I was getting wistful for 45s the other day and went hunting through my old Grundorf cases that I used to lug from DJ gig to DJ gig back in the day.Â While flipping through those “back stacks of wax” it was somewhat shocking to see the vast amount of crappy singles I bought for God knows what reason.Â Some of the singles aren’t danceable, and some are so badly scratched and cue burned that I wonder why I didn’t toss the singles out years ago. But there they were: relics of an era in the music industry long since past, but also historical markers of the ’80s, when my brother and I trudged off to gig after gig with cases of 45s and LPs on the weekends.
Oh, and regarding the, um, preponderance of crappy 45s in my collection, I offer this defense:Â My brother had a 10-watt pirate radio station in his bedroom in the mid to late ’80s, and during the week we’d broadcast shows in the evening to mostly middle school kids listening at home. They would call, we would put them on the air, and often times they would request the most god-awful songs.Â The next day, one of us would drive down to Tower Records, plunk down a few dollars and bring home singles that would, more often than not, be stiffs on the charts.Â But for a brief moment, the pirate station sounded very current.Â It was all in good fun, and the FCC never came knocking on our door (probably because we broadcast so infrequently).
So, let me cue up the 45s and let’s have a listen to the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.
“Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Scorpions (download)
My junior year of high school was the first time I had ever heard of the Scorpions.Â To me, they were a stoner band — only because the stoners at my school listened to them — but if there was such a category as “stoner pop” back in 1982, I think the Scorps, Def Leppard and bands of that ilk would fit that bill. With their infectious hooks in the chorus, the melodic guitars and Klaus Meine’s theatrical voice, it’s a recipe for a kind of hard rock that avoids a lot of dissonant chords. Plus, the lyricsÂ in this tune are standard issue cock rock, or as Eddie Van Halen once explained it: “Boy meets girl. Boy inserts penis.”
“Coming Home,” Scorpions (download)
When I first flipped this single over, my first thought was “Oh crap, it’s that “Every rocker has a soft side” kind of song.”Â But the boys from Hanover find their balls and rock it to the end.Â As far as b sides go, this isn’t half bad — unlike some of the other selections in this mix.
“Only the Young,” Journey (download)
Maybe you saw the movie Vision Quest back in 1985 because MTV was playing “Crazy For You” by Madonna over and over and over. If you were like me, you were underwhelmed by the plot of the film, but the awkward and quirky Matthew Modine paired with the ultracool Linda Fiorentino made the film easier to watch.Â Journey’s “Only the Young” did well for the band (reaching #9 on the Top 40 in the U.S.), but this was kind of the last hurrah for Journey in its Escape incarnation.Â Steve Smith and Ross Valory were, um, “let go” and replaced with Randy Jackson on bass and Larrie Londin on drums for the next album.
“I’ll Fall in Love Again,” Sammy Hagar (download)
For the Vision Quest soundtrack, there wasn’t much original music commissioned — indeed, I’m not sure if there was any original music commissioned for the pop part of the soundtrack.Â Instead, Geffen Records seemed to stitch together songs that they believed would appeal to the suburban mall crowd — which meant peppering the album with proven hits.Â Case in point: “I’ll Fall In Love Again,” which almost cracked the Top 40, but went to #2 on the rock charts in … 1981! It’s a crass move by the music label, but it actually made for a good 45, because there are two very good songs on there.
“Don’t Disturb This Groove,” The System (download)
For years, I thought Robert Palmer wrote “You Are In My System.”Â That’s because I didn’t hear the System’s version until the early ’90s.Â Hey, it happens!Â This was years after they scored big with “Don’t Disturb This Groove” — a song whose soulful lilt was a nice contrast to a lot of soulless lilts that came out in 1987.
“Modern Girl,” The System (download)
Alas, the awesomeness of “Don’t Disturb This Groove” couldn’t seep over to the B-side.Â “Modern Girl” is just okay, but the ride out is so annoying that it makes me wonder if they were even paying attention to length of the song as they were producing it. Probably not.
“Electric Youth,” Debbie Gibson (download)
It surprises me how many Debbie Gibson fans there are on the Popdose staff.Â (I’m not kidding.)Â “Electric Youth” has some kind of hold on many members of our merry (and somewhat deranged) bunch.Â I’ve heard this song more times than I really want, but one thing struck me after maybe the fifth time spinning this tune:Â if I squint as I listen to the song, I realize “Electric Youth” is not so much a pop song as it is a concept song.Â With lyrics like: The future only belongs/To the future itself/In the hands of itself/And the future is Electric youth, Gibson captured the essence of vacuousness like no one else did that year.
“We Could Be Together (Campfire Mix),” Debbie Gibson (download)
For the longest time, this song was not available to anyone but those who bought the 45 of “Electric Youth.”Â I really felt like I was giving you a real treasure here, but then I found out the CD has it as a bonus track.Â Boo!Â As far as the song goes, it’s pleasant enough, but Gibson really sells it a little too much around the 4:19 mark and into the chorus.Â Every time I hear this part of the song, I wince because she’s practically yelling. I guess that’s what happens when you produce many of your own tracks (which Debbie did).Â You know, you kind of lose the more neutral ear of a producer who is not a performer.
“Sweet Freedom,” Michael McDonald (download)
The cover art for this single just screams “Cheap!”Â Take a still from the buddy/cop flick Running Scared, and just paste in a head shot of Michael McDonald. Brilliant!Â Thankfully the song doesn’t reflect the shoddy job the art department did with the cover of the 45. “Sweet Freedom” doesn’t scream “Cheap!” but it does scream “80s!” — but in a good way.
“The Freedom Eights,” Michael McDonald (download)
Unfortunately, it seems MCA was struggling for a flip side to this song, so they tucked some patched together bits of “Sweet Freedom” and called it “The Freedom Eights.”Â It’s a jazzier version of “Sweet Freedom”– but that’s not saying much.
“Say Say Say,” Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson (download)
Proving that he could still write silly songs that sold millions of copies, McCartney partnered with Michael Jackson once again and the two of them rode this song to #1.Â Heady times, indeed.Â McCartney then went on to produce and star the awful film Give My Regards to Broad Street and thankfully hasn’t bothered to bankroll vanity money pits like Broad Street again.
“Ode to a Koala Bear,” Paul McCartney (download)
See those two happy guys in the pic above?Â That was the apex of their friendship.Â After Jackson bought ATV (which owned the publishing rights to the Beatles catalog), the Walrus was pissed that Jackson whored out songs like “Revolution” to Nike, and the two really never spoke to each other.Â I would have thought that writing a song like “Ode to a Koala Bear” alone would drive a wedge into their friendship, but actually the song isn’t too terrible.Â When I saw the title, I thought it was going to be “Temporary Secretary” bad, but it’s just “Why did you put this on the flip side of a hit single” bad.