65 80s Songs - A Countdown

This was a countdown I started on December 26, 2012, and finished on March 1, 2013, marking the days until Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World was first published in Ireland. Relive the magic, if you dare. 

Song 14 Talking Heads

Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime, 1981

'You may ask youself, "Am I right? Am I wrong?" You may say to yourself, "My God! What have I done?"' There are love songs and there are protest songs. There are hippy-dippy drug anthems and confessional odes to being uncomfortable at dinner parties. But there is only one song I know of that addresses this feeling of suddenly looking around oneself and saying, 'What in tarnation am I doing here?!' Seriously, what the &%$? Wasn't I just fifteen years old, with a perm and flowered jeans, hiding in the back of the school library reading record reviews from Rolling Stone? (Probably skipping gym, now that I think of it.) And now...I'm forty-two? Living in Ireland? Really? How did that happen? Where did this cat come from? What am I doing here? All this and you can dance to it. I did not understand this song when I first heard it as a youngster and I'm not entirely sure I understand it now, but I love the fact that it exists. Thank you, Talking Heads. Happy Friday, all.

Song 15 Tanita Tikaram

Tanita Tikaram - Valentine Heart, 1988

'If I was a Londoner, rich with complaint...' I heard this song for the first time on college radio a couple of years after it was released, while I was recovering from a bad break-up. Let's just say recovery was postponed for the day. Like most great love songs, this one's all about loss and regret - perfect for Valentine's Day, even without the title. It's hard to believe Tanita Tikaram was only eighteen years old when it was recorded. Is it another one for the imaginary soundtrack to Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World? You betcha. So sit back, let those strings swell, and get ready to mourn the memory of love lost, or love that never was. Happy Valentine's Day!

 

 

Song 16 David Bowie

David Bowie - Ashes to Ashes, 1980

'My mother said, to get things done, you'd better not mess with Major Tom...' Well, it's Ash Wednesday. Why not? And more importantly, it's almost Valentine's Day, and if there is a greater love on earth than that of Bowie's fans for Bowie, I'd like to know what it is. The 80s weren't really David Bowie's decade overall, but look at the magnificent way he started it: the most expensive video ever made at the time, and certainly one of the strangest - everything seems weighted with meaning, if only you could figure out what it is. Drowning clowns, asylums, a procession in front of a bulldozer (apparently the figures who appear to be bowing are really just yanking their robes out of the way of the oncoming machine)...what the hell is going on here, exactly? I suppose I should have posted 'Let's Dance', as it was my first encounter with the man and the 80s song he seems most known for. But all that yellow-haired crooning confidence, that's not the kind of thing that makes you fall in love. This stuff. This deeply &%$ed up stuff. This is what does it. 

 

Song 17 The Cowboy Junkies

Guest Post!

Still searching for that perfect 80s song, I remembered my friend Marni Amirault. Back in the day she knew every cool band going and had been to see them all at least twice. Who better to ask? Marni obliged, with a great choice from late 1988. Stare off into a smoky prairie sunset and sing along.

The Cowboy Junkies - Sweet Jane, 1988

Marni writes: My brother in law still calls the Cowboy Junkies a 'lay down and die' band and we hate him for it. Well, maybe hate is a strong word, but all these years later, he is able to elicit the desired effect: pissing my sister and I off. The Junkies are Canadiana at its best: undeniably mellow; placid even; but don't let that define them for you. The smoldering, sultry voice of Margo Timmins, her ethereal stage presence (I saw them live in the late 1980s) and the stories that brother Michael has so expertly woven into song oftentimes pack a wallop straight to the gut that you never, for a minute, saw coming. Haunted and slowed down from the version of 'Sweet Jane' it is derived from (The Velvet Underground Live at Max's Kansas City), Lou Reed himself has called this "the best and most authentic version I've ever heard". How can anyone argue with Lou? The Cowboy Junkies' cover of the Velvet Underground's 'Sweet Jane' is, simply put, perfection.

 

Song 18 Lick the Tins

Lick the Tins - Can't Help Falling in Love, 1986

You know this song, though you might not recognise the band by name. Think of the ending to Some Kind of Wonderful - Eric Stoltz has just chosen the right girl and they're doing a Casablanca-style walk off into the horizon as the credits roll. ('You look great wearing my future.') You know. And what's on the soundtrack? The most innocent, upbeat version of any Elvis standard ever recorded. You might also recognise the song from the film of Roddy Doyle's The Snapper, and if you were in Athlone on July 17, 2006, maybe you remember it as the first dance at my wedding. (Hey, it's Valentine's Week! I'm allowed to get sentimental. Any survivors of the aforementioned incident will recall the lurching but enthusiastic jig that followed - miraculously, very few were injured.) Thanks to the magic of the internet you can watch stills of the John Hughes film as you listen to this enchanting tune, and read a translation of the words in Spanish at the same time. Oh, and for young 'uns, any references in Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World to Eric Stoltz are I hope hereby explained.

 

 

 

Song 19 Tom Waits

Tom Waits - Downtown Train, 1985

'Outside another yellow moon, has punched a hole in the night time, yes...' Tom Waits isn't someone I'd automatically associate with the 80s - he seems oddly timeless - but in 1985, this video was my introduction to the man: a soulful, gravel-voiced loony whose body was incapable of forming a right angle, gracefully accepting the dishwater thrown at him from a great height by boxing legend Jake Lamotta. ('Every time there's a fool moon he sings all night long. Theresa, close the window!') Tom was also fond of popping up in 30-second instalments on Muchmusic that summer talking about 'a woman who came down from the sky in a bottle of salad dressing' asking him where the clocks were. He couldn't have done more to endear himself if he'd shown up under my window with a song and an accordion. And check out that dancing! Kind of thing that looks easy to do but impossible to imitate. Although now that I've seen this again...let's just say that I'd better stay off the dance floor for the next year or so, just to be safe. This song was covered by Rod Stewart in 1989, but happily I'd given up on pop music at that stage and was spared the agony. Enjoy. 

 

 

Song 20 Yutaka Ozaki

Yutaka Ozaki - Freeze Moon, 198???

This is where it gets weird. But I have to know if I'm the only person on earth who remembers this. Picture it: late at night, sometime in the mid-to-late 80s, I'm half asleep in front of the TV with a video channel playing (Muchmusic), too lazy to turn off the set and go to bed, and suddenly I'm staring at...what, exactly? A guy in a basement, covered in multicoloured goo, doubled over and screaming. Then strips of colour start flying off of him while in the background an upbeat J-pop tune plays. For years I wasn't even sure if I'd dreamed it. It's a very simple effect too - they just took the singer to an empty room, dumped about a million cans of paint over him, and ran the film backwards. This is the kind of thing we did before CGI made life less interesting. The clip below is the long version: you'll have to fast forward a full minute past the soulful spoken intro to get to the flying paint action. My Japanese isn't great, but I think Yutaka is saying, 'Wow, sure hope this doesn't end up on some cheesy 80s countdown in twenty-five years.' Sorry, kiddo.

 

Song 21 Tom Tom Club

Tom Tom Club - Genius of Love, 1981

'Watcha gonna do when you get out of jail? I'm gonna have some fun! What do you consider fun? Fun! Natural fun!' Has to be the best opening to anything, ever. And is this song adorable, or what? Even if it reminds me of something you'd see on Sesame Street, except they're talking about getting out of jail, and drugs (on the longer versions), and...best not to think about it too much. Anyway, there's a singing doggie. If this tune sounds familiar to you, that's because it probably is: according to Wikipedia, 'Genius of Love' was one of the most sampled songs of the 80s and later went on to be chewed up and reused by everyone from Mariah Carey to 50 Cent. These days I think of it as the inspiration for the barely suppressed urge I get at times to skip up to co-workers and total strangers and ask them what they're gonna do when they get out of jail. Good thing I've been able to keep a lid on it so far - I get the feeling nobody will ever give me the answer I'm looking for.

 

Song 22 Men Without Hats

Men Without Hats - The Safety Dance, 1983

'...Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, then they're not no friends of mine!' - Men Without Hats

'Well, what do you expect? They're Canadian.' - South Park Movie

It's difficult to isolate the most embarrassing aspect of this post for me. Is it because I bought Rhythm of Youth in 1983 and loved it, without any irony or distance? Was it the expression of amazement and distaste on my dad's face as he watched the 45 of 'Safety Dance' revolving on my record player? Is it the fact that I still find Ivan attractive in that outfit, in a D&D kind of way? Perhaps it's because for years I thought the daft peasant girl popping onto the screen with her exclamation of 'Danser!' was really saying, 'Don't say!' No. I'm most hideously ashamed for this reason: I still like this song. Apparently Ivan wrote 'Safety Dance' after being thrown out of a club for his extreme New Wave dancing, though the brief shots of nuclear missiles at the end are not an explicit reaction to this. Today, I'm watching this merry medieval scene and all I can think of is - Wicker Man. Stay out of the burning man, kids! Stay safe and dance!

