The Fantastic 40 – Episode 2:

Top-40 Chart Domination for 1981

188 views

Thanks, everyone, for your great feedback to the first installment of The Fantastic 40:

A look at the artists whose work dominated Billboard’s Top 40 for each calendar year between 1980 and 1991.

Ozmoe raised a good question: About how acts would place if their collaborations had been included in the tabulations.

And that raises an important point about the evolution of pop hits.

Prior to the mid-1970s, it was unusual to see one-off collaborations between successful solo acts. (Even less common were trios, or team-ups of groups, though both did happen.)

Witness “Wonderful World” by Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon and James Taylor or “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by The Temptations and Diana Ross and the Supremes.

But as the ’80s were getting under way, the phenomenon was becoming common.

Within 12 months, Barbra Streisand had gone to Number One with both Neil Diamond and Donna Summer.

The Grease soundtrack witnessed the pairing of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, right about the time that legendary crooner Johnny Mathis went to No. 1 by teaming up with Deniece Williams.

Although the ’80s would not match the charts of today, where it’s not unusual to have 50 percent or more of a Top 10 including the word “featuring” in the artist, we will see more collaborations having an impact.

Even though I didn’t assign points to collaborations when the handmade tabulations were created, when I give the full list in the comments, I’ll note how collaborations would have affected the outcome.

In 1981, several hit songs were collaborations that didn’t look like it on the label: Randy Meisner’s “Deep Inside My Heart,” Lee Ritenour’s “Is It You?” and Dottie West’s “What Are We Doing in Love?”

No mention anywhere of, respectively, Kim Carnes, Eric Tagg or Kenny Rogers as singers, although Tagg gets a co-songwriting credit.

A similar fate seemed to befall Bill Withers, who was initially uncredited as a singer on Grover Washington Jr.’s “Just the Two of Us,” only a co-songwriter.

But, oddly, Withers’ name was added to the credits in the middle of the song’s chart run.

On my handmade charts of 1981, I had added a “last year” comparison to get a sense of an artist’s continuity. (“XX” indicated an artist who hadn’t been on the previous year’s list.)

What were the stories of 1981’s Fantastic 40?

• The trend: Pop rock.

Buoyed by the phenomenal year of Daryl Hall and John Oates (No. 1), the Top 40 added more bounce to the plush soft rock that dominated the previous year.

Other pop-rock purveyors included Rick Springfield (7), The Police (10), Styx (13), Foreigner (14), Journey (16), Blondie (19) and Pat Benatar (20).


• New names:

After laboring for years on AOR radio and mid-chart singles on the Hot 100, REO Speedwagon exploded in 1981, coming in all the way up at No. 2.

Other freshmen to the year-end artists’ chart included Sheena Easton (3), Juice Newton (8) and Ronnie Milsap (12).


• Final bows:

Sadly, John Lennon’s death in late 1980 fueled the demand for his “Double Fantasy” singles, placing him at No. 5 for 1981.

The Commodores, about to lose frontman Lionel Richie, finished 15th for 1981

At No. 25: Raydio, whose Ray Parker Jr. also went solo in ’82.

Don McLean, whose career seemed moribund by the late 1970s, got one final chart burst in 1981, with three hits landing him at No. 22.

And though they would continue charting through the decade, the Moody Blues wouldn’t return to the Fantastic 40 after 1981, when their “Long Distance Voyager” singles put them in position 27.

Also bid adieu to Climax Blues Band (34), A Taste of Honey (40) and Steely Dan (35).


• Only in 1981:

Franke and the Knockouts, who placed 29th, would have a Top 40 single in 1982 but not enough to return them to the Fantastic 40.

And amazingly:

The artist with the year’s top song, Kim Carnes, never returned to the Fantastic 40 although “Bette Davis Eyes” helped land her spot No. 17 for 1981


• Time and again:

Phil Collins enters at No. 31 for 1981.

The Pointer Sisters squeak in at No. 39 – but will prove more durable… soon.

Smokey Robinson (38), Rod Stewart (28), the Rolling Stones (26), the Alan Parsons Project (24), Dan Fogelberg (23), Kool and the Gang (21) and Kenny Rogers (11) all will return as well.


• The Aussie invasion:

Air Supply and Rick Springfield hold back-to-back slots in the Top 10.

Although “The Night Owls” hit too late in 1981 to earn Little River Band a spot, they’re not done yet.

And the woman whose song had a hammerlock on No. 1 for the last few months of 1981?

We’ll find her in 1982 …

Let the author know that you liked their article with a “Green Thumb” Upvote! 

16

Thank You For Your Vote!

Sorry You have Already Voted!

Views: 78

Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 31 years (9 legal).

Subscribe
Notify of
15 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
August 31, 2023 7:07 am

Some great stuff here, though the rock is not as rocky as I’d prefer. Still, every little thing the Police released was magic.

And for those who don’t know what a hammerlock is, perhaps this song can help:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvBN3C2wepY

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
August 31, 2023 9:00 am

The Cramps do a great version, too.

Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
August 31, 2023 9:29 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Yeah, that’s the first version that I heard, but I didn’t want to reveal my Cramps bias. 😅

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
August 31, 2023 10:26 am

“Cramps bias:”

It’s like recency bias, but way more uncomfortable.

JJ Live At Leeds
Member
Famed Member
August 31, 2023 3:46 pm

My education continues. A couple of names that are entirely new to me in Ronnie Milsap and Frankie & The Knockouts. Neither of them left any trace on the UK charts.

The Moody Blues seem to have been a much bigger deal in the US at this point. The Long Distance Voyager album made #7 at home but none of the singles charted.

Did you compile a top 40 of the decade at the end of the 80s Chuck? I imagine it would involve a lot of the usual names but it’d be interesting to see how it panned out over the decade.

LinkCrawford
Member
Famed Member
LinkCrawford
Offline
September 1, 2023 8:37 am

Ronnie Milsap got his start as a studio musician in Nashville back in the late 60s/early 70s (including playing on some Elvis songs back then). But then he had a string of country music success here in the states that stretched from the mid-70s to early 90s. The kind of success that could easily fill a double-greatest hits album. But when the US pop charts became temporarily country friendly in the early 80s, he ended up with a series of pop hits too, most of which are pretty easy on the ears.

JJ Live At Leeds
Member
Famed Member
September 1, 2023 11:06 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Thanks for the extra detail guys. Had a quick listen to Franke and Ronnie. Sweetheart sounds like it could easily have fitted into the charts here. Can’t say why they didn’t even scrape the lower rungs of the chart.

Country doesn’t do well on our singles charts. What success there is generally came from big names such as Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers when they were at the poppier end of their spectrum. Or something catchy and irritating enough to break through genre boundaries; Achy Breaky Heart.

The country friendly early 80s didn’t extend over here. No room for the likes of Ronnie with all the new wave and new romantics.

mjevon6296
Member
Noble Member
mjevon6296
Offline
August 31, 2023 4:28 pm

Thanks Chuck! Nothing significant to add EXCEPT Babs’ perm was a knockout!

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
August 31, 2023 11:09 pm

I read a delightful fictionalization of John Lennon, a novel called The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash. Instead of being the focal point, he and Yoko Ono are supporting characters, just another couple, tenants in the Dakota. Winters is the surname of a showbiz family. The father is a late-night talk show host. The mother had bit parts in fifties-era Hollywood films. They have three children; two sons, one daughter. Lennon befriends the older son.

The Dakota Winters kicks into high-gear near the end. The boy teaches John Lennon on the finer points of sailing. The captain pretends he doesn’t recognize the former Beatle and puts John at ease. They encounter a bad storm. That’s how John Lennon ends up in Bermuda. Before the storm, John opens up to the four men onboard, talking about the highs and lows of stardom; that initial adrenaline rush of making it in showbiz and the realization compounded over the years that you’ll never get your life back from all those adoring fans. I guess only a proper Beatles completist can judge on Barbash’s imitation of John as being plausible enough to suspend your disbelief and accept “John Lennon” as a corporeal figure I was thinking of the old SNL Joe Piscopo sketch: “Frank Wouldn’t Say That.”

More than anything I’ve ever seen or read before, I really felt his loss for the first time. Fiction is good at capturing emotional truth, blah, blah, blah.

Fans didn’t have a long time to enjoy his comeback. That title: “Just Like(Starting Over)”, so cruelly ironic. To me, the lowest-charting hit “Watching the Wheels” is the best song from Double Fantasy. Maybe people realized it was and made them depressed every time they heard the song over the radio.

“Beautiful Boy” would have charted. I think the record company exercised remarkable self-control.

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
September 1, 2023 8:20 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

In at least one account, Paul McCartney was quoted as saying that “Beautiful Boy” is his favorite song of all time.

blu_cheez
Member
Famed Member
blu_cheez
Offline
September 1, 2023 5:22 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

This scene absolutely crushed me:
https://youtu.be/0ONU_H0EjIg

LinkCrawford
Member
Famed Member
LinkCrawford
Offline
September 1, 2023 8:38 am

It is so great when a song near and dear to your heart shows up randomly where you don’t expect.

“What Are We Doing In Love” by Dottie West with Kenny Rogers is an absolute 10/10 for me. It is gorgeous. My favorite Kenny Rogers song of the decade.

15
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x