A lot of people would have complained about being known for their ballads, but I don’t think he was one of them. It was clear that his taste in music was broad just from what he recorded, whether it was rap and spoken word songs, country songs, poetry set to music, and a few rock songs as well as blues songs. But while he was definitely diverse in the music that he performed for our label, at the same time he wasn’t someone who shied away from the ballads, even if people made fun of him around the studio sometimes for being so lame. He would smile politely but rather coldly and comment that rock musicians knew that to get on the charts they needed power ballads, so why make fun of what was done by virtually everyone, and if done well would make songs that everyone would remember forever. And, as much as we hated to admit it, he was right about that. I don’t think he would have run away from being known for his biggest ballad, and he might have felt sympathetic about those who were forced to make ballads over and over again because their first one was such a success. He covered songs by Savage Garden as part of his studio songs, after all, and they were a band that he commented often felt pigeonholed by having had a #1 hit with “Truly Madly Deeply,” a song he didn’t happen to like but could at least sympathize with when the band had been pressured to make “I Knew I Loved You,” a song he liked much better, if not as much as the songs he covered of theirs like “To The Moon And Back” and “Crash And Burn,” which as minor hits at least didn’t suffer from the overplay. No, I think he would have embraced the ballad that people liked and dealt with it cheerfully and talked about the song often as he performed it for his audiences, but he didn’t get the chance.
You know, one of the best years ever for the Billboard Hot 100 Year end list was 1983. I know it’s not the sort of year that people think about as one of the best ever, but I think I like at least 80 or 85 of the songs that made that year end list, and it is hard for me to think of a worst of list of ten songs. And it’s not as if the song has a lot of my all time favorites, there are certainly better years for that, but over four fifths of the songs are at least 8 out of ten in my book. Let’s go through them all and I’ll rate them and give a brief comment about them, and you’ll see what I mean.
1. The Police – Every Breath You Take – This is a classic of paranoid love, I’d say it’s a 9/10 at least, no matter how overplayed it gets.
2. Michael Jackson – Billie Jean – This is another classic, 10/10, something that is still covered and referenced to this day and a situation a lot of people can relate to.
3. Irene Cara – Flashdance (What a Feeling) – This is a wonderful song, 10/10, one of the best songtrack songs of the ’80’s.
4. Men at Work – Down Under – This is a wonderful song about the author’s loyalty to his country, 10/10.
5. Michael Jackson – Beat It – This is another classic from Thriller and an obvious 10/10.
6. Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart – This is a classic 10/10 that holds up remarkably well and is still enjoyable to listen to over and over again, even in literal music videos.
7. Hall & Oates – Maneater – This is 10/10, one of the best that Hall & Oates ever made.
8. Patti Austin & James Ingram – Baby Come to Me – This is at least a 9/10, a solid love ballad that I heard all through my youth and still enjoy listening to myself.
9. Michael Sembello – Maniac – This is another great song from the Flashdance soundtrack and a 10/10 for that artist.
10. Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams – This song has really gotten overplayed to the max, but it’s still a 9/10 in my book.
11. Culture Club – Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – This is an 8/10 for me, one of the best the Culture Club ever made, and one that is still enjoyable to listen to.
12. Crystal Gayle & Eddie Rabbitt – You and I – I really love this sentimental ballad, and it’s a 10/10 in my book, just because of how much chemistry the two of them have.
13. Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Come on Eileen – This is a 10/10, a classic song from a band that deserves to be known for more than one song.
14. Bob Seger – Shame on the Moon – It’s a shame on the moon that this lovely 9/10 song isn’t better known. It really shows Bob Seger’s range as a musician and is a lovely and touching song.
15. Donna Summer – She Works Hard for the Money – This song is a 10/10 classic, one of those songs that encourages people to think of women in exotic entertainment as people worthy of being respected.
16. Sergio Mendes – Never Gonna Let You Go – This is another one of those 10/10 love ballads that really works well and always makes me feel at least a little bit more content.
17. Duran Duran – Hungry Like the Wolf – This is a 10/10 classic with an amazing music video that showed Duran Duran at their early prime.
18. David Bowie – Let’s Dance – This is a 10/10 classic comeback song from Bowie, and it’s hard to imagine many people refusing to dance.
19. Golden Earring – Twilight Zone – This is a 10/10 classic song from the Dutch band that shows a darker sound of European rock at the time and is one that deserves to be much better known.
20. Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On – Can we give this one an 11 or 12/10? This is perhaps my favorite song of the year, and an amazing and dark song about paranoia and suspicion in relationships.
21. The Greg Kihn Band – Jeopardy – This song is an easy 9/10, enjoyable to listen to and well worth going back to again and again.
22. Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue – This song is a 9/10, with an enjoyable synth sound and some rather pointed lyrics about social problems that shows how to do a message song well.
23. Thomas Dolby – She Blinded Me with Science – This song is a 9/10, cheesy but definitely enjoyable, and not taking itself too seriously at all.
24. Toto – Africa – This is a 9/10, a soft rock classic that I wasn’t even mad was covered by Weezer for a comback hit of their own. This is an easy song to enjoy.
25. Prince – Little Red Corvette – This isn’t Prince’s best work, but it’s still a solid 8/10 and an enjoyable one to listen to.
26. The Pretenders – Back on the Chain Gang – I’d say this song is an 8/10 as well, it was really overplayed when I was a kid, but it would still be a top 10 in almost any year of the 2010’s, even if it is probably in my bottom 15 or 20 of this year.
27. Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes – Up Where We Belong – This is a 10/10, a classic love ballad from two people that really know how to wrong the sentiment from a song.
28. Styx – Mr Roboto – This is a 9/10, a cheesy song that doesn’t take itself too seriously and has some solid progressive rock chops to it.
29. Lionel Richie – You Are – This is a really upbeat and lovely love song, a 10/10, and one of Lionel Richie’s best.
30. After the Fire – Der Kommissar – This is a 9/10, strange but enjoyable, and it helped the world become familiar with Falco, and that is definitely worth remembering from this 80’s German classic.
31. Taco – Puttin’ on the Ritz – This is a 9/10, a silly but enjoyable remake done in 80’s style, a really enjoyable song that deserves to be remembered better.
32. Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing – This is a classic 10/10, a late-period comeback for Marvin Gaye and one that is deservedly remembered fondly to this day.
33. Human League – (Keep Feelin’) Fascination – This is a great song, a 9/10 that deserves to be remembered along with their other big hits.
34. Culture Club – Time – I’d say this is about a 7/10, with the words being whiny and irritating but the music being amazing. If this was an instrumental it would be a 9/10 for sure.
35. Men Without Hats – Safety Dance – This is an enjoyably cheesy 9/10 classic that can be listened to and enjoyed often even today with all of its overplay.
36. Toni Basil – Mickey – I’d put this at an 8/10, as it’s not as good as most of the songs from this year but is still enjoyable to listen to and was especially notable in helping Toni Basil make a lasting career in choreography.
37. Phil Collins – You Can’t Hurry Love – This is a beautiful song, a 9/10, and one whose sentiment I can totally endorse.
38. Journey – Separate Ways (World’s Apart) – This is a 9/10, a beautiful song by Journey and one that is remembered as one of their many classic hits.
39. Hall & Oates – One on One – This is a 3/10, one of the worst songs of the year, and it’s really amazing how terrible Hall & Oates sound here. There are some good reasons why this song has been totally forgotten, and it’s probably better than being flogged for the mess it is.
40. Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton – We’ve Got Tonight – This is an 8/10, a beautiful and touching song that deserves to be listened to and enjoyed even now, as a low-key but touching love ballad.
41. Prince – 1999 – This is one of those beautiful dance songs about the upcoming millennium that was a deserved hit in 1999 again, a solid 9/10 classic Prince song.
42. Stray Cats – Stray Cat Strut – This is a 9/10, a really enjoyable case of a band that really tries to capture the odd material of their song.
43. Billy Joel – Allentown – This is an 8/10, a song that shows Billy Joel’s solid songcraft and ability to thoughtfully discuss the problems of post-industrial Pennsylvania.
44. Stevie Nicks – Stand Back – This is a beautiful song, a 9/10 that shows Stevie Nicks telling off someone who left her in a lurch when she needed someone by her side.
45. Billy Joel – Tell Her About It – This is a 9/10, one of Billy Joel’s many worthwhile songs about love, giving advice about communication that is well worth heeding.
46. Naked Eyes – Always Something There to Remind Me – This is a 10/10, a really beautiful new wage ballad about the difficulty of moving on from a relationship, a great song.
