1980 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
A “free-for-all” after Disco implodes! Michael Jackson survives but Bee Gees and Chic retreat to the producer’s booth as Rock, AC and New Wave fill the vacuum.
Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we do a deep dive into a year in pop music and count down the top ten songs according to our recap of the weekly pop charts published at the time in the music industry’s top trade publication, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush, we’re turning the clock back to 1980.
So probably the first thing you notice glancing at the top hits of 1980: what happened to Disco? Disco fever ruled the pop charts in the mid-to late ’70s. But the fever broke right about the middle of 1979 when The Knack’s “My Sharona” replaced Chic’s “Good Times” at #1 on August 25th, then stayed at #1 for six straight weeks, and just like that, Disco—that four-on-the-floor beat with the strings and the horns—was yesterday’s news.
So what happened? Well, first off, all pop culture crazes have a story arc, and after five solid years of chart domination, acts like The Village People, although very successful, were turning Disco into a caricature of itself. And then you had Rock acts jumping on the bandwagon: a cultural saturation point that just made Rock fans mad. And soon it became as cool to hate and poke fun at Disco as it’d been to buy a white suit or shiny dress and learn how to do the hustle just a couple years before.
Consider Disco Demolition Night. That’s right, Disco Demolition Night: an actual event. July 12, 1979, Comiskey Park in Chicago between games at a twi-night double header: Tigers at White Sox. As a promotion, the Sox teamed up with a popular rock DJ, Steve Dahl, to offer admission for just 98 cents to anyone who brought a vinyl Disco record to throw in a bin. And then in between doubleheader games, there’s Dahl’s Disco Demolition ceremony and all the donated records get blown up in the middle of the field. It was a live version of Dahl’s morning radio gimmick where he’d scratch the needle across a Disco record and play an explosion sound effect. Except at Comiskey, the explosives would be real! Well, what could go wrong with that?
So turnout to Disco Demolition Night was way way beyond what anyone expected. 55,000 in the park; another 15,000 outside. The biggest crowd anyone had ever seen there, with “Disco Sucks” banners in the stands, “Disco Sucks” chants during the game, and fans wearing concert and radio station shirts instead of team jerseys. This wasn’t a ballgame; it was a cultural event.
The U.K. had The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Punk Rock, covered in the British press as the shocking, sensational big new thing in music and fashion. Hardcore Punk songs were actually making the top 40 in the U.K. Well, America didn’t have that; America had just plain old Rock music, and “Disco Sucks.” But Disco Demolition Night, besides earning Steve Dahl his 15 minutes of fame, showed that the same rebellious spirit—anarchy just for kicks, basically—that was fueling Punk in the U.K. was alive and well Stateside.
So the big bin of Disco records was detonated behind second base. A spectacular series of explosions. Records launched straight up in the air as high as pop flies. Steve Dahl made a tongue-in-cheek anti-Disco speech, fans rushed the field, and total mayhem ensued. By the time Chicago riot police cleared the field, all the bases were gone, there were bottles and trash everywhere and a fire was burning. The White Sox had to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader because the field wasn’t playable. July of ’79: national headlines and a shock wave through the music biz: Disco Demolition Night.
Shellshocked music biz insiders expected the Punk-adjacent New Wave sound to rush in and fill the vacuum. Billboard editor Paul Grein had seen 1979 as “a title bout between the peaking Disco craze and the upstart New Wave movement.” But notwithstanding The Knack’s “My Sharona” in ’79, The Cars, Blondie, and other early chart triumphs, New Wave’s big push had to wait until MTV in ’82 and ’83. “1980,” as Grein put it, “was a free-for-all.”
#10 Billy Joel – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
Now absolutely no one thought of our artist at #10 as “New Wave” until he shrewdly decided to don a bright orange jacket and matching attitude for the second single off his 1980 album intended to prove that he wasn’t just a Soft-Rock balladeer; he was more Elvis Costello than England Dan, and could rock out if he wanted to. His fame in the ’70s, though, was built on the strength of his biggest hits, which were the ballads on his albums The Stranger and 52nd Street, and in the “free-for-all” that was early ’80s Pop, career pivots like that weren’t just possible; they were becoming common. He even swigs a bottle of pre-longneck Budweiser in the video! Here is Billy Joel’s first career #1 hit, from his 1980 set, Glass Houses, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”
Billy Joel’s very first #1, “It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll to Me.” Lyrically, a cynical jab at the music biz trying to get artists to update their sound and image to appeal to younger audiences. And in the song, Billy Joel, um, updates his sound and image to appeal to a younger audience. But he does it his way, and scores the #10 song of 1980 according to our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown ranking.
