Bottom Feeders: The Ass End of the ’80s, Part 2

Written by Bottom Feeders, Music

bottomfeeders2.jpg

I thank my dad for my love of ’80s music. My parents divorced before I can even remember, and I used to see my dad on weekends. Every weekend for years, he’d give me $20 and let me go in this little local record store run out of some guy’s house. You’d walk in and be immediately surrounded by a billion records. But right up front were the 45s, each of them $2. He would let me grab ten of them and wouldn’t charge me tax because “the government doesn’t charge kids tax.” If I remembered his name, I’d look him up today to see how long he’s in prison for some kind of tax fraud. It’s probably better that I don’t recall his name, but I do remember picking up the latest hits from Culture Club, Whitney Houston and Debbie Gibson, which as a 12-year old couldn’t have possibly been as lame as that sounds to me right now. I’d walk home with my dad and pop all ten of them on the record player (I still remember the turntable that actually held multiple records with the arm and would drop them one, sometimes two, sometimes three at a time — those were the days). We’d actually fill out index cards with the name of the song and the artist and assign each record a number which we’d put on the inside of the sleeve in pencil, which might explain why I always feel the need to keep all my music in order.

You know, I never really thought about it before, but maybe this is partially why I had a secret desire to be a librarian, too. Up until now I thought it was the hot librarian ass I’d get back in the horticulture section while no one was looking, but maybe that’s not the case after all. Anyway, I still have a bucket of those records today, and while not one of them factors into my collection — I started back over from scratch many, many years later — it certainly was a jumping off point as to why I chose to love the ’80s. So I guess I need to thank my dad for this; if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to talk about shitty Corey Hart songs with you. The world works in weird ways.

Let’s keep on keepin’ on with the A’s this week.

AC/DC
“Let’s Get It Up” — 1982, #44 (download)
“Guns for Hire” — 1983, #84 (download)

Thanks to Twostepcub for pointing out that I can’t spell and inadvertently left AC/DC out of last week’s post. I’m sure this will happen a bit over the course of the next 100 or so posts, so I’ll be sure to get in any that I miss, in a future post. We’re doing every song if it breaks me!

AC/DC just rocks my socks off. Yes, granted they aren’t the most diverse band in the world, at least at this point in their career, but they took a formula that definitely worked and kept turning it into hits. You’d probably be shocked to know that both “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back in Black” barely cracked the Top 40, so clearly there’s no way these were going to do it. Though, “Let’s Get It Up” is a pretty awesome tune. I guess “Guns for Hire” must be as well, since well…I just listed to both and barely realized I had switched songs.

The Alarm
“Strength” — 1985, #61 (download)
“Rain in the Summertime” — 1987, #71 (download)
“Presence of Love” — 1988, #77 (download)
“Sold Me Down the River”— 1989, #50 (download)

Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, the Alarm are one of the most underrated bands of the ’80s. They had a few songs go to #1 and #2 on the rock charts, but when it came to the Hot 100, they just couldn’t muster much firepower. A lot of people compare them to U2, and you definitely can hear similar moments in songs like “Rain in the Summertime” — but of course, this is comparing a band who barely had hits to one of the biggest groups of all time. So there clearly is something missing from this formula that the Alarm never figured out. While I don’t think these guys were quite good enough to be on U2’s level, they deserved a better fate in the U.S. While “Presence of Love” is a pretty generic song; the other three are a nice blend of pop and rock. The vocals are crisp, the hooks are catchy, and I have to think that “Sold Me Down the River” really fit in well back in ’89. Their best song, “68 Guns,” didn’t even chart anywhere.

Al B. Sure!
“Off on Your Own (Girl)” — 1988, #45 (download)
“Killing Me Softly” — 1988, #80 (download)

Poised for massive success after the awesome “Nite and Day” hit #7 in early ’88, Mr. Sure! followed that up with these two stinkers. “Off On Your Own (Girl)” is the better of the two, but with the absolutely irritating falsetto that Al sings in, this is just grating after a minute or two. I do give this song credit for the line “What do ya think, you’re dope on a rope”? Dope on a rope — ha! There is, however, nothing redeemable about his cover of “Killing Me Softly.” The first problem is the absolutely unnecessary drum machine backbeat throughout the entire song, then the crazy live drums (at least they sound live) on top working way too hard, followed closely by that weird staggered backing vocal in the chorus. The whole song just sounds very cheaply made. Overall, he was a better producer/writer/talent scout than a singer. He had a hand in giving us Jodeci, Tevin Campbell, and Usher, all of whom were much better artists. I have a bad feeling I’m going to get a beatdown from Lil B. Sure! now.

Alessi
“Put Away Your Love” — 1982, #71 (download)

To me, this is great because Christopher Cross produced it. Now, I know it’s not too often that you hear “great” and “Christopher Cross” in the same sentence, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a fan. The Alessi Brothers (billed as “Alessi” for this single) mean next to nothing to me, but the fact that this song sounds a heck of a lot like Cross makes it a worthwhile listen.

Alisha
“Baby Talk” — 1985, #68 (download)
“Into My Secret” — 1987, #97 (download)

Alisha could have used some help with these songs. A top-of-the-line producer to make the beat in “Baby Talk” slicker and fill out her vocals a little bit would have done wonders. Listen to it, then picture Madonna singing it. Not much difference, huh? Except that Madonna sounded polished from the very beginning, and Alisha does not. “Into My Secret” moved her closer to the very generic freestyle movement of the late ’80s. Back in ’87, I’m sure teenagers could have told you this was Alisha, but a year later this probably could have been attributed to one of 100 other artists in the genre, and 99 percent of the population wouldn’t have questioned it at all (including the 99 artists that it wasn’t attributed to).

