Thursday, May 28, 2020

Grading to Top 100 Billboard hits of 1981

1. Bette Davis Eyes - Kim Carnes: A+
One of the greatest singles of the '80s, from an artist who, for the most part, was a creature of adult contemporary, who had more success writing songs for others. This was a radical reinterpretation of a Jackie DeShannon song that was done in a bluesy-folk pop style. The key to unlocking the new sound was a synth line from her keyboard player, and that created this new wave-inspired take. It opened up the verses and led to the cool, modern stylized atmosphere, and radically improved the tune. But this would be merely interesting if it wasn't for the superb performance by Carnes, with some of the best phrasing I've ever heard on a pop record. She really got who she was singing about, and she alternates from clipped, glib phrasing to full throated shouting, her raspy voice never sounding more appropriate for a song than this one. It should be noted that the entire Mistaken Identity album this comes off of is good, despite it's odd blend of Laurel Canyon pop-rock and a few other nods to new wave. Best of all, Carnes and Bette Davis became friends in real life.

2. Endless Love - Diana Ross and Lionel Richie: B-
One thing about this era of music was how many songs from crap movies and TV shows became big hits. This was from a Brooke Shields vehicle, and somehow two superstars (well, Richie was in the process of becoming a superstar) singing a big-ass ballad. Here, Richie dials down the subtlety of his best Commodores ballads, and dials up the schmaltz. Only the collective vocal prowess of this duo saves this song from sucking.

3. Lady - Kenny Rogers: B
Not a bad year for Mr. Richie, as he wrote and produced the second and third biggest singles of the year. This is a marginally better composition than "Endless Love", and one can hear certain melodic tricks that Richie likes to go to again and again. Rogers gives a really nice performance.

4. (Just Like) Starting Over - John Lennon: A-
The DJ before me at my high school radio station was a gigantic Beatles fan, and he was so geeked when this single dropped, with the Double Fantasy album on its way. When it came out, he brought it in, and on his first show after it came out, he proceeded to play every one of Lennon's tunes on the record. Apparently, not everyone was enamored with the new material. I believe it was in CREEM Magazine's positive review of the album where the reviewer said that he heard that Rolling Stone was going to print a review savaging the album...until Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman. This song was an appropriate preview single, both in the literal message of the song (he's back!), and in cluing people in that this would be really accessible effort. This song, in some respect, throws back to pre-Beatles rock-and-roll, and it's so heartfelt. And there were better songs on the album!

5. Jessie's Girl - Rick Springfield: A+
It took Springfield almost a decade to get his second Top 40 hit, and this masterful slice of power poppy rock not only did the trick, but paved the way for a really great decade for the actor-singer. This song is all about building up, with little wrinkles thrown in, and then everything explodes into the chorus. Add in a fantastic middle eight that leads into an instrumental breakdown that intensifies the main riff, and this is a irresistible slice of timeless rock and roll.

6. Celebration - Kool & The Gang: A
I am overlooking how overplayed this song is. And I know that this song is overplayed because it works. It's a very poppy funk-R & B mover from this great group. The main chord sequence is so basic but it's immediately catchy, with a simple sing-a-long chorus, and simple melody in the verse, with great James "J.T." Taylor vocals. Everything on this song works.

7. Kiss On My List - Daryl Hall & John Oates: B+
This was probably Hall & Oates' biggest hit to date, another great slice of soulful pop. It manages to avoid that yacht rock, lounge lizard vibe. I think that's due to the rhythm section playing things a bit punchier. Whereas yacht rock wants to give you a Cali-laid back vibe, this is definitely Philly energy. For some, this grade may be a bit low, but I rate a number of this duo's songs higher.

8. I Love a Rainy Night - Eddie Rabbitt: B
Rabbitt originally wrote some of the lyrics to this tune in the late '60s, and found a tape of the song and decided to finish it off with two other writers. The result was a number one pop hit for this crossover specialist. Rabbitt managed to make pop songs with some slight, often very slight, country feel, without sounding corny. This is just a happy pop song, well written and well rendered.

9. 9 To 5 - Dolly Parton: A
This won a Grammy for the Best Country Song, and other than the fact that Dolly wrote and sang it, there's nothing much country to it. It does illustrate Parton's brilliance as a songwriter, both in terms of a lyric that captured the film it was the theme for, and the universal feeling of being a worker, and the music that feels like a typewriter banging on and on. The chorus is captures what it's like to be a working stiff. Fun fact: Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of The Doobie Brothers played guitar on this song.

10. Keep On Loving You - REO Speedwagon: C+
The road warriors who started out in Champaign, IL had garnered plenty of AOR play up to this point, but this song, one of the first true power ballads, made them stars. And since I don't like power ballads, and this song is pretty much ground zero for them, this is about as good as a grade as I can give, even though it's marginally better than most. I tend to focus on how Kevin Cronin overenunciates so many words, and that makes this song particularly irritating.

11. Theme from "Greatest American Hero" (Believe It or Not) - Joey Scarbury: B
This is truly an earworm, and a terrific theme song for the TV show starring William Katt. Mike Post wrote the music and produced, and Scarbury, who'd been poking around the music business for a decade or so, was tapped to sing it. The song has such a great chorus that the verses are placeholders until you get back to that chorus. It's harmless fun. Scarbury later went on to write a number one country hit for Oak Ridge Boys.

