Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

80s Movie Villains

Welcome to the latest 80s Crossover Event! This month, The 80s League is tackling 80s Movie Villains. Look for a Return to the 80s podcast episode on this topic, coming soon. There are so many awesome villains to choose from, so I would highly recommend these other blogs and podcasts, and see who they choose.

80s Reboot Overdrive

Killer Kitsch

Old School Evil

Rediscover the 80s

Stuck in the 80s

Weegiemidget

And in addition to our podcast, Robert wrote this article on his favorite ’80s movie villains. We would love to hear who yours are. Please email us at returnto80s@gmail.com, or feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear from you. Now, make like a tree and get out of here, and check out Robert’s awesome article.


In my high school English classes we read a ton. In different grades, different texts are read including short stories, plays, poems, and novels. While all of these have different difficulty and interest levels, they have one important element in common: conflict. A story does not exist without conflict. Take this for instance: Two friends are sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch. Friend A has a baloney sandwich and is munching away. Friend B has a ham and cheese sandwich and is also silently munching away. No conflict, no story. Let’s try this: now Friend A, who is silently eating that baloney sandwich, looks down at that sandwich and sees way too much mustard on it. Friend A slowly peels the sandwich apart, stands, and smacks Friend B in the face with it. Now we have conflict – and a story.

Clearly, conflict is a necessary element in every story and one of the simplest conflicts to manufacture is good vs. evil. So many movies from the ‘80s used this conflict to intrigue us, manipulate us, enrage us. Think back to all those “bad guys” from those classic ‘80s films. That is just what I am doing here. I have decided to present my list of most hated ‘80s villains, all terrestrial – no aliens or monsters – just humans, dastardly, ugly, conniving, horrible humans.

William Zabka and Martin Kove – Johnny Lawrence and John Kreece from The Karate Kid

I first saw The Karate Kid upon it’s release in 1984. The only actor I recognized was Pat Morita who played Daniel LaRusso’s karate instructor Mr. Miyagi. The protagonist, LaRusso is new to California and goes to a new high school where he knows no one. He is the natural underdog who becomes an easy target for the Cobra Kai, a local karate dojo. Two members of the Cobra Kai, instructor John Kreece and his star pupil, Johnny Lawrence, take it upon themselves to make a living hell for poor Daniel. Johnny and his boys continually jump a helpless LaRusso who receives no sympathy from dojo leader Kreece. Johnny continually beats the tar out of Daniel with the full support of Kreece who does not believe in any sort of mercy for anyone. Kreece’s ultimate nastiness shines through during the finals of the All Valley Karate Championship, LaRusso picks up an injury to his knee in the semifinals (another Cobra Kai member delivers an illegal blow, at the behest of Kreece). During the final round LaRusso is pitted against Johnny. He is clearly bothered by the knee injury and Johnny can see his weakness. After dropping a few points, LaRusso is able to claw back a bit and get a point himself. Johnny gets a bloody nose and, during the time out, talks to Kreece. It is during this talk the Kreece delivers his horrible line, “Sweep the leg. . . You have a problem with that? No mercy.” Of course, Johnny does it. Even though he knew it was wrong, he does it. Both are nasty to the core.

Thomas Wilson – Biff Tannen from Back to the Future

A year later I saw Back to the Future in theaters and and other pretty nasty character reared his ugly head – Biff Tannen. Biff is a sarcastic bully who is used to getting what he wants all of the time. He picks on the hero Marty McFly, accosts Lorraine, and makes George McFly do his homework. He verbally abuses everyone around him. From calling George an “Irish bug” to labeling Marty a “butthead” (in the same scene), Biff is an insufferable jerk. Perhaps his ultimate barbarous nature comes out during the film’s climax. Biff spots Lorraine in a car by herself. Biff takes it upon himself to attack Lorraine, saying that she knows she wants it. There is not one redeeming quality of Biff in the entire film. How happy were we all when George punched his lights out?

Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi, and Joe Pantoliano – The Fratellis from The Goonies

Same year (1985), different bad guy, or bad guys. In The Goonies, the evil doers were a sweet, loving family – the Fratellis. The Fratellis are a family of criminals who are hiding out in an abandoned restaurant. Unfortunately, the young, adventurous kids, looking for a way to financially save their home, encounter this nasty clan. From housing a dead guy in the freezer to threatening Chunk with putting his hand into a blender, the Fratellis know no boundaries. They let their greed get the best of them and follow the Goonies as they trace One Eyed Willy’s lost treasure. Perhaps one of the worst things this detestable family does is chain one of their very own in the basement, brother Sloth. Sloth is sweet, loving, albeit physically deformed man who is left alone in the basement, chained to his chair with a TV all that keeps him company. Thefts, murder, lies, and abject cruelty is all this family knows. Horrible.

Alan Rickman – Hans Gruber from Die Hard

One of my good college buddies was a foreign student from Chile. He loved 1988’s release Die Hard – this is not unusual. What is strange, though, is that he loved Hans Gruber, the bad guy! Whenever he saw me, he would look at me and utter in (in a Spanish influenced German accent, “We must not alter the plan.” It always made me crack up, but I could have absolutely no sympathy for this nasty terrorist. Gruber and his minions attack and take over a high rise building in Nakotomi Plaza. While Gruber feigns the attack as a protest against the company president, Joseph Takagi, his real motivation is greed. Gruber wants to $640 million in bonds that are kept in the building’s vault. So much for ideals. Gruber does his best to, not only steal this money, but knock off a few innocent workers and make life extremely difficult for hero, John McClane. A scene that perfectly shows Gruber calm maniacal nature takes place with company president Takagi sitting right in front of him. With a gun on the table, Gruber insidiously says, “I’m going to count to three. . . One. . .Two”. . . [Takagi pleads ignorance] Three [Gruber calmly puts a bullet through Takagi’s head].” Yes, Hans Gruber is calm and always in control; he is intelligent and quick witted, as well. Unfortunately, he uses these talents in a malicious manner for self serving reasons. His self righteous confidence is nearly as bad as his villainous actions.

Steven Berkoff – Victor Maitland from Beverly Hills Cop

As I ran through ‘80s movies and tried to think of all the bad guys, I thought my list was complete. Then, while I was listening to an American Top 40 countdown from 1985, Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” came on. Hearing this song brought me back to the hilarious movie and it’s nasty denizen, Victor Maitland. Maitland is a high end art dealer in Beverly Hills who has had his men assassinate hero Axel Foley’s best friend Mikey Tandino. Foley wants to solve his friend’s brutal murder and traces the bonds Mikey stole to Beverly Hills and Victor Maitland. Maitland is another one of those calm villains who has his henchmen do most of his dirty work. He is sneaky and gets past most laws through bribery, threats, and outright intimidation. His calm passivity is just a mask for his true ruthless nature. He is an honest to goodness devilish character who most should not mess with.

All five of these character are horrible, dirty, lowdown, despicable, diabolical, heinous (the synonyms could go on for a while) people. They have no redeeming qualities and we are all happy when they lose. Oh yes, they do lose. In true archetypal fashion, in the conflict between good and evil – good wins, always. After all of these movies we are left with true relief as Daniel LaRusso beats Johnny at his own game; as George McFly lays out Biff; as the Fratellis are outwitted by the Goonies; as John McClane watches Gruber fall from the top of Nakotomi Plaza; and as Axel Foley blows Victor Maitland away. Our heroes always defeat these villains, reassuring us that, although the world can be a harsh, chaotic place, there is room for good to prosper.

In Defense of Journey Without Steve Perry

In Defense of Journey Without Steve Perry

by Robert Mishou

I LOVE JOURNEY! ever since I bought the Escape album with my own money in 1981. I had heard their songs on the radio for years as a kid, but when I heard “Stone in Love” I knew two things: that I had to have this album and that Journey would become one of my favorite bands of all time. As it turns out, I was right. I bought everything that Journey put out after Escape, got a hold of everything before Escape, and bought all of the music the band put out as solo artists or with other musicians. I follow the band and it members on Twitter and I am eagerly anticipating seeing them perform on March 25 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Oh, wait, wait . . . that’s not Journey – Steve Perry is not with them.

