Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 5 – Punk, pop punk, and garage rock

Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering (and have already covered) on this challenge, head over here.

First of all, apologies for this part of the challenge coming a week late. I took a short trip to Chicago and fully intended on working on this post during my trip… of course, that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, I’m back on the wagon!

After the dreary ineptitude of the previous week’s albums, I’ve decided to take things in a bit of a different direction. While many albums from countless genres emerged from the 2000s, it is widely assumed that this decade is where pop punk had its peak. While such a case can certainly be made for the middle of the decade, what about the first year? The garage rock revival was also pretty big in this decade too, so I’ll cram that into here as well. We’ve already gotten an example of 2000’s pop punk – which wasn’t very good – so now’s a good time to check out what the rest of the year has to offer. Well, at least based on what I played in my library back in the day. Keep on readin’!

Stomping Ground – Goldfinger

Goldfinger were yet another band whose presence was very much a non-factor in my listening habits growing up. Much like Flogging Molly and Papa Roach, there wasn’t much about Goldfinger that I found feeling strongly about as a teen. Their biggest single “Here in Your Bedroom” definitely made its rounds in my iPod and “Superman” will always holds a certain nostalgia to me for its usage in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (which I played often). Nonetheless, I always saw them as just sort of an okay band – one toward which I never really put all that much thought (this will probably be a consistent theme going forward with this project).

And even with as little mind I had paid this band for their third-wave ska material of the 90s, I gave even less of a damn for their later straight-forward pop punk material which all but abandoned these origins. I think you can guess which category today’s album fits in. For the most part, Stomping Ground follows two major themes from song to song: aggravated flexing and boasting aimed at some unknown third party (“Pick a Fight”, “The End of the Day”, and Bro”, for example), or post-breakup moping and commiserating (“Carry On”, “Don’t Say Goodbye”, “Counting the Days”). Nothing here is particularly ground-breaking in its sound or its lyrical structure – and yet somehow, the album as a whole is a pretty decent listen.

Much of this is due to the undeniable chemistry balanced between each of the band’s members. Although lead vocalist/guitarist John Feldmann has certainly seen better days, the most consistent performance is from drummer Darrin Pfeiffer, whose energy throughout this album is so damn admirable. Where this album tends to excel is in its hooks. Although the lyrics aren’t the strongest, I can’t deny that I had the melody of “Pick a Fight” stuck in my head for quite a while after it ended. Additionally, “Counting the Days” is probably the strongest example of their style when done right – juvenile and silly in its lyricism, yet catchy and oddly charming nonetheless.

Still, not everything is great. While there are more than a few perfectly fine pop punk tunes hidden away here, these are sadly undercut by an assortment of poor decisions. “End of the Day” is clumsy and confused in its structure, choosing to sample Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” for no apparent reason. “Bro” is initially enjoyable in its lampooning of hardcore punk clichés, but it very quickly gets obnoxious. “Forgiveness” is one of the tighter cuts that nonetheless rides with the “turn the other cheek” advice that is truly tiresome. Also notable is the cover of “99 Red Balloons” – unfortunately, it is the English-language version which, as I noted elsewhere, is inferior to the original German version.

Overall, I see no reason not to recommend this album to someone looking for some perfectly decent, passable pop punk – but amazing, this is not.

Best tracks: “Pick a Fight”, “Counting the Days”

The New America – Bad Religion

Bad Religion is one of the oldest bands I have covered on this challenge so far (beaten only by The Cure). To be honest, I never quite got into much of the band’s earlier stuff as a teenager – sure, I owned a copy of No Control which I gave a spin now and then, but I mostly gravitated toward their more pop punk fare of the 90s and 2000s. Even with my limited experience, though, there’s no denying how different the sound in The New America differs from their earlier, more hardcore punk tracks – every track here is far more polished, with the melodies given center stage, along with more refined, personal lyricism.

Yet even without the rough, rawness that defined much of their early music, there’s still a lot to enjoy here. One of my favorite elements of Bad Religion’s music has always been Greg Graffin’s vocals, and his performance throughout this record is totally impassioned despite what he might be singing about. Greg Hetson’s guitar work and Bobby Schayer’s drums are also undeniably good. I was actually the most shocked to realize that this album was produced by none other than Todd Rundgren! Not quite the name I would connect with Bad Religion, that’s for sure.

My one major complaint would be with the tendency for certain tracks to sound almost indistinguishable from one another. “It’s a Long Way to the Promise Land” and “New America” are the most obvious culprits, with similar tempos, identical lyrical themes, and the exact same “whoa-oh” vocal hook in the chorus. Numerous songs on here also seem to struggle with putting across its messages effectively, and much of the blame can be placed on poor production decisions. “1000 Memories” attempts to deal with the topic of divorce in a moment of personal reflection, but it’s hard to take it very seriously when it’s backed by peppy, excitable drums and guitar that undercut its very real emotions. Additionally, “I Love My Computer” is such a dated embarrassment of a filler track, with awkward robotic voices accompanying verses with lines like, “I love my computer, you’re always in the mood / I get so turned on when I turn on you”.

Still, all of these flaws can be forgiven by the performances that the band members give from track to track. Every song on here (well, except for “I Love My Computer”) is embellished with a particular kind of pop punk energy that is just so infectious, you can’t stop listening. For me, at least, the centerpiece is “A Streetkid Named Desire”, which combines this atmosphere with strong melodies and lyrics that could be fiercely relatable for any punk kid trying to find their place in the world. I loved listening to this track as a kid, and I still love it today, holding onto its testament as one of the strongest tracks in Bad Religion’s whole repertoire.

Best tracks: “You’ve Got a Chance”, “A Streetkid Named Desire”

The Ever Passing Moment – MxPx

MxPx were yet another band that never left much of a blip on my radar, but I did have acquaintances in middle school and high school that were into them. My understanding of them was that they were more of a tamer sort of pop punk band – the kind that never cursed in their lyrics, played by most conventions of pleasurable music, and were generally safe to listen to around parents. I tended to opt for more of the harder, angstier stuff during my teen years, so they mostly flew right by me. Nonetheless, I did at one point have “Responsibility” sitting in my music library at some point – which means I gotta review its album. Those are the rules!

Basically, all of my initial hunches from when I was younger turned out to be generally correct. I just barely found out that MxPx are oft classified as a Christian band, and while I didn’t really get any of the spiritual vibes from any of these songs (except “It’s Undeniable”, mildly) the sound of the band definitely exemplifies the type of candy-coated naivety I often associate with Christian rock. It’s not that the themes at play aren’t universal – rather, I can only see them being relatable for a very distinct age group. For example, the big radio song from this album “Responsibility” states, “Responsibility – what’s that? / I don’t want to think about it; we’d be better off without it”. I sure wish that were even a modicum of an option in adulthood…

In all seriousness, though, the first thing I noticed from this record was just how infectiously positive so many of these tunes came off as. It certainly is a bit of a refresher coming off the heels of Chocolate Starfish. Moreover, this level of positive energy is carried from song to song in a remarkably consistent style and structure. Literally every song is an mid- to high-tempo slice of pop punk, carried primarily by Mike Herrera’s bass and vocals, as well as Tom Wisniewski’s prominent guitar work. And yes, the juvenile nature of these lyrics are certainly part of the appeal. They point to a simpler time when pop punk didn’t need to change the world – it just needed to be fun to hear live.

The consistency is admirable, but the problems start when it starts to seem like the guys are simply playing different versions of the same song again and again. Thus, the personality of each track feels flat and muddled after a while. There’s a lot here to like and appreciate, but not very much to love. Nonetheless, I can acknowledge that this album probably just isn’t for me. While my music preferences in high school often lay in the dark, dreary side of things, I’m sure these songs meant a lot for kids who really desire a solid pick-me-up. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Best tracks: “My Life Story”, “Responsibility”

Veni Vidi Vicious – The Hives

Even though I wasn’t all that aware of The Hives until the release of their next album, I also had a few earlier tracks from this album swimming around in my library. The revival of garage rock was also getting pretty huge in the 2000s, and this album was one of the spearheaders of this particular movement. The credibility of this revival is eternally up for debate, but there’s no denying that it did grant us some pretty damn good music. Even though I didn’t get into many of the other garage rock revival bands of the aughts until after high school, the rough, rawness of The Hives (and the band with which I’ve always confused them – The Vines) have always appealed to me in ways that a lot of contemporary radio rock bands never quite did.

To put it bluntly, this is a damn great sophomore record. Running at just under thirty minutes in total, it’s an absolute tour de force of ragged, rowdy rock goodness. The closest and most obvious comparison is to the 60s garage rock band The Sonics, to which the Hives are obviously attempting to pay homage (take a listen to their 1965 album Here Are the Sonics, for a good example). The sound of the band is heavily carried forward by the distinct vocals of Pelle Almqvist and the ear-grabbing guitar work from Nicolaus Arson. Sure, the songwriting might falter here and there, but maybe that’s also part of the attempt to recapture the authenticity of classic garage rock. In any case, it’s pure dynamic tension and release from start to finish, and it’s a real blast to listen to.

Yet even though their higher tempo cuts like “A Get Together to Tear It Apart” and “Outsmarted” are delightful bursts of punch-in-the-face energy, I find myself personally favoring their slightly slower, more polished tracks which really demonstrate their strengths. In songs like these, their riffs are consistently sharp and the tracks as a whole are undeniably catchy. The one outlier is, of course, “Find Another Girl”, which opts for a tropical, synth-laden sound that, while pleasant, really sticks out like a sore thumb in the context of the whole album.

From that point on, the tail end of the album tends to blend into each other from track to track – which really isn’t a bad thing, since it’s the same kind of powerful vibes we’ve already been used to. Ultimately, this record makes me nostalgic for this early time in the decade when rock bands weren’t afraid to look far backward for inspiration. It’s something that comes few and far between these days, and while that observation may end up dating this album, I’d say it’s all for the better. Check this out!

Best tracks: “Die, All Right!”, “Main Offender”, “Hate to Say I Told You So”, “The Hives – Introduce the Metric System in Time”

All Hands on the Bad One – Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney are such an amazing, unique, totally terrific band… and I so wish I had known more about them when I was in high school! Indeed, my knowledge of Sleater-Kinney was limited to only a few songs here and there, which often got scrambled up in the mess of whatever else I was listening to at the time. While I can’t think of any concrete reasoning behind this, I’m sure I would have gotten way more into them had they been played more on the radio stations I frequented. I opted more toward the alternative rock, hard rock, classic rock, and metal stations, whereas I first heard of Sleater-Kinney through some chance encounters on the indie rock station, which I never frequented as much.

“You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun” was one of the first tracks from the group that I had ever heard and I was always charmed by how different it sounded from anything else. Of course, much of the distinction of this song, as I first heard it, is that it is headed by three totally badass ladies. All three members of the band – vocal/guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss – bring their A-game to the track and the results are an awesome fireball of attitude. Lyrically, though, it’s much smarter than I think I understood back in the day. It’s a fierce kiss-off to the snobbish, hedonistic male rock stars that plague the industry like a disease. It’s a problem that few male-led bands are willing to admit, so having it so front-and-center like this is… so refreshing.

Of course, All Hands on the Bad One is just as fiercely feminist in its entirety as this introductory track would suggest. Not that I wasn’t already convinced when I listened through the band’s entire discography a couple years ago, but revisiting this certainly helps. Through slickly intertwining vocal melodies and sharp, powerful guitar hooks, Sleater-Kinney emits their consistently smart lyricism with equal parts bitterness and groovy fun. And it bears emphasizing that Corin Tucker’s vocal delivery is the best thing ever, and shades each track with a healthy portion of vibrant personality unlike anything else.

Though, it’s not like this album was in need of that as, once again, Brownstein and Weiss are fabulous in their own rights. There really isn’t too much more I could say about this one – it’s all the best parts of the riot grrl scene collected in a slightly more polished package that, nonetheless, doesn’t hamper its quality. I couldn’t be happier revisiting this album for this challenge – it’s easily the best album I’ve found from the year 2000 so far and I couldn’t recommend it any more highly.

Best tracks: “The Ballad of a Ladyman”, “All Hands on the Bad One”, “You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun”, “Was It a Lie?”, “Milkshake n’ Honey” (they’re all great, though)

De Stijl – The White Stripes

And now for the second of four bands that made up the aforementioned garage rock revival of the aughts (I’ll talk about the other two later on in the challenge). It should come as no surprise that The White Stripes comprised a good chunk of my listening habits as a preteen and teenager. I was in my teens when the band reached the height of their commercial peak, and I do remember being a pretty huge fan of their sixth and final album Icky Thump (though I have no idea how well it holds up). Still, I had somehow never given a listen to their earlier stuff until this challenge, so it’s about time that I dive right into their sophomore album, De Stijl.

(I doubt that anything Jack White has ever done and ever will do will be as good as his bit on Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story… but I digress)

There is a lot to admire here, in particular the ways that the duo do a whole lot with so little. In comparison to their later stuff, which would get denser and more complex in instrumentation as the years went on, these songs are composed of just a few basic elements: Jack White on guitar and vocals, Meg White on drums and percussion. Nonetheless, each song carries on a life of its own, whether it be through strong electric blues influence or production more akin to the 60s garage rock or folk rock movements. This is best exemplified in their track “Apple Blossom”, which carries itself with a traditional-sounding melody and a strong, pronounced rhythm, even throwing some piano into the mix. It is also the one track that makes the best use of Meg White’s drumming, which tend to be watered down through the album in comparison to Jack White’s contributions.

And that goes right into what I consider to be a major downside to this record: Jack White’s writing. A good portion of the songs on this album have at least partially to do with (a) a woman in turmoil (or dead), or (b) a man whose life is inconvenienced to some degree by a woman. The album doesn’t ever delve into anything explicitly sexist, but songs like these are steeped in male entitlement that just take me out of the overall vibe of this record, if slightly. The fact that I am aware that the Stripes would go on to make much better music does help this go down a bit more smoothly, though. I guess I would recommend this album to anyone interested in hearing the humble beginnings of this soon-to-be-huge duo – it really is intriguing! Still, the musicianship would only improve from here, so let’s keep our chins up.

Best tracks: “Hello Operator”, “Apple Blossom”

From this point onward, I hope to make these posts more consistent and on time. Five weeks in and I’m still having a good time, which is very promising! Next week, I’ll touch upon records from the more metal side of things – considering that I listen to considerably less metal music nowadays, this will be interesting to revisit. Thanks for reading, once again!!

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Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “Harlem Shake” (2012) by Baauer

After having focused almost exclusively on rock music from the year 2000 these past few weeks, it’s about time that I turned my attention back toward this other sprawling challenge (what can I say – I like keeping busy). While a number of the artists I’ve covered on this challenge so far have fallen into that dreaded “one-hit wonder” category – notably, The Escape Club and Divine – this artist and his chart-topping track may very possibly be one of the newest entries to this club. Of course, we’ve still got to wait to see if Magic!, Omi, and/or Desiigner can shake things up with another hit on the US pop charts – but I would argue that Baauer almost certainly won’t achieve another touch of fame.

Of course, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that this is necessarily due to lack of talent on Baauer’s part… but I’ll back up a bit. Baauer is an American producer, having produced dance music to some degree since the age of thirteen. Shortly before getting signed to the LuckyMe record label, he released his debut single “Harlem Shake” in spring of 2012. Of course, this received little to no recognition in most places initially – it’s not a song, after all, but an electronic instrumental that was meant solely for dancing to in clubs. Yet for reasons that I’m still trying to wrap my head around, this record quickly gained traction and by February 2012 made it to number-one on the H0t 100, where it stayed for five consecutive weeks. It would become the fourth biggest single of that year.

