“We Built This City”

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I was channel flipping the other day, and stopped for a moment to indulge both my love of music videos and love of really bad music.  The 80s were a great time for both.

This song really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, which is sort of its appeal.  I think.  It is catchy.  I’m also pretty sure Grace Slick was probably high on something at the time.  It seems to want to be a protest against the ever-increasing corporatization of rock music, but comes out as incomprehensible pop glop. There’s a very tiny trace of the rebellion that once made the band that Slick sang for one of the symbols of rebellion and counterculturalism in the 60s.

Of course by the time “We Built This City” was released in 1985 that band had long since mutated into pop glop and had virtually disappeared.  The Jefferson Airplane was one of the leading bands of psychedelic rock–the aforementioned symbol of rebellion and counterculturalism.  They were also one of the few commercially successful psychedelic bands, so I guess pop glop was always in their veins.  In the 70s, they made their first major transition into the Jefferson Starship and became even more poppy and gloppy.  Marty Balin and Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen escaped, but Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas (Balin’s replacement on vocals) hung around. “Jefferson” was dropped, and the band just became Starship in the 1980s.  And the rest is pop glop history.

Really, most of Starship’s output is gloriously awful.  (Have you ever heard the song they did for the 80s “classic” Mannequin?  Well, you’re in for a pop treat that so sugary and gloppy, it might as well be the filling inside a pecan pie.  Not even the utterly adorable Andrew McCarthy at the height of his adorableness could save that movie.)  None of their music has aged especially well.  Which is too bad, I guess.  It really is quite catchy.

“Come On Eileen”

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Posted for two reasons:

1) I was a teenager in the 80s, and therefore I love this song.  (It also happens to be BFF’s name.)

2) I’m thinking about getting a pair of overalls again.  They’re really quite comfy.

And here’s a link to the lyrics for those of you (like me) who still have a little trouble understanding them.

“Physical”

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You wouldn’t really think of Olivia Newton-John as any kind of revolutionary.  In the 70s and early 80s, her image was pretty much as squeaky clean as it got.  Even when she got all tarted up at the end of Grease in pants so tight she had to be sewn into them, the change was so Sandra Dee could win over her man, presumably so they could go off into happily married bliss.  It was all pretty conventional and, frankly, wholesome.

So when the album Physical and its title single were released in 1981, it was something of a shock.  Here was the sweetest Pop singer in the world singing about (gasp) sex!  Sex outside of marriage!  With a guy the character in the song couldn’t have been dating all that long!  “Physical” was about a woman with a libido, with wants and desires that she wasn’t afraid to articulate.  A woman with agency.

Sure, by 1981 women had been “liberated” by the second wave of feminism.  There was all sorts of lip service paid to women’s power economically and socially, but they were still expected to be demure, deferential, and polite.  The Reagan 80s were beginning, and while we would soon see the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, a woman’s primary function was still to fit into whatever role a man wanted her in.  For Newton-John to be singing about a woman wanting to get it on was pretty heady stuff for a lot of people.  She confidently declared that “There’s nothing left to talk about, unless it’s horizontally.”  The suggestive lyrics got the song banned in some markets, although today they would be considered kind of quaint.

What’s more, the video took a pretty radical approach to sex and sexualized images.  Livvy was prancing around in her Jane Fonda-esque exercise togs, glowing with perspiration and leering at the camera.  But the objects of lust were the bodybuilder physiques of the men in speedos.  It was all about the beefcake in this video.  But “Physical” upped the ante by making the “joke” of the video the fact that none of the boys were terribly interested in getting physical with the very good-looking woman.  Although it was played for laughs, seeing men holding hands with and embracing other men in any sort of positive, affectionate way was almost unheard of in mainstream popular culture at that point (and it got the video banned, too).  What appears to be a cheesy video for a cheesy song turns into an artistic shot across several discriminatory bows.

