Category Archives: the ’80s

test your musical knowledge with my favorite game

Hello, old pal, it’s been a long time. Too, too long. So long, in fact, that I wasn’t sure I was going to remember my login and password. But my long-term memory came through, and here I am. Continue reading


some top ’80s music picks for the bday

I turned 36 today, and this blog turned 1. I was planning on writing some big retrospective about how blogging this past year has taught me so many life lessons and made me a better writer/thinker/person. But then I had some birthday wine, and a friend asked me what my top 10 songs of the ’80s were. So now I’m going with that. But really quick before I do, I’ll pat myself on the back for posting 57 times in the last 365 days (this will be 58). That’s more than once a week, so I’m pretty happy about that.

Now on to more pressing matters: how to pick the Top 10 songs of the ’80s. No one, not even VH-1 and their listmaster generals, could do that. So I’m going to give you a list of my top 10 right at this moment. This means the first 10 ’80s songs I can’t live without that come to my head, so don’t chastise me when I leave off  “Billie Jean.” It’s a great song, I know. But they can’t all make the list.

1. Jumping Someone Else’s Train, The Cure. As with The Smiths (see #10), it’s impossible to pick one Cure song. But I chose this one because I play it for my high school students all the time. Such a great metaphor for high school life.

2. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division. The brilliance is in the haunting beauty: I love you, but that will kill me. Bonus points for appearing in Donnie Darko.

3. Don’t Change – INXS. Such an inspirational message, set against Michael Hutchence’s gorgeous vocals. My favorite in a long list of favorite INXS songs — when I hear that opening synth I get so excited.

4. Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant. What can I say? It’s a classic. And I always loved this video.

5. Heat of the Moment – Asia. The supergroup Asia, featuring members of  Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Roxy Music, might not have been so super, but this song left an indelible mark in my musical memory. These lyrics never cease to get to me — especially now that I’m 36:
and when your looks are gone and you’re alone
How many nights you sit beside the phone
What were the things you wanted for yourself
Teenage ambitions you remember well

6. Hey Ladies – The Beastie Boys. I am a huge Beastie Boys fan. I liked License to Ill, but I always felt it was a little juvenile. I really fell in love with the Boys when I heard Paul’s Boutique. This is also one great video.

7. Our Lips Are Sealed – The Go-Go’s. You couldn’t be a young girl in the ’80s and not be profoundly affected by this all-girl band. Such an influence they had on what I believed it meant to be a woman (I can be anything! Even a rock star! I can wear clothes from a thrift shop and dance in a fountain!). I was in love with Belinda Carlisle and her haircut well into the ’90s.

8. The Metro, Berlin. Terri Nunn is another one of those powerful women who had an influence on me. I finally lived out a fantasy related to this song when I rode on the Metro in Paris earlier this year and said to Tim in my nastiest snarly singing voice, “I remember hating you for loving me!”

9. Wild Wild West, Kool Moe Dee. I used to record Yo! MTV Raps on my VCR in middle school. I loved it all – Big Daddy Kane, Sir Mix-A-Lot (My Posse’s on Broadway is the first song I ever knew all the words to), Queen Latifah, MC Hammer (before his Hammer Pants got crazy), LL Cool J, L’Trimm…you get the idea. But for some reason this song has always stuck with me. I particularly like all the shout-outs at the end.

10. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, The Smiths. It would be impossible for me to even pick 10 Smiths songs for a list, so I just had to blindly choose one. I do so love this one, and I sing it almost every day when I take on a task I don’t want to take on. In my book, Morrissey can do no wrong.

I have left off a million songs that I love, songs that would make the list tomorrow. I’ve steered clear of ’80s hair bands — a genre I was a huge fan of — and most of the massive ’80s pop singers like Madonna and Prince. I also neglected some favorite bands like Depeche Mode, Rush, Duran Duran, Guns N’ Roses, REO Speedwagon, etc. One day they will get the proper attention they deserve. For now I’m satisfied enough with my list to close the book on this post…and this birthday.

my obscure childhood tv memories

We all have those memories from our childhood that we question — did that really happen, or did I just dream that it did? Or did it happen to someone else and over time I just co-opted it as my own memory?

My sisters and I spent a lot of time watching television when we were young, and we have these pretty distinct memories about some of our favorite shows and movies. But after attempting to find someone — anyone — who had also heard of them, I was beginning to believe that a few of these shows/movies never actually existed, rather that they were mere figments of our collective sister-imagination.

So I looked them up (thank you, IMDB and YouTube). Turns out, they do exist…and pretty close to exactly as I remember them.  Here’s a sampling of what was on the tube in the Carver house in the early to mid-’80s.

