Friday Five: 1983

It’s been awhile, I know. After a hectic academic year, I’ve been spent most of my summer reading, playing video games, and just enjoying my time with the family. We’ve had some amazing trips, so good I should post some pictures here. This past month I’ve also been getting back into work, which is currently all about researching and writing my next book. All this is to say, life has left little time for the blog.

But it’s time to get back to business, even the business of waxing nostalgic about the music of my life. After a couple of months making memories with my kids, it’s an easy mental place to visit.

So let’s talk about 1983.

Michael Jackson’s album Thriller came out on November 30, 1982. I don’t know when we bought our copy but it couldn’t have been too long after. Once we had it, we could listen to whatever song we wanted, whenever we wanted. (If memory serves, we listened to it a side at a time more than anything.) We could also memorize the songs that hadn’t yet made it to the radio.

And so we did. When I remember 1983, I remember it as a time of Michael Jackson and Thriller. It wasn’t just the album, of course. For most of the year he was on every magazine, on the news, on TV specials, and on the radio. He was what we talked about at school. Everybody tried to perfect the Moondance, people hid glittered gloves in their desks (such accessories were not part of the Catholic school dress code). Everybody I knew loved Michael Jackson. Everybody.

For me, and for millions of others, Michael Jackson eclipses just about every other thing in the U.S. popular culture of 1983. But he was hardly the only cultural phenomenon, and he was hardly the only good thing happening in music.

To make up for lost time, here’s a Friday Five with a few more selections from 1983, arranged a little differently:

5. The Dance Hits: “Rockit” (Herbie Hancock) and “Let the Music Play” (Shannon)
From the disco era to the early 80s, dancing was a big part of U.S. popular culture again. By 1983, music was inspiring very specific, 80s ways of dancing, too. For example, breakdancing went mainstream in 1983. Perhaps no other song more than Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” helped make that so. My best friend and I once got into a breaking fight, where we danced off to this song and to Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Ah, the 80s! Shannon’s legendary hit of ’83 was the start of something unique, too. It was the first big song of a different kind of “disco,” the kind that lit up the dance and pop charts of the mid to late 80s. This song could still drive folks wild when I was in high school at the end of the decade, something of a dance-floor standard for young kids of color in the suburbs.

4. The One Hit Wonders: “Flashdance… What a Feeling” (Irene Cara) and “She Blinded Me with Science” (Thomas Dolby)
Every generation has its own “one hit wonders.” And every “one hit wonder” has at least one person out there who would contradict the use of the title for each case. Irene Cara had lots of hits, just not lots of musical ones. She rose to fame as part of the 1980 movie Fame, where she played Coco Hernandez. (Cara herself is half Cuban and half Puerto Rican.) She had an acting career that kept her on TV and in the movies for much of the decade. She also had a hit record, for which she won an Academy Award. The musical theme to the 1983 film Flashdance was a monster hit, but even it paled in comparison to the scope of the movie’s success. We were just kids, not allowed to watch (and probably not old enough to understand) the R-rated film. But that did nothing to curb it’s cultural impact on my youth. The song–reminiscent of Donna Summer’s best–lends itself to lip synching dance routines of pre-teens.

Tom Dolby was anything but a one hit wonder. The Brit had a a fairly successful career outside the U.S., and was a favorite of the KROQ crew (alternative, college, emo kind of stuff) for much of the 80s stateside. I didn’t know that then, however. His big hit of ’83 was a standout single for me, as provocative musically as the video was visually. It shares some musical generational markers with Cara’s song, synthesizers and beats familiar to the 80s. As much as Cara’s hit brought up the past, however, Dolby’s presages the synthetic future that was to come.

3. The Headbangers: “Rock of Ages” (Def Leppard) and “Cum on Feel the Noize” (Quiet Riot)

There’s a passionate sub-culture out there for 80s, big-hair rock. There’s a breed of the music that isn’t quite heavy enough to be heavy metal and which comes before the MTV onslaught of crappy glam that did nothing but capitalize on the genre. Some of that is about timing. Some of it is about artistry. Yes, that’s what I said.

