Once upon a time, Top 40 mainstream FM radio was something people listened to, and it was good. Here we are in the mid ‘80s: I was just into my double digits, playing my Like a Virgin LP on a Fisher-Price record player. In many ways this was the best, happiest and most exciting of times—though possibly this giddiness was a side effect of too much Mr. T cereal.
I am 11 and at my school’s roller skating party. I am undoubtedly wearing something florescent: don’t look too close at the geometric pattern, it’s hideous. I time my footwork to the music. I know all of the songs. Here are some of them, performed by the women I wanted to be, and believed I someday could.
1. Chaka Khan – I Feel for You
Prince wrote it, Melle Mel rapped in it and Stevie Wonder broke out the harmonica for it. All of that’s incidental because Chaka’s the star here, radiant and sweet. That stuttering of her name in the intro may have been an accident, but it rightfully became something iconic.
2. Shannon – Let the Music Play
I love the post-breakdown part where “He’s dancing his way back to me.” TRIUMPH!
3. Sheena Easton – Sugar Walls
Welp, I hadn’t caught onto the whole sugar-walls-as-vagina thing until around 2 o’clock yesterday. I mean, it’s obvious now (“Blood races to your private spots/ Lets me know there’s a fire”) (!!!). This freakiness could only be the product of Prince, and so it is.
4. T’Pau – Heart and Soul
This band was somewhat of a one hit wonder in America but more impactful in the UK. Melody and spoken word are superimposed, leading up to that most satisfying of payoffs, the Big Rousing Chorus.
5. Scandal with Patty Smyth – Warrior
It’s just liberating to sing, “Shooting at the walls of heartache/ BANG BANG/ I am the warrior” at the top of your lungs, particularly when firing finger guns for emphasis.
6. Madonna – Into the Groove
My hands-down favorite iteration/persona of Madonna. Fantastically self-possessed and bratty and badass, before there were so many strategies to contrive it.
7. The Bangles – Manic Monday
I remember writing this on the DJ’s request list, and some girl was like, “Um, the title is ‘Mad-Cap Monday,’” and I was like DON’T EVEN STEP TO ME ABOUT SUSANNA HOFFS, SISTER. Also: fucking Prince! Again! He wrote this one too, and apparently he’s the creative force behind everything ever. Fortunately, that’s fine.
8. Pat Benatar – Love Is a Battlefield
This song made shoulder-shimmying the universal sign for pissed-off defiance and patriarchal dismantling. I am thinking about this for a feminist-inspired, performance-based Halloween costume. This calls for a lot of beads.
9. Janet Jackson – What Have You Done for Me Lately?
The pneumatic percussion and isolated beats let us know that a disgruntled Janet (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty) is feelin’ kinda stabby. Her sneer, like her choreography, is smooth but dead serious. “You’ve got one life to lead/ Who’s right?/ Who’s wrong?” Easy answer there.
10. Eurythmics – Here Comes the Rain Again
Orchestral plucking, lots of talk about lovers and Annie Lennox’s sultry low voice. This song seemed at the height of secrecy and intimacy then, and perhaps as much now.
11. Pointer Sisters – Automatic
Did you know the Pointer Sisters sang “Pinball Number Count” from “Sesame Street?” Me neither. That’s enough reason to love them, but radio hits like “Automatic” are another.
12. The Go-Go’s – Head Over Heels
If you’re not down with the Go-Go’s, I can’t help you.