Love, Sidney:  The thing I remember most about this show is the cute kid and the theme song, which later became a prominent part of the mid-’90s Delta Gamma rush experience at Arizona State University. It was also the first time I ever heard the name Swoosie.  The one thing I don’t remember about this show is that Tony Randall played a gay man who took in a single mother and her young daughter, in what could only be described as a feminine reboot of The Odd Couple. To you DGs watching this, it’s okay…you can sing along:

Double Trouble: This show was mandatory viewing for me and my sister Kasey. I think I may have even at one point wished we were identical twins — they just made it seem like so much wacky fun. I was also enamored by their dance moves (which they had previously shown off at the Rock-a-Hula Luau in Grease 2), because in real life, my sister said I flared my nostrils when I danced. As you can imagine, this show featured a lot of identity-switching antics. Fun fact: the twins are the real-life sisters of actress Katey Sagal (you know, Peg Bundy).

Savannah Smiles: This was one of those ’80s children’s movies that you realize as an adult was really messed up, and kind of inappropriate for a child to be viewing. The premise goes something like this:  a spoiled but ignored little girl runs away only to find herself caught up with a couple of bumbling small-time crooks. They decide to hold her for ransom but, as so often happens, their hearts melt at her adorableness. I don’t really remember how it plays out, but obviously it ends with a police standoff, Savannah’s tearful goodbye to the crooks, Savannah’s tearful reconciliation with her mother and Savannah’s mother demanding a divorce. Sad side note: Little Savannah was the cutest kid ever, and I was curious what happened to her. Turns out Bridgette Andersen met the same fate so many other child actors do: she died of a drug overdose at age 21.

The Water Babies: This movie is nuts, and my sister Kelly and I really started to believe we had made the whole thing up. That is, until I discovered the VHS in the Columbia House movie catalog in 1998. Don’t think I didn’t buy it, and don’t think I haven’t shared it with my students. This movie can only be described as a cross between Oliver Twist (orphan), Mary Poppins (chimney sweep and rich kids) and The Little Mermaid (sea creatures) in a low-rent, live-action/animation hybrid. I was at once terrified and thrilled by it as a kid, but it always annoyed me that Tom, the chimney sweep boy/mermaid, always had on Huck Finn-esque half-pants, even when under water. The movie is apparently based on a mid-19th century children’s story — who knew? I like to think of this scene, in which Tom and a Scottish lobster sing a song called High Cockalorum, as the original Hakuna Matata.

Have you ever seen any of these gems? What TV shows or movies are stuck deep in your subconscious?

bad, bad = good, good

They say there are no new ideas, a thought that is particularly evident in today’s cineplexes — Friends with Benefits/No Strings Attached, anyone? (Thanks to Blind Film Critic, now you don’t have to see either of them.)

But in the world of music, I would think it’s especially difficult to come up with unique titles for songs. So I don’t blame musicians for going with one-word titles that will inevitably get (or already have been) co-opted by others. In fact, I think it’s pretty cool that one song title can represent two (or more) entirely different but equally awesome songs. I took a quick trip through my iTunes and found these musical homonyms, which I present to you face-off style. Any more to add to the list? Any thoughts on your favorites? Post a comment below!

Bad, U2 vs. Bad, Michael Jackson:  The ultimate same-name song-off, and also the genesis of this blog post, thanks to Tim’s astute observation (thanks for the blog title idea, too, dear!). Although both are marquee tracks in their respective artists’ libraries, I think we all know I’m gonna go with U2 on this one. If I could (vote for both), you know I would, if I could, I would…

All I Want, The Cure vs. All I Want, LCD Soundsystem: This is a tough one — do I go with the moody aggressiveness of the former, or the up-tempo melancholy of the latter? I think LCD Soundsystem takes it by a nose.

All I Need, Radiohead vs. All I Need, Jack Wagner: Can I really choose an ’80s soap opera star over one of the greatest bands of all time?  Yes, I can. Frisco Jones, come home to Port Charles ASAP.

Amsterdam, Coldplay vs. Amsterdam, Peter Bjorn and John: I much prefer the peppy Peter Bjorn and John version, even if they do tend to abuse the whole whistling thing. This song better captures what I believe Amsterdam to be like…and I just think it’s fun.

Black, Pearl Jam vs. Black, Pete Yorn: This is one of my favorite songs from both artists. One makes me feel a little sad, and one makes me feel a little happy. So I think this one has to be a tie.

Bye Bye Love, The Everly Brothers vs. Bye Bye Love, The Cars: As adorable as The Everly Brothers are, and as much as I love a good harmony, no one beats The Cars in my book.

Cherry Bomb, The Runaways vs. Cherry Bomb, John Mellencamp: It’s been tough for me to forgive Hollywood for casting Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, but obviously I’m gonna go with The Runaways on this one. To be fair, I should mention this is probably my least favorite John Mellencamp song (not to mention one of the stupidest music videos ever made), so it was never really a competition. P.S. How great are the Japanese subtitles on the Runaways clip?

