Saturday, January 31, 2009

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


This was George Orwell's year and nothing portrayed it better than Apple Computer's “1984” commercial which played only once – during that year's Super Bowl.

The year started with the break up of AT&T and Michael Jackson's hair catching fire. The CIA station chief in Beirut , William Francis Buckley, is kidnapped by Islamic Jihad (of course) and later dies in captivity. And the Soviet Union (remember them?) announces that they will boycott the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in retaliation to the US boycotting the 1980 summer games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (remember them?).

New Orleans hosts its first Worlds Fair and Dell Computers is founded as PC's Limited.

Ronald Reagan scared the heck out of the Democrats when during a mike check he announced "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes". Two months later, he trounces Democrat nominee Walter Mondale in the general election by winning all but one state (Mondale's home state of Minnesota ) and the District of Columbia.

Downbound Train - Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen originally recorded this as an acoustic demo in 1982 along with the first version of "Born In The U.S.A." and most of the songs that would make up Nebraska. The song is a lament to a lost spouse, and takes on a melancholy tone. The song was recorded in March or April of 1982 at the Power Station in one of the first sessions for the Born in the U.S.A. album. Though it was not one of the seven singles released from said album, the song nevertheless gained something of a following, with some AOR radio airplay and being featured fairly regularly on the Born in the U.S.A. Tour and sporadically in tours since. Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh did not approve, calling "Downbound Train" in his volume Glory Days "the weakest song [Springsteen]'s released since the second album, incredibly sloppy, the protagonist's three jobs in five verses are only symptomatic of its problems." Other observers analyzed it in retrospect as a harbinger, with naturalistic imagery lacing the song throughout in an approach that Springsteen would return to heavily in his Dylan-"Series of Dreams"-influenced early 1990s. For me personally, it it is my favorite of his songs because of it's meaning and passion.

Stay the Night – Chicago

Chicago had long promoted itself as a "faceless" band, to let the famous Coca-Cola styled logo (and the music) do the talking. However, with the advent of the music video age, the camera would ultimately focus on the band member who sang most (if not all) of the songs, despite the presence of two other lead singers. One of the lead singers, Peter Cetera wrote this with the Canadian songwriter David Foster. In the song, Cetera is trying to convince a girl to enjoy a night of casual sex. A very memorable video was mad to accompany this song. The video has a message: if you proposition a lady stunt driver and she isn't interested, take no for an answer if you know what's good for you. In 1984, it was rare for videos to have these theatrical qualities, and this video was also unusual as it presented an ending to the song that is not apparent when listening.

When the Lights Go Out – Naked Eyes

Naked Eyes consisted of childhood friends from Bath, England : Pete Byrne on vocals and Rob Fisher on keyboards. The two had formerly played in a band called Neon with future members of Tears for Fears and stayed together as a duo after the group broke up. Naked Eyes are one of the few to have enjoyed significant success outside their country of origin, notably in the U.S. and in Canada, yet remain almost unknown in their homeland. After breaking out a year earlier with a cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David standard "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" (Bacharach himself has cited the cover as a personal favorite and their subsequent hit "Promises, Promises," they once again charted with their third single from their eponymous debut album (known also as Burning Bridges in their homeland) with this song. Later in '84, the duo released their follow up LP, Fuel for the Fire . While they did have one charting song from the album (“(What) In the Name of Love,” It failed to garner much attention and soon after, the band broke up. Fisher died August 25, 1999 from complications following stomach surgery. Byrne released a solo album The Real Illusion in 2001, which featured some of the last tracks he wrote with Fisher for a proposed third Naked Eyes album.

Think Of Laura – Christopher Cross

This became famous when it was used on the Soap Opera General Hospital as the love theme for the characters Luke and Laura, who were arguably the most well known of all Soap Opera couples. Their 1981 wedding was the highest rated episode in American Soap Opera history. Cross did not write this for the show. Laura was the best friend of a lady he was dating at the time in the early '80s. She was killed by a stray bullet while driving in a car one night, and Cross wrote this for her. About a year after the song was released on Another Page, General Hospital requested permission to use the song on their show, and it became a hit. Cross has just finished recording a new acoustic album of his hits titled The Cafe Carlyle Sessions . He is also working on a new studio album that is expected to be released in the spring of 2009. Today, he does about 100 live performances a year.

99 Luftballons – Nena

This was one of the songs in the '80s to make a point about the brinkmanship and paranoia/hysteria surrounding the issue of war. The song talks about Nena and the listener buying 99 Balloons in a shop and letting them go, for fun. These balloons show up on the radar as unidentified objects and both sides scramble planes and go to full alert to counteract a perceived nuclear attack, when in fact it is the most childlike of things, a bunch of balloons. Nena's real name is Gabriela Kerner. She was in a band called The Stripes before forming her own group. This was released in Germany , where Nena was from. Their record company had no intention of releasing it in America until a disc jockey at radio station KROQ in Los Angeles found a copy and started playing it. They recorded an English version (the original words are in German, and yes, "Captain Kirk" in German is still "Captain Kirk") with the title translated as "99 Red Balloons" and released it in the US , where it was a big hit.

