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The Most Underrated Songs of the 80s (Volume I)

25 Apr

TOTO – Stranger In Town

TOTO enjoyed a number of very well known top hits such as «Africa», «Rosanna» and «I’ll Be Over You» during the eigthies. And «Africa» is among my all-time favourite songs. Well, here comes my second-best TOTO song: «Stranger In Town». It was released in 1984 and unfortunately the highest position it could climb was #30. Apart from being its amazing tempo, the song is notable for its video-clip (nominated for MTV Video Music Award for Best Direction) and interesting lyrics. Here is a part of it:

«The morning paper and the head-lines read: Danger to the queen / Buckingham Palace better tighten things up / The son of a bitch is mean.

Vendors on the corner just doin’ their job / Acting like nothing’s new / Scotland Yard’s still looking for him / But he doesn’t leave / a single clue

YazooWalk Away From Love

When Vincent (Vince) Clarke left Depeche Mode after the band’s debut album; nobody would believe that could be indeed something good for Depeche Mode, Vince Clarke and the lovers of New Wave music. Because Depeche Mode obviously did quite well in his absence and he formed some great new bands: Yazoo (known as «Yaz» in US) and Erasure… Yazoo was a short-lived band but during this short time span they recorded two amazing albums.

They were unable to repeat the same success in the US market; but even in the UK – their home country, it is a shame how such a great song like «Walk Away From Love» (1983) did not earn the recognition it should have. The band is best known for its hit song «Don’t Go» (1982).

Prince & The RevolutionStrange Relationship

Prince was undoubtedly one of the most influential and stylish pop icons of the eighties and nineties. Among his dozens of hits and hundreds of songs; one amazing piece deserved much more attention: «Strange Relationship». With as history dating back to 1983 when it was first composed, the song waited until 1987 to be released with the album «Sign O The Times». To me, among all his beautiful songs, this one is second only to «When Doves Cry». As the name suggests, the song is about a strange love relationship : ) So, it would not come as a surprise to hear lyrics such as:

«Baby I just can’t stand to see you happy / More than that I hate to see you sad
Honey if you left me I just might do something rash / What’s this strange relationship? (ship, ship, ship)».

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire

U2 became a global legend with their fifth studio album «The Joshua Tree» in 1987. It was due to the chart topping singles and commercial success achieved in the US market. However, their previous studio album «The Unforgettable Fire», dating back to 1984 went unnoticed by many… In fact, the song (with the same title of the album), The Unforgettable Fire (Highest UK Chart Position: #6) was their last single before their US#1 hit «With or Without You».

To me, among all those numerous hits – even compared to the ones that followed – this song is superior in terms of the richness in musical flavour and is a true gem. It is definitely an experimental postmodern adventure.

Endnote: Not recommended for an average U2 listener.

Talk TalkHave You Heard the News?

Talk Talk was a British band and had many well known songs during the 80s, such as their most notable work «It’s My Life», and other ovely songs – for example: «Such a Shame», «Give it Up», «Talk Talk», «Life is What You Make It» and «Today» but lacking chart success. Who knows, may be it is because their songs are too melancholic…

But, «Have You Heard the News?» which was never released as a single is my all-time-favourite Talk Talk song. The song portrays a story about a car accident, which is not a very common topic in pop songs. The narrator in the song feels so bad about the accident that he says: «I feel so disposable, you can throw me away») (From the album: «The Party’s Over» – 1982)

Dexy’s Midnight RunnersCeltic Soul Brothers

When Dexy’s Midnight Runners is mentioned, the first song that would resonate with everybody is undoubtedly «Come on Eileen» (UK #1). Whilst it is a lovely song, it has never been my top pick from the band. So which song could I ever dare to choose instead of it? Well, «Celtic Soul Brothers» it is… This song is also from the same LP «Too-Rye-Ay» (1982) and it was the first single from this album (Yepp!!! You read it right, it was not «Come on Eileen» but this one!) But the highest position it could ever reach in the UK charts was no 20… (in its re-release in 1983).

It is a pity how such an incredible song went unnoticed. With amazing violins, shaky vocals, entertaining lyrics and unfamiliar beat; Celtic Soul Brothers is one of the best songs of 1982 and believe me, that year was a very competitive one!

ABC – Unzip

When the English band ABC released their debut album «Lexicon of Love» in 1982, it was a huge success and reached #1 in the UK charts. It was followed by the «Beauty Stab» LP, just a year later, which did not perform as good as its predecessor. This was because not only because the album was not full of great songs like «The Look of Love», «Poison Arrow» or «All of My Heart», but also due to the fact that ABC had not chosen the right singles to be released from that album. It is unbelieveable how they made the terrible mistake of not naming «Unzip» as their first single. In fact they never released it as a single… Unzip is with no doubt, one of the best songs ABC has ever recorded.