So?

If you follow guitarist Neal Schon on Twitter, you will understand what I am about to say. I am appalled at how many Journey “fans” ask Neal about Steve Perry. They ask and ask and ask. Neal replies (again, again, and again) patiently that the ball is in Perry’s court. If he wants to come back to the band, he will be welcomed back with open arms (see that, two Journey songs in one sentence).

Journey has been an excellent rock band since the release of their first album Journey in 1975. Album sales were not great, but they followed with Look into the Future (1976) and Next (1977). While each of these albums performed better than their predecessor, Journey was not a huge hit. With the Infinity album, things changed. The band added a vocalist, Steve Perry, and they took off. This album included classic rock hits “Wheel in the Sky” and “Lights.” The band started to hit the radio and the charts. They did not have any huge hits yet, but they were clearly on their way. Their next two albums Evolution and Departure would be Journey’s first top 20 albums and contain their first legitimate hits, “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” and “Any Way You Want It.” They followed these albums with a string of top 4 albums: Escape (#1), Frontiers (#2), and Raised on Radio (#4). These albums contain such Journey classics as “Open Arms”, “Don’t Stop Believin’”, “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”, and “Be Good to Yourself.”

As we all know, Raised on Radio would be their last release for ten years. The band fractured a bit; Steve Perry had some health issues, and . . . well, you know. Trial By Fire would be released in 1996, but it would be the band’s last album with Steve Perry on vocals. Yes, Perry has what many consider the best voice in rock. I love him and the songs he has with Journey – – but is it time we moved on. Journey is still an excellent rock band who has continued to produce fantastic albums and, more importantly, play live shows that live up to their legendary name and are packed with fans. I will not discuss the “Perry years” here; instead I will defend Journey as a band who deserves their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and should be supported as an all time great American rock band.

Let’s begin with plain old musicianship. It is impossible to define Journey as anything but a tight group of musicians who play as well as anyone out there. The present line up of Steve Smith (drums), Ross Vallory (bass), Jonathan Cain (keyboards), and Neal Schon (guitars) are just plain good. Let’s just isolate Schon. No one can deny that the riffs he plays with Journey are excellent! Need a reminder? Just pop in the song “Escape.” Need I say more? Do you still need more convincing? OK, let’s give a listen to Schon’s work outside of Journey. He has several solo albums: Late Night, Vortex, The Calling to name three (my personal favorite track is “I’ll Cover You” from the first album listed here). Schon also released two albums with keyboardist Jan Hammer, Untold Passion and Here to Stay (give “No More Lies” a listen). He was also a part of two groups: HSAS with Sammy Hagar (listen to “Missing You”) and Hardline’s first album Double Eclipse (listen to anything on this album). What all of these have in common is the presence of a virtuoso guitarist who can play any number of musical styles. Yes, Neal Schon can rock – and he does – but he can do so much more. Watch Schon play live, no matter what the songs are, is most assuredly worth the price of admission.

Great musicians keep releasing high quality albums, not matter who is singing. Since Steve Perry’s departure, Journey has released four original albums: Arrival (Steve Agueri on vocals), Generations (Steve Augeri on vocals), Revelation (Arnel Pineda on vocals), and Eclipse (Arnel Pineda on vocals). The last two of these albums with Pineda both reached the top 20 on the album charts. On these albums the band still sounds great! Solid rock music with some experimentation and some fusion of sounds. Several songs like “Never Walk Away” and “After All These Years”, and “Higher Place” are just plain ol’ classic Journey tracks. Are any of these albums Escape? No, of course not, but consider other bands and ask what their best album is. Are all of them great? Does U2 have another Joshua Tree? Does Bon Jovi have another Slippery When Wet? (OK, New Jersey is dang close). I think you get my point, Escape may be the pinnacle of Journey albums, but there is no reason to ignore what has been done since 1981. As much as I love Raised on Radio, it does not hold a candle to the brilliance of Escape.

