(Above: These guys made a star out of that guy from Rush.)
I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy listening to the “VJ Big 40 Countdown” on Sirius XM’s 80s on 8 channel. I especially enjoy when I catch the list in the first hour or so and catch the tunes that stalled out in the bottom of the list. Classic hits/soccer mom radio has fed us plenty of “Jack and Diane” over the years, but those songs below about 25 on the chart usually provide some great “oh wow” moments, not unlike digging through your own records to discover stuff you forgot that you had.
That joy was missing this weekend, though. The original MTV VJs took us on a trip back to April 17, 1982 – 35 years ago this week. Repeatedly while listening to the countdown I kept remarking how I hadn’t heard some of the songs in a very long time, and was saddened by having to hear them again. To wit:
#38 – “Stars on 45 III” – Stars On. The original “Stars on 45” was popular, and timed itself right at the beginning of the 1980s revival of ’60s pop that I wrote about last week. (Perhaps a longer research paper is in order. Hmm….) Ernie Kovacs reminded us that “there’s an old saying in show business, and that’s ‘beat it to death if it works.'” Here we get an example of that, and yet we bought it.
#37 – “Take Off” – Bob and Doug McKenzie. Don’t get me wrong. I loved SCTV. I still laugh at “Strange Brew.” Why, though, was this a charting single? It made it to #16 earlier in the month, making it – are you ready for this? – the highest-charting single that Geddy Lee ever performed on. (Rush only charted once with “New World Man,” which hit #21.) Now, to be fair, I liked playing this in college, making sure to talk at the part where they said “This is where the DJ talks – don’t say anything.” But even at that age, with a surprising lack of filter, I knew not to do the bit every morning.
#35 – “Pop Goes the Movies” – Meco. I don’t know about you, but hearing the theme to “Gone With the Wind” with a boom-tiss-boom-tiss drum machine behind it makes my night.
#34 – “Theme From Magnum, P.I.” – Mike Post. Of the charting TV themes that Post did, this is probably my least favorite of the three.
#29 – “Sweet Dreams” – Air Supply. This is a possibly controversial position, but I don’t need to revisit the Air Supply catalog for a good long time. Your mileage may vary.
#25 – “Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk” – Dr. Hook. I make mine talk sometimes, too – usually on taco night.
#24 – “Pac-Man Fever” – Buckner and Garcia. I think it was at this point on the countdown that I turned to my wife and said “Maybe I blocked this part of my life out or something.” (I skipped “Always On My Mind” by Willie Nelson at #26, but roll around that music sweep for a minute.) If there’s one record that sums up what was wrong with the early ’80s, it’s this one. “Hey! There’s a craze that kids enjoy. Let’s write a piece of shit and cash in on it!” While listening again, I paid close attention to the backup singers, and hoped they were well compensated for their time.
The only thing worse? The rest of the album. You’re welcome.
#23 – “I’ve Never Been To Me” – Charlene. I was 13 in 1982 and disliked this record. I’m 48 in 2017 and still dislike this record. Clearly I’ve been to me.
#22 – “Beatles Movie Medley” – The Beatles. Oh, you have all the Beatles’ singles in your collection? No, you don’t. Here’s another one for you to buy and never, ever play again after a few weeks. (Fun fact: it’s the only Beatles single you can’t find on CD.)
#21 – “Ebony and Ivory” – Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. It’s a song about how black and white keys live together in one place and are equal, and yet we use white keys a lot more and call the black ones “flat” sometimes. Or something like that. Both of these musicians made amazing songs in their careers, and this isn’t one that gets brought up in the discussion first. (Note also how many songs in a row from this countdown I have now listed.)
#12 – “(Oh) Pretty Woman” – Van Halen. I include it here simply because you either play it with “Intruder” in front of it, or you don’t play it at all. What were we thinking? Some songs just go together.
#3 – “Chariots of Fire – Titles” – Vangelis. Look, I know this was a #1 song. That doesn’t mean that I want to hear it with the same frequency that I hear “I Love Rock and Roll,” which was the #1 song that week. This song is best saved for comedic scenes of people running in slow motion, such as Clark Griswold heading to Walley World.
Now, the whole chart wasn’t awful. There were some bright spots on it that should get more airplay, like “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” by Elton John at #36. Or maybe “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club, which stalled below #30. But these are few and far between. (Come to think of it, I was finishing up 8th grade at about this time, and I hated 8th grade. Maybe I did block all of this stuff out.)
I guess this song disproves a notion that I’ve had about back catalog programming: just because it charted doesn’t mean it should get a ton of airplay. Fortunately, these songs don’t get a bunch of it, and the sweep-through-the-20s on the chart should explain why. I used to get many calls in my oldies programming days asking why we played the same things over and over again “when there were so many hit records.” This chart exists as Exhibit A why one should do so only at their peril.