Acceptable in the 80s

Last week I talked about the revelations about music I had in my History of Rock n’ Roll class, and I promised to throw down a list of my favorite songs of the 80s this week. I’m not one to go back on my promises to you, my loyal blog-followers, and so here I am with 10 of my favorite songs from the 80s.

As I mentioned in my last post, many of these songs were either directly or indirectly introduced to me by my parents, as this era of music was sort of “theirs,” as it were. Some of these songs I found all by myself, though!

Don’t You Want Me – The Human League (1981)

One of the things I find amusing about this decade of music is the large amount of songs that could possibly be misconstrued as romantic but are actually very creepy. (See “Every Breath You Take” by the Police.) This is… well, maybe one of them. Honestly I’m not sure if anyone considers this song romantic, but I know it fooled me for a while.

However, when I actually figured out what this song was about (Spoilers: A man begging his ex-girlfriend to come back to him, claiming that he basically gave her all her success and if she doesn’t they “will both be sorry.”) If that was the only thing the song represented, though, it would only be subpar lyrically. However, the second verse shows the perspective of the ex-girlfriend, effectively making this song a dialogue between two estranged former lovers. It’s messy and complicated and also, as demonstrated above, less-than-positive, and set to that synth-heavy and incredibly catchy instrumetals, it’s hard to resist.

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic – The Police (1981)

I knew I had to have a song on this list by the Police, or else my dad would have something to say about it. I was torn on whether I’d talk about this, “Roxanne,” or “Every Breath You Take,” but finally decided on this one for… reasons.

Honestly, I just think this song is adorable. Everything about it is so filled with joy, from the quick piano notes in the background of the verses, to the way the chorus picks up in tempo. The song dances between wistful and excited, taking notes from both emotions and morphing them into a feeling I can’t think of a name for but I’m pretty sure hasn’t been expressed by any other song. Adding that in with that classic kind of reggae but not really Police sound and you’ve got a classic. Also, once my dad pointed it out to me while listening to this song in the car, I really ended up loving the quiet restatement of the “it’s always me that ends up getting wet” line at the ending. A nice bookend to a beautiful song.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Eurythmics (1983)

We learned about this song in my History of Rock n’ Roll class, but this is one I’ve known and loved for years. Everyone has one or two of those media things that scared you as a kid, and this is one of those. I used to be fascinated by this song. The lyrics seemed so alien and forboding – “Some of them want to abuse you?” What? “Some of them want to be abused?” What?

And yet, as I’ve gotten older, the fear and mystery surrounding this song has compounded into a love. Because I don’t think I was really all that off as a kid. This song is meant to sound frightening and alien. I mean, just look at Annie Lennox’s sinister smile as she gestures robotically to a video of the earth! The song is meant to be so cynical in its worldview that it becomes something other, not human. The idea that everyone just wants to use or be used, abuse or be abused, is incredibly horrifying. And every part of that song commits so well to that idea.

From the pounding synthetic sounds in the background to the pounding, heart-like drum beat keeping time, this song oozes with style. Beautiful, thematic, unforgettable. Plus, Annie Lennox’s close-cropped orange hair is a look.

Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper (1984)

Okay, so, let me be honest here. I hate “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” I hate it not because it’s a bad song, I hate it because I was forced to perform a dance routine with my girl scout troop in elementary school in a barbie pink bathrobe to it, and that is enough to turn anyone off a song.

However! That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Cyndi Lauper. Although, actually, that is what it meant for a while. But then I learned a little bit about the role she played in the 80s. I like how she presented herself as a quirky, thrift-shop fashion goofball as opposed to the usual image women in music as sexy and glamorous. (Not that there’s anything wrong with women being sexy and glamorous… it’s just a problem when that’s all they’re allowed to be.)

And then I gave this song a serious listen. And boy, it’s actually a really beautiful sentiment with some actually really beautiful lyrics. Has anyone paid attention to the lyrics of this song? Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for that romantic stuff that’s also rooted in notions of friendship and just, like, being there for a person, but boy is this song heartfelt. I think it’s beautifully performed, and is just a classic ballad for the ages.

Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) – Kate Bush (1985)

I first heard this song when it was covered by Placebo and boy is that version garbage compared to this one. Is that a little mean? I liked that version for a while, sure, but then I listened to the original. (Well actually, then I realized there was an original.) The Placebo version is nice, but only original has those twangy synth sounds. Plus, the Placebo version is way too slow, it undermines the nice, natural beat the original has going.

But anyway, enough about the cover, let’s talk about this one. This song has such great atmosphere. Kate Bush has such a choral voice, strong and melodic, and I like the kind of echoy effect that has been applied… either on purpose or by the limits of 80s recording technology. I’m gonna go with the former. And as much as I dislike her own statement that this song is about how men and women can’t understand each other inherently and that they only way they truly could would be to “swap places,” it’s still a beautiful song, rife with emotion of despair over being unable to understand a loved one (male or female, come on guys, we aren’t hiveminds).

Tainted Love – Soft Cell (1986)

If I’m trying to think of a singular song to sum up my experiences as a kid listening to this era of music in our backyard hot tub, I always think about this song. I feel like it sort of defines the rest of this list for me, and may have even been one of the first songs of the era that I really ended up liking, probably because it was easy for me to understand, even as a little kid. It’s a song about a romance gone bad, the singer scorned by the person they one loved. It’s a predictable pop format, and yet I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it sort of pushed me down the path that would eventually come to me appreciating a lot of this music.

I can’t say there’s much here to analyze – it’s a one hit wonder kind of a song by a one hit wonder band. But there’s something so charming about it. Maybe it’s that synthetic “bum bum” sound that becomes a motif, maybe it’s the incredibly British vocals, maybe it’s just that I’m pop trash at heart. This song has just always held a special place in my heart, a special sort of nostalgia for an era of pop that, while I wasn’t alive for, I was able to experience through my parents.

Don’t Let’s Start – They Might Be Giants (1986)

I first heard this song in a tribute video for The Adventure Zone (an excellent podcast I’ve already recommended in the past). They Might Be Giants is a band I’ve been familiar with just for… you know, being They Might Be Giants. But I was so struck by this song I would watch that one TAZ video repeatedly, sometimes daily, just because it’s that catchy.

The lyrics are so clever and flow so well. There are so many beautiful turns of phrase in this song – I’m partial to the bridge: “No one in the world ever gets what they want / and that is beautiful / Everybody dies frustrated and sad / and that is beautiful.” Does that make me kind of emo? Ah well, I’m kind of emo. The meaning is a little buried under that beautiful language, but to me it seems like it’s about a relationship that’s ending. But that feels a little too simple for such a complex song.

It’s not just the lyrics that attract me to this song, anyway. It’s the driving force of those instrumentals, the way it never lets up, even seeming to outpace the vocals at times. It all comes together to make a song that grabbed me so hard I wasn’t able to stop listening to it for days… weeks, even.

Blue Monday – New Order (1986)

I talked about this song last week in regard to how the opening clearly shows how this era was a time of experimenting with new technology. But now that I’m here just talking about the quality of this song, let me just say, that opening is just so great. It kind of sounds like the backing track to a cool indie 8-bit game, right up until the low guitar (bass? I can’t tell) joins it, and suddenly it’s an interplay between futuristic and modern sounds, and it’s got this dark atmosphere.

That dark atmosphere continues right up into the vocals, which are low and sad with just a dash of that characteristic 80s emotionlessness, somehow. Every part of this song is really deep and full of all kinds of interesting sounds, from the glitchy beeps and boops during the verses, to the constant layering of the basic riff that makes up this song. It’s just a ride, and I can totally get why this was one of my mom’s favorite bands. There’s just so much going on, so much to listen to, that each listen feels like a new experience.

Need You Tonight – INXS (1987)

Another favorite bestowed on me by my parents. You know, I think there’s a lot to be said in how well this song is constructed. Every single sound, from the guitar to the percussion to the vocals… everything, is percussive and tight. That tightness is blends well with the meaning of the song. I don’t know if I really need to explain that meaning as it’s pretty self-explanatory. That slick, cool sound works well with a song all about sex and seduction. It’s a standard in music, it works, it’s good.

But complex analysis aside, the real reason I love this song is that… it just sticks with you. Everything about this song is just so catchy! The main guitar riff is simple but effective, and the nearly whispered vocals jive so well with the music it’s pretty unforgettable. A great song.

