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If We Love Crappy Music,
We Only Have the 80s to Blame

By Mary E. Ladd

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 can do.

2. What a Fool Believes – The Doobie Brothers (1978)
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 at all"

3. Shame on You – The Motels (1982)
"Shame on Me / Shame on You / Shame on every little thing that we do"

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 for you"

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 for more."

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 love.

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 Easton (1982)
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 think.
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? Did ja?

"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 Carmen (1985)
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 told me."

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 rhymes.

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 hurt.

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. No gimmicks.

18. Don’t Cry Out Loud – Melissa Manchester (1978)
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 smiling clown-chaser?

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 (1983)
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 glass houses….

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 (1987)
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 time.

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 it.

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!

"At the edge of my seat, please turn it around!"

The 80s were heartbreaking like that.

For the type of self-absorbed obsession that inspired this article, visit http://www.chiprowe.com/

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