“Still Rock ‘n Roll” was the second single off Joel’s Glass Houses album. The first, “You May Be Right,” also the first cut on the album, opens with a breaking glass sound effect, dramatically announcing that whatever this is gonna be, it’s definitely not gonna be another AC-type ballad. Joel’s five-night sold-out stand at New York’s Madison Square Garden in June was the #1 grossing concert of 1980.
#9 Michael Jackson – Rock with You
Now after Disco Sucks took hold, most of Disco’s defining brands became obsolete overnight: Bee Gees, Donna Summer, KC & The Sunshine Band, Chic, Village People. Well there was one, and really only one, established Disco artist who spectacularly bucked that trend. The advance lead single off his 1979 LP was one of the Danciest Discoyest cuts on the album and was released literally two days before Disco Demolition night, yet it rose steadily over the next three months to #1. That cut, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” was then followed by our song at #9: an even bigger hit. From his 1979 album Off the Wall, it’s Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You.”
Amid the turn of the decade anti-Disco backlash ’79 into the ’80s, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album should’ve been dead on arrival, but instead it transcended Disco with its sheer variety and quality, and yielded four top ten hits, a record for a solo artist. “Rock with You,” the second of those hits, #9 as we count down the top ten from 1980 on this week’s edition of the Chartcrush Countdown Show.
Of course, Michael: already a big star since The Jackson Five debuted in 1970 when he was just 11. In ’78 he played the Scarecrow in Motown/Universal’s movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical The Wiz. And then he sang lead on the The Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body,” huge on Disco dancefloors in ’79. His first solo album, Off the Wall (which contained “Rock with You”) dropped just a few months after that, re-launching Michael as a mature Pop star. And then his 33 times platinum album Thriller in ’82 cemented his status as “The King of Pop.”
#8 Barbra Streisand – Woman in Love
Well, no act personified Disco more than The Bee Gees. They were on the cover of the various artists Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which had three #1 Bee Gees hits in 1977 in ’78. Then their next album, Spirits Having Flown, yielded three more #1s in ’78 and ’79: all Disco classics. Once Disco imploded, though, The Bee Gees’ brand was rendered all but unmarketable for a generation practically overnight. Singles from their 1981 album barely cracked the top 40. But that didn’t mean they just threw up their hands.
Our song at #8 was not only written by Bee Gee Barry Gibb; it was produced by the exact same team that made all the The Bee Gees hits in the Disco years, plus all Andy Gibb’s hits, #1s by Samantha Sang (the song “Emotion”) and Frankie Valli (“Grease”), and dozens more chart entries. All of them have that Bee Gees production sheen, and so does this record.
In fact, it’s a dead-ringer for a Bee Gees hit in really every way except for the name on the label. Which is a big name: one of the top female singers of the ’70s who with this record notched her fifth #1 in seven years, since “The Way We Were” was the #1 song of 1974. It’s Barbra Streisand, with a lot of help from Barry Gibb even including his trademark Bee Gees backing vocals: “A Woman in Love.”
“A Woman in Love,” Barbra Streisand: #8 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of the biggest hits of 1980: #1 for three weeks in October into November, and as it turned out, the end of Barbra’s run as a top chart diva. She made her mark for the rest of the ’80s making movies like Yentl and The Prince of Tides. By the way, “Woman in Love:” only #35 on Billboard’s published year-end Hot100 for 1980 because it hadn’t even entered the top ten yet, by Billboard’s unusually early cut-off date for the 1980 chart year. Much more on that later in the show.
#7 Queen – Crazy Little Thing Called Love
At #9, we heard the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Well in 1977, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley, died unexpectedly at just 42. The nation mourned for weeks and there was a huge resurgence in interest in Elvis’ catalog and ’50s music in general. ’50s sitcoms Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days were the two biggest shows on TV, ’77 to ‘78. ’50s nostalgia group Sha Na Na’s hit variety show premiered on TV. Grease was in theaters for all of ’78: the ’50s musical starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
With all that, notwithstanding the chart hits from the Grease soundtrack, it’s pretty amazing that our #7 song didn’t happen sooner than it did: a big hit that was a straight-up ’50s throwback. And when it did happen in 1980, where it came from was even more amazing. Freddie Mercury, the group’s front man reportedly wrote it in ten minutes taking a bath with a guitar, which he barely knew how to play. But because of that the song is exactly as simple and uncomplicated as it needs to be for what it is: a campy ’50s Rockabilly ditty. Here’s Queen, #7: “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” the #7 song on our 1980 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Queen’s previous two top ten singles “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are the Champions” had set the bar for ’70s Arena Rock bombast, and now here they were as the ’80s began with a stripped-down, Elvis-inspired Rockabilly song!
