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Every Billboard #1 Mainstream Rock hit discussion thread (1981 - present)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Albuman, Sep 20, 2020.

  1. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    You may have heard it once or twice that "rock is dead," a sentiment with which I personally disagree. Though it doesn't have the popularity it used to have, as long as there are people who still enjoy and make rock music, it isn't "dead." Heck, rock still has enough popularity to have its own charts. Billboard has had one such chart, the Mainstream Rock Songs chart, since 1981.
    If you'd like to join in, we'll be going through every #1 hit on the Mainstream Rock chart. We'll discuss two each week. There will be some old favorites, some hidden gems, and some songs that are probably best left forgotten.
    Hope you're ready to rock.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2020
  2. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    Eric Clapton, I Can't Stand It
    Written by Eric Clapton
    Produced by Tom Dowd
    Label: RSO
    Issued March 21, 1981; 2 weeks at #1

    Legendary guitarist Eric Clapton's 1981 album Another Ticket was a moderate success, critically and commercially. Perhaps the most notable thing about it is that its lead single, I Can't Stand It, holds the honor of being the first ever #1 hit on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart (then known as "Top Tracks"). Before we discuss the song, however, there's one curious tidbit worth mentioning. The vinyl credits the song to "Eric Clapton and His Band." In fact, there were three songs from this album that debuted on the inaugural chart - I Can't Stand It at #1, Rita Mae at #18, and Catch Me If You Can at #36 - and they were all credited to "Eric Clapton and His Band," which is weird because the album itself is credited solely to Clapton.
    But I digress.
    In addition to topping the Mainstream Rock chart, I Can't Stand It was a Top 10 hit on the Hot 100. And yet not only have I never heard it before, I have never heard anyone talk about it. Through my research, I got the impression that few people think highly of this era. Another Ticket can often be found near the bottom of Clapton album rankings. And I suspect Clapton himself doesn't have much fondness for it either; a month after its release, Clapton developed and nearly died from severe ulcers caused by years of alcohol and pain killers. That may or may not be why it was only on two or three of the eleven compilation albums released since Another Ticket.
    But speaking as someone who has minimal familiarity with Clapton's entire discography, the album and song are honestly pretty good. I Can't Stand It is a decent mid-paced pop rock tune about feeling toyed with and cheated.
    Though Clapton has better stuff in his catalog, I say this is worth giving a chance.
  3. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    The Who, You Better You Bet
    Written by Pete Townshend
    Produced by Bill Szymczyk
    Label: Warner Bros./Polydor
    Issued April 4, 1981; 5 weeks at #1

    Although Steve Winwood's While You See A Chance spent two weeks at the #2 spot behind I Can't Stand It, the former was not the song that dethroned it. That distinction went to You Better You Bet by The Who, which went from #5 in its first week to #3 in the next week before topping the chart. Coincidentally, both of the first two #1 Mainstream Rock hits were released under Polydor (RSO had a distribution deal with them at the time).
    If you're a classic rock fan, you know that Face Dances, the album that spawned You Better You Bet, was the first Who album after the 1978 death of legendary drummer Keith Moon. The impossible task of replacing him fell to Kenney Jones, who judging by chart performance seemed to fare just fine. On the same week that You Better You Bet took the #1 spot, four other songs from Face Dances debuted on the chart: Another Tricky Day at #14, Daily Records at #36, Did You Steal My Money at #38, and You at #51. The numbers were also alright on the pop charts. Face Dances peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 and You Better You Bet peaked at #18 on the Hot 100, making it the band's last Top 20 single.
    So does the song hold up? Well, speaking as someone who saw the band play it in 2016, the answer is "yes."
    Like the rest of Face Dances, You Better You Bet is written with more of a pop feel than, say, Who's Next. Some might not consider that a point in the album's favor, but You Better You Bet is still a hell of a fun earworm with a lot of energy to it.
    And... that's honestly all I have to say here.
  4. gooberdude

    gooberdude Well-Known Member

    Another fun fact about You Better You Bet...it was the fourth video ever to air on MTV.
    woody, RobRoyF, 51IS and 3 others like this.
  5. ARK

    ARK Forum Resident

    Charlton, MA, USA
    Looking forward to more participation in this thread.

    the first two songs give us a good start. Both get forgotten frequently, at least by me, but are part of the tapestry that makes both artists so great
    Albuman likes this.
  6. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Waiting
    Written by Tom Petty
    Produced by Tom Petty and Jimmy Iovine
    Label: Backstreet
    Issued May 9, 1981; 6 weeks at #1

