1982 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
The Walkman fuels a fitness craze but dooms music on AM as Top 40 moves to FM. MTV subs triple and launch a “Second British Invasion” of New Wave and Synthpop.
Welcome! I’m Christopher Verdesi, and this is the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Every week, we take a look back at a different year in Pop music history and count down the top ten hits according to our recap of the weekly Pop charts published at the time by the music industry’s leading trade publication and chart authority, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush, we’re counting down 1982.
So, Sony sold 20 million of its Walkman portable cassette players in 1981: MSRP $179: about what a good smartphone cost in the early 2020s, adjusting for inflation. They would’ve sold even more if the U.S. hadn’t been in a bad recession weathering President Reagan’s drastic inflation-fighting, money-tightening policies, but they did once the economy started booming in ’83.
A major theme of Sony’s advertising for the Walkman? Exercise! With the Walkman you could take your tunes with you, for the first time, out for a jog, roller skating, aerobics, even the gym. What a game-changer!
Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” hit the charts in October of ’81 and by the end of November it was the #1 song in the land, where it stayed for ten solid weeks: one of the biggest hits of the ’80s. Coincidence? Both “Physical” and the Sony Walkman have been linked to the early ’80s fitness craze, but would “Physical” have been such a big hit without the Walkman? Well, we can’t say for certain, but ’82 was the last year that vinyl LPs were a majority of music industry revenue. Cassettes took the lead in ’83 and were the dominant format for music until 1990! So it stands to reason that such a big development in the way people consumed music–right up there with the 45 rpm single in the ’50s or affordable stereo headphones in the late ’60s–would also have a pretty sweeping effect on the kinds of songs and albums people bought and propelled up the charts.
Of course, people listened to their Walkmans riding buses and subways, sitting at home or in hotels, or, yes, just walking. So to just consider workout type songs when thinking about its impact would be oversimplifying things. But Billboard Chart Beat columnist Paul Grein noticed that “Pop music got tougher in 1982.” There was still plenty of room for ballads, he conceded, but “Most of the year’s biggest hits were hard-driving, rock-inflected records that might have had trouble garnering as much airplay even a year or two ago.” Was that because of the Walkman? MTV launched in ’81 with a Rock format, and the first MTV-fueled chart-toppers were in 1982. MTV played the heck out of most of the songs in our countdown. So again, hard to say. Just a couple things to keep in mind as we count down the hits here on our 1982 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.
Now just to let you know, over on Billboard, they had “Physical” as the #1 song of 1982 because of how they shift their “chart year” back several weeks into the previous year so they can get the issue with their year-end charts printed and mailed well before New Years. That’s so networks, DJs and other magazines and newspapers have time to get their countdowns ready. “Physical,” however, hit #1 and saw most of its chart action in 1981, not ’82, so for ’82, we have a different #1 hit.
With that, let’s start counting down some songs, shall we? Starting with #10.
#10 Laura Branigan – Gloria
It’s the second single (after a lukewarm debut) by a former Leonard Cohen backup singer who got a record deal after auditioning for legendary Atlantic Records co-founder and A&R legend Ahmet Eturgun. The song had been a big hit in Europe in ’79, and her producer had played on that record, and wanted her to cover it. But with lyrics about a guy obsessed with the woman whose name is the song’s title, she needed some convincing. So they tweaked it to be about a woman counseling her friend (whose name is the song’s title) about her obsession with a guy. Once out, the record debuted at #84 and took over four months (July to November) to reach its peak of #2, where it stayed for three weeks, it’s Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.”
“Gloria,” Laura Branigan, #10 on our Chartcrush ranking of 1982’s top hits. “Gloria’s” chart run started in the middle of ’82, but went all the way to March of ’83, so on Billboard’s year-end rankings it wound up in the lower half of both the ’82 and ’83 year-end Hot100 charts. But combining its chart run and ranking it in the year it was strongest (what we do for every song), it gets its due.
In 2019, the St. Louis Blues NHL hockey team started playing it at games. Then they started winning, and they took it all the way to their Stanley Cup victory over the Boston Bruins. Laura Branigan continued scoring hits through the ’80s, notably “Solitaire” and “Self Control” in ’83 and ’84. Things cooled off in the ’90s though, and sadly, she died of a brain aneurism in 2004 at just 52.
