Sunday, August 13, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also more

Last week, I published a post about three songs that, while hits in 1983, never made it to Number One. I said in that post, “and of course, there are many more in that same category, as there are every year." Roger Green left a comment on that post, and so, this post is the “Roger Green Edition”, in which I give my own reaction to three more songs that never reached Number One in 1983.

The first song this week, this time in chronological order, is “Dirty Laundry” by American musician Don Henley—however, there doesn’t appear to be a version of the music video on YouTube, which is a shame, but the audio is available there [LISTEN].

The song was released October 18, 1982, and reached its peak of Number 3 on the Billboard “Hot 100” the week ending January 8, 1983. The Wikipedia article linked to above sums up the song very well: “The song is about the callousness of TV news reporting as well as the tabloidization of all news”. I liked the song at the time, and liked both Henley’s solo work and the band he co-founded, the Eagles. I also liked the video (and, while that video isn’t on YouTube, the video for his single released in 1984, "The Boys of Summer"remains one of my all-time favourite music videos). The truth is, “Dirty Laundry” pretty accurately encapsulates my current cynical and often exasperated opinion of contemporary journalism, TV journalism in particular. Wouldn’t have expected that from a song that was a hit more than 40 years ago.

The song only reached Number 59 in Australia, but was Number One in Canada, Number 7 in New Zealand (Platinum), Number 3 on the USA’s “Hot 100” (Gold), and Number 59 in the UK. It was also Number One on the Billboard “Top Rock Tracks”, and Number 5 on the CashBox “Top 100”.

Next up, “Jeopardy” by the The Greg Kihn Band:

The song was the band’s highest-charting single, reaching Number 2 the week of May 7, 1983. It reached that number in the middle of the three weeks at Number One for Michael Jackson’s “Beat it”, dropped to 3 the following week, when David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was at Number 2, and then to Number 8 the week after that when “Let’s Dance” went to Number One. I mention all that because it’s a good example of a song that was a hit, but that never made it to Number One because other songs got there instead.

To be honest, it’s a song I only remember when it’s played on the radio—although, I have it on a series of 1980s music compilation CDs from Time-Life, which I ordered because of a TV commercial. That particular CD was for 1983, but a sort of “compilation compilation disc” from the series included their second-highest charting song (it reached Number 15), 1981’s “The Breakup Song (They Don't Write 'Em)”. Quite frankly, I preferred that 1981 song, but if I’d been on the Jeopardy! TV game show, I might have liked the Greg Kihn song more—in fact, I may have made it my theme song, had I been on the TV show. Sadly, I’ve never run across a song that would fill that role for me (and, no, the 1981 movie song “Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)”, was never a possibility…).

At any rate, the song “Jeopardy” reached Number 11 in Australia, Number 4 in Canada, Number 17 in New Zealand, Number 63 (ouch!) in the UK, and, in addition to Number 2 on the “Hot 100”, it also reached Number 1 on BillBoard’s “Hot Dance Club Play” chart (which seems… surprising?), and Number 5 on Cashbox.

Finally today, a song that epitomises this phemomenon of a hit song being blocked from Number One by two stronger hits. That song is “Electric Avenue” by Guyanese-British singer Eddy Grant:

“Electric Avenue” was released on April 18, 1983, and reached Number 2 the week of July 2, 1983, after 12 weeks in the charts. That week, Irene Cara’s "Flashdance... What a Feeling" was spending its final week at Number One, and The Police were at Number 3 with "Every Breath You Take". The following week, those two songs would swap positions, and “Electric Avenue” remained at Number 2. That 1-2-3 alignment held until August 6, when Electric Avenue dropped to Number 6. That means that the song was Number 2 for five consecutive weeks. The Police would remain at Number One until the week of September 3.

The title of the song refers to the street of the same name in the Brixton area of London, and it’s inspired by the infamous Brixton Riot of 1981 which was sparked by heavy-handed and racist tactics used by police. Margaret Thatcher, unfortunately UK Prime Minister at the time, acted true to form and denied that racism and unemployment had any role and attacked anyone who dared suggest that that they did. She was an utterly awful excuse for a human being, really. Because few of the recommendations of the post-riot Scarman Report were implemented, riots broke out again in 1985 and 1995.

While I was aware of the 1981 Brixton Riot, I wasn’t all that aware of the whole story: By that time, I was more focused on fighting the Reagan regime. Even so, I probably heard about the song’s connection to the riots somewhere along the way, if only because most of my friends were also Left-of-Centre, and many were activists, too.

One of the reasons the song became such a big hit may well be because Michael Jackson broke the colour barrier on MTV. He became the first Black artist to be played heavily on the network, and by the time “Electric Avenue” was released, they were actively looking for more music videos by Black artists. And that, to me, is highly ironic: A song that was at its core a reaction to racism and about ignoring the issues faced by Black people was promoted by a cable network as part of its response to its own racism and refusal to acknowledge Black artists.

I liked the song back in the day—it was hard not to—but Roger had a more personal connection to the song. I have it on a compilation disc that Nigel bought at some stage, but I read that it’s not available on any streaming service because Grant didn’t like the (terrible) compensation they pay to artists. So, I checked Spotify and all I could find were covers, often using Grant’s name, however, I found other songs by him were available, so I’m not sure what’s going on.

With five weeks at Number 2 in the USA, the song was definitely a hit, blocked from Number One by two very big hits. It reached Number 2 in Australia, Number One in Canada, Number 32 in New Zealand, Number 2 in the UK, and, in addition to Number 2 on the “Hot 100”, it also reached Number 6 on BillBoard’s “Hot Dance Club Play” chart, Number 18 on BillBoard’s “Hot Black Singles” chart, and Number One on Cashbox.
• • • • •

These three 1983 songs singled out by Roger are all examples of hit songs that never made it to Number One against strong competition from other, bigger hits. There are plenty of others that met a similar fate, of course. But that’s enough for now.

Thanks for sparking this week’s post, Roger!

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 5
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 6
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 7
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also


Roger Owen Green said...

I just saw this! It's excellent - and you found the Eddy Grant link I cryptically alluded to.

Arthur Schenck said...

That Eddy Grant story was WAY too awesome and had to be shared. The thing is, I could imagine that happening to you, even though we haven't met "in real life". I guess it figures, though, after all the years we've known each other in the online world.