    On the fifth and final week The Who's You Better You Bet was in the top spot, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' The Waiting debuted at #11. The following week, The Waiting jumped to #1 and pushed You Better You Bet down to #2. Crazy, right?
    Anyway, like Eric Clapton and The Who, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had already achieved success prior to 1981, in this case courtesy of 1979's Damn the Torpedoes. That album's first two singles, Don't Do Me Like That and Refugee, remain two of the band's biggest and most recognizable hits. The album itself peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200, blocked from the top spot by Pink Floyd's The Wall ("I love Pink Floyd but I hated them that year," Petty later recalled). So expectations from the label, Backstreet Records, were high for Petty and co. to keep the momentum going. Backstreet even considered taking advantage of the band's popularity by charging more for the follow-up than the then-standard $8.98 ($25.68 in 2020 dollars). I'm told they backed down when he considered naming the album "$8.98," which I respect just for the consistency.
    When the follow-up finally came in the spring of 1981, the band's fourth studio album was released under the title Hard Promises. The lead single, The Waiting, peaked at #19 on the Hot 100 and the album peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200. While those were slightly below Damn The Torpedoes numbers, the band fared much better on the newly created rock chart. And that would continue to be the case for the rest of Tom Petty's career. If Wikipedia is to be believed, every song of his that made it onto the rock chart peaked in the top 40. He had a collective total of ten #1 hits there with the Heartbreakers and as a solo artist. Six of those ten #1 hits were in the 1980s alone, and The Waiting was the first.
    Not a bad place to start, which is presumably why The Waiting is also the album's opening track. It's a fun song to sing along to, at least if you can make out what Tom is singing. According to him, the song is about waiting for your dreams despite not knowing whether they will actually come true. He called the song optimistic, though the writing process was apparently anything but:
    Fortunately, the effort paid off. Generally considered one of Petty's best albums, Hard Promises still holds up. The record gets its name from a lyric in the Stevie Nicks duet Insider. That's right, Tom and Stevie had two duets in 1981, three if you count her backing vocals on closing track You Can Still Change Your Mind. I personally prefer Stop Dragging My Heart Around, but Insider is also good if a bit slow-paced. The rest of Hard Promises is more energetic. The songs have that reverbed drum sound that was popular in the Eighties, but drummer Stan Lynch, along with everyone else in the band, plays too well for that to be a complaint. I'm not sure how I feel about Nightwatchman being the B-side for The Waiting, though. I think it could've been a hit on its own.
    But to summarize, The Waiting is still a good song.
    Isamet likes this.
  7. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley 5.1 should be mandatory for my favourite albums

    To me three great songs to start the thread.
    I can't stand it is a solid track

    You better you bet is among the best singles the Who released post Quadrophenia.

    The waiting is a sentimental favourite of mine, and for a long time was Petty's signature song
  8. W.B.

    W.B. The Collector's Collector

    New York, NY, USA
    I'm mucho familiar with the Clapton and Who tracks for sure.

    And I see the reaction to this thus far has been along the lines of certain of my own threads of #1 country songs. But hey . . . we're providing something of a public service, no?
  9. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    I'd like to think we are.
    Jarleboy, ARK and mark winstanley like this.
  10. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    Joe Walsh, A Life of Illusion
    Written by Joe Walsh and Kenny Passarelli
    Produced by Joe Walsh
    Label: Asylum
    Issued June 20, 1981; 1 week at #1

    The Who's You Better You Bet is a love song from the perspective of a man who smokes and drinks too much. Pete Townshend said he wrote it "over several weeks of clubbing and partying" while he was dating someone.
    "I wanted it to be a great song," he said, "because the girl I wrote it for is one of the best people on the planet."
    That's sweet. Then again, he was still married at the time. And yet he's still a better person than modern-day Roger Daltrey.
    You might be wondering why I'm talking about a song I already talked about two posts ago. I could say I just forgot to do it at the time, but in the spirit of the song we're about to discuss, you shouldn't bother wondering. Don't you know it's a waste of your day?

