Archive for category 1980s

“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey (1981)

Journey started as a Santana offshoot founded by guitarist Neal Schon and vocalist/keyboardist Greg Rollie. Sales were not successful and the band moved into a harder but still commercially viable direction and eventually hired Steve Perry as lead vocalist. This propelled the band to a series of commercially successful albums where the band was one of the biggest selling acts in the world. During the 1980s the band was the basis of video games and were often derided for their commercial sales and appeal to women.

In 1981, Journey released Escape, their biggest album to date. The album sold over nine million copies thanks to hit singles such as “Open Arms”, “Who’s Cryin’ Now” and “Stone in Love”. Though not the highest charting single (still a top 10 hit), the biggest endearing song from the album is “Don’t Stop Believin“. The song was a popular anthem for the group during their 1980s heyday and has since become the largest selling song ever on Apple’s iTunes music service. The song is often featured in popular culture, including the debut episode of Glee. It was also a sort of theme song for the San Francisco Giants’ quest for a World Series in 2010.

Journey continued making hits into the mid-1980s, but broke up after 1986′s album Raised on Radio. The group reunited in 1996 but afterwards Perry has avoided appearances with the group. The group continues to tour, though Schon has remained the only constant member.

“Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads (1984)

The Talking Heads were pioneers in new wave music, and later developed into a band that introduced new instrumentation and sounds into popular music. The group was led by frontman David Bryne, along with Jerry Harrison (guitars), Chris Franz (drums), and Tina Weymouth (bass). Franz and Weymouth were married, and later formed the successful side-project The Tom Tom Club. The Talking Heads combined elements of punk, new wave, and synth music – along with a flair for visual style that was featured in the group’s videos and in film.

After a series of acclaimed albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Heads broke through into the pop top 10 with “Burning Down the House.” This propelled the group to greater acclaim and recognition of their earlier work, including “Psycho Killer”, “Life During Wartime”, and “Take Me to the River”.

In 1984, the group’s concert film Stop Making Sense was directed by Jonathan Demme. The movie was the first made using digital audio techniques and featured an unique ongoing building of a set during the concert. Footage of the audience was scarce but the sound quality and the energy of the performance was legendary. The film is noted for Byrne’s “big suit” during “Girlfriend is Better”, an often parodied visual.

One key track from the film was a 1982 single for the band, “Once in a Lifetime“. The song had not charted but was popular among modern rock fans. The lyrics are said to be about midlife crisis and the sacrifice of youthful dreams. In the film, the song is presented in a single take with no edits.

The Stop Making Sense soundtrack went double platinum, as did the Heads’ follow-up album Little Creatures in 1985. The sound for this album was much more commercial, thought he band did retreat back into art-rock territory for their next two albums, one of which served as as the basis for the songs in in the film True Stories (directed by Bryne). After 1988′s African-influenced Naked, the Talking Heads broke up. Bryne had a solo career, including an Oscar for film scoring.  Harrison, Weymouth and Franz reunited in 1996 under the moniker “The Heads.”

“Walk this Way” by Run-DMC (1986)

Run-DMC were rap pioneers and were among the first truly mainstream acts within the genre. Founded by Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, the group was augmented by Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizzell. The group came from Queens New York and quickly became rising stars within the hip-hop circle. The group was one of the first acts to leave behind the early funk/disco elements and embrace harder beats and rock riffs as part of their sound.

The group’s third album Raising Hell was released in 1986, and produced by Rick Rubin. The group’s previous albums had charted in the top 60, and they scored several R&B chart hits. But the group became superstars thanks to the slick production from Rubin and some key tracks including the lead single, “Walk this Way“. The song was a cover of the 1975 Aerosmith classic, and featured samples from the song and guest performances from Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. The song was a top 10 hit for Aerosmith and was top 5 for Run-DMC. The popular music video featured both band’s prominently.

The success of “Walk This Way” paved the way for addition singles including “My Adidas”, “It’s Tricky” and “You Be Illin”, ultimately pushing Raising Hell to triple platinum status. Run-DMC scored another platinum album and a gold one, before slowing down from recording in 1994. Musical differences between Simmons and McDaniels created delays in further production, and a 2001 ‘reunion’ album only featured McDaniels on three tracks. In 2002, Mizzell was shot and killed outside a recording studio in Queens. The group broke up shortly thereafter.

