1984 Was the Best Year for Music Ever

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1984 was the best year for music ever.

I know there are probably a few Boomers out there who will argue that it was some year in the 60s, but those people would be wrong.

While travelling home from a day of work in Calgary a while back, I listened to a playlist I’ve created called “1984 Hits.” It got me to thinking about this subject once again (my wife and I have discussed it many times, inspiring that playlist) and the more I think about it, the more I’m sure that I’m right. Hell, even Billboard agrees with me!

Some quick history:

The late 70s and early 80s were a bit of a musical wasteland, with record sales dropping and the industry in full panic mode. A big reason why was that record companies were producing garbage (and I’m not referring to disco here). The typical album had one or maybe two decent singles on it and the rest of the record was mediocre at best.

Then came 1982 and Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Seven of the nine tracks on the record charted on Billboard, including three that were accompanied by the most groundbreaking videos ever filmed to that point (Billy Jean, Beat It and Thriller, of course). As Thriller took off up the charts and sold albums by the truckload, the message was clear—produce strong albums and the fans will follow.

Two years later, Thriller was still producing hits (the title track was released in January, 1984, a few weeks after the video debuted, and shot to Number 4 on the Billboard charts) and producers and artists were working hard to live up to that standard. By the start of 1984, things were shifting quickly and the industry was flourishing again, thanks to a reinvigorated creative process and the golden age of music videos.

Whether you were getting your music on the radio or on MTV (or Much Music in Canada), this was a glorious moment in which musical styles were mixed and mingled in unique ways and you could hear virtually any genre of music at any given moment. It was a year where several artists were at the absolute top of their game, including some relative newcomers. It all just seemed to come together in a magical way to create a soundscape unparalleled in any other year.

The Establishment

There were hits on the charts in ’84 from a number of well-established artists. Lionel Richie, The Pointer Sisters, Billy Ocean, the Cars, Phil Collins, and Elton John all charted. Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You was his biggest-selling single ever. Chicago 17 was a monster smash album (six times platinum) including their rapiest hit single, Stay The Night (“I won’t take no if that’s your answer / At least that’s my philosophy.”). Hall and Oates had two hit singles off two hit albums (Adult Education and Out of Touch, from Rock ‘n Soul Part 1 and Big Bam Boom, respectively) and were named the most successful duo ever by the RIAA.

This was also the year that Tina Turner made her comeback with What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Former Eagles Don Henley (Boys of Summer) and Glenn Frey (Smuggler’s Blues) were making their presence felt, along with Foreigner, Genesis, John Cougar Mellencamp, and Kenny Loggins. And, of course, Bruce Springsteen had by far his biggest hit—the best-selling album of 1984, in fact—with his Born in the U.S.A. album, which spawned seven top-10 singles, a feat that matched Jackson’s Thriller as the only two records to ever pull that off.

Emerging in ’84

There were some artists who had started to make a splash in the previous few years who exploded in 1984. Most obviously was Prince, whose Purple Rain album spawned five smash hit singles and earned him an Oscar and two Grammies. When he wasn’t killing it on his own, he was also helping the other bands featured in the Purple Rain movie—singles he wrote and produced for The Time (Jungle Love and The Bird) and Apollonia 6 (Sex Shooter) also charted. And if that wasn’t enough, Chaka Khan’s cover of the Prince single I Feel For You won Prince a third Grammy that year for songwriting. Sheila E’s hit The Glamorous Life, written and co-produced by Prince, went to Number 7 on the pop charts and earned two more Grammy nominations. And he also scored a hit for Sheena Easton by writing and producing Sugar Walls for her A Private Heaven album.

Eleven hits in one year? Yeah, that’s pretty good. If it sounded like Prince was everywhere you turned in 1984, it was because he was.

Madonna’s eponymous debut album was producing hit singles in early 1984. In fact, the last single, Borderline, was also the biggest-selling single on that album, setting up the massive follow-up album and single Like A Virgin, which entered the music scene in October like a meteor, turning her into a mega-star and forever changing the pop landscape.

