Bottom Feeders: The Ass End of the ’80s, Part 39

Last week in my intro I talked about De La Soul dropping their biggest hit song all the way down at track 20 on their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising (1989), and that got the wheels rolling on another topic — album length. I don’t know if there’s ever been some defined rule as to how many songs it takes or how long an album needs to run to be considered an LP as opposed to an EP, but even if unspoken rules have existed, they’ve certainly changed over the years. I don’t know what the ’60s and ’70s were like, but for at least the first few years of the ’80s eight songs seemed to be the minimum amount needed for a legitimate LP. I’m assuming that’s because eight normal-length songs fit the best onto a record without it losing too much quality. Then maybe by the mid-’80s, as CDs were gaining in popularity, it climbed to ten average-length songs, though even in ’86 Peter Gabriel’s So had nine tracks on the CD but only eight on the record. Then at some point it jumped again, but that’s where I lose track.

To me, a legit full-length record these days feels like 12 songs or more, and it’s felt that way for ages. But even that’s a struggle sometimes — all I remember hearing about Linkin Park records earlier in the decade is that people felt gipped because each album lasted only 35 minutes despite having 12 or 13 tracks. If a disc can hold 79-plus minutes and you can’t even fill half that amount with music, are you giving anyone their money’s worth? That’s not to say you have to fill all 79 minutes by including shit, but even though I’ve never listened to a Linkin Park record, I’m sure at least one or two tracks on each of their albums are filler (I’d like to say all 12, but to each his own — unless you like Nickelback), cutting down the amount of quality music to about half an hour.

Then of course track length comes into play. Something like 1981′s Circle of Love by Steve Miller has the ridiculous 16-minute “Macho City” taking up the entire second side of the disc. But even with only five tracks totaling 34 minutes, that’s a full-length album. If the total number of tracks was all that counted toward distinguishing what’s an LP or not, no doom/drone/sludge band would have released an LP. Take Sunn O)))’s White 1, for example — it only has three tracks but comes in at a whopping 59 minutes. No question that’s a full-length album. So who knows — maybe it just comes down to a general feeling these days. But if there were ever some set rules or even if someone can just give a legit time frame as to when the guidelines for album length started to increase, I’d love to hear it.

But now it’s time for our feature presentation. This week Bottom Feeders is quite eclectic — some great artists, some really bad ones, and a splattering of both solid and shit tunes across a few genres. Let’s continue our trek toward the letter Z and look at more of the ass end of the Billboard Hot 100 during the ’80s.

Corey Hart
“Dancin’ With My Mirror” — 1987, #88 (download)

Back when we were looking at Fiona singing with Kip Winger I mentioned that Kip could very well be the spokesperson for this entire series. While I’d be happy as hell to take him, he’d probably rank a distant third on my list. Corey Hart would no doubt be my number one choice. Now even Corey might be surprised at the choice, as he had nine charting songs in the ’80s, and eight of them went high enough to miss this segment. But see, that’s really the problem here. This total shit stain on the world of music was somehow able to release hit after hit after hit with mediocre beats and incredibly asinine lyrics. Let’s take a look at some of his poetry:

I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can so I can
Watch you weave then breathe your storylines
And I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can so I can
Keep track of the visions in my eyes

Or how about this one:

Pull up your sox
You’re the boy in the box
What did the rebel say?
When the wolf cried “Fox!”
To the boy in the box
Will you come out to play
One, two
You can’t get enough
Three, four
Open up the door
Six, five
Alive is the boy in the box

And now this week’s entry:

It’s late at night, I can’t fall asleep
Shadows on the lake are obsolete
So I just stay awake
Image running ’round my brain
Paint your picture you’re the king of the walk
Declare your space then prepare to shock
There is no precedence
Alone in your room your first offense

I mean, seriously, what the fuck does any of this mean?

He just liked stringing words together for the hell of it, it seems. And I’ve said it before, but holy hell if “Boy in the Box” doesn’t get my goat with the “Six, five/Alive is the boy in the box” line. I can’t believe that he seriously reversed the count so the song could rhyme. “Dancin’ with my Mirror” checks in at #45 on my bottom 80 songs of the ‘80s list. Corey Hart is total bullshit. I need a shot or something, as I’m fired up now. Good way to start this post.

Dan Hartman
“Heaven in Your Arms” — 1981, #86 (download)
“It Hurts to Be in Love” — 1981, #72 (download)

I actually wasn’t familiar with Dan Hartman until 1984, when his biggest hit, “I Can Dream About You,” was released. At that point he had been releasing singles since 1978, but his most famous moment comes courtesy of him writing the song “Free Ride” for the Edgar Winter Group in 1972.