Def Leppard doesn’t get a lot of respect outside the world of hard rock but their 1983 album Pyromania is one of the standards of the genre. A lot of that is about the skills of the band, even Joe Elliott’s ability to scream in key, but most of it is due to the legendary producer of rock, “Mutt” Lange. He is the Phil Spector of hard rock, assembling an assortment of sounds and beats to make little masterpieces of excess, beautifully displayed in this radio standard:

Quiet Riot was an unknown rock band in the 1970s that happened to include a skilled bassist (Rudy Sarzo–a cubano!) and one of the greatest metal guitarists in history, Randy Rhoads. In 1980, both Rhoads and Sarzo left to play with Ozzy Osbourne, thereby effectively killing the band. When Rhoads died tragically in 1982, Sarzo and lead singer Kevin Dubrow joined with drummer Frankie Banali and guitarist Carlos Cavazzo (mexicano!) to reform the band. With “Cum on Feel the Noize”–their cover of a 1973 song by the band Slade–they became the first “heavy metal” band to top the U.S. album charts, pop charts, and video charts.

2. The Anthems: “Love Is a Battlefield” (Pat Benatar) and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Bonnie Tyler)
Not a lot to say here except I still think these two songs are f-in fantastic. Pat Benatar is an under-appreciated artist. Culturally, this song not only became something of an anthem (it is the fight song of the pseudo-feminist film The Legend of Billie Jean) but the video was a trailblazer, too. I’d freak out when the entire mini-movie version would play, a dance production worthy of a Michael Jackson video. As for Bonnie Tyler…her anthem–written and produced by Jim Steinman, the man behind Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell album (for better or worse one of the biggest selling albums in musical history)–stands the test of time. It even hit the charts again as a dance hit in 1995 with a singer that tried to sound so much like Tyler (minus the raspy goodness) that many thought it was a remix with a sample of the original.

1. The Classics: “Texas Flood” (Stevie Ray Vaughan) and “Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson)
Stevie Ray Vaughan is a blues god. His 1983 album (with his band Double Trouble) was his debut. It generated two bonafide hits–Pride and Joy” and “Love Struck Baby”–but neither is as good as “Texas Flood,” Vaughan’s cover of a 1958 song by Larry Davis. Here it is from a 1985 live performance, the way Stevie should be seen.

And Michael, doing the song that made him “Michael” in the performance that changed the 80s.

Posted in Music, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Limits of Numbers

It’s official now: Latinos outnumber whites in the state of California, making us the largest ethnic group in the Golden State.

The switch happebed sometime last year but the numbers only became official last week. With 14.99 million Latinos in California, there are more of us than there are so-called “non-Hispanic whites,” who number about 14.92 million.

It’s a gradual change but one that will continue throughout the foreseeable future. Aside from immigration, whites in California are old and dying and not reproducing much while Latinos are younger and reproducing at higher rates. We are the future source of the natural birth rate, too. There are twice as many Latinos under 18 (4.8 million) than whites (2.4 million) ensuring that we will make up the majority of the next generation of native-born Californians.

More than 80% of the Latino population in the state is ethnically Mexican, meaning our collective story is rooted to this just one country, whether we are a US-born “Mexican American” or a foreign-born mexicano. That means that sometime in the next few decades it is likely that the ethnic Mexican population alone will outnumber whites in California.

Our youth–coupled with a long legacy of segregation and political disenfranchisement–means that our demographic ascendency doesn’t necessarily translate into political power. That, too, will likely come, but it will take more time, political organizing, and, perhaps, a willingness for the emerging “white minority” to relinquish some of its hold over the reigns of power. If not, every year that passes will make the Californian political system look more and more like some kind of 21st century apartheid state, albeit one that projects a kind of benevolence.

All these changes are important and, in my eyes, good. But there are limits to our demographic ascendancy.

How many Californians will go through their day never once speaking to a Latino? How many live in communities where Latinos are nearly invisible? How many work in places that make this demographic reality look false? How many are educated in classrooms that do not reflect this emerging majority? How many will be surrounded by Latinos–will have their lawns cut, food cooked, and houses cleaned by Latinos–but never have a conversation with even one?

I am Chicano (Mexican American). I live in a Mexican-majority city, in a Mexican-majority neighborhood, next to my Mexican American neighbors. My kids attend a Mexican-majority school. When we go to any store, we see and engage with other Mexicans/Chicanos.

When I go to work, I am one of two US-born, Mexican Americans on the faculty of my college.  The Latino share of our student population is a national-leader for liberal arts colleges but is still only about 1 in 6. Unless they speak with the gardening or housekeeping staff, most of my colleagues can go their entire day on campus never speaking to a member of the emerging majority of this state.

What’s worse, this is hardly a unique condition.

We are the the largest ethnic group in California but we remain segregated, marginalized, and disproportionately confined to the invisible corners of mainstream society. The reality of the demographics should be–it must be–a wake up call for us all that the meaningful reality of a multiethnic, multiracial society is still before us.

And there is work to be done.

Posted in News, Personal, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friday Five: 1982

I bought my first radio/cassette player sometime around 1981, using my own money “earned” by recycling newspapers. (Since my dad was the one who subscribed to, read, and neatly stacked our copy of the LA Times, and since he or my mom were the ones who drove me to the recycling plant across town, it didn’t really do much to get that money.) Around the same time, I joined my first music club, Columbia House, using one of their ads inside of the TV Guide. I got my dozen cassette tapes for 1¢–including albums like Journey’s Captured and Escape; Pac Man Fever by Buckner and Garcia; and The Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat–and then would buy a handful of albums (at full price) over the next year (things like John Cougar’s American Fool.

It was a time of a lot of music exploration for me. I started to hear a lot of stuff I would have never heard if not for the music club and I started to listen to the radio all the time, exploring the diversity of LA radio and, more often, trying to record my favorite songs on blank cassette tapes (my first of which, I still have).

All this is a long-winded introduction to my own personal 1982, but it’s an important part of my musical context. Vital even. When I look at the list of Billboard’s weekly number 1 singles for 1982 I not only know each of those songs, I can remember really liking them at the time. (Only 15 songs reached #1 that year, at the time the smallest number since 1956.) When you’re listening to radio all the time, of course, you’re bound to hear the hits more than anything else. With that box in my hand, those ear phones on my head, I felt like it was my music.

Here’s five songs from that year…

5. “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor)
The story of this song is interesting enough that it might make any list for this year purely for the pop-cultural-kitsch factor. It’s relationship to the movie Rocky III is also a big part of what made an impression of me. The movie was a big hit (two words–Mr. T!!) but also a big slice of the kind of 80s encapsulated in this song. “Eye of the Tiger” is derivative, indulgent, and intentionally commercial above all else. It should be nothing more than “common” in the final tally. But one of the decade’s best guitar riffs, combined with a group who knew what they were and what they were supposed to do, makes for a rock classic.

4. “Rosanna” (Toto)
Toto doesn’t get a whole lot of respect from mainstream pop culture. If you hear them or their music its usually as some ironic joke. I can understand that. The mainstream sounds of 80s pop were so distinct they can seem a little more dated (and less artistic) than other eras of music. This hit single, which also won the Grammy for Record of the Year, is filled with a lot of those musical markers. But if you dismissed it for all those reasons, you’d be missing out on a song that also has some greatness in it. Drummer Jeff Porcaro’s playing is, perhaps, the best proof of that. His “half-time shuffle” is well-respected in musical circles. Porcaro died really young but recorded with Steely Dan and had a prolific career as a studio musician, in addition to his work as part of Toto.

3. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” (Culture Club)
Boy George the singer would not enter my consciousness until 1983, when I saw the premiere of Culture Club’s video for “Karma Chameleon” on NBC’s “Friday Night Videos.” My friend and I spent much of the rest of the weekend arguing over whether or not Boy George was a boy or a girl. Ah, the sheltered life of Catholic school boys! I first heard Boy George the voice the year before, with the release of this single from their first album. Without the video, there was nothing but the power, smoothness, and irresistible soul of his voice.

2. “Vacation” (The Go-Go’s)
From the band’s second album of the same name, this single was a huge hit in the summer of 1982. I had a thing for Belinda Carlisle starting around this time. How could you not? The band’s all-female line-up was the main sell in the press and, truth be told, in an era of video it didn’t hurt that they were all so good-looking. But they were also so much more than looks. The Go-Go’s made some excellent music. They’re the epitome of LA music in many ways. Post-punk, New Wave, beach and garage, they remain worth a listen.

1. “Love Plus One” (Haircut 100)
This song never fails to make me both happy and nostalgic. I don’t have specific memories of it, to be honest. It was one of a handful of new Wave hits from the time as well as one of the many one-hit-wonders for the decade. I liked it, but it probably meant less to me than “Pac Man Fever.” But I was a kid. The grown-up me likes it more and more. It does a whole lot of things right, and is catchy as all hell.  I love the soprano sax, too. A nice change from the typical 80’s horns.




Posted in Entertainment, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Graduation Day

I have a wonderful job.


Every year I get reminded of that fact on graduation day. It’s not that I don’t feel it at other times; I do, of course, even in the midst of all the less-than-fulfilling elements of my job. But on graduation day, no matter where I am emotionally and intellectually, I can’t ever forget what a lucky person I am to be doing the work I get to do as a college professor.