The One I Love – R.E.M. (1987)

I’m still a little unsure on what exactly this song is about. It simultaneously seems like it’s trying to be one of those sinister songs hiding under a veil of romantic language, but then it busts out with lyrics like “A simple prop / to occupy my time / This one goes out to the one I love.”

I suppose it could be just a song about taking advantage of those you love, and that would certainly go along with the dark-sounding guitar and vocals. Meaning aside, though, it’s that guitar and vocals that wins me over in this song. Contrasted with the repeated “Fire!” the song as a whole is subtle, but powerful. Nothing much else to say.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my quick little rummage through this era of music. I won’t claim to be an expert. I’m just an admirer of the music that gave birth to so much of the music I love today.

Next week, something completely different.

Advertisements

What’s Old is New is Old is New Again

I have this distinct memory of sitting down in my basement as a middle schooler with my mom and my grandma. We were playing Monopoly, or cards, or some sort of game, and I put on my current favorite music at the time – by my memory, it was “Empire Ants” by Gorillaz.

After sitting and listening to my pick of the music, my mom, excitedly, decided to share some of the music she used to listen to “when she was my age.” I don’t remember exactly what she put on, but it was probably New Order or Depeche Mode. I gave it my best listen, but when my mom and grandma asked me what I thought, I told them, “It just sounds too old.”

I can say my music taste has evolved a little since then, and I’ve actually come to appreciate a lot of the music my parents used to listen to when they were younger. In an odd, roundabout way, it’s become nostalgic for me too, just as it is for them, because they used to play it for me over our outdoor speakers when we would all sit in our backyard hot tub when I was a kid. That music is mixed into some of my happiest childhood memories.

I’ve come to appreciate some of this music so much I made a Spotify playlist with some of my favorite songs from the 80s, most of them stolen from my parents’ mixes and playlists I used to hear all the time. My first idea for this post was to highlight some of those songs and talk about them a little, but I’ll be honest, this has turned out to be a crazy week, so I’m saving that for next week.

So, for a shorter post this week, I wanted to explore a topic I’ve briefly brushed on in the past. There’s this trend as generations of music creators and listeners go on for older generations to shun newer generations. Whether it be for the perceived “shallowness” of modern music, or lack of talent of modern artists, or moral degradation of the lyrics, or whatever, it seems that older generations always find one reason or another to belittle the music of the youth. And this is something that has gone on for a long, long time.

See, my favorite class I’m taking right now is called History of Rock n’ Roll. My section of the class only covers music from the 70s, 80s, and very early 90s, but repeatedly we’ve talked about the constant evolution of music and how it repeatedly alienates the people who have loved the older stuff. It’s something I’ve definitely observed – scroll into the YouTube comments of any song pre-2000 and you’ll see a ton of people lamenting on how music these days just doesn’t sound like it used to – but it’s almost a little funny how reliable of a thing it is. Every generation, there’s some new genre or style or technique that gets dashed, and then the next generation, suddenly that genre or style or technique is classic and untouchable, and whatever new stuff is here is trash.

But being in that class has also taught me something else. This pattern has always come off as ridiculous to me because I’m a fan of modern music, and I think it’s deep and meaningful and creative. But I think in doing so, I was assuming that modern music was a progression from older music.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a progression in the sense that music evolves and takes notes from older styles and continues moving forward with that influence, but I mean progression as in improvement. I always assumed modern music was an improvement of older music. I mean, it makes sense. More time, more knowledge, we learn to make better music. That’s what you would think, right?

Well, no. Actually, I think what History of Rock n’ Roll has taught me is that music, more or less, is the same as it’s always been. I mean, there are new faces and new technology and new genres and new trends, but really at it’s heart, all music comes from the same sort of place, no matter what decade it’s from.

To explain my point, I want to look at the synthpop genre of the 80s, one of my personal favorites. The professor of my class, try as he might, can’t help but sound a little judgmental of this particular genre due to his apparent belief that no computer (or sequencer or sampler or whatever fancy-shmancy newfangled technology) can reproduce the emotion and authenticity of a real, actual instrument. But for that reason he really trashes on this particular musical innovation, pointing out how off and on it is, with no subtlety. “Every sound is even full blast or silent!” he says. “Everything is made with sequencers or synthesizers or samplers!”

And that’s fine, that’s his opinion. But for me, well-acquainted with the role of computers not just in music but in… well, everything, it’s obvious to me what happened with this genre. I hear it in every song in this genre. People are excited! We learn about all these innovations being made in sound and music production, and these musicians, these artists… they’re thrilled! They’re being given new tools to play with, and they’re playing with them.

I was trying to think up some comparison songs to show you, but I think no comparison illustrates my point any better than just the one song “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. Probably not the most unexpected pull, I know, but just give this song a listen. Sure, the lyrics are mourning the loss of the old way people made music, but just listen to it. The Buggles had so much fun with the new technology they had. They integrated it into their style, their way of performing it.

And just listening to any song of this genre from this era, I hear the same stuff. How about a favorite of the songs we studied in this genre, Blue Monday by New Order. Listen to that intro and tell me that that isn’t the result of a bunch of people who love making music being given a fun new tool to work with. It’s long and so unapologetically synthetic and that’s cool!

And you know, that’s how music has always been! And is now. I feel like a lot of movements in music are the direct result of someone who loves to make music being given a new tool to do just that. Whether that tool is a literal piece of technology, or a new genre, or a new trend, or whatever, people who want to make music are happy to do so with whatever is newest and most exciting. And listeners may not enjoy that, because to them it seems a betrayal, when really it’s just an artist having fun and expressing themselves.

And maybe that’s an uncomplicated view of it all. Yes, people don’t always make music out of the goodness of their hearts and excitement of their souls, but I feel like for every “sell out” there’s a lot more people who actually want to make good, innovative stuff than most think. And that’s what is happening today. The people making music with computer software and sharing it on Bandcamp are just like those synthpop artists of the 80s, or classic rock bands of the 70s, or rock n’ roll stars of the 50s. They’ve been given a new tool and they’re going to use it to make something incredible to them, whether the people listening like it or not.

 

Carly Rae Jepsen: Pop Princess, Lyrical Genius

A few weeks ago I was riding on a bus to Chicago on a scholarship trip, listening as I often do to Carly Rae Jepsen’s seminal album “Emotion.” As I was listening to it, I came to a sudden realization about the lyrics of a lot of Carly’s songs. They toe a delicate line between pop and alternative and do a wonderful job at grabbing the positives of both sides.

So I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at these songs to examine just how they manage to pull off this careful balancing act, and why they’re just great songs overall.

Continue reading

Reckless Optimism and Walk the Moon

Sometimes you have bad days. Sometimes you have stressful assignments, or unexpectedly bad grades, or technology that won’t work with you, or interactions with humans that makes you feel like a joke. And sometimes all of those things happen in a couple of days. And suddenly you’ve got a bad week on your hands.

When that sort of thing happens, the best treatment in the world is a Walk the Moon concert. I speak from experience here.

As most followers of this blog could probably tell, I’m a huge fan of Walk the Moon, and I have been for some years now. They’re my favorite band, and I have a hard time believing they’re going to budge from that spot for a while. But I’m not sure I was ever able to place exactly why I’ve loved them so much until I attended their Indianapolis show on their Press Restart Tour last Saturday.

It came at maybe the most perfect time. I was tired and stressed and done with school and with my responsibilities and with life. I was also, simultaneously, ashamed at myself for being so fed up with all of these things, since I felt like I was failing in all of these categories. I’m not so great at failure.

And then I got to go home and pet my dog. I got to go out to my favorite restaurant with my best friend. I got to get pedicures with my mom. I got to be with my mom while she saw my favorite band in the world live for the first time.

But maybe the most therapeutic part of the weekend was the concert itself. It was in the Egyptian Room at the Old National Centre. To those who haven’t seen a concert there, it’s a pretty intimate affair. It’s nothing but the stage and a large standing-room only area for the audience (as well as VIP wings with tables and chairs to the sides, but I can’t imagine trading the amazing view for a chair). The stage itself isn’t really that big either, just enough room for the band members to stand and face the audience, and maybe walk back and forth a little. It was stiflingly hot in that room, packed in with the audience as I was, and I stood the entire time.