Take musicianship and post-Perry albums, now add concert receipts. Journey still sells concert tickets. Vocalist Arnel Pineda clearly sounds quite a bit like Steve Perry, and perhaps this has helped ticket sales, who knows? Pineda’s story is amazing and he is a great vocalist. I would love to have Pineda’s talents; I would be on the road right now, belting out Journey classics – “Someday, love will find you, break those chains that bind you . . .”, but I digress. Simply put, the man can sing and he deserves the respect of all Journey fans. In fact, the entire band does.

I am no different than the rest of you Journey fans – I miss Steve Perry. I wish he was still with the band singing those classic tunes. I never had the chance to see Journey perform live with Perry, although I have several live cds and dvds. I know it is not the same. I would give anything to have Perry lead me (and the crowd) in the Na-Na-Na-Na-Na chorus of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”, but it is not going to happen. Instead of pining for this and tweeting Neal Schon endless and repetitive questions about Perry’s return, I chose to enjoy Journey for who they are, a legendary American rock band! I will continue to listen to all of the albums. I travel with my Journey Essentials collection and Time 3 and will continue to do so. I am thrilled that they finally received the Rock and Roll Hall of fame induction that they have deserved for years.

I will attend the Journey concert (with Asia opening for them) in a few weeks. I will sing all of the songs with Arnel. I will bounce my head to Ross’s bass. I will pump my first with Steve’s drums. And I will air guitar with Neal until my fingers bleed. Journey is Journey – appreciate them while we still have them.

Come back here in a few weeks for a review of their show.


Do you agree or disagree with this? We would love to hear from you! Please email us at returnto80s@gmail.com.

Book Review: Not Dead Yet – The Autobiography of Phil Collins

Not Dead Yet – The Autobiography of Phil Collins

by Robert Mishou

It was 1981 and I was sitting in my grandparent’s living room in Valkenburg a/d Geul, the Netherlands. My grandfather and I were waiting for the weekly Saturday soccer highlight show to start and, to fill air time, the station was, as expected, showing music videos. As I watched the first video, I saw a large black and white face begin to fill the screen. The music was quiet – it had an almost foreboding feel to it. I was about to walk away and get a drink, but something made me stay. I watched the video, wondering the entire time what was going on. I did not like the music much, but I did like the singer’s voice and I was intrigued by the song’s haunting sound. I kept watching and the song built a bit and then, seemingly out of nowhere, a burst of drums blasts from the TV. I was taken aback — and hooked. The song was “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, so the Monday, after school, I went to my favorite record store and bought the album Face Value.

This was my first experience with the artist whose career I would follow for the next three decades. I bought every Collins album as soon as each was released – I went back and bought the Genesis albums that he sang on and then bought all future Genesis releases. Don’t believe me? As I look through my music collection now, I see:

Phil Collins albums: Face Value (original and remastered 2015), Hello, I Must Be Going (original and remastered 2015), No Jacket Required (original and remastered 2015), . . . But Seriously (original and remastered 2015), Serious Hits Live, Both Sides (original and remastered 2015), Dance Into the Light, Testify, Love Songs: A Compilation . . .Old and New, Going Back, and The Singles. Yes, both Tarzan and Brother Bear are missing – I just couldn’t.

Genesis albums: A Trick of the Tail, Wind and Wuthering, And Then There WereThree, Duke, Abacab, Genesis, Invisible Touch, We Can’t Dance, Turn It On Again. There are still a few live albums I need to acquire.

phil-collins-albums

You see? I like me some Phil Collins! I do not like all albums equally, in fact, I have been disappointed in a few, but I have never stopped listening to him. When I read, and finally saw, that he was releasing an autobiography, I was excited and a bit nervous. I am a picky reader and I was worried that the writing would not be very good. Also, I did not want my vision of him ruined with “the truth.” Despite my trepidations, I picked up the autobiography, Not Dead Yet, and started reading.

