1984 episode graphic

1984 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast

The “visual sizzle” of music video defines the look and sound of the ’80s, soundtracks yield multiple hits, veteran acts relaunch and Prince floods the zone.

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::start transcript::

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 and chart authority, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush, we’re turning the clock back to 1984, the year that “the 80s” really started to look and feel like “the 80s.”

The year 1980 had been a clean break from Disco on the charts. ’70s Prog Rock faded circa 1978 and veteran Rock acts were trying to figure out their next moves, and it wasn’t Disco Rock. Just ask Kiss, Rod Stewart and others that learned that the hard way! In ’81 MTV launched and in ’82, video arcades swept in, the first big MTV New Wave hits like The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” topped the charts and Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out at the end of the year, making ’83 the year of Michael Jackson (he was everywhere!), but also the year that MTV and video music eclipsed radio and even touring as music’s driving force and all the major labels created music video divisions.

But it wasn’t just music. At the end of ’84, Billboard observed how utterly and completely the “visual sizzle” of music video had transformed American pop culture—from movies and TV (even children’s programming) to advertising and merchandising. “Madison Avenue shelved last year’s celebrities and yesterday’s fashions to create commercials applying the flash and flair of rock video to automobiles, cosmetics, cereal and toys.” The cop show Miami Vice premiered in the Fall of ’84, brainstormed by NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff in a memo that said, simply, “MTV cops.”

By 1984, the “’80s” weren’t just coming into focus, they’d arrived. And that was pretty exciting for a society exhausted from years of ’70s so-called “malaise:” energy crisis, Watergate, urban decay, high inflation and interest rates. It wasn’t too much of a stretch in the ’70s into the early ’80s to see 1984 shaping up as some version of the gray, totalitarian nightmare depicted in George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel 1984. But as it approached, it was turning out to be not that way at all. Apple, the computer company, put an exclamation point on that in its now-legendary Super Bowl ad that launched the Macintosh by Alien and Blade Runner director Ridley Scott, that showed said gray Orwellian dystopia being shattered, literally, with a sledgehammer hurled by a colorfully dressed woman athlete at Big Brother’s dreary visage on the big screen. Then later in the year, President Reagan’s re-election campaign sealed the deal with its famous “Morning in America” ad that helped sweep the President to his 49-state landslide victory over former Carter Veep, Walter Mondale.

#10 Ray Parker Jr. – Ghostbusters

At #10, diving into our countdown, since ’84 was the year of the music video, no surprise that movie soundtracks loomed large on the charts. There were ten (count ’em ten) platinum-certified soundtrack albums in 1984. 1978 had five including Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Then there were four in 1980 including Urban Cowboy and Xanadu. But the ten in ’84 was more than both those two previous best years for soundtrack albums combined. And on the Hot100 singles chart, seven soundtrack songs got to #1 in ’84, five of which we’re gonna hear this hour on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown. And the first of them is at #10. It’s Ray Parker, Jr’s “Ghostbusters!”

The theme song of the top grossing movie of 1984, the comedy starring Saturday Night Live’s Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd and SCTV’s Harold Ramis as parapsychologists who run a ghost-hunting business out of an old fire house. Ray Parker, Jr’s “Ghostbusters!” #10 on our 1984 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.

Parker, a session guitarist since the late ’60s, with a string of hits starting in 1978 with his group Raydio (spelled with a “y”), and then as a solo act in the ’80s, hired by the producers to write the Ghostbusters theme in just three days after dozens of submissions had already been rejected. They were having trouble finding the right song because they’d been using Huey Lewis & The News’s current hit “I Want a New Drug,” as a placeholder in the film’s rough cut, but couldn’t get Lewis to do a new soundalike song because he was already locked in on another sci-fi comedy project, Back to the Future. That was 1985’s top grossing movie, and Huey Lewis’s song, “The Power of Love” is our #11 song of 1985.

So while agonizing over the tight deadline, Ray Parker, Jr. sees a pest-control commercial in the middle of the night on TV. Aha! So he quickly writes the “who you gonna call” lyrics to something similar to “I Want a New Drug,” and makes the deadline. Unfortunately though, the music is a little too similar to “I Want a New Drug,” so Huey’s people sue, and eventually settle, but according to Rolling Stone, Parker’s royalty situation remained “a mess.”

For the 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters II, Run-DMC turned in a Hip-Hop version of the song. Rock bands Walk the Moon and Fall Out Boy both did new versions for the 2016 female Ghostbusters reboot, Fall Out Boy’s version featuring rapper Missy Elliott. And then Ray Parker Jr’s original re-appeared in the end credits of the 2021 sequel Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

#9 Stevie Wonder – I Just Called to Say I Love You

At #9, the return of an act who’d scored Hot100 hits in every year from 1963 to 1982: 20 consecutive years, starting with his live harmonica jam “Fingertips” in ’63, which made him the youngest act ever to score a #1 hit at just 13 and was the #7 song of the year on both Billboard’s year-end chart for ’63 and our Chartcrush ranking. From there to ’82: five more #1s, but he broke his 20 year streak in ’83 when he shelved the album he was working on, working title: People Work, Human Play, even after debuting two songs from it on Saturday Night Live.

Music was changing fast in ’83 with Michael Jackson and MTV, so maybe he needed to retrench and figure things out before making his next move. Which came in ’84: a soundtrack album for a romantic comedy starring Gene Wilder—and as breezy and down-the-middle a song as he’d ever done. It wound up the best-selling single of his whole career. Now, it’s just #25 on Billboard’s year-end chart for 1984 because its final 12 weeks were in their 1985 chart year that began with their November 24th issue, but counting its entire chart run, as we do for every song here on Chartcrush, it comes out #9. From The Woman in Red soundtrack, it’s Stevie Wonder’s, “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”

Stevie Wonder, “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” #1 for three weeks in October and #9 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of the biggest hits of 1984. It also topped Billboard’s R&B and Adult Contemporary charts and won Best Original Song at the 57th Oscars, which, by the way, was the only Oscars ever in which all of the nominated songs were #1 hits. Stevie’s harmonica also appears on Elton John’s biggest hit in ’84, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” and Chaka Khan’s groundbreaking “I Feel for You.” And then in ’85 he resumed work on his aborted 1983 album, released it as In Square Circle, and topped the charts again with “Part-Time Lover,” his final #1.

#8 Culture ClubKarma Chameleon

OK, I have an ethnic joke for you, ready? What do you call a band with a Black bassist, a Jewish drummer, and a blond White guitarist fronted by an androgynous Gay Irishman? Actually it’s not a joke; that’s the origin story of our next act out of London’s Post-Punk New Romantic scene headquartered at the Blitz Club in Covent Garden. They named themselves for their diversity. Once the video for their reggae-tinged debut, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” hit MTV in ’82, they were on their way. Other hits followed and in ’84 they scored their biggest, and their only #1, “Karma Chameleon.” It’s Culture Club.

“Karma Chameleon,” #8 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1984. Culture Club’s first six charting singles all went top ten, and that was the fifth. Front man songwriter Boy George summed up the song’s message as karma justice if you don’t stay true to who you are. But turns out it’s a confessional song too—owning up to his failings in his strained relationship with Culture Club drummer, John Moss.

In its Rock recap article Billboard observed in ’84 that so-called “new music” was no longer dangerous; it was just new. And to drive home the point, cited Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, and yes, Culture Club. In ’86, Boy George guest starred as himself in an episode of NBC’s action series The A-Team that climaxes with Culture Club playing “Karma Chameleon” in a redneck bar!

