In 1984 I was working at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and dialing in whenever possible to Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, the Replacements, Dire Straits and the Pretenders. I found Prince curious but annoying, Cyndi Lauper kinky and Culture Club just plain queer. There were still plenty of good tunes to wrap yourself around, but a strange Orwellian cloud was forming on the horizon. Were the animals finally taking over the music asylum? Was the end really near? (In three years REM would chime "It's the End of the World as We Know It'' -- and their arrival certainly helped save the day.)
But ... it's still scary to survey the carnage of '84. Paul McCartney was teaming up with Michael Jackson, Ray Parker Jr. was charting with "Ghostbusters'', and Prince -- despite being only the third-best act out of the Twin Cities -- was generating the No. 1 hit of the year with "When Doves Cry.'' We had a Minnesotan on staff who continually apologied for Prince, and was irritated to no end that his daughter had a crush on the Purple Rain rocker. You could say our colleague was an old fart, but come on!!!!
Even country seemed to be falling apart with the Judds and Alabama dominating airplay (although Emmylou and Merle Haggard did score Grammy awards).
Now before you dismiss me as a redneck hick from Wisconsin who can't deal with culture change you need to know that I consider the Talking Heads' 1984 film and soundtrack "Stop Making Sense'' -- a freak show if ever there was one -- the best damn rock movie ever produced.
Ladies and gentlemen, this was your Billboard Top 5 exactly 25 years ago today:
1. Owner of a Lonely Heart, Yes
2. Say Say Say, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
3. Karma Chameleon, Culture Club
4. Talking in Your Sleep, The Romantics
5. Break My Stride, Matthew Wilde
Is it safe to say we were on the precipice? That was arguably the worst chart song ever by Yes. And who was Matthew Wilder? Were these rankings based on record sales? Then who was buying the records? And what are these discerning consumers purchasing today (assuming they have jobs -- hey, it's tough out there).
The rest of the world may be falling apart, but the music scene appears to have righted itself. This Sunday Springsteen headlines the Super Bowl halftime show. Neil Young, no matter which guitar he's slinging or which switch he's flipping, continues to be essential. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame has affirmed himself as one of the great guitarists, songwriters and collaborators of his generation (his recent gem "Kill to Get Crimson'' is a must-listen.) Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders are back on tour where they belong. And the Stones will rock on forever.
Prince did get his own Super Bowl halftime show (and the sky did cry!!!) But Matthew Wilder took his synthesizer and went home. (To be honest, he won an Academy Award for something, but it wasn't a rock score.) And the news we hear about Michael Jackson and Boy George is rarely good.
So what am I complaining about? Nothing, really.