Monday, August 25, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 1

Here's one I've been yearning to do for some time now.

Beginning on 10/30/2006, music video network VH-1 aired the first of five episodes counting down the Top 100 Songs of the 1980s as voted on by fans (I almost said "viewers," before realizing that wouldn't necessarily be true).  I adore that decade like Pooh adores honey.  I could rub the 80s all over myself and just lay there naked and...

I was born in late '77, so the 80s were my time.  So much bat-shit craziness went on, and you didn't need to be old enough to see the uncut video of "Girls On Film" at an after-hours club to be swept up.  (Manimal?  Garbage Pail Kids?  Fucking jelly shoes?)  The popular tunes of the times could be no less loony; but beyond the gravity-defying hairstyles and sense-defying outfits, the cream of the era's music holds up.

My initial plan was to review the 100 songs.  Simple enough.  But I realized that while many of the selected songs were indeed among the finest the decade had to offer, many more were not.  At least, not by my exacting standards.  So, after certain tracks that I did not deem worthy of top 100 status, I will be offering up a review of my replacement choice.  In all, I will be talking about 164 tunes over 25 days.

I am the Sherri Martel of this blogging shit.  I am the Marsha Warfield of this blogging shit.

Hold tight, have fun.  There's no better time.


100.  "Working For the Weekend"--Loverboy

Released 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  29

The ideal summer vacation for the rigidly middle-class is epitomized by this power-pop-goes-the-hard-rock hit.  I'm talking hot beaches, cool cars, and tuna burgers.  That the song accomplishes this without blowing is indeed a feat to be feted.

No better place than the start to say:  most of the songs on this list are lyrically asinine.  Most pop songs in general are lyrically asinine.  So for "Weekend" to rate a discussion about how brain-dead its words are, well, that's how you realize we have an egregious offender.  Beyond the "romance/chance" rhyming, virtually every line begins with the words everybody's or you.  There's a real sense of narcissism slashed once over with paranoia.

But, there's also that nearly-visible insistence on looking forward to the good times.  Those times when the coffee can wait.  When body and mind can regenerate and re-organize.  When anyone can be as cool as singer Mike Reno, rockin' side to side with mic in hand, wearing an outfit made entirely from cherry-flavored Fruit Roll-Ups.

"Working For the Weekend" is a unique case of a song's listenability increasing on certain days of the week.  (See also:  "Monday, Monday" and "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting).")  That may also explain it's low-as-can-go placement on this list.  Regardless, it remains a timeless American anthem.  Thanks, Canada!  (And rest in peace, Chris Farley.)

Keep It?  YES

99.  "Everybody Have Fun Tonight"--Wang Chung

Released 1986
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  2

I could buy this song coming from, say, the Hooters.  From the first beats to the final fade, all I hear is a hundred robots shuffling along in some technical approximation of fun.  They perceive enjoyment as little as a spoon perceives the taste of food.

This is music for Friday nights at shitty chain restaurants, fighting to be heard over the cacophony of small talk, liquid laughter, and the chomping of processed detritus.

Keep It?  NO

"Easy Lover"--Philip Bailey and Phil Collins

Released 1984
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  2

Goes down the gullet smooth as a swallow of filtered water.  Now, odds are good you'll also hear this song at your Ruby Tuesdays, your T.G.I. Fridays, oh your poor stomach--but "Easy Lover" is a minor masterpiece that contains more genuine cheese than the mozzarella sticks at either of the aforementioned establishments.  Phil B. and Phil C. unite in the ebony and ivory collabo that stands in stark contrast to not only Wonder/McCartney, but also Grant/Cetera, Reno/Wilson, Collins/Martin and Neville/Ronstadt.  (Yes, only two of those pairings are interracial, but they are all somnolence in stereo.  Judge singers not by the color of their skin, but by the lyrics they choose to croon.)

98.  "My Prerogative"--Bobby Brown

Released 1988
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

The first chart-topper to appear was also the vocabulary-enhancing smash of the late 80s, addressing those doubting Thomases and disliking Mikeys predicting a less-than-stellar solo career for the former New Edition cutie.  "My Prerogative" isn't a "Candy Girl" update, not even a li'l bit; it's the apex of the then-thriving New Jack Swing sound, marked by the subtlety of a sledgehammer blow to the head. The accompanying video further distanced Brown from his saccharine pop past, reintroducing him as the singing/dancing, street-savvy/sheet-ripping bad boy unable to walk two steps without performing lascivious gyrations.  Ooh child, he made it seem easy.  Gumby fade and all.

(Speaking of that video real quick--why does a woman playing a keytar look so hold up! sexy, when a man rocking the same instrument looks so awkward?)

"They say I'm crazy...They say I'm nasty."  They really had no idea, did they?

Keep It?  NO

"Buffalo Stance"--Neneh Cherry

Released 1988
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  3

"Buffalo Stance" is most assuredly not an example of New Jack Swing.  Nor is it--eugggh--"New Jill Swing."  Containing the comeliest elements of hip-hop, dance, and funk (but not jazz), Neneh Cherry's only U.S. hit was also massively influential--and yet still underappreciated.  (Where the hell they do that at?)  The usually-reliable Prince could only offer up the tepid "Batdance" as competition.  A goodly number of us started worrying for him right around that time.

A "buffalo stance" involves wrapping one's arms around one's chest while glaring off to the side.  Taciturn and tough--perhaps that attitude explains my keytar query.  Those chumps, those wanna-be big shots, prone to loud yabbering and happy hands, all those guys try to make three inches seem like a foot. When all they really have to do is how to spend ten dollars like it was a hundred.

But Neneh Cherry wasn't afraid to shot down trifling ho's of both genders--she was eager to do so, actually.  And the hell not--"hurt feelings" has never appeared on a death certificate, after all.

97.  "What I Like About You"--The Romantics

Released 1980
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  Did Not Chart

I get why people voted for this 'un.  The repetitive stomp and unchallenging chord progression makes it easy for the whole damn fam to get down.   (Totally thinking of you, young boy seated in front of me on the Greyhound who clearly loved him some Shrek 2.)  Harmonica solo?  I don't see why not.  I'm better off listening to the wind while holding cardboard tubes up to both ears and humming.  Using "What I Like About You" in a commercial is a fantastic way to discourage me from buying your product.

Keep It?  NO

"Under the Milky Way"--The Church

Released 1988
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  26

This song, though?  This song is one of those that makes me wish, in a fit of temporary insanity, that I knew how to drive.  That's the intensity of the entrancement.

Several years ago, I visited the Camp Snoopy located in Allentown, PA the weekend before Halloween, the time of year when the place was charmingly redesigned and renamed "Camp Spooky."  Walking here to here and back again, popping in and out of stores, more often than not exiting them heavier than when I'd entered, the soundtrack of the season followed me with every step.  I expected to hear them play "Thriller" three times, and I did; I anticipated hearing the theme from Ghostbusters twice, but fell just short.  Some other selections were equally appropriate and unsurprising:  "Spooky" (Atlanta Rhythm Section version), "Monster Mash," "Love Potion #9," "Frankenstein." But then I heard the gentle, wafting strings of "Under the Milky Way," and while I certainly didn't stop in my tracks--refused to, actually--I did have two very distinct thoughts:  Is this really a scary song? and This is a damn good song.

"Milky Way" is suffused with generous helpings of sanguineness and melancholy.  Those are the songs that are built to kill me slow, siphoning my soul second by second, as the glory promised and the reality shown share uneasy space with the one true certainty.

What would a world do without such songs?

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