Week 26 of The Rock End of the ’80s brings us more from the letter J and a full post this week as the chicken noodle soup you Fedex’d me worked wonders.  So pat yourself on the back and play a flute solo as we continue looking at the songs that hit the rock charts in the ’80s, but couldn’t quite make it to the Billboard hot 100.

Garland Jeffreys
“R.O.C.K.” 1981, #25 (download)

Garland Jeffreys was a black rock singer who started releasing solo records way back in 1969 but had his biggest success with 1980’s Escape Artist. “96 Tears” was the Hot 100 hit from the album, but “R.O.C.K.” was a decent song as well from a very solid record. While it does have some of the elements of that rollicking Springsteen sound from the late ‘70s with the E-Street Band, I also don’t know if I would have placed this track in the ’80-’81 time frame. ’84ish would have been my guess based on the style but by that point Jeffreys had taken a little break from his records.

The Jesus & Mary Chain
“Blues from a Gun” 1989, Modern Rock #1 (download)

Thinking about this for just a minute, having a #1 song in this series isn’t really all that common. To hit #1 on the mainstream rock chart the song almost had to cross over into the Hot 100. It’s really mostly, if not all with the modern rock chart in ’88 and ’89 where harsher songs like “Blues from a Gun” solely resided. The song came from Automatic which alternates between boring and underrated for me each time I go back to it. It was the Jesus & Mary Chain’s most successful album generating this and a mod rock #2 follow up with “Head On.” They did actually have one song cross over into the Hot 100, in ’94 with “Sometimes Always.” But “Blues from a Gun” is really the song I associate with the brothers Reid.

Jethro Tull
“Fallen on Hard Times” 1982, #20 (download)
“Beastie” 1982, #50 (download)
“Lap of Luxury” 1984, #30 (download)
“Steel Monkey” 1987, #10 (download)
“Farm on the Freeway” 1987, #7 (download)
“Jump Start” 1987, #12 (download)
“Part of the Machine” 1988, #10 (download)
“Kissing Willie” 1989, #6 (download)

I can’t believe I have to follow up Jesus & Mary Chain with Jethro Tull – and of course the first track begins with a massive flute solo. I think Jethro Tull was the group I was least looking forward to this entire series. We didn’t get to talk about them in the Ass End of the ‘80s because their output in the decade pretty much sucked more than just that ass. At times I simply think it’s because I started listening to them in this decade and was so utterly appalled that I never wanted to hear them again but then just a moment ago a British co-worker of mine who’s musical tastes are very respectable called them “one of the top five if not the worst band ever.” So I don’t feel weird about sharing at least part of that sentiment right now.

It probably won’t surprise you that the vomit inducing Under Wraps in 1984 is my favorite Jethro Tull album. But of course you should have already known that if you follow my posts or this series at all. It was a shitty album using electronics and sounded totally Miami Vice-ish but since it’s the only record that actually sounds like it’s from the ‘80s, I can actually listen to it. I would never ever pull it out voluntarily though. If you’ve never heard the album, you can get a taste of it from “Lap of Luxury.” Then go ahead and listen to watered down ZZ Top feel of “Steel Monkey” or the flute intro on “Farm on the Freeway” that makes me want to pull out my jazz hands. Along with “Jump Start” it’s even worse that these three limp tracks helped them win the best metal grammy for Crest of a Knave – a story we all know by now.

I think most people consider Under Wraps to be their worst album but I think its 1989’s Rock Island. I just don’t get how you can increase your rock quotient and still have so much damn flute in your tracks.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
“Bad Reputation” 1981, #48 (download)
“Summertime Blues” 1982, #24 (download)
“The French Song” 1983, #30 (download)
“Roadrunner” 1987, #46 (download)

…And I think “Bad Reputation” is now my favorite song of the week. After listing to an album’s worth of Jethro Tull I probably would have thought “Dear Mr. Jesus” was amazing but it really is nice to follow it up with the bad ass Joan Jett. What I really don’t understand is how “Bad Reputation” wasn’t a crossover hit. It was probably just a little too punk at the time but if it had followed up “Do You Wanna Touch Me” on pop radio, the feel of the two tracks wasn’t that different.

The Eddie Cochran cover of “Summertime Blues” is pretty great as well, off I Love Rock-N-Roll. I didn’t mind her going back to the ‘50s and ‘60s for her hits because she always added balls to everything she did, so while it still maintained that classic surf rock feel, the punk rhythms added a nice fuck-you punch.

She even lightened her vocals on “The French Song” and it still kicked ass. Though my least favorite of the songs here it’s still a great cut off the underrated Album um, album. And “Roadrunner” is one of the best cuts off Good Music released in ’86. It’s a Modern Lovers cover.

Oh, and I’ve always had a major crush on her both before and after I found out she was a lesbian.

Billy Joel
“Scandinavian Skies” 1982, #38 (download)
“A Room of Our Own” 1982, #27 (download)
“Back in the U.S.S.R.” 1987, #45 (download)

I’ve always loved Billy Joel, well…until I hated him. But then I loved him again and if you were to ask me today, I’d be somewhere in the middle. I loved him growing up all the way until about 2005 when for some reason I decided that he really wasn’t that talented and started dismissing what he’d done. And of course every time I would talk shit about him, someone would slap me and explain to me how he changed pop music and I would realize that I was an asshole.

I think what I needed was a real good break from him as just like every person in America that listened to the radio you couldn’t help but hear a Billy Joel song once every half hour if not more and since every family in America owns two copies of Greatest Hits 1 & 2, it was impossible to get away from him. So I deleted the entire catalog from my iPod, don’t listen to radio any longer and got away from him for a good three years and I think that’s what reinvigorated me because I love “Scandinavian Skies” and “A Room of Our Own” both off the Nylon Curtain. Now I can listen to him again in small does and enjoy him one more time.

An interesting note about “Back in the U.S.S.R.” is that it was his first single written by someone other than him. It was on the Russian concert album Концерт (definition: concert). The concept of the concert was a huge deal at the time. The actual concert, not really that great.

David Johansen
“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place/Don’t Bring Me Down/It’s My Life” 1982, #28 (download)

As an ‘80s guy, I know David Johansen as Buster Poindexter. He of course should be recognized as the singer of the New York Dolls instead. But that’s my screwed up world of ‘80s music for you. Love this track from him either way though – a medley of Animals’ tunes released on his 1982 album Live It Up. Pretty damn rockin’, ain’t it?

Elton John
“Breaking Down Barriers” 1981, #36 (download)
“Ball & Chain” 1982, #14 (download)
“Restless” 1984, #16 (download)
“Goodbye Marlon Brando” 1988, #22 (download)

And then of course in almost all alphabetical lists that talk about Billy Joel, Elton John isn’t far behind. I never loved Elton as much as Billy but I won’t turn him off if I hear him. I don’t often pull out too much of his music to listen to and there is no one Greatest Hits package as good as the definitive Billy Joel one (even if that is so old that it cuts off the later part of his career) but Elton has my respect. And if nothing else he seems like a cool cat even these days and someone that would be really fun to hang out with.

I really don’t mind any of these songs though none of them get close to his big hits. “Breaking Down Barriers” is a decent song off the Fox and I’ve always enjoyed Reg Strikes Back and “Goodbye Marlon Brando” is a key piece of that. I think “Restless” is the interesting one here as it’s kind of cheesy but sounds very much like 1984.

Quick Hits
Best Song: Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, “Bad Reputation”
Worst Song: Jethro Tull. Any.

Also appeared in the Hot 100
Garland Jeffreys (1): “96 Tears”
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts/Barbusters (7): “Do You Wanna Touch Me” “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” “Crimson and Clover” “Fake Friends” “Light of Day” “I Hate Myself For Loving You” “Little Liar”
Billy Joel (11): “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” “Pressure” “Allentown” “Tell Her About It” “Uptown Girl” “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” “Modern Woman” “A Matter of Trust” “This is the Time” “We Didn’t Start the Fire” “That’s Not Her Style”
Elton John (7): “I’m Still Standing” “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” “Who Wears These Shoes?” “I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That” “A Word In Spanish” “Heading Hands”