Monday, February 15, 2021

Musical Monday - Jump by Van Halen


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: February 25, 1984 through March 24, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: February 25, 1984 through March 3, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Jump was the first Van Halen song I ever heard. It was probably the first song my a "metal" band that I ever heard. I was, after all, in junior high school when it was released, and hadn't heard much music other than what was on the radio stations near where I lived - and when I was in junior high, I lived in Kinshasa, Zaire and later in Lagos, Nigeria.

Because this was the first song by Van Halen I ever heard, this sound seemed natural for the band. It was only later that I found out there were long-time fans of the band who were outraged by this song and the album it appearaed on becasue the band's exetensive use of synthesizers. Eddie Van Halen playing a keyboard instead of a guitar was seen as almost blasphemous. That said, this is Van Halen's most commercially successful song, and probably their signature song. With due respect to "traditional" Van Halen fans, this is Van Halen's sound, and is more like their later output than anything that went before it. Bands evolve and change - usually not quite as switfly or dramatically as Van Halen did with Jump - but it is almost inevitable that it will happen.

Previous Musical Monday: Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes
Subsequent Musical Monday: 99 Luftballoons by Nena

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Footloose by Kenny Loggins

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: 99 Luftballoons by Nena

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Van Halen     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, February 8, 2021

Musical Monday - Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: January 24, 1984 through January 28, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: January 21, 1984 through January 29, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Owner of a Lonely Heart is arguably the most successful song ever released by one of my favorite bands. It is also one of my least favorite Yes songs. I don't actively dislike it, but if you asked me if I wanted to listen to some Yes, I'd be hoping we were going to listen to Roundabout, or Changes, or Hold On, or Starship Troopers, or I've Seen All Good People, or Leave It, or, well you get the idea. Just about every other song in the Yes catalog is more interesting and more enjoyable than this one.

The problem with Owner of a Lonely Heart is that it is such a very generic pop song. It is basically just a guitar riff with attached lyrics and not much else. The music video desperately tries to make this more interesting, first with an odd interlude where four of the five band members turn into animals, and then a strange Kafkaesque sequence involving a man being hauled off by mysterious authority figures while simultaneously having disturbing hallucination, but none of this really matches with the music or the lyrics - in large part because the music is bland and the lyrics are mostly nonsense.

I guess my real complaint here is that this, the most commercially successful Yes song, is really not very "Yes", and I prefer Yes to actually sound like themselves.

Previous Musical Monday: Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Subsequent Musical Monday: Jump by Van Halen

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Say Say Say by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Union of the Snake by Duran Duran
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Yes     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, February 1, 2021

Musical Monday - Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: January 28, 1984 through February 25, 1984.

It is difficult to explain just how big, albeit short-lived, a cultural phenomenon Frankie Goes to Hollywood was in early 1984. I lived through it, and it is difficult for me to comprehend. There was about a four to six month period when Frankie Goes to Hollywood was everywhere, mostly based on the strength of this song. White t-shirts with giant black letters declaring "Frankie Say Relax" were the fashion statement of the year. You couldn't turn around without finding another Frankie Goes to Hollywood reference. This moderately obscure group of Liverpudlians simply took the pop culture world by storm, and didn't let go for months.

The extent to which the pop culture world took this song to its heart is somewhat surprising. As I have pointed out before, the death of the disco era was in large part a reaction to that music's "urban" connection, where "urban" is more or less a code word for "black" and "gay". In that light, the cultural rise of a song that is an almost explicit paean to gay sex that was accompanied by a music video that made sure to provide text for anyone who didn't get that subtext, is notable. Frankie Goes to Hollywood didn't try to hide any of this. Relax is a song that is openly, unashamedly, unabashedly gay. The music video is so homoerotic that it could almost be mistaken for a parody if one didn't know the band members were serious.

That said, Frankie Goes to Hollywood had to create an entirely different, much less overtly sexual video in order to get any airplay on MTV, so it is pretty clear that homophobia was still alive and well in the pop culture landscape of the U.S. at that time.

Previous Musical Monday: Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney
Subsequent Musical Monday: Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: 99 Luftballoons by Nena

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Frankie Goes to Hollywood     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, January 25, 2021

Musical Monday - Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: January 14, 1984 through January 21, 1984.