47. Lionel Richie – Truly – This is an 8/10, a competent and soaring Lionel Richie ballad that is a solid song.
48. Don Henley – Dirty Laundry – 10/10, this song is a sour and acerbic one, but definitely a good one that captures our love of gossip and kicking people whether they are up or down.
49. Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney – The Girl Is Mine – This is a 10/10, a really sweet song that is easy to love and that shows some great chemistry between the singers.
50. Kajagoogoo – Too Shy – 5/10. The music to this song is solid new wave, but the lyrics are definitely a bit too cringy and aggressive, and they really drag the song down. A lot of people remember this one highly, though.
51. Adam Ant – Goody Two Shoes – 9/10, this is a really enjoyable song, even if I have always been a bit of a goody two shoes myself.
52. The Clash – Rock the Casbah – This is an 8/10, not the Clash’s best but still an enjoyable song.
53. Madness – Our House – This is a 9/10, an enjoyable song that is played over and over again to this day.
54. Men at Work – Overkill – This is a 9/10, a song about mental illness and anxiety that I can really relate to and enjoy listening to to this day. It’s a shame this song isn’t better known.
55. Duran Duran – Is There Something I Should Know? – This is a 9/10, a really enjoyable song from a band that was hitting on all cylinders with their hit singles at the time.
56. Laura Branigan – Gloria – I consider this song more a hit from 1982, but it is still a 10/10 if not more for me, one of my favorite songs of the 1980’s.
57. Rick Springfield – Affair of the Heart – This is a 1 or 2/10 for me. This is, I think the worst hit song of the year, a piece of paranoid and unpleasant music from an artist who had a lot of jealousy issues some of his better known hits.
58. The Tubes – She’s a Beauty – This is a 9/10, a song from a longtime band that just happened to hit the popular consciousness one time with a worthy and quirky song.
59. Laura Branigan – Solitaire – This is a quirky song that I’d consider an 8/10, and definitely worth checking out.
60. Styx – Don’t Let It End – This is an 8/10, an enjoyable song that isn’t very familiar nowadays but is still a good listen.
61. Laura Branigan – How Am I Supposed to Live Without You? – This is a 9/10, a song that is really beautiful and whose obvious excellence made for a Michael Bolton remake, for what it’s worth.
62. David Bowie – China Girl – This song is a 4/10, with lovely music but really cringy lyrics that have not aged well at all.
63. The Kinks – Come Dancing – This is a lovely 9/10, a song about nostalgia and humor that has some innocence about it.
64. Naked Eyes – Promises, Promises – This is a 9/10, a dark song about love gone wrong that has some really beautiful music and impassioned singing.
65. Little River Band – The Other Guy – This song is a 9/10, a song that is really beautiful and deserves to be remembered more, capturing a really awkward feeling with considerable skill.
66. Air Supply – Making Love Out of Nothing at All – This is a 9/10, one of the best songs Air Supply ever made and coming with a bit of an epic feel courtesy of its songwriter.
67. Hall & Oates – Family Man – This song is a 3/10 or so, one of the worst from this year and one of the worst from Hall & Oates ever, a song that makes “Honey, I’m Good” seem far better in comparison with this.
68. Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Startin’ Something – This is a beautiful song from Thriller and an obvious 10/10.
69. Toto – I Won’t Hold You Back – This is one of my top two or three favorite songs from Toto and a classic from a year with a lot of great songs, I’d say this is a 10/10 if not an 11/10.
70. Christopher Cross – All Right – This is an 8/10, a song that really lives up to its name and captures a rather ambivalent feeling about love and relationships from someone who has obviously been hurt before.
71. Bryan Adams – Straight from the Heart – This song is a 10/10 or 11/10, one of the best Bryan Adams ever made and one of the best of this year, a straightforward lovely piano ballad from a guy who should have done this more often.
72. Kenny Loggins – Heart to Heart – This song is an 8/10, a touching and enjoyable song that is still enjoyable to listen to.
73. Lionel Richie – My Love – This song is an 8/10, a classic Lionel Richie love song in a year that had several of them.
