Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Top 100 Adult Contemporary Artists of the 1980's: #30 to #21

A couple of things to keep in mind, because one of my pet peeves is the plethora of misinformation about music, artists, and "chart success".  First, this is a ranking of Adult Contemporary music, which for some time has been the most popular genre of rock music, a branch of rock that features soft rock and rock ballads.  This ranking of The Top 100 Adult Contemporary Artists of the 1980's* is just that--it is a ranking of how artists did on the Adult Contemporary chart, and not the popular or overall chart.  In other words, these are not The Top 100 Artists of the 1980's*, rather they are the most successful artists in the AC genre.  Big difference.

Second, this is a ranking of the achievements of AC artists only in the 80's decade.  Some artists enjoyed their entire career in this one decade and will rank very high.  But that in no way means they are ranked ahead of all the artists behind them for all-time, either for purely Adult Contemporary or especially including all formats.  Those lists would be called The Top Adult Contemporary Artists of All-Time* and The Top Artists of the Rock Era, respectively.  Clear?  

At #30, the first Canadian solo artist to achieve a Gold Record (for "Snowbird" in 1970):

30.    Anne Murray 

Murray studied piano for six years and took voice lessons at 15, which led to her singing "Ave Maria" at her high school graduation in 1962.  
Murray attended Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia for one year and then studied Physical Education at the University of New Brunswick , earning her degree in 1966.  Anne taught P.E. at a high school in Summerside, Prince Edward Island for one year before beginning her music career.
Murray was one of the most successful Adult Contemporary artists of the 70's but she didn't let up in the 80's.  She did a successful remake of the Monkees' hit "Daydream Believer" (which reached #1 on the AC chart) and recorded "Could I Have This Dance" for the "Urban Cowboy" Soundtrack in 1980 (which hit #3).   The latter won a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance.  

Anne also scored a #8 AC hit with "Lucky Me" and a minor hit with her remake of the Beatles song "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You".
Murray enjoyed Top 10 hits in the genre with "Blessed Are the Believers", "Just Another Woman in Love", "Now and Forever (You and Me)" and her duet with Dave Loggins--"Nobody Loves Me Like You Do".  

She also had numerous minor hits, such as "It's All I Can Do" in 1981, "Another Sleepless Night" in 1982, "A Little Good News" in 1983, "That's Not the Way (It's S'posed to Be") in 1984 and "Time Don't Run Out on Me" in 1985.

Murray has won four Grammy Awards and a record 24 Juno Awards.  She has received three honorary doctorates:  from the University of New Brunswick, Saint Mary's University and the University of Prince Edward Island.

Murray is a Companion of the Order of Canada, the second-highest honor that can be awarded to a civilian in Canada.  She was a recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia in its inaugural year.  Anne received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1980. 

In 2006, Murray received the Legacy Award from the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame for her extraordinary contributions to and support of the Canadian songwriting industry.  On June 29, 2007, Canada Post issued the limited edition Anne Murray Stamp.  On February 12, 2010, Murray was one of eight Canadians who carried the Olympic flag during the opening ceremonies of the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Overcoming blindness, this artist crossed over from country in a big way:

29.    Ronnie Milsap

Milsap was born with a congenital disorder that left him almost completely blind.  He was abandoned by his mother and raised by his grandparents until the age of five, when he was sent to the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, North Carolina.  He soon lost all remaining vision.  

When Ronnie was seven his instructors noticed his musical talents.  Milsap studied classical music and learned to play several instruments, mastering the piano.  In high school, he formed the rock group the Apparitions.  Milsap auditioned for and played his first professional gigs backing J.J. Cale.  Ronnie was an R&B artist for Scepter Records in 1965, working with Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and James Brown.
Milsap then moved to Memphis, Tennessee and became a session musician, playing on two Elvis Presley songs:  "Don't Cry Daddy" in 1969 and "Kentucky Rain" in 1970.  Ronnie recorded his first album in 1971 and was signed to RCA in 1973.  After several successes on the country chart, Milsap expanded his appeal and crossed over for the first time with "It Was Almost Like a Song" in 1977.
Milsap was highly successful on the Adult Contemporary chart in the 1980's.  He began the decade with the #1 song "Smokey Mountain Rain", then followed that up in succession with the song that was #2 for four weeks, "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me, the #3 "I Wouldn't Have Missed It for the World" and "Any Day Now", which was #1 for five weeks.  
Milsap scored Top 10 hits on the AC chart in 1983 with "Stranger in My House" and in 1985 with "Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night)" and had minor hits with "He Got You", "Don't You Know How Much I Love You" and "Show Her".

