Classic Chart Check-In: 5 Underrated Songs from the Top 40 This Week in 1984 that Have Stood the Test of Time

If you’re looking for a time when pop music was at its absolute peak popularity, 1984 would be an excellent place to start. The influence of MTV had impacted rockers, pop stars, and R&B artists alike to try and go for the brass ring and reach the widest possible audience. Even with all the big names going for the gusto, some unlikely upstarts still managed to assail the upper regions of the charts.

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Take a look beyond some of the obvious names on the Billboard charts from this week in 1984, and you’ll find some hidden gems. Here are five that we still love.

“They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman (No. 10 on the Billboard charts)

Curb Your Enthusiasm fans who don’t know better might be surprised to learn the actress belting out commercial slogans on the show once was responsible for a chiming, charming pop hit. But Tracey Ullman couldn’t have done it without the late Kirsty MacColl, who wrote and first recorded “They Don’t Know.” Ullman’s own version borrows heavily from that, in part because MacColl helped out on backing vocals and even pinch-hit for the high note on Baby leading into the final verse. This song transcends the era, because its smart writing and yearning melody never go out of style.

“Don’t Answer Me” by The Alan Parsons Project (No. 19)

While many bands that made their reputation in the ’70s stalled out on the charts in the next decade, The Alan Parsons Project actually found their footing as a singles band. That’s because Parsons largely turned the lead vocals at that point over to his longtime collaborator Eric Woolford, whose knack for bittersweet melodies struck a chord on hits like “Time” and “Eye in the Sky.” “Don’t Answer Me” didn’t do quite as well as those two on the charts. But it might be the best of the three, thanks to how well it captures the vibes of a classic ‘60s soul ballad, right down to the mournful sax solo from Mel Collins.

“A Fine, Fine Day” by Tony Carey (No. 28)

Carey played keyboards in the hard rock band Rainbow before stepping out on his own. His discography gets a bit confusing from there, as he sometimes recorded under the alias Planet P and sometimes under his own name. Record company issues also bedeviled some of his efforts. Luckily, he was able to get ears on this gritty slice of life, which would prove to be the biggest song of his career. Carey leaves out a lot of the details of “A Fine, Fine Day,” allowing the audience to fill in the gaps based on the emotion in his powerful vocal.

“Come Back and Stay” by Paul Young (No. 38)

Young’s big breakthrough in the United States came with his cover of Daryl Hall’s “Every Time You Go Away,” which took him to the top of the charts. The musical winds shifted on him quickly after that, making it hard for him to sustain that success. But before all that, he came charging out of the gate with a strong debut album entitled No Parlez that displayed his outstanding interpretive skills. On “Come Back and Stay,” he gets involved in a spirited back-and-forth with his backing vocalists before bringing home a powerful chorus.

“It’s My Life” by Talk Talk (No. 40)

This song is probably the most well-known of the ones on this list, but only because of No Doubt’s cover version, which went to No. 10 in 2003. “It’s My Life” was still the biggest American hit for Talk Talk, although it only made it to No. 31 on the charts. They would veer away from pop-song tendencies on subsequent albums and earn a lot of critical love as they explored an artier direction. That complexity sneaks into “It’s My Life,” with its sinewy groove, avian sound effects, and clashing percussion. The way Talk Talk lead singer Mark Hollis barks out the refrain is part defiance and part desperation, as if his life is being pulled from his clutches.

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