Like, Omigod! Digging Through the ’80s Pop Culture Box, Part 27
New York, London, Paris, Munich, everybody talk about the back half of the final disc of this groundbreaking Rhino box set!
#11 New Kids On the Block, “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” (1989)
US #1, UK #5.
Dave Lifton – It’s garbage, but I don’t really see a point, 25 years later, in picking on a band that was never going to appeal to me in the first place. Next.
Dw. Dunphy – It is important to note just how vastly, hugely, mind-boggling successful these guys were. They had an army of girls at their command and weren’t afraid to use them at will. And it didn’t matter that this song made a eunuch choir sound like “The Super Bowl Shuffle” because they were singing it just… for.. .you, baby.
Cummings – I remember standing in a record store in the Adams Morgan section of DC sometime in the early summer of 1988, as the clerk played “Please Don’t Go Girl” on the store’s sound system. With no marketing imagery to dissuade me in the moment, I thought, “What a great song! What a refreshing take on early-’70s groups like the Stylistics!
Dunphy – Bite your tongue!
Cummings – …And then, the deluge. At least this ballad, while utterly lame, is not the sort of criminal enterprise (assault on the ears, and the intellect) that “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” and especially “Hangin’ Tough” represented.
Dunphhy – Okay, maybe I see your point. But I don’t want to. There’s a part of me that has just got its dander permanently up by thinking of a line of progression from Eddie Holman to The Stylistics to (wince) NKOTB.
Feerick – It just sounds cheap. Like, demo-button on a Casio cheap. And the vocals are thin and sickly, even by boy-band standards. There’s tough-guy falsetto, and then there’s this weak piss.
#12 The Fabulous Thunderbirds, “Tuff Enuff”(1986)
#10 US, and a Top Twenty just about everywhere else.
Feerick – …and then there’s the gruff and manly belting of Kim Wilson. Despite the presence of Jimmy Vaughan, the solos aren’t the real draw — check that funky right hand on the verses, though! — and it falls to Wilson’s charisma to carry the song. He manages it brilliantly. He’s palpably a macho lunkhead, but he’s a lunkhead in whose company you’re happy to spend three minutes.
Lifton – It’s fun, and I love how all the guitars work together, but they were always the weakest of the big blues-rock bands of the ’80s. Wasn’t the first single off their next album called “Powerful Stuff” and it sounded exactly like this? Material is important, folks, especially when sexist lyrics was, by that point, being done better by the hair metal bands.
Dunphy – It amazes me that this song was so successful. I’m glad it was because, even though the lyrics sound like they were written by a teenager, all the rest of this recording was so wonderfully anachronistic against the time it came out. While Jimmy Vaughn’s brother was toiling in the blues rock tradition, gaining a cult following but missing the pop charts, here he was applying much of the same ethos to a working-man’s narrative and a driving, synth-inflected rhythm, and it totally works. Kim Wilson’s voice was perfect and completely foreign to any other singer’s style at that time solely because it was so devoid of affectation. In the end, this song has more in common with ’70s UK Jake Riviera (Elvis Costello, Rockpile, Brinsley Schwarz) and the pub rock scene than the rising stacks of hair gel happening in the US.
Cummings – This track was pretty boss, as everyone else has noted, so I’ll just ditto those comments. But then the T-birds fell down a sinkhole, commercially and artistically speaking. What happened? And then Wynonna Judd, in her endless attempts to prove her blues-singer cred, coughed up a hairball of a cover sometime around the millennium that served only to further ruin her career and embarrass her poor sister further. (She covered Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” on the same album, which was slightly less vomit-inducing.) I used to be a huge Judds fan, which is why I’m prattling on about this – that, and the fact that I get paid by the word.
Feerick – Wait — who’s getting paid for the what now?
#13 The Outfield, “Since You’ve Been Gone” (1987)
The last and least of the band’s five Top 40 singles, peaking at #31 US.
Lifton – Oh. he’s upset that she’s gone? Maybe he shouldn’t have made it clear from the start that he was only interested in a one-night stand. Fuck the Outfield.
Dunphy – It’s perfectly serviceable, but isn’t a patch on “Your Love.” And I totally get that it stalled out at #31 because I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before. At around this time The Outfield was starting to blur into The Hooters for me. It brings to mind how hugely popular those initial hits were, how quickly they sank from the limelight, and although both groups apparently still exist in some formation, there’s hardly a blip on the emotional radar about it.
