How do 23-year-old songs by the Police, Billy Joel, and Bonnie Tyler hold up today? Whitney Pastorek gives 'em another listen

By Whitney Pastorek
Updated October 17, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Police: Corbis

This week in 1983: Rating the top 10 singles

Billboard‘s top 10 singles for the week ending Oct. 15, 1983:

10. ”(She’s) Sexy + 17,” Stray Cats
Shaun Cassidy reviving the sound of the ’50s in the ’70s? Cute as a button. Brian Setzer reviving the sound of the ’50s in the ’80s? Obnoxious. I can give the man props for his career longevity, but I cannot give him props for this song and I do not want to listen to it. Unless I am drunk on martinis, wearing a polka-dot dress, and trying to hit on a guy who likes swing dancing (see: me, NYC’s Supper Club, fall 1998). Also, hello, statutory rape! C-

9. ”Tell Her About It,” Billy Joel
I’m not sure this is one of Billy’s all-time greats, although I have no idea why it bothers me so much. After all, it’s perfectly lovely — fun horns, snippy-snappy beat, la la la! — and I should not be so cold-hearted. But there are times when Billy’s throwback nature is entertaining to me (”Uptown Girl,” ”The Longest Time,” ”Zanzibar”) and times when it is not, and this is a ”not” sort of time, even though I like the video and think fondly about a time when he was still able to get up from the piano bench. Finally, because it is Self-Righteous Feminism Week here on Chart Flashback, I hate that little ”Now and then, she’ll get to worrying/ Because you haven’t spoken for so long” bridge, and I am dropping him a half-grade for it. I mean, gimme a freakin’ break. I severely doubt that in 1983 we gals were still sitting around in our poodle skirts, wringing our hands and desperately waiting for the phone to ring. B-

8. ”The Safety Dance,” Men Without Hats
Here’s a tip for you musically inclined Flashbackers out there: Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to perform this (this-this-this) song (song-song-song) live on your acoustic guitar. It is not a good idea, and will only end in failure as you forget what verse comes when and find yourself endlessly repeating the same lines over and over again in the hopes that no one is noticing. Thank you, obtuse lyrics! Speaking of: What are they about, really? Why, dancing, of course. Duh. And how we’ll do it if we want to. Don’t try to go any deeper than that, because by making it about nuclear proliferation or whatever, you completely lose the fun-time vibe. P.S. Did anyone else spend most of their childhood thinking there was a dwarf in this band? A-

7. ”All Night Long (All Night),” Lionel Richie
That Lionel, he sure knows how to party! But unlike the shindig he throws in ”Dancing on the Ceiling” (weaow!), he’s got a nice soft approach here, sidling up to you with his congas before attacking with the full onslaught of the chorus. Love the way the full and official name of this song is ”All Night Long (All Night),” as though without that backup-singer-echo bit in the title we might get confused (”Oh, you mean ‘All Night Long (All Night)!’ I thought you just meant ‘All Night Long.’ My bad!”) And how can you go wrong with the ”Hey, jumbo-jumbo” part? You cannot. ”Hey, jumbo-jumbo” is Lionel Richie’s ”Mama-say-mama-sah-ma-ma-coo-sah,” and should be respected as such. Now. As to the video. I don’t want to say ”best video ever” (because that honor, as we all know, belongs to ”Hello”), but when you’ve got a multicultural cast of extras from Grease and Fame and National Geographic shaking off the zombie-like boredom of their everyday lives in order to drop hot dance moves on a set that looks like something Saved by the Bell threw away, that is hard to top. A-

6. ”One Thing Leads to Another,” the Fixx
Good solid one-hit wonder here! Love the strong beat, the rhythm of the lyrics, and the way they kind of just roll along: ba-da-da-DA-da, da-da-da-DA-da. I don’t have much more to say about this track, so how about we take this opportunity to discuss the phenomenon of the one-hit wonder? What’s that all about? I’ve gone back and listened to several other Fixx songs from the same era, and they don’t suck or anything; in fact, they’re perfectly pleasant. ”Red Skies” is like the midpoint between U2 and Midnight Oil, ”Saved by Zero” sounds a little like Bowie, and ”Are We Ourselves” is almost the exact same song as ”One Thing Leads to Another.” And it’s not like the dudes in the band were any stupider-looking than anyone else at that point. So how come no one cared after this? What are the factors that have to align for a group to break huge with one song, and then fade away into mediocrity/obscurity forevermore? Is there a ginormous Fixx fanbase out there that I’m overlooking? B

5. ”Islands in the Stream,” Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
Um, yaaaaaaaay! Regular readers of this column will remember how I basically spend my days and nights wandering the earth, just hoping this song will come on the radio or sometimes even that a song that is not this song will suddenly transform into this song. There is no logical explanation for this. First of all, it’s kind of a dopey song (and those of you always accusing me of letting nostalgia cloud my judgment will see that I have graded it accordingly, despite my vast affections). Secondly, while I liked both Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton as a child, I never owned any of their records until I became an adult, and while my parents could probably pick Rogers/Parton out of a lineup (which is a big step for them), it’s not like they ever sat me down and said, ”Look, honey! It is two of the cheesiest mainstream country acts working today performing a duet about making love! You must accept this song into your heart!” Wait. What if I like this song because they say ”making love” in the lyrics? Is it possible that I found that indescribably racy when I was 8, and hence I glommed onto it as sophisticated and adult and something I might understand, someday, as soon as I grew up and my mother got around to explaining the ”making love” concept to me in a tragic conversation that happened at the neighborhood swimming pool of all places, on one of the more mortifyingly embarrassing days of my life, because whose mother decides to have that conversation in public?? This is interesting. I’m going to have to think about this. While I’m thinking, why don’t you guys watch this karaoke video and try to figure out what it is about this song that says ”imposing European architecture/soft-core porn.” B-
[P.S. If you’re wondering why there is so much YouTube in this week’s countdown, it’s because I’m trying to take advantage of the service as much as possible before it gets shut down/I have to pay for it in the wake of this Google thing. Nothing worth $1.65 billion stays untainted for long, children. Gather ye Kids Incorporated videos while ye may.]

4. ”True,” Spandau Ballet
Hi, worst band name ever! Well, besides Kajagoogoo, I suppose. Actually, in my research to confirm whether or not Spandau Ballet and the Fixx can really be considered one-hit wonders (by my standards they can; mostly now I’m just cruising the Internet to see how badly I’m gonna get yelled at if I say my standards out loud), I’ve discovered that 1983 was possibly the one-hit wonder’s greatest year, featuring ”Safety Dance,” ”One Thing Leads to Another,” ”Too Shy” (from the aforementioned Kajagoogoo), ”She Blinded Me With Science,” and the all-time number one bestest ever one-hit wonder, ”Come on Eileen.” (Dexys Midnight Runners would be in the running for worst band name ever if only they’d not purposely left out that apostrophe, a tiny gesture that elevates the name from stupid to oddly brilliant.) But this is about ”True,” our friend from the Wedding Singer soundtrack. I’m having a hard time remembering why we like this song. It’s breathy, the way Tony Hadley says ”True-uh!” at the end of every chorus is kind of obnoxious, it’s repetitive as hell, and I have no idea what the song is about except there’s a Marvin Gaye shout-out in there somewhere. But really: If this is the sound of Spandau Ballet’s soul, it’s no wonder they never went anywhere. Or maybe it’s just because they never could keep the microphones plugged in. B-

3. ”King of Pain,” the Police
Confession time, Flashbackers: I’m having a really hard time writing about this week’s chart. Obviously, I like several of these songs, but even the ones I like tons (”Safety Dance,” ”Islands in the Stream”) just aren’t doing anything for me at the moment. I think what I’m experiencing is something I call ”Retro Fatigue,” or ”Retrigue,” a condition in which the enjoyment derived from the good times and great oldies decreases exponentially every time you listen to a blast from the past, because it becomes that much less rare and/or special. So, for example, if I haven’t heard ”Safety Dance” in a while, I get a momentary jolt of excitement because, Ooh! ”Safety Dance” is on! But if I hear it again, shortly thereafter, it’s not as much fun — because I just heard it. This is Retrigue. And sadly, I am experiencing a very heavy dose of it this week. Thus, ”King of Pain” could not have come along at a better time, because it is a song I am capable of liking for reasons other than the fact that it came out in the ’80s and reminds me in some way of my awkward, painful, generally traumatic childhood. ”King of Pain” is real live music, the kind that endures not because of its kitsch value, but because it’s actually good. Also it includes what sound effect that will always make Whitney happy, class? That’s right: Factory noises! Yay! Retrigue be banished! God bless the Police! A+

2. ”Making Love Out of Nothing At All,” Air Supply
Dare I say that this is the Air Supply song I hate the least? Is that possible? I wonder how much that has to do with it being written by Jim Steinman, this week’s songwriting all-star, a man who never met a vampire he didn’t like, and whose participation ensures that the song in question will be long, bombastic, and contain a list of something. Think about it: Here, Air Supply know a series of things. In ”Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie Tyler gets hung up on the every now and then. In Celine Dion’s ”It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” there are nights and days and times and moments etc. It’s a weird pattern that seems to subside whenever he’s writing for Meat Loaf (go figure). Anyway. As far as Air Supply’s ability to handle this long, bombastic, and list-y song — well, it’s fine. Lead singer Russell Hitchcock certainly has no problem hitting that there high note. But I dunno. Unlike ”Islands in the Stream,” the reference to ”making love” here I do not find adult and sophisticated, but rather just sort of squicky. Also, speaking of statutory rape, here’s this week’s contest: I’m looking for the most complete list of everything that is wrong with this video. I’ll start: Why, when his bandmate Graham Russell is clearly in a great deal of existential pain, is Hitchcock jumping up and down and clapping during the guitar solo? Is this a peppy dance number and I just don’t know it? B-

1. ”Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie Tyler
All right. The Retrigue train stops here. Not sure I’ll ever be totally sick of this song, even though I have heard it more times than I dare to count, usually by choice, frequently at karaoke. I don’t think I really need to go into detail about what makes ”Total Eclipse of the Heart” special (I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt out there in Chart Flashbackland and say that you’re probably fully aware of the song’s waves-crashing-against-the-cliffs-of-Dover brilliance or you wouldn’t be reading this column). I am going to leave you, therefore, with but three points:
(1) Heaven help you if the karaoke machine is running the full-length version of the song, because that s— be loooong.
(2) If the karaoke machine is running the long version, and you find yourself forced to sing the line, ”Every now and then I know there’s no one in the universe as magical and wondrous as you,” I should hope you would join me in gagging yourself with a chainsaw.
(3) The other thing many Jim Steinman songs have in common is videos featuring creepy mansions full of candelabras, goblets, and wind-blown silk curtains. This song, however, is the only one (to my knowledge) that features dancing ninjas. A