I hate it when contests or polls end in ties, but what else do you do when two singles live up equally to the standards associated with the term best record of the year?
"We Are the World," the centerpiece of the American pop music campaign to assist famine victims in Africa, was a moving expression of compassion and brotherhood that, quite remarkably, cut through the cynicism of the times to strike an emotional nerve around the world.
"Sun City," the blistering statement against apartheid in South Africa, didn't enjoy the commercial success of "We Are the World" because it ran full-force into the musical apartheid that exists on American radio. But the mix of rock, pop, salsa, jazz, rap, reggae and soul artists was a triumphant example of the cross-cultural potential that exists in contemporary pop.
They were the best records in a far-above-average year for singles. In putting together the list, only records that appeared on Billboard magazine's weekly list of the Top 100 best sellers were considered.
The year's best 10 singles:
1. USA for Africa's "We Are the World" (Columbia Records)--Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones made an invaluable contribution to this historic recording by designing a piece of music that was flexible enough for artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper and Kenny Rogers, but you can feel in the "We Are the World" video how each of those artists--and others--gave the music an extra, inspirational dimension.
1. Artists United Against Apartheid's "Sun City" (Manhattan)--Producers Steve Van Zandt and Arthur Baker could have guaranteed themselves more pop/rock air play by toning down both the message and the hard-edged, urban contemporary musical approach (which unites outsiders such as Miles Davis and Afrika Bambaataa with rock regulars), but that would have cost the record its heart. Just as "We Are the World" was meant to reach out and embrace, "Sun City" was designed to reach out and jolt.
3. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." (Columbia)--I preferred the poignant "My Hometown" and nostalgic "Glory Days" when Springsteen's album was released last year, but this disheartened reflection on the Vietnam experience--and its lingering impact--emerged on the stadium tour as an anthem of considerable power and purpose. It's the most biting piece of social commentary to reach the U.S. Top 10 in years.
4. John Fogerty's "Centerfield" (Warner Bros.)--The best baseball song since "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and a nice bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. In returning to rock after a 10-year absence, the former Creedence Clearwater Revival leader insisted in this rollicking track that he was ready to play--and he was. A joyous return to form.
5. Lone Justice's "Ways to Be Wicked" (Geffen)--Maria McKee sing this sassy Tom Petty song with an authority and punch that shows you why she is the most captivating female singer to enter rock in the '80s.
6. Patti LaBelle's "New Attitude" (MCA)--LaBelle has been around almost as long as Tina Turner and she has been just about as inconsistent, but the vocal on this zesty single suggests she may be putting it all together on record the way Turner did in the "Private Dancer" album.
7. Eurythmics' "Would I Lie to You" (RCA)--England's Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart have moved with spectacular results from the techno-pop of early hits like "Sweet Dreams" to the horn-accented American R&B of this pulsating tune.
8. Don Henley's "Sunset Grill" (Geffen)----Where many of the musical textures on Henley's solo albums represent a break from his introspective, soft-rock Eagles past, this is an extension of that exploration of contemporary social and personal values.
9. Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love" (Arista)--Franklin's sexy, playful treatment is another gem in what was an especially productive year for female singers. Don't forget Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You."
10. Los Lobos' "Will the Wolf Survive?" (Slash)--The competition here ranged from Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" to Talking Heads' "And She Was," but L.A.'s own faves earn the spot with this endearing statement of survival.
Colleague Dennis Hunt picks Franklin's "Freeway of Love" as his No. 1 single of 1985. The rest of his Top 10: the Pointer Sisters' "Dare Me," Eddie Murphy's "Party All the Time," Phil Collins' "Sussudio," Patti LaBelle's "New Attitude," the Time's "The Bird," the Miami Sound Machine's "Conga," Billy Joel's "Keeping the Faith," Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and Kool & the Gang's "Misled."
Wanna talk worst 10?
In putting together the the best 10 list, I listened again to about three dozen singles that had caught my ear during the past 12 months. But I gave up quickly on the idea of a true Worst 10 when I realized I'd have to listen to a couple hundred boring records--even if I restrict eligibility again to records that actually made the Top 100 charts during the year.
To show you how deep the competition runs in this category, I set strict limits for a sample Bottom 10: records with the name "night" in the title, artists who are or have been associated with Prince (the Family, Sheila E. and Morris Day), and English rock groups with either the name Tears for Fears or Dead or Alive.
On that basis, the Bottom 10 in no particular order: Phil Collins' "One More Night," Mick Jagger's "Just One Night," Eugene Wilde's "Don't Say No Tonight," Nile Rodgers' "Let's Go Out Tonight," the Family's "Screams of Passion," Sheila E.'s "A Love Bizarre," Morris Day's "The Oak Tree," Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," Tears for Fears' "Shout" and Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)."