouts. (climbing) Although 1981 was generally a pretty grim year for the Top 40, it did produce a handful of hooky pop tunes that disappeared from human memory as soon as they dropped out of recurrents. "Sweetheart" is one of them--a great record for a fine spring afternoon. You probably haven't heard it in years, so here it is.
31. "Sukiyaki"/A Taste of Honey. (climbing) Exhibit A for why 1981 was generally a pretty grim year for the Top 40. This is an English-language remake of Kyu Sakamoto's 1963 Number-One hit, which was sung entirely in Japanese. Its title translated to "I Look Up When I Walk," but it was renamed "Sukiyaki" because the word (actually the name of a beef dish) was short, catchy, and recognizable as Japanese to most Americans. As Newsweek put it, it was like issuing "Moon River" in Japan and calling it "Beef Stew."
56. "Medley"/Stars on 45. (climbing) I have truncated the title here, because the record company was forced to include the names of all 10 songs that were part of the medley. The record would reach Number One around the world during the summer and kick off a medley craze in the States. Over the next year, medleys edited from original recordings by the Beach Boys, Beatles, and Elvis would make the charts, as would others in the Stars on 45 mold. Like most novelty hits, "Medley" was fun the first three or four times you heard it, annoying the next 100 times, and painful the next 10,000. And if you thought it was painful as a listener, imagine what it was like for DJs.
79. "(Just Like) Starting Over"/John Lennon. (falling) Rock fans were still in mourning and as a result, Lennon was on the radio a lot that spring, with three singles in the Top 100 as late as April. Plus, the Double Fantasy album was still topping the charts. But I can't remember the last time I actually played it. Can you?
Note: I posted about the Rolling Stones' recording of "Drift Away" earlier this week, but the MP3 I thought I posted didn't get posted properly. This link works--so give it a try, and sorry about the problem.