Last week's Musical Monday was a kind of masterclass in nonsensical imagery supporting a virtually meaningless song. This week, on the other hand, is an example of a song and video using beating the audience about the head and shoulders with its point. Pipes of Peace is an anti-war song (or at least a pro-peace song) and the video uses the 1914 Christmas truce to drive its point home. The one really brilliant bit is having McCartney play both an English and German soldiers who have parallel experiences in the story, emphasizing the commonality of the two opposing sides. The message is direct, unsubtle, and effective.

One cultural note here that distinguishes the United States from the United Kingdom is World War I, which looms incredibly large in the memories of, and consequently the art of, the United Kingdom, and is more or less a footnote in the United States - it is often seen as little more than a prelude to World War II. This makes some sense: The United Kingdom was involved in the First World War for far longer than the United States was, and the United Kingdom was at the very least a coequal partner with France in that conflict. On the other hand, the United States was far more involved in World War II, in some ways pushing the United Kingdom into second banana status in the conflict, and from the United Kingdom's perspective the Second World War more or less set into motion the dissolution of their world-spanning empire. Plus, there is a cogent argument that can be made that World War I really was just a prelude to World War II, as evidenced by (among other things) Ferdinand Foch's 1919 quote concerning the Versailles Treaty: "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years."

Despite the hopes expressed in the song and video, it is sobering to remember that the Christmas Truce of 1914 wasn't peace. It was an armistice for, at most, a few days.

Previous Musical Monday: Union of the Snake by Duran Duran
Subsequent Musical Monday: Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Only You by the Flying Pickets
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Paul McCartney     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, January 18, 2021

Musical Monday - Union of the Snake by Duran Duran


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: December 31, 1983 through January 14, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Union of the Snake is almost archetypically emblematic of Duran Duran's style. The song itself is passable dance pop with entirely inchoate lyrics that feature a nonsensical, but ear-catching chorus. This kind of mediocre pop music is attached to a memorable but completely incomprehensible video that drove the popularity of the song to heights the music itself probably didn't deserve.

The music video is by far the most interesting element of this song: Visually stunning despite is complete incoherence as a storytelling device. To a certain extent, the video looks like someone said they wanted to make a video like the video made for Men at Work's Down Under, but creepy instead of whimsical. Alternatively, the style of the video might have been inspired by the 1981 post-apocalyptic movie Road Warrior, although some elements of the video seem to presage the imagery used in Beyond Thunderdome, the 1985 sequel to Road Warrior. No matter its inspiration and despite being complete nonsense, the video is still fun to watch.

Previous Musical Monday: Say Say Say by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
Subsequent Musical Monday: Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Say Say Say by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Duran Duran     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, January 11, 2021

Musical Monday - Say Say Say by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: December 10, 1983 through January 14, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: December 10, 1983 through December 24, 1983.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Say Say Say is the result of a much ballyhooed collaboration between ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and 1980s pop icon Michael Jackson. It was seen as the union of a member of the Beatles, the cultural colossus that stood astride the pop music scene of the 1960s, and Michael Jackson, the cultural colossus that was cementing his position as the cultural colossus standing astride the pop music scene of the 1980s. This was a meeting of two giants, one from the past and one from the present, and was in part kind of seen as a passing of the torch from one generation to the next. And the result was kind of underwhelming.

This is not to say that Say Say Say is a bad song. It is a perfectly serviceable pop tune with a catchy chorus and a pleasant melody. It just isn't all that memorable. It is, more or less, generic extruded pop music product. The lyrics are kind of bland, the music isn't particularly memorable, and the performances are professional but uninspired. It is, in short, a piece of pup culture ephemera that was diverting and enjoyable, but not innovative or enduring in its impact.

The only thing that is particularly notable about this song is actually the music video, which amounts to a fun little mini-movie about a trio of con-artists and vaudevillians. The movie story is fun and interesting, but it is completely disconnected from the song itself - this video could have been used for any number of other songs and been just as relevant to the lyrics and music as it is to Say Say Say. In addition to Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, the video features both Linda McCartney, implied to be Paul's partner, and LaToya Jackson, oddly implied to be Michael's love interest. The video isn't a masterpiece of film-making, but it is defintely better than the song it is attached to.

