Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Retro Radio's Selective Memory (or Hal Sparks Ain't Got Nothin' on Me)

I'm being lazy today, so I decided to pilfer one of my own pieces that I originally posted on Epinions. Hey, if I have to plagiarize someone, it's best to do it to myself.

I went to see Duran Duran last night, which has put me in a retro music mood. (It doesn't take much to put me in said mood.) They didn't perform "New Moon on Monday", my absolute favorite song. I went into it knowing that they wouldn't, so I wasn't as disappointed as I would've been had I really been anticipating it. Anyway, this reminded me of the Epinions article because that song was one of the five '80s tunes that I focused on. I will probably write something about the show later, but I don't have air conditioning in my computer room, and I'm going to melt if I stay in here much longer. So here is an old article that I hope you'll enjoy. As NBC would say, if you haven't seen it before, it's new to you. Brilliant!

Unless you’ve been hiding out in your sensory-deprivation tank, I’m sure you’re well aware that the '80s are like, totally back. The need for nostalgia is a constant with every generation, so it came as no surprise when the '80s retro movement began in the late '90s. Girls started wearing blue eye shadow and super-size earrings again, a new generation of kids became hypnotized by The Smurfs, and everyone shelled out their hard-earned money to see their favorite bands’ reunion concerts. You couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing one of your favorite old tunes being used as everything from a sitcom couple’s love song to a device to sell fruit juice. Radio stations all over the country converted to “all '80s all the time” formats. Entire movies, such as The Wedding Singer and Rock Star, were centered on retro music. Yes, more than any other aspect of the '80s, it is the music that has returned with a vengeance.

Being a child of the '80s myself, I enjoy this moonwalk down memory lane. I loved and still love the music of that decade. Whether it’s blue-collar rock, ultra-hip new wave or cheesy big-hair metal, I embrace it all as the soundtrack to my youth. However, over the last couple of years I’ve become more and more disenchanted with retro radio. As an adult, the first time I heard Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” blaring from my car speakers, I was elated. I hadn’t heard it in so long that I think I had forgotten how much I liked it. Fast forward to now. I’ve heard “Jessie’s Girl” more times in the past eight years or so than I ever remember hearing it when it came out. I’m sick of it. Elation has been replaced with aggravation. Now when I hear it I just want to scream, “Damn it, Jessie, just let Rick have your girl so he’ll stop singing about her!” Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s a good song, but why does every DJ think that this is the only Rick Springfield song there is? “Jessie’s Girl” may have been his only #1 hit, but he had several other big hits that most people would remember, like “Don’t Talk To Strangers”, “Human Touch” and “Love Somebody”. I’m not expecting the radio stations to play his whole catalog of songs, but a little variety would be nice.

The idea behind retro radio is to use music as a tool to allow listeners the opportunity to reminisce about the “good old days”. The problem is that reminiscing is no fun if you only stick to one or two memories. There are a handful of songs that are on every retro radio station’s playlist and that show up on just about every '80s compilation CD ever made. Songs like “I Melt With You”, “Come On Eileen”, " 99 Luftballoons”, “Mickey”, “Tainted Love” and “Safety Dance” have been repeated ad nauseam. As is the case with “Jessie’s Girl”, I hear these songs more now than I ever did back then. I’m sure many of you reading this have often wondered why certain songs get all the glory, while others sit gathering dust in our collective memory.

With this idea in mind, I’ve compiled a small list of my favorite '80s songs that, I feel, deserve to get some airplay. I seriously doubt that I’ll ever hear any of these on the radio anytime soon, but a girl can dream.

Top 5 Forgotten '80s Gems:

1.“Beat’s So Lonely”, Charlie Sexton
Charlie Sexton’s debut album, Pictures For Pleasure, came out in 1985 when he was only 16. Considered by many to be a guitar prodigy, and with such famous friends as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Joe Ely, the record was widely anticipated. It’s often been described as an inconsistent effort, but “Beat’s So Lonely” became a big MTV hit, due in no small part to the video showcasing Sexton’s chiseled good looks. The song also hit #17 on the U.S. charts, which wasn’t too shabby for a first single. When I think of the '80s, this is usually one of the first songs that comes to mind. It’s got a great rockabilly-meets-new wave sound, some fantastic guitar work and Sexton’s vocal delivery conjures up an image of Elvis, had the King lived and forayed into punk. On a personal note, I saw the Charlie Sexton Sextet live sometime in the mid '90s. A few of us up front were yelling for him to play this song and he looked down at us and said, “It’s not gonna happen”. I guess if he won’t even play his own song, it’s too much to expect any DJ to. (For more on that story, see this post.)

2.“Wouldn’t It Be Good”, Nik Kershaw
Nik Kershaw enjoyed a moderate amount of success in the UK, but didn’t fare nearly as well in the States. “Wouldn’t It Be Good” was the second single from his 1983 debut, Human Racing. The song rocketed to #5 on the UK charts, but stalled at #46 here. However, the video received quite a bit of airplay. In fact, I probably never would have heard this song had it not been for the video. At that time I didn’t even have MTV, but was relegated to watching “Night Tracks” on TBS every weekend. I can remember seeing this video a lot. It had a bit of a “Twilight Zone” feel, with Nik portraying some kind of alien whose suit was made of black and white television images. Could Nik have been the inspiration for “Teletubbies”? Someone has to take responsibility for that nightmare. Why not blame it on the one-hit wonder?