Billy Idol’s second album, Rebel Yell, was released in November of 1983 but three of the album’s singles were released in 1984—Eyes Without a Face, Flesh For Fantasy, and Catch My Fall. The album would eventually go double platinum in the United States and five-times platinum in Canada.

After getting some attention in 1983 for his guitar work on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance album and some further success with his debut album later in the year, Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble exploded onto the blues scene with Couldn’t Stand the Weather in 1984. The album sold a million copies and put the blues back on the radio and on MTV while establishing Vaughan as a legitimate superstar.

Hot off a solid debut record, Wham! released their most iconic album in ’84. Make it Big went to Number 1 on several charts around the world, and featured most of the singles we think of when we think of Wham! Hit singles Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Freedom, All She Wants, and Careless Whisper all came from that one album. Make it Big, indeed!

In 1983, Bryan Adams’ third album, Cuts Like a Knife, went platinum in Canada and the US, but his 1984 follow-up, Reckless, established Adams as a bona fide superstar. Six singles would hit the top 15, including Run to You, Heaven, and his hard-rocking duet with Turner, It’s Only Love, putting Adams in the same conversation as Jackson and Springsteen.

Interestingly, Bob Clearmountain, who produced Reckless, was also responsible for mixing Born in the U.S.A. as well as Hall and Oates’ 1984 mega-hit LP Big Bam Boom—being involved in just one of those projects would have been impressive; being directly tied to three of the biggest-selling records of that year was amazing.

Can Con

Speaking of Canadian acts, Corey Hart released his debut album in 1984, featuring his best-known song, Sunglasses at Night. My favourite Canadian band, Platinum Blonde, scored two hit singles in 1984. Meanwhile the Spoons released a double-single in 1984, which spawned two big hits for them. Both produced by Nile Rodgers (who also produced Madonna’s Like a Virgin album), Tell No Lies and Romantic Traffic both charted, with Romantic Traffic becoming one of the band’s signature songs on tour in the years following.

Rock ‘N’ Roll

And of course, we mustn’t forget Van Halen. Their first five albums had sold like hot cakes, bringing hard rock to the forefront of the music industry with multi-platinum record after multi-platinum record. But their sixth album, 1984, released in January, featured their first and only number one hit single—Jump—and their highest-ever chart position, with the album reaching No. 2 in the US and No. 1 in Canada. This album featured more of a pop sensibility, including a lot of keyboards in addition to the scorching guitar solos.

It can hardly be understated how big this record was, in a year filled with huge records—it legitimized what would eventually be known as “hair metal” in a way that had never happened to this point. Bands like Cinderella, Poison, and Bon Jovi owe a debt of gratitude to Van Halen for this album.

Speaking of hard rock, there’s the most iconic “mockumentary” ever created. Rob Reiner’s first attempt at directing a movie was the script-free This Is Spinal Tap, which purports to follow the disastrous American tour of an aging British hard rock band. Musicians have hailed the film as being a fantastic representation of the chaos involved in putting on a tour.

But just as importantly, the soundtrack album features songs from the movie which, frankly, have resulted in one of the better metal albums of that entire decade—play any track from this album side-by-side with a hard rock tune from another contemporary artist and see if you can really truly tell which one is the “real” band and which one is a bunch of comedians screwing around.

Soundtracks

This is Spinal Tap was just one of several movies in 1984 to feature soundtracks that had a huge impact on the sound of the year.

For years, the motion picture soundtrack album was something that sometimes did extremely well at the record store—and helped generate extra revenue for the movie. But for some reason, hit records like Saturday Night Fever still failed to impress the Powers That Be. That is, until the early 80s when, like Jackson’s Thriller album, movie producers began to see the power of the soundtrack. Films like Flashdance and the Big Chill had major success on the charts with their soundtrack albums in 1983, leading us into the explosion of major soundtrack albums in 1984.

In addition to Purple Rain and This is Spinal Tap, the album charts in 1984 also included The Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, Repo Man, and of course, Footloose.

