1986 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast

Whitney Houston blitzes the charts as Hip-Hop, Glam Metal and The Bangles score big and music’s benefit streak peaks with a #1 charity single for AIDS research.

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Welcome! This is the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show and I’m your host Christopher Verdesi. Every week we set our sights on a different year in Pop music and culture and count down the top ten hits according to our exclusive recap of the weekly charts published at the time by the music industry’s top trade mag, Billboard magazine. This week, we’re turning the clock back to 1986, a transitional year when the currents that’d made the early ’80s MTV revolution fresh and exciting were fading and new sounds were coming up from the underground and streets.

Hip-Hop, for one. MTV treated it like a novelty and it didn’t even have its own Billboard chart ’til 1989, but in ’86, Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell shared the top 5 on the album chart the seven weeks after Labor Day with the likes of Madonna, Lionel Richie, Steve Winwood and the Top Gun Soundtrack, and their remake of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith was all over MTV. And right after that in the Fall of ’86, what Billboard Chart Beat editor Paul Grein called the Thriller of Glam Metal, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, shot into the top five, and it was a whole new bag on the charts heading into ’87.

Other more gradual changes were reaching tipping points too: smooth R&B replacing Soft Rock and Country Pop as the dominant sound on Adult Contemporary radio, and so-called “College Rock” bands like U2 and R.E.M. nearing the cusp of superstardom. And as in other transitional periods, nostalgia was big. The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame honored its first inductees in ’86; Classic Rock was now a thing on radio, and after the demise of AM Top 40 earlier in the decade, FM Oldies, never bigger. And Doo-Wop was charting again: not just Billy Joel’s obvious throwbacks “Uptown Girl” and “The Longest Time,” but modern-sounding hits by Wham!, Huey Lewis & The News, Hall & Oates and even Madonna: enough of those that the smart alecks who invented the genre “Yacht Rock” in the ’00s to retroactively classify certain ’70s and ’80s Soft Rock hits, came up with a genre for that too: “Nu Wop!” The Monkees were back in ’86: on tour with six of their albums from the ’60s back on the charts at the same time. And James Brown back in the top 10 for the first time since 1968 (“Living in America” from Rocky IV). Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” and The Beatles “Twist and Shout,” both charted again thanks to movies.

And after a decade of abstract, escapist Prog; lusty, hedonistic Disco; angsty, nihilistic Punk; and flippant, aloof New Wave, Pop had a conscience again, even if it sometimes felt more top-down and prefab than bottom-up and organic, like a nostalgia trip for Woodstock Nation 40-somethings. Live Aid and Farm Aid in ’85, and the Amnesty International shows in ’86 were massive events that did raise awareness (and money) for neglected causes: hunger in Africa, family farm foreclosures and human rights.

But while the late ’60s were the tail end of the Postwar economic Boom and Boomers had had the luxury to take up causes, the ’80s were more like the beginning of it the late ’40s and early ’50s, after years of Depression and War. ’70s stagflation, “malaise” and urban collapse weren’t quite that bad, but coming out of it, people weren’t taking their opportunities for granted. They were focused on building careers, businesses and nest eggs. Which, according to President Reagan and economist Milton Freedman, was also the best way to solve the big problems. So the ’80s, not exactly fertile soil for Progressive activists, but just try keeping people away from an all-day A-list music extravaganza!

#10 Mr. Mister – Kyrie

And with that, let’s kick off our countdown! At #10, the second of two consecutive #1’s for a group of L.A. session guys who decided to form a Rock band, and their second album connected the last year before Glam Metal exploded. The front man had turned down offers to be the lead singer in Toto and to replace Peter Cetera in Chicago. Wise choices, it turned out, once their song “Broken Wings” hit #1. And then then this topped the chart just a few months later. It’s Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie.”

The slick, synthy Arena Rock sound perfected by Mr. Mister on “Kyrie” and other 1986 Rock hits like Europe’s “Final Countdown” and Survivor’s “Burning Heart:” swamped by grittier, keyboard-averse Glam Metal once Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet album came out at the end of ’86, soon followed by Cinderella, Poison, Motley Crue and Def Leppard. “Kyrie’s” chorus was among the top misheard lyrics in ’80s Rock: “Give me a laser down the road that I must travel” was what many heard, but those who paid attention when the DJ said the title, many of them, figured it was about a girl named Kyrie, and sure enough, 164 couples gave their baby girls that name in ’86 according to the Social Security Administration. But like the band’s run on the charts, the girls name Kyrie was a blip. Mr. Mister had two #1s in four months, and by the end of the decade they didn’t even have a label. But the name made a comeback on the boy’s list in 2012, Kyrie Irving’s rookie year with the Cleveland Cavaliers. By the way, the actual lyric is “Kyrie eleison down this road that I must travel:” an ancient prayer invocation that means “Lord, have mercy.” Were churchgoers even listening to Rock in the mid-’80s, as preachers and Senators’ wives in the PMRC railed against smutty lyrics? Maybe a few.

#9 FalcoRock Me Amadeus

So the Berlin Wall was in the news throughout the ’80s, culminating in 1987 with Reagan’s iconic “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech, and in ’89, Berliners did just that. German songs had scored big on the U.S. charts in other eras when Berlin was in the news. “Forever and Ever” was a top hit during the Berlin Airlift in 1949, adapted from the German Air Force’s theme song in World War 2. Then in 1952 when East Germany sealed its border and cut power and phone lines to West Berlin, Vera Lynn’s “Auf Wiederseh’n, Sweetheart” was #1 for seven weeks. And in ’61, the year the wall went up, unknown singer Joe Dowell took a German Folk song, “Wooden Heart,” to #1. But in the ’80s, it wasn’t just German songs, it was German artists singing them, in German. At #9 on our 1986 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown, an Austrian who’d made the top ten on the Dance chart in ’83 with his original version of “Der Kommisar” as British band After the Fire took their English one to #5 on the Hot100. But in ’86 he scored his own U.S. Pop smash, in German, inspired by Miloš Forman’s blockbuster Mozart biopic Amadeus, which won eight Oscars including Best Picture. #1 for three weeks in the Spring of ’86, it’s Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus.”

Falco, “Rock Me Amadeus,” #9 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1986 and the second big hit in German on the U.S. Pop charts in two years. Nena’s “99 Luftballons” had gotten to #2 in 1984, in German even though their English version, “99 Red Balloons,” was on the flip, so Falco didn’t bother, and Americans didn’t seem to have a problem with that.

#8 Bruce Hornsby & The RangeThe Way It Is

At #8 we have the most overtly political #1, lyrically-speaking, since Folkie Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” in 1965 or Edwin Starr’s “War” in ’70, and until Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” in 2023. But while those other songs sound raw and angry, this one is polished and nonchalant, by a previously unknown Singer-Songwriter, son of an uber-rich Virginia real-estate developer who himself was a generation removed from his dad who amassed the family’s wealth in the oil business. The Steinway grand in the living room was where he honed his piano chops growing up, and the song tackles racism and the wealth gap exactly like you’d expect from a guy with that background: a detached, fly-on-the-wall perspective on two emblematic rich guy/poor person interactions and a tidbit from Social Studies class about Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in the ’60s to drive home the point. But his bright, shimmering piano transcended the song’s understated, ho-hum moralizing. Conservative talker Sean Hannity actually used the intro for years as bumper music on his radio show! At #8, it’s Bruce Hornsby & The Range, “The Way It Is.”

Bruce Hornsby & The Range’s “The Way It Is,” #8 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1986. Since it didn’t hit #1 ’til December 13th, after the cut-off for Billboard’s 1986 chart year for their year-end rankings, they have it as the #8 song of 1987. In the ’90s, Rappers Tupac Shakur and E-40 both built top 40 charting Hip-Hop tracks around Hornsby’s infectious piano riff. He later scored two apolitical top tens with “Mandolin Rain” in ’87 and “The Valley Road” in ’88, and his piano showed up on dozens of records including Don Henley’s hit “The End of the Innocence” in ’89, but in ’91 he disbanded The Range and became the Grateful Dead’s fulltime touring keyboardist: over 100 shows until Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia passed away in ’95.

#7 Huey Lewis & The NewsStuck with You

Next at #7, the closest thing to a Summer hit in our countdown. ’86 was weird that way. Of the nine #1s in the Summer, only two had more than a single week at #1. Those were Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” from The Karate Kid II and Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach,” each with two weeks on top. But in that weird zone after Labor Day when it’s still technically Summer but school’s back in session and everyone’s in their Fall clothes, the lead single from these guys’ first album in three years hit the airwaves, and its goofy story video (they were known for those) was all over MTV. It was the first song to hold down the #1 spot for more than two weeks since early June. Coming off their first #1 hit the previous Summer with “Power of Love” from Back to the Future, it’s Huey Lewis & The News’, “Stuck with You.”

A song for couples ratcheting down their relationship expectations, or, the ultimate pandemic quarantine track? Those are two of the dubious latter-day honors bestowed on Huey Lewis & The News’ “Stuck with You,” #7 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1986. Good-natured ironic understatement (“ehhh, you’re okay, I guess I’ll keep you around, wink wink”): apparently that went extinct sometime in the Emo ’00s. Maybe just a Boomer thing! In ’87, Huey & The News notched five top tens including a second #1, “Jacob’s Ladder,” but their brand of good-timey Pub Rock didn’t track much beyond the Reagan era. They kept touring and making albums into the 2020s though, with four original members including Huey.

#6 Whitney HoustonGreatest Love of All

At numbers six and five we have a two-fer. That’s two songs by the same artist back-to-back: the third and second, respectively, of her record-breaking string of seven consecutive #1s from ’85 to ’88. That record still stands. There may not’ve been a single standout Summer hit in ’86, but make no mistake: the Summer of ’86 was the Summer of Whitney Houston, and the song that got Arista honcho Clive Davis to sign her in the first place when he saw her sing it at Sweetwater’s near Lincoln Center in Manhattan in 1983 is our song at #6, “Greatest Love of All.”

Whitney Houston, “Greatest Love of All,” #6. There was no one then on the charts who could sing like that. Adult contemporary listeners got to hear her first: “Hold Me,” Whitney’s duet with Teddy Pendergrass, a #6 AC hit in the Summer of ’84. Once her album was out in the Spring of ’85, her first solo single “You Give Good Love” hit the R&B bullseye, and Arista’s next move was to target AC again with “Saving All My Love for You.” Well, when that topped not only the AC chart, but also the R&B chart and became her first #1 on the Hot100, Clive Davis was validated and Whitney was a multi-format superstar. From there, the label staggered her single releases between Adult Contemporary ballads and lively Pop songs, and they were all #1 hits.

#5 Whitney HoustonHow Will I Know

“Greatest Love of All,” the second ballad after “Saving All My Love,” and between them, yep, the upbeat Pop song that won over the MTV crowd, and that’s the #5 hit here on our 1986 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown. It had just come out when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in flight at the end of January, and hard to conceive of two more jarringly opposite things simultaneously on the minds of impressionable teens. But the two are closely linked in many GenX-ers’ memories. Again, it’s Whitney Houston with “How Will I Know.”

The hit that showed the MTV generation that Whitney Houston wasn’t just a ballad singer, “How Will I Know,” #5 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1986. Written for Janet Jackson, but her managers rejected it so Arista secured it for the unknown Whitney. And Clive Davis had to lean hard on Narada Michael Walden to get him produce, with his plate already full working on Aretha Franklin’s comeback album, Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Aretha’s “Freeway of Love” and Whitney’s “How Will I Know,” recorded in the same session! By the way, both of Whitney’s first two #1 ballads, “Saving All My Love” and “Greatest Love of All” which we just heard at #6, produced by Michael Masser and also co-written by him, but in the late ’70s for other artists. That’s right, Whitney’s were both covers! “Saving,” originally a Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. album cut in 1978, and “Greatest,” first done (and charted) by George Benson for the 1977 Muhammad Ali biopic The Greatest.

