Thursday, September 18, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 25

4.  "Billie Jean"--Michael Jackson
Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

The brim low, the lights down lower.  What's up, lover?  Is "Billie Jean" the tawdry tale of a successful scumbag who forgot to wear one of his own, or a duplicitous single mom with eyes on the nearest prize?

Well-manufactured menace and all, "Billie Jean" is frankly pretty dick-ish.  I can't go for that.  As far as moonwalking with a panther goes, it's not anywhere near the five-star accolades it's received since its debut over thirty years ago.

Keep It?  NO

"P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)"--Michael Jackson
Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  10

"Billie Jean" is considered the best largely because it got out there first.  You want to play a song from Thriller that gets me off my butt and doing the Marmalade Marionette?  Then put on "Beat It" or "P.Y.T."  How could any body resist?

A fantastic blend of Off The Wall's best moments with Thriller's more polished sound, conventional wisdom nevertheless states that it's actually one of the album's lesser offerings.  It didn't even get a video!  I don't get it.  What more do you want out of a funky pop song?

I came to love this song even more when I imagined that the line "We can dim the lights just to make it right" was actually "We condemn the lights just to make it right," and imagined Michael and his tenderoni driving around the neighborhood in late January, yelling at all the houses that still had their Christmas decorations up.

3.  "Hungry Like the Wolf"--Duran Duran
Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Fetching, on multiple levels.  Everything wondrous about popular 80s music can be found here.  A hypersexualized night on the prowl that ends with the middles starting fires.  Just stick your face in it and keep it there.  Don't stop til you get enough.

Out in those woods, no one is wearing orange.  Everyone is at risk.

Keep It?  YES

2.  "Pour Some Sugar On Me"--Def Leppard
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  2

"Rub Some Smegma On Me," more like.

During Charlie Chaplin's 1944 trial for sexual misconduct, one juror expressed their belief that the defendant couldn't be guilty because he was an artist and thus unable to even think about sex.  You know and I know--that's moonbug talk.  Actors are lust-crazed creatures no question, but musicians are probably the most ravenous pussy hounds around.  No matter the genre, no matter the era, no matter the hair.  This, though?  Unacceptable.  This is a very horny man, who is not very bright, writing at length about his too-human weaknesses.

"Love is like a bomb, baby, come and get it on."  For a while, I thought Joe Elliot was actually singing "Blow me like a bomb," and I thought that was hilarious.   Mind you, I was still too young to connect the mondegreen to oral sex.  I just thought, "Yeah, who wouldn't want to make that loser explode."  In the brain-bendingly vast universe of deplorable metaphors, "Pour Some Sugar On Me" is the VY Canis Majoris.

(Somewhere in that preceding paragraph is a message about violence and sex in American society and in particular how young children are affected, but you know what?  I'll save it for a better song.)

"Livin' like a lover with a radar phone."

No.  Not at all.

A frequent criticism leveled at the Def Lep boys concerned the homogeny of their output.  Every Def Leppard song sounds the same, the naysayers brayed.   "Sugar" proves this judgment demonstrably false.  Every other single released from Hysteria is considerably better than this pudding skin with a beat (and that includes "Women," which is basically cavemen farting into a fire).

The so-called "second best" song of the entire 1980s ruined sex and condiments and pop-metal.

Keep It?  NO 

"Photograph"--Def Leppard
Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  12

From one of the worst pieces of pop-metal to the absolute best.  It shan't be trumped.

Lawdy lawdy lewd and bawdy, "Photograph" is hotter'n fish grease.  Mutt Lange locked jaws on these poor bastards till they started oozing diamonds.  Cowbell shouldn't work here, and it does.  Thomas Dolby updating the role of Erik the Phantom shouldn't jibe at all, and it does.  Most crucially, however, are the "Oh!"s.  All those diamonds strewn about the floor, they needed some extra colors, some additional cuts, and so the chorus exploded, dumping emeralds everywhere like a pinata at some billionaire brat's birthday bash.

Oh that poor kid.  Not the brat; fuck them, they're set for life.  I mean our narrator here.  He yearns for the tangible, the multi-dimensional and motional, but does he realize deep down that it won't be enough to quell his delirium?  He'll crave the emotional connection as well as the physical, and disappointment will haunt the remainder of his fragmented days.

Not everything good has to be raw, dog.  That's why the Westminster Kennel Club hands out annual prizes. 

1.  "Livin' On A Prayer"--Bon Jovi
Released 1986
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Tommy and Gina are struggling.  He's an unemployed dock worker, she's a waitress.  Times is tough, sure, and you guys can call me a loony tune if you want, but...I think Tommy and Gina are gonna get through this.  After all, they've got each other and they're totally gonna give it a shot.  The "it" being life, I suppose.  So Tommy's gonna stake out record shops for potential bandmates and Gina will learn to be a little "friendlier" to her tables.

