Eleven songs peaked on 2 February 1980.
Softly we met with a kiss
“Remember (Walking in the Sand)” by Aerosmith, a blues-rocking cover of the debut single by the Shangri-Las peaked at #67. Whereas the original sounds funereal, Aerosmith gave it a sharper bite by wisely dropping the moronic, naively maudlin vocal lead-in and making the chorus something of a rockabilly shuffle. It’s still overdone, but less ridiculous, which succeeds in doing what a cover should do: reinterpret a song but not to the extent that it’s no longer memorable. Not my cup of tea, but it serves its purpose.
Share my popcorn and jellybeans
After Prince’s genre-defying “I Wanna Be Your Lover” we needed someone to remind us what mainstream disco sounds like, and Sister Sledge does so suitably with “Got to Love Somebody” (#64). Though it’s straight up disco with the twonky bass, standard brass section, and far more singers than are necessary, Sister Sledge do better than the average disco group in the topics they sing about and the lyrics they use in doing so. This an empowering song that takes the specifics of loneliness without overselling loneliness as the end of the world– being the only hand in the popcorn box at the movies — and then the change in attitude that, presumably, will fix the situation. The song isn’t making any promises other than that this girl is going to have fun looking for her next beau at the discos than she was watching rom-coms alone.
You’ve probably been crying forever
Sometimes you have to be careful with YouTube. I Don’t Want to Talk About It” by Rod Stewart (#46) is a case in point: he rerecorded it in 1989, and I nearly reviewed the wrong version. This one is acoustic, and as a result feels a lot earthier, and more sincere, not adjectives I normally associate with Rod. His trademark gravelly voice works here to make him sound like he’s on the verge of tears, a vulnerability I really appreciate in a good ballad. And it fits the lyrics: in consoling an ex who has been hurt in some way, he’s absolving her, hinting strongly that he still loves her, sure, but not wanting to linger an the wrongs she’s done him. The guitar work is nice, too (though I could have passed on the wonky key change toward the end), so all In all, a pleasant surprise.
Given any day there’s a jet flying somewhere
John Stewart is a former member of The Kingston Trio, and given “Lost Her in the Sun” (#34), he must have been the one with the boring voice. Nevertheless, good songwriting and good delivery overcome vocal failings, and John Stewart delivers on this score. “Lost Her in the Sun” is an aching ballad about a lost love; he wonders what he’s done that his girl should fly away without letting him know why, and he may never know. He does know it’s going to hurt forever, like cold wind cutting deep into his soul. And he knows, whatever it was, it’s his fault he’s lost something wonderful — he’s lost her in the warmth and light of the sun, after all. Really this song is about as perfect as a two-verse lost love song can get.
Dance with you, romance with you
Full disclosure: I was four years old in 1980, which means that like some of the young ‘uns out there today who are unaware that Sting got his start in a band called The Police, I was unaware that Chaka Khan started out with Rufus (who isn’t actually a person at all, but just the name of the band). They had a string of top-40 soul and disc hits through the 70s, of which “Do You Love What You Feel” (#30) was the final bookend. Lyrically, it’s nothing special. Musically, it’s fun, but not doing enough to really be memorable.
“Why Me” by Styx (#26) deserves its own entry.
Well, I wouldn’t stop for a million bucks
“Don’t Let Go” by Isaac Hayes (#18) is his last hit. It’s a bit unusual for him in that it doesn’t feature his voice the way you’d expect. He’s pushed back in the mix, so much so that the jaunty funk guitar seems to get top billing over him. Don’t get me wrong, this song is infectious; I dare you to listen to this without getting restless legs. It’s just not a good showcase for Isaac Hayes. Really, this should be a Grace Jones song (a la “Pull Up to the Bumper“, which fell one spot shy of the Hot 100 in 1981) — she can put the sultry sexiness that a choppy bouncy song needs, whereas Isaac Hayes is just too smooth for this kind of beat.
You’re a different space in time
Speaking of Isaac Hayes, he’s one of the talents behind “Deja Vu” by Dionne Warwick (#15); he wrote it with Adrienne Anderson, and Barry Manilow produced the whole album. Perhaps this is why the song sounds like living purple lame. Listening to it, can’t you just imagine Dionne standing on a stage in, say, Las Vegas, wearing a purple lame gown, dripping in white rhinestones, exhaling this east ditty as a bunch of cigar-chomping businessmen sit around totally ignoring her? I say ignoring her, because the way she delivers this song is barely substantial; it’s more a well-practiced breathing pattern than a series of words with natural inflection or even meaning. like so much cigar smoke and twinkling light, it drifts around in the background, greasing social skids but leaving not much of substance in its wake.
In the public eye, giving someone else a try
“Don’t Do Me Like That” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (#10) is another vulnerable rock song, albeit with a bit of a macho twang to it. Here’s a guy who’s trying hard not to admit he’s in love with the girl he’s seeing, and he’s tryin’ to play it all cool warning her if she strays she’s going to get hurt, just as much as he would. It’s a fine example of a guy transitioning from the free-wheeling womanizer to the marrying kind. I’m not sure exactly why this is top ten material, but the competition wasn’t all that strong, as we’ve been seeing. If it sounds a bit on the high-school anthem side, like, oh, “Centerfold by the J. Geils Band, you’re not alone: Wikipedia tells us that Tom Petty nearly gave this song to J. Geils, thinking it sounded more like their style than his.
All the debutantes in Houston
At #8, we have another loping bit of somnolent rocking from The Eagles, “The Long Run“, which isn’t making me like them any more than I did before. It’s another rambling litany of related sentences that don’t get much further than establishing that the singer was a cad, and now he’s not, and it’s because he’s in love, and she should treat herself better, too. If it were a little more drunk it would sound just like “Heartache Tonight“; there may have been room on the charts for them both in 1980, but I certainly don’t have the energy for both.
And finally, “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson spent its last week at #1, and every #1 deserves its own page.