Tag: music

Every #1 Song of the 1980s – Series 3

This series peeks into March after finishing with February.  Some of the years to this point had some solid champions, while others had a lot of one and two week stays.  Of course, the measurements used back then were much less precise (surveys of radio stations, record stores) compared to what we have now.  But I like this better – certainly better than the 8-10 number ones per year.  The ground rules and such are here.  So what are we adding to the list? (Series 2 is here)

“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson (1983) – Do this require a write-up? Really? I am not sure if anything will get a perfect score because I’m a grinch. But in terms of cultural imprint, a time capsule into the 1980s and a pop song which holds up more or less completely? Come on now. (49 points)

“Father Figure” by George Michael (1988) – This is a pretty perfect pop song. The album Faith had a LOT of really good songs, it is arguably the best album of the decade. (I have not put much thought into that – but it is in the picture) So it is something to say that this is the best one – and actually sort of does evoke the Taxi Driver-y video. But the way videos were so prevalent back then, I wonder how much of the is symbiotic – can I remember it another way? I don’t know. (47 points)

“Jump” by Van Halen (1984) – When I waved the criteria wand over this, this came up very high. And it should – Van Halen was one of the decade’s most significant bands, and this was both their biggest hit, and a perfect amalgam of rock and synthpop which would embody the time. It is not my favorite Van Halen song – and probably not in the Top 5 if I think hard enough. (1979’s “Dance the Night Away” is an all-time earworm) But the significance carries it a long way – and it is damn good. (45 points)

“Livin on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi (1986) – It’s my generations (well at least among white people I suppose) “Don’t Stop Believing” or whatever. Some rock song which plays in the bar and everybody knows the words. Like “Jump”, it hits a lot of the significance metrics – although it is not their best song, or the best of their four number 1s. But history has ruled on this, and I can’t blame it. (45 points)

“How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston (1986) – I noted this in Series 2, but given how difficult the end of her deal was, it is striking how easy it looked, especially early. As Bill Simmons noted when writing about her death – she should have been my age’s Streisand – but instead it was gone in 8 years. The spark is so evident here. (43 points)

“Careless Whisper” by Wham f/ George Michael (1985) – The number one song of 1985, it was released in the UK as a George Michael solo song. For the States, it was Wham! brand extension – which did not seem necessary in retrospect. Now this song feels pretty cheesy, but loveable. (40 points)

“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton (1981) – The early 80s had a lot of country crossover and remnants of the 70s. Of course, the former meant Dolly Parton. I remember this being a pretty big deal vaguely – I was 3. Listening to it now – the crossover appeal still holds, even it is dated. (35 points)

“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen (1980) – If there are knowing snickers now about a video like “Father Figure” given the truth about George Michael, the video for Queen’s first #1 in the US is a howler. Like “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie – it is tempting to condescend because it is not in the league of their 70s stuff like “Somebody to Love” or “You’re My Best Friend” or whatever – but it is a bit unfair. After all, if it’s pop cheese – it still helps to be good. It’s dated and a bit silly, but my affection is real. (32 points)

“Kyrie” by Mr. Mister (1986) – This sounds exactly like a random song from the 1980s I’d barely remember. Indeed I did. I barely remember the band – but there they were with multiple #1s. (I know “Broken Wings” more) It is hard for me to generate much feeling. (30 points)

“I Love a Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt (1981) – Early 80s country crossover. Like a lot of the stuff here, it suffers by not really culturally fitting with a lot of the other #1s. It feels like a relic. But to be fair, it is a perfectly fine example of what it is. (26 pts)

“Lost in Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson (1989) – There is very little defensible about this song, aside from the idea that Gibson wrote it herself, and it has some 80s kitsch going for it. I am sure there were people who got married to this. Yuck! (26 points)

“Seasons Change” bu Expose (1988) – Another silly ballad, but unlike Debbie Gibson, I had to remember Expose was a thing. Honestly, this song is fairly inoffensive. (24 points)

“Baby, Come to Me” by Patti Austin and James Ingram (1983) – Sometimes songs like this are the sort of thing that only happened in the 1980s. Yeah yeah there is the synth pop, but songs like this – smooth R and B, something Vandrossy – also is very much a time capsule. Of course when I was a it seemed like stuff only grown ups listen to. It still does. (22 points)

“Do That to Me One More Time” by Captain and Tennilee (1980) – This is a relic of the 1970s and sounds like it. Of course I had to pilfer a Midnight Special clip for a recording. It’s not their best song – and on its own, it’s not terrible (so far only 2 of the 48 songs are outright bad) – but it is decidedly unmemorable.

The tally through early March?

Song Artist
1 Billie Jean Michael Jackson
2 Rock With You Michael Jackson
3 Father Figure George Michael
4 Jump Van Halen
5 Livin on a Prayer Bon Jovi
6 Down Under Men At Work
7 Faith George Michael
8 How Will I Know Whitney Houston
9 Like a Virgin Madonna
10 Centerfold J Geils Band
11 The Tide Is High Blondie
12 Careless Whisper Wham featuring George Michael
13 Walk Like an Egyptian Bangles
14 Karma Chameleon Culture Club
15 Celebration Kool and the Gang
16 So Emotional Whitney Houston
17 Two Hearts Phil Collins
18 Need You Tonight INXS
19 Every Rose Has Its Thorn Poison
20 My Prerogative Bobby Brown
21 Got My Mind Set on You George Harrison
22 Owner of a Lonely Heart Yes
23 Maneater Darryl Hall and John Oates
24 Open Your Heart Madonna
25 The Way You Make Me Feel Michael Jackson
26 Say, Say, Say Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
27 9 to 5 Dolly Parton
28 Straight Up Paula Abdul
29 That’s What Friends Are For Dionne Warwick
30 Physical Olivia Newton John
31 I Can’t Go For That Hall and Oates
32 Crazy Little Thing Called Love Queen
33 Africa Toto
34 At This Moment Billy Vera and the Beaters
35 Kyrie Mr. Mister
36 Shake You Down Gregory Abbott
37 I Love a Rainy Night Eddie Rabbitt
38 Lost in Your Eyes Debbie Gibson
39 Say You, Say Me Lionel Richie
40 (Just Like) Starting Over John Lennon
41 Seasons Change Expose
42 I Want to Know What Love Is Foreigner
43 Escape (The Pina Colada Song) Rupert Holmes
44 Baby, Come to Me Patti Austin and James Ingram
45 Could’ve Been Tiffany
46 Do That To Me One More Time Captain and Tennille
47 When I’m With You Sheriff
48 Please Don’t Go KC and the Sunshine Band

Every #1 Song of the 1980s – Series 2

Well, after a rather long pause – the second round.  This takes us through to Valentine’s Day on each of the years in question.  The ground rules and such are here.  The new additions here?

