Thursday, May 14, 2020

Grading the Top 100 Billboard singles of 1980

1. Call Me - Blondie: A
This is a thrilling collaboration between Giorgio Moroder and Debbie Harry. The song was for the movie American Gigolo, starring Richard Gere. Moroder had an instrumental that he gave to Harry for her to write lyrics and a melody. The music is pulsing and urgent, while Harry came up with simple, direct lyrics that told the story of the character well. And the chorus is golden. Although the recording is very mechanistic, it still sounds a bit different with a band playing on it (though Moroder decided not to produce a full album with Blondie, due to in-fighting between band members).

2. Another Brick In the Wall - Pink Floyd: B+
This was a left field hit from the concept album fathered by Roger Waters about how every aspect of his young life led to him becoming a screwed up human being. The song has a funky aspect to it, from both the guitar and Nick Mason's drumming, which contrasts well with Waters' hectoring lyrics. The way the "hey, teacher, leave them kids alone" explodes out of this dyspeptic groove is very effective. The children's chorus works in spite of itself. I loved this song back in the day, but I like others on this album better now.

3. Magic - Olivia Newton-John: B+
Another winner from producer-writer John Farrar, who really knew how to tailor material for ONJ. This was on the soundtrack to the movie Xanadu. The song comes from a somewhat similar place as her prior hit "A Little More Love", and seems to mesh well with some of the material Jeff Lynne and Electric Light Orchestra developed for the soundtrack. The chorus relies on Olivia's wonderful upper range.

4. Rock With You - Michael Jackson: A+
This is the ultimate Michael Jackson solo song. It's got such a soulful, smooth groove, with just a bit of funk to it. And this might be his best vocal as a grown up, before he became so reliant on vocal tics that marred later recordings. The song is so joyous and the production relatively spartan. Everything is just in place.

5. Do That to Me One More Time - The Captain and Tennille: D
Toni Tennille composed this song, which purports to be about having sex more than once with Darryl Dragon in one night. Pass.

6. Crazy Little Thing Called Love - Queen: A+
This was the first song written for Queen's outstanding album The Game. This was Freddie Mercury's tribute to Elvis Presley, which he said took him only 10 minutes to write. And the song was pretty much recorded on the spot. The song definitely is retro rockabilly, but it's not slavish imitation. The song has a swing to it and John Deacon's bass playing is fantastic. Brian May added a great guitar solo and Mercury nails it, as per usual.

7. Coming Up - Paul McCartney: A-
Apparently, some radio stations played the studio version, while others played the live version, which is looser. This is another Macca so-simple-it-shouldn't-work special. What makes the song work is the bouncing rhythm, which is catchy onto itself. Then just add some a basic melody, simple lyrics, and have McCartney do his vocal magic, whether it's pinched and stilted in the new wave-y studio version, or more soul shouter on the live version. John Lennon said nice things about this song.

8. Funkytown - Lipps, Inc.: A
This one shot from Minneapolis has no direct association to Prince and his minions, but something was definitely in the water there. This is a proto-synth pop meets disco meets funk (just enough funk to comply with government regulations on how much funk you needed in the song to use "funky" in the title). The song is full of little rhythm hooks, until the chorus, which is simple but really effective.

9. It's Still Rock and Roll to Me - Billy Joel: B+
This might be the most despised song in Billy Joel's catalog. For some, it's the co-opting of new wave or rock. For others, they see the lyrics as some sort of slap at new wave and punk and whatnot. I take the song at face value -- no matter how styles and genres change, rock music is still rock music. The contrast between the bass-dominated, "modern" verses and the more '50s style rock choruses (along with that sax solo), make it seem obvious to me. Anyway, I love the sound of this record and the lyrics have a nice rhythm.

10. The Rose - Bette Midler: B
So this was a big show stopping ballad from a motion picture. As far as big, show stopping ballads go, this one isn't so bad. And the Divine Miss M gives this an excellent reading. It's weird that Midler plays a Janet Joplin-esque character, and this is nothing like anything Joplin would have recorded, but hey, it's the movies.

11. Escape (The Pina Colada Song) - Rupert Holmes: C-
This song has endured, but so have lots of diseases and stuff. The fun story of an unhappy couple that wants to cheat on each other, and by relying on personal ads, they meet each other has a nice chorus, and Holmes' typically detailed lyrics. But the faux tropical sound of the song is cheesy, and Holmes's lead vocal makes him sound like he'd have been good friends with Larry on Three's Company, because Larry needed someone who was lamer than him to hang out with. Creepy.

12. Cars - Gary Numan: A
A major song in the acceptance of electronic in rock music. Numan certainly was influenced by early Ultravox and David Bowie, but he brought his own ideas to the table, for sure. One thing he did was layer multiple synthesizers to create a wall of sound in the same way a more conventional rock band would do the same thing with guitars. That gives this song a lot of power. For a guy who could come up with lovely melodies, this song actually feeds into the robotic aspects of her persona, but gosh if it isn't memorable.

13. Cruisin' - Smokey Robinson: A
Robinson had already recorded the song "Quiet Storm", which gave a name for a certain type of romantic soul ballad. This song is a bit peppier than what became quiet storm, but it's such a great declaration of love, with sweet sentiments, a strong melody, and a killer chorus.

