For today’s Song of the Day, one of my most favourite tunes from the ’80s…
It should be no surprise to anyone reading this that I love the ’80s. And one of the things that I love most about that decade is the cheesy, over-the-top, heavy metal rock ballads. It seems that every ’80s metal band worth their glitter spandex put out at least one of these gems (and of course, there were some repeat offenders — Bon Jovi, I’m looking in your direction). Below, I have gathered together some classic examples from this genre. I’ve assembled them into a handy playlist so that you, too, can rock out. Bonus points if you serenade your lady (or man) friend with an overblown rendition of one of these ballads. “If I could fly high I would give you the skyyyy/Don’t you make that mistake, what does it taaaaake…”
It also goes without saying that music videos from this era were just complete and utter solid gold, filled with so many utterly amazing 80s cliches (big hair, spandex, overwrought guitar solos, modulation) that it makes my head explode with joy. I mean, look, I know that the 80s were no different from any other decade in that people still had problems, lost money, got divorced, got fired, had general angstiness, etc…but honestly, how could things possibly be that bad when you looked like this?
If you were feeling down, wouldn’t you be able to look in the mirror and immediately be cheered up by the super rad apparition staring back at you? Of course you would!
So here are my picks for top ’80s power ballads. Take the time to re-watch these videos – I promise it’ll put a smile on your face. And let me know your faves!
You guys, I despair. I despair at what Madonna has done to her face:
This is not a knock on Madonna in general. Even though she’s not my favorite artist of all time, there’s much to admire about this lady. She was an absolute trendsetter and a ground breaker at the the start of her career. Madonna paved the way for many a female pop star, from Britney to Lady Gaga to Katy Perry. And let’s face it, she is (or, was) better than all of them. Her moves were great, her look was fantastic, and her attitude was fucking awesome. I’m talking way early on – the ‘struggling artist in early ’80s New York’ era, the ‘Like a Virgin’ era…back when Madonna was young, and confident, and snarky, and superior, and all of that was okay because had the goods to back it up. That Madonna excelled at pushing boundaries and being way ahead of the curve, armed only with a cheeky, unapologetic, in-your-face demeanor.
Nowadays, the most in-your-face thing about her is what’s going on with her face. And that’s the thing – this Madonna, who seems so desperate to hold onto her youth (for why else would she be doing this?), does not seem unapologetic at all. It seems like she’s forgotten who she is – a woman who rose to the upper echelons of the music industry on the basis of stringent hard work and an incredible amount of chutzpah (I mean let’s face, it, she doesn’t have the greatest voice of all time). She had that ineffable quality — that ‘It’ factor — to a degree that makes other female artists who have come after her pale in comparison.
My favorite Madonna tracks continue to be the ones from her early career, and particularly from 1986’s True Blue. This record contained not only gems such as ‘Papa Don’t Preach’, ‘Live to Tell’, and ‘La Isla Bonita’, but also what is surely one of pop music’s poppiest songs of all time, ‘True Blue’. This track is the ultimate in bubblegum brilliance, deceptive in its simplicity (much like the Archies 1969 hit ‘Sugar Sugar’). And I absolutely adore the video – pure, campy fun (and featuring Debi Mazar!) Enjoy:
Pop ephemera? Yes. But I would guess you’ve heard this song at least within the last year, probably the last 6 months, or if you ever go within spitting distance of the depressingly recent-seeming ‘classic’ radio stations spraying 70’s, 80’s and 90’s hits 24/7 – probably within the last week.
Why? What has kept this seemingly innocuous song about a break-up in the pop culture heavens? I re-heard this song recently on my iPod and it became more clear – to me anyway.
First is the beat. It is metronomic, icily detached, and perfect. The bass drum lands with a decisive thud each, and, every, time. Twittery blips of a synth march in syncopated lockstep with artificial 16th notes played on a phantom hi-hat cymbal. It’s clear there is no living, breathing drummer behind this beat and that matters. More on that soon.
Then come the bass-y, waver-y, futuristic synths. Anything synthesized is (of course) synthetic, and therefore ‘not real’, and therefore distanced from feeling or, in this case, caring. I would argue that a structure is being put in place by the mechanized beat and technologically potent synths that foretell the doomed future of this relationship. This is all business. Manufactured soul. Groovy but calculating. Like her.
This song’s lyrics basically consist of a he said/she said, back-and-forth dispute over ‘what happened’ between two former lovers in what seems like letters, or maybe voicemails, which at the time would have been cutting edge.
He begins: ‘You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar / when I found you’. Ah. You found her did you? Well, we’ll see what she has to say about that. He continues to describe how her success was surely a result of his own Machiavellian maneuvers behind the scenes in the cutthroat music industry. It appears however that these efforts have been lavished upon an ungrateful heart, as the first verse concludes with a chilling final sentence, if not outright threat:
I picked you out, I shook you up
And turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.
Here’s where it gets interesting. We haven’t even heard her response yet, and already we are sensing his desperation. The first line of the next verse is ‘Don’t.’
This means both ‘please don’t do this’, and it is a stutter from someone who is petrified, meaning it can also be heard as ‘Don’t..don’t you want me?’ as though his disbelief is such that he can barely allow the words, the question, to exit his mouth for fear of hearing the answer. It is reminiscent of a devastated Roy Lichtenstein blonde reclining on a sofa, exaggerated tears coming from her eyes, barely able to speak so choked with emotion is she, her halting words captured in a cartoon voice bubble over her head.
And if he was desperate before, he’s terrified now. The song reveals this by amping up its volume and pitch to a cry: ‘Don’t you want me baby?’ followed by ‘Don’t you want me? Ooooh!’ It’s too much for words. This is a howl of despair. And millions upon millions of happy party and club goers over the last 30 years have rejoiced in the sound of an agonized man falling apart, joining him in the anthemic cry of this glorious chorus.
It is also a struggle to escape from the synthesized prison that is this song. His voice is the only human or natural substance in this environment, and he is drowning. The beat however, is uncaring. Just listen to it. There are no flourishes or pauses. It steamrolls forward in service of good times. There are people to entertain, dancers to inspire, good times to be fueled, so if you are suffering from a broken heart, that’s fine, but get the f*ck out of the way. Don’t think for one moment this dance machine is gonna stop before running you over.
It is, after all, the music business they’re singing about, not one another. That’s the revelation. These two lovers are not the subject of the song; it is the machine they found themselves caught within that torn them asunder. He doesn’t even realize it.
My candidate for one of the great lines in pop music is her response: ‘I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar – that much is true’. Ouch. In other words, nothing you said after that was true. She will not brook the argument that he had anything to do with where she is now: ‘But even then I knew I’d find a much better place / Either with or without you’. Her singing is flat, deadpan and dismissive, and that’s because she’s part of the machine now, and sounds like one. She isn’t really singing; it’s more like a robot dictating a goodbye letter; her tone reflects it.
She concedes ‘the five years we have had have been such good times’ but even in the ‘I still love you’ she can’t rouse any true feeling. It’s semi-sung in a ‘Well, ya, I guess so’ tone. She’s throwing him his last bone before she says goodbye forever, in which she concludes: ‘But now I think it’s time I live my life on my own. I guess it’s just what I must do’.
And again, from our protagonist (Can we call him that? Who are we cheering for here? That’s one of the great questions in this song): ‘Don’t’. And of course, ‘Don’t you want me?’
We never hear from her again. I said up top and believed my whole life this was a back-and-forth song, but it isn’t. She has exactly one verse and then she is gone. He, however, spirals down in an endless loop of disbelief and pleas, repeating over and over again ‘Don’t you want me…Ooooooh!’
I usually don’t refer to videos when contemplating songs because it can ruin your own personal interpretation. This video however is pretty good. The performances by the artists are frozen, detached and best described as mannequinesque. It’s a marvelous vision realized by the Director, whoever that was.
The best and most appropriate shot is the final one, where the camera retreats from the set of a video shoot and swings over to get one last shot of the girl in front of the makeup mirror. Except, of course, she is gone. So for a moment we get the camera looking at itself, gazing into a mirror at it’s own reflection, trapped in a self-referential and existential loop, just like our poor hero, doomed to cry in eternal sorrow for his hastily departed betrothed, unable to escape, even 30 years on.