It was #1 on the Hot100 for four weeks in February into March and by the middle of the year, a trio of young, heavily inked Rockabilly nuts from Long Island, New York suddenly found themselves being courted by major labels. That group? The Stray Cats. As for Queen, they had an even bigger hit in 1980 that’s not Rockabilly, which of course we’ll hear later.
#6 Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2
So no one was expecting a Rockabilly record out of Queen. Who would you say was the artist in 1980 least likely to put out a Disco single? Well in an era of fans blowing up Disco records in public, the veteran Rock band that scored the #6 song of 1980 was maybe the only kind of artist who could’ve pulled that off and come out unscathed. Others tried. Some of Rock’s biggest names, like Kiss with “I Was Made for Loving You,” Rod Stewart with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Those were big hits on dancefloors and the Pop charts. But Rock fans weren’t looking for an invitation to come boogie at the disco, and when Rock bands put out Disco-sounding records, most of the time it felt like a kick in the ribs. Rod Stewart never recovered his street cred after “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” And Kiss had to take off their makeup in ’83 and chase down a bandwagon they’d helped set in motion: Glam Metal.
But our act at #6 escaped that fate by already having an intensely cerebral but anonymous, limelight-shunning image that was the antithesis of Disco. But not only that, the song’s in-your-face, anti-authority message was the most jarringly controversial thing that’d been on Pop radio in a long time, maybe ever, excerpted as it was from a dark, mind-blowing double-LP Rock opera. You didn’t even notice it was Disco! But it’s got that beat. You can dance to it. And you can definitely shout to it. From their epic double album The Wall, #6: Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.”
Pink Floyd’s first charting U.S. single since “Money” in 1973, “Another Brick in the Wall,” the #6 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1980. Floyd songwriter Roger Waters’ original vision for that track in his demos was a chilled-out minute-and-a-half acoustic and vocal thing, nothing like what we just heard. The Disco beat? The funky rhythm guitar? Even the children’s choir in the second verse? That was all producer Bob Ezrin. And he had to go behind the band’s back to make it, and then beg them to release it as a single. At first they told him “we don’t do singles,” but when Ezrin persisted, the notoriously difficult-to-work-with Waters very uncharacteristically threw up his hands and said “Okay Bob, be my guest: go ahead and waste your time doing silly stuff.”
#5 Captain & Tennille – Do That to Me One More Time
Unlike classic Disco, the soft Pop-Rock Singer-Songwriter sound pushed on into the ’80s. There was even a new chart for it. Well, a newly re-named chart anyway. In ’79 Billboard relaunched its Easy Listening category as Adult Contemporary to include the growing number of lite music stations now playing what they called in the ’70s MOR, short for “middle-of-the-road.”
Our next song at #5 was the #20 song on Billboard’s year-end AC chart. It’s by a husband and wife act that’d been on the charts since “Love Will Keep Us Together” was the #1 song of the year 1975, and who’d even had their own prime time variety show on ABC in ’77 and ’78. At #5, it’s The Captain & Tennille: Toni Tennille’s self-penned homage to married intimacy, “Do That to Me One More Time.”
Captain & Tennille, “Do That to Me One More Time,” #1 for one week in mid-February, 1980 after stalling out at #2 for all four of the weeks that Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You” was #1. But it was on the chart (and in the top ten) longer, hence its higher ranking: the #5 song here on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1980.
Now Billboard’s #1 year-end AC song of 1980 was Air Supply’s “Lost in Love.” You’d think “Do That to Me” would’ve ranked higher than #20 on that chart. Maybe it was just too sexy and steamy for AC radio in 1980, which was still pretty conservative, having to conform to pre-Baby Boom sensibilities.
#4 Diana Ross – Upside Down
Here at Chartcrush, our rankings are based on the 52 weeks of Billboard charts from the first issue in January to the last in December. Well, that’s just what you’d expect, right? You might be surprised to learn that that’s never been true of Billboard’s own official published year-end charts, and for a pretty straightforward reason: they have get their printed “Year-in-Review” issue into everyone’s hands before New Years, and it takes time to tabulate these rankings, especially before there was a computer on everybody’s desk, let alone get it printed and mailed.
Logistically impossible to count all 52 weeks, so by necessity, every Billboard year-end chart has a cutoff date which is the last weekly chart that gets factored into the year-end ranking. Most often in the ’70s and ’80 it was an issue in late October or early November, but for some reason, in 1980, the cutoff was moved up to the end of September. It’s the earliest cutoff date of any year-end chart in Hot100 history. Literally the entire last quarter of 1980: not counted. And although they couldn’t have known when the decision was made, that was especially unfortunate in 1980 because three of the year’s top four biggest hits were in those last three months, including our song at #4.
Like Streisand’s “Woman in Love,” it’s by one of the biggest female Pop stars since the 1960s with a major assist from a top Disco songwriting and production team. This time it’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the masterminds of Chic. They were an A-team in the biz, having scored a string of late ’70s smashes that culminated in the #1 song of the year 1979, “Le Freak.” Here’s former Supreme Diana Ross, “Upside Down.”
Motown legend Diana Ross, #4 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1980, “Upside Down,” completing her comeback after inexplicably slumping on the charts at the height of Disco. Her “Love Hangover” was a pivotal early Disco hit and Ross’s fourth #1 since going solo in 1970. Was there anyone better positioned to ride atop the Disco wave than Diana Ross? But the singles from her Disco era albums Baby It’s Me and Ross barely cracked the top 40.
She starred as Dorothy in The Wiz movie, but The Wiz wasn’t the era-defining phenomenon producers were hoping for. It barely made half the $24 million it cost to make. Meanwhile singers like Yvonne Elliman, Thelma Houston, Alicia Bridges, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Gloria Gaynor, Anita Ward, Amii Stewart and of course Donna Summer were racking up top ten hits all over the place. Given the sudden collapse of Disco, which ended most of those chart careers, flying below the radar for a while may’ve been what made Diana Ross’s 1980 rally possible. Unlike the established Disco brands, she got a chance for a fresh start.
#3 Queen – Another One Bites the Dust
At #4, the second of the top four songs in our Chartcrush countdown for 1980 that were MIA from Billboard’s official year-end top ten. It’s the second Queen song in our 1980 countdown and the biggest chart hit of their career. We heard “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” at #7; at #3, here’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
#1 for three weeks in October, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” the #3 song on our Chartcrush countdown of the top ten hits of 1980: the best-selling single of Queen’s entire career and their last top ten hit on the U.S. charts. It got all the way to #2 on both the Soul/R&B chart and the Hot Disco Singles chart, rare for a British rock band but really not that surprising with that ultra-funky bass line inspired by Chic’s “Good Times,” and the fact that it was none other than Michael Jackson, backstage at a Queen show, who encouraged them to put it out as the fourth single from their album The Game, almost a whole year after that album came out.
The band’s initial reluctance may have had something to do with the whole “Disco Sucks” backlash: they were in the studio recording The Game in July ’79 when Disco Demolition Night happened. But as I pointed out earlier in the show, Michael Jackson was thriving despite “Disco Sucks,” so on his recommendation, release it they did, and it was their biggest hit, in the top ten for 14 weeks October into December, and #1 for three of those weeks.
Coming off that, on their next album, 1982’s Hot Space, they doubled down, adding synths and even horns: a whole Disco Synthpop album. Why not, right? Well “Under Pressure” was a big hit: a duet with David Bowie. But the change in direction was too much and Hot Space alienated North American Rock fans to the point where Queen could no longer even fill midsized arenas. So they skipped the U.S. and Canada on their next two tours and toured everywhere else, especially in untapped Latin America, where they were filling soccer stadiums. Then in ’85, their epic set at Live Aid was seen by tens of millions on TV in America, and Queen got a well-deserved fresh look. They never toured the States again, though, before 1991, when Freddie Mercury died after battling HIV/AIDS for nearly a decade.
#2 Kenny Rogers – Lady
Now our #2 song came so late in the year that Billboard bumped it into its 1981 chart year. It was Billboard’s #3 year-end song of 1981. But our policy here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show is to count a record with a chart run that spans two years in whichever year it accumulated the most chart points. And for this song, by a wide margin, that’s 1980.
It’s a ballad written and produced by Lionel Richie, who was still in The Commodores. And I guess he had surefire hit ballads to spare before he went solo in ’82. The singer, a veteran performer in a bunch of genres who’d settled on Country in the mid-’70s, was putting together his Greatest Hits album and wanted a new song for it. And it wound up the biggest hit of his career! With the #2 song of 1980, a hit on the Country, Soul/R&B and Adult Contemporary charts as well as the Hot100, here’s Kenny Rogers, “Lady.”
Kenny Rogers, “Lady,” the #2 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1980.