Hawks
“Right Away” — 1981, #63 (download)

Man, there are a lot of groups named the Hawks. Members of the Band were first in a group called the Hawks and blues musician J.B. Hutto had a band from the ’50s right through this period called the Hawks as well. But this Hawks is a Midwest pop group that had a Todd Rundgren-esque feel to its body of work. As a bonus, the leader of the group was guitarist Dave Steen, who’s just one letter away from being my long-lost cousin. Damn.

Colin James Hay
“Hold Me” — 1987, #99 (download)

After Men at Work broke up in 1985, Colin Hay began releasing solo records, but never really made a name for himself as a solo artist. This was his only single, barely making this series, charting for only one week at #99. The song itself is probably just a catchier chorus away from being really good and/or fitting right in on a Steve Winwood record.

Haysi Fantayzee
“Shiny Shiny” — 1983, #74 (download)

“Shiny Shiny” is one of those songs that appears on a billion new-wave comps as a “lost” track and one that I never expected actually charted. They only released one record, Battle Hymns for Children Singing, and this was their only single in the U.S. “Shiny Shiny” accurately portrays their quirkiness, as it’s an upbeat dance tune about the apocalypse. They remind me of a slightly less talented Bow Wow Wow.

Leon Haywood
“Don’t Push It, Don’t Force It” — 1980, #49 (download)

Ah, another song I’m sure was sampled by some rap artist, but I can’t figure out who. What a great little funk tune by Haywood, who was having a nice little career up until this point. This was his eighth and final single to hit the Hot 100, but the R&B charts were kind to him through 1984. A year after this he would write the mega-hit “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” for Carl Carlton.

Robert Hazard
“Escalator of Life” — 1983, #58 (download)

If you had me name my favorite songs to come out of my hometown of Philadelphia during the ’80s, Robert Hazard’s “Escalator of Life” might be my favorite non-Hall & Oates track on that list. It’s quite surprising to me to see how many people outside of Philly don’t remember this song — I remember listening to it every three seconds on the radio growing up, so I guess I just thought it was a common track. Jon talked about Hazard and his single “Chain Reaction” in great lengths last week. I’m very much on the same page as him and reading that helped me remember that I don’t just love “Escalator of Life” because it’s one of the few songs that I sound okay with during Karaoke. I grew up with this track everywhere, so it has a special place in my history. Hazard actually passed away in August, due to complications during surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Headpins
“Just One More Time” — 1983, #70 (download)

This clocks in at #60 on my bottom 80 songs of the ‘80s list. It’s not the music at all, as the song is kind of catchy. It’s the fact that the brute of a lead singer, Darby Mills, screams every line. And I’m sorry if you’re reading this Ms. Mills, but it took me quite a while to figure out if you were a dude or not, and that’s certainly not a good thing. Headpins is a side project of two of the members of the Canadian band Chilliwack, and they still tour today.

Heart
“Unchained Melody” — 1981, #83 (download)
“How Can I Refuse” — 1983, #44 (download)
“Allies” — 1983, #83 (download)
“If Looks Could Kill” — 1986, #54 (download)
“I Want You So Bad” — 1988, #49 (download)

Heart fucking rocks, and I know that goes against everything I’ve ever said about me not liking female artists. Remembering that my musical knowledge doesn’t trickle down from the decades before this one, I’d put Ann Wilson as the number one female rock vocalist of all time. These days you have all these women in metal bands and rock groups doing everything they can to make themselves sexy because half the time that’s the selling point of the band. Ann and Nancy Wilson just needed to rock the fuck out. Don’t get me wrong, both of them are sexy women, but what made them sexier was not a push-up bra; rather, it was those amazing pipes of Ann and guitar skills of Nancy. I’m a bigger fan of pre-’84 Heart than post-’84, but even their slicked-up pop songs after they made themselves relevant again are quite good. But there is no comparison between a song like “If Looks Could Kill” and “How Can I Refuse.” There’s no chance I’d ever choose the former if presented with a choice to listen to just one. “I Want You So Bad” is a pretty underrated song in their catalog, though, off 1987′s Bad Animals. It still surprises me that the band could continue to tour and make great music through all the controversy surrounding Ann Wilson ballooning up in weight. The label, the promoters, even the band hounded her to lose weight and did everything they could to hide her weight in everything they did, and yet, they still cranked out at least three decent records during that span. Ann got gastric bypass surgery in 2002, lost a ton of weight, and is putting out solo records now. And even in their late 50′s both of them still look smokin’ hot.