14. Working My Way Back to You / Forgive Me, Girl - The Spinners: B
This is a medley, the first song a cover of an old Four Seasons hit, with the other song written by disco producer Michael Zager, who also produced this song. To Zager's credit, he doesn't deviate too much from the Philly soul sound of the classic Spinners' sides from earlier in the '70s. The only disco element is the rhythm track. The songs are pretty foolproof, and the vocals are strong, as to be expected.

15. Lost In Love - Air Supply: D
Air Supply had been kicking around Down Under for a few years, when they somehow got on the radar of Arista Records boss Clive Davis, a man who could leave no schlock unturned. There is no denying the craft of this group, but they make Barry Manilow seem subtle, with songs that sound like Hallmark Greeting Cards come to life. This is a re-recording of one of their Aussie hits, and Russell Hitchcock's voice is so cloying.

16. Little Jeannie - Elton John: B+
This song is a leisurely stroll. This is the highest charting song from the team of Elton John and lyricist Gary Osborne. The song seems to mix a bit of the melodic feel of "Daniel" with a vaguely tropical melody. This is about as yacht rock-y as Elton ever got and this is a pleasant diversion.

17. Ride Like the Wind - Christopher Cross: B-
And here he is, the next guy to sweep the Grammys! I read a book on yacht rock where Mr. Cross proclaimed that he was really a hard rocker at heart. Not sure how that never manifested itself in the studio. This is a dramatic song with Cross's typically pallid vocals, and assistance from Michael McDonald. The song certainly has drive and the chorus and middle eight/instrumental break are good.

18. Upside Down - Diana Ross: A
This was the first single off of Ross's Diana album, where she worked with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. This is a cool song that isn't just Ross singing over a Chic tune. It's not far removed from a Chic tune, but it has an unusual melodic structure in the verses that shouldn't work with the chorus, but the juxtaposition is pretty cool. And this is a great performance by Ross, as she really underplays her vocals, and her phrasing is clipped in the chorus, which sounds really cool.

19. Please Don't Go - K.C. and The Sunshine Band: B-
This was the first number one hit song of the '80s. It's was also the first KC ballad, and it sure tries hard. The song does have a sturdy melody, and whatever Harry Casey lacks in range to pull this off, he almost makes up for with the commitment in his singing. It's not that this is bad, but it's unexceptional and doesn't play to the group's strengths.

20. Babe - Styx: C-
While Dennis DeYoung has gotten way too much crap from his former bandmates, when they owe most of their livelihoods to him, this song deserves their contempt. This is a powerless ballad, a saccharine, limp song that is really more suited for a teen idol than a rock band. Truly lowest common denominator stuff. But it just made them bigger stars.

21. With You I'm Born Again - Billy Preston and Syreeta: A-
This dramatic ballad amazingly sprang from the soundtrack of the Gabe Kaplan comedy, Fast Break, about a motley college basketball team with Kaplan as the coach. I remember the scene where Kaplan is driving some players in his car, and one of the players has a pound of marijuana. Suddenly, there's a cop car in the background, Mars lights on, and fearing they will be pulled over, everyone in the car begins eating the marijuana. Stuffed with weed in their gobs, the cop car gets closer...and speeds by them. And scene. Anyway, this is a sweeping, lovely song, with both Preston and Syreeta (Stevie Wonder's ex-wife) emoting in sympathy with the music. This is better than a lot of Oscar-winning movie songs.

22. Shining Star - The Manhattans: A
The final pop hit for this swell R & B vocal band was co-written by producer Leo Graham, who had written many hits for the great Chicago soul singer Tyrone Davis. This song could have come out in the '70s, and has a sunny melody, a strong lead vocal, and the group's patented harmonies. It's also a rare R & B hit to feature an acoustic guitar as the primary instrument.

23. Still - The Commodores: A-
Another big ballad from the pen of Lionel Richie, and another song where he takes his own sweet time getting to the chorus. You can only get away with that if you are writing something really appealing in the verses and other parts of the song. And that's certainly true here, as Richie's melodies are superb and the song really moves, with the temperature sometimes turning up and Richie's singing going along with it. That is builds to the title phrase, sung with quiet intent, is really sweet.

24. Yes I'm Ready - Teri De Sario With K.C.: C+
This is a serviceable cover of the Barbara Mason hit from the '60s, and the song holds up pretty good. De Sario went to high school with Harry Casey, showing how important it is to have connections. The vocal performances don't really elevate the song, and Casey, one might say, drags it down a bit.

25. Sexy Eyes - Dr. Hook: D
Don't let the fact that country singer Keith Stegall co-wrote this song. It's more of that unexceptional, sorta yacht rock, with the added fun of a disco-styled bass line. The song isn't sexy, by the way. I wonder how the guy in the band with the eye patch felt about this song.

26. Steal Away - Robbie Dupree: C-
Dupree allegedly was sued by Michael McDonald because this song was too similar to "What a Fool Believes". I don't quite get that, but Dupree certainly studied the moves of McDonald and Kenny Loggins. Come to think of it, he sounds like the poor man's Kenny Loggins. The song has a nice lead guitar part that serves as a hook, but Dupree's singing is a bit too wimpy, even for a wimpy song.