“Rock With You” by Michael Jackson (1980) – The clear number one of songs that were number one on a particular day I care about, this was the second #1 from Off the Wall, one of the greatest brand extensions in pop culture history.  He died as a rather creepy serial weirdo, but it is impossible to explain to the kiddos how big a deal Michael Jackson was.  His canon still holds. (48 points)

“Down Under” by Men At Work (1983) – Honestly, there are very few songs which evoke the decade like this one. The video is unforgettable, and honestly – it still shapes my mind of what Australia actually looks like. Needless to say, I do not read a lot. (44 points)

“The Tide is High” by Blondie (1981) – Seriously, Blondie almost seems too good to lump into a survey of pop songs. Deborah Harry’s studied super-cool indifference is extremely magnetic, charismatic from anti-charisma as it were. This is probably my favorite of their big hits. (42 points)

“Centerfold” by The J Geils Band (1982) – The best popular song Boston has ever produced by among the best bands it has produced. It was the number one in the Top 40 flashback Sirius did this past week. There is nothing that is not compulsively listenable or singable about this. Off topic, power rankings from Boston (42 points)

1. Centerfold
2. Love to Love You by Donna Summer
27. You’ve Got a Friend by James Taylor
772. Summer Girls by LFO

“Celebration” by Kool and the Gang (1981) – If you have ever been to a wedding in the States, this might have happened. The song has aged well in its intended form. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be profound. If Earth, Wind and Fire were not a thing, Kool and the Gang would be way up there if all you wanted to do was be happy. (38 points)

“Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club (1984) – Boy George was the first androgenous pop star I remembered. While this is not the band’s best song – it’s awfully close. Hell, “Time won’t give me time” from that song probably explains the conundrum of life better than anything any philosopher has written. The video datelines “Mississippi, 1870” which contradicts how I pictured Reconstruction. It is hard to listen to this without smiling. (38 points)

“So Emotional” by Whitney Houston (1988) – She’ll come up a lot in this series. I have written about her before when she died. This was probably her fastest song – and certainly one which does not underline her chops. But it’s less croony qualities work really well. Honestly, when you see how hard dealing with stuff was for her, it is striking just how natural and easy this stuff looked. (38 points)

“Need You Tonight” by INXS (1988) – Actually, I remember the “Mediate” second half of the video more. INXS was one of the better more consistent acts of the decade – with a distinctive sound. This was their biggest hit, with a VMA winning video (back when that was something which you’d remember). (38 points)

“Two Hearts” by Phil Collins (1989) – I like Phil Collins. This is not something I will defend. It clearly will color the rankings here. He is often derivative of his influences, but fortunately those influences are things I like too. This is a pretty clear attempt to reach back to 1960s Britpop – and it actually works on that dimension. (38 points)

“Got My Mind Set on You” by George Harrison (1988) – This is a pretty silly, kind of indefensible song. But it’s George Harrison – and there is so much cheeky charm, that you kind of go with it. It has the same spirit of the Beatles. The Beatles, especially early, evoked smiles – this made me smile. (37 points)

“My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown (1989) – 1989 is really the year I got into pop music generally. This was near the top of the pops at the time – I think the Don’t Be Cruel record was one of the first tapes I owned. This was actually kind of risque 27 years ago. Of course, it looks quaint now. (37 points)

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes (1984) – Obejctively, one of the best pure songs on the list. I don’t have the same affection as for others – and it’s my list dammit. But this is a legitimately outstanding prog rock piece. (36 points)

“Open Your Heart” by Madonna (1987) – Honestly, this qualifies as lesser Madonna for me. This is still ridiculously evocative and the song itself is not bad. But really, looking at other stuff which she did in the 1980s, there were better songs. Of course, there is the peep show – ever the marketer. (36 points)

“The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson (1988) – The third single from Bad. This is a lesser Michael Jackson entry – which actually shows how high his floor was in his heyday. (35 pts)

“Straight Up” by Paula Abdul (1989) – For better or for worse, this unleashed Paula Abdul on the American psyche, and thus made her eligible to be a has-been by the time American Idol rolled around. The bonus Arsenio Hall appearance here is an extra point. He was cool once (?) (35 points)

“I Can’t Go For That” by Hall and Oates (1982) – We discussed them in the first entry of this series. The videos are just so awkward. This is not one of my favorite songs of their. (33 points)

“That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick and Friends (1986) – It’s pretty soppy, and the video has a lot of overacting. It’s a pleasant enough song – but it’s real virtue is Elton John’s curious wardrobe choice here. I am not sure whether Laurence Fishburne used it as inspiration for his gear on Pee Wee’s Playhouse, but I’d understand. (33 points)

“Africa” by Toto (1983) – Toto is one of those bands who have done more songs than you think. That 99 song, “Hold The Line”, “Rosanna”. This is their best though, and the video shows some of the characteristics of more ambitious stuff as MTV inspired these things to be more cinematic, and thus sillier. (32 points)

“At This Moment” by Billy Vera and the Beaters (1987) – Given that it’s revival was launched by a TV show (Family Ties), it had to have a high rating for 80’s zeitgeist. It’s a good song, but one I don’t remember honestly without looking it up otherwise. (30 points)

“Shake You Down” by Gregory Abbott (1987) – This is a song I like better than I should, given the genre and tempo. It is pretty dated now – but somehow the smoothness works for me still. (29 points)

“I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner (1985) – Despite the extra points for Lou Gramm’s rather spectacular hair, this is a pretty lousy turn for a fairly entertaining 70s rock band. The part when the choir comes in is particularly snort inducing. (24 points)

“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes (1980) – Like “Please Don’t Go”, this song really reads 70s more than anything. It is funny and cheesy, but hard to rank up there at all. (23 points)

“Could’ve Been” by Tiffany (1988) – The other big Tiffany hit, and does not age well at all. The earnestness combined with the tempo combined with her just not being that talented makes this hard to sit through. (22 points)

“When I’m With You” by Sheriff (1989) – The 80s were all about rock ballads. This is a particularly bad one. (20 points)