12. Morning Train (Nine to Five) - Sheena Easton: B
This song introduced the U.S. the Scottish songstress, whose career had a somewhat similar arc to Olivia Newton-John's. Like ONJ, Easton started out with more MOR fare before moving into more contemporary sounds. This is a pleasant adult contemporary song, too vanilla to be yacht rock, but only slightly cheesy. They had to change the title of the song because of Dolly Parton's hit.

13. Being With You - Smokey Robinson: A
Smokey originally wrote this song for Kim Carnes, because he was so taken by her cover of The Miracles' "More Love". However, once one of his record producers heard Smokey's demo, he was told he should record the tune. This is a real throwback to the great ballads Smokey wrote for The Miracles. It's such a simple declaration of love, both in terms of the lyrics and the melody. Sometimes the direct way is the best way, and this is a classic Robinson tune. It peaked at #2 on the singles chart, kept out of the #1 spot by...yep, you guessed it, Kim Carnes.

14. Queen of Hearts - Juice Newton: A-
This song was written by Hank Devito, who was a member of Emmylou Harris's Hot Band. Dave Edmunds had the honors of recording the first version, which was a decent sized UK hit. It was Edmunds who punched up the quick acoustic guitar strum that provides a constant hook in the song. When Juice Newton recorded her cover, she kept that part and, for the most part, this version is very faithful to the original version. Which was a smart "why fix what's not broken?" decision, and led to Newton's second smash hit.

15. Rapture - Blondie: A-
This was not an obvious hit compared to other Blonide smashes. A kind of funk-disco hybrid that morphs into Debbie Harry's sincere-but-awkward rap and some awesome guitar riffage. The arty video for the song was the first video shown on MTV to feature rap. The last of Blondie's four (!) number one pop singles, it's another stunning performance by Harry and a credit to the band that kept pushing the envelope, though not often as successfully as this.

16. A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do) - Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio: B
Back in the early days of rock and roll and R & B, the "answer record" was fairly common. When there was a hit song about a person, especially if that person was named, a lot of times someone would write a song from the perspective of another character. It was a cheap way to try to get a hit. In this song, Parker and company answer the first Raydio hit, "Jack and Jill". That's probably the most interesting this thing about this melodic and solid song.

17. The Tide Is High - Blondie: A
Another great single from Blondie. This was a cover of a '60s reggae song by The Paragons, written by vocalist John Holt. While this isn't the deepest reggae groove, and Blondie wasn't exactly The Clash when it came to doing the style, it's still a pretty decent take on reggae and the horns sound distant and cool. Moreover, the song has a wonderful melody and Debbie Harry comes through like she always does.

18. Just the Two of Us - Grover Washington Jr.: A-
Washington was one of the inventors of the smooth jazz format and constantly topped the jazz singles chart. Bill Withers co-wrote and sang this song, which was Washington's sole Top 40 hit (it's sometimes credited to both, but only Grover's name is on the picture sleeve). It's hard to say how much the two co-writers contributed, as one could easily hear this song without Washington's contributions, and it would sound like a Withers tune. The melody just has his character. And Washington's work augments the song very well.

19. Slow Hand - Pointer Sisters: A
This song was not written with the Pointer Sisters in mind, but when producer Richard Perry heard the song, he thought it would be a logical follow up to their big hit with Bruce Springsteen's "Fire". He was right, as it was another mix of pop, sultry soul, and gospel. There was even a little bit of country in the mix of the tune, and Conway Twitty had a country hit with the song.

20. I Love You - Climax Blues Band: B+
This is a pretty sappy ballad, but it's performed very well and took the Climax Blues Band out of the ranks of one-hit wonders. Bass player Derek Holt penned the tune, and it has a subtle R & B structure to it, with a lot of pop gloss, a strong lead vocal, and a guitar solo that is heavily indebted to George Harrison.

21. Woman - John Lennon: B
This was the first single released after Lennon's murder, and it's a somewhat treacly tribute to Yoko, specifically, and women in general, although Lennon didn't always treat women all that well. That shouldn't invalidate the statement, and the "ooh I love you/well well/now and forever" part is simply lovely, and is the best part of the song.

22. Sukiyaki - A Taste Of Honey: B
A soulful cover of the Japanese hit single by Kyu Sakamoto back in 1961. Taste of Honey singer Janice-Marie Johnson loved the song as a kid and wrote to the song's composer asking for an English translation of the lyrics. She then modified them to work better with the music, and found a balance between the original and smooth modern R & B to give the song a unique sound. This has aged better than I expected.

23. The Winner Takes It All - ABBA : A
Bjorn Ulvaeus has denied this song was about his divorce from Agnetha Faltskog, but the original title of this superb break up song is "The Winner Takes It All". Even at their most cheery, there was always an underlying sadness in ABBA's music, so this song rips that mask off and is a pop tragedy that uses a beautiful melody (or two) to expose sheer pain. Agnetha's lead vocal on this song seems to further undermine Bjorn's claim, as this song is about her too and she imbues it with a level of emotion that is not only uncommon for ABBA, but for pretty much any pop song.

24. Stars on 45 - Stars On 45: C-
The full title of this song is the longest ever for a Billboard Top 40 single: Medley: Intro 'Venus' / Sugar Sugar / No Reply / I'll Be Back / Drive My Car / Do You Want to Know a Secret / We Can Work It Out / I Should Have Known Better / Nowhere Man / You're Going to Lose That Girl / Stars on 45. The four-minute U.S. single was edited down from the original 16-minute medley, which included more Beatles songs, a bit from George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord", and also a bit of my all-time favorite band Sparks's "Beat the Clock". This was spawned in the Netherlands, in response, apparently, to bootleg disco singles. Yeah, I don't get it either. It combines the worst of disco with the worst of bad tribute bands, but it retains a slight charm. This lead to a bunch of medley singles. The only one I can think of that hit was from The Beach Boys, but maybe there were others.