Peter Allen
“Fly Away” — 1981, #55 (download)

Here’s the second Christopher Cross connection in this post. Peter Allen won an Academy Award in 1981 as a songwriter on “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” providing it one very memorable line: “When you get caught between the moon and New York City.” He teamed up again with his co-writer on that song, Carole Bayer-Sager, for “Fly Away,” which had all of her signature sound. If you wanted a sappy-ass hit ballad, Carole was your lady.

Allman Brothers Band
“Angeline” — 1980, #58 (download)

This is a complete throwaway. The sad keys in “Angeline” don’t scream out Godfathers of Southern Rock to me. There were plenty of songs out at the time that I’d put way below this one, but this would never get anywhere near the Southern Rock podcast that I’ll be starting in 2023.

Gregg Allman Band
“I’m No Angel” — 1987, #49 (download)

Despite some inane lyrics from Gregg Allman, this is a song I might consider putting in that same podcast. A song like this goes a long way in proving why I’m a music over lyrics type guy. Southern Rock was never my favorite genre (though I love .38 Special), but this gets me thinking about attaching a gun rack to my roof. That was the point of this track, right?

All Sports Band
“I’m Your Superman” — 1981, #93 (download)
“Opposites Do Attract” — 1982, #78 (download)

It’s hard to even know where to begin with these winners. Let’s start with the name: All Sports Band. What the hell does that even mean? And what could you possibly expect from a group called All Sports? I’d expect upbeat rock, or at least something that you could play while tossing a football around in the backyard. Right? Instead we got “Opposites Do Attract” and “I’m Your Superman,” both of which only help me picture men frolicking in the backyard in tight pink Richard Simmons shorts. And that’s not the picture I want … ever. “Opposites” could have been passed off as a mediocre track at best, but it’s gold compared that bullshit first song. “I’m Your Superman. A man of steel, I’ll protect you from all evil.” Even Air Supply didn’t get this sappy. It ranks as #9 on my 80 worst of the ’80s list.

Marc Almond
“Tears Run Rings” — 1989, #67 (download)

Marc Almond and Soft Cell never really did much for me. I will acknowledge they had some good songs, but at points they got a little weird for my tastes, and I’ve never been able to go back and really enjoy them. So, this track has never been on my radar. But thanks to simple luck of the draw, following the All Sports Band means for a fleeting moment I think this song is the best thing ever.

Herb Alpert
“Beyond” — 1980, #50 (download)
“Magic Man” — 1981, #79 (download)
“Garden Party” — 1983, #81 (download)
“Red Hot” — 1983, #77 (download)
“Bullish” — 1984 #90 (download)
“Keep Your Eye on Me” — 1987, #46 (download)

Honestly, I wasn’t old enough to remember any of these songs on the radio except for “Keep Your Eye on Me.” It amazes me to think of what radio was like back in the day. Right now, I have five hip-hop, one classic rock, one gospel, one pop and two generic rock stations in my area. I can’t picture anyone of these stations playing instrumentals. The only instrumentals I expect to hear are in clubs and bars now and then. But when the ’80s ended, Herb had amassed 39 Hot 100 hits in his career! While not all of these were instrumentals, he certainly built a career off of them. And you know what, he deserved every award and praise he got. The songs above are the ones that weren’t big hits, but if you really take the time to listen to them, they are still damn good. Alpert always changed his style up for the times, and he really is a delight to hear. “Beyond” is a neat synth-based tune, while “Magic Man” could have been a theme to a light-hearted network comedy. “Garden Party” gives the illusion of a sappy ballad before turning into this slightly funky toe-tappin’ number and is my favorite of these six tunes. “Red Hot” has more of that funk element to it, while “Bullish” probably could have easily been turned into a rap song, just like his biggest ’80s hit, “Rise.” “Keep Your Eye On Me” was his full blown foray into the R&B world and is a head-on collision with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. I’m sure it’s not cool to like Herb Alpert, but hell — I’ve never been cool anyway.

Alphaville
“Big in Japan” — 1984, #66 (download)
“Forever Young” — 1985, #93, and 1988, #65 (download)

Truly one that I just can’t understand, Alphaville were so underrated. “Big in Japan” is a great slab of synth pop, but “Forever Young” is the really baffling tune of the two. A remarkably beautiful song that everyone but radio seemed to know was a hit. It was first released in 1985 when it barely charted. It was released in ’86 and didn’t chart, then re-re-released in 1988 where it hit its peak at #65. Clearly, someone knew they had something special, but for reasons unknown, MTV and radio just didn’t seem to give a crap. Today, I hear it once a week and still enjoy every minute of it. By the way, Alphaville even called themselves Forever Young before realizing it was better as a song title than band name.

Amazulu
“Montego Bay” — 1987, #90 (download)

A complete crap song that is used in ads for every travel agency in the world. I’m sure all of you have heard parts of this and have had no clue who sang it and really, why would you care? While on my honeymoon in Montego Bay last May, I heard this seven times. The only songs that were played more were Stephen Marley’s “The Traffic Jam” and Akon’s “Don’t Matter,” which we heard so much that three weeks later my wife and I were still singing “Nobody want to see us together but it don’t matter no…” At no point have I chosen to sing Amazulu again.

That’s it for this week, friends. Next week, we get to debate the merits of “Sex Shooter” and talk about Joan Armatrading (not to mention one of my favorite songs of the decade). In the meantime, when you have friends over this weekend, toss some Herb Alpert in the middle of your hip-hop mix, and marvel as everyone just keeps on dancing and sippin’ their gin and juice. Tell them that Bottom Feeders said it was cool. Yeah, boy.