Friday Five: August 1984

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.

Friday Five: 1984

Rolling Stone once called 1984 “pop’s greatest year” and, in many ways, it was.

It was a big year for Cyndi Lauper and for Prince. Madonna, who had already become a star, now became a cultural phenomenon. Bruce Springsteen re-emerged to be rediscovered by a whole new generation. And the continuing stardom of Michael Jackson made him into even more of an unreachable star.

The year 1984 was a memorable cultural moment in other ways, too. It was the year of a presidential election, one where Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to be the VP nominee on a major party’s ticket. The Olympics were in Los Angeles (I got to go to the shooting preliminaries). “The Cosby Show,” “Murder She Wrote,” and “Miami Vice” all premiered on TV. And the movies! The Terminator, Footloose, Splash, The Natural, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Gremlins, Red Dawn, The Karate Kid, This Is Spinal Tap, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and, of course, Purple Rain, all came out in 1984.

I could make a list of just Prince, Madonna, and Michael for 1984 (or just 5 songs from each) but, instead, here’s 5 songs that snuck in around them to help make the soundtrack of the times.

5. “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” (Dead or Alive)
Few songs are more memorable in the decade than this dance hit. For that matter, few videos more reflective of the times. As much as the synthetic, rapid beat marked the times, the group was a bunch of New Wave, glammed up, baggy shirt wearing British guys. So 80s.

4. “Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)” (Wham!)
I can remember the first few times I heard this breakthrough single from Wham!, the duo of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. There was this peppy beat, harkening back to the 50s and 60s tunes that were the basis of a lot of 80s pop. But what were they saying? We kept listening to the song trying to figure out what they hell they were saying. And then we saw the video, and the next thing you know everybody seemed to be wearing one of those shirts. At some point I stopped caring about figuring out the song. It just was. Everywhere. And we liked it.

3. “People Are People” (Depeche Mode)
I had never heard of Depeche Mode until this song climbed the charts, but it felt like I was the last person to have heard of them when it did. I never really became much of a fan but this song takes me back to my youth like few others. I used to shower every day at 7:00, in my parent’s bathroom, and listen to the Top 40 station’s “7 at 7” countdown of top requests of the day. This song seemed to be there every day, and it seemed to stick around longer than any other.

2. “You Might Think” (The Cars)
Without a doubt, this is one of the most memorable videos of all-time. There’s nothing particularly good about it, at least not to our 21st century eyes, but at the time it seemed to be new, modern, and funny in a techno kind of way. The graphics, in particular, made it stand out, as did the movement of those graphics. It won the “Video of the Year” award at the very first MTV Video Music Awards. Oh yeah, the song was a hit, too, and not without justification.

1. “Take On Me” (A-ha)
Here’s how good 1984 was: this song–by a Swedish group who were an international hit–it simultaneously indicative of the 80s and yet, strangely, timeless. It still feels like a fresh hit to me, after all these years. It’s a beautiful song, hitting vocal notes most people can’t touch, and most of the lyrics are completely unintelligible to the US ear. On top of that, it just might be the best video ever made.

25 years ago today a man came from the future

Have you ever tried to cook enchiladas and bake a coffee cake at the same time?  It doesn’t work.  You end up with bad dinner and dessert, or even worse–sweet enchilada coffee cake!  Well, that’s why I haven’t been writing much on the blog lately, because other, more serious, more “finish or else you lose your job” kind of writing is taking my time.

But I couldn’t let the day pass without some mention.  After all, today is the 25th anniversary of May 12, 1984.

You can watch the scene here.

This scene, from James Cameron’s 1984 classic Terminator, has it all:  sci-fi technology; butt; humor at the expense of a hobo; time travel; the inference of gay, alley sex; and a killer Casio™ keyboard score right out of a John Carpenter movie.  It drips with the 80s.

Hardcore sci-fi/Terminator fans will note that “12th, May, Thursday” in 1984 was really “12th, May, Saturday.”  Rumor has it the movie was set to film in 1983–when it was a Thursday–but due to Schwarzeneggar’s contractual obligations to Conan, had to be postponed.  They never updated the day in the script.  I say, when a naked man steals your gun and points it at you, you are bound to get a few facts wrong during an impromptu quiz.  Eh…

After seeing the new Star Trek movie last week, Terminator has been on my mind.  In it, Kyle Reese (the naked man you see above) is sent back from the future by a man named John Connor to save Sarah Connor.  Sarah is the future mother of John Connor, the leader of the resistance in the war against the machines.  In that future, the machines have sent one of their own back to kill her, thereby hoping to extinguish the resistance (by making sure their leader is never born).  What we learn in the movie, of course, is that Kyle Reese is the one who gets Sarah Connor pregnant.  He is the father of John Connor.

But how could John Connor be alive to send his father back in time so that he would be born if he wasn’t already alive?

Ah! Because time is connected but not dependent.  Instead of a Back to the Future space-time continuum, we have a series of dots in time/space where new lines of dots can emerge from the others and not change the course of the ones already in existence.  Sound familiar?

So Skynet was sending back a Terminator to 1984 to kill that Sarah Connor so as to kill off the possibility of a John Connor being born in the future that comes from then.  Get it?  Skynet was so fucking pissed off, it sent a machine back in time to do something that would have no effect whatsoever on its own present reality.  It just wanted to fuck it up for another human reality.

Aw, forget it.  Just bask in the glow of commemorating an anniversary of something that happened in cinematic fiction.

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