I went to see a movie last week called In A World. You might not have heard of it – I’m not sure it made a huge splash at the box office. But it was awesome; one of those totally feel good movies that stays with you after you leave the theatre and makes you want to go see it again right away. Here’s the trailer:
The gist of the story is that Lake Bell (who also wrote and directed the movie – what up Lake Bell!) plays an endearing slacker and aspiring voiceover artist. She’s grown up in the shadow of her old man who’s one of the top voiceover dudes in the world, and who has always told her that the voiceover industry is for the men only and that she should stick to being an accent coach. No fun, Buzzkill Dad! Go back to Russia! Buzzkill Dad kicks our girl out of the house so that his much-younger ladyfriend can move in, so Lake goes to stay with her sister and sister’s husband, the always awesome Rob Corddry (seriously, did you guys see him in Hot Tub Time Machine? If not, please stop reading this and go watch it immediately). Lake’s big break comes when a huge movie studio that’s releasing an epic trilogy – sorry, quadrilogy – called the Amazon Games (a sly takeoff on the Hunger Games, starring Cameron Diaz) decides to resurrect the iconic “In A World…” movie trailer opener, and they hold a competition to see who will be their voiceover dude…or lady! That’s right, Lake Bell is in the running – and her main competition for the job comes in the form of a slickster douchebag named Gustav Warner, and…her own father! Yup – in a fit of jealousy Buzzkill Dad has thrown his name into the ring. Buzzkill Dad, why you gotta be like that?!
So how does it all end? Well, you’re just gonna have to watch it to find out! The movie also features an excellent supporting cast, a very cute romantic subplot, and a great soundtrack, including one of my favourite songs of all time, which was also used to absolute perfection in the movie Real Genius. Obviously nothing can top the Tears for Fears + Real Genius combo, but this comes pretty close. But don’t take my world for it – check it out yo’self!
And because we can all benefit from the occasional hit of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’…enjoy!
For today’s Song of the Day I’m going back to a classic. This has always been one of my favourite U2 songs, but I never really paid a lot of attention to the lyrics.
Have you ever had insomnia? It’s amazing how quickly the human body starts to break down when deprived of sleep. Concentration, motivation, aspiration — they all suffer. Insomnia basically attacks on all fronts, with both mental and physical repercussions — and sometimes it seems like the more one tries to fight it, the worse it gets. You can’t will yourself to sleep, so what are you left with? Hour upon hour of relentless consciousness.
I paint a bleak picture. Forgive me. That is not my intention. For here is a song that, when I was listening to it today, made me think of the turbulence of sleeplessness, but also of the peace that sometimes comes in the early morning hours. This is song that, to me, explores the beautiful dark corners of a sleepless mind with gentleness and compassion. I picture this song soothing a restless brow, stroking a mind fevered with lack of sleep, whispering “it’s okay…it’s going to be okay”. Let’s not fight this. Let’s celebrate being awake, and conscious, and alive.
I don’t know what U2’s Bad was written about. But this is how it speaks to me.
To let it go
And so fade away
I’m wide awake
I’m wide awake
I’m not sleeping, oh no, no, no
I know, you guys. I’m as surprised about this as you are. I have to be honest with you…I had always sort of dismissed Solange as a low-rent version of Beyonce. And considering that I’m not even all that into Beyonce*, I never really gave Solange the time of day. Until now.
*Although I must say that Beyonce does have quite a few gems in her repetoire, such as this most excellent song, and this one. And her recent HBO documentary certainly proves that she is an amazing live performer with an enviable work ethic.
I was recently introduced to Solange’s EP, True, which was released in November of last year. The first single, Losing You, might be one of the best songs I have heard of late. See for yourselves:
Amazing, right? Super poppy with a fun ’80s-ish vibe. And the clothing! So, so, so great. I love pretty much all of Solange’s outfits here, especially this amazing suit, which I am kind of obsessed with:
Here is a girl who is not afraid to mix and match patterns, and I deeply respect that.
Because honestly, patterns are meant to clash! Why else would they exist? In fact, I would argue that our inherent ability to throw together mismatched fabrics in a jaunty and debonair fashion is what ultimately separates us humans from the animals. Well — that, and opposable thumbs. And oh yeah, the whole sentient thoughts thing. But, you know, other than all that.
Now, you may be wondering about those epic looking dudes in the video sporting awesome suits and posing around Solange with Union Jack umbrellas. As well you should, and not only because they look insanely super rad. The back story of these dandified Congolese gents, known as Sapeurs, is an incredibly fascinating read. You can also see more pics of their sartorial splendor here at photographer Daniele Tamagni’s site.
My two favourite bands couldn’t be more of a study in contrasts. Led Zeppelin was a hard-rocking, drug-taking, groupie-banging maelstrom of bombastic sound. U2’s music, on the other hand, is infused with spirituality, soaring melodies, and the quest for a connection with a higher power.
And yet I love them both. Which is why I think it’s important to celebrate many different styles of music, from the highly spiritual to the down-and-dirty. And how better to do so than by comparing and contrasting one band of self-professed Christian rockers with another band that was plagued throughout their career by lurid tales of dark arts and devil worship.
Now, I’m not trying to turn this into an epic battle between the forces of Good and Evil…but just for the hell of it, I wonder who would win? Clearly the only way to judge is by employing the objective powers of Science to sort it out.
Therefore, I will be examining each band based on a variety of categories, and
totally choosing my favourites utilizing a highly scientifical method that is not at all biased in order to establish the winner in each category. Points from all of the categories will be tabulated at the conclusion of our study to determine the ultimate victor. So without further ado, I present to you our first category:
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am a pretty huge fan of ’80s movies in general, and John Hughes flicks in particular. 1986’s ‘Pretty in Pink’ is one of my all-time favourites — I previously wrote about it here and here.
So you can imagine my excitement when my good pal Laird Sapir told me that she was planning a post about a face-off between teen movie uber-villains Hardy Jenns (‘Some Kind of Wonderful’) and Steff McKee (‘Pretty in Pink’) and asked me to argue on Steff’s behalf.
You can read my treatise on Steff’s sleazy awesomeness, and Laird’s excellent rebuttal in favour of Hardy, here: Blazers & Bad Attitudes. Be sure to vote for your favourite rich preppie douchebag!
You guys! For my inaugural ‘Classic vs. Cover’ post I am very excited to be writing about this song! I grew up with the Tiffany version. I remember rocking out to it at sleepovers in grade six while we did each others’ makeup (peach lip gloss was big that year) and gossiped about the boys we liked (Aaron Prosser, in my case)*. Good times.
*Super embarrassing if he is reading this now.
Back then, I was not aware that the song was a cover. The original was done by Tommy James and the Shondells (their other hits included ‘Crimson and Clover’ and ‘Mony Mony’ – which was, of course, later covered by Billy Idol).
Here is the Tommy James version:
Pretty awesome, right? It’s got a great pop-meets-garage vibe, and I love how they do the ‘heartbeat’ part.
Now, the cover by Tiffany:
Right off the top, it’s way more poppy than the original, with those sweet synth beats and the hilarious/awesome ’80s overproduction. Also, I don’t think we can discount the amazingness of this video. I mean…the dance moves! The acid wash denim! Gumby!! Gah…it’s all so good!
So, which version is best? The classic is much more stripped down than the cover, and I would argue that since it’s a really great song to begin with, the original shows that off perfectly with no need for embellishment. On the other hand, Tiffany’s version is a pretty glorious piece of sugary bubblegum perfection.
One thing I really like about this tune in general is the fact that, for a song that’s all about sneaking off to hook up with someone, both versions are pretty innocent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude — but in this day and age of explicit sexuality and raunchy lyrics, it’s kind of refreshing to listen to a song that contains a line like “The beating of our hearts is the only sound” — rather than, say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me” from Rihanna, this generation’s incarnation of a pop princess (possibly being listened to at little girls’ sleepovers as we speak). I dunno, maybe it’s just the romantic in me.
As for these two versions of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now,’ what’s your preference? Classic, or cover?