The next star in our lineup has now been a featured performer for five decades:

28.    Olivia Newton-John

Olivia was born in Cambridge, England but emigrated to Australia where she was six.  When she was 14, Olivia formed a short-lived all-girl group, Sol Four.  She became a regular on local Australia radio and television shows including The Happy Show.  Olivia then moved to England and formed a do called Pat and Olivia with Pat Carroll, touring nightclubs in Europe.  Newton-John signed her first recording contract with Decca Records in 1966. 

Olivia scored a #1 Adult Contemporary hit with her first single, "If Not for You" in 1971 and represented the United Kingdom in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, eventually losing to Abba.  In the 1970's, she set an AC record with seven consecutive #1 songs, and had nine in a row in the Top 3.  
She revived her career in the late 70's when she starred in the blockbuster movie Grease with John Travolta and was a key contributor to one of The Top Soundtracks of the Rock Era*.  The image change her character goes through in the movie happened in real life as she began to sing more "worldly" songs.  Consequently, Olivia didn't do near as well in the 80's as the previous decade, but you're a star of her magnitude, you're still going to find success.
Newton-John began the 80's by doing a duet with Andy Gibb ("I Can't Help It", which reached #8 on the AC chart) and starring in her third television special, Hollywood Nights.  Olivia starred in Xanadu with Gene Kelly and, although the movie was not well received, the soundtrack was excellent, going double platinum.  "Magic" became the biggest Adult Contemporary hit of Olivia's career, remaining at #1 for five weeks, and getting nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards.  "Xanadu", with ELO, was a #2 AC song, and "Suddenly", with Cliff Richard, reached #4.  
In 1981, Newton-John released the album Physical, which contained the #6 hit "Make a Move On Me".  She recorded a video album for Physical that earned her a fourth Grammy.    Newton-John received her 10th American Music Award as Favorite Rock Female Vocalist.  Olivia also received three Billboard Music Awards, Top Pop Single ("Physical"), Top Pop Singles Artist (Female) and Top Pop Singles Artist, three of nine that she has won from Billboard in her career.
 Olivia then went on an international tour and released her second compilation, the Double Platinum Olivia's Greatest Hits Volume 2.  The tour was filmed for her Olivia In Concert special on HBO television, which earned Newton-John another Grammy nomination.  
Olivia starred opposite Travolta again in the movie Two of a Kind, and their duet "Take a Chance" in 1983 earned a #3 ranking on the AC chart.  Another video package, Twist of Fate, earned another Grammy nomination.  Olivia landed another Top 10 AC song with David Foster on "The Best of Me" in 1986.  After a hiatus after the birth of daughter Chloe, Newton-John resumed her career with the 1988 album, The Rumour.   

Olivia was given the title of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1980 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1981.  In 1990, Newton-John was named the Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Environment Programme.  In 1992, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she successfully battled it.  
Since then, Newton-John has traveled extensively to raise money for and promote breast cancer research.  In 1998, Olivia was given the Cadillac Concept to the world Humanitarian Award for breast cancer research, in 1999 she received the Red Cross Humanitarian Award for breast cancer and environmental charity work and the Women's Guild of Cedar-Sinai Hospital "Woman of the 21st Century" Award for breast cancer and environmental charity work.

In 2000, Newton-John received the Environmental Media Association "Ermenegildo Zegna International Environmental Award" for increasing public awareness of environmental problems and the Rainforest Alliance Green Globe Arts and Nature Award for her contribution to the preservation of rainforests.  Olivia was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame in 2002.  In 2006, Newton-John was made an Officer in the Order of Australia for "service to the entertainment industry as a singer and actor, and to the community through organizations supporting breast cancer treatment, education, training and research, and the environment.  In 2012, Olivia was named a National Living Treasure of Australia.

Newton-John has won four Grammys, 10 American Music Awards, nine Billboard Music Awards and four People's Choice Awards.  She has two #1 albums, 11 Gold singles, two Platinum singles, 14 Gold albums, two Platinum albums and four Double-Platinum albums.  In her amazing career, Olivia has starred in 13 movies and sold over 100 million records worldwide.

