Sunday, July 19, 2009

Nostalgia: 80s Edition

I’m not sure what made me think of these guys, but today I got a hankering for some Simple Minds. Of course most folks know them from their almost one hit wonder status with the incredibility catchy Don’t You (Forget About Me) from the Breakfast Club soundtrack. I say almost ‘cos that song’s popularity gave them enough exposure to also launch their next album, Once Upon a Time, into the US Top 10 in 1985. (They were already well established in the UK, Europe, etc…FYI.) Of the several hits from that album, Alive and Kicking is probably the best known. And having said all of this, I’ve never been a big Simple Minds fan, with the aforementioned album being the one I’m most familiar with. Even though they’re linked with Post Punk and New Romantic and all the stuff I’m into, the other things I’ve heard just haven’t caught my ear enough for me to keep listening. But one thing that’s great about certain tracks on Once Upon a Time (as well as Don’t You (Forget About Me)…which does not appear on the album and which ironically, or not, they did not write) is how they manage to build a song up to a logical and emotional crescendo that absolutely hooks into your soul and rips you from the terra firma onto the astral plane (yes Bill, that’s a shout out to you and my way of saying “sorry” for poo-pooing your “three back to back songs” choice the other night). A perfect example is in Alive and Kicking and the “Don’t say good-bye, don’t say good-bye” build up to the second chorus when everything comes together perfectly and for a moment I’m dancing on air (or on the side of a mountain like they are in the video). What’s even more brilliant about this song is just after that climax, how it immediately drops down to nothing but a simple, chiming piano for a few measures before jumping back into the song…but in a much more relaxed, laid back, “we’ve done our job, now we’re gonna just groove for a bit” sort of way. You only get that high point once, and an additional time would cheapen the beauty of the first time.

Always leave them wanting more, kids.

But really, my inspiration for this post was not Alive and Kicking, but one of the more minor hits from Once Upon a Time, All the Things She Said. This song is pretty standard New Wave pop, in a good way, with over processed lead guitars, that all tell galloping bass and loads of murky, swelling keyboards. Things are going along quite nicely when all of a sudden that hook drops down from the clouds, this time in the form of a middle 8 that (in contrast to Alive and Kicking) at first slows everything down a bit and then hops back into pace with one of those lines and melodies that not only drags me up into the heavens, but nearly 25 years into the past – a geeky, messed up 6th grader totally enamored with this strange, crazy music they played on the radio, dancing in his room and wondering why (but never mind why what). Every time I hear this song, especially the break down, I’m instantly taken to those younger days and I’m blasted by a feeling of insecure but exhilarating awkwardness in my gut like butterflies; it's a tingly, almost numbing sensation that would be akin to “seeing the whiteness” in a religious experience…and who’s to say it isn’t? And again, you only get said break down that one time in the song…and that’s really all you need.

So say what you will about the 80s (and I’ve said plenty), those dated, over the top songs can pull you back to a specific time, place and feeling better than any other brand of music out there. And I guess for me that’s probably true because I was there living and listening as it happened, wide-eyed and taking it all in, letting the music fill in the empty spots between the broken pieces. And there are dozens of songs that can do this for me, and this is something I’ve thought about a lot over the past 10 or so years, but I usually can’t name any until I’m there in the moment, hearing one of those songs and being mentally and emotionally teleported back to 198-whenever.

However, there are two exceptions. The first, and lesser known, is 1983’s Send Me an Angel by Real Life. These guys were definitely one hit wonders and I don’t really know anything about them (rather can’t recall what I once read up about them) outside of this song and that I believe they’re from Australia. But every time I hear that eerie, female falsetto “Oooh-oooh-ooh” intro, the hook comes out and I get this almost out of body experience. And in this instance, once the chorus hits, I’m not so much transported to a specific memory but a general place and time, a simpler, happier part of my life, and I can’t help but get a little emotional because I think of all the people I’ve lost who can never return (i.e. who are now angels), especially my father (even though he’d have hated this song), who were still in the world in 1983, doing their deal and contributing to my existence in a positive, loving way. And this isn’t the only song that does this, so there’s something else that the 80s can do that most other genres (if we’re calling “the 80s” a genre…and right now I am) can’t, and that’s pull a specific emotion out of me. And if everything plays out just right, it'll bring me to tears.

And I’m a man, so I can admit that. Wanna fight?

The other song that comes to mind nearly everybody in the world including my father (though possibly not my mother) has heard, and that’s Here Comes the Rain Again by the Eurythmics. This time it’s a specific memory – or rather several but the same instance – of lying in bed in early 1984 listening to Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40 on Sunday nights via this horrible clock radio, and since this song got all the way to #4 it was pretty late (likely close to 10:00…eek!). Of the three songs mentioned in this entry, this is the one that at the time simply scared the PJ bottoms off of me, and seeing the video with the beautifully androgynous though equally terrifying Annie Lennox certainly didn’t help matters. At this point I was still a year or two away from realizing that music was going to be the impetus (and of course eventual downfall) of my life, and while Here Comes the Rain Again is pretty tame in comparison to a lot of what’s come since (and was out there even then), The Eurythmics did their part to set the stage, and this song certainly shook the tan off this little Flor-idiot who heretofore mainly listened to what his father did: jazz, classical, singer-standards and local country. Unfortunately I can’t list the Eurythmics (or any of these bands) as a real influence, ‘cos aside from Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), I pretty much can’t stand anything else they ever did…even though I respect them and really do like the idea of them. I dunno, maybe I should give Touch or the Sweet Dreams album another chance, ‘cos it has been a few years since my last try.

And that’s another thing about the 80s…while there were lots of big hit songs that we all know, there weren’t too many big hit albums. And yes, I am aware of some exceptions, but when you think about it, especially in the early part of the decade, music fans were more fast-paced, flippant and fickle even than they are today; more interested in fashion and the one or two surface level hits they could dance to and not so much a long play of 10 or 12 songs that you would sit and listen to in your room alone or with friends, as had been the norm in the late 60s and throughout the 70s.

But then again, I wasn’t overly cognizant in those days, so what do I know?

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