Bottom Feeders: The Ass End of the ’80s, Part 76
In the ongoing continuing education of Steed, I recently listened to both #1 Record (1972) and Third/Sister Lovers (1978) by Big Star. My overall general assessment is that it’s just not my thing.
I get the draw of the first album, and I completely understand how Big Star and Alex Chilton influenced so many bands. “Feel” and “Don’t Lie to Me” are great songs — there’s no way I couldn’t like them. But despite not wanting to rip it out of my deck, I can’t see a point where I would ever pick #1 Record up again.
I couldn’t get into Third/Sister Lovers at all, though. I was expecting a jangly pop record, but it’s mostly ballads. Way too slow for my tastes, and just a turn I guess I wasn’t expecting after the band’s poppy debut. However, what I did get from Third was how ahead of their time Big Star really were. I can appreciate that fact, at least.
There’s one artist in particular who kept popping into my head throughout my numerous listens: Matthew Sweet. I don’t think I’m far off in saying that he was definitely influenced by Big Star, correct?
Anyway, thanks for the recommendations. If nothing else, I always enjoy listening to music that other people are fanatical about.
Now enjoy the last of artists whose names begin with the letter R, as we continue to look at songs that charted no higher than #41 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the ’80s.
“One More Chance” — 1981, #79 (download)
“Work That Body” — 1982, #44 (download)
“Let’s Go Up” — 1983, #77 (download)
“Eaten Alive” — 1985, #77 (download)
“Chain Reaction” — 1985, #95 (and 1986, #66) (download)
I’m definitely a fan of early Diana Ross, but much of her later stuff feels like filler to me. However, for the purpose of this series, that’s pretty much reversed. “One More Chance,” the lame workout song “Work That Body,” and “Let’s Go Up” don’t hold up compared to “Eaten Alive,” which was written by and performed on by both the Bee Gees and Michael Jackson (one wonders why this wasn’t a much bigger hit), or “Chain Reaction,” also written and performed on by the brothers Gibb.
You see two listings for “Chain Reaction” here: The album version was released in 1985. She then performed it on the American Music Awards in a different form, and that version got released in 1986. Sorry, but I don’t have an MP3 of the later version for you. If anyone does, I’ll be happy to upload it and love you forever (or a little while).
“Don’t Misunderstand Me” — 1980, #55 (download)
Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, both guitarists in Lynyrd Skynyrd, formed this band in 1979 after recuperating from their injuries suffered in the plane crash that killed most of their former bandmates. “Don’t Misunderstand Me” was the only charting single from their debut, Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere.
“Goin’ Crazy!” is a good track to lead off David Lee Roth’s section here. I mean, the guy is a nut job. But he’s one heck of a showman and one heck of a singer. I’m surprised I even dig stuff like his cover of Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” but a song like that just fits Diamond Dave’s persona so well. “Stand Up” is a track that I’m not too thrilled with, though. The chorus is pretty catchy but the rest of the song is boring. The subdued vocals in the verses just don’t fit him very well. Why the hell would you want to subdue those pipes? However, it does have a crazy Steve Vai solo in it.
“All Touch” — 1982, #58 (download)
In a slew of semi-obscure bands in this series, Rough Trade and “All Touch” stand out to me as things that should have been bigger. They had a half dozen hits in Canada in the decade, but this was the only track to cross over onto the U.S. charts. They were known mostly for their lyrics about sex and lesbianism and singer Carole Pope’s tendency to wear bondage gear while performing. Probably kind of shocking back in 1982, but I’d bet pretty tame these days. Pope’s voice and delivery, combined with the look, always makes me think of Grace Jones.
“Play That Funky Music” — 1988, #63 (download)
There’s just nothing right about this at all. Checking in at #29 on my Bottom 80 Songs of the ’80s list this may be the least funky version of this song I’ve ever heard and that includes the Chipmunks take on it. The whole thing is just extremely cheesy from start to finish. The shame of it was that Roxanne (terrible name for a bunch of dudes) wasn’t half bad. Their debut record of hair metal wasn’t exactly going to blow the doors off the world, but it sounds nothing like this junk, which someone thought was just good enough to bury as the last track on the record. This is the perfect example of how to kill a career before it gets started. Shitty band name with a debut single that’s a shitty cover not representing the band’s sound at all.
