Here’s another fun recurring feature: Friday Face-off!
Our book was written by an American and a Scot. We grew up in different countries listening to the same sort of music. Or did we? In order to scientifically measure which of our two great nations had cultural superiority, we decided to select specific weeks from the eighties and compare the respective Top Fives. We start with the week of February 4, 1984…
The UK TOP 5
“Break My Stride,” Matthew Wilder
JB: How many schoolyard beatdowns can be directly attributed to this song? I abhor violence of any kind but if you spent even a second of the Eighties singing along to this song, or sporting any of the hair arrangements of its singer, you were asking for it.
LM: I don’t think I ever knew what Matthew Wilder looked like until now. (Love the Solid Gold clip, by the way!) I used to picture him more Robbie Nevil-esque, but now I can see that it was REO’s Kevin Cronin who was his style idol. Wilder went on to produce No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom — do you think they rang up their label and was like, “We love this song!”? But however bad you think it is, JB, “Break My Stride” is one of those quintessential 80s tunes, like “Walking On Sunshine” or “867-5309 (Jenny).”
4) ”Radio Gaga,” Queen
JB: You know what I don’t miss? Songs that kiss radio’s ass. Nothing more craven or desperate. Although now we’re swamped with songs about the club, which isn’t really an improvement. Queen were an amazingly resilient group, probably the result of having four distinct writers, but I always felt that this was an epic track wasted on a plea for airplay. That goo goo-a ga stuff in the chorus sounded like they weren’t even trying. You can’t imagine a song like this ever inspiring anyone to make it part of their stage name <rimshot>
LM: In high school, my group of girlfriends used to play a game called Music Husbands. We had Motley Crue husbands (mine was Vince Neil). We had metal-head husbands (mine was Dee Snider — I picked last). And we had Queen husbands (mine was Freddie Mercury; obviously, I picked first). One of my favorite anecdotes in our Mad World book is INXS guitarist Tim Farriss’ recollection of an impromptu sing-off between Michael Hutchence and Mercury in a Geneva hotel room. As much as I love Michael, you know my late spouse easily won that one. Freddie was friggin’ fantastic, and “Radio Gaga” was another shot in the Queen cannon. But then, it my eyes, Freddie could do no wrong. I love “Flash Gordon,” “A Kind of Magic” and “One Vision” too — “Fried Chicken” line and all.
3. “That’s Living All Right”- Joe Fagin
JB: And my claim of UK chart supremacy goes down in flames. My people, the British, love novelty songs. In our book, Midge Ure of Ultravox grouses about his signature hit `Vienna’ being kept off Number One by Joe Dolce’s immortal “Shaddup You Face.” Up until the time when the charts became officially irrelevant — for argument’s sake, the late 90s — the British record buying public were happy to splash out on records by sitcom and soap stars, children’s choirs, brass bands, ventriloquists and their dolls, celebrity impersonators, BBC disc jockeys and themes from TV shows. Which is what we’re dealing with here. ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet” was a hugely popular series about British builders working in Europe. This pub singalong was its theme. As you can hear, it’s worn well…
LM: It’s all over between me and John Taylor — I’ve found myself a new Eighties icon. This guy is some looker! But seriously: Who the hell is Joe Fagin? And why didn’t someone tell him the Seventies had ended four years earlier?! I don’t mind novelty songs. I like “Shaddup You Face.” I even like “Stutter Rap” (a UK chart hit my Smash Hits pen pal taped off the radio for me back in the day). But this is shit.
2) “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” Cyndi Lauper
JB: Cyndi Lauper wins a Tony, still puts out records, still sells out shows and still gets on TV and it’s all on the back of this song and “Time After Time.” No one has ever done more with fewer hits.
LM: Fewer hits?! Cyndi also had “She Bop,” “Money Changes Everything,” “True Colors,” “I Drove All Night”… For me, “Time After Time” is her shining moment. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” goes on the aforementioned quintessential 80s tunes list — albeit above “Walkin’ on Sunshine” and “Break My Stride.”
1) ”Relax,” Frankie Goes To Hollywood
JB: We’re writing this in the wake of the big “Same Love” Grammy stunt, and yet, pop has never been less gay. Look at the stuff we’re writing about here and in coming weeks: Culture Club, Soft Cell, Dead Or Alive, Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat, Communards, George Michael and this monstrous throbbing beast at the top. Where did the gay go? Was it obliterated by hip hop? And why do the gays need Wacklemore (ooh, burn!) to speak up for them? Discuss. “Relax” was a long gestating hit that spent months meandering in the lower reaches of the UK charts when BBC morning man, Mike Read, who fancied himself the station’s cool dude — he sported a mop top and put out pseudonymous powerpop singles in his off hours– was suddenly offended by it’s lyrical content. “I’m not going to play this,” he announced in a fit of righteousness that was absolutely not shared by the rest of his BBC colleagues. The station reluctantly agreed to ban the song and then stood back and watched it soar to Number One. In our book, Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins describes “Relax” and its consequent deluge of remixes as the end of the golden age of pop. The band have complained about being overshadowed by Trevor Horn’s grandiose production and Paul Morley’s marketing avalanche. I just remember that Mike Read’s lily-livered ban had the result of making the nation complicit in a dirty secret. When that mammoth bassline kicked in, everyone wanted to come…
LM: I was 13 years old in 1984, so when Holly Johnson sang “When you wanna come.” I was like, “Come where? On the dancefloor?” I thought “Relax” was a song about dancing. I had a couple of girlfriends who were too shy to get out on the floor at the eighth grade dance, and I thought, “Why don’t they just ‘relax’ and join the rest of us already?” Because we were going crazy to this jam!
