Saturday, August 08, 2009

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year

1980 v.2

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Early in the year, Americans were dealing with a charismatic President who was only elected because of the need to the stale politics of the Nixon/Ford years. But Jimmy Carter’s popularity was beginning to wane as his policies were failing to address rising unemployment, a terrible economy and a weak foreign policy.

Islamic fanaticism was rearing its miserable head in Iran and Saudi Arabia and war raged in Afghanistan. Although this time, it was the Soviets who were fighting there. Senator Ted Kennedy begins to realize that maybe he shouldn’t have left Mary Jo Kepechne to drown as his Presidential hopes sink due to the renewed interest in the care.

Furthermore, just like this past year, the Pittsburgh Steelers ruled the football world and the Philadelphia Phillies ruled baseball. Corruption was rampant in Congress (see Abscam) and the issue of illegal immigrants takes center stage, albeit this time it’s regarding Cuban defectors sent over during the Mariel Boatlift.

Fame – Irene Cara

Fame was a 1980 movie about a New York performing arts school - Fiorello LaGuardia High. It followed the stories of the students who aspired to stardom. Irene Cara played the role of Coco Hernandez in the film and also sang this, which was the title song. The song captured the spirit of the students determined to make sure people remember their names. Lesley Gore's brother Michael Gore wrote this with lyricist Dean Pitchford. They also wrote Whitney Houston's 1990 hit "All The Man I Need." This won the 1980 Oscar for Best Original Song, and Gore also won for Best Score. Cara got the same award 3 years later when "Flashdance- What A Feeling" won.

The Rose - Bette Midler

This was written by Los Angeles singer/songwriter Amanda McBroom. Midler recorded it for the 1980 movie of the same name, which she starred in. In the summer of 1970, Midler began singing in the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in the city, where she became close to her piano accompanist, Barry Manilow, who produced her first album, The Divine Miss M, in 1972. It was during her time at the Continental Baths that she built up a core following. In 1979, Midler made her first motion picture, starring in the 1960s-era rock and roll tragedy The Rose, as a drug-addicted rock star modeled after Janis Joplin. Soon afterwards she left to go on a world concert tour, with one of the shows (in Pasadena) being filmed and released as the concert film Divine Madness. Also in 1980, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Rose.

Heartbreaker - Pat Benatar

The daughter of a sheet-metal worker and a beautician who once sang with the New York City Opera, Benatar (born Patricia Mae Andrzejewski) became interested in theater and began voice lessons, singing at Daniel Street Elementary School her first solo, a song called “It Must Be Spring,” at age eight. Her big break came in 1975 at an amateur night at the renowned comedy club Catch a Rising Star in New York. Her rousing rendition of Judy Garland's Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody earned her a call back by club owner Rick Newman, who would become her manager. This song, her third single from her debut album, was her first to hit it big. It reached #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the first of 15 straight top 40 hits for the rocker.

Call Me - Blondie

This song is about a prostitute. It was featured in the film American Gigolo in a scene where the lead character is "working." European Disco producer Giorgio Moroder wrote this with Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry, who thus became the first woman in British chart history to write three #1 hits (“Heart of Glass” and “Sunday Girl” – the latter not released in the US). However she hadn't been Moroder's first choice. The Italian disco king had originally wanted Stevie Nicks to provide vocals on the track but the Fleetwood Mac vocalist declined the offer. Still, Blondie made a huge name for themselves and amassed 4 American number one hits, along with a number of foreign #1’s as well.

I Don't Like Mondays - The Boomtown Rats

This is about Brenda Spencer, a 16-year-old San Diego high school student who lived across from an elementary school. On Monday, January 29, 1979, she opened fire on the school with a rifle, killing 2 adults (including the principal) and injuring 9 kids before going back to her home. Police surrounded her home and waited for 7 hours until she gave herself up. In that time, she spoke with a reporter on the phone. When asked why she did it, she replied, "I just started shooting, that's it. I just did it for the fun of it. I just don't like Mondays. I just did it because it's a way to cheer the day up. Nobody likes Mondays." This was #1 hit in 32 different countries, but it flopped in America, probably because the subject matter hit too close to home. Gun violence is a big problem in America. Group leader Bob Geldof wrote this. He went on to organize charity efforts Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8, earning a KBE (the equivalent of knighthood given to people born outside of England) for his efforts. The Boomtown Rats played this as part of their set at Live Aid.

Into The Night - Bennie Mardones

This song is about a man who falls in love with a 16-year-old girl. They are separated (presumably by the girl's parents) who think that the age difference is too much. The singer wants the girl to know that he "will wait till the end of time for [her], and do again, it's true." In 1989, this song was re-released after a "Where Are They Now?" feature on an Arizona radio station led to renewed interest in the song, and this time it hit #20 in the US. Today, Mardones lives in Southern California and has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Sailing - Christopher Cross

Cross wrote this song about his memories sailing every summer with a friend in Texas. On the Howard Stern radio show, he explained that sailing with his friend got him away from the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. Cross said that if the guy had taken him bowling and he enjoyed it, the song could have become "Bowling." Cross wrote this with Michael Omartian, who also contributed keyboards and background vocals to the album. Omartian has worked on many hit songs - he co-wrote "She Works Hard For The Money" and produced "We Are The World" with Quincy Jones. Christopher Cross won Grammys for Record Of The Year and Song of the Year for this song. The following year he won an Oscar for Best Song with his "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" from the Dudley Moore movie Arthur.

Biggest Part of Me – Ambrosia

This Soft Rock hit is about a guy whose woman is the center of his life. The members of Ambrosia decided on the moniker in 1970 to represent a vision of their music: all shades, textures, colors and styles. While many people are familiar with Ambrosia's radio hits of the 1970s, the songs on their five albums range from progressive to experimental. After their breakthrough hit, “Holdin’ On To Yesterday”, in 1975, they returned to the charts in a big way a couple of years later with the top 5 hit “How Much I Feel.” But it was their fourth LP, One-Eighty that gave the band their biggest success. That album featured two more top 20 smashes, this song and “You’re the Only Woman.”

An American Dream – The Dirt Band

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is an American country-folk-rock band that has existed in various forms since it’s founding in Long Beach, California in 1966. The group's membership has had at least a dozen changes over the years, including a period from 1976 to 1981 when the band performed and recorded as The Dirt Band. Their most famous song, “Mr. Bojangles,” was released in 1970 and it wasn’t until their 12th ablum (1979’s An American Dream) that they were able to return to the top 40 with this title track, which was a duet with Linda Ronstadt. Following the success of their next single, “Make a Little Magic,” (featuring Nicolette Larson) the Dirt Band returned to their original name and their original country roots. From 1984 to 1989, the band hit the country music top 20 twenty times in a row, including 18 top 10’’s and 3 number ones.

Coward of the County – Kenny Rogers

A story-song, "Coward of the County" tells the story of a young man named Tommy. When Tommy is 10 years old, his father "dies in prison." Tommy and his uncle (portrayed by Rogers in the role of narrator) come to see him for the last time, and Tommy's father makes him promise not to fight when provoked if at all possible, and that to "turn the other cheek" is not automatically a sign of weakness. This earns Tommy a reputation as the "Coward of the County" (as the song's title states) as he never stands up for himself. Tommy is in love with a girl named Becky, who loves him despite his unwillingness to fight. One day, while Tommy is out working, the three "Gatlin boys" — the villains of the piece — attack and presumably rape Becky. When Tommy returns home and finds Becky hurt, he is forced to choose between upholding his promise to his father and avenging the crime that is committed against the love of his life. It has been claimed that the "Gatlin boys" in the song are a reference to The Gatlin Brothers, against whom songwriter Roger Bowling had a bias. However, in "The Billboard Book of Number One Country Singles," Rogers stated that he did not realize the connection, and that had he done so, he would have asked for the name to have been changed. Larry Gatlin also gave the song a positive review ("It's a good song").

Bonus Track

(Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon

This was released on October 9, 1980, John Lennon's 40th birthday. It was 1 month before the album was released and 2 months before Mark David Chapman shot him. It was the first song released by the former Beatle since 1975 and was to be a comeback for him.

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