May 2011

John Cougar Mellencamp – “Cherry Bomb” – (1987)

The Lonesome Jubilee was Mellencamp’s fifth album in the 1980s. “Cherry Bomb” is very similar to “Jack and Diane” in that it’s a nostalgic song about past relationships. But unlike songs like “Pink Houses” this one is upbeat, generally, and happy. I just realized that almost every John Mellencamp song is fundamentally the same: a longing look back at some slice of Americana.

Huey Lewis & the News – “If This Is It” – (1983)

Interesting trivia: this song was Huey Lewis’ third consecutive #6 hit on the Hot 100 – like the chart was playing some cruel joke on the band that they couldn’t break into the top 5. This is a solid pop rock song – it’s not a ballad by any means but it doesn’t have that punch that its Sports album-siblings like “The Heart of Rock and Roll” and “I Want a New Drug” have.

Prince & the Revolution – “Raspberry Beret” – (1985)

Yeah, this is a hard one to find on YouTube because Prince is notoriously finicky when it comes to his music. The version I linked to sounds very Chipmunk-ish. “Raspberry Beret” was the biggest single from 1985’s Around the World in a Day, and it’s the only one that still gets any significant airplay. I’d like to think that this song made berets really popular but I have no evidence to support this. Although, anyone who wears a raspberry beret must feel quite special.

Information Society – “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” – (1988)

Every time I hear this wonderful new wave hit, my immediate thought is “Hey, that’s Duran Duran.” It isn’t. The Duran Duran song I’m thinking of is “Is There Something I Should Know,” which I guess has a similar chorus or maybe it’s the yelling at the beginning of both songs. No, it’s that they both say “I wanna know, what you’re thinking.” No, that’s totally incorrect. Wow, I really cannot tell these two songs apart for anything. This one is better, I do know that.

Tom Petty – “Free Fallin’” – (1989)

“Free Fallin'” might just be Tom Petty’s most widely-known song and it came from Full Moon Fever – Petty’s first “solo” album without his longtime backing band The Heartbreakers. It was written by Petty and Jeff Lynne – both of whom were in The Traveling Wilburys at that point in time.

Janet Jackson – “Nasty” – (1986)

This song has one of the catchiest synth-hooks I’ve ever heard. It’s from Janet’s 3rd studio album, 1986’s Control and if there’s a song from that album you need to hear this is it. “Nasty” has become one of Janet’s signature songs and it consistently ranks on lists of the greatest pop songs from the 80s or any era.

Baltimora – “Tarzan Boy” – (1985)

Baltimora was a synthpop group from Italy and this was their international hit. It’s kind of a strange song – known mainly for the “oh-oh-oh-oh” sang in Tarzan-style. The song charted in the U.S. – and stayed on the Hot 100 for over six months, hitting a high of 13. It charted better in a handful of European countries, staying at #1 in France for over a month. The song sounds like something that would have been sampled endlessly but it really hasn’t. Maybe I’ll go write a hip-hop track that uses this.

Whitney Houston – “One Moment in Time” – (1988)

The 1988 Summer Olympics were held in Seoul, South Korea and this was the theme song. It was co-written by Albert Hammond (of rainy, southern California fame) and won an Emmy – but I don’t know why. This, like all Olympic themes, is inspirational in nature. But unlike most Olympic themes this was a big radio hit – hitting #1 in the U.K. and becoming Whitney’s 7th #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts – a chart she ruled through the 80s and the first half of the 90s and would still probably rule if it wasn’t for… well, certain things.

Billy Joel – “Tell Her About It” – (1983)

So is this album cover where Jerry Seinfeld picked out his haircut? From where I’m sitting (and the image is kind of small) Mr. Joel looks quite Seinfeld-ish. Billy Joel actually had quite interesting music videos… kind of elaborate-like. Rodney Dangerfield is in this one (another great comedian). This song was a #1 and it was Billy’s homage to Motown (but this is not his only Motown-influenced song). I think Billy Joel could still write songs like this – catchy pop tunes – if he wanted to. He needs to. Do it, Billy!

The Whispers – “And the Beat Goes On” – (1980)

This is the song Will Smith sampled for “Miami” but it’s good enough on its own – it didn’t need any Fresh(Prince)ening . The Whispers were highly underrated as an R&B group… The Commodores got all the attention (and airplay… on the pop stations at least). This is a great post-disco soul dance track. It’s just plain funky.

The J. Geils Band – “Freeze-Frame” – (1981)

Freeze-Frame was the biggest commercial success for The J. Geils Band, the title track being the second biggest single from it. The band was formed in 1967 but didn’t really make it big in the mainstream until this album: success is elusive, I guess, would be the moral there. “Freeze-Frame” hit #4 in the U.S. and continues to receive airplay on a fairly consistent basis. And it should, because this is what catchy pop-rock is all about.

Madonna – “Holiday” – (1983)

This was the song that launched a career. It was Madonna’s first hit. It’s an up-beat dance track that made use of the electronic musical gadgetry available in the early 1980s – stuff that the developing hip-hop scene was using to launch their genre. Fun fact: Madonna is credited with playing an instrument on this track: the cowbell.

The Bangles – “Walk like an Egyptian” – (1986)

This is the best thing The Bangles ever did. The drum machine gives this song a great tempo (even though it cut out the band’s drummer, Vicki Peterson – who was also asked not to do the lead vocals… ouch). This is one of the great pop songs of all time and a #1 all over the world. Kind of pathetically, Clear Channel declared this song “inappropriate” to play after the 9/11 attacks. The Clear Channel list stands, to me at least, as one of the biggest over-reactions of all time. It’s full of seemingly random songs that talk about things that most sane people consider “good” – like Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Uh-oh, I’m beginning to rant and need to cut this off.