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Groove with these ’80s tracks this week

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Spotify logo on a computer with a blurry background.

The 1980’s were a time of leg warmers, mullets and big sunglasses. Here’s some music that reflects the tubular decade.

Sarah’s picks

  1. Bruce Springsteen – “Dancing In the Dark”
  2. Prince – “When Doves Cry”
  3. Billy Joel – “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

“Dancing In The Dark” is one of the most upbeat, fun songs of the 1980s. It’s a perfect song to nod your head to and dance to when no one is looking. The meaning of the title “Dancing in the Dark” can imply Springsteen is taking a risk where he cannot see the outcome. But he takes a risk anyway because life is all about risks. A fun fact about the music video is that “Friends” actress Courtney Cox makes an appearance, getting up on stage with Springsteen and dancing with him, making Cox become famous before “Friends” aired on television. 

Prince hasn’t made a single bad song in his lifetime, and “When Doves Cry” is one of his best. The singer describes a few interactions between him and his lover, and the confrontations that led to them fighting. The dove is widely known as a symbol of peace; and when Prince compares him and his lover to doves crying, he means that their peace has turned tragic. At the end of the song, an electric keyboard can be heard which stands out as a feature instrument in the single due to its hypotonic tune.

Billy Joel had shown how much of a lyrical genius he is with his song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The song contains 40 years of history as each lyric is an event that happened each year between 1949 and 1989. Joel went through every major newspaper outlet for every year he’s been alive and wrote down the headlines that highlighted the main global events. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” conveys the crazy, cruel world we live in, and how each event in this song has shaped every person and every decade. 

Nick’s picks

  1. Men At Work – “Overkill”
  2. Dexys Midnight Runners – “Geno”
  3. Dexys Midnight Runners – “Come On Eileen”

Men At Work’s “Overkill” starts with some of the cheesiest saxophone playing I’ve ever heard. In perfect rhythmic sync with the drums, the horn line kicks off a song that is the epitome of the ‘80s. Removing Colin Hay’s lead vocals and lyrics, the song is nothing special: a fun pop chart with a simple drum groove. The song’s strength is easily its vocals. As Hay belts out “at least there’s pretty lights” about a minute and a half into the song, there’s always a building smile on my face. Hay’s writing is absolutely haunting, and his performance over the last pre-chorus is one of the all-time greatest ways to signify the end of a track. Yes, the track has the cheesy ‘80s guitar solo and is full of the decade’s neologisms – god, those drums are so ‘80s (and also modern pop country?). Don’t get me started on the random flute playing during the final chorus. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a nice and simple fun ‘80s pop hit, Men At Work’s “Overkill” is for you; but if you’re looking for a beautiful ballad, look for Hay’s 2003 acoustic re-recording of the track. 

When the name Dexys Midnight Runners is brought up, everyone here in the states has one single thing on their mind: “Come On Eileen.” If you ask someone who really knows their stuff about the band, they’ll bring up the band’s other UK No. 1 single “Geno.” Dexys Midnight Runners’ first album “Searching For The Young Soul Rebels” is not like their other stuff. Still led by Kevin Rowland, the band focuses on its soul influences on this album. The massive group has instruments of every timbre – clanging banjos, sweeping violins and almost punk inspired drums. Nine people deep, the band is a perfect example of the weird genre mash-up that is ‘80s music. “Geno” starts with a rhythmic horn line and sounds like a normal, but good, northern soul track. As the hornline slows down, the band hits a shuffle reminiscent of the band Chicago. The band features layers of music: hornlines, vocal parts galore, tight and simple drums and so many other things that you have to dig out of the mix. If you find “Come On Eileen” to be interesting in any way, I recommend digging a bit deeper into Dexys Midnight Runners, and “Geno” is the perfect place to find that. 

Okay, now that I’ve talked about Dexys Midnight Runners, “Come On Eileen” is stuck in my head, and I’m going to force it to be stuck in yours too. Turning off my critical brain is the only way I can talk about “Come On Eileen.” The song isn’t just an anthem for white people’s weddings, it is genuine fun. Rowland’s vocals are so clear in the mix, and they take over for the track’s intro in a way that for some reason inspires everyone to dance. The best part of the song is the breakdown about three minutes in. As the snare kicks up the tempo, I can imagine my aunts and uncles awkwardly dancing out of time. At the same time, I can also see these British kids dancing to it in the club. The other standout feature is only on the album cut of the song. After the song fades out completely, there’s an acapella verse that is pulled directly from Irish poet Thomas Moore. Rowland sings, “Oh, believe me, if all those endearing young charms / That I gaze on so fondly today / Were to suddenly leave you or fly in the night / Just like fairy gifts gone in the sky.” Such a perfect way to end a dance track full of energy, wishing the dancers, full of young charms, a goodbye – a gift gone in the sky. 

Ibrahim’s picks

  1. Rocío Dúrcal – “La Guirnalda”
  2. Braulio – “En Bancarrota”
  3. Ana Gabriel – “!Ay, Amor!”

“La Guirnalda” is a beautiful song by Rocío Dúrcal. It was released in 1986 and became one of her most successful hits. Dúrcal’s version of “La Guirnalda” is widely considered to be the definitive interpretation of the song. Dúrcal’s haunting vocals and emotional delivery of the lyrics make this song one of her most memorable performances. It continues to be popular among Spanish-speaking audiences and has been covered by many other artists. The song talks about the pain of lost love and the longing for a person who is no longer there. The emotional lyrics combined with Rocío Dúrcal’s powerful vocals make it a truly captivating and heartfelt song. Throughout her career, Rocío Dúrcal became known as the Queen of Ranchera music, and she was one of the most successful Latin American singers of her generation. She released over 30 albums, sold millions of records, and won numerous awards, including a Grammy for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album in 2005. 

“En Bancarrota” is a popular romantic ballad released by the Puerto Rican singer Braulio. The song is about a man who has lost everything and is now bankrupt, asking for his lover’s forgiveness. It became one of Braulio’s biggest hits and is still played on radio stations and in Spanish-speaking countries today. Braulio’s soulful vocals and the heartfelt lyrics create a poignant and relatable experience for listeners. Released in 1987, it quickly became one of his most beloved hits. Braulio is a renowned Latin American singer who has released many successful albums and singles throughout his career. He is known for his romantic ballads that speak of love and heartbreak. “En Bancarrota” is one of his most famous songs, and it helped boost his career to new heights. Overall, “En Bancarrota” is a beautiful and moving ballad that has stood the test of time. It remains a sentimental favorite of those who have experienced the pain of heartbreak and financial struggle, and it continues to resonate with audiences around the world.

Ana Gabriel is a Mexican singer-songwriter who has become one of the most prominent figures in Latin American music. Ana Gabriel has been recognized with numerous awards and honors throughout her career, including several Latin Grammys nominations, Billboard Latin Music Awards, and Premios Lo Nuestro awards. Ana Gabriel is also known for her philanthropic work. She has supported various charitable causes, including children’s education, animal welfare, and cancer research. In 2021, she was appointed as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where she will advocate for sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean. “!Ay, Amor!” is one of Ana Gabriel’s hit songs. This wonderful song was also released in 1987 and has since then become one of Ana Gabriel’s signature hits. The song captures the pain and longing of a lost love, with Ana Gabriel’s powerful vocals bringing the emotions to life. “!Ay, Amor!” is a timeless classic.

Eli’s picks

  1. The Blue Nile – “The Downtown Lights”
  2. Tom Waits – “Downtown Train”
  3. Warren Zevon – “Reconsider Me”

The second track from The Blue Nile’s 1989 album “Hats” is an atmospheric, meditative song that takes a more melancholic approach to the synth-based music that was popular at the time. Considered part of the sophisti-pop genre, which combined synth-pop with influences from jazz and soul music, The Blue Nile’s “The Downtown Lights” is exemplary of the bands unique, sophisticated style.

If you can get past his rough, gravely voice, “Downtown Train” is probably the closest thing to a pop song that Tom Waits released during his groundbreaking experimental period that began in the early 1980s. A simple, melodic love song, the track takes a more conventional, lighthearted approach to Waits’ other music from this era. As an added bonus, it features the expressive lead guitar stylings of pivotal punk guitarist Robert Quine, giving the track extra emotional presence in its sound.

Backed by members of R.E.M. and invigorated by his new sobriety, singer-songwriter Warren Zevon staged a triumphant comeback in 1987 with the release of his album “Sentimental Hygiene.” The track “Reconsider Me” is a romantic plea for redemption as the narrator makes his case to a former lover for their forgiveness after mistreating them. Given Zevon’s recent recovery from his decades-long addiction to drugs and alcohol, the song is deeply personal and a cathartic expression of Zevon taking the steps to piece the shambles of his life back together.

Caleb’s picks

  1. Madonna – “Material Girl” 
  2. Michael Jackson – “Thriller” 
  3. The Weather Girls  – “It’s Raining Men ” 

Madonna, also known as the original Queen of Pop, is one of the most iconic musicians of our time. What’s more 80’s than “Material Girl?” Nothing, the answer is nothing. First released in 1984 as a part of Madonna’s second studio album “Like a Virgin,” this song went on to become the most iconic of its generation. I remember often singing this song with my older sister growing up. I remember we would sometimes put on our mother’s jewelry and scarves and pretend to be fancy waiting for a “rich man.” There’s a reason why lots of gay men adore Madonna; she makes us feel fabulous. As an adult, I can look back on this song and appreciate it in a new light. I really enjoy the chorus, “’Cause we are living in a material world / And I am a material girl,” because I feel like these lines are really evocative of the times. The period in which this song was released was a  time when caring about material wealth was becoming more commonplace and this song was a parody of that sentiment. 

What can I say about a song that has it all. “Thriller” is the title song of Michael Jackson’s sixth studio album first released in 1982. The album went on to become Jackson’s biggest success and remains the best selling album with over 34 million units sold in the United States alone, according to RIAA. This remains one of my favorite songs of all time, so it’s no surprise to me that it’s still popping. Every year during the spooky season leading up to Halloween, I listen to this song or watch the iconic music video. I often find myself singing the lyrics quietly to myself when I’m cleaning or working. “’Cause this is thriller, thriller night / And no one’s gonna save you,” the lines just chill me to the bone, and it’s exactly what I’m looking for to get into the Halloween spirit. I’ll probably dress up with some friends this year and shamble around dressed as monsters and blasting “Thriller” in the background. 

“It’s Raining Men” is definitely one of my favorite songs. This fabulous and campy pop song was originally sung by musical duo The Weather Girls and was released in their third studio album “Success” in 1982. It is very catchy and has lots of wonderful pop beats. With lines like “I’m gonna go out to run and let myself get / Absolutely soaking wet! / It’s raining men! Hallelujah!” I absolutely love singing this song, and I also wouldn’t be opposed to it raining men right now. This song is definitely beloved by the gay community as well, especially after being performed by American Drag queen RuPaul and Martha Wash, a member of the Weather Girls, in 1998. With a delightful premise and amusing execution, it’s no wonder how this song became so iconic. 

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