27. Biggest Part of Me - Ambrosia: B
More light R & B-inflected pop from David Pack and crew. This song is well-structured, but would have served from having a more sympathetic vocalist than Pack. I mean, he's serviceable here, but he's better in the lower part of his range.

28. This Is It - Kenny Loggins: B
1980 was clearly the apex of yacht rock. Loggins and Michael McDonald wrote this together, and Michael Jackson was taking notes, as the verses on this song seem to have foreshadowed some of MJ's more ballad-y material. This song does a great job moving from the slinky verses to the upbeat choruses, and Michael McDonald's backing vocals really make this a much stronger song.

29. Cupid / I've Loved You for a Long Time - The Spinners: B
The last big hit for The Spinners was another medley, courtesy of producer Michael Zager. I now realize that Zager worked out a great gimmick. Cover a great song, in this case, a Sam Cooke hit, and then tack on your own tune as the other part of the medley, and you get half the royalties, even though the better-known song is doing the heavy lifting. This is a solid rendition of the tune, but doesn't rank with the best of The Spinners.

30. Let's Get Serious - Jermaine Jackson: A
This was a really grooving tune that managed to stay in the R & B realm without any real obvious disco moves. Thank co-writer and producer Stevie Wonder, who was nearing the end of that part of his career where he could do no wrong, and was still putting out such great music that he could afford to fob a great tune like this off on a needy artist. Jermaine Jackson was talented, but what is clear is that he didn't have the personality to take an average song and make it great. But give him a great song like this one, and he wouldn't blow it.

31. Don't Fall In Love With a Dreamer - Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes: C+
Little did record buyers know what was on the horizon for Kim Carnes, who co-wrote this big-assed ballad. Admittedly, the chorus is rock solid and Carnes really is the reason why. It's not too often that Kenny had a female duet partner who had a more weathered voice than his.

32. Sailing - Christopher Cross: D-
I wasn't sure if I hated this song because of the song or because of Cross's whiny vocals. So I hopped on to Spotify and sampled a few covers of the tune, including the one from N SYNC. It turns out that both Cross's vocals and the song suck. The song is so sickly sweet.

33. Longer - Dan Fogelberg: B-
So why does Dan Fogelberg get so much better, relatively, of a grade for his sickly sweet ballad? Well, the melody here isn't as puke inducing. Parts of the song are rather lovely. And Fogelberg's singing doesn't annoy me nearly as much. So I'm probably grading it too high.

34. Coward of the County - Kenny Rogers: F
This story song is sort of coming from the same place as "The Gambler". But "The Gambler" didn't have a verse that involved gang rape. I get it -- they have to motivate this pacifist protagonist to fight for something. But did they have to go so far? This song grossed me out then and continues to do so to this day.

35. Ladies Night - Kool and The Gang: B+
Phase two of the Kool and the Gang story begins here. Vocalist James "J.T." Taylor came into the fold, with a certain medium cool singing style, and the group, who wrote most of their hits, added a bit of pop to their approach. For a brief time, like on this song, they became a New Jersey version of Earth, Wind, & Fire, as this song mixes the funk with some solid melodies.

36. Take Your Time (Do It Right) - S.O.S. Band: A-
This is a nice piece of disco-funk from this Atlanta group whose name is an acronym for "Sounds of Success." While they did have a decent amount of success on the R & B charts, this single, their first, was their only Top 40 hit, and a big one it was. The song has such a great backing track and everything plays off of that. The chorus has a melody that fits the rhythm just right.

37. No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) - Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer: B+
A double diva duet delight, with Paul Jabara, who wrote "Last Dance" for Summer, co-writing this one. This song follows the same template, with a long, slow build up until the song explodes into disco frenzy, allowing both singers to go for it. Their voices blend really well together. One time, I was with some friends at Berlin for Drag Races, and one performer did this song, dressed half as Barbra and half as Donna, and the performer would stand in profile depending on who was singing. It was fun.

38. Too Hot - Kool and The Gang: A-
This is a nifty piece of simmering funk-pop, where it was clear that adding James "J.T." Taylor to the group was a great move. This song is tailor made for his medium-cool voice, and his voice works over this great groove. The great horn work is a bonus.

39. More Love - Kim Carnes: A-
After writing some hits and hitting the charts as a duet partner, this was Carnes's first solo Top 40 hit, and it was a cover of Miracles hit from the '60s. This is a great recasting of a Motown classic into contemporary pop, with a great use of electronics and a keen understanding of how Smokey Robinson's melody could adapt to the different instrumentation. And then Carnes topped it off with an emotional vocal that really engaged with the lyrics. Smokey loved this version so much, he wrote a song for Carnes to sing: "Being With You". She ended up doing a Jackie DeShannon song instead.

40. Pop Muzik - M: A+
One of the biggest early new wave hits was from an interloper. Robin Scott had worn a bunch of hats in the music industry for years, from folk singer to producer, when he concocted this tinny bit of whimsy that was just intended to comment how whatever style, it's just music in the end. The quirky synth-pop had an unintended rap element, with Scott's rhythmic cadence being part of what makes the song so catchy. He never had another U.S. hit (he did hit the Top 40 one more time in the U.K.), but made a few interesting albums as M. The picture sleeve feature a heavily airbrushed picture of his (then) baby daughter.

