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.
“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
You can’t get enough
Open up the door
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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’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).
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.
“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.
“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.
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.