And as Casey Kasem would say . . .the countdown continues. The 3rd greatest Michael Jackson Song from 1984 is . . .
Number 3 – Say, Say, Say by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
Joining me to discuss this song is Cutie Pie. Please make sure to check out her blog – All Things Michael! for a comprehensive and passionate tribute to the King of Pop.
First of all, I will admit that I’m playing a little loose with chronology by including this song on the list. “Say, Say, Say” was released in October of 1983 BUT during the first week of January 1984 the song was sitting at the top of the pop charts. When the year begins with “Mac” and “Jack” at number one, you know you’re in for a great (the greatest) year of pop music.
This song is all about pedigree. A Jackson (THE Jackson) and a Beatle team up and record a song at Abbey Road studios. I imagine there was a lot of pressure on this song to be a mind-blowing, life changing, world peace creating masterpiece. I love the fact that instead of attempting to create something that sounds like the confluence of pop genius the duo crafted an easy, breezy mid tempo tune.
“I love the collaboration of Michael and Paul. Paul McCartney is my favorite Beatle. I loved Linda (god rest her soul) as well. This song is another example of the light, fun hearted side of Michael. I like the timing and the beat of the song as well as the harmonica.”
And both Sweetie Pie and I also love the ‘short film’ that accompanied the song. The fact that Paul and Michael allow themselves to be so goofy makes the video feel so extraordinarily cool. In late ’83 and early ’84 I watched this video every chance I could get – and since this was a cross over hit (aka equally loved by people both Black & White) – I was able to see it on Friday Night Videos and Ralph McDaniels’ Video Music Box.
Just the Facts: Jackson stayed with Paul and Linda while recording this song. It was during this visit that Paul told Michael about the value of owning song catalogues. Jackson took this advice to heart and mind and later purchased the Beatles catalogue.
Favorite Moment: Latoya’s cameo!If casting your sister as a love interest in your music video is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
The world couldn’t get enough of Michael Jackson in 1984. Even after the constant radio airplay and video rotation generated by Jackson’s 1983 pop masterwork, Thriller; we still wanted more. And Michael delivered. Instead of taking a break after the insane success of Thriller – Michael Jackson ran a victory lap (pun intended) in 1984.
To commemorate the 5th anniversary of his passing I’m going to post my 6 Favorite Post-Thriller Michael Jackson Releases from 1984. These are the songs either sung, written or produced by MJ that came out in the great (greatest) year of pop.
Read here to see why I think 1984 was such a pivotal year for Jackson.
#6 Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell. Chorus vocals by Michael Jackson.
Joining me to discuss this song is Cutie Pie, the author of my absolute favorite Michael Jackson blog – All Things Michael!
Let’s all agree that without Michael this song would not be a hit. It probably wouldn’t exist. The verses, sung by Rockwell, are fun in a tongue-in-cheek/high quality novelty song kind of way. But then the chorus kicks in and you hear that unmistakable alto delivering yet another unforgettable melody and you think you might be listening to a great B-side from Off the Wall.
One of the reasons I really like this song is because it illustrates Michael Jackson’s loyalty. Jackson and Rockwell (otherwise known as Kennedy William Gordy aka Berry Gordy’s son) were childhood friends. I imagine there were hundreds of wanna be pop stars who were clamoring for a chance to collaborate with Michael in 1984. But Michael chose to sing on the song that would turn out to be his childhood friend’s only hit.
Cutie Pie agrees that Michael makes the song work. “I loved this song the minute I heard it and it’s mostly because of Michael’s vocals.” She also informed me that, “Jermaine (Jackson) is singing background on this song as well as the duo The Weather Girls.”
And despite the fact that this is officially a Rockwell song, Cutie Pie points out that the theme of constant observation, ” . . . could also apply . . . to Michael as he never had any privacy from the press or his fans.”
And finally Cutie Pie makes a great point that this song tied into the themes of George Orwell’s 1984. Indeed!
“Big Brother is Watching . . . Rockwell!”
Just the Facts: Somebody’s Watching Me went to #2 on the US and UK pop charts and stayed at number 1 on the R&B charts for 5 weeks.
Best Thing About the Video: Without hesitation or guilt I will state that Rockwell gives good shower scene.
In the mid eighties, the highlight of many of my Sundays involved sitting down to listen to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 countdown. Sometimes I’d sit alone in my bedroom – doing homework or reading a comic. Sometimes I’d talk on the phone with a friend who was also listening – a friend equally obsessed with the minutiae of the countdown: Do you think “The Reflex” will go to number one this week?Will Eurythmics stay in the top 10? Why isn’t R.E.M. breaking into the top 40?!?
Why did I care so much? Why should any of us care whether a song sells more than another in any given week? Does it matter that a single spends 6 weeks in the top 10 before it falls out of the countdown? Does the fact that a song ‘jumps 6 spots’ make us like it any more? Or any less?
Quantifying music sales and airplay seemed antithetical to the act of enjoying music for music’s sake. But Casey Kasem and his weekly countdown inspired a greater appreciation of pop music for generations of fans. He definitely had a profound influence on me.
On his show – pop music became something of a sport. But in addition to supplying a dramatic narrative for record sales – Kasem also supplied context. He’d share information about where a band recorded their album, who inspired the lyrics of a certain song, when a band was planning to tour, and why a certain song would be a group’s next single. He was a trusted source, full of information, but most importantly, he conveyed a sense that he cared about pop music as much as a 16 year old boy in Brooklyn.
Casey Kasem presented an earnest appreciation, interest and respect for pop. Each week his show told me: This music IS special. It deserves your attention. Your obsession is valid.
Readers of this blog know that each week I typically include a post about the number one song of the week in 1984. Each and every time I title one of those posts I imagine Casey’s dramatic announcement:
(Drum roll) And the most popular song in the land is . . .
In early 1984, even if you loved her first single, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” you couldn’t have been blamed for suspecting Cyndi Lauper might be a one hit wonder. But her second single, “Time After Time,” presented the promise of a great pop performer/songwriter with staying power. The song spent two weeks at the top of the pop charts in June 1984, it was nominated for song of the year and is considered to be one of the most beautiful ballads of the eighties.
Joining me to discuss Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” is Nathan James, the author of one of my favorite blogs – The Relative Cartographer. Check out his blog for great short fiction, genealogical investigations, honest observations, wit and warmth.
Sean: Nathan – thanks so much for joining me to discuss Cyndi Lauper’s Number one hit, “Time After Time.”
Nathan: Oh, I’m happy to do it. Something about 1984 nostalgia makes me happy.
Sean: Me too! I’d love to start by asking you about your earliest memories of hearing, “Time After Time.”
Nathan: My earliest memories of “Time After Time” were hanging out at my neighbor’s house across the street. My parents would never pay for cable. So I had to go over there to watch videos. We’d get together after school and I’d help her with her house chores and then we’d turn on MTV and watch the videos. I remember “Time After Time” was her favorite song because she loved the plaster dog doll Cyndi has in the beginning of the vid!
Sean: I had forgotten about that plaster dog until I recently re-watched the video. I think there were many things about Cyndi Lauper that were attractive to kids and teens. Her image was kind of child-like. So how did you feel about Cyndi and the song?
Nathan: You know in the video when she takes off her hat at the diner? And she shows off that waffle iron pattern shaved in her scalp?
Nathan: I’d never seen a girl (or a guy for that matter) with drawings in her hair like that. I completely thought she was a weirdo!
Sean: You were just like her boyfriend in the video! You judged her and caused her to flee the diner!
Nathan: C’mon Sean, it was hard not to judge her. Her album is named, “She’s so Unusual” for a reason. And that bright red hair and her fever dream skirts in all those colors and glitter. She was a lot to take in.
Sean: I mentioned in an earlier post that she seemed to almost be a novelty act – I couldn’t figure out if we were supposed to take her seriously.
Nathan: I don’t think we were supposed to take her seriously for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” I think that’s what makes “Time After Time” so special. I think the powers that be made “Time After Time” her follow-up because it showed her range. She has some SERIOUS range, that Cyndi.
Sean: And it really is impossible to separate the image from the music.
Nathan: Yes! But Cyndi’s image always felt genuine to me. I LOVE Madonna. But we all know she would reinvent herself to get attention. Cyndi was real. Case in point: did you catch her on The Today Show last month for the She’s So Unusual 30th anniversary? Two hosts were interviewing her, and she was just a goofball with them. She’s endearing. You can see it in the “Time After Time” video too. You know that was her real mother and boyfriend in the video? Another case in my point that she’s not putting on a character.
Sean: So what’s your favorite moment of the video (Besides the waffle haircut reveal)?
Nathan: I’d like to say some poignant moment between her and her mother. That image fade in the vid is laughable now, but back then it was decent. But really, my favorite part of the vid is at the end when she’s on the train. The director of the video wanted to put a tear on her face using a dropper. But Cyndi was confident in her ability to cry on the spot. So that tear is hers. And I think it drives the point that “Time After Time” is a relatable song.
Sean: Is it too late to give her an Emmy?
Nathan: Hah! Only if the Emmy has a bright emerald wig and about 1,000 necklaces on it.
Sean: So how does the song age for you?
Nathan: Since it’s about deciding to move on, I think it ages really well. I think most of us have been in points in our lives where we either had to carry on a long distance relationship or break it off and start over again. So any teenager/college student can identify with the words.That’s why the song is still all over the radio and why so many artists have covered it. I have to say I was surprised when P!nk covered it at her concert and the audience was singing the words over her.
Sean: It’s nice to know Pink and her fans appreciate the classics! I think if you’re a female performer – who feels a bit different – a bit ‘unusual,’ shall we say – Cyndi is your muse.
Nathan: Oh, I think some guys have been influenced by her too. Neon Trees? Absolutely.
Sean: I really need to check those guys out.
Nathan: Yes, get back in your music time machine every once in a while and check out some current bands, Sean!
Sean: Ha! I do love some new music – really I do! Ok – pop quiz – if you’re at a karaoke bar and “Time After Time” comes on – do you get up on stage and sing?
Nathan: Uh. No. Sadly, I am not a fan of the spotlight. But my cats get extravagant stage shows on a weekly basis! I’m a megastar in the shower or in a room by myself.
Sean: Ok – now we will all have an image of you reenacting the “Time After Time” video with your cats! It’s an image we like!
Nathan: Haha! Not a bad idea for a new blog feature, Sean!
Sean: Yes! That would be guaranteed to be ‘Freshly Pressed’.Ok – one more question for you. I am such a fan of your fiction, so may I ask you to create a sequel to the video? Tell us what happens to Cyndi Lauper’s character after the train pulls off at the end of the video.
Nathan: Oh, she travels the country to find more WWF superstars to play her family members in future music videos, of course!
Sean: That’s a beautiful ending. Now I have a single tear rolling down my cheek.
Nathan: Ooo! I see what you did there! Nice.
Sean: Thank you so much for taking the time to journey back 30 years to revisit “Time After Time” with me.
Nathan: It’s been a pleasure talking Cyndi with you. Especially about this song. It’s a simple song really. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s catchy and dramatic, but tangible. She’s so good at those ballads. And it definitely paved the way for “True Colors” to explode a few years later!
Sean: Yet another classic from Cyndi. Well thank you – this was fun!
Nathan: So fun! Invite me back anytime! Maybe I’ll have cat pics next time!
Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” was number one on the Pop, R&B and Dance charts in June 1984. It was certified platinum and nominated for the Oscar for Best Song. I hadn’t thought of this song in years and had forgotten that it was such a monster hit. As I considered writing about it for this blog I wondered if its success was solely due to the fact that it was on the Footloose soundtrack. I also wondered if this 1980’s bubble gum pop song was on par with some of the other songs I’ve written about on this blog (songs by Michael Jackson, R.E.M., Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, Talking Heads, and Cameo). Recently, I sat down to watch the video for the first time in at least a decade. I immediately began tapping my foot, singing along and feeling happy and at ease (I’m now pretty sure the FDA has designated LHIFTB as a mild anti-depressant). But does this mean it’s a GREAT pop song? Let’s try to figure it out. Watch the video and then read my 4 favorite things about the song aka “Let’s hear it for ‘Let’s Hear it For the Boy.’ Let’s see if we reach a conclusion by the end of this post.
4. The Voice. Deniece Williams has a four-octave range. In addition to being able to shatter glass with her voice (people can do that, right?) she’s able to imbue some pretty simple lyrics with a great sense of emotion and meaning. Towards the end of the song (around 3:07) she does something pretty special with the word ‘baby’. Before Whitney and before Mariah; Deniece Williams was adding extra syllables to words and performing feats of Olympian vocal gymnastics. But you never get the feeling she’s showing off. Instead – you just get the sense she’s feeling the emotions described in the song and helping the listener to feel them as well. In this case – she’s asking us, “So you want to know how my man makes me feel? You want me to convey it in one word? Ok – he’s my “Babeeeeeeeeeeeeeyeeeeeheeeeyeeheeee!”
