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Yesterday's Top 40 Spectrum: VH1 Classics Edition

Apart from the new Ciara-wannabe Beyonce single and Britney Spears' dullest attempt yet at rejuvenating herself, the world of Top 40 has been largely quiet this month. In lieu of a half-interested foray into the sorry landscape (as if its state of being is different at other time) of pop cultural muzak, I was inspired this weekend by the Billboard charts of years past. A visit to the fam's house in remarkably unwarm North Carolina led me to flipping first to VH1's weekly countdown, which was full of Kid Rock and Leona Lewis (which is so two months ago!), so I clicked one channel up with little to no expectations set for its sister station, VH1 Classics. Usually I'm not entranced by old music, especially the variety of 80s jams that aren't The Cure, New Order, or some one-hit wonder with a similar Hughesian aesthetic. But this time was different. I caught four videos in full, three of which totally knocked my socks off in mostly unironic ways. Anyone else feel similarly and/or contrarily about any of the songs below, ranked in my opinion from best to worst?

"Can You Stand The Rain?" by New Edition: With the first shot of this video focusing in on a newspaper's front page reading, "New Edition: Have They Lost It?," I nearly lost it myself. Add twinkling and affected multi-layered piano and suddenly I have my hands clasped together in enamorment, touching the red of my cheek ever so slightly as my eyelashes flutter like a girl reading the description of Edward Cullen for the first time. These fellas, three of which went on to form the great Bell Biv Devoe (whose megahit "Poison" was expertly used in this summer's Pineapple Express), were recently downsized at the time, having lead man Bobby Brown leave their outfit for a solo career (and later, king of many of The Soup's Clipdown episodes). Their boy-band New Jack Swing sound was the original format that laid the groundwork for Color Me Badd & New Kids On The Block, which led to Backstreet Boys and N'SYNC. So, one could say that without New Edition, we would not have "SexyBack." A scary world we would be living in, that's for sure. Back to the song/video at hand, their rock-solid group dynamic shifted when Brown left and everyone thought for sure New Edition was D-U-N. But here they came storming in, ever so gently, with that inimitable pitch-shifted chorus end-note, sexy bass curvature, and dreamworld vocal harmonizing. The song not only led its narrator through a tough confrontation with his lover, asking whether or not she could weather the metaphorical storms of their relationship, but also stood as analogous for the debris-filled roads that stood in front of NE with its new lineup. Double meaning; get it?! Regardless, the interweaving melodies are positively scrumptious, right up to when they whisper at the song's finale, "C'mon baby, let's go get wet." Let's indeed! Gross! Other hits for March, 1989: "Lost In Your Eyes" by Debby Gibson, "Eternal Flame" by The Bangles

"Everyday I Write The Book" by Elvis Costello & The Attractions: I've never been a hardcore Costello guy. Up until late in my college career, I only knew him as the "hip old guy with emo glasses." I've listened casually since, highly respecting the big hits like "Alison" and "Radio Radio" and his knack for sounding both messy and meticulous with his lyrical delivery, but never really found a song that I really connected with until I heard this song and saw its video for the first time this weekend. I'm guessing this song was kept from my college radio-bred ears due to it being the first Top 40 hit Costello had in his career, and perhaps some fanboys (and girls) even resented it for its Paul Simon-esque Soweto vibe (which was ironically repopularized by Vampire Weekend earlier this year, according to some anyway) that was unlike Costello to resort to because of his own original ideas about injecting pop into rock music (or vice versa, depending on your perspective). Well I've never really liked Simon when he wasn't with Garfunkel, so I have no grudge there. And I think Costello did this style of happy-go-lucky tempered pop even better than his usual gig of amicable guitar or piano-driven pop-rock. The drooping bass is aces, the stuttering piano/guitar lick patters in the background of organ and strings rather than pounding out front, and the sunny backup vocals complement Costello's grinning voice perfectly. Other hits for September, 1983: "Tell Her About It" by Billy Joel, "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" by Bonnie Tyler

