Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


(for a previous 1986 list, click here)

The first month of the year brought a terrible tragedy to America, as all 7 crew members, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, perish when the Space Shuttle Challenger explodes just 73 seconds into it's flight. The event was witnessed by a national television audience, as well as friends and families of the astronauts. A month later, the Soviet Union launches the Mir Space Station.

At the start of April, TWA Flight 840 was attacked with an on-board bomb causing four Americans (including a nine-month-old infant) to be ejected from the aircraft to their deaths. Five others on the aircraft were injured as the cabin experienced a rapid decompression. The remaining 110 passengers survived the incident as pilot Richard "Pete" Petersen made an emergency landing. just 3 days later, Libyan terrorists attack the La Belle discothèque in West Berlin, Germany, an entertainment venue that was commonly frequented by United States soldiers. A bomb placed under a table near the disk jockey's booth exploded at 1:45am, killing three people and injuring around 230 people, including 79 American servicemen. The US retaliates with Operation El Dorado Canyon: At least 15 people die after United States planes bomb targets in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and the Benghazi region.

Also in April, a nuclear meltdown occurs in the city of Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR, due to  a mishandled security test.  The meltdown killed at least 4056 people and damaged almost $7 billion of property. Radioactive fallout from the accident concentrated near Belarus, Ukraine and Russia and at least 350,000 people were forcibly resettled away from these areas. In other international news, Pan Am Flight 73, with 358 people on board, is hijacked at Karachi International Airport by four Abu Nidal terrorists. 20 passengers were killed by the terrorists, including a 7 year old boy. Although all the terrorists were captured and sentenced to death, a Pakistani court commuted the sentences to life. Currently, all but one of the terrorists are free (Jamal Saeed Abdul Raheem was killed by American drone attack in 2010). The very next day, two Abu Nidal terrorists kill 22 and wound 6 inside Instanbul's Neve Shalom synagogue during Shabbat services.

Rock Me Amadeus - Falco (lyrics)

Falco's real name was Johann Holzel and he was born in Vienna, Austria in 1957. He was a long time established artist in German speaking territories before this was released, but it was his first song to be a huge international hit. In most countries it was also his only hit, although one of his German songs, "Der Kommissar" was a huge international hit for the band After the Fire" in 1983. However, Falco continued to have success in mainland Europe after this song. "Rock Me Amadeus" is about the classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Mozart was a child prodigy who performed his first musical tour at the age of five. His last three years were his most successful and he had an extremely excessive lifestyle. The basic concept is the suggestion that Mozart was the rock'n'roll rebel of his day. Some of the lyrics in this song reflect this. Sadly, Falco died of severe injuries received from a collision with a bus in his Mitsubishi Pajero on the road linking the towns of Villa Montellano and Puerto Plata, in the Dominican Republic on February 6, 1998, just two weeks before his 41st birthday. It was initially reported that the autopsy showed high blood levels of alcohol and cocaine, however this was later dismissed. At the time of his death, he was planning a comeback. He was buried in the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) in Vienna, Austria.

Sara - Starship (lyrics)

Starship was the third configuration of the old Jefferson Airplane of the 1960s. In the early 70s, hey reformed under the name Jefferson Starship, and had a number of hit singles over the next decade. In 1984, Paul Kantor left the band. He was the last remaining original member of Airplane and upon departing, sued the band for rights to the band's name. For their next album, Knee Deep in the Hoopla, the band changed their name to just Starship. Ironically, this new formation of the band finally hit the top of the charts - something neither Jefferson Airplane, nor Jefferson Starship had ever accomplished - when "We Built This City" went #1. "Sara", the second single from the Hoopla LP, matched that when it went to #1 in March of 1986. This song was written by Austrian composer and producer Peter Wolf together with his wife Ina. Peter Wolf (not the former singer of the J. Geils Band) was born in Vienna, Austria. He has had multiple Grammy nominations and has received his birthplace's highest honor, "the Great Honor Cross of the Republic of Austria for Art and Culture." The song was named after the wife at the time of Starship's vocalist Mickey Thomas, who sang lead on the track. Thomas also sang on the Elvin Bishop Group's 1979 chart hit "Fooled Around And Fell In Love." Starship broke up in 1991. However, Kantor established Jefferson Starship – The Next Generation (a nod to the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation), a group that would, at times, include various former Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship members, to tour and perform. After the first couple of years, the band dropped the use of "The Next Generation", and began to perform as Jefferson Starship. The revived band grew out of Paul Kantner’s decision, following the "Unplugged" trend, to hit the road in 1991 with an acoustic ensemble called Paul Kantner’s Wooden Ships, a trio that included Slick Aguilar and Tim Gorman from the KBC Band, a previous group centered on former Jefferson Airplane/Starship members.