25. Angel of the Morning - Juice Newton
: B+
Crack songwriter Chip Taylor wrote this after being inspired by hearing The Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" on the radio. The great Evie Sands recorded it, but, like other songs she waxed first, record company problems prevented it from hitting the charts. Merilee Rush & The Turnabouts managed to have the big hit with it in 1968, and enough time passed for Juice Newton to give it a go, and this song got her on the pop charts, where she stayed for a spell. This is an "if it's not broke, don't fix it" type of cover, as it's very faithful to the original hit, and Juice does a nice job on a great song.

26. Love On the Rocks - Neil Diamond: A
This was Neil's big hit from The Jazz Singer, and really captures Diamond, the saloon singer. What makes this work is Diamond's fantastic performance, with some real subtle things going on with his phrasing. When it came out, it seemed like overly dramatic MOR garbage. And I was right about the overly dramatic, but years later, I'm captivated by how much Diamond invests in his lyrics. And I don't want to sell the melodies short. The verses are haunting and the refrain is so powerful.

27. Every Woman In the World - Air Supply: D
Muddy Waters sang about how the blues had a baby, and they named it rock and roll. Air Supply sounds like what would happen if Barry Manilow and Journey produced an offspring.

28. The One That You Love - Air Supply: D
The best thing about having two Air Supply songs back to back in the year end Top 100 is that if you listened to Casey Kasem count them down on American Top 40 in late December of 1981, you could take a bathroom break, come back when this song was over, and when the next song came on, go out and take out the trash.

29. Guilty - Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb: B+
Barry Gibb didn't skimp on the tunesmithing when he worked with Babs. This track is fairly consistent with the mid-tempo stuff the Bee Gees had been doing in the '70s, with the pop turned up a bit here and the R & B dialed down some. It's a gentle, comfortable song. And both singers temper their performance to the lightness of the song and to each other. Barry makes sure the spotlight is on Streisand, just complimenting her vocal, and she is measured, singing it just right.

30. The Best of Times - Styx: B
This was the biggest hit from the band's sort of concept album Paradise Theatre, and it's another big ballad. But I find it to not be nearly as cloying as "Babe". It's a blend of Broadway, Dennis DeYoung's biggest inspiration, with a bit of Beatles/Electric Light Orchestra/'60s Bee Gees. The sappy chorus works for me, but the best part is the bridge out, with the shuffling drums, and the title being sung lightly, and then with explosive harmonies, leading into a great guitar solo by James Young.

31. Elvira - The Oak Ridge Boys: B
From gospel stars to country stars to pop crossover stars, The Oak Ridge Boys were an unlikely entry into the Top 40. But this bold, brassy cover of the Dallas Frazier song from the '60s managed to capture the ears of listeners, despite the fact it was out of step with pretty much every trend in popular music. The song, as performed by the group, almost sounds like a countrified Beach Boys, and the slick production makes it sound vaguely '80s. Most importantly, these guys have so much energy and sound like they are having a blast. For some reason, these guys sang the National Anthem at a number of Chicago White Sox home openers.

32. Take It On the Run - REO Speedwagon: C+
There are still some REO songs that I don't mind, but as they made their pop move with the Hi Infidelity album, they lost a little something, and the songs haven't aged well. With an opening lyric that could have come from a country song, the tune is like a cheating song done in nursery rhyme, before getting into the big chorus that's bombastic yet perfunctory. Something about the juxtaposition of the verses and chorus doesn't fit together.

33. (There's) No Gettin' Over Me - Ronnie Milsap: B
There's a little bit of R & B/early rock and roll in this song, yet another crossover smash for Ronnie Millsap. This song goes down easy, as Millsap's singing elevates a solid, but unexceptional tune into something pretty decent. The title of the song is never sung, as he instead sings "There ain't no gettin' over me." Someone needs to explain this discrepancy!

34. Living Inside Myself - Gino Vannelli: C+
The curly haired Italian-Canadian certainly knew how to concoct songs made for adult contemporary stations. This seems to find a mid-point between the balladeering side of Boz Scaggs, Air Supply, and Elton John. The chorus of this song is really solid, but getting there isn't very fun.

35. Woman In Love - Barbra Streisand: A
Barry Gibb brought in brother Robin to help him out on this song. This wasn't some Bee Gees leftover. They wrote a terrific song, a song fit for a Bee Gees album (but for the gender-specific lyric), and this song has a great chorus. Barry's production is equally supportive, and Streisand had to be very pleased with this song. She does her usual top notch job, with her top notch voice, on top notch material.

36. Boy from New York City - Manhattan Transfer: B
The nostalgic group managed to do one chart placing better on the Top 40 than The Ad Libs (7 compared to 8) who did the original version, while The Darts covered the song at the same time and hit #2 in England in 1981. It's a cute song, but it didn't spur a neo-doo wop revival. Instead, this well performed, if somewhat antiseptic, cover garnered a lot of adult contemporary play, and showed that the group might have had more success by doing '60s material rather than stuff from the '40s, which was their bread and butter.

37. Urgent - Foreigner: A-
The first single from Foreigner's best album, 4, was not funky, per se, but it was funky for Foreigner, with a sequencer helping provide the rhythm, and Motown legend Junior Walker playing a squonking sax. It was a nice departure. The song itself was a typical slice of drama, all the best for Lou Gramm to emote with, of course, urgency. Credit also should be given to Thomas Dolby, who did all the synth work on the album.