Crazy For You, Best Coast vs. Crazy For You, Madonna: As I much as I love Best Coast and the short and breezy version of this song title, Madonna takes this round. Mainly for her terribly off-key performance in the best ever ’80s wrestling movie starring Tim-doppelganger Matthew Modine. You’re going to have to watch the movie to hear how horrible she sounds — this video uses the studio recording. I’m sure Madonna has expunged every clip of that performance from the Internet. But she can’t destroy all the copies of Vision Quest, now can she?

Creep, Radiohead vs. Creep, Stone Temple Pilots vs. Creep, TLC: This is hardly my favorite song from any of these beloved groups. But TLC clearly is the winner for a number of reasons: 1) They use creep as a verb. 2) They use creep to mean how they go about cheating on their man. 3) They were gigantic oversized pajamas with waistbands that make them look like boxers (the fighters, not the underwear).

You Talk (Way) Too Much, The Strokes vs. You Talk Too Much, Run DMC: Okay, the titles aren’t exactly the same, but I just love both of these songs so much. A total tie.

Dreams, Fleetwood Mac vs. Dreams, Van Halen: I happen to be a Van Hagar fan, and I always loved the Blue Angels video. In fact, when I would watch those cool planes fly by during SF Fleet Week this song always played in my head. But Fleetwood Mac’s is undoubtedly the superior Dreams-related song.

Forever Young, Rod Stewart vs. Forever Young, Alphaville: Not even a fight. While the cheesy, graduation-song sentiment of both songs really turns me off, only Stewart’s version actually makes me want to vomit. And you don’t have to be a musical genius to know that Jay-Z was never going to sample that crap.

Gloria, U2 vs. Gloria, Laura Branigan: Bono, I love you, but Laura Branigan always wins this fight. Watch this performance on VH-1, you’ll see.

I Go Crazy, Flesh For Lulu vs. I Go Crazy, Paul Davis: I truly had no idea that Paul Davis could be mistaken for a member of ZZ Top until just this minute, which kind of makes me want to choose him. Never has a voice less fit a face (except for maybe Christopher Cross). It’s a beautiful song and it brings back fond memories of cruising around with my parents in their maroon Chevy Caprice Classic in the ’70s. But it’s not featured in Some Kind of Wonderful, which is the best movie soundtrack of all time. So Flesh For Lulu wins, because I have even more fond memories of the ’80s.

Honorable Mention — Boys Don’t Cry, The Cure vs. I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Boys Don’t Cry: So it’s not exactly the same thing. But I always loved that there was a band called Boys Don’t Cry and that this song of all songs is what they sang. It just makes me laugh — and the video is absolutely remarkable. As for the Cure’s version, it’s definitely in the top 5 of their catalog.

my ’80s-inspired fall wardrobe

Most ’80s fashion trends can hardly be considered retro at this point — the ubiquitous legging is just one example of how that totally tubular decade has gone mainstream in today’s fashion. What was once old really is new again. Sure, there is still plenty to laugh about when it comes to ’80s fashion — most notably giant shoulder pads and an over-reliance on satiny fabrics. But after discussing with friends the awesome fashions from such notable working-woman-themed ’80s movies as Baby Boom, Mr. Mom and Working Girl, I’ve decided to dedicate my fall work wardrobe to the smart but subtly sexy stylings of women like Teri Garr and Elizabeth McGovern. Continue reading

it’s the music that makes the movies

Movies and music go hand in hand. A good movie has a solid plot, a sharp screenplay and impressive acting. Add to that mix some memorable tunes, and you’ve got a great movie.

Everyone knows those songs considered to be theme songs for their respective movie: “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun, “In Your Eyes” from Say Anything, “Footloose” from, well, Footloose. But there’s another class of movie music that does just as much to make a movie as those overplayed “theme” songs. These songs weren’t necessarily written for the movie, but their presence has elevated certain movie scenes to classic status, and in doing so, the music and movie are now inextricably connected. Take heed: several of these clips are for mature audiences only.

1. “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger: Boogie Nights
This is one of the most tense but hilarious scenes from a movie ever. It is impossible to hear this song and not think of the wacked-out crackhead in his bikinis “motoring” while this random Asian boy lights poppers. The increased intensity of the song beautifully mirrors the increased anxiety Dirk Diggler and crew feel as they try to get out of an ill-advised drug deal unscathed.
Continue reading

rediscovering a source of inspiration

When I was in 8th and 9th grade, I was obsessed with the movie Lean on Me. I was so inspired by the story of Principal Joe Clark and the crazy tough-love tactics he used to turn around his New Jersey high school. After my grandpa met Clark I even hung the autographed movie poster he brought me on my bedroom wall.  I’m watching the movie again after a number of years and am wondering if a seed wasn’t planted in the back of my brain, way back then, that eventually led me down the path to becoming a teacher. Although I teach at a school of relative privilege, my students face many of the same challenges as those in the movie — drugs, violence, teen pregnancy — and if I can do just the tiniest bit to steer them in the right direction, I suppose I will have accomplished what I set out to do. And maybe Principal Clark would be proud.

Here’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, featuring ’90s R&B group Riff: