Thursday, February 28, 2019

#38. "Smooth Criminal" - Michael Jackson (1988)

A few years ago I rediscovered "Smooth Criminal" while on vacation in the Mayan Riviera during an impressive 'Michael Jackson' tribute by the evening entertainment staff.

I'll argue this track is Michael Jackson at his creative peak.

"Smooth Criminal" borrows elements from Thriller's blockbuster singles: the groove of "Billie Jean", the attitude of "Beat It" and the production of "Thriller", mashing them into a delicious blend.

Jackson flies through the verses with such speed the lyrics can be challenging to discern in places. 

The energetic chorus, the brilliant bass line and the attention to detail in both song and video all add up to one epic work of pop art.

The only remaining question: is Annie still ok?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

#39. "Africa" - Toto (1982)

Let's enjoy a throwback from the previous decade.

"Africa" by Toto is one of the best carryovers from the 70s: a timeless soul-stirring singalong anthem. The explosive, overblown chorus is irresistible and beckons your participation. 

Such a wonderful pop song from our childhood, bringing back memories of the neighbourhood kids spontaneously singing the lyrics in unison on weekends on our way home for supper.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

#40. "Urgent" - Foreigner (1981)

"Urgent" by Foreigner is a classic rock tune that holds up after all these years; the track is still a solid addition to any road trip playlist.

I believe I was introduced to "Urgent" on the K-Tel album compilation Hit Express which also featured Loverboy, Journey and the like.

There is so much to like here. The pulsating intro. The irresistible beat. Lou Gramm's vocals about an impending hookup. The iconic neverending sax solo. 

I didn't realize until much later that it was a young Thomas Dolby on the keyboards (recall "She Blinded Me With Science"?).

Monday, February 25, 2019

#41. "It Doesn’t Really Matter" - Platinum Blonde (1983)

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin.

Let's begin with Platinum Blonde's first single "It Doesn’t Really Matter", which is also their best.

That classic guitar riff, the iconic bridge, the drum solo...and some of best caterwauling this side of "Sweet Child 'O Mine".

Canada's answer to Duran Duran, Platinum Blonde enjoyed much success at home with a slew of catchy singles during the mid-80s. 

It doesn't really matter that the band didn't last for too long. Much like the UK's The Smiths and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Blondes packed in a lot of good stuff in 4-5 years. One of my other faves is "Situation Critical" from the 1985 album Alien Shores.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

#42. "Relax" - Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984)

That fookin' bass line!

The debut single from Frankie Goes To Hollywood became one of the 80s most controversial songs. It was also among the most popular, staying the UK charts for 42 weeks. 

And tenacious: the single was released twice in both the UK and US as it under performed the first time around.

More than a tune about wanking or shagging, "Relax" filled the dance floors on both sides of the Atlantic with an anthem that influenced the club music boom to follow later in the decade.

I recall getting down to this one at Rosa's on Argyle with the fog machine in its full glory. 

#43. "Personal Jesus" - Depeche Mode (1989)

Think back to the early 80s for minute. Hands up if you thought back these guys would be sporting cowboy hats and playing guitars five years later?

The evolution of Depeche Mode from a light synth-pop act to filling stadiums in North America was quite impressive. Like U2 did a couple years prior with the The Joshua Tree, Depeche Mode captured the hearts and minds of America with an amped up, somewhat industrial form of dance music with the Violator album in 1989.

"Personal Jesus" is the best song from that period: a big beat that don't quit while twangy guitars and clinical keys keep things interesting. 

The badass video is a bonus. 

Well done boys, you've come a long way.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

#44. "In Between Days" - The Cure (1985)

So these blokes aren't all doom and gloom as some might say.

"In Between Days" by The Cure is classic new wave and a staple at 80s parties. 

And one of the finest examples showing off the cardinal rules of new wave alt rock: melancholic lyrics and upbeat music. 

It's also one of the tightest songs of the decade at an economical 02:55.  

The intro is outstanding, immediately grabbing your attention with a wall of melodic guitars...and then come the synths. 