A bright new talent emerged during the beginning of the decade and she lands at #27:

27.    Sheena Easton 

Easton had not considered a career in music until seeing the movie The Way We Were with Barbra Streisand. Streisand's performance in singing the title song from that movie inspired Sheena and she earned a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. She studied as a speech and drama teacher and sang with a band called Something Else at local clubs.
In 1980, Easton signed a recording contract with EMI Records and she had already enjoyed two Top 10 songs in the U.K. before "Morning Train (9 to 5)" was released in the United States.  She landed at #1 on the AC chart and had a minor hit with "Modern Girl".
"For Your Eyes Only" was nominated for Best Original Song and won Easton the Grammy for Best New Artist of 1981.  That song as well as "You Could Have Been with Me" were both Top 10 songs and "When He Shines" and "I Wouldn't Beg for Water" also were played extensively on AC radio.
In 1983, Easton released the album Best Kept Secret. "Telefone" was nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and "Almost Over You" reached #4.  Easton recorded the Spanish-language single "Me Gustas Tal Como Ere" ("I Like You Just the Way You Are", a duet with Luis Miguel. The song won the Grammy for Best Mexican-American Performance.

In 1984, she scored the biggest album of her career with the Platinum-selling A Private Heaven. "Strut" was nominated for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Sheena's follow-up was Do You, produced by Nile Rodgers, which achieved Gold status. She recorded "It's Christmas (All Over the World)" for Santa Claus The Movie.
In 1987, Easton sang on Prince's hit "U (sic) Got the Look" and the song was nominated for Best R&B Vocal, Duo or Group at the Grammys. Later in the year, Easton made her dramatic acting debut on the television show Miami Vice, appearing in five episodes.

Easton released the album The Lover in Me, which featured collaborations with Prince, Babyface, Jellybean Benitez and Angela Winbush.  

Easton is the only artist in history to have a Top Five song on all the major charts:  Popular, Adult Contemporary, R&B, Country and Dance.

At the start of the decade, Quincy Jones believed in this artist.  By the end of the 80's, everyone did:

26. James Ingram


Unlike many of the top stars, Ingram taught himself to play piano, guitar, bass, drums and keyboards.  

James began the decade as the key vocalist on Quincy Jones' album The Dude in 1981, winning a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance.  Ingram sang lead on "Just Once" and "One Hundred Ways", both Top 10 songs on the AC chart.  Ingram released his debut album, It's Your Night, in 1983, and also worked with Kenny Rogers, Ray Charles, Anita Baker and Natalie Cole.
In 1983, Ingram combined with Patti Austin for the duet "Baby, Come to Me".  The song became popular on the television soap opera General Hospital, forcing the record company to promote it.  When they did, it not only went Gold but topped the AC chart for three weeks.  
The two combined again for "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?", another Top 5 AC song which was featured in the movie Best Friends.  The song earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song from a Motion Picture and a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Duo or Group.
In 1984, James joined Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes for the ballad "What About Me?", which hit #1.  The next year, Ingram and Michael McDonald hit the Top 10 with "Yah Mo B There", which earned a Grammy Award  for Best R&B Vocal Performance.  James also sang on the single "We Are the World" for U.S.A. for Africa.
In 1987, Ingram scored one of his biggest hits with "Somewhere Out There", a duet with Linda Ronstadt that peaked at #4 on the AC chart.  The song was featured in the animated movie An American Tail, earned Grammy and Academy Award nominations, and was certified Gold.  James also co-wrote "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" for Michael Jackson.
James scored eight Top 10 AC hits in the decade with two #1's.

The #25 Adult Contemporary Artist of the 1980's* is one of the most successful country crossover artists of all-time:

