Archive for July, 2011

“Change of Heart” by Cyndi Lauper (1986)

Cyndi Lauper hailed from Queens, New York and after being spotting at clubs recorded one of the most successful debut albums of all time with She’s So Unusual in 1983. The album won Lauper a Best New Artist Grammy and also became the first female singer to have four top-5 singles from the same album. Her signature hit was “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, which relied on Lauper’s quirky persona and fashion sense in the popular music video. Lauper’s vocal range was demonstrated with other hits from the album, including the risque “She Bop”, “All Through the Night” and the number one ballad “Time After Time”.

Lauper returned in 1986 with True Colors, another hit album. The title track was another number one hit, followed by the upbeat “Change of Heart“. The song was very dance-oriented, and remix for the song was also very popular. True Colors went double platinum, and Lauper was viewed as a key member of the American pop scene (famously being asked to attend We Are the World sessions instead of Madonna).

But then the hits kind of stopped coming, aside from the lead single “I Drove All Night” from Lauper’s third album. She dabbled in acting but unlike Madonna wasn’t able to change her image or become a successful actress. Perhaps bad decisions by the record label hurt too. In recent years, Lauper appeared on Celebrity Apprentice and recorded an album of Blues standards. The album was well-received by the Blues community, though Lauper’s insistence of playing nothing but Blues during her 2010 tour lost her many many fans for life. Including this author.

“Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi (1986)

Bon Jovi, the band, hails from New Jersey where their handsome lead singer and namesake Jon Bon Jovi was raised. After knocking around the Manhattan record studio scene, he was soon recording demos and recruiting a band. Key members included Ritchie Sambora (guitar), David Bryan (keyboards), and Tico Torres (drums), who continue with the band to this day. After several minor hits, the group recruited professional songwriter Desmond Child to help write songs for their third album, Slippery When Wet. Thanks to several monster hits, the album was huge seller and Bon Jovi kickstarted the “hair metal” craze that lasted for the next five years.

“You Give Love a Bad Name” was the lead single from Slippery When Wet and quickly went to number one. The album was late in the summer and went to number one in October, followed by a second stint from mid-January to late March 1987. Overall the album has sold over 12 million copies in the U.S. and was the number one album of 1987.

Livin’ on a Prayer” was another Child co-composition, and went to number for two weeks. The band’s “happy metal” image was cemented with the video featuring Bon Jovi clad in spandex and a harness to allow him to “fly” in concert. The band’s party image was an immediate hit with Metal fans, yet Bon Jovi’s good looks also made him a teen idol with girls too.

1988′s New Jersey was a popular follow-up in the same mold, and 1992′s Keep the Faith also sold well. In fact, Bon Jovi has continued to sell at Platinum levels for nearly every album recorded since, and in 2000 they had a big comeback hit with “It’s My Life.”

Bon Jovi very much set the stage for many bands to follow with their hair and their pretty faces and their music videos. Even just two years later the trend was already showing signs of repetition, but at least Bon Jovi had a sense of humor about it when they debuted their lead single from New Jersey with a video featuring comedian Sam Kinison.

“Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs (1986)

The Psychedelic Furs were led by brothers Richard Butler (vocals) and Tim Butler (bass), who along with John Ashton (guitar) formed the nucleus of the band. They were part of the initial post-punk scene in the U.K., using keyboards and horns but never really fitting into the new wave sound. As such, they became more popular during the mid-1980s when their guitar-based sound became more mainstream.

The band’s first big hit was “Love My Way” in 1982, which charted in the U.K. and the U.S.  In 1984, “Heaven”, “The Ghost in You”, and “Heartbeat” all charted in some capacity and by mid-1985 the band was becoming well-known. In 1986, John Hughes titled his new movie Pretty in Pink after an old Furs song from 1981 (a minor U.K. hit), which the band re-recorded for the soundtrack. Major differences included a much more prominent saxophone lead, and cleaner sounding vocals. “Pretty in Pink” ended up Top 20 in the U.K. and almost cracked the top 40 in America. This set the Furs up for their next single “Heartbreak Beat” in 1987, which finally cracked the top 30. The Furs broke up in 2001, though reformed for touring in recent years.

Original version (1981)

Movie version (1986)

“Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo (1986)

Oingo Boingo‘s sound changed by 1985 when they issued their best-selling album, Dead Man’s Party. Their quirky image was still in place, as was their horn section. But the keyboards became more pronounced, and many of the drum sounds had synthetic elements as well. In the past where complex assortments of acoustic instruments were created to perform songs like “Grey Matter”, now the band could create the sounds with keyboards and even with a new device called a Macintosh computer. Boingo was increasingly connected to the movie industry from their native Los Angeles. Danny Elman’s not-really-solo hit “Gratitude” had been included on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, and in early 1985 they found themselves writing a theme song for John Hughes’ next movie, Weird Science.