41. Brass In Pocket - The Pretenders: A+
The song that introduced Chrissie Hynde to the world, and the great band playing with her. Co-written with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, this is a splendid composition, with music that has a tension in it. The song is about a woman about to go out with a guy and feeling pretty confident in her prospects of getting lucky. Yet there's a sadness in the melody, and one can interpret the song as eventually finding her losing that confidence. Or maybe she's content. Anyway, there's a lot going on in here. And what really was so great about Hynde was one of the most distinctive singing styles around. Apparently, Hynde thought that the group had failed after they recorded this and she didn't want to put it out.

42. Special Lady - Ray, Goodman & Brown: A
Ray, Goodman & Brown were the old vocal group The Moments, but they had to change their name when they switched labels. This turned out to be the last pop hit for the trio. This song defied all contemporary trends, as it was a buttery smooth sweet soul love song that sounded like it should have come out in 1972. The studio chatter at the beginning and end of the song, with the singers giving each other tips, was a brilliant touch, and the song -- co-written by Ray and Goodman -- is beautiful. Indeed, the whole album this comes off of is great.

43. Send One Your Love - Stevie Wonder: B+
Stevie's run of incredible albums ended with his soundtrack for the movie The Secret Life of Plants, which was more score than songs. This was the sole hit from the album. This is gentle ballad, with certain melodic wrinkles that are patented Wonder melodies. All in all, a good song, but he had a number of album tracks on the prior five albums that were better than this.

44. The Second Time Around - Shalamar: B+
The second Top 40 hit for this R & B trio featuring Jody Watley and Howard Hewett. Early in their career, they were produced by Leon Sylvers III of The Sylvers, and this song has some of the same effervescence of that group. In other words, this is a fine slice of pop-R & B, with an old school melody. It's pretty mid-tempo, but did very well on the disco charts too.

45. We Don't Talk Anymore - Cliff Richard: A
Cliff Richard finally strung together some hits in the U.S. during the late-'70s/early-'80s, and the big reason was writer Alan Tarney, who wrote or co-wrote most of those big hits. This song is lumped in with yacht rock, but it's not as R & B oriented and simply really good pop. The song is full of great hooks and has a nifty pulsing rhythm, giving the song a great flow throughout. And Richard couldn't have been a star for so long if he didn't know how to nail a great song, which he did here.

46. Heartache Tonight - The Eagles: C+
I think this song was the template for Shania Twain's career. The handclaps and big back beat, the easy to singalong to chorus, and the basic lyrics. Of course, Shania did this stuff a whole lot better. Don Henley and Glenn Frey co-wrote this with J.D. Souther and Frey's childhood buddy Bob Seger, and one wonders how it took four people to compose this. So the production tricks carry the song, as the performances are there, yet not too exciting.

47. Stomp! - The Brothers Johnson: B+
On the heels of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, Quincy Jones tried to adapt some of the ideas from that album to his proteges, George and Louis Johnson. Jackson's prime co-writer, Rod Temperton of Heatwave. So this is a light-disco variation on the polished soul-funk of Jackson's. It's well-rendered, but it's missing a vocalist with a lot of personality, and I'm saying that as a real fan of The Brothers Johnson. The song is so good that it was a hit, but anyone could have had a hit with it.

48. Tired of Toein' the Line - Rocky Burnette: B+
The son of early rock 'n' roll singer Johnny Burnette co-wrote his sole hit, which has a bit of a nod to early rock 'n' roll with its old school melody. The song also has a prominent lead guitar line and a cheerful lead vocal from Mr. Burnette. It has vibe somewhat akin to Billy Swan's "I Can Help", although it's not quite as good a song.

49. Better Love Next Time - Dr. Hook: C-
More subpar yacht rock from the Hooksters. I think a lot of distaste for the group is the combo of how cutesy their songs are, which is exacerbated by the vocals of Dennis Locorriere, which aren't bad, but there's just something that rubs me the wrong way. This song has some slight disco touches that make it blend in with what else was being played on the radio at the time.

50. Him - Rupert Holmes: B-
Another story song from the future author and TV show creator. Holmes simply wasn't a very good singer, but the lyrics of this song paint a picture of a guy getting cuckholded and the lead to a decent chorus.

51. Against the Wind - Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band: A-
Perhaps it was (and still is?) overplayed, but this rock ballad with slight country undertones has a relaxed feel that I really like and could be called proto-dad rock, with its message of endurance. Indeed, Seger said that the song was inspired, in part, by his days running cross country in high school. Seger had a voice that sounded, at the time, older than he was, so why not sing songs pitched for older folks?

52. On the Radio - Donna Summer: A
Another great Donna Summer-Giorgio Moroder collaboration. Disco was starting to wind down, but because Summer's song had firm R & B and pop roots, and Moroder could maintain the dance floor sound without sounding cliched, this song works very well. And the fact that Summer was such a great singer didn't hurt.

