I know it has been done before, but it’s that time of the year again when publications do their round-ups and best-ofs highlighting the best and the boldest releases in music and entertainment of the past year. I plan to do one, too, and I’ll post it by Christmas.
Not to be a Scrooge and spoil all the warm-cider feelings of this season, but I feel compelled to post my personal Top Ten list of 1980s songs that truly hope radio stations and DJs across the world will collect all CD, digital and even vinyl recording versions known to exist and physically destroy them so that next I find myself in a Walgreens or my radio seek dial lands on the classical music station these contagious, eyeball-poke-with-a-hot-poker-provoking radio tragedies will never again get stuck in my head and ruin my day again.
Here are ten songs I wish every ’80s night DJ in America would burn:
1. “99 Luft Balloons” by Nena. Do not try to justify this song by pointing out to me that there’s a German version. Even though I love the city of Berlin, and I’m part German, I don’t care–that doesn’t make it cool. Either version (English or German) is redundant and soulless. The moment I hear the tinselly vacuous beat of the chorus chime up, it makes me want to burn my leg warmers. I really wish this tune did not share part of its name with the awesome short film of the 1950s, “The Red Balloon,” because the simple word association alone almost ruins it for me.
2. “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” by Journey. I know a bunch of you whiny hipsters are gonna be all like: “But it was Obama’s 2008 victory song! How could you HATE it??” Not even a touching moment like receiving a video text from my cousin in Seattle on election night, with thousands of 20-to-40-year-olds out in the chilly streets of Capitol Hill singing this song in unison to celebrate the victory could touch my heart enough to make me like this song. I simply loathe it. LOATHE it. And like “Sweet Caroline,” I really wish people would quit singing it at sporting events.
3. “Jack & Diane.” John Cougar. I’ve always felt that The Coug was a take-him-or-leave-him kind of recording artist. Even his super-fans will admit that he has recorded a few royal stinkers in his 30-some years. But “Jack & Diane” by far ranks this worst. This must be one of thee most depressing songs ever written. The entire thing is about failure. Failed love, lost youth, and then it gets summed up with the line “Oh, yeah/Life goes on/Even after the thrill… of living is gone.” Seriously, John Cougar? I know you were at a challenging point in your career when you were struggling with your own identity, and possibly your artistic direction, but, if you really meant those lines, how was it you continued to go on? And why did you keep recording? Why didn’t you stop yourself from releasing songs such as “Hotdogs and Hamburgers” and “Rooty Toot Toot?” Why, John Cougar, why?
4. “Borderline,” “Holiday” “Into the Groove” by Madonna. For this entry, you get a three-fer. Why you ask? Well, truth be told: I could go on and on and on about my hatred for 1980s Madonna music. I know this chagrins several of my female friends and late night dance floor comrades. And there was a time when I delighted in songs by the Material Girl. But that was 1989, and after my sister lost the “Like a Prayer” cassette tape (or maybe we just got sick of it and stopped playing it) something changed in me. The 1990s came with all of their grunge rock and Gen X cynicism, and even though I wasn’t old enough to drive yet, I grew far more interested in the grit of angst-rock way more than I ever could have cared for Ms. Isla Bonita. Now hearing Madonna played at a night club is a severe annoyance to me each and every time. Someone please throw dirt on this one, it’s time for Madge to get buried.
5. “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League. One time about 10 years ago a couple of my gay friends did this song at karaoke. That was just campy enough to be mildly entertaining. However, there is no reason why any adult should enjoy this song in earnest. Remove the shoulder pads from your tweed Ann Taylor power suit, and let’s admit that the 1980s are dead.
6. “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners. Some of my friends claim they saw me dancing in a goth club to this song a couple of years ago. Not only does the setting seem absurd, I deny these rumors! I detest Dexys Midnight Runners like I hate denim overalls. Have you ever listened to the lyrics of this song? It’s about coercing a young girl into an unwanted sexual situation. The singer keeps lingering on about how she’s “grown, she’s grown.” And then the child-molesting pervert tries to lighten the mood by dropping in some fun Celtic “toora-loora-rye-ays!” Cheap perv, I say. Leave the skipping and hopscotch to the kiddos and never play this at a dance club or party ever, ever again, please.