One thing that hinders “Since You’ve Been Gone” is that when I hear the title, I immediately think about the Russ Ballard song, or the Rainbow cover of it, or the Impelliteri cover of the cover (both were sung by Graham Bonnet, by the way). So I immediately snapped back when I heard the Outfield song. I knew it wasn’t a cover, but half expected it was anyway. I wonder if anyone else had that reaction initially.
Java Joel Murphy – The immediate follow-up to “Your Love,” was “All The Love In The World,” which was a pretty big radio hit in the summer of ’86. Got a lot of MTV play too. Solid song.
The first Outfield track I remember hearing was “Say It Isn’t So (You’ve Got Me All Screwed Up)”— brings me back to the fall of ’85. Great song. The over-the-top production may put some people off (I love it), but the melody/hook/songcraft is pretty undeniable. Definitely one of my fav songs of the 80s. Baffled it wasn’t a huge hit — or at least even a minor one. It didn’t even make the Hot 100. Thank God for 95 Triple X in Burlington VT (and a few MTV spins).
Medsker – My initial problem with the Outfield was that they were an English band that tried to sound like Boston, which offended this Anglophile to the core.
Having said that, I quite like “Since You’ve Been Gone,” though I haven’t heard it since the summer of 1987, and am afraid to click on the link and realize that my enthusiasm for the track may be overblown.
Feerick – What the fuck is wrong with sounding like Boston? And it’s not like there was any actual new Boston product at the time…
Cummings – OK, honestly, what is this song doing here? Let’s not leave it with, “Well, maybe they couldn’t afford the rights to ‘Your Love’ for the box, so they grabbed this instead.” Let’s not leave it there, because that assumes that somebody in the compiling room/email chain/whatever made the argument, “Dudes, we CAN’T leave out the Outfield! They were such a great band, and so important to the decade! If we can’t use ‘Your Love’ (tonight), we’ve gotta get something!” Sorry, but I can’t imagine that argument being put forward with a straight face. The Outfield were not important, were not a great band. They were just kinda there, and they had one really popular tune, and “Since You’ve Been Gone” is not it.
Feerick – Yeah, it’s definitely an odd choice for a package like this — “Your Love” is much more obvious, much better known, and still gets airplay. And, sadly, “Since You’ve Been Gone” mainly serves to demonstrate why “Your Love” is so great. They’ve both got those pristine guitar tones, the booming drums, the airbrushed vocal harmonies. But it doesn’t take anything away from the unassuming competence of “Since You’ve Been Gone” to say that it’s a letdown. It’s entirely lacking in the knotty emotional complexity of “Your Love” — it’s a simple breakup song, as generic as its title. That’s the curse of writing one truly great song: It becomes both inevitable and fair that listeners will judge everything you do against that yardstick, especially when it is one of THE best songs of the Eighties, and maybe of the rock era.
Cummings – As for “Your Love” … really, Jack? “One of THE best songs of the Eighties, and maybe of the rock era”? Golly. My wife loathes it, probably more than any other song of the decade. As for me, I don’t really care about it one way or the other, though I will suggest that – in the absence of any really distinguishing characteristics, apart from a truly abundant use of vocal echo – any song about a guy pleading with his back-door lover to keep it on the QT that he’s dogging his girlfriend, while also finding it necessary to mention that “I like my girls a little bit older,” probably falls just a bit short of that gold standard you ascribed to it.
Feerick – Oh, “Your Love” presents a morally reprehensible-scenario, sure. So does Lolita. But, you know, depicting something is not the same as advocating it, and it’s possible to make great art about terrible people and terrible decisions. Lolita is a genius piece of literature, and “Your Love” is a genius piece of songcraft, and for much the same reason — precisely because they both give us an unlikeable narrator and a nasty situation, but still manage to evoke some sympathy for the character by laying bare his own insecurities.
Add in the way that the construction of the piece reflects that emotional complexity — the cavalier, snotty attitude of the verses vs. the vulnerability and uncertainty of the bridge — the solo guitar opening, the staggered entry of the vocal harmonies, the key change with the solo into the middle eight, the “Be My Baby” breakdown of the third verse, the buildup of the drums and the chiming repeated guitar figure on the long outro – genius.
And it’s spectacularly sung. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Try singing it; that motherfucker can reach.
Cummings – Jack, we’re just gonna have to agree to disagree on this one. One man’s ick-fest is another man’s classic, I suppose. But I’m pretty sure the only “vulnerability and uncertainty” in the bridge is tucked inside the protagonist’s pants.
Feerick – At this point, Jon, I’d be disappointed if we didn’t disagree.
#14 Debbie Gibson, “Only In My Dreams” (1986)
Gibson’s debut single, hitting #4 on the Billboard charts.
Feerick – Surprised by how much of a live-band feel there is to this. There’s a ton of programming going on, obvs, but that slap bass and funk guitar sound pretty lively to me. Not a lot of shade or variation in the vocals — that’s where Debbie’s youth and inexperience really show—but then, it’s not a song that calls for a lot of emotional subtlety. Perfectly acceptable.
Cummings – I am an unabashed and unrepentant super-fan of Deb’s debut album, and this song in particular. I proudly played my 45 of it on a highly memorable night in May of ’87 when I was trying to impress a girl with the breadth of my music fandom. (That girl later became my wife, which helps with the memorability factor.)
Later that year, I worked my way to the front of a standing-room audience and tossed boxes of Red Hots at Deb’s feet while she played the song during a gig on Virginia Tech’s campus. I was 21 at the time. I regret nothing!
Lifton – If, in the mid-80s, the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School district had anything resembling the type of school spirit displayed in teen movies, I, as a Kennedy student, would still be hating Debbie Gibson for going to local rival Calhoun. Instead, it was kind of cool to have someone from the neighboring town who was only a year behind me have a big hit song. Even if I didn’t like it at all.
Dunphy – I suppose I’m a theoretical fan of Debbie Gibson, now Deborah Gibson. I appreciate her existence. I support her in all her current and future efforts. I am gratified that she cannot shake my love. But I have no burning desire to hear any of her songs at any time.
I’m a pig.
#15 Rick Astley, “Never Gonna Give You Up” (1987)
The song that launched a thousand memes; topped the charts in 25 countries. All hail.
Dunphy – Crap. Rickrolled.
Lifton – The bane of my existence at the time. Now I’m too old to give a shit.
Feerick – Another one-dimensional vocal. Rick has great pipes, great power, but not a lot of nuance. And the production (Stock, Aitken and Waterman again) does him no favors, either. Still, it’s not as dire as its reputation would suggest.
Dunphy – It had nothing to do with the song. The success that Rick Astley achieved came strictly from the magic trick of that big voice coming out of what looked like the guy you used to beat up in high school (and everyone used to beat him up… amirite, ladies?) But here he is, bellowing this booming soul voice. Of course the synth-pop track backing him is that shrill, brassy mess that constituted the top of the pops back then. Of course it all is an utter joke now. And of course, it is impossible to take any of it seriously — except for that voice that could have done a hell of a lot more than what it did.
I cautiously throw this thought out there. If Astley had hooked up with more nuanced collaborators, people more inclined to Simply Red’s style via “Holding Back The Years” (which we covered last week) than the Yamaha-bashing boys of SAW, Astley wouldn’t likely have been such a hit-maker, but we would remember his work with a lot less indifference or annoyance. He had a gift with that voice. Now we use it to trick people who think they’re going to get something good. It’s almost Faustian.
Cummings – I was trying to think out of the box for a way to explain Rick Astley, but Dw. pretty well nailed it. My comparison led less to Mick Hucknall and more to The Commitments, which came a few years later. Rick might have slotted brilliantly into Andrew Strong’s role as the singer. I’m not sure there was any escape from the SAW turd-blender — did any pop artist make it out with commercial prospects intact, besides Kylie Minogue? — but perhaps Rick could have relaunched with a standards album (he finally hopped aboard that bandwagon in 2007) or an Atlantic/Stax tribute set (like the Commitments soundtrack, but perhaps with less-obvious song choices). Anyway, as things stand now, Rick and Clay Aiken ought to do an album of duets, and count each other’s freckles while they’re at it.
Feerick – Well, it must be said that Rick Astley seems like a genuinely nice guy who’s in on the joke and who honestly just loves to gig. Last seen playing drums and singing punk covers with a trio in tiny shithole pubs, for not much money and not much respect; the sure sign of a man who straight-up loves his job. So God bless him.