"No One Like You" by Scorpions: Okay, so this one's a tad embarrassing. I know nothing about the era of "hair metal," if this even falls into that category. I get so confused when things get classified using the term "metal," but are actually just pop songs with guitar solos. Apparently these guys are German, which you really aren't able to decipher unless you look them up on the Internet and/or know any of the members' names. I wonder how many people listened to the radio in 1982 and just assumed they were from Alabama or something. So, it's really not that great of a song, especially not after an absurd amount of repeat listenings done in preparation for a blog post about the song. It basically just alternates between this really catchy, but ultimately boring, chord progression and a plesantly plucked version of the same progression matched with singer Klaus Meine's confessional-style vibrato. There's really nothing remarkable about it. There's essentially only one part of the song, just alternating between quiet and plucked and loud and strummed, and throw a solo on top of it somewhere. In a way, it's incredibly impressive that such a rudimentary idea ended up gaining them millions of dollars. Even more so that I fell for it the first time I heard it and genuinely liked said idea until I listened to it six times in a row. Oh well, it's still a pretty awesome riff the first time you hear it. Other hits for July, 1982: "Don't You Want Me" by Human League, "Eye Of The Tiger" by Survivor

"Two Of Hearts" by Stacey Q: When I first heard/saw this, I thought, "wow this is like a terrible version of an Annie song." After inspection of my past Google Reader starred items, turns out I heard the Norwegian hipster heartthrob's (seriously, SWOON) cover of this song, which she pushed as her big 2008 single, earlier this year. Less notably, Kelly Osbourne also covered this song as a bonus track for the Japanese edition of her 2005 album and it was named VH1's 98th best one-hit wonder of all-time. So apparently people whom I both respect and loathe knew and liked this song well before I had even said "yuck" at my mother's television this weekend. Well it's still an unbelievably limp dance track (which cops its bassline from "Blue Monday" no less!) in my eyes, though Annie sure did knock it out of the house with her banging and rich version of it. (Osbourne's interpretation was not researched for this post.) This doesn't so much prove how the original song had merit, I don't think, but rather how any infectious melody can be remanufactured into something salvageable with new technology and the production help of Scandinavian club music geeks that have a knack for making money of their synth wizardry by finding gorgeous blondes with heavenly voices to accompany their beats. Now let's just hope the video isn't redone with Annie just twirling about aimlessly in various outfits in front of a white screen like the original. Huh, or maybe that wouldn't be so bad... Other hits for November, 1986: "Amanda" by Boston, "You Give Love A Bad Name" by Bon Jovi

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  1. Blogger nicole | 8:34 AM |  

    I LOVE Elvis Costello! My favorite songs of his are "Still" and "Indoor Fireworks." I wish he would write some better songs in this decade.

  2. Blogger qualler | 10:31 AM |  

    The only thing I know about The Scorpions, er, "Scorpions", is the lead singer guy toured with Pink Floyd on The Wall tour singing the "So ya, want ta, be a something something something of the show" thing at the very beginning, in a sorta German accent. Man, I still love the bombasticity of that album, Roger Waters is da man, even if the movie version is horribly dated and lame. I think New Edition was also on my first ever album I ever owned -- the Ghostbusters II soundtrack, on cassette tape (also featured solo Bobby Brown and one of the guys from the Eagles covering "Higher and Higher").

  3. Blogger qualler | 10:35 AM |  

    Scratch that, the Scorpions guy sang that in the Roger Waters solo version of The Wall that he performed sans the rest of Pink Floyd...I know that because it is on my Roger Waters The Wall Live in Berlin video cassette that I somewhat embarrassingly own...

  4. Blogger chris | 11:47 AM |  

    Haha it's mind-boggling to think that the guy from Scorpions and Roger Waters would be friends/colleagues.

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