July 2012

Rupert Holmes – “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” – (1979)

This is the song Rupert Holmes is known for and will be remembered for. It came out at a time when soft rock was really big – 1979. This was the final #1 hit of the 1970s. It would re-ascend to the top spot in 1980, becoming the second #1 hit of the 1980s, thus it was a big hit in both decades, although it’s associated more with the 80s, as it received far more airplay in that decade. Holmes complains that this song ruined his career as a songwriter. He would later go on to become a playwright. “If you like piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain…” If you ever meet him, offer to buy him a piña colada – I’m sure he loves that (even though he doesn’t actually care for the drink).

Robert Palmer – “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” – (1979)

Robert Palmer was an interesting act in the 1980s. He was a solo mainstream rock artist in an era of new wave and synth pop and hair bands. I know there were others doing similar things, but whenever I try to think of “artists like Robert Palmer” I fail miserably. This was the song that really ushered him into the mainstream and set up his later, larger, successes in the mid and late 1980s. Everyone knows the song from its signature lyric (which is just the song title reversed): “Doctor, doctor give me the news I got a bad case of loving you.” And all of his popular singles have a similar sound, which is why (unless you explicitly remember their release dates) it’s hard to remember which came when.

M – “Pop Muzik” – (1979)

This synth-heavy tune was released in 1979 and it screams “1980s.” The song is a mixture of synth-pop and new wave and was one of the first songs to successfully combine the two into a massive hit. The formula would be repeated ad infinitum throughout the 1980s – but this song really set the tone for the decade to come. And the lyrics are bizarre, but everyone knows the famous: “New York, London, Paris, Munich – everybody talk about pop muzik!”

John Cougar – “I Need A Lover” – (1979)

This was John Mellencamp – er, John Cougar’s first big single and it was released off the album that shares its title with the song in 1979. It peaked at #28 on the Hot 100 in 1979 but continued to receive airplay throughout the 80s and still to this day. It is associated with the 80s to me because I associate John Mellencamp with the 80s. What’s interesting about this song is the instrumental intro that runs for about two and a half minutes. If you’ve ever heard radio DJs talk over the usually short intros of songs and stop talking just as the lyrics begin (this is called “hitting the post”). Well, this song is their worst nightmare. Try to fill 150 seconds – exactly – with random gibberish. It’s not easy.

The Proclaimers – “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” – (1988)

“When I wake up, yeah I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who wakes up next to you… And I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more just to be the man who walked 1,000 miles to fall down at your door.” The Proclaimers, of Scotland – with their thick, Scottish accents – released this song on their album Sunshine on Leith in 1988. It was a big hit in the U.K. and Australia immediately upon its release. It hit #3 in the U.S. in 1993, which is why I associate it with the 1990s. So this is a legitimate instance of decade confusion, and a good way to wrap up our initial discussion. Next up, we’ll focus on songs from the 1970s that I associate more so with the 1980s.

UB40 – “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” – (1989)

This awesome reggae cover of Al Green’s 1973 classic was released of off UB40’s 1989 album Labour of Love II. It was a top ten hit in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands in 1990. UB40 is the world’s most successful reggae artist/band (by album sales). Many of their hits were from the 1980s and this was the first single from their last album from the 1980s, thus its association with the 80s in my mind. P.S., I saw UB40 live two years ago and they were fantastic. They will also be a staple on our mainstream/reggae-pop list which we will be counting down at a date that is still TBD.

Chris Isaak – “Wicked Game” – (1989)

This song is known mainly for two things: Chris Isaak’s surreal vocals and the black and white music video where Isaak is running around the beach with topless model Helena Christensen. It was released as a single in 1989 but it didn’t become a hit until 1990 when it was featured in the movie Wild at Heart. After its appearance in the movie, it hit #6 on the Hot 100 – the only major hit of Chris Isaak’s career. It’s weird, because this is an adult contemporary/pop song but Chris Isaak is an awesome rockabilly artist and performer.

Can you guess the music video this still image is taken from? Leave your guess/answer in the comment section below!

Tracy Chapman – “Fast Car” – (1988)

Tracy Chapman had a major hit in the mid-1990s with “Give Me One Reason.” I’m having a hard time remembering if, when “Give Me One Reason” came out, if anyone remembered that she had a hit in the late 1980s with this song, which became a hit after she performed it live at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute concert in London. After that it hit the top ten in a number of countries, including the U.K. and the U.S. This was the highest charting song written and performed by a female artist on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. And what’s with the decade confusion? Well, when I think Tracy Chapman, I think “Give Me One Reason” and have a hard time believing she had seven years between hit singles, like that was just the follow-up single to this or something. Wrong.

Young MC – “Bust a Move” – (1989)

I think it’s fair to call Young MC a “one-hit wonder” – but what a hit it was. I’m planning a future “history of rap/hip-hop” list and this would have been a perfect fit, because it’s so classic, but I’m kind of burning it here instead as it was released in 1989 but I associate it with the 90s (I guess I should’ve just considered 1989 as part of the 90s, but then I’d be aimless for these weeks as to what I’d post). This song shows up on TV shows and in movies almost constantly and it never really gets old. Trivia: Young MC was actually born in London and this song features Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass. One of my favorite TV appearances – not of this song or Young MC – was on Scrubs where they meet “Old MC,” an old Young MC impersonator.

Alannah Myles – “Black Velvet” – (1989)

This song is wonderful. Songs about Elvis Presley (which this one is) should evoke The King – and this one does, right from the beginning: “Mississippi in the middle of a dry spell… Black Velvet with that slow, southern style.” The music is bluesy and it rocks and her voice is rough and scratchy – the perfect southern roots-rock sound. But she’s actually Canadian (but hey, so is Neil Young). There are numerous allusions to Elvis throughout the song, which was a #1 hit and a Grammy-winner for Myles who has more or less disappeared from the popular music scene since. This was released as a single at the end of 1989 but it received a ton of airplay throughout the 90s.

P.S. this song is not one that stays on YouTube for very long, so it’s likely that link won’t work. Try clicking the album cover and listening to the preview on Amazon.

Technotronic – “Pump Up the Jam” – (1989)

“Get your booty on the floor tonight, make my day.” Classic. You’re looking at (and hopefully listening to) the first house song to go mainstream. And by “house” I mean “club music.” Does it sound dated today? You bet it does, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. Break out your Jock Jams CDs and go crazy with early-to-mid-90s dance music and techno. This was released in 1989 and topped the dance chart that November. Mainstream success came in 1990, so I’m not insane associating this with the 1990s. I have a very specific memory of listening to this song (on said Jock Jams CD) in the mid-1990s when the original Sony PlayStation came out – with its crazy non-cartridge CD-based gaming! – and the only game I had was a Lara Croft: Tomb Raider demo disc. I don’t want to think of the amount of time I spent playing that dead-end game. But as far as “pumping up the jam?” Oh yeah!

New Kids on the Block – “Hangin’ Tough” – (1988)

New Kids were kind of the prototypical “Boy Band” as we know it today: a handful of white dudes with distinctive personalities/roles within the group. “Hangin’ Tough” was their semi-rap song about how hard they were – which is to say, not very. Donnie Wahlberg can be heard on lead vocals and there is even a great late-80s guitar solo. So why have I confused the decades here? Because I associated NKOTB with the 90s. I assumed the 1990s were laid out as such: Early-90s; the New Kids hit it big. Mid-90s: the New Kids break up. The Late-90s: Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre have popular solo hits and Donnie Wahlberg becomes famous for being Marky Mark’s brother. Or at least, that’s how I picture it as written in the history books.

Big Country – “In a Big Country” – (1983)

Much like the Escape Club’s “Wild, Wild West” we featured last week, I have this song thoroughly confused, chronologically speaking. Not sure why, other than it reminded me of that song, which I also thought was from the 1990s. This one isn’t even close, having been released in 1983. It’s considered New Wave, but it doesn’t sound anything like the other New Wave hits of the period. There is something else to be said of any band whose first album includes a song that is nearly identical to the name of the band. It almost guarantees that you won’t have another big hit because one and two will always be associated with each other (I’m trying to think of another example right of the top of my head and am failing). I guess all of this doesn’t matter because this song absolutely kicks ass.