I was not disappointed. The writing is not horrible as he dictated his stories, organized them, and put them in written form – the book sounds like Collins is talking to you. He has a clever sense of humor and tries his best to be honest. This is difficult as he has been married three time which, as a whole he takes responsibility for his role in the ending of all three marriages (although, presently Collins and his third wife are back together, but not married). Collins organizes his stories chronologically starting with his childhood days, his time with Genesis as a drummer and then vocalist, his solo career, and his comeback. The stories are real and full of insights on how some of his great songs were created. This is by no means an expose, but Collins does broach some touchy situations with professionalism and no true axe to grind.

I do want everyone to read Not Dead Yet, so I am not going to give away all of the cool stuff, but I do want to intrigue you all a bit, so what follows are a few interesting tidbits from Collins’ book.

Collins’ interest in show business started with acting. He attended a fine arts performance high school and wanted to be an actor. As a boy, he played the Artful Dodger in Oliver. Clearly, he pursued a career as a drummer and played in several bands before joining Genesis. This acting bug resurfaced when Collins stared in Buster and made appearances in Miami Vice and Hook.

Collins hesitantly replaced Peter Gabriel as the lead vocalist of Genesis. After auditioning many potential vocalists, Tony Banks (keyboards) and Mike Rutherford (guitars) encouraged Collins to try the lead vocals. Everyone liked what they heard and the rest is history. Collins did not think he could be the lead vocalist and play drums for the band in concert. So, when performing live, Chester Thompson played drums while Collins was the front man. Collins maintained Thompson for his live solo shows. During all Genesis and solo shows, there would be segments (mostly instrumentals) in the show where Collins would jump back on the drum kit. Despite all of the many things Collins did during his career, he always came back to drumming as his ultimate love.

“In the Air Tonight” has nothing to do with witnessing a drowning. It is a bitter song about the breakup of his first marriage. “Well, if you told me you were drowning / I would not lend a hand / I’ve seen your face before my friend / But I don’t know if you know who I am” is nothing more than some really hard feelings about the way that first marriage ended. Collins is fully aware now that the constant touring and recording schedule that Genesis maintained was a recipe to end any marriage, but he was totally driven by the work.

The Genesis song “Since I Lost You “ from the We Can’t Dance album was written for his good friend Eric Clapton, whose son died in a tragic accident. Collins played it for him, asking his permission to include it on the album, saying that he would gladly drop it if Clapton did not approve. Clapton loved it and played “Tears in Heaven” for Collins; both men cried with each other that night and remain good friends today. Clapton appears on the Collins albums Face Value and . . . But Seriously.
“Since I Lost You”:

“I Wish it Would Rain Down”:

The title to Collins’ #1 hit “Sussudio” from No Jacket Required means nothing! Both as a solo artist and as a member of Genesis, the writing of the songs came in a similar manner. The musicians would be in a room together and play. The music was almost always written before any lyrics came about. While working on No Jacket Required, Collins was working on the music and, as was typical, needed to improvise lyrics. He used the word “sussudio” as a place holder. The song started to take shape and lyrics were added, but “sussudio” fit so well he decided to leave it.

One last one: Many people have said that there is some contention between Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins after he replaced him as Genesis lead vocalist. Collins insists that this is not true. He feels that he and Gabriel are still good friends as was evident when the original members reunited for a BBC documentary Genesis: Together and Apart.

 

Documentary (1 ½ hours long):

For ‘80s music fans Not Dead Yet is a must read. It is full of insights to Collins’ creative process as a member of Genesis and as a solo artist. Collins discusses all of his big songs and how they came to be. One more note: Both “Against All Odds” and “Separate Lives” (both #1 hits) could not make the cut for a Collins album and sat on the shelf for some time until given to the soundtracks of Against All Odds and White Knights respectively. The book reads well and is an evenly told autobiography. Yes, there a few things that could use a little more explanation, but Collins does not avoid touchy or embarrassing situations. He is, for example, very honest about his role in the debacle of performing in London and Philadelphia for Live Aid. The book did not talk me out of my Phil Collins fandom, rather, it may have increased it. Collins is performing a Not Dead Yet tour in Europe in 2017. There are rumors that he will bring this tour to the U.S. – one can only hope. Not Dead Yet end optimistically, giving the reader hope that his fantastic musical career continues.