These Dreams - Heart (lyrics)

Until this album, Heart wrote most of their songs. In 1985, they signed with Columbia Records and got help from some experienced songwriters. This was written by Bernie Taupin (Elton John's lyricist) and Martin Page, and the song was first offered to Stevie Nicks, who turned it down. Around the same time, Taupin and Page also wrote "We Built This City," which was a #1 hit for Starship. This song was dedicated (on the album) to Sharon Hess, a good friend of Nancy Wilson's who died of Leukemia. Sharon's sister, Shannon Hess-Terlop, shares the story: "Sharon was a fan who had a custom, hand made blue acoustic guitar made for Nancy. It was her dying wish to meet Nancy, and give it to her. She did get her wish, and was able to spend several days in the recording studio with the band while they were working on this album. She died 4 weeks later, on Nancy's birthday. The reason for choosing that particular song for the dedication was simply because it was the only song on the album where Nancy sang lead vocals. Nancy and Sharon became very close, bonded even during the time she was in California with Nancy. In Nancy's words: Sharon was my "soulmate of the sea" When Sharon got very ill during her visit, and was unable to leave her hotel room, it was Nancy, and Scotty Olson (her then guitar roadie and later bandmate) who got her out of the hotel, and drove her to the hospital on the Presidio in San Francisco (Sharon was US Army). Nancy later came back to visit Sharon in the hospital, when things were looking so very bleak, we thought she might not make it back home at all. This was the first time I met Nancy. When she arrived, after greeting my Mother and myself, she just went in to Sharon's room, and climbed up on the bed and lay down beside her (she was sleeping). That visit buoyed Sharon's spirits so much, that to her doctor's amazement, she was able to make the horrible trip home via military transport, and she died a few weeks later." On the final recorded track, Nancy Wilson had a nasty cold when she recorded her vocals. The producer liked the raspiness in her voice, so they kept it.

Russians - Sting (lyrics)

From 1977-1985, Sting was a member of the punk/jazz/rock band The Police. During that time, he and his band-mates made a significant addition to rock music and, with the release of 1983's Synchronicity, became one of the top bands in the world. Following that success, Sting, born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, embarked on his first solo record, titled The Dream of the Blue Turtles. All four singles released from this album make the Billboard top 20, with "Russians" peaking at #16 (in the UK, "Russians" was the highest charting song at #12). The melody was inspired by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev's "Romance Melody" from the Lieutenant Kije Suite. Sting wrote this during the Cold War, a tense time when Russia and the United States felt threatened by the nuclear missiles they had pointed at each other. Sting's lyrics rhetorically ask if Russians love their children too, and question why the Russians and the Americans would participate in the Cold War. "Oppenheimer's deadly toy" refers to the atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer was an American physicist who was considered "The father of the atomic bomb." He later regretted his creation, saying he intended it to be used for energy in peace time.

The Way it Is - Bruce Hornsby and the Range (lyrics)

Hornsby's recording career started with the biggest hit he has had to date, entitled "The Way It Is". It topped the American music charts in 1986. With a propulsive yet contemplative piano riff and the refrain, That's just the way it is / Some things will never change / That's just the way it is / But don't you believe them, the song was catchy and described aspects of the American Civil Rights movement and institutional racism. In years to come, the song would be sampled by at least six rap artists, including Tupac Shakur, E-40, and Mase. With the success of the single worldwide, the album The Way It Is went multi-platinum and produced another top five hit with "Mandolin Rain" (co-written, as many of Hornsby's early songs were, with his brother John Hornsby). "Every Little Kiss" also did respectably well. Other tracks on the album helped establish what some labeled the "Virginia sound", a mixture of rock, jazz, and bluegrass with an observational Southern feel. Bruce Hornsby and the Range would go on to win the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1987, beating out Glass Tiger, Nu Shooz, Simply Red and Timbuk3. This song deals with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The line in the lyrics that mentions "The law passed in '64" is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law was supposed to prohibit discrimination in public places, the government and employment. The lyrics in this song deal with the need to resist complacency and never resign yourself to racial injustice as the status quo.

