Sunday, April 18, 2021

80s My Way II

"And Now You Find Yourself in '82 (1982 Part 1)"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the series introduction for general background; you may also want to check out the mix introduction for more detailed background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

Last time we covered 1979 ~ 1981, and there was alternative music aplenty, but it was just getting started, and there was plenty of borderline mainstream music as well.  And now, as Asia so eloquently puts it, we find ourselves in ‘82, the first year on the 80s mix where there was just so much damn music it required two volumes to hold it all.

Because, you see, 1982 is when alternative really exploded.  Oh, sure, there was still some not-quite-alt out there, presaging the takeover, like “Maneater” by Hall & Oates, whose blue-eyed soul sound would be fully transmogrified into alt-adjacent by the time they got to 1984’s Big Bam Boom.  While I truly loved that latter album, “Maneater” was truly a sign for me: the folks who had been singing “Sara Smile” and “Kiss on My List” were doing ... this.  And this was different.  I’m not sure Tommy Tutone’s post-punk anthem “Jenny” was much different from what the Knack had already been doing for a few years at that point, but it was certainly different from the rest of the radio fare at the time.  And I’ll never forget hearing “Voyeur” by Kim Carnes—this was nothing like her previous hit “Bette Davis Eyes,” and it suffered on the charts for it, but I was fascinated.  This was adjacent to Kim Wilde: buzzing guitars, subtle synth ... an almost new wave feel.

And even Asia, whose line from their ultra-excellent “Heat of the Moment” was too perfect not to use as our volume title, was a supergroup of prog-rock stars.  Combining former members of Yes, King Crimson, the Buggles, and Emerson Lake & Palmer, they somehow produced a sound that was beyond prog-rock and almost beyond description.  It was operatic in a new and exciting way; it wasn’t glam metal, though I might argue that Bon Jovi and Whitesnake would owe a lot to Asia; it wasn’t stadum rock, although it had nods to Foreigner and Styx at their most bombastic; it wasn’t synth pop, though there are strong synt throughlines in nearly every song.  Asia is such an amazing album, in fact, that it was tempting to include one of the other, lesser-known songs off of it: “Only Time Will Tell” and “Sole Survivor” were almost as big as “Heat,” but “Time Again” and “Wildest Dreams” are nearly as good, and yet criminally unremembered by most.  No, not quite alternative, but still exciting.

But some of the biggest true alternative songs ever appeared in 1982.  After the Fire was a one-hit wonder from Britain who took a minor German-langauge hit from Falco (who of course would later go on to be a one-hit wonder of his own with “Rock Me Amadeus”), rewrote the song in English retaining essentially none of the meaning, and turned it into a synth-heavy, sing-songy, pseudo-rap with intellectual lyrics like “she said ‘babe you know I miss you and Joe and all my funky friends’,” but somewhow it all came together.  “Der Kommissar” is certainly the height of ATF’s artistry, but, if you’re into synth pop like I am, see if you can find one of their compilation ablums: “Laser Love” is goofy fun, and “Dancing in the Shadows” is nearly as good as “Kommissar.” This was also the year we were introduced to the glory of Boy George and Culture Club, and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” will always have a place in my heart as a poppy, fun tune that was so different from everything else on the radio at that time.  But the pinnacle of synth pop for me will always be Yazoo, and 1982 was when I first heard “Situation,” which would lead me to Upstairs at Eric’s, which continues to be one my all-time favorite albums.  “Situation” isn’t even my favorite track off that album—probably not even in the top 5, really—but it was my intro, and it deserves its spot as closer here.

There are 3 songs that I put back-to-back here because they are somehow linked inextricably in my mind.  The first is “I Eat Cannibals” by Toto Coelo, which was only a minor hit in the US, but I remember hearing and thinking, “what the fuck is this?” But in a good way, you know?  That sort of female-fronted new wave was also behind Toni Basil’s bizarre breakout hit “Mickey.” Basil is older than my mother, and had been recording music as long as I’d been alive by the time she managed to fit into her high school cheerleader uniform for the video for this pop gem that seeped into our collective unconscious to the point where it might actually be the only song to be both parodied by Weird Al and featured in a Wayne’s World movie.  But what really puts the icing on the cake is the power punk (and percussion) of Bow Wow Wow, with just enough new wave that their remake of a 1965 early rock song sit in my brainspace right next to the other two.  Annabelle Lwin’s voice, backed by the former Ants (as in “Adam and the”), is always going to be a mainstay of 80s music for me.

But the true breakout of 1982 was no doubt A Flock of Seagulls, whose “I Ran” is so emblematic of the 80s that it will forever appear on every 80s compilation record until the end of time.  While I still say Gary Numan defines the sound of new wave,1 AFoS comes pretty damned close.  They elevated it from a fringe sound to something that could carry the pop airwaves, certainly.  They were not one-hit wonders (both “Space Age Love Song” and “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” were top 40 hits in the US, and actually beat “I Ran” in the UK), but “I Ran” is the one which most embodies my 80s self.  There was never any doubt that it would be featured here.

I first heard “Talk Talk” as a freshman in college, so I was two years too late to have enjoyed them at the time.  The Party’s Over is an interesting synth-pop artifact of the time, reminiscent of the Human League’s Dare.  Although “It’s My Life” was more familiar to me from the radio, I have a great fondness for the eponymous song title and the surreal cover art of the album.  Other new wave classics that I had to spotlight include Sparks’ weird and wonderful “I Predict,”2 the amazing Motels’ ultra-classic “Only the Lonely,” the peppy “I Know What Boys Like” by the Waitresses (whose songwriter Chris Butler would write the theme song for another 1982 milestone, Square Pegs3), and of course we mustn’t forget the Psych Furs.  Like “Talk Talk,” I only heard “Love My Way” after the fact; I totally missed the Furs’ existence until Pretty in Pink, when John Hughes introduced me to them along with the rest of the world.  But, as I began digging through their back catalog, I discovered quite a few gems, including this one.

80's My Way II
[ And Now You Find Yourself in '82 (1982 Pt 1) ]

“Der Kommissar” by After the Fire, off ATF [Compilation]4
“867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone [Single]
“Heat of the Moment” by Asia, off Asia
“Maneater” by Hall & Oates, off H2O
“Voyeur” by Kim Carnes [Single]
“I Eat Cannibals” by Toto Coelo [Single]
“Mickey” by Toni Basil [Single]5
“I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow, off The Best of Bow Wow Wow [Compilation]6
“I Predict” by Sparks, off Angst in My Pants
“Talk Talk” by Talk Talk, off The Party's Over
“I Ran” by A Flock of Seagulls, off A Flock of Seagulls
“Only the Lonely” by The Motels, off All Four One
“Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs, off All of This and Nothing [Compilation]
“I Know What Boys Like” by The Waitresses [Single]
“Puttin' on the Ritz [single version]” by Taco [Single]7
“Best Years of Our Lives [7" version]” by Modern Romance, off The Platinum Collection [Compilation]
“1999” by Prince, off 1999
“I'll Tumble 4 Ya” by Culture Club, off Kissing to Be Clever
“Stray Cat Strut” by Stray Cats, off Built for Speed
“Situation” by Yazoo, off Upstairs at Eric's
Total:  20 tracks,  77:51

As usual, “unexpected” is a difficult label to apply to a mix that’s all about the 80s, but I’ll apply it to Modern Romance.  I theoretically discovered them while searching for songs for Salsatic Vibrato,8 but as soon as I heard “Best Years of Our Lives,” it felt familiar in a very visceral way.  I’m sure I must have heard it at some point, even though it was never a hit in the US (but, strangely, their biggest hit in the UK, going all the way to #4).  Was this song ever a part of my 80s?  Maybe; maybe not.  But it’s such a damned great song, I knew I had to include it here.

Then we have Prince.  Some people might not consider Prince’s music to be alternative, but what else can you call it?  It wasn’t funk, or soul, or hip-hop, though it had touches of all those things.  Along with flashes of hard rock or even metal; synth pop, power pop, and just flat-out pop; and maybe even a bit of new wave or post-punk here and there.  Prince’s music really isn’t anything but itself, and, the first time I heard “1999,” I was blown away.  I bought that album and listened to it throughout the 80s, and it will always be a huge part of that decade for me.  I loved “Delirious,” and “Little Red Corvette,” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” and “All the Critics Love U in New York,” and what is probably the synth-poppiest Prince song ever, “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” but “1999” always had something extra that called to me, so it gets pride of place here.

Just as Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” doesn’t owe too much to the Strangeloves, so too is “Puttin’ On the Ritz” fairly well divorced from the Fred Astaire “original.”9  This synthy, thoroughly new wave reimagining was a one-hit wonder for a Dutch singer born in Indonesia who became famous in Germany.  But this sort of musical reinvention is a big part of what the 80s were all about.

And speaking of that: Brian Setzer today is a huge part of the retro-swing movement, and we’ve seen him on practically every volume of Salsatic Vibrato.  But we must never forget that he started out as retro-rockabilly, and that the Stray Cats were one of the first bands to actually make the style popular.  That would pave the way for psychobilly bands like the Cramps and the Reverend Horton Heat, some of which preceded the Cats, but were mostly unheard of before “Stray Cat Strut” came along.  Built for Speed was not truly rockabilly, any more than Americana Deluxe was truly swing, or Hot was truly hot jazz.  But it was an update of the sound for modern ears, exposing us to what our parents had enjoyed about the style while also tweaking it and telling us, here’s something that’s cool, even while it’s old.

Next time, we’ll return to that smoky, noir-lit acid trip for a sixth time.

80s My Way III


1 I said that in talking about Totally Different Head, which you should also check out if you’re a fan of 80’s new wave and post-punk.

2 Once again, see Totally Different Head for a more in-depth discussion of this bizarre little track.

3 Whence cometh the very name of Totally Different Head.

4 The US version of this album is damnably hard to come by, but the UK release (called Der Kommissar) contains most of the same songs.  Or, you know: just grab the one song off YouTube.

5 The single is awesome, of course (and easy to find), but if you can possibly get your hands on Word of Mouth, you really should treat yourself.

6 There are also newer “best of” compilations that you can get your hands on; they all have fewer tracks, but you’ll get most of the good stuff.

7 Be careful not to get the album version.  It’s longer and not better.

8 We’ll hear their insanely catchy “Don’t Stop That Crazy Rhythm” when we get to Salsatic Vibrato VIII.

9 I put “original” in quotes because technically Harry Richman’s version came first, even if Astaire’s was the more well-known.