#7 YesOwner of a Lonely Heart

So ’84 was a big year for soundtracks. It was also a big year for totally unexpected comebacks. Our #7 song is by one of the groups that pioneered and epitomized British Prog Rock in the late ’60s and ’70s who’d tried to continue making Prog Rock records but broke up in 1980, with the two remaining members eventually forming the Arena Rock supergroup Asia. The re-formed group in ’83 didn’t include either of those members and wasn’t even originally intended as a reunion. But it worked out that way as things started to gel in the studio and additional members including the group’s original lead singer got involved. I could spell all this out for you, but delineating the complicated family trees of ’70s British Prog Rock bands? That’s way beyond the scope of this program! At #7, here’s Yes, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

Yes, representing legacy rock on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1984 with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Right up to just months before its release, intended as the lead single from the debut album of a completely new group called Cinema featuring three former members of Yes. As soon as original Yes singer Jon Anderson got involved late in the game, though, everyone knew it had to be a Yes record. And it wasn’t just their first #1 single, it was their first single since an edited version of “Roundabout” off their album Fragile in 1971 to even make more than a blip on the Pop charts.

Probably the best example there is of a ’70s Prog Rock band re-tooling for the ’80s, with most of the credit for that going to producer and Synthpop trailblazer Trevor Horn, who’d actually been in Yes for their 1980 album Drama after Anderson’s departure, and whose song as half of New Wave duo The Buggles was the very first video played on MTV: “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

#6 Lionel Richie – Hello

Now if you rank Billboard’s Hot100 charts by artist, summing up all their chart action in the year, you get what Billboard presents in its year-end issue as the year’s Top Singles Artist. 1984’s Top Singles Artist is our act at #6, with five songs in the top ten during the year. And the biggest of them had two weeks at #1 in May. He began writing it for his first solo album in ’82 but thought it was too corny. Which is really saying something! Not just because the ’80s were a golden age of corny love ballads, but because he’s one of the main reasons this side of Paul McCartney that it was—going all the way back to the ’70s when his ballads like “Easy” and “Three Times a Lady” put his Funk group The Commodores right alongside Barry Manilow and Anne Murray on Adult Contemporary radio. He thought the song was too corny, but his wife loved it, his producer encouraged him to finish it, and it was his top single, the year he was the top singles artist. It’s Lionel Richie’s “Hello.”

Lionel Richie at #6 as we count down the top hits of 1984 on this week’s Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. The R&B recap in Billboard’s year-end “Talent in Action” section made the obvious but still stunning observation that “in between the frightening sales of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the multimedia deluge of Prince’s Purple Rain, Black music’s biggest star was good old Lionel Richie.” When Richie’s second solo album Can’t Slow Down dropped in late ’83, its first two singles were the upbeat hits “All Night Long” and “Running with the Night.” So when “Hello” hit the airwaves, it was Richie’s first ballad in six months, and connected immediately. You’d think that Can’t Slow Down would’ve been the #1 album of the year too, but nope! It was #2 behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which was #1 for the second year in a row: the only album ever to repeat at #1 on the year.

#5 Kenny LogginsFootloose

Well as I mentioned, ’84, the biggest year for soundtrack albums, and our #5 song was the biggest hit off the biggest of 1984’s soundtracks. Seven of the album’s songs were released as singles and four were top 20 hits, with two going all the way to #1, including the title track, by a veteran Singer-Songwriter who did a lot of soundtrack work in the ’80s, starting with the theme from Caddyshack, “I’m Alright,” a #7 hit in 1980, but this was his biggest hit. From the film starring Kevin Bacon about a big city kid who moves to a small town where dancing’s not allowed. At #5, Kenny Loggins, “Footloose”

Fun fact about Footloose: dancing bans in America weren’t just a product of Bible-thumping preachers like actor John Lithgow’s Rev. Shaw Moore in the film. At the tail end of World War Two, Congress singled out establishments that allowed dancing with a crushing 40% federal cabaret tax and that’s when the “no dancing” signs went up across the land! It was ostensibly a War funding measure but wasn’t repealed until the mid-’60s.