“Walk This Way” also served as a relaunch of Aerosmith’s then-floundering career as well. The band got sober (or, at least a lot more close to sober) and issued a series of popular albums and singles in the mid-1980s to late 1990s.

“Johnny B. Goode” by Marty McFly and the Starlighters (1985)

Back to the Future was a big hit movie in 1985 and one of the key sequences was this performance of “Johnny B. Goode”. According the plot of the film, Marty McFly travels back in time to 1955. Marty is a musician so he decides to play a song at the school dance, selecting an “oldie but a goodie” from Chuck Berry. The “origin of Rock and Roll” is shown the film when Marvin Berry calls his cousin Chuck and lets him hear “that new sound you were looking for.”

During the guitar solo, McFly borrows elements from many famous guitarists:

  • Chuck Berry’s duck-walk
  • Dick Dale’s slide riffs
  • Pete Townsend’s power chord
  • Eddie Van Halen’s tapping technique
  • Angus Young’s back slide

Actor Michael J. Fox did not sing or play on the track itself, though he later developed into a credible guitarist and singer.

“Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen (1984)

Van Halen was one of the most influential hard rock / heavy metal groups to emerge in the late 1970s, and were fairly unique in that they were American not British. They were led by guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen and his drummer brother Alex Van Halen. The group was completed by Michael Anthony on bass and by flamboyant lead singer David Lee Roth. The group’s mix of hard rock, party themes, and reverence for standards made them one of the most popular groups during the early 1980s. During this time, they headlined the US Festival.

Van Halen as a group were known for several innovations. Eddie Van Halen’s ‘tapping’ guitar solo technique was widely copied by others, where both hands play on the guitar neck. In addition, Van Halen was one of the first groups to put unusual items in their contract riders, such as providing M&Ms with the brown ones removed. This was done to assure that the contract was read and implemented properly; if the band saw brown M&Ms they would turn around and refuse to perform.

After five previous albums that all went multi-platinum, Van Halen returned in 1984 with their album 1984. The group became known to a new set of fans thanks to Eddie Van Halen’s solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and from 1984′s lead single, “Jump”, that featured a pronounced keyboard riff. “Jump” went to number one and helped make 1984 one of the biggest albums of the year (it has since sold over 10 million copies in the U.S.). Further hits included the top 15 hits “I’ll Wait” and “Panama”.

The last single from 1984 was “Hot for Teacher“, which featured a humorous music video that is a time-capsule of Van Halen at it’s peak. The song features some energetic drumming and a big guitar riff, along with lots of screaming and hooting from Roth. The band’s party image is in full effect.

David Lee Roth had a solo e.p. in 1985 and departed from Van Halen shortly thereafter. The group recruited Sammy Hagar as a replacement singer, but that is a different story for another day.

“Lies” by Thompson Twins (1982)

The Thompson Twins were a U.K. synthpop trio who scored a number of hits during the mid-1980s. They were lead by Tom Bailey (keyboards/vocals/songwriting), Alannah Currie (percussion) and Joe Leeway (percussion). Bailey and Currie later became a couple.

An early incarnation of the band featured seven members, but the trio decided to continue without the others. The band’s first substantial hit was “In the Name of Love”, which was a number one dance hit in early 1982. Their follow-up single “Lies” brought them even more exposure, also hitting number one on the dance charts but more importantly breaking the top 30. The song featured Currie on background vocals and placed emphasis on analog percussion elements mixed with eastern-influened keyboard riffs. The song was a big hit on modern rock radio.

The group’s next album would be their commercial peak. Into the Gap was issued in 1984 and was a slow-building but ultimately platinum selling album. “Hold Me Now” featured Leeway on background vocals and was a slow-tempo ballad that was popular with young music fans. The song hit the top 5 in both the U.K. and America, followed by other big hits “Doctor Doctor”, “You Take Me Up” and “The Gap”. In 1985, the group scored two other top 10 singles with “Lay Your Hands on Me” and “King for a Day”. Several minor hits, including the theme song for the movie Nothing in Common, followed over the next several years.

By the end of the decade Leeway had left the group and the group was focusing producing other artists and raising a family. The group’s last song came from 1992 on the Cool World soundtrack. Bailey and Currie formed another band, Babble, in the mid-1990s.

“I Ran” by A Flock of Seagulls (1982)

A Flock of Seagulls hailed from Liverpool and were lead by brothers Mike Score (keyboards, vocals) and Ali Score (drums), along with Frank Maudsley (bass) and Paul Reynolds (guitar). The group’s mix of keyboards and guitars, along with Mike Score’s distinctive haircut, epitomized the early 1980s New Wave sound (though, if you wanted to be technical, the group was most closely associated with the New Romantic sound). The group’s most popular and effective songs were produced with a layered instrumentation with a rich mix. “D.N.A.” from the group’s first album won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

The group is best known for their breakthough hit “I Ran (So Far Away)“. The song was the lead single from their self-titled debut album and was one of the biggest hits of it’s era. The song was a top 10 hit on the pop, rock, and dance charts, and charted well in other countries (though it did poorly in the U.K.). The album was also a top 10 hit and eventually was certified Gold in the U.S.

Flock of Seagulls had a few other hits, including “Wishing (I Had a Photograph of You)”, “Space Age Love Song”, and “The More You Live, the More You Love”. But squabbles among the group caused the original members to disband by 1986. Thereafter Mike Score would lead a revolving door of hired hands to perform “I Ran” and other songs on the revival circuit.

“About a Girl” by Nirvana (1989)

Nirvana was formed by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Kurt Cobain and bassist Chris Novoselic (later changed to Krist Novoselic) in 1988. The two young men had known each other in high school and were part of the music scene in Aberdeen, WA. Both were fans of the proto-grunge group The Melvins and soon formed a band together. A series of drummers came in and out of the group before settling on Chad Channing.

The group’s first album Bleach was recorded by Jack Endino for about $600 and later issued on the fledgling Sub-Pop label. The album sold about 40,000 copies which made it a good but not fabulous release for Sub-Pop. The album was marketed to college kids and the group toured for the album. Most of the songs were played with a fast, aggressive style that combined heavy riffs with a punk sensibility and pace (this, my friends, you might call Grunge).  The songs were often related to adolescent topics (“Paper Cuts”, “School”, “Swap Meet”).

The standout radio track from Bleach was the Beatles-influenced “About a Girl“, a song Cobain wrote his then-girlfriend. The song combined Cobain’s pop sensibilities along with some harder guitar riffs midway through the song. If there was a single song on the album that might indicate the band had a future, this song was it. In 1994, an MTV Unplugged version of the song became a top hit.

At the end of the decade hardly anyone knew who Nirvana was, or could possibly guess what they could be. Their inclusion on this countdown for the year 1989 is not for what they did but what they would become.

“Move Your Feet to the Rhythm of the Beat” by Hithouse (1989)

Peter Slaghuis was a Dutch DJ who started remixing other artists material, but eventually created several singles on his own. Going by the moniker Hithouse, Slaghuis scored an unlikely hit with “Jack to the Sound of the Underground” (#14 in the U.K.). Hithouse was one of the key groups in the late 1980′s “House” dance music trend.

Hithouse’s second single “Move Your Feet to the Rhythm of the Beat” was a personal favorite of this author. Some of the samples overlap with Information Society’s singles, but the electric piano sound is quite unique. The mix of samples a representative of the genre.

Sadly, Slaghuis died in a car accident in 1991 and the age of 30.

The happiest people you will ever see in a music video:

“Bust a Move” by Young MC (1989)

For a short time, Delicious Vinyl was the hot hip-hop label. They had launched Tone Loc’s big hit singles and then discovered the rapping talents of Marvin Young, thereafter known as Young MC (Young had a hand in writing both of Tone Loc’s big hits, too). In 1989, Young MC delivered his first album Stone Cold Rhymin’, featuring the breakout hit “Bust a Move”.

Bust a Move” followed Young’s template of telling stories that were dancable and “safe” for white audiences. The song featured guest vocals from Crystal Blake, and bassist Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (both appeared in the video). The song contains samples from “Found A Child” by Ballin’ Jack, “Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey and “Daytime Hustler” by Bette Midler. The song was a top 10 hit and pushed the album into the top 10 as well. The song won the Grammy for Best Rap Song in 1990. In the early 2000s, William Shatner recorded a version of the song in a Priceline.com ad.

Young MC had a couple minor hits from the album, including “The Principal’s Office” and “I Come Off”, but future releases were not as successful.  He has been involved with TV production while continuing to record and tour. He appeared as himself in the George Clooney movie Up in the Air in 2009.