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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

My 75 Favorite Songs of the 80's - Part 1: 75-61

I had planned on writing a "favorites" list again and decided to start here. I will release this in parts of 15 over time. I apologize in advance if the embedded videos do not play in the article for you, but some of these videos (most of these videos), despite being from almost all legit channels, are blocked from being viewed outside of YouTube because of the site's Draconian policies. If you follow the link in the error message, it should open the video in a new tab for you.

I hope you enjoy...

75- “If You Leave” - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (1986)
Album: Architecture & Mortality & More
Writers: Martin Cooper (OMD and The Listening Pool), Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey

John Hughes was a voice of the 80’s and his movies touched millions.  So, naturally, a song
From the soundtrack of one of his hit movies would become a hit itself.  If You Leave is OMD’s
Most successful single in the US, due largely to its exposure in Hughes’ 1986 classic Pretty In Pink.  

While the whole of the song is filled with tonally-soft vocal melodies, what makes this song stand out is its striking synth riff that is its most recognizable feature.  It adds a bright sound that makes it fit more along with the pop acts of the early 80’s as opposed to the more dramatic, minor key sounds of its time.

74- “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” - Wham! (1984)
Album: Make It Big
Writer: George Michael

    Speaking of ‘bright and cheery’, next up is Wham!’s chart-topping hit Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.  The song makes my list solely because of George Michael’s vocals.  His high notes mixed with the song’s tone lift this one up more than it would have otherwise been as this sort of bubbly, overly-cheerful pop music is usually a turn-off for me.  Still, I can’t help but smile when I hear this song.

73- “Turn It On Again” - Genesis (1980)
Album: Duke
Writers: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford

Genesis is one of the all-time essential bands.  They are among the most successful rock acts of all time, and were utterly ubiquitous in the 80’s.  As inescapable as they were and still are today, it’s easy to forget that it took former frontman Peter Gabriel’s departure, and drummer Phil Collins’ move to lead singer to really bring this band to the forefront of modern pop/rock, where they rest as one of the most successful acts in the genre’s history.  

Turn it On Again is one of the singles that defined Genesis’ distinct sound.  While they are widely known for songs such as In Too Deep and Invisible Touch, their B-Sides and unreleased tracks really expressed the range of the band’s musical complexity.  It is here that they really show off their upbeat, lyric-heavy style meshed with unconventional rhythm and time signatures.  It’s now a classic icon of their live shows, so much so that it became the official name the band’s reunion tour in 2007.  It’s one of a number of songs of theirs that were never given an official single release, but still carry on their legacy today, another will show up later in this list…

72- “Whip It” - Devo (1980)
Album: Freedom of Choice
Writers: Gerald Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh

In an effort to shake the negative stigma of late-70’s pop and disco, New Wave artists worked hard to distinguish themselves with a fresh style that removed them from the sound that tried to linger in the wake of the 70’s.  New Wave had been growing for a few years leading up to this point, but it was just starting to make waves in the very late 70’s.  During this time, a lot of bands flooded the scene with a very different sound.  Some were successful, many were not, but the novelty of the time drove the genre, which is why so many of the biggest hits were a little… odd.

Whip It featured all of the iconic elements of popular New Wave in its time while maintaining a certain level of integrity, lacking the over-the-top, attention grabbing evident in many of Devo’s contemporaries.  It featured the aggressive synth, the vocals lacking sustained notes, the short-but-sweet composition… All of the characteristics of New Wave at the time, but feels much more mature and mathematical than most of the hits it shared the charts with.

71- “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” - The Smiths (1986)
Album: The Queen Is Dead
Writers: Johnny Marr, Morrissey

As the 80’s came around and mainstream New Wave dominated the scene, indie rock acts were making the rounds in the background.  The Smiths had a few things going for them early on.  They had crossover appeal, they were unique and they had a moody tone that really lifted their music up beyond being typical pop-rock.  This is where the Alternative subgenre comes into play.  

Alternative has a few definitions in industry terms, but what it typically boils down to is a general pool of artists who have some rock, blues and pop influences that aren’t “poppy” enough for the pop mainstream or “rockin’” enough for the rock charts.  This is reserved for your Collective Souls; your Counting Crows; basically, any group that sort of treads the lines of rock with many of songs, or at the very least, their singles.

The Smiths have this unique ability to draw you into the mind of songwriter and frontman Morrissey.  The deeply personal, tonally-odd lyrics of many of their better songs were a real contrast to the upbeat, saccharin, hot-pink pop of the period.  There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is told from a perspective of a person who feels isolated alone at home.  Implications are that other people there cause this feeling, but he feels freer with the one he’s with.  This feeling is so strong he would be satisfied with dying that night with the driver rather than staying at home.  It’s a powerful statement, and one that has turned this into one of the most beloved songs of its time.  