The lyrics allude to some sort of bizarre love triangle -- no, I'm not confusing this with New Order's tune although this song does have a New Order mid-80s kind of vibe...

In 1985, The Cure was still 'Indie pop' in North America where the mainstream wasn't ready for the likes of The Cure until a few years later...

Friday, February 22, 2019

#45. "She Sells Sanctuary" - The Cult (1985)

First things first: turn up the volume before clicking on the clip. 

Need an ice-breaker to liven up your house party / dance club / road trip? 

It's a rare sighting when headbangers, new wavers, preppies and rockers can all get down to the same groove. 

"She Sells Sanctuary" is one such song that crosses all the genres: an 80s "Kumbaya" for the feet if you will...

And how about that intro?

A ten-second tease and then lower the BOOM! A real rocker with a killer guitar riff that makes you wanna cut a rug.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

#46. "What You Need" - INXS (1986)

One of Australia's favorite musical exports, INXS got more prolific as the decade went on culminating with the epic Kick album and a slew of singles. 

My fave is the first single from the Listen Like Thieves album: the rock groove "What You Need".

This is one seriously funked up tune, with killer bass and sax riffs driving the track. 

Lyrically, it's pretty vapid but who cares. Not to worry, Michael Hutchence would come to the forefront in the next album. 

"What You Need" is a solid all hands-on-deck group effort albeit a bit of an underrated masterpiece. 

If I had to make a fave 3 from INXS, "Need You Tonight" comes third, while "Original Sin" would be #2:

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

#47. "You Spin Me Round" - Dead Or Alive (1985)

I may not have been actually clubbing at the time but I was enamored with this club song. 

From the opening beats, "You Spin Me Round" by Dead or Alive is a relentless assault on the senses. The dance inferno didn't sound like anything else charting in the spring of '85. 

The "You spin me round like a record, baby" chorus is equally inane and brilliant, the groove catchy and cheesy, and the whole production over the top. No wonder The Wedding Singer embraced it. 

I'll never forget Mom coming into the TV room while catching a glimpse of lead singer Pete Burns only to ask "What the hell is that?". 

I'll also always think of Corey Mock from our Dartmouth High days when I hear this iconic dance track. Corey absolutely loved this tune, the only guy I knew who enjoyed it more than I did! I can still see him grooving on the dance floor to it. RIP buddy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

#48. "How Soon is Now" - The Smiths (1985)

Full disclosure: The Smiths were a band I never got into during the 80s. It wasn't until I moved to Vancouver in the early-90s when I'd been properly introduced to them.  

But what a discovery. 

The chemistry between lead singer/songwriter/king of pain Morrissey and the genius of guitar wizard Johnny Marr is out of this world.

The majesty of the unique reverb guitar intro (best experienced on good headphones) in the opening to "How Soon Is Now" is enough alone for this track to make the list. 

Once Morrissey's lyrics of self-doubt kick in, you begin to understand why this has become the anthem of teenage angst and a big part of the trademark sound of The Smiths.

Fave lyrics: "I am the son and heir / Of nothing in particular" 

This 'alternative' sound in the 80s, now labelled as 'Classic Alternative' eventually became mainstream in the 90s thanks to Nirvana and the like.

Monday, February 18, 2019

#49. "Suburbia" - Pet Shop Boys (1986)

In spring 1986 after hearing the phenomenal "West End Girls", I immediately bought the debut album Please by The Pet Shop Boys. I wore out the cassette.

I grew up in a suburban neighbourhood full of barking dogs and bored teenagers similar to the one the Pet Shop Boys sang about in “Suburbia”

Back in the mid-80s most suburban kids I grew up with (including my brother) rebelled with metal. 

I preferred electronic tunes like “Suburbia” and dreamed of leaving the white picket fences and manicured lawns of Dartmouth. I always wanted to move to the city, not just Halifax, but somewhere even bigger. That became Vancouver and is another story.

