Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1985: Bodacious Contemporary Hit Radio Singles

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Time may change me but I can’t trace time.”  David Bowie’s lyrics are an accurate description for me during 1985. Thirty-five years ago, I was engaged in July and then married the love of my life at the end of December.

Fast forward to December 27, 2020: The day I am publishing this message. Today is my 35th wedding anniversary with Priscilla. As I celebrate with my wife, I am thankful for our time together since 1985 and looking forward to many more years together.  Priscilla:  I love you!

The year of 1985 was also a transition year for me listening to music on radio. It was the last year that I actively listened to popular songs on a daily basis:  On multiple radio stations playing current top-rated songs or watching music videos on MTV.  My desire to keep up with American Top 40 and the latest hit songs, waned after this time period.

Lyrics for the Guess Who’s 1969 hit, “No Time” conveys my radio listening habits after 1985: “Seasons changed and so did I, you need not wonder why, there’s no time left for you.” The music being played on all-hit radio stations was slowly changing.  By the end of the 80s decade, most of the top hits on the Billboard Hot 100, were no longer pleasing to my ears.

Since 1985 is the last year that I can give a complete overview of hit music on the radio, I will be counting down what I consider to be my favorite bodacious singles from the midway point of the 80s decade.

The number 1 song of 1985 was “Careless Whispers” by Wham! I prefer the other ’85 chart-topping song by the duo: “Everything She Wants.”

Radio & Records (R&R) was a trade publication providing news and airplay information for radio stations in America. During the early 80s, R&R coined the term Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) as a new description to the format formerly known as Top 40.  With the advent of the CHR name, most radio stations that had this format were located on the FM band.

During the early to mid 80s, I was drawn to the CHR format as I had worked in the radio industry as a young man.  My first radio position started in 1974 at Top 40 WROV 1240 AM Roanoke. After my radio career ended in 1980, I still had a keen interest with any radio station using a CHR or Top 40 hybrid format.

A framed WROV Roanoke poster that is owned by Barry Michaels: Who worked as a DJ at WROV from 1978 through 1981 and provided his photo for my music blog.

Whenever I traveled outside of my home of Roanoke, Virginia during the 80s, I would always seek out CHR/Top 40 radio stations, especially in major markets. Here are some of the CHR stations that I heard live in either 1983 and 1984, while I was on various vacations:

  • WCAU Philadelphia
  • Z100 New York
  • WPLJ New York
  • KISS 108 Boston
  • WTIC Harford
  • WPRO Providence

  • Q107 Washington
  • B104 Baltimore
  • Q94 Richmond
  • Z104 Norfork
  • KDWB Minneapolis

  • KITS San Francisco
  • KMEL San Francisco
  • KKHR Los Angeles
  • KIIS FM Los Angeles
  • B100 San Diego

K92 Roanoke DJ Staff on the cover of Roanoker Magazine. From Left: Bill Jordan, David Lee Michaels, John Berry, Larry Dowdy, Vince Miller and Russ Brown. Photo courtesy of Steve Nelson and the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Radio listening was huge for me during 1985 as I was employed by Kroger Distribution Center in Roanoke County, Virginia.  My position title was Transportation Supervisor for truck dispatch activities with our third shift overnight operations.  Each night while at work, I would listen to Roanoke Valley radio stations.

On a typical night during my shift, I would listen to a couple of radio stations while executing various job duties.  My choice of radio stations was limited:  Local Roanoke AM stations had weak night signals and the building structure prohibited clear access for those radio transmissions. WXLK (K92) and WSLQ (Q99) were the two stations I listened to nightly during 1985.

Q99 had a hybrid CHR/Adult Contemporary radio format during 1985. I listened to Q99 throughout the night as they featured a live syndicated show via satellite called Nighttime America (NA).  Legendary WCFL Chicago DJ Bob Dearborn was the host of NA and is known for his complete analysis of Don McLean’s epic song, “America Pie.”  Dearborn played all of the current 1985 top hits during his live radio broadcast.

K92 Roanoke morning “K Crew” staff. Larry Dowdy, Mike Stevens and Bill Jordan inside K92 studio. Photo courtesy of Larry Dowdy.

Then at 5:00 am every morning, I would switch over my radio to K92, the leading station of the Roanoke/Lynchburg market.  The morning drive “K Crew” of Bill Jordan, Larry Dowdy and Mike Stevens was always informative, entertaining and played all the current hits.  I always enjoyed hearing the smooth presentation of DJs Jordan and Dowdy on K92, and had the pleasure of working with both guys, when we all were employed by WROV Roanoke during 1975. 

