Friday, June 13, 2008

Listening Post: Return to the 80s Edition (Part 1: MTV B-Sides)

The last time I set the Way-back machine for the 1980s, I got a pretty good amount of reaction -- most of it tinged with the kind of bittersweet nostalgia that can only come from folks who miss the days when they didn't have bills to pay and families to support but did have new wave mullet cuts and closets full of trenchcoats with punk buttons all over the lapels. So, once again, we delve into the vault to pull out some of the best music from the new wave/MTV era (of course, I'm talking about when MTV played music as opposed to running noxious crap like The Hills and The Real World), beginning with some lesser-known songs from bands that managed to break through to the mainstream.

Each of these groups had a few hit singles that have since come to define them but which true fans of the genre are now sick to death of hearing. In other words -- and I've mentioned this once before -- for God's sake, put down that 12" of Modern English's Melt with You and give, oh say, Ink and Paper a try sometime.

These aren't B-sides exactly -- just songs that have been criminally underplayed since the days of their release.

Simple Minds

Okay, so everyone knows Don't You Forget About Me. I can honestly say that although it brings back some very fond memories, I'm not sure I ever need to hear the song again. Now contrast the lightweight fluff of that with the sweeping grandeur of the band's 1984 album Sparkle in the Rain, which was, from damn near start to finish, a masterpiece. If you don't own it and haven't heard songs like Waterfront, Up on the Catwalk or East at Easter, drop whatever you're doing and download it immediately.

Here's Speed Your Love to Me.

Tears for Fears

In 1985, Tears for Fears released Songs from the Big Chair and broke wide open here in the states. However, critically at least, the band just couldn't win: Their debut album, The Hurting was roundly knocked for being too dour, while Songs was pummeled for being too poppy. Thankfully, fans didn't care and got fully behind the band's preternatural knack for writing material that was as thoughtful as it was catchy. Although Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Shout and Head Over Heels remain on a lot of people's radar to this day, their earlier stuff has largely vanished from the public consciousness. That's unfortunate, because it holds up surprisingly well.

This is one of my favorite songs not only from Tears for Fears but from the 80s in general: Pale Shelter.


If you came of age during the 1980s, a-ha was inescapable. They were MTV -- and with good reason, as the video for Take on Me is admittedly somewhat jaw-dropping even by today's standards. The song itself has become a staple, a modern pop classic. It's one of the first melodies that comes to mind when someone mentions the music of the 80s. But what a lot of Americans don't realize is that a-ha has continued to make damn good music and rack up tidy sales figures since the 1985 release of their mega-hit album Hunting High and Low (a record which Coldplay's Chris Martin says stands as one of his favorites, incidentally). Their follow up to Hunting, 1986's Scoundrel Days, was one of those albums my friends and I almost hated to admit we liked so much, but if you haven't heard anything from it, I highly suggest giving it a listen sometime.

For this list though, we're sticking with their debut. This was the second single from Hunting High and Low -- one that showed a more powerful side of the band.

Here's The Sun Always Shines on TV.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Alright, imagine this: All you've ever known of Frankie Goes to Hollywood -- the only thing that's been shoved down your throat for the past two years -- is Relax and Two Tribes. Those damn "Frankie Say" t-shirts are everywhere and their first album, although not bad all-in-all, remains pretty much a triumph of style over substance.

Then, they take the stage at the Montreux Rock Festival in 1986 to debut the first single from their new album, Liverpool, and they hit you with this.

This remains one of the only new wave pop songs to truly thunder with insurrectionist punk fury. Even lip synced, it works. Here's Warriors of the Wasteland.

Nik Kershaw

Let me just go ahead and get this out of the way: Nik Kershaw's Wouldn't It Be Good is one of the best pop songs ever recorded. Period. It's as good today as it was when it was released back in 1984, a point proven by the number of times it's been covered in the past quarter-century (because the mark of great songwriting is the ability for a piece of music to endure). What a lot of people here in the states don't know, however, is that like a-ha, Kershaw's been putting out exceptional albums since his heyday. Although iTunes unfortunately carries none of the material he cranked out during the late 80s, it'd be worth anyone's while to try to hunt down albums like Radio Musicola and The Works.

