In the March 21, 1981, issue of Billboard, the Rock Albums and Top Tracks charts were unveiled, ranking the airplay songs were getting on album rock radio stations. At the time, Mike Harrison dropped the following science on the importance of charts:
"Singles unto themselves do not present a complete or accurate picture of the relative potency of current popular (rock) songs. For example, when a major artist such as Bob Seger or Queen releases an album and it becomes a hit, more than one song on it becomes popular at the same time. Singles charts do not reflect this activity because the record companies generally release only one single at a time per album. At this point, there are no longer a handful of monolithic formats within the world of rock radio. Rather, there is a veritable spectrum of formats."
Rock Albums and Top Tracks became Top Rock Tracks in 1984 then became Album Rock Tracks in 1986 before taking its current name, Mainstream Rock, in 1996.
As part of their partnership with chartmeister Joel Whitburn, Rhino issued four volumes of Top Album Rock Hits in 1997 under the Joel Whitburn Presents banner. Each volume featured a single year in ten songs and the years covered were 1981-1984 which is what we Naval aviators refer to as "a target rich environment." Before we get started on those discs, here's the complete Top 10 of that very first Top Tracks chart dated March 29, 1981, presented countdown style (natch!) from 10 to 1:
Every single song on Top Rock Album Hits 1981 made the Top 5 on the Top Tracks chart with four going all the way to the top. All the songs were Top 40 hits on the Hot 100 chart as well, with Foreigner's "Waiting For A Girl Like You" holding down the #2 spot there for a record ten weeks.
HERC's three favorite tracks on 1981 are B.Ö.C.'s "Burnin' For You", "This Little Girl" by Gary "U.S." Bonds (with an assist from Bruce Springsteen and Little Steven) and Billy Squier's "The Stroke". They conjure up fond memories of his sophomore year in high school: new city, new school and new loves.
Y'all know HERC believes 1982 is the single greatest year in music EVER though he'd have a hard time making his case if the only evidence was the 10 songs that make up the Top Album Rock Hits 1982 CD. Chartwise, 1982 is a stronger collection than 1981, with each of the songs making the Top 3 with six of them going straight to #1.
HERC's three favorite tracks on this disc are Tommy Tutone's piece of power pop perfection "867-5309/Jenny", Scorpions' mighty melodic hard rocker "No One Like You" and Ediie Money's moody "Think I'm In Love". Off the top of his head, HERC just thought of 20 more deserving tracks to represent Album Rock on Team 1982. Some of them are here on his friend Gary's post: Texas Radio & the Big Beat: 1982.
Featuring five Number Ones from the Top Tracks chart and not a single song lower than #4, Top Album Rock Tracks 1983 is top heavy with hits.
HERC finds four favorites on 1983 including Pretenders' bittersweet "Back On The Chain Gang", The Fixx's super groovy "One Thing Leads To Another", "Don't Cry" by INXS and The Tubes guitar vs synth showdown "She's A Beauty".
Five artists from the previous volumes in the series make encore appearances on Top Rock Album Hits 1984. All ten songs are Top 3 with half of them rising to the top of the newly christened Top Rock Tracks chart.
HERC's favorite tracks this time out are Tony Carey's haunting "A Fine, Fine Day", Pretenders' rockin' little "Middle Of The Road" (dig that stark pic sleeve!) and Dwight Twilley's all too true "Girls". Last semester of Senior year of high school and first semester as a college student - HERC's 1984 was momentous.
As far as availability, all four discs are surprisingly easy to find. 1981 and 1983 fetch higher prices than the other two discs for reasons unknown. Kind of weird that the series was aborted after just covering four years. Kind of a shame, too.