“Suburbia” pulls me in with a yearning piano melody. The Boys admit to lifting the bassline from Madonna's "Into the Groove", so there's that too. The sample of dogs barking is particularly nostalgic.

The melody may sound somewhat whimsical but the bridge hints at resentment: "I only wanted something else to do but hang around". 

Fave lyrics: "Leeeeeeet's take a ride, and run with the dogs tonight"

An excellent live version from their 2009 tour is worth the view:

Sunday, February 17, 2019

#50. "Private Idaho" - The B-52s (1980)

If we attempted to chart artists and music genres on a graph, I'd place The B-52s at the intersection of punk and new wave. With "Private Idaho" at the dead centre. 

The B-52's are my favourite all-American band (Fleetwood Mac makes things complicated!). They're just so cool and cooky.

Forget about the party anthem "Love Shack", it's tunes like "Rock Lobster" (1979) and "Private Idaho" that are the heart and soul of this quirky outfit. 

The track flat out grooves, led by the surf guitar and fueled by lead singer Fred Schneider's deadpan vocal delivery, while Cindy and Kate lay down some amazing harmonies. 

"Private Idaho" is undoubtedly my favorite song about the subject of paranoia: "Get out of the state" referring to state of mind, not the actual potato capital of the US. 

A close second in terms of 80s songs about paranoia would be this Rockwell classic:

#51. "Train in Vein" - The Clash (1980)

Proof that post-punk can produce pleasing pop, "Train in Vein" by The Clash is unbelievably catchy. (The Cure pulled the same trick in 1992 with the radio-friendly "Friday I'm in Love").

I'll argue this is the group's best-aged song; it still gets mucho airtime on my road trip playlist. 

The melody is perfect and the harmonica is a nice touch. The heartfelt vocals convincingly deliver the heartbreak. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

#52. "(Every Day is) Halloween" - Ministry (1985)

Although Ministry is more known as an industrial/metal sort of outfit, the group went through a synth phase in the mid-80s.

"(Every Day is) Halloween" is an underground dance floor anthem made for misfits.

The lyrics detail a rejection of those looking or acting differently from everyone else, “People seem to stop and stare they say/Why are you dressed like it’s Halloween/You look so absurd, you look so obscene.” 

Highlights include heavy beats, samples galore and a bouncing bass line. I love the "bop beep bop bop" that weaves in and out among the verses before the glorious chorus “Why can’t I live a life for me?/Why should I take the abuse that’s served?”

An instrumental bridge featuring deep scratching is a darker take on Herbie Hancock's "Rock It".

I've always wondered if Daft Punk got its inspiration for the innovative "Around the World" video from the cartoon characters from "Everyday is Halloween".

Friday, February 15, 2019

#53. "Fascinated" - Company B (1987)

I'm fascinated by how fresh this jam still sounds in 2019, making it 32 years since it was released in 1987.

Along with "Come Go With Me" by ExposĂ©, Company B's "Fascinated" was an iconic Miami-based freestyle dance track that stormed the clubs in North America. 

The driving beat and relentless rhythm reels us in early and doesn't let go. 

It's also the sort of track I end up hitting repeat a few times.

The arrangement hints at 1984's "Axel F.", except "Fascinated" has those naughty lyrics. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

#54. "Thieves Like Us" - New Order (1984)

New Order does downtempo on the beautiful and epic "Thieves Like Us".

Recorded in New York with DJ Arthur Baker as a follow up to "Blue Monday", the song makes its mark with a sweeping cinematic opening, a full two minutes and twenty-five seconds of sonic bliss before the first vocal.

It's also New Order signature love song: the layered synths and Peter Hook's signature bass create captivating, dreamy melodies. Bernard Sumner often gets railed for his often out of tune vocals but his plaintiff style is especially fitting here. 

But that's part of the secret appeal of New Order, their imperfections make them perfectly human.

One of three New Order songs to be featured on the Pretty in Pink movie (although only "Shellshock" appears on the soundtrack), "Thieves Like Us" also appears on the Substance album that got me hooked on them back in 1986.

