This June 20th, 1981 countdown should make the WestCoast/ Yacht Rock lover in you go wild. Or mild. No matter if its country, funk, jazz, rock, soul, pop or what, this is surely one of the lightest and fluffiest countdowns I’ve listened to in a while. This is Top 40 just before MTV.
BTW I think I’ve heard each of these songs at least once waiting in line at a drug store, so this whole group is Rite Aid Rock to me.
40. Billy Squier – The Stroke
Billy’s Top 40 debut is on its way up into the Top 20. This may the hardest thing in the 40 this week, even if it has a ferns-in-soft-focus sheen to it. The rumor was that this song is about flogging the dolphin but I believe it’s about Billy getting stroked by the music industry in every sense of the word and even includes some march-in-line military drums during the last chorus. If it the song sounds a bit like Queen, it may be because Queen’s producer Reinhold Mack produced Billy’s Don’t Say No album as well.
39. Champaign – How ‘Bout Us
NAOHW – Named after a town in Illinois, this septet slides down the chart from its high of #12. Their smooth vocals and mellow funk rhythm made it a Top 5 Soul hit and a #1 on the Adult contemporary charts. Check out the band in this song’s video. They are so into each other, they look like they might form a human centipede.
Remember MTV did make bands film videos. Bands already filming videos are what created MTV.
38. Juice Newton – Angel of The Morning
Country singer, Juice Newton finally crossed over to the pop charts in 1981 with three Top 10 singles from Juice, with this 1968 Merillee Rush cover being the first. On the Big 80’s countdown, Alan mentions that Juice was her debut, which was incorrect. She had recorded three albums under the band name Juice Newton and Silver Spur in the 70s, then another two under Juice Newton before 1981. So she was already a music vet by 1981. In fact her version of It’s A Heartache, a hit for Bonnie Tyler, reached #86 in 1978.
Note to Sirius XM: this info is very easy to find.
37. Styx – Too Much Time On My Hands
Here’s some more Illinois music, this time courtesy of Styx. For some reason, lots of kids in my neighborhood had Paradise Theatre, the LP that this hit comes from. Some of them would chide me that I wasn’t a big Styx fan, so I would pretend I was. I immediately realized how stupid that was and it would be a lesson for me to never apologize for what I liked or didn’t like.
36. Carole Bayer Sager – Stronger Than Before
OHW – Carole Bayer Sager was a songwriter who had some big hits under her belt, such as Groovy Kind Of Love & Nobody Does It Better, when she decided to embark on a singing career that lasted three albums over three years. She went out on a high note with her only Top 40 song from her LP, Sometimes Late At Night, produced and co-written with future husband, Burt Bacharach on its way to a #30 crest. She would have bigger co-writes on the horizon including That’s What Friends Are For and Arthur’s Theme.
35. Grover Washington Jr. – Just The Two of Us
OHW – In 1981 I was introduced to my second favorite Grover, maybe now my first, courtesy of this song from his 1980 album Winelight, which spent seven months on top of the Jazz Albums charts. GW was slowly moving away from his 70s fusion albums into his own space now referred to as smooth jazz. And it doesn’t get any smoother than Grover’s sax and Bill Withers’ vocals. This song sat at #2 for three weeks unable to break up the Kim Carnes juggernaut of Bette Davis Eyes.
This song tells you everything you need to know about 1981. America needed to chill out and regroup.
34. Stanley Clarke & George Duke – Sweet Baby
OHW – I haven’t heard a lot of mistakes recently on the Big 80s Countdown, but this week Alan Hunter back announces this song as one by “two of the great guitarists of all time”. Yes, Stanley Clarke plays bass and founded the fusion group, Weather Report. But George Duke? Sorry, Alan. [Actually sorry to the research staff for doing a poor job.] George was a well-known jazz keyboardist who also played with Zappa.
Clarke & Duke would record three albums together.
33. Juice Newton – Queen Of Hearts
The Juice is loose with her second Top 40 hit in the countdown and it’s destined for greatness and a #2 peak behind Endless Love. It was written by Hank DeVito who played with Emmylou Harris and provided some pedal steel guitar on the upcoming #31 hit. The original version was recorded by Dave Edmunds in 1979.
32. Jesse Winchester – Say What
OHW – This Canadian singer-songwriter is sandwiched between two Country songs which generally would have been fine for a single off of one of his earlier albums. But Jesse takes the turn that the Dirt Band took in 1979 and adds some Island vibes to his folk pop creating a forgotten Yacht Rock gem. This breezy little tune was produced by Willie Mitchell, known primarily for producing early 70s classic Soul by Al Green in Memphis.
31. Rosanne Cash – Seven Year Ache
OHW – If there ever was such as a thing as New Wave Country, this would be it. Rosanne wrote and sings this song with such a beguiling mix of sassiness and melancholy and it sat well next to some Tom Petty or The Police on the radio. Shoot, that steel guitar might as well as be a lead on a Prophet 5.
It was produced by her then-husband Rodney Crowell and would make it up to #22. [Rodney also recorded Queen Of Hearts with Hank DeVito on guitar in 1980. Nashville is tight, y’all.]
30. Alan Parsons Project – Time
PFK – The Alan Parsons Project usually consisted of partners Eric Woolfson & Alan playing synths, writing the songs, engineering and producing the albums while letting other singers take a chance singing lead. On this track from The Turn Of A Friendly Card whose concept is based on the human effects of gambling, Eric steps out for the first time as lead singer as well as Alan who sings backing vocals. The two create a haunting vocal effect together and its make this dreamlike ode to passing on one of their best. It will be their second consecutive Top 20 hit.
Time keeps flowing like a river to the sea, til it’s gone forever.
29. Jim Photoglo – Fool In Love With You
NAOHW – This track is Jim’s 2nd and last Top 40 song. Even though it will peak at #25, they must have played this a lot on a radio station where I grew up cause it definitely sounds like 1981 to me. Maybe I watched this awesome video too much. I wonder how much more successful the song would have been if Jim could’ve afforded to hire Michael McDonald on backing vocals. You can read about Wm’s thoughts on this song here.
Jim would go on to write lots of Country hits including #1s for Alabama and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
28. Pure Prairie League – Still Right Heart In My Heart
PPL’s country rock vibe fit in perfectly during Country music’s pop crossover attack in the late 70s and early 80s. Most likely that’s what contributed to their resurgence as well, not to mention they added future Country legend Vince Gill to their lineup as lead singer. This would be their last Top 40 hit at its peak this week.
27. Manhattan Transfer – Boy From New York City
Here’s a cover of the 1965 #8 hit by the Ad-Libs that the Transfer would eventually take up to #7. This takes me right back to my basement, listening to K-Tel’s Dimensions compilation on 8-track with my brother on our 2-XL as we pummeled the hell out of each other. In fact, songs #40, 33 & 30 were on that compilation as well, with more to come as we travel up the charts.
Manhattan Transfer’s first Top 40 hit was back in 1975 with Operator, based on gospel singer Sister Wynona Carr’s Operator Operator. Even after their founder and leader Tim Hauser passed away in 2014, the band carries on and they put out a great album last year called The Junction.
OHW – One-Hit-Wonder
NAOHW – Not A One-Hit-Wonder
PFK – Perfect for Karaoke
RFW – Ripped from Wikipedia
STA – Second Time Around