23 Hot 100 Hits from American pop’s final golden decade.
As the 1980s dawned, radio and vinyl were still the most important mediums for breaking hit records. The CD was still at an experimental stage in Japan, and very few homes had a player until late in the decade. The short-lived fad for cassingles arrived mid-80s and was all but dead by the end of the decade. There was no YouTube, no streaming services, no mobile phone on which you could hear music. MTV and all that followed was still a couple of years away. TV talent contests were both a thing of the past, and a thing of the future. If you didn’t hear a song on the radio, particularly in the first half of the 80s, it probably wasn’t going to become a chart record.
Hit singles still mostly paved the way for hit albums, rather than vice versa as it is now – although that would change as the decade progressed. They were previews of what was to come, and the purchase of one frequently led to the purchase of the other. Most artists still released more than one album every five years. Some, like Prince, seemed to release one every few weeks, as well as recording tracks for the singles market. It had been like that in the 50s, 60s and 70s and would stay that way for a few years to come.
Singles no longer had to be three minutes or less to be guaranteed airplay. More and more 45s were running out closer to a four-minute-and-beyond mark, without their timings being questioned by radio programmers. The tracks didn’t necessarily feel any longer than those from previous decades, of course. The days when Phil Spector deliberately lied about the running time of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’ on the record’s label to ensure it wasn’t cast aside for being too long were well and truly over – certainly by the time Bruce Hornsby and the Range took nearly five minutes of ‘The Valley Road’ into the Top 3 and without the benefit of an edited version for radio play.
Possibly the most significant change to the Hot 100 make-up in the 80s was the virtual disappearance of the independent label as a chart force. The vast majority of the records that charted were either on major labels, or smaller imprints with major label distribution. Little more than a handful of the decade’s biggest hits got into the charts under their own steam, without the involvement of a major somewhere. The days when a record could break out locally, on a local label, and stay that way throughout its chart life had all but gone. It would not be too much of a generalisation to say the 80s sounded the death knell for the US indie label.
Most of the artists heard on “Rockin’ In The USA” found major success for the first time during the 1980s, while others brought their success over from the 1970s and carried on having hits throughout the next decade. There’s a very definite sound to American rock of the period. Here in the UK, synthesiser-driven pop was dominating our charts. In the States chart 45s still tended to have a rockier edge, heavily reliant on guitars and hooky choruses. It wasn’t until the second half of the 80s that synths and drum machines became a dominant noise in the Hot 100. The loose chronology of this collection gives the listener a chance to hear for themselves how American pop evolved over the course of the decade.
When the 80s gave way to the 90s, methods of collecting chart data began to change. New systems came in that allowed for the presence of airplay in the hit mix, frequently of a track that wasn’t actually issued as a 45. As vinyl jukeboxes began to be replaced by their digital equivalent and major labels threw out their vinyl presses, hit singles started to mean something other than a 7-inch flat black disc.
Here are some of the last big US hits to find their way out of record shops and into homes across the country. American radio programmers took all 23 of the featured selections to heart and generated enough airplay to make them Hot 100 hits. As in the past, some of the artists had hits throughout the 80s and beyond, while for others their featured track marked both the beginning and the end of their chart career. All facets of American pop are represented, including a few UK recordings that missed our charts completely on the way to becoming major successes in the USA. Many of these tracks have rarely been reissued since their initial appearance on vinyl.
Having already done our bit for the 50s, 60s and 70s, we feel it only fair that we afford similar respect to what will probably turn out to be American pop’s final golden decade.