Twenty-seven years ago, the Billboard Hot 100 top ten looked like this. No R&B unless I count Whitney Houston and TTD, but batshit eccentricity still ruled.
10. Samantha Fox – Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)
Because she worked with Stock-Aiken-Waterman, Samantha Fox was considered a bass/freestyle fellow traveler in Miami; we heard this and the previous year’s “Touch Me (I Want Your Body)” and next year’s “I Wanna Have Some Fun” an awful lot. When skeptics dismissed the soullessness of disco, they might have had this single’s cheapo effects and Fox’s flat voice. I say the lack of affect helps, and it hits harder than Full Force’s 1987 Lisa Lisa hits. Who said a cheap tool is an ineffective one?
9. Icehouse – Electric Blue
How John Oates co-wrote this Australian act’s biggest American hit deserves a documentary. I suppose he influenced the call and response background vocals and the simplicity of the lyric (long ago Andrew Unterberger swooned to that chorus). Many preferred Icehouse as third-rate Roxy Music magpies. I can’t get past Iva Davies’ adenoidal vocal, the aural equivalent of his mullet, which even for 1987-1988 horrified children worldwide.
8. Johnny Hates Jazz – Shattered Dreams
CVS shoppers keep discovering this gem, one of the last sophisti-pop singles to chart (and one of David Fincher’s first video credits). It boasts quiet unexpected touches, like the ominous bass figure beneath the line “You said you’d die for me.” Plus, a bongo solo! Still, peaking at #2 for three weeks was a surprise. Thank Virgin Records and its PR muscle.
7. Taylor Dayne – Prove Your Love
Closer to a diva for whom dance productions were constructed instead of a dance singer (as the success of “Love Will Lead You Back” in two years would show), Taylor Dayne was another freestyle fellow traveler who could not have scored this hit at any other point. For some reason “Prove Your Love” is the least familiar of her impressive 1988 run of hits. It doesn’t stop: as dense as cordite, fierce guitar solo, a voice as huge as the Sears Tower.
6. Pet Shop Boys – Always On My Mind
Perfection. Take note of its top ten company and relisten to the arrangement – it’s Tennant-Lowe doing Stock-Aiken-Waterman. It’s Tennant-Lowe doing sarcasm. It’s Tennant-Lowe bidding farewell to an unusually accommodating American run.
5. Natalie Cole – Pink Cadillac
The phrase was in the air. Bruce Springsteen’s popular B-side (it and “Dancing in the Dark” made 1984’s P&J poll) got a Clint Eastwood, ah, vehicle and Natalie Cole’s comeback for its trouble. Like her other singles in this twilight zone between the drug fog and “Unforgettable,” “Pink Cadillac” sounds like a producer’s idea of hip and chart friendly.
4. Whitney Houston – Where Do Broken Hearts Go?
I’ve said repeatedly that the Whitney singles were the most worthless of her career, the much cited exception “Love Will Save the Day” notwithstanding. Overstated, pompous, empty. I can’t even call them “typical eighties” because hits these anonymous existed by the truckload in 1978 too. Where do broken ears go?
3. Aerosmith – Angel
The aroma of a tear-stained jockstrap.
2. Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine – Anything For You
‘Sup, homegirl! Speaking of imperial phases, Gloria Estefan sure had one between 1987 and 1993; she even got a traditional Cuban pop album certified multiplatinum. The first of her three self-penned number ones, “Anything For You” is better than “Don’t Wanna Lose You” but slushier than “Can’t Stay Away From You,” identikit titles aside (none is better than this early ‘87 minor hit). I don’t mind them: she had a talent for going from A to B without fuss, for saying what she meant. A shame she slowly lost interest in faster stuff.
1. Terence Trent D’Arby – Wishing Well
No one under thirty remembers the hype or perhaps even “Wishing Well” – I hear “Sign Your Name” far more often. Not long ago I snapped up Introducing the Hardline…in a used CD bin for a couple of bucks: a solid record! Martyn Ware’s production outlines the contours of a post-Private Dancer pre-Massive Attack British soul, an unrealized promise. As for “Wishing Well,” it’s odd rather than great. The plickety-plonkety keyboard hook and the drum shuffle and something about kissing bandits under sycamore trees. Greil Marcus preferred his “Wonderful World” cover (“Wishing Well,” he wrote, “dies when you start hearing how many times he had to rehearse his laughter”). I wish D’Arby had released “Seven More Days” instead. Oh well – he didn’t listen to me. Or anyone. His best was yet to come and no one heard it.