Monday, May 3, 2021

Musical Monday - Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springstein


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: June 30, 1984 through July 7, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Dancing in the Dark is Springstein's most commercially successful song, reaching number one in more than one country and hitting the top ten in several more. The song also won Springstein a Grammy Award. Despite this, if I were making a list of Springstein's ten greatest songs, Dancing in the Dark would not be on it. Nor would it be on my list of his twenty greatest songs. Or even his thirty greatest songs. I suspect that I am not alone in this assessment. While Dancing in the Dark isn't a bad song, it just doesn't hit home the way Springstein's better songs do - I'd even rank several of the other songs on the Born in the U.S.A. album more highly than this one.

This fact seems to me to highlight one of the truths of pop music: The biggest hits scored by many artists are not their best songs. Dancing in the Dark was likely hugely successful because it has a danceable beat and lyrics that more or less don't get in the way of that (although they are kind of world-weary and mildly bitter). Unlike his better songs, Dancing in the Dark is mostly bland and inoffensive, providing what seems like a fun good time for the listener, a fact reflected in the happy and upbeat music video - although to be fair, Bruce's dancing in the video seems at times to be forced and awkward, as if he were trying to project a persona that doesn't quite fit him.

Now I'm going to go listen to The River and Downbound Train instead.

Previous Musical Monday: Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Subsequent Musical Monday: When Doves Cry by Prince

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The Reflex by Duran Duran
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: When Doves Cry by Prince

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

Bruce Springstein     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, April 26, 2021

Musical Monday - Two Tribes 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: June 16, 1984 through August 11, 1984.

In the United States, Frankie Goes to Hollywood was basically a one hit wonder. In the U.K., they had multiple songs reach the top of the pop charts, including this one, which dominated the British pop charts for pretty much the entire summer of 1984. The thing is, while I can see why this song was not a big hit in the U.S., and why it might have resonated in other parts of the world, I am of the opinion that it is just not a very good song that happened to be attached to a fairly compelling music video.

The lyrics of the song are a pretty blunt assessment of the dangerous and potentially destructive rivalry that existed at the time between the United States and the U.S.S.R., taking some pretty sharp jabs at both sides, and Ronald Reagan in particular. Given the nature of American popular culture at the time, this probably served to limit the song's popularity in the U.S., an issue that obviously would not be a problem for U.K. audiences. The larger problem is that while the lyrics do have a handful of bitterly satirical turns, they descend into being annoyingly repetitive, matching the pounding but kind of boring music that backs them.

Where this song really shines is the music video that was made for it which depicts a no-holds barred grudge match between a Reagan caricature on one side and a Chernenko-like character on the other. The pair go back and forth taking shots at one another between grandstanding for the crowd of world leaders crowded around the ring. The members of Frankie Goes to Hollywood appear in the video as a sportscasting team broadcasting the match and offering color commentary. Although the video is just as blunt in its messaging as the lyrics of the song, somehow the satire works better visually than it does as lyrics.

The fact that the video elevates a kind of mundane song into an iconic cultural artifact is more or less the story of the 1980s. The rise of MTV, and as a result the rise of music videos, transformed the world of pop music, making the visual offering as important as (and sometimes more important than) the auditory portion of a pop song.

Previous Musical Monday: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
Subsequent Musical Monday: Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springstein

Previous #1 on the UK Chart: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!
Subsequent #1 on the UK Chart: Careless Whisper by George Michael

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, April 19, 2021

Musical Monday - Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: June 9, 1984 through June 16, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The week of June 9, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was Lauper's first hit, and probably was her most comercially successful song, and was nominated for or won pretty much all of the awards, but the song I always associate with her is this one. The plaintive, melancholy mood of Time After Time is simply perfectly suited to Lauper's vocal delivery - when listening to the song it sounds like a confession taking place just before the singer breaks down in tears. The entire tenor of the song is both sad and hopeful at the same time.

Oddly, despite the fact that the lyrics of the song seem to suggest undying loyalty, the music video more or less shows a fractured relationship disintegrating into a final breakup. The overarching story is that Lauper's character is homesick and wants to return to her childhood home and care for her mother, but that's not incredibly well conveyed by the video (in fact, that portion completely escaped me until recently). But the sequences show Lauper's character and her seemingly contentious relationship with her boyfriend, played by Lauper's then real-life boyfriend and manager David Wolff. In the end, Lauper leaves Wolff behind, which is more or less what happened in real life, so the teras are not feigned.

Previous Musical Monday: Wake Me Up before You Go-Go by Wham!
Subsequent Musical Monday: Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Let's Hear It for the Boy by Denice Williams
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: The Reflex by Duran Duran

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Let's Hear It for the Boy by Denice Williams
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The Reflex 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

Cyndi Lauper     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, April 12, 2021

Musical Monday - Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: November 17, 1984 through December 1, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: November 24, 1984 through December 1, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: June 2, 1984 through June 9, 1984.

