Saturday, November 12, 2011

Life Songs: The ’80s, Part One

Okay, I’ve had a good long think about the ’80s, and there’s just too much to blog at once. So I’m breaking it up! I’m realizing I can’t even keep it to around 10 per year now (geez Ben, how did you choose ONE per year?), so this is going to just get silly…

  • Adam & The Ants — Antmusic — Adam Ant was sex on legs. Seriously. And you can’t NOT dance to this. No one sounded like them either, they had this awesome sharp percussive sound that was immediately identifiable.
  • The Beat — Mirror In The Bathroom; Two Swords; Twist & Crawl; Click Click; Ranking Full Stop; Best FriendJust Can’t Stop It is an excellent album, if you don’t already have a copy just run out now and buy a copy. No party in high school was complete without it.
  • David Bowie — Up The Hill Backwards; Fashion — Fashion was my favourite Bowie song for a long time (Bewlay Brothers took over that position around ’89 or so). I have no explanation for my love of Up The Hill Backwards — it’s an odd little song. Maybe it’s the changing time signature that gets me? I’m a sucker for complicated time signatures.
  • Bruford — Age of Information; Joe Frazier; Gothic 17; Palewell Park; Plans For J.D. — Speaking of complicated time signatures… Gradually Going Tornado is an amazing album. I was only 10 when my brother brought this one home, and it’s been on the top of my mind ever since. And with Joe Frazier’s passing earlier this week, it’s back up there again. I get an especially strong mental image with Palewell Park, someday I may illustrate it.
  • Devo — Girl U Want; Whip It — Years ago, a group of friends and I planned to dress for Hallowe’en as the video for Whip It. I still wish we’d followed through.
  • Peter Gabriel — Intruder; No Self Control; I Don’t Remember; Games Without Frontiers; Not One Of Us — this was his third self-titled album (also known as ‘Melt’), and I think it was his strongest from this era. Just full of excellent tracks. He went with thicker sound by avoiding cymbals on a number of the tracks, if I recall correctly. Don’t settle for one track only, go out and get the whole damned album. And by the way, they’re saying ‘jeux sans frontière’ in the background. You’re welcome.
  • Klark Kent — Excesses; Away From Home; Too Kool To Kalypso — Stewart Copeland took a break from The Police and put out an album by his alter ego, Klark Kent — an immature horndog. He captured the idea perfectly. Then Warner Brothers called him and told him to cut it out, so he had to stop.
  • Kid Creole & The Coconuts — Mister Softee; There But For The Grace Of God Go I — No one seems to remember them, but they were quite prolific. I remember them performing these two songs on Saturday Night Live (the video links are from that night btw), and being fascinated not only by the songs but also by the fact that the Coconuts had hairy armpits.
  • Martha & The Muffins — Echo Beach — Maybe people outside of Canada don’t know this song, but it was THE summer song that year. And still awesome.
  • Paul McCartney – Coming Up — My favourite Paul McCartney song. Love the old-time microphone sound. Love the sparseness of the sound. And do you remember the awesome video with Macca playing everyone?
  • Robert Palmer — Looking For Clues — This is my favourite RP song, and I remember seeing this video on an early clip show channel 47 used to run (this and No Tengo Dinero!)
  • The Police — Driven To Tears; When The World Is Running Down You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around; Canary In A Coalmine; Man In A SuitcaseZenyatta Mondatta was an excellent album. My love of The Police was in full swing at this point, and I can still listen to any of these songs.
  • Rockpile — Teacher Teacher — This one never gets old.
  • Rough Trade — High School Confidential — Wait, she said WHAT? I was completely shocked by this song the first time I heard it. Did she really mean that? Was it written by a man and she just didn’t change the lyrics? Nope, what she says is what she means. Changed my world view.
  • Split Enz — I Got You — Did you have the laser-etched vinyl? I’ve got it. And I love it.
  • Pete Townshend — Rough Boys; Let My Love Open The Door; Keep On Working; A Little Is EnoughEmpty Glass is a great album, just get it. A couple of the tracks hinted at his later de-closeting (in retrospect, they didn’t so much hint as shout).
  • U2 – I Will Follow — Their best ever song. I almost don’t bother listening to anything else by them.

  • Bauhaus — The Passion Of Lovers; Kick In The Eye — The Godfathers of Goth. Kick is one of my favourite songs to dance to. Not that I dance anymore, of course. But still. There were two different recordings of it, the one from this year was better I think. And Passion is just insistent.
  • Falco — Der Kommissar — Don’t listen to the After The Fire version — it’s overproduced. Always insist on the original. Falco was slick.
  • Genesis — Me And Sarah Jane; Keep It Dark — People put Abacab down a lot, they say it was too commercial, it was the beginning of the end, it was Phil Collins starting to take over. Don’t listen to them, it’s a great album. I’ve always thought Sarah Jane was about the Doctor and his companion. Surprised?
  • Hall & Oates — I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) — I refuse to apologize for loving this song. Well, I do now — I totally was in the closet about loving this song for years. But you know what? Life’s too short to spend time pretending. It’s thick with a really catchy riff, and you can’t go wrong with Darryl Hall’s blue-eyed soul voice.
  • Heart – Straight On — Heart were awesome. Were. Once they got into the era of squishing the film so someone didn’t look fat, they had started to sound like everyone else. But in 1981, they still sounded like themselves.
  • Joe Jackson — Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby; Jumpin’ Jive; You Run Your Mouth (And I’ll Run My Business); What’s The Use Of Getting Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again) — You know what, just buy The Jumpin’ Jive, you won’t be sorry. Every one of these tracks are awesome. Strong memories of high school and a friend who introduced me to this album (thank you Todd!) — my love of Fats Waller and Louis Jordan and that whole era was reinforced by this album.
  • Jon and Vangelis — Friends Of Mr Cairo — What’s better than watching a film noir detective flick? Listening to this song.
  • Grace Jones — Demolition Man — Yes, it’s a Police song, and there are people who despise this version, but I’m not one of them. Once I got over my initial shock, I took quite a shine to it. Took a long time (pre-download days of course) to find a copy of it, and I’ve not been without it since.
  • King Crimson — Elephant Talk; Frame By Frame; Matte Kudasai; Thela Hun Ginjeet; Indiscipline — Really, just the whole Discipline album. This was my favourite lineup for the band as well — Belew, Bruford, Fripp and Levin. Didn’t First Choice Rocks or MuchMusic use Frame By Frame as their ‘concert special’ theme music?
  • Madness — It Must Be Love — Just a simple little ska love song. Is it a cover? I think so. Do I care? Not really.
  • The Police — Invisible Sun; Omegaman; Secret Journey; DarknessGhost In The Machine was quite a departure for the boys, one I loved without hesitation. Secret Journey always makes me think of Dune (I think I had just finished reading it for the first time when I first had this album).
  • Leon Redbone – When You Wish Upon A Star; Prairie Lullaby — The prettiest version of a Disney song ever, and the loveliest version of a Jimmie Rodgers song ever. Both on the same album.
  • Rush – Vital Signs — Loved the ska influence on the boys on this track. Can never get enough of it. An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure.
  • Simple Minds — Love Song — So much better than Alive And Kicking or Don’t You Forget About Me, looking back. Yes, I know they didn’t write Don’t You, but I’m making a point here. I love how raw Love Song sounds, angry even. Also, is it just me, or does he really look like Martin Short in this video?
  • The Stranglers — Golden Brown — Again with the complicated time signatures for me. Beautiful love song. Or is it a song simply about obsession? I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it. Hmm…
  • Frank Zappa — You Are What You Is; Mudd Club — Okay, I know there are people out there who think Frank Zappa was racist, and they point to You Are What You Is as proof. I don’t think they get the song. Underneath the ever-present humour in his lyrics, the message I hear is ‘don’t change yourself to be what you think the world demands — embrace who you are.’ I can’t be the only person who hears that, can I?