“Weird Science” was a true hit at a national level for the first time, hitting number 45 on the pop charts during the summer of 1985. The song was included in extended form for Dead Man’s Party, issued in the fall. “Just Another Day” was another charting song, and Boingo commenced with college touring that had become their stable plan. In Los Angeles, Boingo could now sell out a small arena, yet outside the west coast they could barely sell tickets.

The title track “Dead Man’s Party” was a fan favorite from the album, and another longer anthem in the formula of “Grey Matter” or “Who Do You Want To Be?”. Clocking in at over six minutes, the song brought all the main elements of Boingo together: great horn riffs, a chugging guitar, and lyrics about “dark” subjects. The adoption of the Dia De Los Muertos imagery for the album’s cover cemented the skeleton fashion for the group and it’s fans.  ”Dead Man’s Party” was tapped for the band to play in the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School in the summer of 1986, and the song was issued as a single. Though the song did not chart, a 12″ remix was well received by the faithful.

Boingo would issue the follow-up albums BOI-NGO, Boingo Alive, and Dark at the End of the Tunnel in the following four years with generally declining success.  Though the band would sell out Irvine Meadows for their infamous Halloween shows, national chart attention was no longer forthcoming. Even Danny Elfman’s success as a film composer did not boost Boingo’s attention.

The group’s last studio album in 1994 was a departure sonically (no horns), and even shortened the group’s name to just Boingo. The grungey album did not really make a dent and the group called it quits the following year.

“Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer (1986)

Robert Palmer was a journeyman singer with just a few minor hits (“Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)”) under his belt when he was plucked out of semi-obscurity to be the lead singer of the Duran Duran supergroup offshoot, Power Station. Thanks in part to the popularity of Duranies Andy Taylor and John Taylor, Power Station scored three top hits from their debut album issued in 1985. However, before the group toured, Palmer left the group to refocus on a solo career.

The decision to capitalize on this new fame was fortuitous for Palmer, who immediately scored a number one hit with “Addicted to Love” in early 1986. Palmer’s image featured suits but Riptide was a double platinum hit thanks to “Addicted to Love” and other hits including “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” and “Hyperactive.”  The video for “Addicted to Love” was nominated for Video of the Year (it lost to “Money for Nothing) and has since become a pop culture icon. Featuring identically dressed models, the video has been parodied in numerous forms.

Palmer hit again in 1988 with the song “Simply Irresistible” which featured a similar music video.  Further songs were not as popular and Palmer eventually retired to Switzerland. Sadly, the singer died of a heart attack at age 54 in 2003.

“Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds (1985)

Simple Minds are a Scottish rock band who first started recording in the late 1970s, but who shed their initial New Wave roots in the mid-1980s. Led by lead singer Jim Kerr, the group was well-established in the U.K. and Europe by 1984 when their album Sparkle in the Rain was produced by Steve Lillywhite. Thanks to Lillywhite’s production, an exotic native country, and even similar hairstyles by the lead singers, there were common comparisons to U2.

The Breakfast Club was a teen comedy from John Hughes, and the filmmakers were looking for a hit song to anchor the soundtrack and to promote the movie. Written by Flashdance writer Keith Forsey, “Don’t You Forget About Me” was turned down by Bryan Ferry, Billy Idol, and Cy Curnin from The Fixx. Simple Minds turned it down, but after discussions with their record label reconsidered. The song was quickly recorded, and the band continued recording their next album. Thanks in part to the popularity of the movie, the song has since become a classic from the decade, and itself was a worldwide hit including number one in the U.S.

Simple Minds’ next album was a hit in America, finally. Another top 5 hit followed, “Alive and Kicking”, and two more top 30 singles from the album (“All the Things She Said” and “Sanctify Yourself”), giving the group their only Gold album in the U.S. Subsequent albums would not be as successful, though the group continued to score platinum albums in the U.K. for the next decade.

“Like A Virgin” by Madonna (1985)

Madonna (born Madonna Louise Ciccone) was a model/actress/dancer who became interested in music and thanks to some good connections and a savvy management of her ever-changing image became one of the biggest stars in the world in 1985. After a debut album in 1983, featuring three top hits, Madonna returned in 1984 with her second album, Like a Virgin. The album was produced by ex-Chic member Nile Rodgers and featured a mix of songs cowritten by the singer but also some by accomplished songwriters.

One of those written-for-Madonna songs was the title track, “Like a Virgin”, from Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg. The song featured Madonna’s signature dance sound along with a memorable bass hook. The song went well with Madonna’s image, and included appearing in a wedding dress on the album’s cover and at a memorable performance of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards.  The lyrics can be interpreted in various ways (including a memorable scene from Reservoir Dogs), but clearly the “v-word” was an integral part of Madonna’s “bad girl” image.