THE US TOP 5
5) “Break My Stride,” Matthew Wilder
LM/JB: This again?!
4) “Joanna,” Kool & The Gang”
LM: Not to be all Beavis and Butt-head about it, but “Joanna” sucks. Heh heh.( Is Beavis and Butt-head still on?)
JB: Two more eighties artifacts that didn’t make it out of the decade: R&B groups and songs named after girls. The blame, or praise, for “Joanna” should really be laid at Lionel Richie’s door. In the days of American radio apartheid, he drew up the blueprint for black acts to gain pop exposure. The blueprint consisted of one rule: check the funk at the door. K & The G made some decent records following The Richie Blueprint — “Too Hot”, “Jones Vs Jones” — but with “Joanna” you could almost hear the strain behind the smiles.
LM: “Too Hot” makes me think of the Solid Gold dancers. Another shout-out for Solid Gold!
3) ”Talking in Your Sleep,” The Romantics
LM: I played the flute in the Weehawken High School Marching Band, and one of the songs was “Talking in Your Sleep.” I practiced day and night but was never able to get the hang of it. I used to walk around the field faking it. For this reason, I still can’t listen to it. But trying to be objective here, the songs’s okay, but It’s kinda weird to think that the same artist came out with both this and the grittier and far superior “What I Like About You.”
JB: I know this one from the inferior British cover by Eurovision champs Bucks Fizz. Purely because I automatically associate “What I like About You” with being punched, vomited over and wept on, I declare this the victor in the eternal Romantics hit battle.
2) ”Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” Yes
LM: This is one of the most underrated of 80s tunes. By that I mean, it’s not one of the songs in regular rotation on Lite FM’s Flashback Fridays. But what an epic intro! I always thought the video was trying to remind us of the dangers of trying to hide from Big Brother — it was 1984, after all. Or maybe it was about reincarnation and learning from the poor choices we made in past lives? Who knows? I guess the point I want to make here is that videos used to be about something back then. They weren’t just a bunch of rapid-fire images strung together of nearly-naked women shoving their asses in our faces. There’s almost no women in this video at all — just a bunch of Yes members who turn into reptiles, a cat and a bird in the name of seeking out the owner of a lonely heart. (I think?)
JB: Yes recording “Don’t Kill The Whale” is the sole reason I own a harpoon. Paul Weller famously coined the pejorative “Like punk never happened” as a catch-all dismissal of every shiny, synth-toting Smash Hits-condoned act of the eighties. The phrase never truly hit home with me until this record. Trevor Horn, producer of my two favorite albums, The Lexicon Of Love by ABC and A Secret Wish by Propaganda, and an ex-member of Yes, made me like a song by the people behind the inaccurately-named “Yours Is No Disgrace.” Okay, before he fed it through the Fairlight and sliced it up with all those Art Of Noise edits, it probably sounded like ass, but after…one of the worst bands of the Seventies made one of the best records of the Eighties.
1) “Karma Chameleon,” Culture Club
LM: This is the most crowd-pleasing of Culture Club songs. It ain’t my favorite. That would be the sublime “Time (Clock of the Heart).” I’m probably biased against it though, because around the time that it was released I’d read an interview with John Taylor saying that Duran Duran would never do anything as “trivial” as “Karma Chameleon.”
That reminds me. JB, remember last year when you got me Like Punk Never Happened for Christmas? It’s the Smash Hits writer Dave Rimmer’s account of his days working at the famed music mag and covering Culture Club’s every move. One time, a few Duranies were waiting on Simon Le Bon to at a London recording studio when Boy George turned up. Here’s what happened next:
The Duran fans seethe and hiss. They hate George. He’s Duran enemy number one. How dare they slag off their group?… By bad-mouthing Duran — particularly his usual line about how they’re just selling fantasy, “all the things that fans can’t have in life” — George has has been belittling [the Duranies]. Their mood is ugly. They taunt George and set fire to Culture Club pictures and trample them in the gutter. They kick his car and shout that they hate him and call him a ‘“fat poof.” George, attracted to an argument like a moth to a flame, leads straight into the fray. ‘‘I stand a better chance of sleeping with Simon Le Bon than you do, honey!’ he snaps at one fan and flounces off.
The fans plot revenge. They decide to pretend George punched one of their number and all take turns lying on the pavement pretending to be unconscious while the others take pictures of them. Janice Cracknell’s picture of her friend Alison English turns out looking pretty convincing, so they race down to Fleet Street and set the story to The Sun for the princely sum of 50 Pounds. It ends up splattered all over the front page of their 15 August edition: “’BOY GEORGE HIT ME’ SAYS GIRL, 16” trumpets the headline.
The following day, after a lot of justifiably angry denials from George, Alison’s parents make her admit she was lying.
Yeah, that’s got to be why I don’t like “Karma Chameleon” all that much: John Taylor turned me against it.
JB: Two mentions of Like Punk Never Happened! I actually don’t begrudge John Taylor his pop snobbery. I take issue only with his terminology. “Karma Chameleon” wasn’t so much trivial, as it was the sound of a band shrugging off all vestiges of coolness and going for the heart of the masses. Wham! did it with “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” The Human League and Dexys did it accidentally with “Don’t You Want Me” and “Come On Eileen,” songs that won the hearts and tapping toes of moms, dads and grandparents the world over. Songs like that are hard to come up with and even harder to live down.
AND THE WINNER IS…
America wins this one! The TV theme shames the nation.
No, no, no: The Brits win, even with Fagin. Frankie, Cyndi, Queen — “Relax” alone gives the UK the gold.
Dead goddamn heat!
What do YOU think? Don’t leave us hanging — leave us a comment!