After the hits dried up for Rogers’s cross-genre Rock group, The First Edition, he went solo in ’76, focusing on country, and scored a huge crossover hit right out of the gate with “Lucille” in 1977. He kept the streak going and by 1980, he’d racked up enough hits on both the Country and Hot100 charts for a Greatest Hits album. For the new song on that collection, he teamed up with Lionel Richie, who’d notched several big ballad hits himself in the latter half of the ’70s with his group The Commodores.
Believe it or not, “Lady” was the only #1 Hot100 solo hit of Kenny Rogers’s long career, but his duet with Dolly Parton in ’83 hit #1. That was “Islands in the Stream.”
#1 Blondie – Call Me
Next up, our #1 song, also #1 on Billboard’s year-end Hot100 for 1980: the song that bumped Pink Floyd out of the #1 spot in mid-April and held it for the next six weeks. It’s often included in lists of records from the short-lived “Disco Rock” genre, but this is not the typical story of a long-established Rock act scrambling to stay up-to-date. It was a pretty new group out of New York’s downtown punk scene that also produced The Ramones, Patti Smith, Talking Heads.
How to explain that Punk scene coexisting on the same 23 square-mile island with Studio 54, the capital of Disco, in the late ’70s. Well, let’s just say Manhattan has always been a patchwork of different cultures side-by-side, so really just in that proud tradition, I guess.
And the group at #1: alone among their downtown Punk cohorts, they managed to carve out a sweet spot between the campy, ironic ’60s throwback thing they had going on downtown, and Disco. The result catapulted the group almost overnight from dive bars and fanzines to arenas and glossies, and turned its bleach-blonde singer into an international sex symbol with their first #1 hit, “Heart of Glass” in ’79. This was their second, a soundtrack cut, exactly a year later. It’s Blondie. “Call Me.”
The #1 song of 1980. Blondie’s “Call Me,” from the Richard Gere movie American Gigolo. Produced and co-written by one of Disco’s top producers Giorgio Moroder. Before “Call Me,” Blondie had been working with new wave producer Mike Chapman, who’d helmed their previous two albums including their breakthrough Parallel Lines, which contained the #1 hit “Heart of Glass.” But “Heart of Glass,” with its pulsating Disco synth lines, sounds like vintage Giorgio Moroder, and the band had been flirting with that sound on their own, playing a cover of one of Moroder’s signature Disco productions, Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” at a benefit the New York Punk crowd held for hospitalized drummer Johnny Blitz before they even started recording Parallel Lines. So the for-real collab between Blondie and Moroder on “Call Me” was a long time coming when it finally came together in late ’79.
So that is our top ten. Now as we’ve been going through our Chartcrush top ten for 1980 this hour I’ve been calling out the big hits from the last quarter of the year that didn’t make Billboard’s year-end ranking due to Billboard’s crazy-early late September cut-off date for the chart year. Streisand’s “A Woman in Love,” Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Diana Ross’s “Upside Down” and Kenny Rogers’ “Lady:” all MIA from Billboard’s list.
So what songs from Billboard’s top ten got bumped from ours to make room? Let’s review:
Billboard had the big hit (and title track) off 1980’s top soundtrack album at #10, from a film that starred the singer in the title role, loosely based on the life of late Blues-Rock legend Janis Joplin.
“The Rose” never got to #1, but had a pretty long chart run and was #3 for three weeks. It was also the year’s #3 Adult Contemporary hit and Bette Midler’s biggest chart smash since her cover of The Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in 1973. On our Chartcrush ranking it’s #19.
Billboard’s #8 song (#13 on our ranking) was a one-hit wonder with one foot in classic Disco and the other in ’80s Synthpop and New Wave, #1 for four weeks in May and June of 1980, right when that transition was taking place.
The evolutionary missing link between ’70s disco and ’80s post-disco with faster tempos, simpler backgrounds and synthesizers, Lipps, Inc.’s “Funkytown.”
Billboard’s year-end top ten for 1980 had a former Beatle at #7!
#11 on our ranking, Paul McCartney’s “Coming Up,” #1 for the three weeks in July right before our #10 song, Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll to Me.”
And finally, Billboard’s #3 song was another soundtrack hit.
“Magic,” a big hit from a bad movie, Xanadu (20% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer), missing the top ten at #12 on our ranking due to its relatively short stay in the top ten despite being #1 for four weeks. Like “The Rose,” sung by the singer-actress who starred in the film, Olivia Newton-John.
Well I want to thank you for listening to our 1980 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. On our website, chartcrush.com, you can get a written transcript and a link to stream this and other Chartcrush countdown shows on Spotify, plus chart run line graphs and other righteous extras. Every week, we count down a different year from the beginning of the charts in the ’40s all the way up to the present, so tune again, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.