Of course, as would be the case with “Black Beatles” a few years later, this track would find its true calling in its use as – you guess it! – an internet meme. The whole “Harlem Shake” trend was sparked by YouTube personality George Miller (a.k.a. Filthy Frank, Pink Guy, joji, whatever you wanna call him), which quickly led to many others aping the challenge with their own twist. As with the “Black Beatles” challenge, the plain silliness and absurdity of the meme exceeds any attempt to explain the point – it really just has to be seen to be believed. Nonetheless, it should be emphasized that for a brief speck of time, this trend was huge. Even my own family jumped on it while the kettle was still hot – check it out, it’s cute!

As fate would have it, the rise in “Harlem Shake”‘s popularity led Billboard to amend their policies to allow YouTube streams to partially determine chart placement. It is arguably through this rule change alone that led the track to top the pop charts (being the first instrumental track to do so since Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice Theme” from 1985) and stay there for an impressive five weeks. And to argue this point wouldn’t be without any reason – after all, there was little to no major label promotion to heighten listeners’ awareness of the track, and outside of this viral meme, the song had relatively little airplay on radio stations in general.

Of course, trying to explain the nature of the meme and how it connected with others in such a wide-spreading way would be a futile attempt. Like many memes, the point is irony, absurdity, and little else. It’s silliness for silliness’s sake – which would definitely go hand-in-hand with how silly this record sounds for many, especially those not familiar with electronic dance music (EDM). The height of “Harlem Shake”‘s hype came around the time in pop music where everything was big, bright, and danceable. Since the dawn of the 2010s, club music absolutely dominated much of the pop charts; names like Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, LMFAO, and others appeared near the top of the charts with rising frequency, indicating the infectious quality of dance-pop. Nonetheless, as the 2010s marched on, this trend seemed to be decidedly aimed more toward the pop side of things – big female voices and singable, anthem-like lyrics were the dominating trend, as they’ve always been.

I could go more and more into how the absurdism of YouTube culture gave a deeper connotation to the overall sound of Baauer’s track, but that would make this review longer than I think it’s worth. All you need to know right now is that internet humor often borders on the weird and satirical. “Harlem Shake” comes from an electronic subgenre known as trap, which itself is derived from popular trends of southern hip-hop (many of which can be found in today’s popular music). Baauer spent a single day in his Brooklyn apartment producing the track, after which he posted it online not thinking it would reach anywhere. And it’s plainly obvious, with the raw, unpolished format of this track (as well as the copyright infringement claims over uncleared samples that arose with the track’s exposure) that this track wasn’t manufactured to be a hit at all.

After an initial vocal sample, an electronic riff consisting of rhythmic, buzzing synth snares and hand claps builds and builds in intensity for about ten seconds. And then the breakdown occurs – “And do the Harlem shake” – wherein this same repetitive riff continues in half-time, this time with more of a snare effect and deeper pumping bass. This continues for another couple measure – with the addition of other vocal samples and… a lion’s growl? – after which the track just kind of folds upon itself again and again for another two minutes. And then it’s over. This is where the connotations of absurdity come into play and why I think this appealed to Miller and other internet pranksters. Around the peak of this track’s acclaim, music publications such as Pitchfork actually praised “Harlem Shake” for its clever integration of numerous genres of electronic music (trap, house, bass, etc.) into one singular track. I don’t know enough about modern dance music to comment much on this claim – and most people don’t either! The average listener so used to the easily consumable tracks of Katy Perry and Usher would undoubtedly find this track – filled with seemingly random sound effects and awkward tone switches – just plain odd.

And to the internet, what’s absurd is pure comedic gold. So that answers the question as to how this weird little record got famous in the first place. But honestly, when detached from time and place, it really does not hold up. Not only has the novelty of the track worn off, not just by overplay but also with elements previously unusual to the charts now a common part of the pop music lexicon… but it’s just not an enjoyable listen. The wonkiness of its sound is basic enough to be relatively consumable by a wider audience, but that leaves little room for any sense of unique craft or creativity to the mix. Most folks who have heard this song are mostly familiar with its first thirty seconds as used in the multitude of “Harlem Shake” challenge videos out there – and honestly, that’s enough. After those initial thirty seconds, the track repeats its sound effects and samples to a degree where it no longer feels fun – just plain annoying.

Nonetheless, the fact that this track alone led YouTube to become implemented into Billboard chart numbers is an absolutely game-changing move. To this day, it’s damn near impossible for a track to make it big on the pop charts without the streaming numbers to back it up. It is strange that it is this single, of all singles, that would jump in out of nowhere to shake things up in the most vital way in a long, long time. But then again, we do live in strange times… so I guess it’s pretty fitting.

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Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 4 – Post-grunge, nu-metal, and industrial

Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering on this challenge, head over here.

In my previous post for Rockin’ Thru the Aughts, I focused on music from the more soft rock side of things. Here, I’ll pump things up a few more notches once again. Specifically, we’ll be uncovering the embarrassing time in my life when I unironically dug post-grunge, nu-metal, and industrial rock. These genres aren’t exactly the hotbeds of ripe, breath-taking talent – and the following albums demonstrate this.

Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy – Mindless Self Indulgence

I have been looking forward to reviewing this album ever since I embarked upon this very first year of this challenge. I first heard of Mindless Self Indulgence around the time I started downloading music. I was about twelve and a girl I was befriending gave me a list of songs asking me to make a mix CD for her (in exchange for $5). I also discovered Bad Religion and Black Flag through this list, but one of the songs I distinctly remember being placed somewhere in the middle was a song from Frankenstein Girls called “F*ggot”. Right away, I was intrigued by just how different this song sounded from anything else I’ve ever heard – the music seemed to have no proper sense of rhythm, the lyrics were wildly crass, and lead vocalist James Euringer (stage name Jimmy Urine) was the energetic force of screams and explosive falsetto, the likes of which had never before entered my eardrums.

Of course, I sought out more of their stuff immediately. It was super fitting that I had also just discovered Nirvana around this time and was swiftly entering the rebellious part of my adolescence. This was the kind of stuff I dared to play either really loud with headphones or really loud in my room when no one else was home. In either case, it must be played loud. I continued to listen to Mindless Self Indulgence pretty far into high school, but then their sound started to change and I just… grew up. Thus, I left them behind, and behind they stayed for the past near-decade. Still, just peering at the famous Jamie Hewlett-illustrated cover takes me back to a simpler time, when such things were still fresh and shocking. I even repurchased the physical copy of the CD in an attempt to somehow recapture that energy… even though I’m pretty sure

And, well… at least I wasn’t surprised. You know that you’re in for a bad time when the only song that comes close to being any good is the first track of the album. Unlike the vast majority of the album’s remaining tracks, at least “Backmask” has something to say: “Remember those people who claimed that old Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd records contained hidden Satanic messages when played backward? Pretty silly, right? Let’s make fun of them!”. Indeed, the “hidden messages” portion of this song lampoons this by stating innocuous messages like, “Clean your room” and, “Get dressed for church” – it’s not top-tier humor, of course, but at least it’s something.

The back of the CD case cover, below the track titles, is labeled with a quote from Lenny Bruce: “It’s the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness”. I’m not sure how the general culture of the year 2000 would have responded to the statement – while I fully acknowledge the significance of freedom of speech, nowadays such vehement upholding of its importance just comes off as a huge red flag. Indeed, Euringer and folks fully embrace their right for creative freedom in an “equal opportunity offender” kind of way.

Every song is incredibly vulgar, which isn’t a crime in itself. The problem is that MSI manages to trash any potential for poetry or craftiness in place of loudness and unfettered tastelessness, both in sound and in content. “Clarissa” is a needless diss track revolving around the 90s teen show Clarissa Explains It All. “I’m Your Problem Now” revolves almost entirely around the line, “I love my mommy ’cause she fucked the shit out of my dad”. There are many others along this line, but it’s frankly really exhausting trying to digest it all, especially when Euringer so generously peppers his lyrics with the aforementioned homophobic slur (which, as a queer woman, I will operate my choice to censor).

And it’s not even just about the lyrics. From one track to the next, the production is bombarded with a healthy dose of hip-hop effects, synth keyboards, distorted guitars, and irregular time signatures. It’s pretty cool at first – I didn’t really mind the prominent sample of Siouxsie Sioux’s “Happy House” in “Bitches”, and “Holy Shit” comes off as a relatively tasteful lampoon of the nu-metal genre as a whole. Of course, though, the band finds a way to make this style very tiresome very quickly. Of course, much of this is due to Euringer’s incessant personality, which make songs like the falsetto-sung “Masturbates”, the thankfully short “Futures”, and the mock-reggae “Played” just insufferable.

Thankfully, in true punk rock fashion, none of these songs are long enough to generate annoyance past a small pocket of time, with “I Hate Jimmy Page” as the only song that reaches and extends beyond the three-minute mark. Still, there are thirty tracks here (all arranged alphabetically by title, for some reason I’m not yet aware), which extends this album to nearly an hour. That’s an hour of jittery, jumping, scream-singing about such enlightening topics as masturbation and Cantinflas (an especially huge “fuck you” for that one). This one is best being left in the past.

Best track: “Backmask”

Infest– Papa Roach

Alright, I got a little out of control with that long review up there. Unfortunately (Fortunately? Thankfully??), I want to keep most of my reviews on this challenge relatively short. So, I’ll continue. I can’t say that Papa Roach ever had as much of an impact on me growing up as, say, Linkin Park or No Doubt; however they have always just been around. I remember classmates and family members mentioning them in passing when I was still listening exclusively to Top 40 radio, and then I finally added their songs to my library sometime during middle school. Later, I missed a chance to go see the band live at my local county fair.

These aren’t exactly the most riveting experiences to connect to the band – though I guess it’s fitting, considering that this record isn’t very impactful either. The title track opens up the album, and like most of these opening tracks, you get a good idea of what the rest will entail. Leading vocalist Jacoby Shaddix introduces the track with, “My name is Coby Dick; Mr. Dick if you’re nasty”, and the remainder of the verses are rapped with a flow that actually isn’t too bad, if a bit stiff. The album as a whole relishes in this juxtaposition between angry, bitter rap lyrics about problems with polished-but-still-angry choruses, although some tracks, like “Broken Home”, are decidedly more melodic throughout. These problems range between depression, alienation, angst, addiction, betrayal… basic early 2000s rap-rock stuff.

Of course, “Last Resort” is the big track on this one. The fact that this song has become a meme of sorts demonstrates how poorly this style has aged. The sound is big, aggressive, and heavy, but the lyrics, no matter how forcefully posited, are just pedestrian. “Broken Home”, additionally, leaves no room for subtlety: “I know my mother loves me, but does my father even care? / If I’m sad or angry, you were never ever there”. And it gets more embarrassing from there. “Revenge” attempts to paint a domestic abuse situation with cartoonish violence and guitars that are awkwardly mixed at the foreground. “Binge” could have been a truly resonating track about alcoholism, but it never hits deep enough to really make an impact. “Between Angels and Insects” is an impassioned rant against money, materialism, and… employment? Yeah, these lyrics somehow try too hard without trying at all, and maybe not the best coming from a band with a record deal from DreamWorks.

Not gonna lie, though – I did like “Dead Cell”, as it feels like one of the only tracks with a real pulse. Granted, it’s not enough for me to listen to it on my own free time – it’s just the best in relative terms. I guess this is a good album if you’re fourteen and hate your parents, but otherwise I’m not sure what anyone could get out of it.

Best track: “Dead Cell”

Broke – Hed PE

I should admit now that nu-metal has never really been my thing. Even though I was pretty young in its hey-day and didn’t exactly make the best decisions in terms of music, I still understood that most of the genre was pretty try-hard and silly. Of course, I still had my own guilty pleasures of the genre, like Slipknot, Static-X, and others. As for this band, I never heard too much from them – they only made a minor splash at the turn of the decade, and are now mostly known for being 9/11 Truthers. Oh, fun!

Thankfully, Hed PE mostly choose to keep their seedy political views out of their music (and the fact that this was pre-9/11 helps). For the most part, Broke just combines a whole slew of gangsta rap clichés with loud and aggressive alternative metal vocals. The vocals come from leading man Jared Gomes (aka M.C.O.D.), and while you can’t say that he has no personality, his style is… aesthetically unpleasing. His rap flow is on point, sure, but it also features that insufferable whine that Fred Durst has perfected to an art. Just taking a listen to the first two tracks “Killing Time” and “Waiting to Die”, which also both feature some pretty annoying guttural vocal inflections that are just… painful.

As I mentioned before, the gangsta rap elements of this are pretty palpable. The main theme of this record is hedonism – specifically through alcohol, drugs, and sex – while also touching upon the darker sides of this. Their single “Bartender” is the only track of theirs I knew before this record, and it’s actually a succinct demonstration of their style when it isn’t overly saturated with ego and empty flexing. Unfortunately, the next track “Crazy Legs” does exactly this, with aggressively uncreative rapping about getting loaded and getting laid, with generic distorted backing and an awful chorus that interpolates The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” of all things.

And then there’s the misogyny. Women in these lyrics serve little purpose besides acting as sex objects (in the tradition of gangsta rap, I guess), and there’s an uncomfortable infatuation with Gomes fucking other people’s daughters. Rock bottom comes with “Stevie”, a violently disgruntled song aimed toward a woman who does this guy wrong, with a breakdown that strongly suggests physical abuse to keep her in her place (not to mention that the title comes from the line, “I’m no deaf or dumb, I’m not Little Stevie Wonder”).

The two final tracks “Jesus (Of Nazareth)” and “The Meadow (Special Like You)” offer a bit of emotional depth to the record – but it’s too little too late, not to mention that Gomes’s impassioned singing on the latter is atrocious. Yeah, this record sucks – it’s easy to see how this band just faded into utter obscurity after the nu-metal trend died out.

Best track: “Bartender”

Something Like Human – Fuel

So, everyone who knows of Fuel was probably introduced to them through their rock radio hit “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)”, which comes from this record and remains possibly their most well-known single. Not me – I was introduced to them through their lesser single “Bad Day”, which was featured along the tail end of Now That’s What I Call Music! 8 (which I gave more than a few spins in my day). Later on I would definitely come to know

Maybe I’ve just had a bad run this week (I mean, take a look at the three albums I’ve reviewed so far), but I was actually surprised going into this album how not awful it was! Sure, “Last Time” is a bit too repetitive for my liking, but it’s got a decent guitar groove by Carl Bell – who is also the primary songwriter – and is generally… well, okay. This leads into the aforementioned “Hemorrhage”, which continues to ride this wave, even adding in a blissful little melody line at the pre-chorus (“Don’t fall away… and leave me to myself”). Bret Scallions’s nasally vocals take a bit of getting used to, but it honestly works so well for the grueling, anguished style of this record overall. These lyrics never cut too deep and offer the same brand of angsty melancholy from one track to the next… but there’s nothing inherently wrong with being consistent!

Nonetheless, the problems become clear the further the record digs in. Bell’s guitar work is solid through and through, which helps to elevate lesser tracks like “Empty Spaces” and “Scar”. But after a while, one can’t help but to desire a little something different, which is something that is introduced briefly with “Bad Day”. It switches gears by introducing an lone guitar that builds upon itself, a strong melody-driven hook, and an unconventional lyrical structure. Maybe it’s just my nostalgia talking, but by the time Scallions sings, “And she swears there’s nothing wrong…”, I find myself unconsciously singing along. But then “Prove” comes around, and we’re back on the same ol’ post-grunge angst schtick that now seems dull by comparison.

