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