How do 22-year-old songs by Prince, the Cars, and Tina Turner hold up today? Whitney Pastorek gives 'em another listen
Let’s go crazy… with the hits of ’84!
Warning: This week’s songs were on the radio when I was 9 years old, when my brain was an empty, fertile plot of land waiting to be planted with the seeds of my future. Therefore, for the first time in the history of Chart Flashback, I love every single one of this week’s songs, love them as though they were my own children. (Since I don’t have actual children, you can imagine how much pent-up affection I have to give.) It is because of this bias that I would like to start things off by explaining that, in my heart, every song on this list gets an A. Now I will attempt to be coldly objective.
Billboard‘s top 10 singles for the week ending Sept. 29, 1984:
10. ”Cover Me,” Bruce Springsteen
I used to have this theory that because Born to Run came out a month after I was born, Springsteen and I have a deep existential connection. I mean, he was writing his masterpiece as I was being conceived! That means something! Do you think it’s a coincidence that in the final chorus of the title track, Bruce very clearly says, ”C’mon, Whitney/ Tramps like us/ Baby, we were born to run,” subbing in my name for that loser Wendy’s? I do not! And while that sense of a bridge across space and time — an unbreakable bond between my fetal self and ”Thunder Road,” if you will, made even more remarkable by the fact that neither of my parents have any idea who Bruce Springsteen is — has abated somewhat over the years, Bruce remains in my desert-island top 5, so you’ll excuse me if I natter on a bit here. ”Cover Me,” of course, is from Born in the U.S.A., the Springsteen album made for my generation, an album whose effect on our culture cannot be understated. Think about it: Thanks to our growing lack of listening comprehension skills, ”Born in the U.S.A.” has spent the last 22 years being misunderstood by 75 percent of all Americans and 99 percent of all politicians; ”Dancing in the Dark” gave us Courteney Cox, and, by extension, Friends; ”Glory Days”may have been the first song seemingly written expressly for ESPN to use while taking us in or out of the commercials of major-league sporting events; and the cover art has been ripped off more times than Circle K. It’s the album that made Bruce Springsteen a superstar, which is what my generation likes to do to people whenever possible (now, of course, with decreasing levels of talent necessary to qualify for the program). But this is about the song, the song, the song. Okay: With its repetitive desperation, ”Cover Me” works pretty well as a radio single, but in my opinion, it ranks beneath all three of the other songs I’ve already listed, and you might as well put it beneath ”I’m on Fire,” ”Downbound Train,”and ”No Surrender,” too. Wait. Is ”Cover Me” accidentally my least favorite song on the album? Wow. B-
9. ”Cruel Summer,” Bananarama
Raise your hand if you’re able to think of this song without also thinking about Blue Crush. I’m pretty much ruined in that regard, but you know what? It’s okay. I like thinking about Blue Crush (remember when Kate Bosworth was something more than an orange on a toothpick?), and anyway, this is a perfect surf song, with xylophones standing in for steel drums and a guitar riff that hints at Dick Dale. While I always sort of considered Bananarama the poor woman’s Bangles (and never have forgiven them for that ”Venus” song, which upset me a great deal as a child for some reason), I’ll admit that this — along with Hoffs & Co.’s splendid version of ”Hazy Shade of Winter” — sits in the pantheon of great seasonal singles. What it does best is capture the darkness lurking at the heart of the summer months, that strange voice that calls (what does it say?) and says that you should really, really be having way more fun than you are. A-
8. ”The Glamorous Life,” Sheila E.
Ooh. How freakin’ cool is Sheila E., people? She’s a brilliant percussionist, first of all, and she was smart enough to ride the Prince express — where Prince was smart enough to let her serve as conductor — as far as it would take her; if the only place it dropped her off was in front of this single’s door, that’s just fine with me. I love the dueling saxophones, I love the simplicity of the vocals, and who doesn’t love them some timbales? More importantly, what better lesson to teach a 9-year-old than ”I know you are watching a lot of Knots Landing when your parents aren’t home, but cut that out and listen: You don’t need the glamorous life, because without love, it ain’t much.” Gosh, I sure wish I’d listened. These diamonds are heavy. And they never call. A-
7. ”The Warrior,” Scandal featuring Patti Smyth
The only thing you need to know about my relationship to this song is that I will forever associate it with Kids Incorporated, because of the time Martika, a.k.a. ”Gloria,” stood in front of a brick wall and belted it out, making little shoot-shoot gun gestures on the bang-bang! parts and making me insanely jealous that I was not as mature as her nor able to pull off the Flashdance look (though, truthfully, the character on KI that I most envied was Stacy, because she was my age, and she wore cool headbands, and she had a frog.) (And if that’s not enough geeking out on Kids Incorporated for ya, won’t you join me over here? Beware the insanely loud music that auto-plays when the page loads…) But to only associate ”The Warrior” with Martika is to do Patti Smyth a huge disservice, for without her, Scandal would have been nothing more than a bunch of generic dudes playing generic ’80s rock. It’s her vocals on this (and ”Goodbye to You”) that make them a halfway-decent nostalgia act. (Love that she subtitled her own greatest-hits album Featuring Scandal, btw.) However, points must be deducted here for the employment of two phrases, ”Follow me stereo jungle child” and ”Your eyes touch me physically,” which do not make a lick of sense. B+
6. ”What’s Love Got To Do With It,” Tina Turner
How could I ever say anything critical about this song, now that I know what Angela Bassett had to go through to get away from Laurence Fishburne and make it on her own? Nah, c’mon, take it seriously. Even though it’s the theme song to an sickeningly emotionally manipulative movie, think back to what it meant when this single came out: It meant that one of the best singers of this century was finally free. It meant that a woman in her mid-40s could have just as big a hit as anyone else. It meant that good could triumph over evil, but the break in her voice every time she hits the line ”Who needs a heart/ when a heart can be broken”tells us — in about four seconds — more about the price of that victory than we learned from two hours of cheesy biopic. Grade would be higher if I could get it out of my head. B+
5. ”I Just Called To Say I Love You,” Stevie Wonder
Customer: Hi, do you have the song ”I Just Called To Say I Love You”? It’s for my daughter’s birthday.
Barry: Yeah, we have it.
Customer: Great, great… Well, can I have it?
Barry: No, you can’t.
Customer: Why not?!
Barry: Beacause it’s sentimental tacky crap, that’s why. Do we look like a store that sells ”I Just Called to Say I Love You”? Go to the mall!
Customer: What’s your problem?!
Barry: Do you even know your daughter? There’s no way she likes that song! Oh, oh, oh, wait! Is she in a coma? C
4. ”She Bop,” Cyndi Lauper
What a happy coincidence that this song — which I recently cited as the anti-”Barbie Girl” — pops up on the countdown this week to help drive home my point! Um, I’m not gonna be all cool and pretend like I knew this song was about masturbation at the time. Based on the video, I probably thought this song was about hamburgers, and the Beefcake magazine she’s reading in the car was also about hamburgers, and I’m still not sure what the bingo reference is all about… actually, I’m gonna come right out and say that I don’t fully understand a lot of the things in this video, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that, on a lot of levels, I’m still 9. A-
3. ”Drive,” The Cars
Let’s get a quick reaction from the person who’s standing in my office right now: Hey, EW photo editor Michele Romero! What do you think about this song? ”It makes me sad.” Yes, Michele, it makes a lot of us sad. It is so lovely and quiet and subtle, no histrionics, just a simple man standing before you saying, Hey. Hey you. You broke up with me, and now you are screwed. No biggie. Just, you know, you’re basically screwed. And you should probably buy a Metrocard. Michele also makes the astute observation that a lot of Cars songs are about driving. She’s right. But at the end of the day, aren’t we all just looking for someone to drive us home? Sniff. A
2. ”Missing You,” John Waite
Wow, this is a perky two-fer, the Cars and the Waite. Thanks, 1984! Kleenex, anyone? ”Missing You” makes the ’80s All-Star Team, because I think it does everything a song should: It’s conflict with just a twinge of martyrdom; it’s got spooky background singers and slightly obtuse lyrics that — much like horoscopes and the musicals of Rogers and Hammerstein — we can all see ourselves in; it’s got a nice build to a bridge that manages to seem both obligatory and incredibly imperative; you can sing along. But what fascinates me most about how much I love this song is the following: There is no way, at 9 years old, that I had any idea what a broken heart was really about. I was probably just starting fourth grade at the time, and I was probably in love with some kid from swim team, but I have no recollection of who that could have been, and so he must not have meant all that much to me, and so there is no way I could have felt the need to send a message out like a telegraph to his soul… and yet I was indelibly moved. I therefore believe that this is one of the best composed songs of all time, and that the melody and arrangement are pure genius. A
1. ”Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince and the Revolution
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. And how could we ever have made it this far without Prince? You tell me who did a better job of showing us that there was another world out there, a darker, more sophisticated, sexier world that we should be aspiring to; a world where there was always a party going on, filled with beautiful women and exotic jungle animals as well as a wide assortment of crushed velvet and hair product. No one, that’s who. Prince was — and every now and again when he’s not dive-bombing American Idol broadcasts, still is — the reason we go out on Saturday nights. It’s because we believe in his world, and one of these days, we’re gonna get there. And go crazy. A