Saturday, October 2, 1982

John Cougar Mellencamp hits #1 with "Jack and Diane": October 2, 1982

Originally posted October 2, 2011.

In 1981, John Mellencamp (then known as John Cougar) could only boast of modest chart success, having scored top 40 hits with “I Need a Lover”, “This Time”, and “Ain’t Even Done with the Night”. However, 1982’s American Fool thrust this Indiana heartland rocker into the limelight. The album hit #1 on the strength of the #2 single “Hurts So Good” and the chart-topping “Jack and Diane”.

The latter was a “ballad of an American couple, taking them from courtship through rocky marriage.” JA Mellencamp was inspired to write the nostalgic song after watching the 1961 movie Splendor in the Grass, starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. WK It was a tribute to the rural working class of his hometown of Seymour, Indiana. SF For the video, Mellencamp even used some of his own high school photos and home movies. SF Initially, the song was supposed to be about an interracial couple, but Mellencamp realized it might provoke backlash. WK

The song wasn’t easy to make. As Mellencamp said, “The arrangement’s so weird. Stopping and starting, it’s not very musical.” WK As such, he included hand clapping in the song to help keep the tempo. It was supposed to be removed from the final version, but he realized the song didn’t work without it. WK

Mellencamp told Classic Rock magazine that the song wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for musician Mick Ronson, who’d worked primarily as a guitarist with David Bowie and Ian Hunter. He helped on several cuts for the American Fool album. Mellencamp had discarded “Jack and Diane” until Ronson suggested the baby-rattle-style percussion and the “let it rock, let it roll” chorus. WK

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Saturday, July 24, 1982

Grandmaster Flash charted with “The Message”: July 24, 1982

Originally posted July 24, 2012.

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“Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was a pivotal group in the early days of rap, developing crucial aspects of the genre.” NRR Flash is “largely credited with the popularization of scratching” FR in which DJs mixed songs together and MCs would improvise verses – or rap – over the top. CR The style grew out of block parties in the Bronx in the mid-1970s when DJs would set up sound systems and play records. CR “What had once been a party trick became the most significant cultural movement of the next three decades.” CR

Sugar Hill Records tapped Flash & Co. to bring their talents to the recording studio, resulting in “the first record made solely from mixing other records.” CR Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher, a schoolteacher RS500 and the house band percussionist, CR wrote a poem which Sugar Hill’s co-owner Sylvia Robinson decided to turn into a rap record. RS500

With Melle Mel providing the main rapping, “The Message” “detailed the hardships of life in the urban environment.” FR It was “a breakthrough in hip-hop, taking the music from party anthems to street-level ghetto blues.” RS500 That “focus on urban social issues” NRR mapped “a course followed by many later rap artists.” NRR “Without this song, the entire course of the genre could have been very different indeed, and some of its most prominent voices might never have surfaced.” TB

The Message

Flash and the crew weren’t enamored with the political message CR and apparently Robinson only got them to agree to record it by promising it wouldn’t be a single. WI Of course, the song would be released and it became “an instant sensation on New York’s hip-hop radio.” RS500 As Flash said, “It played all day, every day. It put us on a whole new level.” RS500

Of course, its success went beyond lyrical content. “What’s obvious is how much the words were abetted by the music: melody sketched by synthesizer, pulse provided by fun bass and glowering drums, comment added by scratchy rhythm guitar.” MA It “was hardly the first rap record, but its sonic power…and the astonishing immediacy of its lyrics combined to make it the official announcement of the start of something truly new.” WI The song posed the concern, “Sometimes I wonder how I keep from goin’ under,” and critic Dave Marsh suggested, “Apparently dancing helps.” MA


Resources and Related Links:
  • DMDB page for “The Message”
  • Grandmaster Flash’s DMDB Music Maker Encyclopedia entry
  • see lyrics
  • CR Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Pages 391-2.
  • FR Paul Friedlander, Paul (1996). Rock and Roll: A Social History. Boulder, Colorado; Westview Press, Inc. Page 274.
  • MA Dave Marsh. (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Pages 61-2.
  • NRR National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress The Full National Recording Registry
  • RS500 Rolling Stone (12/04). “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
  • TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 198.
  • WI Paul Williams (1993). Rock and Roll: The Best 100 Singles. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. Pages 204-6.

