Saturday, September 13, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


The rock and roll era is ever evolving. It seems that every 3 years, the styles and tastes of the buying/listening public go through a metamorphosis and completely move from one style to another. Consider this, if you will, compare 1962 to 1965 or 1972 to 1975. Later on, compare 1989 to 1992. Rock and roll (or, whatever label you wish to present popular music by) appears to have a 3 year shelf life.

Clearly, not every one of those “change” years was what I would call positive changes. But each of them brought new ideas and new trends that have kept radio alive and well.

One of these “change” years was 1983. Three years earlier, disco had finally died and a new generation of artists burst into the scene and ushered in a “new wave.” Of course, that eventually led to the creation of MTV and popular music would never be the same.

At the height of this new medium, or at least at what has long been considered it’s glory days, MTV introduced us to groups and artists that may well have never seen the light of day in this country without it. New super groups emerged and once again, like clockwork, the musical scene changed. The songs I have chosen mostly reflect this change, although I have also included a couple of older, more established acts as well.

King of Pain – The Police

The second single from the wildly successful LP, Synchronicity, this is a very personal song written by Sting. He had recently separated from his first wife and was not getting along with the other 2 members of the band. The lyrics suggest just how dark his mood – “I have stood here before inside the pouring rain, with the world turning circles running 'round my brain, I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign, but it's my destiny to be the king of pain.” Sad, indeed.

Pancho and Lefty – Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard

The song tells the story of a Mexican bandit named Pancho and a more enigmatic character, Lefty. The song tells of Pancho's death and implies that he was betrayed by his associate Lefty who was paid off by the Mexican federales. Although many people initially assume that the song is about the famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, The writer, Townes Van Zandt has denied this, and the lyrics are not easily reconciled with the historic details of Villa's life and death.

Lawyers in Love – Jackson Browne

Often mistaken for social satire (on '80s materialism), this was actually about nuclear d├ętente and the way world leaders play games with the lives of innocent citizens. Lawyers in Love was Browne's most political album, and that says A LOT. Some analysts later saw "Lawyers in Love" as an evolving "bridge" between Browne's personal works and his 1980's political works. Others saw it as dry commentary on American social mores, something that had been present in Browne's work as far back as "Take It Easy".

She Blinded Me by Science – Thomas Dolby

This song is about a scientist who falls in love with his lab assistant. Dolby considers it the most meaningless song he ever wrote. The speaking voice parts were done by Magnus Pyke, a famous TV show host for a children's educational show in England. His trademark was yelling "Science!" throughout the show.

Saved By Zero – The Fixx

Considered by some to be anything from an ode to masturbation to just a song of triumph over tragedy, this song was the second release of their Shuttered Room LP. After hitting it big later that year with the hit, “One Thing Leads to Another,” the Fixx faded from view. Today however, they are very active in the reunion circuits.

Der KommisarFalco

While the English version, performed by After the Fire charted higher in the States, Falso’s original version was far more interesting (plus, there were no tarantulas). "Kommissar" is German for "Government Official." The song is about a couple on the run from the law. Every time they happen to be in public, "Der Kommissar" shows up. Hence the phrase, "Alles klar? Der Kommissar," which means "Everything OK, officer?

She-Bop – Cyndi Lauper

Another song on masturbation (what was wrong with this year?). Lauper said she wanted little kids to think it was about dancing, and to understand the real meaning as they got older. She never directly stated in the song what the meaning of the song was, so it could receive airplay.

Mirror Man – The Human League

The second single from the EPFascination,” Mirror Man was actually the second U.S. charting hit for the British band (following “Don’t You Want Me.” Great things were expected of the Human League as they were very popular in England. But after just 2 years, the band faded from the scene. They had a short comeback in 1986 with the song “Human,” but even though they continue to perform and record, they have not matched their earlier success.

Come on EileenDexy’s Midnight Runners

The poster child of one-hit wonders, Come on Eileen was an enormously popular song by a group that no one in the United States had ever heard of. According to lead singer Kevin Rowland, Eileen was a girl that he grew up with. Their relationship became romantic when the pair was 13. The song describes the thin line between love and lust. This was also Britain’s biggest hit of 1982.

This Night – Billy Joel

Taken from his 50’s-style LP, An Innocent Man, This Night blends the simple do-wop sounds of that long-ago era with a touch of classic Beethoven, weaving a beautiful story of love and longing. To me, this was the finest song on this LP and one of the most heartwarming he ever wrote.

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