But going all the way back to his debut album, here's the rarely seen original video for Dancing Girls.

The Cure

You can judge a person almost entirely by whether he or she likes The Cure's brighter more upbeat material or their darker, more brooding stuff. (I would advise having nothing to do with anyone who has no use for The Cure either way.) It will likely surprise no one to learn that I prefer the latter as opposed to the former. My all-time favorite Cure song, actually, is Burn from the soundtrack to the movie The Crow. Beyond that though, 1989's Disintegration really might be, as Kyle once claimed on South Park, the best album ever. I admit that this is a bit of a cheat, since this song was actually big hit for the band and is still remembered fondly by fans -- but I'm including it because the average child of the 80s still goes batshit at the first strains of the God-awful Just Like Heaven or Friday I'm in Love.

Here's a fantastic live version of the song with the greatest bass line in rock history: Fascination Street.

The Go-Go's

If I never hear We Got the Beat or Our Lips are Sealed again, I won't complain. The truth is that the follow-up to the Go-Go's hugely successful debut album was not only a vast improvement, the damn thing holds up shockingly well to this day.

From 1984's Talk Show album, here's Turn to You.

Hall & Oates

Yes, I know -- this is seriously cheating. Hall & Oates have never really qualified as new wave, whether in their first, second or third career go-rounds. Still, I'd be remiss if I didn't pull one of their most underappreciated songs out of relative obscurity and give it a place here. At the risk of sounding like Patrick Bateman, 1984's Big Bam Boom wasn't half bad all the way around. It produced a few big singles, all of which took their place alongside the music the duo is now most remembered for -- songs like Maneater, Private Eyes and I Can't Go for That. But the album had one song on it that always stood out for me -- a song I still listen to quite a bit these days, because it's just that good.

Here's Some Things are Better Left Unsaid.


Big Country

I've never adjusted the site based on the suggestions of a commenter, but I have to make an exception this time. This is a last minute addition, one that I'm really kicking myself in the ass for initially overlooking because it's a perfect example of a band whose one hit became absolutely definitive of the 80s while by no means being the best song the group recorded. Sure, everyone remembers Big Country's 1983 hit In a Big Country, but almost no one in the states remembers their 1984 follow-up single.

This is, once again, one of my favorite songs of the 1980s: Wonderland.

Next: Return to the 80s, Part 2: Boys Don't Cry


Web Dunce said...

Simple Minds...That deserves a Yay with a capital Y! Thanks for starting my Friday off right.

Amy said...

I applaud you for your choices.. however?!! You talk "80's" and leave out Duran Duran? Aha "was" MTV, and you leave out DURAN DURAN??

chez, dude.

OH!! And I forgot my camera at home, but I took a couple photos FOR you yesterday. Can't wait to upload them and share :D

Aloysius Stitches said...

That's my favorite picture of Roxy Epoxy. Just thought you'd like to know.

Chez said...

Yeah, she rules. I just figured the picture fit perfectly.

VOTAR said...

I have no use for The Cure either way.

It's been nice knowing you.

trish said...

I'm glad somebody else out there appreciates Nik Kershaw. I thought I was the only one.

Jb said...

Love Nik Kershaw. "Don Quixote" and "The Riddle" are still in my rotation. But the most underappreciated band of all time (don't you love these declarations)is Big Country. And yes, I'm sick of "In a Big Country" also, but loved it when Dashboard Confessional remade it. My four year old rocks out to it.

Phil said...

High-gloss 80s goodness. Thanks. And Cure-wise, I'll take Head On The Door over all that came after it. Not sure which camp that puts me in.

Chez said...

Oh man, Big Country. I may have to create an addendum with Wonderland.

Al said...

No Sara Smile by Hall and Oates?
No Promised You A Miracle by Simple Minds from their live CD in Paris?
No Charlotte Sometime by the Cure?

Glad to see the shout out for a-ha. My Norwegian friend from back in the day would appreciate the vindication...that track remains on my alone-in-the-car playlist.

No Mission? No Sisters of Mercy? ;)

Chez said...

Jesus you people are pushy.

There's more to come -- exactly what, I haven't decided yet.

: )

tania said...

I'm wallowing in nostalgia right now - thanks Chez!
I wish I still had these albums (used to have most of them)...

I'd add The Thompson Twins, Into The Gap. That one, I still have - just nothing to play it on!

sherry said...

And to think, before I read this post, I was embarrassed by the number of a-ha songs on my iPod. Scoundrel Days (the song, not the titular album) is one of my favorites. So I feel much better. Thanks for giving me some new songs to hit up on iTunes, too. Viva la '80s!

sherry said...

P.S. I agree with amy: where's the D2 love?!

Anonymous said...

Aha's Hunting High and Low was a great record. the sun always shines on TV has always been one of my favorites. great song.


Anonymous said...

What's also nice about the "Fascination Street" bass line is that it's pretty simple. Just sliding up and down the E, but like so many of their bass and Fender VI lines, it's being genius enough to actually think of playing that particular simple pattern. I karaoke'd that one on Robert's birthday this year, even though there's that long, long instrumental break in the middle. But I couldn't just pass it up, now could I?

Plus, along with "A Forest", it's a quick way to tune your bass.

(I'm seeing the Cure in two days incidentally.)

Dave said...

A virtually perfect post.

I'd have stuck some Level 42 in though.

Try this.

Also, Stuart Adamson from Big Country hung himself a few years ago, very sad.

Laser Rocket Arm said...

Nik Kershaw also wrote one of the catchiest pop songs of the early nineties, Chesney Hawkes' "The One And Only."

Re: the Cure--I have an old college buddy who freaking worshipped them. One surefire method of getting him to freak out is by mentioning that "Pictures of You" was used to sell printers.

Chez said...

Wow Dave -- Level 42. Agreed, loved them.

Anonymous said...

Nice NICE choice w/Tears for Fears. I played that LP sooooo much. I love how they just snap into that bridge in "Pale Shelter".

What about Squeeze? Most people only know "Tempted" which wasn't even sung by a regular band member (Paul Carrack). Too many great songs by them to choose from.

You & I are kindred spirits musically.

Dave said...

Let's face it, if you start down the 80's music road, there is no end to it!

Squeeze are fantastic though, Difford and Tilbrook are probably up there with Elvis Costello in the British songwriting stakes.

As is Roddy Frame from Aztec Camera

mike said...

chez, i'm going to the can. you'd better return my fucking music collection by the time i get back.

Kel said...

So true about the Go-Go's.. but one of my favorites was always "Our Town". The tragedy is, we're certain to hear it as the intro to some bad MTV pseudo-reality show in the future.

I'm pretty sure I scared the other drivers, as I was singing "Is She Really Going Out With Him" in traffic the other day. With the windows open.

Jay said...

You just hit on every pop jewel from the 80s. Your selection is absolutely first rate. In particular, your including "Warriors of the Wasteland" and "Some Things are Better Left Unsaid" and "Pale Shelter" are dead-on. Some of these tunes have completely vanished from the musical landscape, in particular the track (and amazing animated video) from Warriors of the Wasteland.

I would recommend anyone pick up Liverpool on Amazon's used CDs... bet you could snag it for a buck. It's required listening in my book.

Of course a-ha and Arcadia are totally dismissed, while all those people (in particular a-ha) continue to but out stunning albums. Minor Earth, Major Sky by a-ha is very very good.

Thanks a bunch for this well conceived list.

The Red Head said...

I know I'm late to the game on this one but "HOORAY ROXY EPOXY!!"

*hearts* to your having taste in nouveau new wave (not that I doubted you).

Anonymous said...

The Cure. Pornography is their perfect album. Disintegration was standing on its shoulders.

Glad to see you have good taste (sometimes). :^)

Forrest said...

I had totally forgotten about the Go-Gos' "Turn to You." I have always had a thing for Belinda Carlisle even though I was about 8 when they were in their heyday and then she put out that insipid solo stuff. She kinda looks like a plumper Leo DiCaprio in this video.

I am a Cure fan who likes it all. "Just Like Heaven" is one of the top ten perfect pop songs, but I did a lot of teenage making out with Disintegration playing in the background.

Definitely need some Joe Jackson on this list as well as old INXS.