The summer of 1986 was a time of transition for the Cheese Fry, leaving the brutally awkward and dangerous halls of an inner city middle school, complete with a daily 20-minute round-trip ride on a yellow school bus and the regular roars of airplanes taking off and landing a hundred feet over the roof, and preparing to enter the brutally awkward and dangerous (for different reasons) halls of a suburban high school. MTV was king, riding our bike was starting to get uncool, and a fun Friday night was touch football under the streetlights after dark.
Here's the top ten songs this week 26 years ago.
1. Robert Palmer, "Addicted to Love" - Played to death at the time, both on the radio and in double-super-heavy rotation on MTV, this song has become shorthand for mid-80s pop. The lyrics can be repetitive, but the grinding guitars and whap-whap-whap of the drums make it imminently enjoyable. And for a 14-year-old, that video of sleek, barely-dressed women wearing bright red wet lipstick was fascinating on a number of levels.
2. Pet Shop Boys, "West End Girls" - We respect the artistry of this song and the lush Yamaha-keyboard mood, but it's rather dour. And full of too many esoteric lyrics that likely only make sense if you know England. It hasn't aged very well.
3. Prince and the Revolution, "Kiss" - Hated it then, hate it now. Our pathetic school bus driver (she once decided not to drive her bus in the ice, but didn't tell anyone that was her plan so all of us kids were stranded in the freezing cold on our bus stop corners) always broadcast from her crap plastic Radio Shack transistor radio some local adult-contemporary station and, we kid you not, they played "Kiss" every single damn morning.
4. Van Halen, "Why Can't This Be Love" - 1984 was one of the first three cassette tapes we ever bought (other two: Huey Lewis and the News, Sports and The Police, Synchronicity - the more you know...). We wore that thing out, playing it over and over. While at the time we loved "Jump" now it's very clear to us the best song is "Panama." So the departure of singer David Lee Roth was a worrisome development in the Cheese Fry's childhood home. This single was the first one off the new Van Halen album 5150 featuring replacement singer Sammy Hagar. It sounds like a Van Halen song, but then again it also sounds completely different. Clearly, they had us with the opening weeee-eeee-ahhh bent guitar chord.
5. The Rolling Stones, "Harlem Shuffle" - We suspect this is rather humiliating for them, don't you think? "Sympathy for the Devil," it ain't.
6. Janet Jackson, "What Have You Done for Me Lately" - Remember when Janet - Ms. Jackson if you're nasty - was a legitimate music force cranking out these kinds of sexy, angry dance songs (unless they were slower, softer, more introspective ballads like "Let's Wait Awhile")? This was one of several hits from her breakout album - remember when we called them albums? - Control. It is definitely a time-travel song. Hear it and you're instantly transported to the rundown 1981 hatchback you rode in during a secret lunch run, crowded full of fellow freshman.
7. Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love of All" - We're not afraid to admit that there are a great many Whitney Houston songs out there that we really like. This is not one of them. A textbook example of the kind of sappy, melodramatic cheese danish that was so very popular back before things like SoundScan started keeping track of what people actually liked and bought, not what record stores and music labels pushed on the public. Gag us.
8. Outfield, "Your Love" - All together now: "Josie's on a vacation far away..." One of the best pop songs ever recorded. Seriously. The end.
9. Phil Collins, "Take Me Home" - Another of the many hit singles from the Phil Collins juggernaut album No Jacket Required (we have a guilty-pleasure soft spot for the brassy "Sussudio"). We always liked the jingle-jangle synthesized background and the chorus has a nice soar to it. But like so many Collins songs, it overstays its welcome by several minutes before that slow, slow fade-out.
10. The Bangles, "Manic Monday" - It's hard to fathom any 1980s teenage boy in American not having a crush on at least one of the Bangles. Flirty singer Susanna Hoffs was the popular one, sure but we liked to go against the grain so our favorite was guitarist Vicki Peterson. This is by far their biggest hit, imminently sing-a-long-able, and very much a child of the 80s, famously written by Prince (see #3 above). It's sunny and peppy and wry, but we prefer the darker "Hazy Shade of Winter."
P.S. Will our kids think of the Bangles or Robert Palmer the same dusty, distant way we think of the Beatles and Elvis from our parents' generation? Egad.