"We Are the 80s" CD Reviews
This ambitious We Are the 80s series is off to a sluggish start because only a handful of 80s acts seem to be available to date - a few with a long roster of hits, but others just one-to-three-hit wonders. Our sampling of Eddie Money, Scandal, Rick Springfield, The Bangles, and A Flock of Seagulls was definitely a mixed bag.
Overall, the packaging for the series is very retro 80s-fun. It includes a free flash Space Invaders game. But we missed the necessary chart information to orient myself to the song lineup. The quality of the liner notes overall was uneven, some essays spending an inordinate amount of time on one major hit to the expense of educating the listener about the remainder of the collection. The Bangles CD liner notes even had a factual error, mentioning the band had three #1 hits when they only had two.
Okay, this CD was fun.at first. It was the CD I cracked open right away, so ready was I to rock out to "Goodbye to You." There are only four Scandal hits I can remember and these go by all too quickly: "Goodbye to You," "Love's Got a Line on You," "The Warrior" and "Hands Tied." After that, there's the drudgery of slugging through the rest of the uninspired collection of non-hit, all-sounds-the-same material. And even that is padded with three forgettable unreleased tracks. Only the song "Grow So Wise" has potential.which is not realized.
You are better served to buy the Columbia version of Patty Smyth's Greatest Hits Featuring Scandal which includes her solo fare: "Sometimes Love Just Aint Enough," "Isn't It Enough" and other should-have-been hits like "The River Cried," "Heartache Around the World" and her version of Tom Waits' "Downtown Train." There are also two songs on the Columbia release co-written by Smyth's now-hubby, tennis star John McEnroe.which aren't as bad as you might expect.
I own a very early, almost nerdy appearance of Rick Springfield on a bootleg Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour episode from way back the early 70s when he was trying to have a US beak-out moment as an Aussie power balladeer. That didn't work, so he became a US soap opera star instead; and then re-launched himself as a pop/rock star in the early 80s. Springfield was solidly an early 80s act, his phenomenon-inducing release, Working Class Dog, appearing in 1981. At age eleven, I was too young to fall in love with Springfield as all my older friends and their sisters were doing. It all seemed so silly and boy-crazy to me at the time.
Ironically, I find his collection the most fun to listen to these days, starting with the spartan and stretched "Jesse's Girl" which classically exemplifies what the clean and simple early 80s song was all about. "Jesse's Girl," Sammy Hagar's "I've Done Everything For You" (which my older brother was highly offended by when the poppy Springfield version out-performed the Red Rocker's version), and "Love is Alright Tonight" form a strong and bold start to the set. They still hold up for stripped-down pop-rock fun.
Next follows some of the kids' stuff, the tracks that little girls went all aflutter about. They seem slightly gimmicky today: "Don't Talk To Strangers," "What Kind of Fool Am I," "I Get Excited," "Affair of the Heart," and "Love Somebody." They all sound so very 80s. And I cannot even deal with "Bop Til You Drop." I must tune it out or die.
A big guilty pleasure, "Human Touch" comes in the middle of the CD. This is probably Springfield 's last chart-topper, and it's already 1985. What follows are single releases that didn't quite take off: "State of the Heart," (the only Rick Springfield single I ever purchased because I believed at the time it was full of 80s pathos), "Celebrate Youth" and "Rock of Life." The last two are solid 80s tunes, but his star had already faded.
But from the simplicity of the first track ("Jesse's Girl) to the ambitiousness of last track ("Rock of Life") there lies an excellent from-here-to-there trajectory of how the 80s decade progressed.
No matter how his rock-lite image has suffered over the years (being a teen idol is like a death sentence for rock star longevity) - objectively, ironically, this is the only CD in the We Are the 80s series I wanted to keep.
Of all the CDs, this one sounded the most dated, and it even lacks the two monster Eddie Money hits from the 70s:"Two Tickets to Paradise ," and "Baby Hold On." In fact, when I told friends I was reviewing an Eddie Money CD for the We Are the 80s series, they remarked that he seemed more like a 70s rocker than an 80s hit-maker. What a difference a few classic tunes and a perception make. Actually, Eddie Money did pretty well for himself in the 80s, and most of the tracks on this CD will bring back video-moment memories. Unfortunately, not all this music holds up as well as his two 70s hits. If anything, you remember how quintessentially 80s the saxophone solo was.
