The theme is simple this week: As I was picking out songs to put in the playlist, a pattern emerged. For every song I selected with a featured female singer, I was slotting in two with male leads. So we're alternating them and mixing it up as best as possible, starting with a track that encapsulates the concept all in one song...
  1. Tears for Fears feat. Oleta Adams, "Woman In Chains"
    It's the stuff of a movie script: TfF was on a U.S. tour in 1985 and "discovered" Adams in a hotel bar in Kansas City. Four years later, the English duo recruited her for this ballad which became a worldwide Top 40 hit. Also, those are the familiar sounds of Phil Collins on drums and Pino Palladino on fretless bass. Adams' biggest solo hit would come in 1991 with "Get Here."
  2. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, "You Got Lucky"
    For this lead single from the Long After Dark album in 1982, Petty for the first time employed a synthesizer as the lead instrument. It turned some fans off at first, but 35 years later the classic elements of TP's songwriting shine through: the minor-key dissonance, a surging chorus, and a deep-pocket groove by Stan Lynch and then-new bassist Howie Epstein.
  3. Rod Stewart, "Infatuation"
    As '80s arrangements go, this one bounces along pretty well, all shimmering keyboards, pulsating bass, and horn flourishes. Which is to say, it's not much of a Rod Stewart song. But it sold a lot of vinyl -- #6 in the U.S. -- and has the singular distinction of featuring the impossibly embarrassing lyric "Infatuate me, baby." Like, what?
  4. Klymaxx, "I Miss You"
    1986 was a huge year for R&B-tinged ballads, which occupied the top four spots on Billboard's year-end chart. Third on that list (under "That's What Friends Are For" and "Say You, Say Me," and just above "On My Own") was the signature song from this L.A. girl group, a piano-driven sobber which layers in just enough guitar and drums to move the meters.
  5. John Waite, "Missing You"
    What can really be said about "Missing You" that isn't readily apparent by listening to it? A deserved #1 hit in 1984 for Waite, who'd been the lead singer of the Babys and would later occupy the same spot in Bad English (hitting #1 again with "When I See You Smile"). One of the most recognizable choruses of the decade, and it lost none of its luster when Waite revisited it in 2007 as a duet with Alison Krauss.
  6. George Benson, "I Just Wanna Hang Around You"
    Erstwhile jazz guitar guru George Benson had given himself over to vocal-dominated smooth R&B/adult contemporary fare by the mid-80s, resulting in this Top 10 AC hit (it "bubbled under" the Hot 100 pop) off his 20/20 album, which we've talked about before. Growing up in the New York media market, I seem to remember this being a staple of long-ago smooth jazz station CD101.9.
  7. Jody Watley, "Looking For A New Love"
    Soul Train and Shalamar alum Jody Watley launched a solo music career in the mid-80s, a move that did not initially bear fruit. But that all changed with the release of "Looking For A New Love" in 1987, which shot to #2 pop, #1 R&B, and weirdly propelled Watley -- whose name had been well-known in the biz for a decade -- to the 1988 Grammy Award for Best "New" Artist. She'd have other successes, but none as big as this inescapable single.
  8. The Monroes, "What Do All The People Know?"
    One of the great injustices of the 1980s in a musical sense. It would have been fun to hear more from this San Diego-area band, but the small Japanese label they were signed to decided to get out of the U.S. market just as "People" was gaining some radio airplay and momentum. Within a few years, the band broke up and passed mostly into for this chestnut that represents the very best of new wave-flavored rock.
  9. Duran Duran, "Planet Earth"
    Counter to that, Duran Duran has always positioned itself as rock-flavored new wave, a mood readily evident in one of their first singles, "Planet Earth." But even then, all the elements of the classic lineup were already clicking, and when they finally reunited in 2004 (the cast of characters that continues to record and tour together to this day), it was as if they'd never missed a step.
  10. Pat Benatar, "We Live For Love"
    One of my favorites from Pat, and it came pretty early in her career (actual release 1979, but climbed the charts in '80). The falsetto, or "head voice," in the choruses brings up a point -- that she has a tremendous vocal range beyond the usual mid-range belting of most of her most recognizable hits.
  11. Huey Lewis & the News, "Stuck With You"
    There was about a five-year period, say 1982-87, where Huey could do no wrong. He was everywhere, and that probably contributed to a little bit of backlash (and, in my opinion, why the superb "Perfect World" from 1988 is not routinely counted among his most popular hits). "Stuck With You," a #1 hit from the Fore! album, is also one of his better songs of the era, with sincere lyrics and a bouncy, shuffling tempo. Plus those doo-wop backing vocals...
  12. The Stray Cats, "Stray Cat Strut"
    Had a bit of a dilemma here -- this was a spot for a Top 10 hit (if you didn't know, I break all these playlists down by chart success for each song), and I was torn between this or 1983's "I Won't Stand In Your Way." We'll circle around to that one down the road...for now, enjoy the well-worn retro flavor of "Stray Cat Strut," one of those rare songs ("Bad Company," "In A Big Country," etc.) that includes the band's name in its title.
