If I’m Honest

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(Pictured: Night Ranger, motorin’ on American Bandstand.)

I have linked many times over the years to a Salon piece that posited Christmas week 1969 as the single greatest week in rock history, with an incredible variety of legendary albums and singles on the radio, music that endures today as foundation stones of the rock canon. Last summer, I argued that a particular week in June 1977 deserves a similar place concerning the classic-rock radio canon, when some of the format’s most enduring warhorses were at their radio peaks.

I have been listening recently to the American Top 40 show from July 7, 1984, and it occurs to me that one could argue for that week as one in which the pop-rock canon for the 80s was being laid down. The top two singles of the week were “When Doves Cry” by Prince and “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. Also in the Top 10: “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper, ZZ Top’s “Legs,” and “The Heart of Rock and Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News. (You might argue either way for the canon-worthiness of “Almost Paradise” by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson or “Eyes Without a Face” by Billy Idol, also in the Top 10.) Below the Top 10 are “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” by Deniece Williams, “Magic” by the Cars, Madonna’s “Borderline,” “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” by Elton John, and “Oh Sherrie” by Steve Perry, which would also rightfully be in the argument, were you making a list of 80s essentials. So might Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and “Sunglasses at Night” by Corey Hart, which were on the climb, and “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger, on the way down.

(The hook in “Sister Christian”—“You’re motorin’ / What’s your price for flight / In finding Mr. Right” strikes a perfect balance between dumb and awesome. I leave it to the readership to contribute other examples of gourmet cheese, where something that should be laughable actually turns out pretty great.)

Other Matters: Country music’s A-list couple, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, broke up last year. Shelton’s most recent album, If I’m Honest, could not help but be marketed as his response to the divorce (even though he wrote only one of the songs, a collaboration with Gwen Stefani). The first single, “Came Here to Forget” is your basic post-breakup lament as presently constructed by the Nashville machine, with references to drinking and texting. (One of the most tiresome tropes in country music right now is the cellphone, surpassed only by the pickup truck as a lifestyle signifier.) The second one, “She’s Got a Way With Words,” is different:

Little words like “I” and “do”
Lying, cheating, screwed
Yeah all the words I thought I knew
They got a brand new meaning now

At the time of the breakup, Shelton and Lambert both said all the right things about being sad and sorry and hoping to remain friends. Which makes “She’s Got a Way With Words” problematical. Either the stuff about being sad and sorry was BS, or “She’s Got a Way With Words” is an attempt to cash in on the breakup, and a crass, unsubtle one at that. My money is on the latter; for all his success, Blake Shelton doesn’t seem especially bright; my guess is somebody pitched him this song, he said hell yeah, never thought for a moment about how it would look, and that was that.

Miranda Lambert has yet to do a song about the breakup. Given the way she has enthusiastically embraced the crazy-ex role in many of her other songs, I am guessing that she’ll use a razor to greater effect than Blake uses a sledgehammer.

Other Other Matters: I am grateful to Mark, proprietor of My Favorite Decade, for sending me a package of 1976 memorabilia last week: two Falstaff Bicentennial beer cans and one of those bowls made from an old vinyl record (Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 by the Eagles). In 12 years, this blog thing has led to several relationships, real and electronic, that I value a great deal. If I’m honest, I have to say that I have been more on the receiving end of kindnesses than the sending end, but I hope to work on that.

One thought on “If I’m Honest

  1. porky

    1984 was my last year in radio (though I didn’t know it at the time) and it was interesting to hear the new songs coming in with the THWACK of the “gated snare” that is now associated with 80’s music. Honest to God, you could draw a line with the “before gated snare” and “after gated snare” records. Hearing it in the Loverboy/Heart duet mentioned above is a very distinct memory.

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