38. Passion - Rod Stewart: B
As Rod the Mod headed into the '80s, he might have been singing better than ever, but the material he and his band were conjuring was hit and miss. This was a band composition, centered around Rod and a drum machine, with the rest of the band coming in at various times. One presumes someone threw out the title and then lyrics were shouted out after the mirrors and blades turned white powder into lines that went up various noses. The song is reasonably catchy, and Rod sounds great, but he was capable of better. And worse.

39. Lady (You Bring Me Up) - Commodores: B
This sounds like something that foreshadowed Lionel Richie's solo career, but it was co-written by the band's multi-instrumentalist, William King (along with his wife and one of the Commodores touring musicians). It's like a more pop, less funky, Earth, Wind & Fire, though one could certain wonder what this would have sounded like if Philip Bailey had sang it. The lush production is a plus, and the group harmony vocals are really good.

40. Crying - Don McLean: B
Back in the '70s, McLean had some not-so-nice things to say about artists who covered oldies. But by 1980, with the hits dried up, he couldn't beat 'em, so he joined 'em. He did a respectable job on this Roy Orbison classic, which is a very good song, that was made great by Roy's performance. Don didn't let that intimidate him. and he did a pro job on it.

41. Hearts - Marty Balin: B+
Yacht rock hadn't disappeared, but there weren't as many great yacht rock songs in 1981. This one, from former Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship member Balin was just a continuation of the blue-eyed soul tunes he was doing with the Starship. The only thing missing was Grace Slick on backing vocals, as Balin again went to songwriter Jesse Barish, who wrote some of those Starship hits (like "Count on Me"). Critics hated this, but this is smooth in just the right way.

42. It's My Turn - Diana Ross: B-
This was the theme song for a Jill Clayburgh-Michael Douglas romantic comedy, written by pro-songwriters, and it has that certain type of Broadway/wannabe Oscar nominee melody. The spoken intro was certainly an attempt to use a device that worked on other diva Diana hits. Once you get past that, you get a workmanlike song that really does give you an idea of what Diana Ross can add to a song, because she's doing a lot of work to make this song something other than boring.

43. You Make My Dreams - Daryl Hall & John Oates: A-
This song got a second wind, as it was used in a lot of movies in the early part of the 21st century. It's from the great Voices album that really elevated them to a higher level of stardom. The song is a great mix of new wave energy and instrumentation, with the classic R & B powered pop that was at the heart of what the group did best. The production is crisp and Daryl Hall tears the house down on this super happy song.

44. I Don't Need You - Kenny Rogers: C+
This Rick Christian song had been around a few years, and Harry Nilsson had even recorded a version. It is fascinating to hear Nilsson's version, which is pitched somewhat in the direction of his classic cover of Badfinger's "Without You" (but without the big dramatic sections, because his voice was shot), while producer Lionel Richie adds little bits that have that certain melodic thing that he did so well. Nilsson's version is better, as it's more cutting, and Rogers's isn't pained enough. It's too polite.

45. How 'Bout Us - Champaign
: A
This song sounds like a classic '70s soul song, and there's a reason for that. It was originally recorded in 1975 by the Water Brothers Band, which was a precursor to Champaign (and yes, they were from Champaign, Illinois). The original version is good, but didn't have the production behind it, but the band members knew it was a killer song, so they re-did it when Champaign signed to Columbia Records. This version is fuller and just a bit tighter, with a lot more backing vocals giving a slight gospel undertone to that achingly good chorus.

46. Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Pat Benatar
: A-
This nifty pop-rocker solidified Pat's grip on the charts, and established her as a consistent hitmaker. The rhythm guitar part is catchy onto itself, with a girl-group-type melody on top. For all of her power, Benatar had a lot of personality and it really shows, as she definitely gets into the lyrics with gusto. I'm still baffled that this song appears right before the anti-child abuse song "Hell is for Children" on the Crimes of Passion album.

47. The Break Up Song - The Greg Kihn Band: A
As Kihn and his mates went from more singer-songwriter-ish stuff to a jangly, power poppish sound, it was a mystery how a band could make such radio friendly material and not hit the charts? Heck, Bruce Springsteen wrote a song for him -- "Rendezvous". I saw Kihn play a short live set at a local radio station (big thanks for Darren Miller for letting me be his plus one) and he told the story about how Bruce wrote the lyrics down on a napkin, which Kihn put in his back pocket, and sweat through, so he couldn't read those words. Bruce's manager sent a cassette of the demo, but Kihn couldn't fully make out the words. So he faked it. Eventually, Bruce met his backstage -- he liked the recording, but wondered why Kihn had changed the words. Anyway, this song had that awesome "oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh" part and the great "they just don't write 'em like that anymore" tagline in the chorus. The song showed off some cool '60s influences, filtered through a skinny tie new wave vibe.

48. Time - Alan Parsons Project: B+
The Alan Parsons Project was really an Alan Parsons/Eric Woolfson project, was Wolfson co-wrote songs with Parsons, providing the lyrics. But the group had a rotation cast of musicians, and this pretty, vaguely psychedelic ballad was the first hit for the band to feature Woolfson on lead vocals. Parsons had engineered latter day Beatles albums and some prime Pink Floyd, and that experience shows on this splendid production, which has a full arrangement, but it's not overdone.