25.    Eddie Rabbitt 

By age 12, Rabbitt was a proficient guitar player, and during his childhood, he became a self-proclaimed "walking encyclopedia of country music."  After leaving high school, Eddie was an attendant at a mental hospital but fulfilled his musical desires by performing at the Six Steps Down club in his hometown of East Orange, New Jersey.  Eddie later won a talent contest and was given an hour of radio time to broadcast a live performance from a bar in nearby Paterson.
In 1964, Rabbitt signed a contract with 20th Century Records and released a pair of singles.  Four years later, Eddie moved to Nashville, Tennessee to begin a career as a songwriter.  He began work as a staff writer for the Hill & Range Publishing Company, earning $37.50 per week.  Songwriting successes in the early 70's ("Kentucky Rain" for Elvis Presley and "Pure Love" for Ronnie Milsap) led to a recording contract with Elektra Records in 1975.  His first major success came in 1979 with "Suspicions".
Rabbitt starred in his own television special on NBC in July of 1980.  He won the BMI Award in 1980 for Song of the Year for "Suspicions".  Rabbitt's next album Horizon was released in 1981, which earned him the American Music Award for Best Pop Male Vocalist of the Year.  Horizon contained two smash hits, the #1 "I Love a Rainy Night" and the #3 AC song "Drivin' My Life Away".  Both songs were certified as million-sellers.
The album Step by Step followed later in the year, which became the third Gold album for Eddie and contained the #3 title song as well as another Top 10, "Someone Could Lose a Heart Tonight".  In 1982, Rabbitt released Radio Romance, which included his duet ("You and I") with another country crossover artist, Crystal Gayle.  The song was a huge hit, resting at #2 for five weeks.  "You Can't Run from Love" was another #2 for Eddie.
Duets with Juice Newton ("Friends and Lovers") and Gayle ("You and I"), later appeared on the television soap operas Days of Our Lives and All My Children, respectively.  In 1984, Eddie released the album The Best Year of My Life and in 1988, the LP I Wanna' Dance With You.  Rabbitt released a Greatest Hits package later in the decade.

Rabbitt died from  lung cancer at age 66 on May 7, 1998.  But he started the 80's with seven consecutive Top 10 AC songs.  He had one #1, two #2's and two #3's in the decade. 
Rabbitt earned the BMI Three-Million-Air award (three million plays on radio) for "I Love a Rainy Night" and the Two-Million-Air award for "Kentucky Rain".

At #24, a man Elton John once called "the most talented performer of his generation":

24.   George Michael 

Although Michael was a member of Wham!, he essentially started his solo career with "Careless Whisper" in 1985, which sold about six million copies worldwide and reached #1 for five weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart.  The duo officially split in the summer of 1986.  
Michael kicked off the official beginning of his solo career with Aretha Franklin on the duet "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" in 1987, which reached #2 on the AC chart.  George & Aretha won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance - Duo or Group with Vocal.
In addition to playing several instruments on the album, Michael wrote and produced every track on his first solo album, Faith.  Michael enjoyed two #1 songs from the album, "One More Try" and "Kissing a Fool" and two more Top 5 songs--"Faith" and "Father Figure".  Faith became one of The Top 100 Albums of the Rock Era*, remaining at #1 for 12 weeks and selling over 20 million copies worldwide, 10 million in the U.S. alone.  
The album won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards and was named Favorite Album (Soul/R&B) at the American Music Awards and Michael won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Direction in a Video ("Father Figure"). Michael was also nominated for Favorite Male Artist and Faith was nominated for Favorite Vocalist ("Father Figure") at the Grammy Awards Album of the Year at the American Music Awards.
Michael went on a world tour, which became the second-highest grossing event of 1988.  George received the Favorite Male Vocalist Award at the American Music Awards for both Favorite Male Vocalist and Favorite Male Vocalist (Soul/R&B) and the Video Vanguard Award at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.  In 1989, Michael teamed up with Deon Estus for the #3 AC song "Heaven Help Me".
Michael rattled off seven consecutive Top 10 AC hits to begin his solo career, setting himself up for the 90's as well.  And these weren't just borderline hits--the majority were monster AC hits.
Michael has sold over 100 million records in his career and had 10 releases reach the album chart.  He has won two Grammy awards (from eight nominations), three American Music Awards and four MTV Video Music Awards.  

The #23 artist was well recognized from his debut album:

23.   Christopher Cross

Cross played with the group Flash in San Antonio, Texas before he inked a recording contract with Warner Brothers.

He started off the 1980's with a bang, reaching #1 with "Never Be the Same" and also enjoying minor AC hits with "Sailing", "Say You'll Be Mine" and "Ride Like the Wind".  This is interesting in that on the overall popular chart, those rankings are almost reversed.  
Cross became the first solo artist to win all four major awards--Record of the Year and Song of the Year (for "Sailing),Album of the Year and Best New Artist at the Grammys in the same year.  He won a fifth Grammy for Best Arrangement for "Sailing".
 In 1981, Cross recorded "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" for the movie Arthur, starring Dudley Moore & Liza Minnelli.  The song, which hit #1 for four weeks, earned Cross the Academy Award for Best Song and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
 Christopher released his follow-up, Another Page, in 1983.  "All Right" was used by CBS Sports for the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, while "Think of Laura" was written about characters in the television soap opera General Hospital.  Both reached the AC Top 10, as did "No Time for Talk".  

