We come to you tonight on the first day of fall, so up first is a wistful look back at the season just past, and then some perhaps chillier songs to finish the set. Several of the selections are an obvious stretch...but then again, that's what makes making these lists so interesting.
  1. Bananarama, "Cruel Summer"
    The perennial anthem for anyone who's had a rough go of it during the hottest months of the year, "Cruel Summer" was the first widespread exposure in America for this British girl pop trio. Younger audiences will definitely remember the loving, faithful remake by Ace of Base from 1998.
  2. Don Henley, "The Boys Of Summer"
    Someone I'm very close to, and I won't say who, thought the loving, faithful 2003 cover by The Ataris was the original version. It's not. And it could have been a Tom Petty song -- primary writer Mike Campbell, Petty's longtime lead guitarist, shopped it to his fellow Heartbreaker first before bringing it to Henley.
  3. Bryan Adams, "Summer Of '69"
    Adams and longtime co-writer Jim Vallance differ on their interpretations of this song, which has taken on a sort of "You're So Vain"-like mystery as to its true meaning. Is it about a year? Something far more risque? We may never know for sure.
  4. The Alarm, "Rain In The Summertime"
    A major U.S. rock radio hit for this Welsh group, "Rain In The Summertime" fit right in alongside similar (but superior) singles of 1987-88 by U2 and the like. That may not have been a coincidence: the band had toured America and elsewhere as U2's opening act earlier in the decade.
  5. The Motels, "Suddenly Last Summer"
    The lo-fi drum machine on this Top 10 hit from 1983 dates it immediately, so it's become an artifact of its era in contrast to the Motels' previous Top 10er, "Only The Lonely," which has a timeless feel to it. Both are buoyed by the impassioned vocal delivery of Martha Davis.
  6. Whitney Houston, "One Moment In Time"
    Well, we've just finished the Summer Olympics, so here's Whitney's commissioned theme for the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. It became her 10th, and last, Top 10 hit of the 1980s (including seven consecutive #1s), setting her up for even bigger things in the '90s, when she'd cover some Dolly Parton song or something.
  7. Van Halen, "Summer Nights"
    If you're not down with the Red Rocker, and there are plenty who aren't, you won't agree with this...but for me 5150, VH's first album with Sammy Hagar as frontman, is every bit as good as 1984, their last with David Lee Roth until 2012. Album cuts like this are part of the reason why (plus the singles had more depth and songwriting craft than ever before).
  8. Donna Summer, "This Time I Know It's For Real"
    Past 40 and with her last major hit six years in the rearview mirror, the Queen of Disco returned to the Top 10 in 1989 with this smash single engineered by the Stock-Aitken-Waterman production team (which is why it sounds like a Rick Astley outtake). Some of my favorite chord changes of any song in the decade.
  9. Stevie Wonder, "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It"
    1980's Hotter Than July (because summer, get it?) was in many ways the final album in a run of indisputable classics going all the way back to the release of Talking Book in 1972. "Ain't Gonna Stand" was one of its many worthy contributions to Wonder's catalogue, alongside the Bob Marley rip/tribute "Master Blaster," the heartbreaking ballad "Lately," and "Happy Birthday," which catapulted a successful campaign to make the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday.
  10. Eric Clapton, "It's In The Way That You Use It"
    Straight from the heart of Clapton's "Phil Collins period" (Phil helped produce, but did not play drums on, this one), "It's In The Way" was a #1 rock chart hit in 1986 and the leadoff track on Clapton's album August. To connect the dots, EC covered "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It" on his 2001 album Reptile, on which the song "Son & Sylvia" features a very Stevie Wonder-like harmonica solo by Billy Preston.
  11. Neil Diamond, "September Morn"
    Though primarily associated with the '60s and '70s, Neil remained a viable hitmaker up through 1982, when his E.T.-inspired "Heartlight" went Top 5. Favorite '80s Neil Diamond moment: when he sang the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXI in 1987, then sprinted off the field and patted then-Giants coach Bill Parcells on the back. Parcells, who'd be carried off the field on his players' backs and shoulders at the end of the night, was not amused.
  12. Richard Marx, "Hold On To The Nights"
    His heart-on-sleeve nice guy image, which comes through in his songwriting, may rub some hardened listeners the wrong way. But the guy is an unparalleled pop composer (see "This I Promise You" by NSYNC, "Dance With My Father" by Luther Vandross, and of more recent vintage, his own AC radio hit "When You Loved Me" from 2011, which could have fit in with any of his late-80s classics). And quite simply put, in his first #1 single here is one of the great drum fills of all time.