 

Song 23 U2

Guest Post!

This wouldn't be an 80s countdown without the most earnest Irish fellas in the world, U2. But with so many songs, how would I choose? It was time to call in an expert, a woman whose love for the band is unequalled anywhere. Take it away, Lisa Neily!

U2 - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, 1987

20120309 U2 25th

Lisa writes: I fell head-over-foot in love in 1987. I was barely 15, but I remember it well. The kid I was babysitting was taking a nap, the Friday edition of Video Hits with Samantha Taylor was on TV, and there they were: U2. I already knew the band and liked them and all, but on this particular day, with a little twinkle in Bono’s eye, a chiming chord from Edge’s guitar and all the stars properly aligned, I fell in love. 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' was exactly what I was looking for. The video of the band joyfully singing along the Vegas strip, Bono kissing cherub-faced girls and Adam Clayton escaping in a taxi at the end was exactly the right mix of optimism, rockstar cool and spirituality I needed. I have different U2 faves now, but that song and video will always remain with me, like the cheesy moment in a movie when the fuzzy glow appears around the gal/guy across a crowded bar you fall in love at first sight - very 80s indeed.

I also found the same song performed by some guy on a ukelele.

 

 

Song 24 Sinead O'Connor

Sinead O'Connor - Mandinka, 1987

'I don't know no shame, feel no pain, I caaaaannn't...' Ah, Sinead. Face of an angel, voice like a call to arms, mind of...well, no one seems to know. I think she lives in my area, so I'd better not say anything more. Sinead O'Connor was the one who forced North America to deal with shaven-headed women and Irish names, and she'll always have my deepest love and respect for The Lion and the Cobra, which could often be heard blasting out of my sister's room (and mine too) through the summer of 1988. What did people think of her in Ireland? Watch the 'Lovely Girls' episode of Father Ted, like I'm doing now, to find out. Here she is at the 1989 Grammys, singing along with a tape of 'Mandinka' - the best karaoke I have ever seen. For a bit of time travel, I left on Billy Crystal joking about fax machines in the introduction.

 

Song 25 Madonna

Madonna - Into the Groove, 1985

Okay, I knew I couldn't get through an 80s countdown without at least one Madonna song, but I'd been avoiding it up until now, and here's why: I never liked her! At first this was because I wasn't supposed to - as a young feminist, I listened when experts said the bimbo image was bad for girls (good thing that trend never resurfaced) and that a female musician shouldn't have to shove her boobs in people's faces to get noticed. Later on I realised this was silly - of course women should feel free to shove their boobs wherever - but I never quite warmed to Madonna, always got the feeling she was the sort of person who would cut ahead of you in line and then step on your foot with heels on. Still, she had a lot of great songs. I chose this one for several reasons: it's a good example of one those 80s 'music videos' that were really just ads for films, I liked it enough at the time to buy the 45, and in the background of the club scene you can actually see a guy with Flock of Seagulls hair. I'm not kidding. Now dance!

 

Song 26 Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper - Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, 1983

'I want to be the one to walk in the sun...' All kids cherish the memory of the first time their parents looked at a new favourite singer or band and said, 'Who or WHAT is that?' And I can tell you there was an awful lot of indulgent head shaking in my house over Cyndi Lauper. The song's over-played, but just look at this woman: dancing up the street in that incredible hat, twisting her wrestler father's arm behind his back, using an actual telephone with a receiver to call her friends. And when Cyndi and her buddies 'have fun' they don't mean white wine, gossip and shopping. They're going to lead the entire neighbourhood back to Cyndi's for a very cramped dance party in her room, where they play a 45 record, order pizza, and entertain one of the coneheads. Hey, I'd go. Being thirteen was no fun whatsoever, but it was a comfort to know that somewhere, someone was enjoying life as much as Cyndi Lauper, the patron saint of weirdos.

 

 

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