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1982 – A+ List

rotary phones ruled

rotary phones ruled

1. “867-5309/Jenny,” Tommy Tutone. The king of all rotary dialing songs – “Jenny” was a bigger hit than both Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789 (Soulsville U.S.A.)” and The Marvalettes’ “Beechwood 4-5-7-8-9.” Mrs. Lorene Burns, an Alabama woman that had the famous seven digits for her telephone number was not a fan. “When we’d first get calls at 2 or 3 in the morning, my husband would answer the phone. He can’t hear too well. They’d ask for Jenny, and he’d say ‘Jimmy doesn’t live here anymore.’ Tommy Tutone was the one who had the record. I’d like to get hold of his neck and choke him.”
2. “Atlantic City,” Bruce Springsteen. Listen to the Nebraska album too much and you might start attending the funerals of strangers, just to fulfill your need for unrelieved despondency. “Atlantic City,” a tale of tarnished dreams, has become somewhat of an Americana standard; it’s been covered by over 20 artists in the past two decades. So think of it as “Wagon Wheel” without the nausea.

3. “Atomic Dog,” George Clinton. The last #1 R&B hit by P-Funk genius George Clinton. If you decided to do nothing else until you listened to every rap song that sampled “Atomic Dog,” you would have six cavities and a Rip Van Winkle beard by the time you completed your self-assigned task. You might, however, become a better dancer in the process.

4. “Beyond Belief,” Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Costello’s lyrical cleverness was sometimes bewildering – should the listener dig for a deeper meaning or was the witty wordplay just a facile trick? The production work by former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick and the performance by the Attractions render such questions moot on “Beyond Belief.”

5. “Cleaning Windows,” Van Morrison. A working man in his prime, Van needs not filthy lucre when he can read Kerouac and listen to Muddy Waters and eat Paris buns and blow the saxophone – in that down joint.

6. “Come On Eileen,” Dexys Midnight Runners. The type of song that Queen would have released if they had pretended to be an Irish roots band. Dexys had several hits in the U.K. and in 2013 lead singer Kevin Rowland received an honorary degree from the University of Wolverhampton. If the University hasn’t given Slade similar honors, we all need to throw on our plaid pants and picket the place while singing “Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me.”

7. “Genius of Love,” Tom Tom Club. Chris Frantz take it away, “There was this one song that I loved called ‘More Bounce to the Ounce’ by a group called Zapp, and ‘Genius of Love’ was inspired by that. If you listen side by side, they’re very different, but the feel of it — a laid-back kind of groove as opposed to a hyper, cocaine kind of groove — it was more laid back and I think that’s one of the reasons why it continues to be perfect for people to rap over. It was a song that was pioneering. At the time there was nothing that sounded like it, and frankly, except for the people that have sampled it, there still isn’t.”

8. “Girls Like Me,” Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo. The All Music Guide calls the 1982 Bonnie Hayes/Wild Combo album “probably the finest album of the entire early-’80s California girl pop scene” and “a neglected ’80s pop masterpiece.” Therefore, I think we can assume this record was released in the ‘80s. Hayes would go on to write “Love Letter” and “Have a Heart,” which were popularized by Bonnie Raitt, but stick with “Girls Like Me” for bursting new wave fun.

9. “Golden Brown,” The Stranglers. The Stranglers were saturated with ugly punk rock attitude on 1977’s “Peaches,” but sound like absolute gentlemen on this demented (i.e., modified) waltz time number that isn’t about a perfect chicken leg. I would have thought that The Stranglers would have succumbed to carpal tunnel syndrome by now, but they continue to tour and record.

10. “I Ran (So Far Away),” A Flock of Seagulls. Due to Mike Score’s insistence on sporting the silliest hairstyle in the history of popular music, A Flock of Seagulls has forever been somewhat of a new wave punch line. A shame, since they produced both fine singles and albums in the early ‘80s. Even as a fan, I can’t think of them without the following CREEM tagline – “Look Out Below!”

11. “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World),” Donald Fagen. I believe it was Rob O’Connor who once quipped, “What’s the difference between a Steely Dan album and a Donald Fagen solo album? Ask Walter Becker’s accountant.” On “I.G.Y.,” Fagen uses that familiar understated Steely Dan swing to celebrate the Cold War Era International Geophysical Year, which led directly to the Antarctic Treaty in 1959. No polar bears were harmed in the typing of this entry.

12. “Kids in America,” Kim Wilde. Wilde was one of Britain’s top pop stars in the ‘80s and her breakthrough hit went Top Ten in fourteen countries, but not in the U.S. Almost two decades after releasing one of the most vibrant hits of the new wave era, Wilde became recognized in England as one of the country’s leading gardening experts. Due to Rock NYC’s strict ban on jokes that include the words “plow,” “kumquat,” and “hoe,” I’ll stop here.

13. “Let It Whip,” Dazz Band. It took a few years to make a commercial impact, but in 1982 rap hits by Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash started turning listeners away from traditional funk music. The Dazz Band went beyond the basic funk model, adding disco and new wave sounds to the mix, and danced their way to #5 on the pop charts with “Let It Whip.” I’m not sure what “It” was, but the band had a Top Ten R&B hit in 1983 with “Joystick.”

14. “The Message,” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Depending on your point of view, you can either blame or credit “The Message” for changing rap from a street party music to a form of social commentary. Gil Scott-Heron had been knocking on this same door for over a decade, “The Message” ripped it off its hinges.

15. “Never Say Never,” Romeo Void. Legend has it that a drunken Lester Bangs was bar hopping in San Francisco with writer John Amato when the two stumbled across a Romeo Void performance and Bangs recommended that the band be signed. While one cannot forget Debora Iyall’s “might like you better if we slept together” tease, Benjamin Bossi’s squawking free jazz inspired saxophone work is the post punk icing.

16. “Sexual Healing,” Marvin Gaye. The last great single for one of soul music’s most legendary talents. Not too many vocalists could make you listen past the “I’m hot just like an oven/I need some lovin’” couplet.

17. “Tainted Love,” Soft Cell. It must be a bit demoralizing when your only hit song in the United States is a cover tune. (Sinead O’Connor is giving me the stink eye right now). “Tainted Love” spent a whoa-oh-oh 43 weeks on the U.S. Top 100 chart, at the time the longest charting single ever.

18. “There She Goes Again,” Marshall Crenshaw. Crenshaw has long been one of pop music’s most underappreciated artists – smart, tasteful, and tuneful with a master’s degree in the unrequited.

19. “Wild and Blue,” John Anderson. John unleashes some old school Appalachian country on this lament about heartache and bad decisions. Penned by Nashville stalwart John Scott Sherrill, this #1 country hit was later covered by Lucinda Williams and The Mekons.

20. “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” The Gap Band. The funkiest group that ever escaped Tulsa, Oklahoma, The Gap Band peaked with their dance oriented, synth-bass sound on 1982’s “Early in the Morning” (a hit for Robert Palmer in 1988) and the fabulously atomic “You Dropped a Bomb on Me.” The GAP band represented three different Tulsa streets in the African-American community – (G)reenwood, (A)rcher, and (P)ine.

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