It doesn't surprise me one whit that "Livin' On a Prayer" was named the best song of the decade by VH-1.  The cornball talk-box no doubt massaged all the warm fuzzy Frampton Comes Alive! memories for many of the voters, not to mention Jon Bon Jovi is one of those vocalists whose blandness makes schlubs who also cannot sing with any discernible talent feel at ease.  And that chorus--please, kill it with earth and wind.  (Do not waste the fire, for it can be used to cook food.) 

Not to mention this is the theme song for countless "Tommy and Gina" couples.  Good for them.  I hope they persevered, prospered, and popped out plenty of pups.  And I hope that Gina nearly had a nervous breakdown when she found her oldest son's Boredoms records ("Anal By Anal?  Oh honey, where did we go wrong with Tommy Jr?"). 

People who love "Livin' On a Prayer" are the same people who would've been in the studio audience for Happy Days tapings, hooting and clapping of their own volition whenever Henry Winkler moved or Ron Howard busted out an inexplicable Fats Domino impression.

Keep It?  NO

"You Got It"--Roy Orbison
Released 1989
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  9

For the final replacement song, I considered Bon Jovi's other stupidly popular hit from Slippery When Wet, the gorgeously-coiffed "You Give Love a Bad Name."  In the end, however, I decided to swing the light over onto a much sweeter song of love from one of rock and roll's few legitimate icons.

Roy Orbison died before he could see "You Got It" become his first top 10 hit in America since "Oh Pretty Woman" topped Billboard in 1964.  Sad, but surely he knew he had a winner.  A swan song doesn't have to be as enchanting and graceful as the animal from which the term derives, but it's mighty sweet when such a thing happens.  I couldn't imagine another country-pop song I'd describe as "remarkably affecting," but when you combine Roy's stunning operatic vocal with those bold and blissful chorus melodies, heads and hearts are bound to spin.

Another unlikely sentence inspired by this song:  I've never heard a more perfect use of the timpani in my entire life. 

With Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty as co-writers and players, what we have here isn't so much the best Roy Orbison song as it is the best Traveling Wilburys song.  (Which means George Harrison and Bob Dylan were the weak links?  Holy shit.) 


                                               ------------------------------------------------------

The 80s Express has traveled many miles and brought forth many gorgeous sounds from the steel, but now it is time to take a break.  Train conductor sez.  I hope everyone enjoyed the sights and (especially) the sounds of this unique travel experience, and hey, hey!  Be careful out there. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 24

8.  "Like a Virgin"--Madonna
Released 1984
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Madonna's first number one is an awkward sentiment at its core, one that is exquisitely of the time.  (A parallel example is "Afternoon Delight"--only in the 1970s would a man realizing that he and his wife can have sex at a time of day other than morning or evening be considered song-worthy.) How, pray tell, is one like a virgin?  How could someone relive that feeling?  That anxiety, that excitement, that disappointment, that relief?

You can't.  Which isn't really the point.  The effort, the risk, the willingness to expose one's self all over again in an attempt to recapture a more innocent time in life--that's not the point either.  The point is the pre-chorus, which makes me want to start punching floral arrangements at a funeral.  Maybe even hop up onto the casket and bust out a buffalo stance.  With Galaxy Black leggings on, ya bish.

Or maybe the point is that confident women--especially sexually confident women--freak lots of folks out.  Don't know why, exactly.  (Do know why, vaguely.)  Would Madonna have caused half the sensation if her name had been Nancy?

Keep It?  YES

7.  "Sweet Child O' Mine"--Guns N' Roses
Released 1988
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

For a speck of time, GNR reeked of heavy metal's salvation.  Even their ballads crashed into radio rogue-wave style.

Thinking about "Sweet Child" for longer than is necessary--three seconds--may result in unease over Axl Rose's reduction of the woman he loves to a child.  Better to appreciate the waxing rapturous over his lover's eyes and smile, rather than her tits and ass.  (The woman so honored was future ex-wife Erin Everly, and you will also do yourself an enormous favor by refusing to research that relationship.)

Best of all to focus on the legendary main riff--one of the most captivating ever played on the electric guitar--and the solo, which really does act as a second voice for the song.

Keep It?  NO

"West End Girls"--Pet Shop Boys

Released 1985
U.S.  Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Synth-hop heaven courtesy of two pasty English dudes.  The class concerns of the waste land Neil Tennant half-spoke/half-sung about meant little to us in the States, but the bass line meant the world:  a heartbeat visible from underneath the skin, a hypnotic sound-turned-vision that enticed listeners to dark corners inhabited by darker souls.  "West End Girls" still sounds better than anything on modern pop radio.

6.  "I Can't Go For That"--Hall and Oates
Released 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Smooth and glistening.  Y'know, like a marble toilet.  Gonna be a beige night on the throne, baby.  Why goodness, is that saxello I hear?  Mmm, better fill the tub up with some KY.

Gossamer music for gossamer tastes.

Keep It?  NO

"Private Eyes"--Hall and Oates
Released 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Damn, 1981 was a good year for these two.  They would also score big with "Kiss On My List," another song that leaves "Can't Go For That" in the dust.  "Private Eyes" is pretty much "Kiss" with hand claps, so...advantage.