53. Emotional Rescue - The Rolling Stones: B
This song wasn't quite as good as "Miss You", which is sort of the sequel to, with Mick Jagger showing off his falsetto even more. This R & B/disco thang just doesn't have much to it, other than a nice hook in the chorus. Back in the day, me and a friend at my high school radio station rewrote the song as "Sanitational Rescue": I'll be your knight in shining armor/riding on a fine, new garbage truck. You had to be there.

54. Rise - Herb Alpert: B
This song was number 80 in the year-end 1979 countdown. I wrote this about it a couple weeks prior: This song might better known for being sampled by The Notorious B.I.G. on his song "Hypnotize". The song was co-written by Herb's nephew, Randy "Badazz" Alpert, who adopted the nickname apparently to take away attention from his famous last name. This is the great (or at least good) yacht rock instrumental, with it's low key funk backing. Alpert's tasteful playing is true to his muse, without undermining the rhythm.

55. All Out of Love - Air Supply: C-
Arista Records head Clive Davis actually co-wrote this song. The song itself is well constructed, and is worth a B or B+. But the extreme sappiness of everything they sang is just too much to take.

56. Cool Change - Little River Band: B
I have a soft spot for this spacious ballad from Down Under. Lead singer Glenn Shorrock wrote this one, and the song is fairly reserved, with lines like "the albatross and the whale, they are my brothers," with a build up to the big saxophone solo (which live, was turned into a guitar solo). The song is dramatic, but earns it's big payoff in the middle, and the harmonies in the chorus are spot on.

57. You're Only Lonely - J.D. Souther: B+
This song was definitely a throwback to '50s-style rock. It sounds like a collision between Roy Orbison and his buddies in the Eagles. And three Eagles pitched in on the backing vocals, along with Phil Everly (talk about the '50s) and Jackson Browne. Souther has a really nice voice, and the production is great. The drums are bit further out than one might expect, and the melody fits right on top of it. Danny Kortchmar adds some tasteful lead guitar work.

58. Desire - Andy Gibb: B
This was a leftover from the Bee Gees' Spirits Having Flown album. Not just the song. Andy's older brothers just wiped the lead vocal off the track that they had recorded and had Andy lay his own breathy vocals on top of it. Andy basically had the same lower register as Barry, without the extreme falsetto. So he truly was a second-rate version of his brother. This is not a top drawer Bee Gees song, but it not an obvious pop song, and mixes in some interesting pieces that come together just well enough to make it a good record.

59. Let My Love Open the Door - Pete Townshend: A+
Towser's biggest solo hit almost didn't make his classic Empty Glass album. Pete's manager didn't like the song. In fact, Pete has said it's just "a ditty." And yes, it's about as pure a pop song as he had written since the '60s. Like a lot of the songs on Empty Glass, it has religious overtones, even though many probably think it's a love song. But Pete said it's not from the point of view of his guru, Meher Baba. Instead, Pete has said it's sung from the point of view of Jesus. Whatever. This is a masterpiece song from a master songwriter, and the fact that Pete could hit with something that is dominated by a keyboard is surprising and cool.

60. Romeo's Tune - Steve Forbert: A
I'm not sure where Forbert sits in the lineage of people called "the next Dylan," but it was an unfair comparison. Not because Forbert wasn't talented, it's just that, like a few others compared to Zimmy, Forbert was simply a poppy folk musician. And this song is a superb pop song, with that great piano part enhancing the melody, and Forbert's slightly sandpapery voice sounding great. A real gem.

61. Daydream Believer - Anne Murray: B
There is nothing original in this cover of the classic Monkees' tune. They even used the piano intro that was developed by Peter Tork. That's not a criticism - why mess with perfection? Unfortunately, this version can only suffer in comparison, despite the wise decision to do it in the best possible arrangement. Murray sounds good, like she always does, although her controlled vocals just can't convey the excitement that Davy Jones did on The Monkees' version.

62. I Can't Tell You Why - The Eagles: A-
This surprisingly soulful number was a late-career highlight for the Eagles. This put the spotlight on Timothy B. Schmit, who was advised by Don Henley to "go Al Green" with this tune. That was a really good choice. The band nails the soulful vibe and groove and Schmit demonstrates why the Eagles maybe should have had Schmit do a few more of the lead vocals that went to Henley (but probably didn't, because Henley wrote more material).

63. Don't Let Go - Isaac Hayes: B+
It's actually surprising that Hayes didn't do better than the disco era, since a lot of the production techniques that he used on his classic early-'70s sides were adapted for the disco era. When he switched to Polydor Records, he finally had a big disco hit, from a surprising source. This song was hit for Roy Hamilton in 1958, and it's a bopping rockabilly number. Hayes did a great job of adapting the catchy parts to a much different musical setting. This was his last Top 40 pop hit and it's pretty good.

64. Don't Do Me Like That - Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: A
Prior to this, TP and the Heartbreakers had one Top 40 hit, as "Breakdown" snuck into the chart briefly. This song was the breakout for the band, and I would guess that it doesn't get too much airplay nowadays, even among the songs from the great Damn The Torpedoes album. But give this a listen and you can hear why it hit big. It's a bubbly rock tune with obvious pop potential, with hints of both early-'70s rock and classic '60s pop. The verses are bouncy and the chorus is simple and effective, and the middle eight is fantastic.