During my non-employment hours 35 years ago, I would alternate listening to WROV, K92 and Q99. My preference during daytime hours was listening to WROV and DJ Rob O’Brady:  His vocal delivery style was personal, distinctive and warm.  I also would tune in to part time WROV weekend DJs Larry Bly, Fred Frelantz and Jack Fisher during 1985.

WROV 1240 AM DJ Rob O’Brady inside the station studio. Photo courtesy of Steve Nelson and the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

There were also a couple of other CHR FM stations out of North Carolina that I would listen to during day time hours, as both had strong signals that came in clearly at my Roanoke home:  WKZL (107.5) Winston-Salem and G105 (105.1) Raleigh/Durham.

K92 Roanoke DJs Tripper and Larry Dowdy inside the K92 studio. My thanks to Larry Dowdy for providing his photo to be used here.

On multiple weekends in 1985, I would travel to various locations inside the state of Virginia. The top five CHR stations I heard on these trips:

  • Z104 Norfolk
  • Q94 Richmond
  • Q107 Washington (Northern Virginia)
  • WAVA Washington (Northern Virginia)
  • B106 Washington (Northern Virginia)

In June, I went on vacation with my sister Kathryn. By auto, we traveled to Canada from our Roanoke home. While Kathryn and I were in Toronto, we saw Don McLean in concert at Ontario Place amphitheater. Below are the stations I remembering hearing on this trip:

  • Wink 104 Harrisburg
  • WGCL Cleveland
  • CHUM Toronto
  • CFTR Toronto
  • B94 Pittsburgh
  • WNCI Columbus
  • WHYT Detroit

My photo capturing the rocky coast of Maine. Location is Acadia National Park.

A couple month later in August, I made a trip to Union, Maine and met my future in-laws. With my fiancé Priscilla, I heard KISS 108 Boston, plus two CHR stations in Portland and Bangor. I remember first hearing “Cherish” by Kool and the Gang when Priscilla and I traveled to Lucia Beach at Birch Point Beach State Park, to view the rocky coast of Maine.

Then on my honeymoon in Florida during the last week of December, Priscilla and I listened to Q105 Tampa and BJ105 Orlando. While in Clearwater Beach, we heard “Living in America” by James Brown for the first time on the radio.

My wife Priscilla and her pelican friend at Clearwater Beach, Florida. On our honeymoon December 1985.

For the remainder of this message, I will be focusing on what I consider to be the essential CHR songs of 1985. With my extensive knowledge and listening to numerous CHR stations 35 years ago, I have come up with a countdown with my quintessential 1985 favorite tunes.

My reference for this subject is, “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” by Joel Whitburn. I consider Whitburn’s book to be the “bible” of Top 40 music reference and still proudly own a hard copy of this excellent book.

Before revealing my top songs of 1985 countdown, I have tabulated 10 other songs that are favorites for me but failed to crack my Top 20 listing. These selections are not ranked and placed in a random order:

  • Walking on Sunshine—Katrina & the Waves
  • I Want to Know What Love Is—Foreigner
  • Better Be Good to Me—Tina Turner
  • Power of Love—Huey Lewis & the News
  • Summer of ’69—Bryan Adams
  • What About Love—Heart
  • Every Time You Go Away—Paul Young
  • No More Lonely Nights—Paul McCartney
  • Born in the U.S.A.–Bruce Springsteen
  • Don’t You (Forget About Me)—Simple Minds

Staring off my countdown are numbers 20 through 14. These are all excellent songs that I never get tired of hearing. As Casey Kasem used to say on his American Top 40 show,  “Now on with the countdown.”

20. Would I Lie To You?—Eurythmics

  Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #2 Rock, #5 Hot 100

Synthpop duo of Annie Lennox and David Stewart.   Rocked out changed directions. 

19. Old Man Down the Road—John Fogerty

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Rock, #10 Hot 100

Lead single from Fogerty comeback album “Centerfield.”    

18. Valotte—Julian Lennon

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #4 AC, #9 Hot 100

  John Lennon’s son. Second top 10 hit from debut album.   Melodic ballad.

17. Find a Way—Amy Grant

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #7 AC, #29 Hot 100

  Contemporary Christian Music singer.  First crossover hit.   

16. All She Wants To Do is Dance—Don Henley

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Rock, #9 Hot 100

First of two songs on countdown. Patty Smyth and Martha Davis background singers.

15. Shout—Tears for Fears

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, #6 Rock

One of three songs on countdown. Third consecutive top 10 smash.

