Pop Top 40: Top 200 Albums for the Week Ending November 24, 1984

At Thanksgiving 1984, Americans were most thankful for these albums

Tina Turner Private Dancer, Capitol 1984

When it comes to top 40 radio/singles, I’m more an ‘83 than an ‘84 guy. But album-wise, goddamn: just look at this murderer’s row of classics, especially the top 3 (none of which won the Grammy for Album of the Year the following February, BTW — that award went to an album below them in the top 10). No playlist this month; you can find these albums yourself. Being the age I am, I know the majority chapter & verse. And as you will see, when it came to the era’s biggest albums, it was a time of releasing as many singles as possible. No, really. Just for fun, let’s give these ratings out of 10, too.

 

VIDEO: Prince “Purple Rain”

[this week, last week, weeks on chart, title, artist]

1 1 (20) PURPLE RAIN — Prince & the Revolution [17th week at #1] — Ultimate peak: #1; charting singles: “When Doves Cry” (#1), “Let’s Go Crazy” (#1), “Purple Rain” (#2), “I Would Die 4 U” (#8), “Take Me With U” (#25). Marvel over this: this is an easy 10/10, and it’s not even Prince’s best album. Or, in my view, his second-best. (My personal rankings go Parade, Sign “O” the Times, and then Purple Rain.) “The Beautiful Ones” wasn’t even a single, and it’s one of the best tracks on the album, a masterpiece in miniature. “Darling Nikki” is a fascinating piece of production, “Baby I’m A Star” a rave-up for the ages. And the singles are indisputable, especially the title track, an aching elegy. The short sharp shock of “Die 4 U” is my favorite Prince single ever, to boot. 10/10

2 2 (23) BORN IN THE U.S.A. — Bruce Springsteen — Ultimate peak: #1; charting singles: “Dancing in the Dark” (#2), “Cover Me” (#7), “Born in the U.S.A.” (#9), “I’m on Fire” (#6), “Glory Days” (#5), “I’m Goin’ Down” (#9), “My Hometown” (#6). You read that right: Born in the U.S.A. became, in late 1985, the second album in history to spin off seven top 40, and then seven top 10 singles (the first, of course, was Thriller — which, by the way, was this week in its 101st week on the chart, and was sitting at #102). The album is solid, but many of the singles, save “Dancing,” have suffered from overplay. (My faves are the almost sultry “I’m on Fire” and the rowdy “I’m Goin’ Down.”) And is there a boomer anthem ickier than “Glory Days”? 7/10 

3 3 (24) PRIVATE DANCER — Tina Turner — Ultimate peak: #3; charting singles: “Let’s Stay Together” (#26), “What’s Love Got to Do with It” (#1), “Better Be Good to Me” (#5), “Private Dancer” (#7), “Show Some Respect” (#37). Turner has never made a truly great album, but she’s made a handful of good ones (song-picking is not her forté), and this, the album that launched the pop comeback to rule over all comebacks, is her best. Its title track is the greatest thing that Mark Knopfler’s ever touched, the Al Green cover is a great idea executed even better (Heaven 17 producing that is just bananas), “Better” is a rocking *chef’s kiss*. The album tracks are solid, but still sound like album tracks. And as for THE SONG, what can you say? Right song, right singer, right backstory, right time. 7/10

4 4 (10) THE WOMAN IN RED – SOUNDTRACK — Stevie Wonder — Ultimate peak: #4; charting singles: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (#1), “Love Light in Flight” (#17). A surprise. This was one of the few albums in this top 20 with which I wasn’t familiar (apart from its singles), and while it’s no great shakes, it’s also not as poor as I’d always feared/assumed. Sure, “I Just Called” is some Hallmark card balladry, but I’m not gonna begrudge Wonder his Oscar — and that melody is sticky, you’ve gotta admit. But “Love Light” is superb, gossamer-light Wonder funk, and his two duets with Dionne Warwick, especially “It’s You,” are surprisingly nice. Like pizza, even substandard Wonder is better than most — and when the standards you’ve set are as high as Songs in the Key of Life and Hotter Than July, “substandard” isn’t nearly as low a bar. 6/10