74. Elton John – I’m Still Standing – This is a 10/10, a truly inspirational song about how to recover from heartbreak.
75. Loverboy – Hot Girls in Love – This song is a 3/10, with pretty cringy lyrics and just a generally unpleasant tone.
76. Men at Work – It’s a Mistake – This song is a 3/10, and it was definitely a mistake to take the political tone it did. Interestingly enough, though Ronald Reagan agreed that mutually assured destruction was a mistake too, something this song doesn’t appear to understand.
77. Culture Club – I’ll Tumble 4 Ya – This is a 3/10, with some truly horrible lyrics and music that only barely redeems it from being the worst of the year.
78. DeBarge – All This Love – This song is a 5/10. It’s not bad but it’s just not very memorable, and in a year where there were a lot of great songs, that’s a shame.
79. Sammy Hagar – Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy – This song is a 6/10, something that is mildly enjoyable but not particularly memorable.
80. Dionne Warwick – Heartbreaker – This song is a 9/10, a well done and enjoyable song that is criminally neglected as an 80’s hit.
81. Journey – Faithfully – This is a 10/10, a song that is remembered and deservedly so, and one that is beloved by many people.
83. Quarterflash – Take Me to Heart – This is an 8/10, an enjoyable and thoughtful song that deserves to be better remembered.
82. Joe Jackson – Steppin’ Out – This song is a 9/10, an enjoyable song for the evening from an artist that had mostly acerbic songs.
84. Stray Cats – (She’s) Sexy + 17 – This song is a 4/10, with some good music but lyrics that are definitely cringy about underage love, and the song doesn’t appear to be viewing it as a potential problem.
85. Champaign – Try Again – This song is a 5/10, just not memorable but not bad either.
86. Shalamar – Dead Give Away – This song is a forgettable and somewhat repetitive 5/10, not a bad song, but easily one of the worst of this glorious year.
87. Jackson Browne – Lawyer’s in Love – This song is an 8/10, an odd sort of song that is more obscure than it deserves to be.
88. Moving Pictures – What About Me? – I’d give this song an 8/10, as it is beautiful and moving even if the lyrics are somewhat filled with resentment.
89. Michael Jackson – Human Nature – This song is a 10/10, a song that I can relate to very well and one that captures Michael Jackson’s own complicated human nature.
90. Def Leppard – Photograph – This is a 10/10, a smash success that is a worthy classic hit from 80’s rock to this day.
91. Musical Youth – Pass the Dutchie – This song is a 9/10, a really masterful way to rework a drug anthem into a song about food.
92. Spandau Ballet – True – This song is a 10/10, a classic ballad that has influenced acts like PM Dawn and the Backstreet Boys, and deservedly so.
93. Frank Stallone – Far from Over – This song is an 8/10, one that a lot of people could laugh at but one I find inspirational, at least.
94. Eric Clapton – I’ve Got a Rock N’ Roll Heart – This song is an 8/10, an enjoyable song from a rock and roll journeyman who hasn’t realized nearly as much rock and roll as one would expect.
95. Stephen Bishop – It Might Be You – This is a 10/10, a song that is really beautiful and touching, and one of the best film songs from a year that had a lot of great soundtrack pop.
96. Peabo Bryson & Roberta Flack – Tonight, I Celebrate My Love – This song is a beautiful one, an easy 9/10, one of this years’ many great ballads.
97. Tom Petty – You Got Lucky – This song is an 8/10, a song that isn’t one of the best by Tom Petty or the best of the year but still an enjoyable song.
98. Asia – Don’t Cry – This song is an 8/10, a song that hasn’t been remembered well but one that is definitely still enjoyable.
99. Joe Jackson – Breaking Us in Two – This song is an 8/10, a jazzy song with some interesting music and thoughtful lyrics about a relationship that is not going as well as it should.
100. Earth, Wind & Fire – Fall in Love with Me – This song is a 6/10, as the lyrics are rather forgettable but the music is enjoyable at least.
I wasn’t exaggerating at all when I said this year was one of the best years in Billboard Hot 100 history. There weren’t many bad songs at all, and a lot of really good ones and even a few great ones that are some of my own personal all-time favorites. What are some lessons that we can take from this when it comes to my own music? I really love melodic music, love ballads, and quirky New Age songs that don’t take themselves too seriously. That combination of appreciating ironic songs as well as heartfelt and sincere ballads, and viewing neither the kitschy qualities of the one or the earnest and somewhat “lame” qualities of the other as problematic has always been an aspect of my own life.