The Big Board

Song Artist
1 Rock With You Michael Jackson
2 Down Under Men At Work
3 Faith George Michael
4 Like a Virgin Madonna
5 Centerfold J Geils Band
6 The Tide Is High Blondie
7 Walk Like an Egyptian Bangles
8 Karma Chameleon Culture Club
9 Celebration Kool and the Gang
10 So Emotional Whitney Houston
11 Two Hearts Phil Collins
12 Need You Tonight INXS
13 Every Rose Has Its Thorn Poison
14 My Prerogative Bobby Brown
15 Got My Mind Set on You George Harrison
16 Owner of a Lonely Heart Yes
17 Maneater Darryl Hall and John Oates
18 Open Your Heart Madonna
19 Say, Say, Say Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
20 Straight Up Paula Abdul
21 The Way You Make Me Feel Michael Jackson
22 That’s What Friends Are For Dionne Warwick
23 Physical Olivia Newton John
24 I Can’t Go For That Hall and Oates
25 Africa Toto
26 At This Moment Billy Vera and the beaters
27 Shake You Down Gregory Abbott
28 Say You, Say Me Lionel Richie
29 (Just Like) Starting Over John Lennon
30 I Want to Know What Love Is Foreigner
31 Escape (The Pina Colada Song) Rupert Holmes
32 Could’ve Been Tiffany
33 When I’m With You Sheriff
34 Please Don’t Go KC and the Sunshine Band

39 Years, 40 Songs

Updating last year’s list of songs which were #1 on my birthday.  Anyway, here we go – and obviously this is an authoritative list that should be accepted as fact.

40. “Have You Ever” by Brandy (1999) – ooh, the mid to late 90s was a fallow period here.  There were a lot of simpering slow jams, and this was probably the worst of them, but the competition is fierce.  Brandy in particular sang these songs like she was half asleep

39. “Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton (1997) – really the comments for #39 apply here, although instead of low talking there is the sort of balladeering earnestness which can inspire snorts from heartless people like me.

38. “All For Love” by Rod Stewart, Brian Adams and Sting (1994) – I actually like early editions of all of these musicians and don’t despise Sting’s solo material as much as a well read person ought to.  But this is that special cocktail of simpering earnestness and low quality that can make really bad pop music.

37. “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men (1996) – I am detecting a pattern in the years here among our really shaky songs.  No wonder I did not enjoy college more.

36. “On Bended Knee” by Boyz II Men (1995) – It is funny – if I described the song (unironic love song, Motown label, great singers) in 1967, I’d be all in.  But a 90s version of this sort of song just doesn’t age well.  Really, only “End of the Road” is tolerable now.  This is too hard to listen to to even be snort-worthy.

35. “The First Time” by Surface (1991) – The only song for this study I looked up and did not remember.  That sums it up well.  Another 1990s disposable slow jam.

34. “Bad and Boujee” by Migos f/ L’il Uzi (2017) – I listened to this just for this purpose.  This is pretty clearly the worst hip-hop song on this list.  Slow,  but without force.  The rapping sounds half asleep but without cool.  It is tempting to put this even lower but then I remember how much I hated so many of those 90s ballads.

33. “Sorry” by Justin Bieber (2016) – It’s the first Bieber song I listened to on purpose.  I will always rank up-tempo-ish songs above the simpering dreck we’ve seem earlier, but that is not saying much.  It’s actually not that bad though – does that sound like a compliment?

32. “Grillz” by Nelly (2006) – Clearly the worst hip-hop song to qualify for this list.  It is a shame because a large portion of Nelly’s canon is quite good.  This feels like a lapse in reason.  Or maybe it’s because I am jealous that I don’t have a grill of my own.

31. “Truly, Madly, Deeply” by Savage Garden (1998) – Another simpering 1990s ballad, but significantly better than normal.  It’s not the best example on the list, but the more understated vocals keep this from being a total mess.

30. “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” by Michael Bolton (1990) – The no talent ass-clown  covered a forgettable Laura Brannigan song and did it quite well.  Really, this is a pretty good edition of a pretty awful genre, and holds up fairly well.  Or maybe it’s because it worked so well for John Oliver.

29. “All 4 Love” by Color Me Badd (1992) – This is a pretty indefensible boy band song.  In case you have forgotten Color Me Badd, this is the vocal group who brought boy band harmonizing to “I Wanna Sex You Up”, one of the cheesier pop songs of the last few decades – and somehow the biggest hit from the soundtrack to New Jack City.  But sometimes, pop music is as much about cheese which can make a sing-along in stuck traffic worthwhile.

28. “U Got It Bad” by Usher (2002) – Nearing the end of the 1990s-2000s slow jamz blessedly – Usher infuses a little bit of soul and style into a pretty disposable song – it’s not enough to qualify as “good”, but better than the other ones.

27. “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John (1982) – I remember this song because it played during my mother’s aerobics classes when I was a kid.  It is amazing that this song was a year’s #1 overall song.  It certainly has not aged well – really the kitsch is all there is.  That said, the song is fun – which is more than can be said about the others below this.

26. “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha (2010) – Deciding between this and “Physical” was tough.  You could go either way – both are sublimely silly songs which are hard to justify as year end #1s.  I guess recency is enough – as this song does not seem quite as dated.

25. “Let Me Love You” by Mario (2005) – If only there was a B-side by Luigi.  That said, it’s a breezy R&B song with some slow jam aspects but a much more pleasant listen.

24. “We Found Love” by Rihanna (2012) – The quality of the songs starts to increase here.  In fact, I’d say the next 24 are all at least partial thumbs-ups.  Rihanna’s prodigious success eluded my real interest in pop music – so others know her canon better than I do.  That said, this is a solid entry.

23. “Grenade” by Bruno Mars (2011) – Style is everything sometimes.  Bruno Mars here is no less earnest and simpering than some of the stuff which I scoffed at earlier in this list.  However, the piano and the tempo of the song provides a bit more of a dramatic touch – like it could have been in a musical or operetta perhaps.  It feels a bit more weighty.

22. “(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon (1981) – John Lennon is among the more overrated artists in rock history.  He was tremendously important of course – and really he defined the Beatles early sound, where you can see the band’s Rock and Roll influences.  Lennon’s voice was that of someone who played music in bars and clubs – and he created the hard driving sound that the Beatles became known for in the early days.  After the breakup, though?  “Imagine” is a very dated slog that tries too hard for its message – overtly preachy songs are always issues.  His songs lacked the craft of Paul McCartney’s Wings stuff, and his deeper material lacked the complexity of George Harrison’s, and he took himself much more seriously than say Ringo Starr.  The posthumous Double Fantasy contained some of his best work, including “Woman” which is undoubtedly his best non-Beatles song.  This song is okay, but it is hard to hear it and not think that his death drove this song’s success.

