March 2011

Will to Power – “Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley” – (1988)

For all rational purposes, Will to Power was a one-hit wonder. But they did manage quite a feat: only getting one cover song to #1, but two – and on the same track at that! “Baby I Love Your Way” was originally a hit for Peter Frampton in 1976 and “Free Bird” a 1975 hit for Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Freebaby,” as this song is sometimes called, makes more use of Frampton’s hit than Skynyrd’s – but they’re both there. “Baby I Love Your Way” would hit #6 a few years after this song was released –again a cover version but this time by reggae band Big Mountain.

Madonna – “Like a Virgin” – (1984)

This is one of Madonna’s signature songs and it’s sometimes considered the song that cemented her as a pop icon. It was a #1 in the U.S. (and a handful of other countries) – it was the first single off of her second album (which shared the name of the song). How often does the first single of your second album cement you as a legend? Not very. Madonna’s voice on this track is higher than it is on some of her other songs which almost makes her sound kind of Cyndi Lauper-ish. This song was parodied quite wonderfully by Weird Al Yankovic as “Like a Surgeon.”

Marvin Gaye – “Sexual Healing” – (1982)

Marvin Gaye released more awesome songs during the 1960s than just about anyone I can think of (the Supremes, maybe?). In 1982 he released Midnight Love – his first non-Motown album. And it contained “Sexual Healing” which was a top 5 hit in the U.S. and a #1 elsewhere. It was his first hit in 5 years and remains one of his most popular songs. It would also be his final hit as he was murdered by his own father in 1984, a day before his 45th birthday. Marvin Gaye had one of the smoothest voices in recording history and it’s kind of fitting that his final hit and legacy stem from one of the smoothest songs in recording history.

Prince & the Revolution – “Purple Rain” – (1984)

Prince was at his best on this album (which was the soundtrack to Prince’s movie Purple Rain). The movie was kind of his 8 Mile. The vocals are really being belted out over the power ballad guitar. Musically and vocally, this is Prince’s most interesting song. It’s become one of Prince’s signature songs and whenever I hear it I think of Prince on a motorcycle of Prince sitting very strangely in a bathtub. I don’t know why.

The Psychedelic Furs – “Love My Way” – (1982)

“Love My Way” is one of the best examples of popular new wave and for whatever reason I strongly associate it song with the Thompson Twin’s “Hold Me Now.” The percussion here really makes the song stand out (well that and the synthesizer – but that’s a given for just about every 80s pop tune). This song was featured in the movie The Wedding Singer but The Psychedelic Furs might be more famous for their song “Pretty in Pink” which inspired the movie of the same name.

The Time – “Jungle Love” – (1984)

This is one of the best pop-funk hits of all time. The Time was one of many 80s acts associated with Prince and he receives songwriting credit on this track. This song is sometimes credited to “Morris Day & the Time” – Morris Day being the group’s lead singer. This song should not, however, be confused with the Steve Miller Band song of the same name. This song is known for its “oh-e-oh-e-oh” chorus and it is the only redeeming feature of the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back – where the entire band and cast perform the song during the credits.

When in Rome – “The Promise” – (1988)

When in Rome – who are from Manchester, England – is a one-hit wonder of the new wave variety (there were so many of them). This song features an up-tempo synth line underneath soft-spoken vocals that, at the chorus, increase in pitch and musical effectiveness. That was a weird, wordy sentence but that’s kind of the definitive new wave/synthpop formula. “The Promise” is also famous for being featured at the end of Napoleon Dynamite.

Janet Jackson – “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” – (1989)

Rhythm Nation produced hit after hit for Janet at the end of the decade – this was the last from the album. The album was released in September of 1989 but this song didn’t hit #1 until January of 1991. Originally, this was supposed to be a duet – but thankfully those plans fell through because it makes for a better upbeat pop song than it would any kind of ballad or duet.

Tom Tom Club – “Genius of Love” – (1984)

Tom Tom Club was a side project of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz – husband and wife and both members of the Talking Heads. This song has a very Talking Heads feel but a little more pop-y. This song is probably more famous for being sampled more times than I can count. It’s one of the most heavily sampled tracks from the 80s, appearing, perhaps most famously, in Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.” The band performed the song recently on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (not sure how long that YouTube link will work). Needless to say, they still rock.

Wham! – “Everything She Wants” – (1984)

This was the third #1 from Make it Big and it’s not as good as “Careless Whisper” but it’s still pretty good. Apparently this is George Michael’s favorite Wham! song and he still performs it at his solo shows. The best part of this song is the high-pitched “All to give you money – all to give you money” followed by some kind of squeal or something. If Wham! could have continued to produce songs like this they would still be huge.

Phil Collins – “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” – (1984)

This was the theme from the film Against All Odds – and I think it’s safe to say that the soundtrack outshines the film. When was the last time that a movie theme song became a huge radio hit? It doesn’t happen anymore. It’s one of Phil Collins’ biggest hits (#1 in the U.S. and Canada) and has been covered a few times (by Mariah Carey – twice).

Kenny Loggins – “Footloose” – (1984)

If you don’t love this song you should probably see a doctor. Kenny Loggins had a real knack for recording catchy film songs in the 80s – this was a #1. It’s basically just him encouraging you to “cut footloose.” Whenever I hear it I picture Kevin Bacon doing something like this. This song has since popped up everywhere and was the inspiration for “Brett’s Angry Dance” on Flight of the Conchords.

Thompson Twins – “Hold Me Now” – (1984)

The Thompson Twins weren’t quite a one-hit wonder – but this song was much bigger than their others. This is one of those great new wave grooves that the 80s pumped out seemingly endlessly and an iPod Must Have for any true fan of 80s music. And I feel that I have to respect, for whatever reason, any song that manages to successfully incorporate a xylophone. It hit #3 in the U.S. and #4 in the U.K.