And if that wasn’t enough, the year wrapped up with yet another huge soundtrack album, Beverly Hills Cop. Four hit singles were released for that one, five if you count Neutron Dance by the Pointer Sisters (which was officially released as part of the Pointer Sisters’ Breakout album, although the video prominently featured scenes from the movie). But in the last six weeks of 1984, there were no fewer than three songs from that album racing up the charts.

Country-Crossover

And we must not forget country music. In 1984, the big crossover hit that raced up both the country and pop charts was the Julio Iglesias-Willie Nelson duet, To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before. A perfect example of two seemingly incompatible musical styles blending seamlessly, the song was Iglesias’ breakthrough into the American market and was named Single of the Year by the Academy of Country Music.

And the Biggest Hit Was…

A discussion of 1984 music isn’t complete until the top-selling single of the year is mentioned.

There are some Boomers out there who like to think that music with a message ended in the 1960s. But the 80s had its fair share of politically driven music as well. Take, for example, the aforementioned Platinum Blonde, singing about the fear of nuclear war in Standing in the Dark (on the charts in late ’83 to early ’84). Or U2’s Pride (In the Name of Love), yet another hit in 1984.

But the biggest hit of 1984 went to Do They Know It’s Christmas?, a song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, featuring many of the top British acts of the time. In its first week of release in the UK, it sold more than a million copies; eventually, it would sell 11.7 million copies, placing it at number 20 in the all-time biggest-selling singles. The song would also inspire Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to form USA for Africa and release We Are the World a few months into 1985.

Finally, a very honourable mention must go to German band Modern Talking, whose very first single, You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul, was the second-biggest selling tune of 1984, moving eight million units. And the video is, frankly, glorious.

Okay, maybe glorious is the wrong word. But it is… something.

But Wait, There’s More

I could go on and on, but among the other hits of 1984 were:

  • Karma Chameleon — Culture Club
  • Missing You — John Waite
  • Original Sin — INXS (produced by Nile Rodgers!)
  • Time After Time — Cyndi Lauper
  • 99 Luftballons — Nena
  • Red Red Wine — UB40
  • The Warrior — Scandal
  • The Reflex — Duran Duran (produced by Nile Rodgers!)
  • Hold Me Now — Thompson Twins
  • Sister Christian — Night Ranger
  • I Want a New Drug — Huey Lewis and the News
  • Rock Box — Run DMC
  • Eat It — “Weird Al” Yankovic
  • We’re Not Gonna Take It — Twisted Sister
  • Two Tribes — Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Established artists, emerging artists, brand new artists. Pop, rock, funk, blues, country, new wave. Turn on the radio in 1984 and you’d hear all of it, often one after the other. The entire music industry was rediscovering itself after years of mediocrity and what emerged was a world where the old rules didn’t really apply, where creativity was prioritized over safe rehashes of what had come before. The soundscape had renewed vigour, boundaries were broken down (often for good), and the recording industry hasn’t been the same since.

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The Chicago Cubs Will Win the 2016 World Series

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View from the Wrigley Field Bleachers, 2008. Photo by Jim Flannery

After a 108-year drought, 2016 is the year when the Chicago Cubs will finally reach the promised land and win the World Series.

It’s a simple case of economics.

Since the last Major League work stoppage wiped out the 1994 World Series, the team with the highest payroll in the Majors has appeared in the World Series six times, winning four (not at all surprisingly, the New York yankees were that team every single time). Of the 36 other teams to make it to the Series in that time, 11 were in the Top 5 in payroll and another 10 were in the Top 10. That’s fully 64 percent of the teams in the World Series over the last two decades.

The team that has won the World Series in those years has been the team with the highest payroll 15 times in 21 seasons, a 71 percent success rate.

Which brings us to the 2016 World Series. According to Spotrac.com, the Cubs have the fifth-highest payroll in baseball, at $186,402,394, while the Cleveland Indians are down at 21st place, with just $114,707,868 in payroll, which also makes them just the fourth team since 1995 to get to the Series and be in the bottom 10 in the league in payroll.

