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1985 – The A+ List



1. “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You),” Dramarama. While there are plenty of songs about romantic infatuation, singer John Easdale conveys almost a life or death need for validation on “Anything, Anything.”   Hormonal angst rock at its finest.

2. “Celebrated Summer,” Hüsker Dü’s. The centerpiece of the New Day Rising album, a record that carried me through some dark times in the mid-80s. One rarely gets to type “melodic,” “wistful,” and “isolationalist rage” in the same sentence.

3. “Centerfield,” John Fogerty. Fogerty had moderate solo chart success in the mid-70s with his cover of “Jambalaya” and “Rockin’ All Over the World,” but went all John Lennon and stayed away from the music business for almost a decade before releasing the Centerfield album. The title track worked wonderfully as both a nostalgic look at one of sport’s greatest dynasties and as a statement of personal optimism. Amazingly, “Centerfield” didn’t crack the Top 40 but has received official recognition from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

4. “Downtown Train,” Tom Waits. The ragamuffin, barstool poet image that Waits embodied in the ‘70s never did much for me and vocally he makes Dylan sound like Sam Cooke. Still, the nocturnal yearning of “Downtown Train” is filled with evocative images and an unrequited dream is better than no dream at all. Rod Stewart would take the heart out of the song four years later for a #3 pop hit.

5. “Freeway of Love,” Aretha Franklin. After 1973’s “Until You Come Back to Me,” the undisputed Queen of Soul had a dozen years with only moderate mainstream pop success, although she continued to do well on the R&B charts. 1985’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Album was a major commercial comeback and leading the way was “Freeway of Love,” featuring a typically robust sax solo from Clarence Clemons, and making the airwaves righteous again.

6. “Highwayman,” The Highwaymen. Songwriter Jimmy Webb dumped a truckload of mythos into a three minute pop song, but Waylon and Willie and the boys had the gravitas to make it work. Also, provided a solid band name since the other option may have been Four Old White Dudes in Dire Need of Alimony Money.

7. “How Will I Know,” Whitney Houston. This was co-written/produced by Narada Michael Walden, who also co-wrote/produced “Freeway of Love.” Actually, he didn’t agree to produce Whitney until he was given the co-writing credit. If you’ve read John Mendelssohn’s book “I, Caramba: Confessions of an Antkiller,” you will already know that record industry businessmen sometimes magically appeared on the writing credits for Whitney’s material. (An old trick, but a profitable one). This was the second of eleven #1 pop hits for Houston and the only one I would listen to on purpose.

8. “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” Rosanne Cash. Rosanne writes a song about not receive industry recognition and wins a Grammy for it. After I finish this piece, I’m going to write a tune about not having a tryst with Scarlett Johansson.

9. “Into the Groove,” Madonna. Madonna was the Lady Gaga of the ‘80s, tearing up the pop charts while having an innate ability to create controversy and spectacle. “Into the Groove” marked her transition from a perceived pop fad/fashion victim into an artist that was taken more seriously and the song was named the Dance Single of the Decade by Billboard magazine.

10. “Just Like Honey,” The Jesus and Mary Chain. Nobody had thought about merging Phil Spector with the Velvet Underground while pretending to be heroin addicts before these Scottish mopes, so the J&MC made a significant critical splash with their 1985 album Psychocandy. “Just Like Honey” also made an appearance in the 2003 film Lost in Translation. (Hey, look, Scarlett Johansson just WAIVED AT ME)!

11. “Left of the Dial,” The Replacements. On my favorite Replacements song, a touring Paul Westerberg keeps in contact with a musician love interest by finding her band on college radio stations. “Pretty girl keep growin’ up, playin’ make-up, wearin’ guitar.”

12. “Nightshift,” Commodores. It was tough times for the Commodores after tissue distributer Lionel Richie left the band, but this tribute to Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye went to #3 on the pop charts and won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance for a Duo/Group. Walter Orange, who sand lead on this track and “Brick House,” still fronts a version of the band and may be soon performing at a casino or bingo hall near you.

13. “Part-Time Lover,” Stevie Wonder. His last #1 pop hit had that classic Stevie Wonder feel, it purposefully sounded like it could have been the follow up to “My Cherie Amour” in 1969. Wonder later stated that the record was an ode to “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “My World is Empty Without You” by the Supremes.

14. “Perfect Way,” Scritti Politti. Scritti Politti started life as an art school punk band, before transitioning to synth-pop in the early ‘80s. The band had more commercial success in the U.K., but is best known in the U.S. for this clever piece of dance pop. In the truth is stranger than fiction department, “Perfect Way” would later become the title track for a Miles Davis anthology.

15. “Pure and Simple,” The Rattlers.   Fronted by Joey Ramone’s brother Mickey Leigh, The Rattlers sounded like a lost ‘60s garage band that wandered into mid-80s New York City. “Pure and Simple” may have copped a feel (musically speaking, that is) from The Who’s “My Generation,” but it worked marvelously because of its own pocket groove.

16. “Road to Nowhere,” Talking Heads. “I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom,” noted notorious cheerleader David Byrne. Gospel tinged nihilism for your journey into nothingness. Be sure to bring road snacks.

17. “Running Up That Hill,” Kate Bush. I’m not a big Kate Bush fan, after about thirty seconds of “Wuthering Heights” I start asking the examined life question. Despite asking The Big Cheese to oversee a swap meet, the inspiration for “Hill” was more Venus and Mars. Bush, “I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman.” I would interpret that, but I have no idea what she’s saying.

18. “September Song,” Lou Reed. Kurt Weill was a German egghead (I mean that in a literal sense, check out his pics) who wrote “Make the Knife” with lyricist Bertolt Brecht prior to fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933 and wrote “September Song” for the Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday in 1938. Actor Walter Huston, the grandfather of Anjelica Huston, had a major hit with “September Song” in 1950 and it’s been recorded by approximately 6,000 artists including Willie Nelson, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, James Brown, and Dion and the Belmonts. Lou’s reading has the proper balance of aging contemplation and romantic determination.

19. “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” Camper Van Beethoven. This is sage advice, since they are notoriously inept at needlecraft.

20.  “Would I Lie to You?,” Eurythmics.  Leaving the world of synth-pop behind like yesterday’s drum machine, Dave and Annie got into flesh and blood hard rock with power chords and a horn section emphasizing the gravity of the ethical question.  And, no, you do not look fat in those jeans.

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