One of the joys, if you will, about being a parent is the adventure that comes with getting your kids out the door and off to school every morning. And, if you’re like me, you know that such an experience is rarely accomplished without at least an hour of asking, pleading, cajoling, begging and, at times, screaming, crying and threats to take away screen time for the next eight years just to get your fifth-grader to get out of bed. There’s a reason why our kids’ lunches sometimes consist of nothing but snack pack-sized bags of Goldfish.
But, eventually we do get into my truck and on our way to school. And when do, one of the girls inevitably asks to hear a song.
Because of all the advancements in technology of the last few years, our kids don’t know what it’s like to live with the Awful First World Problem of Actually Having To Wait For The Song You Want To Hear Finally Get Played On The Radio. For example, I can remember one time when I was about 10 and I spent the better part of an hour calling KTAC, 850-AM to request “Shout It Out Loud” by KISS, only to be told by the the DJ, “We’ll see” every time. After about 10 calls, I finally just pulled out my copy of “Double Platinum” and put the song on my parents’ janky “Hi-Fi” system. Thanks to my Apple Music subscription, my kids never have to know such disappointment. We get in the truck, one of my girls asks to hear a song, I tell Siri what to play, and, BOOM…Some song by some singer I’ve never heard of starts playing. Everyone is happy, and I am wondering just who Aiden Bissett is and how my girls know about the piece of ear candy that is “More Than Friends”.
I’m not surprised about this situation. Music genres always change and adapt. Kids always like something different than their parents. And songs that are popular one year might be forgotten the next. Aiden Bissett, MItski and Glass Animals are on constant rotation in our playlist now. But, they might be lost to the ether of memory by the end of next month, never mind one, 10, 20 or 30 or more years from now.
With this is mind, I thought about the music that had an impact on my youth. I’m an 80s kid, as that was the decade of my teen and college years. The 80s were the decade when MTV got started and music became memorable not just as audio entertainment, but for being truly visual, too. This element made so much of the music we experienced in that decade incredibly memorable. To this day, you can turn on the radio (Yes, the actual RADIO), and depending on the station, it would be no surprise if within an hour you will hear Guns ‘N Roses “Sweet Child Of Mine”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, by Whitney Houston, or any of the monster hits off of the most-monstrous 80s album of all, “Thriller”, by Michael Jackson…Never mind all the other radio staples that came from Jackson’s “Off The Wall” and “Bad” albums from that same decade.
But, these are songs that everyone knows and thinks about, and which surprise no one when they pop up on the radio (Again with the actual radio, I know…) or a themed music channel on Pandora. What I am interested in are those songs that remain great, but for whatever reason, are rarely remembered by the general public. An example of this came from Chuck Klosterman, who in one of his essays a few years ago mentioned how you are guaranteed to hear/see the video for Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf” at least once a year…But, when was the last time you heard anyone play, or mention “New Moon On Monday”?
There are thousands of songs like this. And I, like many other people, have my own particular favorites. Some of these songs were hits. Some of these are songs were just cult classics and popular with only a certain group of fans. In any case, here’s a look at a few truly great songs from the 1980s that don’t get noticed as much today, but deserve a place on that decade’s “Best Of” playlist.
“Someday, Someway” (1982) —Marshall Crenshaw
The first single from Crenshaw’s self-titled first album is about as perfect a power pop song can be. Ringing guitars. Three, maybe four chords. And an earnest, but simple plea for understanding and a pledge of recommitment. Marshall is still coming up to bat today—in addition to performing solo, he serves as guest lead vocalist for The Smithereens—But he hit the first pitch he saw out of the park with this song.
“In A Big Country” (1983) — Big Country
If you were 15 years old in 1983, you heard this song, and its bag pipe-sounding guitars, at least 1 million times that year. And you may have seen or heard it about 999,994 fewer times since. Not too many bands get away with sticking their names in debut single, but Big Country threw the gauntlet down with “In A Big Country”. The band had other songs, but nothing ever matched this.
“World Shut Your Mouth” (1987) — Julian Cope
In 1984, British singer Julian Cope released an album called “World Shut Your Mouth” that didn’t contain the song “World Shut Your Mouth”. In 1987, Cope released an album called “Saint Julian” that did include the single “World Shut Your Mouth”. I have no idea why he did this. I do know that Cope reportedly spent much of the early 80s on a diet of little more than LSD, so maybe his decision-making process was a little skewed. In any case, this song is full of dumb, charging guitar riffs and should have been a Top Ten hit.
“Do It Again” (1984) —The Kinks
Speaking of dumb, charging guitar riffs, let’s meet The Kinks, a band that became famous because of one of the biggest and dumbest riffs in rock history with “You Really Got Me”. “Do It Again” finds Dave Davies blasting away like the angry younger brother he is as his singing and songwriting sibling Ray tells one of his typical tales of humdrum everyday English life. “Do It Again” doesn’t get mentioned among the pantheon of Kinks classics like “Lola”, “All Day and All Of the Night”, “Waterloo Sunset” and “You Really Got Me”, but it is the last truly great Kinks song.
