Friday, October 7, 2011

Call Us Irresponsible, Write Us Off the Page: Rolling Stone's Worst of the '80s

In their ever more desperate-seeming grasp for any sort of editorial content, Rolling Stone magazine has come up with a list of the "Worst of the '80s".  Rhea had heard the top three announced on the radio during her commute this morning; over lunch, we tried to guess what the remainder of the top ten might be.  We came pretty close: apart from the three she remembered, we guessed another four of 'em correctly.  Since the top ten is making the internet rounds, I thought I'd list them with my commentary here, followed by absolute, irrefutable proof that Rolling Stone screwed the pooch on this one, like totally.

10. RICK ASTLEY, "Never Gonna Give You Up"
Hipster pandering on Rolling Stone's part, pure and simple.  It's no work of art, granted, but it's about as average and as typical as late '80s pop gets.  Maybe even a bit better than average, really: unlike so many of his peers, Astley could sing well enough.  Had RickRolling not briefly a thing earlier in the decade, this bit of innocuous pop wouldn't have come anywhere near the top ten.

9. TACO, "Puttin' On the Ritz"
Proof positive, in case such proof was actually needed, that it was a good thing that Irving Berlin - with whom the song itself originated in 1929 - did not have access to synthesizers and drum machines.  Retro smarm at its ugliest.

8. TONI BASIL, "Mickey"
The Katy Perry of her generation: probably a bit older than her bio claimed her to be, and absolutely too old to be slinging such juvenile/suggestive nonsense.  I suppose the video has passed into some sort of kitsch notoriety by now, but trying to listen to the song without the visuals is a task only suited for the brave, not to mention one I wouldn't wish on anyone I love.

7. BOBBY McFERRIN, "Don't Worry, Be Happy"
Fans suggest that it was some sort of ironic mocking of the "me-first" mentality of the Reagan '80s, while detractors decry it as a coarse celebration of same.  People who care about their ears don't care: they just hold them at the first strains of this diabetes-inducing junk.  Music like this is the reason Slayer needed to exist simultaneously, folks.

6. FALCO, "Rock Me Amadeus"
Now that's some goofy shit.  Really nothing more to say about it.  A novelty that could only have been a hit at the exact cultural moment in which it was.

5. MEN WITHOUT HATS, "The Safety Dance"
I briefly thought about this one at lunch, but dismissed it as seeming a bit too much like something that had largely fallen off the pop-culture radar.  The song is pretty typical synth-pop of the time; not exactly good, mind you, but hardly the worst of the batch.  It's gotta be the video (Dancing Midget!  Renaissance Faire!) that bumped it up a notch or three.  Having just watched it again on YouTube, I can absolutely see why.

4. WHAM!, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"
Rhea's a big George Michael fan.  I respect the guy, actually: he is extraordinarily talented.  The only problem with him for me is that he is extraordinarily talented at creating dance pop and ballads, two types of music I generally try to steer clear of.  C'est la vie, I suppose - speaking of which, why isn't Robbie Nevil on this list?  Anyway, this song is Michael's one piece of true, unmitigated shite.  Much like "The Safety Dance", I'm sure the video didn't help matters much - but neither did saying "jitterbug" 10,232 times in the course of four fucking minutes, either.  Aaagh, my ears, they bleed even contemplating it.

3. CHRIS DeBURGH, "Lady in Red"
Embarrassing admission: I had to look this one up.  Look, I was the kind of shy/different sort of kid who didn't exactly go to his prom or anything.  You'll have to forgive me if my knowledge of the slow dance really doesn't pick up until the '90s, when I was finally confident enough in my own weird boots to find my way to the floor.  Pathos aside, why on Earth is this number three?  It's a typical slow, romantic number of its time.  It's a bit better than, but not completely unlike, Peter Cetera and/or post-Jazz Chicago.  And, yes, I did vaguely know it once the chorus hit, truth be told.  Still, I'm a bit mystified here: why is this appreciably worse than other, similar sorts of things that were also popular at the time?

2. EUROPE, "The Final Countdown".
A pioneering effort, in its way: pop metal so soft it managed to forget to be metal at all.  Somewhere right now, at a pay-to-play night at Mel's Booze Barn in Sheboygan, the Brothers Nelson toil in shame, knowing they owe it all to you, Europe.  The hair!  The off-kilter harmonies!  The annoying synthesizer line!  This is the music that Jon Bon Jovi works out to, staring himself in the mirror and repeating his mantra: "I am not a wuss!"  The one entry on this list that I think is absolutely correctly placed.

1. STARSHIP, "We Built This City"
Nope, sorry, you lose, Rolling Stone, and shame on you for following trends so desperately.  A few years back, in a list co-created with those geniuses over at VH-1, Blender magazine declared "We Built This City" the Most Awesomely Bad Song Ever.  (The link appears to have disappeared with Blender itself, but it's referenced in the song's Wikipedia entry, for whatever that's worth to ya.)  Ever since, it's been open season for lazy hipsters.  Look, I'm not here to defend "We Built This City", a work that's probably embarrassing at this point to any of the members of Starship's fully-named forebears.  Clearly, it's not the classic Woodstock-era rock of Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers", nor is it even the guilty-pleasure, sub-Foreigner '80s mullet-rawk of Jefferson Starship's "Find Your Way Back".  And yes, it is funny to hear Grace Slick - the only member of this Starship who graced the recordings of both of the Jeffersons - emote that line about "changing corporation names" with a straight face.  But, really, the worst?  With the likes of "Addicted to Love" and "Love Touch", to name but two, nowhere in sight in this top ten?  Go mambo with Marconi, losers - and get an original thought through your head for a change while you're at it.

And, finally, why this list is full of EPIC FAIL, as the kids say:
Because by any reasonable standard, this is number one with a bullet.  Drum machines without a hint of sex or swing?  Check!  Synth horns that sound more like car horns?  Check!  English-as-a-Second-Language lyrics that shoot for double entendre and miss by miles?  Check!  Intentional yodeling?  Check!  Unintentional yodeling?  Check! 

Dear readers, I give you "Tarzan Boy" by Baltimora.  With a caveat: if you watch this video, the Westboro Baptist Church will protest you.  In fact, I think they're on my lawn with their dopey little signs as I write this.  Still, you should go for it anyway: both experiences are likely well worth having.

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