  13. Expose, "Seasons Change"
    We start the transition to fall here -- could have obviously included Marx's "Endless Summer Nights," but we'll save that for down the road. Late-80s girl group Expose released only three albums, but gleaned eight Top 10 hits off of them, "Seasons Change" in 1987 registering as their only #1. The last time you heard from them on the radio was 1992's beautiful but exhaustively titled ballad "I'll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me."
  14. Paul Davis, "Cool Night"
    Providing the title to his 1981 album, the slow jam "Cool Night" was one of three Top 40 hits for Davis off that record (topped by the #6 of the doo-wop throwback "'65 Love Affair"). His greatest single, and the song for which he is best known, is the incomparable 1977 ballad "I Go Crazy." [Ed. note: I considered backing up "Seasons Change" and "Cool Night" with "Cool Change" by the Little River Band, but figured that was overdoing it.]
  15. 10,000 Maniacs, "Like The Weather"
    Despite plenty of radio play for this and other singles over a solid decade of recording and touring, 10,000 Maniacs didn't score their first major chart hit until the 1993 MTV Unplugged cover of Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen's "Because The Night"...which was the signal for captivating lead singer Natalie Merchant to depart the band and embark on a rewarding solo career.
  16. Patrick Swayze, "She's Like The Wind"
    (Sometimes it gets windy in the fall...told you we'd stretch.) Co-written several years earlier by Swayze himself, the "Dirty Dancing" star shopped it to that film's producer and director, who had the actor and dancer cut a version for use in the film and on its iconic soundtrack. Wendy Fraser is the female voice heard throughout the song, especially on its long fadeout.
  17. Yes, "Leave It"
    Heh, get it, like leaves? Falling from the trees? Anyway, this comeback hit from the 90125 album (Top 25 following up the #1 "Owner Of A Lonely Heart") is a mostly a cappella masterpiece showcasing new production partner Trevor Horn's intricate touch, updating an iconic prog rock sound.
  18. Phil Collins, "In The Air Tonight"
    Feel that fall air...and the breeze coming from Phil's drums as he slams out the most widely air-drummed lick in the history of rock. Collins was already famous as the lead singer and drummer of Genesis, but few have made a bigger impression with the very first track of their very first album (the excellent Face Value).
  19. Billy Joel, "Leave A Tender Moment Alone"
    More leaves...a great throwback pop song off the hit-laden Innocent Man album, featuring a terrifically catchy, again Stevie Wonder-ish harmonica part from fellow harpmaster Toots Thielemans, who just passed away a month ago.
  20. Air Supply, "The One That You Love"
    More air...this one was, perhaps surprisingly, the only U.S. #1 from the Australian duo, although they dominated the upper reaches of the charts with a seemingly neverending string of huge early-80s ballads.
  21. The Communards, "Don't Leave Me This Way"
    The British duo's cover of Thelma Houston's (not related to Whitney) #1 U.S. hit from 1976 made it to the top of the U.K. charts a decade later, but stalled right at #40 here. A Gamble/Huff composition, it was first recorded by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, with lead singer Teddy Pendergrass, before Houston. Sarah Jane Morris is the female vocalist here.
  22. R.E.M., "Fall On Me"
    Now we throw all subtlety out the window and hit you with songs that simply have the word "fall" in them. "Fall On Me" is just one of many gems coming from R.E.M.'s legendary tenure as the patron saints of college radio, before "The One I Love" launched them irrevocably into the mainstream in 1987.
  23. Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, "The Next Time I Fall"
    One of two solo #1s for Cetera (the other being "The Glory Of Love," the logical successor to his lead vocal on Chicago's "You're The Inspiration" as he sang the themes for the first two Karate Kid movies), "The Next Time I Fall" introduced most pop audiences to the distinctive voice of Grant, already a massive Christian contemporary success who would fully cross over by 1991's Heart in Motion album.
  24. Boy Meets Girl, "Waiting For A Star To Fall"
    Then-husband-and-wife team George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam had just written the smashes "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" for Whitney Houston when they brought "Waiting For A Star To Fall" to Belinda Carlisle during the sessions for her Heaven on Earth LP. Carlisle cut a demo, which you can find online but which shows her rather lukewarm regard for the song. So Merrill and Rubicam kept it for themselves, recorded it under the Boy Meets Girl moniker, and got a Top 5 hit.
  25. Breathe, "How Can I Fall?"
    Breathe, from the U.K., released just two albums and had only three U.S. Top 10 hits, but two of them, including this pristinely-constructed ballad, continue to get play on '80s flashback shows today. The other to make a major impact was the similarly dramatic slow-dancer "Hands To Heaven," which came first in 1987.