A few days ago, I celebrated my birthday; a day full of gifts, good times and fun memories, including getting serenaded with my namesake song. I am named after the Rolling Stones classic “Angie”, even though the song was around a good three years before I was, and even though my proper name is Angela. So yeah, I’ve spent a lot of my life getting sung at, more by well-intentioned musician friends these days, but it used to be by unoriginal dudes attempting to employ their knowledge of 70s rock as an awkward pick-up attempt.
As a person who was branded since birth with the touchstone/albatross of the hit song, I thought it would be a good idea to check in on the Billboard charts and see what songs hit #1 during my birthday week in various years. Perhaps by examining the pop landscape, I could pick up ways the music shaped my life and my world. Perhaps.
The results follow here. I’ve included links to all of my birthday songs, making this whole post one big Extended Play.
#1 for the week of September 25, 1976:
“Play That Funky Music”, Wild Cherry
I’m relieved. For the longest time, I thought Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” ruled the charts the day I was born – gag. At some point, my misconception shifted to Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” – much better. But this…come on! Instantly recognizable, disposable yet iconic. Perhaps one of the mightiest one-hit wonders of all time, bound to put a smile on most faces. A song about people heckling the band at a concert…perhaps a foreshadowing of all the shows this white girl would someday attend? My musical life is off to a strong start…
#1 for the week of September 19, 1981:
“Endless Love”, Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
…only to get nearly derailed just five short years later. I say, “nearly”, only because one must respect the juggernaut at work here. In 1981, Richie and Ross had to have been the king and queen of modern R&B before cutting this track, which apparently comes from a Brooke Shields film of the same name. While I’m certain this song will be played at 80% of wedding receptions until the end of time, it ultimately leaves me cold, too gentle and saccharine even for a cheesy ballad. Hmmm. Five years old, and I’m already a music snob.
#1 for the week of September 20, 1986: “Stuck With You”, Huey Lewis and the News
I recently asserted in a drunken discussion that people relate less and less to the pop charts the older we get, as the pop charts are ultimately determined by the youth in any given era. (Trust me, people my age and older are not responsible for LMFAO.) 1986’s chart may be the exception to the rule. Thinking back, who were the huge artists at this time? Dire Straits, Robert Palmer, Huey Lewis. For a brief shining moment, the pop party was crashed by your dad. (Quite literally in my home – I remember my step-dad playing the crap out of the News’s ’83 album, Sports.) This could explain why the first full-length “grown-up” album I bought with my own money, around this time, was Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s The Way It Is.
I’m sparing you the official video here, as the clip is a 6-minute (!) concept video about how Huey leaves a stuffy record industry party with a hot chick in his rowboat, only to end up marooned on a desert island that isn’t all that deserted. Cheesier than the song.
#1 for the week of September 21, 1991:
“I Adore Mi Amor”, Color Me Badd
We tend to think of the boy-band invasion happening (if you’re prone to thinking about it at all) with the Backstreet Boys’ roundabout journey from Orlando to Europe back to our shores in 1997. Really, though, the seeds were sown years before, as groups like Boyz II Men (proteges of former New Edition members), Jodeci and Color Me Badd ruled the landscape. In 1991, I taped a lot of stuff off the radio – including these guys’ hits, I’m sure – but I didn’t buy a lot of albums. I really feel like your musical tastes don’t gel until after you’ve left high school – strange, since by my earlier theory, your high school years are when you control the charts. It could be that pop is ultimately as unpredictable as teenage hormones.
One of my birthday gifts in this year was a cassette of R.E.M.’s Out of Time. And it begins…
By the way, the video for this song (linked above) is unintentionally hilarious. We open with our boys marooned on a desert island (just like in the Huey Lewis video!). They stumble upon a crate of stuff, which includes a generic magazine with a lovely lady on the cover. We then see each of the singers’ fantasies about the cover girl. Obviously, we’re supposed to think of the Badd boys as lover men, but that’s hard when they look like: 1) Kenny G, or maybe Ken Ober; 2) some weird splicing of Ricky Martin and George Michael; 3) Snow, of “Informer” infamy; and 4) that dude from Showgirls who says, “Everybody got AIDS and shit.”
