How do 25-year-old hits from Joan Jett, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, and Vangelis hold up today? Let's give 'em another listen
Rating the hits from this week in ’82
Quick intro today, Flashbackers, and then we’ll get right to it: I’m sending out props to Charles Thomas, who won himself a Prison Break hat with the correct answer to my last column’s trivia question: Some of the songs from the week of April 1, 1978, teamed up to help one man set a record that has never been broken. What are the songs, who is the man, and what is the record?
His answer: “Barry Gibb had four straight number one singles in 1978. All of those songs were on the chart used in the Chart Flashback. The songs are ‘Stayin’ Alive,’ ‘(Love Is) Thicker Than Water,’ ‘Night Fever,’ and ‘If I Can’t Have You’.”
Congrats, Charles! No trivia this week, but plenty of opportunities to remember ourselves as we were before our innocent little hearts were dropped in the mud. Onward! Upward!
Billboard‘s Top 10 for the week ending May 8, 1982
10. ”Did It In A Minute,” Daryl Hall & John Oates
In the category of Most Schizophrenic Song of 1982, I’d like to nominate this track, from everyone’s favorite half-mustachioed duo. It starts off with the ultimate 80’s keyboard intro and some highly inspirational cymbals, like someone tried to write a new Silver Spoons theme song but got distracted when the guitar kicks in, and suddenly we’re in the dance studio, twirling our legwarmers and shimmying our shoulders inside our cutoff sweatshirts. And then the vocals start up, and we’re back to a TV theme, or maybe a discarded early attempt at covering Elton John’s ”Crocodile Rock,” or maybe it’s supposed to be a commercial for something very fast. (Minute Rice? FedEx? Hot Pockets? Did they have Hot Pockets yet?) But then there’s that weird minor-key switch in the bridge a la Billy Joel, and I just get all thrown off. I’m not sure it’s a happy song. I’m not even sure what he/she/it did in said minute. (According to the video linked above it’s about love at first sight. Maybe.) What I am sure of is that it’s a damn good thing their next big hit was ”Maneater,” and I can go listen to that now and try to cleanse my mind of this, because it makes me think about all those sad years when I thought Ricky Schroeder might actually love me. For the record, he doesn’t, and he never will. Also, I do not think anyone will ever install a rideable train in my living room. B-
9. ”I’ve Never Been to Me,” Charlene
My friend Emma, who will tell you herself she cannot sing, absolutely loves to sing this song. It’s pretty damn hilarious. She’s especially good at the following spoken-word interlude, which I shall reproduce here in full:
Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie, a fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be. But you know what truth is? It’s that little baby you’re holding. It’s that man you fought with this morning, the same one you’re going to make love with tonight. That’s truth. That’s love.
Now. Let’s talk about the message here, which I will try and do without getting too upset. (Your Aunt Whittlz is not having a good week, emotionally, and she apologizes for that.) Okay. So Charlene has traveled all over the world and had sex with many, many men, and yet her life is not very fulfilling. Frankly, she’d rather have the bad marriage and the screaming kid and the sense that there’s a whole world going on without her, but it wouldn’t matter because she could have make-up sex with her husband night after night after night. This, to Charlene, would be ”going to me.” Fine. But can there not be a middle ground here? Why is it EITHER getting undressed by kings on yachts OR swiffering the kitchen while watching The Young and the Restless and hoping Junior doesn’t wake up early from his nap? Are you trying to make me quote Sondheim lyrics again? Fine: Must it all be either less or more, either plain or grand? Is it always OR? Is it never AND?
As for the song itself, oh, it’s one of those ”lovely” songs with tinkling piano and sweeping strings and overwrought, downright punishable lyrics like ”I’ve been to crying for unborn children that might have made me complete” (your Aunt Whittlz chooses to skip the discussion of the You Must Have a Child To Be Complete As a Woman discussion, for mental-health reasons), but I find Charlene’s voice to lack a punch while simultaneously not quite accomplishing the fluffy cotton swab-like brilliance of Karen Carpenter that I think she’s going for. Generally, it all feels a little too calculated. I don’t for a second believe she has ever been undressed by actual kings. And in conclusion, the spoken-word interlude in George Strait’s ”You Look So Good In Love” kicks this song’s ass. C+
8. ”’65 Love Affair,” Paul Davis
Jesus, Paul Davis is becoming the Mariah Carey of the late ’70s-early ’80s. How is this guy back again? He’s only got two Top 10 songs, and we’ve covered them both in a row — is the universe trying to tell me something? If so, I’m not sure I want to know what it is. Instead, I’d like to draw your attention to the following line, from the song’s Wikipedia page (so watch out, it might not be true): ”Davis had originally entitled the song ”’55 Love Affair,” but Arista felt that some modernization was needed to target an audience whose teenage years had occurred in the 1960’s.” Yes, if this doo-wop song had been set in the decade when the popularity of doo-wop was actually at its peak, it wouldn’t have made any sense. Thank you, record label! (As a complete and total tangent, I started thinking about what the record label might have suggested, based on those standards, as an alternate title for Bryan Adams’ ”Summer of ’69,” and I came across this gem of a Wikipedia statement amidst the discussion of the title’s actual meaning: ”It should be noted that [co-writer] Jim Vallance was 17 in mid 1969, when the Northern Hemisphere had summer.” Damn, whoever wrote that was thorough.
Hmm, what else to be said. Well, the neo-soul thing Paul’s got going on here was very of its time, actually, given that my man Huey Lewis — WHO I GET TO INTERVIEW TOMORROW OMG — had just put out Picture This, and ”Do You Believe in Love” hit No. 7 in April of this year. And aside from the totally random cheerleading sound effect that punches in about nine-tenths of the way through the song like a B-52 landing on the roof, I find this track to be far less objectionable than ”I Go Crazy,” although that still don’t make it great. What’s sad is if Huey had recorded it I’d probably give it an A+ just to piss people off. But not everyone gets the same ridiculous double standard! Sorry, Paul! B
7. ”We Got the Beat,” Go-Go’s
No discussion necessary. A
6. ”867-5309/Jenny,” Tommy Tutone
Sure, everyone knows this song as the inspiration for hundreds of disconnected phone numbers, but what you might not know is that ”867-5309 (Jenny)” is secretly one of the greatest punk songs ever recorded. Think about it: Simple, sung-back chorus. Repetitive bar chords. Lyrics about masturbation and dirty bathroom stalls. Don’t take my word for it — get out there on the Internets and find yourselves either the Less Than Jake or the (in my opinion far superior) Blink-182 cover, and give it a listen. Tell me if you don’t immediately start banging your head along…and if you don’t immediately think the original could have stood to be just a little faster, and a little louder. My enjoyment of the Tommy Tutone version has thus forever been ruined…but it doesn’t change anything about the inherent qualities of the song itself. Great harmonies + great opening guitar line + hidden handclaps + those sweet crash cymbal hits at the end + perfect, ridiculous, yet oddly heartfelt lyrics add up to — yes, I’m going to say it — one of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time. A-
NEXT PAGE: The countdown to No. 1 continues…
5. ”Freeze-Frame,” The J. Geils Band
Although the previously released ”Centerfold” remains their real masterpiece, this blues band finds stadium-sized success once again by providing an excuse to holler nonsense (in this case, na-na-naas were replaced by shoop-shoop, deeleedeeleedees), clap vigorously, and experience four minutes of pure joy while thinking about pictures of hot models. Truly, there is no better way to make the menfolk like you. Kudos, Mr. Geils. And hey, are those the same cameras from ”Girls on Film”? B
4. ”Don’t Talk to Strangers,” Rick Springfield
Oh, Rick. Rick. We’ve never met, but after this milkshake-smooth, eerily sinister cut, how could I not talk to you? You have managed to capture my very favorite ’80s vibe — I’ve talked about it here before — in which a slightly mysterious bassline conjures up the image of a nice-looking woman, getting on in years, sitting at a neon-lit bar, idly swirling a martini glass filled with a day-glo-colored liquid. She is wearing shiny metallic accessories, and her hair is teased; her eyes are circled in black, and her lips are red as the cherry she just popped into her mouth. She is hopelessly sophisticated, and even though she is probably a hooker, the seven-year-old me wanted to be her. Of course, I grew into an overall-sporting tomboy who swills beer from the bottle, but that’s not the point. The dark, very adult world Rick lives in is something I still dream of discovering, a goal I may never achieve — and luckily, back when I was seven, this song also provided a very handy public service announcement. (Perhaps he should have written a follow-up entitled, ”Don’t Get Into Cars with Strangers in the Mall Parking Lot, Even If They are Promising Just to Drive You Back to the Entrance So You Can Find Your Mom.” I could have used that one.) Extra-special bonus points for a) the guitar lick that steps down with ”You know he’ll only use you up,” b) the super-creepy video (the phone is on fire, people! don’t you get it??) and c) the French part. A-
3. ”I Love Rock n’ Roll,” Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Okay, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we can all agree that the old SNL parody of those VH-1 Behind the Music commercials had this one spot-on: Someone (who? anyone remember?) playing Jett was explaining the origin of the song’s chorus. ”And then I said to him, ‘I love rock n’ roll’,” she said, with great earnestness. ”So put another dime in the jukebox…baby.” Oh, that killed me. (Somewhat topically, from the same series, you’ll remember the great Hall & Oates imitation in which it was revealed Oates was in charge of handclaps. I like to bring that up whenever possible. Because I have limited reserves of knowledge.) So yeah, maybe the lyrics here aren’t the deepest or the most artistic or brilliant or whatever. (It’s not her fault. No matter what SNL tries to tell you, she didn’t write them.) But I’ll say one thing: The woman knows how to get the most bang for her buck. Thanks to an unforgettable riff and her vicious snarl of a voice, the fact that there are like 20 words to this song couldn’t matter less. I plan to sing along with every single one. Before I do that, I shall first compile a list of all the people who should never, ever have covered this song: 1. Britney Spears. Okay, I’m done. B+
2. ”Ebony & Ivory,” Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder
A lovely statement from two musical geniuses that also happens to be syrupy, overproduced, and pretty much unlistenable ever since — speaking of SNL — Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy butchered it (”You are blind as a bat/and I have sight…”). This song is also guilty of trying to make ”piano” into a two-syllable word. Inexcusable. If I want to hear Paul McCartney sing a duet with a fellow musical superstar, I will almost always turn to ”Say Say Say,” his duet with Michael Jackson, which has the following benefits: better song; better, though slightly more nonsensical video (I’m still waiting for that Macca/Jacko touring production of Oklahoma); no heavy-handed social content. And one of my most enduring childhood memories (my sister and I rewrote the lyrics, courtesy of American Express, to ”Say, say, say, what you want/but don’t leave home without your traveler’s checks”). Meanwhile, ”Ebony & Ivory” just makes me feel bad about my personal contributions to global unity (approximately zero), and makes me fear the all-consuming power of the Casio. Also, whoever directed the video should have his or her guild privileges suspended for the literal depiction of ”side by side on my pya-no” as well as for the image of McCartney playing the bongos, two things that have haunted me for years. C+
1. ”Chariots of Fire,” Vangelis
It’s as though the elevator-muzak programmers of the world rose up as one to anoint a champion. Sure, this is a beautiful movie soundtrack, but as a single — standing all alone on my radio dial, no dramatic beach jogging scenes to be found — it mostly just makes me sleepy. (I never thought I’d say this, but…can I get a dance remix up in here?) Now, I understand that my point of view may be controversial, but I ask you to imagine it in the context of everything else we’re talking about here: You are riding your bike around the neighborhood, your trusty yellow Sony Sports Walkman clipped to your belt, and the flimsy yellow headphones jammed into your ears. The local pop station has just finished playing an awesome rock block of ”We Got the Beat,” ”I Love Rock n’ Roll,” ”Don’t Talk to Strangers,” and ”867-5309/Jenny.” And then, just as you’re approaching the long, newly paved street that never has any traffic and thinking about going no-handed as you dance along to whatever comes on next, you hear it: bing- bing- bing- bing- bing- bing- bing- bing- bing-. And at first you think, Wait, is that the theme from Top Gun? before you remember Top Gun hasn’t come out yet, which is when you realize, Ah, crap. It’s freakin’ ”Chariots of Fire.” And now you can’t go no-handed, because you have to put your head down and bike for all you’re worth, because that is what Olympians do. But then after about 100 meters, you are tired, and you are not an Olympian, and this song is boring, and really, you’d take four rounds of ”Did It In a Minute” if it meant you could avoid ever hearing this total mom music on your radio ever again. It is a feeling you will only experience once more in your life, circa 1985, when for some reason the Miami Vice theme will not stop playing over and over and over again, when really, you’d rather be listening to Tears for Fears. However, the Miami Vice theme was okay, because that show was cool, and not for moms, so you gave it the occasional pass, but really, if it ever came on the radio you were more likely to switch over to your tape of Thriller. All right. I’m confident we are all on the same page now. C