Despite George Orwell’s concerns, 1984 turned out
to be a pretty decent year, all things concerned. Certainly,
there was some great music hitting stores during those
366 days (that’s right, smart guy, I knew it was a
leap year…well, rather, my editor did), and,
for the first time in my life, I was actually starting
to buy some of it, thanks to my financially-lucrative
paper route. I was also beginning to attend concerts
as well, thanks to a beautiful perk of the paper-carrier
business known as the Carrier Card; it scored you free
admission to any show by a specific local concert promoter,
just as long as it was general admission and wasn’t
sold out. So, yes, I remember 1984 quite fondly indeed…and
these songs are a significant part of those memories.
"Blasphemous Rumours," Depeche Mode (Some
I don’t want to start any "Blasphemous Rumours," but, hey, I’ve got to start with something.
"Dance Hall Days," Wang Chung (Points
on the Curve)
It’s depressing to me that Wang Chung’s history has basically been rewritten to have people believe that they came, invented an exclamatory phrase that was famous for fifteen minutes ("Everybody Wang Chung tonight!"), and vanished. Too few people remember how great this song was – and, yet, as good as it is, it’s bettered by the band’s theme for the film, "To Live and Die in L.A.." But, of course, that’s a discussion for another Mix Disc Monday.
"Obscene Phone Caller," Rockwell (Somebody’s
Speaking of artists who’ve had their histories rewritten, this song seems to have virtually vanished off the planet, even though it was also a Top 40 hit like its predecessor, the better-remembered title track from Rockwell’s debut album. It’s not the best album in the world, but it’s strange that it isn’t available on CD; I’d like to own it, if only for those two songs, as well as his surprisingly effective cover of the Beatles’ "Taxman."
"One Night in Bangkok," Murray Head (Chess)
For the longest time, I thought Murray Head was a one-hit wonder. I had no idea that "One Night in Bangkok" was actually his second hit; he’d already risen to the upper reaches of the charts with "Superstar," from Jesus Christ Superstar. It only took me slightly less time to discover that "One Night in Bangkok" was written by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, from ABBA. No wonder it was so damned catchy!
"Renée," Talk Talk (It’s My Life)
The title cut is all but unlistenable to me now, thanks to No Doubt’s ubiquitous cover from a few years ago, and that really depresses me. But the album that bears its name is a great one, and although I’ve got several favorite tracks ("Dum Dum Girl" is one that leaps immediately to mind), I remain partial to this one. I briefly had a crush on a Tennessee girl named Renée, and this song ended up starting Side Two of a mix tape I made for her. (Since I know you’re wondering, Side One started with Material Issue’s "Renée Remains the Same.")
"Nobody Told Me," John Lennon (Milk and Honey)
It came from beyond the grave, this song did. Almost four years after his murder, some of John Lennon’s last recordings with his wife, Yoko Ono, emerged, and this track became a posthumous hit. I always thought the chorus felt rushed, like Lennon was hurrying to get the entire sentence, "Nobody told me there’d be days like these," as many times as possible before it was over. Most peculiar, mama.
"No More Lonely Nights," Paul McCartney (Give
My Regards to Broad Street)
Great song. Shame about the movie. This was the very first Paul McCartney album that I ever owned, so I’m more partial to its contents that any sensible Macca fan really ought to be. Still, this song was great. It amazes me that it hasn’t made an appearance in any of his set lists in recent years. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t think he’s ever played it live, has he? Well, maybe he’ll remedy that if he decides to tour behind this new Starbucks-released album.
"The Only Flame in Town," Elvis Costello and
the Attractions (Goodbye Cruel World)
I know, I know, it’s the worst album Elvis Costello’s ever made…or, at least, that’s the general perception, anyway. This song hasn’t exactly aged that well, either, but it’s got a great guest vocal from Daryl Hall and that definitively ‘80s saxophone sound. An artifact of its time, but certainly one worth revisiting on occasion.
"Reel Around the Fountain," The Smiths (The
I’d love to tell you that I was cool enough to have been listening to this album in 1984, but that would be a miserable lie. You sometimes forget that Morrissey can be a bit dirty with his lyrics, but then you hear a lyric like, "You can pin and mount me like a butterfly," and it all comes rushing back.
"Jump," Van Halen (1984)
My very first concert: Van Halen, Hampton Coliseum, on the night they received a call from Casey Kasem to tell them that this song had gone to #1. I can’t hear this song without thinking of David Lee Roth telling the audience about that call. I also vaguely remember that the whole place smelled like Otto’s jacket.
"Hammer to Fall," Queen (The Works)
I’m not a "Radio Gaga" apologist like some Queen fans are – I’m sorry, but that song was just plain silly – but if you go back and examine the album, you’ll find that this song remains one of the best pop-rock tracks of their later years.
"Watusi Rodeo," Guadalcanal Diary (Walking
in the Shadow of the Big Man)
Look closely: they’re not cows, they’re water buffaloes. Okay, I admit it, I know this album from its later Elektra reissue rather than the indie version that came out back in ’84, but I love this band so much that I don’t want to miss an opportunity to praise them. Guadalcanal Diary never got the love they deserved outside of the South, but one of my greatest concert moments was watching them cover "Stayin’ Alive" during a show at The Boathouse, in Norfolk, VA. If you don’t know the band, you’re missing out.
"Axel F," Harold Faltermeyer (Beverly Hills
Cop: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
My idea of a pick-up move in 1984 was to break out my miniature Casio organ and play this song. Funny how I stayed single ‘til I was 31.
"Distant Early Warning," Rush (Grace Under
Most Rush fans really, really hate this album. I mean, they despise it. But I saw Rush on this tour – with Y&T as their opener (can I get some love for "Summertime Girls"?) – and I still remember the laser show, and how the video for this song was playing on the giant screen behind the band while they played it. Fond memories.
They Know It’s Christmas?," Band Aid
It’s unlikely there will ever be another song that features as many of my favorite artists as this one. I mean, come on: U2, the Boomtown Rats, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Duran Duran, Heaven 17, Bananarama, Wham!, the Style Council, Culture Club, The Police, Genesis, Big Country, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Paul Young were all a part of it. You can’t beat that with a stick. Not even with "We are the World." That’s right, I said it: I liked this song better.