Sunday, June 15, 2008
Listening Post: Return to the 80s Edition (Part 2: Boys Don't Cry)
It'll probably surprise no one to learn that I could be a pensive and brooding kid on occasion. Teenage years are all about discovery -- that and inflating every little problem to the level of stupid, gargantuan melodrama. Spend your formative years watching enough movies and you start to believe that life is nothing if not one big method act. So, with that in mind, these are just a few of the songs that could often be heard pulsing from my car stereo as I sped along the streets of Miami at midnight, trying to "clear my head," believing that the right music, my car and the night air was required to do it.
Yes, this MTV-era music is slightly more personal -- read: self-indulgent -- than the stuff included on the last list, but I guess I'm curious to find out if anyone else feels the same way about these songs that I do (because if you don't, I'll have to put them on again and tool around the city, lamenting how terribly misunderstood I am but how cool I look being that way).
Peter Gabriel's 1986 album So is a classic -- a near-perfect pop-rock masterpiece. It's one of the few albums that not only came to define the 80s, but has withstood the test of time since. In many ways, it's as fresh, powerful and clever now as it was then. While songs like Sledgehammer, Big Time and In Your Eyes remain seared into the memories of millions, my favorite track on So was always Mercy Street. It was quiet. It was incredibly moving. It was atmospheric. And when I hear it, to this day, it hits me, ironically, like a sledgehammer.
Here's Mercy Street.
Of all the hits spawned by Dire Straits's astonishing 1985 album Brothers in Arms, it's both surprising and not surprising at all that the one song that's truly held up -- retaining every bit of its haunting, elegiac weight -- is the title track. (If you require proof, note the masterful way it was used in the Season 2 finale of The West Wing.) It may be more than 20 years old, but no matter where I go or what I do, I always make sure that this song is never more than an iPod click away. Ever.
This is Brothers in Arms.
Duran Duran's other offshoot (the more notable being The Power Station), Arcadia, at first glance, probably seemed thoroughly unnecessary when held against the band that spawned it. Despite recording some spectacular music, it's almost impossible to imagine Duran Duran ever having any balls that required being cut off, yet that's exactly what Arcadia somehow managed to do. Still, to its credit, the Simon Le Bon-Nick Rhodes-Roger Taylor creation not only cranked out some surprisingly good material -- full of ethereal layers and truly romantic "new romantic" soundscapes -- but also stood as somewhat of a contradiction: Arcadia was a band formed with the intention of excising the admittedly miminal guitar work of Andy Taylor, and yet Le Bon and Rhodes enlisted the brilliant David Gilmour to play on the album. Regardless, together, they recorded at least a few songs that hold up relatively well.
Here's the gorgeous video for Missing.
Honestly, there's nothing I could say about U2 that hasn't already been said -- except that this is, quite possibly, my all-time favorite song from them.
Here's the title track to the band's 1984 introspective and ambient masterpiece, The Unforgettable Fire.
Huge in Australia and practically unknown in the states, Mondo Rock made the kind of powerful and direct alternative pop-rock that seems to grow up out of the ground down under. Despite its complete lack of subtlety, particularly when it comes to the lyrics (which are about the loss of virginity, and led to the track being banned from Aussie radio for some time), I still love everything about this song. Maybe it's the kind of thing that could only have had the effect it did by hitting a teenage kid at exactly the right time -- either way though, it remains one of my favorites.
This is Come Said the Boy.
If I go too much into why I like Genesis, early or later incarnation, I really will sound like Patrick Bateman. So, I'll keep it simple: Mama, from the band's self-titled 1983 release, is one of the best songs of the 1980s. No question. While so many consider Phil Collins's In the Air Tonight and its resurrection on Miami Vice to be wholly symbolic of the 80s aesthetic -- particularly the people my age who actually lived in Miami during that decade -- Mama was, in my mind, always the better song to drive to late at night. Don't believe me? Do it now -- tonight. It still works. And incidentally, would somebody please, please wise up and do a really astounding cover of this song? I've always kind of imagined Linkin Park pulling it off.
The night of my senior prom -- an event which culminated in me coming dangerously face to face on the dancefloor with a girl who wasn't my date but whom I'd been in love with for most of my high school years -- I wound up at the remains of an ultra-stylish after party being held in a two-story downtown Miami penthouse. While quietly wandering the place, making my way up the stairs and down one of the long, dark halls, I ran into the same young girl I'd almost kissed a few hours earlier. She had just stepped out of the bathroom and was wearing a white terrycloth robe. I approached her and, without saying a word, she took my hand and wrapped it around the end of the thin strip holding the robe closed and began to make me pull on it. I never took my eyes off her face. As this happened, Roxy Music's Avalon played from somewhere nearby.
Tell me that's not a perfect memory.
Next Week: Return to the 80s, Part 3: Punk's Not Dead