There's a pizza party underway, and my entire body received an invitation.  VH-1 viewers love them some finger foods apparently.  Not me, baby.  Gimme that flash-bang piano-driven pop testament to the futility of donning disguises around those who know you best and love you even more any day over glitzy white-boy R&B that I forget three seconds after the final note's been played. 

5.  "When Doves Cry"--Prince
Released 1984
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

That moment when Prince proclaimed, "Bass lines are nice--for the humans."  Dude basically reinvented pop music with each successive single.  Pretty much everything else on the radio sounded Monday to Sunday compared to a Prince song.  I would not be surprised to learn that at the tender age of five, he played Boulez' Second Sonata on a homemade piano.  And that he was the one who built the piano.

Despite the distinct lack of heartbeat, "When Doves Cry" is one of the most emotional songs Purple Jebus ever made real.  The fanciful words glide atop the stark backdrop, unafraid to smudge or sharpen in service of the bigger picture.  Poor birds with crushed wings are still beautiful, still able to sing, whether the skies are still and quiet or dripping down dabs of moisture. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 23

12.  "How Will I Know"--Whitney Houston
Released 1985
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Absolutely her greatest hit--zap gun and all that.  The ultimate dance music that wasn't just for the sake of dancing, 80s Division.  Written for Janet Jackson, can you imagine?  "How Will I Know" is saved from glucose poisoning by Whitney's searing vocal performance.  Feels good, is good. 

Keep It?  YES

11.  "Don't Stop Believin'"--Journey
Released 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  9

I promised myself I would refrain from commenting on cover art, but damnit....Steve Perry is either the only member of Journey who doesn't believe, or he's the one who believes most of all.

"Don't Stop Believin'" plays on a loop in the head of a guy filling up his truck at a Sheetz after midnight.  "Don't Stop Believin'" is the song that keeps a girl from falling asleep some sweaty August night despite the fact that the AC unit is set to "Igloo" and she's lying in bed totally butt-ass nude.  "Don't Stop Believin'" makes a restaurant patron think twice about ordering onion rings.

Pretty sure that piano riff has been around since time immemorial.  Even before the actual instrument itself came into existence, those notes were heard by dinosaurs, a sort of prehistoric Taos Hum.  Just way catchier.

We're not born to lose; we're born to play the game.  Except Steve Perry, who was clearly born just to sing.

Keep It?  YES

10.  "You Shook Me All Night Long"--AC/DC
Released 1980
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  35

My heart fell into my stomach, my stomach fell to my feet, and as I stood there virtually paralyzed, only one thought was able to cohere in my brain:  This top ten is going to suck the baked beans out of a pig's ass.

Gravel-gargler extraordinaire Brian Johnson wrote this ode to a specific womankind after staring out of a window and seeing nothing but cars and women passing by on the street below.  Epiphany!  Cars and women are the same!  "They go fast and then they let you down."

There are women whose idea of a rip-roarin' good time is getting their tits out to "You Shook Me All Night Long" and friends, that is the precise type of woman I aspire to avoid becoming.

"She kept her motor clean."  Okay, seriously?  Piss off, Bri.  To the cornfield with you and that dopey hat.

Keep It?  NO

"Gigantic"--The Pixies
Released 1988
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  Did not chart

Oh yes.  It's that time yet again.  Time for a woman to swoop down and save what's left of the day.  Frank Black ain't but a grown Charlie Brown.  Kim Deal is Lucy with the tricked-out psychiatrists booth; for a nickel, she'll dispense with a bag of quarters across a patient's face.  Value.

Few subjects for songs can go more right than a white girl besotted by big ol' black dick.  It truly has the power.  It's right there in your hand. 

Feedback as foreplay.  The crash and crush, the cranking raunch. 

9.  "Walk This Way"--Run DMC featuring Steven Tyler and Joe Perry
Released 1986
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  4

A top ten hit when Aerosmith released it a decade earlier, and deservedly so.  "Walk This Way" moves with the swagger of a lion in the wild.  The remake, however, is a song in the same way that string cheese is food. 

Neither Run DMC nor Aerosmith wanted to do the collaboration that would mark hip-hop's breakthrough into the pop-rock mainstream, and Rick Rubin really should have taken the massive hint.  Changing the world doesn't preclude a thing from being essentially meritless.  Rap was not going to be denied; the world did not need "Walk This Way" to happen.  Another song, likely a more deserving one at that, would have turned the trick key eventually. 

I liked Run DMC growing up; two forceful voices going back-and-forth over heavy beats and heavy guitars was hard to resist for anyone who liked to fill up the room when they turned on their stereo.  However, their formula falls flat here because Tyler's lyrics are thus enunciated.  "You ain't seen nothin' till you're down on a muffin."  "I met a cheerleader, was a real big bleeder."  Rick Rubin, Jedi master with the heart of a Sith. 

Worse yet, the success of "Walk This Way" resurrected Aerosmith, which was kinda heart-warming at the time, but then "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" happened, and all that goodwill took a headfirst dive into a Scottish shitter.

