Music talk – it was inevitable…

I’m still too tangled up in blue about the election. This danged thing has rendered me nearly mute. How do I cure this? I’ll write about music. What a novel idea for a music blog, eh?

In another month or so we’re going to get deluged with everyone’s best-of lists for 2004, and soon afterward Billboard will publish their Top 40 Singles of the Year list. This list will no doubt cause many of you to gag. I’ll probably bring up my lunch… twice.

The state of popular music is very grim. Personalities have eclipsed musicianship, originality, and frankly soul and life in pop music. The zero decade is not likely to go down in history, based upon the story so far at any rate, as a great era for music. The thing is, you could easily say the same things about every other era in pop music, provided you’re jaded and cynical enough. Don’t believe me? Fine, make me show you.

Over the last week an old friend reached out across the vast expanse that is this here interweb thing to say howdy. Last time I saw her was in 1982, when we were both freshman in high school. So, let’s look at the top twenty singles of 1982 and see how history has judged each of them…

1. Physical – Olivia Newton-John

Ok. Yuck. Barf-o-roo. This song is so bad that hearing it today would probably make the songwriter cringe. This song is so bad that given the choice by international agents of terror between death by laser beam to the crotch and listening to 30 seconds of this dreadful song I’d choose the laser.

2. Eye Of The Tiger – Survivor

A year ago I’d have said something mocking about how Green Day’s occasional covers of Eye Of The Tiger in their live set are the only redeeming virtues this poor soundtrack song has, but a year can sometimes make all the difference. Much as I dislike Starbucks, the Starbucks canned coffee ad with Survivor in it is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years. I like bands who can laugh at themselves, even if these guys are doing it for what is no doubt a small mountain of cash. And if I’m totally honest, I thought this song rocked when I was in 9th grade.

3. I Love Rock N’ Roll – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

I seriously doubt that the 2004 top 20 list is going to have even a minor classic on it. Such a flat out great, fantastic, simple rock and roll song being #3 on this list single-handedly proves that pop music in 1982 was loads better than it is today.

4. Ebony And Ivory – Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder

This song is the 1982 equivalent of a contemporary single by any of the performers from American Idol. This is pap. Paul McCartney should be taken out to sea, poked with sharp knives and thrown into the water to be rent asunder by hungry sharks for this crap. Stevie Wonder should be forced to eat his own poo.

5. Centerfold – J. Geils Band

Confession time. I not only owned this record in 1982, I loved it. Listen to it today and the first thing that sticks out is the trendoid production values. It’s like a catalog of early 80’s production gimmicks. But it’s a terrific pop song. “My blood runs cold / My memories can’t be sold / My angel is a centerfold” Campy brilliance.

6. Don’t You Want Me – Human League

Speaking of records that sound incredibly dated. Still, this was damned innovative and, well, new in 1982. Something comparably adventurous would never crack the top 20 this year, or at any time in the past five years. Heck, no major record label in the world would touch a band who based their sound on experimental instruments, which is what a full synthesizer band was doing in 1982. There’s not a single acoustic or traditional instrument used on this song, and it was a big hit.

7. Jack And Diane – John Cougar

This piece of steaming rat turd began my youthful hatred of John Mellencamp, ne John Cougar Mellencamp, ne John Cougar. I remember hearing this on the radio and wanting to climb through the wires, transmit myself into the studio where it was recorded and choke the life out of this retro crudhumper. Worse yet, when I was in the 9th grade I was told constantly that I looked just like John Cougar. Ugh. This was not even useful for meeting girls. Girls who wanted to hang out with a guy who looked like John Cougar were not the sort of girls I was interested in. This may have had something to do with my dying a blond stripe on the side of my head.

8. Hurts So Good – John Cougar

Will the pain never end. A couple years ago I heard a news story about John Mellencamp having a serious heart attack. “I bet it hurt so good,” was all I could think. I’m a bad man.

9. Abracadabra – Steve Miller Band

I really shouldn’t like the Steve Miller Band, but I honestly do. Unfortunately this is another one of those hideously malformed gorgon of an example of trendy production values, again. Hall & Oates would go on to clone the sound of this song over and over again, and boy do I hate them.

