Friday, March 04, 2011

This Week's Playlist

It has been a slog over the past couple of weeks at work, so blogging has been, shall we say, a bit light.  However, I am trying to get back.

I am a child of the 80's and musically, it was a time when my tastes began to diversify (particularly later in that time frame), but I started getting a taste of different styles.  I was (and always will be) a rock and roll guy, I started testing different ideas.  Here is my list of 1980's songs that I still enjoy 20+ years later.

  1. Money for Nothing by Dire Straits.  Seriously, this must have been the 1980's MTV anthem, with Sting ethereal lead in and hook to Mark Knopfler's picked guitar lick and crafty lyrics.  The video was brilliant and remains so today.
  2. Beat It by Michael Jackson.  Yep, I liked Michael, particularly on the Thriller album.  Say what you will, the man was a genius performer.  When I heard the guitar solo, I knew who it was, even though most of my friends didn't believe me--I knew Eddie Van Halen's guitar work.  This was a harder Michael and I had to decide between this song and Thriller, but went with this one because this was the song that got me into Jackson as an artist who was more than just fancy dancing and pop songs.
  3. The Heart of Rock & Roll by Huey Lewis & The News.  Huey Lewis & the News were on a tear with Sports, but this song just gets me going and as an added bonus, provides a great geography lesson in music.  Their later albums had much more of a jazz feel, but Sports hit the big time.
  4. Owner of  a Lonely Heart by Yes.  Progressive rock extraordinaires, Yes was a favorite my father's.  Their early stuff was a tad pretentious (lots of prog rock was), but so very orchestral.  They were a band that showed that rock was music and didn't have to be a 3/4 or 4/4 time with a simple melody to be good.  90125 was a brilliant album that put Yes back on the musical map.  I also like Leave It from the album as well.  Now about that snake in the video, still don't get that.
  5. Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel.  An iconic video, a basic beat and superbly sung lyrics made Gabriel a household name with this song.  I had heard Gabriel with Genesis (my father a big fan of them) and with some solo work ("Shock the Monkey" and "Solosbury Hill") but when I hear Gabriel, I think Sledgehammer and Solosbury Hill.  But Solosbury Hill was not released in the 1980's so doesn't make the cut.
  6. On the Loose by Saga.  This Canadian quintet was largely underrated.  They were in heavy rotation early on MTV, particularly with this song.  I think a lot of people looked at them as a bit too theatrical, but their musicality was terrific, with complex guitar riffs and keyboard overlaying a solid rhythmic core.  Worlds Apart remains one of my favorite albums as a whole unit, with each song occupying a perfect place.   
  7. Abacab by Genesis.  The song and album named for the chord progression was probably the last of Genesis' more "progressive" rock albums.  Not long after this, Phil Collins hit it big as a solo artist and Genesis took off with Invisible Touch.  The musical outro seems to go on a bit too long for me, but this is still a brilliant song showing off the hallmarks of prog rock music, with different time signatures and slightly less than easily followed lyrics.
  8. Cool the Engines by Boston.  Third Stage was a brilliant album, and while still recognizably Boston, a little different with more ballads.  Cool the Engines though is classic Boston, big heavy bass and drums and Tom Scholz's multi-layered guitars.  Brad Delp's vocals never sounded better and the song really does progress from the rising beginning, blistering middle sections with Delp and Scholz reaching their peak and then easing off.  A song that suits its name.
  9. Photograph by Def Leppard.  Pyromania put the boys from Sheffield on the world musical map and Photograph led the charge.  The guitar/drum combo intro is easily recognizable and instantly put you in the groove.  While Hysteria solidified Def Leppard's sound, you can hear the sound coalescing in this album.  
  10. Jump by Van Halen.  Van Halen with David Lee Roth hit new heights with this album and this song is about as straight forward rock and roll as you can get.  While this was not the first time Van Halen has used synthesizers in their albums, this song was the first to make such prominent use of them, but it doesn't cheapen the experience.  What usually went unnoticed in this band was Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen, probably one of the best bass/drum pairings in rock and they never missed a beat in this song.
  11. Rain on the Scarecrow by John Cougar Mellencamp.  Mellencamp had something to say with Scarecrow, an album that showed a distinct break from his previous work, much darker, moodier and yes more political.  Rain on the Scarecrow still stands as a truly brilliant song, evocative of the problems facing farmers.  The lyrics are powerful and while political, still tell a story without being too preachy.
  12. Where the Streets Have No Names by U2.  From big stars to superstars with one album, The Joshua Tree solidified U2 as a world wide band and as a band whose politics went beyond just Ireland.  Musically, Joshua Tree was an eclectic group of songs that still hung together.  This song is, in my mind, the more "mainstream" of the songs, except maybe the ballad "With or Without You," but it still is a classic of musicianship and lyrics.
  13. Tom Sawyer by Rush.  No compilation of my 80's songs would be complete without Rush's Tom Sawyer.  Prog rock musicality, high pitched signing, Neil Peart's drums and slightly gravelly guitars on a recognizable synth track.  I loved this song then and I love it now.
  14. If Looks Could Kill by Heart.  Barracuda and Magic Man remain my all-time favorite Heart songs and the 1980s saw the Wilson sisters in big hair and tight clothes, but still solid musicians.  This is a slightly less known rocker from their self-titled album that brought you "Never" and "These Dreams" this song was simply more like the Heart of the late 70's, rockers first and balladeers second.
  15. Promises in the Dark by Pat Benatar.  This rocker always gets me going.  Benatar's massive vocal range is highlighted a couple of times here, her ability to make her voice a little rough on some lyrics and absolutely ethereal in the next breath simply demonstrates why she won so many Grammy's.  Husband Neal Gerardo's guitar work is classic.  The length of time she holds that note in the middle/end of the song never fails to get me.
  16. Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen.  He was always a rocker, always a story song writer, but this album put Bruce on the map globally.  The organ/synthesizer melody line is recognizalbe instantly.  I knew this would be a classic.  
  17. Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns & Roses.  This song changed the way I looked a metal and hair bands.  The basic guitar riff and slow guitar solo remains two of the best guitar lines ever written and while Axel Rose might be a chucklehead, he and the rest of G&R knew how to put together some rocking songs.  This song may have changed music in the late 1980's, paving the way for grunge, but what a way to change it.  I even sang this song to my oldest daughter as a lullaby--that is the beauty of the song.
  18. Cult of Personality by Living Colour.  What can I say about this New York City foursome.  This song's brilliant lyrics, punchy drums and some of the coarsest guitar work ever brought about one of the greatest debuts ever.  So solid were these guys that they opened for the Rolling Stones when no one had ever heard of them.  Vernon Reid is one of the most criminally underrated guitarists/songwriters around and the way he plays guitar is amazing, from the gravel of Cult of Personality to the funk of Funny Vibe, they did it all on the Vivid Album and only got better with age.
  19. Don't Stop Believin by Journey.  Another 1980's arena band classic, which will always remain with me as the song my friends and I performed in an air band contest in 7th grade.  The piano work at the beginning is brilliantly crafted and the lyrics tell a pretty story.  
  20. Take Me Home by Phil Collins.  A lot of people might remember this video of Collins appearing in various iconic places around the world, but I love this song for the way it builds up.  In particularly, if you listen to teh drum loops, how they are distinct, but as more are introduced they emphasize each other.  Some of the lyrical turns of phrase as absolute genius.  This may not be Collins' most famous song, but as a musical journey, it is one of his best.  

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