21. “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick and Friends (1986) – A song everybody knows, and it is hard to put anything Stevie Wonder touches so low.  It has some of the snort-worthy earnestness that came with those 1980s compilations – and the video is hilarious, at least the idea that the friends all hang out together.  It probably should be ranked lower, but it’s ubiquity keeps it here.

20. “Irreplaceable” by Beyonce (2007) – We’re at the Beyonce portion of the program.  Overall I am not a huge fan – and actually like the Destiny’s Child stuff a little better.  So a middle ranking for a middle of the road song.

19. “Independent Women (Part I) by Destiny’s Child (2001) – See, I like it a little better?

18. “I Will Always Love You” by Whtiney Houston (1993) – The soppiest song on the list?  Maybe.  But Whitney Houston was always a defining voice of pop music in my life.  Stuff from earlier albums hit me more – but a song like this does show where she could have been a Streisand for people my age.  This is a fairly indefensible genre, but she works it better than anybody.

 

17. “Low” by Flo-Rida (2008) – One of things that becomes clear as I ran through this list was recent years pop music has actually gotten better.  Now it’s not better than the 1970s or mid 1980s, but catchy hooks and bouncy beats have rescued the era from some of the horrid material which permeated the late 1990s.  This song is infectious – and it is nice to have a hip hop song about butts in here – somehow an era-spanning survey would feel incomplete without it.

16. “What A Girl Wants” by Christina Aguilera (2000) – Christina and Britney Spears came up at about the same time, and they parallel nicely Madonna and Cyndi Lauper coming up around 1984.  In both cases you have female artists who were popular in their time, and in each case you had one artist who actually could really sing.  In both cases Britney and Madonna had more success, but Aguilera and Cyndi Lauper were much better singers.  In Christina Aguilera’s case, especially that first album, it gave the disposable pop songs a dimension that Britney certainly could not reach.  This is a genuinely good pop song which has aged well.

15. “At This Moment” by Billy Vera and the Beaters (1987) – A forgotten song from 1981 which was revived because of Family Ties, one part of the ultimate TV Sitcom powerhouse night growing up.  Hearing it now, the song is actually more pleasant and low key than I remember it.   The sound clearly is meant to evoke jazzy standards – much like George Michael’s “Kissing A Fool” would later in the year.  Uncharitably, I could say it is derivative of old world crooning, but hey, it does work on that level.

14. “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga (2009) – Lady Gaga’s first big hit.  I remember dismissing this in sort of a grumpy old man way – because it was pop of this kind, and thus had to stink.  But I remember friends playing it during a camping trip and somehow it sounded different.  It’s still a dance-pop song, but Lady Gaga does them well.  No reason to run from it.

13. “Timber” by Pitbull (2014) – I like Pitbull.  The Pitbull Channel on SiriusXM is continuously listenable.  His songs all sound the same, but are infectious anyway.  I like how he insists on that sort of “non dancing” sorts of moves which would make him a dead ringer for a plaid-shirted douchebag if he were a white guy and not a sharply dressed Miami Cuban-American.  Making silly dance songs is not the same noble goal that say John Lennon had – but I have to tip my hat to someone who does it well consistently.

12.  “Like A Virgin” by Madonna (1985) – Really, this is the song that announced Madonna as a really big f’ing deal – even if you had heard “Lucky Star”.  It’s a song and tune everybody knows, and it certainly deserves its pop reknown.  Indeed that it did not crack the Top 10 tells you the quality of the songs that have been at the top near January 20th.

11. “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars (2013) – I am sure there is some recency bias here.  But this is a really fun song and the radio always stops when it comes on.  Usually I am a compulsive channel change – but this always gets my attention.  Bruno Mars is one of the better artists that the last few years has produced – indeed my 3-year old would approve (and will, later).

10. “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson (1988) – It is hard to properly communicate to youngsters how big a deal Michael Jackson was.  There are boy bands who make girls instinctively fling their panties and whatnot, and there are bands like U2 the world admires – regardless of whether its a good idea.  Michael Jackson had numerous issues and problems which can’t help but detract from his musical legacy, but his album drops and videos were clock stopping sorts of events.  He became a parody of himself later, and the criminal charges are what they are.  It is also clear that he never had much of a childhood and was mistreated by a lot of people who saw him talent and dollar signs.  This was the 3rd single from Bad, and while the idea of Michael Jackson macking on a woman is hard to picture without snorting, this song works.  He was a great pop music craftsman.

9. “Baby Come Back” by Player (1978) – The #1 song when I was born.  This list is littered with slow jams from the 1990s, most rather unpleasant in terms of quality.  A song like this one (and another one a few songs from now) are such a repudiation to something like (insert Boyz II Men song here) by just being so much better.  I sing a version of this song when it’s time to change my son’s diaper.

8. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson (2015) – Bruno Mars appears again.  You know this song.  Do we need to cover it?  My daughter loves this song, and she smiles and gives me a “Don’t Believe Me Just Watch!”  It has everything a party song should have – and when it was the first song to play at a wedding I was at, I wondered why so early when it was unlikely any other song would be better.  The video is a clear throwback to 80s Michael Jackson – which in itself makes me feel old.

7. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes (1984) – Progressive Rock as a genre has a lot of weird bloated songs.  Yes was a pioneer of the genre – and “Roundabout” is particularly rough to listen to.  But this song, an early entry in what was to be a really great pop music year, is a tight, elegant tune with a good hook.

6. “Two Hearts” by Phil Collins (1989) – This is probably the ranking which will inspire the most snorts of derision.  Phil Collins does that.  He either works for you, or he doesn’t.  He has always worked for me and I am not sure why.  There are no guilty pleasures – so I refuse to be embarrassed by this.  This song was from his movie Buster, unseen by me, and it intentionally evokes some of the BritPop of the 1960s (time of polka-dotted dresses, go-go boots and such).  It’s a terrific pop song.

5. “Down Under” by Men At Work (1983) – Vegemite sounds disgusting.  This is among the very best songs on this list – with a reggae-touched beat which is hard to remain angry with.

4. “Le Freak” by Chic (1979) – Really this is arguably the best pop song of the 1970s.  Disco is one of those things I have evolved with.  As a teenager listening to classic rock in a talcum powder white hometown – disco seemed ridiculous.  I wrongly fell into the same traps that classic rock fans fell into – talking about disco ruining the world of music, and supporting things like record burnings.  However, and this is a dirty secret that you only learn when you listen to a lot of 70s pop, disco flat saved popular music.  Seriously.  Paul Anka, Eric Clapton, countless John Denver songs.  Yeesh.  Disco rode into to just provide some diversity and some life affirmation, and when you had a decade of Carpenters and Captain and Tenille, you need all the help you can get.

3. “Hey-Ya” by Outkast (2004) – How the hell is this #3?  I am still surprised too.  Yes, it’s my list – but I did want to look at these things new.  This song still works and Andre 3000 is just so brilliant.  How do you brighten your day?

2. “Lose Yourself” by Eminem (2003) – Right there with songs like “Cult of Personality” and “Welcome to the Jungle” – this is among the songs I turn to when getting fired up for a competition (or a game where my team is playing).  It’s become cliche of course – but the beat and baseline is just absolutely perfect.

1. “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson (1980) – Really any of the top 4 would have worked here.  However, there is real soul here – the kind which sounded weird with Jackson 5 songs – and such a smooth beat and flow.  Michael Jackson produced many soul songs of consequence as a member of the Jackson Five – but his pre-pubescent voice to me, made it hard to really feel songs like “Got to be There” and “I’ll Be There”.  It helps to be a grown up to give love songs the sort of gravitas it needs to be special.  This qualifies.  I was too young to remember Off The Wall, but as a solo album to reintroduce Michael Jackson it is perfect.  I remember a magazine somewhere talking about it as the perfect brand extension – how do you not alienate your boy band customers while pushing into a new space.  Jackson managed that perfectly here, with an album that evokes classic motown while remaining wholly Michael’s.

Every #1 Song of the 1980s – Prologue and Series 1

With the start of a new year – and to do something besides sports ratings, I was inspired by the endeavor to rate every #1 song that was #1 on my birthday.  Updating that list was an idea, but I would be adding one song – and having to listen to Toni Braxton again.  So let’s do something else – and try something bigger – an entirely arbitrary ranking of every #1 song from the 1980s.

Some ground rules:

  • The decade is 1980-1989.  Nitpicking would say the decade started in 1981.  But common usage has clearly left the barn on that front, so I don’t fight it.
  • I am sticking with the #1s on the Billboard Chart.  The issues count weeks ending, so I do the same.  The first issue is dated the week ending January 5, 1980 and so that is our starting point.
  • These are #1s.  So, there is no Bruce Springsteen or Eddie Money, but there is Billy Vera and the Beaters and Gregory Abbott.  There is a Def Leppard song, but not that one.
  • I rate using 5 categories (50 points total):
    • Does it Matter?  Cultural importance of the song – and this can be a derisive earworm sort as well.  If I’ve heard of it (having missed the first half of the decade in terms of cultural awareness), that counts.
    • Capture the Decade?  A squishy criteria, but is it characteristic of the 1980s in a meaningful way, or was it a simpering one-off?
    • Is it Any Good?  Pretty straightforward
    • Was It Any Good?  This is tough.  Given I was 2 years old at the start of the decade, my memory of the songs at the time is often nil.  But that doesn’t stop me from projecting – so this is some guesswork.  But I think I have a handle on things which – if they did not age well, at least had obvious appeal at the time.
    • Wildcard – is it kitchy?  Was the video amusing?  Basically stuff I make up.
  • I am basically adding songs each week – so I do not know what the final list will look like.

With that in mind, here is the first batch of songs from the very first week of:

1980. “Please Don’t Go” by KC and the Sunshine Band – Among the most indefensible acts of the 1970s, this was their last #1.  Despite the video looking like an outtake from The Wedding Singer, this song has basically no redeeming qualities.  At least “Shake Shake Shake” is actually fun. TOTAL SCORE: 12

1981. “(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon.  Double Fantasy was released posthumously, and as is often the case with the dead – it figured that his biggest hit would come here.  This is not my favorite Lennon song.  “Woman” is a much better entry and has survived much better.  TOTAL SCORE: 25

1982: “Physical” by Olivia Newton John.  Yep, this happened.  Olivia Newton-John was famous before this for Grease and had many hits of varying quality.  The earworm quality of this song cannot (sadly) be denied and its place in the cultural library cannot be denied either.  My mother remembers this song from aerobics class, because well of course they used this song in aerobics class.  This song has not aged well at all, but it’d take a heart of stone to not at least smile.  TOTAL SCORE: 33

1983: “Maneater” by Hall and Oates.  Honestly, it will be hard for Darry Hall and John Oates to score too low on this list because of the sheer absurdity of the videos for their heyday songs.  This was no exception – Darryl Hall’s gyrating early on looks like a medical condition more than anything.  The videos made it easy to condescend back then – but really their stuff has aged better than it had any right to.  TOTAL SCORE: 36

1984: “Say, Say, Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.  This is the better of the two songs produced by the short lived bromance.  Buying your friend’s life’s work will do that. This was obviously right in the middle of Michael Jackson’s prime as the biggest pop star on earth.  I would consider it “lesser” to some of his other stuff clearly.  TOTAL SCORE: 35

1985: “Like A Virgin” by Madonna.  Of the first batch of songs here, pretty clearly the most culturally significant.  Madonna had hits before – but this was the start of where things began to escalate quickly.  A catchy song with a lot of time on a gondola.  TOTAL SCORE: 43

1986: “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie.  Nostalgia for the 1980s conveniently forgets that Richie’s crooning is all over the decade.  He has such a big hit that ABC exhumed him to perform at this year’s New Years Eve thing.  He wrote Kenny Rogers’ biggest hit.  This song is pretty typical of Richie’s solo work – the sort of thing which tearfully gets requested as a dedication and makes me puke in my mouth a little.   TOTAL SCORE: 26

1987: “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles.  This was the #1 song of 1987, and deservedly so – in that  sort of “song of a year” sort of way.  It definitely has the markers of the sort of song “everyone knew” at the time.  There was a silly dance and the song is clearly ridiculously catchy.  TOTAL SCORE: 39

1988: “Faith” by George Michael.  The #1 song of 1988, I tried to make sure not to give him extra points for his recent death.  But really, I don’t think that is a problem.  Faith may or may not be the best album of the decade – but it is among the few which still plays without requiring nostalgia.  There are lot of near perfect pop singles on the album, and “Faith” is certainly on that list.  TOTAL SCORE: 44

1989: “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison.  Like a lot of Bon Jovi – this is not something I thought at the time would actually survive.  But sure enough, it’s a staple of classic rock, has been covered numerous times, and really is the best of the “monster ballad” subgenre that came out of the decade.  Plus, it gave a terrific punchline to a favorite Chappelle’s Show bit  TOTAL SCORE: 37

SUMMARY TO DATE:

  1. “Faith” by George Michael – 44
  2. “Like A Virgin” by Madonna – 43
  3. “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles – 39
  4. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison – 37
  5. “Maneater” by Darryl Hall and John Oates – 36
  6. “Say, Say, Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson – 35
  7. “Physical” by Olivia Newton John – 33
  8. “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie – 26
  9. “(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon – 25
  10. “Please Don’t Go” by KC and the Sunshine Band – 12

38 Years, 39 Songs

As the previous post hopefully indicated, I’d like to read and write more (non-sports stuff of course) – and so one of the ideas I had been spinning in my head since one of my friends talked about looking at every year end Top 10 for his 40th birthday.  The problem with both my resolution to write and this sort of exercise is that I’m lazy – but I thought laying music across my lifetime would at least be interesting.

As such – with my own birthday awfully darn close, here is a countdown ranking of every song that was #1 on my birthday from age zero to now.  I tried to listen to all of these fresh, and then to try to eliminate old guy bias.  There were a lot of crappy songs in 1989 too.  Anyway, here we go – and obviously this is an authoritative list that should be accepted as fact.

39. “Have You Ever” by Brandy (1999) – ooh, the mid to late 90s was a fallow period here.  There were a lot of simpering slow jams, and this was probably the worst of them, but the competition is fierce.  Brandy in particular sang these songs like she was half asleep

38. “Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton (1997) – really the comments for #39 apply here, although instead of low talking there is the sort of balladeering earnestness which can inspire snorts from heartless people like me.

37. “All For Love” by Rod Stewart, Brian Adams and Sting (1994) – I actually like early editions of all of these musicians and don’t despise Sting’s solo material as much as a well read person ought to.  But this is that special cocktail of simpering earnestness and low quality that can make really bad pop music.

36. “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men (1996) – I am detecting a pattern in the years here among our really shaky songs.  No wonder I did not enjoy college more.

35. “On Bended Knee” by Boyz II Men (1995) – Really, only “End of the Road” is tolerable now.  This is too hard to listen to to even be snort-worthy.

34. “The First Time” by Surface (1991) – The only song for this study I looked up and did not remember.  That sums it up well.  Another 1990s disposable slow jam.

33. “Sorry” by Justin Bieber (2016) – It’s the first Bieber song I listened to on purpose.  I will always rank up-tempo-ish songs above the simpering dreck in the previous 6 entries, but that is not saying much.  It’s actually not that bad though – does that sound like a compliment?

32. “Grillz” by Nelly (2006) – Clearly the worst hip-hop song to qualify for this list.  It is a shame because a large portion of Nelly’s canon is quite good.  This feels like a lapse in reason.  Or maybe it’s because I am jealous that I don’t have a grill of my own.

31. “Truly, Madly, Deeply” by Savage Garden (1998) – Another simpering 1990s ballad, but significantly better than normal.  It’s not the best example on the list, but the more understated vocals keep this from being a total mess.

30. “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” by Michael Bolton (1990) – The no talent ass-clown  covered a forgettable Laura Brannigan song and did it quite well.  Really, this is a pretty good edition of a pretty awful genre, and holds up fairly well.  Or maybe it’s because it worked so well for John Oliver.

29. “All 4 Love” by Color Me Badd (1992) – This is a pretty indefensible boy band song.  In case you have forgotten Color Me Badd, this is the vocal group who brought boy band harmonizing to “I Wanna Sex You Up”, one of the cheesier pop songs of the last few decades – and somehow the biggest hit from the soundtrack to New Jack City.  But sometimes, pop music is as much about cheese which can make a sing-along in stuck traffic worthwhile.

28. “U Got It Bad” by Usher (2002) – Nearing the end of the 1990s-2000s slow jamz blessedly – Usher infuses a little bit of soul and style into a pretty disposable song – it’s not enough to qualify as “good”, but better than the other ones.

27. “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John (1982) – I remember this song because it played during my mother’s aerobics classes when I was a kid.  It is amazing that this song was a year’s #1 overall song.  It certainly has not aged well – really the kitsch is all there is.  That said, the song is fun – which is more than can be said about the others below this.

26. “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha (2010) – Deciding between this and “Physical” was tough.  You could go either way – both are sublimely silly songs which are hard to justify as year end #1s.  I guess recency is enough – as this song does not seem quite as dated.

25. “Let Me Love You” by Mario (1982) – If only there was a B-side by Luigi.  That said, it’s a breezy R&B song with some slow jam aspects but a much more pleasant listen.

24. “We Found Love” by Rihanna (2012) – The quality of the songs starts to increase here.  In fact, I’d say the next 24 are all at least partial thumbs-ups.  Rihanna’s prodigious success eluded by real interest in pop music – so others know her canon better than I do.  That said, this is a solid entry.

23. “Grenade” by Bruno Mars (2011) – Style is everything sometimes.  Bruno Mars here is no less earnest and simpering than some of the stuff which I scoffed at earlier in this list.  However, the piano and the tempo of the song provides a bit more of a dramatic touch – like it could have been in a musical or operetta perhaps.  It feels a bit more weighty.

22. “(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon (1981) – John Lennon is among the more overrated artists in rock history.  He was tremendously important of course – and really he defined the Beatles early sound, where you can see the band’s Rock and Roll influences.  Lennon’s voice was that of someone who played music in bars and clubs – and he created the hard driving sound that the Beatles became known for in the early days.  After the breakup, though?  “Imagine” is a very dated slog that tries too hard for its message – overtly preachy songs are always issues.  His songs lacked the craft of Paul McCartney’s Wings stuff, and his deeper material lacked the complexity of George Harrison’s, and he took himself much more seriously than say Ringo Starr.  The posthumous Double Fantasy contained some of his best work, including “Woman” which is undoubtedly his best non-Beatles song.  This song is okay, but it is hard to hear it and not think that his death drove this song’s success.

21. “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick and Friends (1986) – A song everybody knows, and it is hard to put anything Stevie Wonder touches so low.  It has some of the snort-worthy earnestness that came with those 1980s compilations – and the video is hilarious, at least the idea that the friends all hang out together.  It probably should be ranked lower, but it’s ubiquity keeps it here.

20. “Irreplaceable” by Beyonce (2007) – We’re at the Beyonce portion of the program.  Overall I am not a huge fan – and actually like the Destiny’s Child stuff a little better.  So a middle ranking for a middle of the road song.

19. “Independent Women (Part I) by Destiny’s Child (2001) – See, I like it a little better?

18. “I Will Always Love You” by Whtiney Houston (1993) – The soppiest song on the list?  Maybe.  But Whitney Houston was always a defining voice of pop music in my life.  Stuff from earlier albums hit me more – but a song like this does show where she could have been a Streisand for people my age.  This is a fairly indefensible genre, but she works it better than anybody.

