I love ’80s pop. Not because I’m being clever or ironic, but because I really love it and think the early-to-mid-’80s is an underrated period in music history, primarily because most of those who have done the rating are old hippies who can’t see the songs for the synths. But as the baby boom goes bust (please god, let it be soon), those of us who don’t make those sorts of rockist distinctions may yet decide to unite and taker over. You’ve already seen the signs. Round about ’93-’94 we started seeing compilations of ’80s pop in the music stores and TV ads. A note to any of today’s youth who may be looking in: You’ll know you’re getting old when you see your first ad for a “classics” compilation featuring Jennifer Lopez.
Anyway, the best of the ’80s comps, the Just Can’t Get Enough and Living in Oblivion multi-volume series, did an excellent job of balancing obscurities with classics, and making a strong argument for the decade as deserving of more attention than it usually gets and containing more gems than are usually remembered. There have also been lots of compilations that stuck to the mainstream, however, only skimming the surface of what’s available. These tended to contain a lot of the same tracks overlapping (ask me sometime how many copies of Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy” I have…go on, ask me).
I Want My 80’s Box! is of the latter kind. It’s mainstream all the way, but manages to include a few classics and representatives of the era like Joe Jackson, ABC, Thompson Twins, and Tears for Fears. Though a few groups are conspicuously absent: Human League, Erasure, New Order, Talk Talk, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, Pet Shop Boys, Naked Eyes, Ultravox (dear god, why did I start this list?), Bronski Beat, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the Smiths . . . .
Still, though this is not the compilation I would necessarily recommend, it’s good one-stop shopping if all you want is some pop-100 chart hits. Which pop-100 chart hits? I’m glad you asked. And now, as a consumer service, a little number I’m calling: (Approximately) 84 Lines About 42 Songs
The Buggles — “Video Killed the Radio Star”. This of course is the answer to the trivia question everyone knows, as Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show. Holds up.
Culture Club — “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” Culture Club’s songs were, are, and always will be colored construction paper. Pretty but lightweight and apt to blow away.
Joe Jackson — “Steppin’ Out”. One of the two songs that most people are apt to know if they don’t know any other Joe Jackson. Good, but you should have about 13 JJ albums.
Tommy Tutone — “867-5309/Jenny”. Another one of those songs that turns up on every other compilation. Good, but soooo overplayed.
Blondie –“Rapture”. By some lights, the first “rap” song ever to be number one on the pop charts. I like to imagine that Deborah Harry is embarrassed every time she hears it.
Gap Band — “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”. One of those songs that are going to be uncomfortable to listen to for a while.
Dazz Band — “Let It Whip”. Nice synthesized intro and beat, but I’ve never understood its longevity.
Quarterflash — “Harden My Heart”. Quarterflash are one of those bands that have fallen through the cracks of time . . . and a good thing too.
ABC — “Poison Arrow”. ABC set out to make pop more ridiculous and less pompous without being any less emotionally engaging. They succeeded.
Asia — “Heat of the Moment”. You know, every time I go off on one of my “I love ’80s pop” rants, there’s always something there to remind me of the flip side of the coin.
Toni Basil –“Mickey”. Did you know that Dave Marsh says Toni offers to take it up the ass in this song? Now you do. Now try to hear it ever again without thinking of that.
Kool & the Gang — “Celebration”. You know it, you hate it, but deep down you really love it. I wish they’d included one of the more forgotten Kool hits, though, like “Misled”.
Squeeze — “Tempted”. One of the best songs by one of the best songwriting teams sung by one of the best singers of the era (and Paul Carrack) but it’s on a lot of other comps, too.
Soft Cell — “Tainted Love”. I always feel as though I should like Soft Cell more than I do. They’re right up my alley, new wave-wise, but I never loved them. Still nice to have in album version, on CD.
Pat Benatar — “Love is a Battlefield”. Never loved Pat Benatar either, but this song has a nice synth-drum beat and an infectious hook.
Bryan Adams –“Cuts Like a Knife”. I don’t have room here to go into my Bryan Adams rant. Ask me when next you and I are together. But this song is before his low peak.
Eurythmics — “Sweet Dreams”. One of those songs that are so overplayed it’s easy to forget how good it is, but it is, and a watermark for ’80s pop.
A-Ha –“Take on Me”. Take on them. Take them on. They’ll be gone . . . hitting notes that no human male should be able to hit with his genitals intact.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood — “Relax”. Bizarre experiences of the ’80s: trying to convince my then-best friend that Holly Johnson was, in fact, gay as the day.
The Fixx — “One Thing Leads to Another”. The least subtle song one of the least subtle bands ever recorded, and one of those most thrown in on generic compilations.
Big Country — “In a Big Country”. A great record, but even better on the 12-inch mix available on one or two other collections.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners — “Come on Eileen”. The source of one of the best jokes both in The Simpsons and Clerks.
Madness — “Our House”. Everybody needs a copy of this song — and if you buy ’80s comps, you’ve already got two or three or four or five.
Oingo Boingo — “Weird Science”. This is the remix, not the soundtrack/single or the CD version, which the LeBrock sample disappeared from.
The Motels — “Suddenly Last Summer”. Damn. I suppose I’m gonna have to buy a Motels comp after all . . . .
Night Ranger — “Sister Christian”. You and I both know what this song means . . . MOTORIN’!
Thompson Twins — “Hold Me Now”. A recent documentary showed ex-Twins knocking themselves and being down on their hits. Which is a shame — they were great.
John Waite –“Missing You”. Another one for the “great song, but if you haven’t already got one or two copies somewhere you haven’t been trying” list.
Tears for Fears — “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. On the other hand, I’ve got like three copies of this song already, but it still sounds really good here.
Peter Gabriel –“Sledgehammer”. There was a period in 1986 when former-or-current members of Genesis held down four of the top five spots on the charts. Scary, isn’t it?
Fine Young Cannibals — “She Drives Me Crazy”. Like you, I loved it the first time I heard it on the radio. The 9,264th time, however . . . .
Wang Chung — “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”. Incredibly meaningless, and I use the words literally. Both meaningless . . . and incredible.
Run DMC — “Walk This Way”. Well, this is one of the greatest singles of all time, and my hat is off to whoever placed it after Wang Chung in the album sequence.
Robert Palmer — “Addicted to Love”. Did you know this was supposed to be a duet with Chaka Khan? Did you know it’s Andy Taylor, late of Duran Duran, on guitar?
Jody Watley — “Looking for a New Love”. OK, it’s 1987. ’80s pop as I liked it has now crested, sailed along for another year or two…and begun crashing down. The beginning of the end.
Yello — “Oh Yeah.” The moon…beautiful. The sun…even more beautiful. Chk-a chk-ka. What the hell more do you want out of me?
Suzanne Vega — “Luka”. I’m sorry, I never liked this song and unlike some I hated 10-15 years ago, which I’ve since grown to appreciate, I still think it’s ghastly.
Chris DeBurgh — “Lady in Red”. There is an age group for which this song is the height of romanticism. That age group is 16-19. The rest of us have since discovered Gershwin.
Tiffany — “I Think We’re Alone Now”. The best thing you can say about Tiffany is that she makes Debbie Gibson look like an under-appreciated genius.
Whitesnake — “Here I Go Again”. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass as you go, okay?
Bobby Brown — “My Prerogative”. Apparently, is to have his studio file for bankruptcy, drive drunk, have car accidents, etc.
Steve Winwood — “Higher Love”. Much like “Lady in Red,” there was a time when I loved this song. That time was when I was 15. “Roll with It” ruined Winwood for me.
I’d come up with a witty closer, but this is already about 425 words too long, and is beginning not to seem like such a good idea. To sum up: This collection is only the tip of the iceberg of what a good ’80s comp could be. An okay introductory course, but for further education I recommend the series mention earlier. And always remember two things:
You can dance if you want to.
Everybody wang chung tonight.