    Anywho, in the second week Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' The Waiting was at #1, Joe Walsh's A Life of Illusion debuted at #16. It jumped to #4 the week after, then shifted around in the top 5 for a few more weeks before it finally took the #1 spot. For a single week.
    It also peaked at #34 on the Hot 100 while its parent album, There Goes the Neighborhood, peaked at #20 on the Billboard 200. Additionally, two other two songs from the album - Rivers (Of the Hidden Funk) and Things - peaked in the mid-30s despite not being released as official singles. You see, the chart was designed to measure the airplay of songs played on album-oriented rock radio stations. That's why it was initially called "Top Tracks," because album tracks could still chart if enough rock stations were playing them. But I digress.
    There Goes the Neighborhood was Walsh's first album after the Eagles broke up in 1980. Eagles bandmates Don Felder and Timothy B. Schmit were fortunately still on good enough terms with him to contribute guitar parts and backing vocals; Felder even co-wrote Rivers (Of the Hidden Funk). A Life of Illusion was co-written by Kenny Passarelli, who played bass in Walsh's short-lived band Barnstorm. Actually, the truth is more like it's Passarelli's song and Walsh made a relatively small contribution to it. Passarelli first wrote it in Barnstorm as an instrumental track. After Walsh added lyrics, Passarelli shopped it around for years. And when it finally appeared on There Goes the Neighborhood, Passarelli played the mariachi trumpets himself, in what Walsh called a "drunken stupor."
    Oh yeah, this song has mariachi trumpets, which complement the subject matter surprisingly well. Walsh sings about how trying to make sense of life is a waste of time. Similarly, trying to figure out why the trumpets are there is a waste of time.
    You know, I saw the Eagles in Baltimore on the 2015 "History of the Eagles" tour. It was Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Timothy B. Schmidt, and Glenn Frey (a short while before he unfortunately passed away). I tell you this because even though A Life of Illusion and There Goes the Neighborhood are okay on their own merits, I will still recommend them just because the show was that good.
  11. gooberdude

    gooberdude Well-Known Member

    I'll be curious to see if any other #1s had mariachi trumpets. I know a few have had saxophone solos, but mariachi is a new one for me...
    Albuman likes this.
  12. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    The Moody Blues, The Voice
    Written by Justin Hayward
    Produced by Philip "Pip" Williams
    Label: Threshold
    Issued June 27, 1981; 4 weeks at #1

    The Moody Blues album Long Distance Voyager was the British band's second to top the Billboard 200 album chart. Its first two singles debuted on the week of June 6, 1981: Gemini Dream at #31 and The Voice at #37. Strangely, the song that debuted lower would be the chart-topper. While Gemini Dream was also a hit (peaking at #13 on the rock chart and #12 on the Hot 100), The Voice went from #37 all the way up to #1 in just four weeks. To put that in perspective, The Who's You Better You Bet was at #34 on the week The Voice went to #1. You Better You Bet had left the top spot seven weeks earlier and had been on the chart a total of fifteen weeks, yet it was still higher than where The Voice debuted. And the latter topped the chart after just four weeks. It also peaked at #15 on the Hot 100. But how is it?
    Well, before we get to that, you may have noticed I've taken to discussing each song's parent album, with the obvious exception of non-album singles whenever those come about. Sometimes listening to a song as part of a full length record can reveal context that might not exist when consumed as an individual track. Sometimes the story behind the album's development can provides another layer of meaning. And sometimes the album version is just different (read: longer). The Voice is in the last two categories, as the first tends to be reserved just for songs from concept albums. According to Moody Blues bassist John Lodge, there is no definitive answer to the question of whether Long Distance Voyager is a concept album. Perhaps any strong interest in making it one was killed by some behind the scenes drama, but that's not relevant to the topic at hand. Or is it?
    When recalling the inspiration behind the song, guitarist Justin Hayward said:
    The primary cause of the turmoil was the departure of, and lawsuit from, original keyboardist Mike Pinder. Pinder was a founding member while Hayward and Lodge joined two years after the group's formation. As Lodge explained, Pinder and producer Tony Clarke (who produced every Moody Blues studio album from 1967 to 1978) felt that "without their involvement, we shouldn’t be using the name The Moody Blues." Though both men had undisputedly significant roles, the case was ultimately ruled in the band's favor. But they still needed a new keyboardist, so Pinder was replaced by Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz, who had previously worked with other English progressive rock bands like Yes and Refugee. That brings us at last to the song.
    The album version of The Voice contains an intro added by Moraz. Though Hayward's song had already been finished, Hayward still loved Moraz's contribution, calling it "striking." The band recorded the album at their own studio and released it on their own label, so what you're hearing on both versions of the song is the band's own characteristically philosophical vision. That's not to suggest the song is avant-garde or anything. Far from it - this is as radio friendly as the band gets. It's a brilliant song, albeit more pop than rock. The music has a great energy and forward momentum that keeps your attention, as well as an almost mystical feel that complements the lyrics. Hayward sings about learning the golden rule, laying it on the line, facing the music, and rising above storms.
    Did I mention he'd been sued by a former bandmate before he wrote this?
    The rest of the album is quite good too. The first three songs are the singles, including Talking Out of Turn, my personal favorite song from the album. 22,000 Days, the B-side for The Voice, is great just for the chorus alone. Some of the album's other tracks are about the titular voyager while the last three songs comprise a miniature suite with imagery referencing carnival jesters and the chaos experienced at a rock show. If this wasn't planned to be a concept album, that puts the last three songs in an interesting light.
    But setting all that aside, the success of The Voice and the album as a whole meant Moraz and the Moody Blues seemed to be a match made in heaven

    ...until he sued them too.
  13. bare trees

    bare trees Forum Resident

    I have some catching up to do.

