A Journey back to this week in '81... How do 25-year-old hits hold up today? Whitney Pastorek gives 'em another listen

By Whitney Pastorek
Updated January 04, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Journey: Pat Johnson / Retna Ltd.

A Journey back to this week in ’81…

Happy holidays, Flashbackers! Hope you are all surviving the season, and full of lots of good cheer for your last Chart Flashback of 2006. (Still having problems figuring out what the deal is here? Then Merry Christmas, here’s the FAQ!) I tried to find a Top 10 that had some good holiday songs on it, but got discouraged when I discovered that Wham!’s ”Last Christmas” only charted in the U.K., so instead you’ve got the ten songs below, which I have tried to make festive as often as possible. Unfortunately, I fear it ended up just coming out a little depressed, and perhaps a bit mean to Olivia Newton-John. Sorry. That’s not the way I meant to wrap things up here… but hey, there’s always next year, right?

Billboard‘s Top 10 for the week ending Dec. 19, 1981:

10. ”Leather and Lace,” Stevie Nicks with Don Henley
”It’s beautiful,”sighed my coworker Ryan Dombal (ironically, I can only assume) when confronted with this song. To be honest, it is beautiful. And repetitive, and kind of pointless, and the verse-y bits Stevie sings at the beginning before she finally gets to the damn chorus — one, two, three, four of them — are really frustrating and unfulfilling, because I keep expecting it to flip over into something new, to plunge into the great unknown, but every time it pulls back from the edge of that cliff and leaves me hanging. For some reason this phenomenon is not as bad in Don’s half, but that’s probably just because I’m already used to disappointment. But rather than nitpick about the structure of the song, let’s talk overall effect: The emotion generated by the song is unclear. It’s sort of a generic wistfulness, which — especially if you’re listening to it during the holiday season, your ear canals drowning in a deluge of sappy balladry in stores, cabs, TV commercials, etc., shoot me now — could easily be confused for a Christmas-y wistfulness. Like, Don’s giving Stevie leather for Christmas. She’s giving him her lace. Somehow it’s not going to work out, like in The Gift of the Magi. Which is maybe why Ryan sighed ironically? Ooh. Think about it. B-


9. ”Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey
Hello, awesomeness?? I am not kidding this time, people: If you hate this song, you have no soul. I mean, Steve Perry’s voice, first of all, is a freakin’ national treasure. How in the hell did he sing that high for that long, night after night? His range, it goes on and on and on and on! (My favorite part is towards the end when Steve is so overcome with emotion that ”Hold on to that feeling!” just comes out like ‘‘Ha-oh-ah-oh-ah-ah-oh-oh!”) And then there’s the story, the beautiful story of that small-town girl and that city boy and how one day they’ll meet under the streetlights and fall in love — isn’t that really a story about each and every one of us, about our hopes and dreams? Here’s how we’ll relate this song to the holidays: It may be a time for joy and celebration, but for anyone who is alone during this yuletide season, I know it can feel dark, that those nights can feel long. Well, I just want you to remember that the movie never ends, Flashbackers. And even if you think you were born to sing the blues, you should never, ever stop believin’. Ha-oh-ah-oh-ah-ah-oh-oh! A

8. ”Harden My Heart,” Quarterflash
Things I guarantee you did not know unless you are a much, much bigger Quarterflash fan than I am: This band was actually a Portland, Ore., supergroup, formed from two other acts, one of which was named Seafood Mama. Lead singer Rindy Ross also happens to be the saxophonist, which is the only example of this phenomenon that I can think of unless you count Rob Lowe’s character in St. Elmo’s Fire, which I do not, because he didn’t sing. (Seriously — I didn’t know Rindy was really playing the sax. I thought it was just a weird dream sequence thing for the weird dream sequence video. Rindy and her husband, Marv, are now in the Oregon Trail Band, where they play exceedingly pleasant, rootsy Christmas music, among, of course, other things, because it wouldn’t make sense to record just Christmas music. (Or would it, Mannheim Steamroller?) As for their biggest hit here, I gotta say, I dig it. It’s a sophisticated slice of ’80s chick rock, and another one of those songs that depicted a lifestyle I really aspired to as a kid — all silk stockings and martinis and high heels in the rain. B+

7. ”Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Diana Ross
No. Bad, Diana, bad. I am going to pretend I never heard this. Seriously. You sound like an American Idol finalist backed by a freaky robot band. You are making the Baby Jesus cry. Stop. C-

6. ”I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” Daryl Hall & John Oates
Another in that fascinating category of songs whose title includes not only the first line of the chorus but also the next line, just in case you were confusing it with something else [see also: Lionel Richie’s ”All Night Long (All Night)”]. I’m not going to waste your time here on the 27 millionth discussion of why, exactly, Oates was necessary; I am just going to commend this song for its pleasant, loungy intro that morphs into a great, jazzy chorus, and leave it at that. The older I get, the more I am susceptible to Hall & Oates’ considerable charms; prior to recent years, I could only really get behind ”Maneater,” and I feel really bad about that, mostly because I knew this kid named Matt in college who was a member of the H&O fan club and I used to tease him absolutely mercilessly. So, in keeping with today’s theme (Christmas = a time of forgiveness), I would like to formally apologize to Matt, both for thinking he was a total dork — by the way, he liked Oates best — and for thinking he at times resembled Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, but only in that one moment in the Sylvia and Mickey song where Swayze is lip-synching in a really overdone, cheesy way. I will also point out that according to the song’s Wikipedia page, ”I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” is one of the most sampled songs in history (Christmas = a time for generosity), and ask all you Flashbackers to try to name as many of those samplers as you can, without looking at the song’s Wikipedia page, which lists them. I will start: 2 Live Crew! A-

5. ”Young Turks,” Rod Stewart


Okay, fine, unlike last time Rod the Bod appeared on the countdown, I will actually talk about the song — a song whose title puts it in the exact opposite category from ”I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” because at no point in the song are the words ”Young Turks” uttered. Nor are there any stockbroker references. Or references to Turkey. Much like ”Don’t Stop Believin’,” this song just starts out with two crazy kids determined to make it in the big, bad world, and then they have a baby. The end. See? Turks wha? That incongruity of title and lyrics has always confused me, and when I was younger I spent a lot of time wondering if it was perhaps Rod Stewart’s British accent that was making me think the chorus ”Young turks / Be free tonight” was coming out like ”Young hearts / Be free tonight”… but no, he really is just saying ”Young hearts.” And the turk part is happening nowhere at all. So that’s gonna drop us half a grade point here, because I have been annoyed by this for two decades. Other than that, it’s a perfectly acceptable song, if a bit predictable and boring, and containing of one very Springsteen-esque barbaric yawp. B

4. ”Oh No,” Commodores
I’ve listened to this song four times in a row now, and I never want it to end. This song is absolutely gorgeous. Those strings! That piano line! Lionel’s voice, for once not dripping with cheese or all up in my face about how I have to dance right now! I wish I hadn’t been 6 years old when it came out so that my superhot-and-sorta-dangerous boyfriend and I could have slow-danced to it in a 7-11 parking lot as it played over the radio in his truck. I wish it could have been the last song at my junior prom. I wish I were in danger of ever getting married, because then I could dance to it in a big floofy white dress. Alas, none of these things will ever come true. And thus, I must just sit here in my office, staring at the picture of George Clooney tacked to my wall, and cry some silent tears. Oh… no. That refrain, in all its harmonious glory, makes me melt. A

3. ”Let’s Groove,” Earth, Wind & Fire
Ladies and gentlemen, can you hear it? Streaming here on your interweb radio machine? Shh…. listen. That is the sound of disco dying. Ain’t nothing wrong with it — I actually love this song, especially the little computer voice in the background, like Pac-Man has come to life to boogie just for me! — but hey, there ain’t really nowhere to go with it, neither. To everything, turn, turn, turn, etc. It’s 1981. You gotta let go. B+

2. ”Waiting for a Girl Like You,” Foreigner
What I find disturbing about listening to Foreigner songs these days is how much I feel like I should like them, and yet I don’t, not as much as I think I do. Like I’ve convinced myself of a Foreigner that only exists in my mind. The real-life Foreigner didn’t commit any unforgivable crimes here — I like the way the song comes at us from out of the mist, like a really sexy hooker on a foggy night, and I love the synth track — but it’s just a little gloopy and shapeless, and the chorus hangs there like an appendage, or some music tossed in from another song entirely. Seriously, why must we jump, like, five octaves there? Why are you showing off? Everybody already knows you guys are rock stars. You already won! Now will you please just do ”I Want to Know What Love Is” again, please? Thanks! B-

1. ”Physical,” Olivia Newton-John
When this song (and its controversial video) were released in 1981, they were directly responsible for taking the already-popular aerobics craze and escalating it to absurd levels, levels wherein otherwise respectable women could be seen wearing sweatbands to bars as hair accessories. But you already knew that, Flashbackers, because you are savvy pop culture obsessives, and so my final gift to you this holiday season is this: Listen to this song again, for the first time… and then tell me if it inspires you to exercise in any way. (And if, were it not for the video, you’d associate it with physical fitness at all.) Me, I personally find it to be a lot more sluggish than anyone gives it credit for. Like, maybe I would ride a bike, sort of, to this song. I wouldn’t, say, do jumping jacks. Or take step class. Or even stand up all that much. I would maybe nod my head along and then ask the bartender for another beer, which he would slide across the long wooden bar and nestle in my casually outstretched hand, and then I would chug that beer, to numb the pain, and saunter across the room to the jukebox, where I would quickly try to come up with something better to play. C