Obviously, the Cubs have finally figured out a way to win—spend a shit-ton of money on talent. Are they guaranteed a win? No. The Florida Marlins proved in 2003 that sometimes David can have a better seven-game run than Goliath by beating the big, bad Yankees. But don’t count on the Indians taking this series, even with it currently tied at 1-1. Chicago has simply invested too much money in this team to lose at this point.

 

Follow me on Twitter @lethbridgejimbo

50 Years Later, Star Trek Is Still Amazing

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On this day in 1966, the world premiere of Star Trek happened on television. The Original Series lasted just three seasons before NBC killed it, but the most influential pop culture phenomenon in human history had begun to make its mark.

Here we are, 50 years later. There have now been six series, 13 movies, and who knows how much other spin-off stuff in terms of games, novels, technical manuals, fan movies, etc. CBS/Paramount have made any number of moves in recent years that seems designed to kill the franchise, but Star Trek perseveres.

The original series had a profound impact on the world. People like Whoopi Goldberg and Mae Jemison attributed seeing a strong black woman in an important role on the show as being the reasons why they reached for the stars. The show featured the first interracial kiss and dealt head-on with race relations on several other occasions. It featured an episode talking about American policy in Viet Nam at a time when no one else on television dared even mention that war. It presented a future in which humans learn to get along with each other and achieve great things, a vision of hope in the face of humanity’s consistent refusal to find common ground.

And then there’s the tech. Flip phones, iPods, transparent aluminum, tricorders and more are now actual things, all inspired by Star Trek. If someone ever figures out how to travel by space warp or teleporter, you can thank Trek for that too.

Sure, there were some missteps along the way. There are more than a few episodes that are pretty painful to watch (“Brain and brain. What is brain?”). But there are also some that are brilliant. From “Balance of Terror,” to “Space Seed,” to “City on the Edge of Forever,” to “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” the show found a great balance between action, adventure, big concepts, and characterization.

This is a show that has coloured my whole world view. I have a fascination with outer space. I always try to look at things logically. I try to keep an open mind and see the possibilities. My wife and I have travelled to James T. Kirk’s future birthplace so we can say we’ve been there.

Will the show remain relevant for another 50 years? That remains to be seen. But as new chapters of the franchise continue to be written and more fans are inspired by the show’s vision, theres no reason to think it couldn’t live on in people’s hearts and minds, driving us forward as a society.

Lethbridge Move Two-Year Anniversary

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Two years ago today, my wife and I, along with our sick cat, Feather, packed up and relocated to Lethbridge, AB. I had accepted a job with a company that was on a fantastic trajectory (and would win the Small Employer of the Year award from the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce later that year) and we were looking forward to our new life and new adventure.

Two years later, the company I started working with is out of business and I’m trying to get my own consulting business running, with invaluable help from my wife. Our cat, Feather, who was already diagnosed with late stage kidney failure when we moved, passed away in the winter of 2015. Not exactly how we were expecting things to play out, but then again that’s just how life seems to go.

It hasn’t all been sad news.

We’ve made some great friends, some of the nicest people we’ve ever met. We’re well into the process of making our house into our home with ongoing fix-ups and improvements, including a new garage, some new light fixtures, fresh paint, and all the yardwork Tracey has done to make our gardens and stuff all lovely. Our consulting business has already earned a second-place in a business plan writing competition and things are generally looking up for our overall profitability. We’ve found several nice local restaurants, including more than one really good pizza place. And although the traffic can be a little scary, the volume is so much lighter compared to Calgary that, on balance, it’s an order of magnitude less stressful.

No, things aren’t perfect. We’ve found that there are some clique-ish elements here. Lethbridge is one of the only cities in Canada that still stubbornly refuses to implement a curbside recycling program. But then again, nothing’s perfect.

All in all, this has been a good move for us. We’ve settled into our new community, we’ve established new traditions, and we’ve found ways to contribute and give back. No regrets at all about making this change. I’m looking forward to the next two years!

Prince: All Good Things, They Say, Never Last

Sometimes I wish that life was everlasting,

But all good things, they say, never last.

