August 2012

Madonna – “This Used to be My Playground” – (1992)

I do not like this song. It is sappy and sounds like a lot of the crap that came out in the 80s that was supposed to sound sappy. The lyrical delivery sounds… bored. This was the theme from the movie A League of Their Own – in which Madonna starred. Somehow, it hit #1 in the U.S. for a week – it must have been a lousy week. If you’re into #1 hits like I am, then you’re familiar with it… sorry, I’m falling asleep listening to it as I write this.

Go West – “King of Wishful Thinking” – (1990)

This is a great tune, originally used in the 1990 film Pretty Woman – and also featured on its soundtrack. It was released on Go West’s 1992 album Indian Summer as well. There is a very 90s dance beat backing the vocals – there is even a brass section that gives it a hint of tropical-ness (or it does to me, anyway). It was a top ten in the U.S. and Australia and it’s a song I’ve always liked since the first time I heard it. Definitely worth a listen if you don’t know it.

Bryan Adams – “Please Forgive Me” – (1993)

So Far So Good was Bryan Adams’ 1993 Greatest Hits album and this was a brand new track that was tacked on to the end of it. The album also contained many other Bryan Adams songs that were popular in the 1980s – the decade I most associate with Bryan Adams. Fun fact: this was Bryan Adams only #1 hit in Australia that was not written for a motion picture. Which begs the question: how many movie theme songs has this guy done? A lot apparently, and there’s at least one more to come on this list.

Richard Marx – “Now and Forever” – (1994)

What? A song from 1994 being confused for something from the 1980s? What the hell is wrong with me? Oh, maybe it’s because Richard Marx never changed his sound. This is just an acoustic soft rock song written by Marx that reached the top 25 on the Hot 100. This was also Marx’s final solo single that really made waves on the, uh, airwaves.

Gloria Estefan – “Coming Out of the Dark” – (1991)

This was Gloria Estefan’s third #1 single in the U.S. There is a Spanish and an English version of this song and while trying to find it on YouTube, I clicked on the official video and skipped through it to try and determine which version it was. It took quite a while because I could barely tell a difference. Estefan’s 1989 album Cuts Both Ways was fairly big in terms of hit singles and everything she did with Miami Sound Machine was in the 1980s. This song picked up right where those left off.

Genesis – “Hold on My Heart” – (1991)

Maybe it’s just me, but Genesis is an “80s band,” even though they were formed in the late 1960s. All of their big hits came from the 1980s – yet this album is from 1991, although it sounds just like everything they did in the 80s. This is your run-of-the-mill soft rock song, but Phil Collins, as is his custom, pushes it over the top from sappy to good.

Jon Secada – “Just Another Day” – (1992)

I’ll admit it: there are some weeks where every song we feature isn’t necessarily awesome. It’s old and you may have forgotten about it – but there might be a reason you’ve forgotten about it. But let’s be honest, the three songs featured this week are pretty kickass. A Sting classic on Monday. The best, upbeat Michael Bolton song in existence. And now this. Jon Secada is a Cuban born performer and this album was his English-language debut. And this song was a top five hit in the U.S. and the biggest of his career stateside. It has a definite Latin feel with an almost dance beat. And the lyrics are masterfully delivered. This song was actually the genesis for this list. For whatever reason, I’ve always assumed this came out in the mid-1980s. It reminds me of a mix of Benny Mardones and Gloria Estefan. Which is weird, I know. Listening to it right now, it’s so obviously from the early 90s. Those first post-Miami Sound Machine Estefan years that put south Florida in the Latin music spotlight (where it would return about nine years later). I also always assumed it was featured in an episode of Miami Vice (it wasn’t). It’s a fantastic song and one of my absolute favorites from the early 90s.

Michael Bolton – “Love is a Wonderful Thing” – (1991)

I love the “wahooo” scream at the beginning of this song. It makes me think that Michael Bolton really does think that love is a wonderful thing. This is easily his best song – and I’m willing to look past his ridiculous hair in the music video (and for most of his career). Unfortunately, a variety of courts in the U.S. ruled that this song was too similar to an obscure Isley Brothers song of the same name. Fortunately, all of the royalty money he is paying to the Isley Brothers over his best hit has been made up by a weird new fame brought on by his appearance in a Digital Short on Saturday Night Live. Hopefully all of the kids that love that video will discover this awesome song. Oh, and want to know why this would’ve been just as popular in the 80s? Two words: sax solo.

Sting – “Fields of Gold” – (1993)

This song would’ve been popular in the 80s – but it has one very 90s thing going for it. And that is the almost Enigma-like use of the Northumbrian smallpipes. That’s right, name another song using that instrument. Don’t forget Sting’s vocal touch: lyrics that are soft and well-delivered and decipherable followed immediately by some word you cannot understand. Ten Summoner’s Tales, for my money, was Sting’s last great album (the lead single from Brand New Day) notwithstanding. And this is about as good as solo Sting comes (again, “Desert Rose” notwithstanding).

Mr. Big – “To Be With You” – (1991)

People love this song. My liking it very much depends on my mood. Sometimes I loathe it, but as I listen to it right now, it doesn’t seem so bad – maybe because I haven’t heard it in quite a while (yes, I’ve been avoiding it, but sometimes that helps you get back to be able to hear it with fresh ears). This is the song Mr. Big is known for – they were a hard rock band and their most famous song is acoustic. But it was a big hit, reaching #1 in the U.S., Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Austria and Australia. It’s the hair-band-ness of this song that makes me think it would’ve been big in the 80s – and it would have. Perhaps, most interesting (to me anyway) is the cover art of the album Lean into It. It is a photograph of the 1895 derailment of the Granville-Paris Express that overran the buffer stop and out the side of Gare Montparnasse in Paris, falling a story to street level. There was one fatality (a woman on the street killed by falling pieces of the two-foot thick wall that the train careened through). Unfortunately, Montparnasse does not look as interesting as it does in that picture. Aaand… end tangent.

Depeche Mode – “Enjoy the Silence” – (1990)

We already featured “Policy of Truth” during our Top Rock Songs of the 90s countdown, but it would have just as well fit here. “Enjoy the Silence” was the single released right before “Policy of Truth” and it also has a very 1980s feel. Synthpop was huge during the 80s, and this is a pretty good example of it, yet it was released in 1990. This is one of their best songs and its chart performance reflected it, hitting the top five or top ten in most countries where it was released. The chorus: “All I ever wanted, all I ever needed – is here in my arms. Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm.”

Wilson Phillips – “Hold On” – (1990)

Wilson Phillips is group made up of children of 1960s musicians: Carnie and Wendy Wilson (daughters of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys) and Chynna Phillips (daughter of John & Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas). This was their debut album and it was a big deal in 1990. But it would’ve fared just as well a few years before this as well – and that’s what we’ll be dealing with for the next few weeks: songs from the 1990s that would’ve been just as big in the 1980s. This was a #1 hit in the U.S. and was recently featured in the movie Bridesmaids – which caused it to re-enter the U.K. charts. It’s famous for the quickly-delivered lyric: “Some day somebody’s gonna make you turn around and say goodbye.”

The B-52’s – “Rock Lobster” – (1979)

I will admit that this is one weird tune. Then again, that’s part of the charm of the B-52’s. This was the band’s first single and it was actually released in 1978. Their debut album came out in ’79. The lyrics are weird. The music is a little odd. But it’s catchy and memorable. It hit #1 in Canada and broke on to the Hot 100 in the U.S. Strangely, when John Lennon heard this song in 1980, it made him decided to go record again (he hadn’t released an album since 1975). I think this song would’ve have been just as big a hit in the mid-1980s – and this is what we’ll start talking about next week: songs from the 1990s that would’ve been just as big of hits in the 1980s as they were in the 1990s. Stay tuned.

Gary Numan – “Cars” – (1979)

Gary Numan, who is not German, despite what the image at left would make you think… okay, maybe that’s not fair. But there’s something oddly German about a guy with well-combed hair in a suit and eyeliner who is sitting in a bleak area staring at a triangle. Then there’s the music video – maybe it’s just 80s electronic music that screams “German.” Anyway… Gary Numan, from the U.K., had this big hit in 1979/80. It may sound dated now, but when it comes to synthpop and New Wave, there are few better examples. This song goes hand in hand with “Pop Muzik” in my mind for whatever reason. Agree?