#1 for the week of September 21, 1996:
“Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)”, Los Del Rio
Oh, dear Lord. This is likely the year where my musical tastes diverge the most wildly from whatever’s in the top 10. This was a golden age of music for me; being a college student and working in a record store, in 1996 I was constantly discovering new artists and digging deeper into others. The Smiths, Violent Femmes and Vic Chesnutt captivated me, alongside hippy-dippy groups like Live and Dave Matthews Band. However, R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi was released on 9/10/96, so I can tell you what I was listening to the most around my 20th birthday.
One of my CD Warehouse co-workers had been eerily prescient about the coming nationwide Macarena attack, and special-ordered the single from overseas long before the song exploded here. I remember some friends and I being confronted with the dance for the first time in a Shreveport club. Perplexed by this odd combo of vogueing and the electric slide, we gamely shuffled along for a verse or two, then cut our losses.
(PS, I found out my 1996 #1 while listening to Cage the Elephant’s Thank You Happy Birthday. The irony is not lost on me that Cage the Elephant sounds like they fell through a time warp in 1996 and ended up here, muddied and confused by the likes of Rihanna and Ke$ha.)
#1 for the week of September 22, 2001:
“I’m Real”, Jennifer Lopez featuring Ja Rule
I half-expected 9/11 to have affected the charts here, and that #1 would be Paul McCartney’s “Freedom” or that Alan Jackson song or something. I guess they didn’t move THAT fast to cash in pay tribute.
The only reason I don’t consider this the worst song on my birthday list is because we just mentioned the fucking Macarena. This song could sum up everything that was wrong with pop in the aughts. The strange dichotomy of totally blinged-out hotties talking about how “real” they are. The lazy wordplay and delivery. The chart ascendancy of a crappy singer who I always preferred as a sorta-crappy actress. (Even sadder, this was about a month after the death at 22 of Aaliyah, who could rock the sexy-sultry-breathy-funky thing about a million times better than JLo.) The presence of Ja Rule, who to my ears only had one good rap ever: his verse on Jay-Z’s hit “Can I Get A…” in 1999. This could very well be around the time when I conceded the fact that my musical preferences no longer mirrored those of the masses. In other words, I was starting to get old. And restless. By my very next birthday, I would be living in Los Angeles.
#1 for the week of September 23, 2006:
“SexyBack”, Justin Timberlake
Oh, hell yes. Haters gonna hate, but I confess that I still dig on this song. (This could be because I’ve always felt that JT ripped off Robbie Williams a little, in attitude and image, for this one.) In fact, I’m a little surprised that it’s five years old. It could mesh just as well with the top 40 today, as every song seems to share a bit of its DNA: the in-your-face militaristic beats, the non-lyric lyrics, the producer sharing equal billing with the singer. My sister insisted that I own Timberlake’s Future Sex/Love Sounds – in fact, it was a Christmas gift from her in 2006 – and if you’re willing to open your elitist hearts to it, it’s actually quite good. Music was constantly given to me in 2006. At one point, I figured that for every CD that I purchased, I was given five, entrenched as I was by this point in my local L.A. music universe. With friends like these, who needs the pop charts?
#1 for the week of September 24, 2011: “Moves Like Jagger”, Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera
You know, I was afraid this was going to happen once we made it to the present day. Full disclosure: I’d never heard the song that’s currently #1. In the interest of being able to espouse an opinion here, I clicked on the handy-dandy Myspace music player on Billboard’s website and attempted to live-blog my first listen to the pop tune topping the charts for this birthday year. My reaction was…
Did they sample that “Lady” dance song?
(Post-live-blog note: you know, “Lady, give me tonight, all I need…” is, um, OK, here’s a link to what I was talking about.)
When did Maroon 5 get so dancey? Is this a remix that gained traction?
And why is Mick Jagger mentioned in all the pop hits these days?
If you’re not Mick Jagger and you attempt to move like him, you’re going to look like a doofus.
(Post-live-blog note: seriously, when were Jagger’s MOVES ever sexy?! Are people turned on by chicken-strutting?)
I just kinda danced in my seat when the chorus came around again, in spite of myself.
Adam Levine does not get the ladies with moves like Jagger. He gets them with looks like Levine.
Xtina for the breakdown! The synergy of “The Voice” at work.
Jesus, that’s a 50-megaton earworm. No wonder it’s topping the charts.
If you want to conduct the birthday song experiment yourself, go to http://www.billboard.com/charts#/charts/hot-100 and click on “View Chart Archives”. Like me, you could end up very surprised by what you find.