Saturday, December 20, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


When I think back to 1985, I'm reminded of three things – Miami Vice, New Coke and Live Aid. Sure, a lot of other things happened. But it just seems so secondary in my memory.

For me, this was the year I finally went out my own, moving from my parent's home in Dallas to my first apartment in Miami Beach . Of course, that brought with it a terrible case of peptic ulcers and a prescription-drug addiction (fun, fun, fun). But being in South Florida in '85 seemed to be the right place at the right time.

It was a bad year for air travel. TWA Flight 847, carrying 153 passengers from Athens to Rome , is hijacked by a Hezbollah fringe group. One passenger, U.S. Navy Petty Officer Robert Stethem, is killed. Following this tragedy, five commercial airliners crashed – four within a two-month span. The first one was Air India Flight 182, a Boeing 747, blows up 31,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean , south of Ireland , killing all 329 aboard. The second was Delta #191 in Dallas ; the second was Japan Air #123, killing 520 people in that country (the worst aviation crash in history) and the third was Midwest #105, in Milwaukee . One month later, the cruise ship Achille Lauro is hijacked in the Mediterranean Sea by 4 heavily armed Palestinian terrorists. One passenger, American Leon Klinghoffer, is killed. Klinghoffer was chosen, of course, because he had the audacity to be Jewish. It didn't matter to the terroroids that he was wheelchair-bound. In November, EgyptAir Flight 648 is hijacked by Abu Nidal and his merry men, flown to Malta , where Egyptian commandos storm plane; and 60 are killed by gunfire and explosions. In December, Arrow Air Flight 1285, crashes after takeoff in Gander , Newfoundland , killing 256, 248 of whom were U.S. servicemen returning to Fort Campbell , Kentucky from overseeing a peacekeeping force in Sinai.

Later that month, Nidal's group – the Nidal group carried out a horrific attack simultaneously in the Rome (El-Al ticket center) and Vienna (TWA) airports, and opened fire with assault rifles and grenades. They killed 16 people and wounded 99 others before three of them were killed.

In entertainment news, Nintendo released the NES gaming system, Microsoft releases Windows 1.0 and Calvin and Hobbes debuted in the newspapers.

Vanz-Kant-Danz - John Fogerty

The closing track on Centerfield , this was originally titled "Zanz Kant Danz" to refer to Saul Zaentz, Fogerty's former boss at Fantasy Records, who famously tried to sue Fogerty for plagiarizing himself (specifically his Creedence Clearwater Revival material, to which Zaentz held the rights) in the song "The Old Man Down The Road" from the same album. The song is about an unnamed street dancer and his sidekick, a pig trained to pick people's pockets as they watch the dancer do his stuff. The pig, originally named Zanz as a dig at Saul Zaentz, "Can't dance, but he'll steal your money - watch him or he'll rob you blind." When Zaentz threatened Fogerty with yet another lawsuit, Fogerty changed the pig's name to Vanz. Another song from the Centerfield album, "Mr. Greed," is also thought to be a musical salvo by Fogerty in his long-running feud with Zaentz, which lasted until 2004 when Fantasy Records was bought out by Concord Records, who restored Fogerty's rights to his CCR material. The video for this was the first ever filmed entirely in "Claymation."

Smuggler's Blues – Glenn Frey

Frey played a bad guy on the TV show Miami Vice in 1985 in an episode based on this song. It was good timing for Frey, who wrote a song about drug smuggling at a time when Miami Vice was looking for ideas. Miami Vice had lots of musical connections. Singer Sheena Easton also acted on the show, and the show's stars, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, both released albums (Johnson had a Top 10 hit with "Heartbeat"). One episode featured Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight.” Unfortunately, the album that this song was from, The Allnighter , further cemented Frey as more of a singles artist and not critically acclaimed as much s his former Eagles partner, Don Henley. Although The Allnighter produced this, as well as the top 20 hit “Sexy Girl,” Frey only charted 3 more hits (“The Heat is On,” from the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack, ”You Belong to the City” from the Miami Vice Soundtrack and “True Love,” from his follow up LP, Soul Searching ).

One Night In Bangkok - Murray Head

Chess was a musical that premiered in London 's West End . This song was written for the 1984 concept album, which was recorded well ahead of the production. The album was very successful considering it was for a musical. The album charted in the Top 10 in the UK , #47 in the US , and #1 in Sweden . Another song from the album, "I Know Him So Well," held the #1 spot in the UK for four weeks in February 1985, being deposed by "You Spin Me Right Round" by Dead or Alive. The Broadway production of Chess was heavily altered and unsuccessful. The song tells of the meeting of 2 great chess players, one Soviet and one American, in Bangkok , which is the capital of Thailand . Chess is a musical production that uses a US-USSR chess rivalry as a metaphor for the Cold War, but this song just contains double-entendres about the game of Chess compared to the Bangkok nightlife. The example often used is "I would invite you, but the queens we use would not excite you.” Along with the rest of the songs from Chess , the music was written by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA, and Tim Rice wrote the lyrics. Rice has written for many film and theatrical productions, including the song "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" from The Lion King . Murray Head is an actor who has been in several movies and stage productions. He is barely out of the one-hit-wonder category because of his 1971 version of "Superstar" from the Jesus Christ Superstar production where he played Judas. It hit #14 in the US in 1971.

