An 80sxchange Dance Mix: Volume 1
For my newest article, I want to make a little change of pace. While this will be a music-related article, it's not about a specific album. I would instead like to offer up some thoughts on a random selection of 80s dance songs harvested from mix CDs I made a few years ago. I don't listen to my CD player anymore, instead preferring an MP3 player which can hold at least 80 hours of music, as opposed to CDs, which can only hold less than 80 minutes of music. The technology may change, but my love for the songs remains the same.
To start us off, we all remember the classic HBO Feature Presentation theme from the 80s. Did you know, though, that there was a pop version of that theme?
I was taken aback in a good way when I first came across this several years ago. This song, composed by Ferdinand Jay, could really rock a dance floor if someone ever decided to play it at a club. This pop version takes a classic theme from our youth and gives it a grown-up sheen. The guitars are wailing, the synths are percolating, and the horns? They're amazing. It's very reminiscent of James Brown's 80s work.
Instrumentals were often as successful in the 80s as songs with vocals, and I have no doubt that this could've landed on the charts if released as a single. While Showtime made excellent use of The Pointer Sisters' I'm So Excited for the Showtime Excitement campaign, they still had to go outside to get a memorable sound. HBO had their own composers, though, and this is a dynamite track. Apparently, there are also lyrics for the HBO theme as well. I'd love to hear that version come out to play someday.
The next track on our dance mix is Melissa Manchester's Night Creatures, from her 1985 album Energy.
I wish more people had heard of Night Creatures. This song, written for Melissa by the late, great George Duke, is the tale of someone who feels repressed from having fun, but gradually finds themselves expanding their horizons to get up and get down. We've all felt, at times, as though we weren't the types who could be wild and loose. We've all felt inhibited, whether by choice or circumstance. Night Creatures is a song that speaks to the idea that it's noble and right to let loose. I like that idea.
Based on the lyrical concept, I'm surprised that more people haven't done horror-themed YouTube videos set to this song. Maybe not so much now in the wake of Leaving Neverland, but for years, people making horror-themed YouTube videos would automatically jump to Michael Jackson's Thriller. If they wanted to go in a more rock-oriented direction, they might choose something by Misfits or The Cramps. I think Night Creatures would be an excellent song to add to the horror mix, but even if it doesn't happen, I would suggest replacing Thriller with Night Creatures in your next Halloween playlist.
For more about Melissa Manchester's thought on the album Energy, check out my 2020 interview with her for Pop Geeks: https://popgeeks.com/the-flashback-interview-melissa-manchester/
Moving to a more rock-oriented song, the next track in our dance mix is Peter Wolf's I Need You Tonight.
I first heard this song on VH1 Classic, now MTV Classic, in the early 00s. The music video, with its' Miami Vice influence, impressed me with its' visuals. As to the lyrics, the song spoke to a desperation for human connection that I was feeling in the early 00s. I was feeling very lonely for much of the 00s. Whether it was because of my pop cultural tastes, the way I expressed those tastes, or the political concept I now deeply regret supporting, I felt very much alone. Wolf's lyrics and vocals spoke to that connection I needed. I would eventually find it, but it took a long time to get there.
As to VH1/MTV Classic, I stopped watching it in the mid-00s after they started adding 90s music to the station. This would be a bone of contention between me and other retro pop culture fans in the mid-00s. Some would tell me about how they were playing 80s music on classic rock stations in the 90s as a reason why I shouldn't be annoyed by VH1 Classic playing 90s music in the 00s. What I wasn't able to explain at the time was that, for a long time, the 80s has been the black sheep of pop-cultural decades. Even in the first bloom of 80s nostalgia, there was a whole lot of snarking going on, and the snark about the 80s is still happening today, albeit to a lesser degree.
To read more of my thoughts about this subject, check out this Pop Geeks article I wrote as the 2010s were drawing to a close: Thoughts On Nostalgia For The 80s, 90s and 00s
Moving along, we come to a song from one of my favorite 80s movies, Running Scared. It's Sweet Freedom by Michael McDonald.
