Monday, October 29, 2012

Lost Songs: Five Forgotten Tracks from the 1980s

Let’s concede that sometimes the world moves too fast. Time, to our mortal frustration, never stops. And down on a personal level so much of our limited time is taken up with the big chunks of real, mundane, responsible stuff that constitutes our everyday lives; and then there’s our daily turning off for sleep.1 The upshot of this is that even the most alert, astute, inquisitive, energized, wired…[fill in your adjective here]…of us can barely keep up with even the most momentous peaks of that uninterrupted wave of complex, countless happenings that make up our world. And this is reality.

This little preamble is my way of saying that we’re mostly stuck to follow the flow of events. I doubt you’ll want to follow me down this path of philosophical rumination, so let me do a quick left turn and apply this line of thinking to something a lot more fun, pop culture. Now is a glorious time to be a fan. What with the internet, blogosphere, youtube, television channels and websites dedicated to every form of entertainment, twitter, facebook, etc., and the endless parade of commentators and critics ready to make sense of it all. This is the age of entertainment variety and specialization. And I don’t think us fans of pop culture (a fairly frequent subject of this blog) would want it any other way. In fact, if anything, we probably want our special tastes even more catered to. But as any economist will tell you, life is about compromise and trade-offs. Specialization and variety are accompanied by scattering and diffusion. I may get to enjoy my favored entertainments better than ever, but at the loss of all the other things that I’ll never even know were there to be experienced. And this is reality.

So, here is the first in a new series of pop culture posts that represent my battle against the uninterrupted wave of time. To paraphrase a famous American conservative, this is my standing athwart history and yelling "stop". Or at least asking you to take a few moments to experience some bits of pop culture that you may have missed. The subject of this post is five “lost” tracks from the 1980s. I’ll touch on movies, TV, books, etc., and other decades in future posts. Before I get to the songs, let me note upfront that these tracks aren’t supposed to be my version of a “best of” or a shrill screed against a culture that failed to recognize the excellence of so-and-so 20-plus years ago. It’s just a list of relatively unknown songs that I think have aged well, and that you might like.2 It’s all meant in the spirit of fun, so enjoy.

Conroy’s Five “Lost” Tracks from the 1980s (in no particular order):

"Pure" by Lightning Seeds. This is pure 80s, what with the heavy synth backing, melodious, upbeat rhythm, and distinct way the English have of singing a pop song.

"Cynical Girl" by Marshall Crenshaw. Singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw enjoyed some chart success in the early 80s. "Cynical Girl" wasn’t a hit, but should have been. It’s two-and-a-half minutes of jangly guitar heaven.

"I'll Wear it Proudly" by Elvis Costello. Elvis Costello is probably one of the most highly regarded solo artists of the late 70s and early 80s, with a long list of notable singles of strong, deep albums. And it’s deep on his 1986 release King of America that you’ll find this lovely, poetic ballad. (Radiohead performed a poignant cover of this song during many live shows during the 90s.) The song starts about 1:38 into the video.

"Earn Enough for Us" by XTC. XTC typifies the band that is always popular amongst critics but achieved limited popular success. And what popular success they did enjoy was restricted mostly to Britain. Regardless, they’re one of the best pop acts from the 80s, and this track is one of their strongest songs. I like how the propulsive drums and guitar match both the rising melody and the gritty determination of the lyrics.

"Goodbye Girl" by Squeeze. The songwriting duo of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook were dubbed by the British music critics as the next Lennon-McCartney, which more or less doomed the band to be seen as failures. They weren’t of course, releasing many hits, including “Tempted”, which was a big hit in America and which I’m sure you’ve heard. Still, “Goodbye Girl” is there best song, and in my opinion, one of the best songs of the decade. It’s got everything, a mid-tempo beat, lovely harmonies, waves of synthesizer, and melancholy lyrics. (By the way, I'm picking the remixed version from the band's Singles 45 and Under album, which I could only find with this lame video - sorry.)



1. This is the really frustrating thing about sleep and time. The world keeps going while we shut down. If you live 80 years you sleep about 23 of them (at 7 hours a day). How much

2. And I reserve the right to list five, or ten, or twenty more “lost” tracks from the 80s in a future post.

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