Best #1 single of the year retrospective: 1981

Our survey brings us now to 1981, which, like its predecessor, has 17 songs at #1 including the carrying-over-from-last-year “Starting Over”. A couple odd things happened this year, including there being two songs with the same title to both hit #1, the song with the longest title to ever top the charts, and it’s (I think) the last year to have a song that can be called disco at #1 at least until the disco revival a few years ago.

You know the drill. What’s your favorite?

*The full name of ‘Stars on 45 Medley’, due to licensing requirements for covering Lennon/McCartney songs, is “Medley: Intro Venus / Sugar Sugar / No Reply / I’ll Be Back / Drive My Car / Do You Want to Know a Secret / We Can Work It Out / I Should Have Known Better / Nowhere Man / You’re Going to Lose That Girl / Stars on 45”, which won’t fit into the poll blank

Previous polls: 1955-56 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 2012 2013

Shocking myself, I went with “Jessie’s Girl”. It’s basically power pop in construction, with a cheesy '80s production sheen/guitar sound that dates it and obscures the strength of its melody to modern listeners.

One of my favorite trivia questions concludes with this year:

“What group had four Billboard #1 hits, each of them showcasing a different style of music?”

Gotta give it up to Blondie and Rapture for the first rap to hit #1 on the charts.

(Other songs:

“Call Me” - hard rock
“Tide is High” - Caribbean (I know there’s a more precise name for the style, just can’t remember it now)
“Heart of Glass” - New Wave)

Another awful year… but I went with Hall & Oates’ “Kiss Is On My List,” since it was an okay pop tune.

Yeah, looking at the list, I’d predict Blondie will probably get the most votes (they’re good songs), but I stand by my choice.

I’m going with starting over. I was, well still am, a huge Beatles fan and it was great to see John get back in the game.

the same, except I went with Private Eyes.

Wow - what a crap year. Interesting. Only a few choices and almost all dreck.

I spent my vote on John Lennon - normally I try to go era-defining, so would pick something like Rapture, but in this case, Lennon’s song is the one I remember most, but for all the wrong, sad reasons.

Went with “Celebration”. After all these years, I still turn it up when it comes on.

I choose a song I liked instantly the first time I heard it and have never gotten tired of to this very day: “Private Eyes”.

Second would have been “Celebration”.

I went with “Bette Davis Eyes” on this one - I love the wordplay and the clever similes in the lyrics (“she’s pure as New York snow” is simply genius), and the haunting instrumentals combine to make it the kind of song that you’re disappointed when you realize it’s already over. I know it’s a cover and Kim Carnes got “she knows just what it takes to make a crow blush” wrong, but it’s one of those great examples of how taking a different spin on a good song can turn it into a great one.

“Keep On Loving You” would probably be my second choice, and looking at the pop charts as we have been, it’s not surprising that so many hard rock groups were recording power ballads at the time - it’s what was selling. (I probably will vote for “Can’t Fight This Feeling” when it comes up in 1985.)

Kim Carnes, by far. Just a few others would make my MP3 player.

I think Tide is High has a mariachi style and slight reggae.

**Kim Carnes **: Bette Davis Eyes

Some comments later…

Well, it’s a cover of a 1967 reggae song by the Paragons, but the horns do have a mariachi feel.

My sentiments exactly. Not the greatest song in the universe, but it stands out for me amongst all the others.

I’m surprised and glad to see that (at least in the early going) it’s in second place.

Gee…I thought we were “only being asked to compare [these songs] to the other songs on the list” and that “other songs don’t matter.”

“Do as I say, not as I do” apparently.

Actually not a bad list. Except for “Stars on 45” (what?) I recognize all of them and can hear them playing in my head when I read the song title. And they’re all songs I wouldn’t mind hearing at least once more before I die. (But in some cases, only once. That includes “Rapsure”—I hate songs with rapping in them, but even if I didn’t, the “rap” in that one is just way too stoopid.)

I had the opposite reaction - too many good choices to be easy. I Love A Rainy Night, Arthur’s Theme, Endless Love - all good, but I picked Physical because it gives me a feeling between my toes.The big ones.I was dating my wife then, and she did aerobic dance even then. And I went to pick her up at the gym, where she was dancing to that number. Little beads of sweat on her upper lip, and elsewhere.

Hoo boy.


Damn! There was some great music in 1981… but apparently almost none of it made it to #1 in the U.S.