65. She's Out of My Life - Michael Jackson: B
This was the big ballad from Jackson's Off The Wall album. It was written by a guy name Tom Bahler, who, at one point in his career, sang background vocals on Partridge Family records. He eventually became a successful songwriter. He allegedly wrote the song for Frank Sinatra, but the Chairmen of the Board never recorded it. Bahler said the song was based on when Karen Carpenter broke up with him when she found out he had fathered a child with another woman. So it's just your typical song. Well, as a song, it's a fairly indistinct ballad, that benefits from Quincy Jones producing it and a nice vocal from Michael, who wears a sweater over a shirt in the video for the song.

66. Fame - Irene Cara: B+
The former child star, who had a gig on The Electric Company before she was a teenager, hit it big with this single of the same name, with the music for the song composed by Leslie Gore's younger brother. The song sounds like a cross between a Broadway tune and a Donna Summer single, with it tilting a bit more to the Summer side of that combination. So the song is really energetic and Cara gives a really nice performance, but she had even a better one coming up from another big hit movie.

67. Fire Lake - Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band: A-
This was the first single off of "Fire Lake". Seger started writing the song in 1971, put it aside, worked on it in 1975, for the swell Beautiful Loser album, but never finished it, and finally got it done in 1979. The song has a very distinctive feel with a bit of R & B gospel mixing with some country-folk. Throw in three Eagles on backing vocals, and relaxed, conversational vocal from Seger on this sort of story song, and you get a hit that showed a new side to Seger.

68. How Do I Make You - Linda Ronstadt: A-
This peppy number came from Mad Love, which was Ronstadt's "new wave" record, where she covered three Elvis Costello songs. This song was originally done by a band called Billy Thermal, and it turned out to be a big break for its writer, Billy Steinberg, who ended up writing tons of hits in the '80s. This is about as rocking as Ronstadt ever got. The song just bursts out of the gate with aggressive drums and guitars and Ronstadt right out front. She tears into it, never losing energy. If anything, she gains it at the end.

69. Into the Night - Benny Mardones: C-
The song itself is a really well written and performed ballad, with a throat-ripping chorus, and Mardones is singing his guts out. But those opening lines: "She's just 16 years old/leave her alone they say." It would be a better song if the next line was "and I did" and the song ended.

70. Let Me Love You Tonight - Pure Prairie League: B-
So Pure Prairie League was a country soft rock band, whose final pop hit edged more towards yacht rock, and was sung by a guy who went on to become a gigantic country star, Vince Gill. This sounds like something adjacent to Orleans, Pablo Cruise, and England Dan and John Ford Coley. The chorus is memorable enough that I didn't have to go to the internet to refresh my recollection. Beyond the chorus, it's kind of meh.

71. Misunderstanding - Genesis: B+
The second Top 40 hit for the prog rock veterans was a more blatant pop move, as Phil Collins was really pushing the band to be more commercial. The bass line is lifted directly from Sly & The Family Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime", and Collins has said that song, along with The Beach Boys' "Sail On Sailor" and Toto's "Hold the Line" were inspirations. So the number is greatly lacking in originality, but if you're going to borrow, borrow from really great songs. I like the tune a lot, but it gets docked one notch because the bass line theft is too blatant.

72. An American Dream - Dirt Band: D
I was stunned to learn that not only was this song a cover, but it was written and performed by the great Rodney Crowell. It sounds like a Jimmy Buffett tune, and then the formerly great country Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, with their truncated name (they should have gone for Gritterson Dirtship instead) took the song a bit closer to Dr. Hook territory. So a formerly great band does a crappy song from a great songwriter and has a big hit.

73. One Fine Day - Carole King: B+
Sometime last decade, Carole King released an album of demos of the great songs she wrote back in the day for other artists. It's fantastic, and made me wish that she released more volumes of demos. This is King doing the big hit she co-wrote with Gerry Goffin for The Chiffons. The piano hook is still there, and the California backing doesn't trip it up too much. This song has a timeless appeal and this deserved to be a hit again.

74. Dim All the Lights - Donna Summer: A-
Summer's evolution as a songwriter is really impressive, and she was the sole writer of this R & B ballad/disco song that follows the "Last Dance" start slow, pick up the tempo pattern. Summer originally wrote the song for Rod Stewart, but changed her mind and wisely kept it for herself. The backing track is really basic, what carries the song is the strong melodies Summer crafted that she executes perfectly with her lead vocal.

75. You May Be Right - Billy Joel: B+
This is bar band rock with smarter (but not exactly smart) lyrics, and less authentic, to my mind, than the oft-derided "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me". The tough guy persona Joel adopts isn't all that convincing, even accounting for his Golden Gloves boxing past. Nevertheless, Joel's ability to put his pop touch on whatever style he chose is impressive, and there's something I like about this chugging tune despite all its flaws.

76. Should've Never Let You Go - Neil Sedaka with Dara Sedaka: D
A duet by Neil and his teenage daughter Dara. The song is a sapfest of high proportions. It's got strings, backing vocals, and plenty of other syrup. Neil and Dara sing it well, I suppose. But love songs sung by father and daughter are inherently icky, even if they are as relatively chaste as this one.

