76 Thomas Dolby / “She Blinded Me With Science” 1982
Dolby had other good songs — Europa possibly the most memorable. Then he went on to do some techie thing that I probably should’ve done if anyone would’ve given me venture capital or if I had any clue what it entailed or if I’d bought into it enough to say “Oh yeah, it’s what everyone will be doing in five years” with a straight face. Damn my anonymous skeptical self.
Good song, great video.
77 New Edition / “Candy Girl” 1983
Don’t remember it.
78 Blondie / “Call Me” 1980
Ah, the song that taught a young MMM that designer sheets and wine were sexy. They had to be — Debbie Harry was sexy (even I knew that), she was singing about a gigolo, and so she must know what she’s talking about. Right?
But at this point, we should give props to one of the great underrated musicians of the rock era — Blondie keyboardist Jimmy Destri. You don’t hear many songs outside the prog-rock genre that feature a keyboard solo. Even so, this one sticks in your head.
79 Human League / “Don’t You Want Me?” 1981
Another one of those songs that melted my resistance to Top 40 songs. So many good riffs bouncing off each other in the mix, such a compelling story, enhanced by a mildly creepy video.
I’ll insist that Human League went on to do other good songs. (Keep Feeling) Fascination, aside from the parentheses (one of my (pet peeves) in song titles), wasn’t bad. And for a distinctly different take on the Human League, check out The Lebanon, a political lament propelled by Jo Callis’ guitar.
80 Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock / “It Takes Two” 1988
Don’t remember it.
81 Cameo / “Word Up!” 1986
I have a vague memory of a music-magazine interview with one of these guys, who came across as the most arrogant one-hit wonder you’d ever not want to meet. He was apparently working in a shoe store but quit on the spot when he heard his song on the radio. Shouldn’t have burned those bridges.
82 Squeeze / “Tempted” 1981
An oddity, in part because the Difford-Tilbrook core gives way to Paul Carrack, who had just replaced Jools Holland on keyboards and would soon be replaced himself. And then Holland would come back for their second life in the mid-80s, eventually to be replaced AGAIN by Carrack in a roundabout way.
Yes, Holland is the guy who hosts the excellent music show Later on BBC — but curiously on Ovation, not BBC America, here in the States. And yes, Carrack is the guy who would later sing on some dreadful Mike + The Mechanics songs.
Difford and Tilbrook share in the vocals in the second verse, which is a fun listen even if it destroys the narrative. No wonder you’re tempted — you’re four people!
(If I were actually on VH1, I’d do my impression of that verse, which is surprisingly good considering my weak singing voice even after four years of majoring in music.)
It’s a classic because it has a timeless sound and a timeless story, along with some of Difford and Tilbrook’s typically clever lines. But I still find myself listening to other Squeeze tunes ahead of this one — Pulling Mussels from the Shell, Another Nail for My Heart, Take Me I’m Yours, etc. They made one of the best greatest-hits compilations ever compiled.
83 Prince / “Kiss” 1986
Can’t get past the falsetto. I just wanted to reach through the screen, slap him, and say, “Look, dude, pick up that guitar and PLAY! This SUCKS!”
84 Lionel Richie / All Night Long (All Night) 1983
“Jumboleto hipono man … HEYYYYY jumbo jumbo … jumboleto slip emo dan … HEYYYYY shangri-la … Dumbo he go Jar-Jar on crack … heyyyyy Dumbo Dumbo …”
I have no memory of the rest of this song worth sharing.
85 Robert Palmer / “Addicted to Love” 1985
As I’ve hinted throughout, several of these songs caught me at various stages of that precious age in which we discover sex. It’s a confusing age for many of us, and I was no exception. But when I saw this video and heard people talk about how sexy it was, I found a new confidence. I said, “Bullshit.” Emotionless, expressionless women who don’t know the first thing about pretending to play their instruments are not sexy.
Palmer, rest his soul, was always a talented singer in search of decent material. This wasn’t it. Frankly, the Power Station year(s) may have been his pinnacle.
(Did you know that both members of Power Station who were not in Duran Duran are dead, as is collaborator Bernard Edwards? That’s terrible. Tony Thompson, for those who don’t remember, was the guy powering Led Zeppelin through its Live Aid performance while Phil “Hey, It’s a Video About Making a Video About Live Aid, Starring Me on Two Continents!” Collins mugged for the camera.)
86 Bow Wow Wow / “I Want Candy” 1982
There is nothing not to like about this. Love the drum beat, love the enthusiastic vocals, love the surf-punk guitar, love the low-budget video. A favorite of MMM Jr.’s rides to day care. Hey, he doesn’t get subtext.
87 Falco / “Rock Me Amadeus 1986
“Graa vi de doop, whoa oh oh / zyah zyah, Der Kommisar gi doop, whoa oh oh!”
Oh no, this is the other one. Referenced twice in The Simpsons: the “Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius” song in the Broadway Planet of the Apes, and “Thank you, Taco, for that loving tribute to Falco.”
It’s a cool song. What else can you say? Fit perfectly after the movie.
88 Chaka Khan / “Ain’t Nobody” 1989
I’m aware of this song’s existence but have nothing substantial to say about it. Meh.
89 The Pretenders / “Brass in Pocket” 1980
Again, not the Pretenders’ best, and Chrissie Hynde told VH1 she doesn’t really like the song. Considering what else she was capable of doing, that’s not a surprise. Two albums later, with two band members passed away, she roared back with the classic Middle of the Road, which should be on this list. Any song that builds up to her snarled delivery of “I’m not the kind I used to be, I got a kid, I’m 33, baby” is hard to top. (Wow, those first three Pretenders albums had some terrific songs.)