It was my third time seeing the band live, but it was the closest I had ever been to them. I could see all of their faces clearly. Once the concert got started, I danced and screamed and sang as loud as I could. I threw my arms up in the air when the moment felt right, and so did the entire rest of the audience. At one point during one of their more romantic songs, the crowd near us parted to give room for a man kneeling down to propose to his girlfriend. (The band members, watching this happen, demanded to know the couple’s names so that they could congratulate them.) The mood was happy, energetic, hopeful.

And standing among the hundreds of fellow Walk the Moon fans, screaming every lyric I knew (99.9 percent of them), dancing and jumping and throwing my arms in the air, I realized what it was that made me love this band so much.

They are optimistic. Recklessly so. You can probably gain that from their recorded music only, but it becomes absolutely obvious when you see them perform. Walk the Moon mostly performs optimistic songs and even when their songs are sadder, they’re always with a note of looking ahead to better days. I can think of only one of their songs that is truly sad, and that one doesn’t usually get played at their concerts. (Though it is excellent).

But it’s not only in the content of their music, it’s in how they perform it. They’re energetic, they engage with the audience, they run back and forth across the stage. Kevin Ray, their bassist, always turns around and shakes his butt to the beat of “Shiver Shiver”, a classic fan-favorite that’s heavy on the bass. Eli Maiman, their guitarist, likes to shred his most complicated parts while striking rock-star poses. And Nick Petricca, the band leader, vocalist, and keyboard player, always encourages the audience to let loose and sing and dance along.

At no point do they bring down the mood. It seems they have no other mode except high speed, full energy, all optimism. They’re flashy, they’re colorful.

They’re unashamed of their positivity. Recklessly optimistic. And that is what I admire most about them.

I could talk for days about how much talent they all have, how fun their 80s-inspired sound is, how I love their often goofy lyrics, but it all comes down to that optimism. It’s the reason I keep coming back to them again and again.

It’s the reason that particular concert was such a cleansing moment for me, because it had felt that entire week like I could never possibly be optimistic again. What was the point, when it felt like I was failing in everything? What did I have to look forward to except more failure and more feeling awful?

But that performance showed me I was wrong. As far as I know, we hadn’t left the world, hadn’t traveled to some place where things were suddenly alright that night in the Egyptian Room. Yet, in that moment, I could still be optimistic.

Don’t get me wrong, when I came back to IU the next day, the same stressors and failures were there waiting for me. In fact, they were there with a vengeance that sent me back into a similar funk to the one I had been in before. And then, on the way back from class one day, I started listening to their new song “All I Want”. And I was surprised when a few of the lines hit me particularly hard.

“I am my own sanctuary,
I am my own hero,
I am my own teacher,
I am my own best friend,
I am my own Friday night,
I am my own love of my life,
I am my own way out.”

I won’t lie and say that all of a sudden I’m a master of fighting my anxiety demons and winning. I won’t lie and say that I never give in to defeatist attitudes anymore. But remembering what it is that I admire so much about my favorite band is an excellent reminder that that reckless positivity comes from within.

That was the energy I was feeling that night. As much as it was influenced by the crowd around me and the band on stage, it was my decision to laugh and scream and sing along. And it’s my decision to be happy, even when it’s hard.

I’m glad this wonderful band reminded me of that

Here We Go Again – Top 30 Tracks of 2017

It’s been another year. Can you believe it? Absoludicrous is about to celebrate it’s first birthday, and quite fittingly, I’m doing yet another Top 30 list, just as I did in the very first post on this blog.

(Speaking of that first post, check out my 2016 List if you haven’t already for even more great music that isn’t even that old yet!)

This year has been a great year for music, although I seriously doubt any year to come won’t be as long as the world continues to turn. There were a lot of comebacks from artists we haven’t heard from in a while, and that was a huge joy, but I also discovered quite a few new bands. I now work for my college campus’s radio station, and one of my duties for that station is to review new music, which has introduced me to a bunch of new bands I had never heard from before. Excitingly enough, quite a few songs from those artists made it onto the list this year! I’m really excited to bring you guys a list of great music both from well-known and less-popular artists.

So, without further ado, let’s have a little celebration for all the great music that came out this year.

Continue reading