Cross's next two albums were Every Turn of the World in 1985 and Back of My Mind in 1988.  Neither did well, but "A Chance for Heaven", which was used as the swimming theme for the Summer Olympics in 1984, was a minor AC hit.
Cross never could continue his success past the 80's, but in this special we are focusing only on that decade.  And Christopher was golden, generating six Top 10 songs, including three smash #1's.

The #22 artist has always been highly respected, not only for her great soulful songs about romance but also for the proper perspective in which she balanced her singing career with her marriage:

22.   Anita Baker 

Baker was in the group Chapter 8 in 1975, which signed with Ariola Records.  But when Arista purchased the smaller label, Chapter 8 were dropped from the roster.  
Many years later, Anita signed a solo deal and released her debut album, The Songstress, in 1983.  But it was the second one which grabbed everyone's attention.  Baker took three years to release it, but it was well worth it.  The album Rapture was a masterpiece, giving Anita four Top 10 songs.  "Sweet Love" reached #3, joined later in the Top 10 by "Caught Up in the Rapture", "Same Ole Love (365 Days a Year)" and "No One in the World". 
The album was so incredible that only did it contain the four songs mentioned above, but two superb tracks that should have been (and to this day should be) played on AC radio--"Mystery" and "You Bring Me Joy".  Rapture went on to sell nearly eight million copies worldwide.  Baker won Grammy Awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female and Best R&B Song ("Sweet Love"). 
 The next year, Baker collaborated with the Winans on "Ain't No Need to Worry", which won the Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group, Choir or Chorus category.  Baker also scored American Music Award nominations for Favorite Soul/R&B Album and Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist.  The following year, Baker won the award for Favorite Soul/R&B Album for Rapture, as it was still getting significant airplay and gathering new fans.
 Giving You the Best That I Got was another critical and commercial success, reaching #1 on the album chart and selling five million copies worldwide, three million in the United States alone.  She scored her only AC #1 with the title track and also reached #4 with "Just Because", giving Baker six consecutive Top 10 hits on the AC chart.  The album gave Anita three more Grammy Awards, taking Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for both the title song and the album and winning the Best R&B Song for the title track.  "Giving You the Best That I Got" was also nominated in the prestigious Record and Song of the Year categories.  And this time, Anita won American Music Awards for Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B album.

Compositions was another solid album, earning a seventh Grammy for Baker for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance on "Body and Soul".  Baker repeated her American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist and "Just Because" was nominated for Favorite Soul/R&B single.

Baker received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994.  She won the Legend Award at the 2010 Soul Train Music Awards.  In her career, Baker has won eight Grammy Awards, and had four Platinum and two Gold Albums.

The #21 AC Artist of the 80's* debuted in the decade with huge success:

21.   Juice Newton 

In the early 70's, Newton was in a band called Juice Newton and Silver Spur that signed with RCA Records.  They released an album but disbanded shortly after.

Newton went solo with Capitol Records in 1977 and released her debut release, Well Kept Secret, the following year.  Juice caught fire in 1981 with her third album, Juice.  Newton burst out of the gate with the #1 smash remake "Angel of the Morning", another #1 ("The Sweetest Thing (I've Ever Known)") and the #2 song for three weeks, "Queen of Hearts".  Juice sold over a million copies in the United States and earned Newton Grammy nominations for Best Female Vocalist ("Angel of the Morning") and Best Female Country Vocalist ("Queen of Hearts").  Both went Gold.

Newton's follow-up was Quiet Lies, which was just short of Platinum.  Juice continued her amazing start with three more hits, the #1 "Break It to Me Gently" and "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard on Me" and "Heart of the Night".  She had reached the Top 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart with each of her first six releases. 

"Love's Been a Little Bit Hard on Me" earned Juice another Pop Female Vocalist nomination at the Grammys.  "Break It to Me Gently", Newton's remake of the Brenda Lee hit, won the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.  

In 1983, Newton released the album Dirty Looks before switching to RCA Records in 1984.  Juice recorded the album Can't Wait All Night, her first release on RCA.  That gave Newton her final AC Top 10, "A Little Love"  Later in the decade, Newton released the albums Old Flame and Emotion.  

Juice earned five Grammy Award nominations and one once.  She also won back-to-back Billboard Female Album Artist of the Year awards and also has several Gold and Platinum albums to her credit.

We only have 20 artists remaining.  How many can you name?  Check out Inside the Rock Era tomorrow for numbers 20-11.

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