|Posted by powerpopclassics on February 16, 2015 at 11:55 PM|
Over the last several months, the rules have been very simple here at Alt Universe Top 40. Chart by chart, countdown by countdown, the task has been to review an episode of American Top 40, remove its worst song, and replace it. Rarely is there a battle between the “replacing” songs. They have been working their way into their deserved positions one listen at a time for years. As a result, one solitary non-charted record always seems ready to step into its appropriate slot. Conversely, every chart we have examined has contained multiple duds. While it has been difficult at times to find each countdown’s single worst song, thus far, the inevitable lameness champ has always emerged.
NOT THIS TIME.
After studying the Top 40 from February 16, 1980 on and off for two weeks now, it is obvious that TWO songs simply must be removed. Since this is against the rules, we have a dilemma. What do we do? Well, we look at the chart, and then do what we have to do to keep musical equilibrium intact.
At first glance, it is obvious that there is no dominant genre on this chart. It does, however, seem to have a slightly larger amount of “Middle of the Road” music than one would expect from this time period. Statistically, there are 12 really bad songs, 15 OK to good songs, and 13 really good songs. Nothing new there. What is new is the dual depth of craptitude reached by two of these 12 really bad songs. Staggering.
The best song on this chart was “Refugee,” one of two entries from the incredible DAMN THE TORPEDOES album by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. (“Don’t Do Me Like That” was the other.) Interestingly, Pat Benatar’s first hit, “Heartbreaker” was catching fire at the same time that Petty and his same-named band burned up the chart. Linda Ronstadt had the second-best record on the survey with her spunky cover of Billy Steinberg’s Power Pop burst “How Do I Make You” at #23. And climbing at #14 was new Folk/Rock bard Steve Forbert with “Romeo’s Tune,” from the adventurous and respectable album JACKRABBIT SLIM. While hardly representative of the energy of the New Wave of the time, these records brought a different tilt to the Album Rock side of the chart.
Established FM rock acts included Fleetwood Mac and their incredible harmonies on “Sara” at #7, Toto at #33 with “99,” Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” at #18, and the getting-ready-to-break-up Eagles at #15 with “The Long Run.” Queen rock-a-billied their way to #2 with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” while Kenny Loggins doobied up to #11 with “This Is It.” At #21, Led Zeppelin’s intricate rhythms in “Fool In The Rain” gave John Bonham a moment to shine several months before his September 1980 death. Sadly, Styx, at #35, sounded dead with their lifeless “Why Me,” a song that would have been a perfect candidate for removal, but for the egregiousness of this survey’s two horrendous offenders that we address in a moment.
The best Soul/Disco record on this chart was “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson at #5. Donna Summer was not far behind with “On The Radio” at #9. Kool & the Gang was “Too Hot” at #22, and Chuck Mangione’s winter Olympic theme, “Give It All You Got” won the Gold for the best Instrumental. Teri DeSario & K.C.’s soft soul version of Barbara Mason’s “Yes, I’m Ready” was a radical departure for him, but was rising fast at #6. Another soul cover with a disco-ish beat was “Working My Way Back To You” by The Spinners at #17. Shalamar’s “Second Time Around” was listenable at #20, and Isaac Hayes put some hot buttered soul onto “Don’t Let Go” at #30, his last charted hit. In an almost ceremonial passing of the soul-genius torch, Prince was next door to Isaac on this chart, with his first hit, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” at #31. While some record buyers loved Dionne Warwick’s “Déjà Vu” at #29, others, including me, pined for the days when she was THE voice for Burt Bacharach’s perfectly constructed and arranged selections. Finally, the title to Bonnie Pointer’s “I Can’t Help Myself” sounded like an excuse for the pitiful quality of her chart entry at #40, and up a couple of notches at #38, “Special Lady” by Ray, Goodman & Brown was so bland that one could not help but wonder just how “special” the female who served as muse for this song must have really been.
In the Adult Contemporary category, we actually find three VERY solid records. “Cruisin’” by Smokey Robinson was smartly produced at #4, and Toni Tennille’s lyrics in that week’s #1 song, “Do That To Me One More Time,” must have given the Captain a full-sail ego boost. Dan Fogelberg’s soon-to-be-wedding-classic, “Longer,” was on its way to flying higher than any bird ever flew at #8. At #39, Nicolette Larson’s pretty voice graced “Let Me Go, Love” and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “American Dream” at #16 featured the lovely Linda Ronstadt on harmony vocals. Radio was giving listeners a few last sips of Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by now on its way down at #24, while Rupert’s follow-up “Him” was in the early stages of stalling at #28. Tolerable, but many steps down from “Devil Woman” was Cliff Richard at #32 with “We Don’t Talk Anymore.”
THINGS GET VERY DICEY FROM HERE.
“Desire” by Andy Gibb? Yuck! “When I Want You” by Barry Manilow? What were you thinking, Barry? “Wonderland” by The Commodores? Sounds more like “BLUNDER-land” to me. And then “September Morn” by Neil Diamond. Uh, yeah, THAT Neil Diamond. What do we do when even HE comes up with a dud? Hmmmm. OK, Neil, you get a pass this time, but only because you wrote “I’m A Believer,” “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” for The Monkees. Another songwriter with Monkees roots, John Stewart, was floundering at #36 with “Lost Her In The Sun.” Yes, John, since Neil got a pass, you get one too. Well, let me clarify. As a solo act, John Stewart, you get a pass.