I’ve somehow just come to realize that what all four of these records (Frankenstein Girls, InfestBrokeSomething Like Human) have in common is that they’re all second-album efforts from their respective bands. Although the Fuel record is easily the best of these bunch, it’s now clear as to why they call it the “sophomore slump”.

Best tracks: “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)”, “Bad Day”

Vapor Transmission – Orgy

Oh cool, another sophomore album… okay, I’ll stop whining about that. So, this one goes back to high school for me, during the couple of years when I was really into EBM, darkwave, and industrial rock. Even before this, though, I was familiar in passing with Orgy’s cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday”, which was their biggest hit and came from their debut Candyass. This album spawned their two other hits (much smaller than “Blue Monday”) before they fell off the map altogether. I never listened to this album as a whole, but I did gladly bump “Opticon” from time to time.

Even without having listened to their debut album, I can already get the hunch that this album was their steering into more pop elements than with which they had started. A quick listen to the opening tracks demonstrate this, with the relatively by-the-numbers “Suckerface” and the plainly melodic “The Odyssey”. Of course this is all backed by the buzzing synths and the ultra-distorted guitars that characterize industrial rock, and it’s clear that vocalist Jay Gordon is putting up a front of toughness in order to get this mood across. Yet once it reaches “Opticon”, this tone loosens up a bit – the song is in 4/4 and has a chorus you can sing along to. Okay, so the lyrics are a tad too sci-fi to be straight pop, but you can’t deny it’s catchy.

“Fiction – Dreams in Digital” may be the furthest this record strays from its industrial sound (with a few small changes in lyrics and sound, it might as well be a HIM song!), but it could very well be the strongest track. It’s such a nice modern take on a Blade Runner-like dystopian scenario where technology controls everything, even our dreams! A similar idea carries on with “Eva”, which is basic mourn-rock, but suggests that the computer age offers an alternative life after death. Most of the rest of the album is pretty basic filler material, but some of these lines are pretty remarkable considering how early in the decade they came along. “Eyes-Radio-Lies” especially tripped me out with the lines, “All alone now, I can see you a way to the drone / Radio waves hitting your brain from the phone I can see”. Just another reason to be paranoid about social media…

(“Dramatica” begins with the line, “Such a fool for the Amazon”, which isn’t all that mind-blowing, but I find it funny because I’m a child…)

I don’t want to overhype this album – ultimately, it’s just pretty decent, and it’s really not as ambitious as I think it needed to be in order to stretch its sci-fi concept to the highest potential. But given that I really wasn’t expecting very much from listening to this whole album, I’m pretty pleased!

Best tracks: “Opticon”, “Fiction – Dreams in Digital”

Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water – Limp Bizkit

Yeah, I knew I saved this one for last for a reason. I’ll let it be known that I never quite had a Limp Bizkit phase – as I mentioned elsewhere above, I always found nu-metal to be pretty lame, even while at the age where it would appeal to me most. Nonetheless, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have “Rollin'” and “My Way” floating around somewhere in my library at some point. It might have been for novelty value, but it fits within the rules of the challenge… and thus, I must listen to and review this album.

Going into this, I expected this to be the worst thing ever… but really, this album just fascinates me. Upon release, this record debuted at number-one on the Billboard 200 with the largest first-week sales of any rock album ever. And by the way, it still holds this record! Unlike me, though, I doubt that very many of these one million plus purchasers snagged this album just to laugh at how bad it is. This genuinely was The Rock Album of the New Millennium – it was the coolest shit ever to enough people to make it the fastest-selling rock album of all-time.

All of this is just so funny to me, considering how much of a punching bag lead vocalist Fred Durst is these days. Durst’s performance throughout this album ranges between two modes: hard, flexing rap flows with the same consistent crackly whine, and off-key singing that seems to follow the same melody from song to song. He is also responsible for most of the album’s lyrics, which tend to fit his voice like icing on cake. There are a wide assortment of lines that I could cherry-pick from this album, but it’s really just worth listening to in order to get a vivid idea of the sheer rap-rock inanity of it all.

But let’s look at a few specific examples. The first official song of the album is “Hot Dog”, which is limply repetitive with an almost non-existent rhyme scheme – besides the internal rhyme of “fucked up” in almost every line in the verses. Durst makes light of this later on with the meta-observation of, “If I say ‘fuck’ two more times / that’s forty-six ‘fuck’s in this fucked-up rhyme”. “My Way” begins on a softer, more melody-driven side of things, before slamming into the absolutely try-hard chorus: “This time I’ma stand up and shout / I’ma do things my way, it’s my way, my way or the highway”. The gem of this whole record, though, might be “Rollin'”, which is the sonic equivalent of a white teen boy with a backwards baseball cap playing music way too loud for the sheer purpose of making his parents angry.

And I really wish that there was something worth praising in terms of the production – but there really isn’t. Wes Borland’s guitars are competent, but offer no variance outside of the same basic riff from song to song. DJ Lethal’s programming was probably cool back in the day, but now sounds atrociously dated. All in all, it’s so easy to hate this album – after all, haters are what Durst craves and helped give him material for this album in the first place. But I find it a bit more fascinating than that. It clearly tries so hard to be so hard yet juvenile (the title of this record and its repugnant album art prove this), yet the mere fact that this is what millions of people wants at some point and as soon as possible… well, that’s just oddly compelling. I guess I’ll mark it up to the sheer naivety of the post-9/11 pop scene – it was a simpler time, indeed.

But for real, though, there’s no redeeming qualities to this album when taken at face value. Its party tracks are corny and embarrassing, its more downtempo melodic stuff is all boring filler, and it all goes on for way, way too long. All the negative reviews are correct, and this is garbage.

Best tracks: Well… let’s call this “tracks worth giving a listen to for historical and/or novelty value”. In that case, listen to “Hot Dog”, “My Way”, and “Rollin'”… although I could make a proper case for basically every track here. I’m so confused.

This week was one hell of a wild ride. I’ve been slacking off on reviewing albums credited toward female musicians, so I’ll make up for that next week. Anyway, thanks again for joining me on this crazy-ass journey. Keep on rollin’.

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Rockin’ Thru the Aughts: The Year 2000 Pt. 3 – Pop rock, soft rock, and adult contemporary

Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering on this challenge, head over here.

Third post of the challenge, yeah, let’s do this! So, as I stated in my previous post, I will be devoting each entry in this challenge to a theme of sorts. These could be albums that have similar content, similar genre styles, or anything I come up with that would adequately tie them together. Although I know that I’ll probably have to really stretch to find an adequate theme for a large selection of these, and also that some posts will be forced to have no theme at all, I still think this would be a relatively fun exercise.

So, if you’re looking for some shredding guitars, fast pounding drums, and totally freaky-sounding vocalists… well, you’ll probably want to sit this one out. Indeed, my coverage of rock music through the 2000s should ideally go over as many different genres and styles of rock as possible, and this challenge would be nothing if I just plain ignored albums from the more tamer side of the spectrum. Keep reading to discover some of my most prominent pop rock releases of the year 2000!

The Madding Crowd – Nine Days

Nine Days probably doesn’t mean to most by name, but I guarantee that playing the first few seconds of the band’s breakthrough single “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” will cause many ears to prick up. Even though I didn’t listen to much radio during the height of the song’s popularity, I do remember this song being practically everywhere. It was the kind of song that kids would mention on the playground and everyone would just know what they were referring to. The song has become undeniably connected to my idea of what early 2000s rock radio was like – so, of course, I decided to actually give a listen to the album of its origin.

The album opener is the uptempo number “So Far Away”, which contains some pretty competent guitars and post-production studio techniques, elements that remain pretty consistent throughout the record. “Absolutely” is, far and away, their tightest song – the chorus is undeniably catchy, for sure, but the melody in the verses and pre-chorus are also rightfully memorable, with pretty decent vocals and a nice, fluffy guitar solo. But that’s not to say that that the remainder of the tracks are worthwhile in their own right. The common theme of them all seem to be the general aimlessness of life and tough, confusing decisions with which young adults are often often bombarded in the process of growing up. “End Up Alone” is led by the phrase, “Why do we all end up alone? / Why do we all end up dead, drunk, or stoned?”. Meanwhile, the chorus of “Sometimes” moans, “You gotta set free what you love just to bring it back”. So, basic adult alternative stuff.

In terms of sound, this album is consistent in its radio-friendly pop rock groove. Every song seems to follow the exact same verse-chorus-verse format, to the point where it becomes hard to discern one song from the next. The band really struck gold with “Absolutely”, but listening to this record, it’s not hard to see how they just weren’t able to follow this up. Almost every other song runs between the spectrum of forgettable (“Bob Dylan”, “Bitter”) to whiny (“Back to Me”). Still, the instrumentation is consistently good throughout, and I’d argue that this alone saves the album from total oblivion. In particular, “257 Weeks” is a charming, underappreciated track – if anything is worth listening from this record (well, besides “Absolutely”, of course), it’s that one.

Best tracks: “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)”, “257 Weeks”

Mad Season – Matchbox Twenty

Matchbox Twenty have always, to me, seemed like one of the more familiar bands of the 90s to mid-2000s. Even though I never particularly loved them very much, their big singles were always present in my music library (especially upon their release of their third album More Than You Think You Are). In particular, Mad Season was the album toward which I always tended to gravitate – I even had the lyrics for the title track on my MySpace page for a little while! Anyway, I felt that this album was worth a relisten to see if it holds up after all these years.

It might be cheating to include this song alongside the others in this post, but it’s also worth mentioning that this is the album where Matchbox Twenty soften up their sound a bit. The opening song “Angry” presents much of the angst that defined the grunge movement of the 90s, especially with Rob Thomas’s growling vocals (also the chief lyricist) and Kyle Cook’s equally as aggressive lead guitar. However, the trembling rhythm of this song soon gives way for the sudden appearance of a jazzy saxophone introducing the next song, “Black & White People”. Thus sets the trail for the remainder of the album – a few songs that demonstrate their origins in the 90s hard rock scene, but many more that opt for an increased experimentation in sound and production. While songs like “Crutch” and “Rest Stop” have this nice radio rock sound that suits it wonderfully, it’s other songs like”Last Beautiful Girl” and the idiosyncratic “Mad Season” that loosen things up a bit and set it apart from the rest.

While I don’t particularly love each of these songs on their own, for some reason it all seems to work together very well as parts of a larger whole. A single like “Bent”, for example, might feel worthy of skipping over when placed on a playlist alongside other similar songs – however, placed in between the easy-going “The Burn” and the soft “Bed of Lies” here makes a lot more sense. Although I felt that I grew out of Matchbox Twenty, I found myself riding the wave of this album and really enjoying the experience as a whole. Even the sentimental ballad “If You’re Gone” – which I never cared much for – seems all the more meaningful when compared to the album’s closer, the heart-wrenching torch song “You Won’t Be Mine”. Once again. I don’t know if I could listen to any of these songs alone on my own free will, but as a whole this album is actually pretty damn good. You certainly could do worse.

Best tracks: “Black & White People”, “Mad Season”, “Bent”, “You Won’t Be Mine”

The Covers Record – Cat Power

While both of the aforementioned albums got a decent amount of radio play in their day, here’s an album that lay nestled in the indie side of things. Nonetheless, as I started to branch out into different forms of music in high school, I came across Cat Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall) and had a few of her songs in my library. The Covers Record is, as one would assume, a collection of covers of some of Marshall’s favorite songs, with the exception of her original “In This Hole”.

For the most part, these songs are all Marshall’s lone recordings – besides her voice, we also hear a guitar or a piano (sometimes both) and that’s about it. The resulting mood of this record is one of calm, gentle simplicity. Though the arrangement is sparse, though, the enjoyment is heightened by the songs being relatively recognizable. The album begins with arguably the most recognizable track of the bunch, a cover of The Rolling Stones’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. As her guitar strums along, Marshall sings the familiar tune with only a hint of the original melody, taking her own liberties with making the song even looser and wispier than we’re used to.

Besides the Stones, Marshall also covers familiar tunes from Bob Dylan (“Kingsport Town”, “Paths of Victory”), Moby Grape (“Naked, If I Want To”), Michael Hurley (“Sweedeedee”), and Johnny Mathis (“Wild is the Wind”), among others. A personal highlight for me is her cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason”, which is lifted beautifully by her lushly delicate vocals.

For the most part, though, there’s nothing about this album that is innovative, to say the least. Due to its bare-bones instrumentation, the quiet, calm mood of the record remains consistent from beginning to end. This is to the point where songs tend to bleed into one another pretty effortlessly, as is the case with her rendition of Smog’s “Red Apples”, followed by “Paths of Victory”. But the real treat comes at the end, wherein we are treated to a Cat Power version of Phil Philips’s “Sea of Love” accompanied by only a twangy guitar. This song has always been pretty cloying to me, but Marshall’s take on the song just works so wonderfully. The way she twists the melody on “I want to tell you…” gives me a lump in my throat, and I don’t even mind that annoyingly antiquated, “I knew you were my pet” line. It goes to show that even in the most ankle-deep of records, sometimes it’s the little things that really count.

Best tracks: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “I Found a Reason”, “Sea of Love”

Crush – Bon Jovi

Even though I grew up listening to a lot of 80s music, I’m tempted to say that I was actually introduced to Bon Jovi through their later single “It’s My Life”. It was shortly after September 11th and there was some sort of benefit concert being aired on VH1 or MTV. I was only ten years old at the time, but I distinctly remember a section where a man fully clad in American flag-embroidered clothing (who I would eventually learn was Jon Bon Jovi) was singing this song that I may have heard once before on the radio in passing. (If anyone can figure out which concert this was and/or has a clip of this specific performance, please let me know!)

Of course, I would come to know Bon Jovi mostly for their better-known hard rock singles of the 80s, but “It’s My Life” was my first taste of their brand of anthemic rock, fitted for a new generation of fans. This is Crush‘s lead single as well as the introduction to the album as a whole. While I do hold a soft spot for this song, I will admit that it hasn’t held up well over time – it sure is the most fun track on this entire record, but the on-the-nose quality of its lyrics certainly hold it back (especially its call-out to the earlier Bon Jovi single “Livin’ on a Prayer). The next couple tracks, “Say It Isn’t So” and “Thank You For Loving Me”, demonstrate even more of the lyrical weakness of this record, ranging from needlessly goofy (the former) to just plain boring (the latter).

It doesn’t help that Jon Bon Jovi’s lead vocals just don’t match up to what they used to be. The vast majority of these songs are sung with this nasally country twang that offers little in the way of warmth or personality to these recordings. Yet even when he does branch out into some harder territory, as in “One Wild Night”, it’s just embarrassingly inept. What does remain consistently pleasant through this album’s entirety is Richie Sambora’s guitar work, adapting to the varying modes of this record’s pop rock style. It’s too bad, though, that so much of this is drowned out by this early-2000s production – “Captain Crash & the Beauty Queen From Mars” actually has some eccentric lyricism to its name, but it doesn’t matter when the sound it just so drab and uninteresting.

The band is at their worst when it comes to ballads, and it doesn’t help that there’s just so many of them here. “Thank You For Loving Me”, “Next 100 Years”, “Save the World” – they’re all pretty indiscernible from one another and hopelessly disposable, with “She’s a Mystery” being the worst of them all. This whole album is just a snoozer from start to finish, and I see no reason why anyone should waste their time with it.

Best tracks: “It’s My Life”

Evan and Jaron – Evan and Jaron

And now for a band from my Radio Disney days! Even though twin brother duet Evan and Jaron Lowenstein never got much radio play outside of their single “Crazy For This Girl”, this song and “From My Head to My Heart” were among my favorite songs when I first started listening to the radio. They have long since been forgotten by most of the world, but when I stumbled upon their self-titled sophomore album while looking for records to cover on this challenge, I knew I needed to give it a spin.

As predicted, this album is pretty darn vanilla from start to finish. The album opens with a track called “Outerspace”, which actually has some fitting synth inflections in its production. Sadly, this gives way to the prominent pop rock production, which just flattens everything else that could have been interesting about this track. “Ready or Not” tries to experiment a bit with some background skatting throughout the verses… but once again, this is drowned out by its drab melody and even staler lyrics. This is basically the trend for the entire album: while many tracks have interesting elements, most of the time these elements are shoved aside for something more palatable with the expense of any ambition. It also doesn’t help that both Evan and Jaron have personalities duller than a wet paper bag (musically speaking, of course).

Of course, I got a swift kick of nostalgia once the opening cello chords of “Crazy For This Girl” chimed in. Same with the uptempo electric guitar of “From My Head to My Heart” – both tracks just seemed to breathe some much-needed life into the record. I’m not sure if this is just my nostalgia talking, but I’m pretty sure that “From My Head” in particular has the most fully realized melody of the entire album. It’s just so catchy and everything that I wished the rest of this record was! As it stands, though, it’s a sad misstep, but nonetheless a neat, short trip through memory lane.

Best tracks: “Crazy For This Girl”, “From My Head to My Heart”

America Town – Five For Fighting

Like most people, my first experience with Five For Fighting – the stage name of musician John Ondrasik – was through his breakthrough single “Superman (It’s Not Easy)”. Notably for me, I found out about it while listening to music on my TV, through one of those channels that displayed the song information on the screen. Interestingly enough, the information it was giving me for this particular song (multiple times, too) was “‘Drops of Jupiter’ by Train”… which is obviously a totally different song. It took me a little while to find out the true title of the song, and suddenly the lyrics made a little more sense.

Anyway, the time had come to finally listen to Five For Fighting’s sophomore effort. I was surprised to find that the album went right off to a pretty solid start. While I’m not the biggest fan of the lyrics to the intro track, “Easy Tonight”, the adult contemporary production is actually pretty pleasant. This general sound stretches throughout the first half of the record, with “Bloody Mary (A Note on Apathy)” containing some nice guitar to spice things up.

While very few of these lyrics strike me as particularly clever, the most ambitious song of the bunch is definitely “Superman”, which takes the mythos of the DC superhero and adds an introspective and existential spin. This song and “Jainy” are actually two of the best tracks on the album – their piano-led sounds come off as very similar, which leads me to conclude that this is where Ondrasik’s strengths lie. While it does take a while to get used to his oddly croaky singing style, I strangely don’t mind it so much in these, two of the most stripped-down songs on the record. Go figure.

The second half of this record, however, takes a steep d0wnhill spiral. Perplexingly, “Michael Jordan” seems like it’s an idiosyncratic love song to the titular basketball legend. Its tone is so much darker than the rest of the songs here and it just sounds like a weird inclusion overall. Moreover, “Out of Love”, despite its nifty guitar licks, is overly repetitive to a fault and just plain sounds unfinished. “The Last Great American” paints a hypothetical funeral for – you guessed it – the death of humanity and traditionally good values. It’s about as embarrassing as you think. Even more embarrassing, though, is “Boat Parade”, which goes for a grunge feel in its instrumentation – something that the album is totally not suited for.

The remainder of the album are just a series of autopilot tracks, one bleeding into the next with little rhyme or reason. This is a tad disappointing, considering the strengths with which it begun. Then again, I never expected much from a Five For Fighting album in the first place – you win some, you lose some!

Best tracks: “Superman (It’s Not Easy)”, “Jainy”

That’s about it for this week. I still haven’t really thought of a theme for next week, but it’ll come to me! Thanks once again for reading!

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Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1985

100. “Sugar Walls” – Sheena Easton: Nothing gets me more excited in starting the second half of the 80s’ biggest hits than Sheena Easton singing about her vagina. This subject matter made this another member of the notorious Filthy Fifteen, the second such song we’ve come across (after Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop”, which I wrote about in the 1984 overview). Additionally, this is yet another song that we’ve come across written and produced by Prince for different artists. It definitely has his brand of flamboyant funk written all over it, and he can even be heard singing backup at certain bits. It’s not one of Easton’s better hits, but it’s delightfully trashy nonetheless.

99. “Sentimental Street” – Night Ranger: Somehow “Sister Christian” was not the end for Night Ranger, as they managed to achieve four more top twenty hits after that one! This one is their third and their last to make the top ten. While “Sister Christian” had a number of charming elements to make up for its condescending lyrics, this one has the opposite problem and even more so. The lyrics are fine, but this sounds like a lazy retread of pretty much every other power ballad under the sun. I guess the guitars are nice, but once again, they were much better on “Sister Christian”. Pass.

98. “Dress You Up” – Madonna: Madonna’s early hits are delightful in the way they capture a unique sense of bad girl toughness wrapped in candy-sweet melodies and production. This was surely the appeal of Madonna as an icon – as a performer, she sounds really great here, accompanied by dance-pop production by Nile Rodgers, who also performs an exquisite guitar solo. Lyrically, it’s a collection of fashion-related euphemisms for sex, most of which are blatantly silly (“Let me cover you with velvet kisses / I’ll create a look that’s made for you”). Still, I find it to be among some of the most underrated of Madonna’s 80s catalog, which is too bad – it’s perfectly pleasant and captures her energy so succinctly!

97. “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” – Don Henley: I’ve got be the only person who really, really does not like this song. Some of the lyrics are pretty intriguing, especially in what sounds like a biting era-specific critique of the American government and its repercussions on a dystopian-like future… or something. The imagery of, “Wild-eyed pistols wavers who ain’t afraid to die” sure is something, anyway. It’s too bad, though, that this single is bogged down by Henley’s pathetic warbling throughout and the just-as-tuneless generic Yamaha backup instrumental. And I still don’t know what the line, “All she wants to do is dance” repeated ad nauseam has to do with any of the above, anyway. It’s just a perplexing song… but I’m sure it made more than a few people dance, anyway.

96. “Penny Lover” – Lionel Richie: Okay, I’ve listened to enough Lionel Richie singles at this point that I can tell that he’s basically running on autopilot at this point. Lines like, “When I’m all alone, it’s you that I miss / Girl, a love like yours is hard to resist” could have come from any number of his previous hit singles… as it stands, though, it comes from “Penny Lover”, easily the weakest and most forgettable of his 80s ballads I’ve come across so far. And believe me, that’s saying something. His breathy talk-singing at the outro, though, is actually a nice touch and keeps this from being a total waste. Unfortunately, it’s too little too late. I’m ready for Richie to start doing something interesting now…

95. “Fortress Around Your Heart” – Sting: As the latest in a recent trend of popular musicians breaking away from their band to embark upon a solo career, here is the first hit single we’ve seen here. It’s a follow-up to “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” (which I’ll talk about later), and it’s pretty nice. Instead of the reggae/ska tones of The Police, this one opt for more of a contemporary radio rock feel with jazz undertones. Since the decade in pop music has so far been enamored with war imagery in their lyrics and music videos, this particular song builds copiously upon the “love is war” metaphor. Literally every line plays into this metaphor, and most of them actually avoid being overtly embarrassing and obvious (“Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I’d laid”). The chorus in particular is pleasant. In general, it’s refreshing to hear a song about a struggling romance wherein the speaker actually promises to make an effort to make it better – without women performing all of the emotional labor. Once again, it’s nice – the kind of song that I wish The Police had spent more time on instead of their weird stuff.

94. “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” – Aretha Franklin: It’s always so weird to remember that Aretha Franklin actually had a successful career into the 80s – I’ve always felt her to be so connected to the 60s through early 70s, in my mind at least! While I’ve always personally preferred “Highway of Love” of her 80s hits (more on that one later), this one is not without its charms. It’s electro-funk keyboard backing is so indelible of the 80s and the chorus is catchy and fun as hell. Unfortunately, I’ve got to say that Aretha herself brings this one down a tad. She’s always been a terrific vocalist, but her performance here lacks a clear focus or drive. She just kind of rolls with the punches, which isn’t always a bad thing – pop music can always use a bit of improvisation – but it just comes off a tad sloppy here. Still, it’s innocent enough for the occasional play.

93. “Private Dancer” – Tina Turner: Much like “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, it was initially a little bit disappointing to hear Tina Turner play it so safe with contemporary slow R&B production, especially after loving the energy from her early tracks. But there’s a lot more to love here, especially when switching over to the album version, as opposed to the single edit. The backing instrumental is incredibly smooth, jazzy, and pleasant – to no surprise, as that is Dire Straits providing support for Turner! Not that she couldn’t hold her own, though. The best part of the song for me comes with the third chorus, when she pitches upward a couple octaves into a sudden, incredible burst of energy that really elevates this song to tremendous levels. This is the song that I wish “What’s Love” was – it displays her versatility so gracefully and effectively, with an incredible chorus to boot (“I’m your private dancer, a dancer for money / I’ll do what you want me to do”). It’s sleek, powerful, and unexpectedly sex-positive. It all sounds good to me!

92. “Born in the U.S.A.” – Bruce Springsteen: Is there a single song in the history of pop music that has been so famously, inexplicably misinterpreted? I guess I can see how the folks in charge of Reagan’s reelection campaign would listen to this song’s impassioned chants of, “Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.” and just run with it. Truthfully, though, this song is sad as hell. The narrative it draws comes from a number of tragic narratives of citizens who fought for their country in Vietnam and were thereafter stripped of their working class identity and forgotten by their own country. Sure it’s impassioned, but it’s also angry as hell. I honestly can’t see how anyone could take a verse like, “I had a brother at Khe Sahn… They’re still there, he’s all gone” and then continue to view the final line, “I’m a cool rockin’ daddy in the U.S.A.” with all earnestness. I don’t know. I do admit it’s not among my absolute favorites from the guy, but there’s no denying that iconic keyboard riff, those pounding drums, and the achingly beautiful vocals from Springsteen himself.

91. “Jungle Love” – The Time: Interestingly enough, every song that we’ve covered from this list so far has been a top ten hit. Meanwhile, “Jungle Love” peaked at #20. I don’t quite understand the formula for how this would occur, but I’ll digress. This song is most famous for having been featured in Purple Rain, which I presume makes up the bulk of its success. It is yet another song to have been co-written and produced by Prince, and like other Prince productions I’m pretty sure I can detect his voice in the background vocals (listen to Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” for another example!). This also further exemplifies just how much of a reach he had with the pop/funk/R&B industry of the 80s, which is super cool to fully take in. Anyway, this song is predictably funky and bouncy, excitable synths and drum machines that never wear out their welcomes. The lyrics themselves are a bit lacking, with lines ranging from lazy (“know ya” is rhymed with “show ya” more than a couple times) to plain creepy (“I wanna take you to my cage / Lock you up and hide the key”). Nonetheless, as far as party songs go, one could do a whole lot worse.

90. “Do What You Do” – Jermaine Jackson: The Jacksons have long been associated with Motown at this point, so it’s understandably shocking that Jermaine Jackson would continue upon his solo career with a single release from Arista. Scandalous! Well, not really. Unlike the effortless catchiness of 1980’s “Let’s Get Serious”, “Do What You Do” is pretty middle-of-the-road R&B ballad that is somehow even more milquetoast than Lionel Richie’s output. It just sounds so sterile and soulless in composition, with Jackson only mildly putting out a bit of an effort. The lyrics themselves are also a tad dull: “Why don’t you do what you do / When you did what you did to me… I was crazy for you, you were crazy for me / How could something so right, go so wrong?”. At least the tinny keyboards are strangely charming.

89. “Fresh” – Kool & the Gang: I don’t know why Kool & the Gang would ever return to their slow, boring ballads when it’s clear that uptempo funk jams were always their calling card. To be fair, this one is a tad on the lesser side, at least compared to the group’s earlier output. It’s clear that they have toned their sound down for appropriate radioplay, which is fine. Even though many of the lyrics were clearly an afterthought (“I have seen her maybe once or twice / One thing I can say, ooh, she’s very nice”), the pop-laden synths more than make up for it, especially around the chorus. It also latches onto yet another ear-grabbing hook to add to their catalog, heightened by fun and friendly backup vocals. The Gang wins my heart yet again!

88. “California Girls” – David Lee Roth: First thing’s first: I knew from the first second of the absolute butchering of the Beach Boys’ original lovely intro to this song that I would absolutely hate this cover. I don’t know why they would even add it in at all, given that it’s been reduced to a collection of cheap-sounding Casios. But really, the only reason why this song did as well as it did is due to the novelty factor of the former leading man of Van Halen to embark on his own debauchery-laden pop adventure (oh yeah, and the music video, too). Predictably, Roth can’t hold a note to save his life, which proves especially embarrassing during the chorus when he inexplicably reaches into his falsetto range to match the notes belted out by the Beach Boys imitators as backup vocals – who are also bad. “California Girls” has never been among my favorite of Beach Boys tunes, but at least Brian Wilson’s sumptuous production helps to almost forgive Mike Love’s lyrics. This is just a sleazy headtrip from start to finish… and not even an enjoyable one. This is cheap, schlocky, and not the least bit of fun.

87. “What About Love” – Heart: This is considered Heart’s “comeback” single, and it honestly ain’t bad. Sure, the rawness that defined their “Barracuda” days is long gone, replaced instead by in-the-now arena rock guitars, spacey synths, and polished studio production. Nothing about the lyrics make it particularly exceptional, but Ann Wilson’s powerful vocals prevail nonetheless, and they fit perfectly with a song such as this. The song sort of goes off the rails with her aimless vocalizing during the outro, but it’s not enough to kill the song as a whole. This is fine!

86. “Lonely Ol’ Night” – John Cougar Mellencamp: This might just be the first of John Mellencamp’s singles I’ve come across so far that seems to be lacking in any definitive personality. Regardless of what I think of “Pink Houses”, “Jack & Diane”, and “Hurts So Good”, it’s hard to confuse them from one another and they feel very much of his Brand. As for this one, I feel like this could have been recorded by just about anyone. There’s a throwaway line here and there about the universal symptom of loneliness and the sad songs on the radio that reflect this, but overall I don’t get very much out of this one. To top it all off, it feels like Mellencamp’s guitar-playing here is on the most autopilot I’ve heard from him so far. A tad disappointing, but nothing outright terrible.

85. “Who’s Holding Donna Now” – DeBarge: Although pretty much every Debarge single I’ve come across so far has left me lukewarm at best, I still look forward to them nonetheless. I think a lot of this has to do with El Debarge’s uniquely androgynous vocals, which are often the highlight of its song. Would this song be the one from the group that I would finally, truthfully enjoy? Well, no. The treacly, generic 80s production feels dreadfully dated, generic, and just plain boring. The lyrics themselves are little more than insipid heartbreak poetry that could have been cut from any fabric. El remains the one factor that keeps this one even mildly interesting, but unfortunately I’m gonna have to pass on this one.

84. “Lay Your Hands on Me” – Thompson Twins: This one is a bit tricky! See, there are two versions of this song that one could choose from: the original UK release, with a sophisti-pop production, or the US release, with a tightened, electric-guitar laden sound courtesy of Nile Rodgers. The former version contains these tropical sounding synths and drum machines, the likes of which I found to be the strongest attributes of the otherwise average “Hold Me Now”. Placing the US version side-by-side with “Hold Me Now”, though, leaves one in disbelief that they could have possibly come from the same band – it’s just that much more polished and layered! My personal preference is toward the stronger beat of the US version, though I may be in the minority on that point. In either case, this is a much stronger track than their breakout single, with sharper lyrics (“I see your face and sense the grace / And feel the magic in your touch”) and stronger vocal performances to boot. Not sure why this one doesn’t get as much regular rotation on oldies stations than “Hold Me Now”… it certainly deserves it more.

