A funny thing happened to me in 1983: my parents got cable. Yes, sir, in ‘83, I was finally introduced to the wonders of MTV, which is why the majority of the songs on this particular mix disc are decidedly more predictable and mainstream than in my previous compilations. Still, once you check out the final track listing I came up with, I think you’ll agree that I managed to slide in a few unexpected selections…particularly the song that brings the set to a close.
"(Keep Feeling) Fascination," Human League (Fascination EP)
How can I start with anything other than this track? It was the very first video I ever saw on MTV, as well as the first time I’d ever seen a man (Philip Oakey) wearing makeup. The former would lead me to see the latter in abundance, of course…
"Karma Chameleon," Culture Club (Colour by
…such as this fine gentleman here. Good ol’ Boy George; he completely freaked out my father. I’m pretty sure the word "queer" was uttered at some point; I’m also pretty sure that I tried the "he says he’s not gay" defense, but I doubt if I believed it any more than Pop did.
"Rock of Ages," Def Leppard (Pyromania)
"Rise up, gather ‘round, rock this place to the ground." These were explicit instructions that Joe Elliott was delivering, but if you played the song backwards, it added, "For maximum effect, wear a sleeveless t-shirt emblazoned with the Union Jack while listening." Or maybe it didn’t. It just seemed like all the kids I knew who were listening to Pyromania were wearing one, so that’s what I always figured.
"Wrapped Around Your Finger," The Police (Synchronicity)
You wanna know why this song is on here and not one of the other great tracks from the Police’s most popular studio album? It occurs immediately after the line, "Vanish in the air you'll never find me," right before Sting sings, "I will turn your face to alabaster," and if you know the song, you know exactly what I’m talking about: it’s the crack of Stewart Copeland’s drums. It’s the smallest of musical moments, but it gives me chills every time.
"I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,"
Elton John (Too Low for Zero)
The strangest things make for the fondest memories, but I will always remember driving home from Tidewater Community College with my friends Donnie Sadler and Brian Becknell, the three of us singing this song at the top of our lungs. Both of them went on to be groomsmen in my wedding in 2001. That’s right: behold the bonding power of the music of Elton John!
"New Moon on Monday," Duran Duran (Seven
and the Ragged Tiger)
I’m proud to say that I saw this song performed live when the band was touring behind Seven and the Ragged Tiger, but I guess it was considered the redheaded stepchild of Duran Duran’s singles catalog for awhile or something. Its omission from the band’s first greatest-hits collection, Decade, was about as glaring and inexplicable as they come. I mean, it was a Top 10 hit, for God’s sake! Fortunately, when they got around to compiling a new best-of collection in 1998 (Greatest), they fixed the problem.
"Mr. Roboto," Styx (Kilroy Was Here)
Kids, make a note of this: concept albums are very dangerous and are not to be trifled with. Think twice before you record one, let alone write one. Just ask Styx. "Mr. Roboto" might’ve introduced the video generation to their work, but it killed their credibility stone dead. Then again, this very silly song continues to teach kids how to say "thank you very much" in Japanese, so it’s not all bad. (Ed. note: Yes, it is.)
"Leave It," Yes (90125)
Sure, the obvious pick from Yes’s comeback album is "Owner of a Lonely Heart," but have you ever heard the a cappella version of this song? It’s awesome. It used to be hard to find, but it’s now readily available on the Rhino reissue of 90125. Purists hated what Trevor Rabin brought to the table, but if it hadn’t been for his contributions to the band’s sound, I probably never would’ve sought out their music in the first place.
"Nellie the Elephant," The Toy Dolls (Dig
That Groove Baby)
I’m sure many people have been fans of the Toy Dolls over the years, but in all honesty, the only fan of theirs that I’ve ever met is my good friend Heather Kaas. Fortunately, her taste is notoriously good – she’s also responsible for first introducing me to the Nails and the Bolshoi – but this is definitely a band that she owns, at least in my mind. It might be a goofy little nursery rhyme of a song, but it’s the perfect music to pogo by.
"Perfect Circle," R.E.M. (Murmur)
If no one’s set a tender love scene to this song in their movie, either they’re totally missing out or Michael Stipe won’t license the song for such a use, but as far as the soundtrack of my life, I’ve definitely heard this in my head a few times. Not that I can discuss any of those occasions, you understand. A gentleman never speaks of such things.
"Sunday Bloody Sunday," U2 (War)
I’m not going to say that U2’s never topped this track, but it’s definitely the song where Bono leapt from being just a singer in a rock and roll band into the role of a frontman.
"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," Eurythmics
Dreams (Are Made of This))
Music videos really confused my family. Every time I turned on MTV, it was something else; if it wasn’t Boy George looking like a girl, it was Annie Lennox looking like a man. I didn’t even really like the song at first, mostly because I found the video really weird and creepy, but, clearly, it grew on me.
"Gold," Spandau Ballet (True)
"True" was the song that made you want to find the girl of your dreams, take her on the dance floor, and hold her tight. Still is, come to think of it…well, unless you’ve already found her, of course. But I always loved "Gold." I think it’s something about the way Tony Hadley sings, "You’re indestructible." On a related note, have you ever seen Spandau Ballet’s performance at Live Aid? I know, you won’t believe it ‘til you see it for yourself, but, I swear, they were one of the best, most enthusiastic performers that day.
"Start of the Breakdown," Tears for Fears (The
I actually didn’t own this album for years upon years – I think I even had The Seeds of Love before I bought it – and when I finally picked it up, I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long. Wow, what a dark album. Before I listened to it, I thought, "Why would they end an album with a song called ‘Start of the Breakdown’?" In retrospect, I understand: when the breakdown begins, it’s all over.
"Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung," "Weird Al" Yankovic ("Weird
From dark to darkly funny, we close with a song from Mr. Yankovic’s debut. The chorus actually features the sound of Mr. Frump’s iron lung, right after Al talks about how, when he visits his buddy, "this is what I hear him say." The song ends with Mr. Frump’s dying gasps within the lung, followed by a choir singing, "Amen!" You’ll hate yourself for laughing, but you still won’t be able to resist.