#4 Patti Labelle & Michael McDonaldOn My Own

Our #4 song may be the first example of a collaboration where the artists recorded their parts separately, thousands of miles apart: piece of cake with the internet, right? But not sure how they pulled it off before most folks had even heard of FedEx. And they weren’t together for the video either! It’s a split screen. In fact, the first time they were ever in the same room was the day before they sang the song together on The Tonight Show, Joan Rivers guest-hosting, just as it was about to crack the top 20 in late April. Married producer/songwriters Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager recruited the singers and put the whole thing together. It’s Patti LaBelle coming off her hit “New Attitude” from Beverly Hills Cop, and former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, “On My Own.”

Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, #4 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1986. “On My Own,” was Patti’s first #1 since her group LaBelle’s Disco smash “Lady Marmalade” in 1975, and McDonald’s first since “What a Fool Believes” with the Doobie Brothers in ’79. His highest charting solo hit? “I Keep Forgettin’,” #4 in 1982, the year the Doobies split up. Right after “On My Own,” McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom” from the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines buddy-cop flick Running Scared made it to #7, and he continued charting on the AC charts ’til 2008. And Patti Labelle stayed hot on the R&B chart well into the ’90s. She surged again after the all-star cover of “Lady Marmalade” for Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge! hit #1 for five weeks in 2001 and L.A. Reid signed her to Def Jam. Her ’04 Def Jam album Timeless Journey was her first to crack the top 20 since ’86, and then her reunion with Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash in LaBelle debuted at #45 in ’08. Those three had first performed together all the way back in 1962!

#3 The BanglesWalk like an Egyptian

At #3 we have the last big, goofy MTV New Wave chart topper of the ’80s, although the B-52’s “Love Shack” did make it to #3 as late as 1989. This one’s got nonsense lyrics about cops in donut shops and gold crocodiles who want your cigarette. And a suitably goofy video and dance too, that was ubiquitous ’86 into ’87. It’s The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

Now you’d think that ’60s revivalism would’ve been bigger in the ’80s, but while The Stray Cats and Billy Joel were mainlining pure ’50s sounds onto the charts, only one of the literally hundreds of bands worldwide in or adjacent to the 60’s-obsessed Paisley Underground scene centered in L.A. made it past college radio and ’60s-themed clubs to the top of the charts: all-Girl Group The Bangles.

Columbia signed them in ’83 to compete with The Go-Go’s, but their debut album in ’84 was a commercial dud. As luck would have it, though, The Go-Go’s cleared the lane by breaking up, and Bangle Susanna Hoffs caught Prince’s eye in the middle of his Paisley-influenced “Raspberry Beret” phase. His jangly song “Manic Monday” became The Bangles breakthrough hit in early ’86, but “Walk like an Egyptian” sealed the deal, #1 for four weeks at the end of the year. Too late to make Billboard’s 1986 year-end ranking so they have it as the #1 song of 1987, but most of its chart action was before New Years so it’s #3 in our 1986 edition of The Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.

#2 Lionel RichieSay You, Say Me (Title Song from White Nights)

Well we’re down to #2: the only soundtrack hit in our countdown the year after the Phil Collins/Marilyn Martin duet “Separate Lives” was the only soundtrack hit in our 1985 top ten, from the same movie, Taylor Hackford’s Cold War musical drama White Nights starring Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov. OK, technically, it’s not a soundtrack hit because the artist’s label, Motown, wouldn’t clear it for release on a rival label. But yet it was the movie’s theme song! Fresh from co-writing USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” #1 Live Aid charity single with Michael Jackson in ’85, and an unbroken string of nine top ten solo hits going back to 1980, it’s Lionel Richie with “Say You, Say Me.”

Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me,” #2 on our 1986 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown. Director Taylor Hackford had a real knack for picking award-winning #1 ballad hits to put in his movies: Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’ “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman, #1 in ’82, Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” from the movie of the same name, #1 in ’84, both of those nominated for Best Original Song Oscars, and “Up Where We Belong” won. So did “Say You, Say Me,” beating out “Separate Lives,” from the same movie, also nominated. Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling album yielded three more top tens in ’86 into ’87, but things cooled off for him on the charts as his marital woes dominated the tabloids from ’88 ’til his divorce in ’93. He continued charting AC hits into the ’10s, though, and was the elder-statesman judge on American Idol three years running in the late ’10s.

#1 Dionne & FriendsThat’s What Friends Are For

Now with all the big benefit concerts in the ’80s, surprising that there wasn’t one for the worsening AIDS crisis ’til 1992: the benefit in London after Queen front man Freddie Mercury died. But in ’86, after veteran actor Rock Hudson became the first big celebrity to die of AIDS, veteran actress Elizabeth Taylor and veteran playwright Neil Simon suggested to veteran Songwriters Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager (remember them from “On Our Own” at #4?) that the duet they were working on with two veteran Singers could be an AIDS charity single. Well, after adding two more veteran Singers, that’s what it became. And with ten weeks in the top ten and four at #1, it’s the #1 song of 1986. Billed on the record as Dionne Warwick & Friends, the “Friends” were Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John. That’s a century of combined chart action between them. And the record raised millions for AIDS research. At #1, “That’s What Friends Are For.”

#1 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1986, Dionne Warwick & Friends, “That’s What Friends Are For,” the Bacharach/Bayer-Sager song first recorded by Rod Stewart for the 1982 Ron Howard movie Night Shift starring Michael Keaton but not released as a single.

Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick went way back, to their amazing string of over 30 chart hits including seven top tens in the ’60s, which came to a messy end in 1972 when Bacharach’s long partnership with lyricist Hal David dissolved and Dionne found herself without Songwriters or Producers, having just signed a multi-million-dollar contract with a new label. “Friends” was the first time they’d worked together in 14 years.

Bonus

Well, there you have ’em: our Chartcrush Top Ten hits of 1986, based on their performance on Billboard’s weekly charts and ranked using our formula that we apply to every year’s songs. Up to the ’90s, that’s how Billboard got its year-end rankings too: recap the published charts. But they kept tweaking the formula every year, ostensibly to improve accuracy, and in the mid-’80s they started doing some very complex stuff. So comparing our ’86 ranking with Billboard’s, there are a few head-scratchers. Five of our top ten jive with Billboard’s ranking exactly or within one ranking position, but five don’t. Of those, two were hits late in the year (Bruce Hornsby and The Bangles), so they were in Billboard’s 1987 top ten. And Whitney’s “Greatest Love of All” just misses at #11 in Billboard. But Huey Lewis and Falco, despite three weeks each at #1 in a year where the #1 song had just four: those didn’t even make Billboard’s top 20. Very strange! Now let’s take a quick look at the five songs that made Billboard’s top ten for ’86, but not ours.

At #10 they had the first #1 by a British Rocker who’d been charting albums and singles since the mid ’70s, but just hadn’t been able to crack the top 10.

The video for Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” (off his eighth album) was all over MTV in the Spring, helping propel the song to #1 for its one week in May. We have “Addicted to Love” at #20 on the year.

Survivor’s “Burning Heart” never got to #1 but its 16 weeks in the top 40 was just one shy of Dionne & Friends’ 17.

Like Mr. Mister, Survivor did not survive into the Glam Metal era. “Is This Love,” #7 in early ’87, their last record to make the top 40.

And three other hits in Billboard’s year-end top ten for ’86 hit their chart peaks in December ’85, and, by our Chartcrush method, they’re really 1985 songs. Of those three, only Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” is in our top ten for ’85, though, at #7.

The song comedian Eddie Murphy cut, he says, to settle a bet with Richard Pryor over whether he could sing or not: that was Billboard’s #7 song of 1986.

We have Murphy’s “Party All the Time” at #19 on the year 1985.

And at #3 on their ’86 ranking they have the song that with 29 weeks, was on the chart two weeks longer than any other ’85 or ’86 song, even though it only got as high as #5.

That long chart run for Klymaxx’s “I Miss You” only gets it to #17 on our Chartcrush ranking, for ’85, not ’86.

And that’s gonna have to be it for our 1986 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show because we’re all out of time! I’m Christopher Verdesi and thanks for listening. If you like what you heard be sure and check out our website, chartcrush.com, for links to stream all our Chartcrush episodes on Spotify, plus written transcripts, chart run line graphs and other gnarly extras. We count down a different year every week on this show, 1940s to now, so tune again next week, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.

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