Saturday, May 15, 1982

Duran Duran charted with “Hungry Like the Wolf”: May 15, 1982

Originally posted May 15, 2012.

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In their native UK, Duran Duran first hit with their 1981 self-titled album, sending four songs to the UK singles chart, including the #5 “Girls on Film”. Their second album was introduced with the first single “Wolf”. It marked the double D’s first trip to the U.S. singles chart. The song was praised by Pitchfork Media’s Rob Mitchum, who said “singles don’t come much stronger than ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’.” WK The New York Times’ Jon Pareles said the group “kept the choruses clear and catchy, never disguising their pop intentions” but that it was “no less enjoyable for that”. WK

The song owed much of its success to the fledging MTV music video television network. The group’s ready-for-teen-mag looks made them hits with adolescent girls while the video for “Wolf” had the DD crew romping through Sri Lanka with exotic women a la Raiders of the Lost Ark. The video was “more filmic and action-packed than much of the competing material of the time.” TB As lead singer Simon LeBon said, “Video made it possible to create a cult of personality across the globe.” SF “Wolf” earned the group the distinction of taking home the first Grammy for Best Short Form Video.

The song helped establish the band at the forefront of the Second British Invasion. The first, in the 1960s, was driven by rock’s early superstars like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. This time, however, synthesizer-oriented New Wave groups led the pack with a “unique combination of tough rock-guitar licks and frenetic beats, worthy of post-disco dancefloors.” TB

Amusingly, the song was “reportedly inspired by the innocent childhood fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood.” TB There was, however, nothing innocent about the moaning at the end of the song. That, and the laugh that kicks off the song, were provided by keyboardist Nick Rhodes’ girlfriend. The group’s girlfriends also contributed the makeup which helped shape the group’s look. SF

Hungry Like the Wolf


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Thursday, April 22, 1982

Men at Work released Business As Usual in the U.S.: April 22, 1982

Originally posted April 22, 2012.

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Sadly, Greg Ham, one of the band members of Australian band Men at Work, was found dead on April 19 at his home. Two concerned friends found the body when they went to check on him after not hearing from him in some time. Police did not release any details. Ham lived alone. He was 58.

Among his musical contributions to Men at Work were the sax solo in “Who Can It Be Now?” and the flute solo in “Down Under.” Both songs were from the band’s debut album, Business As Usual. It was released in their home country in November 1981 and saw U.S. release five months later in April 1982. The “Australian five-piece [became] the most unlikely success story of 1982,” AZ spending 15 weeks atop the U.S. album chart and eventually selling 15 million copies worldwide on the basis of “two excellent singles that merged straight-ahead pop/rock hooks with a quirky new wave production and an offbeat sense of humor. Colin Hay’s keening vocals uncannily recall Sting, and the band’s rhythmic pulse and phased guitars also bring to mind a bar band version of the Police.” AMG “Like Sting, Colin Hay’s vocal inflections were more suited to reggae than to white guitar-pop; the band, meanwhile, seemed to aim for much the same kind of earnest, slightly arch tone as early XTC.” AZ

Who Can It Be Now?

The lead single, Who Can It Be Now?, was released in Australia in June 1981, where it became a #1 hit. More than a year later, it made its U.S. chart debut, eventually soaring to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

While that song played up paranoia in its video, the follow-up hit, Down Under, showcased Men at Work’s goofier side. The almost-novelty song celebrated their native country with a campy and popular video. The song was an even bigger hit on the U.S. charts. “For a time, Australians abroad seemed destined to have ‘Down Under’ sung at them – often by whole groups of strangers – as if it were a sunny gesture of greeting or camaraderie, instead of what it actually was: a tacit reinforcement of cultural stereotypes.” AZ “For the record: to ‘chunder’ means to vomit. And a Vegemite sandwich is nothing you’d want to eat.” AZ

Down Under

The song met with more controversy in 2010 when it was determined it had been plagiarized from a 1934 Australian song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree,” written by Marion Sinclair. The band were ordered to pay a portion of royalties to the company holding the copyright on “Kookaburra.”

