That’s right. You heard me. The 80s. A month ago
I found an old box of 45s I had accumulated during a more impressionable
teen-age era. I decided to make a compilation tape of them for a road
trip. And it was during this drive that I took stock of who exactly that
person was who felt the need to acquire so many Sheena Easton records?
Much like Chip Rowe from the old Chip’s
Closest Cleaner zine, I found this crap in my closet and now I’m
going to proceed to self-obsess over it. Here is a cross section of my
musical library circa 1981-1989….It’s gonna be a long, strange
trip is all I can say.
1. When He Shines – Sheena Easton (1982)
Now when I said Sheena Easton, I didn’t mean the hip, Prince re-vamped
Sheena Easton. I mean the adult contemporary "Morning Train"
Sheena Easton. This was the uncool Sheena or pre-cool Sheena. This was
even before "For Your Eyes Only" fer chrissakes! This 45 is
practically drippy, of the "I’m Almost Over You" ilk.
Oh "Sugar Walls", where were you? Sheena’s early stuff
was pure 80s synth-ballad-pop. You know it when you hear it and you immediately
think of obscure non-hits on American Bandstand. It’s warm and fuzzy
and tugs on that rare heart pully, if that's the sort of stuff you’re
in to…which I guess I was because I bought the damn thing. Here
are some of the lyrics:
"This man I love / sometimes in spite / of wishing
he’d stick to his guns /
or abandon the fight" (It’s so hard, isn’t it Sheena?)
And then she wails: "When He Shines…O When He
Shines…He Shines So Bright!" tearing it up as only Sheena Easton
2. What a Fool Believes – The Doobie Brothers
This is my favorite Doobie Brothers/Michael McDonald record after "I
Gotta Try." If it's a 70s song, it was before it’s time. This
song makes me feel soulfully fine even though it’s about being tragically
foolish…but in a foolishly super-fine way.
"What a fool believes he sees / no wise man has
the power to reason away /
what seems to be / is always better than nothing / there’s nothing
3. Shame on You – The Motels (1982)
"Shame on Me / Shame on You / Shame on every little thing that we
Okay, I wasn’t living in a closet! Nerdy records
aside, I had the occasional alternative sounding piece of vinyl. No, who
am I kidding? This record was an anomaly as you will soon see. But I loved
the video and I loved the music. It was so dramatic and vampy. I loved
the self-abuse. I appreciated it. It was cathartic.
"A lot of selfish dreams…are waiting here
4. When All Is Said and Done – Abba (1981)
"Neither you nor I’m to blame when all is said and done."
The first two 45s I ever bought were Dolly Parton’s
"9 to 5" and Abba’s "The Winner Takes it All."
I loved Abba. I loved the b-sides of Abba. I loved the obscure singles
like this one, which had great lyrics. It’s very carousel-sounding
and merry, and yet it’s about the tragic tangle of relationships.
A very weird and right paradox.
"It’s so strange when you’re down and
lying on the floor / how you rise, shake your head / get up and ask
5. Sweet 16 – Billy Idol (1986)
Now how was I going to get out of the 80s without a Billy Idol record,
I ask you? I used to play this 45 with my friend Lisa who could imitate
the Billy Idol-Elvis-rip-off sneer. And we’d laugh hysterically.
Today this song sounds vaguely illegal. I have so many questions? Is the
child literally 16? And a runaway? Or is this a flashback to some youthful
serenade? Sadly, I don’t care enough about the song anymore to decode
it. The little sneer thing is funny no longer. I’m bored and think
I’ll fast forward through this one.
6. Lido Shuffle – Boz Scaggs (1976)
If I ever meet Boz Scaggs I plan to ask him this: Why does "Look
What You’ve Done to Me" from Urban Cowboy always make me bawl
like a baby for no discernable reason? After all, I have no beef with
At least that was an actual 80s song. "Lido Shuffle"
isn’t but it’s a quintessential road song and I was a happy
little camper when I found the 45 at a used record store in the mid-80s.
So what if it’s not an 80s song per se, it was all about the 80s
for me. This song has hyper-drive written all over it. And the bridge
just makes you wanna shuffle!
7. Making Love – Roberta Flack (1982)
I think this song is very very sexy for a song that's all about not being
about sex. It’s like the negative creates a positive. There must
be some physical law about this sort of thing. Oh, what do you know? There
is. For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action. They should
use this song in physics courses. Then they could talk about hetero/homo
love triangles at the same time, which is what the movie was about for
which this love theme was written. "There’s more to love than
making love." But you just can’t stop thinking about making
love when you listen to it. It’s weird. So very….very…weird.
I think it must be subliminal.
"And I’ll remember you….and making looove."
Let’s get it on!
8. On My Way to You – Barbra Streisand (1988)
Okay, I like a little Barbra on the turntable from time to time. I used
to like to pretend I was a diva belting out a real emoter. This song is
all about a misspent youth ("The many pipers I have paid along the
roads I’ve wandered")…finding my way to you and all of
that ("If I had had changed a single day, what went amiss or went
astray…")….Okay, I like maudlin ballads. My heart isn’t
made of stone!
9. Elaine – Abba (1980)
This is the b-side of "The Winner Takes it All" (which is my
favorite Abba song because it hurts so good and describes love as the
true power struggle it really is).
This song is vicious and in-your-face: "Your life
a goldfish in a bowl" or "you're like a goldfish in a bowl."I
have no idea what it’s about.
10. You Could’ve Been With Me – Sheena
When good contractions happen to Sheena Easton songs. It’s a good
thing. The intro always used to remind me of an 80s version of "I
Got You Babe"….in a very depressing way.
"You can lead a horse to water / but you cannot
make him drink. /
You can give him your whole heart and soul / but you cannot make him
You could’ve been with me / instead of alone and lonely."
I’m hot and cold on this song these days. The lines
are 80s tight ("Is he a man or a paper tiger / When you need him
will he run or stand beside ya?). But maybe Sheena, just maybe, the person
would prefer loneliness to being with you. Did you consider that, Sheena?
"Hey…. Hey…. hey ….heeeyyyyyeee."
Sheena Easton gives us another big send off at the end. She has very poweful,
crystal clear pipes, sounds most unnatural. She’s underused.
11. Mirror Mirror – Diana Ross (1981)
Did I ever tell you I like songs about self-abuse? I don’t know
why. Self-accusing songs…I just eat it up. This song is about Diana
looking into the mirror and ranting and raving about broken promises but
there’s a real subtext of self-punishment here, I’m telling
you. She’s really in her own face, with the handy help of her mirror
mirror on the wall. It’s very sarcastic and poisonous.
This is the closest Diana ever came to having a rock hit….lots
of squealing guitars without fully losing the dance horns and bass you
know and love from Diana Ross songs. This ditty is a fine little antidote
to the great Diana Ross classic "Love Hangover. "
12. I Wanna Hear It From Your Lips – Eric
Now tell me, how was I gonna get out of the 80s without an Eric Carmen
record? This song is also very sexy in an 80s sort of way. In a very Eric
Carmen sort of way. I'm not exactly sure how that happened.
"You never told me…whoops…you never
13. Most of All – Jody Whatley (1988)
I really liked Jody Whatley in the 80s. She was R&B lite before I
was old enough to fully dig R&B heavy. It doesn’t get more 80s
than this: happy dance sound meets break up record.