Heaven 17
“Let Me Go” — 1983, #74 (download)

I think “Let Me Go” and “Shiny Shiny” are the same song. They each appear on a billion new-wave comps, they each charted in 1983 for five weeks, and both peaked at #74 on the Billboard charts. Heaven 17 is the better group, in my opinion, certainly much less quirky and having a similar sound to the Human League, which could have been expected thanks to two of its three members having formed that group back in the late ’70s.

Nona Hendryx
“Keep It Confidential” — 1983, #91 (download)
“Why Should I Cry?” — 1987, #58 (download)

Nona Hendryx’s solo career began in 1977 after the breakup of Labelle. Her biggest contribution to music is of course being part of “Lady Marmalade,” as her solo career didn’t generate much in the way of hits. She had a half-dozen songs or so peak low on the R&B charts, but “Why Should I Cry” was the only solo song of hers that cracked the R&B top 10 (#5).

Don Henley
“Johnny Can’t Read” — 1982, #42 (download)
“I Can’t Stand Still” — 1983, #48 (download)

Both of these songs come from Henley’s first solo record, I Can’t Stand Still. They bookend his biggest hit, “Dirty Laundry,” which went to #3. Neither of these are favorites of mine, as “I Can’t Stand Still” is pretty dull and “Johnny Can’t Read” just seems a little bit goofy for an artist as celebrated as Henley.

Howard Hewett
“I’m for Real” — 1986, #90 (download)

Howard Hewett was one of the voices in Shalamar from 1979-1985. When they broke up in ’85, both Hewett and Shalamar’s other voice, Jody Watley, pursued solo careers. This was Hewett’s only solo hit in the ’80s, though he did have a gospel song that garnered him some praise. Clearly Jody Watley did much better in her solo career.

Bertie Higgins
“Just Another Day in Paradise” — 1982, #46 (download)

A poor man’s Jimmy Buffett? “Just Another Day in Paradise” was the follow up to his #8 hit “Key Largo” — his only two charting songs. Both are quite sappy and really do suck, but every time I hear them I think about Margaritaville. That’s not to say Higgins was anywhere close to the talent of Jimmy Buffett, and that’s coming from someone who’s definitely no parrothead.

QUICK HITS
Best song: Heart, “How Can I Refuse”
Worst song: Corey Hart, “Dancin’ With My Mirror”

Next week we visit another great band from my hometown of Philadelphia, and we get to listen to the “hit” track from what I believe is the worst album of the entire decade that had a Billboard Hot 100 song on it.




  • http://imaynotalwaysloveyou.blogspot.com/ The Man I Used To Be

    I sense a song that name drops Holy Moses and Noah in our future…

  • Keith

    “Escalator of Life” actually got quite a bit of airplay on a station here in Central Kentucky, of all places, and can still be heard frequently on XM/Sirius channel 1st Wave. I love “How Can I Refuse” but have always wondered if there was ever any controversy about how similar the opening chords sound to Judas Priest “You've Got Another Thing Comin”, and for that matter, both of them kind of resemble Foreigner's “Hot Blooded”. And, despite the fact that they both have only one entry on this list, Heaven 17's body of work surpasses that of Haysi Fantayzee easily.

  • http://www.myhmphs.com My hmphs

    I'm partial to Nancy Wilson's solo stuff – mostly for her husband Cameron Crowe's movies.

    And you mentioned the word “talent” and Jimmy Buffett in the same sentence. Is that a first?

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    On the topic of how many tracks for a proper-length album, ten used to be the golden mean in the 1970s but nine was more common for rock acts that wanted to stretch out. This was, of course, dictated by the length of a viable vinyl side. It didn't mean the band wouldn't have recorded more than eight-to-ten; they would have, but those would be relegated to B-Sides.

    Then came the 80-minute CD. Label chiefs probably looked at the playing field, looked at the budgets they were cutting checks for and said, “To hell with spending our money on lowly B-Sides… Everything goes in!” And now, the 12-song album is fairly standard and bands will put everything they have onto it, including a lot of stuff they previously could have been more discerning toward.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    So you're saying it don't have to hide anymore?

  • jack

    Colin James Hay's first record really spoke to me for some reason… the soundrack for a lonely 9th grader.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    I'll cop to not only owning that Bertie Higgins album but still liking it and still listening to it. As for Buffett, I think Yacht Rock summed up my feelings on him pretty well.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    I have a problem with musicians that are rich, mellow, eternally buzzed on something or other and not the least bit guilt about it.