10. Hard To Say I’m Sorry – Chicago

Oh Christ. Oh the heartfelt slow dances we danced to this fetid carbuncle of a song. I can’t remember if this is the one that had the video with Pete Cetera wearing a Bauhaus shirt in it. Boy did that video piss off a lot of my friends. I think one or two might have even thrown out their Bauhaus records because of it.

11. Tainted Love – Soft Cell

Boink Boink! Unlike the Human League, a similarly avant garde synth group, Soft Cell and this song have stood the test of time. Most of that credit probably goes to Marc Almond, who has one of the most terrific, croony singing voices of all time. Where the Human League sounds stiff and mechanical (on purpose, no doubt – it was the style of the time), Soft Cell sounds almost melodramatic, and that’s all Marc Almond’s singing doing the trick. Brilliant pop song. A classic and miles better than anything that’s been in the charts this year.

12. Chariots Of Fire – Vangelis

They built a special circle of hell for Vangelis because of this music.

13. Harden My Heart – Quarterflash

Oi! One hit wonder anyone?

14. Rosanna – Toto

One of the guys in Toto died while gardening. Has there ever been a more pathetic rock death? Or a more appropriate one?

I actually saw Toto during the summer of 1982 at a big stadium show that Bill Graham used to put on called The Day On The Green. Toto were so bad I remember wishing that Santana would come back out on stage.

15. I Can’t Go For That – Darryl Hall & John Oates

No can do. I really, really, really, hate Hall & Oates. Darryl Hall perfected the art of selling his songs by tacking endless repeating refrains onto the ends of the songs. Once you’d heard a Hall & Oates song once you knew, without a shred of doubt, what the title was, because you’d just heard it repeated about sixty gagillion times. And excuse me folks, but why is it that Andrew Ridgely of Wham! got needled relentlessly about being nothing but George Michael’s boyfriend and serving no coherent purpose in the group but John Oates’ credentials were never thus put into question? Huh? Ya wanna explain that one to me?

16. 867-5309 (Jenny) – Tommy Tutone

One of the ultimate one hit wonders of the 1980’s. Totally terrific pop gem. Just ask any girl you know named Jenny. If a song uses a particular girl’s or guy’s name in it and is bad, said girls or guys tend to hate the song. I’ve never met anyone named Jenny who didn’t love this song to death.

This song also resulted in one of my early brushes with greatness. In 1989 I was working for BAM Magazine. One day MTV VJ Martha Quinn called the office because she was doing a series on One Hit Wonders for the channel and she was looking for info on how to contact Tommy Tutone, who was a bay area local. The office was empty because most of the staff were at the World Series game being played that day between the Giants and the A’s. I was the only person in the office for all intents and purposes, so I ended up digging up contact information and chatted with the lovely Ms. Quinn for about a half hour. I felt so inexplicably special.

17. Key Largo – Bertie Higgins

Uh. Who shot who in the what now? I have no recollection whatsoever of this song. The sad thing is that in 22 years people will likely say that about 90% of 2004’s top 20.

18. You Should Hear How She Talks About You – Melissa Manchester

Melissa Manchester actually had a hit? I thought she was just one of those people who had a relative who knew someone who knew someone and that was why she was always popping up on Solid Gold. Who knew?

19. Waiting For A Girl Like You – Foreigner

Ah, and thus begins the era of the power ballad. Formerly rockin’ bands previously known for their embarrassing clothes, big hair and stuffing socks in their crotches score big with syrupy dreck. Still, I think I had some good shuffle ‘n’ grope sessions at school dances to this tune. It served its purpose.

20. Don’t Talk To Strangers – Rick Springfield

And one hit wonders should expect to ever rise to their former glory. How come we don’t have soap stars turning into pop stars anymore? Who is the Rick Springfield of today?

So, what’s the score here? Six out of twenty that stand the test of time for one reason or another? That’s not too shabby. We’ll see how 2004’s top 20 stands up in comparison in a few weeks.

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