Friday, December 02, 2011

Friday 80s Flashback for December 2, 2011

[I Still Have Heart] -- Last year at this time, I launched a multi-week exploration of 80s "Winter Holiday" tunes. Well, I'm not quite ready to break into songs of the season. So, instead, this week I'm exploring songs about having heart. These three songs defined the time from the beginning of my senior year of high school through the conclusion of my first year at college. Wondering if your heart beat in tune with mine? To find out, read and hear more after the break.

Flashback #1"It's never enough until your heart stops beating."

Premiering on February 28, 1986, and earning over six million dollars during its opening weekend, "Pretty in Pink" was John Hughes' third contribution to the growing canon of "Brat Pack" movies. And, like his previous coming-of-age films, it featured an incredible soundtrack. Our first flashback was written specifically for the film, but it was initially rejected by the filmmakers, who opted to use two previously recorded songs. However, those same filmmakers eventually came around, and today's first flashback artist ended up with three writing credits for one movie. That definitely gets filed under "Nice Work if You Can Get It!" Anyway, the song in question is "Shellshock" by New Order. In the film, this song provides the underscoring for the scene where Duckie rides bike past Andie's house the morning after her first date with Blaine. And all this week, it has appeared in regular rotation in my morning commute playlist. On paper, it probably should not work as a song. There are too many elements -- a click track, standard and digital drums, strings-like synths, guitar licks, bass loops, and pounding synths -- seemingly competing for attention. But that was the genius of New Order. They found a way to weave these disparate musical elements into much more than a cohesive song; they created a hit!

Flashback #2"This is stranger than I thought | Six different ways inside my heart."

Even before I had settled on a theme, "Shellshock" set the tone for what I was looking for in this week's flashback tunes. Our next song is quite different in attitude, but I can hear some similarities in its musical components. There's a synth line (or two) that mimic the sound of strings; a keyboard riff that kind of plays the role of a bass loop; interesting percussion; and varied synth arrangements. But where "Shellshock" is a driven, one might say almost anthemic, tune, this second flashback has a lilting, almost dreamlike, quality. Of course, lilting and dreamlike are words that no one expected to be applied to a song, let alone an album, by goth rock poster boys, The Cure. But the year 1985 saw Robert Smith and company moving further away from the sound that had initially defined them. As they experimented more with keyboards and synthesizers, and gained more confidence in the recording studio, they were able to explore new sonic directions while still stamping their identity courtesy of Smith's warbling vocals. Although this particular track, "Six Different Ways," was never released as a single from The Head on the Door (1985), and (according to Wikipedia) it has rarely been played in concert since 1986, it is popular among fans. Well, it is popular with this fan, anyway. And while the version from the Peel Session is rather cool (as most of John Peel's work is), I'll always prefer the original album version.

Flashback #3"Hearts can never be owned | Hearts only come on loan."

Our final flashback of the day was a single, but it was never released on a studio album. No, it was included on the UK compilation album The Singles (81-85). In the US, the compilation's counterpart was called Catching Up With Depeche Mode (which was changed to The Singles 81>85 with the 1998 re-release). Lyrically and musically, it is rather simple. But its theme was eagerly embraced by the record buying public in the fall of 1985. It reached #18 on the UK singles chart. For its target demographics (high schoolers, college students, and young hipsters looking for love in dance clubs), the pulsing beat matched the thumping of their own searching -- and often overly protected -- hearts. Here is our final flashback of the day: "It's Called a Heart"

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

I'll see you in seven!

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