Peppy dance beat? Check.

Mostly meaningless lyrics? Check.

Goofy dance moves? Check.

Big, brightly colored clothes? Check.
.
Ridiculously short shorts? Check.

Black light sequence? Check.

I am starting to think that between Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran, Prince, and so on, 1984 may have been peak 1980s. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go is pretty much a prime example of the music and music videos of the era. Peppy, poppy, with performers in shirts shouting slogans in big letters who are also wearing brightly colored fingerless gloves, and just generally over the top, the song and video are more or less symbolic of the era. As Deadpool says in the movie Deadpool, Wham! earned their exclamation point.

Previous Musical Monday: Let's Hear it for the Boy by Denice Williams
Subsequent Musical Monday: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Caribbean Queen (No More Love On the Run) by Billy Ocean
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Out of Touch by Hall and Oates

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Purple Rain by Prince
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: I Feel for You by Chaka Khan

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: The Reflex by Duran Duran
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Two Tribes 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

Wham!     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Friday, April 9, 2021

Book Bogger Hop April 9, 2021 - April 15, 2021 - Fritigern Launched the Gothic War Against Rome in 376 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Does the cover of a book affect whether you are more willing to read it?

Not consciously, although I will reiterate something I have pointed out many times before: There is a wealth of research that establishes that humans are not aware of all of the factors that influence their decisions. People are biased in favor or or against certain things by factors that they do not recognize. Consequently, it is impossible to say for certain whether a book cover influences my desire to read a book, and I can only say that it doesn't usually consciously affect my decision-making.

I say this, because usually, by the time I get to a book, I have already determined I want to read it before seeing it. Generally, I choose books based upon who the author is, recommendations from sources I trust, and similar factors. By the time I actually get to a book, it has already gone through a process that led me to it in which the cover art was simply not a factor. That said, there is a reason that book publishers spend a fair amount of time, effort, and money on their art and design departments. If cover art didn't matter, they wouldn't bother.

All that said, when I have duplicate books that are in roughly equal condition, I almost always keep the one with the better cover and get rid of the other.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, April 5, 2021

Musical Monday - Let's Hear It for the Boy by Denice Wiliiams


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: May 26, 1984 through June 2, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: May 26, 1984 through June 2, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

There's not really a whole lot to say about Let's Hear It for the Boy. Like a lot of popular songs from the mid-1980s, it is basically an empty, almost meaningless song with a catchy hook and a danceable beat. The song appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Footloose, once again reinforcing the connection between filmed media and pop success, but other than that there is almost nothing memorable about it.

Previous Musical Monday: The Reflex by Duran Duran
Subsequent Musical Monday: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Hello by Lionel Richie
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Hello by Lionel Richie
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper

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

Denice Williams     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, March 29, 2021

Musical Monday - The Reflex by Duran Duran


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: June 23, 1984 through June 30, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: June 16, 1984 through June 23, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: May 5, 1984 through May 26. 1984.

The Reflex is one of those iconic 1980s era songs that is emblematic of the era, and also highlights one of the worst things about music from that time period. The song is catchy and danceable, like pretty much everything else that Duran Duran produced. It is also complete nonsense, like pretty much everything else Duran Duran produced. This is kind of a running theme with a lot of popular music on he U.S. music charts in the mid-1980s - it is often upbeat and fun, but it is empty and meaningless. Duran Duran generally, and The Reflex specifically, is more or less the poster child for this phenomenon.

Previous Musical Monday: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins
Subsequent Musical Monday: Let's Hear It for the Boy by Denice Williams

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: When Doves Cry by Prince

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springstein

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Hello by Lionel Richie
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!

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

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Book Bogger Hop March 20, 2021 - April 1, 2021 - In 375 B.C., the Theban Sacred Band Defeated a Much Larger Spartan Force at the Battle of Tegyra


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What creative places do you keep books other than bookshelves?

Boxes. I have a lot of books stored in boxes, which I have stacked in several rooms in my dwelling. I also keep books in a storage area, on a shelf that is actually inaccessible at the moment. There are some books that I just keep in stacks on my desk, just waiting to be read.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, March 22, 2021

Musical Monday - Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: April 21, 1984 through May 5, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: April 21, 1984 through May 5, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

This is yet another song associated with a movie, in this case, the movie Against All Odds. Oddly, while most of the other movies that have appeared on this list have been considered fairly slight: Xanadu, Fame, and Flashdance are all regarded as pop culture fluff, and even the one with the most studio muscle behind it - Footloose - is kind of a goofy trashy movie, this movie was definitely intended to be taken seriously. It starred Jeff Bridges, a prominent actor who had already garnered two Academy Award nominations (and who would garner another one in the same year this movie was released for his performance in Starman). Appearing alongside Bridges was Rachel Ward, who was coming off of an award-winning performance in the critically acclaimed miniseries The Thorn Birds. Cast as the villain was James Woods, who had already had a notable career before he showed up in this movie. The movie was a remake, loosely based upon the 1947 film noir movie Out of the Past, considered one of the greatest examples of that genre. In a bit of stunt casting, the ingenue from Out of the Past was cast as Rachel Ward's mother.

Despite all of that, I suspect that far fewer people continue to watch this movie than watch Flashdance or Fame or any of the other movies that have thus far had musical hits on this list. Lots of people are familiar with Footloose, especially the final dance scene. Lots of people know routines from Flashdance, especially, once again, the final dance. A fair number of people are familiar with iconic scenes from Fame. But I figure very few people would be able to even give a rough synopsis of the plot to Against All Odds without looking it up first. That isn't to say that Against All Odds is a bad movie - it is well acted and has a fundamentally strong story. It just hasn't had the staying power in popular culture that the other "lesser" movies that had his songs associated with them have had.

Previous Musical Monday: Footloose by Kenny Loggins
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Reflex by Duran Duran

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Footloose by Kenny Loggins
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Hello by Lionel Richie

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Footloose by Kenny Loggins
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Hello 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

Phil Collins     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Book Blogger Hop - March 19th - March 25th: Spearthrower Owl Became Ruler of Teotihuacan in 374 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What books have you read/reviewed that you think are hidden gems, although they haven't found a big audience so far?

I have to say my top hidden gem would be Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Day al-Mohammed and Danielle Ackley-McPhail. It is a steampunk fantasy set in the Middle-East that is imbued with interesting characters, clockwork creatures, and magical flavor. I also have to raise the entire Unidentified Funny Objects series edited by Alex Shvartsman. The series is up to eight volumes now, and each one of them is full of short works of funny science fiction.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, March 15, 2021

Musical Monday - Footloose by Kenny Loggins


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

Throughout this series, I've commented on how much interaction there is between large studio movies and the music charts, and Footloose is another example of this phenomenon. As the title track to the movie of the same name, Footloose followed in the footsteps of Flashdance and Fame, which were also early 1980s era movies about kids and dancing. A generous person might put Xanadu into that same category, but Xanadu seems to have been an artifact of an earlier roller-disco-oriented era.

The big difference between Footloose and its spiritual predecessors Flashdance and Fame is that it was following the success of the earlier movies (and songs), and the studio seems to have put a lot more resources into this movie. Whereas the first two movies featured mostly little known or even unknown actors, and their music was performed by mostly unknown singers, Footloose featured veteran actors John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest in significant roles. Kevin Bacon was an up-and-coming actor coming off an award-winning performance in Forty Deuce and critical acclaim in Diner. Lori Singer was coming off of a two year run as a cast regular in the television adaptation of Fame. In short, this cast was full of actors who had much more substantial resumes than those who populated Flashdance or Fame.
The song itself was also sung by someone with a bigger resume than the earlier movies. Kenny Loggins spent the first half of the 1970s as half of the hit making duo Loggins and Messina, charting top twenty Billboard hits like Your Momma Don't Dance and Thinking of You. Picking him to write and perform the theme song for the movie wasn't quite like selecting a first round draft pick to do the job, but he was still an industry veteran with an extensive resume. It is also notable that the movie soundtrack also included songs by Bonnie Tyler, Sammy Hagar, and a duet by Mike Reno of Loverboy and Anne Wilson of Heart. The movie producers weren't leaving anything to chance with this one.

In the end, this all worked out. Footloose grossed eighty million dollars at the box office against a production budget of eight million. Bacon went on to appear in dozens of movies. This song was nominated for an Academy Award, and Loggins continued to push out hits, including one other notable movie theme song later in the 1980s.

Previous Musical Monday: Hello by Lionel Richie
Subsequent Musical Monday: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Jump by Van Halen
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins

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 Loggins     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Book Blogger Hop - March 12th - March 18th: Emperor Valens Converted to Arianism in 373 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What percentage (roughly) of the books you read do you write blog post reviews for?

I usually end up reviewing most of the books I read, with a couple of notable exceptions. This might seem like an odd thing to say, given the dearth of reviews I have posted over the last year, but the reality is that I haven't read very many reviewable books over the last year. One might think, given that the global pandemic has kept most everyone home a lot more than they otherwise would be, that I would have lots of time for reading. The problem is that other commitments have grown to occupy most of my time. I somehow got talked into running two different RPG campaigns, and that time commitment, along with retaining my full-time job (which has been converted to full-time telework) and wrangling a three-year-old, has basically driven most reading time out of my schedule.

This has also driven what reading I do into areas that I don't normally review. I have read a lot of RPG books over the last year. I don't generally review those. I have read a lot of books aimed at two to three year old kids. I never review those. Reviewing those types of books is perfectly legitimate, but I just don't really have a lot of interest in doing that. Reviewing gaming books inevitably ends up just being mostly a review of the game they are associated with, and in general if I am playing a game, I enjoy it, which would make reviews of the associated sourcebooks kind of repetitive, and reviewing kids books would mostly end up being an assessment of whether the childhood memories of the books are justified or if the books have been visited by the suck fairy in the interim.

I do have a handful of books sitting waiting to be reviewed. I read them, and I just haven't written up reviews for them. I'll get to them soon. Of course, I've been saying that for several months for some of them. But I will. Really. I promise.

The direct answer the the question is simply this: I review most of the books I read. Except when I don't.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, March 8, 2021

Musical Monday - Hello by Lionel Richie


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: May 12, 1984 through May 19, 1984.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: May 12, 1984 through May 19, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: March 24, 1984 through April 28, 1984.

Lionel Richie was the master of Dad pop in the 1980s. Hello is pretty much Dad pop distilled to its purest essence. A soft-rock ballad in which the singer pines for a woman he has apparently never directly spoken with, this song's narrator is pathetic in ways that would not be equaled until James Blunt's You're Beautiful. After leaving the Commodores, Richie more or less settled into producing commercially successful albeit mostly forgettable songs for the entire decade.

The thing about this song is that while the song is bland and fairly boring, the video is creepy as hell. Apparently, Richie decided to not only be the king of Dad pop, but also the king of Dad stalking. The entire video depicts Riche as a teacher who is apparently smitten with an attractive blind student in his class. He spends the entire video silently stalking her, looming creepily behind her in several scenes, calling her house in the middle of the night, and generally behaving like the villain in the first half of a horror movie. At the end of the movie, it is revealed that the blind student has sculpted a bust of Richie that somehow looks a little bit like him. This video is genuinely weird and off-putting. It certainly made me reevaluate Richie's character given that he didn't look at this concept and say "no way in hell".

Previous Musical Monday: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper
Subsequent Musical Monday: Footloose by Kenny Loggins

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Let's Hear It for the Boy by Denice Williams

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Let's Hear It for the Boy by Denice Williams

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: 99 Luftballoons by Nena
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: The Reflex 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

Lionel Richie     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, March 1, 2021

Musical Monday - Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: March 17, 1984 through March 24, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

While Nena was singing about the specter of nuclear armageddon, Cyndi Lauper was putting out an anthem of female empowerment phrased as a simple statement: Girls want to have fun. Though the lyrics seem somewhat banal now, the fact that they centered a woman and her desire to enjoy herself was somewhat revolutionary. In the case of this song, it was originally written by a man, and was written from a male perspective, with the lyrics being gender-bent for Lauper to sing. The original was somewhat bland and boring, since songs of male empowerment are a dime a dozen, but the mere act of switching the genders for one of those male-empowerment songs makes it into a revolutionary anthem.

I hope that maybe, someday, this sort of gender-flip won't be such a big deal. We aren't there yet, but we seem to be closer than we were in 1984.

Previous Musical Monday: 99 Luftballoons by Nena
Subsequent Musical Monday: Hello by Lionel Richie

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: 99 Luftballoons by Nena
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Footloose by Kenny Loggins

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

Cyndi Lauper     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, February 22, 2021

Musical Monday - 99 Luftballoons by Nena


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The week of March 10, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: March 3, 1984 through March 17, 1984.

In 1984, Germany was still divided, and Berlin was still split by a wall. The world was held in the grip of a cold war between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. who essentially kept the world more or less constantly on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Nena's song imagines that a misunderstanding - a red balloon floating over the Berlin Wall is mistaken for a UFOs, leading to a sequence of events that ratchets cross-border tensions up and results in an nuclear exchange. At the end of the song, the narrator walks through the ruined wasteland that the world has become and says that ninety-nine years of war have left no possibility for anyone to be the victor. The English language translation is slightly different, but fundamentally tells the same story.

It shouldn't be surprising that a band from West Germany, a nation situated on the literal front lines of this worldwide conflict, would come up with an antiwar song. What makes this song chilling in retrospect is that in 1983, a false alarm in the Soviet early-warning system indicated that five nuclear missiles had been launched at the country. It was only the clear thinking of Soviet lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov that prevented the U.S.S.R. from launching a retaliatory strike and kicking off what would have almost certainly been an apocalyptic nuclear exchange. Though no one outside of Soviet missile command knew about this until decades later, the fact that this song recounts a scenario disturbingly similar to an event that almost destroyed the world is somewhat terrifying.

Previous Musical Monday: Jump by Van Halen
Subsequent Musical Monday: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Jump by Van Halen
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Hello 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

Nena     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

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 by 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