BUT WE ARE DOWN TO THOSE TWO HORRIFIC RECORDS ON THIS SURVEY…
…and John Stewart, you WROTE one of them! Don’t worry, John Stewart, you have already banked all the cover-song proceeds from this terrible re-make, and here at Alt Universe Top 40, we don’t have the authority to place a lien on your songwriting revenue. (Of course, if we did, you’d be in trouble.) One song that absolutely MUST be extracted from this countdown is a truly horrendous cover version of your song, John Stewart. It is Anne Murray’s way-beyond-dismal version of that Monkee classic, “Daydream Believer.” Oh my. This record REEKS in every way. Didn’t you feel dirty, John Stewart, cashing those songwriting checks once you heard her butcher your best song? OK. Enough questions for John Stewart. I suppose this is more about Anne Murray.
It is hard to put into words just how utterly dreadful Anne Murray’s “Daydream Believer” sounds. Astonishingly, there were actually DJ’s out there who played this record. Even more astonishingly and, quite inaccurately, while cueing up Anne Murray’s version, some DJ’s even MADE FUN of The Monkees for NOT playing on their #1 version of the same song.
HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, CHUCKO.
More Monkees played on “Daydream Believer” than Beach Boys played on “Good Vibrations.” More Monkees played on “Daydream Believer” than Byrds played on “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Yes, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz only sang on “Daydream Believer,” but Mike Nesmith played guitar and Peter Tork’s piano part was an integral hook to this classic. Of course, strings and horns covered a lot of territory on The Monkees’ version, but there were lots of strings and horns on the Beatles’ releases from the same time period. Nobody expected John and Paul to man the cellos. But, back to the point, The Monkees’ version of “Daydream Believer” is THE definitive version, even though they did not write the song. Would we want to hear Crystal Gayle sing “Happy Together,” a classic by The Turtles that they didn’t write? I think not. That settles it. Anne Murray, your version of “Daydream Believer” is hereby revoked, removed, disqualified and extracted from this chart.
We have looked at 39 records, and there is still one more to deal with. And, yes, it is every bit as painful as Anne Murray’s “Daydream Believer.” What is it?
“Coward Of The County” by Kenny Rogers.
Good Lord. This was the #3 song in the country? What on earth were all these record buyers thinking? All I know is that every single time I heard it, I wanted to throw up. In fact, I honestly did throw up once while this song was playing. Of course, it may have been a stomach bug, but it just as easily could have been a terrible case of sound poisoning. Part of it is that I just never bought Kenny Rogers as the narrator of this type of story song. Kenny’s hair sabotaged that idea. Furthermore, there was nothing tough about this “fighting” record. Producer Larry Butler, a one-time cohort of Chips Moman’s at American Sound Studios, really lost his touch the moment he left Memphis. The slick musicians who took home paychecks from United Artists on this recording really did the “plot” within the song NO service whatsoever. Toto could have easily played a slicker, more elaborate backing track for Kenny-the-white-haired-moaner, but why? Actually, this song might have had a chance, had it been a Johnny Cash song. It would have needed to have been recorded live, at a prison, or a river dock, or a truck stop, or out by some bridge somewhere in Arkansas or Mississippi, with the Tennessee Three joining in with their simple Dunk-Chucka-Dome-Chucka instrumental backing. IF this song could have been saved, and that is a very unlikely proposition, then ONLY Johnny Cash could have saved it. But he didn’t. And the resulting record by Kenny Rogers is a disaster. It is frightening. And, Kenny’s just-woke-up grunt during the words, “…considered him…” is creepy. Disturbing. This record, too, MUST BE REMOVED!
So, how do we do it? Well, we invoke a technicality. Because the following week’s chart on February 23, 1980 was SO similar to this week’s chart, we will throw one song off this week, and throw another one off next week. Since both must go, all that is left to do is pick which one gets the boot right now. “Coward Of The County.” Why? Even though both records are equally horrible, we will be polite and give Anne Murray an extra week of chart life ONLY because she is female, and seems to be less creepy than Kenny Rogers. But her version of “Daydream Believer” still will be gone, one week from today.
So, here’s a new situation, too. With two vacancies, what do we do?
Well, actually, this was a very ripe period for some incredible music that appeared to be heading toward commercial success all the while reaping all sorts of critical praise. In late 1979, during the aftermath of “My Sharona” by The Knack, record companies were finding Power Pop bands from everywhere, and recording relatively inexpensive, but absolutely mind-shattering albums. By early 1980, two classic albums by two incredible bands were out, and were receiving play on the “cool” stations. I remember hearing them both for the first time, and, in both cases, thinking they were the best band I had ever heard. Each album was self-titled. The bands? 20/20 and The Beat. The songs? “Remember The Lightning” by 20/20 and “Rock And Roll Girl” by The Beat.
In this month’s rule-bending article, at a time where we have two absolutely terrible records on this chart, it is amazing that, in the name of musical equilibrium, there are two absolutely brilliant records, each waiting to be plugged in and take its rightful place. Because 20/20 came out slightly sooner, “Remember The Lightning” will replace “Coward Of The County,” and will thereby receive its universal chart correction one week sooner than “Rock And Roll Girl.”
Check out each song, and you will doubly agree…
OUT: "COWARD OF THE COUNTY" - KENNY ROGERS
IN: "REMEMBER THE LIGHTNING" - 20/20
AND (in one week)
OUT: "DAYDREAM BELIEVER" - ANNE MURRAY
IN: "ROCK AND ROLL GIRL" - THE BEAT