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.
21 thoughts on “Back to the Eighties – A Sixpack”
I am so glad to see Big Country here! I loved these guys. I’ll throw in a shameless plug for The Alarm, and Sixty Eight Guns.
Are those songs, bands? I don’t know either.
The Alarm is a band, contemporary with Big Country. Sixty Eight Guns is one of my favourite songs of theirs. Mike Peters, lead singer for The Alarm, filled in as lead for Big Country (2010 – 2013) after Stuart Adamson’s passing.
Adamson was a tragedy, eh? He wasn’t really well-known here so there was no impact when I died. I only read about his death much later.
I just gave “88 Guns” a listen. Very catchy. I read about the Alarm in Wikipedia. I can say for sure they weren’t a big deal in these parts but apparently they did tour in the States at least once. I’m amused by the fact they started life as a band called the Toilets. And – irony of ironies – Karl Wallinger of World Party was in an early version of the band.
Cool how these little interwoven threads pop up; they add another level of fun when you’re digging around in the music.
And I wasn’t even looking for anything, just curious about a band who had been so far under my radar. One day I’ll figure out how Wallinger knows Sinead.
Nice choices, Jim. Perhaps the only tune I feel a bit indifferent about is Big Country, though it’s not a bad song.
Tears for Fears definitely had some good songs. “Shout” was one of the huge songs at my high school parties back in Germany, though I’m no longer as fond of it as I used to be. Instead, I prefer the Beatle-esque “Sowing the Seeds of Love”.
Can’t argue about “Come On Eileen” – just a fun tune!
I also like Toto. “Toto IV” was a pretty good album.
Karl Wallinger has written some cool songs. My favorite from World Party’s “Private Revolution” album is “Ship of Fools.”
I also still enjoy listening to Men at Work. In addition to “Down Under,” I like “Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive” and “Who Can It Be Now?” in particular – catchy pop rock!
I like both fo those Tears for Fears song. But there’s something about “Rule the World” that just does it for me. “Ship of Fools” is good too. Men at Work were fun. Colin Hay is touring solo and you doubtless know he was part of Ringo’s All Starr band.
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Thanks for the shoutout! I think a lot of my favourite rock music started going underground around 1980. The Jam were huge in the UK but barely sold a record in the US.
I have a weird thing with Tears for Fears where I love Head Over Heels and Everybody Wants to Rule the World, but when I’ve tried a full album they haven’t done it for me. I’m impressed you know World Party – I’ve never heard them on the radio or anything and only know them because of the Waterboys connection and because someone put Ship of Fools on a mix CD for me once.
The only Jam song – which I featured once – that I recall getting much airplay was “Town Called Malice.” World Party were, I think, perhaps more well-known than you might think. And back then, Boston was still a vital music scene. Til Tuesday arrived in the 80’s. And we had radio stations that covered everything from classic rock to modern rock to alternative to blues. Alas, both now greatly diminished.
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Looks like Ship of Fools peaked at #27 in the US, which is surprising to me. They seem like a quirky arty band like XTC, who peaked at #72 on the US singles charts.
It’s hard to justify listening to the radio when you can just play music on the go everywhere and not have to listen to ads.
True, but back in the day we had good disc jockeys who were entertaining in their own way and added something to the party. They might tell you about a song or play a set that had some link. So I still enjoy that on Sirius, especially on Deep Tracks.
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Always great seeing Big Country appear, but overall these are great picks (no surprises that I’m familiar with every one of these tunes). I’m also getting right into Toto just now.
Yes. A shame about Stuart Adamson, eh? Another rock and roll casualty. I’m glad you’re digging the tunes. I was afraid loyal readers would think I’d gone a wee bit commercial on this one. Which I bloody well have. But these tunes get me going.
I like a few of these. Big Country has a good sound so does WP. I have a couple Hay records that I really like. That whole Runners album is pretty good. You know Im a sucker for the fiddle.
Yeah, i confess I never heard any more of Dexys than that tune. I’ll have to give it a spin when I’m out in the hot rod Lincoln.
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There must be something in the water lately. I’ve just been teaching my cub the joy of making the modern equivalent of a ‘mix cd’ by putting together an ’80’s’ playlist on Spotify. Whether I could condense its current 36 down to 6 songs is unlikely but 4 of these feature so we must be on the same tracks. These days I’m loving a certain element of the 80’s sound – that soft, hazy, sun-kissed production feel that you hear on things like Boys of Summer or Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love album and how it’s being given a newer airing by bands like the War on Drugs etc. It’s strange, to me at least, that the decade that yielded the murk of the new romantic movement also bore Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls etc and the first 2 and a half Pixies albums – a lot of gems to be found across that decade that’s often dismissed as just the era of Flock of Seagulls.
Or Duran Duran. I think you can blame (or credit, if you will) MTV. Prior to that there was so much less emphasis on visuals. MTV was a game changer for good or for ill. And rock itself was in somewhat of a generational transition phase. As mentioned, Billboard’s top album for 1980 was ‘The Wall.’ By 1990 it was Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation.’ By 2000 it was your favorite band NSync’s ‘No Strings Attached.’ Rock was (and is) still around but I tend to think of the ’80s and early to mid-90’s as rock’s last stab at cultural dominance.
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I thought I’d managed to hide my adoration of N Sync…
I have often pontificated on how much of the blame for the current state of the mainstream ‘auto-tune’ factory fluff that gets radio play is down to things like X-Factor / Got Talent shows that pushed and only allowed a certain type of act through (the kind that can be manipulated, appeal to mass-market and won’t push back against direction and songs given to them) and onto the airwaves with a ‘this is good because we say so so’ since the turn of the millenium… thus forcing stuff rooted in the rockier side of music to the peripheries where it still flourishes, mind.
Still, better you than those fucking Kentish wankers. And I think that the reduction of popular music to its lowest common denominator can be attributed to several factors not the least of which is the computer. It’s just too cheap and too easy to lazily lay down tracks and ship ’em off. Plus the muzak merchants have learned they can essentially sell the same song over and over again. (Or for that matter, the same movie. How the fuck many Jurassic movies with basically the same plot do we need?) But on the music front, blame Maz Martin and his fellow Swedes. All that comes back to your other favorite band, Abba.
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