I purchased the Running Scared soundtrack several years before I saw the movie, which I'll go more in-depth about when the 80s Movie Sampler series gets to the Rs, but this was another case of an album with songs that spoke to something deep within me. Between going to school in converted storage space, tangling with school bullies and my own issues with learning, and dealing with an alcoholic mother who had issues with me, I didn't really know what freedom could truly be like.
When I heard Sweet Freedom for the first time, I heard a song that promised that adulthood would be a blast, and that I would truly know happiness when adulthood arrived. The lyrics spoke to what I most wanted in my life: Fun, love and hope. Dance music, no matter what form it takes, has the power to inspire all of those things. Coming of age with the sounds of grunge and 90s alternative rock, I had no idea how anybody could enjoy that. I can recall one youth dance in the early 00s playing Pearl Jam's version of Last Kiss, and I was puzzled. How could anybody dance to that? Hadn't they ever heard of the Running Scared soundtrack? Of course, many in my age bracket would eventually come around to enjoy songs like Sweet Freedom, but I was ahead of the curve on that. It's hard to like something when nobody else does, but it can also make you stand out.
For more on the music video for Sweet Freedom, check out my 2018 interview for Pop Geeks with the versatile Pleasant Gehman, who talks about appearing in the music video, as well as many other fascinating adventures: https://popgeeks.com/the-flashback-interview-pleasant-gehman/
Staying in the realm of soundtrack songs you can dance to, the next song in this mix is Patti LaBelle's Just The Facts from the soundtrack to Dragnet.
The phrase "Just The Facts" was not actually used on the TV show this movie is based on, but the film utilized the phrase for great laughs, and also this fantastic song. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who helped make Janet Jackson's Control the memorable hit that it was, worked their magic for Patti LaBelle as well. The song is about wanting honesty in a relationship, and I think that the lyrics deliver that concept well.
Songs about a need for direct communication were big in the 1980s. I think that's because there was lots of information, and disinformation, for that matter, going on in the decade.Ideas were traveling fast, and there was a lot of wire-crossing going on. The need to hear something direct and directly was very much on the minds of those who made the pop culture of the 80s. Some say the 90s were a more honest decade in pop culture, but the honesty was there in the 80s, too. You just had to look closer for it.
This article is potentially shaping up to be one about dance songs from movie soundtracks as well since the next song, Luther Vandross' Give Me The Reason, came from 1986's Ruthless People.
This is more of a mid-tempo track, but you can still dance to it. You would probably be dancing alone, though, as this isn't a love song, but a breakup song. It's about someone ending a bad relationship, and asking for a reason why they should take their lover back. Thematically, it fits well with the movie Ruthless People, which is all about someone who wants to end a relationship and thinks a way has been found to end it, although they don't know what events have in store for all of them. As with Running Scared, I'll discuss Ruthless People more in the R version of the 80s Movie Sampler.
The music video has fun with clips from Ruthless People, but the lyrics are vicious when you listen closely. I dig that. I've always been more about the lyrics than the instrumentation and production. So many people, when they listen to 80s music, only pay attention to the production and the instrumentation, and in many cases, they look poorly upon it. Me, though? I don't have those issues with 80s music because I'm all about lyrics. It's the writer in me, and even though my only attempts at songwriting have been parodies that will make Weird Al Yankovic rest easy since I'm no competition for him, I still pay attention to the words of the songs I listen to. As I discussed in my first 80sxchange article, it's easy to misinterpret pop culture. Open your ears, though, and you'll find it easier to understand a cultural item's intent as you grow older.
Although there are a few more songs to go in this article, I wanted to wrap up the movie dance songs with DeBarge's Rhythm Of The Night from The Last Dragon.
I first rented The Last Dragon in 1997. It was my first day home from Boy Scout camp, and being a Boy Scout was something I lost interest in doing after my father, a Scoutmaster, passed away when I was 12. Boy Scout camp wasn't something I could easily leave, and after my dad died, I eagerly looked forward to leaving camp and going home every year. Anyway, on this first day home from camp in 1997, I rented The Last Dragon from my local video store, and I found the movie to be a blast of pure fun. Of all the scenes, though, the scene at the dance club, Seventh Heaven, that utilized Rhythm Of The Night stood out to me the most.
Later that Summer, I would buy a Greatest Hits CD by DeBarge as one of the many purchases I made with money I got from my middle school graduation party. A mix of DeBarge group tracks, and solos by members of the family band, the album started off with Rhythm Of The Night in an extended version. That was one of my earliest exposures to extended mixes of dance songs, and it would inspire me years later to create my own mix CDs, trying to fit as many extended mixes as I could onto one CD. Dance music always cheers me up, and I want that feeling to last as possible. Extended mixes can make that joy last for a long time.
Although the next song in this article did not originate from a movie, the music video for it was directed by a legendary filmmaker. It's Lionel Richie's Dancing On The Ceiling, directed by Stanley Donen.
Donen was the director or co-director of many classic movie musicals. One of those musicals was Royal Wedding, which featured a sequence where Fred Astaire danced all around his room...Literally all around as he takes his moves to the walls and the ceiling. Almost three-and-a-half decades later, Donen went from one dancer on the ceiling to a whole troupe of them getting together and dancing to Lionel Richie's hit song about the ultimate in partying. Featuring cameos by Cheech Marin and Rodney Dangerfield, the music video is a wonderful fantasy.
I just wish again that people wouldn't be so snarky about this music video, and so many other 80s music videos, for that matter. The snark can basically reduced to "80s? Cocaine, LOL", and that's just not fair to the decade. I had thought it briefly myself, but my first few interviews all the way back in 2006 changed my mind about that stereotype, and now I see how impossible it would be to do all these moves, both in front of and behind the camera, if you were high in any way. Why do so many people pivot to "Cocaine, LOL" when talking about the 80s? I don't get it, and I never will.
Moving along, we come to a song that's thematically similar to Night Creatures, but with a Latin flavor to it. It's Rhythm Is Gonna Get You by Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine.
My first exposure to Gloria Estefan's work came through her appearances on Sesame Street. As I grew older, I would come to know more about her music, and I purchased a Greatest Hits CD by her with a gift certificate to an entertainment store called Media Play that I got in the Christmas season of 1997. A mixture of dance songs and ballads, Rhythm Is Gonna Get You jumped out at me the most, and it's a song I love listening to.
The lyrical conceit is that the rhythm, more than accompanying the music, is a boogeyman-like creature. The idea of "rhythm" as a killer like Jason Voorhees or Freddy Kruegger, to name two noted 80s movie villains, is great fun. It's amazing what great power music can have. Rhythm Is Gonna Get You is a track that can fill up a dance floor instantly. Rhythm is a boogeyman you want to interact with. You want to answer its' call, but just remember to pace yourself when dancing. Laying it all out on the line from the first song could leave you winded if you're not careful.
To wrap up this dance mix, we end with the 1987 version of Point Of No Return by Expose.
What's the difference between the original version from 1985 and the 1987 version? The vocalists. The first incarnation of Expose was Sandra Casanas, Laurie Miller and Alejandra Lorenzo, while the 1987 version was Jeanette Jurado, who sang lead on Point Of No Return, Ann Curless, and my Facebook friend, Gioia Bruno. As good as the first lineup was, I feel the Jurado/Curless/Bruno lineup really brought the songs to life. There are quite a few Expose songs I could put in this article, and I'll do so in future incarnations of the 80sxchange Dance Mix, but for now, I want to stick with Point Of No Return.
Point Of No Return is a song that, as with so many songs in the 80s, is about sex. In this case, the Point Of No Return is reaching orgasm. The lyrical idea is taken further by the extended mix I linked to in this mix, utilizing electronics and horns to create a mood of sustained passion. Songs like this were one of the only ways I could express my own sexual feelings without worrying about getting heat from family members or unnerving my friends. Music can often be a way for you to find out who you are and what you like, and that goes for multiple realms of one's life. It was unnerving when my mom would muscle her way in on this music, especially as she wouldn't let me watch adult films or read adult magazines, yet was using sex toys and visiting singles websites herself. Thankfully, I'm now able to enjoy this music again in an honest manner.
That does it for this first installment of the 80sxchange Dance Mix. I'll have a new batch of 80s songs coming soon that will allow me the chance to offer my thoughts on not only the songs themselves, but their impact on my personal life as well. Thank you as always for reading.