“There’s a fair amount of filler on the record, but Be Good Johnny, I Can See It in Your Eyes, and Down by the Sea are all fine new wave pop songs, making Business as Usual one of the more enjoyable mainstream-oriented efforts of the era.” AMG


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Be Good Johnny

Saturday, March 20, 1982

Joan Jett hits #1 for the first of 7 weeks with "I Love Rock and Roll"

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Joan Jett & the Blackhearts “I Love Rock and Roll”

Writer(s): Jake Hooker, Alan Merrill (see lyrics here)

First charted: 12/12/1981

Peak: 17 US, 15 AR, 4 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 10.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): 81.7

Review: When the Rolling Stones sang “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It),” the lesser known Arrows felt obligated to respond with their more celebratory message of “I Love Rock and Roll.” BR1-553 The American trio went unnoticed stateside, but garnered enough attention in England to warrant their own TV show. Still, they only recorded one album and this 1975 song didn’t even make it on; it was originally relegated to a mere B-side of a single. SF

The Arrows’ message would eventually reach a mass audience, though. While Joan Jett was touring England as a member of the teenage girl group the Runaways, SF she saw the Arrows performing “I Love Rock and Roll” on a TV show. She wanted to cover the song, but was outvoted by her band members. SF After the Runaways’ demise, Jett cut the song herself. She shopped it to twenty-three record labels before finally getting the attention of Boardwalk Records. RS500

Even then, the song only surfaced in Holland as the flip side of a cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.” BR1-553 Jett still believed enough in the song to buy the radio rights for $2500. RS500 She made a decent investment: today, the song that became the biggest pop hit of 1982, WHC-11 is worth close to $20 million. RS500

In the Arrows’ hands, the song’s message about a guy picking up a girl and taking her home made for a fairly clich├ęd topic in a rock song. SF In Jett’s hands, though, the song became an empowering anthem about the woman aggressively pursuing the guy SF and shaped Jett’s image “as a tough, confident rock star” SF and “a girl-rock icon.” RS500

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Saturday, March 6, 1982

Willie Nelson charts with “Always on My Mind”

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Willie Nelson “Always on My Mind”

Writer(s): Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher, Mark James (see lyrics here)

First charted: 3/6/1982

Peak: 5 US, 2 AC, 12 CW, 49 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 2.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 5.0 Video Airplay (in millions): 44.7

Review: This song “is virtually the definition of a modern pop standard.” AMG B.B. King told Esquire magazine in the January 2006 issue that this was his favorite song. SF While the ballad format of the song may be conventional, its theme of a love affair’s end instead of its beginning is a break from the more traditional love song that becomes a pop standard. AMG The narrator confesses guilt and regret AMG over not always doing what he should have to show appreciation for the object of his affection. SF

With its “expressive melody and dramatic lyrics” AMG the song was “a natural for vocalists.” AMG Brenda Lee had a minor country hit with it in 1972. That same year, Elvis Presley had a gold single with his version that went top 20 on the U.S. pop charts and top 10 in the U.K.

In 1982, Willie Nelson gave the song its greatest success yet, taking it to the top of the U.S. country charts and into the top 5 on both the pop and adult contemporary charts. His version was also a platinum seller and multiple award winner. While other versions risked sounding “melodramatic or corny,” AMG Willie’s take on the song “emphasized the pain and sorrow of the lyrics.” AMG

Before the close of the ‘80s, the song became a hit again, but this time it was recast as a dance song. The Pet Shop Boys performed it for an Elvis tribute show on the BBC SF and then released a single of the song. Their version actually outdid Nelson’s in terms of chart performance – it went a notch higher on the U.S. pop charts (#4) and went to the top of the U.K. charts. Nonetheless, “the best version will always belong to Willie Nelson.” CC

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.