One of the most beautiful things about my job is the cycle of things. There is a pace to the work year, and a process that is part of that pace playing out. Classes begin and end. Students come and go. They begin as first years and leave after (we hope) four years. Our year has a beginning, and an end.

Today is that end. Graduation day brings an end to the year and to the process. It’s also about the next phase, the new beginning. It’s about the cycle.

On this day I am reminded about the power of education. I don’t mean this in the simplistic, neoliberal hope that the “individual” can improve their economic lot in life with a college degree. On days like this, I am reminded of the power of education despite this individualistic, market-driven ethos. I am reminded of what it can mean for a society like ours, for young people–people that are parts of communities whose worth and humanity has been measured by our distance from an education–to receive their degrees.

It’s an achievement for many of us to earn our degrees. But it’s also bigger than us. It’s an achievement that makes an impact on our families, our friends, and other loved ones. Watching the faces today, seeing the young adults I get to work with celebrate with their families, I can’t help but be grateful.

I am also amazed.

There are so many students for whom this is not a challenge. For many (perhaps especially at my college) this is just another step in a life of unfolding opportunity. It’s a rite of passage for them, and for their families.

For a precious few (perhaps especially at my college) this is a big deal. I am constantly amazed at the students who beat the odds; at the ones who did it all while bringing their families and their hearts along; at the ones who did it alone, but by carrying the spirits of those who loved them; at the ones who came, who showed us how amazing they are, and who leave more educated and still whole.

Academia in the 21st century United States produces a diverse set of workplaces. In lots of ways, the business model of higher education is undergoing a transformation. That produces changes in the work we do, the ways we do it, and the ways we feel about it.

I’d like to think that this is the part of the job that remains real, that remains sustaining in the face of all the rest.

I feel lucky to be a part of this process in the lives of others.  I feel lucky to get to learn with them. And I feel lucky to create spaces where they can discover, be challenged, and learn with each other and for themselves.

It’s been a great year because of these people. 

Posted in Academia, Personal | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Chicanos and Vietnam

My current research relates to the history of Chicano/Latino military participation in the Vietnam War. It’s primarily based on oral histories with Chicano veterans, interviews that (with the help of my students) I’ve been recording for about four years.

A big part of that research is also analyzing large data sets (like the census and other federal surveys) to help tell the story of veterans and their families in the four decades since the end of the war.

Broadly speaking, then, I’m hoping to shed light on some of the ways the war impacted Latino communities. As the son of a Vietnam veteran, and the nephew of another vet, this is a very personal project for me.

It was a real honor to be able to talk a little bit about my research with a local reporter, as part of Time Warner Cable’s “Local Edition.” The segment will begin airing this Sunday throughout the LA region. But it’s also available online:

This will be my first time on TV. More importantly, I’m glad the project is already gaining some attention in the local media. It’s a reflection (I think) of the gaps in our collective understanding of the war in US society, gaps these stories help to fill.

Posted in Academia, History | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Friday Five: 1981

Music is magic. I think of all those times, especially in my youth, when I could put on a record and a pair of headphones, close my eyes, and go somewhere, somewhere that was different that where I was, somewhere where I was different.

Before music can do that, you have to establish a relationship with it. It has to become so much a part of you that it feels like its there for you and you alone. That relationship takes time. The first phase of it, for me, was discovery. I wasn’t ready to go where music could take me. Maybe I didn’t need it yet to take me anywhere. But I started to discover the existence of other places in the music I heard. Far away places. Sometimes even scary places.

I remember learning about the existence of new places, through music, in 1981. It wasn’t all at once; it was a process that lasted for years. As a memory, it fits nicely into the ways I think of those early years of the decade, that is, as years of transition. Part of that is hindsight but some of that was in my 9-year-old mind, too.

We were not a Reagan household. The start of the Reagan presidency felt like an end to how I understood the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate 70s. We saw Raiders of Lost Ark at the Cinerama Dome for me and my sister’s birthday. It felt like a grown-up movie in the visual violence, but one that was made just for me in every other way. At the end of the year, Muhammad Ali retired from boxing, after losing to Trevor Berbick.