Captain of her Heart - Double (lyrics)

Double was a Swiss duo consisting of Kurt Maloo and Felix Haug who were active during the mid-1980's. This atmospheric song, about a woman who's tired of waiting for the man she loves to return to her even though she still loves him, was their signature hit and got a lot of air time on VH1. The band broke up in 1987 and Maloo pursued a solo career. Prior to releasing their debut album, the duo issued several singles, of which "Nanningo", "Rangoon Moon", and "Woman of the World" were the most popular. The album, Nanningo, of which, unlike their later albums, it began with Post-punk. The high point of Double's career came shortly after the late-1985 release of their first full length album, Blue. The album contained two of the band's earlier singles as well as the international smash hit, "The Captain of Her Heart," a plaintive, atmospheric, piano-led ballad which was an immediate success throughout Europe upon its 1986 single release. It reached #8 in the UK Singles Chart, and eventually hit the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 at the end of the year, climbing to #16. Their next album, Dou3le followed in 1987 but, despite including the acclaimed single "Devils Ball", it failed to emulate the success of its predecessor and Double split shortly after. Kurt Maloo pursued a solo career, in the course of which he has released four albums Single (1990), Soul and Echo (1995), Loopy Avenue (2006) and Summer Of Better Times (2009). Felix Haug died following a heart attack on May 1, 2004, at the age of 52.

Big Man on Mulberry Street - Billy Joel (lyrics)

This is a jazz influenced song by Billy Joel from the album The Bridge .An extended version of the song was used on a season three episode of Moonlighting. The episode was titled "Big Man On Mulberry Street" and in a dream sequence, Maddie Hayes envisions David Addison's history with his ex-wife, presented as an elaborate dance sequence with no dialogue; Sandahl Bergman was the main dancer. An extra horn solo was added to the song. The television series, starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, was a cult classic that ran for just 4 seasons and was known for constantly breaking the "fourth wall." The show's ratings decline is popularly attributed to Episode #14 of Season 3, "I Am Curious… Maddie", which infamously had Maddie and David consummate their relationship after two and a half years of romantic tension. In commentaries on the third season DVD set, however, Caron stated that he didn't feel the event led to the show's decline, but that a number of other factors led to the series' decline and eventual cancellation. As for Billy Joel, this latest LP was his 6th staright one to hit the top 10 on Billboard's Album Charts. Three of the four singles hit the top 10, with "Modern Woman" and "A Matter of Trust" reaching #10.

Calling America - ELO (lyrics)

The Electric Light Orchestra finished 1979 as the biggest selling act in the UK. ELO had reached the peak of their stardom, selling millions of albums and singles, and even inspiring a parody/tribute song on the Randy Newman album Born Again, titled "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band". After recording tracks on the soundtrack to the movie Xanadu, the band returned to the studio to record the concept LP Time. By this point, Lynne felt like ELO had run its course and should disband. However, the record company reminded them they still contracted to do two more albums. In 1983, they released Secret Messages and in 86, Balance of Power. ELO's last performance of the century occurred on July 13, 1986 in Stuttgart, Germany. The band effectively disbanded after that final show in Stuttgart in 1986, but there was no announcement made of it for the next two years, during which George Harrison's Lynne-produced album Cloud Nine and the pair's follow-up (with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty) Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 were released. Bevan approached Lynne to make another ELO album in 1988, but Lynne was not interested and went on to announce that ELO was no more. However, following tremendous success as a producer, Lynne and Tandy did reunite under the ELO name and in 2001 released their final album Zoom.

For America - Jackson Browne (lyrics)

Jackson Browne was born in Heidelberg, Germany, where his father, an American serviceman, was stationed. Browne's mother, Beatrice Amanda (née Dahl), was a Minnesota native of Norwegian ancestry. After moving to Greenwich Village, in early 1966, Browne joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, performing at the Golden Bear (Huntington Beach, CA) where they opened for The Lovin' Spoonful. The band later recorded a number of Browne's songs, including "These Days", "Holding", and "Shadow Dream Song". After hitting the top 10 in 1972, with the song "Doctor My Eyes," Browne seemed to just be known as a one-hit wonder for the next several years. However, in late 1977, he hit it big with the release of the platinum-sold LP (and single) Running on Empty. That, along with his left-wing activism, put him in the center stage during the late 70's. In '82, his song, "Somebody's Baby" was released off of the soundtrack for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and became his biggest hit. The momentum for that carried through his next LP, Lawyers in Love, which garnered two top 40 hits. However, his chart momentum was slipping. In 1986, he released perhaps his most politically-minded album, Lives in the Balance. While I personally felt this was his best work, sales of the LP paled in comparison to previous efforts. "For America" was the first release and allowed Browne to express his displeasure with Ronald Reagan's vision of the country. In addition, the song became Browne's last top 40 hit, peaking at #30.

This is the Time - Dennis DeYoung (lyrics)

As a member of the rock band Styx, DeYoung acted as lead vocalist, keyboardist, accordion player, producer, writer and creative force behind many of the band's hit songs. In fact, DeYoung was the band's primary hit writer and singer, writing and singing 7 out of the band's 8 top 10 singles. Specifically DeYoung wrote and sang the following top 10 Styx singles: Babe (#1), Show Me The Way (#3), Mr. Roboto (#3), Best of Times (#3), Don't Let It End (#6), Lady (#6), and Come Sail Away (#8). However, due to internal control struggles with the band, DeYoung and Styx parted ways a number of different times, only to reconcile and tour again. During their first split, he recorded his first solo LP in 1984, Desert Moon, which spawn the title track that hit #10. His followup LP, Back to the World, did not match the success of its' predecessor and failed to crack the top 100. However, the first single from the album, "Call Me," did hit #15 on the Billboard AC chart. "This is the Time" was the second single from that album. It did not chart on Billboards "Hot 100" chart, but did hit the AC top 40 as well. A third solo LP, Boomchild, fared even worse. However, a reunion with Styx brought DeYoung back to the higher levels of the charts, when their song "Show me the Way"-  a track written by DeYoung for his son Matthew, received extensive radio play, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (Styx's 8th top 10 single, and 7th written and sung by DeYoung) particularly after a number of radio stations mixed it with voice tracks of parents headed off to fight in the first Persian Gulf War. Though DeYoung and his bandmates had been able to put their musical and personal differences aside, the same problems resurfaced once work started on the next Styx LP. 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—further complicated matters, and eventually 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 DeYoung, James Young of Styx commented on an edition of Behind the Music "maybe when they are playing hockey on the river Styx" and on an 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?"


Paranoimia - Art of Noise featuring Max Headroom (lyrics)

This is a song by Art of Noise, from their album In Visible Silence. This more popular version of the song was released as a single, featuring television character Max Headroom on vocals. This also was first featured on the 1986 album Re-Works of Art of Noise. The band was an avant-garde synthpop group formed in 1983 by engineer/producer Gary Langan, programmer J. J. Jeczalik, along with arranger Anne Dudley, producer Trevor Horn and music journalist Paul Morley. The group's mostly instrumental compositions were novel melodic sound collages based on digital sampler technology, which was new at the time. Inspired by turn-of-the-20th-century revolutions in music, Art of Noise were initially packaged as a faceless anti- or non-group, blurring the distinction between the art and its creators. The band is noted for innovative use of electronics and computers in pop music and particularly for innovative use of sampling. For those who were around in the '80s, Max Headroom needs no introduction. He is a fictional British artificial intelligence, known for his wit and stuttering, distorted, electronically sampled voice. He was introduced in early 1984 and the character was created by George Stone, Annabel Jankel, and Rocky Morton, and portrayed by Matt Frewer as "The World's first computer generated TV host" although the computer generated appearance was achieved with prosthetic make up as the computer technology of the time was not sufficiently advanced to achieve the desired effect. Preparing the look for filming involved a four-and-a-half hour session in make up which Matt Frewer described as "a very painful, tortuous and disgusting enterprise." The classic look for the character was a shiny dark suit - which was actually a fibreglass mould - often paired with Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. Only his head and shoulders were depicted, usually against a "computer generated" backdrop of a slowly rotating wire-frame cube interior, which was also initially generated by analogue means - in this case traditional cel animation, though later actual computer graphics were employed for the backdrop. The character's personality was partly intended as a satire of insincere and egotistical television personalities - what Rocky Morton described as the "very sterile, arrogant, Western personification of the middle-class, male TV host," but also was "media-wise and gleefully disrespectful" which appealed to young viewers. Of course, as with most pop-culture icons of the '80s, the Max Headroom phenomena was quickly overplayed and overexposed. He still shows up on the occasional '80s flashback shows. But it's mostly as a prop to remember the over-achieving silliness of the long-ago decade.

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