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Rob Sheffield's Eighties Odyssey

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Rob Sheffield's Eighties Playlist

Haysi Fantayzee – "Shiny Shiny"
That is a song that is hard to describe to people who haven't heard it. If you describe it, they think you're making it up. Basically it's a rap about nuclear war by these two kids with absolutely no musical talent whatsoever. It has a square dance fiddle solo. It has lines like, "I'm a hot retard…" It's pretty much indefensible and hideous and I guess that's kind of why I like it. It gives me hope that music from that era can still totally creep you out. It's a pretty creepy song.

Paul McCartney – "No More Lonely Nights"
McCartney in the '80s was someone who got so much abuse for just trying to figure out what to do with his enormous talent. "Give My Regards to Broad Street" was maybe the dodgiest move he made in the Eighties and that includes "Spies Like Us." I think when he's crossing Abbey Road with Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd in the video; that might be his lowest point of the '80s.

Ray Parker Jr. – "A Woman Needs Love"
Before "Ghostbusters" he had this huge disco-R&B crossover career. Before that he was Radio spelled RAY, and it was him re-dubbing his music himself. He was always someone who really sounded very friendly and wise giving you advice on how to be an adult dude and how to give your woman the proper love and appreciation. They were kind of like cautionary tales about what would happen if you didn't treat your woman right. There was a great line in that song where he says, "Sometimes you might come home early from work, open up the door and get your feelings hurt."

Flock of Seagulls - "Space Age Love Song"
That's much better than "I Ran." That was really just kind of like their rock move, but "Space Age Love Song" is their big droopy ballad. It's this really trance-like, devotional, simple song that really has just like five or six words repeated over and over again. It's almost like a religious meditation on this sugary, over the top ideal of this perfect girl. But it's funny because it's something that the Shirelles or the Shangri-Las or the Ronettes would have done 20 years earlier. This time it was just even bigger hair. I often think of '80s synth pop as the Eighties version of Fifties doo-wop or Sixties girl group songs. You get a lot of really repetitive, really over the top romantic, rapturous ballads, like about a perfect, idealized girl. Kind of like how the Ronettes used to sing about the boy, that's how Flock of Seagulls sings about the girl. There are like 60 or something words in the whole song, none of which are "Space Age Love Song."

L'Trimm – "Cars With the Boom"
In L'Trimm you just had two girls and one's named Lady Tigra and one's named Buddy D and the perfect boy is the guy with the perfect car, and the perfect car is just the car with the biggest speakers, with the biggest woofers, making the biggest boom. I love how they're talking about their wish list for a guy and they make no bones about it. It's like "Car comes first." And there is a great part at the end where they're just repeating the chorus over and over again and they say, "Yo, everybody, if you hear this on the radio turn it up! Turn it up! Honk your horn! Honk them horns!" And you totally get this ridiculous bass feedback and then these honking car horns. You just picture this traffic jam in Miami with all these people honking their horns.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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