Featured Post


If you're a student looking for syllabi, click the "Academic Home Page" link on your right, and start there.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Songs of '83: "Love is a Battlefield"

Pat Benatar was, in retrospect, one of those driven talents that probably would have found a way to achieve success on the radio no matter what her stylistic environment. As it was, she came to the clubs of New York City in the late 1970s with the rock of Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones on her mind--not exactly the style of the time. But her vocal chops--especially once backed up by the guitar work and the producing talent of Neil Giraldo, her musical partner (and husband) for more than four decades--were not to be denied. "Love is a Battlefield," which first landed on the Billboard charts 40 years ago this week, was her single biggest radio hit, and a huge MTV smash--turning a three-minute single into a five-minute television drama, complete with a dance break, was still a relatively new thing in those early, post-Michael Jackson years. It's not my favorite Benatar song (that would be "Shadows of the Night," probably), but you can't deny: it rocks.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Songs of '83: "Cum On Feel the Noiz"

Journey, Sammy Hagar, Def Leppard, ZZ Top, Loverboy: as this list has always insisted, it's not as though the breakthrough into mainstream radio by the European clubs' multi-racial, gender-bending, drum-machine-and-synthesizers, post-disco and post-punk pop music somehow completely drove from the Billboard charts the sort of guitar-driven rock music which was performed and consumed almost entirely by young straight white men (and their female companions). In that spirit, I give you Quiet Riot's cover of the English glam-rock hit from the 1970s,"Cum On Feel the Noiz." Released 40 years ago this week, it is arguably the most influential American heavy metal single of all time, basically because it was the first that really mattered, commercially speaking: the first American hard rock band to have a Top Ten single (beating Van Halen, beating Mötley Crüe, beating Metallica, all of which were better bands, it goes without saying), and the first heavy metal album to go to number one. Was I a head-banger? No, not particularly. But did I crank this sucker up to 11 when it came on the radio while I was learning to drive that old white pick-up truck my family had? I did indeed.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Songs of '83: "All Night Long (All Night)"

Of all the Black artists I've highlighted so far in this review of what I see as the year when all the new technological and stylistic and sexual possibilities of post-punk, post-disco pop music finally broke through to mainstream American radio, Lionel Richie has to be the one with the smoothest career arc, the one for whom these transformations seemed the most natural and effortless. Michael Jackson was the one who burst down the door to a new kind of pop musical (and video) stardom; Prince blew a hole in the wall to make his own way to the charts; Eddy Grant slipped in through a side door no one had noticed; Al Jarreau was following his own smooth jazz path and couldn't care less what pop radio thought of him; and Donna Summer, the Queen of Disco, simply ramped up her songs' vocal and guitar power and kept on pushing on those pop barricades. But Richie, a lead singer and primary song-writer for the Commodores, the smoothest of all of Motown's 1970s acts? The now-independent balladeer (he officially left the Commodores in late 1982, after the success of his first solo album) just sailed on through (pun intended). 

I don't mean to suggest that Richie didn't have a lot of talent and didn't work hard; both of those things are true. But an artist determined to sweat it out in order to achieve musical and lyrical perfection he wasn't. The Afro-Caribbean rhythms and sonic backgrounds to "All Night Long," like several other hits off his second album, are solid additions to the final mix; the lyrics which accompany them are also--as Richie himself later admitted--complete gibberish. (He apparently wanted to hire a translator, but ran out of time and/or money, and so went ahead anyway.) But maybe Richie's music simply embodied exactly his ethos? Music is supposed to be fun, everyone; so quit trying to make art, and just dance. "All Night Long" hit the radio in mid-September, 40 years ago, and nothing was going to stop it from making it all the way to number one.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Songs of '83: "Suddenly Last Summer"

Exactly 40 years ago, during the Labor Day weekend of 1983, a slight, synth-heavy tune by The Motels, with undercurrents both sinister and sweet, appeared on American radio. It would eventually crack the Billboard Top Ten, but far beyond that particular accomplishment, did any artist or band, throughout all of the 1980s, ever give us a better song for the end of summer, especially that summer, the summer when we were 15 or thereabouts, listening to the radio, and daydreaming, excitedly but also fearfully, about romance and sex and growing up and the future? I'm doubtful.