That said, it did not chart in the US.  It failed the test of NA popularity against other acts of the time, as the tastes in the UK rock scene clashed heavily from what was consumed Stateside.  Over the years, as more and more popular artists cited The Smiths as a strong influence, they garnered more attention and are now rightfully recognized as the titans of creativity they are so well known to be in their home country.

70- “I Ran” - A Flock of Seagulls (1982)
Album: A Flock of Seagulls
Writers: A Flock of Seagulls

Going from underground rock acts to the massive mainstream, we have “I Ran”, a song that hovered just inside the Billboard Hot 100’s Top Ten spot in 1982.  After its run on the charts as a hit MTV tune, it become a contender for one of the most definitive songs of the decade, and for good reason.

Comparing A Flock of Seagulls’ biggest North American hit to other songs of its day, it seems to fit right in.  It had the upbeat pace, the synth, the simple lyrics, the immediate-recognizable intro… all of it.  It was just the right single to land this act in the annals of pop history, and remains their biggest hit.  Aside from the success of the song, A Flock of Seagulls also exemplified the look of the 80’s.  Foregoing the pretty boy look of the 70’s, they become known for their outlandish hairstyles.  This was also increased as MTV made the look of the artist more accessible in the 80’s to anyone with cable.  

Their style of sound were mimicked for the better part of the decade after this hit landed them into stardom, but they would begin to peter out in the U.S. as music tastes began to evolve but continued with a string of successful hits throughout the 80’s internationally.  The band dissolved after the falling out of brothers and founding members Mike and Ali Score.

69- “Hold Me Now” - Thompson Twins (1984)
Writers: Tom Bailey (Thompson Twins), Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway
Album: Into the Gap

I find it hard to define specifically WHY I like Hold Me Now.  It’s repetitive, the chorus is slow, it’s way too long for what it is, yet for some reason the mix of melody and the interesting percussion make this one stand out.  It is Thompson Twins’ biggest-selling single and rests as one of the most well-known 80’s hits.

I don’t really know what more to say about this one.  It’s certainly a simple song that’s easy to sing along with.  This is a good thing for a pop song, which is designed to get stuck in your head and to be memorable.  No one pop song is ever released with the intention of becoming a timeless classic.  It just sort of happens.  Hence, that indefinable quality.  

68- “All I Need Is A Miracle” - Mike + The Mechanics (1985)
Writers: Mike Rutherford, Christopher Neil
Album: Mike + the Mechanics

In the 80’s, Genesis was unstoppable.  They would continue a string of hits through the years, but as the band grew in success, other acts were operating on the side.  This includes solo and collaborative performances from frontman Phil Collins, and guitarist Mike Rutherford starting his own band, Mike + the Mechanics.  

In the US, the band is mostly known for the single All I Need Is a Miracle, an upbeat and memorable pop tune.  It has a fair share of schmaltz slathered on top, but that does not detract from the fact that this is a legitimately-enjoyable tune.  It is certainly the sort of single that could only have become popular in the mid-80’s, but it still manages to capture elements of a greater sound that would become big in its time.

67- “Big Time” - Peter Gabriel (1986)
Album: So
Writers: Peter Gabriel

As Peter Gabriel’s 2nd hit single after his split from Genesis, Big Time helped to introduce his larger-than-life sound after his previous hit Sledgehammer.  It was a common theme of the 80’s to talk about rising up to success and making it “big”.  This was due to the mostly-up economy and the general attitude of flash and decadence of the period.  The song is one of the best of its kind, with a catchy, singable pop chorus and an awesome animated music video in the tradition of Sledgehammer.  

The song’s host album “So” is one of my favorite albums of the decade, and in terms of style, it’s also one of the most diverse.  I can promise you will see more from this album on the list in the future as it truly is one of the 80’s great music masterpieces.  If you have not heard it, I suggest giving it a full listen.

66- “Land of Confusion” - Genesis (1986)
Album: “Invisible Touch”
Writers: Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Phil Collins

Invisible Touch is an amazing album and Land of Confusion is one of its best singles.  The hard-hitting sound makes it stand out from the album.  The composition definitely has a lot of power to it, and the intensity of Collins’ vocals only helps to accentuate the tone of the lyrics.  This “The World Is Just So Messed Up” theme that so many hit songs of the era shared adds to the emotional tone of the song, and in an era saturated by bad “Save the World” songs, this one is a breath of fresh air.

