Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday 80s Flashback for April 22, 2011

[A Very Good Earth (Fri)day] -- This week our Flashback Friday falls upon a date of intersection. Today is Earth Day, a time to reflect on our use and abuse of our home planet, as well as Good Friday, the day Christians the world over solemnly observe the murder of their religion's central figure. Also of note this week, we observed the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill. So, today, we have something of a combo theme: 80s songs that reflect a concern for our planet and environment, as well as 80s songs that somehow -- even if only in my mind -- reflect some aspect of Easter. That's quite a tall task, so I'll bet you're wondering what songs made the cut this week. As usual, you can read and hear more after the jump.
Flashback #1: "Oh, things ain't what they used to be, oh, no | Where did all the blue skies go?" 

In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a NY Times bestseller that represented a watershed moment for our modern environmental movement. But by the time 1970 rolled around, there was still no organized environmental movement. In the midst of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War, however, this was about to change. Inspired by students protesting the war, and motivated by the 1969 oil spill (Santa Barbara, CA), Gaylord Nelson (then a US Senator from Wisconsin) announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment.” Thus was born the very first Earth Day.
Official national poster for the
first Earth Day in 1970 (
About one year later, Marvin Gaye released his 11th studio album, What's Going On? (1971). This concept album features a song cycle that tells a story from "the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing nothing but injustice, suffering and hatred" (source: Wikipedia). The second single from this album is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songs about ecology and the Earth ever recorded. With lyrics lamenting oil soaked oceans, smoke-filled skies, congested lands, and dying animals, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" struck a chord with the music-listening public in 1971 by reaching #4 on Billboard's Pop Singles chart and #1 for two weeks on the R&B singles charts. But the Flashback is about 80s music, so we cannot use "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)", right? Well, if an 80s artist covered it, we can. Fortunately for us, this is indeed the case. Aswad, a British reggae group, covered it for their seventh studio album, Rebel Souls (1984). Now, I'm not usually a fan of reggae, but I think Aswad does a fine job and delivers this song with the proper emotional punch. We've made great strives since this song was first released, but we still have far to go. So "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" remains as timely as it did 40 years ago.

Flashback #2
: "Somewhere between the soul and soft machine, is where I find myself again."

The difficultly in this week's theme was in finding 80s songs that were appropriate for Easter weekend. And it's not that there weren't plenty of Christian-oriented artists in the 80s. It's just that most of their output was more ... evangelical ... than I would like. I almost had to go back and repeat a song selection from an earlier flashback: "Love Resurrection" by Alison Moyet appeared in the very first flashback post on my blog in September 2010. I really thought a song with the lyrics "We all need a love resurrection, a little divine intervention," perfectly captured the gist for Easter weekend. And although it seemed appropriate to recycle (oh, look what I did there) a song from a previous post, I was reluctant to do so. Fortunately, I came across a suitable replacement in the form of "Kyrie" from Mr. Mister's 1985 album Welcome to the Real World. Combining some nonsense rhymes with a line from Greek liturgy (Kýrie, eléison means "Lord, have mercy"), Mr. Mister (whose name is also nonsensical, kind of like the local thoroughfare in Bucks County called Street Road) crafted a pop song that is essentially a prayer. I'm sure many a Christian would be fine with the prayer, "Lord, have mercy on the road that I must travel." Some might even be praying it today.

Flashback #3"Buy the sky and sell the sky and bleed the sky and tell the sky."

Our third flashback comes from R.E.M. -- one of my favorite 80s bands (and they are 31 years young this month!). Early in their career, R.E.M. embraced the motto, "Think Global; Act Local." Their actions continue to follow through in this vein as they fund hundreds of events and organizations each year in their hometown of Athens, Georgia. Not surprisingly, their music has reflected this motto as well. Their fourth studio album, Life's Rich Pagent (1986), named after a line of dialogue in the 1964 move, A Shot in the Dark, had two environmentally themed songs. Track #4 on Side A, "Cuyahoga," tells the story of the once heavily-polluted Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio (the river actually caught fire in 1969). Also on Side A, and the album's first single, we have "Fall On Me," which reached #94 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #35 on U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks. Most folks believe this song is about acid rain, and the lyrics would seem to bear this out with their admonition of "Don't fall on me." And while Michael Stipe, R.E.M.'s lead vocalist, has admitted that the song started out with acid rain as its subject, he has since said the tune is "pretty much a song about oppression" in general [Black, Johnny (2004). Reveal: The Story of R.E.M. Backbeat Books]. Either way, "Fall On Me" certainly fits in this week's theme.

Bonus Flashback: "There's only one thing gonna set you free, and that's my love."

It's a holiday weekend, so we have a bonus flashback. I know there were 80s-philes who expected an entire Easter basket full of 80s goodness, but the rule of three isn't something to be violated lightly. It does, however, seem fair to throw in one more tune so we strike a balance of two songs for the environment and two songs for Easter. I mean, it's only fair, right?

Our bonus flashback comes from Who guitarist Pete Townshend's first truly solo album, Empty Glass (1980). The songwriting on this album clearly reflects that Townshend was going through a seriously rough patch in his life. He was struggling with alcoholism, drug abuse, marital problems and deceased friends. In an interview (recorded in the film 'The Who: Live at the Isle of Wight Festival'), he revealed the origin of the album title:
"And when I did my first solo album, I called it 'Empty Glass', 'cause of this idea that when you go to the tavern -- which is to God, you know -- and you ask for His love -- He's the bartender, you know -- and He gives you a drink, and what you have to give Him is an empty glass. You know there's no point giving Him your heart if it's full already; there's no point going to God if your heart's full of Doris." [source: Wikipedia]
It was this image that also inspired the single, "Let My Love Open the Door." In this song, it is likely that my love refers to God's love. And this concept seems to be confirmed in the liner notes of Townshend's Gold (Remaster) CD where he refers to this song as "Jesus sings." That alone marks the song as appropriate for Easter weekend in my opinion.

Dedicated to Alex Biddle, a college friend who passed too soon

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. But if you 80s-philes need more flashbacks, please visit the archives. I suggest starting with last week's "Hail Mary!" flashback; it was particularly well-received.

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. But if you don't like the flashback, just share it with your enemies.

I'll see you in seven!

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