January 2012

Van Halen – “Love Walks In” – (1986)

“Love Walks In” was the third single from 5150 – which was the first “Van Hagar” album where Sammy Hagar had replaced David Lee Roth as the band’s lead singer. The song reached #22 on the Hot 100 and was a top five hit on the rock charts. I think this is the best track on the album – synth-heavy… kind of a power ballad. It’s not the most hard-rock thing Van Halen has done but it’s not the most pop-y either. It’s just solid 80s.

Michael Jackson feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & Brandy – “Unbreakable” – (2001)

Invincible was Michael Jackson’s final studio album (strangely, as it came out in 2001). This was the lead track and it was never released as a single, although it’s pretty good and features a rap verse from The Notorious B.I.G. (who died in 1997). The rap verse was taken from a song by, who else, Shaquille O’Neal. Of course it was. (Brandy also contributed some background vocals). There’s nothing exceptional about this song except that its sound is very much definitive of Michael’s later work. I’m not sure how to explain this other than to dumbly say “you’ll know it when you hear it.” He makes a lot of popping sounds with his mouth, but other than that it’s just a feel thing. It’s a pretty sweet song, as were others on this album. It’s strange how they weren’t bigger. I think that has a lot to do with resistance for people to take it seriously as everyone figured he was “past his prime” which may have been true – but when you’re prime is Thriller, you have a very long way to fall before your work isn’t any good. Invincible isn’t Thriller – and doesn’t pretend to be. But it’s still good.

Michael Jackson – “Black or White” – (1991)

Another classic from the King of Pop – who went a little rock ‘n roll on this track. This was the only #1 from Dangerous and it set a few records: it made Michael the first person to have a #1 hit in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s (he missed having a #1 in the 60s by about 3 weeks). This is also one song from him that is “infamous” – namely the music video. First let’s start with the “skit.” Skits on albums are one of my pet peeves… this song starts with over a minute of some kid listening to rock music when his dad bursts in and demands it silenced. In the video (but not on the album version) the dad is George Wendt and the kid is Macaulay Culkin and was directed by John Landis (who also did “Thriller“). The infamy comes in the long form of the video (which is not part of the “official” video linked above) where Michael Jackson is on top of a car and grabs his crotch. There were also wonderful racial epithets in graffiti on the walls behind him. Kinda tame now, but I bet it would still piss some people off as it did upon its release back in 1991.

Michael Jackson – “Man in the Mirror” – (1987)

This was a #1 for Michael Jackson and it’s one of his best songs – actually it was the fourth consecutive #1 from Bad, which is a pretty incredible feat. “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make that change – I’m starting with the man in the mirror.” Basically, if you don’t know this song, there’s no helping you so I’ll just go ahead and move on to Wednesday’s post, where we continue with our unofficial “Michael Jackson Week” – featuring an 80s song today (Monday), a 90s hit on Wednesday, and a song released since 2000 on Friday. I think we might do this for a couple of applicable artists over time. We’ll see.

Ray LaMontagne – “Trouble” – (2004)

Trouble was Ray LaMontagne’s debut album and the title track from it, this, is the pick of the album. Perhaps you’ve heard this song as it’s featured on a commercial for Travelers Insurance where the little white dog is worried about where to hide his bone. LaMontagne’s raspy, soulful voice gives this folk song a very bluesy feel. His songs all feel like they’re 40 years old – in a very good way. He sounds a little like Van Morrison – but he’s not ripping them off. His stuff is all his own and it’s awesome.

Britney Spears – “Sometimes” – (1999)

This was Britney’s second single and while it was nowhere near as successful as the title track from …Baby One More Time, it almost cracked the top 20 in the U.S., peaking at #21. The music video was a TRL mainstay for the duration of its eligibility – and let’s be honest, Billboard’s inconsistent and screwy chart rules in the mid and late-90s made it so TRL was almost a more recognizable form of song popularity. The video features really lame choreography because Britney was nursing a wounded knee during its shoot. It’s basically Britney in white showing that she was “pure” – in contrast to the “Baby One More Time” video which was kind of the opposite. This song might be kind of annoying today but back in 1999 it was just another pop hit.

Johnny Hates Jazz – “Shattered Dreams” – (1988)

Whoa, how did this not make our best songs of the 80s list? It should have. This catchy synthpop tune was a top five hit in the U.S. Johnny Hates Jazz (which is a pretty 80s name for a new wave band) were from London and this is the song they’re known for (they had a few other minor hits). Oh, and if you watch the music video I’ve linked to above, check out the bass player because he looks just like Jerry Seinfeld circa 1990.

Avicii & Sebastien Drums – “My Feelings For You” – (2010)

The awesome video-game themed music video (more of a lyrics video) backs up this upbeat catchy dance song. This song is actually an updated (and infinitely better) version of a song with the same title by Cassius made back in 1999 (although it sounds much older). The “purists” that always come out of the woodwork to support abandoned artists when their songs are remade will no doubt disagree. The song was a big hit across Europe. And Avicii and Sebastien Drums are two different people. It’s not like a backup band or anything.

Matchbox Twenty – “Long Day” – (1996)

Rob Thomas is one of the premier vocalists of the 90s – and today. There, I said it. He’s awesome. His voice is unique and there’s passion behind the lyrics. I wish Matchbox Twenty was still rockin’ like they were in 1996. I just bought this album (for only $6.99 on Amazon!) and feel like I stole it. It’s full of hits and awesome songs like this. This was the first single from Yourself or Someone Like You – well, it was their first single, period – and it’s a good one, although you don’t hear it as often today as the other tracks from this album.

The Cars – “Shake It Up” – (1981)

“Shake It Up” was a top five hit for The Cars in 1981. It’s a “party song” – but I think I can qualify that by saying “by 1980s standards.” It is definitely the best song from the album, also called Shake It Up. The album was a success compared to their previous, more rock-oriented album. I’ve never considered The Cars as a major “rock” band – always more of a pop rock band. That’s obviously what they were best at.

Flo Rida feat. Wynter Gordon – “Sugar” – (2009)

Flo Rida kind of looks like a cartoon character. A little bit? I think it’s the very exact facial hair. The dude can rap though. This was a top five hit in the U.S. and it very poorly “samples” Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” – which is an awesome 90s song. I don’t like that it’s using Eiffel 65 – but this is one of the best songs on the album. Paradox. Flo Rida has actually had some pretty huge songs with very impressive beats and lyrics… but this one was kind of cheating.

Celine Dion – “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” – (1996)

This is the “Total Eclipse of the Heart” of the 1990s. Maybe it’s the curtains blowing in open windows in the music video. Maybe it’s the haunting, building ballad. Actually, yeah, it’s both. Meat Loaf wanted to record this originally (the songwriter said no), and it sounds like something he’d do. The song was actually done originally by Pandora’s Box who went on to do, well, nothing else. The song was written about Wuthering Heights, which is kinda cool. The song turned out to be pretty big, hitting #2 on the Hot 100 (and #1 in other countries). It’s probably the biggest non-Titanic related-song of Celine Dion’s career. The song is kind of eerie and honestly, as much as I like to poke fun at Celine Dion’s songs, pretty damned good. So there, take that. Oh, and Meat Loaf did finally get to record it in 2006.

AC/DC – “That’s The Way I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll” – (1988)

This was the second and final single from AC/DC’s 1988 album Blow Up Your Video. Strange fact I can’t quite believe but then again I’m reading it on Wikipedia: this is the last album that singer Brian Johnson (or anyone not named “Young”) is credited as a songwriter. Malcom & Angus Young wrote all songs on all future albums. If that’s true it’s insane. The album kind of fizzled and didn’t go anywhere and the single didn’t either for the most part but it’s solid 80s AC/DC… the sort of final sendoff to the 1980s from one of the biggest rock groups of the decade.