You want a good rap/rock collabo?  I'll give you a great one.  You're welcome!

Keep It?  NO

"Rock Box"--Run DMC
 Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  Did not chart

Kick a hole in the speaker, pull the plug and then Run DMC just beat Rakim's ass for screwing up their equipment. 

Loud, proud, commanding, demanding...don't write while listening to Run DMC. 

Driven this way and that way by Eddie Martinez' guitar playing and the real god drums, "Rock Box" is a five and a half minutes of classic hip-hop.  Once I turn it on, I have to turn it up. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 22

16.  "Need You Tonight"--INXS
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Six men from Australia, three bonded by blood, started a band with hopes of world domination.  Took a bit of time--more than five years, less than ten--but their lofty-ass goal was reached.

The foolproof plan:  take the riff from "Another One Bites the Dust," twist it just a li'l bit to the left, and allow the one above-average element of the band sufficient room to breathe long and low all over the track.  BOOM, panties disintegrated and INXS became global superstars.

"Need You Tonight" was a direct influence on the band Train, namely their song "Hey Soul Sister."  Punishment must be meted out.

Keep It?  NO

"Don't Change"--INXS
Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  80

Chicken Little, so it turns out, was fulla crap.

Early INXS is hysterical to listen to, in the way peculiar to nascent racket-gangs who try to fit each of their musical influences into a single album (usually their very first).  In the case of INXS, these influences were pop, punk and ska.  Again, hysterical.  By album three, Shabooh Shoobah, they were finally using their own forms of ID to get into venues, and "Don't Change" is the perfect "last call."  None of the funk and dance elements of their most popular stuff is present here; this is a pub band doing sun-burst stadium rock. 

Why "Don't Change" wasn't their breakthrough baffles me to this day.  This is music that propels fleets forward.  The chorus itself is top ten of the decade. 

15.  "Jump"--Van Halen
Released 1984
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

So much hullabaloo to-do about keyboards being the prominent instrument here.  Five albums of balls-out hard rock and fret-wankery to spare, and then this happens?  Eddie, man, why?  This sounds fruity.  Look at the hand gesture I'm making to emphasize the fruitiness of their new sound!

So much pointless bitching, as it turns out Eddie Van Halen's instinct when playing any instrument is to be as fleet-fingered as possible.  "Jump" is great dumb fun, which also happens to be David Lee Roth's raison d'etre on this planet.  The occasionally-questioned Lord and Master of wearing clothes that went on "super sale" after a werewolf attack at the warehouse simply refuses to disappoint:

I get up!  And nothin' gets me down
You got it tough!  I seen the toughest around
And I know!

Superb.

Keep It?  YES

14.  "Walk Like An Egyptian"--The Bangles
Released 1986
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Weak.  "Riot Like An Egyptian," now that's the jam.

Preferable to walking the dinosaur, but so is traipsing 'cross a bed of hot coals or biting down on some cold snails.  Yeah, you go do that dumb-ass dance, you buncha dumb-asses.  (Every year I find myself saying that.)

Keep It?  NO

"Heaven is a Place on Earth"--Belinda Carlisle
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

In Heaven, the chorus comes first.  And Thomas Dolby is mashing the keys.

Step out into the light of a newly-fallen night.  Hop from self-made cloud to self-made cloud and never have to leave the ground.   Goddamn this is a highly-convincing argument for the existence of true love. Dido tried to do her own "Heaven is a Place on Earth" when she made "Thank You," except it was all so sad and British.  Then she tried again with "White Flag," which was also all so sad and British.

Belinda baby clutches the melody to her side like it's a baby chihuahua she just adopted.  The only flaw is mentioning "the sound of kids on the street outside" as a positive thing.

Heaven can be found in that fade-out.  Jebus, take the wheel; I'm gonna be singing for awhile.

13.  "With or Without You"--U2
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Given the wisdom accrued over thirty-eight (!) years, we should duly appreciate that time when Bono was not an insufferable shingle dangling from the crack of the Earth.  He's clearly always been self-absorbed, but not always unbearably so.  That came pretty much right after The Joshua Tree (the album from which this song hails) sold an obscene amount of copies, sending the susceptible young Irishman into an emotional tailspin.

Let us cry for the rich man.  I wrote a review for the rich man.

No matter how untamed the Bono Beast, "With or Without You" remains a stunner.  Is it sad?  Oh lawd.  Not quite Russian literature levels of sad, because he was still able to walk into a recording studio and sing actual words...this melancholia is more in line with the sort that descends upon a person when their dog has just leaped onto the table and scarfed up the last slice of pizza.

Why is it sad?  Romantic love, of course.  No one walks away unscathed.  Many are the ones who walk back. 

Keep It?  YES


Sunday, September 14, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 21

20.  "Jessie's Girl"--Rick Springfield
Released 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

This is sausage to me.  Morally iffy sausage, at that.

Admittedly "Jessie's Girl" doesn't (can't?) plumb the depths of other actor-turned-singer offerings from that time.  I'm thinking of "She's Like the Wind," "Heartbeat," any of Bruce Willis' bullshit props and stunts.  But that doesn't save it from being the Chuck E. Cheese of 80s pop-rock.

Keep It?  NO

"Like No Other Night"--.38 Special
Released 1986
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  14

.38 Special and Survivor should do a tour of state fairs.  Audiences full of people nodding ever-so slightly and murmuring to themselves, "Oh yeah, I remember that song" for two straight hours.  A band could have a worse legacy, really.

The generally hairy dudes of .38 Special picked up where Lynyrd Skynyrd unwillingly left off.   Not only is their name a reminder of one of that band's more underrated tracks, singer Donnie Van Zant studied at the bare feet of Ronnie himself growing up in the same home. Their first albums were straight-on Southern rock, but soon enough they decided to revamp their sound and voila--arena-friendly tunes built barroom-tough.

"Like No Other Night" is the choicest of their cuts, actually taking time out to make the pre-mega drive portion of the song interesting.  Hell, I can crank this up and almost be convinced that hanging out in a bar full of straight people wouldn't be that bad.  And of course it ends with guitar solo jamboree.  That's tradition.  Rednecks are big on tradition.

19.  "Time After Time"--Cyndi Lauper
Released 1984
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Take a dive into "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" and you'll break your neck.  "Time After Time," well, hope you can swim in smashing water.

The temptation is strong inside me to just talk about "Time After Time" using safe, well-worn words.  After repeated exposure, I can't take very much of the song.  Don't misunderstand, I find it to be one of the better ballads of the past forty years, and I agree 100% with its inclusion on this list--but I just can't bear to hear it all the way through.

Lauper's delivery is so affecting in its slipperiness, and the guitar on the verge of weeping does not help matters.  As a young girl my biggest fear was losing one or both of my parents.  Not the fear that they would walk away from the family, because somehow in my gut I knew better, but instead that they would die suddenly and I wouldn't have anyone to depend on.  I would cry listening to "Time After Time," and not be able to stop even several minutes after it was over.  Mom would walk by, catch sight of my wet face, and ask what was so upsetting.  Unable to admit a stupid song had made me imagine a nightmare world without her in it, I would just shake my head or make some non-committal noise, and she wouldn't press the issue any further.  She'd just come over to wherever I was, be it the couch or my bed, and give me a nice hug, rubbing my back until the tears stopped and the smiles started.

Keep It?  YES

18.  "Come On Eileen"--Dexy's Midnight Runners
Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Oh, those poor lasses named Eileen (or Aileen).  Great tuneski, sure, but it will follow that name and all the women blessed with said name for all the days.

Or is my sympathy misplaced?  My name got a New Wave bar-band all-time classic, but theirs got an Irish teen pregnancy anthem with a keener counter melody.  Knocked up by some toothless, unshaven street urchin whose best friend in the world is his parents record collection, what a life.

(Also, nothing in "867-5309" comes close to "beaten-down eyes sunk in smoke-dried faces.")

Keep It?  NO

"Don't Lose My Number"--Phil Collins
Released 1985
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  4

As a dumb li'l kid, I thought Phil should've named this "Billy Don't Lose My Number."  See, I was not yet aware of either "Billy Don't Be a Hero" or "Rikki Don't Lose That Number."  But Phil was.  No doubt he did not want the third single from his ridiculously popular No Jacket Required prejudged ahead of time.

Definitely not a widely-praised song, nor widely-derided, "Number" is the dollar bill in between the couch cushions.  The drums are the very first thing the listener hears, and it turns out they are the very same drums from "In the Air Tonight," flexing in front of a mirror.   Then a tale of suspense unfolds.  Neither the sparse guitar, hide-n-seek keys or Phil's lyrics themselves explain much.  I have decided that this "Billy" person kidnapped a Komodo dragon from some zoo somewhere and the authorities somehow were tipped off as to his identity.  Rather than surrender the venomous creature, Billy has packed up and is now on the run with the pet he has named "Modo," and together they will create a life rich with adventure and love.

17.  "Here I Go Again"--Whitesnake
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Unlike the Fixx and "Red Skies at Night," Whitesnake's decision to remake a song originally recorded in 1982 proved commercially wise.   The only significant difference can be heard in the chorus, where the word "hobo" has been changed to "drifter."  Why?  No homo.  No, seriously.  That was why.

Everyone, let's go out to the parking garage and do a hood dance--no Shenehneh.  Roll around and contort our bodies till nap time.

Keep It?  NO

"Brilliant Disguise"--Bruce Springsteen
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  5

Bruce turned introspective and retained every iota of popularity.  Baby we were born to doubt each others motives at every turn.  Folks can relate.

Every dispirited second of "Brilliant Disguise" is driven by brutal honesty.  All the world's indeed a stage, we are merely players, some of us more suspicious of the script than others. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 20

24.  "Take On Me"--a-ha
Released 1985
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Watching an episode of The Facts of Life while eating a Jell-O Pudding Pop wasn't as 80s as "Take On Me."

Placing a Glo-Worm in the Easy Bake Oven until bedtime wasn't as 80s as "Take On Me."

Voicing an argument between a Pound Puppy plush doll and a Darth Vader action figure wasn't as 80s as "Take On Me."

The 80s were the decade that saw the music video come into its own--as a promotional tool, primarily; as an artform, occasionally; as a way to end Billy Squier's career, certainly.  No song on VH-1's original list is as tethered to its video as "Take On Me."  The simple girl getting caught up in a world she has no business being a part of, the dramatic chase sequence, the hero's noble sacrifice and determination to join a world he has business being a part of...millions worldwide were captivated, probably more than we should have been.  The revelatory visuals (brought to us by the respective magics of pencil drawing and rotoscoping) coupled up with earnest Norwegian synth-pop and together they raced and soared towards a gentle finish, as the impossibly high range of singer Morten Harket threw glitter up into winds gusting at 40 MPH to celebrate the fortuitous union.

a-ha never scored another hit in the States (although they remained gods in their native land) and after seeing the follow-up to "Take On Me," I'm glad they didn't.  "The Sun Always Shines On TV" is a really good track, but the video starts off all wrong.  We see the same couple from "Take On Me" walking along in a forest at night, so obviously something good is about to happen.  Suddenly, Harket begins flashing back into his black-and-white comic book self.  Realizing that his dream of remaining flesh and blood is dying out, he flees the scene, hoping to find a comic book store open at that hour.  Love story over.  BOOOO, that's why Germany fucked your bitches, you snowy motherfuckers.

Keep It?  YES

23.  "Girls Just Want To Have Fun"--Cyndi Lauper
Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  2

Lauper was less a singer, more a supernova.  Girls together outrageously having the type of good times where no winds up injured.  The kind of fun where anyone who feels upset or offended by it is a Gold Star Level douchenozzle who deserves to have an entire building collapse on top of them.    How many stories tall should the building be?  It matters not. 

Keep It?  YES

22.  "Just Like Heaven"--The Cure
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  40

Lovers kiss with spiced breath.  Bodies warmed by winter sun embrace at the behest of a merrily enchanting bird-song.

Almost wild to consider that this is a song by the Cure.  'Cause it's awesome.  The Cure are pretty hit-miss--Robert Smith's watery expeditions serve as either refreshing uses of negative space or torturous abuses of sound itself.  Clearly, "Just Like Heaven" is a beach-side cottage where all my friends live inside the shells that decorate the walls.

(Many of those same friends would throw sand at me if I didn't mention Dinosaur Jr.s' masterful cover, which manages the rare feat of being its own beast while retaining the soul of the original.)

Keep It?  YES

21.  "Beat It"--Michael Jackson
Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Dance music and rock music have had two truly world-shaking meet-ups:  Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" and Michael Jackson's "Beat It."  Light up sidewalks all y'all desire.  Light 'em up with your desire.  I'll be over here dancing in the pitch black.

When people talk MJ's masterpiece, they tend to favor "Billie Jean."  I however am a "Beat It" advocate; dare I say, one of its most strident.  It's not just the presence of hard rock guitar--be it Lukather's or Van Halen's--"Beat It" is a marvelously arranged lesson plan that isolates all the key points and explains them so effortlessly the student doesn't realize they learned something vital to their survival.   Something other than, "Wear a condom 'cause bitches be crazy."

Keep It?  YES

Friday, September 12, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 19

28.  "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"--Wham!
Released 1984
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Brainless?  Zombies would starve.  Wham!'s breakthrough has aged worse than Robert Redford.  Thank Jebus that it didn't repopularize the Jitterbug.  Or Doris Day.

So he left a note for his parents wherein he accidentally wrote the word "up" twice so, for consistency's sake, he wrote the word "go" twice as well?  Andrew Ridgeley, that's why you were banana number two.

The video salvages nothing.  Just makes me wish I was watching Trainspotting, which itself just makes me wish I was reading Trainspotting.

Keep It?  NO

"Careless Whisper"--Wham! featuring George Michael
Released 1984
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

You'll never find me standing on my two left feet, sipping a pina colada as I watch the sun's retreat.  Pina coladas taste terrible. 

The sensuous tempo doesn't need that silky sax; it wants that silky sax.  "Careless Whisper" is a world away from the sock-hop pop of "Go-Go," so of course George Michael hates the song.  Sure,  this lamentation of a love done wrong put him on the proverbial map as a serious artist, but George was never happy with the  "simplistic lyrics."  Huh.  I've always considered the "guilty feet have got no rhythm" line to be pretty nifty, but maybe I wouldn't if the music surrounding it weren't so alluring.  What about "there's no comfort in the truth," though?  Pretty sure that would endure regardless of the company it kept.

27.  "Too Shy"--Kajagoogoo
Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  5

Co-produced by Nick Rhodes?  The blending of hairspray and synthesized sounds had no choice but to be blissful.  Immensely popular in clubs where smoke emanated out of the walls.  Where the men looked like women, the women looked like men, or maybe not!  Maybe everyone just looked, like.

Keep It?  YES

26.  "Welcome to the Jungle"--Guns N' Roses
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  7

From the want-it-take-it land where babies are found in bathrooms and their parents found a day later floating dead in pools--or sewers--came a nice teabag for the unsullied face of 80s rock radio.  So wretched.  So right.  "Jungle" was less a place and more the ideal antidote to Poison and their prettified, condom-wearing ilk.  Axl Rose was moved to write this love-hate ode to and about Los Angeles, the city where fake and real commingle till the distinctions become indiscernible, after visiting a friend in Seattle and winding up less than impressed with the relatively laid-back Jet City.  Hey, fucker, at least Seattle has a decent public transport system.

Keep It?  NO

"It's So Easy"--Guns N' Roses
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  Not released as a single in the U.S.

When sleazy dude with noodle arms covered in needle tracks and tattoos that do a poor job of concealing said tracks staggers up to you and greets you with the words, "I see your sister in her Sunday dress," you gotta knock him out and then yak up on his prostrate body.  The principle is what matters.

If that same guy goes and makes a kick-brick song about the incident on his way to superstardom, hey, at least he'll be off the streets.  Even better, he'll be exposed to a whole new, dare I say classier type of poison-pusher.  It's all about upward mobility in this world.

Geez, were GnR some scuzzbags.  Snotty noses and greasy toes-es.  All the pus overflows into their best music:  Slash and that other Keef wanna-be churn out riffs that are empty and yeah, easy.  Duff McKagan fingers his bass as delicately as he fingers any random trashy slore with more eyes in her head than teeth in her mouth.  The drummer...who cares.  The gall of these assholes.

25.  "Our Lips Are Sealed"--The Go-Go's
Released 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  20

Ah, the Go-Go's.  Good girls who weren't really.  (Good, that is.)  Here we have probably their finest several minutes, but a solid argument could be made for "We Got the Beat."  (Certainly that one's more energetic.)  I'll edge it to "Lips" because it falls more in line with the sordid reality behind their deceptively crafted image.

Guitarist Jane Wiedlin and a spoken-for Terry Hall from the Specials struck up an affair while their bands were touring together and went half on a song.  A supremely catchy song that utilizes the vocal talents of both Wiedlin and Belinda Carlisle.  A song that dares refer to "their lies."  Whose lies?  The people saying there were illicit activities going on were, in fact, correct.  I have to admire how two people engaged in cheatery can crank up the denial shield to such high levels.   "Us against the world!"  Yeah, because neither of you could keep your jeans on when both of you should have known better.  Poor babies. 

Keep It?  YES

Thursday, September 11, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 18

32.  "Sister Christian"--Night Ranger
Released 1984
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  5

Girl to woman at lightning speed.  A story men can tell only so well.  But it's also a story always worth telling.  Scary for everyone involved. 

Funny then, that a female coming of age tale is the Kool-Aid Man of the VH-1 list. 

"Motorin'!"

Oh yeeeeah!

Night Ranger threw every flavor into the pitcher, basically, but at least they had the decency to go easy with the sugar.

Keep It?  YES

31.  "Under Pressure"--Queen and David Bowie
Released 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  29

Ignore, if you can, the sleeping old man.  Enjoy, I implore you, the blessed union of two flamboyant geniuses.  "Under Pressure" isn't a singing competition because frankly, there is none.  Freddie all day.  (How I wish Angie Bowie had found him in bed with her husband instead.)  Two of the coolest cats ever to perch on a fence, purring about the vital roles love and compassion each play on the biggest stage. 

Keep It?  NO

"Crazy Little Thing Called Love"--Queen
Released 1980
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

The best Elvis tributes are the ones written in five-to-ten minutes.  While admittedly a slight acoustic ditty that doesn't allow for vocal gymnastics, never fear!  Freddie Mercury's Brobdingnagian ego is ever-present and just like another Freddie (Walsh), he could make a powerful impression even as a lightweight.  Such was his gift to make a barefoot shuffle across a faded floor seem like "Waltz In Swing Time."

Okay...maybe not that crazy.  But damn I love this song.  It makes me want to walk up to someone and slap them in the face with a glove.  Just to see what happens next.

30.  "Love is a Battlefield"--Pat Benatar
Released 1983 
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  5

A bunch o' short, scattered thoughts racing atop one long, complete thought.  Teen love approximates progress.  Pop a bottle and shoulder-shimmy.  We!  Are!  Young!

I hate doing this to any song with "field" in the title, but....

Keep It?  NO

"Shadows of the Night"--Pat Benatar
Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  13

Starts off with the chorus sung acapella, because...?  Because it's so good that Pat doesn't want us to wait!  I love thoughtful musicians. 

And I love "Shadows of the Night."  So why does it seem that no one else remembers it?  I'll make you remember it, damnit!  I'll make your mother remember how to scramble eggs.

"Shadows" is a bit of a sequel to "Love is a Battlefield" (but only a bit, seeing as how it was actually recorded the year before) with the two young lovers still caught up in the struggle, only this time with the world and not with each other.  Teaming up and presenting a united front, they are set to defy each and every odd against them and stay together for...I dunno, three more years? 

I believe in love.  I believe in having "Shadows of the Night" being the song that blares through my earbuds when I finally get some money and some guts (not necessarily in that order) and take a flamethrower to the abandoned building that was once my childhood home while my best friend fulfills the "lookout" role from his car.

29.  "Burning Down the House"--Talking Heads
Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  9

David Byrne, rock star.  Not until many years later would I realize how frankly amazing a feat that was.  And all it took was a night of acoustic arson born of the residual ecstasy from a P-Funk gig.

Fire is an outstanding purifier; a can't-miss way to stir up panic.  A splash of treachery to spark the soul, yessir. 

(Now see, you think this would be the song I'd want playing while creating a conflagration, but you'd be wrong.  I don't care much for those moments when the soundtrack and the action cue up so perfectly.  Seems a bit disingenuous.  I'll save "Burning Down the House" for the next time I sing in the shower.)

Keep It?  YES





Wednesday, September 10, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 17

36.  "867-5309/Jenny"--Tommy Tutone
Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  4

The most legendary phone number in pop history (though I'd rather it be "6060-842").  I despise being referred to by "Jenny," but this song has nothing to do with that.  Another Tommy is to blame for that....

Can't go awry looking to bathroom walls for entertainment:  digits, accusations of hyperactive libido, exclamations of joyous couplehood, catchy slogans, dick doodles.  Dime-a-dozen skinny ties go to take a leak and accidentally crafted a mini-legend.  All three songwriters tell different origin stories, though, which is my official cue to not care and just enjoy the tuneage.

Keep It?  YES

35.  "In the Air Tonight"--Phil Collins
Released 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  19

Or, if you're an idiot, "In the Air of the Night."

The whole time the listener is just waiting the roof to collapse.  It does.  And then that's that.  Thanks for making air drums mainstream, dude.

Keep It?  NO

"Sledgehammer"--Peter Gabriel
Released 1986
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

"Sledgehammer" is a song about fucking.  The sledgehammer refers to a penis.  The fruit cage of verse two fame refers to a vagina.  The much-honored video is a safe, clean representation of two playful lovers.

But you knew all that already...right?

The horny horns, the synthesized flute.  The whole damn thing is a magnificent gliding innuendo.  The radiant glory of a breakfast in bed with extra strawberries and cream.

34.  "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"--Poison
Released 1988
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Horrifying.  I want to avert my soul away from this power ballad shit-show.  I have a list of the Top 5 Objects I'd Sooner Smuggle Through Airport Customs In My Anal Cavity Than Listen To "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" Ever Again.  Oh truly, nothing is more bitterly romantic than a cowboy.  Bret Michaels is such a tool.

This was the number one song in America for the week beginning Christmas Eve 1988.  Amazing that Christmas wasn't cancelled that year.

Keep It?  NO

"Velcro Fly"--ZZ Top
Released 1985
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  35

"Every Rose Has Its Thorn" could easily be replaced on this list with a post-KFC bowel movement, but I've done much better than that.

"Velcro Fly" is a tightly-choreographed stomp--THE GOD DRUMS--along the fat back of a giant.  It's also the most dated-sounding single of ZZ Top's prosperous synth-groove period.  So of course I love it.  How could I resist what is pretty much "Fuck Like An Egyptian"--with handy tips!

The final minute (give or take) ain't but a Texas pyramid scheme, courtesy of Billy Gibbons (as I live and breathe!) and his six-string derring-do.  Oh, you don't like Billy's guitar playing?  That's okay, you know who did?  Jimi Hendrix.

33.  "Tainted Love"--Soft Cell
Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  8

Originally recorded in 1965 by Gloria Jones, "Tainted Love" isn't merely a case of "the original is better" but also of "B-side wins again."  A Motown-flavored cut with fast and feisty horns playing nice alongside tasty guitar licks, it didn't make much of an impact riding on the back of a flop single.  Almost a decade later, "Tainted Love" found the audience it richly deserved among those in the UK Northern Soul club scene.

Soft Cell's rendition was of course the much bigger hit--so much so, many many fans of the song don't realize it was a cover.  Listening to the two versions back-to-back is amusing--a heartbroken yet defiant woman, chin up in the air, her voice clear and loud above the fray gives way to a heartbroken and morose man, chin scraping the ground, his voice slow and low amid the carnival where everyone else is having fun but him. 

Ah, those innocent days.  When the word "taint" had only a single meaning to me.

Keep It?  NO

"Shattered Dreams"--Johnny Hates Jazz
Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  2

A late 80s gem that gets overlooked for the sexier likes of INXS and George Michael, not to mention  the whole anti-sexy "mall-pop" movement, "Shattered Dreams" is what unfolds when a song decides to throw itself an all-white pity party to combat the spluttering black hole gaping in the center of its chest.  Last dance of the night is a foxtrot, do try and keep up.