But this song has plenty to justify its inclusion here. Solid bedrock bass line, distinctive guitar riffs, good self-confident strut in the lyrics. Even if I had no idea to this day what “brass in pocket” is supposed to mean.
90 Tone-Loc / “Wild Thing” 1989
This was a whole song? I thought someone just recorded 10 seconds of music for use in ironic contexts in TV shows.
91 Katrina and The Waves / “Walking On Sunshine” 1983
I remember reading that Katrina and company felt this song diminished their standing as true practicioners of punk or whatever else they were doing. But the other two KATW songs I remember — Do You Want Crying? and Is That It? — were pure pop as well. And not as good.
Skip this part if you’re watching the VH1 special. You’ll be heartbroken by what’s happened to Katrina’s hair and singing voice. Her acoustic guitar take on this song is almost as bad as the Indigo Girls’ misguided demolition of Dire Straits’ understated classic Romeo and Juliet. I love Indigo Girls — I really do — but they took that song to a place that wasn’t human. I actually meowed.
92 New Kids on the Block / “You Got It (The Right Stuff) 1988
In the lexicon of the day … whatEVER!
93 Gary Numan / “Cars” 1980
Classic underappreciated video moments: In the long fadeout, Numan’s band is lined up at four keyboards. One guy’s job is to slam his hand on the “4” in every measure. Close your eyes and imagine the song for a second — “Doo doo doo doo … doo KUGSSHHH.” Now picture a guy, looking every bit as serious as Numan, striking a pose that surely inspired Dieter on Sprockets, slamming his hand on the keyboard to get that percussion sound.
Monty Python had the machine that goes “Ping!” Gary Numan had the guy who goes “KUGSSHHHH!” I think I had that sound on my Casio.
I neither love nor hate this song. It’s fascinating to this day, which I suppose is a good thing.
94 The Rolling Stones / “Start Me Up” 1981
Simple guitar riff from a band that did better. In fact, this song is a little clumsy when you get right down to it — the opening riff awkwardly collides with the drums.
95 Debbie Gibson / “Only in My Dreams” 1987
Why did I think Shake Your Love was a bigger song? Was it because my freshman year roommate, who is now a record company exec who works with Guster, played it all the time? And because my other freshman year roommate, a jazz sophisticate who generally teased him about his Top 40 tastes, would play it as well? Maybe so.
It’s catchy, it’s flimsy, it’s just there. I was just jealous, of course, I wanted to be a 17-year-old pop star myself. I guess I’m behind schedule.
96 Men at Work / “Down Under” 1982
Again — Overkill is a better song, but I can’t fault this song’s inclusion. Classic video turning the song’s dry wit into a goofy escapade. These guys had melodic hooks to spare. If you’re in the mood to dig through back catalog, look up I Can See It in Your Eyes.
97 The Romantics / “What I Like About You” 1980
See, Kelly Keagy of Night Ranger? That’s what you’re supposed to do as a singing drummer. Face the crowd, toss the fundamentals aside and let it rip.
One of the few harmonica solos I like.
98 Bobby Brown / “My Perogative” 1988
… is not to listen to this song.
(Sorry … channeling J.D. Considine for a minute. If you’re following the link, the “most famous work” he mentions is his three-letter review of GTR. Which is very easy to guess given these clues but was hysterical upon first discovery.)
99 Wang Chung / “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” 1986
People forget that Wang Chung spent a few years building up to megahit status. Dance Hall Days was a likable effort a few years earlier, and they did an intriguing theme song to the film To Live and Die in L.A.
So I’ll have to emphasize — this was not a bad song or a bad band. Sure, it was a little ironic to see a guy who never smiled telling us to have fun, but that’s nit-picking.
100 Loverboy / “Working for the Weekend” 1981
I get to conclude with one of the funniest stories anyone has ever told me. A friend of mine saw ZZ Top with Loverboy opening. As he told it, the crowd stared with mild but growing hostility as Mike Reno pranced his way around stage, belting out “I gotta do it my-y way,” from the sluggish, conceited mini-epic Turn Me Loose. Finally, it turned ugly. “Z-Z-Top! Z-Z-Top! Z-Z-Top!” Debris raining onto the stage. The guitarist donning a helmet. Reno yelling, “We’re never playing here again!” to raucous cheers.
I have no idea how much of this is true. But it’s a good story, isn’t it?
I’ve softened a bit on Loverboy because Reno seems to have such a great sense of humor. He tells VH1 he still has the tight red pants, same size. Just 36×32 instead of 32×36. Hey, I’m with ya, Mike.
Never really got into this song, though. The video is amusing for the awkward still-frames on drummer Matt Frenette. This band chose two unfortunate visual hooks — tight pants and a drummer who tried just a little too hard to look intense.
We all know why this song lives on. The powers that be aren’t in the habit of letting their work reside at YouTube, but this particular work was so memorable that other people have recorded themselves re-creating it. Check it out.
It is, of course, Patrick Swayze, Chris Farley and Chris Farley’s belly (I maintain they were three separate people, each with different choreography) auditioning to be Chippendales dancers.
Well, this has been fun, and I’ve recorded record readership here. That’ll encourage me to post more often, but bear in mind that I’m a father of two with a demanding job who’s also writing a book. (Anyone interesting in publishing it? Bueller?) At some point in the next week or so, I’ll list MY top songs of the 80s, at least the ones on my iPod. Actually, my iPod is deceased, but I still have it all on iTunes.
Until then, aloha.