3. The Boy. So tell me . . . why does she love this guy? He’s inarticulate, he’s a poor dress, he’s not romantic, he sings off-key, etc, etc, etc. This boy has set the bar pretty low but still, he’s inspired someone to sing (in 4 different octaves) about their love for him someone . Have no fear underachievers – love. is. possible.
2. Football Half Shirts. Please refer to the music video ( 2:21 – 2:36).
1. Good Company. 1984 was a great year for pop music soundtracks. In addition to Williams’ hit single, the Footloose soundtrack also contained Kenny Loggins’ title track and the Shalamar hit, “Dancing in the Sheets.” Other great pop soundtracks from 1984 included Ghostbusters, Against All Odds, and of course, Purple Rain. Deniece was at the beginning of a big, big trend.
So – what do you think? Is “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” a great song in a great (the greatest) year of pop music? Tell me what you think in the comments.
Thirty years ago this week Phil Collins scored the number one pop song in the country with “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” a song he’d written for the film Against All Odds. There’s no denying this is a great ballad and also one of the great soundtrack tunes from a year that produced many amazing songs from films (including Ghostbusters, Footloose, Sixteen Candles, Breakin’, Eurythmics’ 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother), and of course Purple Rain). I liked the song but never developed a real love for it. I wanted to give the song its due so I invited my friend Caroline to share her very passionate feelings for it. In addition to being a Phil Collins devotee, Caroline is also the author of the hysterical blog Cringeworthy Stuff from My Journal. Prepare for the most emotional post this blog has ever seen!
Sean: Caroline, what are your memories of this song?
Caroline: I know it’s from a movie (Against All Odds) but I’ve not seen this movie. I was only 11 when the song came out but I absolutely loved it – and still do. I really think it’s a beautiful song. I don’t know if it stirred something in my pre-pubescent self – but of course I had no grasp of what the song was really about. I knew it was about love – in the abstract. I knew it was something about someone leaving you. I knew it was devastating. That was it. But I really thought that it was an emotionally wrought song and Phil Collins’ vocals were amazing and … this is all so embarrassing to admit!
Sean: So what’s your favorite moment of the song?
Caroline: It has to be towards the end when it sort of crescendos into that very passionate moment where he says, ‘Take a GOOD look at me now,’ instead of just ‘take a look at me now,’ as he has previously.
Sean: That ‘GOOD,” means he means it!
Caroline: He means it this time, with FEELING! And then it’s like a huge emotional moment but then it just goes back into the lilting piano of the beginning, very soft, very calm. I like the way it resolves. I love that moment. It’s very powerful
Sean: I can tell this is an emotional journey for you, both as an 11 year old girl and as a grown woman.
Caroline: And I don’t even know why. I remember seeing the video which of course had clips from the movie . And something very dramatic was going on, I couldn’t tell you what exactly.
Sean: I’ve never seen the movie either but based on the video i sense there’s infidelity. I also sense that at the end of the film someone drives into a garbage truck.
Caroline: A dramatic death scene perhaps! Very dramatic. My only beef with the song when I was younger was that I felt it should be longer. I felt there was a verse missing. As a child I remember thinking after the bridge there should be one more moment and I was sad it wasn’t longer – but today when I was listening to it it felt perfect at 3 and a half minutes.
Sean: For some reason I remember it being 12 minutes long. Ok now be honest with me – did you have a poster of Phil Collins on your bedroom wall?
Caroline: Surprisingly no -I did love the song, I did love many other Phil Collins songs but, however, I did not find him cute. Unlike Huey Lewis who did feature prominently on my wall, I did not have a poster of Phil Collins.
Sean: We’re going to deal with Huey Lewis AND The News in a future post. But back to Phil – no insult to him – but he is not the sexiest pop star – so applause to him for having number one songs without being a looker.
Caroline: Exactly – and I think he was genuinely a good singer.
Sean: A lot of people have covered this song. Mariah Carey famously. Have you heard the Mariah version?
Caroline: No – but I don’t know if Mariah can compete with Phil on this one. You don’t mess with the classics.