Aside from the sheer quality of the song, the music video has stuck with people over the years.  The puppeteering is definitely creepy and bizarre.  The imagery is both funny and dark and it contrasts strangely with the tone of the song, but I think that works in its favor.  It gives it staying power.  

65- “Drive” - The Cars (1984)
Album: Heartbeat City
Writer: Ric Ocasek

The Cars are largely known for their driving, upbeat pop rock tunes, but Drive is actually their biggest overall hit.  As part of the excellent album Heartbeat City, it serves as a moody, melancholy break from an otherwise energetic tracklist.  The song is incredibly simple, smooth and it doesn’t build to much intensity, but the warmth of the lyrics are its strength.

Common opinion states the song is about a man who is speaking to a friend (likely a female) who is struggling or suffering from something in their life, and how he is reaching out to let him help.  It’s a plea for change and intervention.  Sung by bassist Ben Orr, the song has a much more serious tone than The Cars’ other singles of the 80’s.

64- “Burning Down the House” - Talking Heads (1983)
Album: Speaking In Tongues
Writers: David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth

One of my favorite artists of all time are Talking Heads.  They have such a great, unique sound and what I like most is how they are willing to experiment and try different musical ideas and styles.  Burning Down the House is the brainchild of drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth, who were “jamming” after a Parliament-Funkadelic concert.  David Byrne then wrote the lyrics by spouting out random lines then picking the ones that “worked together”.

Of all of Talking Heads’ singles, Burning Down The House remains their most successful, peaking just inside the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1983.  It is easily among their most accessible songs.  There’s nothing too eclectic that would drive away more casual listeners, and the funk-inspired groove made it a popular dance tune.  It also performed well on the rock charts, granting Talking Heads even more underground credibility, which cemented the early 1980’s as the height of the band’s storied career.

63- “About A Girl” - Nirvana (1989)
Album: Bleach
Writer: Kurt Cobain

That’s right!  A Nirvana song on my 80’s music list!  I went there!  About A Girl is an odd little Beatles-inspired tune from the iconic band’s 1989 debut album “Bleach”.  The song was reportedly written by Cobain about his then-girlfriend.  It was a reflection of their complicated relationship.  Cobain kept the inspiration for About A Girl a secret that would not come to light until after his death.

About A Girl is a very simple song, using a verse-chorus structure that is very common in the grunge scene, with bands often simplifying their music; a staple of grunge’s rival genre: punk.  If you listen to most rock of the late-80’s, then listen to About A Girl, it is easy to see why Nirvana had so much promise in terms of guiding rock music into a new era.

62- “Don’t You Want Me” - The Human League (1981)
Album: Dare
Writers: Jo Callis, Philip Oakey, Philip Adrian Wright

Through the history of popular music, there are many examples of hit songs hated by their artists.  Don’t You Want Me is the most successful single from synth-pop act The Human League, who had three previously-popular singles leading up to this point.  The story of Don’t You Want Me involved frontman Philip Oakey and producer Martin Rushent butting heads over the song, which Oakey despised.  He felt it was too poppy and too far-removed from their known sound at the time, demanding it be relegated to a B-side and shoved at the end of the album.  Little did he know then that not only would it be successful, but it would become one of the biggest pop songs of the decade.

The song tells the story of a relationship as told from both the point-of-view of the male and the female.  The dynamic of the song is enhanced by this dual perspective and the two vocal styles work well together.  I think, even over this interesting songwriting idea being done well here, this is just a catchy, accessible song.  It’s stuck with me for years as a song that is distinctly 80’s, while also sounding a little ahead of its time for 1981.

61- “Love Bites” - Def Leppard (1988)
Album: Hysteria
Writers: Joe Elliott, Phil Collen, Steve Clark, Rick Savage, Robert John Lange

Def Leppard, one of the definitive rock acts of the 80’s, had only one number one single in the Billboard Hot 100.  That single was Love Bites.  “Hysteria” was a different direction from Def Leppard’s Pyromania, which had a harder edge to it.  Instead of grit, Def Leppard added emotional depth with their song writing and while they still have some of that desireable rock styling in the album (audible in tracks like Woman and Don’t Shoot Shotgun), “Hysteria” certainly feels like the band’s “grown up” album.

Love Bites definitely sounds like it comes from the perspective of a person who struggles with holding things together with his lover.  He feels the drive to maintain a physical relationship with a woman who is obviously cheating, but struggles with his own desire.  It’s a common trope in this sort of “cheating girl” ballads.  The song’s slower tempo allows it to build to a massive, harmonious chorus, with the background vocals picking up the intensity.  I feel Love Bites shows off the band’s vocal talents more than just about any of their other tracks.