  • Laurie Anderson — O Superman — Unlike anything I had ever heard before. Laurie Anderson is a force of nature, with dimples you could plant crops in.
  • Asia — Heat Of The Moment; Only Time Will Tell — Asia was so much better than they’re ever given credit for — they weren’t a flash in the pan, and their music wasn’t power pop. Time was heart-rending, a relationship that had reached its end, and I still almost cry when I hear it.
  • Bauhaus – All We Ever Wanted Was Everything; Ziggy Stardust; Party Of The First Part — What can I say? You all know my thoughts about Bauhaus. If anyone can cover Bowie, you know it’s these guys. Peter Murphy’s voice was perfect for this.
  • The Beat – Save it For Later; I Confess — Save It For Later is one of my favourite songs of all time. Why do breakup and confession songs always hit that nerve for me? Oh wait, they both fit the bill, don’t they?
  • Kate Bush – The Dreaming; Get Out Of My House; Suspended In Gaffa – Gaffa’s a new favourite, Ra Ra Riot does a really nice cover. She’s undefinable, every song is so different from the last. and they all mean something beyond what you pick up from your first listen. If you’ve ever listened to her and thought she wasn’t for you, give her another try.
  • Devo – Peek-a-Boo!; That’s Good — Ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha…
  • Thomas Dolby — Europa And The Pirate Twins; Airwaves; She Blinded Me With Science; One Of Our Submarines — How is it that there are people who think Blinded Me was the only song he ever had? Dolby is still making excellent music, and this is where it all began.
  • Duran Duran – The Chauffeur — Super sexy. Crazy moody. Unexpected from a band I had dismissed as a money-driven artificial creation. Ever been in a goth club when this song plays? You’d think it would be impossible to dance to something like this, but you’d be wrong.
  • Donald Fagen – New Frontier – There’s just something so slick about this track, it really pulls you in. ‘I hear you’re mad about Brubeck’ — I had to go out and find some Dave Brubeck and find out what he sounded like!
  • Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On — Produced by Phil Collins. Yep, that Phil Collins. I’ve loved this since the moment I first heard it. I have it on vinyl. I can’t honestly tell you what the rest of the album sounds like...
  • Rupert Hine – Eleven Faces; Dark Windows — Everything Rupert Hine produces sounds like he produced it, and this album is no different. Not that it’s a bad thing — Waving Not Drowning is a great album, I have an ex to thank for introducing me to it. Faces was my obsession, but Dark Windows makes me sad, so sad.
  • Joe Jackson — Real Men; Steppin’ Out; Breaking Us In Two; Another World; Cancer; A Slow Song — Just go out and get Night And Day, it’s one of the best albums you’ll ever hear. Very different sound for its time. Side one all runs together, interestingly, so you can play it and pretend you’re a deejay without having to actually switch tracks.
  • Men Without Hats — I Like; Safety Dance — Yes, they had more than one song. And no, their songs were never deep. But sometimes you don’t need deep.
  • Midnight Oil – Short Memory; Read About It; Power And The Passion — Pretty much the opposite of Mw/oH, the Oils never had any bubblegum songs. They were awesome. Short Memory is my favourite of theirs.
  • Police – I Burn For You — Sexiest. Song. Ever.
  • Romeo Void – Never Say Never — I was shocked by this song when I first heard it. I was sweet and innocent once.
  • Rough Trade – Crimes of Passion — And this one shocked me even more. Entwined limbs? The moistness of herself? Wow.
  • Rush – New World Man; Subdivisions; Digital Man; Chemistry — Rush plus keyboards! Everyone remembers Subdivisions. Actually, I never knew anyone who had a bar in their basement, so ‘in the basement bars’ never made me think of underage drinking, I just thought about bars in basements. Metal bars, like pipes. Yeah, I suck that much.
  • Wall Of Voodoo – Lost Weekend; Mexican Radio; Call Of The West — Really, just get the whole Call Of The West album, it’s awesome. Pivotal in shaping my tastes going forward.
  • The Who — Eminience Front — I could never quite believe this was a Who song and not a Pete Townshend solo song, it’s definitely all him.
  • Frank Zappa — Valley Girl; No Not NowShip Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch is an awesome album. But maybe not for everyone…

I think I’ve made good progress diving into the ’80s. If you’d like to stream them all together rather than jumping all over, visit Grooveshark where I’ve made separate playlists for 1980, 1981 and 1982, give it a listen!

Next time, 1983!

Previously: Life Songs: ’70s; Life Songs: ’70s, additional. Did you miss them?


  1. This is fantastic. I'm chained to the computer today doing school work, and now having an 80s love in. :-)

  2. Cool! I started with 1970 in September - it may be 2012 before I get up to the present...

  3. Abacab was not a Genesis album! This is coming from someone who thinks Foxtrot is the best ever though. I have not looked at you 70s list yet - it better be there!

    Yay on Joe Jackson, Wall of Voodoo and Thomas Dolby. Subs is one of the best ever. Really the whole album is great.

  4. The early 80s were really a great years for music - that's why this post was such a long time coming! When I realized I'd have to post a follow-up 70s one 'cos of the ones I missed in my rush, I thought I'd better give it a good think...

  5. You do have more then enough early Genesis on the 70s list. I just find it interesting we like different early Genesis, we can agree on the era but differ on specifics.

    We will have to disagree on later Genesis. I stopped when Hackett left.

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