Sunday, August 31, 2014

(It's Not Nostalgia) It's the 80s Express--Pt. 7

76.  "She Blinded Me With Science"--Thomas Dolby

Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  5

Quirky synth-pop every inch as dumb as science ain't.

Spotlight on Frankenstein, y'all!  Dolby kills the role with a closet full of unblemished white coats, a drawer stuffed with chromed goggles, and walls covered with dog-eared blueprints and graphs.

Lust and love are just alternate ways to say alchemy and science anyway.  Twisted wires and spilled chemicals satisfy the tactile and olfactory desires.  Nerds need to hump, too, fluids transferred from rubber to tube to create an abomination that will surely stand as the mad geniuses' most exultant triumph even as it accelerates his descent into delirium.

Keep It?  YES

75.  "Little Red Corvette"--Prince

Released 1983
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  6

Prince is a martian.  From the first seconds of "Little Red Corvette"--nothing less than a nighttime stroll through Centralia while blitzed on opioids--it was apparent that under the radar would no longer be an optional route for this oddball genius.   The feelings I experienced hearing this track for the first time are comparable to the feelings I experienced the first time I saw a picture of a pug wearing a shark outfit:  a little scared, quite uncertain, but ultimately very very happy.

Keep It?  YES

74.  "Faith"--George Michael

Released 1987
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  1

Wham! disbanded in 1986, to the surprise of no one.  Singer George Michael was clearly ready to embark on a solo career, as evinced not only by the runaway success of "Careless Whisper," the closing song of their breakthrough album Make It Big, but by the fact that the single was released under his name only in most markets worldwide.  Despite the fact that the song was not only on a Wham! record, it was even co-written by Michael's lesser half in the group (the "wh" to his "am!" if you will) Andrew Ridgeley. 

As one bum's free ride came to an inglorious end, an even crazier one was about to begin for the man born Georgios Panayiotou.  Gone were the Day-bright tunes with the clothes to match.  Things got a little bit darker, a little bit deeper, and a lot bit beardier.

And people ate it up.

But, pretty much every single from the album Faith is more memorable than its title track.  "One More Try" is one of the few pop songs of its time that not only dared to surpass the five-minute mark, but remained riveting listening throughout.  "Father Figure," good Christ, I still don't know whether to use my hand to pick up the phone and call the law or...use it for...something else.  However, I can't really take voters to task, because I see their reasoning.  Limp Bizkit's cover version of "Faith" a decade later made everyone feel sorry for the original.  And I get it, I do; so many of us feel that protective urge when we see someone or something getting bullied.

Keep It?  NO

"Head Over Heels"--Tears For Fears

Released 1985
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  3

Believe it or don't, "the ugly Wham!" did not make an appearance on the original list.  They scored two number ones in '85, and what's more, both songs are still widely remembered and appropriated to this day.  "Shout" appeals to the arena crowds with excess energy to burn; "Everybody Wants To Rule the World" has fueled several thousand road trips, boosted a hundred or so montages to total greatness, and revealed the inveterate snobbishness of so many Patti Smith fans.  Both are also top-notch tunes that deliver much while demanding little.  But "Head Over Heels," the third single released from Songs From the Big Chair, is something more, something truly unique.  It's ad hoc psychotherapy set to music that isn't sure whether to be cheerful or doleful.  Because why wow a potential lover with your proficiency at the smallest of talk delivered in the flattest of affects when you can send them reeling with moody analytical monkeyshines?

The weight of expectations placed upon one's shoulders--by the very people who should know better, no less--is an obstacle found in many affairs d'amore.  I have to admire Roland Orzabal here--the girl who has captivated his attention may look as though she's freshly emerged from a bathtub full of hyacinths and honey, but he can tell that underneath that immaculate shell runs blood roiled by years of doubt and distrust.  Best to nip things in the bud.

The lyrics suggest a hopeful future for the duo, but the music remains equivocal.  The classic piano intro is a bit down in the dumps; even the "la-la" chorus that sees us out seems preoccupied.

Ask Siri to define epiphany and the chorus to "Head Over Heels" will blare from your phone.  Keep asking, over and over, until finally Siri asks you if you just might be too dumb to even hold your smartphone.  Worth it.

73.  "99 Red Balloons"--Nena (originally recorded in German as "99 Luftballoons")
Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  2

Two friends go halfsies on a bag of red balloons.  They trek to a nearby beach, fill the balloons with air, and let them go, up up up and away into a starless sky.  Just as the cops always pull over red cars hauling ass on the highway, so do air traffic controllers evacuate their bowels at the sight of unaccounted-for colorful objects.  Must be the bad guys doing the bad things!  Maybe!  All over the world, governments are tossed into a panic.  With full beards and empty heads, the world's leaders send long ton toys into the air.  Turns out nothing solves a problem like nuclear holocaust.

In true 80s fashion, most people were too busy dancing and/or chugging wine coolers to absorb the song's message, but that's the fault of the song itself--it's so fun.  Nothing about "99 Red Balloons" discourages you from running onto a beach and hurling objects up towards the moon so that you can then shoot them down with your (literal) hand gun, hooting and hollering all the while, oblivious to the possibility that some dipshit in a tower will decide that those things shaped like aluminum cans might be spacecraft and the entire beach should be bombed for the good of humanity.

Keep It?  NO

"Only the Lonely"--The Motels

Released 1982
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  9

"Harden My Heart"--Quarterflash

Released 1981
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position:  3

The only "tie," as I couldn't separate these two songs for all the Pound Puppies in the world.  Both are led along by moody female vocalists exercising their freedom to stretch syllables as they rue toxic relationships.  Both feature lush, pretentious sax solos.  Most crucially, both whoosh me back to a time before regiments and schedules, before I was expected to be anything more than alive, when the weekends were special only because that's when Dad worked nights and Mom would wheel out the grill to mark up some nice thick steaks.  Or maybe she'd steam up some fat shrimp and stir up a bowl of cocktail sauce.  Or, she could decide to fry up some homemade onion rings and stink up all three stories of the house.

The TV would be on channel 18 all night, turned up to max volume so no one in any room would miss hearing what they couldn't see.  No worrying about waking up Dad, no worrying period.  Our family was still pretty close then.

"Tough love" is the most counterproductive method of helping someone imaginable.  My heart was soft back then, and it's soft now.  That damn thing has gotten me into and out of so many messes.  Only real difference between then and now is, back then I had time

"I'm gonna harden my heart/I'm gonna swallow my tears."  Yessir.  Yessir I will.  Today is the day. 

No, it isn't.

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