Recently, fellow blogger Aphrorstical had a take on 80’s hits. That’s something I’d had in the back of my head to do for a while. Here’s my take on it.
The 1980s were an interesting decade for music. Rock music was still very much thriving (The Wall was Billboard’s number album in 1980) and in 1981, MTV arrived. MTV was a mixed bag. A lot of the videos were fun to watch but it really helped shift the emphasis away from just listening. Consequently, as is always the case in music, there were great artists and there were utter fools.
I say that the 80s were interesting because while you had some of these slick guys like Duran Duran, let us not forget that blues was alive and well in the persons of (at least) Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top, both of whom had great success plus dopey/amusing videos. And Bruce Springsteen bowed to commercial interests by releasing his most commercial and slickly produced album, Born in the USA.
Despite Bruce, SRV, Van Halen, ZZ Top, and others, the influence of the guitar as the main instrument in rock was waning. Now there was more synth and other computer-based sounds. I had mixed feelings about that but if I liked a song, well, I liked it.
If I had had a crystal ball I could have looked into the future and found that while rock was not on its last gasp, it certainly was on its way to becoming less relevant. A glance at the Billboard Top 100 albums for1980 demonstrates that a good 40 or so could be classified as rock albums. 2020? Maybe four or five, all mostly compilations or greatest hits of classic rock artists. Isn’t it a pity?
Anyway, here are six tunes from the Eighties that I liked then and I like now. I stayed away from tunes I’d already done and frankly, veered towards the commercial side. We’ll save the Cure and the Smiths and all those “important” bands for some other time. Starting off with…
“In a Big Country” by the band Big Country from the album Big C—oh sorry, their 1983 debut, The Crossing. This thing kicks off with some shouting and a long-ish drum solo. And they’ve got guitars that sound like bagpipes. I always dug the lyrics:
I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime
In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Who doesn’t love at least one song by Tears for Fears? You know you do. My own favorite is “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” I don’t know if that is exactly true ‘coz I tell you what – I sure as shit don’t. Curt Smith, the song’s lead singer, said the themes were “quite serious – it’s about everybody wanting power, about warfare and the misery it causes.”
And yet, so fucking catchy. Some superb guitar playing in here by Roland Orzabal.
Welcome to your life.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Who the fuck are they? Well, they actually cropped up in one of my online feeds the other day. They’re from Birmingham, England and were co-founded by singer/songwriter Kevin Rowland. I have no idea what these guys are up to now but Rowland appears to be the only remaining original member. And from what I read, he was a bit of a wanker in his treatment of the other guys.
“Come On Eileen” is, of course, about a guy trying to convince a girl to have a bit of a shag as the Brits like to say. His pretext seems to be that he and Eileen are not as beaten down as their elders but not them as they are far too “young and clever.” Proving once again that there is no end of bullshit guys will come up with to get laid.
“Big Country” had some Scottish bagpipes. Not to be outdone, this one’s got some Irish Too-ra-loo-ra too-ra-loo-rye-ay. (ME doesn’t play favorites when it comes to the UK. He is an equal opportunity blogger!)
For whatever reason, it’s not too often that musicians escape the studio and become stars. Glen Campbell, Duane Allman, Jimmy Page – the list is short. Toto stood that on its head by being the first band comprised entirely of studio musicians. So the musicianship was high but how was the music?
Well, to quote Larry David, it was pretty, pretty, pretty good. In fact I couldn’t decide whether to go with the great “Rosanna” or the equally great “Africa.” I decided to go with “Africa” since it was the first one that came to mind.
Wikipedia: “The initial idea and lyrics for the song came from keyboardist David Paich. He explained that the song is about a man’s love of a continent, Africa, rather than just a personal romance. He based the lyrics off a late night documentary with depictions of African plight and suffering.
The viewing experience made a lasting impact on Paich: “It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn’t leave my head. I tried to imagine how I’d feel about it if I was there and what I’d do.” Jeff Porcaro elaborates further, explaining: “A white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.”
An album called Private Revolution was released in 1986 by a band named World Party. At that point in time, World Party consisted of “singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist” Kurt Wallinger and … well, pretty much just Wallinger. He is ably assisted on the album by a variety of musicians and on the title tune, by none other than Sinéad O’Connor.
Another great, upbeat tune with lyrics that I like. Take matters into your own hands he advises:
If you want a revolution, baby
There is nothing like your own
You don’t have to do all those burning books
Revolutionize at home
That’s Sinéad in the back of the video boogieing for all she’s worth:
So how could I not end this (sort of) tribute to MTV and not do “Down Under?” “Slang and drug terms are featured in the lyrics. They open with the singer traveling in a fried-out Kombi, on a hippie trail, head full of zombie. In Australian slang “fried-out” means overheated, “Kombi” refers to the Volkswagen Type 2 combination van, and having “a head full of zombie” refers to the use of a type of marijuana
“Hippie trail” refers to a subcultural tourist route popular in the 1960s and 70s which stretched from Western Europe to South-East Asia. The song also contains the refrain, where beer does flow and men chunder. To ‘chunder’ means to vomit.”
The video is pretty funny what with Vegemite sandwiches, mass quantities of beer, and other things you’d have to be an Aussie to even begin to appreciate.