14. More Than I Can Say – Leo Sayer (1980)
Sadly, this isn’t the only Leo Sayer 45 I had. I also had "When
I Need You" and "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" (I wanna
dance the night away) I’m not proud of it, but there you go. What
I liked I cannot say. And if I were the girl to which Eric Carmen demanded
he wanted to hear it from my lips…this would be my retort. It’s
just more than I can say, Eric. I’m sorry. Unfortunately this song
does go on to say and say and say. And say it all with crappy, half-assed
15. Jesse – Carly Simon (1980)
I had a lot of Carly Simon records (but that’s more about the 70s
than the 80s)…this was one of her last good songs, as far as I’m
concerned, spilling over into the 80s. A classic "I don’t love
you…okay I was lying, I really do love you" song.
"Let’s drink to the heart that has a will
of its own."
16. Bette Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes (1981)
Just one of the coolest songs to come out of the 80s, that’s all.
And you don’t have to love Bette Davis to dig it but it doesn’t
17. Solitaire – Carpenters (1975)
True – not a 80s song proper. But what about all those retrospective
Carpenters anthology commercials on late night 80s TV? It counts!
Of all the Carpenters songs (besides the Christmas downer
"Little Altar Boy")…this is my favorite. What most "cooler
than Carpenters" people miss about The Carpenters, beyond the kitsch-factor
of liking them today and beyond the sweet quality which could understandably
be annoying…most folks miss the seedy side of Karen Carpenter…the
dark ribbon flowing through even the happy-go-lucky songs. The more solid
depressants, such as this one, are almost certifiably bleak. 100% haunted.
18. Don’t Cry Out Loud – Melissa Manchester
Okay…again, no 80s song. But Melissa, after flinging that "You
Should Hear How She Talks About You" ditty upon us, should be forced
to endure an 80s-legacy. I bought this single in the 80s and I still like
the melodramatic fervor of it all (it’s very Jennifer Grey in Dirty
Dancing). But the extended metaphor of love being analogous to circus
life doesn’t completely map to the real world here. In fact, the
metaphor is so overgrown, it’s meaningless. There are not enough
sign-posts to figure out the real story. For instance:
"Baby cried the day the circus came to town"
(see? Told you it was very Dirty Dancing)
"Because she didn’t want parades just passing by her / So she
painted on a smile and took up with some clown / while she danced without
a net upon the wire / I know a lot about her cos you see / Baby is awful
lot like me"
So who is this me character? A mother, a sister? Another
She goes on to talk about the sawdust and the glitter…all
this circus paraphernalia. But what’s the point? Love is a circus
illusion? Is that it? You could have said that with half the metaphor
with half the cliché. Too many ten-cent props impersonating details
for my 45-buying $1.99.
There’s also something irritating about Melissa Manchester
herself….I can’t put my finger on it.
19. When You Close Your Eyes – Night Ranger
Remember all those catchy Night Ranger songs? "You Can Still Rock
in America," and "Sister Christian"? This one was a lesser
but nonetheless catchy hit. I can still remember the video. It was genuine
sexist rock and roll crap.
Night Ranger is seen driving around town in a convertible,
striking all these 80s rock star cool poses. Here's the back story: years
ago, an old girlfriend has made the very serious and grave mistake of
actually breaking up with one of these soon to be sex-god/rock stars and
married lower on the fame-chain and spawned a bunch of hellions. Anyway,
we’re supposed to believe this very model-grade woman has become
a lowly and harassed housewife. Her big scene is outside by the curb of
her suburban home. She's looking bedraggled and frazzled while putting
out the trash and sees Night Ranger drive by, acting as if they don’t
notice her. So she gives one of those what-might-have-been sighs. Poor
child. Poor little thing must put out the trash while old boyfriend rock
stars parade by.
Okay, so now it’s 2001. Let’s revisit the characters,
shall we? Hmm…didn’t I see Night Ranger on Where Are They
Now the other day? Yes, I think I did. When I Close My Eyes I don’t
think anybody’s dreaming about you anymore, Night Ranger.
You know what they say about 80s hair bands who live in
20. Far From Over – Frank Stallone (1983)
What a perfect antitoxin to "When You Close Your Eyes, although Frank
wasn’t far from over himself at the time. I thought the movie Stayin
Alive was very funny with awful lines like "Everybody uses everybody"
and "You’re so sweet; I think I got a cavity." And when
I listen to the song I can’t help but see John Travolta springing
around the room in rags.
21. Lead Me On – Maxine Nightengale (1979) With a name like that, she should have had a longer career. I
picked up this 45 at a garage sale in the late 80s, having heard it for
many years on schmaltz radio. I like the way she sings "so maybe
we are better off." Whiney co-dependency can be catchy. Who knew?
I always used to confuse this song with "I’d
Really Love To See You Tonight" (England Dan & John Ford Cooly),
both "I’m desperate and will make compromises tonight"
songs. Although Bob Seger came right out and said it pretty well with
"We’ve Got Tonight" before Sheena Easton butchered it
with Kenny Rogers.
22. Flames of Paradise – Elton John (1987)
Bad 80s never said so little. You know Elton was snorting pretty heavy
to record this one. It’s sounds like hyper 80s dancing. You snap
right into all the bad 80s dance moves when it plays…so do so at
your own risk. I figure if white pop stars offed each other like black
raps stars are prone to do, I wouldn’t be surprised if Elton was
the first to go. There’s just something annoying about him that
screams gang war.
23. You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart –
The Eurythmics (1987)
Unlike "Shame" by The Motels, this song really does herald a
way out for me from under the umbrella of songs like "Laughter in
the Rain". Annie Lennox was the first female voice I had ever heard
to get into the face of what a drag it was sometimes to be a girl. She
was through with self-abuse, this one. And she was using her own madness
as a weapon.
"Don’t cut me down when I’m talking
to you! / Cos I’m much too tall to feel that small…yeah!"
You go, girl!
24. Shadows of the Night – Pat Benetar (1982)
So what if the video had nothing to do with the song. That’s when
videos were great, in the early 80s….when none of them had anything
to do with the songs and all we had to do was to sit back and complain,
"this video has nothing to do with the song!" Pat Benetar fandom
was slightly before my time. However, I was forced to listen to a lot
of music older than I was because I had two very big, older brothers.
The oldest one drove me to school one day when I was just a kid and when
Benetar’s song "Heartbreaker" came on he asked me who
was singing it. I said I dunno and he hit me on the back of the head and
said, "That’s Pat Benetar. Now don’t forget it."
This is the only reason I have a Kansas record.
25. Diamonds – Herb Alpert with Janet Jackson
I always think I’m gonna like this song more than I do. It’s
kind of dull for a song about diamonds. But it’s a good example
of early Janet Jackson. Before she got lusty.
26. Give to Live – Sammy Hagar (1987)
Now, I never think I’m gonna like this song as well as I always
do. Sammy Hagar doesn’t need no stinkin’ Van Halen.
27. Somebody’s Watching Me – Rockwell
with Michael Jackson (1983)
I loved all these gimmicky 80s tunes: "Somebody’s Watching
Me", "Rock Me Amadeus", all of Lionel Richie’s songs.
They don’t hold up so well; but they were pretty darn fun at the
28. Arthur’s Theme (When You Get Caught Between the Moon and New York City)
– Christopher Cross (1981)
This song did nothing to improve Christopher Cross’s position in
the lexicon of most hated artists. And I use artist loosely here because
I feel a great social pressure to do so. Thank God we now have Britney
Spears to pick on. This was the first song a boyfriend ever dedicated
to me. Everybody say awwww! But from a 16-year old, drug-addicted rap-lover
just out of rehab, I took it as a compliment. And I’ll never forget
29. Change of Heart – Cyndi Lauper (1986)
This is the first song I ever liked by Ms. Lauper. Since then I’ve
had my own…well, I changed my mind. This song was sorta edgy for
Cyndi, I thought ….less rainbow hair in it. The video had a whopper
of a coda and I was outraged when I brought the single home and it was
missing. I felt so gypped!