  • Brian McCurdy

    I agree about “Escalator of Life.” I grew up in the Philadelphia area during the '80s and this song was constantly on the radio (98 FM at the time). I just assumed it was a well-known song everywhere.

  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com Rob

    What a week. Some of my absolute favorite obscurities…

    When that Colin James Hay song came out, it made me realize – as if “Overkill” hadn't proved to me tht fact already – that there was a lot of talent in him. Really good stuff. He and Peter Gabriel were really ahead of their time in terms of embracing African music.

    “Let Me Go” is still one of the best songs of the new wave era. I can't believe it never broke the top 40.

    I remember during my freshman year in college that some Philly-area guy on my dorm floor either lent me the Robert Hazard album or played it for me. Total awesomeness. Our college station played the hell out of the album. Of course, Robert then made a fortune on “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” royalties…

  • Jeff

    Oh, man, do I love that Colin James Hay song. I have Looking for Jack on vinyl, and have been trying to track down a copy on CD for years. A friend of mine loaned me a copy of Man at Work recently, and it is really, really good. Plus, you have to love a guy who plays a singing, guitar playing corpse on Scrubs.

    I actually hear the song 'Escalator of Life; on Radioio's New Wave station on iTunes quite a bit.

    And sorry, but I will never, ever like Heart.

  • steve

    I own the album “Just Another Day In Paradise” as well, and I think it's fine, although the sad realization of “Port Of Call” still kind of makes me queasy.

  • Gexxa

    Bertie Higgins is the father of US Based world famous Drum and Bass DJ, Dieselboy.

    Music does run in families!!

  • thefxc

    Yeah! They were the Israelites!

  • http://www.bastardradio.com steed

    Haha. “Talent” – yeah, that's intereting – that didn't even hit me when I wrote it – it very well could be the first and only time I do so. Takes Bertie Higgins to cause that slip up.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    If you've not been to Bertie's web site, I highly recommend it. It's an…interesting read.

  • breadalbane

    Boy, Canadains are sure taking a pasting this week, with both Corey Hart and Headpins getting the deluxe treatment.

    Not that I'm about to defend either act.

    Surprising-but-true Corey Hart fact: Eric Clapton plays on his first album. (That's not offered as defense of Corey, by the way — more as another signpost on the long slow road towards Clapton's total irrelevancy.)

    _________________________________

    Oh yeah, “Escaltor of Life” was a cult hit up here in Toronto. I know I heard it on CFNY a fair bit, although it didn't cross over to the top 40 stations. I'd put it as the best song ot this week's posts.

  • JonCummings

    That all seems about right–except to say that Nashville was much slower to adjust to the capacity of CDs, and continued to make 9- and 10-song albums the norm all the way up to the millennium. That's no surprise, considering how regimented Nashville is.

    A corollary to the number-of-tracks question: My perception was that, particularly among established rock acts, song lengths expanded through the late '80s and well into the '90s to fill the extra space on CDs. They seem to have contracted a bit since then.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    That's right. It wasn't until Nirvana and the three-minute power blast that songs started regulating down again.

  • WHarrisBullzEye

    A few random comments:

    * If you dug that Hawks song, you should definitely head over to NotLame.com and pick up a copy of “Perfect World Radio,” which offers as much of a summary of their sound as can be legally found on CD. (Their two proper albums have yet to be released on disc.) There's some really great stuff on there.

    * I bought Colin Hay's solo debut because I was such a huge Men at Work fan, and when it proceeded to make only the tiniest ripple, I was stunned…but I still kept buying his stuff, anyway, and I've been thrilled that more and more people are finally realizing that there's more to him than songs about vegemite sandwiches.

    * “If Looks Could Kill” rocks, “Let Me Go” is awesome, and if I never heard “Shiny Shiny” again, it'll be A-OK with me.

  • Kenny Bania

    “This was Hewett’s only solo hit in the ’80s, though he did have a gospel song that garnered him some praise.”

    That's Gold Dave – GOLD!

  • wags

    Heh. Loved Men at Work but never could get into Colin Hay solo. Perhaps I heard too many tracks that sounded like the one here that leave me unmoved.

  • Eric S.

    Have to weigh in on this week as it hit a number of hot buttons.

    First is The Hawks. “Right Away” is certainly nothing special, but they did have a great song, “It's All Right, It's O.K.” It's more representative of their sound, which was more pop rock than today's entry.
    http://eschorn.home.comcast.net/myfilelocker/It

    have to agree with your comments on the Headpins lead singer. However, I love the “Just One More Time” and bought their greatest hits (hit?) on a Canadian CD just to get this song.

    Finally, I couldn't agree more about Heart's “How Can I Refuse”. I'm actually surprised this made it to #44, as it never seems to get played on classic rock radio anymore. “Passionworks” was definitely a transition album as they moved toward a more middle of the road sound, but “How Can I Refuse” really stands out (I don't mean to pile on, but if Ann has “lost a ton of weight”, then she was two tons before the surgery).

  • http://myspace.com/DJChrisXmusic Chris X

    I know you're out there! Let's see you!

  • http://myspace.com/DJChrisXmusic Chris X

    I will never stop laughing at your burning hatred for Corey Hart. It's not a disdain I share, but still.

    I never paid any attention to Dan Hartman other than “I Can Dream About You” (which I absolutely love, and is the kind of song I will hang around a department store for a few extra minutes for when it comes on over the PA) although apparently he has some songwriting and production credits to his name for other artists.

    Colin Hay is a fantastic songwriter, and I would argue that his solo efforts showcase this fact better than Men At Work. Don't get me wrong, I adore Men At Work, and always get happy when listening to their songs, but there seems to be a happy pop sheen over all those songs that take away from the structure of the songs(see his solo reworkings of the Men At Work hits for further clarification) He is also a fantastic live act. Half of his set comes off as stand up comedy, he is an absolute riot in between songs, and a great storyteller.

    Would you call “Dirty Laundry” Henley's biggest hit? I'd think “Boys of Summer” would hold that title, or did “Laundry” actually chart higher? If anything, “Boys” is the one that most people know, and that still gets “several times daily” airplay on the radio these days.

    As for Heart, I also prefer the older stuff. Seriously, “Barracuda”…”Magic Man”..”Crazy On You”…that stuff is badass. “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You”, “Never”, “Alone”..pop radio AOR fluff. Mind you, it's GOOD pop radio AOR fluff, but there is a definite dropoff point in the band's recorded output.

    That Heaven 17 song is a true gem, and I play it almost everytime I spin at my weekly DJ gig.

    I will always have a special place in my heart for Robert Hazard, you can read my drooling fanboy rant in the comments of Jon's column from last week.

  • http://marcmaronrules.blogspot.com Michael

    Isn't Dan Hartman's “It Hurts to Be in Love” — 1981
    a remake of a Buddy Holly song or a Neil Sedaka song ?
    ..

  • http://marcmaronrules.blogspot.com Michael

    Or, how about a remake of a Gene Pitney song ?

    I know I heard that song growing up & it wasn't Dan Hartman's version..

  • http://www.bastardradio.com steed

    See, that's the thing about “Just One More Time”. With a different singer I really think I'd like the song – it is kind of catchy. I just can't get past the screaming.

  • http://www.bastardradio.com steed

    Well, technically “Dirty Laundry” went to #3 while “Boys of Summer” hit #5. Yeah, you'd think “Boys” would have been the bigger hit. I still hear “Dirty Laundry” whenever I listen to the radio too…so I have to think even now they aren't that far apart in popularity.

    AOR fluff – it's what the decade is all about!

  • Pingback: A Big Batch of Heart…Including “How Can I Refuse”…Plus Check One From The Headpins « Rock God Cred

  • http://imaynotalwaysloveyou.blogspot.com/ The Man I Used To Be

    I am geared up for next week…..Hooters, Hornsby and Honeymoon Suite!

  • Ray

    Also like the Heaven 17 song, but even better is their song Temptation.

  • Ray

    Also like the Heaven 17 song, but even better is their song Temptation.

  • Ray

    Also like the Heaven 17 song, but even better is their song Temptation.

  • musicmanatl

    No one commented on “Keep It Confidential” by Nona Hendryx. Awesome song. It was out when I starting working at the record store where I worked in college. She was quite the genre-spanner – kinda R&B, kinda rock, kinda cool. As a bonus, '60s songwriter extraordinaire Ellie Greenwich sang background vocals on it. :)

    I also remember HATING the Headpins song because it was screamed. Ugh. :)

    I saw Heart in concert twice in the last two years and Ann and Nancy still rock. Ann's vocals are as powerful as ever. I don't know if I have a preference for pre-85 or post-85 music – they're just different. And I always think, while the post post-85 music was definitely more commercial and more slick, if they hadn't made that change, we might not still be talking about Heart today.

  • aaaaa

    Heart bubbled under hot 100 with Bebe Le Strange. Ditto RObert Hazard’s Chain Reaction. Jody Watley was up for Best New Artist in 1987, despite being known for being in Shalamar(and to a smaller degree on SOul Train where they got their start) for nearly a decade before.