49. Hungry Heart - Bruce Springsteen: B
This was the big hit for the Boss from his double album set The River, but it's probably my least favorite song on the record. It's like a toned down version of Springsteen, a flat out play for the Top 40 that lacks some of the guts of his best stuff. It sounds more like something that would have come from Huey Lewis and the News a few years later, and Huey would have done it better.

50. Sweetheart - Franke and The Knockouts
: A
The bulk of the debut album from this band led by Franke Previte (who went on to pen the big hits on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, which is how he won an Oscar) is something in the mold of Foreigner and Journey. But there are a few glimmers of '60s and '70s rock, and that aspect of the band shines on this rock ballad. It's more like a mix of The Four Seasons, Billy Joel, and Del Shannon. The verses have a punchy, yet melodic, urgency, and the chorus is carried by Previte, who had a strong voice and he creates a melodic hook, accompanied by a piano hook. This is one of those tracks where the writing, performance, and production really came together.

51. Somebody's Knockin' - Terri Gibbs: A
The blind, smoky-voiced Gibbs impressed MCA Records executives with her singing, but they felt she needed better material. Pro songwriter Jerry Gillespie, who has a c.v. littered with country hits, came up with this swamp, twangy, bluesy thang that sounded like it harkened back to the days of early '70s country funk. The rollicking piano and pumping rhythm made the song instantly catchy, and it was so well suited for what Gibbs did well. She may not have had as big a career as her talents merited, but she had one great pop hit.

52. More Than I Can Say - Leo Sayer: B+
This is a nice cover of a song originally done by The Crickets, performed by The Beatles in their early days, and semi-successfully covered by Bobby Vee. The original version is a haunting harmony vocal song. Sayer waxed this with Alan Tarney behind the boards, and he brought the same sheen to the song that he did for all of the Cliff Richard singles he helmed. They make the melody sound a bit punchier, making the song more joyous, with an wonderful vocal from Sayer. I think the melody of this song is kind of close to The Police's "Every Breath You Take" (as is Alan Parsons Project's "Eye in the Sky", as long as I'm mentioning it).

53. Together - Tierra: B+
This is a sweet cover of the old soul hit from The Intruders from this Latino L.A. band full of veteran East L.A. musicians. While Tierra didn't have a big career, for these music vets, having a big hit single had to be validating. The band was lead by Steve and Rudy Salas, who had been in the band El Chicano. Steve was one hell of a singer, and he is front and center, while his bandmates sound like the Blue Notes or something.

54. Too Much Time On My Hands - Styx: A
Another great song from Tommy Shaw. Styx was part of the big arena bands of the era, but what separated Styx were the prog and showtune influences, the willingness to experiment a bit, and lyrics that sometimes aimed for social commentary. This is an example of that latter element, with some new wavey synthesizers ping-ponging in the background, while Shaw sings over a skipping beat. James Young adds some great color on the guitar, and the chorus is tightly wound with great harmony vocals under Shaw. This is the corporate rock "Pleasant Valley Sunday".

55. What Are We Doin' In Love - Dottie West
: B+
Dottie West had a solid solo career, cranking out decent sized country hits. She had far more success as a duet partner, and she definitely did well singing with Kenny Rogers. West was no ingenue. She had an earthy voice -- she sounded like a woman and she could convey so much with that voice. This has some of the hallmarks of poppy-country ballads of the time that have an eye on the adult contemporary charts. Yet there's a bit of a blusier element, so well suited for West's voice, while Rogers makes his presence felt, but West is clearly the star here. This was her only crossover hit, and nice cherry on top of a great career.

56. Who's Crying Now - Journey
: D
So Journey started off as a somewhat proggy, jazzy rock band, built on former members of Santana. At some point, they decided they wanted to sell records and forego artistic integrity, and they added Steve Perry. At his best, Steve Perry has a bit of a Sam Cooke quality to his vocals. But that quality ends up being overwhelmed by his need to sing songs at such an exaggerated emotional pitch. Granted, the songs usually were at a very large scale, but the line separating many of Journey's hits and stuff like Air Supply was pretty close. This song isn't as histrionic as some Journey, but it's grating.

57. De Do Do Do, de Da Da Da - The Police: C+
I'm not a Sting fan. He has that whiny voice, which early in his career was made even worse by his faux-Jamaican accent on the reggae tunes. He certainly had skill as a songwriter, and he's a hell of a bass player, one-third of a trio of stellar musicians. But he has so many songs with dog crap lyrics. He's the master of lyrics that are intended to be deep that would get a failing grade in a sophomore poetry class. This is one of those songs, a statement, I suppose, about not having anything to say, which didn't really need a statement.

58. This Little Girl - Gary "U.S." Bonds
: A
There are plenty of examples of great songwriters penning numbers for their inspirations, but rarely does it work out that the new song equals the great hits of yore. Now Bruce Springsteen didn't attempt to touch the crazy party atmosphere of Bonds's old hits like "Quarter to Three". He just wrote a great rock and roll song that had a definite '60s feel, and trusted that Bonds still had the chops to pull it off. And yep, he did. His slightly weathered voice is just right for this bopping tune.

59. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around - Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: A
Tom Petty and Mike Campbell didn't write this song specifically for Nicks. But Jimmy Iovine was producing Petty and the Heartbreakers and Stevie, and he thought the track would sound great with Stevie singing it. And that's why Iovine has made so many millions. This smoky, swampy song was not typical Top 40 fare, but Nicks was gold at the time, and she and Petty had such great vocal chemistry, so thanks Mr. Iovine for making this happen.

60. Giving It Up for Your Love - Delbert McClinton
: A-
I'm sure McClinton was as surprised as anyone to have a smash hit single. The veteran Texas blues rocker didn't see the pop or rock charts very often, but he was well respected by musicians and critics and probably would have been bigger about 20 years later. The song sounds like a Texas version of the early J. Geils Band hits, with a great rhythm and a strong chorus.

61. A Little in Love - Cliff Richard: A-
Another slice of great pop from Richard and songwriter/producer Alan Tarney. He just had a knack for sunny, shimmering, melodic songs with just the right splashes of acoustic guitars and keyboards. And who better to sing such cheery music than British superstar Richard? While he never came close here to the level of stardom he had in the UK, it had to be gratifying that he finally had a run of hits in the States.

62. America - Neil Diamond
: A
I'll admit that this grade is affected by seeing Neil Diamond live, at Marcus Amphitheatre at the Summerfest grounds in Milwaukee. It was an encore number. The video screen showed his Russian immigrant grandparents and he told the story of their coming to America, which totally hyped of the crowd for this big, dramatic, energetic song. However hamhanded it can be, it's got a big heart.

63. Ain't Even Done With the Night - John Cougar: B
John Mellen Cougarcamp's route to playing big arenas was a twisting one, but he had some hits on the way to finding his specific heartland sound. This song made some noise (figuratively) on the adult contemporary chart, as it's a mellow R & B/rock number with a sweet melody and ingratiating lyrics. The song definitely has a '60s vibe, but it's a bit too polished for it's own good.

64. Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do) - Christopher Cross: B
Burt Bacharach was one of the four writers on this song, and his parts seem pretty easy to figure out, as that special melodic magic glimmers through in a couple of spots. The chorus is classy indeed. It's a shame that they couldn't find a good singer for it.

65. Another One Bites the Dust - Queen
: A
John Deacon bites a bass line from Chic (from "Good Times") and Queen adds another notch on it's genre belt. This song was a massive pop and dance hit, and brought Queen to a new audience. Roger Taylor's playing is pretty straight forward, letting Deacon handle the funk on his bass, and Brian May shows that he could play some funk guitar. Meanwhile, Freddie Mercury throws himself into the song, giving it that added intensity that fits the relentless rhythm, and giving Queen yet another classic single.

66. Games People Play - Alan Parsons Project: B-
A lesser song from the APP, kind of a pop-ified take on their earlier, prog-rock flavored work. This song was well made for album rock radio, and this was an era where some of those songs crossed over to the pop charts, with no rhyme nor reason. I like the opening of the verses, and Lenny Zakatek, who sang on a number of the Project's hits, does a good job, but something about the chorus doesn't do it for me.

67. I Can't Stand It - Eric Clapton: C
A rare self-penned number from Slowhand, and it's ostensibly a rocker. The blues-based song is supposed to be angry, but a more amped up performance would overwhelm Clapton's slight vocals. So instead of smoking, the song plods along amiably, and for a guy who can't stand it, Clapton merely sounds perturbed.

68. While You See a Chance - Steve Winwood
: B
Winwood's second solo album was a gigantic smash, even though it seemed to run away from what makes Winwood special. Smoking vocals? Replaced by engaging warbling. Red hot guitar playing? No, keyboard based tuneage. Stinging blues-based songs? No, frothy, melodic pop. So Winwood had to be neutered to become a big commercial success. This song has a bit too much vim, and not enough R & B undertones, to be yacht rock, but it's adjacent.

69. Master Blaster (Jammin') - Stevie Wonder: A
There have been a number of U.S. Top 40 hits that have a reggae beat, but this one really dives into it. Wonder had toured with Marley, and while this was pretty much his sole stab at the genre, he mastered it (pun intended) right away. The song has a great groove and the production is awesome. It's not slick, but it's dense, with the horns sounding thick, and other instruments blending together, with Wonder's voice cutting through everything.

70. Hello Again - Neil Diamond: C+
The third of the trio of hits from the remake of the Jazz Singer that Diamond starred in, and it's an uncharacteristically indistinct song. Usually, a Neil Diamond song makes sure it's hook is there and easy to latch on to. Neil gives a good performance, but it's just an okay tune.

71. Don't Stand So Close to Me - The Police
: C+
Sting and the cod-reggae kings hit the charts with this chronicle of a potential child sex offender. I suppose this was still the era when rock stars slept with teenage girls and it was just accepted, but this song, written by the former school teacher is kind of like a moralistic exploitation movie. Worse yet, Sting clearly thinks he's being so sophisticated. I presume the genesis of the song was the rhyming of "shake and cough" with "Nabakov." How brilliant.

72. Hey Nineteen - Steely Dan: B+
Walter Becker and Donald Fagen could have written a dozen songs of this stripe in their sleep. Which says a lot about how good they were. The verses simply exist to support Fagen's sharp lyrics about an older guy trying to seduce a college student, and the chorus is pithy and catchy, but really just something to break up the story Fagen is telling. It's comfortable and cynical.

73. I Ain't Gonna Stand for It - Stevie Wonder: A-
As long as he was doing a reggae song on the swell Hotter Than July album, why not throw a bit of country into the mix. While this is still an R & B song, Wonder sings it with a drawl and Hank Devito of Emmylou Harris's Hot Band plays steel guitar on the song. Wonder drops the drawl on the snappy chorus, where he's joined by Charlie and Ronnie Wilson of The Gap Band, who provide backing vocals. This one doesn't get much play on the oldies stations, but it's a really good song.

