Deep Cuts

Deep Cuts: Eighties Songs I Was too Cool to Like (But I Really Did)

Cyndi LauperThe bad thing about being a teenager in a Black Sabbath t-shirt or gazing at your Capezios through lumps of eyeliner is that you have to hide in the closet all of the music that doesn’t fit your image.  Next thing you know you’re having nonsensical conversations about “Word Up” when you should just be waving your hands in the air like you don’t care.

In the interest of full disclosure, not only was I an eight year old Barry Manilow fan and a lover of “Word Up,” but throughout the eighties there were many Billboard Top 100 hits that I secretly enjoyed.

And so from the decade that saw me grow from age 12 to 22, here are some songs that I was too cool to like (though I really did) along with their year-end Billboard ranking. By definition none of these are really deep cuts since they charted, but my need to confess outweighs my need for semantic precision.  May God have mercy on my soul.

1980, #69: “Into the Night,” Benny Mardones. At age 12 this yacht rocker sounded like adulthood to me, and it kind of still does.  If I had a pair of Angel Flights and a Cordoba I’d drop this in the 8-Track and we’d go for a cocktail. And then I’d show you a love like you’ve never seen.

The bad news: I hear Benny Mardones is dealing with Parkinson’s.  I hope he’s doing well.

1981, #18:  “Just the Two of Us,” Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers. No song featuring Bill Withers should ever be a guilty pleasure, but such is the mentality of a 13-year-old with a stack of KISS records. I’ve mentioned it before, but check out the Withers documentary Still Bill.  It’s mandatory viewing for music geeks.

1982, #33: “Let’s Groove,” Earth, Wind, and Fire. Big hook, pretty funky, and contains my favorite misheard lyric: “Cactus grove, suckin’ my shoes.”

1983, #88: “What About Me?” Moving Pictures. This one shouldn’t be a surprise to regular readers: It’s a story song and a climbing song.  That’s two for two on the “things that sucker in James” checklist.

1984, #17: “Time After Time,” Cyndi Lauper. I think I’ve said this before, but if so it’s worth repeating: “Time After Time” is the greatest pop single to come out of the eighties. Everything about this cut is great: The performance, the lyrics, the production.  Seventeen-year-old me couldn’t resolve how a song so brilliant came from the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” lady.

1985, #53: “The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley. The only Eagle one could admit to liking was Joe Walsh, but honestly I liked the first couple of Don Henley albums. This track in particular had a wonderful dreamlike quality that stood out above the rest of the Billboard chart.

Aside from “Boys of Summer” Henley and co-writer J.D. Souther also get a nod for writing one of the most profound pop lyrics of all time: “I think it’s about / Forgiveness / Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore.”

1986, #37: “Something About You,” Level 42. This one comes down to Mark King’s bass work.  Outstanding.

1987, #52: “Luka,” Suzanne Vega. Another story song. When 1992’s 99.9F came out I dropped all pretense and just rolled with the Suzanne Vega love.  That’s a great album.

1988, #99: “Wait,” White Lion. By the end of the decade I had to work really hard to find a guilty pleasure in theTop 100. Popular music was at a Milli Vanilli low around that time, and besides that I think I was kind of over the “too cool for school” thing. Almost. I hated the whole glam rock movement, and nothing said Aqua Net excess like Mike Tramp’s White Lion mane.

But damned if this song isn’t a shimmering little gem.  I’d align this more with the power pop of bands like The Producers than the big dumb cock rock of Poison.

1989 #36: “Buffalo Stance,Neneh Cherry. Find  me a clip that better sums up the late eighties, I dare you.

Okay, don’t leave me hanging. What pop atrocities do you secretly love? I’m listening.

12 replies »

  1. I think there are many closet Barry Manilow fans around. The guy can sing a song. Cyndi Lauper too, very underrated. And Level 42 have a unique sound, very cool. Nice post indeed.


  2. ‘Kids In America’ – Kim Wilde
    ‘Everybody Wants You’ – Billy Squier
    ‘Goody Two Shoes’ – Adam Ant
    ‘I Love L.A.’ – Randy Newman
    ‘Heart And Soul’ – Huey Lewis
    ‘Against All Odds’ – Phil Collins
    ‘Easy Lover’ – Philip Bailey & Phil Collins
    ‘Circle In The Sand’ – Belinda Carlisle
    ‘Kokomo’ – The Beach Boys
    ‘The End of the Innocence’ – Don Henley


  3. I graduated from H.S. in 1980, so the 80s weren’t particularly about me being cool. (Actually, I’ve never been cool.) Went to college and had a bunch of kids in the 80s so they’re kind of a blur. Here are my picks –
    ‘Let Me Love You Tonight’ – Pure Prairie League
    ‘Elvira’- Oak Ridge Boys
    ‘Eye in the Sky’ – Alan Parsons Project
    ‘Electric Avenue’ – Eddie Grant
    ‘Talking in Your Sleep’ – Romantics
    ‘One Night in Bangkok’ – Murray Head
    ‘I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On’ – Robert Palmer
    ‘La Isla Bonita’ – Madonna
    ‘Wild, Wild West’ – Escape Club
    ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’ – Great White
    I had to look at lists from each year, truthfully, but these were the ones that made me go “Oh yeah! I loved that song! Dork.”


  4. Too Shy – Kagagoogoo
    Man in Motion – John Parr
    Misled-Kool & the Gang
    You Should Hear How She Talks About You – Melissa Manchester
    Pacman Fever – Buckner & Garcia
    Betty Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes
    State of Shock – The Jackson’s w/Mick Jagger
    You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma – Frizell & West
    Round and Round -Ratt
    Ghostbusters – Ray Parker, Jr.

    These are off the top. I love your list. Agree with all but one. Never could get next to that Luka song! Ms. Vega kind of scared me, I think.


  5. I have a bad habit of trashing 80s music. Probably because I spent the last half of the decade driving for various A/V companies, whose vehicles had nothing more than AM/FM radios (most of them mono) with which to listen to top ten hits. – over and over again.
    I would rather puncture my ear drums than willingly listen to one more Phil Collins tune.

    But the 80s did give us the Motels and the Waitresses at one end of the spectrum and OMD and Pet Shop Boys on the other.
    And even though the Talking Heads started in the 70s, I still count them as 80s because that’s when they broke through to popular culture.
    Great post!


    • Motels, Waitresses and Talking Heads were never on my “too cool for school” list. I always openly ‘fessed up to my fondness for all three. OMD and Pet Shop Boys? Both were closer to the “guilty pleasure” line.


  6. I was a mere babe in the 80’s so my love for these came later as I was riding in the back of my Dad’s Cutless cruising around Southern California. As a kid I loved that pop hook and would scream with glee anytime Madonna or The Go-Gos came on the radio.


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