Posts Tagged ‘1980s’

Electric Folklore Live
The Alarm
1988

If in 1988 you had wanted to make a movie about U2’s early years, you could’ve hired The Alarm to play them. They were Welsh, not Irish, but they were all inspired by The Clash and were intensely righteous. The Alarm sounded like U2. They sounded like U2 on the day they strummed their first note and I’ll bet they sound like U2 today. Middle-aged U2.

The Alarm were good. They weren’t built for a marathon, like U2, and they weren’t able to evolve, like U2, but they could be magnificent in a sprint. Like U2. Plus the gentlemen in The Alarm had serious hair.

The Alarm

Electric Folklore Live is The Alarm’s answer to U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky (1983). On the first three tracks they go head-to-head with U2’s legendary live album and emerge with a draw, including one first-class pop song: “Rain in the Summertime,” a bouncier version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (by, of course, U2).

Sadly, Electric Folklore has three more songs, and the quality drops like a ball rolling off a table. Well, that saves time! Once you’ve played the first half of Electric Folklore Live, put that record down and go check out two other songs by The Alarm: “The Stand” and “Sold Me Down the River.” Then I recommend you go directly to the album that The Alarm failed to record but U2 did: The Joshua Tree (1987).

If The Alarm came to Portland and played the Oregon Zoo Amphitheatre, I would probably go. The tickets would be way cheaper than tickets to U2.

Random Pick of the Day I
Siouxsie & The Banshees, Kaleidoscope (1980)
If you want an artist who can whip up a mood of despair and sometimes carry a tune, Siouxsie is your girl. I enjoy these glimpses of hopelessness because I’ve spent so much of my life working in corporate America. Feeling buoyant, joyful, vivacious? Give Kaleidoscope a chance to let some of the air out of your life.

Random Pick of the Day II
John Cougar Mellencamp, Uh-Huh (1983)
John Mellencamp’s early career was a struggle. His record company changed his name to Johnny Cougar and forgot to tell him. Sorry, kid, our bad. All of his early albums feature glamour-boy photos of him as if he were David Cassidy’s smarter younger brother. Critics dismissed him for sounding like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Seger, and The Rolling Stones. I refused to buy his records. How do you survive such a storm of disdain?

Mellencamp can’t write as insightfully as Springsteen, Petty, etc., and thanks to my boycott he was practically living out of a cardboard box. But he was persistent. By 1983 he had managed to sneak his real name onto his albums. Critics were reconsidering his work. Even I started to like him.

Uh-Huh is a good place to start some Mellencamping. It has some solid songs in the first half, particularly the opener, “Crumblin’ Down.”

Random Pick of the Day III
R.E.M., Life’s Rich Pageant (1986)
Once or twice a year I trip over Life’s Rich Pageant and I ask myself, How did I get here? How do I work this? This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife! Then I ask myself, Why do I own this record? It packs several things I dislike inside one jewel case:

  1. Music by R.E.M., the most self-important, humorless band of the 1980s. (USA division – U2 takes the title in the U.K.)
  2. Michael Stipe’s monotonal, monocultured voice. You get more emotional nuance from Weird Al singing “Another One Rides the Bus.”
  3. The song list is hard to read plus it’s in in the wrong order double plus it doesn’t mention the one song that was a hit.

But then I start to play it and by the time I get to the last track I’m eager to hear the first one again. R.E.M. had an immense talent for being boring, which is why I forget them for most of the year. But it’s hard to imagine an ’80s Hall of Fame jukebox that doesn’t include at least half of what’s on this disc, including “Cuyahoga,” “Hyena,” “Begin the Begin,” and that hit I mentioned, “Superman” (the one song they didn’t write and that Stipe doesn’t sing).

No Trump jokes tonight. I was making myself ill.

 

Electric
The Cult
1987

When I was younger I wanted to find a band that rocked as hard as AC/DC but that didn’t view women as subhuman breeding stock. A band that was as heavy as Led Zeppelin minus all the mystical claptrap. I don’t know if this band has ever existed (I’m open to your recommendations), but I do know that there are albums that qualify. One is Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991). Another is my subject this evening.

Southern Death Cult was formed in 1981 by four boys from Yorkshire. By 2012, when they released their 40,000th comeback record, Choice of Weapon, 23 boys had worn the uniform. The only constants were Ian Astbury (vocals) and Billy Duffy (guitar). Ian and Billy were goths with a taste for metal and a fixation on North American Indians. Sure, why not.

Southern Death Cult gradually phased out the goth and the Indians and the Southern and the Death. (Why would you mess with a name as venomous as Southern Death Cult?) For their third album, they corralled a new producer, Rick Rubin, a man who eats transformation for breakfast, and with his help they broke the chains of gravity with their magnum opus, Electric.

What we have here are songs that embody the one thing we love about AC/DC – mindless butt-shaking – with the one thing we love about Led Zep – guitar solos that pull 4 or 5 G’s. There’s no moody-teenager philosophizing, no misogyny, no Middle Earth, and no intelligence. This album rocks like 12 Republican governors running for president inside a cement mixer.

Tracks 4 through 8, the heart of the order, hit harder than a brass knuckle barn dance. “Bad Fun” has so many layers, it’s as if somebody cloned every dork in Yes and suctioned them into a Yugo. The guitar solos – all of the guitar solos – are awesome because they all sound like metal guitar solo gibberish. Were The Cult subversive or satirical? There’s no way to tell. I don’t care. I love this shit.

An homage to “I Am the Walrus” or plain old drug abuse?
And yet Electric is also one of the funniest albums ever recorded. The lyrics have been brilliantly deconstructed and rebuilt, often with no translatable meaning, as in this unrhymed couplet from “Aphrodisiac Jacket” (a song that sounds like Cream has a brain tumor):

Sittin’ on a mountain looking at the sun
Plastic fantastic lobster telephone

In “Bad Fun,” a song that mixes atomic bombs, “fancy clothes,” and “ghetto stars” without telling you why, the boys break into a chorus about a woman alone with her personal assistant:

Spirit like a rumblin’ train
Spirit of the thunderin’ rain
Vibrations got you on the run
Electric child on bad fun

You can’t not laugh when Ian rolls his r’s or when they swing into their insightful commentary on intimate relationships, “Love Removal Machine,” a song my wife claims she has never heard and yet her life runs along just fine. You can’t not laugh when Billy lights this candle with another solo he checked out from the library, or when the band chants PEACE. DOG. PEACE. DOG. PEACE. DOG. on a song that’s called – let me see, what was it? I knew it a moment ago – yes, I have it: “Peace Dog.”

The only poor choice on this disc was covering “Born to Be Wild” at two-thirds the speed of Steppenwolf. If you’re headin’ down the highway and people on the sidewalk are passing you than you’re not born to be wild or even mischievous.

On The Cult’s previous release, Love (1985), you can hear the transition to a harder rock sound, but it was not until Electric that these ex-goths achieved nirvana. Oh right, “Nirvana” is a song on Love. “When the music is loud, we all get down,” Ian sings. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Postscript courtesy of the concert listings at PortlandMercury.com:
AC/DC, Tuesday, Feb. 2, Tacoma Dome
“The band isn’t playing Portland tonight – apparently we’re not good enough – but it’s probably worth the drive to Tacoma. Because, you know, they might die soon.”

 

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!

“Pictures of You”
The Cure
1989

“Space Age Love Song”
A Flock of Seagulls
1982

I coach a chess club at a local school, grades 3-8. My toughest challenges are not explaining how to castle or how the knights move. It’s not the 4th-grade belching contests or the two 5th-grade boys I had to separate because they were fighting over the good-behavior trophy. The real problems are the 12- and 13-year-old girls.

One year, Madison, a 6th-grade girl, came to the club in a torn denim jacket and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. Trying to bond with her, I said that I’d seen Led Zep in concert. Madison rolled her eyes and I suddenly saw myself as she saw me: an old man, claiming to know something about her music! The following year she showed up with black hair, black lipstick, black fingernail polish, and a Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me Cure T-shirt. I could’ve told her that I’d seen The Cure, too, but I’m a nice guy. I didn’t want to ruin another band for her.

The Cure have been around long enough to draw pensions. They (“they” meaning Robert Smith) are best known for being gloomy. Right up my alley! I’ve already written about my favorite Cure song, “Pictures of You,” a ballad of lost love that is 278 words long. That’s like a Dickens novel in rock ’n’ roll years.

Let’s instead move on to A Flock of Seagulls (affectionately known as A Flock of Haircuts). Loyal Reader Julius questions their existence. My apologies, Loyal Reader. No ’80s dance party would be complete without their two biggest hits, “I Ran (So Far Away)” and “Space Age Love Song.”

There’s not much to say about “I Ran (So Far Away)” that the song doesn’t say itself:

And I raaaaaaan.
I ran so far away.
I just raaaaaaan.
I ran all night and day.
I couldn’t get away.

“Space Age Love Song” is a simply structured number that moves from start to finish in an unvarying line. Sort of like an object in space. It was in constant rotation on MTV in 1982. As Springsteen put it, “57 Channels (and Nothing On).” It is exactly 73 words long, of which 15 are “I was falling in love” and 12 are “Falling in love.” Pithy. “I saw your eyes/and you made me smile,” the Haircuts sing in stanza 1, which is sweet, but the next line is “For a little while,” which is ungrateful. What have you done for me lately, person with eyes? In stanza 2, the narrator sees the eyes again, and this time “you touched my mind.” Cool. Telepathy. No wonder you fell in love.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are A Flock of Haircuts at the height of their powers.

A few years ago in chess club we had a boy who loved Culture Club. When I made the mistake of telling him that I didn’t, he started singing “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” By the end of the school year my answer was yes. Music from the 1980s can heal us – or it can be weaponized. Madison understood this when she adopted The Cure as a lifestyle. I’m sure it was her defense against the world and her rebellion against her parents. In the early ’70s I did the same thing to my parents with The Doors (minus the drugs, alcohol, and multiple sex partners).

You wouldn’t think these issues would arise in a roomful of kids playing chess, but they do. Adult themes play out in miniature, just as we play this miniature substitute for war. All you can do with these children is be patient, try to put yourself in their place, and don’t let on that you know anything about their music. Kids need to rebel, and The Cure are a good ally in a rebellion. Or The Doors. But not A Flock of Seagulls.

In 2010, Special D and I went to the ’80s Video Dance Attack at Lola’s Room here in Portland. ’80s videos played until closing. At 9pm the average age in the crowd was probably in the high 40s, but by midnight that had dropped at least 20 years. The ’80s rule! Here are just a few of the lessons I learned at Lola’s:

1) David Bowie made better music than almost everyone else on MTV, but he couldn’t make a video to save his life. “Blue Jean” feels like Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” minus the motorcycle that crashes through the stained-glass window.

2) I’m certain that in 1984 I thought the video for A-ha’s “Take on Me,” in which a woman falls in love with a comic-book hero and then joins him in the book’s pages, was oh so futuristic. Now I see that it was surely inspired by Tron and that its only use for us today is documenting the haircuts.

3) Videos for A Flock of Seagulls document their haircuts and their appalling music.

4) MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” hasn’t budged an inch out of the stupid zone. I want to hurt him.

5) You can’t beat Bananarama in an ’80s video fight.

Somebody has to say this and it might as well be me: It’s far past time for a critical reappraisal of the Bananarama oeuvre. Granted, this reappraisal will be a challenge. The majority of their songs suck. But the few non-suck songs are little pop jewels, such as “Robert De Niro’s Waiting,” “Shy Boy,” and “Cruel Summer.”

The real knockouts on a Saturday night, though, are “Venus” and “I Can’t Help It.” Not only did “Venus” go to #1 on every chart between Earth and Pluto, it completely replaced Shocking Blue’s original. This is the same trick The Clash pulled with “I Fought the Law.”

The video is a gas, complete with devils, vampires, boy toys, and goddesses. When they fired up this video at Lola’s we immediately experienced the “Dancing Queen” phenomenon, as every female present beamed straight onto the dance floor. The Go-Go’s, Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, and New Order couldn’t match it. Bananarama said  “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” to Duran Duran, The Bangles, and Madonna.

Speaking of Madonna, while Bananarama’s “I Can’t Help It” didn’t turn in the same kind of chart performance as “Venus,” it’s plenty good enough to have made it onto one of Madonna’s records. The video isn’t much (not counting the 20 seconds in which the girls indulge themselves in a group milk bath), but the song is sufficiently infectious to carry you through.

We had a great time that night, and I totally enjoyed Bananarama. That’s really sayin’ something. Bop bop shoo-be-do-wa.

“Barracuda”
Heart
1977

“At Home He’s a Tourist”
Gang of Four
1979

“Here Come Cowboys”
The Psychedelic Furs
1984

(With thanks to Loyal Reader Barb for suggesting this post.)

I’m lucky. I’ve usually had someone in my life who could explain music to me. In the early 1980s, that someone was my friend David Clements.

David hosted elaborate theme parties. The one I remember was based on junk food, which is probably why I remember it. He ran name-that-tune competitions featuring hundreds of songs he had culled from the backwaters of pop. At one of them I got off one of my best-timed lines: “Yes fans never know the names of the songs,” I said, immediately before the Yeshead playing the game blanked on the opening snippet of “Roundabout.”

David managed the Northgate movie theater in Seattle and was a dj on the University of Washington’s student-run station, KCMU. His handle was “The King of Pop,” and the poppier the better. Listening to his show one night, I became so outraged by the parade of Stings, Boy Georges, and Bangles that I called and requested something from Saturday Night Fever. David recognized my voice and promised he would play it if I would drive over to the station in my leisure suit. You couldn’t top that guy.

When I first heard Gang of Four, probably at somebody’s party, they intimidated me. The guitars are angular. They’re like getting elbowed under the basket or stick-checked behind the net. The singer isn’t singing so much as opening a vein. On “Love Like Anthrax,” which begins with what sounds like a guitar expiring inside bagpipes, the singer competes with someone who simply speaks. Occasionally they sing/speak the same line. When they do, it’s so harmonious it’s startling.

Gang of Four’s lyrics take apart our politics, our consumer culture, even our love lives. They don’t put anything back together again, either. Even on their friendliest cut, “I Love a Man in a Uniform,” they’re not all that friendly:

The good life was so elusive
Handouts, they got me down
I had to regain my self respect
So I got into camouflage

They’re The Clash without the heroin and with a darker worldview. And The Clash weren’t exactly cheery. It was exhausting just looking at the album covers. I didn’t want anything to do with them.

But the King of Pop saw further than I did, and he suggested I try them. I did and over time I became hooked. In fact I even have a Gang of Four listening ritual.

Run-DMSteve’s Gang of Four Listening Ritual
1) Realize that I haven’t played anything by Gang of Four in a long while.
2) Wave away sudden upwelling of dread.
3) Hear first notes of first song. Wince. Consider switching to Madonna’s “Vogue.”
4) Hooked again.
5) Pound face into desk.

I’ve listed the three songs at the top of this post for a reason. They’re superficially similar in their structure and in the way they gallop along. “Barracuda” was a hit for Heart, who had fantastic hair and who made hard rock for people who were cautiously venturing beyond Hall & Oates. “Here Come Cowboys” was a late-period example of New Wave by The Psychedelic Furs. It would’ve made a passable B-side to one of their better songs.

“At Home He’s a Tourist,” however, is fucking unbelievable. When it starts I always think, Oh no, it’s Heart, no wait, Psychedelic Furs, oh right, Gang of Four. The guitar sounds like it wants to throw up. But by the song’s end I can’t wait to click Replay.

I have David to thank for some great musical memories, but David was killed in 1985, at the age of 28, while making a night deposit after closing the theater. Two lives were lost that night – David’s, and that of the 19-year-old boy who shot him and who will wake every day of his life with that knowledge. I think of you often, David, and of that B-52s concert we went to at the Coliseum. I wish we had taken Gang of Four’s suggestion and gotten drunk on cheap wine.

“867-5309/Jenny”
Tommy Tutone
1982

In 1969, Sheraton Hotels forced television viewers to memorize their new toll-free reservation number. The fact that after 40 years I can still recall their campaign of flashing numerals and insanely cheerful female voices singing Eight-oh-oh. Three-two-five. Three-five, three-five proves that advertising works. And the fact that in 40 years I have never called 800-325-3535 proves that advertising doesn’t work.

In 1982, history repeated itself, as Tommy Tutone had a hit with “867-5309/Jenny.” (Tommy was the name of the singer; there was no one in the band named Tutone.) The song rose to #4 on the charts and the phone number imprinted itself on our psyches.

“867-5309/Jenny” is about working up the courage to dial a number you found on a bathroom wall. Let’s not think about that again. In the ’80s, Special D and I danced many times to “867-5309/Jenny,” which we heard in bars, clubs, and the midnight dances at science fiction conventions. It’s 3 minutes and 46 seconds of irresistible. It’s perfect for dancing, drinking, and making out. If you’re an air guitarist like me, you know the instrumental break is easy to mimic and short enough not to wear out its welcome.

Run-DMSteve’s Old Technology Shop
“867-5309/Jenny” has joined a class of songs that have become obsolete as the years have flown by. Tommy plans to contact Jenny on a pay phone. A call costs a dime. The same fate has befallen Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels),” in which it’s still possible to receive extended assistance from a human representative of the phone company:

Thank you for your time
Oh you’ve been so much more than kind
You can keep the dime

Gary Brooker’s “Switchboard Susan” is also about customer service. It may seem as old-fashioned as “Operator,” and it’s not as sophisticated, but it’s fun to listen to if only because Gary Brooker was once the leader of pretentious twits Procul Harum:

Now when I look at you girl I get an extension
And I don’t mean on Alexander Graham Bell’s invention
Switchboard Susan can we be friends
After six and at weekends

Kodak has stopped making Paul Simon’s Kodachrome. Life before the invention of Amtrak is a central theme in The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarkesville” as well as in “The Letter,” in which The Box Tops sing, “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane/Ain’t got time to take a fast train.” R.B. Greaves dictates a letter to his secretary in “Take a Letter, Maria.” Today of course he would’ve texted her. And sent a crotch shot.

Tommy, Tommy, who can I turn to?
Tommy Tutone, you’ve given us something that we can hold on to. Despite its message of empowerment through anonymous hookups and communication through devices that no longer exist, “867-5309/Jenny” is a killer song that will live forever. Just like Eight-oh-oh. Three-two-five. Three-five, three-five. Except you can dance to it.