This week in ’86: Rating the top 10 hits
Happy New Year, Flashbackers! I hope you all survived whatever the holiday season brought you — I got the flu; thanks, Santa! — and are in fine fettle for 2007, because we’ve got a lot of exciting stuff coming your way. Yes, this year I have these dreams that Chart Flashback will expand and devour everything in its path, with new features like polls, requests, trivia contests (complete with prizes ranging from whatever free crap I have in my office to whatever free crap I have in my house), guest stars, countdowns from other charts, and who knows what-the-hell else. The possibilities are infinite here on the new EW.com (now with improved whitening power), and I plan to take advantage of each and every one of them, up to and possibly including building a robot to write this column for me. (10 IF BAND = “Huey Lewis” THEN GRADE = “A+”; 20 RUN)
Anyhoo, stay tuned, ’cause in the words of the great Howard Jones, things can only get better… and don’t forget to read the FAQ.
Billboard‘s Top 10 songs for the week ending January 11, 1986:
10. ”Walk of Life,” Dire Straits
Well, I know I’m supposed to steer clear of discussing videos on here (because it gets some people all cranky), but as a sports addict, I would be deeply, deeply remiss if I did not mention that this song has one of the greatest videos of all time — and I’m not just saying that because there are three Houston sports references in the first minute, four if you count a shot of Roger Clemens as a young Red Sock. (For those of you H-townians playing at home: the Rocket is Ralph Sampson, but who is the Oiler?) C’mon, this would have been a great stadium song even if Mark Knopfler — born in the same year as Oiler QB great Dan Pastorini, btw — hadn’t decided to make the video out of sports clips. The organ? The steady-boppin’ beat? The ”It’s not ‘Glory Days’ but if you squint it kinda looks like it” vibe? All these things are crying out to be played over a loudspeaker next to a jumbotron while a reliever warms up. I also find Mark’s woo-hoos to be exceedingly jolly. B+
[Extra trivia: Did you know there were already CDs in 1985? Yep: Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms was one of the first ones. Impress your friends!]
9. ”Broken Wings,” Mr. Mister
It’s hard to think of a more quintessentially 80’s song than this. ”Baby / all I know / is you’re half of the flesh / and blood that makes me whole / Yeah-yeah-yeaah”?? They just don’t make ’em like that anymore. It’s all very dramatic, from the bass line to the synth undercurrent to that sinister cymbal spritzing all over everything, like waves crashing on the shore of the island where they keep the Book of Love, which is going to open up and let us in, like, any second now. Of course, these days this song is just a soft, reassuring, mothball-scented pillow of pre-teen angst that I happily fall into, but as a child I remember being very moved, almost to tears, by its message — and, for some reason, taking it weirdly literally, like the dude’s girlfriend maybe had fallen off something high and hurt herself very badly. This image was surely enhanced by the fact that in the late summer of 1985, I myself had fallen off something high and broken both my arms at the same time, so I completely identified with what Mrs. Mister must have been going through. (No big whoop: I was playing on the swingset in my backyard and tried to jump off, wound up face-down in the dirt with two smashed wrists. We laugh about it now. Really. I wasn’t scarred in the least. Totally fine. Physically tip-top. Mentally shipshape. Yup. Whee!) B+
8. ”Talk To Me,” Stevie Nicks
Ooh, those of you upset with my response to ”Leather and Lace” last week aren’t going to like me any better now, are you? Sigh. Look: I love Stevie Nicks, okay? Love her songs, love her scarves, love her in all her witchy glory, and went through a long period of trying to get my bangs to look like hers in the mid-’90s, with limited success (I also failed in trying to achieve the Helen Hunt. So I’m not slamming this track because of a grudge or something. Are we clear? Good. Now. I think ”Talk To Me” is a particularly egregious example of the stuffy, nasally thing Stevie’s voice started squawking out in the mid-’80s, and therefore, I have never particularly enjoyed listening to this song, even though its bombastic nature (and above-average saxophone solo) is right up my alley. You see, squawking is not a pretty sound to me — especially not when you contrast it with the clear, exotic sound Stevie’s voice had at the beginning, or the rich, mature tone it has nowadays. I can’t possibly imagine why her voice would have been suffering at that particular point in time, though. Hmm. C-
7. ”Tonight She Comes,” The Cars
Oh, hey! It’s one of them other Cars songs! Whaddaya know! Yeah, this tune — an original track off their greatest hits album that’s probably half-decent at best — is totally helped by the fact that you hardly ever hear it. I shall henceforth refer to this quality as Freshocity — Freshocity being the opposite of Retrigue, of course — a word I coined to describe the exhaustion you get from hearing the same damn ’80s songs over and over again). I also greatly appreciate the callback to ”My Best Friend’s Girl” (so many people coming!), and the fact that Rik Ocasek has all of a sudden somehow made his voice sound just like David Byrne’s. I do not, however, think it is an appropriate song for children to be singing. B
6. ”Small Town,” John Cougar Mellencamp
Oh, Little Johnny Coug-Cougs.
5. ”I Miss You,” Klymaxx
Oh my god, I think I want to smother this song with a pillow! Now, if you’d asked me prior to re-listening if I liked ”I Miss You,” I would probably have given you a strong positive response… but to be completely honest, I have absolutely no recollection of the verses, bridge, outro, or any part of it that is not the following six words/notes: ”I miss you (I miss you).” That’s it. That’s all that’s ringing a bell. It’s really freaking me out. And the rest of the song, from my shiny new borderline-amnesiac objective perspective, is really boring and slow and cheesy, and it kind of wishes it was a Jackson 5 song but can’t quite pull it off, and therefore it is getting a C-.
P.S.: Whatever you do, do not go look at the picture on Klymaxx.org and then laugh. Because that’s just mean.
4. ”Alive and Kicking,” Simple Minds
Oh, lordy, what a relief after that last song, huh? This is like balm on the chapped lips of my eardrums, or something. Okay, here comes Controversial Statement #1 Of 2007: ”Alive and Kicking” is a better Simple Minds song than ”Don’t You Forget About Me.” Discuss.
Eh, I’m not sure even I can stand by that. But boy is it good. I love the following things, in order of their occurrence: The slow-burn opening, the backbeat, the choir building to the chorus (what are you gonna do when the flames come?), the drumroll into the chorus, the chorus, the keyboard transition out of the chorus, the drumroll and crash into the next verse, the little woodwind sound in the second verse, the quiet electric guitar that revs just as the build into the chorus is starting up again, ”Don’t say goodbye / don’t say goodbye / in the final seconds / who’s gonna save ya,” the way the ending walks quietly away from you down the street, just as the light starts to fade, and then, in a shower of cymbal sparks, turns and starts running back. A
3. ”That’s What Friends Are For,” Dionne & Friends
Yes, yes. It’s all a big joke, Dionne and Stevie and Elton in his Zorro hat sitting at the piano (and poor, forgotten Gladys). And the song is a punchline, the cheesiest in a long line of disease and/or famine-inspired benefit songs from the ’80s that live on to be played only during high school graduations and comedy sketch shows, even though they were initially incredibly popular and, dare I say, extremely well-intentioned, with an earnest, selfless quality that today’s hyper-promotional and scantily-clad pop stars would be hard-pressed to achieve. And unlike the Klymaxx song, had you asked me prior to today’s re-listen if I liked ”That’s What Friends Are For,” I most likely would have rolled my eyes and made a small gagging noise. (I’d say ”threw up in my mouth a little,” but I’ve been told that phrase is, like, so 2005.)
But then I found this. I don’t know what it’s from — looks like the Grammys? — or when, and I don’t know why Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston are there instead of Elton and Gladys (poor, forgotten Gladys). And maybe it’s the cold meds, but people…it kind of made me like this song again. I mean, not the dopey part at the end of the recording where they’re all heh-hehing to each other and whatever, but the rest of it. The community of it, the artists supporting each other and clearly reveling in the experience, the thrilled response of the audience, the sanity of Whitney Houston, whatever. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. I just — I just feel really close to all of you right now. B
2. ”Party All the Time,” Eddie Murphy
The best thing about Dreamgirls in his pop debut! Oh, sure, you laugh, but you loved it. He used to be an enormous star, you know. Also, Rick James used to be alive, and Members Only jackets used to be cool. Some things change. The ridiculousness of this song, however, never will. You can go back to laughing now. But hey — it could have been worse. C+
[Please, please can I say one thing about the video? Please? Okay. Bear with me. Now, I know it seems out of synch, mostly because the handclaps never manage to hit the beat…but that’s actually just what a piece of crap the video is, which is a large part of its brilliance. And I need your help, because I’m not sure what’s funnier: Rick James’ Svengali moves, the crowd of eclectically dressed hangers-on partying all the time right there in the studio, or the dude in the white polo shirt and his little shoo-fly hand flaps that segue into a sensual chest rub? Flashbackers, you be the judge!]
1. ”Say You, Say Me,” Lionel Richie
Not sure if I’m doing something wrong, but it’s getting harder and harder to come up with a Top 10 from the ’70s or ’80s where Mr. Richie is not represented in some fashion. (Which reminds me: On the last Chart Flashback I forgot to link to ”Oh, No,” which was a real shame, because that was my favorite song of the ten. Here ya go, and I apologize that I couldn’t find anything better than a Days of Our Lives fan video. Actually, no I don’t — that thing’s hilarious. Who makes these??) I suppose that’s a testament to the man’s incredible talent or something — I think it’s just dumb luck (helps to have a good band and a good solo career, I suppose… right, Stevie?) and the streak can’t possibly last. We’ll see. Anyway, in terms of this song: Okay, okay, it’s a big pile of patented Richie Gloop…but it would be incredibly disingenuous if I didn’t admit that it is an absolutely excellent pile. I mean, the cranked-up electric bridge alone should be enough to make it a classic — that thing’s like a cherry bomb dropped in the middle of a pudding convention — but from the spacey sound effects (”People in the park… [CUE ALIENS!] …playing games in the dark…”) to Lionel’s ever-so-slight-but-always-discernable lisp being forced to tackle a chorus with like 19 S’s, there is ever so much awesomeness happening here. Cap that off with its connection to the White Nights soundtrack, and you’ve got an enduring love song that simultaneously conjures ballet, spaceships, and a man’s head sculpted out of clay. A-
P.S.: Whitney’s favorite song off the White Nights soundtrack — and the second 45 she ever bought, right behind Starship’s ”We Built This City” — can be found here.