In 1984 I was 11 years old. I was melting #2 pencils in 5th grade homeroom heaters at Shady Grove Elementary School and the Space Shuttle Discovery had its maiden voyage (an event that I was sure was further proof that I would make it to space by the time I was 15). Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out. But my favorites that year were Romancing the Stone and The Karate Kid. And The Cars were near the top of their fame in 84 too.
Rick Ocasek was the lead singer of The Cars and I can clearly remember he was one of the strangest looking guys I’d ever seen on MTV at the time. Remember, this was in a time before Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson, so Ocasek’s strange ticks and emotionless delivery in music videos was one of the strangest things to watch at the time. Never was Ocasek’s weirdness on display more than in the video for “You Might Think.” The video itself was wacky but it worked perfectly for The Cars.
Probably The Cars most famous video was “Magic.” The song was great and I can still clearly remember how fun the video was. Watching the collection of Hollywood cliches gawk and point as Ocasek “walked on water” in a backyard pool was classic 80s kitsch.
Both of these songs were from the Cars most successful commercial album, Heartbeat City. But it’s another song from that album that is #3 on my list.
Drive was different for a couple of reasons. First, it was a slower, more somber tune than what The Cars had become known before. Second, lead vocals on this song were performed by the bands bassist, Benjamin Orr. So if you thought the vocals sounded different from the Cars other hits, you were right. Orr died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer, and the song was played at his funeral.
This song is so pure. It’s simple, clean and beautiful. I love the synth melodies and simple steady drumbeat (the beat really carries the song). The video is dark, and sad and 100% 80s. It’s a look at a woman slowly slipping away from reality from the viewpoint of her boyfriend. The use of mannequins is awesome in it’s 80ness and this video marked the second appearance in a Cars video by Ocasek’s then girlfriend, Supermodel Paulina Porezkova. I love a lot of The Cars stuff, but this is by far their best, and for me it lands at #3 in my top 10 list.
What about you? Where would you rank this one? Is it your favorite Cars song? Let me know what you think!
On May 16, 1983, as I approached my 10th birthday, I saw something on live TV that I was convinced wasn’t real. I was absolutely sure that it was some kind of weird science fiction TV magic, and it blew my nearly 10 year old mind like it had never been blown before. But more on that later.
#5 on my list is from an artist that, maybe more than any other artist on my list, is universally recognized as one of the most talented artists of the last 50 years. If I had to guess, I’d say that we’d all agree that an 80s top ten list without this artist on it just doesn’t count.
Michael Jackson was born on August 29, 1958. He was the seventh of the Jackson family and actually began his entertainment career as part of the Jackson 5 in 1964. But it was the success of his 1982 album Thriller that cemented him as a bonafide superstar and confirmed him in my mind as an 80s phenomenon.
Trying to decide which of Michael Jackson’s songs to include on my list was quite a daunting task. Frankly, I could do an entire top 10 of his songs alone. I can clearly remember listening to this album over and over again. Nearly every song was a totally different experience. In Beat It, he somehow blended unmistakable pop with a Hard Rock guitar lick – something that at that time was unheard of. Human Nature highlighted Jackson’s vocals with an amazingly smooth and steady tune. It may be his voice at it’s best. I’m pretty sure P.Y.T. was the first time I ever heard that cool synth-robot-voice thingy. And Thriller – I don’t think anyone’s ever understood the art of, or spent the money on, making a video like MJ did. I mean, c’mon – Flash Mobs are doing that dance 30 years later.
But my choice for #5 is Billie Jean. The thing is, it’s probably not even my favorite song off the album. That’s another post. But considering all my criteria, the choice was easy. You see, on May 16, 1983, Michael Jackson appeared on the Motown 25th anniversary special to perform his new hit Billie Jean, and that night, he unleashed the Moonwalk on planet Earth for the first time. What I clearly remember about this is that I stood up, looked around to make sure I wasn’t the only one seeing this. I was alone in my room, so yes – I was. What I remember next was trying for the rest of the night to imitate Jackson’s Moonwalk. 29 years later, I still can’t.
Jackson was a flawed man. He lived his short life in a way that I can’t understand. His issues were too numerous to count. But there’s no doubt about his genius. Thriller was the first in a long line of hit albums. But for me, it stands alone. There aren’t many albums I consider “Go To” in the sense that they are solid front-to-back, track-to-track. This one is in it’s own special way, just like MJ was. I’ve included that legendary performance, and I think it’s still MJ at his raw and amazing best. Be watching at 3:38. And yeah, I remember it lasting longer too. I’ve also linked the official music video. Enjoy.
Foreword: I’m probably going to take heat for picking two John Hughes movie songs in a row, but I’m doing it anyway.
In 1984, a talented writer with little experience but a knack for understanding the era’s teens made his debut with Sixteen Candles, a brutally honest and completely hysterical look at teenage life in the American Midwest. The movie starred Molly Ringwald, and I, along with every American teenage boy at the time, fell immediately in love with her. John Hughes would go on to write and direct a string of comedy/dramas that would change the way movies about teens were made. Hughes was a master at capturing life as a teen, and part of that magic came from his ability to evoke emotions through the music he wove into his movies.
In his article John Hughes: The Soundtrack to a Generation, Todd Martens describes the range of teenage emotions in Sixteen Candles through it’s songs: Recklessness? The Specials “Little Bitch.” Romantic Anticipation? “If You Were Here” by the Thompson Twins. Spazzed Out Heartache? Spandau Ballet’s “True.”
But it’s “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark (yes that’s how they spell it) that wins my spot for #6 in the Top 10 80s songs of all time. I think it’s the (probably fake) strings at about :18 that hook me. Whatever it is, I can’t imagine Pretty in Pink without this song. It immediately evokes images of Jon Cryer as the uber-friend Duckie (years before Cryer would just give up and plod through his role in 2 1/2 men), Andrew McCarthy as Blane – the guy every girl gushed over even though I didn’t get it, James Spader as Steff McKee, maybe the biggest D-bag in the history of movies, and of course Ringwald as Andie Walsh. If Molly Ringwald was what made me fall in love with this movie, the music is what has kept me coming back for more.
Fun Fact: This wasn’t the original song OMD recorded for the movie. Their song “Goddess of Love” was in the first cut of the movie, which had Duckie and Andie together at the end, but it played poorly for test audiences. When they reshot the ending to the way it was released, the song didn’t’ fit and was replaced with “If You Leave.” Jodie Foster turned down the part of Andie, and Anthony Michael Hall turned down the part of Duckie.
If you read my post that laid out the criteria for creating this list, you’ll recall that 80s music, in my opinion, were vital in some of the bet 80s movies ever. And #7 might be the biggest example of this. In 1985, John Hughes wrote and directed a movie about 5 teenagers, each from a different walk of life, as they spend a Saturday in detention at Shermer High School. What followed was a movie that, perhaps more than any other movie before or since, defined a generation. I know that for me at least, it felt like these people were me, and I was them, and they were speaking a language that I knew well.
The Breakfast Club gave voice to an entire age of kids as they struggled to come to terms with who they were. Two other artists, including Billy Idol, were offered “Don’t You Forget About Me” before Simple Minds agreed to record it. When it became the theme song for The Breakfast Club, they became stars overnight in the US. It would be their only #1 in the States.
I think that The Breakfast Club is one of just a handful of movies that can speak to a time in history unlike others. The Breakfast Club is the Gold Standard of Teen films – the film against which all other teen films are measured. But it loses it’s bite, it’s feel without this song, . The song’s become synonymous with a phenomenol film, recognizable within it’s first two notes, and stands the test of time, even without the film. And that’s why it’s #7 on my list (I’ve decided to include the original video as well as a great movie montage, if for no other reason, than to hear the monologue/letter that ends the movie).
Fun Fact: Simple Minds was actually a Scottish Band, and they had a second hit, albeit not as big, called Alive and Kicking. By the time Don’t You Forget About Me became a hit, the camaraderie of the band was already coming unraveled.
…and the montage….
There are just a few songs that, when played, instantly (and I mean instantly) elicit a frenzied response from every single person in the room. #8 on my list is one of those songs, and is also at the top of one of my other personal lists – My Top 10 Rock Guitar Licks of All Time. Try this.
1. Go to work
2. Turn up your computer speakers
3. Play the video below
4. Watch everyone’s reaction
“Sweet Child o’ Mine” was the 3rd single off the 1987 Guns N Roses debut album Appetite for Destruction. It followed “It’s So Easy” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” For my money, there’s not a better opening guitar lick ever. Some might argue for “Sweet Home Alabama” or another tune, but the simplicity of the tune is what makes it so perfect.
In 1987, GNR was on top of the world. I was in 8th grade and I don’t remember a single jr. high girl who wasn’t infatuated with Axl Rose or a single jr. high boy who didn’t want to be Axl Rose. In a sea of hair band pop rock music, GNR felt like the real thing – a true rock band that the teen crowd could love too.
This album was pretty solid. In addition to “Jungle” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” it included another huge hit in “Paradise City.” I wore mine out, but the truth is, I listened to the opening of this song over and over and over again.
All signs pointed to GNR becoming one of the biggest rock bands of all time, and based on their debut, everyone expected a string of hit albums. Although they’ve sold over 100 million albums and enjoyed moderate success with the follow up album Use Your Illusion, they never saw the same success of Appetite for Destruction and quickly faded as the grunge sound of the early 90s exploded onto the scene.
It isn’t often that band classified as “hard rock” develops a tune that sounds legitimately beautiful. The opening :30 of this song is mesmerizing and I could listen to it over and over and over. What’s cool is that I’ve never met a GenXer who doesn’t feel the same, more or less, and that’s why every time I hear it, I have to turn it up.
Fun Fact: Lead Guitarist Slash actually hated the song. He always thought it was simple because it was based in a basic “string skipping” exercise. Slash began playing it during a break of a VH1 special taping and when the rest of the band joined in. Axl heard them playing and wrote the lyrics in about five minutes.
I know I’m probably gonna catch it for this next pick. There are plenty of reasons I should I suppose, but I’m going to go with a pick that could be somewhat controversial for #9.
In 1988, Frank Farian, a record producer and songwriter, brought Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus together in Germany and formed the Duo Milli Vanilli. Right out of the box, they were an International hit. Their debut album, Girl You Know It’s True, exploded and was the source of hits like “Girl I’m Gonna Miss YOu” and “Baby Don’t Forget My Number,” as well as the title track. The album went 6-time Platinum and the group won a grammy for Best New Artist in 1990.
But it didn’t take long for the train to com off the tracks. In late 1989, the band was performing live in a park in Bristol, Connecticut when they seemed to be repeating “Girl You Know It’s…” over and over, before running off stage, then returning moments later to continue the song. The cat was out of the bag, their lip syncing was exposed, and less than a week later, their grammy was rescinded.
Still, despite it all, I love this stuff. When I hear #9 – “Blame It On The Rain,” I’m instantly transported to a place in time. It’s not a specific place, but it’s some point in high school, in the passenger seat of Ken’s yellow truck, and he’s got those 10s banging with this tune. We’re probably cruise the Old Bay loop on a Friday night or headed to go fishing on a weekday afternoon. Either way, it makes me smile.
Everything about the video says 80s. Acid washed holey jeans, electronic drum pads, slo-mo montages, It’s all so perfect. If you grew up in the 80s and haven’t had a listen in a while, do yourself a favor and download a few off the album, regardless of who really sang it, turn up the bass in your car and go for a cruise around whatever your old loop used to be. I’ll see you at #8
I want to start out by saying that this Top 10 list currently actually has over 20 songs on it. I’ve scratched out, moved around and arranged, so I have 10 to share. Remember that this is MY list, based on my memories, tastes and what makes me smile, laugh and reminisce. I expect you’ll have your opinions and thoughts, and I can’t wait to hear them. That said, Here we go:
T’Pau – Heart & Soul
T’Pau was a British Pop Band formed in 1986. Led by singer Carol Decker, they released “Heart & Soul” in 1987. It went on to become their biggest US hit. They released 4 albums in the UK, but they split up in 1991, following the release of their last album. Interesting fact: T’Pau took their name from the name of a Vulcan Priestess in the original Star Trek series.
Now – this video. Everything about it SCREAMS 80s. From the multiple synthesizers leading the music, to the absolutely FANTASTIC big hair on the lead singer’s hair. I’m not sure if you noticed, but there are so many shoulder pads in those coats that it makes my neck hurt.
I love the hazy video overlaid with shots of the band playing and Decker’s breathy, almost-whispering singing of the lyrics is so cheesy I can’t help but love it.
You could also consider this a one-hit wonder band too, except that they had several hits in UK during this time, so we’ll stick with the fact that I love the video, even as simple as it is and with it’s “sing-along-ability.” I think this song stands up to time and is still a fun one to listen to. It’s on my playlist, and I’m guessing it’s on some of yours too.
Up next – #9
You might have heard of Amos Lee. He’s been around a few years, although his story is an interesting one. A friend of mine recently asked me to recommend some Amos Lee music, and so I sent him a quick Facebook Post. After posting I realized I’d created my Ultimate Amos Lee playlist. Here it is:
Supply & Demand
Seen It All Before
Shout Out Loud
Night Train (Amazing song)
Street Corner Preacher (Look up the Live Sessions on iTunes)
What’s Been Going On
Baby I Want You
Love in the Lies (Couldn’t find an actual video of this song)
Windows Are Rolled Down (Maybe the best/highest quality live recording I’ve ever heard)
Learned A Lot (This song is UH MAZING and I love the audience reaction to it)
I really think this guys is amazing and as you can see from the videos, he doesn’t disappoint live. His music clearly comes from life experience and I’m blown away by both his voice and the lyrics in his music. He gave an interview on NPR that gives great insight into who he is. What do you think? Did I miss a song? Do you have a one-and-only favorite? Share. I’d love to hear it!
I know I said I’d be discussing “A New Earth” and I will be. But today is a good day to talk about music, I think. Occassionally, I find myself catching a new song, or at least one I haven’t heard on the radio and down I go on this trip through music as I try to discover as much as I an about this new artist. Not too many years ago I’d have had to go to a music store and buy a CD and hope I liked what I heard. Now with itunes, google, xm radio, pandora and all the other goodies out there, i never have to leave my desk to go wander down a musical road that leads me who knows where.
I particularly like any tool that can let me immediately get from listening to a song to itunes. Both Pandora and StarlightXM on my Mac give me that ability. With one click, I go from listening to a song to itunes to cha-ching! It’s mine. At this point I have to plug XM Radio and channel 51 – coffeehouse. True, they do have a limited playlist and I hear quite a few repeats, but they genre and artists are just what I need for a nice little diversion.
XM is where I found my true favorite artist of the last couple of years – Amos Lee. If you’ve missed out, stop reading this now and look him up on Itunes. Seriously. Stop and search him. I’d suggest starting with “Keep it loose, keep it tight” and then follow it up with “Seen It All Before” then move into “Night Train” or “Black River.”
The latest I’m hooked on is Ben Taylor. He’s the son of Carly Simon and James Taylor, so really he had no choice but to be a great singer/songwriter. Again, I was listening to XM and on popped this song “Nothing I Can Do.” Wow. First of all its got a melody that’s really easy to listen to, and any time a song is led with an acoustic guitar, I’m hooked. But even more engaging are the lyrics. From the start you can tell it’s a love song and the lyrics and the tempo in which they are delivered are absolutely hypnotizing. Check this out:
First morning ever to have seen the sun
Must have run the other way
Until she found that it was only getting earlier that way
When she spun one-hundred eighty degrees
And beheld the sweet light rising through the trees
She fell to her knees and she began to smile, because
She had been in darkness for a long long while,
It’s clever and clear and meaningful and it’s got a great sound. If you want to see talent, watch the video below and keep an eye on his fingers as they make a pretty impressive reach. The lyrics go on:
And the first river to have met the sea,
I beleive he must’ve sighed, said
All this rambling I’m glad to finally find, that
After all I haven’t just been wasting my time.
Good stuff. I’m a bit fanatical about music. For me, it must be spiritual and special and somehow a language given to us so that we could communicate after all our words quit working. So I often find myself moved by music. I also continue to be impressed and in awe of talented musicians. There have certainly been times that I have depended on music to “talk me down” from emotional edges when I’ve been wound tight or completely wired.
I can’t imagine a world without music. As a matter of fact there are few moments throughout the day that aren’t filled with music in my world. Even right now I’ve got earphones in and i’m tapping my foot to the beat.
I hope you find a song, artist or genre that speaks to you, that moves you, that means something when you hear it. I hope you hear a tune that you can’t help singing along with. Do it. At a stoplight, in a parking lot, in the shower, on Friday evening, after work, in your kitchen with a glass of wine in your hand. Then share it. Because great music is meant to be shared, or it would never get written. Here’s one for you to enjoy.