5 8 (6) VOLUME ONE [EP] — Honeydrippers — Ultimate peak: #5; charting singles: “Sea of Love” (#3), “Rockin’ at Midnight” (#25). Robert Plant, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Nile Rodgers, and Paul Shaffer doing an EP’s worth of ‘50s standards? A splendid idea, expertly executed. Hearing Plant yelp his way through Roy Brown’s 1949 jump blues “Midnight” is a joy; his crooning on “Sea of Love” is unexpectedly lovely, and the EP’s other three tracks are almost as fun. In and out in under 18 minutes, too. 7/10

6 11 (5) BIG BAM BOOM — Daryl Hall & John Oates — Ultimate peak: #5; charting singles: “Out of Touch” (#1), “Method of Modern Love” (#5), “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” (#18), “Possession Obsession” (#30). See my recent deep dive into the album, which I wish I liked more than I do. 6/10

7 5 (60) SPORTS — Huey Lewis and the News — Ultimate peak: #1; charting singles: “Heart and Soul” (#8), “I Want A New Drug” (#6), “The Heart of Rock & Roll” (#6), “If This Is It” (#6), “Walking on a Thin Line” (#18). The world’s most average band makes good. “Heart of Rock & Roll” is gross and gimmicky, but “Heart and Soul” is fine and “If This Is It” is actually kinda charming. That said, I could happily never hear this band again. 5/10

8 6 (55) CAN’T SLOW DOWN — Lionel Richie — Ultimate peak: #1; charting singles: “All Night Long (All Night)” (#1), “Running with the Night” (#7), “Hello” (#1), “Stuck on You” (#3), “Penny Lover” (#8). A tight album in that it’s only got eight songs, but a full half of those clock in over 5:30 (three of them are over 6:00!). You likely remember all the singles, as they were relentlessly drilled into the brains of anyone listening to top 40 (or R&B) radio at the time. “Stuck on You” is the one I most strongly dislike; it’s country-ish but not in the way I want. The album’s best pair of tracks weren’t singles: the title track is slippery and jittery and never stops (or, uh, slows down), while side two opener “Love Will Find A Way” is the father to his next album’s “Love Will Conquer All,” a gorgeous mid-tempo ode to love for all the right reasons. On the Quiet Storm station I program in my head (or my iTunes), it’s in heavy rotation. But overall I admire Can’t Slow Down’s songcraft and production more than I enjoy it. 6/10

9 14 (14) SUDDENLY — Billy Ocean — Ultimate peak: #9; charting singles: “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)” (#1), “Loverboy” (#2), “Suddenly” (#4), “Mystery Lady” (#24). Billy Ocean: better than you might recall, but still not all that. The lite funk of “Mystery Lady” charms me, as do the atmospheric first 0:35 of “Loverboy.” The cover of “The Long & Winding Road,” not so much. “Dancefloor” will not make you want to dance. “Caribbean Queen” likely will, to this day. 5/10

10 10 (49) SHE’S SO UNUSUAL — Cyndi Lauper — Ultimate peak: #4; charting singles: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (#2), “Time After Time” (#1), “She Bop” (#3), “All Through the Night” (#5), “Money Changes Everything” (#27). Now, this is how you come out with a statement of intent as your debut album. And my God, what great taste Lauper had in picking songs to record: the Brains’ “Money,” Robert Hazard’s “Girls,” Jules Shear’s “Night,” Prince’s “When You Were Mine” — and I’d say excepting Prince’s, she outdoes all the originals. Not only does she outdo them, she truly makes them (the first three, I mean) her own. Then, for the true money shot, she co-wrote the lovely ballad “Time After Time” and got a #1 pop single for her trouble. And I’ve not even mentioned the late Tipper Gore’s favorite song on the album, the masturbation ode “She Bop,” which is just pure pop perfection. Fun fact: this album made Lauper the first female artist ever to notch four top 5 singles from one album. 7/10 

11 17 (6) TONIGHT — David Bowie — Ultimate peak: #11; charting singles: “Blue Jean” (#8), “Tonight” (#53). I’ve long been a quasi-defender of Bowie’s follow-up to Let’s Dance, even as most folks I know loathe it. (I find Never Let Me Down to be far inferior.) Any album that opens with the stunning “Loving the Alien” can’t be bad, and “Blue Jean” is entertaining, fun junk. 6/10

 

VIDEO: U2 “Bad”

12 15 (6) THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE — U2 — Ultimate peak: #12; charting singles: “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (#33). My favorite U2 album; I love x1000 what Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno did with the band here more than anywhere. Coming off of War, Bono and the boys could’ve chosen to just keep chugging and become the Irish equivalent of, say, Springsteen. But instead they injected a healthy dose of artiness into the proceedings. Some might call it pretentious; I call it smart, very smart. Bono’s singing turned a corner here, and frankly so did Edge’s guitar playing, which became much more precise and measured. “Bad” stuns, and the atmosphere of the title track may be my favorite U2 song ever. 10/10

13 13 (53) BREAK OUT — The Pointer Sisters — Ultimate peak: #8; charting singles: “I Need You” (#48), “Automatic” (#5), “Jump (For My Love)” (#3), “I’m So Excited” (#9), “Neutron Dance” (#6), “Baby Come and Get It” (#44). As opposed to his production on 1100 Bel Air Place (see #15, below), Richard Perry’s work on Break Out is masterful, updating the sisters Pointer for the ‘80s with a light electro-funk touch. Mostly light, that is: “Dance Electric” is some heavy synth-funk, while “Baby Come and Get It” (my favorite track on the album, and its final single) is on some Midnight Star “No Parking on the Dance Floor” good shit. And “Jump” and especially “Automatic” are as good as you remember, maybe better. 8/10

14 18 (26) 17 — Chicago — Ultimate peak: #4; charting singles: “Stay the Night” (#16), “Hard Habit to Break” (#3), “You’re the Inspiration” (#3), “Along Comes A Woman” (#14). The David Foster-ization of Chicago reaches its climax, and the result is a 6x platinum album that’s almost aggressively mediocre. The ‘80s were a great commercial moment for Chicago, but not so much artistically. 5/10

15 7 (13) 1100 BEL AIR PLACE — Julio Iglesias — Ultimate peak: #6; charting singles: “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (with Willie Nelson) (#5), “All of You” (with Diana Ross) (#19). The key to Iglesias’s U.S. breakthrough (he’d already conquered most of the rest of the world, including the U.K.) wasn’t Richard Perry’s Adult Contemporary-perfect production, or Iglesias’s suaveness — it was songwriter Albert Hammond, who you may know for his own 1972 hit “It Never Rains in Southern California,” or for hits he co-wrote for the likes of Starship or Whitney Houston or the Hollies. He co-wrote five of the 10 songs on 1100, including a cover of that 1974 Hollies smash, and — most notably — the odd-couple Iglesias/Willie Nelson duet “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” which not only climbed to #5 on the Hot 100, but #3 A/C and #1 Country. The album itself is as florid, and of its moment, as you’d expect. The Ross duet is almost obscenely over the top (in the best way), while “Moonlight Lady” (and easy listening favorite to this day) is plinky Eurotrash that never fails to make me smile. And, confusingly, there’s a cover of Bread’s “If,” sung not in Iglesias’s native Spanish, but Italian. It features a guitar solo to boot. 5/10 

16 21 (6) I FEEL FOR YOU — Chaka Khan — Ultimate peak: #16; charting singles: “I Feel for You” (#3), “This Is My Night” (#60), “Through the Fire” (#60). A tricky one: the title track is one of the greatest singles of the ‘80s, and “Fire” an enduring classic (independent of Kanye, even), but much of the remainder of the album is odd experiments (like an electro cover of Gary Wright’s “Love Is Alive”: no) and adult contemporary goo (a cover of Carole Bayer Sager’s “Stronger than Before”). “Eye to Eye,” produced by Russ Titleman, has some appealing snap to it (the rest of the album, save for “Fire” (David Foster), was helmed by Arif Mardin, who did wonders with the title track but leaves much of the album sounding mushy). But this is one seriously mixed, messy bag. 5/10

17 9 (34) HEARTBEAT CITY — The Cars — Ultimate peak: #3; charting singles: “You Might Think” (#7), “Magic” (#12), “Drive” (#3), “Hello Again” (#20), “Why Can’t I Have You” (#33). Even moreso than the albums he made for Def Leppard and Shania Twain, this might be “Mutt” Lange’s shiniest, most gleaming slab of vinyl. He helped the Cars distill their new wave pop/rock to its essence and helped them land a 4x platinum record in the U.S., their highest charting album, and their highest charting single, the gorgeous Benjamin Orr-sung ballad “Drive.” Of course, he was helped mightily by Ric Ocasek’s fascinating visage and a series of videos which MTV shot into the stratosphere (and with them, the Cars themselves). I’m not quite as enamored with the Cars as many of my peers and my generation, but when they were good, they were great. 6/10 

18 12 (29) EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS – SOUNDTRACK — John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band — Ultimate peak: #9; charting singles: “On the Dark Side” (#7), “Tender Years” (#31). Utter garbage Jersey bar-band bullshit that only got popular thanks to HBO’s endless mid-afternoon (a/k/a after school) airings of the Eddie and the Cruisers movie. Which is also utter garbage Jersey bar-band bullshit. 1/10

19 19 (5) EMOTION — Barbra Streisand — Ultimate peak: #19; charting singles: “Left in the Dark” (#50), “Make No Mistake, He’s Mine” (featuring Kim Carnes) (#51), “Emotion” (#79). Streisand’s first album since 1975 not to produce a top 40 hit was also her lowest-charting studio album since 1976’s Classical Barbra. Since 1980’s #1 uber-smash Guilty, she’d released a comp (1981’s Memories, #10) and the 1983 film Yentl, whose soundtrack made it all the way to #9. Compared to all that, Emotion was pretty much a flop. Which is fitting, because the album’s fairly a clusterfuck. Across its 10 tracks, there’s only one person who has multiple writing credits, and that’s Streisand herself, with two co-writes. Additionally, the 10 songs have seven different production credits, with — very oddly — Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White taking three of those. Among the other cooks with their hands in this dish are Carnes, Jim Steinman, Bee Gees associate Albhy Galuten, the Pointer Sisters, John Mellencamp (!), and the E Street Band’s Max Weinberg. None of their contributions are particularly notable; Streisand steamrolls them all into the worst kind of bland Adult Contemporary (all three singles made the top 15 on that chart) oatmeal. 3/10

20 20 (8) ANIMALIZE — Kiss — Ultimate peak: #19; charting singles: “Heaven’s on Fire” (#49). Kiss were coming off the major success of both the removal of their makeup (they had a “press conference” on MTV!), and subsequent album Lick It Up (which features a great title track and little else), but Gene Simmons had become more interested in making (very very bad) movies than being involved in the nuts & bolts of Kiss — so Paul Stanley was put in charge of, and in the producer’s chair for, follow-up Animalize. Which meant hello, Desmond Child (co-writer on three tracks)! Goodbye, quality control! And a Simmons-penned and -sung charmer called “Burn Bitch Burn” (which includes the lyric “I wanna put my log in your fireplace” — and you thought Poison and Mötley Crüe were un-subtle). Sure, lead single “Fire” is fun trash, or trashy fun, take your pick, but there’s not much more on the album worth a damn. 2/10

 

VIDEO: Kiss “Heaven’s On Fire”

 

 

Thomas Inskeep

Rock and Roll Globe contributor Thomas Inskeep is a pop critic with three different music blogs, and a former contributor to Stylus, Seattle Weekly, and SPIN. He lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Follow him on Twitter @Thomasinskeep1.

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