USA for Africa – “We are the World” – (1985)

Charity singles. The U.K. goes crazy for them and has them all the time. It doesn’t work so well here in the U.S. Perhaps it’s because this track. I’m not sure. It’s definitely cheesy and a part of 1980s culture. This was a group of singers who came together to perform a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and sell it to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. The whole thing was inspired by Band Aid (from the U.K.). It ended up raising $100 million and selling over 20 million copies (impressive). Annoyingly, USA for Africa stands for “United Support of Artists for Africa” and that’s because a few of the artists weren’t American. Here’s everyone other than Jackson and Richie who were involved: Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham, Kim Carnes, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Sheila E., Bob Geldof (who was responsible for Band Aid), both Hall and Oates, James Ingram, Jackie Jackson, La Toya Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Randy Jackson (the one from the Jackson 5… not the one from American Idol), Tito Jackson, Al Jarreau, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis and the News (the whole band), Kenny Loggins, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Jeffrey Osborne, Steve Perry, all three Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder. Yeah, pretty impressive. Look at how many of those people are respectable and/or legendary (many of them) and think about how that would play out today. Do we really need Bieber and Kesha and company coming together for charity? That’s the exact reason charity singles don’t work in the U.S. anymore. The current crop of North American are trash. Also: not how hilariously out of place Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan sound here.

Bruce Springsteen – “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” – (1985)

This awesome live version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” was released by The Boss in 1985. It’s one of my favorite tunes by him. The song was originally written in 1934 by John Frederick Coots & Haven Gillespie and first performed on Eddie Cantor’s radio show. It was an overnight success and has been recorded by everyone under the sun ever since. This is the best version – with that blaring sax and Bruce’s raspy lyrics. All the best Christmas songs have saxophone solos, it seems. This is good stuff.

Bruce Springsteen – “Born in the U.S.A.” – (1984)

While I’m not a big Springsteen nut, I recognize this song as a classic. It is the definitive Springsteen song and like some of the popular seemingly-patriotic anthems of John Mellencamp – this is not a positive song. That is, although it keeps repeating the phrase “born in the U.S.A.” – it actually deals with the Vietnam War and the crap Vietnam veterans had to deal with when they came home. For that reason alone, this song is great. But when you add in the rockin’ E Street Band and Bruce’s raspy vocals it becomes something larger. This was an anthem for a generation in the 1980s. Politicians loved to use it until they realized what its lyrics were actually about. The album of the same name remains Springsteen’s largest contribution to popular music and is revered by fans. Rightfully so.

#14 – Bruce Springsteen – “Merry Christmas Baby” – (1989)

A Very Special Christmas was an album put together to benefit the Special Olympics. The Boss’s “Merry Christmas Baby” is tops on the album (barely) – mostly because of the raging saxophone and the belted lyrics. There is a short instrumental intro and then Bruce does a little talking building to it, then at about the 1:07 mark he lets loose the title of the song – which is one of the most rewarding moments in song. Bruce also did quite a famous version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and don’t forget to check out B.B. King’s bluesy version of “Merry Christmas Baby.” A Very Special Christmas had a string of other hits as well. There was the Eurythmics somewhat irritating version of “Winter Wonderland” and Bob Seger’s okay version of “The Little Drummer Boy.” But I think the real gem of the album is John Mellencamp’s rockin’ version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which even if it had different lyrics, it would still be an awesome song. The music just rocks.