The characteristic I appreciate most about ’80s music is that it doesn’t require much from me. I realize some people return to the music for nostalgia’s sake or because they believe the recording industry mysteriously ceased producing quality tunes when they – the listener – finally conquered acne.
I like that the music doesn’t make me think.
Well, except when it does.
Take Journey’s “Open Arms.” Whenever I hear Steve Perry croon, “softly you whisper, you’re so sincere” near the song’s beginning, it gives me pause. Did the object of Steve’s affection actually whisper the words, “you’re so sincere?” Steve has already established they’re lying silently in the dark, so wouldn’t it be kind of odd for her to suddenly whisper those three little words. Or did she whisper a sweet nothing so meaningful, so damn heartfelt Steve felt he must literally tell her she’s sincere?
Forget “I Am the Walrus,” I’ve been struggling to interpret those lyrics from “Open Arms” since 1982.
Then there’s the Pet Shop Boys’ “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” The song features the late great Dusty Springfield on vocals and ranks as one of my all-time favorite songs. Don’t worry, I have this one figured out. It’s about a courtesan who sells his/her affections and ends up falling for the trick. I try not to think while listening to the song. I try so hard to just enjoy it. Oh, how I try.
I had a question about the lyrics and an Internet search directed me to a site that included a discussion about the song’s meaning. I perused the posts and happily discovered everybody agreed with my take on the song. Everybody save one person. One person who believes the song’s about some guy who took a job visiting the infirmed at the hospital. After all, this misguided poster noted, it’s right there in the lyrics — he says he brought her flowers and read to her.
The poster must have missed the opening lyrics, “You always wanted a lover. I only wanted a job,” as well as the rest of the freaking song.
So, every time I’m trying to enjoy this, one of my most favorite songs ever, a vision of a bored man reading Victorian novels to a blind, catatonic woman pops into my head.
Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues,” a musical ode to “Miami Vice,” also gives me visions. After I watched the ESPN documentary “The Two Escobars” last summer, a young co-worker and I discussed the international drug trade. When I said the words “Columbia and Peru” together, something in my mind clicked.
“Where have I heard that before?” I wondered aloud.
Later that night, I said aloud, “‘Smuggler’s Blues.’”
When I tried to explain the song to my young co-worker, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. That was before I was born.”
I found the video online and watched the thrilling epic a couple times before forwarding it to my young co-worker. I also started referring to “Smuggler’s Blues” as our song.
“It’s not our song,” he demanded.
That made me smile. It’s as if he thought this translucent older woman had the hots for him. Kids.
Nowadays, as soon as the opening to “Smuggler’s Blues” begins to play on the free Internet radio station, I think of my young co-worker’s reaction. I also think of this: Wouldn’t it be great if “Smuggler’s Blues” were some couple’s song? I imagine a freshly married couple stepping hand-in-hand onto a marble dance floor and strengthening their love by swaying hip-to-hip to Glenn growling such lyrics as, “It’s propping up the governments in Columbia and Peru…”
It’s a nice image, but if ’80s music doesn’t quit making me think so much, I might have to switch to something a little less thoughtful. Something like ’60s folk songs or ’90s grunge.
You can watch Steve Perry belt out “Open Arms” here: http://www.vh1.com/video/journey/150654/open-arms.jhtml
And Dusty, the dapper Pet Shop Boys (and some colorful show girls) performing “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wn9E5i7l-Eg
I can no longer find the video for “Smuggler’s Blues” online. Conspiracy anyone?