For the reason behind these lists and the rules I used for selecting the songs, check out this post.
1981 was a lot tougher to narrow down to the top 10. But nevertheless it had to be done…
10. (Just Like) Starting Over, John Lennon – This song is off of the album Double Fantasyin which John and Yoko each take every other track. I deliberately use the word track rather than song. Because the Yoko tracks can only be considered songs if you broaden your definition of song far enough to include cows farting on flat rocks. The song starts out simply with just Lennon’s voice and a guitar. When the band comes in it essentially becomes a 50’s doo-wop song with a modern twist. The lyrics are easy to relate to for anyone who has been married for a while and has kids.
9. Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do), Christopher Cross – This song seemed to be ubiquitous for at least two or three years. I really hate to include it because I’m not a big fan of easy listening music, but melody is a big player with me and once you hear this song it stays in your head for days. Cross’s voice is really girly and weak and I think this song could have been done better by a singer with a stronger voice.
8. Greatest American Hero, Joey Scarbury – I remember when this show came out I was instantly hooked on this song. Oddly enough this song is linked in my memory with the grand opening of the first Wal-Mart in my home town. I remember this song was playing when we walked in. The chorus of this song is really catchy and upbeat. I also digg the harmonized guitar solo.
7. Morning Train (Nine To Five), Sheena Easton – This was the sweet, innocent Sheena Easton before she met Prince and decided to go with the slutty image. This is another song that you’ll be humming the chorus of days after you hear it. It has the great hand claps in the chorus which I always love. Sheena’s voice is a little nasally but still not bad.
6. Another One Bites The Dust, Queen – This is Queen’s requisite disco song. It seems like every great rock band that was around in the late 70’s and early 80’s had to do one. The bass line in this song is classic and the guitar parts are smoking. I remember this mainly because during the breakdown Freddy Mercury is doing some vocal riffing and I thought he yelled out, “I’m adopted!” I don’t think that’s what he’s actually saying, but I still can’t tell what it is.
5. Take It On The Run, REO Speedwagon – This song is weird. Ostensibly, the song is about a girl running around on her boyfriend. The lyrics are in the first person and waffle between belief and disbelief. The chorus is the most bi-polar part of the song. First the singer says: “You take it on the run baby. If that’s the way you want it baby, then I don’t want you around.” Then he suddenly has faith in his girl: “I don’t believe it. Not for a minute.” Finally, he seem to justify her cheating somehow by saying: “You’re under the gun so you take it on the run.” So the singer has gone from contempt to fidelity to justifying/forgiveness(?) all in the span of 20 seconds. I guess it’s possible that this song was written by a pregnant woman – that’s the only person I’ve encountered who can go through that many emotions in such a short span of time. Having said all of that, REO Speedwagon are the masters of the power ballad and this is my favorite of theirs that year.
4. Kiss On My List, Hall & Oates – Hall & Oates started out as a kind of “blue-eyed soul” group. Songs like “Wait for Me”, “Sarah Smile” and “She’s gone” all have that feel. But in the early ’80’s they went for a more pop/rock feel and that’s the stuff of theirs that I really like. This was a hard choice for me. Hall & Oates had some great songs out in ’81. I had narrowed it down to this one and “You Make My Dreams Come True”. In the end I picked this one because it’s a little more melodic. They are both great and, if it weren’t for my rule that no artist could have two songs in any year, they would probably both have made it.
3. 9 To 5, Dolly Parton – I really love this song. It’s really upbeat and has the great percussion part using the typewriter. This song has one of the best melodies (if not the best) on this list. It’s just a really catchy tune with a great arrangement. It also shows the versatility of Dolly Parton. This song makes me wish that Parton had done some more exploration of the pop genre. I think this song shows she could have been great at it.
2. Don’t Stand So Close To Me, The Police – This is one of the best Police songs ever. It has an ominous and subdued feel to it during the verses that enhances the creepiness of the subject matter. But then the chorus has an upbeat, pop feel to it. The counter melody line of the last choruses is great as well. In the end, Sting is probably the only songwriter that can write an upbeat pop song about a teacher fantasizing about an under-aged student and have it become a hit.
1. Jessie’s Girl, Rick Springfield – If for nothing else, this song would probably be number one for the simple fact that it’s the only rock song I’ve ever heard that uses the word “moot”. This song is quintessential 80’s pop/rock. It has a great rhythm guitar part, a classic synth part in the bridge and a very 80’s guitar solo. The song is just very catchy and has a classic rock theme – wanting a woman that belongs someone else.