74. All Those Years Ago - George Harrison
: B
Rather than write a maudlin song in tribute to former bandmate John Lennon, Harrison went with something both peppy and wistful, with some synth/electronic magic driving the song, and sweet melody over his punny reminiscing ("you were the one/who imagined it all"). The tone is interesting, and Harrison's empathetic streak meshes well with the poppy trappings.

75. Step By Step - Eddie Rabbitt: B-
Rabbitt's guide to how to win over a lady is a pop-country song that is cute, and too cute to stand up to repeated listening. The chorus is well-structured, but grows tiresome.

76. The Stroke - Billy Squier: A+
I'm glad that Squier, a rock and roll veteran, had his moment in the sun with some big hits. This was his best, a primal slab of thick guitar riffery, matched by his keen melodic sense, and vague but direct lyrics, leading to a simple, but mind-numbingly catchy chorus. For all that, what makes this song is the production. Squier worked with the great Reihnold Mack, and it was Mack who gave the record it's stylized sound (a trademark of his work), typified by recording the snare drum and then reversing the tape. So that massive sound on the record is a backwards snare. It's one of my favorite sounds on any song.

77. Feels So Right - Alabama
: B-
This song may have been a precursor to Hootie and the Blowfish. It's a real interesting meld of pop-country, with some gospel-spiked soul in the chorus. Lead singer Randy Owens penned the tune, and the song is generic in the verses, but the chorus works so well. The song is dragged down by the production, which is a bit antiseptic and instead of diving into the soul elements, it seems to fight them.

78. Sweet Baby - Stanley Clarke and George Duke: B
Even jazzmen have to eat, dig? The great bass player Clarke and pianist Duke teamed up and released a gooey soul ballad that seemed to be what The Stylistics would have sounded like if they started in 1980. Duke certainly had a commercial voice, and once one heard the chorus of the song, it was hard to immediately get out of one's mind.

79. Same Old Lang Syne - Dan Fogelberg: D
This song is basically takes the storytelling of Harry Chapin and mixes it with the grit and guts of Christopher Cross on vocals. It's like a bad Lifetime movie, come to life, but without any racy content to make it vaguely palatable.

80. Cool Love - Pablo Cruise
: B-
The last gasp for these veteran yacht rockers was this smooth piano ballad. The song has the requisite bit of R & B, and oozes the appropriate amount of sincerity. But this just makes one want to throw on some Ambrosia instead.

81. Hold On Tight - Electric Light Orchestra: B+
Working with Dave Edmunds was still in Jeff Lynne's future, and maybe they bonded over this rockabilly-tinged hit. Lynne gets to break out his Roy Orbison voice (which he got better at into the '80s), and the song bops around a great pace. While not ELO's best, it's a fun little ditty. And I presume Lynne really raked in the royalties, when this became the theme song for the series of commercials for the National Coffee Association's Coffee Achievers campaign.

82. It's Now Or Never - John Schneider
: C+
Bo Duke covers the Elvis Presley hit! Record producers certainly wanted to exploit Schneider's boyish good looks and decent voice, so why not trot out this Americanized adaptation of "O Solo Mio"? They apparently didn't have that much confidence in him, and this is really overproduced, sounding almost like something that you'd have in a production at Opryland or Disneyland. Schneider hits a note at the end that showed his potential, and while this was his sole pop hit, he eventually scored a bunch of number one country hits.

83. Treat Me Right - Pat Benatar
: B+
This song was recorded by a band called Riff Raff, and heaven knows how it came to the attention of Benatar or producer Keith Olsen. But it's a solid pop-rock song, which threads it's melody through basic power chords. This song gets Benatar into her wronged woman mode, where she combines exasperated, edgy vocals with her wonderful upper range in the chorus. This was acceptable for the AOR stations loading up on corporate rock, but it was a lot more listenable.

84. Winning - Santana: B-
After the success of Journey, which had a number of former members of Santana, Carlos Santana decided if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So he brought Scotsman Alex Ligertwood on board to provide a poor man's version of Steve Perry's vocals, and brought in some pop material. That included this song that was penned by former Argent guitarist Russ Ballard. Ballard's original version is solid pop-rock, and Santana made it a bit wimpier, and with Ligertwood, a whole lot whinier. It's a good enough song, and that got the band back on the pop charts.

85. What Kind of Fool - Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb: C-
Compared to the other singles from the Guilty album Gibb produced for Streisand, this was a generic, paint-by-numbers ballad, with nothing special about it. The two make good duet partners, but this is just limp musically.

86. Watching the Wheels - John Lennon
: A
This is a philosophical mid-tempo number that sounds like a (relatively) sprightly cousin of Lennon's classic "Imagine". And producer Jack Douglas adds some reverb to the mix, giving the song a similar quality to Phil Spector's production of Lennon back in the day. There's a wistful, contemplative feel to the song, and I'm struck by how peaceful Lennon sounds, as the title phrase has an Eastern religious aspect to it.

87. Tell It Like It Is - Heart
: B+
This song was certainly an outlier in Heart's career. After hitting the chart with plenty of rockers, this cover of the Aaron Neville soul hit came out of nowhere (I think it was a track on their combo hits/live album). Ann Wilson gives the song a different vibe. Neville's vocals were smooth and chill, but Wilson attacks the song in a neo-Janis Joplin manner. What makes this work is she isn't balls out the whole song. Better than one might have expected.

88. Smoky Mountain Rain - Ronnie Milsap
: C+
This song has a bit of a feel similar to some of Glen Campbell's country-pop songs, but it's more slick and treacly. Although top notch songwriters composed this, it doesn't really have anything very special. The production is all about making it sound big, and Millsap gives it his all, and it's catchy but dull product.

