220. “Thanks For My Child” by Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley (#1 for 1 week, November 1988 | Amazon)
I haven’t listened to the radio with any kind of regularity in ages, so I don’t know whether countdown shows like “The Top 8 at 8” or “5 at 5” are still a thing. When I was coming up, just about every popular radio station in New York had a a request-based rundown of the day’s hits, and for what seemed like forever (but was probably just a month or so,) the #1 request at WBLS and KISS-FM was “Thanks For My Child,” a drippy ballad composed by Full Force and performed by their protege Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley (extra “I” added to her nickname because who wants to get sued by a soft drink company with a billion dollars to use on legal fees?)
There is nothing wrong with celebrating the gift of life or single motherhood. My issue with “Thanks For My Child” boils down to this: the song is cloying as hell, committee-designed to push every emotional button in the listener’s body. It may have worked for the first few listens, but man, I tell you. After a few days of hearing it, I was ready to tell Pepsii and her damn child to go somewhere. Know what I mean?
In Full Force’s defense, this is probably the least listenable of all the major hits they produced and performed, and everyone’s entitled to a dip in quality every once in a while.
219. “Remember (The First Time)” by Eric Gable (#1 for 1 week, August 1989)
There have always been ways to manipulate the charts: these days, when so much is based on things like streaming, I’d have to imagine that there are record companies/management firms/PR firms that have an employee stream a song or play a YouTube video incessantly to bring the play counts up. In the ’90s, when I worked music retail, labels would send record stores boxes of free cassette & CD singles (which the retailer could then sell for 99 or 49 cents, making the price super attractive to impulse purchases.) Then, of course, there’s payola.
Back in the ’80s (and before,) manipulating the charts was even simpler. Since there was no computerized system like Soundscan tracking sales of records and tapes, what Billboard did was place a phone call to major retailers and have a clerk run down their top sellers. Prior to these calls, the clerks would occasionally be contacted by a record company representative, asking them to “cook the books” and rank certain titles/artists higher in exchange for gifts like promotional items, concert tickets, etc. When I started working music retail, I met a guy who had a room full of Gold singles by the likes of Mariah Carey. When I asked him how these plaques were obtained, he repeated most of what you read in this paragraph to me.
All of which to say, I’m pretty sure Eric Gable’s “Remember (The First Time)” hit #1 because his record company placed a lot of those record store calls. I’m not saying Eric was untalented (his material eventually got better) or anything, but this song was a stinker. An overwrought stinker that Freddie or Luther wouldn’t touch on their worst day.
218. “We Are The World” by USA For Africa (#1 for 2 weeks, May 1985 | Amazon)
217. “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne & Friends (#1 for 3 weeks, January-February 1986 | Amazon)
I’m lumping “We Are The World” and “That’s What Friends Are For” together because I’d probably say very similar things about them individually and no one likes it when people repeat themselves. I have no beef with the fact that these songs are charity singles-African famine and AIDS were and are still very worthy issues. Dedicating a song to the latter cause was also probably a ballsy move in late 1985 when there was still a stigma attached.
In “We Are The World”‘s case, I wonder how the hell songwriters as strong as Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie can go into a room together at the peak of their careers and come out with this steaming mess? I guess writing an anthem is hard, and at least “We Are The World” doesn’t boast a line as embarrassing as “tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you” from its charitable predecessor “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Even the joy of hearing Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen battle it out vocally is mitigated by the fact that “We Are The World” is, at best, incredibly generic. Plus, the video. The Lionel Richie shoulder shimmy. The Bruce Springsteen charity O-face. So much to make fun of.
Dionne and her friends Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Elton John bring a bit more passion to the table for “That’s What Friends Are For,” which makes it slightly more tolerable than “We Are The World,” but only slightly. The bad acting in the video invalidates the opinions of the CBS executives who thought Gladys was a good enough actress to have her own sitcom (the Cosby ripoff “Charlie & Company.”) Well, the public apparently also invalidated that particular opinion-“Charlie” was canceled after half a season.
Did you know that the original version of “That’s What Friends Are For” was recorded by Rod Stewart? That one sucks, too.
