Friday, June 22, 2007

"the hits from coast to coast"

I’m gonna meme myself – Here is a list of pop songs from 1982, the year I turned 18, and my memories of some of them. This is freshman and sophomore year of college for me. The list is of the “most requested songs,” whatever that means—on FM radio? I know I listened to a lot of The Police, a lot of Squeeze, a lot of Duran Duran during 1982, but they don’t appear anywhere on the list. Here are some from the list that trigger something with me.

867-5309 (Jenny Jenny) - Tommy Tutone: In the dictionary next to One-Hit Wonder, there is a picture of Tommy Tutone. I actually love this song, but as far as I can tell it’s the only thing they ever did that was halfway decent, so they totally deserve one-hit wonder status. I dated a girl named Jenny in 1982, and boy, did she get tired of being serenaded with this.

We Got The Beat – GoGos: I have a visual image here: I’m standing in the front yard of the fraternity house, it’s warm and sunny, a crowd is building, it feels like the first day of fall term sophomore year, all my friends are reassembling after a summer apart. It’s a joyful scene, and this is an upbeat and carefree song to match it. The music is blaring, we’re probably about to blow another speaker or burn out another amp, but we don’t really care. 1982 was the year of the GoGos in many ways; I imagine they would agree.

I Love Rock and Roll - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: I loved this song. Joan Jett was a revelation, a girl who rocked. Who are the guys who sing backup on the chorus, are they somebody famous? I can’t remember now, but that’s the part I used to sing along with at the top of my lungs. This song I associate with the radio and my freshman dorm room.

Rock This Town - Stray Cats: 1982 was the year I discovered MTV—a group of my older friends had a house off-campus with cable TV (!), and I’d veg out on their couch and watch for hours, making a nuisance of myself no doubt. This was a good video, although as a band the Stray Cats were rather contrived. I fancied that rockabilly was a type of music I liked, but I didn’t hear early Elvis or Buddy Holly or any of the real stuff until years later—the stuff of which the Stray Cats were a pale imitation.

Tainted Love – Soft Cell: Emblematic of all the foofy English synth bands that were around in the 80s, on MTV and on our turntables. Soft Cell was better than most, looking back on it.

Who Can It Be Now - Men at Work: I was reminded of Men at Work just the other day; their singer did a cameo on the TV show Scrubs, which is my daughter’s current favorite, and I was compelled to bore her by explaining who the guy was. They did this one album and then sank out of sight, but we played the one album a lot on my dorm hall.

Get Down On it - Kool & the Gang: Oh Jesus, this represents a number of songs on the list that were staples of dance mixes at college parties. “Whip It” and “You Dropped A Bomb On Me” are two more. I danced to these songs a thousand times at frat parties and never, ever listened to them otherwise. R&B songs, a little funky but just a little. It’s weird and rather sad how racially segregated music was in the 80s; we danced to black acts at the fraternity house, listened to white acts in our dorm rooms, and never the twain did meet. After The Big Chill came out, a bunch of Motown songs became party staples as well—again, a little funky but not too much. (Then there’s beach music, which is basically a slowed-down bleached-out version of Motown.) The emerging genre of rap music was too radical for us, even James Brown or Stax would not have gone over well.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go - The Clash: Heard this song a bazillion times—it was a popular dance number too, for the tempo changes and the romantic confusion from which we were all suffering reflected in the lyrics. I suppose this and “Rock The Casbah” were the Clash’s biggest U.S. hits, even though the band was on the downhill side and these songs don’t get within a mile of their earlier stuff.

Someday, Someway - Marshall Crenshaw: From the guy who played John Lennon in Beatlemania! Marshall Crenshaw played a concert on my college campus in ’82 or maybe ‘83. I have often lied and said that I was there, but in fact I wasn’t there. Don’t remember if it was apathy or lack of money that kept me away. I remember hearing that Crenshaw’s set was only 45 minutes; they played their then-current album and that was all the material they had. This is a hell of a good pop song—Crenshaw had a handful of songs that I really like a lot. I wish he had had a bigger, better career.

Paperlate – Genesis: I liked Genesis at this point; in about four years I would reach terminal Phil Collins overload. I remember “Paperlate” saw the band Genesis embrace its onetime fill-in drummer, now superstar frontman Collins’s hit-making formula, the EWF horns and all that,. The song was some kind of oddball release—single-only or on a benefit album or something. I had to go to some unusual lengths to get a copy, but I did.

Centerfold - J. Geils Band: In this song, a guy has a crush on a sweet virginal girl in his high school class, then years later sees her posing nekkid in Playboy. What can I say? It spoke to me. Unrequited crushes and Playboy were both big parts of my life when I was 18. This album (Freeze Frame) was good, it represented a long-awaited commercial breakthrough for the J. Geils Band, and they broke up almost immediately afterwards. Funny how often that happens with bands.

I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) - Hall and Oates: God help me, I liked Hall and Oates at the time. I was funk-impaired.

Jack and Diane - John Cougar (Melloncamp): This song outraged me. This guy John Cougar, who I’d never heard of, was blatantly ripping off Bruce Springsteen, a favorite of mine but who at this point, before Born in the USA came out in ’84, was practically a national secret.

The Message - Grandmaster Flash: Since this was a rap song I barely knew it in ‘82, I had to go abroad to hear it. In the summer of ’84 this song was playing in a nightclub in Cambridge, England on a night when I had to confront this guy, an English soldier, who was making unwelcome advances on a girl, a fellow American exchange student in my program. An upsetting night.

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