“Over You” — 1980, #80 (download)
I’m ashamed to say it, but I don’t know a whole lot from Roxy Music. I guess that’s what happens when you block out everything from the middle of 1979 on back. In 2007 I went to a flea market and picked up my first copy of their final album, 1982’s Avalon, and I mentioned to the seller I was an ’80s collector but had never heard the record and he dismissed me like some back-alley hooker. It took that to at least get me to give a good solid listen to that record and Flesh + Blood, on which “Over You” appears.
“Anywhere With You” — 1984, #86 (download)
Funny, Wikipedia says this group is Roxy Music influenced. Small world.
“Anywhere With You” is somewhere between Blondie and Missing Persons for me and although this track is very cool, it’s easy to see why they weren’t a big hit, as it doesn’t represent them as a group all that well. They were almost like country new-wave and I’ve never really met anyone that wanted their new-wave and country mixed together.
Here’s a song that needs no introduction (so I’m not going to talk about it — if it needs no introduction, then it won’t get one).
There might not be another song that explains why Run-D.M.C. are the shit better than “It’s Tricky.” “It’s tricky to rock a rhyme / To rock a rhyme that’s right on time / It’s tricky,” and sonuvabitch if that rhyme ain’t right on time. It’s hard to imagine where the rap game would have gone without Run-D.M.C. on the map.
“The Spirit of Radio” — 1980, #51 (download)
“Limelight” — 1981, #55 (download)
“Tom Sawyer” — 1981, #44 (download)
“Closer to the Heart (Live)” — 1981, #69 (download)
“The Big Money” — 1985, #45 (download)
I’ve never been a Rush follower, but I understand the appeal to fans. Therefore, I asked Chris — my boss at my day job — to chime in since he’s a humongous fan. Here’s what he had to say:
“When Rush was putting out its early catalogue in the mid-70s, you could divide most people into two camps: those who worshipped their heavy take on prog rock, with its intricate instrumental work and Neil Peart’s sci-fi, Ayn Rand and marijuana-inspired lyrics and others whose primary reaction to them was ‘What is that awful racket coming out of that gargoyle’s mouth?’
“Anyway, that’s what I thought of Geddy Lee back when my older brother bought his first copy of 2112, so suffice it to say it took me a few more years to get Rush. Starting with the original studio release of ‘Closer to the Heart’ in 1977, they took a decided step toward the mainstream, and made an increasing effort to tone down ol’ Geddy’s screeches and include some shorter, more accessible tracks on each of their records.
“By the time ‘Tom Sawyer’ hit the charts four years and three albums later, I and a lot of the kids I knew were hooked (although I guess we were still a little out of place among all of our cohorts wearing one sparkly glove to school dances). Most of these quasi-hits have been staples of rock radio and Rush’s live shows for nearly three decades now, although ‘The Big Money’ and most of the songs from their ‘synth’ era have sort of disappeared. They’re a big reason why Rush is still selling a lot more concert tickets and records, new and old, than most of their peers from that era.”
“The Power of Love” — 1986, #57 (download)
There was a time when I wished death on Jennifer Rush for co-writing this track covered later by Laura Branigan (1987) and of course taken to #1 by Celine Dion (1993). But over the years the track has grown on me in all three versions to the point where I actually think Celine’s take is the best of the three. I hope I’m just getting old and not old and soft.
Say what you want about Will Smith, but without Men in Black I would have never really known the music of Patrice Rushen. I was familiar with “Forget Me Nots” before he sampled it, but I couldn’t have told you one other thing she did. That song made me go back and take a good listen, at which point I found out that she’s pretty damn talented. She was more of a jazz singer in the mid-’70s before transitioning to disco and funk in the early ’80s and more of a smooth R&B sound by the time ’82-’83 rolled around. “Forget Me Nots” and “Feels So Real” rival each other for her best track.
“When You Were Mine” — 1983, #87 (download)
Knowing that I normally hate covers that were done in the ’80s and also that Prince is my favorite artist, if I were you I’d figure that I’d rip this since there’s no way I could think this is better than the original. And well, you’d be right that it’s not better than the original, but wrong in the fact that I really think this is a well-done, pretty straight-forward version of it. And there’s definitely the sound of the producer, John Mellencamp, trickling in on this one.
Best song: Roxy Music, “Over You”
Worst song: Roxanne, “Play That Funky Music”
TOP 40 ONLY
The Rovers (1); Roxette (4); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1); Jimmy Ruffin (1); Brenda Russell (1)
Next week we begin looking at the largest letter of the series.