83. “Method of Modern Love” – Hall & Oates: Hall & Oates have become such reliable staples on these charts though these past few years, I’m anticipating how it’s gonna feel to come across a year where they’re nowhere to be seen. Listening to this track, though, it pains me to say that this day might just come sooner rather than later. While the bass on this track is cool and funky, it’s pushed to the background by a variety of wacky, kitschy keyboard sounds that just don’t emit any sort of coherent tone. The fact that this comes from the guys who gave us such suave production like that in “Kiss on My List” and “I Can’t Go For That” just hurts. The chorus is also one of their more annoying ones, consisting almost solely of “M-E-T-H-O-D-O-F-L-O-V-E”, being spelt out for some reason. Not that the lyrics in the verses clear it up very much – unless there’s some deep meaning to something like, “Style is timeless and fashion’s only now / We are the ways; no one needs to show us how” that I’m just not getting. And incoherent rapping from Daryl Hall at the end… oy vey. At the end of the day, though, this is obviously one of their weaker tracks, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this was a sign of their inevitable descent from the charts.

82. “I’m on Fire” – Bruce Springsteen: 1985 was a huge year for Bruce Springsteen, thanks mainly to the enormous success of his Born in the U.S.A. album. I already covered the title track a bit earlier, but with as much as I’ve always enjoyed that one, it’s not nearly among my absolute favorites from the album. “I’m on Fire”, on the other hand, sometimes moves me to tears. It’s short, sweet, and simple, with a backing instrumental that consists of little more than lightly layered guitar, drums, and soft synths, echoing the pained emotional performance of Springsteen himself. At its core, the lyrics lay out a plea from Springsteen to the object of his sexual desire. What makes this different from many songs of similar themes, though, is the inner vulnerability that Springsteen emits so clearly and casually. Sure, the “bad desire” within him might be little more than a need for hot, passionate romance, but he also makes clear the loneliness and inner despair universal to so many of us (“At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet / And a freight train running through the middle of my head”). It is equally romantic and sensual as it is somber and melancholic, which is absolutely genius considering that this song runs under three minutes. This short length, along with its tone, AABA format, and general feel of its sound reminds me of something Roy Orbison would have released in his heyday – or in the 80s, had he discovered the magic of synthesizers. This comparison is one of the highest praises I could give a song, I think. I love this.

81. “Angel” – Madonna: I guess I should confess right now that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Madonna’s second album, Like a Virgin. Apart from a few tracks here and there, the majority of the record felt like little more than filler to support the big singles. Thus, it surprised me to find out that “Angel” was actually released as a single, at it feels like such a lesser song in comparison to the other singles released from the album. Sure, the dance-pop synths are what to be expected, as is Madonna’s carefree performance – this is all pretty standard. Yet for Madonna, who is known for her huge, ear-grabbing hooks, this one feels pretty limp. In particular, the “eyes/surprise/realize” rhyme scheme in the pre-chorus bothers me for reasons I can’t quite comprehend. Even sadder, this one is produced by Nile Rodgers, whose production I’ve loved pretty much consistently, up until this point. I’ll give this one a pass for fitting smoothly on an 80s playlist with little disappointment, but I also wish it were something more substantial.

80. “Solid” – Ashford & Simpson: Okay, this one is kind of cute. It’s one of those mid-tempo pop-R&B hits that has been lost in the sands of time after its core audience moved on to different entertainment fare. Basically, Ashford & Simpson are a married couple who recorded this song to brag about how great their companionship is (“Solid as a rock
That’s what this love is; that’s what we’ve got”
). In all seriousness though, as cheesy as it can get – “the thrill is ha-ha-ha-ha-hot” – I can’t hate this one ’cause it sounds like they’re just having so much fun. It goes on for a little longer than necessary and I can’t help but feel it would work better as a slightly more uptempo disco track (I’m sure that remix is out there somewhere…), but it’s fine and even kind of fun!

79. “Some Like It Hot” – The Power Station: While the name of this song didn’t ring any bells, once I pressed play I was immediately brought back to a brief scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Yeah, that was probably the peak of Power Station’s relevancy. I actually didn’t even realize that a Duran Duran-Chic-Robert Palmer supergroup even existed! In all seriousness, though, this is fine. The production is from not just Nile Rodgers but also Bernard Edwards – I think this might be their first major work together since the disco days. It’s tamer than I was expecting, but the guitar work is groovy and even the horns are pretty charming. The lyrics are perplexing, though. The chorus – “Some like it hot and some sweat when the heat is on” – promises some kind of sexy situation… though the verses indicate that marriage and children is the decision that our hypothetical protagonist is up against? I don’t know. Once again, it’s fine – it’s catchy for a listen or two, before the record is shoved into the back part of the collection.

78. “Valotte” – Julian Lennon: Now that we’ve run out of posthumous John Lennon tracks to exploit, guess it’s time to give a couple spins to the work of his son. It’s not hard to see why people would gravitate toward this song: he not only sings like his father, but the drifting piano-led production sounds like something Lennon Sr. would compose. It all honesty, this is pretty lovely. It’s a pretty standard heartbreak song, but there are a few pretty lines here and there that keep this interesting. The opener (“Sitting on the doorstep of the house I can’t afford / I can feel you there”) and the pre-chorus (“Sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar / Wonderin’ if we’re really ever gonna get that far”) are among my favorites. The melody itself is also very lovely, the verses fold upon each other naturally, and Lennon’s performance is vulnerable and emotionally resilient. Yeah, this is really, really nice stuff, and I can’t believe I’ve never heard this lovely tune until now.

77. “Too Late For Goodbyes” – Julian Lennon: Well, I knew it was a little too good to be true. This was the follow-up to “Valotte” but only in the States, as in the UK the singles were released in reverse order. I almost wish that we would have gotten this one first, as the greatness of “Valotte” would have had a much grander impact after following up… this. Okay, let me be clear – this isn’t bad. I actually quite like it pretty well – Lennon’s vocal chemistry is on par here, once again, and the instrumental is peppy, bright, and balanced by some fun bass guitar flourishes. Lyrically, though, this falters. While “Valotte” sounded like poetry, this one just sounds goofy and a bit unfinished, frankly. The “why/cry/die/fly” rhyme format that makes up the entirety of the song feels sloppy, too. It’s fine for a breakthrough pop single, but it doesn’t go that one step beyond that I know Lennon is capable of. Yeah, this one is getting shoved to the back as well… sorry, Jules.

76. “Freedom” – Wham!: Alright, we’re in the Wham! era now… we’ll get to covering some of Wham!’s bigger hits from this year, though that’s not to say that this song wasn’t already huge on its own. Until this point, the duo had been juggling number-one single after number-one single between the US and their home country of the UK – which is a big deal! The star of this particular single is, of course, lead vocalist George Michael, who also wrote and produced the track. With the bombastic horns, percussion, and keys, this sounds a lot like an outsider’s try at a Motown track – which sounds silly, but somehow works pretty well here. Michael gives a competent performance throughout the verses, but really, it’s all about that chorus. When he belts out, “I don’t want your freedom, I don’t want to play around”, it really feels like the song is much bigger than its relatively innocuous “a fool in love” theme. On the contrary, it sounds like an anthem which is certainly what Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were going for. I’ll admit that it isn’t great and the novelty factor of the production unintentionally sounds a bit corny. Still, I always have a good time with this one.

75. “Walking on Sunshine” – Katrina and the Waves: Much like “Y.M.C.A.” and “Go Your Own Way”, it’s hard to imagine a time when this song was inexplicably connected to some piece of media or pop culture. As far as I’m concerned, having been born six years later, this time never actually existed. In any case, this is one of the most sunshiney, happy-go-lucky tunes that has ever passed through my eardrums. All you need to know is that chorus: “I’m walking on sunshine, whoa-oh / And don’t it feel good”. The pop-rock production, replete with handclaps and a peppy horn, is infectious all around. The powerful vocals of Katrina Leskanich don’t hurt either, and thankfully she never over-sings. On the contrary, she and the other bandmates just sound like they’re having the time of their lives. A song as sugary sweet as this could have easily gone off the deep end into total obnoxious territory, but this somehow just feels warm and comforting no matter how many times I give it a spin. This rocks.

74. “Summer of ’69” – Bryan Adams: Ugh… Bryan Adams. In case you didn’t give a read to my overview of 1983’s top 100 songs, I’d like to make it abundantly clear that I am not a fan. But even the most raging Bryan Adams haters often consider “Summer of ’69” to be amongst his “good” songs. My thoughts: it’s basically a lukewarm version of the types of nostalgic heartland rock that Bruce Springsteen has been perfecting for a few years at this point. I can understand there being a certain amount of pride in recounting the days spent in the town in which one grew up. But I think that’s where my problem lies – when Adams sings, “I got my first real six-string… Played it ’til my fingers bled”, I don’t get a sense of genuine enthusiasm, longing, love… or anything, really. While it’s not quite as bad of a performance as “Straight From the Heart”, I just have a hard time believing that these were the “best days of [his] life”. But to add some positives to this experience, I do enjoy the slightly more jangly guitar-playing here, and the empowered tone of the bridge does stir a little something in me. Even though I don’t like Adams quite so much, this really isn’t so bad…. just a tad boring.

73. “I Can’t Hold Back” – Survivor: Uh… Survivor? So, despite the common misconception, the band behind Rocky III‘s anthem are not quite the one-hit wonder one would assume! But of course, if the epic riffage on “Eye of the Tiger” isn’t enough to push the band’s sound over into exceptional territory, a midtempo power ballad probably won’t do the trick either. This is just lame and so, so vanilla. This is their first single from their new vocalist and I’m not at all sold by his performance, nor by the painfully average-quality lyrics (“I can feel you tremble when we touch / And I feel the hand of fate reaching out to both of us”). Even when the guitars and synths really kick in with the tempo, it all just feels like dreadful autopilot. It’s a mess, but not even an interesting mess. Sigh… oh well.

72. “No More Lonely Nights” – Paul McCartney: Gosh. So far, with a handful of obvious exceptions, this list seems to consist mainly of chart veterans who are slowly, clumsily slinking their way into relative obscurity. It’s the mid-80s and I seriously thought we’d be done with Paul McCartney by now, but I guess Michael Jackson revived his career a tad. Anyway. This midtempo ballad isn’t really anything to write home about, but it’s a nice enough listen anyway. The best thing about it is that it comes from the soundtrack album for McCartney’s failed film Give My Regards to Broad Street. I haven’t seen the film, but it looks like a painful mess and totally My Thing. But anyway, the song. Uh, the guitars are fine and delicate and McCartney’s performance is… standard. Like I said, it’s nice – what more do you want?! Oh heck… I think I should move on.

71. “Be Near Me” – ABC: So, ABC is this English New Romantic/sophisti-pop act that claimed a handful of top ten hits on the British charts before the States caught wind of them. Strangely enough, this single only made it to #26 in the UK, while it broke through the top ten in the US. Typical of British synthpop, the production is lush and magical, with a clean and delightful little keyboard riff that, strangely enough, reminds me of shopping at a supermarket. It’s the same weird kind of nostalgia I got with the piano in Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” – I can’t quite explain it, but it makes me feel nice. Other than that, the rest of the instrumentation is nicely layered and the vocalist’s timbre is pleasant as well. That’s probably the best descriptor of this song as a whole, actually: it’s pleasant. It does lack that little extra something to be truly remarkable, but it’s bright and fun just as it is, regardless.

70. “Would I Lie to You?” – Eurythmics: Well, this is a… change of pace for Eurythmics. At the same time, though, this was probably the first true hint of the eclectic musical genius of Annie Lennox. Similar to what Wham! did a few entries up, Eurythmics abandon their synth-pop roots in favor of a more clean-cut old school R&B approach. I dig the pronounced guitars and organic percussion, as well as Lennox’s vocal performance, which is probably the richest and most multi-faceted we’ve heard from her so far. Where this song falters, of course, is the lyrics – the chorus in particular is pretty weak and unmemorable (“Now would I say something that wasn’t true? / I’m asking you, sugar, would I lie to you?”). Even the verses are pretty weak (“I’ve packed my bags, I’ve cleaned the floor / Watch me walkin’ out the door”), but what the song lacks in form Lennox more than makes up for in prowess and energy. She really steals the show here and fixes what could have easily been an embarrassment of a song.

69. “Misled” – Kool & the Gang: Kool and the Gang just keep on keepin’ on, don’t they? So, I’ve been seeing some comments here and there calling this a sort of Michael Jackson ripoff, specifically biting its style from “Beat It”. Personally, I can’t really see it – the only comparison I can make is that they are both primarily pop-R&B tracks with a strong electric guitar backing. Kool and the Gang have always been more pronounced in their funk undertones anyway, and it’s certainly the case here. I actually find this to be a pretty under-appreciated song from the group – the guitars are badass, the rest of the instrumental collaborates well, the lyrics are strange as hell (“She’s as heavy as a Chevy / Pure excitement, misled”), and Robert Kool himself sings them well. I particularly love his occasional moments of falsetto, as well as those odd, crazed shrieks that pop up in the background every so often. Really, what more could you want?

68. “Voices Carry” – ‘Til Tuesday: Of course, the bulk of this song’s success could be attributed to its music video, which inserted a more literal narrative of an abusive relationship and got a bunch of play on MTV. I was surprised to find, also, that this was meant to be a song between two women, a version which was scrapped to avoid controversy. What I would give to give a listen to that version! The song as it stands isn’t too bad and frontwoman Aimee Mann has enough charisma and emotional resilience in her voice to make lines like, “I try so hard not to get upset / Because I know all the trouble I’ll get” sound really well. I could imagine a song like this being pretty cutting edge for its time, both for its sound and its content, but the production comes off as dated which makes it just a pretty good song, as opposed to anything great. Still, it’s worth sticking around for Mann’s emotional flares at the outro. And the video is well worth a watch, too, if only for its historical relevance.

67. “Glory Days” – Bruce Springsteen: And now for another of Springsteen’s greatest hits. The introductory guitars (which continue through the rest of the song’s entirety) are instantly classic. Moreover, the keys that accompany this main riff seem inseparable from the rest of the song, carrying on with the same kind of honky-tonk country feel so organically and effortlessly. Springsteen, of course, is awesome, opting for more of a friendlier, swinging feel to his vocals, unlike the harsh yelps of “Born in the U.S.A.”, nor the quiet drone of “I’m on Fire”. The theme of the song is one that has been covered time and time again through the ages: “Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by”. It actually makes me wonder whether Springsteen is treading on old clichéd ground, or if he’s inventing them himself in real time. In any case, the song is resonant without feeling overtly trite, and the instrumental outro really brings it all home. There’s no denying how great this tune is and how well it’s held up over time.

66. “Run to You” – Bryan Adams: This is the second of four Bryan Adams tunes on this chart alone, so it’s probably best I jut get used to it and  I leave my automatic bias at the door. So, “Run to You” is a song that deals with a love affair from the perspective of the cheating mate, which automatically comes off as a tad reprehensible (especially folling something like “Voices Carry”). Nonetheless, I think where the lyrics succeed is at portraying the tension between emotional love and unfailing lust (“I know her love is true / But it’s so damn easy makin’ love to you”). Even though the chorus comes off as a tad heroic, it also doesn’t quite make it clear that we’re supposed to be on this guy’s side… which is cool, I guess. Musically, though, this basic drums-and-guitar setup feels a tad derivative – which is probably the reason why I often confuse this one with as a Tom Petty track. This is far from the worst that Adams has to offer, but he also seems like such a non-factor, it doesn’t quite matter. Which I guess is a win.