7. “Heat of the Moment” by Asia. Do I need to say much more?
8. “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. There is a moment at every wedding reception when suddenly the generic, slick-haired wedding DJ pauses the music and announces: “This one is for the ladies!” All around me, females swoon and simultaneously drop their wedding cake forks. Someone’s grand-mom pinches my ass. Someone’s older, widowed cousin Jeanine pulls me up by my arms to dance with them all. “Don’t you just love this song?” she shouts in my ear, spraying me with white wedding cake and cheap moscato.
No, no I do not love this song. In fact, when I was eight years old and used to hang out at Skateland a lot, “Dancing Queen” was the one song I would always sit out for. And that means I was out there skating to “Final Countdown” and Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.” Those songs I can tolerate. But ABBA? Not only do I not love this song, I actually hate it. I will sit this one out and eat my cake while all you girly-girls wiggle and giggle and get-on-down with ABBA.
9. “We Built This City” by Starship. I know, it’s almost cliche to make fun of this song by now. I did a little research, and this one is on Billboard and Rolling Stone’s worst 1980s blunders lists, as well. It’s so weird that this album ever got produced. I mean, what the hell was Jefferson Airplane thinking? But just in case you want to laugh contemptuously at the downfall of one-time legit rockstars, one last time, here’s a link to one of the videos (yes, they actually made more than one version for MTV! [slaps her forehead]). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1b8AhIsSYQ
Highlights of the video: Silly terrible fashion photo stills cut and overlaid on the singing bandmembers, a cameo by a seated Lincoln (at the Lincoln Memorial… who then stands up! Wha-what?), Grace Slick’s awkward air guitar in the middle of weird iconography from Old Las Vegas.
Key lyrical phrases from the song: “Police have got the choke hold… we just lost the beat!” (Ain’t that the truth!)
“Don’t tell us you need us, cos we’re the ship of fools…” (Well, you said it… not me : / )
“Looking for America, coming through your schools!” Uh-oh, kids! Look out, it’s Starship!
10. “Sussudio” by Phil Collins. I had to throw a Collins or Genesis song on here, just for good measure. I’ve always found this song particularly grating. There are others which are just as bad or annoying. But it mainly always bothered me because I always wondered, What the hell is a su- su- Sussudio, anyway? I guess I could have just as easily put “In the Air Tonight” on this list. I really don’t have too much against Mr. Collins, personally. But when they selected his songs for the soundtrack of “American Psych,” I really thought, damn, well isn’t this fitting? Huey Lewis makes a hell of a good complement artist, when you want to get me thinking of 1980s excess and despicably shallow greedy yuppy culture. So in his own way, good work to Mr. Collins for carving out a niche for himself and making himself into a true icon. Can’t say, however, that I was particularly sad to hear he was retiring from music. But everyone should get his chance.
When it comes to tastes in music, every listener has his or her own gauge; favorites things they listen for, or that draw them in. I have some musician friends who like a good arrangement, drummer friends who pick up on particularly sophisticated or impressive beats. Being a writer, good lyrics always have a way of drawing me in and keeping my attention. But good lyrics are not always enough, the composition has to be pretty tight, too.
I guess I shouldn’t hate on the 1980s so much. There are probably people out there who legitimately loved the crazy clangy crashes of keys and mind-bending (eardrum-shattering) digital synth effects. For these people, that was their heyday–their era. And when they listen back to some of the songs I have herein dissed, it probably helps them relive some exciting, successful point in their youths, upstarting their pulses like an 1980s movie hotel room cocaine scene. For me, I’ll keep some of the Flock of Seagulls tracks, a little “Blue Monday” (but not the long version… unless the DJ needs a pee break) definitely Prince and maybe some Whitney.
Now, I need to start on a 1970s-hate list, so I have some place to rant about “Sweet Home Alabama.”