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Thursday, September 19, 1985

The PMRC Senate Hearings: September 19, 1985

Originally posted September 19, 2012.

Frank Zappa testifying at the PMRC hearings, image from vulture.com

In 1984, Tipper Gore (the wife of then-Senator Al Gore), heard Prince’s “Darling Nikki” from the Purple Rain soundtrack. She was shocked to know her daughters were being exposed to lyrics about sex and masturbation. When she watched other rock music videos, she was alarmed by the images of what she deemed graphic sex and violence. In 1985, she teamed with several other Washington wives to form the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). The other founders were Susan Baker, the wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker; Pam Howar, the wife of Washington realtor Raymond Howard; and Sally Nevius, the wife of former Washington City Council Chairman John Nevius. The group eventually grew to 22 participants.

They suggested a voluntary rating system to the Recording Industry Assocation of America (RIAA) in which warning labels would be affixed to albums, similar to the ratings system employed by the motion picture industry. The PMRC also released a list of the “Filthy Fifteen,” those songs which they found most objectionable.

The Filthy Fifteen

In August 1985, 19 record companies agreed to put labels reading “Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics” on albums deemed to have explicit lyrical content. In addition, the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee agreed to a special hearing on the issue. In addition to members of the PMRC, musicians Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver testified, saying the move was a form of censorship which undermined freedom of speech.

The Senate committee was reportedly surprised by how articulate the musicians were. As Snider said, “They had no idea I spoke English fluently.” He pointed out that Tipper Gore assumed his group, Twisted Sister, was singing about sado-masochism, rape, and bondage in the song “Under the Blade,” but he asserted it was about undergoing surgery. Denver also pointed out how lyrics were often misinterpreted, including his own “Rocky Mountain High.” Zappa noted, “No one has forced Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Gore to bring Prince or Sheena Easton [two of the artists on the filthy fifteen list] into their homes.”

The PMRC Hearings (full)


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Saturday, July 13, 1985

Live Aid: July 13, 1985

Originally posted July 13, 2011.



On July 13, 1985, an estimated 1.9 billion people in 150 nations watched the broadcast of Live Aid. It “was the most ambitious international satellite television venture that had ever been attempted at the time“. WK Musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organized the star-studded concerts, held simultaneously in London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium. The two venues attracted 72,000 and 100,000 fans respectively.

Geldof, best known for the U.K. #1 song “I Don’t Like Mondays” with his group the Boomtown Rats, was dismayed by the plight of starving Ethiopians after seeing a BBC documentary. Determined to make a difference, he had assembled some of Britain’s biggest musical stars the previous winter for the charity recording “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, written by Geldof and Ure. The song became, at the time, the best-selling record ever in the UK. HE

Highlights included reunions of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. U2’s performance, “established them as a pre-eminent live group for the first time”. WK Queen’s 20-minute set has been called “the greatest live performance in the history of rock music”. WK



Also of note were Paul McCartney’s performance of “Let It Be”, followed by an all-star gathering to close out the London concert with “Christmas”. Stateside, the concert closed with the U.S. response to that song, USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”.

A planned duet between Mick Jagger and David Bowie – one on each coast – had to be scrapped because it was too complicated. Instead, they recorded a duet version of Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” and the video was shown at both venues. Phil Collins made news by performing at both venues. He hopped a Concorde after his Wembley appearance and jetted overseas to Philadelphia.




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Saturday, June 29, 1985

Marillion Misplaced Childhood Hits #1 in UK: June 29, 1985

Originally posted June 29, 2011.



Today I drift back to an event that doesn’t figure into the grand scheme of music history but is monumental on a personal level. My favorite album of all time is Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood. Europeans who grew up in the 1980s may know the album. Fans of neo-prog rock may know the album. However, the general American public is clueless to its existence. On June 29, 1985, it debuted at #1 on the UK charts. It would be two more months before it hit the U.S. charts, peaking at #47.

The album was preceded by the single “Kayleigh”. It hit the UK singles chart in May and climbed #2 the week ending June 15. It didn’t grace American charts until August when it hit the Billboard rock charts and peaked at #14. In October, the song reached the pop charts as well, hitting #74.



I was a freshman in college in the fall of 1985. One’s college days often coincide with one’s period in life of greatest musical discovery. I was no exception. I soaked it up the tastes of my peers exploring musical genres that moved beyond my Top 40-oriented base.

I first heard “Kayleigh” about the time it hit U.S. pop radio. While Marillion is generally categorized as neo-prog and compared to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, this song was their most commercial effort. The song’s theme of remorse over splitting with an ex-lover made for a topic of widespread relatability. Fish, the band’s frontman, didn’t pen just another pop ditty, though. It certainly had catchy lines:

Kayleigh, I never thought I’d miss you
And Kayleigh, I’d hoped that we’d always be friends
We said our love would last forever
So how did it come to this bitter end?


However, it was also infused with Fish’s typically poignant twists and sophisticated way with words:

Do you remember chalk hearts melting on a playground wall?
Do you remember dawn escaped from moon-washed college halls?
Do you remember the cherry blossoms in the market square?
Do you remember I thought it was confetti in our hair?
By the way, didn’t I break your heart?



Click to see the full set of lyrics.


It grew on me and by Christmas I was geared up to plunge into the whole album. For you young’ns, music discovery in 1985 wasn’t as simple as pulling up a bands website or trolling YouTube for video clips. I couldn’t hear the music first in pre-Internet days. I was wary. Who was this group? Would I like their other songs? I’d never bought an album solely on the basis of one song. I had to take a leap of faith.

Over Christmas break, I kept wandering into a Camelot music store to check out the album. Ah, yes. Once upon a time people actually bought music in stores – and in malls, no less! The cover art fascinated me. It looked like an album I wanted to hear.



Once I’d liberated my wallet of a few dollars and brought the Misplaced critter home, I was immediately entranced. A room-filling keyboard sound opened the album, segueing into the intriguing words “huddled in the safety of a pseudo silk kimono…” half-sung and half-spoken by Fish. This purchase was one risk I would not regret.

I’m pretty close to illiterate when it comes to grasping music theory, so I have no intelligent insight into why this album grabbed me instrumentally or vocally. I’ve just had to rely on gut instinct. Does the album’s overall sound work for me? It did here – in spades.

What made Childhood a regular fixture in my tape deck was its overall concept. Fish crafted a story which explored well-worn themes of a relationship gone sour, a country ravaged by war, a man dipping into the abyss, and the disappearance of self at the hands of the rock-n-roll lifestyle. Part of the uniqueness stemmed from the conceit of tackling all these ideas at once. The other surprise of the album, however, was its unexpectedly hopeful finale – drug-induced, no less – of recovery via a return to childhood innocence.

Misplaced Childhood is not flawless; it succumbs to the traditional pitfalls of even the most classic concept albums. The Who’s Tommy, GenesisThe Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Pink Floyd’s The Wall all have their critics which point to the sometimes bloated feel of the work and a tendency to sacrifice songs in favor of ideas. However, as is true of anything which one cherishes, no justification is required. Passion for any art form does not lie in the ability to explain one’s love for the art. One just has to love it.


Click photo for more about the album.




Resources:
  • DMDB page for Marillion
  • Marillion’s DMDB music maker encyclopedia entry




  • Monday, May 13, 1985

    Dire Straits released Brothers in Arms: May 13, 1985

    image from nerve.com

    Originally posted 5/13/2012. Updated 5/13/2013.


    Released: 13 May 1985
    Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) 1. So Far Away 2. Money for Nothing 3. Walk of Life 4. Your Latest Trick 5. Why Worry 6. Ride Across the River 7. The Man’s Too Strong 8. One World 9. Brothers in Arms

    Sales (in millions): 9.0 US, 4.15 UK, 32.6 world (includes US and UK)

    Peak: 19 US, 114 UK

    Rating:


    Review: “Dire Straits were fortunate enough to be the right band at the right time with the right product to benefit fro a new music medium.” TB At a time when most albums were still recorded on analog equipment, Arms was recorded digitally making it a “must-have record for serious audiophiles.” ZS It was “the first album to sell one million copies in the CD format and to outsell its LP version.” WK “Industry insiders suggested everyone who owned a CD player also owned a copy of this disc.” PR

    Brothers in Arms brought the atmospheric, jazz-rock inclinations of Love Over Gold into a pop setting, resulting in a surprise international best-seller.” AMG The album topped the charts in 25 countries. TB One of the keys to their success “was that their music wasn’t too dynamic, nor demanding.” PR “It rocks – but not too much – and it doesn’t scream at you, so millions who would normally never buy a rock album bought it.” TB “Knopfler’s laid-back guitar licks looked back to Clapton, Rory Gallagher, and Martin Barre of Jethro Tull” PR and “his mid-Atlantic drawl reminded older fans of J.J. Cale, Springsteen, and Bob Dylan” PR positioning Knopfler s “an unpretentious Man Of The People.” TB

    Money for Nothing

    “Of course, the success of Brothers in Arms was helped considerably by the clever computer-animated video for Money for Nothing.” WK With its “indelible guitar riff,” AMG the “harmonic-popping distant relative of ‘Jumping Jack Flash’” TB and “the album’s liveliest track” TB was a #1 hit. The song grew out of overhearing a “New York appliance salesman's anti-rock-star, anti-MTV rant.” RS Ironically, it became one of the most played videos of all time. “It is the only Dire Straits song on a studio album to not be solely credited to Mark Knopfler. Sting was given a co-writing credit because his vocal hook, ‘I want my MTV,’ is the same melody as The Police’s ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me.’” WK

    On the first half of the record, Dire Straits sported “their unique brand of arena rock” WK via “incisive songwriting and lush guitar riffs on Walk of Life and So Far Away.” RS “The second half consists of more folk-influenced material” WK with “an enduring and unassuming appeal.” PR The title track “is one of Knopfler’s greatest moments. Refusing to show off, he wrests from the Les Paul something magisterial. Rarely has the electric guitar possessed such dignity.” TB

    Brothers in Arms

    “The whole album maintains the original Dire Straits’ bluesy and laid back guitar-based sound whilst retaining a more lavish and bombastic production and overall sound.” WK It “remains one of their most focused and accomplished albums, and in its succinct pop sense, it’s distinctive within their catalog.” AMG It “perfectly evokes its period (great for flashbacks to Miami Vice) with a terrific mix of commercial pop…and musical exploration crafted in an atmosphere of power and mystery.” ZS


    Resources and Related Links:


    Award(s):


    Sunday, February 17, 1985

    Tears for Fears released Songs from the Big Chair: February 17, 1985

    Originally posted February 17, 2012.



    “Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair sits as an ‘80s music landmark;’ EA “while many of the band’s synth-pop peers continued to develop along a linear route” HE this album “heralded a dramatic maturation in the band’s music, away from the synth-pop brand with which it was (unjustly) seared following the debut, and towards a complex, enveloping pop sophistication.” SS

    “If [debut album] The Hurting was mental anguish, Songs from the Big Chair marks the progression towards emotional healing, a particularly bold sort of catharsis culled from Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith’s shared attraction to primal scream therapy.” SS “The songwriting of Orzabal, Smith, and keyboardist Ian Stanley took a huge leap forward, drawing on reserves of palpable emotion and lovely, protracted melodies that draw just as much on soul and R&B music as they do on immediate pop hooks.” SS “The album’s deep emotional explorations are at once uncompromising and appealingly tuneful.” EA

    “Producer Chris Hughes helped push the band into a more organic” EO and “guitar oriented sound.” SM With his encouragement “Orzabal’s stronger voice takes center-stage for much of the album” HE thus “widening their emotional palette.” EO What also makes this album a classic is that “each song holds its place and each is integral to the overall tapestry, a single-minded resolve that is easy to overlook when an album is as commercially successful as Songs from the Big Chair.” SS It did, after all, hit #1 for 5 weeks in the U.S. and sell more than 11 million copies worldwide.





    The album spawned two #1 songs in the U.S., “moody mega–hit” EA Shout and the “ear–friendly” EA Everybody Wants to Rule the World. On BlogCritics.org, Eric Olsen calls the latter one of “the most perfect singles of the last 20 years.” EO It “perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the mid-‘80s while impossibly managing to also create a dreamy, timeless pop classic.” SS

    The “stadium-sized Head Over HeelsHE was also a top 5 hit in the U.S. Mothers Talk was also released as a single. In the U.K., it was the single to introduce the new album, but in the U.S., it wasn’t released until the three aforemenionted songs. The melancholic and soulful I Believe was also released in the U.K.

    What is amazing about Songs from the Big Chair “is [that] not only [is it] a commercial triumph; it is an artistic tour de force.” SS It “is one of the finest statements of the decade,” SS an “enduringly resonant classic…essential for any fan of the genre” EA and “arguably the finest example of epic ‘80s pop.” HE




    Awards:

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    Saturday, February 16, 1985

    George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” hit #1: February 16, 1985

    Originally posted February 16, 2012.



    As half of the pop duo Wham!, George Michael quickly overshadowed Andrew Ridgeley and began planning his post-Wham! career almost as soon as the duo struck big. To that end, “Careless Whisper” was billed in the UK as a solo single by George Michael, but the U.S. credited it to Wham! featuring George Michael. BBC The song was also on Wham!’s Make It Big album. Wham! chalked up two other #1’s on the U.S. pop charts before Michael amassed seven chart-toppers on his own. This song also hit #1 in the UK, on Cashbox, and the Billboard adult contemporary chart on its way toward selling 6 million copies worldwide.





    Ironically, it was one of the few songs penned by Michael and Ridgeley AMG and the latter’s “only number one as a composer.” LW They “wrote the song when they were just 17, despite George’s own admission that he ’knew nothing about romance and certainly nothing about love.’” BBC It was a fictitious story Michael thought up while boarding a bus to his job as an usher at a cinema. SF Michael told reporter Daryl Morden, “‘It’s very na├»ve when you listen to it, but it still stands up, even if it does sound a little immature in some ways…We made up for that, I think, by making sure the production and arrangement didn’t sound simplistic.’” BR1 He has also said, “‘It disappoints me that you can write a lyric very flippantly and it can mean so much to so many people.’” KL

    It definitely did that as it “touched fans and passive listeners alike to become one of, if not the only, love songs of 1985” AMG and “one of the most enduring ballads of all time.” BBC “A simple song with with just four chords, the track’s charm lies in its mournful saxophone intro, together with George’s anguished vocals as he pleads for forgiveness from the lover he’s cheated on.” BBC “Now a last-dance staple everywhere from school discos to weddings, the irony inherent in thousands of lovestruck couples smooching to a song about infidelity appears to be lost on most people.” BBC




    Awards:

    Resources and Related Links:

    Monday, January 28, 1985

    “We Are the World” was recorded: January 28, 1985

    Originally posted January 28, 2012.

    image from kenkragen.com



    Only in America. With ironic boasts of how they’d “check[ed] their egos at the door” SF at the behest of producer Quincy Jones, a slew of U.S. singers lent their chops to “We Are the World,” a charity song which thematically “could be regarded as tub-thumping for America.” KL The lyrics naively proclaimed “the problems of the starving…to be no match for the power of positive thinking.” MA Billy Joel said most of the performers didn’t care for the song and that, if memory served, it was Cyndi Lauper who said to him, “It sounds like a Pepsi commercial.’” SF

    Much like the soft drink giant, though, it moved a lot of product, selling over a quarter million copies in one weekend AMG and leaping to #1 in a mere three weeks, the fastest since Elton John’s “Island Girl” in 1975. BR1 It was the only song to hit all five major Billboard charts of that time.

    “World” was the U.S. counterpart of “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a song penned by singer Bob Geldof in response to a BBC documentary he saw about the Ethiopian famine. TB He enlisted many of the U.K.’s biggest pop stars for a charity single that movingly pondered how the starving Africans would spend their holidays. The song’s 3.5 million sales were bigger than the country had even seen.

    Singer Harry Belafonte decided the U.S. should undertake a similar project and called manager Ken Kragen, who contacted Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, and Jones, who had produced Jackson’s Thriller. Jackson and Richie took three days to work on it individually and then came together to write the song in a matter of hours. KL On January 28, 1985, the day of the American Music Awards, 46 recording artists gathered to record the song in a 12-hour session. SF Vocalists, appearing in order, included: Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Steve Perry, Daryl Hall, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Carnes, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles.




    Awards:

    Resources and Related Links:
    • the DMDB page for “We Are the World”
    • AMG All Music Guide
    • BR1 Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). New York, NY: Billboard Books. Page 605.
    • KL Jon Kutner/Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 302.
    • MA Dave Marsh. (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Page 459.
    • SF Songfacts.com
    • TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 217.

    Thursday, January 10, 1985

    Cyndi Lauper landed Grammy nominations in the Big Four categories: January 10, 1985

    Originally posted January 10, 2012.

    image from fanpop.com



    When Grammy nominations were announced on January 10, 1985, Cyndi Lauper had the rare distinction of landing in each of the Big Four Categories. Her debut album, She’s So Unusual, received a nod for Album of the Year. Her singles Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Time After Time showed up in the Record of the Year and Song of the Year categories respectively. Lauper was acknowledge in the Best New Artist category as well. She also garnered nominations for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for “Girls”) and Best Recording Package, making her the first female artist since Bobbie Gentry in 1967 to receive at least five Grammy nominations.

    She won the Best New Artist and Best Recording Package awards. She was also honored by MTV for Best Female Video of the Year for “Girls”, which also was nominated for Video of the Year. That video introduced her fun-loving, even cartoonish persona, but also showcased her ability to deliver a hook-laden song. It went top 10 in 19 countries and hit #1 in 10 countries. WK

    On the flip side, second single “Time After Time” served up Lauper’s more sensitive side. The emotional ballad hit the top ten in 15 countries. WK “Time” has been covered by everyone from Everything But the Girl to Miles Davis, “if you need further proof of her credibility.” BB

    Lauper also hit the top 5 in the U.S. with She Bop and All Through the Night, making her the first female singer to land four top 5 singles from one album on the Billboard Hot 100. WK A fifth single, Money Changes Everything, was a top 40 hit. They all helped propel the album to 6 million in U.S. sales and 16 million worldwide.

    Far from being a guilt pleasure, Lauper’s She’s So Unusual should be acknowledged not as “self-deprecating or even self-parodying; it’s self-congratulatory.” BB The album displays “a giddy mix of self-confidence, effervescent popcraft, unabashed sentimentality, subversiveness, and clever humor” BB and is “one of the great new wave/early MTV records.” STE




    Awards for She’s So Unusual:

    Awards for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”:
    Awards for “Time after Time”:
    Resources and Related Links: