I was a sixth grader in 1983 from a very white part of town. I went from going to school less than two miles from my home to getting on a bus and riding 40 minutes every day to my middle school, one of two sitting next to each other on the edge of downtown. (Kind of reverse-busing.) The bus was loud, the older kids were scary. But… someone always had a radio.
Technically, they had a boom box. But no one ever seemed to be playing a cassette; it was almost always tuned to one of the local stations, often Z-104. I had grown up in a house that played classical radio, and when not that, easy listening (WFOG!), so the top-40 stuff that was being played was new to me.
So was the other stuff that was sometimes played. I don’t remember the station identifications, but a fair amount of what I remember wouldn’t have been played on Top-40 radio — think “Roxanne, Roxanne” or “Electric Kingdom.” So part of my memory from this time comes with no liner notes and I’m still finding some of the songs.
But the stuff that stuck the longest, earwormed the most thoroughly, was probably the adult contemporary balladry of the time. Many of them aren’t great songs! But they’re really easy to get into, even for a pop music neophyte — the “quiet storm” jazz crossover stuff like Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo” flavored some of what was going on (there’s a common thread between this stuff and Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles that also touched the Pointer Sisters; listen to “Automatic”).
And then there were the really goopy ballads. Anita Baker need have felt no shame for “Sweet Love,” but oh man, “On My Own.” And “All Cried Out.” I banished them so far from my memory, I never even touched them when going through 1980s music in a series of ten mixes starting in 2003. But they’re there, and some of them might be worth more than you think.
Just maybe not Gregory Abbott. (Oh well well.)
One last note: I was reminded about more than a few of these songs courtesy of Stereogum’s The Number Ones column, which is essential reading. I’ve linked a few articles below for further reading on some of the tracks, but you should really read the whole thing.
- Rumors – Timex Social Club – Timex Social Club (Un, Dos, Tres…Playa Del Sol (12 Magic Summer Hits))
- Radio People – Zapp (The New Zapp IV U)
- Fresh – Kool & The Gang (The Very Best of Kool & The Gang)
- In My House – Mary Jane Girls (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best of Mary Jane Girls)
- Juicy Fruit – Mtume (Juicy Fruit)
- Mr. Wrong – Sade (Promise)
- Automatic – The Pointer Sisters (Break Out)
- Sweet Love – Anita Baker (Rapture)
- Love Zone – Billy Ocean (The Very Best of Billy Ocean)
- Stop to Love – Luther Vandross (80’s Pop Hits)
- On My Own – Patti LaBelle (’80s Pop Number 1’s)
- Shake You Down (Single Version) – Gregory Abbott (80’s Pop Hits)
- All Cried Out (with Full Force) – Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam (80’s Pop Hits)
- Human Beat Box – Fat Boys (Fat Boys)