Previous Musical Monday: Only You by the Flying Pickets
Subsequent Musical Monday: Union of the Snake by Duran Duran

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: All Night Long (All Night) by Lionel Richie
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: All Night Long (All Night) by Lionel Richie
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Union of the Snake by Duran Duran

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Paul McCartney     Michael Jackson     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, January 4, 2021

Musical Monday - Only You by the Flying Pickets


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: December 10, 1983 through January 7, 1984.

Until I pulled up this song for the Musical Monday feature, I had never heard it. When I saw the title, I assumed that, given the love affair between the U.K. charts and 1950s era do-wop music, that this was a cover of the 1955 Platter's hit Only You (and You Alone).

It isn't. It is still a cover song - but the original band for this song was the 1980s synth pop group Yazoo. While the Yazoo version is catchy and interesting, this a capella version by the Flying Pickets is perfect. Using just voices captures the plaintive poigancy of the lyrics, while preventing the song from descending into maudlin self-pity. Setting the video in a slightly run-down pub just adds to the atmosphere of the piece, reflecting the general malaise of the early 1980s in the U.K. The fact that the Flying Pickets were originally named as a reference to some members' experience participating in miner's strikes just makes this background richer and fuller.

Previous Musical Monday: All Night Long (All Night) by Lionel Richie
Subsequent Musical Monday: Say Say Say by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Uptown Girl by Billy Joel
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

The Flying Pickets     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, December 28, 2020

Musical Monday - All Night Long (All Night) by Lionel Richie


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: November 12, 1983 through December 3, 1983.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: November 19, 1983 through December 3, 1983.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

If you asked me to name the most bland, boring, and unexciting "party" song of all time, I would unhesitatingly tell you it is All Night Long. The video tries desperately to make this song exciting, but the bright colored clothes and the forced smiles just highlight how utterly uninteresting this song is. When Richie sings "we're going to party, karamu, fiesta, forever", it sounds like someone's Dad running into a room full of teens, turning on all the lights, throwing on a Perry Cuomo record and saying "this is how we partied when I was young!". This entire song is a "hello, fellow kids" meme set to a soft rock beat.

Previous Musical Monday: Uptown Girl by Billy Joel
Subsequent Musical Monday: Only You by the Flying Pickets

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Islands in the Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Say Say Say by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Islands in the Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Say Say Say by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Lionel Richie     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, December 21, 2020

Musical Monday - Uptown Girl by Billy Joel


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: November 5, 1983 through December 3, 1983.

All songs are snapshots in time. Sometimes those snapshots are relatively short-lived. The song Uptown Girl and its related video were made during the rush Joel was experiencing from his new relationship with Christie Brinkley. You can see and hear the joy and exuberance of that fresh and exciting moment in the performance. There is simply so much hope, exhilaration, and expectation evident here.

And of course, now, in 2021, we know that Joel and Brinkley did go on to get married, have a child, and then get divorced. The oddity of moments like that depicted in Uptown Girl is that we now know the ultimate outcome of the events that will flow from that moment, and it casts them in a different light. I will always remember when I found out that the marriage at the centerpiece of John Denver's Annie's Song fell apart, and how that just seemed so wrong. This seems similarly tragic in a way - none of the people in this video know what is in store for them over the next few years, both the highs and the lows. It is a moment in time caught forever, with all of the emotions of those involved untainted by what was to come.

Previous Musical Monday: Islands in the Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
Subsequent Musical Monday: All Night Long (All Night) by Lionel Richie

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Only You by the Flying Pickets

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Billy Joel     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, December 14, 2020

Musical Monday - Islands in the Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: October 29, 1983 through November 5, 1983.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: November 5, 1983 through November 12, 1983.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

By 1983, the Bee Gees were essentially persona non grata on the pop charts. Having firmly associated themselves with the disco era, once disco had become an anathema to many people, the Bee Gees went from being the top musical act in the world to an act that couldn't give away tickets. The odd thing is that Bee Gees style music was as popular as ever, as witnessed by the chart-topping success of this song, which had been penned by the Bee Gees, but was handed off to Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton to sing.

Islands in the Stream isn't unique on this score. The 1980s featured several hit songs that were written by one or more of the Bee Gees but sung by someone else - a list of artists that included songs by Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, and Dionne Warwick. Basically, anyone but the Bee Gees seems like they could have success in the 1980s with a Bee Gees song. This quirky phenomenon suggests that the backlash against disco and disco-associated artists wasn't so much about the music as it was about the culture. Disco music was "urban" music, and "urban" was, as it often is, a code word for black and gay. People didn't like disco because they didn't like the music - they kept making disco-style music into chart-toppers as long as it wasn't called disco and wasn;t sung by recognizable disco acts - they just didn't like black and gay people influencing the wider culture.

A large part of the reason Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton could make Islands in the Stream into a hit in 1983 was that they were safe, white, country music artists who never made a disco song. Except for this one. Which they didn't call a disco song. This isn't to say that Rogers and Parton did anything wrong here, but they definitely benefitted from factors well beyond their control that served to position this song as a hit.

Previous Musical Monday: The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats
Subsequent Musical Monday: Uptown Girl by Billy Joel

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: All Night Long (All Night) by Lionel Richie

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: All Night Long (All Night) by Lionel Richie

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Kenny Rogers     Dolly Parton     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, December 7, 2020

Musical Monday - The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The week of October 1, 1983.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

The Safety Dance is a song that people think is about something really deep and meaningful, but is in fact about something completely different. The persistent rumor surrounding this song is that it is an allegory about nuclear war, or rather the fear of nuclear war and a protest against the same. I have had this confidently asserted to me on multiple occasions by several different people. The writer and singer of the song, however, says it is about dancing. Literally. Or rather it is about doing the 'wrong" kind of dancing as an anti-establishment protest. Or something.

My takeaway here is that people want the music they love to have a significance it often does not have. If the lyrics to a song are even a little bit ambiguous, and you attach it to a weird and nigh-incomprehensible music video with a dwarf and Morris dancers and a mildly confusing coda of images and people will fill in their own interpretations. This song is about what it says it is about. For years, people have tried to make it be about something more, because they want the art in their life to have depth and meaning.

The real question here is does the intent of the creator definitively settle these sorts of issues? Is the song just about getting thrown out of a dance club for pogoing, or does the cultural zeitgeist that it is about more than that carry weight? Does it matter if people want to give a song significance that was not originally intended?

Previous Musical Monday: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
Subsequent Musical Monday: Islands in the Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Puttin' On the Ritz by Taco
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Men Without Hats     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, November 30, 2020

Musical Monday - Karma Chameleon by Culture Club


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: February 4, 1984 through February 18, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: February 4, 1984 through February 18, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: September 24, 1983 through October 29, 1983.

Karma Chameleon is a song that seems like it should have some sort of subtle subtext in its meaning, but it really doesn't. It seems like it should be a roundabout way to talk about a break up, or a piece of political satire that uses imagery to avoid directly complaining about a particular political movement, or something like that. The song is, however, simply about karma, like the title says. Basically, the song's meaning amounts to "what goes around, comes around", with nothing deeper or more complex than that. Sometimes things are what they seem at first glance, and this song is one of those things.

Over all, Karma Chameleon turned out to be one of the signature songs of the decade. Although Culture Club entered a stormy (and ultimately destructive) period following the success of this song resulting from romantic entanglements within the group gone sour and other issues, and Boy George's incresingly difficult time dealing with both fame and drugs, Karma Chameleon, by itself, cements them into the pantheon of iconic 1980s musical acts.

Previous Musical Monday: Tell Her About It by Billy Joel
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Jump by Van Halen

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Jump by Van Halen

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Red Red Wine by UB40
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Uptown Girl by Billy Joel

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Culture Club     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, November 23, 2020

Musical Monday - Tell Her About It by Billy Joel


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: The week of September 24, 1983.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

In 1983, Billy Joel more or less took his career on a left turn, releasing the album An Innocent Man, which was a collection of music inspired by and paying tribute to the do-wop style of music of the late 1950s and early 1960s, a time frame that coincided with Joel's own teenage years. This video for Tell Her About It drives home the homage, imagining a 1963 appearance on the iconic Ed Sullivan Show. The video says that the appearance was supposedly on July 31, but that day in 1963 was a Wednesday, not a Sunday, so it could not actually have happened.