    I Can't Stand It : This hit just as I was getting into Top 40 radio so this might have been the first Eric Clapton song that I remember hearing. It might not be "Sunshine Of Your Love" or "Layla" but it's one of those songs that take me back to a certain time and place. I love the upbeat yet relaxed vibe and the musicianship is tasteful and serves the song perfectly.

    You Better You Bet : Another song that served as my introduction to a veteran act (Do I see a pattern here?). I remember this getting a lot of airplay in late Spring/early Summer 1981 albeit the single version with the second verse edited out. Even though I eventually grew to love and prefer the band's classic material, "You Better You Bet" remains a favorite to this day.

    The Waiting : One of my favorite Tom Petty songs and a Top Ten hit in Canada. "The Waiting" is one of those perfect ''turn the volume up and roll the windows down" songs.
    Albuman likes this.
  14. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    *can provide
    Damn this website for locking posts after half an hour.
  15. bare trees

    bare trees Forum Resident

    Life Of Illusion : A bouncy, uptempo song whose message about how unpredictable life can be is delivered with a combination of wisdom and humor.

    The Voice : I know that single edits are sometimes frowned upon on this board but this is one instance where I actually prefer the single version. Don't get me wrong, the keyboard intro on the album version is a great and it serves its purpose in setting the mood for what's to come. However, the single version that kicks off with the full band has a certain punch to it that made me take notice when it came on our local top 40 stations.
    Albuman likes this.
  16. W.B.

    W.B. The Collector's Collector

    New York, NY, USA
    Pip Williams' most famous producing credit up to "The Voice" was Bloodstone's 1973 pop / R&B hit "Natural High." He was also one of the instrumentalists on The Sweet's "Little Willy" which was a hit in the UK in 1972 and in the US the next year.
    Albuman likes this.
  17. SRC

    SRC That sums up Squatter for me

    New York, NY
    Same here. Both that song and its video were my real introduction to The Who. And it was a great one. The black/white look of the video still looks timeless. There was also a more rarely played but similar video for "Another Tricky Day" from that album, which I liked too.
    Albuman likes this.
  18. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    Foreigner, Urgent
    Written by Mick Jones
    Produced by Mick Jones and Robert John "Mutt" Lange
    Label: Atlantic
    Issued July 25, 1981; 4 weeks at #1

    It was the week of July 18, 1981. Joe Walsh's A Life of Illusion was at #3, Moody Blues' The Voice was still at #1, and debuting at #2 was Foreigner's Urgent, which would take the #1 spot the following week. Urgent is actually the first of two #1 rock hits from Foreigner's aptly named fourth album 4, but we'll get to the other one later.
    If you ever listened to classic rock radio or watched Rock of Ages, you are undoubtedly familiar with Foreigner (and if you haven't watched Rock of Ages, don't). The band's first three albums had earned them a bunch of Top 20 hits, so it should be no surprise that the first single the band released after the rock chart's creation, the lead single from their album 4, also did really well. In addition to topping the rock chart, Urgent peaked at #4 (fittingly) on the Hot 100. And to continue the streak we've been on so far, it still holds up.
    Like Moody Blues' The Voice, Urgent is longer on its parent album. Unlike The Voice, Urgent features the work of producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, Motown artist Junior Walker, and a then-unknown Thomas Dolby on synthesizer. The band got a hold of Walker when he just happened to be playing a few blocks from the studio, Dolby went on to have a successful career of his own, and that's about all I have to say about their contributions. Let's talk about Lange.
    Another reason the album was called 4 (aside from it being their fourth) was that two band members had left after the previous album, bringing the number of members down from six to four. So the remaining members had to do more work, and guitarist Mick Jones credited Lange for helping translate that work into a quality record:
    There's a good interview on the band's website where Jones goes into more depth on the song and other topics, but for now, let's get to the actual track.
    Urgent is about the same woman Prince would sing about in Little Red Corvette. Or rather, it might as well be since both songs are about how frustrated the male singers are that a woman they love can't just settle down with one guy. Not to suggest they were the first to write songs about women like that - I only just realized as I wrote this that the songs came out a year apart and were describing essentially the same person. Is it possible Prince heard Urgent and wrote Little Red Corvette to outdo it? I have no concrete proof of that, but it wouldn't have been out of character for him; Prince's former manager once said he did exactly that with Funkytown by Lipps Inc. I was speculating because Urgent has more of an R&B vibe to it than Foreigner's previous work, owing largely to the saxophone parts (played mostly by Mark Rivera with a solo by Walker). Jones was quoted as saying their use of that particular sound led to some people being "trapped" into liking the song before they found out who it was. Though that might have made it a strange choice for a lead single, its success meant the decision paid off.
    Urgent is a fun little jam despite its subject matter. The B-side, Girl on the Moon, is a moderately slow but solid song about a literal dream girl. The album as a whole is as quintessentially Eighties as you could possibly get, and I mean that in a good way. If you haven't played Urgent or 4 in a while, take this as a friendly suggestion to fix that.
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  19. W.B.

