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?

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).

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.

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.

U2 – “Sweetest Thing” – (1987/1998)

Okay, while Wednesday’s song made me look stupid, this one hopefully restores some faith, as the decade it hails from is actually kind of confusing. Let me first by saying two things: 1. Bono totally looks like Elvis Costello in the music video and 2. This is the greatest song U2 has ever done. The song was originally released as a b-side on the “Where the Streets Have No Name” single in 1987. It was re-recorded and re-released in 1998 on the compilation album “The Best of 1980-1990.” While essentially the same, the new version is far superior. In the late 1990s, it was a top ten in the U.S. and Australia, hitting #1 in Canada and Ireland and entering the top five in the U.K. Versions of the song have appeared in various films and it was everywhere on the radio in 1998 and 1999. It is a wonderful tune.

The Escape Club – “Wild, Wild West” – (1988)

No, not that “Wild, Wild West” – which is unmistakably 90s. This song, while it definitely sounds like something from the 80s – it also has an early 90s feel. It must be that I just associate it with UB40 or Roxette and that other early 90s garbage – uh, I mean… music (I actually love UB40). There are some lyrics in this song that I absolutely love: “She’s so mean – but I don’t care. I love her eyes and her wild, wild hair.” I’ve just realized that the next line is “Heading for the 90s” – indicating that this song is definitely from the 1980s. Duh.

Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians – “What I Am” – (1988)

Okay, so we’re doing something new for the next however many weeks it takes. We will be going through songs that sound like they are from the 1990s but were really released in the 1980s (eventually we’ll do the opposite as well). This was the only hit for Edie Brickell – and VH1 considers the band one of the biggest one hit wonders of all time. This song is amazing and, although it came out in 1988 and charted in 1988 and 1989, it still received a lot of airplay on Top 40 radio stations through most of the 1990s. It sounds like something that could have come from 10,000 Maniacs or even Natalie Merchant’s mid-90s solo career. But it was featured in an episode of Miami Vice – so it must be 80s.