Chart Check-In: 5 Super-Cool Songs that Were in the Top 40 This Week in 1980

It’s always fun to take a look back through the Billboard Top 40 pop charts of the past to see what songs tickled our collective fancy back in the day. The year 1980 was a kind of holding pattern in pop, as the disco trend was still clinging to life while synth-pop was only beginning to bubble up on the scene.

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What songs from that particular time hold up well today? Here are five excellent examples.

“Cars” by Gary Numan (No. 10 on the Chart)

MTV hadn’t yet begun, but Numan anticipated that era with the striking visual aspects of his work and the reliance on synthesizers. “Cars” doesn’t really sound that dated at all, in part because it’s icy, robotic inflections have influenced so many others through the years. Numan has joked in interviews he wished he’d have known that the song would be a big hit. If so, he would have written more lyrics. Instead, when he’d have to mime the song on television shows to promote it, he did a lot of standing behind a keyboard and staring while the mesmerizing instrumentals played.

“Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders (No. 16)

The Pretenders released two well-regarded singles from their debut album that didn’t do much on the UK charts. But “Brass in Pocket,” the third single, not only blew up overseas (it hit the No. 1 spot in the UK), but it busted into the U.S. Top 20. Which meant it was the first time most of the world heard Chrissie Hynde, her brassy vocals, and her defiant songwriting point of view. Hynde envisioned the song as a kind of show of confidence for when on stage, as opposed to the insecurity she actually felt as someone who was somewhat new to performing.

“Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” by Pink Floyd (No. 17)

Pink Floyd’s biggest hit single ever was one they sort of had to be dragged kicking and screaming into recording and releasing. They weren’t sure about the four-on-the-floor disco beat. And Roger Waters initially balked at the school choir singing the second verse, which was a suggestion of producer Bob Ezrin. Still, there were enough Floydian elements, such as Waters’ suspicious lyrics and David Gilmour’s bluesy guitar fills, that they managed to project the brand pretty well even in an unusual setting. Remember to eat that meat, folks, before you can expect that pudding.

“Train in Vain (Stand by Me)” by The Clash (No. 23)

The Clash showed off their incredible versatility on their album London Calling, released at the very end of 1979. Perhaps killer pop hooks were the last thing we expected from the British rabble-rousers. But that’s exactly what they delivered with this track. It was actually tacked onto the album at the very end of the process (so late that it wasn’t even initially listed on the sleeve). Mick Jones mostly wrote the song and takes lead vocal. It’s a heartbroken love song, one with a killer harmonica-fueled rhythm and some off-kilter lines to keep it popping: So alone I keep the wolves at bay.

“Love Stinks” by The J. Geils Band (No. 40)

Named after guitarist John Geils but fronted by charismatic, soulful singer Peter Wolf, this Boston-area outfit were known for their good-time rock. And that’s what “Love Stinks” is, despite the depressing title. How can you not giggle at Wolf’s deadpan pronouncements about the utter frustration and eventual defeat that love inevitably engenders? The song wouldn’t go much higher than this on the charts (No. 38 was the peak) but it did grease the wheels for J. Geils Band’s true breakout, which arrived in 1981 with the chart-topping “Centerfold.”

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