So, I took the readers’ challenge (sort of) last week. I said that I knew nothing from Gordon Lightfoot except for the song I posted — “Baby Step Back” — and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” On Thursday of last week, I borrowed The Complete Greatest Hits, a 2002 Rhino collection of tunes from Mr. Lightfoot, and listened from start to finish.
The first thing I can say is that Gordon really isn’t that bad. It’s not really my type of music, and I doubt I’d ever go back to it again, but that guy is a pretty smooth and mellow cat. I was told specifically that I had to know both “If You Could Read My Mind” and “Sundown.” Well, you got me halfway, at least. I had never heard “If You Could Read My Mind” before. I’m sure of that. “Sundown,” on the other hand, you were correct about — I definitely recognize that tune. I guess I had never heard Gordon’s name with it, because by title alone, it didn’t mean anything to me. The other 16 tunes were completely foreign to me, including the other ’80s track, “Stay Loose.” All in all, I knew 3 songs out of the 20 on the greatest-hits disc, so apparently I still can’t enter Canada.
And now, back to the ’80s — enjoy the 20 songs below that charted no higher than #41 on the Billboard Hot 100 during that decade.
These are two of the weaker tracks from Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam compared to megahits “Head to Toe” and “Lost in Emotion.” I think I’ve always been a bit confused as to what role Cult Jam played in the success of the group. I mean, the two guys that make up Cult Jam played the music, but the reality of it is that the six-member posse of Full Force wrote and produced all the material. Since they were artists in their own right, I’m not quite sure why Cult Jam was even necessary. In fact, despite not having any Hot 100 hits of their own, Full Force was actually pretty damn good. Their second album, Full Force Get Busy 1 Time!, is better than any Lisa Lisa album. Either way, there were lots of hands in the mix on all of Lisa Lisa’s music.
â€œGreat Gosh A’mightyâ€ — 1986, #42 (download)
This was Little Richard’s shot at a comeback. Macon, Georgia’s self-proclaimed inventor of rock ‘n’ roll was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the first class when it opened in 1986. He then hooked up with Billy Preston to help him write this song, which was produced by Dan Hartman and ended up on the Down and Out in Beverly Hills soundtrack. While it wasn’t exactly the comeback he was looking for, he still woooos and yeeeeahs to packed houses all over the world.
Little River Band have never been on my radar, though they had five top 20 hits from 1980 to ’82. When I think Little River Band, I think light country-rock, which isn’t necessarily accurate, but for some reason they fall into that category for me. So of course the two songs we have here are a cool live rock ‘n’ roll track and a pretty crappy, almost prog-ish song. It seemed to be around 1983’s The Net that Little River Band made a conscious effort to update their sound to be more “’80s.” You can hear the change with 1983’s “You’re Driving Me Out of My Mind,” which was a very poppy song with a horn section, and then 1985’s “Playing to Win,” the prog-rock song I just mentioned. They even changed their name by that point, going simply by LRB.
Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul
â€œForeverâ€ — 1982, #63 (download)
“Forever” is from Steven Van Zandt’s first “solo” record, Men Without Women, which was released while he was still a member of the E-Street Band. All the members of the E Street Band play on the album, including the Boss who actually goes uncredited. While the song doesn’t sound like anything too far from what the E Street Band would have done, my only issue is that I’m not a fan of Van Zandt as a vocalist. Harmonies are fine, but as a lead, he’s not a favorite of mine.
â€œOpen Letter (To a Landlord)â€ — 1989, #82 (download)
Living Colour is one of my favorite groups of all time. “Open Letter” is my favorite track off their amazing debut, Vivid. They didn’t really have all that spectacular of a career, but they of course will always be remembered as one of the first all-black rock bands to get prominent face time on MTV. As the years went on, they got increasingly quirkier with their music, ending with the odd, dark, and aggressive Stain (1993). They got back together in 2000 and released Collideoscope (2003), which was actually a decent album. Word is, they’re currently working on a new record for release later this year. (Nothing like getting back together and then waiting six years between records.)
Living in a Box
â€œSo the Story Goesâ€ — 1987, #91 (download)
Showing the weird way my mind works, I remember Living in a Box less for their music but more for the display of their first single on MTV:
Living in a Box
“Living in a Box”
Living in a Box
There may have been some before it, but it was the first time I had ever seen the name of the artist, song, and album the same and thus repeated on the video display three times. It sticks with me to this day.
I actually dig “So the Story Goes” a lot more than the smash self-titled single, both off their self-titled debut album. They released one more album in ’89 called Gatecrashing before breaking up.
LL Cool J
â€œI’m Badâ€ — 1987, #84 (download)
“I’m Bad” was James Todd Smith’s introduction to the Billboard Hot 100 chart, from his second album, Bigger and Deffer. This is widely considered to be the first rap song with the word “motherfucker” in it to get major airplay.
â€œHoldin’ On for Dear Loveâ€ — 1980, #75 (download)
Thank you, Internet. You know, right until this very moment I had no idea Lobo was a person. I just assumed they were a group. Released in December of 1979, Lobo is a blip on the radar of ’80s music, so I never really paid much attention. But lo and behold this was the 16th and final Hot 100 hit for him before a brief run on the country charts.
I love Kenneth Loggins, no two ways about it. He’s got such supersmooth pop vocals and such well-written, extremely catchy songs that it’s hard to not enjoy something from him at the very least. Even if it’s only “Footloose” or “I’m Alright,” that’s okay, but his lesser singles were some of his best. The most remarkable thing is that he had 17 Hot 100 hits in the ’80s, having released only three albums (1982’s High Adventure, 1985’s Vox Humana, and 1988’s Back to Avalon). Of course that’s because seven of those tracks were on soundtracks (both “Meet Me Half Way” and “Nobody’s Fool” would end up on Back to Avalon). All three albums are good, but High Adventure is the best of the three. For me, though, it wasn’t about Kenny Loggins’s albums, as he’s a singles dude — I’ll take “Heart to Heart,” cowritten with Michael McDonald and David Foster, any day. Actually, if you take a look at the list of 17, there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. So here’s what you do if you want the Kenny Loggins of the ’80s in one place: you buy the excellent The Essential Kenny Loggins (2002) and add these four songs to the end. That double-disc greatest-hits comp contains none of the songs posted here, but includes the other 13 from the decade. How ’bout that.
Lone Justice had its chance and the right people helping out but for some reason never really made it. Lead singer Maria McKee had the chops and the music was written and produced by superstars but the roots-rock-pop sound just never found its niche for them. “Ways to Be Wicked” was written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell while “Sweet, Sweet Baby” was written by Little Steven and Benmont Tench. Van Zandt also had a hand in writing “Shelter” with McKee. In addition, McKee tried a relationship with Tench for a while and yet somehow the pieces never fit. McKee went solo in ’88.
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â€œHangin’ on a String (Contemplating)â€ — 1985, #43 (download)
Loose Ends were an English R&B band that had a semi-successful run on the R&B charts in the ’80s. They had nine songs hit that chart, including the excellent “Slow Down” (#1) and “Watching You (Watching Me)” (#2), but this was their only crossover onto the Hot 100.
â€œIf You Feel Itâ€ — 1988, #94 (download)
Denise Lopez is pure middle ground for me. Nothing really good, nothing really bad and 100 percent interchangeable with probably 20 other artists. Good for her that she got caught up in this late ’80s freestyle dance movement and had her 15 minutes of fame. She actually had a Top 40 hit with “Sayin’ Sorry (Don’t Make It Right),” so maybe she got 16 minutes.
â€œWill the Wolf Surviveâ€ — 1985, #78 (download)
I’m sure I’m just not thinking of them right now, but were there any other Latino bands to have Hot 100 hits in the decade? If there are, they certainly weren’t as big as Los Lobos. Even though they only had three Hot 100 hits and will forever be remembered in the pop world for their cover of “La Bamba” they were (and still are) a very well respected and critically loved group. “Will the Wolf Survive” is an amazing track from them, taken a year later and covered by Waylon Jennings who took it to #5 on the country charts.
Best song: Living Colour, “Open Letter (To a Landlord)”
Worst song: Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, “Someone to Love Me for Me”
Next week we love the bride and get a final “encore” of the letter L.