The feeling of transition is in the music, too. All times are eclectic, musically, but the early 80s were richly so. Disco flavors from the Village People; Earth, Wind, & Fire; and the Commodores were still around. The Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, and John Lennon continued to make the charts. So did Phil Collins, Rick Springfield, and Juice Newton. And heavy metal continued to grow and grow…

5. “Bette Davis Eyes” (Kim Carnes)
Some songs become hits and then never really go away. This isn’t one of those songs. Kim Carnes reached the top of the charts with this distinctive pop tune in 1981. It finished the year as the most successful single of the year, in addition to the biggest hit of her career. The synthesizer sounds and her raspy voice are what made it a hit, and continue to make it an interesting song now. That it’s largely faded from mainstream radio makes it feel less played out that most hits of the decade. At the time, I remember thinking of it as grown-up, maybe because of the title.

4. “Watching the Wheels” (John Lennon)
This posthumous hit from the legendary musician is really good song. There’s a beauty to it that rests in his middle-aged maturity, a period that really never lasted all that long. It is a bittersweet song, too, released as it was after his December 1980 assassination. The sound of it carries that loss for me, even now. Even though his death wasn’t a profoundly tragic thing for me personally, I knew it was a big deal for everyone else. That realization, and the messiness and confusion of a world where he could be shot dead, are all in this song when I hear it.

3. “Super Freak” (Rick James)
“Super Freak” is soooo 80s. It’s so sexy, crazy, indulgent, offensive, stupid, excessive, funky, and tasty. It’s so, so much of so, so much. How odd that a song could be played at the skating rink, inspiring a bunch of kids to skate in circles, and simultaneously be about a whole bunch of non-kid things. I knew that it was about “adult matters” as a kid, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what those could be at the time. It deserves to be considered as more than sexy trash. Rick James had been hard at work in the world of R&B, soul, and funk for a long time. The song was more than a hit, it was influential. The bass line alone paved the way for a line of copycats. But the hubris of the post-disco, pre-AIDS 80s is also there, all over the place.

2. “Tom Sawyer” (Rush)
Rush is mighty, mighty business. I’ve seen them in concert and they’re as impressive live as they are on record. Three people making all this rich, thick, rock sound. Their complex virtuosity and their lyrical fantasy vibe made them one of “those bands” for a lot of youth older than me. Albums like 1981’s Moving Pictures had a greater mainstream appeal than their earlier work, resulting in a 9-year-old, barrio kid like me learning who they were. There were some skater teenagers around town–hair over the eyes, Vans, and cigarettes–who loved them. They would play them out front of the community center near my grade school. They sounded interesting, magical, and scary to me all at the same time. The drums are a big part of that. Neil Peart is kind of untouchable as a drummer. Alex Lifeson’s licks, and Geddy Lee’s bass, vocals, and keyboards, all round it out.

1. “Crazy Train” (Ozzy Osbourne)
There’s this time before the mid-80s when heavy metal seems more bottom-up than top-down, at least from a corporate angle. That’s probably not true, but there clearly was something lost when big-hair glam rock went Top 40 with bands like Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi. Because of Black Sabbath and the persona that he cultivated over more than a decade in rock, Ozzy seemed like something more pure than what came after. Truth be told, he probably paved the way for that mainstream metal thing to happen. After all, he was as much image as rock. He played the market like no other. Hell, Blizzard of Oz was probably the biggest metal album in history, for its time.

“Crazy Train” is known today as the song of (and now for) metal guitarist Randy Rhoades. Rhoades was a great guitar player, and every little bit of his talent is here for eternity. When Rhoades died in a plane crash in 1982, he became a legend, the kind of guy that became greater in death and inspired countless more to become heavy metal guitarists. It’s not an underserved status. The song is one of the best metal songs in history, and Rhoades is the reason. The fact that it stands the test of time is proof of its greatness. Even now it sounds like it’s from a different, more current time than 1981. It’s a standout song on the album, too. Almost so good it makes the rest seem like something less.

For me in 1981, Ozzy was scary. That seems silly to me now, especially knowing that groups like Slayer were emerging at the same time. But then, in my mind, Ozzy was something that teenagers who were up to no good listened to. He was something related to the devil. But I listened to him, too. Saturday nights, on my Toshiba radio that I bought with the money we made from recycling newspapers, there was a station that played LA metal bands in addition to the bigger hits. This was pre-KNAC, the LA/Long Beach metal station of the late 80s. Whatever the station was, I felt like it was some sort of sneak peak into a world that I found interesting and kind of repulsive at the same time.

Here’s a live performance, with Randy Rhoades in all his glory:

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friday Five: 1980

We give a lot of attention to the “decade” when it comes to our popular culture. Decades are defining, encompassing, even self-containing. We use them as markers of our times, of our influences, even of our loves. We use them as substitutes for expressing the things we share with others. “I’m a child of the 60s.” “I’m a child of the 80s.”

There’s no inherent reason why one ten-year period should be any more singular than another sequential ten years. Just like there’s no reason why the change from one year to another should be any more significant that another year change. The transition from 1979 to 1980 didn’t end one era abruptly and begin another that was all that different. Like most things cultural, if you know where and how to look, you can see the evolution of things over time. Some things evolve more quickly than others, some take a less straight line, but the process is always there.

But there is something about 1980.

A lot of what makes this year so special and so unique is the nostalgic hindsight of knowing the other nine years that followed it. When nostalgia and identity mix with that cultural tendency we have to build decades into something bigger, 1980 suddenly becomes some big turning point.

A bunch of groups who would be huge for the decade had albums released that year. Rush, The Police, Journey, Scorpions, Air Supply, John Cougar, Whitesnake, and even the Human League released albums. Most of the groups had previous releases in the 70s, but most also had bigger albums to come in the 80s.

Disco was in serious decline, but it was also in transformation in the music of people like Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Rock was transitioning, finding the middle ground between metal and glam, all wrapped in excess. And people like Anne Murray, Kenny Rogers, and Olivia Newton-John had pop hits, too.

These 5 songs are all special to me in some way, but they’re emblematic of the things to come in the decade. (One special mention goes out to Prince and his album Dirty Mind. It’s my second favorite Prince album of all-time, and it contains what just might be my favorite Prince song of all-time, “When You Were Mine.” But Prince doesn’t let his stuff stay up for very long on YouTube so all he gets is a shout-out.)

5. “Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen)
Queen is talent. Queen is skill. Queen is glorious. Queen is a band that made a career out of producing songs that drew from everywhere and often sounded like no one else ever could. This single–one of their most enduring and biggest-selling–is another example of their ability to do something unique. The bass-driven song is accompanied by a host of sounds that almost seem misplaced. The song was also my introduction to backmasking. Sometime in ’81 or ’82, one of my next door neighbors played a cassette tape of the song for me but it was playing backwards. It sounded like Freddy Mercury was singing “It’s fun to smoke marijuana.” This must have been controversial, whether or not it was true. I remember thinking at the time how that was a stupid thing to be singing. Ah, Catholic school…

4. “You Make My Dreams Come True” (Hall and Oates)
I am a defender of Hall and Oates. They’re amazingly talented, and they’re better than their reputation. A lot of the negative vibe that goes their way is due to the fact that they were so influential in creating the 80’s sound. This song, from their 1980 album Visions, is a perfect example of their pop skills and the tendencies that would define so much of the decade. The guitar, the background vocals, the quick stops, it’s all there. (The song is also the king of movie montages.)

3. “Boys Don’t Cry” (The Cure)
Talk about influential. I wasn’t a big fan of the Cure in my youth. They’re one of the big bands for my wife, though, and that’s nurtured a real appreciation for them on my part, but one that came much later. That said, it’s amazing to me that this song is from this early. It’s actually a 1979 song from their debut album Three Imaginary Boys that was re-packaged and re-released again in 1980 in the US as part of the album Boys Don’t Cry. The amazing thing to me is that it sounds so much like the music of mid-decade. It’s a great song, definitely one of those that stands the test of time.

2. “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” (Billy Joel)
This song is the first 45 I ever bought. We went to our local record store–a chain called Licorice Pizza–and my folks let me and my sister buy our own record. She chose “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc. I chose this. Songs like this make the switch from the 70s to the 80s seem more severe than it was. The saxophone, the weird backtrack, the production quality–even the clothes he wears in the video–all of it make it seem like Billy Joel knew what he was doing.

1. “Off the Wall” (Michael Jackson)
This is a little bit of a cheat. Michael Jackson’s fifth solo album Off the Wall was released in 1979. The single, however, was released in 1980. If it is a cheat, it’s an appropriate one, though. The song, much like the album, is the epitome of the transition between the 70s and the 80s. Michael’s version of late-disco R&B contains all the brilliance he and producer Quincy Jones can muster. The grooves are so tight they still get people moving on the dance floor today. The melodies are rich, after all, the man is singing with himself as backup. Michael’s next outing would be the biggest-selling album in history. Even if that one never happened, we’d still be talking about him because of songs like this. (Hell, we’d be talking about him still even is he’d never made another record after the Jackson 5!)

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment