After witnessing a powerful, fun, and hyperactive performance by Five Iron Frenzy in St. Louis, Missouri recently, I had a realization -- the band didn't have many love songs. Only one, "Ugly Day", comes to mind, unless you count any of the songs from their Cheeses of Nazareth album (which I don't). Which is kind of odd when you consider that love songs seem to be the one common bond among all genres of music that nearly any fan, no matter how dedicated to their favored genre, can get behind.
But what seems to be ubiquitous about the music of the 1980s is the parade of love songs, sappy and schmaltzy, schlocks and classics, that permeated the airwaves, the televisions, and the theater screens throughout that time. My wife and I were recently talking about what made a great 1980s song so endearing, so passionate, and so memorable.
In a way, everything was new, so a lot of musicians were putting their hearts on the sleeves in the form of iron-on patches, others in the form of branding with a hot iron, and still others just kind of waved a heart-shaped bandana around for a while before throwing it in the trash. The music of the 1980s succeeded due to a combination of a revolution in musical styles and an exploration of subject matter. With that in mind, we set out to come up with this handy guide to love and relationships, as told to by the music of the '80s.
"Love Is a Battlefield" - Pat Benetar
"That's not true," my mother said.
"What?" we replied, as the music video of girls dancefighting pimps played on the television screen.
"Love is NOT a battlefield."
I have to disagree. Even Jordin Sparks made her own declaration about love sometimes taking on the guise of combat in 2009.
"Love Stinks" - J. Geils Band
Sometimes you just have to listen to your gut. When your gut has been punched one too many times by a sour relationship, this is what happens.
"White Wedding" or "Rebel Yell" - Billy Idol
I put these two together because as a DJ, I've found nothing ruins a wedding reception quite like a Billy Idol song. Honestly, when I'm taking requests and asking what songs people want to dance to, if they give me a Billy Idol song, I politely intone that I'm looking for song that will bring people TO the dance floor, not drive them AWAY from the dance floor. "White Wedding" is NOT a wedding song, but a song about a shotgun wedding. Two different things. And "Rebel Yell" has more to do with the wedding night than the party beforehand. So, yeah.
"Hello" - Lionel Richie
The impact of this song, I think, has more to do with the music video than the song itself. In it, Richie becomes infatuated with a blind college student, and while it does have a kind of stalker vibe by today's standards, it's pretty tame for back in the '80s. Of course, "Is it me you're looking for" kind of loses its punch when he's talking to a blind woman. Then again, that fact also causes the lines "'Cause I wonder where you are, and I wonder what you do" to take on more humor than I think was intended.
If This Is It - Huey Lewis and the News
I'll admit it -- I LOVE the music of Huey Lewis and the News, but I didn't like this song when it first came out. Man, was I ignorant. This is a classic example of timeless songwriting, in that it's been better remembered than "The Heart of Rock and Roll", "I Want a New Drug", or "Heart and Soul", all of which were great songs in and of themselves. Honesty in a relationship -- that's all I want. If there's nothing more to what we have together than what we've already shared, just say so and I'll split. Donesville.
You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) - Dead Or Alive
I don't know exactly what it means to spin someone right round, baby, right round, but I think the idea is that you make him crazy with desire. If only you were as androgynous and eye-patchy as he was, it would be a match made on vinyl. Two great things to note about this song: 1.) it inspired tons of people turning in circles on the dance floor, and 2.) it's in D minor, which is the saddest of all keys.
I Want to Know What Love Is - Foreigner
Talk about being needy. "It's gonna take a little time, a little time to think things over." Whatever, dude. Just get back on the horse.
Careless Whisper - Wham!
That saxophone. That gloriously sexy, sultry saxophone. Such a sad song to teach a young boy on the cusp of manhood about infidelity. Guilty feet have got no rhythm.
What's Love Got to Do With It - Tina Turner
You know, I'm not sure exactly what this song was meant to portray -- that love is too risky to fall into, or that a relationship has no room for love. Either way, this song was infectious and ubiquitous, and it put the question on the tongues of everyone that heard it.
Always On My Mind - Willie Nelson & Pet Shop Boys
Even though this was an Elvis Presley song, both Nelson and the Pet Shop Boys released their own versions of this tune in the 1980s, and we were all better for it.
Keep On Loving You - REO Speedwagon
I don't want to sleep. A song about forgiveness in the face of one's relational past. While I don't hold REO Speedwagon up as a standard by any stretch of the imagination, a romantic power ballad like this is something every young woman wanted sung about her.
867-5309/Jenny - Tommy Tutone
Creepy goes catchy. We all saw the scribblings on bathroom stalls -- "For a good time, call..." but we had the good sense NOT to call the number, because we knew that whoever would be at the other end of the line would NOT be someone named Jenny.
Another Day in Paradise - Phil Collins
At the tail end of the '80s, Phil gave us a reason to look beyond ourselves. Homeless populations everywhere needed more than just a song to help them out, but I'm sure this song did compel some to think about those much less fortunate than ourselves.
You Give Love a Bad Name or Living On a Prayer - Bon Jovi
Take your pick. Love 'em or hate 'em, the Aqua Net spokesperson from New Jersey thundered through the airwaves with these two rockers. One a treatise on love overcoming all working class obstacles, the other a cautionary tale about a user and abuser. Both equally fun and schlocky.
Rock the Casbah - The Clash
Love of music is the theme here. During a time of war, music brought soldiers together. The jet pilots wailed.
If You Leave - OMD
It was in the movie Pretty In Pink. So... yeah, that should be enough.
Tainted Love - Soft Cell
I've heard ill-conceived covers of this song, but none of them come close to the synthesized original of disco/new wave pop. You suck, your games are tiresome, and I'm leaving.
Under Pressure - Queen + David Bowie
I quote the lines, because they have more power than my commentary: "Love's such an old-fashioned word, and loves dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night. And love dares you to change our way of thinking about ourselves."
With Or Without You - U2
I can't live with or without you? One of the most beautiful rock ballads of all time, but confusing.
How Soon is Now? - The Smiths
Songs about longing for love were just as important as those celebrating or declaring love. Morrissey and company crafted a great, disturbingly catchy piece about holding on to the hope of love when everything seems bleak. One of the few alternative tracks from the '80s that stuck all over the place.
Kiss - Prince
I just want your extra time and your kiss. Tom Jones butchered his own version of this song, which actually wasn't half bad, but nothing -- NOTHING -- beats the falsetto screams of the master of sexy funk himself.
Never Gonna Give You Up - Rick AstleyThe late eighties were a time of musical revolution. New wave was on its way out, alternative bands were becoming more and more mainstream, and club/house/hip-hop music were emerging as the dominant genres in the clubs and on the charts. Rick Astley's power pop ditty about faithfulness was not only one of a kind, but pretty fun to dance to. And occasionally, someone asks me to Rick Roll a groom at his wedding. Of course, I'm always happy to oblige.
So, chime in. What's YOUR defining love and/or relationship song from the 1980s? Leave it below in the comments.
There Is No Box.