  13. Fleetwood Mac, "Everywhere"
    Last week you heard from Stevie Nicks (her solo "Stand Back"), now here is the other female from the classic FM lineup, the smoky-voiced Brit Christine McVie. This was one of the many hits off Tango in the Night, the last album to feature that lineup, and I must tell you that in the fall of 2008, I was listening either to this or to Vampire Weekend's playful cover every day.
  14. Billy Joel, "This Is The Time"
    Longtime Billy Joel Band guitarist David Brown adds some Mark Knopfler-like flair to Billy's hit ballad from the 1986 album The Bridge. The record was Joel's return to contemporary pop after the early-60s pastiche of An Innocent Man -- even the two new tracks for his 1985 Greatest Hits compilation, "You're Only Human" and "The Night Is Still Young," felt like they could have fit in on the previous record.
  15. Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, "If You Leave"
    People who only have a passing knowledge of '80s music will see the name Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, or OMD, or even the song title "If You Leave," and have a good chance of being baffled. But all you have to say is something like, "You know, the 'I touch you once, I touch you twice' song? From Pretty in Pink?" And they usually get it by then. It's one of those songs that you definitely know by ear, if not by name.
  16. Bananarama, "I Heard A Rumour"
    Captained by the uber-production team of Stock Aitken Waterman, "I Heard A Rumour" marked the final major American hit for Bananarama, following its release in the summer of 1987. Most who've had the girl group pass through their consciousness since that time only identify the band as a piece of trivia: Member Keren Woodward married "the other guy" from Wham!, Andrew Ridgeley.
  17. Paul Carrack, "Don't Shed A Tear"
    I've only been back at this playlist-making for about five months, and yet in that short time I'm shocked I haven't found room for one of my favorite vocalists. You know Carrack from Ace ("How Long"), Roxy Music, Squeeze ("Tempted"), Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, Mike + the Mechanics ("Silent Running," "The Living Years"), the Eagles (writer of "Love Will Keep Us Alive"), and this transatlantic smash from 1988, his biggest U.S. solo hit.
  18. INXS, "What You Need"
    Some of this legendary Aussie band's early hits have seeped into the American lexicon (Bruce Springsteen covered "Don't Change," to great effect, during the Australian leg of a recent tour), but this was the band's first major hit single here. It established several hallmarks: explosive drums, slightly funky guitars, tasteful sax embellishments, and most importantly, the sensual vocal delivery of the late Michael Hutchence.
  19. Alannah Myles, "Black Velvet"
    While Myles continued making hits in her native Canada well into the '90s, no song of hers even charted in the U.S. after the 1989 #1 success of "Black Velvet," and it's not hard to see why. It's an incredibly difficult song to try to follow up, its bluesy groove accented by a decelerated facsimile of Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" drum pattern. Myles' vocal performance (literally) hits all the right notes, especially in the shout-along chorus.
  20. Van Halen, "When It's Love"
    Though OU812 was a number-one album, and produced two major hits in this and "Finish What Ya Started," those singles (in my opinion) were not as strong as those from the first Sammy Hagar VH album, 5150...nor were they up to the standard of some of the Red Rocker's solo work like "Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy." Still, "When It's Love" was a radio staple, and still sounds good on a car ride, even if it goes on about a minute too long.
  21. The Psychedelic Furs, "Love My Way"
    Similarly to the Paul Carrack situation, I can't believe we haven't gotten here yet, an instant classic propelled by Todd Rundgren's production (and cameo on marimba). But really, it's Richard Butler's detached, Bowie-like vocal that's the most distinctive element of the song, which has become a soundtrack standard in '80s flashback movies like The Wedding Singer.
  22. Belinda Carlisle, "Heaven Is A Place On Earth"
    The song with which Belinda Carlisle's post-Go-Go's solo career is most readily identified, "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" was another well-deserved #1, and hides some pretty sneaky key changes underneath its pop sheen. While the Go-Go's projected themselves as a fun, party-girl band, Carlisle's solo work always trended a bit more mature, and this is the best blend of those two styles.
  23. The Rolling Stones, "Almost Hear You Sigh"
    I've described this 1989 track in the past as "Beast Of Burden, Part 2," and I think that's still appropriate. Pound for pound it's probably the best song on Steel Wheels, and in a period when they weren't on the best of terms, it contains terrific performances from BOTH Mick and Keith. That may be due to the intervention of Steve Jordan, a then-frequent collaborator of Richards' who co-wrote the song (it was in fact a holdover from a Richards solo album).
  24. Benny Mardones, "Into The Night"
    IF, and that may be a big if, you can stomach the eyebrow-raising opening line, this feels and plays like a classic. That line, of course, is notorious: "She's just 16 years old, leave her alone, they say," and it colors the rest of the lyrics from that point. But there is a magic in the arrangement here that would not be present when Mardones re-recorded the song in 1989, nine years after its original release. Co-writer Robert Tepper of course is best known for "No Easy Way Out" from Rocky IV.
  25. Chilliwack, "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)"
    In heavy rotation on early MTV, "My Girl" has a bit of a street-corner vibe to it, and in fact that shows through in the video. But it picks up the pace in the first verse, building momentum through the chorus before coming to a complete stop and then starting again. There's a pretty good guitar solo in the middle of it all, and then a long, harmony-laden fadeout. A good way to end the night.