All of this pretty much passed right over my twelve-year-old head.  I just liked the song.  I remember liking the whole album.  It didn’t dawn on me until I saw this video again a couple weeks ago just how radical this stuff must have seemed.  But I think exposing myself to these songs and images helped shape the way I see the world today.  Women have control of their own lives, including how they express their sexuality.  And sexuality is about more than who you have sex with.  It’s about how you are perceived and treated by the world.  In a perfect world, none of this ever would have been controversial.

“I Can’t Hold Back”

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Bad 80s music video alert!!!!!  Avert your eyes if you are sensitive to big hair, leather pants, and high heels with blue jeans.

This video is seriously cheesetastic!  I love how she seems to become possessed by a vision of transforming herself into the seductive vixen that snags the hot lead singer.  I also love how even the other women in the video are totally checking her out.  (These days, that would get the band scolded by some anti-gay rights group for “indoctrinating” young people into a “sinful” lifestyle.)  Those of you who are fans of the Rocky franchise will remember Survivor as the blue collar-ish band behind the monster hit “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III (they also recorded “Burning Heart” for Rocky IV).  After original lead singer Dave Bickler had to leave the group, pretty boy Jimi Jamison took over the vocal duties, and Survivor was transformed into an arena-style ballad band.  1984’s Vital Signs spawned several Top Forty singles, including this song.

I’ll be honest: I totally love this song.  It’s not my favorite on the album (that would be “High on You”, but the video isn’t quite as awesomely bad).  There’s nothing to it, of course.  It’s about as substantive as marshmallow fluff, and almost as emotionally deep (if you’d had the fudge you can make with this stuff, you’d probably have the deep, abiding love I have for it, too).  Is it bombastic? Sure.  Is it clichéd and goofy?  You betcha.  But it’s got a massive hook that seemed to be made of whatever it was that attracted 80s teenage girls like flies to a dumpster–probably some mutant combination of Aqua Net, Love’s Baby Soft, and hormones.  It certainly hooked me.  I just never outgrew it.  It hasn’t aged especially well, but it retains a certain charm.  I revel in the tacky lyrics and heavy synths.  It feeds that spot in my soul that still likes the scent of Love’s Baby Soft and eats fudge while watching Lifetime movies and crying over the romantic endings.

Okay, only some of that is true.  I hate Lifetime movies.

Steve Perry: Two for the price of one

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No, this doesn’t refer to any part of Mr. Perry’s anatomy (although it’s pretty obvious in one of these clips that he dresses left).  I was looking for a Steve Perry clip to include in today’s post, and came across full length versions of some of his videos.  Back in 1984, videos were still a pretty new art form without a lot of set rules, but they had developed to the point of telling stories.  Generally those stories ran the length of one song.  Steve Perry (and his video director and record company and whoever else had something to say about it) pushed the envelope a little bit by creating a story that ran across two different videos (oooh, how renegade).  It would’ve been a lot more fun if “Strung Out” had been released as a single before “Oh, Sherrie” but that can be blamed on the record company, I’m sure.

I had a friend in high school who was kind of obsessed with Journey in general and Steve Perry in particular.  He wanted to be Steve Perry (which wasn’t a bad goal in 1984).  Now I liked Journey okay, and I thought Perry’s first solo album Street Talk was pretty damn good (still do; I have five tracks from it on the computer).  He really did have a fine set of pipes.  It was just middle of the road rock-pop, but he sold it like it was the finale of the greatest Broadway musical ever.  That kind of belief in the music can’t be taught or bought.  Perry is one of the all-time classic voices of classic rock.  But, judging by his hammy performances in these videos, it’s a good thing he wasn’t an actor.

I’m posting them in the order they should be viewed in, not in order of actual release.  It just makes more sense that way.

The Hooters

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No, not those hooters.  This isn’t some kind of nature blog.

We could sing “Boys Will Be Boys” if you want

No, not those hooters, either! (My god, are those poor women wearing pantyhose!?!)

I mean the Philadelphia-based pop-rock band, The Hooters.  You might remember them.  They had a couple of hits in the mid-80s, and then pretty much dropped off the radar.  Which was too bad, because after that pretty darn successful first album (which led to gigs like opening the Philadelphia stage at Live Aid), they continued to put out good music on three more discs.  (They broke up for a while, then got back together this century, but I haven’t been too keen on anything they’ve done since.)

Thing is, The Hooters really have been unfairly forgotten.  The two lead singers and songwriters for the band, Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian, co-wrote “Time After Time” with Cyndi Lauper.  They played both Live Aid and the 1986 Conspiracy of Hope concert in New York.  In the 90s, they appeared in Roger Waters’ revival of The Wall in Germany.  Eric Bazilian wrote Joan Osborne’s hit “One of Us” (and produced and arranged her album Relish).  They were popular in Europe for a lot longer than in the U.S. (which tells me that Europeans are much smarter than Americans).  They were, in short, a hit.

Maybe it was the name, which was a nickname for the melodica (we’ve had one in the house for as long as I can remember, in spite of the fact that no one in the family ever played it).  There are a lot of songs I really love by them, but my favorite is also probably the biggest hit they had.  It’s at least the only one that ever still gets played anywhere.

If possible, I stop whatever I’m doing whenever this comes on somewhere and sing at the top of my lungs.  It’s just such a fun song.  Fun to sing, fun to dance to.  The video’s fun, too.  It makes me nostalgic for drive-ins, although nothing that cool ever happened at my local drive-in.  (The coolest thing I can say about the drive-in I grew up with is that my mom worked at the concession stand for a while when my dad was out of work.  I remember him carrying me when we went to visit her once.)

Look up The Hooters on itunes, or whatever perfectly legal download site you purchase music from.  Or better, root around in the used bins at your local music store.  I’ll bet they have a copy of Satellite or Zig Zag floating around there.  Give them a listen.  You might be surprised at how good they still sound.

 

“Photograph”

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After the influence of my family, much of my musical taste was shaped by MTV and music videos.  The next biggest influence is reviews and “best of” lists in Rolling Stone.  But since I spent so much of my adolescence glued to MTV, it makes sense that some of it stuck.  In fact, I hold MTV solely responsible for my affection for Hair Metal bands.  You know who they are: a bunch of pretty boys wearing WAY too much Aquanet, playing pop music disguised as hard rock by a lot of mediocre guitar solos and pyrotechnics.  There’s plenty of impassioned yelling, spandex and eyeliner.  Def Leppard were kind of the prototype.

Okay, Glam rockers like Mott the Hoople and Gary Glitter were the prototype, but Def Leppard were the first real Hair Metal band I really knew anything about. And I kind of hated them at first.  “Rock of Ages” was a pretty big hit, but it did not appeal.  They were still more “metal” than “hair,” and I had not yet developed any feel for the really hard stuff.  I think I was still listening to AM radio at this point.  As one of the first Hair Metal bands, Def Leppard also had some talent; they could play their instruments pretty well and the songs didn’t entirely suck.  They also got a huge stroke of luck when they got Mutt Lange to produce their albums; he presided over the three most successful albums of their career, including the massively successful Hysteria.  They got better at writing songs, including less working class metal sensibility and more Top Forty style hooks.  This is how a song like “Photograph” was born.

“Photograph” is about teenage daydreams and celebrity crushes.  It’s fluff, but it has just enough emotional substance to keep it from floating away.  The lyrics are some of the most coherent of their entire repertoire.  (I remember reading once that they didn’t really care about their lyrics, they just threw words that sounded good together; that broke my little bookworm heart just a bit.)  The guitar riff that opens the song is really good, too.  Nothing flashy, which is something that good bands get and bad bands don’t (style always loses to substance in the end).  The video adds a nice bit of slightly confusing menace by making iconographic references to Marilyn Monroe and Jack the Ripper (they are English, after all).  Watching the video again is sort of fascinating, although I’m not sure if it’s a train wreck or a time capsule.

I’m struck by quite a few things here.  Mostly by how young they all look, but also by the fact that guitarist Steve Clark is alive and drummer Rick Allen has two arms (he’s still the best one-armed drummer in the biz).  Oh, and singer Joe Elliott is wearing leg warmers.  God, the 80s were weird.