Fave lyrics: "I've studied the cracks and the wrinkles. You were always so vain"

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

#55. "Love on a Real Train" - Tangerine Dream (1984)

Fans of cinematic chill music will appreciate this one. So put on your headphones and be prepared to be transported to another world inside your mind.

I remember stumbling on "Love on a Real Trainafter picking up a mixed chillout CD sometime in the early 2000s, and thinking I'd heard this sublime track before. 

Turns out it had been featured in the 1983 film Risky Business (during the love-making scene on the train between the Tom Cruise & Rebecca de Mornay). The tune has since been included on other film soundtracks and television series. 

Pioneers of early electronica, German artist Tangerine Dream has produced dozens of scores for soundtracks including more than 20 in the 1980s alone.

"Love on a Real Train" is an epic classic of the genre: a hypnotic song that demands replay. The track guarantees a magical entrancing ride of the mind through layers of synth that build, ebb and flow. Chills and goosebumps should follow.

In fact, it's been remixed several times, an obvious homage to its greatness. Check out this recent version that is equally mind-blowing:

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

#56. "Eurasian Eyes" - Corey Hart (1986)

Did you always notice Corey Hart is running away in his videos?

Let’s take a moment to flashback and reflect on the essential elements of the quintessential Corey Hart video from the heydays circa 1985-86:

1. Running away from home, work, girlfriend, power outage. Check.

2. Alone and troubled, hands planted on face. Uh-huh.

3. Cold and lonely, and all dressed up with nowhere to go. Yep.  

Usually by the time a 4th single from an album rolls around it's often a questionable number tossed out there in an attempt to keep the artist in the limelight. But this time it isn't a sappy ballad about never giving up: this time he's missing a woman.

I'd argue that "Eurasian Eyes" is not only the best song on the prolific Boy in the Box album, it's his top song period.

It's also long been one of my favourite songs to play in the winter. 

The atmospheric music is outstanding, a moody mid-tempo track with an exotic vibe (no wonder it made the 9 1/2 weeks soundtrack) that accompanies Corey's passionate ruminations perfectly.

Fave lyrics: "Now I'm the one that lacks the eloquence to say".

"Sunglasses at Night" had made an earlier version of the top 100. And on some days it probably would, so here it is for those of you that may feel cheated about this glaring omission: 

Monday, February 11, 2019

#57. "Kiss You (When it's Dangerous)" - Eight Seconds (1986)

I've always been mega-fond of this one-hit wonder from the Ottawa area and thought it deserved a higher ranking.

Looking back we may have gotten it wrong a few times. While sappier songs like "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)" by Glass Tiger topped the charts, underrated melancholic gems like "Kiss You (When it's Dangerous)" barely cracked the top 20.

The keyboard-driven tune has an irresistible chorus and a fall vibe. Now over thirty years since its release, it's accurate to say that "Kiss You (When it's Dangerous)" is one of Canada's best contributions to the timeless new wave sound from the 80s.  

Fave lyric: "Of all things the thing that I want most, to catch you at the point where you don't have a clue."

Sunday, February 10, 2019

#58. "Don’t Walk On Past" - Blue Peter (1983)

This is the first of three Canadian songs in a row on this chart (yeah, Canada's music scene kinda boomed in the 80s). 

Let's make a blender shall we... 

Toss in a slice of Duran Duran groove (think "Rio"), mix in the suave sound of ABC, a dash of Roxy Music for inspiration, and a suit from a Spandau Ballet member and you get Toronto's Blue Peter one-hit wonder "Don't Walk Past".

Yeah, it may be borderline cheese but it's iconic at the same time. 

The tune has an immaculate arrangement and I always get a kick out of the blinking timed perfectly with the drums early in the clip. 

"Don't Walk Past" has an equally epic and unquestionably dated video featuring several period conventions: 
- a typewriter
- smoking in the office (albeit after hours)
- martini glasses: I counted 5 empty glasses and I ain't judging 
- fog (yes!)
- henchmen appearing from thin air aka the magic of video, 
- and the highlight: some of the slickest dance moves ever performed in a bonus moves at 3:05 from former MuchMusic VJ Rick the Temp in the lower inset. 

It's too bad the tune never got any traction in the US or UK markets. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

#59. "Shout" - Tears For Fears (1985)

The first of four to appear on this list from Tears For Fears, you could always count on them to release strong singles. 

Following the success of a trio of synth-pop songs from their debut album The Hurting, the release of "Shout" showed the band could rock it as well. 

"Shout" embraces the big production of the 80s with a six minute build that progressively adds more instruments, more singers, and more passion. 

The iconic guitar riff and the big fat, final chorus could have lasted another minute or two with no complaints here. 

I remember everyone at least liked this song, or was it that no one hated it.

Friday, February 8, 2019

#60. "White Wedding" - Billy Idol (1982)

Hey little sister...oh how I loved this tune! 

"White Wedding" may not have been a 'punk' song in the purest sense, but it was the high-water mark for what constituted the concept of "cool" to me in 1982 as a 13-year-old growing up in the safe confines of suburbia. 

A rare track we both liked, my brother and I used to emulate Billy Idol's iconic move of unwrapping his head scarf with improvised towels while singing along to the first verse.  

"White Wedding" was an anthem of attitude with all the fixings: epic opening, ladies in leather, fist-shaking, growling, cult-like proceedings, great guitar solo, smashed windows, exploding toasters and screaming bordering on caterwauling. 

Who cares what the lyrics mean, "White Wedding" is all about the delivery.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

#61. "Hungry Like the Wolf" - Duran Duran (1982)

I howl and I whine... about why these guys don't get the credit they deserve. 

Duran Duran are kinda like the Stones in a way; they both don't often get a lot of respect in the industry. Mislabeled as a 'boy band' in the mid-80s, some people forget band members actually played their instruments. And wrote their songs. 

Looking back, I think the critics were jealous because they were good looking guys who could play. Oh, snap. 

"Hungry like the Wolf" was the gateway to the band, and to the new wave genre for many of us a little too young to notice the music trends unfolding in the late 70s. 

The video came out in junior high, wooing North American teenage girls and boys alike, with their exotic and adventurous videos and irresistible new wave sound. 

Besides the grandiose chorus, "Hungry Like the Wolf" features the iconic "Do do do do do do do dodo dododo dodo" and an intriguing instrumental bridge. 

How good were these guys in the early 80s? 

Between gallivanting halfway around the world to create the classic trio "Hungry like the Wolf", "Rio", and "Save A Prayer" just before their Mad Max phase ("New Moon on Monday", "Union of the Snake", "Wild Boys"), they were asked by their record label to come up with a single to keep up a presence on the charts. Well, they winged it with what looked like a fifty dollar budget for "Is There Something I Should Know" (inspired by the video game Q*bert?), just because they could.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

#62. "Everything She Wants" - Wham! (1985)

Although Wham! is often perceived as a sort of throwback 60s / teeny bopper band, George Michael was bang on when he said that "Everything She Wants" was the group's most "80s sounding" song. I also agree with him that it's Wham!'s finest.

The track has a killer groove thanks to its synth foundation and a very catchy bass line.

But it's much more than another throwaway hit: the lyrics describing disillusionment with his partner's material demands are surprisingly moving. 

Despite later bemoaning much of Wham!'s earlier material, George Michael continued to play "Everything She Wants" live when he became a solo artist.

Watch this performance from 1996's MTV Unplugged (above) and you'll hear and feel a totally different vibe from one of pop's most talented vocalists.

For comparison, check out the six-and-a-half minute original video, a version with two bridges:

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

#63. "Secret" - OMD (1985)

OMD had been around the block a few times before their smash hit "If You Leave" from Pretty in Pink made them household names in North America.

In fact, OMD (short for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) experimented with samplers and synthesizers since the mid-70s, one of the early pioneers of electronic music in the UK. I only 'discovered' them in 1985 when their singles "Secret" and "So In Love" cracked the charts in Canada on Video Hits.

"Secret" is light and fluffy slice of dreamy synth: a heartfelt tale of a secret youthful crush. 

But it's the soaring bridge that pushes "Secret" in front of the other superb single from OMD's Crush album.

From the same album, "So In Love" is another great track with a catchy bass line and some timely sax. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

#64. "Fascination Street" - The Cure (1989)

The Cure are one of the most misunderstood bands of all time. 

First of all, they are not "goth". I'd argue they are unclassifiable (is that even a word?). And man, I like to make me some categories...

Kings of versatility, The Cure can play any style they dang well please.

Pick up any album since 1982 and you'll discover a diverse range of moods and sounds (rock, pop, bitter and the sweet, the three minute orchestral openings, the painfully sad and slow dirges to the insanely happy, loonie-tunes and everything in between).

"Fascination Street" is a masterpiece of texture. 

Epic may be an overused adjective these days but the word defines this track perfectly. The sweeping layered intro lasts 1:20 before Robert Smith's first vocal kicks in. 

Everyone brings it on this intense groove: from Simon Gallup's throbbing even menacing bass line, the hypnotic rhythm guitar, and just enough (but not too much) synth. 

The song is apparently a tribute to the band's escapades on New Orlean's Bourbon Street. Or it could be about a disintegrating relationship? That's the beauty musical lyrics, the multiple interpretations.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

#65. "Fascination" - The Human League (1983)

Caution: Guilty pleasure alert! 

By 1983 The Human League was already 5 years old. Formed in Sheffield, England's industrial heartland, they were one of the first synth bands to make it big, scoring hits on both sides of the Atlantic with "Don't You Want Me" in 1981 and "Mirror Man" in 1982. 

"Fascination" hit the charts in 1983 as the synths stormed the airwaves, even getting lost in the shuffle. But I'll still choose to play this one more then most Duran classics. Gotta love the democracy at play on this track, with the vocals shared by four band members.

About that cheesy keyboard melody: you'll either love it or it'll drive you bonkers. Add in that ear worm of a bass line and I can't get enough of it! 

If anything, "Fascination" is ample proof that synth music isn't all 'cold' and 'detached' as its detractors like to share.  

The video is reflective of shoestring budgets back in the day:
- Secure a small white-walled room in a low-rent part of town. Check.
- Play or airplay your instruments with reckless abandon. Check.
- Strategically-timed hand clapping to match the percussion. Check.
- Synchronized dance moves by the cute back-up singers. Check.
- Film in one take. Check.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

#66. "Situation" - Yazoo (1982)

For a brief period in the early 80s the most popular duo was neither Hall & Oates nor Wham. Synth melody mastermind Vince Clarke (a former and founding member of Depeche Mode) combined with the strong, soul-inspired vocals of Alison Moyet to form Yazoo (or Yaz in North America). 

The result? "Situation" is nothing short of a cutting-edge electronic masterpiece. 

I seem to recall the intro, with Alison's iconic laugh, played during the intro to a music video program on the now defunct ASN channel from the early 80s (perhaps Katrina could verify that as well?). 

Another Yazoo new wave classic just missing the top 100 list is "Don't Go":  

Friday, February 1, 2019

#67. "Little Red Corvette" - Prince (1983)

"Little Red Corvette" is an anthem about the dynamics of a one-night stand. (Aren't all of of Prince's songs about sex?)

Prince's breakthrough song was a brilliant fusion of rock and dance.

Plus a whole lot of attitude: the girl-as-corvette metaphor recounts the subject of wild weekend escapades. 

Not only an evocative storyteller, Prince showed he was also a pretty decent guitarist too.

And since it was 1983, the synths and drum machines are alive and well. Stir in a few timely guitar solos into the mix and voilĂ : "Little Red Corvette" is a perfect example of post-disco pop. And a hint of what was yet to come from the king of leisure

A well-known fact: Stevie Nicks borrowed the tune's melody for "Stand Back".

A close #2 fave Prince tune tune would this catchy slice of psychedelia: