I don’t know what programming mastermind arranges the playlist, but the Stop and Shop near my house plays the most fascinating tunes as part of its in-store music. Everything from forgotten gems, to minor songs by major artists, to songs that are instantly recognizable even though you have no idea why, to songs you haven’t heard for twenty-five years and likely won’t be hearing again anytime soon
Obscur-Eighties, Vol 2: Forgotten 80s Songs I’ve Heard at Stop and Shop
Just how deep do the anonymous Stop and Shop DJs dig? Let me put it this way: while bopping down the aisles at this very Stop and Shop, I have heard Ruben Studdard’s “Flying Without Wings” not once but twice!
Naturally, this store is also THE place to go to hear obscure songs from the 1980’s– or what I like to call “Obscur-Eighties,” those songs that get shamefully overlooked by modern radio stations. Think about it: whenever you hear an 80s song on the radio nowadays, isn’t it usually something like “Livin’ on a Prayer” or “Every Rose Has Its Thorns”? What about the thousands of other songs that populated the Billboard charts in the ten years that made up the Great 80s? Why don’t they get any love?
About two years ago now, I explored the “Obscur-Eighties” phenomenon in an article for LT80s.
At the time, I estimated that we only hear 50 to 75 songs from the 1980s on the radio nowadays, but now I’m wondering if that number is soft. There might be even fewer than that.
Fortunately, Stop and Shop is doing something to remedy that. So, here’s my latest “Obscur-Eighties” list, comprised exclusively of songs I have heard during recent Stop and Shop excursions. These are songs that have been pushed to the back of the pop culture shelf, like a can of Le Seuer peas, for far too long. But unlike a can of peas, these forgotten classics don’t have expiration dates.
“What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy),” Information Society (1988) Question: Besides being members in the elite “One-Hit Wonders from the 80s” Club, what else do T’Pau, Nena, and Information Society have in common? Answer: they all make allusions to Star Trek: The Original Series. So… T’Pau (whose “Heart and Soul” reached #4 back in 1987) named itself after a Vulcan priestess from the episode “Amok Time”; Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” name-drops “Captain Kirk”; and “What’s on Your Mind” samples dialogue spoken by both DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy.
To be honest, “What’s on Your Mind” has not really been on my mind for the past, oh, twenty-nine years, so a big thanks to the anonymous Stop and Shop DJ, for dusting it off and helping to ensure it lives long and prospers.
“Invincible,” Pat Benatar (1985)
AND “Silent Running,” Mike + The Mechanics (1986) –I am lumping these together as “Intensely Dramatic Songs, Only I Have No Idea What’s Going On.” For example, “Invincible” opens with ominous talk of a “bloody road” and a “sudden darkness,” before urging the listeners to “stand up and face the enemy,” since “there’s nowhere we can run to anymore.” And the situation in “Silent Running”— with its description of close-at-hand fighting and “ammunition just inside the doorway”– seems equally dire. But why? What’s going on?
Wikipedia clears up “Silent Running” a little; apparently, the song’s narrator has traveled forward in time and he’s trying to send a warning to his family about the apocalypse that’s in store for them. (Huh…) But the events of “Invincible,” like the “bloody road” from the opening line, remain a mystery. But why quibble over something like narrative transparency, when both songs are so awesome? (In fact, the woman who wrote “Invincible,” Grammy-winning songwriter Holly Knight, called it “my favorite tune that I’ve written”– and considering Knight wrote for acts such as Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, and Heart, that is some high praise, indeed.)
Incidentally, both “Invincible” and “Silent Running” have one more thing in common: Songs Featured on the Soundtracks of Films No One Ever Saw– namely, The Legend of Billie Jean (for “Invincible”) and Choke Canyon (for “Silent Running”). Yep: Choke Canyon.
“Lovin’ Every Minute of It,” Loverboy (1985) — A song that falls into the category of “Last-Minute Additions That Ends Up Making the Whole Album.” Apparently, the Loverboy gents were all set to record their fourth album, but they had a sinking feeling something was missing– namely, a hit single. To the rescue came Mutt Lange, who wrote “Lovin’ Every Minute of It” within a few days and then played the song to the band over the phone; the Loverboy guys literally held a little tape recorder up to the phone as Lange played it. (Hey, that’s mid-80s technology for you…) This eleventh-hour song gave Loverboy a name for their album as well as their biggest hit in America. (“Lovin’” peaked at #9 on the Billboard.)
“Not Enough Love in the World,” Don Henley (1985)– The third single from Henley’s second solo album, Building the Perfect Beast. While no “Boys of Summer” (which might just be my favorite song from the 1980s), it’s still a pretty decent tune with some great lyrics. (Example: “I’m not easy to live with/ I know that it’s true/ You’re no picnic either, babe/ That’s one of the things I loved about you.”) Plus, there’s some nice ambiguity involving the title. On the surface, the title seems to be an indictment against all of humanity for our lack of compassion. HOWEVER, if you look at the title in the context of the chorus (“For you, girl, there’s just not enough love in the world”), then it seems Henley is critiquing a particularly needy and impossible-to-please woman. Ah, Don Henley– you perfectly beastly lyricist, you!
“Desert Moon,” Dennis DeYoung (1984)
Yeah, the lyrics are kind of contrived and corny, and yeah, my wife made fun of me when she realized I actually purchased this on iTunes. But I genuinely like this song, and when I heard this song while sojourning down the chips aisle of Stop and Shop, I definitely felt that shiver of nostalgia– which is sort of ironic, since the “shiver of nostalgia” is precisely what this song is ABOUT.
“Take Me to Heart,” Quarterflash (1983)
What? Quarterflash has another song besides “Harden My Heart”? Apparently, they do, and it’s a pretty good one, too; in fact, it reached #14 on the Billboard charts. Unfortunately, I only vaguely recognized this when I heard it in Stop and Shop, and I never would have been able to summon the name without the help of my trusty phone. So, yeah, guess I don’t know too much about Quarterflash, which is too bad since they seem to be a talented group that deserved to be more than a (quarter-) flash in the pan.
“Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly),” Icicle Works (1983) — Fun fact: this was originally released in the U.K. as “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream),” but the record company reversed the words in parentheses for the American audiences, to make it easier for people to find the record in stores. While they were at it, the record company couldn’t have made it easier for people to figure out what the heck is going on with this song.
Really, ALL the lyrics are pretty mystifying, but let’s just start with the title. What does it mean to “whisper to a scream”? Are they talking about a conversation that starts quietly then erupts into shouting? Are they suggesting that when people raise their voices, you should lower yours? Eh… I guess I’m resorting to my classic “I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s a great song, so I’ll just go along for the ride.”
“Foolish Beat,” Debbie Gibson (1988)
Some dismiss Debbie Gibson’s first number one single as a “Careless Whisper” ripoff– based, I guess, on the fact that “Foolish Beat” has the line “I could never love again now that we’re apart” which VAGUELY echoes Wham!’s “I’m never gonna dance again” and maybe that both songs include saxophones or something. Hardly enough of a connection to cry foul, if you ask me. Besides, even if she WERE making an homage to “Careless Whisper,” cut her some slack! She was only seventeen at the time, which meant she was the youngest person to write, produce, and sing a number one single entirely on her own. That’s impressive!
“Couple Days Off,” Huey Lewis and the News (1991)
OK, I’m cheating a little here, since this song isn’t from the 80s. But I felt I could include it, not only because Huey Lewis is such an 80s Icon, not only because it’s such an obscure song and thus in keeping with the spirit of this post, but also because, for me, the experience of hearing this song crystallizes the thrill that happens whenever you hear a song you haven’t heard in a long, long time.
In this case, I was pushing my cart through a Stop and Shop aisle when I heard the song’s opening notes, and before I even heard a single lyric, I immediately did one of those “No… it can’t be…Can it?… It is!” And I just started smiling.
And that’s the weird thing. See, I didn’t even particularly LIKE “Couple Days Off” when it came out in the summer of 1991. (It always seemed to me like a lamer sequel to Huey’s “Workin’ for a Livin.’”) I couldn’t even sing along when I heard it again, because I never bothered to learn any of the words besides maybe two lines from the chorus. And yet hearing it brought a genuine smile to my face.
Why? Was it because I was proud of myself for being able to conjure up the name of a song I literally hadn’t heard in twenty-six years? Was my smile a reflex action, triggered by anything remotely connected to the 80s? Or maybe it’s because of just our ol’ buddy Nostalgia. After all, to paraphrase Dennis DeYoung’s “Desert Moon,” it’s always great to hear a song that reminds us of those summer nights when we were young.
That’s one of the things music does; it triggers memories, it transports you back to spots of time. And it can happen any time, any place… even in the aisles of Stop and Shop.