Of course I couldn’t do a year’s theme week without looking at this year’s songs. Because there is only one 1980 week, I decided to look at the top 10 of the top songs of the year from Germany, the UK and US simultaneously, since they also overlap pretty much. Is the music of 1980 as dark, detached and depressing as everything else this week? We’re about to find out!
Blondie – Call Me (#1 US, #35 UK, #48 Germany)
There isn’t much to talk about here, since this is nothing more than “I love you, so call me!” But it includes the lines
Cover me with kisses, baby
Cover me with love
Roll me in designer sheets
I'll never get enough
How much more materialistically 80s can you get than “designer sheets”? Great song, though.
Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall (#2 Germany, #2 US, #46 UK)
I have a love-hate relationship with that song. There is nothing in the song’s lyrics I don’t agree with. It protests against an education system that is still very alive today. It’s not very nuanced or specific, but that’s part of why it’s so timeless. The problem is not the song itself, but the way it has entered our culture. You want to portray anything about school, have a graduation party or just a bad comedian’s routine on school? Out comes Another Brick in the Wall, losing all of its intention in change for some cheap “Oh, I know this song, let’s sing along” effect. It has become a total cliché and no one wastes a second of a thought on its lyrics anymore. I’ve had to disagree with people to use that song for theater performances at least twice, not because the lyrics don’t fit but because it actually prevents people from thinking about it because it sends them into a comfort zone where they switch their brains off.
Barbra Streisand – Woman in Love (#2 UK, #40 Germany)
It’s obviously a love song, and man, did they have epic love songs in 1980! Really, listen to it, it’s like an army trying to conquer you. Not that bad really for a cheesy love song. Anyway, the lyrics fall a little in the “giving myself up for you” camp that we’ve seen so often here.
I stumble and fall
But I give you it all
That’s pretty self-sacrificial. But then:
I am a woman in love
And I'd do anything
To get you into my world
And hold you within
It's a right I defend
Over and over again
It’s not like this is feminist propaganda, but at least she wants to take her love into her world and not just give herself up for the other’s world. It’s a subtle but relevant difference. Also, talking about defending your rights again and again sounds somewhat strong for a woman in love.
ABBA – Super Trouper (#3 UK)
I know, I know, ABBA, right? C’mon! I didn’t even want to listen to that song voluntarily again since ABBA are so aggressively forced upon everyone at some point in our culture, I really want to get away from them. But I never listened to the lyrics and the depiction of the dark side of success is pretty depressing for a song that people have been dancing to for 24 years and will be in the future.
But I won't feel blue Like I always do
I was sick and tired of everything
All I do is eat and sleep and sing Wishing every show was the last show
How can anyone be so lonely Part of a success that never ends
There are moments when I think I'm going crazy
Sure, the song is all about when feeling blue ends, but it still sounds like there’s an overdose coming around the corner soon. La la la, I want to kill myself, funny ABBA dance moves, la la la. I have no idea how intentional this was or if someone just wrote whatever in those lyrics, but it’s a pretty consistent theme throughout the song.
Michael Jackson – Rock With You (#4 US)
I don’t have to be completely fanatical with double meanings to see that this song is just a slightly modified song about sex? Right? Right?
Girl, close your eyes Let that rhythm get into you Don't try to fight it There ain't nothin' that you can do Relax your mind Lay back and groove with mine You got to feel that heat And we can ride the boogie
You see what I’m talking about?
Out on the floor There ain't nobody there but us Girl, when you dance There's a magic that must be love Just take it slow 'Cause we got so far to go
And did you notice the chorus?
I wanna rock with you (all night)
Not many letter changes necessary to turn this into explicit lyrics. I’m probably just seeing things.
Marti Webb – Take That Look Off Your Face (#6 Germany, #36 UK)
A woman is told her boyfriend is cheating on her and she is mostly angry at her friend telling her. And she knew anyway already. What did she do when she noticed?
I noticed a change, but I just closed my eyes As only a woman can.
Does that mean women are better at ignorance than men? I seriously doubt that and having a woman singing stereotypes about women is always unfortunate.
The Police – Don’t Stand So Close to Me (#6 UK)
The song deals with a girl having a crush on her teacher and his reaction to it. What is fascinating here is how the song describes how judgmental others are about the girl and the teacher – her friends, his colleagues – but the song doesn’t really judge any of the two. I had expected more of a moral outrage here, but anything said about the two protagonists is rather neutral or at least just points out it’s a difficult situation, so that the title serves as a good summary. An interesting song.
Paul McCartney – Coming Up (#7 US, #48 UK)
This is a bit weird. The song is somewhat monotonous but funky, invites you to dance but never varies much in its composition. It’s not really that interesting to listen to. But the lyrics show some optimistic vibe, repeating that something good will come up soon.
You want a better kind of future One that everyone can share You're not alone, we all could use it Stick around we're nearly there
This is interesting because while there’s this vague reassurance that something good will happen soon, it also states that the present really sucks. Because why else would everyone wait for a better future?
Odyssey – Use It Up, Wear It Out (#8 UK)
There is not much to look at in this song, because it’s 80% “shake your body” accompanied by body-shaking music. Which makes it even more astounding to me that in between all the body-shaking there’s the line
Ain't nothin' left in this whole world I care about
Nothing like some casual world-weariness in a dance disco song. Just look at that line, saying that the world sucks so much that there is nothing to care about. Together with all the “shake your body” and “do it all night” this is the perfect example for the escapism of a disillusioned and tired generation.
A citizenry disillusioned with politics and with what pretended to be intelligent discussions of politics turned its attention (or had its attention turned) to entertainment. (Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, Ch. 21)
That’s how Howard Zinn describes that time and I think those lyrics show that notion very well.
Olivia Newton-John – Xanadu (#10 Germany, #13 UK)
There is never a reason mentioned, but it’s all about escaping to a better world, a dream world.
The love, the echoes of long ago You needed the world to know They are in Xanadu
This idea of this world that comes from the past is interesting, but not unusual to think of an idealized past. And dream of a magical future. Just don’t mention the present. There really is a pattern here.
And that’s it already. Ten songs from 1980 presenting some escapism, depression, protest songs, detachment and designer sheets. See you in another year!