3.“Postcards From Paradise”, Flesh For Lulu
Already a band with a loyal following in London, Flesh For Lulu broke through in the U.S. in 1987 with the release of Long Live The New Flesh. Most people remember the single, “I Go Crazy”, because it was a minor indie hit and was featured in the teen-angst movie, Some Kind Of Wonderful. However, I thought that “Postcards From Paradise” was a much better song. It had a great melody, perfect new wave beat and a chorus that was catchy as hell. Most importantly, it had harmonica. A general rule of mine is that most songs featuring a harmonica are good. They rock. I don’t know why that is, it just is.

4.“Kayleigh”, Marillion
Keeping with my trend here of popular British bands that couldn’t quite make it in America, I give you Marillion. “Kayleigh”, from 1985’s Misplaced Childhood, was their biggest success in both countries, making it to #2 in the UK and to #74 in the U.S. Now, this song I actually have heard on my local rock station, but only once in a great while. I’ve yet to hear it on any of the retro stations. When this song came out, it actually sounded like a throwback to the '70s, so it really doesn’t have the cheesy, processed sound that can be found in even some of the best '80s tunes. It’s a lovely ballad that would not seem at all out of place on a Yes or Jethro Tull record. That is, unless we’re still considering Jethro Tull heavy metal.

5.“New Moon On Monday”, Duran Duran
Now, I know everyone is going to be yelling, “Duran Duran gets plenty of airplay!! Why are they on this list?” Well, stop whining and I’ll explain! Quick, name five Duran Duran songs you’ve heard on the radio in the last month. By the way, you can only count “Hungry Like The Wolf” once. Ah, not so easy, is it? Like Rick Springfield, Duran Duran seem to have only one song in the eyes of most DJs. In their case, this is even more irksome because Simon, John, Nick, Andy and Roger were the poster-children of the '80s. They were always on the radio, they absolutely ruled MTV and young girls everywhere, myself included, had entire bedrooms wallpapered with their images. From 1982 – 1988, they had eleven Top 20 hits in the U.S., 2 of which (“The Reflex” and “A View To A Kill”) reached #1. “Hungry Like The Wolf” actually only made it to #3. I’m certainly not suggesting that chart position is the only qualification for a hit song, but it certainly seems odd that DJs everywhere would zero in on that song rather than a #1 hit like “The Reflex”. Granted, I have heard “The Reflex” on retro radio stations, but still only once in a while. Nine times out of ten, if they’re playing Duran Duran, it’s going to be “Hungry Like The Wolf”. “New Moon On Monday”, which is never played, stayed on the U.S. charts for 16 weeks and made it all the way to #10, so it was by no means a minor hit. Why isn’t it getting any love? Not only is this my favorite Duran Duran song, but it also had the best video. Sure, it was some bizarre concept video about what appeared to be a political coup and it really didn’t make any sense, but all the guys had their little parts and they all looked so yummy in it! And for an 11 or 12-year-old girl like me, that was really all that mattered. Being much older and wiser, I can now listen to the song objectively and say that it holds up on its own merits. On the other hand, give me a look at that video again and I’ll still drool like a teenager over John Taylor and Simon LeBon. Thank God for VH1 Classic, which I was blessed with several months ago. Now that is good retro programming!

Hopefully I’ve jarred some memories loose for you '80s addicts out there. Some of you will probably agree wholeheartedly with my Top 5 list. Others will be ripping their hair out because I didn’t include something like "88 Lines About 44 Women", which, now that I mention it, is a pretty cool tune. I’m not saying that these 5 songs are the best representatives of my beloved decade, just that they are as much a part of our musical past as the overplayed hits. I’m sure you all could come up with a list of your favorite retro songs, and I’m sure not everyone would agree with all the choices. What I am sure we can all agree on is that the '80s were not just about Toni Basil and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. It was a time of great musical variety. Unfortunately, variety is not a spice that most retro radio stations are willing to add to what they’re dishing out. Gag me with a spoon.


JC said...

This is fun. My daughter in law is the original Duran Duran fan! She is all about the band....a Duranie. I will have to send her over.

Anonymous Midwest Girl said...

That is a great post....brings back SO MANY memories. I can't believe I'm that old...!

Lee Ann said...

I thought it was just me thinking that, I hear those songs more now than when they first came out! Some are great (at first), but you are right, some have you reaching for the dial as quick as possible...too much is just too much sometimes.

teletart said...

I was, and still am, a sucker for Duran Duran's "Is there something I should know?" Loved the song, loved the vid. (They tucked the bottom half of their ties into their shirts! Wow! Cool!) Worst Duran song has got to be "Wild Boys", when poor Simon sings so high his voice goes wonky.

One of my all-time favourite 80s songs is Killing Joke's "Love Like Blood". And in a similar vein, Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon". (I don't have a thing for the word 'killing', I swear.) Anyway, I screamed with excitement when the latter opened "Donnie Darko". Then again, I screamed with excitement many times during that film. Maybe I'm just a screamer.

teletart said...

Oh, and sorry about the deleted post. That was me being technically incompetent.

Anonymous said...

867-5309, why oh why do they overplay this song. I had 3 LPs by Tommy Tutone and to me he was more than a one-hit wonder..oh Charlie Sexton, great call. He was awesome in Arc Angels, another awesome one-off band

Doggie Extraordinaire's Mom said...

Funny you wrote this, I was having some not-so-fond 80s nostalgic moments yesterday, after reading in the local paper that a Hall & Oates concert in my area was canceled. Hall & Oates? They're on tour? Could this revisit to the 80s pop culture get worse? Will they remake (since all movies are remakes nowadays) "9½ Weeks" next and put some new big-haired bimbette and slimy overrated actor in it? How about we start sinking boats and crashing planes in the Bermuda Triangle, to rehash all those stories and theories? While your suggestions for 80s hits are good, there are some elements of the 80s I'd rather leave buried.

Like my 80s hair.


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