14. Take on Me—A-ha 

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, #4 AC

Norwegian synth-pop band.  Award winning video.

Baker’s Dozen:  My top 13 selections. I consider these songs as being the “cream of the crop” and all fit into the following categories: I deem the Baker’s Dozen to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful, relevant and absolute all-time favorite songs.

13. Money for Nothing—Dire Straits

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Hot 100, #1 Rock

Sting sings on song.  Performed at Live Aid July 1985.  Won a Grammy award.

12. The Heat is On—Glenn Frey

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #2 Hot 100, #4 Rock

Featured in film Beverly Hills Cop. Up tempo rock song with saxophone.

11. Fortress Around Your Heart—Sting

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Rock, #8 Hot 100

Second solo top 10 hit in 1985.   Excellent saxophone on pop/rock/jazz fusion tune.

10. Easy Lover—Phil Collins and Phillip Bailey

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Black Singles, #2 Hot 100

Power duet by Bailey from Earth Wind & Fire and Genesis member Collins. MTV Music Award.   Nominated Grammy.

9.   Never Surrender—Corey Hart

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #3 Hot 100, #8 AC

     Canadian singer. Soaring power ballad anthem featuring saxophone.   

8.   Things Can Only Get Better—Howard Jones

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #5 Hot 100, #21 Rock

British singer songwriter.   Feel good sunshine pop rock song.

7.   Head Over Heels—Tears for Fears

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #3 Hot 100, #7 Rock

Second of 3 songs on my top 20 list.  Third top 10 smash of 1985.  Song segue to instrumental ending medley.

6.   Voices Carry—’Til Tuesday

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #8 Hot 100, #14 Rock

  Aimee Mann excellent vocals.  MTV Music Award Winner.  Powerful dark vocals.

5.   Alive and Kicking—Simple Minds

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #2 Rock, #3 Hot 100

Scottish rock band. Jim Kerr singer/front man. Married Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.

 4.   Broken Wings—Mr. Mister

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Hot 100, #4 Rock

Inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s novel Broken Wings.  First of two consecutive number 1 songs:  “Kyrie” hit top of Billboard Hot 100 in 1986.

 3.   Centerfield—John Fogerty

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #4 Rock, #20 Hot 100 (As B-side of “Rock and Roll Girls” single).

Former Creedence Clearwater Revival leader. Major career comeback in 1985.  Song is honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

2.   The Boys of Summer—Don Henley

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Rock, #5 Hot 100

  Grammy award best rock performance. MTV Video of the year. Second biggest solo hit for Henley. Music composed by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

  1.  Everybody Wants to Rule the World—Tears for Fears

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Hot 100, #2 Rock

Incorporates synthesizers, drum and guitars.  Lyrics on environment, dictatorial rule, freedom, cold war, walls come tumbling down and short-lived financial success.  Message is still relevant in 2020. Perfect pop/rock song for the 80s decade.

Now that I have submitted my top 20 favorite CHR songs from 1985, I am curious to find out your thoughts on the biggest hits in America from the mid-point of the 80s decade.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with the critique of my favorite songs from 35 years ago.  Your top songs maybe be completely different than my selections.  There are no right or wrong answers, just various opinions. What do you feel are the best, greatest or most significant CHR songs from 1985?

My reflections of the music from 35 years ago, reminds me of another excellent song that was a hit during the summer of 1985: “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen.  Contemporary Hit Radio was strong, vibrant and alive during 1985.  It was truly the glory days for the CHR format in America.

Living in the past is never a good thing but remembering the excellent music found on CHR radio during 1985 remains strong in my memory bank.  I leave you with lyrics from my second favorite song from 1985: “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley:

“Out on the road today

I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac

A little voice inside my head said

“Don’t look back, you can never look back”

I thought I knew what love was, what did I know?

Those days are gone forever

I should just let them go”

Long live the quintessential CHR songs of 1985:  Rock on!

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14 thoughts on “1985: Bodacious Contemporary Hit Radio Singles

  1. Barbara says:

    Excellent review of 1985. Great year for music. Bruce Springsteen had several big hits. Born in USA, Glory Days & I’m on Fire that I would add. Happy anniversary to you and Priscilla!!!

  2. Steve says:

    I pretty much agree with you. Late 80s I stopped listening to radio too, the music just didn’t do anything for me. Thanks for your article.

    • Mark Skelton says:

      Wow ! Brings back memories, listening to WROV, K92 and Q99, and having to change from station to station as we passed through the next city. It really amazes me how you can recall all those radio stations from 35 years ago.