65. “All Through the Night” – Cyndi Lauper: My girl Cyndi is back! In contrary to the infidelity anthem that is “Run to You”, “All Through the Night” covers the topic of unconditional, everlasting love, which I’m a sucker for if they’re done right. The synths on this one are lovely and Cyndi’s voice – intricate in the verses, lush and powerful in the chorus – really sells it completely. The vocalizations in the outro bring it all back home; it’s just the type of song perfectly manufactured to give me the warm fuzzies. I actually had no idea that this was a cover song, and while I don’t doubt that the original has its charms, this particular recording lies too close to my heart to ever hand it over.  I’m so glad that tracks from She’s So Unusual are continuing to do well enough to cross over into the next year, because I could never get tired of listening to cuts from this record.

64. “Don’t Lose My Number” – Phil Collins: Although it’s over ten years, this is the second song covered on this Billboard Year-End challenge wherein the singer demands someone else not lose his number. If you don’t know the first, you probably don’t listen to enough music. Anyway, this song is perplexing. The protagonist is running from some unnamed organization or crime syndicate of some sort, and just when it seems like he’s getting away, “They heard him shout, then a blinding light”… and then he’s gone? Collins has stated that these lyrics were largely improvised, and frankly it’s obvious that’s the case. Musically, it’s a pretty standard 80s rock cut, with generic drum machines and synths that could have been pulled from any other pop-rock song from the past two or three years. Collins performance is also nothing to make any sort of fuss over. In any case, the chorus – “Billy, don’t you lose my number / ‘Cause you’re not anywhere that I can find you” – recalls a simpler time when one’s exact location could not be determined by their phone calls. Sigh.

63. “In My House” – Mary Jane Girls: Ah, yes, another Filthy Fifteen record! And honestly, this one makes the least sense out of the ones that have been covered so far (we won’t be covering all fifteen, but maybe I’ll make a future post on them all…?). Written and produced by Rick James – who also formed Mary Jane Girls – this song definitely contains some vital sexual overtones, but is also relatively innocuous to be suitable for house parties. This song is catchy and all and the funky production really works to its benefit. At the same time, though, I can’t help but feel it pales in comparison to their earlier, more risqué single “All Night Long”. Still, there’s no denying the appeal to this one – the vocals and melody are absolutely charming and the recording as a whole makes for some truly great party material.

62. “Smooth Operator” – Sade: And now for one of the greatest pop songs of all time… well, for me, at least. Seriously, melding jazz and soul and making it palatable for an 80s audience is a massive undertaking for a band, yet Sade perfected it. I’m not even totally sure what I love about this. I guess the saxophone just does it for me, as does Sade’s silky smooth vocals. I just love how she sings, “No place for beginners or sensitive hearts… No place to be ending but somewhere to start”, as well as the line, “His eyes are like angels, but his heart is cold”. It’s funny how there’s hardly any reference of sex (not one that’s totally oblique, anyway), yet once that chorus kicks in, it’s instantly the most erotic thing I’ve ever heard. Not much else to say about this one; I know my love for it is totally based on personal taste alone, but the sheer level of replay value on this one has got to count for something.

61. “Axel F” – Harold Faltermeyer: While it’s true that the number of instrumentals in the Hot 100 has dropped significantly since the previous decade, 1985 gave us two in the top 100 tracks alone – and both are from movie soundtracks! Here is the first, which many folks around my age might actually know from a different “artist” (we don’t mention it by name around these parts). It’s pretty inextricable from Beverly Hills Cop, with its very title named after the film’s protagonist, but even without that important tidbit of knowledge, I can still listen to this and have a good time. Harold Faltermeyer used five different types of synths to record this and I can only imagine how cool it must have been to listen to this in the 80s, knowing that it was mostly made by machines and is still pretty rad to dance to. Nowadays, it feels very, very, very much like a product of its time – but in less of an annoying way and with more of an irresistible, naive charm. That main melody alone plain reaches for the stars and makes me wish I was a kid in 1985.

60. “Head Over Heels” – Tears For Fears: I recently gave a much deserved relisten to Tears For Fears’s acclaimed album Songs From the Big Chair – and it remains as solid and lovely as ever before. “Head Over Heels” has always been a particular favorite of mine, having been introduced to it amongst a flurry of other 80s songs my mom played for me as a child. Those opening piano chords alone stir something in me I just can’t describe, especially once the guitar kicks in to harmonize with the riff. At its core, this is a love song that is as much about romance as it is about uncertainty thereof (“I’m lost in admiration, could I need you this much? / Oh, you’re wasting my time”). I especially love in the second verse when the instrumentation swells and gets a tad more ambitious, coupled with even more peculiar lyrics (“It’s hard to be a man when there’s a gun in your hand”). And then the song ends with a melodic string of “nah nah nah”s that are, somehow, so, so beautiful. What a glimmering star of a song.

59. “Better Be Good To Me” – Tina Turner: Okay, now this is what I’m talking about! In following Turner’s work throughout the years, it’s pretty clear that her strong suit is in upbeat, feisty numbers. While she nails the slower tune every so often (see: “Private Dancer”), it’s clear that songs like these are more of her wavelength. And as predicted, she sounds wonderful here, emitting each and every line with confidence that feels so natural, fierce, and feminine. Where I think this falters, however, is in the production – when the music doesn’t sound totally simple and generic, it sounds tinny and abrasive. The guitars are a nice touch, though, and I would love to watch Turner perform this live with a full backing band. Honestly, she’s the main factor that keeps this from falling flat on its face – thanks to her, it’s a good track!

58. “Material Girl” – Madonna: As a kid, it was a tad weird to me how different Madonna sounded in this record from every other song I knew of hers (especially in the chorus). Not that her nasally, valley girl voice annoyed me much – she is playing a character after all! As it stands today, I appreciate this song more than I actually enjoy it. There are numerous elements of the production that appeal to me, such as the guitar riff that pops in after the choruses (courtesy of Nile Rodgers – again!). The synths are catchy, and the song itself is a fun lampooning of the Reagan-era materialism that seemed to define this decade (“‘Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mister Right”). Nonetheless, the end product itself comes off a bit too chintzy for my tastes and Madonna’s hand in this one isn’t as strong as in previous singles. It feels relatively empty – which is maybe the point, I guess. But yeah, the fact that it has one of the most egregiously famous uses of the “girl/world” rhyme scheme doesn’t help matters either.

57. “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” – Tina Turner: And now the final (and most successful) Tina Turner single of this year. I’ll just go out on a limb now and state that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a fine final installment to the trilogy, certainly better than its reputation suggests. And Tina Turner is awesome in it! Nonetheless, I’ve always been pretty lukewarm on this particular soundtrack single. Not only is this a slower number from Turner (which I’ve already state I don’t particularly prefer), but it feels too slick, polished, and unambitious. It definitely sounds like the kind of song that would play over the beginning or end credits of a film, but it doesn’t sound like it belongs in the Mad Max franchise at all. Hell, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” as a title just sounds a hell of a lot more badass than the song that it ended up being. I guess the keyboards on this one are nice and I enjoy the booming drum effects in the chorus. Turner sounds great, but that goes without saying. The children’s choir at the end also takes some final points off at the end there. Final verdict: it’s… okay.

56. “Obsession” – Animotion: For some reason, I had this impression that “Obsession” was one of those really deep cuts from the 80s, one where you had to be “in the know”  to be aware of. I’ve just now found out that it actually had pretty heavy rotation on MTV and was a top ten hit – not so deep of a cut now, I guess! Anyway, I’ve always loved this trashy piece of garbage. I have no idea who Animotion are, but judging from this track alone it’s clear that they’re trying to bank on the Human League’s male-and-female vocal format. It’s basically the pinnacle of the decade’s synth infatuation – it sounds so sleek and studio-polished, there’s no sense of funk or limberness to be found anywhere here. The lyrics are just hilarious: “Like a butterfly, a wild butterfly / I will collect you and capture you”. Not to mention that legendary chorus – “You’re my obsession / Who do you want me to be to make you sleep with me?”. It tries to loosen things up with a radical guitar solo at the outro, but it just sounds sloppy and amateurish more than anything else. Anyway, none of this matters anyway ’cause I put this on every single 80s playlist I’ve ever made… guilty pleasure, I guess.

55. “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” – Sting: As the first single from Sting’s solo debut album, this song was our first taste of what Sting would sound like without the rest of the Police backing him up. And… well, it’s not too much of a radical departure. Okay, the most obvious change is that this has more of a jazz-infused backing, as opposed to the watered-down ska that the Police built their careers around. I won’t lie, I do like the lush loveliness of this new style, with the saxophones especially sounding particularly great. The lyrics detail the importance in moving on after a relationship has ended (“You can’t control an independent heart /Can’t tear the one you love apart”), and I can’t help but feel he could have found use for that advice before writing and recording “Every Breath You Take”… but I guess it’s too late now. This one is alright – not much else I’m in the mood to say about it. “Fortress Around Your Heart” is the superior of the two singles, for sure.

54. “One Night in Bangkok” – Murray Head: If a collaboration with Tim Rice, Murray Head, and two members from ABBA sounds like the weirdest, campiest, most unmarketable concept imaginable… well, you wouldn’t be incorrect. “One Night in Bangkok” is part of a concept album from this group, based on a musical called Chess. After a truly bizarre orchestral introduction, they compare the atmosphere of the titular city to a game of chess, both to its benefit and to their chagrin. Murray Head actually had a previous Hot 100 hit nearly fifteen years earlier with “Superstar” (from Jesus Christ Superstar) – here, he raps… very, very badly. Nonetheless, this is a catchy song, with some infectious synth licks in the chorus and a totally ear-grabbing chorus (“One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster!”). But still, this song suffers from a serious case of 80s Orientalism, wherein the sound and feel of the culture is used as a costume or observed through the eyes of a well-intentioned foreigner. I still enjoy it, but I would be hesitant before praising it quite so much.

53. “The Boys of Summer” – Don Henley: Well, I guess this makes up for “All She Wants to Do is Dance”. I’ve loved this song ever since I was a kid – my love for it heightened by the Ataris’s 2003 cover, which is how I heard it first – and I’m pretty certain that this is the best thing to come out of any member of the Eagles. The guitars are pleasantly shimmery, Henley’s usually grating voice fits the attitude well, and the record as a whole is dripping with absolute nostalgia. Seriously, if a song like this can make eleven-year-old me pine for a simpler time before I even know what such a phrase entailed… that’s the work of a powerful tune. That chorus in particular is one of the most beautiful of this year; even if the verses weren’t so simplistically magical, that chorus alone would be enough to move me to tears. And placed next to all of the extravagance and bombast of the mid-80s’ music, this almost seems like an anomaly – something that should have been in the cultural consciousness since ten years earlier. Frankly, I’m just glad it exists. And for what it’s worth, I still appreciate the Ataris’ version of this song so much for very different reasons… but the older I get, the more of a reliable friend the original has always felt to me. Thanks a lot, Don.

52. “Suddenly” – Billy Ocean: Following up the chart-topping catchiness of “Caribbean Queen” wasn’t going to be an easy task, but at least Billy Ocean tried it out… with a slow ballad. Okay, there’s another follow-up single that we’ll talk about later, but for now, there’s this. Like “Caribbean Queen”, this one can be pretty corny at times; the line, “One thousand words are not enough to say what I feel inside” feels particularly clunky. Nonetheless, I do appreciate that Ocean understands his range and doesn’t try to push this one over the edge (something that Lionel Richie often tries). While this isn’t in my own personal tastes, I can totally see myself spinning this one if I were ever in an 80s R&B ballad kind of mood. He sounds pleasant and fits well with the swelling strings and melodic piano. Not bad!

51. “Raspberry Beret” – Prince and the Revolution: 1984 spoiled me – I’m actually kind of disappointed that this is the only Prince song that that appears on this year’s chart. In all actuality, out of all the Prince songs that we’ve covered so far – including the ones he didn’t perform – this one might sound the least like his style. It’s noticeably poppier, with the strange inclusion of violins performing the melody hook, alongside drum machines and less pronounced guitars and bass. The tune itself is totally charming, with verses that don’t seem to follow any sense of rhyme or rhythm – until they all tie together in a totally anthemic chorus. Prince himself, as always, steals the show. He sings about women in a way that no other men from this era would even dare of touching, particularly the lines, “She wasn’t too bright / But I could tell when she kissed me, she knew how to get her kicks”. Simply put, it’s one of those naturally perfect pop songs that doesn’t have to try too hard – it has just enough ingredients and melds them together in just the right way. Prince just makes it look so damn easy.

50. “Separate Lives” – Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin: Uhhh… so, this is the first number-one single we’ve come across on this list so far. Obviously, my goal to properly review every number-one single means I must keep this one brief… but I don’t have much to say about it in the first place. This is boring as sin; Phil Collins’s dismal vocals and those treacly keyboards are a match made in hell. I hate this – let’s move on.

49. “Missing You” – Diana Ross: “Missing You” is a tribute to Diana Ross’s friend Marvin Gaye, who was murdered the previous year. Listening to this for the very first time, I am very, very confused. It starts off as a genuinely sentimental ballad, with lyrics (penned by Lionel Richie) that detail the pain and confusion that often accompany the death of a loved one. Sure, the production is as sterile as any other run-of-the-mill R&B ballad of the day, but I can forgive that. At least until around the final third, when the horns kick into a “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”-style breakdown that suddenly takes the song out of its element. I guess the record had to find some way to bring the attention back to Ross – but that spoken word monologue may as well had come out of any number of her 70s cuts! It’s all so exhausting. It has enough to enjoy about it to keep me from outright hating it, but it sure is a pitiful excuse for a tribute track nonetheless.

48. “The Search is Over” – Survivor: And now a third hit single from Survivor?? Good grief. This is a pretty by-the-numbers power ballad – nothing to really love, but nothing to get all fumed up about either. I will admit that the vocalist does has some excellent chops, especially in the chorus when he sings, “Now I look into your eyes, I can see forever”. Sure it’s corny and the kind of stuff that hair metal couples would play as their wedding first dance. But it’s rather inoffensive, too… I don’t know, it’s fine.

47. “You Give Good Love” – Whitney Houston: Whitney, my queen! I love whenever these charts introduce an artist that I’m certain will be around to stay for quite a while. Whitney Houston is a pretty big deal, and most of this is due to those powerhouse vocals. I had to remind myself that Houston was only twenty-one years old when she recorded “You Give Good Love” – which is honestly one of her weaker singles! Not by her fault, though. Her vocal delivery is as impressive here as anywhere else, but the unexciting keyboards aren’t doing her any favors. At points, it honestly just sounds like the keyboardist is throwing as many sounds against the wall as possible to see what sticks. Anyway, I already know that we’re in for some amazing stuff soon, so I’ll just consider this a placeholder for now…

46. “Strut” – Sheena Easton: While “Sugar Walls” might be the Sheena Easton song that folks remember from this year, if any, “Strut” was actually her big one from ’85. I didn’t mention this earlier, but this song and its predecessor were actually the two major singles that marked Easton’s move away from adult contemporary fare into a more pop-oriented, sexually mature direction. This alone demonstrates the immediate impact that artists like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper had on the music scene of the era – that’s the 80s for ya! Anyway, this song is also notable for the feminist direction these lyrics take, with a chorus that berates its male subject: “Strut pout, put it out, that’s what you want from women”. The bridge before the final chorus also states defiantly, “I won’t be your baby doll”. The synths and horns are a nice touch, Easton sounds good, and the song overall is catchy as hell. However, I also can’t help but feel that this just sounds pretty derivative of Easton’s previous pro-woman discography (such as “Modern Girl”) and it reeks of studio heads’ pining for another such hit (and receiving exactly this). But this is probably just me.

45. “Sussudio” – Phil Collins: And now for the second number-one hit of this list… and the one that probably makes the least amount of sense. For what it’s worth, the made-up word “sussudio” is literally meaningless – Collins implemented it into this song and gave it this title simply because it sounded cool. Lyrically, it’s basically a simple little ditty about Collins’s being enamored with a particularly groovy woman (“If she called me, I’d be there  / I’d come running anywhere”). But the words aren’t particularly the most prominent part of this song, nor is Collins’s sub-par performance of such. With this, it’s all about the lush and peppy production, replete with horns and guitars as well as some very 80s-sounding keyboards and drum machines. The main riff sounds curiously like Prince’s “1999”, yet somehow retains it own sort of dorky personality that one wouldn’t dare accuse it of ripping off the performer. The main issue, though, is that this song kind of just runs on autopilot after a while – once the second chorus finishes, the rest of the song sort of folds upon itself with Collins vocalizing limply over the instrumental, which doesn’t do anything particularly interesting from that point onward. Still, it’s innocuous enough for a typical 80s party playlist, and harmless enough that I don’t mind it having topped the charts for a single week.

44. “Never Surrender” – Corey Hart: And now for another surprise – the singer of “Sunglasses at Night” is not a one-hit wonder?? So many lies, my entire life. But it’s certainly easy to see how this one had fallen into total obscurity. Instrumentally, it’s pretty standard 80s pop-rock in the vein of Rick Springfield, though with even less bite. The song deals with the act of persevering in the face of adversity, but the lyrics and even the melody itself are both pretty clunky. The chorus is full of tired clichés and empty phrasings (“When the night is cold and dark / You can see, you can see light / ‘Cause no one can take away your right / To fight and never surrender”). Once it reaches the climactic sax solo after the second chorus, I just don’t care anymore. That pretty much sums up this one for me: I don’t care. Definitely worth placing within the lower tier of this year.

43. “Freeway of Love” – Aretha Franklin: So this is the single that would bring Aretha Franklin back into the pop charts, after nearly a decade away, introducing her to a whole new generation of listeners. I do have to say that this transition from her traditional soul sound into the contemporary pop-R&B sound of the 80s is done so magnificently with this single alone. Although the breadth of her voice isn’t quite given room to shine here, this is compensated by some truly impassioned synthesizers, which wear the decade on its sleeve to its benefit. Not to mention that short little saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons himself! Even though Franklin has definitely aged a bit, her seasoned vocals are warmly welcomed here; I especially love the line before the prechorus (“Drop the pedal and go… go… go”), as well as the outro which finally allows her to ad-lib and effectively show off her vocal chops we all know and love. This one is fun and I’ve little by way of complaints!

42. “All I Need” – Jack Wagner: And now for a true one-hit wonder. Primarily, Jack Wagner is an actor in many popular soap operas of the 80s and 90s, but tried his hand out at a pop career. This was successful (at least temporarily) as this song somehow made it all the way to #2! Overall, it’s sleepy and inoffensive as they come. A low-tempo love song from a pretty-boy vocalist with a slightly decent voice and generic keyboard backing. That’s literally all that’s worth saying about this one. I guess I’m thankful that he wasn’t as awful as when, say, John Travolta attempted something similar back in the day. But that doesn’t make this particularly good either. Just boring.

41. “Things Can Only Get Better” – Howard Jones: Oh my god!! I’ve been looking for this song for literal years, but the fact that I only knew its “whoa-oh-oh” hook and the melody to the pre-chorus never helped matters. I knew this challenge would be good for something. Anyway, Corey Hart should probably be taking notes, as this is how you do a pick-me-up anthem. The production is sharp and interesting, with a jumpy bass leading the way and some cool ‘n’ groovy keyboards following along and keeping things fun. With all this laid on top of one another, Jones is almost a non-factor to the quality of the track, but his songwriting is tops here as well. I especially love the lines, “It may take a little time, a lonely path, an uphill climb / Success or failure will not alter it”. But even if the verses weren’t so fittingly well-written, the wordless vocal hook that I know and love the best will keep me hitting replay button. This is some good stuff, and I’m so glad I’ve finally found this song!!

40. “Nightshift” – Commodores: It’s nice to see Commodores come by around these parts again… although this time, Lionel Richie is nowhere to be found, having been replaced by new lead singer Walter Orange. Hmm. Anyway, it’s looking like the 80s are overdue for their cash-grab tribute single of the decade, so we might as well get it with Commodores’s song in memory of the deceased of 1984, Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. Honestly, though, this feels a lot more sincere than past tribute singles like “Three Stars” and “Rock and Roll Heaven” (there’s a blast from the past!). The production is lush and lovely and the singing is very pleasant as well. It’s also worth noting that members of Commodores were actually close friends with both Wilson and Gaye, and were actually against the label’s decision to release this as a single. So the interpolation of Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” actually feel very genuine and heartfelt. While I have every reason to remain cynical about these kinds of singles exploiting the tragic deaths of others, at least I can be sure that “Nightshift” is not worthy of my chagrin.

39. “We Belong” – Pat Benatar: While I’ve yet to review “We Belong” on this site, I did talk about it briefly in the past, in relation to Ximena Sariñana’s cover version. I ended the review – which I wrote over a year ago – by mentioning that there are numerous other Benatar songs that I would choose to listen to over “We Belong”. I almost want to go back in time just to hit myself over the head for that statement. “We Belong” is far and away her best single, with its fluttering synths in the verses, the pounding tribal drums in that iconic chorus, and Benatar’s understated yet powerful vocals tying it all together. There are so many good lines strewn throughout this song, but a personal favorite is, “I’ve invested too much time to give you up that easy, to the doubts that complicate your mind”. That melody is still one of the best of the whole decade and… yeah, okay, the children’s choir at the end is still a bit much. But it’s also one of the very few instances where the presence of a children’s choir doesn’t make me want to stab my eardrums – so that’s a plus! Anyway, I’m really glad I finally, completely warmed up to this song. It took me damn long enough.

38. “Neutron Dance” – The Pointer Sisters: And here we are with the Pointer Sisters making me want to join a jazzercise class… again! Honestly, though, this is very much in the disco tradition of implementing a fun, danceable beat in order to disguise the fact that, lyrically, this song is actually pretty cynical and even a bit depressing. The verses contain such lines like, “Someone stole my brand new Chevrolet / And the rent is due, I got no place to stay”, and the chorus makes a pretty explicit references the neutron bomb that was making the rounds in the news at this time. But all this is accompanied by the peppiest, most uptempo synth-laden production that the Pointer Sisters have been known for the past few years. Honestly, this isn’t too bad, but it sounds far too much like their earlier hits (especially “I’m Too Excited” and “Jump (For My Love)”) for me to give too much of a damn. Still, it’s fun and totally worthwhile party music.

37. “You’re the Inspiration” – Chicago: Through all my years of following the history of pop music (I’ve been doing it to some degree since I was about eleven), “You’re the Inspiration” always seems to be acknowledged by many as the apex of Chicago’s lameness. I mean, yeah, this ballad is limp as hell. The production is generic and sounds like a thousand other ballads on the radio at the time. The lyrics are pathetic and read like a Hallmark card (“You’re the meaning in my life; you’re the inspiration… No one needs you more than I need you”), and Peter Cetera’s singing of them is as nasally and unappealing as it’s ever been. But while I’d argue that Chicago has been pretty lame for about a decade at this point, I would still say that I prefer this track over something like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”. At least there’s a sense of musical foundation that this builds upon… even if that foundation is derivative and boring. But yeah, this song sucks, I guess.

36. “The Wild Boys” – Duran Duran: Woohoo, more Duran Duran! So, I guess I should admit now that my introduction to Duran Duran came when I was around twelve, when my mom got their Greatest Hits CD for her birthday. Over the course of a few years, we listened to it over and over again until the tracks started to skip. Nonetheless, “Wild Boys” was always one of those tracks that I’d listen to begrudgingly – my mom enjoyed it, but I always found myself spacing out. Now that I’m older, I finally understand what it is that I found so distasteful – it’s that damn production! Nile Rodgers has done some nifty stuff through the years, but the stuttering remix of this song (replete with its consistently annoying chants of, “Wild boys! Wild boys!”) is just so aesthetically unappealing. The drums are pounding, but in a way that always sounded pretty stiff, and singer Simon Le Bon always sounded raspier and flatter than usual in the chorus. I do like the series of lines, “You got sirens for a welcome, there’s bloodstain for your pain / And your telephone been ringing while you’re dancing in the rain”, but the majority of the lyrics are relatively sub-par. Nevertheless, this isn’t quite egregious enough for me to outright hate… but it is along the lower rung of Duran Duran singles, at least for me.

35. “A View to a Kill” – Duran Duran: So, this song is not only distinctive for being Duran Duran’s second or two number-one singles in their career, but it also remains the song written for a James Bond film that has hit the top spot. That’s pretty cool! While I’m not much of a Bond song connoisseur (except for “Goldfinger”… and “Nobody Does It Better”… and “For Your Eyes Only”…), I totally dig how the song uses contemporary production tricks to interpolate the snippets of the brassy James Bond theme into its 80s rock/synthpop atmosphere. With the aid of legendary Bond song writer John Barry, these lyrics are also on par with the best of the bunch (“Dance into the fire / That fatal kiss is all we need”). While I wouldn’t name it among the best of the Bond songs (although I would totally understand why anyone would), there’s no denying its catchiness and unparalleled ability to breathe some new life into a twenty-year franchise.

34. “Sea of Love” – The Honeydrippers: Riding along the wave of nostalgia comes the Honeydrippers, the doo-wop revival band formed by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. Besides his unmistakable vocals, though, there’s nothing here that would tie this sound to the ragged edges of the Zep. “Sea of Love” is, of course, a cover of the 1959 song from Phil Phillips, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned at all on this site! Like a lot of traditional R&B of its day, “Sea of Love” is a stiff, simple little number about being swept away by love. While the Honeydrippers’s version remains relatively unchanged, it is distinguished by its additional of lush strings and bass to its arrangement, as well as an electric guitar solo. It retains its old-timey nostalgic value, which is mostly nice, although the lines, “Do you remember when we met? / That’s the day I knew you were my pet” have aged… poorly. Overall… it’s okay.

33. “One More Night” – Phil Collins: This is yet another number-one single that I will undoubtedly cover in more detail for my Every Number One Single challenge. For now, though, I will state that this is surprisingly appealing for a Phil Collins soft ballad. Then again, the guy did make “Against All Odds”, so maybe this shouldn’t be as surprising as I’m making it out to be. Okay, it’s not great by any means… I’m not even sure if its any good. All I’m saying is that those 80s-tastic keyboards are just cheesy enough to make me forgive the inanely repetitive chorus. I dunno, I’ll think about this one for a bit longer…

32. “Rhythm of the Night” – DeBarge: Regrettably, I still haven’t seen The Last Dragon and it’s one of the most painful movie blindspots for me. Nonetheless, I am pretty familiar with “Rhythm of the Night”, the single wherein Debarge finally makes a successful bonafide pop crossover a lá Lionel Richie. This song always seemed like one of those defining points of the entire decade – just play someone this song and they’ll have a good idea of what the 80s were all about. Still, the party gimmick of this song feels a bit clunky at times and El Debarge’s wonderful vocals feel depressingly undercut at points. Still, it’s all about that chorus, which always makes the rest of the song well worth a listen. Not that the mildly calypso-infused instrumental isn’t also a huge plus in its own right!

31. “Oh Sheila” – Ready For the World: And yet another number-one single that I’ll get more into once I work on a full-length review. In any case, this is one of the best Prince impersonators out there, and a pretty campy, sexy song to boot. Those synths are bangin’ as hell, meshing well with the intense drum machines and the radiating horniness of frontman Melvin Riley. I just can’t help but sing along whenever it comes on… yes, including the random sex grunts in the bridge.

30. “You Belong to the City” – Glenn Frey: Oh boy, that lone saxophone on the intro is so, so smoooooth… and the inclusion of the riff with the main synth hook somehow comes off as neither clumsy nor disjointed. Glenn Frey (formerly of the Eagles) actually played all of the instruments on this record except for the sax… and it an’t bad. Even though I’ve literally never seen a single episode of Miami Vice, the mere sound of this track gives me a good impression of what the appeal was. Sure, the lyrics don’t amount to very much, but they still sound cool as hell (“You look at the faces; it’s just like a dream / Nobody knows where you’re going, nobody cares where you’ve been”) and emit a certain brand of urban-oriented ennui of which Bob Seger would be proud. Not too bad for a first-time solo track from the former leading man of a band I’ve always found pretty dull.

29. “Lovergirl” – Teena Marie: This song is yet another of my mom’s favorites – most of my memories associated with it are either in her car or at family house parties. There are a lot of really cool elements to this one: the Rick James-esque funky bassline, the Niles Rodgers-esque guitar licks, the cool synths, the fierce vocals courtesy of Teena Marie herself. There’s no denying this is a catchy little pop number, with the intensity heightened by the fiery chorus and Teena Marie’s anthemic vocalizations. I don’t even mind the “girl/world” rhyme scheme this time around! Some of these lyrics come off as really a bit odd (“Coffee, tea, or me, baby”, “Hook, line, and sinker, baby, that’s how you caught me”), but they mostly just add to the fun, unique personality of this track as a whole. It’s a shame that Teena Marie didn’t quite manage a second huge hit (though her earlier “Square Biz” is also some good, poppy fun). Judging from this song alone, it’s clear that the potential was all there are she deserved to be bigger.

28. “Loverboy” – Billy Ocean: I’m not sure if whoever is in charge of compiling this year-end list intentionally grouped this song one spot above the similarly titled Teena Marie song. But in any case, oh my god, this is good!! Certainly surprising for a track from Billy Ocean, who I’ve up ’til now considered lukewarm at best. Some of these lyrics are a bit shaky for my liking – the mere word “loverboy” tends to make my stomach turn – but boy does Ocean sing them like his career depends on it. I especially love the, “yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah” leading up to the chorus. The synths are an interesting inclusion, especially since they often work when paired with that electrifying guitar, but quickly take a turn for the awkward right after the second chorus. Nonetheless, this one has me dancing in my chair from start to finish. It’s an overproduced mess, but at least it’s a charming overproduced mess!

27. “Miami Vice Theme” – Jan Hammer: Remember when I mentioned in my “Axel F” review above that there were two instrumentals on this list? Well, this is the second one. It topped the charts in late ’85 and was the last instrumental to do so for almost thirty years! Verdict? It’s… okay. The synth washes are big and booming, very textured and replete with this almost mysterious kind of atmosphere. Like “You Belong to the City”, it’s understandable just listening to this theme how Miami Vice was the epitome of cool in the mid-80s. Nonetheless, after about the first fifteen seconds or so, the entertainment factor just fades off into a mildly pleasant track. It’s a fine listen, but there’s not enough going on there in which to be fully invested, and it’s much too short anyway. I can see how this appealed to a large enough number of people to give it the top spot on the charts, but I can also see how this peak only lasted a single week.

26. “Cool It Now” – New Edition: Ah, now here is one of the defining points of the 80s for me (I know, there’s like a hundred of these). Only in this decade would it make total sense to accompany the backing drum machines and synth-buzz with a mousey-voiced 16-year-old lead singer and a backing troupe of other crooning youngsters. But really, though, New Edition struck gold with this one. The hook is undeniably sticky and instantly catchy, with both lead singer Ralph Tresvant and the backing vocalists matching each others’ energies perfectly. They tried to go for this dynamic with the earlier single “Candy Girl”, but that one was probably a bit too punchy to work effectively. Here, they opt for a more melodic route to magical results, and better yet with a song that emphasizes not being too pushy with a love interest (some advice that everyone can benefit from). Even the rap breaks are pretty neat, if silly. This is just fun as hell!!

