My weekly music posts are a chance to tell me biography in micro form though something that I loved and continue to love. There’s an inherent nostalgia in that, one I’m happy to embrace. This week it might be hard for me to avoid it.
It’s easy for me to be nostalgic about 1984. I turned 12 that year, and even then it felt like the start of a new period in life. In retrospect, it was probably the start of my long teenage period where you’ve got one foot in being a kid and another on the cusp of adulthood. It’s like a stretch where you can never reach the thing you’re reaching for but it also never quite feels out of reach.
The movies that changed my life that year were perfect artifacts of that same dynamic. Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom both came out, inspiring the need for the PG-13 rating. Movies like Ghostbusters, Sixteen Candles, The Natural, The Karate Kid, and Romancing the Stone were not only entertaining, they also made me and my friends feel like we were peaking into a grown-up world that was (or would be) for us.
This week I want to capture the feel of August 1984. I have something to say about all these songs, even though I wasn’t a huge lover of all of them. Still, they are each a slice of 1984.
5. “Round and Round” by Ratt
This one would later peak at #11 but it was moving up with a bullet in August 1984. Quiet Riot and their massive hit “Cum On Feel the Noize” dropped the previous year. Early in 1984 Van Halen released 1984 and shortly after the Scorpions released Love at First Sting. That’s the short version of my first steps into the hard rock and heavy metal world. This song sounded harder than pop at the time and even a little harder than the hard rock. Stephen Pearcy’s vocals not only had an edge to them, they communicated a kind of disdain that felt good. Liking this song made me feel “metal” even though it was more in the line of the big hair 80s rock that would explode on MTV throughout the decade. I love it still.
4. “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen
I had never heard of Bruce Springsteen until 1984. The weirdest thing about that was all these people you saw on TV who not only had heard of him, they worshipped him. This song didn’t help me understand that at all, but it was a catchy song that appealed to a lot of us. The first single from his Born in the U.S.A. album (which is one of the best-selling albums of all-time), it peaked at #2 in early summer and was on its way down the charts by August. It was still in heavy video rotation, though. And people couldn’t stop talking about “the short-haired girl” he danced with on stage. If somebody my age sees somebody dance like these two dance in the video (something that doesn’t and shouldn’t happen all that often) they immediately think of this video.
3. “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr.
It was the cultural phenomenon of the 1984 charts. The theme song to a great comedic film which killed at the box office. It was the second highest grossing film of the year and——at the time——the highest grossing comedy in cinematic history. The song might not have been as financially successful, but it was as big a pop cultural hit. It peaked at #1 for three weeks in August. You couldn’t turn on a radio that summer without hearing it at least once. And everybody was going around asking each other “Who you gonna call?”
2. “When Doves Cry” by Prince
Everybody I knew loved Prince. Many people I knew loved him the way others love Michael Jackson (or the way those older people we saw on TV liked Bruce Springsteen). 1984 was the year of Purple Rain and this song from the album (which was a soundtrack to the film) was the first single released from it. It was Prince’s first number one hit record, topping the charts for five weeks ending the first week of August. I suppose the staying power of the song means it’s kind of timeless for most folks. For me it is, but at the same time it sounds exactly like 1984 to me, too. Musically, it’s just about as perfect as perfect comes.
1. What’s Love Got to Do with It” by Tina Turner
I was raised on a lot of “oldies”——mostly a lot of 50s, 60s, and 70s R&B and soul. Still, I didn’t know Tina Turner until 1984. I probably wasn’t alone. What I remember about the hype surrounding this song (what you heard on talk shows, on entertainment news, and on the radio) was the way it was a comeback for a music artist, one that catapulted her (at the very non-pop star age of 44) to even greater heights than she had known in the past. Her first release from her massively popular album Private Dancer, the song became her first and only #1 and her first top ten single since the early 1970s. Few songs sound more like 1984 than this hit, and few songs demand your attention like it does. When we saw her perform this on TV everyone would always say “Look at her! She’s still got it!” What we didn’t fully understand was that the power of Tina Turner is that she just can’t ever lose it.