Cruel Summer Bananarama

Bananarama are an English girl group who have had success on the pop and dance charts since 1982. Although there have been line-up changes during the years, the group enjoyed its most popular success as a trio, made up of lifelong friends Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin. "Cruel Summer" was a top ten hit in Britain in 1983, but wasn't an international success until its inclusion in the 1984 movie The Karate Kid, a year after its original release. The group didn't allow the record to be included in the film's soundtrack, but it was still their first top ten hit in the USA. The song has since been revived in various forms. It appeared in several television commercials, was included on the soundtrack to the movie Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, and was covered by other acts, such as Ace of Base, who scored an international hit with it (their version even reached gold in the US), and Blestenation on the Blue Crush soundtrack. In 2003, Swedish electronica female artist Sophie Rimheden sampled the beat and bassline from the song on the track "In Your Mind" from the album HiFi . In October 2007, Bananarama announced that they would be appearing on 2008's "Here and Now Tour" with other 1980s artists such as Belinda Carlisle, Paul Young, ABC, and Rick Astley. They also announced plans to record a new album of disco cover versions although, according to their website at this time, they have no record deal.

Don't Answer Me – Alan Parsons Project

Ammonia Avenue is one of the most commercially successful albums of The Alan Parsons Project. It was the second of the group's three most accessible albums, beginning with Eye in the Sky and ending with Vulture Culture. Ammonia Avenue was originally intended to be released as a double album with Vulture Culture's material forming the second record. The Phil Spector influenced million selling smash; "Don't Answer Me" is generally regarded as Ammonia Avenue 's best song, with the title track a close second. "Prime Time" was a follow up release that fared well in the top 40. "Since The Last Goodbye" and "You Don't Believe" were also minor hits. Music videos for "Don't Answer Me" and "Prime Time" were produced in 1985, the former with art and animation by MW Kaluta. The title of the album was inspired by Eric Woolfson's visit to Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in Billingham, England, where the first thing he saw was a street with miles of pipes, no people, no trees and a sign that said 'Ammonia Avenue'. The album focused on the possible misunderstanding of industrial scientific developments from a public perspective and a lack of understanding of the public from a scientific perspective.

Hyperactive – Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby (born Thomas Morgan Robertson) came to the Dolby name from the name Dolby Laboratories, and was given to him by school friends for his seemingly inseparable relationship with his cassette machine. Dolby Laboratories was reportedly very displeased with Robertson using the company name as his own stage name and sued him, trying to stop him from using the name Dolby entirely. Dr. Ray Dolby incidentally has a son called Thomas. Eventually, the case was settled out of court and it was agreed that he would refrain from using the word Dolby in any context other than with the name Thomas. Dolby worked as keyboard player on Def Leppard's 1983 Pyromania album. Dolby appeared on Pyromania using the alias Booker T. Boffin as his affiliation to another label restricted the use of his real name. By far the most significant session relationship for Thomas in the early days was when he contributed the signature synthesizer sound on the track "Urgent" on Foreigner's 1981 album 4. On the same album he played the atmospheric synthesizer intro to the mega-hit "Waiting for a Girl Like You". The fees from this work, including tour dates, bankrolled the studio time for the recording of the 1980's benchmark album The Golden Age of Wireless from which his solo career began. This song was later featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City , in 2002.

They Don't Know –Tracy Ullman

Tracey Ullman is a British comedy actress who moved to the US and starred in her own TV series, The Tracey Ullman Show, which was one of the first shows on the Fox network. Her show was well-known for being the vehicle for Matt Groening's animated family, The Simpsons. This was her biggest hit. This song was written and first recorded by Kirsty MacColl in 1979. However, a strike at her distributors prevented it from being released as a single, although it was popular on UK radio. Tracey's version, however, was a hit, and Kirsty MacColl provided backing vocals on this version: the 'bay-ay-be-ee' heard just before the last verse, is sung by her. The video features a cameo by Paul McCartney as a character named Paul. At the time, Tracey Ullman was filming a role in McCartney's movie Give My Regards to Broadstreet.

Desert Moon – Dennis DeYoung

Best known as one of the founders and lead singers of the popular rock band Styx, DeYoung debuted his first solo album in 1984 and charted with this song. With Styx in limbo following Tommy Shaw's 1984 departure, DeYoung began a solo career of modest success. His first solo album, Desert Moon , generated a top 10 hit, "Desert Moon", and the follow-up single, "Don't Wait for Heroes", cracked the Billboard Top 40 as well. Desert Moon was followed by albums Back to the World (1986) and Boomchild (1988). Desert Moon was certified gold in Canada in 1984. Creative differences between the band members, and a chronic fatigue syndrome-like disorder affecting DeYoung's trigeminal nerve--which left him overly sensitive to bright light and sound, making performing on stage nearly impossible--led to DeYoung being replaced by Canadian star Lawrence Gowan in 1999. A lawsuit between DeYoung and his former bandmates was settled in 2001, with the group being allowed to keep the name "Styx " and DeYoung able to use the name in descriptive phrases such as "the music of Styx" or "formerly of Styx" (but not "the voice of Styx "). When asked about any possible reunions with Dennis, James Young of Styx commented on an edition of Behind the Music "maybe when they are playing hockey on the river Styx" and on a episode of VH1's Feuds 2000 "as The Eagles said 'when Hell freezes over'". However, in 2007, when asked about the possibility of DeYoung returning to Styx, Chuck Panozzo told, "Before any more of us die, I would hope that it could happen. Every year that it doesn't happen is another year that goes by. And if you wait too long, who will care?"


Sweet Magnolia – Dan Fogelberg

“Sweet Magnolia (and the Traveling Salesman)” was the third and final release on Fogelberg's Windows and Walls album. Like his pervious few albums, he focused on a recurring theme – this time it was loneliness and loss. The album also marked a turning point in the songwriter's career. Although the song “Believe in Me” topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart (for the fourth time), this became his last album to garner a Hot 100 hit (“The Language of Love”, which peaked at #13). “Sweet Magnolia” is a vintage Fogelberg tale and in my opinion one of his finest, most passionate songs.

No comments: