Great 80’s Rock Songs You Missed

Every decade produces its fair share of classic music that gets lost in the shuffle; adored by hundreds of thousands who get access to it while unknown to the millions trapped in the little bubble of safety that is corporate radio.

Things are better now. If it weren’t for Album 88 in Atlanta, I wouldn’t own over half the records I do now, but even though non-college radio still sucks just as badly if no more so, at least good music can be tracked down through the internet or satellite radio. Perhaps the days of lost gems is not so far away.

Although this article may appear at first to belong in the one-hit wonders category, it really goes deeper than that. I’m hoping to expose readers to some song that, as far as I know, were never hits anywhere but on college or alternative radio stations. After you read this article, should you find yourself interested in tracking down some of these songs and artists, the good news is that a simple Google search will bring up a few listings. In other words, these aren’t totally obscure or unknown songs. The bad news is that tracking down actual downloads or even CDs containing them may prove tougher.

“Kinetic” by Hilary.
Anyone who reads me regularly knows my favorite band of all time is New Order. What can I say, I like technopop. This song is has one of the catchiest hooks in music history. It’s very difficult to get it out of your mind after hearing. Like New Order, the music comes first, but the words gradually dig into your mind and you will find yourself repeating a phrase or two later on after the song fades out. If Madonna had remade this song on her Like a Virgin album it would have become a huge hit; a dance floor staple. The beat is incessant and the melody, which sounds like an ice cream truck tune gone mental, circles around and around. The title of the song is expressed in the electronic ambience and the pulsing, throbbing mania. As far as I know, Hilary only recorded a handful of other songs and only the appropriately titled Drop Your Pants comes close to being as memorable as this unfairly overlooked masterpiece.

“Pretenders of Love” by Shark Vegas
This one features a real connection to New Order. Anyone familiar with great music from the 80s should immediately recognize the importance of Factory Records. The legendary Manchester company was home to just about every important band to come out of England in the late 70s/early 80s except for The Smiths. The history of Factory Records was recorded in the hysterical film 24 Hour Party People. New Order pretty much made Factory what it was, which is why it is so ironic that Factus 17, the compilation album titled “Young, Popular and Sexy” is funny. On the back of the album you will find an image with the words “No New Order” on it. There are several great songs on this album, including one from A Certain Ratio and one from The Durutti Column. But the real standout is Pretenders of Love by Shark Vegas. I’ve never been able to track down any other music by this Germany-based band and that’s a shame because if the rest of their stuff is similar to this song, it’s worth listening. Again, we’re talking technopop in the New Order vein.

“Rolene” by Moon Martin.
No, Moon Martin is the name of a band. He is a singer/songwriter who at the time of the release of this song looked like a new wave Warren Zevon. He is a terrific representative of a style of music that has been sorely missing since the early 80s, but is thankfully making a comeback courtesy of bands like Fountains of Wayne, The Shout Out Louds and The All American Rejects: power pop. Moon Martin was, along with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds one of the foremost progenitors of this style of retro new wave. Although his Bad Case of Loving You was covered to hitsville by Robert Palmer, it is Rolene that stands as his masterpiece. The guitar hook on Rolene is even better than Bad Case of Loving You. There’s even a hint of Foreigner’s later hit Urgent to be found in this song. It’s a plaintive song lyrically; a man trying to get through to his sweet love over the phone. Yeah, now that I think about, Moon Martin should probably have sued Foreigner for ripping him off. Catchy isn’t the word for this song; addictive better suits it.

“Contemplation” by Bill Nelson.
Bill Nelson might very well be rock music’s only true genius. He started out as the front man for Be Bop Deluxe, an early 70s progressive rock band in the mold of Yes or Emerson Lake and Palmer. Later in the decade he put out an album that was described as out-Devoing Devo. Inarguably the most prolific man in rock music, his discography literally goes on for pages, though it somewhat misleading. Many of his albums are made up less of songs than pastiches of songs. Contemplation is not one of them. With a vague undercurrent of Middle Eastern rhythms, Contemplation contains what may be my favorite opening line: “I’m a man of vision/And I like what I see.” The song is thick with sounds, a perfect example of Phil Spector’s wall of sound theory taken to its ultimate. It is somehow both soothing and energetic. The narrator says he is like a man in a trance, and the listener finds that he, too, is absolutely entranced by this song. It remains one of my top five songs of all time and why a filmmaker has never capitalized on its ambience to underscore anything from a love scene to a murder sequence I’ll never know. The ending of the song recapitulates its Middle Eastern influence sublimely.

“The Only Truth” by Paul Haig.
Haig was a member of the seminal band Josef K, a band that should have been huge. But wasn’t. Big surprise, right? Guess what, Haig’s career also intertwines with New Order in that he worked in collaboration with Bernard Sumner. The Only Truth is, I guess, best described as technopop, though it’s tougher and more guitar-oriented than anything New Order did until the Brotherhood album. In fact, buried in the back of the mix is a jangly guitar sound that really adds to the overall effect. This song should have been playing nightly on the dancefloors of Britain and America in the 80s. Maybe it was Haig’s almost accusatory tone that prevented this song from becoming a huge dance hit. It certainly wasn’t the music, which can stand up to any monster dance hit from that time you may want to name.

“Coronado” by Trampoline.
Another great power pop tune. Led by the beautiful bass line that sets the foundation for the influx of sound that accompanies the chorus. This song could just as easily be found on an Elvis Costello album or a Fountains of Wayne album. It bridges the gap between those two, having come out in the early 90s. Again, this is a song that is both soothing and an urge to dance. It’s an example of the kind of music that should be heard much more often on mainstream radio as a break from the incessant repetition of rap and the incessant boredom of American Idol cast-offs.

“C’est Comme Sa” by Les Rita Mitsouko.
The French lyrics no doubt prevented this song from becoming a hit, but I guarantee en English version would have become at least a cult dance favorite. Listening to this song is like riding one of those “octopus” rides at the fair. Sure, it’s incredibly repetitive and it maybe goes on just a half minute longer than it should, but you can’t stop riding it (or listening to it) over and over and over again. It’s guitar crazy held together by a manic drumbeat that never stops, never lets go. I don’t know what the heck the lyrics are saying and I don’t care. A song like this goes well beyond lyrical content, like 99 Luftballons. Frankly, the English version of that song is nowhere as good as the German because it’s a little too literal. Like that song, I think I can make out the idea of this song, but I really have no need to know what it’s actually, definitively about. If you can track down this crazy duo, do so. Wonder whatever happened to them.

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