#9 John Cougar – Jack & Diane
Now when we think of Roots Rock or Heartland Rock in the ’70s and ’80s, we think of, who? Well, a few names come to mind, but if this were Family Feud, Bruce Springsteen would probably be the #1 answer, right? Get this, though: in his entire career, Springsteen never had a #1 Pop hit. Closest he got was #2 in ’84 with “Dancing in the Dark.” Different story on the album chart: Born in the U.S.A. was the #1 album of 1985. But in 1982 on the singles chart? This next act from small-town Indiana, who’d already had a handful of minor hits starting in 1979 with “I Need a Lover,” broke out and became a superstar with two top ten hits off his fifth studio album, American Fool. Here’s the second of those on the calendar: #1 for four weeks in October ’82: It’s John Cougar, “Jack and Diane.”
In ’81, The Rolling Stones had broken all kinds of records with their North American Tour, and their album Tattoo You was #1 on the album chart for nine weeks. Well, John Cougar, after his first big hit in ’82, was close to being dismissed as a Stones wannabe, but “Jack and Diane” showcased his depth, authenticity, and distinctly American voice. Not cynically putting down or criticizing small-town American life, but celebrating its simple pleasures right at the dawn of the Reagan era.
He scored seven more top ten hits in the ’80s, but that was his most successful single, about two American kids growing up in the heartland. The song was unfinished and not going anywhere ’til producer Mick Ronson suggested the choir part, “let it rock, let it roll.” Well, that was the missing ingredient, and the rest is history
#8 Hall & Oates – Maneater
At #9 is a record that was one of the top ten hits on Billboard’s 1983 year-end Hot100, but it hit #1 in mid-December ’82, so when you do things the Chartcrush way (by the calendar), it’s a 1982 hit: the fifth #1 by a duo from Philly that first hit the charts in 1976 with a pair of soft Blue-Eyed-Soul top tens. They slumped in the Disco years, but came back strong with a more upbeat sound epitomized by the first of their three #1 hits in 1981, “Kiss on My List.” They were on a roll before there even was such a thing as “Yacht Rock.” Daryl Hall and John Oates, more commonly known during their heyday as just Hall & Oates, from their album H2O, “Maneater.”
“Maneater,” the biggest hit of Hall & Oates’s career and the #8 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1982. And they were just getting started. Their next six charting singles in ’83 and ’84? All top ten hits. And Billboard proclaimed them the most successful duo of the Rock era, beating out Simon & Garfunkel and even The Everly Brothers.
#7 The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
Now in 1982, Time Magazine, still a relevant source in news and culture in those years, would feature a person, group, idea, or object that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.” In 1982, after tapping Reagan and Polish Solidarity trade union leader Lech Walesa in ’80 and ’81, respectively, Time’s editors named The Computer as person of the year. Not surprising then that the first synthpop track to top the Hot100 was this next one at #7. It was the fourth single from the group’s third album. Rolling Stone later flagged it as the “breakthrough song” of what became a Second British Invasion in the early ’80s, and it was one of the first hints of MTV’s growing power in the music biz. It’s the Human League, “Don’t You Want Me?”
The Human League, #7 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1982’s biggest hits, virtually unknown in America until MTV started playing that video just as cable systems coast-to-coast were adding MTV to their channel lineups.
Now, if you listened Phillip Oakey’s lyrics in that song, it’s not a love story; it’s a song about sexual power politics, and the group’s original demo version was sparse and dark and kinda creepy. But Synthpop producer Martin Rushent transformed it into an upbeat Pop song, which Oakey hated and didn’t even want included on the album, let alone released as a single. Rushent though, was working for the label, not Phillip Oakey, so he got the final say and the version we just heard was not only The Human League’s breakthrough American hit, it was their first UK #1 too. Today, even Oakey begrudgingly acknowledges that his initial problems with the track may’ve been a little misguided.
#6 Steve Miller Band – Abracadabra
Here’s a fun fact: the entire month of August of 1982, four weeks, the top five songs on the Hot100 were the same. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5: no changes. First time ever! Our song at #6 was #3 those four weeks, and broke the logjam when it moved up to #1 the first week in September. It was by one of many big ’70s Rock acts who re-tooled their sound in the early ’80s, not just to stay up-to-date, but to stay on the air at all. Top40 radio, the so-called CHR (or Contemporary Hits) format that traces its lineage all the way back to Todd Storz in the mid-’50s, switched bands in the early ’80s. Radio bands, that is, to FM. Staticky, mono AM radio, OK for the car when that’s all there is to listen to, but just not cutting it anymore sound-wise once the Walkman came along. Most Walkman models after ’81 were radios too. And many of the FM stations that switched to Top40 had been Rock stations before.
AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, in his review of the album our #6 song is on, refers to a subgenre of early ’80s Rock he calls “faux new wave AOR:” AOR (album-oriented rock) updated with a veneer of synthesizers, gimmicky effects and slick production: just enough to stay relevant on the changing FM dial. #1 for two weeks and 14 weeks in the top 10, it’s The Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra.”
“Abracadabra. I wanna reach out and grab ya:” the lyric came to Steve Miller after seeing Diana Ross skiing. Miller, the ’60s and ’70s San Fran “space cowboy” who did “The Joker,” “Fly like an Eagle,” “Rock ‘n Me,” and “Jet Airliner.” His longtime fans were surprised (that’s putting it nicely) at how “Pop” Miller sounded on his ’82 album. But he scored the hit, his biggest ever on chart points, and his first #1 since “Rock ‘n Me” in 1976. On his next album, Miller was done reacting and adapting and wanted to innovate. Bad idea. Ever hear of the 1984 album Italian X-Rays? Yeah, exactly.
#5 John Cougar – Hurts So Good
At #5 in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1982, the #2 song all four of those weeks in August when the top five stayed the same, and the breakthrough hit I mentioned earlier that could’ve been John Cougar’s last had he not unveiled his own distinctive on “Jack and Diane,” the follow-up. Unlike “Jack and Diane,” this one, the first single off his American Fool album, never got to #1, but on total ranking points it was the bigger hit with 16 weeks in the top ten. That’s the most of any hit in the 1980s decade. Again, John Cougar with “Hurts So Good.”
John Cougar, later John Cougar Mellencamp. By the end of the ’80s going just by his given name John Mellencamp: by far the most successful of the Heartland Rock or Roots Rock acts on the singles chart, up against Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Los Lobos, Bob Seger, even Jim Croce going back to the early ’70s. In ’83 with his next album, he repeated the one-two punch of “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane” with the rocker “Crumblin’ Down,” followed by the rootsy Americana of “Pink Houses.” Both were top ten hits. And in ’85 he co-founded Farm Aid, a festival-style benefit to help financially-strapped family farmers stay on their land.
#4 Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder – Ebony and Ivory
Now ’82 was a pretty lean year for Black artists on the charts. It got so bad in the months before Michael Jackson’s Thriller dropped in November that for three consecutive weeks in October, not a single record by a Black artist in the Top 20 on the album or Hot 100 singles charts, as a Billboard piece celebrating the 30th anniversary of Thriller’s release noted in 2012. That hadn’t been seen since the early ’50s. On the Hot100, the week of June 19th, Juneteenth, was the only week before Thriller with more than three Black artists in the top ten. They were Deniece Williams, The Dazz Band, Ray Parker, Jr., and at #1 that week for the fifth of its seven weeks on top, the #4 song in our 1982 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown, which is a superstar duet. A Motown legend and a former Beatle, on a song that frames racial harmony in musical terms. It’s Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, recorded live in the studio as only consummate professionals can pull off: “Ebony and Ivory.”
McCartney got the idea for that song from a trope he’d heard repeated by British-Irish comedian named Spike Milligan: “Black notes, White notes, and you need to play the two to make harmony, folks!” “Ebony and Ivory,” the #4 song here on the 1982 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.
Once MTV added Michael Jackson’s videos to its rotation in ’83, other Black artists followed and the charts reflected that diversity. So instead of contributing to the fragmentation of music already underway with AM Top40 dying out, MTV wound up replacing AM’s role as a unifier and extending the notion of a gravitational center in Pop for another ten years.
#3 Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n Roll
OK, we’re down to #3. Now, straight-up Punk Rock never caught on commercially in the U.S. the way it did in the U.K. Ironic because it was a New York band, The Ramones, that invented Punk and exported it to Britain, where the Sex Pistols and The Clash and others took the ball and ran with it. That’s not to say, though, that American kids didn’t have the same spirit of anarchy and rebellion as British kids at the end of the ’70s. It just expressed itself differently. New Wave, of course: the artsy, more accessible Pop-oriented version of Punk. But also, the new wave of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock groups gave the Rock audience a bridge from ’70s “Denim and Leather” era sounds, eliminating the mysticism and “Progginess,” and cranking up the urgency and the energy-level. Well right in the sweet spot between New Wave and Metal in ’82 was the song at #3 by a former member of an all-girl L.A. glam Punk band, The Runaways, that put out its first album all the way back in 1976, year-zero for Punk. It’s a cover of Alan Merrill & The Arrows 1975 UK non-hit, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll.” It’s Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” #3. Critics hated it almost as much as they hated the new wave of British Metal acts: panned as crude and amateurish. But of course, like Punk, that was its appeal, and it was one of the videos (along with “Don’t You Want Me”) that people saw as soon as they got their MTV, an exclamation point on Disco Demolition, and Rock replacing Disco on the Pop charts at the start of the ’80s.
