Today’s Top 5: Further Down the Charts, 8/1/81

Forty years ago today, a Saturday, the big news was that the seven-week Major League Baseball strike had come to an end. Although the players had yet to ratify the new contract, play was expected to resume August 9th with the All-Star Game, while the regular season was slated to begin the next day.

In retrospect, however, it’s safe to say that the biggest event of the day was the 12AM launch of a new cable channel: MTV.

As veejay Mark Goodman says about 9 1/2 minutes in, the plan was to present “the best of TV combined with the best of radio” and that we’d “never look at music the same way again.” He also says, at the 11:55 mark, “we’ll be doing for TV what FM did for radio.” (If you click play on the embedded video, you may scratch your head at the veejay intros – a miscue in production pushed Alan Hunter to leadoff position, when it was supposed to be Goodman.) 

Not that it much mattered to me, a newly minted 16 year old. Although my family had cable TV, MTV didn’t join the meager channel lineup until sometime the following year. (For more on that, click here.) Which is to say, if I was glued to the tube during the evening, my viewing options would have been limited – summer was rerun season, after all.

I can’t say for sure what I did during the day or night of this specific date, however, as I’d yet to start jotting down notes in my desk calendar – but, given that it was a typical summer’s day in the Delaware Valley, the odds are good that I avoided the afternoon heat by hanging out at the video arcade located inside the air-conditioned Village Mall and quite possibly took in a movie with friends. (Like me, their houses all had window or wall a.c.s and, like me, their parents rarely turned them on – a.c.s were budget-busters. Or so we were told.)

Although the above movie grid shows a slew of cool films to be seen, without access to a car – and, though we had our learner permits, we didn’t have wheels – our choices were limited to The Fox & the Hound at the Budco Hatboro and The Empire Strikes Back or Tarzan, the Ape Man at the Eric Twin Horsham. I can’t say for certain that this was the day I saw it, but at some point I did take in the Bo Derek film. While she may well have been, as the movie ad proclaimed, the “sexiest Jane in TARZAN history,” the movie was beyond awful.

Of course, as now, I was a music-obsessed geek, spending much of my time listening to and/or reading about music, and browsing the racks in local record stores. So, instead of ogling Bo Derek this day, I may well have stopped at the mall-based bookstore, whose name escapes me, and flipped through the latest issues of Circus, Creem and Trouser Press before heading to the mall’s Wee Three record store. (Wee Three was a chain native to the Philly area, for those not in the know.) If that was the case, I likely came home with a new LP to play. When I scan Wikipedia’s 1981 in Music page, I see many albums that I owned – but the only ones I know for certain that I bought that July are Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna, Debbie Harry’s KooKoo and Pat Benatar’s Precious Time.

According to Top 40 Weekly, the week’s Top 10 singles were these:

For good and ill, they are reflective of the year, but I’m less interested in them than a few of the tunes further down the charts, as they were reflective of my tastes at the time. Thus, here’s today’s Top 5: Further Down the Charts, 8/1/81 (via Top 40 Weekly)…

1) The Greg Kihn Band – “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write Them).” Kihn had been kicking around for much of the previous decade, forming the Greg Kihn Band in 1976 and releasing his first album the same year. This addictive single, which clocks in at No. 27 after 11 weeks on the charts, hails from the 1981 Rockihnroll LP and would eventually stutter-step its way to No. 15. Incidentally, the band never recorded a video for this song because…well, why? Pre-MTV, such things were a luxury, not a necessity. As a result, the below clip is representative of the era as much as any other: A rock band appearing on one of the few TV shows that would have them: Dance Fever. (So, at least for this video, dub them the Greg Kitsch Band….)

2) Pat Benatar – “Fire and Ice.” A few slots below Kihn, at No. 31 after just four weeks on the charts, is this taste of Benatar’s third album, Precious Time. As I noted in this Creem-based Top 5, it’s essentially a pastiche of her previous hits (and, yes, I used the same video there as here). Still, I like it.

3) Stevie Nicks (with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) – “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” In its second week, the single jumps from No. 57 to 38 on its way to No. 3. The video, like many of the time, is rudimentary, essentially Nicks, Petty and band going through the motions on a soundstage. Of note, and I’m sure most reading this know it, the song began life as a Heartbreakers tune, but Jimmy Iovine – who was working with both Petty and Nicks – asked if she could use it. And, thus, a classic was born…

4) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me).” Speaking of Petty, debuting on the charts at No. 82 is this classic, which hails from his $8.98 album, Hard Promises. (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the video was recorded on the same soundstage as “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”)

5) Squeeze – “Tempted.” One notch below Petty, at No. 83, this single makes its chart debut. Squeeze were one of those bands that most rock critics loved, while the record-buying public mostly shrugged. Perhaps that’s why it took vocalist Paul Carrack, whom the BBC called “the man with the golden voice,” to push them out of niche status. And, yes, it’s straight-ahead performance clip, likely shot for use on Top of the Pops and other British music shows…

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