XXII. The 80s
"The ‘80s were contradictory. The ‘80s were incomprehensible. The ‘80s weren’t as much fun as they should have been. " • Robert Christgau, Christgau’s Record Guide: Records of the 1980s
I think this is the biggest section in the entire project. It's probably also the section where I had to make the most painful cuts. In the end, I was pretty happy with it, although I really did want to give Madonna her own section. She deserves it. My life probably went through more changes during this decade than any other - I began it as a college student, in the middle I was a waiter spending late nights indulging in the night life more than I should have, and by the end I was married and had become a reasonable facsimile of a responsible adult.
Start Me Up, The Rolling Stones
Bette Davis Eyes, Kim Carnes
One of those glorious one-shots that comes around every once in a while. It sounded like it could have been a Joy Division outtake, but no – just a decent pop singer from L.A. with a gravelly voice.
Only the Lonely, The Motels
Jessie’s Girl, Rick Springfield
No Other Girl, The Blasters
If there were any justice in the world, The Blasters would have become huge stars, and today would be poised to celebrate their induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. As we know, life doesn’t work quite that way.
Kiss On My List, Daryl Hall & John Oates
Super Freak, Rick James
I’ll never hear this song quite the same way after seeing Little Miss Sunshine.
Seven Year Ache, Rosanne Cash
The perfect homage to the Temptations. A great vocal from Paul Carrack. And now, a Heineken commercial.
Celebrate, Kool & The Gang
For quite a while in the early 1980s, this became the theme song for the Oakland Athletics. Every time the A’s won, you would hear this song.
Save It For Later, The English Beat
More than This, Roxy Music
Beat It, Michael Jackson
Freeze Frame, J. Geils Band
Every Breath You Take, The Police
Another one of those songs that I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard it – in this case pulling into the driveway, listening to the radio, and not wanting to turn off the car for fear I’d miss who it was.
Billie Jean, Michael Jackson
I’m really embarrassed to admit that, while in graduate school, I wrote a paper titled “The Political Importance of Michael Jackson.” Oh, well. At the time, it sort of made sense. Little did we know the horror show that was yet to come.
I Melt With You, Modern English
Burning Down the House, Talking Heads
Glory Days, Bruce Springsteen
Bruce absolutely exploded in 1984, reaching heights of popularity that he was probably never quite comfortable with. Fueling the explosion was Born in the U.S.A., perhaps one of the greatest "traditional" rock albums of all time. While it lacked the drama of Born to Run and the scope of The River, it served to remind folks that, in the words of Robert Christgau, “what teenagers loved about rock and roll wasn’t that it was catchy or even vibrant but that it just plain sounded good.” Sadly, over the years it has become a target of some who consider themselves “true Springsteen fans" as nothing more than his “pop album.” Don’t count me among those who think such a stupid thing.
Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper
Burning in the Flame of Love, The Del-Lords
Another one of the great unsung bands of its day.
Material Girl, Madonna
"If a woman wants to sell herself as a sex fantasy I’ll take a free ride – as long as the fantasy of it remains out front, so I don’t start confusing image with everyday life. But already she’s so sure of herself she’s asking men and women both to get the hots for the calculating bitch who sells the fantasy, even while she bids for the sincerity market where long-term superstars ply their trade." • Robert Christgau, review of “Like A Virgin,” Christgau’s Consumer Guide, Village Voice magazine
The Boys of Summer, Don Henley
When Doves Cry, Prince
Prince burst on the scene in the early 1980s as if he were the crazed spawn of James Brown and Little Richard. For the first few albums, sex was topics one through ten; as Christgau famously commented, “Mick Jagger can just fold up his penis and go home.” He hit his popular zenith in 1984 with Purple Rain, the biggest selling album of the year, backed by a hit movie. Nearly 25 years later, he remains a great artist, turning out excellent albums on cue, roughly every 18 months or so. He’s never again quite captured the zeitgeist like he did that year, but his spot in the Hall of Fame was richly deserved.
Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Tears for Fears
For my money, one of the most perfect pop songs ever produced.
Sharp Dressed Man, ZZ Top
True, Spandau Ballet
R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A., John Mellencamp
No artist in the history of rock and roll was served less by their initial burst of publicity than John Mellencamp. Dubbed by his manager as “Johnny Cougar” and dressed up like an ersatz amalgamation of “Ziggy Stardust” – era Bowie and “Born to Run” – era Springsteen, it took Mellencamp more than a decade to live that image down. For a while he was “John Cougar Mellencamp,” and then one day he quietly dropped the “Cougar.” At his best, he approaches Springsteen. Most of the time, he reaches a level that allows him to remain one of the most successful rockers of the past 20 years. I will admit, however, that I'm really tired of what I call "the truck song," played endlessly during NBC's Sunday Night Football.
West End Girls, Pet Shop Boys
Graceland, Paul Simon
Sledgehammer, Peter Gabriel
Where the Streets Have No Name, U2
I Want To Know What Love Is, Foreigner
Like A Rock, Bob Seger
Fall on Me, R.E.M.
Word Up, Cameo
Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes, Los Lobos
“Just another band from East L.A.,” my foot. Just one of the greatest bands that this country has produced.
Walk Like An Egyptian, The Bangles
The first fast song played at my wedding, February 1987.
Open Your Heart, Madonna
The second fast song played at my wedding, February 1987.
Detox Mansion, Warren Zevon
Brilliant Disguise, Bruce Springsteen
Fast Car, Tracy Chapman
She Drives Me Crazy, Fine Young Cannibals
Like A Prayer, Madonna
Free Falling, Tom Petty