Like a Virgin” hit number on in late 1984, and stayed there through January 1985, becoming the number two song of the year overall. The song was also a worldwide hit, making Madonna a superstar. Further singles from the Like a Virgin album cemented Madonna’s accent, including “Material Girl”, “Angel”, and “Into the Groove” (which also appeared in the Madonna movie Desperately Seeking Susan that appeared in the spring of 1985). The album has since sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S.  Madonna appeared at Live Aid that summer, but was famously “snubbed” by not being asked to attend the We are the World session, something that seems like a huge mistake in retrospect. But, at the time, everyone agreed that 1985 was a great year for Madonna. What they didn’t know that Madonna would have great years in 1995 and 2005 too.

“Like a Virgin”

“19″ by Paul Hardcastle (1985)

Paul Hardcastle was an electronic musician who had a few minor hits in the U.K. before he achieve notariety as a one-hit-wonder with this electronic-sample heavy song about the Vietnam War, “19″.  The song used samples from news reports, G.I. interviews, and narration by Peter Thomas. Interestingly, the claim that the average combat soldier was only 19 has since proven incorrect.  For a generation of kids coming of age (including this author was 19 when the song was on the charts), but who had never really lived during the Vietnam War, the song was very much an eye-opener. The song also foreshadowed the interest in the war in the years to follow thanks to movies such as Platoon.

19” was a worldwide hit, including top 20 in the U.S. and #1 on the dance charts. The song also topped the U.K. charts for five weeks. Hardcastle’s further work was summarily ignored, though he did issue several jazz albums, as well as some soundtrack work.

“How Soon is Now?” by The Smiths (1985)

The Smiths were one of England’s most popular “modern rock” acts in the years immediately following the “new wave” era and indeed were influencers for the forthcoming “alternative music” scene in the early 1990s. Eschewing the keyboards that were then popular, The Smith’s blended guitar riffs from Johnny Marr along with the flamboyant baritone singing from lead singer Morrissey (born Steven Patrick Morrissey). Though they were mostly on independent labels and none of their albums were widely popular, among modern-music fans The Smiths were a supergroup.

Following their debut album in 1984, the band released a series of seminal singles including “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” (a top 10 UK single). They followed that with their most famous track, sometimes called “The Stairway to Heaven of the Eighties”. “How Soon is Now” featured a haunting guitar riff, but also featured dance-friendly drum beats. The lyrics talk about someone with shyness, and referenced words from a George Eliot novel. The song initially appeared as a B-side to another Smiths single, a factor that held up it’s chart ranking once it finally released as a proper A-side single. The song also broke the band in America, where the song was a hit on the dance charts and on modern rock radio stations. The song regularly was featured in the top 5 songs of all time at modern radio stations such as KROQ and KITS.

The Smiths several more albums between 1985-1987, featuring memorable tracks such as “Girlfriend in a Coma”, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”, “Panic”, and “Sheila Take a Bow”. The band split in late 1987, due to business problems, fatigue, and for reasons of ego. The band has refused to reunite despite millions of dollars. The band’s ethics and independent streak was a major influence on many bands of the 1990s.

Morrissey went on to have a successful solo career, and Marr shifted from supergroup to supergroup, founding Electronic but also taking part in groups such as The The and Modest Mouse.

View the “How Soon is Now” music video

“Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” by Pet Shop Boys (1985)

Far from your typical pop stars, England’s Pet Shop Boys nonetheless made a big impact in the mid-1980s with their synthpop sound and ironic public personas. Neil Tennant (vocals) was a writer for Smash Hits when he ran into Chris Lowe (keyboards) at a music store. Soon the duo were writing songs and thanks to Tennant’s connections were recording an early version of “West End Girls” with famed disco producer Bobby “O” Orlando.  Neither fit the rock star mold, with Tennant pushing 30 and Lowe a few years younger but generally considered “the silent one” of the group.

The original version of “West End Girls” tanked but the group was soon signed to Parlophone and given a bigger budget for production. Their first single for Parlophone was “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)“, a song about the greedy decade of Thatcherism. The song was an attack against greed, yet (in a perfect sense of irony for the group) when the song was a hit it was adopted by those very yuppies it was designed to attack. The original version of the song was produced by Art of Noise member J. J. Jeczalik, with “New York Overdubs” by Ron Dean Miller. This version barely made a dent on the U.K. charts.

The song was remixed and re-recorded by Stephen Hauge during production of the Pet Shop Boys debut album, Please. This second version became a worldwide smash as the follow-up single to “West End Girls” (itself re-recorded). The song was a #11 hit in the U.K. and hit the top 10 in the U.S. (the only PSB song to chart higher in America than the U.K.). For the second version, a new modern music video was shot featuring computer effects. The video also features Lowe wearing a hat, a trademark part of his public persona.

Please was a top 10 hit, eventually going Platinum. In addition to the number one hit “West End Girls”, other singles included “Love Comes Quickly” and “Suburbia”.

Original music video

Second music video