25. “Everything She Wants” – Wham!: It can’t be underestimated how big of a year Wham! had in 1985. This one also hit #1, so I’ll keep it brief, again. Wham! had a lot of really good songs during their brief existence, but this one is one feels a bit more on the mature side. Here, George Michael has trapped himself in a loveless marriage and the confusion is totally concrete in his performance. The synths here are dated, sure, but they’re also sophisticated in a way that just feels right for the song. Overall, though, that chorus is just really fun to sing along to at karaoke nights, so there’s that.

24. “Heaven” – Bryan Adams: And now for another number-one song! I’m probably really showing my age now, but I definitely prefer the DJ Sammy & Yanou dance cover of this song from 2001. Yeah, I know, I’m awful. But the truth is, everything I find so drab and boring about Adams could be properly encapsulated here. The melody in the verses and chorus are pretty nice, but after reading that co-writer Jim Vallance was inspired by Journey’s “Faithfully”, I can’t help but hear this as a stiffer, less resonant “Faithfully”. And Adam’s voice still annoys me… okay, that’s all I’ll say before I cover this in a longer review!

23. “Saving All My Love For You” – Whitney Houston: And another one – Whitney’s first chart-topper! Honestly, while I’ve always loved Houston’s vocals on this one, it has also always been along the middle rungs of her ballads for me. Lyrically, this is about an affair with a married man – sort of a “Me and Mrs. Jones” from a heterosexual female perspective. The lyrics are pretty standard forbidden love stuff, but the depths of her voice and the emotions that she puts forth are just exquisite. This would’ve definitely been a lesser song in the hands of anyone else – Whitney spins this into gold.

22. “Part-Time Lover” – Stevie Wonder: Looks like Billboard decided to cram a whole bunch of their number-one singles into the same section of the chart… Anyway, this always sounded like Stevie Wonder’s try at Hall & Oates’s “Maneater”. His crossover to pop has been a rocky one for sure, but this one is actually strangely pretty fun. There’s a bit of dark humor to this cheating situation, which actually makes this one of the more interesting singles of Wonder’s career in a while. The synths may sound tinny and cheap, but his easy-going personality makes this a odd little dance floor staple.

21. “Shout” – Tears For Fears: Guess what? This song also went to number-one! This makes my job so easy. Anyway, I already mentioned that Songs From the Big Chair was a totally solid album, but this song alone is a hell of an opener. The industrial-sounding synthesizers are like nothing else on this list and the growing intensity of the track as a whole has me hooked from start to finish. Add onto this the impassioned vocals from Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, and you’ve got a truly powerful piece of sonic art. This may not be my favorite of the number-ones this year, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the most interesting.

20. “We Are the World” – USA for Africa: Oh hell yes, top twenty! And we’re kicking it off with yet another number-one single… and possibly the worst of them all. Cloying, condescending, and just totally bad, this is musically boring, lyrically sappy, and goes on for way, way too long. Sure, some individual performances here are pretty good (looking at you, Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper), and I’m glad that the publicity did what it did to spread awareness of humanitarian aid. At the same time, though, I can’t help but feel that this might have done more harm than good in the long run… but I’ll get into more detail on that later. Anyway, this record sucks.

19. “The Heat is On” – Glenn Frey: This is the second single from Glenn Frey on this list (though this one only went to number-two), and… yeah, I prefer the other one. The saxophone riff is catchy as sin and the overall rhythm is as infectious as one would expect from a soundtrack single from an 80s comedy. Nonetheless, these lyrics are just so, so bad. Lines like, “The heat is on, on the street / Inside your head, on every beat” and “The shadows high on the darker side / Behind the doors, it’s a wilder ride” ultimately don’t translate to anything at all. The record as a whole contains this intense mood that fits with the action-packed flavor of its instrumentals, but I think the lyrics only work as just another instrument to add to the equation and not anything actually meaningful. Moreover, Frey’s vocals are so much better on “You Belong to the City” – here, he just sounds like a sub-par Kenny Loggins. Boo!

18. “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” – John Parr: And back on the number-one single train! The pumping synths on this one are totally great, especially accompanied by the shredding guitar. I’ll admit that John Parr isn’t the greatest vocalist (possibly why he couldn’t succeed at getting another hit), but he can emit this melody really well, especially in that absolutely triumphant chorus. This must have been somebody’s favorite song, considering that it hit the top spot for two weeks – the way I see it, though, it’s just passable 80s cheese.

17. “Cherish” – Kool & the Gang: Okay, from this point on, I’m no longer going to try to make rhyme or reason of Kool & the Gang’s recording choices. I’m just going to ride the wave… maybe some ocean waves, the likes of which open up this track. Honestly, while the vocals are merely a husk of what Kool and his Gang had accomplished in the past, they aren’t too bad and are at least fitting to the words and tone. It’s the treacly Casio keyboards that kill this one for me, especially at the intro when it lays down some intense chords that, nonetheless, are about as threatening as a yapping puppy. The lyrics are about everlasting love – pretty much all you need to know there. To me, this sounds like a watered-down version of “Joanna”, which also isn’t the best but at least has some more interesting instrumental choices. I dunno… I’ll probably just forget I ever listened to this one.

16. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – Simple Minds: Oh, right – 1985 was the year of The Breakfast Club. I never really thought much about that movie, but this is probably far-and-away this best thing to come out of it. It’s cool and breezy, yet triumphant and melancholic all in equal parts, which is weird. I want to say that I love this song, but I think I probably just love the signature “hey, hey, hey, hey” parts. Nonetheless, it’s a nice little number of which I’ll go into more detail at a later date. I feel like this song is supposed to remind me of high school – and maybe it would have if my high school experience wasn’t just utterly uneventful – but mostly it just reminds me of car rides with my mom… which is good enough, I guess.

15. “The Power of Love” – Huey Lewis and the News: 1985 was also the year of Back to the Future! Damn, we sure got a lot of number-one singles from movie soundtracks this year. Anyway, maybe I was speaking too soon when I claimed to be giving up on Huey Lewis & the News. While this song isn’t great by any means and still contains a fair share of the Huey Lewis corniness I just can’t completely get behind (“Don’t need no credit card to ride this train”), I can’t deny its charm. The synths contain just the right amount of cheese and the whole song just feels to naive to hate. I dunno. It’s fine!!

14. “We Built This City” – Starship: Well, this is conflicting. “We Built This City” (which went to number-one this year) is widely considered one of the worst songs ever. It’s not all that hard to see why with just a single listen: the synths are tuned all the way up, to create this aggressive, clunky atmosphere that is just jarring. The lyrics, uh… could be better. But in any case, I like this. The melody is perfectly catchy, and the song itself is a subtly sad homage to San Francisco as it once was, before the “corporation games” set in. Living in San Francisco during the late stages of the tech boom… I feel that. And no, I don’t care that this used to be Jefferson Airplane. This song is good.

13. “Can’t Fight This Feeling” – REO Speedwagon: And now for REO Speedwagon’s second number-one hit, after “Keep On Loving You”. And really, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to compare the two – they are both power ballads about love for another that have a similar sound to them. Honestly, I prefer this one, even though it arguably it’s the one that has aged the poorest. Still, the melody is beautiful, the lyrics feel better structured, and Kevin Cronin’s voice even sounds better. Not to mention that these lines just make my heart swell: “I say there is no reason for my fear / ‘Cause I feel so secure when we’re together / You give my life direction; you make everything so clear”. Sigh.

12. “Easy Lover” – Philip Bailey and Phil Collins: It’s so eerie to me how much this sounds like an Earth, Wind, & Fire single being filtered through a Collins-era Genesis filter. Anyway, I feel like this is objectively a good song, yet for me… it’s missing that something special. Don’t get me wrong: those energetic guitars and synthesizers mesh supremely well with Collins’s and Bailey’s playing off of each others’ vocal performances. The melody as a whole kicks ass and it’s the kind of song that was just bound to be an instant classic from the first listen. Nonetheless… I’m just not amazed by it. I definitely wouldn’t complain if I saw this on an 80s party playlist and I’ll gladly ride the wave. But then again, you probably won’t find this on my Best of 1985 playlist anytime soon. Sorry.

11. “Everytime You Go Away” – Paul Young: Um… so, I guess 1985 was the year when they were just letting anyone go to number-one, right? No, all honesty, this is a surprisingly lovely cover of the Hall & Oates song of the same name. The beginning keyboard washes has whispers of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face”, but once the sitars come in a few bars later, the song takes on a life of its own. The production here is so, so smooth, and although Young doesn’t have too great of a voice, he works with his strengths to emit lines like, “Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you” with genuine vulnerability. Yeah, this is really pleasant.

10. “Take on Me” – a-ha: Woohoo, top ten!! And what better way to kick off the top ten than with one of the most ubiquitous pop singles of the whole damn decade. I’ve listened to this song countless times through my life, and it never gets old. The synths are sparkly and iconic, and that buildup in the chorus is just beautiful. Over time, I’ve come to acknowledge some of its flaws (like how the lyrics make no goddamn sense), but it never feels like enough to change my opinion of this. Since this is a number-one single, I’ll cover it in more detail later… but anyway, I love this.

9. “Crazy For You” – Madonna: Recording a ballad was an odd choice for Madonna, who had done solely dance-pop at this point – but gave her a number-one single! I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this one. It’s a teenage lust ballad at its core, but she offers a unique bit of introspection on the whole song, while also keeping things aesthetically appealing. I am especially a fan of the chorus, which just might be one of my favorites from this era of Madonna’s career. Really, it’s the kickstarter for a future of much more interesting music to come from this pop starlet.

8. “Money For Nothing” – Dire Straits: Ugh… so yeah, this is another number-one single that I’ll write more about later. But that second verse alone just makes my stomach churn – and yes, it is because of the homophobic slur in the second verse, and no it doesn’t make it okay that it was a “different time” or that it fits the character or whatever. Besides this, though, the song is extremely uninteresting – it’s basically a lot of talking and a limp melody over some basic guitar chords. The most interesting parts come with Sting’s contributions, but those are so few and far between that this record. This is basically a bunch of aging, out-of-touch rockers complaining about god knows what –  as a whole, it just plain ain’t worth it.

7. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” – Tears For Fears: This was the first of Tears For Fears’s chart-toppers. While it’s not my favorite of their songs from this year (“Head Over Heels” holds that honor), it’s not hard to see “Everybody”‘s charms. The shimmering synthesizers at the beginning make way for emotional bombast that just seems to hit all the right buttons with little to no effort. The lyrics are just so lovely and vibrant as well. I especially love the line, “Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure / Nothing ever lasts forever”, as well as the bridge that begins with, “There’s a room where the light won’t find you”. It’s all totally lovely stuff – hook layered upon utterly blissful hook.

6. “Out of Touch” – Hall & Oates: The end of an era has come – this would have been the final of Hall & Oates’s number-one singles. The melody is lovely, especially in the chorus, working well with the prominent, glossy synths. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of substance here. I don’t quite know what lines like, “You’re out of touch, I’m out of time /  But I’m out of my head when you’re not around” are supposed to mean… or any of the lyrics here, for that matter. Also, this feels relatively stiff and sterile for a Hall & Oates single; this coupled with “Method of Modern Love” almost signals that the end is nigh for the duo. Sad but true.

5. “I Feel For You” – Chaka Khan: And now for the highest ranking song on this list that did not make the number-one spot – this one only hit number-three, but stayed on the charts for twenty-six weeks, which was forever at the time. First, I’ll use this space to briefly talk about the representation of women in this year’s chart! With a slight improvement from last year, we have thirty-three tracks on this list that are credited to women, be they solo or in a band/group. That’s a third of the chart! Not exactly 50/50, but we’re getting there. And this number is continually being boosted by the increase of female solo performers – despite the fact that the Second British Invasion has brought a whole bunch of men into the scene, the increased popularity of artists like Madonna and Tina Turner balances that out. Fun! So, Chaka Khan is another one of these popular performers that crossed over the pop scene this year. “Feel For You” (a cover of a Prince song from his debut album) is a fun little number – heady synths are coupled with brief inflections of horns and harmonica (from Stevie Wonder!) that create a lovely little atmosphere. Although we all know that she can really belt it out, Khan makes the smart decision to keep her vocal chops on the down-low – it certainly fits the mood better. Of course, what everyone remembers is the introductory rap from Melle Mel. I could only imagine that something as simple and jumpy as this goofy inclusion must as been mind-blowing in 1985. Anyway, this song is an absolute powerhouse, and I feel so happy for Chaka Khan.

4. “I Want to Know What Love Is” – Foreigner: One of those “love it or hate it” kinds of 80s power ballads. In all actuality, this may be the power ballad to end them all. It’s overblown in all the right ways, from the extravagant buildup from verse to pre-chorus, to the anthemic chorus accompanied by a gospel choir of all things. I’ve always found Foreigner to be a pretty insipid band, and the fact that this is one of their most ambitious efforts as a band only proves this. Nonetheless, that pre-chorus is the resonating type that I wish I would have written (“Can’t stop now, I’ve travelled so far / To change this lonely life”), and the quiet synths undercutting everything are just lovely. It’s not enough for me to love, but I sure as hell can’t stop pushing play.

3. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” – Wham!: Okay, so Wham! singles… this was one of the biggest and continues to be one of the most recognized of them all. Its infectious bounciness is off the charts, from the very first utterances of, “jitterbug”. Of course, George Michael steals the show once again, with bright, sparkly lyrics practically bouncing off the record… er, audio file. Furthermore, the retro instrumentation (horns, tambourines, keyboards, all that) clashes wonderfully with the fluffy-pink melody, replete with just about every note within Michael’s range. It really is the perfect bubblegum pop song, and although it’s not suitable for every occasion and is far from my preferred Wham! track… I like it just fine.

2. “Like a Virgin” – Madonna: Ah, “Like a Virgin”. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Madonna’s sophomore album of the same name, but I think only ’cause so few of the tracks lived up to the promise of the lead single. There’s so much to love about this, but mainly Nile Rodger’s vibrating production and Madonna’s sly interpretation of these lyrics. The melody is totally timeless and her, “Like a virgin – hey!” is one of my favorite music moments of her whole career. I’ll talk more about this when the time comes to write a full review, but there’s really no debating the purely iconic nature of this one. Smart, sexually liberated women were such an anomaly in the pop industry at this point – Madonna helped to open that door just a bit further.

1. “Careless Whisper” – Wham! / George Michael / Wham! ft. George Michael: And here we are now, folks: the number-one song of 1985, courtesy of Wham!… well, George Michael, at least. Okay, Wham! featuring George Michael – as little sense that makes. Honestly, it’s just a matter of international releases, which messes up the consistency of record labels. But anyway, let’s be real: everyone remembers this song for that saxophone. That sax solo – courtesy of Steve Gregory – sure is sexy. But placed alongside Michael’s pained vocals and the downtempo, tropical production, they suddenly take on much darker, sadder undertones. It’s all about that bridge, though: “We could have been so good together / We could have lived this dance forever / But no one’s gonna dance with me – please stay”. Chills. Still, while I like this song a decent amount, it doesn’t hold a candle to some of their other material (“Everything She Wants” is a favorite for sure), and I’m certain that the only reason that this got as big as it did is due to Wham!’s decision to make a 180 with their typical bubbly pop style at the very height of their careers. Still, I have no qualms with it being as big as it was – it’s a sleek, sophisticated number, and further exemplifies just how talented of a singer/songwriter/producer George Michael truly was.

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