On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82. From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend. Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day. For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet. And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).
In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June (and now through July), I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post. On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40. Sometime here in July, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1.
As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”
Well, we’re finally into the Top 5! Normally it would have taken Casey Kasem three-and-a-half hours to reach this point, but he had a script, a chart already set up courtesy of BILLBOARD magazine, and he didn’t have to write everything out. Not that I mind. While it’s taken me quite a bit longer than I had hoped, I have really been enjoying this series, and hope you have too.
The songs that peaked at No. 5 between 1979 and 1989 are, so far, in a class all by themselves. More than 100 songs reached that position, including some memorable cover songs, like “Respect Yourself” by Bruce Willis (originally by The Staple Sisters), “Cum On Feel The Noise” by Quiet Riot (Slade), “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” by Great White (Ian Hunter) and “Pink Cadillac” by Natalie Cole (Bruce Springsteen, who also had three No. 5 hits of his own).
Many artists had more than one No. 5 hit, including Pat Benatar, Gloria Estefan (with and without the Miami Sound Machine), Exposé, Lou Gramm (with and without Foreigner), Daryl Hall (solo and two with John Oates), Janet Jackson (solo and with Herb Alpert), Madonna, Sade, Willie Nelson (solo and a duet with Julio Iglesias), George Michael (solo and as a guest vocalist for (real) one-hit wonder, Deon Estus), Olivia Newton-John, Eddie Rabbitt, Rolling Stones, Bob Seger and Rod Stewart. Australia’s Air Supply had four No. 5 hits.
The late, great John Lennon and his son, Julian Lennon, both hit No. 5 within a two-year period of each other, and some of my favorite 80s songs peaked at No. 5, like Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science,” “When Smokey Sings” by ABC, “In Your Room” by The Bangles, The Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip,” “What You Need” by INXS, “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks, “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger, “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, “(She’s) Sexy + 17” by The Stray Cats, “On The Radio” by Donna Summer, “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” by Stevie Wonder, and “All Through The Night” by Cyndi Lauper, which set a BILLBOARD Hot 100 record for Cyndi as she was the first female recording artist who would reach the Top 5 with four chart hits from a debut album. And she wouldn’t be the last.
Another of my favorite No. 5 hits belongs to the man who was not only the biggest recording artist of the 1980s, the entire year of 1983 belonged to him. Of course, I’m talking about the late, great Michael Jackson. The THRILLER album spent a massive 37 weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s album chart. THRILLER was so big, in fact, that it was the No. 1 album in America for two consecutive years.
By now, everyone and their mother (and grandmother) knows all about the Quincy Jones-produced THRILLER album and the success it has had. It’s still the biggest-selling, non-compilation album of all time.
The first song on the THRILLER album was the fourth (of seven) singles released from the album – “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” What a heluva way to start off an album! From the opening drum beats, you just knew Michael Jackson had something special with this album.
“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” (a song about strangers – i.e. the press – spreading rumors to start arguments for no apparent reason), was released in early May 1983 and didn’t waste any time debuting on the BILLBOARD Hot 100. It debuted on the chart at No. 41, three weeks after its release, and with “Billie Jean” still on the chart (at No. 42) and “Beat It” at No. 3.
The following week, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” roared to No. 22, looking like a third No. 1 hit in a row from THRILLER (the album’s first single, “The Girl Is Mine,” with Paul McCartney, peaked at No. 2). After a few slow chart weeks, it reached the Top 10 by early July 1983, and a couple weeks later, spent a quick two weeks at No. 5. THRILLER’s fifth single, “Human Nature,” had already reached the Top 40 while “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” was still in the Top 10. It was one of five singles from THRILLER to finish the year in the Top 100 here in the U.S. in 1983.
Around the globe, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” spent two weeks at No. 1 in the Netherlands, and reached No. 3 in Belgium, No. 5 in Ireland, No. 8 in the U.K., No. 11 in Canada, No. 14 in Spain and No. 16 in Germany.
“LET’S ALL GO TO COURT, LET’S GO MAKE SOME LAW NOW” FACT: As talented as Michael Jackson was, he had a bad habit of “borrowing” other people’s music for his own songs – without their consent. At the “We Are The World” recording in 1985, he confessed to Daryl Hall that he used the beat of “I Can’t Go For That” for the beat in “Billie Jean.” Daryl Hall didn’t seem to mind, but for “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” that catchy vocal bit near the end, you know the one – “Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah” – was actually taken directly from a 1972 Disco song by Manu Dibango called “Soul Makossa” (Manu Dibango is a saxophonist from Cameroon, and Makossa is a type of music and dance in that country), and the bit was used without permission.
For years, there was no lawsuit about this, but when current Pop star, Rihanna, used the bit in one of her songs from 2007, both she and Michael Jackson were sued. In early 2009, just months before Michael Jackson died, Michael had admitted he “borrowed” the line, and he ended up settling out of court. Apparently, when Rihanna asked Michael Jackson to see if she could use the line in her song, that’s when the fit hit the shan, and once again, Manu Dibango was not contacted by Michael Jackson prior to the song’s use, hence the lawsuit.
It’s hard to believe Michael’s been gone nine years already. He was 50 at the time of his death, the age I’m at right now (don’t worry – I’m not leaving anytime soon), and I’m convinced that Michael had a big comeback in the works when his life was cut short on June 25, 2009. While I have my own theory about what really happened with his death, I would much rather choose to celebrate his music, in this case “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” which is six minutes of pure Post-Disco joy and dance floor gold. Honestly, who do you know that WOULDN’T get out on the dance floor and dance to this as soon as they heard it?!
“Lift your head up high / And scream out to the world / I know I am someone / And let the truth unfurl / No one can hurt you now / Because you know it’s true / Yes, I believe in me / So you believe in you…