Ross MacDonald once had Lew Archer say that as a man gets older, the women he’s interested in should get older too. For what it’s worth, the women in this little survey–the women of my own generation or the one right before it–have remained the women I’m interested in. Purely spiritually of course.
The early eighties, especially, were a breakout period for women in rock and roll that was unlike anything seen since the early-mid sixties. I’m sure the fact that music has been steadily shoved back to the sidelines in the generations since, assuring that such things happen no more, is purely coincidental.
I mention all this because it turned out well over half the records in this last installment were made by the women I’ve grown older with. Beyond that, I’ll let any obvious themes emerge on their own. This was fun.
Blue Angel (1980)
The lead singer was a superstar in waiting. As one of rock’s last visionaries, she was ready here, her vocal style fully formed. The world would catch up a few years later. Through some combination of experience and nature Cyndi Lauper was already able to sing, “I’ll take it like a man,” and make the mighty Gene Pitney sound like a four-year-old, which, believe me, he wasn’t.
Pick to Click: “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (Television performance. Later on, she recorded another version for her first greatest hits package which actually got past this…but she’s the only one who could have.)
Warren Zevon Stand In the Fire (1980)
Zevon rarely caught the reckless abandon of his lyrics in the studio. He captured it in spades here and sustained it for an album-long assault. He sounded like nothing so much as man who was raging against the dying of the light, like he already knew the ripped-and-torn seventies would be the last decade anyone ever missed.
Well, anyone who wasn’t part of the conspiracy anyway.
Pick to Click: “Jeannie Needs a Shooter” (alternate live take)
REO Speedwagon Hi Infidelity (1980)
Everything anyone would ever need to know about the eighties in a sleazy album cover, a catchy title and a single genius line. The rest sounds real good to me, but, really, who cares what the rest sounds like?
Pick to Click: “Take It On the Run” (For those who may have forgotten, that’s the one that begins “Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from another you’ve been messin’ around.” Welcome to Hell.)
Robin Lane & the Chartbusters (1980) and Imitation Life (1981)
At the time, pretty much everything written about Lane (L.A. born show-biz kid who became the leader of a Boston based punk band which ended up sounding fashionably New Wave on their albums) mentioned that she was an Evangelical or “born again” Christian. I only mention it here because nobody seemed to ever draw the logical conclusion about the black hole in her voice. Weird how the illuminati tend to forget (or is it ignore?) that a belief in God contains an inherent belief in the Devil.
Strictly on the formal side, there is an awful lot of what the Go-Go’s and, especially, the Bangles, got up to directly after.
If you want to know how good they had to be to make it, you could start by considering how good she had to be to not quite make it.
Rachel Sweet …And Then He Kissed Me (1981)
Her major label debut and there’s some gloss on the basic concept, but she cut through it effortlessly. The commercial push was behind a duet with Rex Smith on the indestructible “Everlasting Love” which scraped the Top 40 and generated one of the great Devil’s Island videos.
But some idiot or other failed to see the potential in her greatest vocal and it was left for Pat Benetar to scoop and score with a just-fine version that wasn’t half as good. Two years later Sweet was out of the music business, yet another might-have-been. This was the best of her.
Pick to Click: “Shadows of the Night”
The Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat (1981)
On their way to cracking the code that had kept every female band from the International Sweethearts of Rhythm to the Runaways safely on the fringes, they made the rest of the New Wave bands sound like they weren’t trying. That was no particular shame on the New Wave, because the dirty little secret was that they made pretty much every pre-New Wave band sound like they weren’t trying either.
This took nine months to climb to number one on the Billboard Album Chart, at which point the general word was that we could expect a wave of highly successful all female bands.
Still waiting for that.
Pick to Click: “Can’t Stop the World”
Cyndi Lauper She’s So Unusual (1983)
Hence the flood. One of a wave of mega-million sellers that made up rock and roll’s last gasp as a force that defined something more than itself. All of the others (Thriller, Born In the U.S.A., Purple Rain, Eliminator, Scarecrow, 1984, et al) were by well established acts who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame long since.
Every one of them sure sounded like the present in 1984 and that’s exactly what they sound like now.
Despite a production style that’s as dated as any, Lauper still sounds like she’s singing about a future in which she would be the only one left standing. The future that is now.
It’s 2015 and there are individual cuts here and there on those other albums that sound great. This is the only one I still listen to at all…and I listen to it obsessively.
Pick to Click: “Money Changes Everything” (The album’s fifth hit single and probably the most radical recording to ever hit the Top 40 even before you take into consideration when it was released.)
The Bangles All Over the Place (1984)
Honestly, I thought they sounded a little cold around the heart at the time. I was wrong. They were just coolly taking the world’s measure. As perfect a folk rock record as anyone’s ever made, up to and including Dylan and the Byrds.
Now, if only folk rock had still been a thing…
Pick to Click: “Silent Treatment”
Los Lobos How Will the Wolf Survive (1984)
I mean, the rest of their career, at least as much as I’ve been able to keep up, suggests they’re archivists on some level, but this sounded like a deep well from the gut to me in its day and I’ve never stopped drinking from it. I forget it for a while, sure. But every time I pick it back up it sounds new again. I don’t need all my fingers and toes to count the albums I can say the same for. The album Donald Trump’s Republican rivals would be playing at every campaign stop if they had any brains (and, no, I have no idea if we should be glad that they don’t…I’m a pox on all their houses sort from way back).
Pick to Click: “Our Last Night” (live from 1987)
Minutemen Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
Revolt that had no chance whatsoever of coming into style. I bought it nearly thirty years ago and listened to it once, transfixed. I swear I’ll listen to it again some day. When I’m old enough to fully accept that it either is or isn’t what I hope it is.
Pick to Click? Er, no.
The Go-Go’s Talk Show (1984)
Revolt going out of style. Those ugly, blocked lines separating them were more real than symbolic. They saved my life and then broke up. Can’t forgive, can’t forget. May write about it some day. Stay tuned.
Pick to Click: “Beneath the Blue Sky”
Todd Rundgren A Cappella (1985)
A weird and compelling amalgamation of Brian Wilson’s brain, circa 1966, transmuted through Thom Bell’s melodic sensibility, circa 1973, and Daryl Hall’s larynx, circa 1977. Or something like that. This album could be an appropriate soundtrack for a teleconference on euthanasia, a street revolution, or a CIA sponsored convention on “Torture in the Third World, Effective or No?” Honestly, I don’t listen to it very often. But when I do, my mind ranges very far afield and I invariably end up with a slow, dreamy smile on my face which I’m convinced enhances my enigmatic appeal immensely.
Pick to Click: “Mighty Love” (unfathomable)
Katrina and the Waves (1985)
I think it’s pretty obvious by now I like Power Pop a little more than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does. This isn’t one of those acts who are worthy of Hall consideration, of course, but it just goes to show how thin the line is, because it’s easy to imagine this perfect little album being a springboard to a lot more than one hit single. It’s also easy to imagine it never being even that. Mysteries of life I guess.
Pick to Click: “Going Down to LIverpool”
Cyndi Lauper True Colors (1986)
Backlash was inevitable. She was too…something. The nasty comments about her audacity in covering the by-then sainted and martyred Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” obscured what she did with it, which was explode it from the inside, cast it into the future (This future, did I mention? The one where the wars never actually end? The one only the visionaries could see?) and segue it into “Iko, Iko.” That’s supposed to be what albums are for, especially if it sells seven million worldwide and all. Instead she got endless grief and a broken career which is now often deemed that of a mild underachiever because she only sold fifty million records.
Pick to Click: “Change of Heart”
Terence Trent D’Arby Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (1987)
Sweep and scope like nobody’s business. Star in the making. Took a few years off. Made another album. Walked away. Never walked back. Maybe said all he had to say. Sure sign things were falling apart. Guy like this having no more to say.
Pick to Click: “If You Let Me Stay”
House of Schock (1988)
Oh, I guess what I said here (with links worth pursuing).
Other Pick to Click: “Love In Return”
Neneh Cherry Raw Like Sushi (1988)
There was a moment there when it seemed impossible that she wouldn’t be a major star. It didn’t happen, but this was a hip hop apotheosis and Madonna supposedly spent a whole lot of time obsessively breaking down a certain single…May as well close the eighties, and the series, with that particular mystery dance.
Pick to Click: “Buffalo Stance”