77. Pilot of the Airwaves - Charlie Dore: A-
Dore is a one-hit wonder both here and in her native UK. This folk singer co-wrote the song and Alan Tarney, who masterminded Cliff Richard's hits during this era co-produced. Dore gets some bouncy accompaniment that is somewhat akin to that on Richard's hits. The big hook is the a capella chorus at the beginning. The song then chronicles a lonely woman who has a distant, and possibly unhealthy, relationship with a DJ. Dore doesn't play it like the woman is disturbed, but more like the DJ is just someone who is making a down period in her life a little bit better. This song came out in 1979 and has a last-gasp-of-the-'70s feel to it. Anyway, it's catchy and well done. It was the last song played on the pirate station Radio Caroline.

78. Hurt So Bad - Linda Ronstadt: A
I like this song now more than I did then. This was a Top 10 hit for Little Anthony and the Imperials in 1964 and was kind of forgotten, and listening to it, it's a both a great song and a great neo-Spectorian production. I don't think Ronstadt tops that performance, but she may equal it. Her longtime producer Peter Asher for Ronstadt didn't change the arrangement but found a way to keep the '60s classic vibe but with SoCal rock feel of her usual records. And boy does she tear into this song -- a great performance.

79. Off the Wall - Michael Jackson: A-
Heatwave's Rod Temperton wrote this hit all by himself, and it really is a quintessential slice of the urbane light funk that he specialized. And it's definitely a song that showed Michael Jackson's vocal style coming closer to what he did on subsequent records. The production is fantastic, and the chorus is so smooth.

80. I Pledge My Love - Peaches and Herb: B
I don't recall this song getting played on Chicago radio. It peaked at number 19 on the pop charts, but spent five months on the Hot 100, so that's how it ended up on the final 100 list. This is a very old school soul ballad. Other than some modern production touches, this song could have come out in the '60s. This could have used a bit of Phil Spector, and is the rare charting ballad that I think could have been pitched higher emotionally.

81. The Long Run - The Eagles: C-
The title track from the last studio album from these superstars is a bland mid-tempo tune that has Don Henley singing at his whiniest. There are number of reasons I'm not so keen on the Eagles, and not being a big fan of Henley's vocals is certainly part of it. This is too rock for yacht rock, but too yacht rock to really belong on rock radio

82. Stand By Me - Mickey Gilley: B
This was the sole pop hit for the country star who was also the cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart. This is straightforward country cover of the Ben E. King classic, with the requisite steel guitar, strings, and other countrypolitan touches. Gilley's got a nice relaxed and invested approach. It doesn't touch the original, but it's a nice cover.

83. Heartbreaker - Pat Benatar: B+
Benatar's first hit was a cover of British singer Jenny Darren's song from 1978, written by two producers at Strawberry Studios in Manchester (the studio founded by 10CC). This cover is pretty faithful to the original. Darren was a bit bluesier than Benatar, but both were powerful singers. The Benatar version is a bit more polished and tighter, and with Mike Chapman co-producing, that's to be expected. I recently took a deep dive into some of Benatar's back catalog and she has a bit more in common with Debbie Harry than one might think. They have different types of voices, but like Harry, Benatar really changes her approach based on the lyrics and feel of the music, and she aces this song.

84. Deja Vu - Dionne Warwick: B+
This song was co-written by Issac Hayes and produced by Barry Manilow. It's a low-key R & B ballad and Manilow shows more restraint that usual in the production chair. The song has a soulful bass line and a very classic, '60s-style melody in the verses. The chorus sounds more modern, and Manilow inserts some subtle strings in the background that give it just the right touch. Well done all around.

85. Drivin' My Life Away - Eddie Rabbitt: A
Rabbitt co-wrote this song at the behest of the producers of the movie Roadie, who wanted a driving song. Rabbitt and his colleagues worked off of Bob Dylan's" Subterranean Homesick Blues", which is how they came up with the verses. They added the smooth, soulful country chorus, without any Dylan inspiration. This was a number five hit and really solidified Rabbitt as a crossover success. This even has a yacht rock element to it. And it sounds good when driving, appropriately enough.

86. Take the Long Way Home - Supertramp: A-
This would get a higher grade if it wasn't for Roger Hodgson's annoying voice. That being said, there is nothing about this Breakfast in America track that screams Top 40 hit, so kudos to record buyers for taking a shine to this really distinctive piece of songwriting that has some Beatle-esque elements without every quite sounding like a Fabs song. The middle-eight and instrumental breaks are pretty great.

87. Sara - Fleetwood Mac: A+
There are days when this is my favorite Fleetwood Mac song. Every day it's my favorite Stevie Nicks song. This song was inspired by Mick Fleetwood having an affair with her friend Sara (how did this soap opera band manage through stuff like this) that ended their relationship, along with a baby she aborted that was fathered by Don Henley. Nicks composed this on a piano, and her initial version was allegedly 16 minutes long. The final production is simply amazing. The song just floats along, with some great backing vocals and Lindsay Buckingham's guitar work, and Mick Fleetwood's sensitive drumming (at least he was sensitive in the studio). The song has this dream like quality that envelopes the emotional vocals of Nicks. There's not another song quite like it.

88. Wait for Me - Daryl Hall and John Oates: A-
Hall wrote this swell ballad, which is cut from the same cloth as H & O's song "Every Time You Go Away", which was later covered by Paul Young. This is from the X-Static album, which showed a group in transition, as the duo was coming to grips with new wave, yet produced by David Foster and working with top session musicians. Regardless of style or genre, a timeless song is a timeless song, and Hall came up with an indelible chorus on a nice slice of blue-eyed soul.

89. JoJo - Boz Scaggs: B
It's hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice, and Scaggs was not able to follow his great Silk Degrees album with another classic, but not for a lack of trying. This single sounds like it could have been an outtake from Silk Degrees. It's a nice piece of R & B laced pop that is pretty squarely in the yacht rock camp. Backed again by most the guys from Toto, the funk is tasteful, with nifty synthesizer fills, a sax, backing vocalists, and Scaggs showing off his pipes.

90. September Morn - Neil Diamond: B-
Critic Greg Kot once called Diamond a great saloon singer, and that was a great observation. Something about his melodrama is a bit more tolerable than so much of the soft rock of the '70s and '80s. He co-wrote this song with French composer Gilbert B├ęcaud, and they later worked more on the soundtrack to The Jazz Singer. Like a lot of Diamond ballads, this sounds like an update on a '50s pop ballad.

91. Give Me the Night - George Benson: A-
Rod Temperton must have been working on this around the time he was working on "Stomp" with The Brothers Johnson, because there is some shared DNA in the two songs. Quincy Jones produced this, as jazz guitarist Benson put aside his instrument (well he played it, but he only played lead guitar on one track of the album of the same name) to be more purely a vocalist. Herbie Hancock plays electric piano on this grooveriffic track, with the big thick bass and the bright (yet nocturnal) chorus, this song is full of catchy bits.

92. Broken Hearted Me - Anne Murray: B
This number one country hit was originally recorded by England Dan and John Ford Coley. It's a slow building ballad, and a great showcase for Murray's warm vocals. What makes this better than the usual M.O.R. tune is how the chorus sneaks out from the melody of the verse. You expect the song to go big, and instead it just adds this wrinkle of a hook that is really satisfying in a song that has multiple good melodies.

93. You Decorated My Life - Kenny Rogers: C-
A sensitive, fawning love song from Rogers. This is right in Kenny's wheelhouse, but it's basically the musical equivalent of a sensitive greeting card. Ugh.

94. Tusk - Fleetwood Mac: A
How do you follow up one of the biggest selling, most classic rock albums of all time? With a double album whose title cut is a bizarre arty-pop tune. Lindsay Buckingham indulged himself fully on this strange but super-compelling song. The song originated when Mick Fleetwood suggested that Lindsay Buckingham work a riff he'd been playing into a full song. The off-kilter tune was made for this percussion fest, with all sorts of odd things getting thrown into the mix. It was also Fleetwood's suggestion that the USC marching band accompany the band, which led to the most money spent on cocaine at a single recording session for one song.

95. I Wanna Be Your Lover - Prince: A
This was Prince's first Top 40 hit, peaking at number 11, and his first number one R & B hit. His sound was still coming together, but his falsetto vocals and elastic funk guitar were right there. Of course, this was back when Prince played everything, and he was about as good at the one-man band thing as anyone has ever been. The chorus of this song is irresistible. Apparently, the song was inspired by his crush on Patrice Rushen.

96. In America - Charlie Daniels Band: C+
A fairly rote Southern rock song that is populist, but it certainly anticipates the MAGA tendencies surrounding Daniels' music (and, as we now know from social media, Charlie from real life). The patriotic message was a hook, but this isn't the most scintillating song. But CDB was on a roll at the time.

97. Breakdown Dead Ahead - Boz Scaggs: B
This seemed to be an attempt to come up with another "Lido Shuffle", but the song doesn't have the same momentum as that classic did. On the other hand, this might be one of the last boogie rock tunes to make it on the charts. While most of Scaggs's material in this era was incredibly well rendered by Toto, this song might have benefited from a greasier treatment (but it might not have charted).

98. Ships - Barry Manilow: C-
Barry Manilow didn't have a relationship with his father, who abandoned him and his family when he was two years old. So that yearning for a father attracted him to this Ian Hunter song. Alas, no matter how much Barry connected with the lyrics from a personal standpoint, his antiseptic treatment of the song really sucks the feeling out of it. Still, it was nice of Barry to get Ian some much needed royalties.

99. All Night Long - Joe Walsh: B+
This mid-tempo rock tune was on the soundtrack of Urban Cowboy, apparently as the token rock song. It has the typical charm of Walsh's material with his laid back vocals and great guitar work. The hook of the song is his primary lead guitar part, with the chorus also being pretty catchy. This isn't classic Walsh, but hearing him on the radio was always a pleasure.

100. Refugee - Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: A+
This is a pretty intense song, and by no means pop. Mike Campbell was inspired by John Mayall's cover of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman", and he wrote an instrumental demo. Then he gave it to Petty, who quickly cranked out the lyrics. The band had difficulty getting it down in the studio, doing take after take, as various problems arose, including the fact that it took Petty to the top of his range for a sustained time. The effort paid off, as this is a bracing tune with a passionate chorus.

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