I finished ’70s Week with a list of my favorite songs of the decade. I gave up on concluding ’80s Week the same way when my list of favorite songs surpassed 200. I’m going to choose one at random and call that my favorite song of the 1980s. OK, reaching into the hat now…The winner: Paul Simon’s “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War.” Done!

With that out of the way we can move on to a more important subject, and that subject is women. My list of favorites from ’70s Week mistakenly gave the impression that I don’t like music made by women. This is not true. I like music made by women and I like women who enjoy music made by women. I can prove these assertions with the ticket stubs to three concerts I took Special D to: Lady Gaga, The Roches, and Cher. Cher’s opening act was Cyndi Lauper so that makes six total women I went out of my way to experience in a concert setting. You’re probably thinking that I acted like a martyr each time, but I did no such thing. I survived Mudhoney. These gals were a snap.

Here’s my attempt at classifying women in music in the 1980s. By including them all here rather than spreading them through ’80s Week I am inadvertently creating a ghetto, but it took me days to write this post so you’ll just have to deal.

1)  Madonna and some lesser satellites
Of course the woman who strides across the 1980s like a colossus is Madonna. However, the only song I like by Madonna, “Vogue,” didn’t happen until the ’90s, which means we are now done with Madonna.

It’s fashionable to laugh at Pat Benatar, probably because she’s laughable. I wish she had fronted for a band rather than zig-zagged around on her own. Van Halen went through a parade of heavy metal idiots after David Lee Roth walked out. They should’ve hired Benatar. She would’ve been fantastic.

I have nothing to say about Bette Midler or Cher except that they don’t make your brain bleed like Mudhoney. Cyndi Lauper angered conservative groups with “She Bop,” which may or may not be about masturbation. Whether it is or not, tally-ho Cyndi Lauper.

2)  Singer/songwriters with folk origins or dangerous country tendencies
The 1980s saw a mob of confessional women following the lead of Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, and Melanie. I mostly ignore them. I’m too busy with Pink Floyd. Examples of this phenomenon are Shawn Colvin (“Shotgun Down the Avalanche”), Sarah McLachlan (“Vox”), Edie Brickell (“What I Am”), and Melissa Etheridge (“Bring Me Some Water,” which rocks like a literate ZZ Top). I’ll talk about Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” when we get to’90s Week.

The Indigo Girls appeared in the crossword movie Wordplay. They get my respect for that, and for “Closer to Fine.”

Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” is one of the decade’s milestones, while Michelle Shocked’s “If Love Was a Train” is one of the sexier moments (and a lot smarter than Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator”).

kd lang’s swinging “Walkin’ in and Out of Your Arms” is a crowd-pleaser, but that’s as country as I get, and I had to work at it. This is why Emmylou Harris is beyond me.

You’ll find Tracy Chapman in category 6 below.

3)  Party out of bounds
Could we live without “Venus,” “I Can’t Help It,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Hero Takes a Fall,” “How Much More,” and “Vacation”? Absolutely not. The world will always need Bananarama, The Bangles, and The Go-Go’s. These bands are better than the critics think. But not a lot better.

4)  Quota system
Women rocked in the ’80s, but they were often limited to one rocking woman per band. (Heart and The B-52s had two women each, but they were from the ’70s so they don’t count.) Here’s how I rate these artists:

Unfortunately for Dale Bozzio, her voice is similar to Cyndi Lauper’s, who came along at the same time and blew past Bozzio’s band, Missing Persons. Their hits “Destination Unknown” and “Windows” were familiar to viewers of early MTV. The music hasn’t aged well plus they sound like somebody imitating Cyndi Lauper.

Margo Timmins is a haunting vocalist, but her brother Michael is the force that makes The Cowboy Junkies go. (Cowboy Junkies are so soft-spoken, I can’t always tell if they’re playing or if they’re resting following a prolonged squawk.)

Talking Heads may have started as equals, but they eventually became David Byrne and his backing musicians. I give Tina Weymouth (and her husband, Chris Frantz) credit for starting their own side project. But the side project they started was The Tom Tom Club, which makes me wish they had started a nice Italian restaurant instead.

Kim Deal didn’t do much with The Pixies (a band I don’t like), so she formed The Breeders (a band I do like) with Tanya Donnelly of Throwing Muses. The Breeders just missed the ’80s. Not many rock stars have had a song written specifically about them by other rock stars (The Dandy Warhols’ “Cool As Kim Deal”).

I always think I should like Donnelly’s Throwing Muses, but I don’t. I start each album with enthusiasm and never make it to the end.

I don’t like Sonic Youth and they don’t like me, so I can’t say anything about Kim Gordon except that she would wake things up, if not send people home, if she opened for Cher.

5)  All in the family
The Runaways were intended to be a tough female version of The Monkees. By “tough,” the record company meant “they might have sex with you.” This probably didn’t work out all that well in reality, but reality has little connection with marketing. Three women from The Runaways forged notable careers in music after that band dissolved: Michael Steele joined The Bangles, while Lita Ford and Joan Jett went off on their own.

Lita Ford was tough enough to play guitar in the male world of metal. Point! But the world of metal isn’t evil and extreme, it’s ridiculous and inane. Counterpoint! Ford worked hard for 10 years before finally scoring a hit, “Kiss Me Deadly.” Point! “Kiss Me Deadly” is deadly forgettable. Counterpoint! Her next hit, “Close My Eyes Forever,” was a duet with…Ozzy Osbourne. Counterpoint! Uh-oh, I don’t want her to lose. Fortunately, Ford spent the ’80s outfitted in rock-star lingerie. I’ll put her back in the plus column for having one of the best derrières in the business. And after a long hiatus and the birth of her children, she is rocking again at 53. Point! Whew. W00t!

In 1981, Joan Jet and her new band, The Blackhearts, took their version of “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” to #1 in the U.S., Canada, and The Netherlands (a new band would kill to be #1 in The Netherlands). Jett is the hardest-working woman in music and an expert interpreter of rock standards. She salvaged “Crimson & Clover” and “Time Has Come Today” from the scrapheap of ’60s psychedelia and took “I Wanna Be Your Dog” away from Iggy Pop. As with Weird Al, her originals are not well-regarded, but she accomplished a lot with “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”

6)  The Four Horsewomen of the ’80s Apocalypse
My choices for the best female artists of the decade:

Tracy Chapman (“Fast Cars”) brings more emotion to a song than any contemporary artist I know, female or male. The only part of her career that takes place in the 1980s was her debut, Tracy Chapman. The stories on that album can go head-to-head with those on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Siouxsie Sioux (a name that’s impossible to type correctly on the first go) and her band, Siouxsie & The Banshees, put eight songs on or close to my list of ’80s favorites: Their covers of “Dear Prudence” and “Helter Skelter,” as well as “Christine,” “Happy House,” “Trophy,” “Clockface,” “Shadow Time,” and the one I like best, “Silly Thing.” And they still have “Kiss Them for Me” waiting in the ’90s.

Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Cure are the only goth outfits I can listen to. Robert Smith of The Cure moonlighted as a Banshee for a couple of years. I’d love to put that on my resume. “Banshee: Served as omen of death across all distribution channels. Initiated howling programs that decreased productivity by 400%.”

Deborah Iyall was the co-founder, singer, and songwriter of Romeo Void. She is one the best writers of the ’80s, able to cut you like a knife with one line (“Nothing makes me lonelier than a phone call from you”). Romeo Void had minor hits with “I Might Like You Better If We Slept Together” and “A Girl in Trouble Is a Temporary Thing.” I prefer “Just Too Easy” and “Myself to Myself.” They don’t have many good songs, but the good ones are very good.

Chrissie Hynde had it all. She could write the music and the words and deliver the whole package in the hurricane that was The Pretenders. They only had three worthwhile albums (Pretenders, Pretenders II, and Learning to Crawl), but those are three of the best albums of the decade. It was Hynde who made me realize that I had to abandon my attempt to list my favorite songs of the 1980s, as I picked most of the songs on these discs (I’m especially taken by “Private Life,” “The Adulteress,” and “Two Birds of Paradise”).

This has been my longest post. Women are exhausting. I’m going to go listen to some uncomplicated male music…maybe David Bowie.

Run-DMSteve alert: This weekend I will celebrate my anniversary by posting an index to this blog’s first year. See you then!

Comments
  1. Andy Ybos says:

    Thanks for the interesting read 🙂

  2. It’s like 88 lines about 44 (awesome) women. Thanks for the flood of audio memories. Wait, when did Kim Carnes sing, Professor Awesome?

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      You’re welcome, and thanks for reminding me about Kim Carnes. Ms. Carnes has had an interesting career. She was not the one-hit wonder of “Bette Davis Eyes” (1981) everyone thinks she is. Well, I thought she was. Turns out she was making music in the ’60s (in The New Christy Minstrels) and has broken into the Top 20 several times, as a performer and as a songwriter. The New Christy Minstrels. Yuch. And tonight I learned that she occupied 50% of a duet with former TNCM colleague Kenny Rogers! That is way too much occupation for me.

  3. Accused of Lurking says:

    Brilliant! I don’t know half the songs and artists you mention, but you can be sure I will investigate them fully in the coming week. Your erudite and humorous exegesis sent me rushing headlong into the near infinite YouTube catalog where I have drunk deeply of the pleasures afforded by The Bangles, The Go-Gos, and Bananarama. Fountains of Wayne bring me back to myself as I map out my next expedition.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Thank you. YouTube appears to be the delivery system that the transistor radio was in the 1960s. Except that sometimes the record company butts in and removes the audio track. For example, you can’t find the uncastrated “867-5309/Jenny” on YouTube, only some old TV appearances where the guitarist tries to upstage Tommy. Nobody puts Tommy in a corner! Have fun with your YouTubing expedition, and if you find anything interesting, send me the link!

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