17. “At This Moment” by Billy Vera and the Beaters (1987) – A forgotten song from 1981 which was revived because of Family Ties, one part of the ultimate TV Sitcom powerhouse night growing up.  Hearing it now, the song is actually more pleasant and low key than I remember it.   The sound clearly is meant to evoke jazzy standards – much like George Michael’s “Kissing A Fool” would later in the year.  Uncharitably, I could say it is derivative of old world crooning, but hey, it does work on that level.

16. “Low” by Flo-Rida (2008) – One of things that becomes clear as I ran through this list was recent years pop music has actually gotten better.  Now it’s not better than the 1970s or mid 1980s, but catchy hooks and bouncy beats have rescued the era from some of the horrid material which permeated the late 1990s.  This song is infectious – and it is nice to have a hip hop song about butts in here – somehow an era-spanning survey would feel incomplete without it.

15. “What A Girl Wants” by Christina Aguilera (2000) – Christina and Britney Spears came up at about the same time, and they parallel nicely Madonna and Cyndi Lauper coming up around 1984.  In both cases you have female artists who were popular in their time, and in each case you had one artist who actually could really sing.  In both cases Britney and Madonna had more success, but Aguilera and Cyndi Lauper were much better singers.  In Christina Aguilera’s case, especially that first album, it gave the disposable pop songs a dimension that Britney certainly could not reach.  This is a genuinely good pop song which has aged well.

14. “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga (2009) – Lady Gaga’s first big hit.  I remember dismissing this in sort of a grumpy old man way – because it was pop of this kind, and thus had to stink.  But I remember friends playing it during a camping trip and somehow it sounded different.  It’s still a dance-pop song, but Lady Gaga does them well.  No reason to run from it.

13. “Timber” by Pitbull (2014) – I like Pitbull.  The Pitbull Channel on SiriusXM is continuously listenable.  His songs all sound the same, but are infectious anyway.  I like how he insists on that sort of “non dancing” sorts of moves which would make him a dead ringer for a plaid-shirted douchebag if he were a white guy and not a sharply dressed Miami Cuban-American.  Making silly dance songs is not the same noble goal that say John Lennon had – but I have to tip my hat to someone who does it well consistently.

12.  “Like A Virgin” by Madonna (1985) – Really, this is the song that announced Madonna as a really big f’ing deal – even if you had heard “Lucky Star”.  It’s a song and tune everybody knows, and it certainly deserves its pop reknown.  Indeed that it did not crack the Top 10 tells you the quality of the songs that have been at the top near January 20th.

11. “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars (2013) – I am sure there is some recency bias here.  But this is a really fun song and the radio always stops when it comes on.  Usually I am a compulsive channel change – but this always gets my attention.  Bruno Mars is one of the better artists that the last few years has produced – indeed my 3-year old would approve (and will, later).

10. “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson (1988) – It is hard to properly communicate to youngsters how big a deal Michael Jackson was.  There are boy bands who make girls instinctively fling their panties and whatnot, and there are bands like U2 the world admires – regardless of whether its a good idea.  Michael Jackson had numerous issues and problems which can’t help but detract from his musical legacy, but his album drops and videos were clock stopping sorts of events.  He became a parody of himself later, and the criminal charges are what they are.  It is also clear that he never had much of a childhood and was mistreated by a lot of people who saw him talent and dollar signs.  This was the 3rd single from Bad, and while the idea of Michael Jackson macking on a woman is hard to picture without snorting, this song works.  He was a great pop music craftsman.

9. “Baby Come Back” by Player (1978) – The #1 song when I was born.  This list is littered with slow jams from the 1990s, most rather unpleasant in terms of quality.  A song like this one (and another one a few songs from now) are such a repudiation to something like (insert Boyz II Men song here) by just being so much better.  I sing a version of this song when it’s time to change my son’s diaper.

8. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes (1984) – Progressive Rock as a genre has a lot of weird bloated songs.  Yes was a pioneer of the genre – and “Roundabout” is particularly rough to listen to.  But this song, an early entry in what was to be a really great pop music year, is a tight, elegant tune with a good hook.

7. “Two Hearts” by Phil Collins (1989) – This is probably the ranking which will inspire the most snorts of derision.  Phil Collins does that.  He either works for you, or he doesn’t.  He has always worked for me and I am not sure why.  There are no guilty pleasures – so I refuse to be embarrassed by this.  This song was from his movie Buster, unseen by me, and it intentionally evokes some of the BritPop of the 1960s (time of polka-dotted dresses, go-go boots and such).  It’s a terrific pop song.

6. “Down Under” by Men At Work (1983) – Vegemite sounds disgusting.  This is among the very best songs on this list – with a reggae-touched beat which is hard to remain angry with.

5. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson (2015) – Bruno Mars appears again.  You know this song.  Do we need to cover it?  My daughter loves this song, and she smiles and gives me a “Don’t Believe Me Just Watch!”  It has everything a party song should have – and when it was the first song to play at a wedding I was at, I wondered why so early when it was unlikely any other song would be better.

4. “Le Freak” by Chic (1979) – Really this is arguably the best pop song of the 1970s.  Disco is one of those things I have evolved with.  As a teenager listening to classic rock in a talcum powder white hometown – disco seemed ridiculous.  I wrongly fell into the same traps that classic rock fans fell into – talking about disco ruining the world of music, and supporting things like record burnings.  However, and this is a dirty secret that you only learn when you listen to a lot of 70s pop, disco flat saved popular music.  Seriously.  Paul Anka, Eric Clapton, countless John Denver songs.  Yeesh.  Disco rode into to just provide some diversity and some life affirmation, and when you had a decade of Carpenters and Captain and Tenille, you need all the help you can get.

3. “Hey-Ya” by Outkast (2004) – How the hell is this #3?  I am still surprised too.  Yes, it’s my list – but I did want to look at these things new.  This song still works and Andre 3000 is just so brilliant.  How do you brighten your day?

2. “Lose Yourself” by Eminem (2003) – Right there with songs like “Cult of Personality” and “Welcome to the Jungle” – this is among the songs I turn to when getting fired up for a competition (or a game where my team is playing).  It’s become cliche of course – but the beat and baseline is just absolutely perfect

1. “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson (1980) – Really any of the top 4 would have worked here.  However, there is real soul here – the kind which sounded weird with Jackson 5 songs – and such a smooth beat and flow.  Michael Jackson produced many soul songs of consequence as a member of the Jackson Five – but his pre-pubescent voice to me, made it hard to really feel songs like “Got to be There” and “I’ll Be There”.  It helps to be a grown up to give love songs the sort of gravitas it needs to be special.  This qualifies.  I was too young to remember Off The Wall, but as a solo album to reintroduce Michael Jackson it is perfect.  I remember a magazine somewhere talking about it as the perfect brand extension – how do you not alienate your boy band customers while pushing into a new space.  Jackson managed that perfectly here, with an album that evokes classic motown while remaining wholly Michael’s.

Foo Fighters Sonic Highways (TV)

What is most interesting about Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways is how it frankly fails at its stated thesis while being a lovely, entertaining piece of television anyway.  On some level, this is obvious – Grohl’s idea of visiting a city and capturing its essence as a muse for a Foo Fighters song is both a spectacular overambitious and muddled idea.  What does that even mean?  Grohl is not a chameleon shape shifting from one genre to another (unlike say, Prince).  The songs at the end of each episode sound very much like Foo Fighters songs.  (which is not a complain at all, but the “spirit of location” is not exactly present).  Obviously, this conceit comes up because the Foo Fighters needed some motivation to write new songs and record a new album, and these days you need something to help the album along.  Taylor Swift goes to Target, Dave Grohl goes to David Letterman (whose studio is involved) and HBO.

Grohl himself now occupies an interesting place in popular culture.  As he noted in the Seattle episode, he was a late arrival to Nirvana – that Kurt Cobain and Kris Novoselic were the creative engine – and then ended up as drummer in one of … well you don’t need me to tell you.  And now, he is fronting a band which has gone on almost 20 years, turned into legit rock fuddy duddies, and still remains one of the better bands out there.  Basically, imagine if Ringo Starr fronted Wings and you sort of get the idea.  As a result, when you see him on the telly or on the show, you get a guy who is very much a fan and grateful for the career he has had – both being able to drink up the success of two of the most consequential bands of the era without the scarring of Cobain.

It is interesting here, as Grohl firmly places himself and Foo Fighters as a vestige of a rock and roll time past, in a sense auditioning for classic rock radio. (a battle he won’t win because hey, somebody has to play 38 Special records)  In the first episode in Chicago, Grohl deals in Buddy Guy and Bonnie Raitt – in Seattle we see Heart, in Nashville Dolly Parton.  We are checking off boxes here.  In this sense, we are getting fairly standard rock and roll travelogue.  It is clearly an attempt to “capture the musical essence” of a city or whatever – but as much as writing the Great American Novel almost always results in failure, Grohl does not really get anywhere here.  This is most notable in the Seattle episode where he touches on Seattle hip hop with Macklemore for no apparent reason, aside to show that he did it.  The interviews are engaging, but inconsequential.

Of course, writing the Great American Novel will never work.  But as writing teachers I’ve had advised – paradoxically the most universal stories are the most personal.  And there is a lot personal here blessedly.  Grohl is a generous director, leaving his subjects space to talk, and when he is on screen you see genuine excitement.  He gets jazzed up by meeting Tony Joe White.  And the idea of Zack Brown fighting against the Nashville machine (which seems more or less identical to the process that is used to make Boy Bands, or Skittles) clearly enthuses him too.  But where the series really shines is when Grohl gets to talk about his own influences.  One of my favorite interviews was with his own cousin in Chicago who took him to his first punk show.  He talks about the lack of enthusiasm that he had for going somewhere with his mom, and how blown away he was when his cousin turned out to be a punkhead.  It is even more present in the Washington DC episode, where he trods the area he knows best, talking about how much Bad Brains and Dischord Records meant to him.  Passionately discussing The Germs in Los Angeles (Pat Smear’s old band) or the sadness when he recalls the end of the Nirvana time and Cobain’s death – you get the heart of the show and the stuff that I knew less about.

Tonight is the season finale, the New York episode.  I am not sure where it will lead.  The show has been unfocused at times clearly, and has aimed for too much.  But it has never been dull, and at times legitimately touching.

Yeesus

Well, if you are living in a cave – or just emotionally balanced – you probably have not heard that Kanye West is endeavoring to change the world with a life changing record. Of course, West’s last solo record is probably the best rap album in years.  It was an album which took all of the tools that hiphop has collected over time – the complex samples, the beats, the complex beats and turn them into a master opus.  Really it was a celebration of West’s massive (but not without humor) ego – rap’s Led Zeppelin IV (and yes I know it’s not the real name of the album), a sound on such a large canvas that it invited parody without quite getting there.  You do this right, you get Sgt Pepper the album; you do it wrong, you get Sgt Pepper the movie.

There is no doubt that West’s long awaited Yeesus is a weightier work.  We hear a man rapping about slavery (“New Slaves”) and loss (“Blood on the Leaves”) – and the textures of the beats are as complex as ever.  Indeed, many critics have written about the intersection of this album with his own life and fame – the sort of thing which music critics love to do as ersatz “Academic” criticism.  All of these things to me certainly ring true, and West has thrown all of his effort and production expertise into creating some very very sophisticated pieces.  There might be a profound statement on fame or fatherhood here, but what he forgot were the songs.

Really this was the most startling thing.  For the artist who has been arguably the best rapper alive, and certainly the best combination of critical and commercial validation – Yeesus is a surprising misfire at simply chruning out songs which you’d want to listen to. Twisted Fantasy by contrast has all sorts of choices – “Dark Fantasy”, “Monster”, “Power”.  (and some of these songs were 6 minutes long!).  By comparison, from the opening track – Yeesus is work.  For instance, the samples in “New Slaves” and the lyrics are wasted on a staccato, melody-less sort of rhyme.  It’s a put together track that doesn’t go anywhere.  “Blood on the Leaves” does the same as NQ deftly notes, just much too much production without any idea of what is being produced.

When Rick Rubin was brought it to produce the record, Rubin, West – some easy life experience to put some paint by numbers symbolism and heft, this album yearns to be called great.  It is easy to WANT to call it great, and I suspect a lot of the album’s raves are related to this halo effect.  (and the last track, “Bound 2” is sort of the exception in this album that validates my criticism).  But buying an album requires an investment of some dollar amount and time, and I need more than just intent or symbolism.  A great album has layers, but without the basic top layer the deeper stuff just becomes homework.  On Daft Punk’s recent towering Random Access Memories for instance, the track “Doin it right” is just an autotuned refrain over a fairly simple beat – almost nothing of significance, certainly not compared to anything on Yeesus.  All it is is completely compulsively re-listenable, a standard which Kanye falls well short of far too often here.