Because the 70s tunes are missing, the Ronnie Spector duet "Take Me Home Tonight (Be my Baby)" is the anchor hit that starts things off. But regrettably, this 80s anthem doesn't do it for me anymore. The rest of the album's hits are repetitive and stupefyingly simple. All of it is so much 80s filler: "Walk on Water," "I Think I'm In Love," "I Wanna Go Back," "Shakin'," "Endless Nights," "We Should Be Sleeping" and "The Love in Your Eyes."
Only the final track touched me in any way, the anti-prophetic "Peace in Our Time," mostly because it brought to mind a poignant memory of watching the video which included scenes from the public destruction of the Berlin Wall. How hopeful we all felt then that indeed we were due to find peace in our time because we were enlightened folk. Now, two decades later, we have found instead the dark horror of Middle Eastern conflict that was sitting in wait for us around the corner of the last century. For this reflective moment alone, "Peace in Our Time" is worth a melancholy listen.
Revisiting The Bangles forces me to recall one of my more awkward high school memories. Let's start with the visual of my gym uniform: a one-piece cotton jumper with blue elastic-waist shorts and a blue and white striped top. In these outfits, we were tasked with the chore of making up a jump rope routine, and I suggested to my team we use "Walk Like an Egyptian" as our theme song. It wasn't a bad idea, but it misfired badly. First, we had a segment in the routine where we all dropped our jump ropes in a circle and walked around making arm moves reminiscent of Steve Martin's "King Tut" routine (with arms and legs made of stone-ah). The lead gal stopped at the wrong jump rope and, being the caboose of the troupe, I was left without a jump rope as the rest of the gang resumed jumping. Then our routine-ending pyramid collapsed, and we got a lot of jeers and a C+. I held a grudge against The Bangles for years.
I'm now ready to let go and reexamine the group, and I have to say this is one of the most entertaining collections in this VH1 series and a definite keeper. First off, The Bangles have more than one or two hits. This collection contains their two #1 hits, "Eternal Flame" which was great for slow dancing in high school but now can put one in a diabetic coma, and the sizzling cover "Hazy Shade of Winter." It also features the aforementioned "Walk Like an Egyptian", the ubiquitous "Manic Monday" (which hit #2), the sexy "In Your Room", and the hummable "If She Knew What She Wants." Even the "filler" songs are catchy. I love the early song "Going Down to Liverpool" and the catchy "Be With You." I always thought pouty Susanna Hoffs was the star of the band, but this collection shows the other gals also capably handled lead vocal duties. The very listenable harmonies were accentuated by a driving guitar sound and tough rock edge to create a sound worth reviving.
A Flock of Seagulls
Probably the quintessential New Wave hair band, A Flock of Seagulls are best remembered today for the smash hit "I Ran" and an innovative hairdo that made singer Mike Score look like he had a stingray perched atop his head. Putting together a greatest hits collection for them really stretches the patience of even an ardent 80s music fan like myself. After listening to this CD all the way through in one sitting, I wanted to start a movement and gather like-minded folks in Comiskey Park for a ritual burning of all drum machines.
The highlight of the CD for me is "Space Age Love Song." I had forgotten about this track and it captured me again with its haunting melody. The other big hit is "I Ran", and I'm very, very tired of it. The third minor hit is "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)", a catchy tune that would have worked well in any John Hughes film of the era. The rest of the CD is full of the kind of silly synth pop you would expect to hear after reading the liner notes and finding out the band was composed of hairdressers who just up and decided to form a band. Many songs drone on for 4 or 5 minutes. There is a song called "Telecommunication" that basically repeats that word over and over for 2:33 - were they stoned out of their minds from huffing Aqua Net? The lyrics show little imagination, i.e., the oh-so-fresh titular simile "Heartbeat Like a Drum". Their lack of musical training and formal training in hairdressing explain why the band's singular contribution to the era is a haircut.
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