Thursday, August 28, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 4

88.  "Ain't Nobody"--Rufus and Chaka Khan
Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  22

So undeniable, Quincy Jones wanted it for Thriller.  Luckily for us, "Ain't Nobody" ended up with Rufus and Chaka.

Ladies, none of us can sing as well as Miss Yvette (unless Aretha Franklin or Chan Marshall are reading this, in which case--heeeeyyy) but the magic of amour convinces us we can.  The best part of a relationship (besides the companionship, both clothed and naked) is having a legit reason to belt out the chorus to "Ain't Nobody" in the shower.

The emotional topography is all rolling hills.  Ain't no valleys.  Don't need no stinking valleys.  This is a love curvaceous.

Keep It?  YES

87.  "Rock Me Amadeus"--Falco
Released 1985
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

AKA "Rock Me Hot Potatoes."   (credit:  my older brother)

A year after Milos Forman's Oscar-winning Amadeus debuted on movie screens, another Austrian composer came along and captivated the collective imagination of the first world.  For a bit, anyway.

The original "Rock Me Amadeus" was performed primarily in German, so Falco's label encouraged a number of edited and remixed versions for release in various world markets.  I am concerned with only two versions:  the "American" version and the "Canadian" version.

I can attest that here in the States, "our" version was not exclusively played on pop radio.  In a number of markets, DJ's flipped over the vinyl and spun the "Canadian" mix as well, some even deciding it to give it precedence on the airwaves.  Choosing which I myself prefer?  Now that is a challenge.  Wait--no, it isn't.

Unlike the film, which focuses not only on Mozart's superlative musical gifts but also on the corrosive envy of fellow composer Antonio Salieri, the song is all Wolfie, all the time.  The American cut is an Austrian dude rapping in German about how Mozart was a pimp, a "punker," and a "rock star."  It flows like an actual song.  It's one flaw--the crooner bridge--is forgivable when you consider the entire picture and realize an Austrian guy is rapping in German.

The Canuck mix starts off with some ditzy hook and dares to feature a horribly mistaken saxophone solo.  The defining element, though, is the dull intonation of "Amadeus Cliff Notes" instead of Falco's endearing rap.  If I wanted to learn more about Mozart (and I did), then I will read a biography about Mozart (which I also did).  If I want a spoken word history lesson over ostensibly danceable music, I will listen to Paul Hardcastle's "19."

As tempted as I am to proclaim that yet again America triumphs over her neighbors to the North, I can already hear the rebuttal.  To which I reply:  You really should just give us your free health care--we need it much more than you do.

Keep It?  NO

"Der Kommissar"--Falco
Release 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  Did not chart

Falco was the Tigger of Europop.  Bouncy, mischievous and charismatic.  As well as mononymous.  "Der Kommissar" is another tersely-rapped-verses-kooky-chorus offering that After the Fire made a top five smash in America just one year after Falco's original proved to be a hit virtually everywhere else but.  Both versions are worthy of inclusion on any "Best Of the 80s," which is a solid indicator of a truly great song.  I give the slight edge to Falco.  He sells me on the sounds and codes of the cliqued-up street scene, the myriad ways the grave-resistant urchins communicate with each other.  I've always dug how that sneaky dude with the top hat dances before ripping his trench coat open.

86.  "I Want Candy"--Bow Wow Wow
Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  62

The Strangeloves didn't have a hit with this "cover" of "Willie and the Hand Jive" back in 1965, so hell if I know why a difference seventeen years made.  The guitar tone is instantly the most interesting thing about it, digging deep as it does into the flesh between my shoulder blades, the scorching agony helping me forget that the song's mixer and the band's drummer were apparently engaged in a blood feud at the time of recording.

Candy is sex...but not all candy is created equal!  Specify.  'Cause you may crave a Hershey bar sans almonds and wind up with a Butterfinger.

Keep It?  NO

"Money For Nothing"--Dire Straits
Released 1985
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

The visuals bowled audiences over, but the sounds were tidy too.  "Money For Nothing" missed VH-1's list for one of two reasons:  either viewers didn't feel comfy voting for a track that features MTV in its secondary hook; or, they were apprehensive about voting for a song with repeated utterances of a homophobic slur, regardless of the context in which it was used. 

Some of my readers might be thinking there's a third option:  not enough people enjoyed the song enough to vote for it.  Unlikely!  How does one not love a song whose origins can be traced to a crude appliance store employee popping off on all the "yo-yo's" miming their latest trash on the color TVs?  How does one not love that chorus, wherein the banality of retail is transformed into a battle cry?  How does one not salute the chutzpah of Mark Knopfler just deciding hey, I'll steal Billy Gibbons' guitar tone for our new single!

"Money For Nothing" also inspired one of my most outstanding personal mondegreens.

Actual lyric:  "What's that?  Hawaiian noises?"
Misheard lyric:  "Who are ya, noises?"

I still get a kick outta thinking dude is talking to strange sounds.

85.  "Addicted to Love"--Robert Palmer
Released 1986
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

The video is timeless:  pale models made up to resemble mannequins sway precariously to benign synth-pop, as the weight of the instruments placed around their necks threatens to snap their bodies in twain.  'Cause all music sounds better with women around.  (Except reggae and country music, which are unsalvageable.)

I wonder how many voters selected "Addicted to Love" strictly on the strength of the song.  While pop tracks as a rule purr for your time, this one rubbed up against us shamelessly.  The guitars are supremely guileless; the drum machine was pre-set to "cardiac arrest"; that synth-line was played by someone with inordinately fat fingers; and Mr. Palmer himself sounds in desperate need of a trusted laxative.  How in the hell did this ever go to number...oh.   Right.

Keep It?  NO

"Johnny and Mary"--Robert Palmer
Released 1980
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  Did not chart

Um...you've come a long way, baby?

If all you know of the late Robert Palmer's work are his MTV-era smash hits, "Johnny and Mary" is liable to strike you like frogs raining down from the sky.  His hushed, clingy delivery is several worlds removed from his more famed (and more forced) performances, giving the bubbly new wave track a doleful air.   The titular couple are long-suffering, both collectively and respectively, and while clues to solutions for their dissatisfaction and malaise are scattered throughout the home they share, there is no twist to the tale.  Nor is there any closure.  Johnny is probably even now still running around, trying to find.

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