Kenny Loggins had two songs on the Footloose soundtrack: the title song we just heard at #5 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1984, plus “I’m Free (Heaven Helps the Man),” which peaked at #22. Also on the album, the top 20 hits “Dancing in the Sheets” by Shalamar, and a duet by Heart’s Ann Wilson and Loverboy front man Mike Reno, the power-ballad “Almost Paradise,” as well as the other #1 Footloose hit, Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” Later in the ’80s, Kenny Loggins scored with the soundtrack hits “Danger Zone” from Top Gun, “Nobody’s Fool” from Caddyshack 2, and “Meet Me Half Way,” from the Sly Stallone arm wrestling movie, Over the Top.

#4 Phil CollinsAgainst All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)

At #4, yet another soundtrack hit. And also the first in a string of seven #1 solo hits for this Prog Rock drummer who assumed lead vocal duties in his group Genesis in 1975 when front man and group co-founder Peter Gabriel left. In ’81, the now drummer and singer in Genesis did a solo album himself, but unlike Gabriel, he stayed in the group. His distinctive vocals and the trademark gate reverb effect on the drums on his records, though?  Integral to both his solo work and his stuff with Genesis in the ’80s, so even fans sometimes have trouble telling what’s what! His first #1 hit either as a solo artist or in Genesis: right on the heels of Genesis’s first top ten hit, “That’s All” earlier in the year, it’s Phil Collins, “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).”

Phil Collins, “Against All Odds,” #4 as we count down the top ten from 1984 here on this week’s edition of Chartcrush: the title theme for the film of the same name starring Rachel Ward, Jeff Bridges and James Woods: a remake of the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past. It got mixed reviews and played in less than 1,000 theaters, but the song gave it a boost at the box office.

Until Collins’s Hits compilation came out in the late ’90s, “Against All Odds” was only available as a single. And of course on the soundtrack. But it was one of those soundtrack albums with mostly score music and just a handful of songs by various artists, not the kind that’s loaded with hits and sells millions like Footloose.  So people bought the single and drove the song to #1 on the Hot100 for three weeks in the Spring.

#3 Tina TurnerWhat’s Love Got to Do with It

At #3, another astonishing comeback, by a female singer in her mid-40s who’d been recording and touring constantly in small venues, basically as a cabaret act, since her last charting hits in the early ’70s. She generated some buzz doing a stint at New York’s Ritz Rock club in ’83 and Capitol Records put out her cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” as a single, which did well, so she recorded an album for Capitolin just two weeks in the Spring, and by September its leadoff single was #1 and she was on tour opening for Lionel Richie. At the time she was the oldest female singer ever to top the Hot100. The comeback leadoff single from the album Private Dancer, by Tina Turner: the #3 song of 1984 and Record of the Year at the Grammys “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

“What’s Love Got to Do with It,” 1984’s #3 song, Tina Turner. Two more top ten hits from the Private Dancer album followed in ’85, “Better Be Good to Me” and the title track, “Private Dancer” while she played a 177-date world tour and starred opposite Mel Gibson in the third Mad Max film, Beyond Thunderdome.

#2 Van Halen – Jump

Since the ’80s, MTV’s Video Music Awards, or VMAs, are of the year’s biggest music awards shows, held every year in late August or early September. Well, 1984 saw the very first MTV Video Music Awards show, hosted by Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler at Radio City in New York. “Video of the Year” went to the lead single off The Cars blockbuster 1984 album Heartbeat City, “You Might Think,” and other winners included David Bowie’s “China Girl,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” ZZ Top’s “Legs,” Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” and our #2 song, which was the only major VMA winner that was among the top ten chart hits in the year. They won for Best Stage Performance in a Video. It’s Van Halen: the lead single from their blockbuster 1984 album, entitled 1984: “Jump.”

Van Halen won the VMA for “Best Stage Performance in a Music Video” thanks to front man David Lee Roth’s onstage martial arts antics in the video for “Jump,” our #2 song of 1984. The synth riff in “Jump:” the first prominent synth in a Van Halen song, and pretty controversial with the group’s devoted hard rock fan base who’d been with them since their first album in 1978. Rock fans, very leery of “New Wavey” keyboards in those years, perhaps foreshadowing the epic microgenre splintering of Rock’s audience in the ’90s and beyond. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen first came up with the riff in ’81, but it stayed on the shelf until other groups, notably Canadian Arena Rock trio Rush, made it safe for a Hard Rock group to add modern keyboards into the mix.

#1 PrinceWhen Doves Cry

And that brings us to the #1 song in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1984. The album it was on came out right in the middle of the year, but wasn’t just any album release. Besides records, tapes and CDs, it was tied in with a blockbuster biopic in movie theaters, home video, merchandizing and even the artist’s live shows in a sustained, coordinated multimedia brand assault the likes of which hadn’t been seen for a pop culture commodity since Beatlemania. And it was all timed to hit just as the well of singles from the artist’s 1982 breakthrough album ran dry and the album itself, 1999, dipped into the lower half of the Top 200 Album chart from its peak in the top ten in mid ’83. At #1, the artist? Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Prince. The album, movie and tour, Purple Rain. And its single: the #1 of 1984: “When Doves Cry.”

Prince, “When Doves Cry:” the #1 song of 1984. Now in a year of huge soundtrack hits, it’s easy to forget that Prince’s Purple Rain was a soundtrack album too—to the semi-autobiographical movie Purple Rain, which grossed $72 million, ten times what it cost to make. One of the most prolific Pop artists of the ’80s and ’90s, he managed to integrate almost every style of music into what critics called the Minneapolis sound. But it’s really The Prince sound, since he was closely involved with almost all the other acts that came under that banner: The Time, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Morris Day, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Sheila E., The Family.

Three more singles from Purple Rain were top ten hits in 1984: the title track, “I Would Die 4 U” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” which was also a #1 hit. And he didn’t just top the Billboard charts: an album cut off Purple Rain topped the debut “Filthy Fifteen” chart released by Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center in ’84. “Darling Nikki” details Prince’s adventure with a woman he finds masturbating in a hotel lobby. But things were about to go from bad to worse for parents concerned about x-rated themes in Pop songs: at the end of ’84, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” came out—not a deep album cut, a #1 single. Egads! In 1990, after Senate hearings and a heated debate over censorship, the Recording Industry Association of America introduced the “Parental Advisory—Explicit Lyrics” label to identify music with mature themes.

For his part, Prince was just getting started in 1984. He stayed hot on the charts all the way into the mid-90s even after changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol in ’93. When being a one-name superstar gets old, there’s always unpronounceable symbols!

Well that’s our countdown! Now some years there are big differences between our Chartcrush top ten and the top ten on Billboard’s published year-end Hot100 chart. Not so 1984. The point system Billboard used to rank the songs in ’84? Very similar to the system we apply consistently to every year at Chartcrush.

Only one song from Billboard’s year-end top ten not in our countdown, and that’s Paul McCartney’s duet with Michael Jackson, “Say Say Say.” But not because it lacked ranking points; four of its six weeks at #1 were at the end of calendar 1983, so we have it as the #3 song of 1983. As they do every year, Billboard had a cut off issue for the 1983 chart year to give themselves time to prepare the charts and get the year-end issue printed and mailed by New Years. For ’83, that was their October 29th issue, so “Say Say Say” got kicked into ’84.

And that’s going to have to do it for our 1984 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Check out our website, chartcrush.com, for written transcripts and streaming links for this and other Chartcrush countdown shows, plus chart run line graphs and other bitchin’ extras. We count down a different year every week from the beginning ofthe charts in the ’40s all the way up to the present, so tune in again next week, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.

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