Not all 80s Bubblers are made the same. Some singles signify an artist trying to get noticed. Some are at the tail end of their career. Some are crossing over from their main genre. And then some are just ahead of their time, to become classics later on. We have them all during chart week forty-three.
Prince – Uptown (debuted on 10/25/1980, peaked at #101)
Prince had a big hit from his second album in early 1980, I Wanna Be Your Lover. It got the record companies off his back and allowed him to do what he wanted while he tried to perfect his musical vision. You were going to come to him, not the other way around. That’s why he followed up his mainstream success with an album called Dirty Mind. This was a powerful shot of New Wave funk, and its lack of cross-over success was a portent of the mellow, risk-free programming that Top 40 radio would subject us to for the next few years. Or maybe they were afraid of this lyric:
“What’s up, little girl? I ain’t got time to play.”
Baby didn’t say too much
She said, “Are you gay?”
Kinda took me by surprise, I didn’t know what to do
I just looked her in her eyes, and I said, “No. Are you?”
David Bowie – Ashes To Ashes (debuted on 10/25/1980, peaked at #101)
This is a stone-cold classic, so you may be wondering why it ends up here. Well, Woman In Love by Barbra Streisand was the #1 song when this debuts. Imagine anyone in 1980 thinking those two songs should be played back to back. Bowie is driving a stick through the heart of the 70s with this one, taking his Space Oddity character, Major Tom, and turning him into a heroin fiend. It was the lead single from his fourteenth album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), and it would go to #1 in the UK.
Fun Fact: The video for the single cost £250,000, making it the most expensive at the time, even more than Thriller three years later. And MTV was still a year away from its debut.
Barry Goudreau – Dreams (debuted on 10/25/1980, peaked at #103)
After the second Boston album, Don’t Look Back, leader Tom Scholz became embroiled in a multitude of legal battles for a long time. So the remaining members, Brad Delp and Sib Hashian, joined guitarist Barry Goudreau and recorded an album together. It sounded like a warmed-over Boston record, and Tom Scholz got so pissed, he kicked Barry out of the band. Barry & Brad would form Orion the Hunter and release an LP in 1984, two years before Boston’s third offering, Third Stage. Delp was allowed to participate in that recording, but Barry was never allowed back in the fold.
Bruce Cockburn – Rumours Of Glory (debuted on 10/25/1980, peaked at #104)
Ottawa native Bruce finally found success in the US with his ninth album, Dancing In the Dragon’s Jaws, and #21 single, Wondering Where The Lions Are. His follow-up long play, Humans, led off with this 45 release, which ends up as a Bubbler. It will land in the Canadian Top 40 at #36.
Yes – Into The Lens (I Am A Camera) (debuted on 10/25/1980, peaked at #104)
Drama, Yes’ tenth album is an od one in the group’s catalog as they absorb Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes from the Buggles into the band after Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman left the group. Prog rock purists thumbed their nose at it. But when listened to it in hindsight, it’s a fantastic blueprint for where the band would travel throughout the 80s. I mean, once they would inadvertently get back together in 1983 after they officially split in 1981. Adding Trevor and Geoff was a superb decision to modernize their sound and cut down on the one-song-per-side album bloat. The Buggles would release their second album in 1981 and include a new recording of this single.
Johnny Van Zant Band – 634-5789 (debuted on 10/25/1980, peaked at #105)
While brother Donnie was getting his band .38 Special off the group, Johnny and his fellas released their debut, No More Dirty Deals. Produced by Al Kooper, it features this boogie rock cover of the 1966 Wilson Pickett classic written by Eddie Floyd & Steve Cropper. Kinds surprised the Blues Brothers didn’t tackle this the first time around. Unfortunately, they would tackle it in Blues Brothers 2000.
Curtis Mayfield – She Don’t Let Nobody (But Me) (debuted on 10/31/1981, peaked at #103)
I think I knew all of Curtis’ solo material, so I was surprised to find this single from an album I didn’t own called Love Is The Place, his twentieth release. To succinctly sum it up, Mayfield gets on the yacht. This 45, co-written and co-produced by Dino Fekaris, would reach #15 on the soul charts.
