By 1990 I had lost interest in modern music, stopped listening to current hits on the radio, stopped buying newly released material and concentrated on filling the gaps in my oldies collection. In this four part series I am presenting the best and most memorable recordings to emerge in the ten years before I turned off and tuned out.
I didn't pay much attention to Diana Ross during the 1970s when she was starring in movies, recording movie themes and releasing weepy ballads. Diana's "Reach Out and Touch," "Good Morning Heartache" taken from Lady Sings the Blues, "Do You Know Where You're Going To" (from Mahogany) and "Endless Love," a duet performed with Lionel Richie, were all fine recordings. Isn't "fine" the word you ladies like to use? Well, I can't emphasize enough how fine those songs were.
I enjoyed hearing them whenever I rode the elevator. The problem is they didn't resonate with me. I wanna rock, and easy listening love ballads make me want to rip and destroy. (Picture John Belushi smashing that guy's acoustic guitar in Animal House.) And so, when those songs came on the radio I ran. I ran! I ran! I ran! I ran as little Jimmy Grimaldi ran the other day. (Don't ask what that was all about.)
In the late 70s and early 80s Diana Ross won me back when she turned the beat around (and Upside Down,) cranking out an impressive string of disco and urban club dance singles.
In 1982 Lady Di put some muscle in her music when she recorded a song written and produced for her by Michael Jackson. "Muscles," a song named after Mike's pet snake, slithered serpentine into the Top 10. In 1984, Diana "Swept Away" the club crowd with a dance single co-written by Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates.
"Swept Away" - Diana Ross (August 1984,
highest chart position #19 Hot 100,
#1 Dance/Club Play)
English singer/guitarist John Parr initially earned his stripes with bands in his home country, then came to America in 1984, wrote songs for goth rocker Meat Loaf, and began a solo career. Parr's first hit record is particularly memorable for me because the video was heavily requested and frequently played at the MTV style television station where I worked as head of production in the 80s and 90s. The phat part is early on when Parr's vintage 'Stang rounds a street corner and the hubcap flies off, a moment symbolic of the wild abandon that is the essence of rock and roll.
"Naughty Naughty" - John Parr
(February 1985, highest chart position
#23 Hot 100, #1 Mainstream Rock chart)
The success of Parr's "Naughty Naughty" led to an offer for him to record a song that became the theme of the hit movie St. Elmo's Fire, a brat pack feature that turned Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson and Mare Winningham into stars. "St Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" was written in honor of Canadian wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen, an activist for people with spinal cord injuries. Although the song was not directly related to the plot of the movie, it resonated with audiences, became an international hit and garnered a Grammy nomination.
"St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion) - John Parr
(August 1985, highest chart position
#1 Hot 100, #2 Mainstream Rock, #6 UK)
It has a great beat and you can dance to it. That was the impression the first time you listened to "19," a synthpop club record that was on the chart the same time as John Parr's "St. Elmo's Fire." Performed by English composer/musician Paul Hardcastle, "19" filled dance floors, but the irresistible beat could not mask the disturbing message conveyed by the song. Using sound bites from a TV documentary, "19" called attention to the plight of Vietnam soldiers stricken with a condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The record became an international sensation, spending multiple weeks at #1 in the UK, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands and New Zealand and topping the Dance Club survey in the USA.
"19" - Paul Hardcastle (July 1985,
highest chart position #15 Hot 100,
#1 U.S. Dance Club Play)
Like Rick Springfield, former ABBA member Agnetha Faltskog only got better with age. Agnetha matured from a girl into a woman when she embarked on a solo career and recorded three terrific albums during the 80s. Aggie had been wildly popular as the star attraction of the Swedish super group but, for some reason, her solo recordings failed to catch on stateside. Her 1983 album Wrap Your Arms Around Me went triple platinum in Sweden but bubbled under at #102 on the domestic album chart. Agnetha's "Can't Shake Loose" was the only single that charted in the U.S., reaching the top 30. I can't help thinking that two of my favorite songs from the album might have become hits in America if they had been released as singles. The first, "Once Burned, Twice Shy," is as good as any other power pop recording produced during the decade.
"Once Burned, Twice Shy" -
Agnetha Faltskog (from the 1983 album
Wrap Your Arms Around Me)
"Stand By My Side" is another track that positioned Aggie as a female pop artist who also knew how to rock!
"Stand By My Side" - Agnetha Faltskog
(from the 1983 album Wrap Your Arms
Sneering, snarling English rocker Billy Idol was perfect for MTV. The man with the whiplash smile had video hits with "White Wedding," "Hot in the City," "Eyes Without a Face," "Dancing With Myself, "Rebel Yell," "Cradle of Love" and "Catch My Fall," all of which were frequently requested at
my TV station. I used Billy's hit "Flesh for Fantasy" as the opening theme of our hard rock/heavy metal show inspired
by MTV's Headbanger's Ball. "Don't Need a Gun," a track from Idol's third album Whiplash Smile, is another favorite of mine. Released as a single, "Gun" triggered enough media play and record sales to reach the U.S. top 40 early in 1987.
"Don't Need a Gun" - Billy Idol
(February 1987, highest chart position
#37 Hot 100, #10 Mainstream Rock,
My good friend Belle will be interested to know that the late 80s synthpop dance hit "What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)" included sound samples from two Star Trek episodes: Spock's (Leonard Nimoy's) voice from "Errand of Mercy" saying "pure energy" and Dr. McCoy's (DeForest Kelley's) voice taken from "I Mudd" uttering the words "It's worked so far, but we're not out yet!" Information Society looks and sounds like an English New Wave act. They were instead a Minneapolis based band influenced by the so-called Second British Invasion (primarily New Wave) and part of the 1980s American response to the movement. "What's On Your Mind" cracked the top 5 in the fall of 1988 and was used by illusionist David Copperfield in his shows.
"What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)"
- Information Society (October 1988,
highest chart position #3)