      Glenn Frey and Phil Collins were a couple of my favorites in those years.

      Thoroughly enjoyed it !

      Rock on !

    • Laurie Russell says:

      I missed much of the 80’s music raising two kids. Springsteen, Fogherty and Henley however I do remember well. Excellent article. Just not a decade I can relate to music wise!!

  3. Bernard Johnson says:

    I got married in April 1985. My all time song from that year has to be “Smooth Operator” from Sade. I was stationed at McGuire AFB NJ. Me and Lorraine drove from Roanoke to Wrightstown NJ. The vehicle, 85 Chevy Cavalier, had no tape player. Every station we could pick up between here and NJ played Smooth Operator and We are the World. Those songs are forever in my mind. Special shout out to “Easy Lover” Phil Collins and Phillip Bailey and “Power of Love” Huey Lewis and the News.

  4. David Randall Hardie says:

    Great write up DW ! I remember the ROV, K92, Q99 days traveling up and down I-81 and 460 for my job. The K92 morning show was a trip with Bill Jordan, Larry Dowdy, and Mike Stephens (who is from Staunton. Real name is Michael Stephens Hanger). Q94 out of Richmond also brought back some memories when I was in college and worked in Richmond. Their format was in place years before K92 came on the radio.
    There are a lot of great songs on your list. The Tears for Fears three were very good. I had mixed feelings about some of the others. 1985 was also the time I stopped listening on a regular basis to contemporary stations because a lot of the music was deteriorating and the advent of talk radio was coming into play. DW an amazing tour down memory lane with fabulous insight and research !!!

  5. David Hardie: During the late 70s, Top 40 Q94 Richmond was the inspiration for K92 Roanoke. Prior to 1980, the 92.3 frequency in Roanoke was WLRG and they ran a Beautiful Music format. The owner of WLRG during late 1979, took the Top 40 format that Q94 Richmond had and created Top 40 K92 (WXLK), using the Q94 model for his station. K92 signed on at midnight 1/1/80 and the Doobie Brothers song, “Listen to the Music” was the very first song played on the new K92 top 40 station in Roanoke. Rock on!

  6. Jamie Winterbotham says:

    Thanks for the great trip down memory lane. I moved to Roanoke in January 1985! I can remember dancing to many of these songs while exploring the Roanoke nightlife. My favorite would have to be “What’s Love got to do with it” although a lot you mentioned invoke some great memories!

  7. Mark Thomas Portzer says:

    David, enjoyed reminiscing along with you. I too worked at WROV twice. Both were parttime positions. In November of 1985, I was approached by Burt Levine himself to help fill in parttime. It was right after the big flood and WROV was off the air for about a week because of flooding in the building. During that time, most of the parttimers found work at other stations and I was asked to fill in as needed. Worked for Mike Bell for about 2 weeks before things were restored to normal. The first time was in 1982 when Rob O hired me to do Sunday mornings. Like you I would tune into any stations in other cities just to check out their “sound”. Pat Garrett and I continue to stay in touch. Enjoy your blogs.

  8. Jonathan Gabel says:

    Great article David! Very impressive! Although I was really impressed on the CHR stations that you listed. There are eight CHR stations that are still playing the hits today:
    Z100 New York – Since 1983 with “Eye Of The Tiger” by Survivor as their first song played.
    KISS 108 Boston – Formerly a disco station that evolved into a CHR station during the early 1980s.
    WPRO Providence – Began their legendary format on the AM in 1959 and morphed their format to their FM in 1974 with “Jet” by Paul McCartney and Wings as their first song.
    Q94 Richmond – Since 1972 with “I Just Want To Celebrate” by Rare Earth as their first song played.
    Z104 Norfolk – Playing different varieties of CHR since the 1980s.
    KDWB Minneapolis – Their famous format started on AM back in the 1960s with their FM going in the 1970s.
    KIIS Los Angeles – Formerly KKDJ from 1971 to 1975 and then became KIIS.
    WNCI Columbus OH – Since 1970
    There’s more to list including K92 in Roanoke. Thanks for reading this and for the latest article.

    • Jonathan: Thanks for your encouraging words. I love the information of the 8 CHR stations that are still running the same format. I am also appreciative of the additional info of dates and the first song played at each of these stations, when they started the CHR format.

      Now I will share some info with you: K92 (WXLK) 92.3 FM Roanoke started with the CHR format on January 1, 1980. The first song that K92 played at midnight was “Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers.

      Rock on!

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