Valotte - Julian Lennon

Julian is John Lennon's first son. His mother is Cynthia Lennon, who John was married to before Yoko (they had a son named Sean). Julian sounds a lot like his dad and a lot of people were surprised to learn it was not a John Lennon song when they first heard it. He wrote this in 1983 at a French chateau called the Manor de Valotte. That's where he got the title. This was Julian's first single in the US and his second in the UK . He had another hit with "Much Too Late for Goodbyes,” which hit the top 10 in March of 1985. In keeping with the family legend, the album was recorded and mixed at The Hit Factory recording studio in New York City on the same console his father used to record the album Double Fantasy . Following the success of Valotte , Lennon has not been able to recapture his earlier chart accomplishments. Currently, he is in the process of releasing his first studio album in 10 years, Conscious .

Shout to the Top – The Style Council

The Style Council were an English group formed in 1983 by ex-The Jam singer and guitarist Paul Weller with keyboardist Mick Talbot. The permanent lineup grew to include drummer Steve White and Weller's then-wife, vocalist Dee C. Lee. Other artists such as Tracie Young and Tracey Thorn (Everything but the Girl) also collaborated with the group. Although never very popular with American audiences, they developed a large European fan base due to their strong diversity of musical styles. The song was tabbed by Geffen Records for the Soundtrack to the motion picture Vision Quest , starring Matthew Modine and Linda Fiorentino. While the movie panned, the soundtrack became one of the best selling albums or the year – featuring the chart-topper “Crazy for You” by Madonna and John Waite's “Change.”

Let's Talk About Me – Alan Parsons Project

After finally hitting it big in the early 80's with hits like “Time,” “Games People Play,” “Eye in the Sky” and “Don't Answer Me” (to name a few), Alan Parsons was nearing the end of his charting career. Long considered a “poor man's Pink Floyd” for his liberal use of synthesizers as well as his shunning live performances, Parsons thrived on getting the perfect sound and used many different singers to accomplish his goals. Originally, the album, Vulture Culture , was intended to be the second LP of a double album, with Ammonia Avenue being the first. "Sooner or Later" was recently described by Parsons himself as, "the third attempt to try and get another hit with the "Eye in the Sky"-esque chugging guitar line - "Prime Time" from Ammonia Avenue was the second, which I thought was a little more successful in that respect." The vocalist for “Let's Talk About Me” was David Paton, who was well-known for his work with Elton John in many of his studio albums. The video (shown here) is the first to show Parsons' (and partner Eric Woofson's) faces, although they are seen in comic form in the “Don't Answer Me” video.

Vox Humana – Kenny Loggins

Vox Humana is the fifth solo album released by singer Kenny Loggins and his first first album released after his involvement with the hit soundtrack to the motion picture Footloose , the year prior. Title is from a Latin phrase meaning "human voice." While the title track was the first song released as a single, it paled in commercial comparison to his follow up single, the top 5 hit “Forever.” Another song from the LP, “No Lookin' Back” was recorded as well by Michael McDonald (who co-wrote the song), who took the song to the top 5. Loggins and McDonald also co-wrote “What a Fool Believes”, which McDonald took to number one as a member of the Doobie Brothers in 1979. Regardless, it kept alive a remarkable streak for 11 consecutive top 40 singles for the singer/songwriter, dating back to 1970's “This Is It.” Even though Loggins continued to chart late in the decade, his later chart success was predominately from album soundtracks ( Top Gun, One Fine Day ). In 2005, Loggins reconnected with Jim Messina, with whom he began his career (Loggins and Messina ). The two decided to hit the road again; the result was a successful nationwide tour that resulted in the CD and DVD Loggins and Messina Sittin' In Again and he is currently working on a children's album for Disney, which would be his third for that genre.

There's No Way – Alabama

Alabama were the most commercially successful country act in the 1980s and remain one of the bestselling American musical acts of all time. The band is often credited with bringing country music groups (as opposed to solo vocalists) into the mainstream, paving the way for the success of today's top country groups. Since its foundation in 1972, Alabama has been composed of Randy Owen (lead vocals), Jeff Cook (guitar, fiddle, and background vocals), Teddy Gentry (bass guitar, background vocals) and Mark Herndon (drums). The band's blend of traditional country music and southern rock combined with elements of gospel music, and pop music gave it a crossover appeal that helped lead to their unprecedented success. The song is a love ballad, and an example of the pop-styled aspect of Alabama 's core musical style. When "There's No Way" reached No. 1 on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart in May 1985, it became Alabama's 16th straight No. 1 single in as many single releases (excepting for the 1982 Christmas single "Christmas in Dixie"). The feat allowed Alabama to tie Sonny James' 14-year-old record for most No. 1 songs in as many consecutive single releases. In addition, the album which spawned the song, 40-Hour Week , was their biggest selling studio album. In their live shows, Alabama often made a point of recognizing the men and women in America 's Armed Forces. They have volunteered to visit injured soldiers at military hospitals, and have participated in the "Laying of the Wreath" ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery . For their efforts, they have been awarded the USO Rising Star Award and the Pentagon 9/11 Medallion. Owen, and his wife Kelly Owen, were the primary benefactors for the construction of the Kelly Owen Women's and Children's Pavilion at DeKalb Regional Medical Center in Fort Payne, which was at the time a charitably-operated hospital of Baptist Health System of Alabama

Why Can't I Have You – The Cars

"Why Can't I Have You" was the 5 th and final single on The Cars' hugely successful Heartbeat City album. Two of the songs (”You Might Think” and “Drive”) went top 10, while two others (“Magic” and “Hello Again”) went top 20. This song “only managed top 30 status, but probably because of the band's saturation on MTV's heavy rotation. It is exceedingly unlikely that anyone who watched MTV in the mid-to-late 1980s didn't see a Cars video from Heartbeat City . The song "Stranger Eyes" was used in the theatrical trailer of the 1986 film Top Gun , but it never made it into the soundtrack. Only one song from the album featured another singer, and not Ric Ocasek. “Drive” was sung by guitarist Benjamin Orr and the video featured a troubled young woman (portrayed by model Paulina Porizkova, whom Ocasek would soon marry). For more on The Cars, go here .

Shame – the Motels

The first incarnation of The Motels formed in Berkeley , California , in 1971. Lisa Brenneis (bass) coaxed Dean Chamberlain (lead guitar), Chuck Wada (rhythm guitar) and Martha Davis (vocals, guitar) into forming a band (then called The Warfield Foxes ). However, after recording a demo for Warner Brothers, which was turned down, they were offered a contract with Capitol Records. The band declined Capitol's offer and disbanded in 1977, citing musical differences amongst themselves. In March 1978, Davis and future lead guitarist Jeff Jourard (formerly of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) decided to reform The Motels and by 1982, the bnd finally hit it big with their single “Only the Lonely,” thanks to heavy airplay on MTV. The next year, the band returned to the charts thanks to the single “Suddenly Last Summer.” In addition, they recorder two songs for soundtracks, "Long Day" was recorded for Moscow on the Hudson and "In the Jungle" was recorded for the movie Teachers . In late 1984 Capitol Records brought in producer Richie Zito to help maintain the band's commercialism. It took well over a year but with the finishing touches done at Giorgio Moroder's hi-tech studio in the San Fernando Valley, the group released their sixth album, Shock , in September 1985. The first single, "Shame," reached #21 on the U.S. pop charts and #10 on the U.S. rock charts. From early 1986 to February 1987 The Motels worked on songs for a 7th album. It was not to be. Citing that the group was broke, on February 13, 1987 , Martha Davis took each member in turn to a local bar to say she had decided to dissolve the band and go solo. Now in the band's third incarnation, Davis and the new Motels released an independent CD titled So the Story Goes , in 2005.

Bonus Track

We Are the World – USA for Africa

Following the completion of the American Music Awards show, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie and Quincy Jones brought in the top American (mostly) performers to join in super-group recording of a song to benefit hunger relieve in Africa. The original idea was a brainchild of Bob Geldof, whom a year prior had created the Band Aid project, which featured the song “Do They Know it's Christmas Time?” This project began as an idea Calypso singer Harry Belafonte had for a benefit concert featuring black musicians. Lionel Richie's manager, Ken Kragen, liked the idea of releasing a single and contacted Richie about the project, who agreed to help. The stars who sang solos were, in order, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Al Jurreau, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Logins, Steve Perry, Daryl Hall, Michael Jackson (again), Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, and Kim Carnes. Bob Dylan and Ray Charles ad-libbed some vocals that made it on. Singers in the chorus who did not get solos include Belafonte, Bette Midler, Smokey Robinson, The Pointer Sisters, LaToya Jackson, Billy Joel, Bob Geldof, Sheila E., and Waylon Jennings. Dan Aykroyd was in the chorus. He was a singer in the fictional band The Blues Brothers, but was invited to represent the movie industry. Billy Joel (from Rolling Stone magazine, December 15, 2005 ): "Most of us who were there didn't like the song, but nobody would say so. I think Cyndi Lauper leaned over to me and said, 'It sounds like a Pepsi commercial.' And I didn't disagree.” As the music world came together in the spirit of giving, Bob Geldof organized Live Aid later that year. Live Aid was a benefit concert held simultaneously in Philadelphia and London . At the Philadelphia concert, Lionel Richie came out and led a performance of this as the last song of the show.

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