–  Sometimes It Snows in April, Prince

When my wife and I heard the news Thursday that Prince had died, we were stunned. At 57 years old, he was still pumping out great music regularly, touring the world, and continuing to dazzle with his virtuoso singing and musicianship.

Now he’s gone.

It can hardly be understated just how talented he was. He could play every instrument. And not just get by on every instrument—he could play. His vocal range was 4 1/2 octaves, putting most every other pop artist on Earth to shame. And not only could he reach higher and lower than almost everyone, his ability to wail or be as delicate as a flower with that range—sometimes in the same verse—was jaw-dropping. Prince didn’t oversing or undersing; he produced the precise note with the exact amount of emotion and power required every single time,

He released 39 albums in his 35-year career making him a spectacularly prolific writer by anyone’s standards. Not every single on every album was brilliant, but if the worst thing you can say about an artist’s work is that sometimes his songs are merely good, that’s quite a credit to their ability to stay fresh. His final album, HitNRun Phase Two, received an aggregate score of 63/100 from Metacritic with Paste Magazine rating the record as high as 8.8/10—not bad for your 39th album.

And how much more material did he leave in that infamous vault in Paisley Park?

Like many people my age, I got on board with Prince in 1982 when the 1999 album came out. Songs like “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” were revolutionary in a radio landscape dominated by… really, really white people like Olivia Newton-John, Soft Cell, The Human League, and Survivor. Following that up with the mega-hit Purple Rain album and movie turned him into one of the great musical icons of the 80s.

His follow-up to Purple Rain to this day is one of my favourite albums he ever recorded, although at the time it was highly controversial because it was such a departure from his previous two radio-friendly, hook-laden records. Around the World in a Day was filled with psychedelic sounds and other things that the masses weren’t quite ready for. But tunes like “Condition of the Heart,” “The Ladder,” and “Temptation” in my humble opinion are ever bit as brilliant as “When Doves Cry” or “Let’s Go Crazy.”

The more I dug into his music, the more my musical horizons were widened. From “Anna Stesia” to “Electric Chair” to “Gett Off” to “7” to “Baltimore” to “Gold” to “Damn U” to  “Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance” to “Black Sweat” to “Housequake” to “Colonized Mind” to “FUNKNROLL” he was able to explore dance, rock, funk, soul, pop, power ballads, and so much more.

I have often thought of Prince as a modern day Jon Donne. Both were preoccupied—especially earlier in life—with love and sex and both inevitably found their true calling in religion and God. That constant push and pull between the profane and the holy seemed to me to be a consistent thread in the subject matter both Donne and Prince repeatedly revisited. To me at least, this was just one more confirmation that Prince was operating on a higher level than the rest of his peers.

From the time I began to listen to really appreciate music until now, Prince has been an integral part of my experience. That experience fundamentally changed on Thursday—there will never be another truly new release by Prince (although, who knows, there may be dozens of albums ready to go in the vault…). But thankfully Prince left such a rich legacy that I will able to continue to enjoy those 39 albums for years to come without much repetition. On the other hand, Prince did write a song called “Joy in Repetition.” Maybe I do need to listen to a few of my faves over and over…

I’m not sure if I have a point to all this, except to say I’m really sad about Prince’s death and I’m going to miss his creativity. Time to go watch the seven DVDs of Prince movies and concerts we have on our shelves and remember fondly the Artist we knew as Prince.

Trammell Misses HoF, Reminding Us That the System Is Garbage

Major League Baseball announced their Hall of Fame Class of 2016 on Wednesday, with Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza making the grade. There are some in the media who are talking about which three voters left Griffey off their ballots, ensuring once again that no one has ever been a unanimous choice. But while I find that irksome and indefensible, the thing that really grinds my gears is that Alan Trammell once again fell well short of the 75 percent threshold for Hall of Fame induction.

That was his 15th and final time on the ballot, meaning his fate is now in the hands of the Expansion Era Committee, but his name won’t come up for consideration by them until 2020.

As a point of fact, the 2016 vote produced Trammell’s highest percentage ever, at 40.9, but that means that somehow almost 60 percent of BBWAA’s voters still think Trammell doesn’t belong in the Hall. How is this even possible and what does it say about the Hall of Fame voting system and the baseball knowledge of the 440 BBWAA members who cast ballots for this year’s Hall of Fame class?

In short, it says that this is possible because the system is broken and the BBWAA members are idiots motivated by things other than what constitutes a great baseball player when they cast their votes.

I’ve ranted about this before, but this bears repeating: Alan Trammell was unequivocally one of the top 15 shortstops in MLB history.

Trammell’s career slashline of .285/.352/.415/.767 is excellent for a shortstop: his .285 career batting average is 33rd best of all time among shortstops with at least 1,000 games played; his .767 OPS is 31st. His 2,365 career hits are 17th most among shortstops. His .977 career fielding percentage was the 24th highest ever.

Along the way, Trammell won four Gold Glove Awards, four Silver Slugger awards, was the runner up for the AL MVP in 1987 and won the World Series MVP in 1984. His career post-season performance was almost Michael Jordan-esque, posting a .333/.404/.588/.992 slashline in October.

His career Wins Above Replacement was 70.4, 11th best among shortstops and 93rd best among all players in MLB history. His Defensive WAR of 22.0 is 33rd best among all players in MLB history and 22nd best among shortstops. Trammell’s WAR7—his WAR for the peak seven years of his career—is 44.6, the eighth best among shortstops.

Trammell’s JAWS score, Jay Jaffe’s rating system that evaluate’s a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness, is 57.5. Shortstops with JAWS scores lower than Trammell include the following Hall of Famers: Barry Larkin, Bobby Wallace, Lou Boudreau, Joe Cronin, Pee Wee Reese, Joe Sewell, Luis Aparicio, Joe Tinker, Dave Bankroft, Hughie Jennings, Travis Jackson, Phil Rizzuto, Rabbit Maranville, John Ward, George Wright, and Leo Durocher. There are in fact about 50 percent more Hall of Fame shortstops below Trammell in the JAWS list than there are above him (nine).

You know who else has a lower JAWS score than Trammell? Derek Jeter. Jeter retired with a 57.0 on the JAWS scale. And if I were one to bet on such things, I’d say Jeter is the most likely player in the next decade to become the first-ever unanimous electee to the Hall of Fame.

Am I saying that Trammell was better than Jeter based on one metric? No. But I am saying that they are in the same conversation; that if Jeter is a can’t miss Hall of Famer, Trammell should be as well. The only real difference between the two is that one played his entire career for the Detroit Tigers and the other played his entire career for the New York Yankees—statistically, their performance was very similar.

I’m not claiming Alan Trammell was the best shortstop of all time and I don’t think anyone is. But he was indisputedly as good or better than a dozen or more current Hall of Famers, including recent inductees like Barry Larkin and soon-to-be inductees like Derek Jeter. I’m not arguing a marginal case here: Trammell should have been elected to the Hall of Fame years ago and should not be stuck on the outside looking in, as he is now.

The voting process is clearly too subjective, which opens it wide to bad choices based on opinion, conjecture, and politics. I mean seriously, two professional baseball writers thought David Eckstein was worthy of a Hall of Fame vote? I liked Eckstein’s moxie, but there’s no way on Earth he deserved a vote that could have been better spent on the glut of legitimate candidates on the ballot right now.

Bluntly, I find it disgusting that members of the BBWAA could consistently get this wrong for 15 straight years. They seem so hyper-focussed on punishing players from the Steroid Era that they’ve forgotten that they have an actual job to do when filling out this ballot and that job is to honestly and fairly judge which players have earned the right to get their name enshrined in MLB’s most sacred shrine.

In my humble opinion, the fact that Trammell has been denied membership in the Hall of Fame indicates that the voting system needs major, sweeping revisions to require more objective evaluation of players’ merits. It also suggests that close to 300 members of the BBWAA should be fired for incompetence.

 

Follow me on Twitter @calgaryjimbo