Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Billboard Top Ten Mainstream Rock Songs, 3-13-1982

I'm tired and run down from this week but still in a mood to do some writing. I haven't done a top ten of mainstream rock songs, and so I thought I'd give it a whirl. It's also interesting to go to 1982, when what we think of as "classic rock" was entering its death spasms. MTV was a New Wave enterprise, and hair metal was just over the horizon. In the film Spinal Tap this was the year the band embarked on its disastrous tour, suddenly a relic. I can't resist narratives of decline, hence my side-interest in late antiquity and my need to observe my home country's current slide into oblivion. Now, on with the countdown!

10. Le Roux, "Addicted"

This band is totally unknown to me. The beginning of the song actually slaps, reminding me of "Shakin'" by Eddie Money. After that it doesn't seem to go anywhere, though. Like a lot of mainstream rock music of the time, it lacks the aspirations of 70s rock music, and just kind of sits there. It has elements of power pop, but not enough.

9. Peter Cetera, "Living In The Limelight"

I had never heard this song before. The drums are 80stastic and the guitar riff has overtones of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I half expected Dio's voice to come in after the intro. This is a million miles away from the processed cheese that Cetera would take to the top of the charts later in the 80s, and also divorced from his band Chicago's jazzy sound. Very strange.

8. J. Geils Band, "Freeze Frame"

Unlike some other folks on the countdown, the J. Geils Band managed to retool their sound for the 80s. The bouncy beat and cheery keyboards are steeped in New Wave. The song's use at sporting events has ensured comfortable retirements for the band members.

7. McKenzie Brothers, "Take Off"

There's a lot of Canadian artists on this countdown, but none more Canadian than the McKenzie Brothers. I am HUGE SCTV fan and so it made me so happy to see this gem on the countdown. And yes, I own the album on LP. I love that Geddy Lee lets his maple leaf flag fly, speaking in local dialect and being totally self-effacing. Musically this is just silly butt rock but I guess that's the point. SCTV's humor was usually pretty subtle and required knowledge to get the references. The whole Great White North bit was much less cerebral, and of course was the part of the shame to be the most famous.

6. Bryan Adams, "Lonely Nights"

Well folks, the smell of back bacon is still in the room for Bryan Adams. This song predates his mid-80s chart breakthrough. It does not have the hooks of a song like "Run To You" or "Summer of '69." The power-poppy sound is trying to establish relevance, but it just doesn't quite get off of the ground.

5. Aldo Nova, "Fantasy"

Believe it or not, Canada just bowled a turkey on this countdown. This would go down as Aldo Nova's biggest hit, and it translates some of the sound of early 80s metal through the filter of Toto-esque hard rock. The organ triplets behind the verses are very reminiscent of "Hold The Line." It's a trick producers of the time were keen to use, from Bon Jovi's "Runaway" to Starship's "Jane." I have to admit I am kind of a sucker for that sound. Also, this dude can shred.

4. Sammy Hagar, "I'll Fall In Love Again"

The man who would go on to ruin Van Halen and become a tequila impresario made a lot of mediocre rock music in the early 80s. This song is part of a pattern in this early 80s mainstream music with its tepid approach and boring tone. Who actually went to record stores and bought this crap back in '82?

3. Prism, "Don't Let Him Know"

One could ask the same question of Prism. I am more interested in the fact that they hail from, you guessed it, Canada! This record is produced within an inch of its life and sounds like something you'd hear in a Toyota commercial. The guitars and drums borrow just enough from metal to not make this completely unlistenable.

2. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, "I Love Rock and Roll"

Finally we hit a true classic. I remember hearing this song for the first time as a kid and the HEAVYNESS of the guitar just smacked me upside the head. Combine that with Jett's perfect sneer, a handclappy beat and a singalong chorus and you've got yourself a helluva song. It still makes me stomp my feet all these years later.

1. Van Halen, "Oh Pretty Woman"

Most of the "mainstream rock" acts of this era are pretty forgettable, but not Van Halen. I remember seeing an interview with bassist Michael Anthony, who described their sound as "Big Rock," drawing a contrast with both hard rock and heavy metal. What made early Van Halen great was that their sound was in fact pretty unique. They did not sound like the tired old bands imitating New Wave to be relevant, nor were they stuck in the boring hard rock rut. Their covers were always great because they could take that sound and wrap it around old songs and give them new life. This was a solid choice, since you could just picture David Lee Roth in real life pleading for attention from a pretty woman. Van Halen would crest in 1984, about the time that this kind of music was getting completely crowded out by the new pop.

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