Put The Right Letters Together

We’re continuing our recap of the Billboard Top 40 from June 4th, 1988, with the Top 20, a group of songs that has mostly disappeared from retro radio rotation. Was it just a pop radio lull? Was 60s nostalgia distracting station programmers? Or do they suck and/or put you to sleep? At least half of these are ballads, and most of these tunes are mellow, so we should have enough supermarkets and elevators to support them on their Muzak playlists. Let’s run through them and see.

20. Lita Ford – Kiss Me Deadly

THW – I prefer just about anything that Lita did as the Runaways guitarist to this song. But that’s not the point. Very few females succeeded in the male-dominated genre of metal. And even if one had a pedigree such as Lita’s, she still needed the support from the new manager, Sharon Osborne, to push her third album out to the public for them to hear it. It’s catchy pop-rock on its way to #12 with production from Mike Chapman and a harder edge provided by Pat Benatar’s back-up band.

19. Cheap Trick – The Flame

After struggling to reach the Pop charts through most of the 80s, this Power pop quartet from Rockford, IL had their biggest hit with this slow song, the first single released from their tenth album, Lap Of Luxury – perfect for proms and just in time for graduating Seniors. So So I’ll skip it, thanks.

18. Brenda K. Starr – I Still Believe

THW – Twenty-five percent of this week’s Top 20 are two-hit-wonders. Brenda, whose dad Harvey Kaplan was an organist in Spiral Starecase, is one of them. This ballad was her first Top 40 hit from her self-titled album, and it’s on its way to a #13 peak. One of the backing singers on this track was future superstar Mariah Carey. She’ll cover this tune in 1999 and take it up to #4.

17. Pet Shop Boys – Always On My Mind

Even though Willie Nelson sang Always On My Mind like he wrote it, he didn’t. And it didn’t stop this UK duo from doing their own synth-pop version, which was prompted by a TV performance celebrating Elvis’ 10th death anniversary. It also became the most successful rendition of this tune when it peaked at #4 a few weeks ago.

16. Cher – We All Sleep Alone

Yes, everyone but Cher, who was sleeping with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora when she wasn’t chilling with that bagel dude. Good for you, Cher! This power ballad, co-written and produced by Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi, and Desmond Child, will doze its way up four more spots. Also, why hire three separate dudes when you can just hire Jim Steinman?

15. Prince – Alphabet St.

It’s a close call whether this song or Thieves In the Temple is the Purple One’s least remembered Top 10 hit. A quick little bluesy funk number, this song was a Top 10 hit in thirteen countries, including #3 on the R&B charts and eventually #8 on the Pop charts. It was written initially as a small piece of music to bridge 👁 No and Glam Slam on his new album, Lovesexy, programmed as one long track on the initial CD release. Arrested Development will sample the title of their first hit, Tennessee, from it.

Bonus points to the Big 80’s countdown, which plays the 12″ version.

14. Bruce Hornsby & The Range – The Valley Road

For a song that reached the Top 5 and #1 on the Rock and AC charts, it’s a wonder that it’s rarely heard on 80s stations today. I bought this 45 back then, and I find it far more interesting and less preachy than The Way It Is. Bruce recorded a new version of the song with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 2. It won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Recording, which pissed a lot of folks off. a la Tull and their heavy metal Grammy.

13. White Lion – Wait

THW – A recessive gene in a white lion gives it a near-translucent color, almost as if it wasn’t there. In late 1991, a group of rare Nirvana neverminds escaped from a soundgarden, and pearl jammed them into near extinction. Efforts by the USNO (U.S. Nostalgia Organization) helped bring them back into temporary existence with the last decade.

12. Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana

Thriller made MJ otherworldly. Bad was the awful side effect of that, where no one ever said no to Michael again. But after a year and four number one, no one was truly complaining. This is a true travesty in his catalog, which started to rapidly fill up with them.  There’s no groove. The music sounds plastic. Steve Stevens doesn’t come close to Eddie Van Halen. And Michael singing about cheating on his girlfriend with a groupie isn’t just unbelievable; it’s laughable. It will reach #1 and knock Debbie Gibson from the top, which seemed like progress, but the bar was so low.

11. Belinda Carlisle – Circle In The Sand

RAR – BC amiably sings through another gauzy pop song, saved by Thomas Dolby’s keyboard work from becoming too precious. But, if you need something to hum while you wait on your Vicadin prescription at CVS, it sure beats most of the ballads in the Top 10.

10. Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound Machine – Anything For You

I feel like Miami Sound Machine albums were like long auditions for the band to play your wedding. This was the group’s first #1 song and future dad/daughter dance number.

9. The Jets – Make It Real

“I need another ballad for the album. One that sounds just like You Got It All but is far less interesting. But not too sleepy that my nine-year-old daughter doesn’t like it.” – The Jets manager, Magic album pitch meeting.

8. Foreigner – I Don’t Want To Live Without You

This is the first of four Top 10 songs in 1988 that begin with I Don’t. [Elton John, Chicago, and Duran Duran will have the other three.] Not sure why there was so much obstinance going on.

7. Debbie Gibson – Foolish Beat

This is what a teen ballad about break-up sounds like when it’s done poorly. I know it seems like I always take any chance I can to dunk on poor ol’ Lil Debbie. But this is truly painful. No one ever needs to hear the thoughts of a teenage white girl with boy trouble unless it comes from Ronnie Spector or Kate Bush. The fourth single from Out Of The Blue will reach #1 in two weeks, which means it was the most popular song in the US. People thought it was better than anything else in the countdown, radio, or stores. It’s a low point in pop music from which we have never recovered. But I digress…

6. Brenda Russell – Piano In The Dark

THW – This is what an adult ballad about break-up sounds like when it’s done correctly. After a five-year hiatus, she returned with Get Here, her fourth album, highlighted by this semi-credited duet with former Brooklyn Dreams member, Joe “You’re The Best” Esposito. It’s a hauntingly beautiful tune and one of my faves from an artist I truly appreciate. And if it comes on the speakers while I’m walking down the cereal aisle towards you, be prepared to sing Joe’s part, cause I’m taking Brenda’s.

Fun fact: Singer Oleta Adams heard the title track, Get Here, in a record store while she was on tour with Tears For Fears. She decided to include it on her 1990 debut, and because we bombed the hell out of Iraq for six weeks in early 1991, it was heavily requested on radio and became a Top 10 hit.

5. Rick Astley – Together Forever

The SAW machine is in full force as Rick rolls his second Whenever You Need Somebody single up the charts on the way to another number one. It will also top the Dance Club chats, reach #2 on the AC chart, but get stuck behind Kylie Minogue for the top spot in the UK. How did we get so lost?

4. Hall & Oates – Everything Your Heart Desires

Save us, Daryl & John! Here’s the first single from the duo’s first studio album in four years, Ooh Yeah, a smoother take on Possession Obsession, if you will. It may not be their best, and it’s undoubtedly lost in a catalog full of hits, but it was a breath of fresh air back then. It will slide up one more spot, becoming their final Top 10 hit to date.

3. Samantha Fox – Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)

PFK – Believe it or not, this Full Force-written and produced freestyle jam was not a big hit worldwide. But we were suckered in over here and acknowledged it as one of the three most popular songs in the country during this week. It also contains this very wise couplet:

Don't let me be misunderstood.
Temporary love's so bad. But it feels so good.

2. Johnny Hates Jazz – Shattered Dreams

THW – This mid-tempo pop track about a pending divorce spent three weeks as the bridesmaid, but it’s lucky that it even got that far. Originally released in the Spring of 1987, it hit #5 in the UK in May. I heard it during that stretch and bought it as an import 12″. It slowly made its way around Europe, hitting many Top 10 charts before getting a US release in early 1988. Twelve weeks later, here it sits, trying to unseat…

1. George Michael – One More Try (2 wks at #1)

George had no trouble establishing himself as a superstar with his debut solo album, Faith. This is his third straight #1 from that release, from which he’ll have four total. It will reach #1 on the R&B & AC charts as well.

I feel like I need a nap.


  • OHW – One-Hit-Wonder
  • THW – Two-Hit-Wonder
  • PFK – Perfect for Karaoke
  • RAR – Rite-Aid Rock
  • STA – Second Time Around





One Reply to “Put The Right Letters Together”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.