    W.B. The Collector's Collector

    New York, NY, USA
    "Urgent," I'm very familiar with. They still play this on classic rock stations.
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  20. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    Blue Öyster Cult, Burnin' For You
    Written by Donald Roeser and Richard Meltzer
    Produced by Martin Birch
    Label: Columbia
    Issued August 22, 1981; 2 weeks at #1

    On the Friday before I posted this, Blue Öyster Cult released their first studio album since 2001. It's called The Symbol Remains and it's decent. The vocals are sometimes a bit weak, but the music is fantastic. So this is the perfect opportunity to go nearly forty years back in time and talk about the song everyone knows them for

    ...no, the other one.

    Burnin' For You was the lead single for the band's eighth studio album, 1981's Fire of Unknown Origin. According to Wikipedia, it was a single so nice, they released it twice. But the band almost didn't release it at all. Founding member and lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser co-wrote the song with rock critic Richard Meltzer, who, like Patti Smith, occasionally contributed lyrics to the band's work. Roeser originally wanted to save the song for his 1982 solo album Flat Out (which is actually quite good), but Blue Öyster Cult's manager convinced him to give it to the whole band. And that's how Blue Öyster Cult got their second Top 40 hit and their only #1 rock hit.
    Also, Burnin' For You was the first song to hit #1 on the rock chart after MTV was launched. So the band had to make a music video. For some reason, it was decided that they would shoot videos for this and Joan Crawford (another song from Fire of Unknown Origin) on the same day. Though the Joan Crawford video was considered too racy to show on MTV, Burnin' For You got a generous amount of airplay throughout 1981 and 1982.
    Two quick asides. First, both videos were directed by a guy named Richard Casey. Wikipedia doesn't say much about him except that he directed a low budget 1985 slasher movie about a sociopath who dresses up like Richard Nixon. I know how I'm spending Halloween this year. Richard Meltzer incidentally has a bit role as "Tough Guy," but this movie already had me at "guy who dresses like he's one of the bank robbing surfers from Point Break."
    Secondly, while I mentioned that I discuss parent albums because songs could and did chart even if they weren't released as singles, I missed a few examples. For instance, I said that Nightwatchman by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers could've been a hit on its own. I should have specified that I meant a Hot 100 hit because it did chart on Top Tracks. Similarly, Joan Crawford also charted, though obviously not as high as Burnin' For You. Speaking of which, let's get back to the song.
    Burnin' For You is about a guy who feels aimless, having wasted his life in pursuit of a desire that will probably never be sated. It's not explicitly stated what is being desired, but it's probably safe to assume the desire is for a woman. I personally always liked Burnin' For You but never loved it. The rest of Fire of Unknown Origin might arguably be better. The title track that opens the album was co-written by Patti Smith, and Veteran of the Psychic Wars not only has an awesome title but also a drum beat that sounds curiously like Queen's We Will Rock You.
    So yeah, give the whole album a spin.
  21. JamieC

    JamieC Forum Resident

    Detroit Mi USA
    Time to play B sides........
  22. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    Probably safe to assume the music critic wrote that.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2020
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  23. Geee!

    Geee! Senior Member

    You write well, @Albuman . Nice thread.
  24. Albuman

    Albuman Album of the Year expert Thread Starter

    Thank you so much. Glad you're enjoying it so far.
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  25. W.B.

    W.B. The Collector's Collector

    New York, NY, USA
    And here's what breaks the streak for me so far with familiarity with material . . . that is, "at the time," I've heard the open many times on the "classic rock" station in NYC since. But nice to know what the title is. On Tuesdays, they play it back-to-back with their 1976 hit "(Don't Fear) The Reaper."
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