Since I’ve been tasked to be the site’s judge of new pop music, I thought it would be interesting to look to the past in-between weeks when I’m looking at the present. With that in mind, I foolishly gave myself the project of covering the years that we’ve collectively been alive (1982-2019) and today we start with the landmark year 1984. The world gathered in Sarajevo for the Winter Olympics, Ghostbusters hit theaters, Reagan was gonna start the bombing in five minutes and I was born. Big year.
This is briefly the nuts and bolts of how this series will go. I’ll take the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 chart, listen to each song, give them arbitrary scores and then write about the top and bottom ten on my list. There’s almost certain to be a song in the worst list that’s one of your favorites. I can guarantee you’ll question my sanity with one of the entries on the best list and that’s the point of all of this. I’m certain Jeremy and Zack will throw verbal rocks at me on the next podcast.
One of the hardest parts of looking back at songs this old is the nostalgia factor, which is probably where most disagreements will start. Looking up and down this year’s list I see a ton of songs I heard all the time growing up. We were a pop household and I’m pretty sure early Chicago was the “most rock and roll” my parents record collection got at the time. It was tough to look at many of these songs with a critical eye, but here’s the best go that I could give. Without further ado, I give you the ten worst hit songs of 1984.
10. Lionel Richie – “All Night Long (All Night)” – Year-End: #12, Peak: #1
The first single from Can’t Slow Down, this “party” track was released in October 1983, but peaked on the charts later that winter and hung around until the spring of ’84. Centered around a light yet infection rhythm and a breakdown full of nonsense lyrics that were intended to be another language (Richie admitted he didn’t have time to hire a translator like he wanted), it’s been hailed as a fun party song. I was confused that this mid-tempo meh track passed for a party anthem in the early 80’s, but then I remembered cocaine and it all made sense. There just doesn’t seem to be enough of all of the traits that this song is hailed for to justify it’s position in the 80’s music pantheon.
9. Cory Hart – Sunglasses at Night – Year-End: #36, Peak #7
This was one those tracks where it was hard to separate my personal enjoyment from my criticism of it. It’s always been a fun track to me, but stepping away from that the holes here are obvious. A pedestrian synth line dominates the track, Hart has a droning delivery where his Canadian accent obscures some lyrics and those lyrics. While the hook is very catchy, don’t take a deep dive into the words. It’s about a guy turning a blind eye to his lady’s infidelity, centered around a metaphor stretched to its limits. There are far, far better infidelity songs, though maybe none with as catchy a chorus if you can understand it.
8. Ray Parker Jr. – I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You – Year-End: #77, Peak: #12
The penultimate single before the smash of “Ghostbusters”, this mid-tempo ballad off Woman Out of Control peaked in early ’84 but was quickly pushed out of our minds by the smash movie theme that summer. A mid-tempo ballad about a lost love, there’s really nothing wrong with this song per say. Unfortunately, there’s really nothing that right about it either. In a year of pop hits that could lay claim to “defining the 80’s sound”, this hit just gets lost in the shuffle, indistinguishable from many of its contemporaries. You could also point out some glaring similarities with The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, which was released a few months earlier. That’s a debate for another day. Besides, the title track of this album is a much better display of Parker’s talents.
7. KC & The Sunshine Band – Give It Up – Year-End: #75, Peak #18
Boy, this is quite an ironic title. “Give It Up” would be the group’s last Top 40 single, off of their last album (KC Ten) to hit the Billboard 200. Admittedly catchy, it would reach #1 in the UK for several weeks. However, it didn’t meet the same popularity here. It’s a disco song, cut and dry. Nothing really exceptional about this disco track that was trying to chart about 5 years too late.
6. The Rolling Stones – Undercover of the Night – Year-End: #93, Peak: #9
The 80’s weren’t too kind to the Stones, as it was not a period of their best work. This single is a picture into the creative tension between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. There’s a ton of ideas crammed into this one track. There’s good bits in there, the bass line slaps, there’s some interesting guitar licks but it seems like its all kind of slapped together instead of molded into a coherent track. Now, reading other reviews, I’m sure this is the song that will get me the most heat but I’m just calling it as I hear it in 2020.
5. Rod Stewart – Infatuation – Year-End: #58, Peak: #6
Let me start with this: I like Rod Stewart’s voice. I think he has a solid voice with range and power. But I think when he tries to dirty it up, like in this song, it thins out and just sounds like someone running the parrot through the vacuum. The verses are just screechy and the horns that pop up randomly are a hard contrast to the guitar lick. Plus, I’m pretty sure the protagonist of the song is a peeping tom, so that’s not great.
4. Julio Iglesais & Willie Nelson – To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before – Year-End: #50, Peak: #5
I love me some Willie, and I have a really high tolerance for 80’s soft rock cheese. So it hurts me to put this on this list. But I have a few problems. First, whenever they sing together, there’s half a harmony there. There are two parts being sung but they just feel like a half step off of an actual harmony. Second, and I’m sure this will be framed as a snowflake 2020 reading of a song considered a classic, but there’s a little creepy in this one. I’m willing to hear other lyrical interpretations but I hear the audio version of Archer’s scrapbook. A tip of the cap to a lifetime of conquests on the road, but allow me to be open to being convinced I’m wrong.
3. Chicago – Hard Habit To Break – Year-End: #45, Peak: #3
I said earlier that I was raised in a home where every Chicago record was prominent and heard quite often. I like a lot of older Chicago, I like a lot of their ballads in a guilty pleasure kind of way. But that said, something has always bugged me about Peter Cetera’s voice. He too has this quality that can very easily come off as a squawking water fowl and ruins some of their best musical material. However, you take away their lush orchestrations and replace them with mediocre synth lines behind Cetera’s foghorn and you’ve got a garbage post-breakup song. You can draw a direct line from this pile to Simple Plan’s own weak attempt “Addicted” and being compared to Simple Plan is never a good thing.
2. DeBarge – Time Will Reveal – Year-End: #84, Peak: #11
One of the top comments on the video for this song on Youtube is “Back when people could actually sing.” While this is not the time or place for defending or deriding auto-tune, I will dispute that comment belongs on this song. There are many songs where a male lead’s falsetto can be used to great effect and it sounds great. “Rhythm of the Night is a better example of this. This is not that song. This is El DeBarge taking a hit of helium and seeing how high he can get. His shrill delivery over a music box backing track is just boring in the verses and grating in the chorus.
- Lionel Richie – Hello – Year-End: #7, Peak: #1
I take it back, this is where I’m going to get the most heat. Richie had a great 1984. “Hello” is one of three top ten hits for him, it was a #1 everywhere, the record it came from would eventually go Diamond. But even though “Hello” was everywhere, it’s not a good song. Right from the open, we get these stabbing, minor piano chords that don’t prepare you for a love song. They sound more equipped to score the opening scene of a slasher flick. The tension they build is not lessened when Richie starts singing. He’s trying to spin a tale of pining for a love and the strings and horns try to pull the feel of the song towards tragedy but those piano chords still just say ‘stalker’. This is the kind of song that posters to r/niceguys draw inspiration from. I will say that vibe is stepped back during the steel stringed guitar solo. But it comes right back with Lionel. The video doesn’t help the song either, as Lionel takes the role of a teacher creeping on one of his students. He clearly learned nothing from “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”. So for the overplay, the creepy vibe, the horrible attempt at a genuine love song, I am calling “Hello” the worst hit song of 1984.
As much fun as crapping on this year has been, there were also a ton of great songs that hit the Hot 100 and I can’t wait to come back tomorrow to praise all of them. Consider joining us won’t you? Thank you.