#2 J. Geils Band – Centerfold
You’re listening to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, 1982 edition, and we’re down to #2. Back at #6 we heard Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra:” a big ’70s AOR act adding New Wavey sprinkles to stay on FM radio as stations switched formats from Rock to Hits. At #5 another group that had been around for years. Not as successful as Steve Miller in the ’70s, but finally hitting pay-dirt after a decade of nearly constant touring. On their tenth album, Freeze-Frame, they added some New Wavey touches to their R&B-derived Party-Rock sound, but tastefully (Party Rock was still the name of the game). At #2, the earliest song in our countdown on the calendar, entering in November ’81 and peaking at #1 for six weeks in February and March of ’82, the J. Geils Band’s song about a guy who can’t believe his eyes when he sees his high school crush in a men’s magazine: “Centerfold.”
“Centerfold,” from the J. Geils Band’s Freeze-Frame album: their last featuring longtime front man Peter Wolf, who exited in ’83. The band wanted to move further into New Wave and Techno sounds, and Wolf was having none of that. He had a pretty successful solo career for the rest of the ’80s, hewing pretty close to the Freeze-Frame formula, while the Geils Band barely dented the charts with their follow-up.
#1 Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
Now I led off the show talking about the impact of the Walkman, and how Sony especially targeted fitness nuts in its advertising. So it seems obvious that “workout music” would get a boost on the charts with Walkmans flying off the shelves. I mentioned that Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” was Billboard’s #1 song of 1982 since their 1982 “chart year” stretched back multiple weeks into ’81 when “Physical” was #1. Again, at Chartcrush we do things by the calendar, so “Physical” moves into 1981 on our rankings and leaves the #1 spot on our 1982 rankings open, as it turns out, for another big motivational workout song.
The third film in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise was one of the most hotly-anticipated box office releases ever. The original Rocky in ’76 won Best Picture and its sequel in ’79 completed the story arc with a rematch between fictional boxers Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed after the split decision at the end of the original movie. Rocky III in 1982 pitted Rocky, now the heavyweight champ for a few years, against his first serious challenger, the ruthless Clubber Lang played by Mr. T. Now the big training sequence in the middle of all three films, where Rocky gets serious about the big fight, soundtracked by Bill Conti’s “Theme from Rocky (Gonna Fly Now),” and culminating in the first two films with Rocky’s triumphant climb up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Gonna Fly,” a #1 hit in 1977, but to catch moviegoers up on Rocky’s career since the Apollo Creed rematch and introduce Clubber Lang, Rocky III opens with a montage. Stallone couldn’t get his first choice, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” for that, so instead he plucked a Chicago Hard Rock group out of relative obscurity and made them superstars. Our #1 song of 1982 from Rocky III: Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”
Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III, 1982’s #1 song according to our ranking here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, and the only soundtrack hit in the top ten for ’82. “Poor Man’s Son” #33 in 1981, Survivor’s biggest hit up to then, and how they got on Sylvester Stallone’s radar. After “Eye of the Tiger’s” amazing success, Survivor struggled to get back in the top ten, but they finally succeeded in ’85 and ’86 with a string of top tens including “Burning Heart,” their biggest career hit that wasn’t “Eye of the Tiger.”
Now besides “Physical” getting bumped out of our 1982 ranking because it was actually a 1981 hit, only one other song from Billboard’s year-end top ten didn’t make our countdown.
Chicago, one of the biggest chart acts of the ’70s, but they hit a slump after their guitarist Terry Kath accidently shot and killed himself in 1978. They tried to carry on with Jazzy Pop Rock singles like their early ’70s stuff, Soft Rock like their later ’70s hits, and they even dabbled in Disco. But their run seemed to be over until producer-songwriter David Foster came along. Rolling Stone in 1985 called Foster “the master of bombastic Pop kitsch,” and once he teamed up with Chicago’s Peter Cetera, together they relaunched the band as a Pop Power Ballad group that scored eight top tens in the ’80s, starting with “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” that song we just heard a clip of, which was Billboard’s #10 song of 1982, but just misses our top ten at #11.
And that’s gonna have to wrap things up for our 1982 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Be sure and check us out on the Web at chartcrush.com, for written transcripts and streaming links for this and other Chartcrush shows, plus chart run line graphs and other tubular extras. We’re also on TikTok (@chartcrush). Every week we count down a different year from the beginning ofthe charts in the ’40s all the way up to the present, so be sure and tune in again next week, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.