I think it is not an accident that the video chose a date in the summer of 1963 as the time for the fictitious Ed Sullivan appearance. This was, essentially, the closing phase of the dominance of do-wop music in American pop culture. Within the next six months, Beatlemania would sweep the country, pushing do-wop music out of the limelight. In February 1964, the Beatles would appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, marking a clear end to one era of music and the beginning of another.

This is not to say that Joel didn't appreciate the Beatles. I have seen interviews in which he talks about how much he loved the Beatles and how much they influenced his own music. They did, however, fundamentally change music and push aside a lot of the kind of music that Joel remembered fondly from his early teenage years. I suppose, by putting out this album and this video, Joel tried to rectify that by just a little bit.

Previous Musical Monday: Puttin' On the Ritz by Taco
Subsequent Musical Monday: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Maniac by Michael Sembello
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Total Eclipse of the Hart by Bonnie Tyler

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Billy Joel     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, November 16, 2020

Musical Monday - Puttin' on the Ritz by Taco


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: September 17, 1983 through September 24, 1983.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Every era has a hit that is both inexplicably and weirdly out of step with the pop culture of the era and simultaneously a prime example of the zeitgeist of the time. Taco's rendition of Puttin' on the Ritz is an example of this kind of song. An electronica cover version of a decades old song originally made popular by Fred Astaire and quite notably parodied in the movie Young Frankenstein, this was somehow both bizarrely out of step with the 1980s and also emblematic of the era. The fact that Taco himself appears to be channeling Tim Curry's Dr. Frank-n-Furter while cosplaying Astaire just makes this whole set-up seem both stranger and more comforting at the same time.

Previous Musical Monday: Maniac by Michael Sembello
Subsequent Musical Monday: Tell Her About It by Billy Joel

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Eurythmics
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Taco     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, November 9, 2020

Musical Monday - Maniac by Michael Sembello


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: September 10, 1983 through September 17, 1983.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

I have noted before the pervasive influence that television and movies have on popular music, and to a certauin extent, the reverse is true as well. Maniac, from the sountrack of the movie Flashdance is yet another example of a movie pushing a song to the heights of popularity, and the music of a movie making the movie have cultural influence that vastly outweighs its actual performance as a movie.

Flashdance was a surprise success of a movie in 1983. No one expected it to do as well as it did, but the footprint it left on the culture outeighed anything that even its financial success would have predicted. Because of this movie, leg warmers and sweatshits with the neck cut out became ubiquitous fashions. The iconic "water drop" dance has been replicated, parodied, and paid tribute to countless times. "Welder-chic" briefly became a thing. And so on and so forth.

The weird thing is that even though the movie altered the cultural landscape of the decade, it did relatively little to help the careers of those who appeared in it. Jennifer Beales' career meandered aimlessly for a decade with roles in forgettable movies before having a couple of notable roles in the 1990s, and she finally settled in as a moderately successful television actress in the 2000s. None of the other actors had much of a boost to their careers. Michael Nouri's career also drifted from mediocre movie to mediocre movie. Cynthia Rhodes had a highlight in a secondary role in Dirty Dancing and a more prominent role in the Saturday Night Fever pseudo-sequel Staying Alive, but her career petered out after that (although, to be fair, that was in part because she married Richard Marx and started having children). Other than this song and the title track Flashdance . . . What a Feeling and Gloria, none of the other songs on the sountrack had significant chart success. None of the artists who appeared on the soundtrack got much of a career boost from it, and most of them, including Michael Sembello, saw their careers basically fizzle out shortly thereafter. Flashdance was a hit, and it pushed a couple of songs to the forefront of pop music for a bit but it appeared to have very little else in the way of coattails.

On a kind of unrelated note: Beals was not a dancer, despite being cast as the lead in a movie that was about a dancer working in a bar with other dancers who aspired to become a professional ballet dancer. As a result, most of the dance scenes in the movie, including the dance scenes in this video, were performed by a body double, mostly Marine Jahan, who was not credited in the movie. The only scenes in the video that are actually Beals are the close-ups of her face. Pretty mucyh everything else is Jahan. Flashdance doesn't really seem to have helped Jahan's career much either.

Previous Musical Monday: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Eurythmics
Subsequent Musical Monday: Puttin' On the Ritz by Taco

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Eurythmics
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Tell Her About It by Billy Joel

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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