89. I Made It Through the Rain - Barry Manilow
: C+
This song was originally recorded by Gerard Kenny, who co-wrote the tune about a struggling musician. Manilow must have gone nuts when he first heard Kinney's song, as the chorus was tailor made for him. But he thought the lyric would be better if it was more universal, so Barry and two other guys re-contextualized the song. This has the feel of some of Manilow's earlier, better singles, but it gets a little too showtune-y at the end, which was Barry's M.O. by then.

90. You've Lost That Loving Feeling - Daryl Hall & John Oates: B+
This is a very well done cover of The Righteous Brothers' classic, which is toned down a bit, and tightened for a more '80s feel. This shows the tune was more than Phil Spector production tricks. I wish I could hear these guys singing it over The Righteous Brothers' music.

91. Suddenly - Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard: C+
This was the love theme from the movie Xanadu, in case anyone has forgotten. Written by ONJ's producer, John Farrar, it's a sweet, acoustic ballad, with maybe a touch of the Bee Gees in its sound. Olivia and Cliff have decent vocal chemistry, but the song is just a little too precious for my taste.

92. For Your Eyes Only - Sheena Easton: B
This James Bond theme was co-written by Bill Conti, who was writing for a singer along the lines of Donna Summer or Dusty Springfield. But Sheena Easton was suddenly hot. Conti was underwhelmed, but the song was written. And then re-written, because the title phrase only came up at the end of the song, and the producers wanted to hear it more often. Regardless of what Conti thought, Easton gave a nice performance of the song, and she even appeared in the opening credits. She's the only Bond theme singer to appear in the opening credits.

93. Beach Boys Medley - The Beach Boys
: C/F
On one hand, stringing a bunch of classic songs together can't be all that bad, so that's worth a C. But this was such a hack job, with not much thought or creativity put into it. Even though there are eight songs in the four-minute medley, the first minute of the track is "Good Vibrations", which wouldn't seem like a bad thing, but what's the point. I suppose this made some kids aware of The Beach Boys, but still.

94. Whip It - Devo
: A
It's still weird to me that this was the big hit off of Freedom of Choice, as opposed to the relatively poppier "Girl U Want". Come to think of it, it's weird to me that Devo actually had a Top 40 hit. They had a couple of other near hits, but this song made them one-hit wonders. But the hit showed off the band's songwriting and arranging smarts, as it's full of hooks. And while it's not the most subversive song in their catalog, they had to feel perversely happy that their big hit was a string of bland idioms over a disco-on-speed drum beat.

95. Modern Girl - Sheena Easton: B-
This was Easton's debut single in the U.K., and second single here. It's a superficially feminist ode (written by men) paying tribute to the 9 to 5 set (which was followed by a song from the point of view of a housewife, showing Easton's versatility). Easton's voice is a bit thin on this one, but it's appealing, and she certainly improved over time. This is pretty innocuous.

96. Really Want To Know You - Gary Wright: A
Wright didn't have many hits, but all three of them were fantastic songs. This is a synth-fueled ballad, with Wright showing off some soulful vocals, making this the yacht rock of the future. The best part of the song is the instrumental coda with a little bit of lead guitar, and the synths kinds of whooshing in the background. Not many big pop hits have that type of atmosphere.

97. Seven Year Ache - Rosanne Cash: A
I'm not sure if any child of a famous singer has had as an artistically successful career as Cash. She is one of the great songwriters of her generation, with a flair for specific details and interesting concepts, yet she's never overly clever or wordy. Her clear singing compliments the songwriting, resulting in wonderful lyrics. It's no surprise why she was marketed as country, given the bloodlines, but her music was basically proto-Americana, as country, blues, soul, jazz, and pop all found the way into her mix. This was her only pop hit, but it's so representative of her artistry. The song is tuneful and full of feeling. She takes an idiom (seven year itch) and gives it a twist, and then creates lyrics that are detailed but with ambiguity that allows for multiple-interpretations. She has plenty more this good.

98. I'm Coming Out - Diana Ross: A-
This LGBTQ anthem was inspired by Nile Rodgers seeing drag queens dressed as Diana at one of her concerts. Allegedly, Ross was clueless to what "coming out" meant in the gay community and was angry once she learned this. Well, if that was true, perhaps the fact that not only did the song become yet another big solo hit, but has endured in her catalog might have salved any wound. As far as the song goes, this is one of the popper numbers that Rodgers and Bernard Edwards conjured during the era when they could do little wrong. It has some hallmarks of the Chic sound, but this was definitely well tailored for Ross.

99. Miss Sun - Boz Scaggs
: B+
This single was included in Scaggs' Hits! compilation, and unlike some of those bonus songs that were tacked on to force fans to buy an album comprised of songs they already owned, it did pretty well on its own. David Paich wrote the song, which was demoed by the group of musicians who ultimately formed Toto. The song was given to Scaggs, and certainly Toto didn't really show as much of a R & B side, whereas that was a large part of Scaggs' success. This is slinky, blue-eyed soul that has just a hint of the disco sound that was falling off the charts.

100. Time Is Time - Andy Gibb: B+
This was also a new song on a greatest hits compilation, and Gibb's penultimate Top 40 hit. Andy co-wrote this with Barry Gibb, and this sounds like something that would have fit in on Children of the World or Spirits Having Flown. It's not as R & B fueled, but some of that was there in traces, and has a bit more of rock backbone, which shows up in the excellent chorus, with Barry's prominent backing vocals.

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