216. “Hey Lover” by Freddie Jackson (#1 for 1 week, December 1988 | Amazon)
There was a point in time when Freddie Jackson could fart on a record and it would go to #1 R&B. A series of farts might have actually been better than this particular song.
215. “Cherish” by Kool & The Gang (#1 for 1 week, September 1985 | Amazon)
Profound message, terrible execution. I had to sing a solo to this song in middle school. It was awful.
Overplayed and overwrought. But hey, Bud from “The Cosby Show”‘s in the video!
214. “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” by Michael Jackson with Siedah Garrett (#1 for 1 week, September 1987 | Amazon)
It goes without saying that Michael Jackson’s Bad album was highly anticipated. Imagine my surprise when the first notes I heard from THE NEW MICHAEL JACKSON ALBUM weren’t married to a syncopated dance beat but, instead, came in the form of this milquetoast ballad. I remember sitting in my mom’s car the first time I heard “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” thinking that the song was not MJ’s first new music in half a decade, but some forgotten record pulled out of the vault a la 1984’s “Farewell, My Summer Love.” Talk about getting the wind taken out of one’s sails.
Allegedly, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was originally supposed to feature Barbra Streisand as the female vocalist. When she declined, the song was reportedly offered to Whitney Houston. She turned it down, too. Both women were probably smart-although I feel like a Jackson/Streisand duet would’ve pushed “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” even further down this list. Quite possibly to the bottom.
To add insult to injury, early pressings of Bad contained a hideously awful spoken section from Michael at the top of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” Even before the prospect of pillow talk with Michael seemed a tad bit creepy to some, the monologue was a bad idea. Hindsight was 20/20 in the land of MJ and Q, and the spoken part was mercifully removed from future copies of the album. They shoulda just junked this song entirely.
213. “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang (#1 for 6 weeks, December 1980-January 1981 | Amazon)
Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” was a #1 across-the-board hit; the first and only #1 pop record for the veteran New Jersey band. Not only did the radio play “Celebration” into oblivion, but the song was adopted by sports teams who needed a song to soundtrack their victories. It was the soundbed for the hostages returning from Iran. If you got married or had a birthday in the early ’80s, you probably heard it played in your honor. It was as ubiquitous as–okay, at this point in 2014, you’re probably sick of either “Happy” or the “Let It Go” song. “Celebration” was like both those songs put together. There was even a Spanish version (which I almost attributed to my hyperactive imagination) until I actually heard it on the radio a couple years ago. In any language, it’s a horrible, overplayed song.
212. “Show & Tell” by Peabo Bryson (#1 for 1 week, July 1989 | Amazon)
I can’t say that Peabo Bryson’s version of “Show & Tell”-which was a #1 hit for Al Wilson in 1972-is awful. It’s just unnecessary. Beyond that, BET ran the everloving goodness out of this video, and the video is horrible. Unnecessary remake of a song that wasn’t particularly great to begin with, and add in a crappy video? Hello, #212.
211. “Always” by Atlantic Starr (#1 for 2 weeks, May 1987 | Amazon)
Prior to “Always,” Atlantic Starr was probably best known for a series of soulful midtempos and ballads like “When Love Calls” (great), “Circles” (great), “Am I Dreaming?” (great), “Send For Me” (awesome) and “Touch A Four Leaf Clover” (well…) Original vocalist Sharon Bryant departed in 1984 or so, and was replaced by Barbara Weathers. Soon after, AS jumped the shark. They deliberately tried to engender public confusion with the more successful Midnight Star by releasing a song called “Freak-A-Ristic” shortly after the other group hit with “Freak-A-Zoid.” Then, they fell into sappy ballad hell. “Secret Lovers” surprisingly, never hit #1 although I feel like it was on the radio every 5 minutes for a solid year.) It did become their first top 10 pop hit, however, so for the next round, Atlantic Starr upped the sap factor and came up with “Always.” Timed to coincide with the June wedding season, it became (and remains) the band’s biggest hit despite being more saccharine than a gallon of NutraSweet. It also pretty much set the template for the next six or seven years of Atlantic Starr’s career, although each sappy ballad seemed to contain a different female singer.