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. 

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