Although I consider myself a child of the '90s because that's when I went to college and ultimately became an adult, I still lived through the '80s. I remember Michael Jackson on the radio, Dynasty on TV and Schwarzenegger in the theaters. Everyone had shoulder pads and neon purses. And questionable mothers let their sons go to elementary school graduations in leather pants.
Really dropped the ball there, Mom.
But this is not a column about Capezio shoes, Duran Duran and Swatches. This is about the subtle horrors of the decade; the parts of the '80s that sneak back into my consciousness now and then. Not the decade's obvious atrocities, like famine in Ethiopia or the Reagan administration's slow response to the AIDS epidemic, but subtler forms of hell. Things that are so inexplicably awful they don't seem real. Forgotten things that made no damn sense.
Here are the five most forgotten atrocities of the '80s.
#5. The Video to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl"
A couple of months ago, I had to travel to West Virginia for business. After a long day of travel, including a rental car GPS that led me to the set of Deliverance II: The Rapening and some poor directions from an eyebrowless lady at the local Sheetz, I arrived at my hotel. If I tell you the concierge had a massive herpes blister, you won't believe me, but he totally did. Accordingly, when it came time to enjoy the state's nightlife, I made the obvious choice: double-bolting my hotel door, getting drunk and watching YouTube videos.
Somehow, this process lead me to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" video, which I watched for the first time as a man. Even as a kid I knew the song was kind of an early-'60s-style throwback, but it didn't occur to me how cool that was. It certainly couldn't have been an intuitively obvious decision to sing like Frankie Valli in 1985. So kudos to you, Billy.
But the video? Sweet Jesus.
Billy portrays a garage mechanic in love with supermodel Christie Brinkley. Even though the entire look and feel of the video is retro, it starts with two kids (presumably extras from Breakin') dressed in the height of break-dancing fashion who appear to be trying to steal money from a pay phone. Don't worry, there are other, more positive images of blacks in the video, like Christie Brinkley's limo driver. Oh.
Billy begins combing his hair using a technique prevalent in neither the early '60s nor the mid-'80s involving epileptic neck seizures. Then we get some of the most stilted choreography ever assembled. Then Christie Brinkley comes out of the car being followed by Billy and his army of hunching monkeymen. Not for another 25 years would a moderately heighted man have the courage to stand next to someone so tall when a brave Dan O'Brien paired up with the ginormous little Mikey Swaim.
Not as funny as Agents of Cracked.
The douche-chillingly hilarious solution to this height disparity is found at two minutes in:
I'll have to remember this trick next time I'm cruising for tall ladies.
Then we get the break-dancing kids doing the robot, because what says retro Four Seasons pop song more than break dancing? It was the '80s. Break dancing was everywhere. Ultimately, Billy gets the girl and marries her in real life. However, it will take the director of the video another 30 years to legally marry in the U.S.
#4. Laverne & Shirley in the Army
In 1982, ABC had the great idea to take the then-flailing Laverne & Shirley show and make it a cartoon -- while the real show was still on the air. Sounds hard to believe, right? What if I told you that Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams actually did the voices? It's true. What if I then said the premise was Laverne and Shirley join the army just like Goldie Hawn did in Private Benjamin -- one of the biggest comedies of 1980?
"Please God, please don't let me inspire Hanna-Barbera's unholiest evil."
And what if I finished it off by explaining that Laverne and Shirley's commanding officer was a talking pig voiced by Horshack of Welcome Back, Kotter? All true.
This cartoon sucks so hard I'm not sure how Seanbaby hasn't written about it already. To this day it is the only major network show to have "Peyote" listed as an executive producer. Just listen to the audio. I'm pretty sure microphones existed in the '80s, but Marshall and Williams seem to be somehow screaming their lines directly at the audiotape. Although Star Trek II wasn't yet in theaters, the opening credits appear designed to replicate the sensation of Khan's mind-control parasites burrowing into your cerebral cortex.
"Hey, Shirl, let's join the army."
#3. "Don't Lose My Number" -- Phil Collins
Let's get some things straight about Phil Collins: He has some amazing chops as a drummer; he has the ability to sing with tremendous range and power; he's written some terrific pop songs and, most of all, I hate him because he absolutely sucks.
Collins started as Genesis' drummer when they were a prog rock band fronted by Peter Gabriel instead of a synonym for "shameful disappointment." After Gabriel left, Collins became the lead singer and they continued to do some of their best work. Around 1978, Phil Collins realized he knew how to write pop songs, penning the somewhat cheesy, but still quite lovely "Follow You, Follow Me." Then the evil crept in. In a few years, he was writing solo albums, and though he wrote some excellent songs like "In the Air Tonight" and "Against All Odds," his vocals were getting more predictable, his arrangements simpler and his compositions, to use a technical musical term, more craptastic.
So yes, the obvious choice is to tool on Phil for "Sussudio," which is just an absolutely miserable song. But this is a column about forgotten atrocities, and fitting the bill is "Don't Lose My Number." It should be called "Billy, Don't Lose My Number," because those are the lyrics to the chorus, but, of course, that sounds a lot like Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." And since the Collins song compares unfavorably in every way to Steely Dan's, he probably didn't want to invite comparison.
Take a listen. (Oh, the video is absurd and awful, too, but I really just want to focus on the music here.)
Synthetic drums, processed guitars, vapid lyrics and just general suckiness. And it was omnipresent during the summer of 1985, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard charts. And now no one knows it. That's as it should be. Although I just wrote about it. Fuck.