Note: I later played Mariah’s version for Caroline who had this to say: “Oooh she does a good job!! But that’s no shock- she’s Mariah, after all. I like hearing a woman sing it. But she doesn’t do the end justice like Phil did!!!! Too screechy.”)
Sean: This song knocked Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” out of the number one spot back in April, 1984. Do you remember that? How did you feel about it?
Caroline: I did like “Footloose” a lot but it did not have the emotional pull for me that “Against All Odds” did.
Sean: I envision 11 year old Caroline sitting in her bedroom listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 and dancing for joy when he announced “Against All Odds” stole the number one spot from “Footloose”.
Caroline: Absolutely – there may have even been tears. There was definitely a dash to the boom box to try to capture it on tape. And It stays with me as a song I just love. I don’t hear it very often anymore. I don’t even know if I can tell you why – all I can do is just tell you I love it, I think it’s a beautiful song and it’s obviously still resonating with me today.
Sean: I think you’re tearing up right now. That’s a fact. Thank you for talking with me and sharing your thoughts about a song I could not muster the passion or emotion to write about myself. Maybe I’m dead inside, I don’t know. Thank you Caroline
Caroline: No problem. My pleasure. I look forward to our chat on Huey Lewis.
In 1984 Cameo’s, ‘She’s Strange’ sat on top of Billboard’s R&B charts for the entire month of April. The tune combined elements of disco, funk, rap and R&B and in addition to being a catchy, sexy pop song – it served as one of the year’s best anthems for the freaks and eccentrics of the time.
“Now I’m a different guy/ And I don’t compare to many”
Cameo wasn’t alone embracing otherness in the mid-80’s. Boy George, Annie Lennox, and Michael Jackson all made being odd feel very mainstream. Also, is it a coincidence that the title of Cyndi Lauper‘s debut album, She’s So Unusual, is so similar to the title of Cameo’s single? Well actually – yes – that probably is a coincidence (but let’s pause for a moment and imagine the magic that would have resulted if Blackmon and Lauper had recorded a song together. That should have happened!) Of course funk musicians like George Clinton and Africa Bamabaataa were letting their freak flags fly well before 1984; but there was something about Cameo’s exploration of weirdness – especially in this song – that really intrigued me.
Even before the music starts Cameo lets us know what we’re in for. It’s their one word, harmonic, declarative statement that sets us up for the simple, brilliant chorus.
“She’s Strange/And I like it”.
It’s the word ‘and‘ that really made the song interesting to me. Blackmon is stating he likes this woman because she’s different. Imagine if the chorus were “She’s strange/but despite her strangeness I still find her appealing,” See the difference? Not as interesting, right? In all seriousness, I remember thinking about that line quite a bit the first few times I listened to the song. So – being odd is good?Difference can be sexy? Of course those are simple and true statements – but how often, either as a teen or an adult do we need to be reminded of those facts? This music video is a great time capsule of mid-80’s R&B imagery. Jheri curls? Check. Women with big hair? Check. Dressed in neon day glo colors? Check! Check!
Freddie Mercury: Larry Blackmon’s brother from another mother?
But what really stands out for me is Blackmon’s style. Blackmon rocked the ‘the 70’s are not quite over ‘stache’ like no else – with the possible exception of Freddie Mercury (I think of Blackmon and Mercury as brothers in arms – from different musical genres and different countries, but sharing the goal of fighting for the rights of freaks everywhere). Blackmon’s style in the video is amazing. The muscle T, the leather jacket, the sunglasses – Blackmon was serving three minutes and forty seven seconds of On the Waterfront realness! Two years later he’d cement his style icon status by 1) sporting an enviably high flat top 2) wearing that unforgettable red codpiece. I’d place that codpiece right alongside Elvis’ blue suede shoes, Madonna’s cone bra, and Michael’s glove. It’s iconic! Someone needs to write an epic poem about that codpiece!
So Much Depends Upon/ A Red Codpiece
30 Years later I’m just as intrigued by the song and video and have just as many questions. Is Blackmon gay? Is he straight? Was that a whore-house in the middle of the desert the band just visited? Why so many shots of women applying toe nail polish? How can a woman be one’s Al Capone, one’s Rollingstones and one’s Eva Peron? Many questions without definite answers. 30 Years later the song and video are still inscrutable, the music is still great and I still like it.