Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called “life.”
The music of the 1980s gets a regular beating due to widespread allergies to synth pop, video killing the singer/songwriter radio stars, production values with too much reverb and thin drum machine sounds, silly hairstyles, etc. Still, in the realm of pop music, Madonna went from dance specialist to icon, Bruce Springsteen broke pop, Michael Jackson broke cash registers and minds, and Prince grabbed David Bowie’s baton for constant reinvention. You had the “serious artists club,” to include Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits cranking out good to great material. U2 and The Police redefined the sound of arena rock.
In country music, the decade began with certified legends George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson still as commercially viable acts. After a dry spell in the mid-decade, Randy Travis, Steve Earle, and Dwight Yoakam emerged as the new generation. R&B moved from the hard, sweaty funk of George Clinton to a more electronic take on that genre (such as The Gap Band and Cameo), while rap generally wasn’t embraced by pop radio, but had street legitimacy that would eventually find its way to the suburbs.
In compiling this list, I’ve found the 1980s to be weirder, broader, and better than its bad reputation. Without further ado, let the fun begin:
The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 1000 to 991
1,000. “Addicted to Love,” Robert Palmer. Songwriter: Robert Palmer; #1 pop; 1986. Propelled by one of the most iconic videos in music history, Robert Palmer scored his only U.S. #1 pop hit with The Power Station sound-alike hit “Addicted to Love.” Music journalist Steve Peake, “Built on a powerhouse yet subdued guitar riff, this track is stunningly solid when viewed from all possible angles. Tasteful keyboard flourishes, a fine melodic turn in the bridge (‘Whoa-oh-oh, you like to think that you’re immune to the stuff… oh yeah!’), and another soulfully forceful, utterly rock vocal performance push this to a new level.” Palmer reflecting years later, “I hardly ever get asked about music I do, however, get asked about the ‘Addicted to Love’ video and my suits on a daily basis. The models were all gorgeous. I did try to get a few phone numbers.”
999. “Watching the Wheels,” John Lennon. Songwriter: John Lennon; #10 pop; 1981. John Lennon, “I hadn’t stopped from ’62 till ’73 – on demand, on schedule, continuously. And walking away was hard. What it seemed like to me was, ‘This must be what guys go through at sixty-five when suddenly they’re not supposed to exist any more and they are sent out of the office’. I thought, ‘Well, oughtn’t I? Shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I be, like, going to the office or something?’ Because I don’t exist if my name isn’t in the papers or if I don’t have a record out or in the charts, or whatever – if I’m not seen at the right clubs. It must be like the guys at sixty-five when somebody comes up and goes, ‘Your life is over. Time for golf.’ Watching the wheels? The whole universe is a wheel, right? Wheels go round and round. They’re my own wheels, mainly. But, you know, watching meself is like watching everybody else. And I watch meself through my child, too.”
998. “Run to the Hills,” Iron Maiden. Songwriter: Steve Harris; Did Not Chart; 1982. U.K. rockers Iron Maiden were part of the early ‘80s “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” a movement that involved cleaner and faster driving music than the traditional metal blueprint. Lars Ulrich on their 1982 “The Number of the Beast” album, “To me, that’s Iron Maiden just literally at their peak. It has the best songs, the best production. It was produced by Martin Birch, who did a lot of the old Deep Purple records and a lot of the Rainbow stuff. ‘The Number of the Beast’ is probably the best single that they ever released. Obviously, there’s the more commercial single, ‘Run to the Hills,’ which became a big hit.” Rock critic Dave Swanson, “From the unique drum intro to the signature guitar/bass riff, ‘Run to the Hills’ is prime Maiden. The off script opening of the song leads straight into the galloping verses before reaching the mountain top with the rousing chorus. The operatic vocal style works wonders here.”
997. “Guilty,” Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb. Songwriters: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, and Maurice Gibb; #3 pop; 1981. Bee Gee Barry Gibb was involved in the production and songwriting on Barbara Streisand’s 1980 “Guilty” album, which included the #1 pop single “Woman in Love,” the Top Ten hit “What Kind of Fool” and the whipped-cream disco title track “Guilty” that peaked at #3 in 1981. Rolling Stone magazine, listing “Guilty” as one of Barry Gibb’s “Essential Tracks,” “The perfect battle of two high-strung diva voices in full-blown disco attack mode. The dramatic moment where Barry makes his big entrance is (as Barbra’s fans say) like butter.” Barry Gibb, “Barbra is very unique. If the song doesn’t hit her she won’t sing it. Barbra would ask, ‘Do you think my career is over?’”
996. “Get Off the Air,” Angry Samoans. Songwriter: Gregg Turner; Did Not Chart; 1980. There were plenty of Los Angeles hardcore bands who have sold more records and are quoted as being “influential” more often than the Angry Samoans. As they name might suggest, they had no interest in political correctness and attacked their targets in ways that could be shocking and gallingly hysterical. “Get Off the Air” is a typical take no prisoners assault with Los Angeles punk rock disc jockey pioneer Rodney Bingenheimer being the object of their contempt. Targeting Bingenheimer may have been a strategic mistake, resulting in the band being blackballed at many of L.A.’s most popular clubs.
995. “Poison Arrow,” ABC. Songwriters: Martin Fry, Mark White, Stephen Singleton, David Palmer, Mark Lickley; #25 pop; 1982. The English pop band ABC formed in Sheffield in 1980 and hit the international pop charts in 1982 with “Poison Arrow,” sounding like a commercially focused homage to Roxy Music. Rock critic Stewart Mason, “One of the definitive singles of the early MTV era, ABC’s ‘Poison Arrow’ is, like ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ (a song it bears a subtle but unmistakable resemblance to), both a kitsch masterpiece and a brilliantly written, near-perfect pop song.” Martin Fry, describing another connection to the famous Swedes, “I wanted a name that would put us first in the phone directory, or second if you count ABBA.”
994. “Just Got Lucky,” JoBoxers. Songwriters: Chris Bostock, Dig Wayne; #36 pop; 1983. The pop band the JoBoxers have a somewhat surprising lineage, having evolved from the London punk rock band Subway Sect. The only American in the band was lead singer Dig Wayne (Timothy Ball), who had previously been the lead singer for the New York rockabilly act Buzz and the Flyers. The JoBoxers went Top Ten in the U.K. with their first two singles – “Boxerbeat” and the blue eyed soul of “Just Got Lucky.” The song has drawn comparisons to the music of the Style Council during that era, another soul/pop outfit with punk rock roots. Dig Wayne, “The first line was ‘Your technique leaves me weak,’ which I got from an old Popeye cartoon. Olive Oil said it to Popeye. I thought, ‘That is a good rhyme. I’ll have to use it someday.’ And I did. Every time I hear ‘Just Got Lucky,’ I think about Popeye!”
993. “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” Afrika Bambaata & the Soulsonic Force. Songwriters: Arthur Baker, John Robie, Afrika Bambataata, The Soulsonic Force; Did Not Chart; 1983. Africa Bambaata (Lance Taylor) was a ground zero Bronx rap pioneer who gained fame by incorporating electronic music into hip hop (there are those who say he is even responsible for naming the genre “hip hop”). Bambaata sampled Kraftwerk on his groundbreaking 1982 single “Planet Rock,” listed by “Rolling Stone” as one of the “500 Greatest Hits of All Time.” Co-producer John Robie on looking for a different sound on “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” “Tradition usually dictated that you’d have like a sequencer part, a chord part, (and) a bass part. This was just a free-for-all. Lots of sixteenth notes doing whatever they wanted to do it. And, you worked it out later.”
992 “Games People Play,” The Alan Parsons Project. Songwriters: Alan Parsons, Eric Woolfson; #15 pop; 1981. London native Alan Parsons was part of the studio team for records by The Beatles (assistant engineer on the “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” albums) and Pink Floyd (engineer on “Dark Side of the Moon”) before collaborating with pianist Eric Woolfson for The Alan Parsons Project. With their radio friendly brand of white bread prog rock, Alan and company hit the U.S. Top 40 seven times between 1977 and 1984, becoming an AOR staple in the process. Rock critic Mike DeGagne, “On ‘Games People Play,’ vocalist Lenny Zakatek sounds compelling and focused, giving the song a seriousness that aids in realization of the album’s concept.” (The album being “The Turn of a Friendly Card” and the concept being gambling addiction). The act’s biggest hit was 1982’s “Eye in the Sky,” a #3 U.S. single that sounds like ELO with a slight case of narcolepsy.
991. “Lie to Me,” Dirty Looks. Songwriter: Patrick Barnes; Did Not Chart. There were two bands named Dirty Looks during the 1980s – a San Francicso hard rock outfit and this Staten Island power pop band. Described by the “Village Voice” as “pop but not insipid; heavy metal but not boring; new-wave but not disposable,” Dirty Looks plowed the same AOR pop ground that would make Huey Lewis millions on the wronged lover number “Lie to Me.” There are several other fine selections on their 1980 debut album, described by “Trouser Press” as “like an adolescent Cheap Trick gone new wave (check out “Let Go,” “You’re Too Old,” and the pre-Stray Cats neo-rockabilly of “Drop That Tan”). The band that described “rock ‘n’ roll” as “the best drug” went the major label route in 1981 and went kaput in 1982.
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