And I will not even mention its controversial lyrics (for that time) starting with «Love’s just the gimmick / A mime or a mimic / That makes sex seem respectable».

INXS – Kiss the Dirt

INXS was an Australian band with 7 US Billboard Top10 songs during the 80s and 90s, including their only No1 hit «Need You Tonight». This success was achieved mainly after the release of their famous album «Kick». But the album prior to that which was labelled «Listen Like Thieves» (1985), is also a very good one with singles such as «What You Need» (their first top10 US hit) and «Listen Like Thieves» (the same title with the LP). Although released from the same album, «Kiss the Dirt» failed to chart in the US and the highest position it could ever climb in the UK singles chart was no54.

But, who cares? If you love Michael Hutchence’s (R.I.P.) enigmatic voice and want to hear really good guitar solos, this is the perfect choice. Probably the best song INXS has ever recorded.

FalcoManner Des Westens (Any Kind of Land)

If you were looking for something really odd during 80s pop music, Falco – an Austrian singing RAP music in German (and some broken English) was for sure a top nominee. He was authentic in every way. He even had a US#1 and UK#1 hit: «Rock Me Amadeus». He is famous for other songs such as «Der Komissar» (which I believe was his best work), «Vienna Calling» and «Jeanny» «Manner Des Westens (Any Kind of Land)» is a noisy quite song with strong vocals and a very typical Falco-ish one. (Year: 1985)

Note: Although the song is named «Manner Des Westens (Any Kind of Land)» the direct translation of «Manner Des Westens» is «Western Men». The lyrics of this song is mostly in German and «Any Kind of Land» is part of the rhyme and among the few lines that are in English.

Roxy Music – Lover

Roxy Music was a great English band with 10 UK Top10 hits and 18 UK Top40 singles, inspired and influenced many famous British bands and singers during the 70s and 80s but was never a success in the US. Actually, it will be fair to say they were among the most underrated bands ever – probably their music was «way too sophisticated» for listeners of mainstream music. They never had a Top10 hit and the highest charting song day released was «Love is the Drug» (No30 in 1976). The song «Lover» was not released as a single but is a B-side song on their single «The Same Old Scene», which reached no12 in the UK charts (1980). It appears also among the songs in the soundtrack album «Miami Vice II» (1986).

Interesting Note: Roxy Music had only one UK No1 Hit and that was a cover… («Jealous Guy» – by John Lennon)

Kim WildeSuburbs of Moscow

With her unique voice, energizing songs and beautiful looks, Kim Wilde was a popular female act in the UK and the rest of Europe during the 80s. Her only US #1 hit (and a #2 in the UK) however, was a cover song («You Keep Me Hanging On»). Suburbs of Moscow was not released as a single but this song with «The Second Time (Go for It)» (which unfortunately performed poorly on the charts) are my all-time-favourite Kim Wilde songs. They are both from the album «Teases & Dares» (1984).

If it is about geography and Kim Wilde, most people would remember her single named «Cambodia» (1981). Looks like she had a thing for the communist regimes back then. Well, if you like pop-songs with references to the soviets during the eighties I would also recommend «Russians» from Sting and «Storm the Embassy» from Stray Cats.

Stray CatsStorm The Embassy

Stray Cats were once a huge success and received critical acclaim with the new touch they have brought to the Rock & Roll. They had several hits (2 top 10 songs in the UK and 3 top 10 songs in the US – their home market). Well, «Storm the Embassy» is not one of those but is a great song with very interesting lyrics:

«Storm the Iranian embassy / Before they start shootin’ down you and me / Scourge of suits in control of the diplomaticness / While the nations of the World look on and they care less / The Soviet Union won’t agree to an economic plan / And then they laugh and march their troops into Afghanistan / Orders from Moscow / Invade Teheran now»

Bow Wow Wow – Man Mountain

The story of Bow Wow Wow and especially the band’s lead singer Annabella Lwin is one of the most interesting stories I have ever heard in pop music history. Equally interesting was their authentic style of music and their controversial careers. They were not a «huge commercial success» but were respected by most music authorities and enjoyed a devoted fan base. Bow Wow Wow is most known for their singles «I Want Candy» and «Do You Wanna Hold Me». Their second (and sadly last) studio album «When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going» (1983) is a gem. The song «Man Mountain» which is from this LP, is a very touchy ballad, not like the convential slow songs you’d hear and unlike the rest of Bow Wow Wow’s sometimes tiring songs.

The song has very interesting lyrics such as «He don’t breathe, he don’t sleep, he don’t even wash his feet». (My all time favourite Bow Wow Wow song: «Aphrodisiac»)