“A Perfect Way” (1985) —Scritti Politti
There have always been British bands that are huge in their home country, but have been known for one song, at best, here in America. Scritti Politti might be the definition of these kinds of bands. I swear I saw the video for “A Perfect Way” about a thousand times on MTV in the summer of 1985 and then, along with the band in America, at least, it vanished. I don’t know where to begin with this song, but I can’t believe it only hit No. 11 and I do know that if you hear it once, you will love it forever.
“Bittersweet” (1985) – Hoodoo Gurus
Scritti Politti is from the UK, and if you haven’t thought of them more than twice in the past 30+ years, then I KNOW you haven’t even thought of Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus even once during that same period. And I even have to admit that I don’t believe I was aware of the band, or their masterpiece “Bittersweet” when the song first came out, or for years after. But, I have made up for lost time and now I probably listen to this, one of the greatest songs about an up-down-relationship ever to come out of the 80s, at least once a day and you should, too.
“Alive and Kicking” (1985) —Simple Minds
Do you hear this song in your head right now? Well, if you do, you probably are actually hearing “(Don’t You) Forget About Me”, Simple Minds’ No. 1 blockbuster hit from the movie “The Breakfast Club”. That’s because that song is still a given to be heard at least once a day on any classic rock station where 80s songs are now considered to be “oldies”. It also doesn’t hurt that the absolutely ridiculous “Breakfast Club” is one of the most fondly remembered movies of everyone who like me, was 17 years old in 1985. But, “Alive and Kicking”, which hit No. 3 on the charts, is a better song due to overly earnest singer Jim Kerr’s over earnestness and the incredible vocals of Robin Clark, who adds an emotional holiness to lyrics that sound like they were written by someone who was 17 in 1985.
“Nobody But You” (1986) — The Steve Miller Band
And when it comes to lyrics that sound like they were written by a mid-80s high school student, here is the one and only Steve Miller. Look, no one will ever lump Steve Miller in with Bob Dylan in the pantheon of great wordsmiths. (The “pompatus of love” is one of the most-famous ridiculous song lyrics ever penned by anyone not named Jim Steinman), but nobody I know has ever said they don’t like Steve Miller. “Nobody But You” isn’t up there with “Rock ‘n Me”, “Jet Airliner” or even “Abra-Abra-Cadabra”, but it’s still a great pop song that a 19-year-old would dedicate to a girl in his English 101 class.
“Secret Separation” (1986) —The Fixx
I’ve said before that The Fixx were like a poor man’s Duran Duran, mostly because they were also a five-piece British band that had a bit of early 80s New Wave influence in their look and sound. However, unlike Duran Squared, The Fixx didn’t get nearly as much attention from the girls I went to high school with, nor did they have as many big hits on the charts. I think the Fixx’s only Top Ten hit in the U.S. was “One Thing Leads To Another”. This is a shame, because “Secret Separation” is one of the truly great 80s love songs and it still holds up today.
“The Want of a Nail” (1989) — Todd Rundgren
To say that Todd Rundgren has had a varied career in music would be the definition of “understatement”. He had a Top Five hit with “I Saw The Light”. He put out one of the greatest double albums of all time with “Something/Anything”. He produced No. 1 hits for Grand Funk Railroad. He produced Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” album. He formed the band Utopia. And in 1989 he cranked out “The Want of a Nail”, an anthemic piece of Philly Blue-Eyed Soul that was completely out of place in the era of Hair Metal and New Jack Swing, which was probably just like Rundgren had planned.
“Sowing The Seeds Of Love” (1989) — Tears For Fears
And speaking of songs that were out of place and unlike anything else when they were released… Tears For Fears were arguably the biggest band in the world when both “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout” hit No. 1, and “Head Over Heels” nearly did so, in 1985. They then disappeared for four years, and when they returned it was with “Sowing The Seeds Of Love”, a massive sonic creation that sounds like what would have happened if “Revolver”-era George Martin, the Brian Wilson of “Pet Sounds” and, well Todd Rundgren during the “Bat Out Of Hell” sessions got together to make a record. “STSOL” roared up to No. 2, in October 1989, was held out of the top spot by Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much”, and, unlike TFF’s other hits, I don’t think I has been played on the radio on purpose in 33 years.
“Celebrated Summer” (1985) —Hüsker Dü
I’m cheating a bit with this one, as “Celebrated Summer”was never played on commercial radio back in the day. Hüsker Dü was an underground band in the truest sense of the term (The fact that they were on SST Records, which was run by a guy in Black Flag who wasn’t Henry Rollins, should say enough right there) and the very lo-fi production would have caused Phil Spector to fire off a few rounds in the studio had he ever heard the mix. But, Bob Mould has always had a knack for mixing great pop songs with a sense of melancholy and guitar riffs cut from razor wire. In an alternate universe, Todd Rundgren has produced “Celebrated Summer” and made it as big as “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.”
I could go on about songs like The Plimsouls’ “A Million Miles Away”, The Replacements’ “I’ll Be You” and The Waterboys’ “The Whole of the Moon”, but 2,194 words is enough. It’s time to stop reading and start listening to what you’ve been missing all these years when your kids are requesting another playing of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License” on the way to school.