Jefferson Starship – Save Your Love (debuted on 10/31/1981, peaked at #104)
Now that Mickey Thomas had taken over the band and had a hit with Jane in 1980 [#14], Grace Slick slid her way back in. She joined the group for their follow-up album, Modern Times, which yielded the #29 track, Find Your Way Back (Grace wasn’t on that one.) This was the third single released, a Pete Sears co-write with his wife, Jeanette.
Fun fact: bassist Pete and Jeanette would write the band’s next two Top 40 hits, Be My Lady & Winds Of Change.
Gary Wright – Heartbeat (debuted on 10/31/1981, peaked at #107)
Gary had his first Top 40 hit in five years since the twin #2 peaks of Dream Weaver & Love Is Alive in 1976. The #16 peak of Really Wanna Know You from the LP, The Right Place, was followed up with this catchy pop-rock single that couldn’t get any traction at Top 40 radio. It features backing vocals by David Pack from Ambrosia and Timoty B. Schmit.
Fun fact: Gary has a sister, Lorna, who recorded a soulful Westcoast pop album in 1978 called Circle Of Love.
Spinners – You Go Your Way (I’ll Go Mine) (debuted on 10/31/1981, peaked at #110)
The Spinners had two big comeback hits in 1980, and they tried to parlay that success throughout the decade. This midtempo ballad, written by James Mtume & Reggie Lucas, was the first single from their upcoming album, Can’t Shake This Feelin’, the feelin’ being that the salad days were over. It barely snuck into the R&B Top 40, settling at #39. Had Pop radio not tried to slam the door so hard on 70s artists, this quintet and smooth track might have had a better showing.
Al Jarreau & Randy Crawford – Your Precious Love (debuted on 10/30/1982, peaked at #102)
Here’s a single from the Casino Lights album, a live concert in Montreux, Switzerland, featuring the Yellowjackets, David Sanborn, and Al & Randy dueting on three tracks. This duo adds a little more gospel and jazz into Ashford & Simpson’s sweet sentiment, originally made famous in 1967 by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It will reach #16 on the Soul charts.
The Jonzun Crew – Pack Jam (Look Out For The OVC) (debuted on 10/30/1982, peaked at #108)
And now, from Boston, we have the Johnson Brothers, not the Brothers Johnson. This trio foresaw that confusion and changed their electro-funk outfit to the Jonzun Crew. They had a handful of minor hits on the Soul charts, this being their first. This 12″ single will climb to #13 R&B and #19 in Germany, where a cult following of the group was formed. Michael Johnson, otherwise known as Maurice Starr (don’t ask), was also busy discovering five young kids from Roxbury called New Edition.
Mary Jane Girls – Boys (debuted on 10/29/1983, peaked at #102)
One of four Bubblers from this Rick James-produced debut by a female quartet. This synth-funk jam will climb to #29 on the Soul charts, the group’s third straight Top 40 hit.
Timothy B. Schmit – Playin’ It Cool (debuted on 10/27/1984, peaked at #101)
Imagine working your ass off in an established band (Poco) but never reaching that next level. Then one day, you get a call to join the biggest rock band in the world (Eagles), only for them to implode after one album. Welcome to Tim’s world. [Don’t feel too bad. He’ll rejoin the reformed Eagles in 1994 and get payyyyyy-d.] His first solo single, So Much In Love, was on the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack and peaked at #59 in 1982. This single was the title track to his debut, and it sounds like it could have been featured in that movie as well. J.D. Souther co-wrote the track and sings back up.
The Staple Singers – Slippery People (debuted on 10/27/1984, peaked at #109)
The Staple Singers’ last Top 40 hit was the #1 smash, Let’s Do It Again, in 1975. And then Pop radio ignored them for the rest of time. In 1984 Pops got the kids together for their first album in five years, Turning Point, and it featured this fantastic cover of the Talking Heads’ track from Speaking In Tongues. That they were ignored again by Pop programmers speaks volumes to their tight-fisted conservative playlists where Soul had very few opportunities. It will climb to #22 on the R&B charts and #4 on the Hot Dance/Disco charts.