I graduated the 8th grade in 1986 and started high school. Need I say more?
If that pivotal year of my life were made into a movie, here are
five–hell, I’ve been gone for so long let’s make it ten!–ten songs that would make the soundtrack:
10. “Tuff Enuff” (The Fabulous Thunderbirds)
Even in 1986, these guys looked like a bunch of oldies hanging out in young person land. But Tommy loves the bluesy rock…
9. “If You Leave” (OMD)
I had never heard of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) before this hit song, and I’m not sure I could name another song of theirs if my life depended on it. This was their big hit, featured on the soundtrack to Pretty in Pink, a movie I didn’t see until much, much later.
8. “The Way It Is” (Bruce Hornsby and the Range)
There’s a lot in 80s music that doesn’t stand the test of time. Songs like this have a lot of the production elements that make it feel dated (synthetic beats, for example). The difference here is that when there’s great stuff at the heart of a song it can still rise above those “flaws.” The melody always sucked me in, and the lyrics kept the 13-year-old me thinking.
7. “Mad About You” (Belinda Carlisle)
I loved the Go-Gos and when Belinda Carlisle released her solo album it was almost destined I would fall for it. I remember buying it about the same time I bought my clothes for high school.
6. “Final Countdown” (Europe)
Confession time. I liked the Swedish, big-hair rock group Europe. I liked them a lot. Too much, really. I know the words to every song on this album. I’d pick my favorite song for this list but there wasn’t ever a real video for it. And who can resist the song that has become a theme song at nearly every NBA arena in the country.
5. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (Crowded House)
One of my favorite things about my musical tastes is that I could love a group like Europe and Crowded House at the same time. In my book, this is still one of the best songs ever. When I later saw Crowded House in concert (they were part of the festival line-up Peter Gabriel put together for WOMAD) I was a long-haired grunge and metal fan. I sang at the top of my voice.
4. “Back in the High Life” (Steve Winwood)
I hadn’t heard of Steve Winwood before his 1986 album Back in the High Life. Traffic and Blind Faith were discoveries I had yet to make, and wouldn’t make until college. The first hit from the album–“Higher Love”–was one of those things you couldn’t get out of your head (with backing vocals by Chaka Khan who would want to). But I remember being really moved by the musical changes and mood of this song, a bittersweet feeling I appreciate more now.
3. “Sledgehammer” (Peter Gabriel)
After all these years and all this education I really don’t know what this song is about. I still don’t know what the video is supposed to mean. I do know that I had never heard of Peter Gabriel before this song and, because of it, I made an effort to discover more of his music when I could. (My favorite song on his hit album So, from whence comes this song, is his duet with Kate Bush, “Don’t Give Up.” Actually, it’s one of my favorites of all-time. But I don’t remember hearing the song until the early 90s.)
2. “Walk This Way” (Run-D.M.C. with Aerosmith)
Again with the “I had never heard of…” I knew (and loved) Run-D.M.C. in 1986. I remember seeing this video for the first time and MTV’s Martha Quinn explained who Aerosmith were. I loved the video, loved the song, and I quickly grew to love Aerosmith. I was one of the tens of millions who helped give them their “second career” beginning with 1987’s Permanent Vacation. And this song–a piece of musical history in its own right, with its blending of two genres that were seemingly un-joinable at this point–had everything to do with it.
1. “You Give Love a Bad Name” (Bon Jovi)
As I confessed before, I was a big fan of the big hair, rock 80s. The band that was the top of that for me was Bon Jovi. I remember this all very vividly. It was August 1, 1986 and MTV was celebrating it’s 5th birthday. We got cable the year before but little stood out for me on MTV until this day of celebration and the next thing you know I’m watching everyday. Earlier that year they had started a daily countdown show based on call-in votes. “Dial MTV” became my daily ritual and the first video I remember being number 1 was this hit from Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. Here’s where the memory is shaky, but if I remember right, it went up to the top spot in a day’s time and stayed there until they kicked it off. The album didn’t come out until August 18th. I bought it that very day.