CD Review: We Are the ’80s

Rick Springfield: We Are the ‘80s (RCA/Legacy)
Loverboy: We Are the ‘80s (Columbia/Legacy)
Bangles: We Are the ‘80s (Columbia/Legacy)
Eddie Money: We Are the ‘80s (Columbia/Legacy)
Scandal: We Are the ‘80s (Columbia/Legacy)
A Flock of Seagulls: We Are the ‘80s (Jive/Legacy)
Bow Wow Wow: We Are the ‘80s (RCA/Legacy)
By David Chiu

When MTV launched in August 1981, nobody could have imagined that the then-fledgling cable channel would become an important and influential arbiter of pop music and culture. Some of those determinations turned out to be somewhat dubious in retrospect, but it was the springboard for new artists with a photogenic, extravagant look (and especially in the early ’80s a synthesizer) to promote a hit single or two. The following artists whose works are celebrated in Sony BMG Legacy’s We Are the ‘80s collections certainly embodied ‘80s sensibilities. Although they never quite transcended the mammoth success generated by artists like Madonna, Duran Duran and Prince who benefited from the exposure, they nevertheless left an indelible impression with some memorable hits and big hair.

Some people might have suspected that it was serendipity or a marketing strategy that resulted in Rick Springfield having a #1 pop hit (“Jessie’s Girl”) and starring in a hit soap opera (General Hospital). The truth of the matter is that Springfield was a rock and roller way before acting. Years of hard knocks finally paid off with Working Class Dog, which yielded his breakthrough hit “Jessie’s Girl,” and a string of hits followed: “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” “What Kind of Fool Am I?”, “Affair of the Heart,” “Human Touch,” “Love Somebody,” “Rock of Life,” etc. Though the synths and a high degree of polish represent the typical ‘80s sound in Springfield’s catalog, they also carry an aggressive and edgy power pop that went beyond Springfield’s good looks.

Loverboy is the quintessential pop metal band…right after Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, of course. Modesty was never part of the Canadian group’s vocabulary in that a catchy hook or unabashed sentiment was never spared, following the implied ‘80s maxim of bigger is better. It comes to no surprise that a majority of Loverboy’s hits continue to receive some radio air play and certainly found a home in sports bars. Their macho jock rock yields some guilty pleasures: “Working for the Weekend,” “When It’s Over,” “Lovin’ Every Minute of It,” and the rock-meets-disco of “Turn Me Loose.” The power ballads “This Could Be the Night” and “Heaven In Your Eyes” are not as overbearing as one might think although Loverboy is at its best when they churn out over-the-top rockers.

The Bangles might have been perceived as a prefabricated girl pop group when they emerged. History probably looks at them now more kindly as a talented rock and roll outfit. And in some instances they also surprised you with their interpretations of other people’s songs. Cases in point: their cover of Big Star’s “September Gurls”, at a time when nobody knew who the hell Big Star was; a hard rocking cover of Paul Simon’s “A Hazy Shade of Winter”; and their interpretation of “Going Down to Liverpool” by Soft Boys/Katrina and the Waves guitarist Kimberly Rew. Naturally the group’s biggest hits came from the Different Light album with “Manic Monday” (written by Christopher, a.k.a. Prince), the lovely “If She Knew What She Wants,” and the mindlessly goofy if catchy “Walk Like an Egyptian.” Luckily the Bangles broke up before they grew predictable thanks to somewhat schmaltzy ballad “Eternal Flame.” One could make the case the Bangles were one of the better, if arguably, important groups of the ‘80s.

You are probably wondering: Eddie Money as an ’80 icon? After all, Money’s first hits happened in the late ‘70s, “Baby Hold On To Me” and “Two Tickets to Paradise,” two songs you won’t find on this compilation. But Money continued his hit-making ways well into the ‘80s with success, the biggest being “Take Me Home Tonight,” his best song with a great pairing with Ronnie Spector reprising her famous line from “Be My Baby.” More AOR than New Wave thanks to his gritty voice and swagger, Money scored some hit singles in addition to “Take Me Home Tonight”: “I Wanna Go Back,” “Walk on Water,” “Think I’m In Love,” and “Shakin’”. Unlike his peers, Money seemed to be more like the genuine article as a credible rocker.

Scandal’s lifespan was as brief as its output (one EP and one full-length album) but it left some memorable power-pop hits. With the catchy songwriting of Zack Smith and the soulful, raspy vocals and charismatic looks of Patty Smyth, the group was (briefly) destined for success. The Scandal EP was the biggest selling EP in Columbia’s history at the time no doubt fueled by two great songs, the driving kiss-off rocker “Goodbye to You” and the brilliant “Love’s Got a Line On You.” The Warrior album, however, was a glossier reversal to the stripped-down spunky sound of the EP. With the production chores handled by Mike Chapman (Blondie), The Warrior was ready-made for arena rock thanks to the ‘take no prisoners’ title track and some fuller-sounding tracks such as “Beat of a Heart” and “Hands Tied.” The best songs on this collection are the ones from the EP such as “Win Some, Lose Some” and “She Can’t Say No,” and as an added bonus are previously unreleased tracks from those sessions, “Grow So Wise” and “I’m Here Tonight.”

A Flock of Seagulls’ legacy will probably be more for singer Mike Score’s cascading V-shaped haircut than its music. Visual gimmick aside, A Flock of Seagulls, in its ‘80s prime, did leave behind some catchy, radio-friendly electro pop highlighted by zinging guitars, pulsating synths and a futuristic outlook. The group’s signature hit will forever be “I Ran (So Far Away)” with the exuberant “Space Age Love Song” and the ethereal chill “Wishing” not far too behind. Other tracks “The More You Live, The More You Love” and the funky Heartbeat Like a Drum follow the formula though not as memorable as the aforementioned hits. With a flood of synth pop bands that came afterwards, the Seagulls’ music is definitely a product of its time—only Depeche Mode was able to run from the pack and went further with the music.

Bow Wow Wow has the smell of Malcolm McLaren all over. After the demise of his Sex Pistols, the British music impresario/manipulator convinced the Ants to ditch their singer Adam Ant and then formed Bow Wow Wow around 14-year-old Annabel Lwin (who was discovered in a laundromat). The group’s sound was built on a pummeling Burundi tribal beat, Lwin’s more-than-enthusiastic singing and an affection for ‘60s-styled pop music (as evidenced on the remake of the Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy”). And typical of McLaren’s knack for flouting convention, the group’s biggest splash at its prime was the “C30 C60 C90 Go,” which snubbed the “Home Taping is Killing Music” message in the early ‘80s (which seems long forgotten to today’s current fight against illegal downloads by the industry); other songs such as “Louis Quatorze,” “Do You Wanna Hold Me?” and “(I’m A) TV Savage” sounded aggressive, eagerly grabbing for attention.


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