 

not-dead-yet

Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – The Way it Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range

“The Way it Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range

by Robert Mishou

There are several songs in this list that I could have easily put at the top, but this one gets that spot. I saw Bruce Hornsby and the Range in November of 1986 when the band opened for Huey Lewis and News; this was the only song that I knew by them, but their performance blew me away. They ended their set with this song and it sounded as good as it does recorded (with a little longer piano solo). In this song Hornsby present situations and prejudices in American society. The first is:

Standing in line marking time–
Waiting for the welfare dime
‘Cause they can’t buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by
As he catches the poor old ladies’ eyes
Just for fun he says “Get a job”

Today, I am still extremely upset at this rich guy who has the audacity to say this to the unfortunates just trying to get by. Wait, it’s not done yet:

They say hey little boy you can’t go
Where the others go
‘Cause you don’t look like they do

Now, in addition to economic biases, we add racial prejudice – lovely. Now check out how Hornsby combines the two situations:

Well they passed a law in ’64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law another’s mind
When all it sees at the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar

All of these verses are framed with an answer, no a cope out, really. Unfortunately, these situations and occurrences exist – and the answer lies in the chorus. The way many people excuse these deplorable situations is simply with the excuse, “That’s just the way it is.” As Hornsby recognizes, this is not an answer and we should not settle for such a response. Things do not have to be this way and we do not have to accept it. If we continue to accept these things because it has always been that way – if we settle for this, then nothing will even change, nothing will ever improve, we will never truly be equal.


There it is, my first list in a series of list. These are my top ten favorite ‘80s songs that have a social conscience. It is a reminder that in the ‘80s, just like today, we need to slow down and look out for others in the world. Not everyone is living in a great situation and these songs remind me that I am very lucky. I grew up lucky and still lead a life that is fortunate. I play these songs for my children so they can see that not everyone is like them or as fortunate as they are.

Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – All She Wants to Do is Dance by Don Henley

All She Wants to Do is Dance by Don Henley

by Robert Mishou

As promised earlier, Don Henley is back. I put this song higher on this list not because I like it better than End of the Innocence, rather it is more clearly a protest song. The most memorable part of this song is the chorus and that rhythm guitar. It is that simple chorus “All she wants to do is dance” that is repeated many, many times. I think that this serves to get the song’s message across in a strong manner. With all of the things going on around us like:

They’re pickin’ up the prisoners
And puttin ’em in a pen . . .
Crazy people walkin’ round with blood in their eyes . . .
Wild-eyed pistols wavers who ain’t afraid to die . . .
Well the government bugged the men’s room
In the local disco lounge

We still have the inclination to do nothing. We know there are problems out there, that shady dealings go on and on, that we are in danger even, but too many of us say nothing or do nothing; we are content with just letting things go on so we can stay absorbed in our own little worlds, oblivious to danger or violations to human rights. Henley exudes a sense frustration that so many of us are willing to remain silent and not do anything unless it affects us directly. The song ends with this unbelievable lack of concern:

‘Cause all she wants to do is dance
And make romance
Never mind the heat
Comin’ off the street
She wants to party
She wants to get down
All she wants to do is
All she wants to do is dance
And make romance
All she wants to do is dance

Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – Lives in the Balance by Jackson Browne

Lives in the Balance by Jackson Browne

by Robert Mishou

I did not know much about Jackson Browne other than his song “Somebody’s Baby” from the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack. Then a friend talked me going to Denver to see Browne. I was skeptical, but fell in love with his music. He is a great songwriter and this song is the most biting on this list so far. Browne does not pull any punches:

You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you’ve seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war
There’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interests run

I do not think much explanation is needed here. Many times these protest songs carry plenty of weight with the lyrics, but the chorus is seen as less important and does not have that typical catchy chorus feel. This, though has both meaning and a catchy sound:

And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

Simple, yet effective. This type of in your face protest song bothers some people. While I understand why this is, I like to think that we need these type of songs to get us to reexamine our beliefs and policies. Things might not change, but they might if change is needed.

Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City by United Artists Against Apartheid

I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City by United Artists Against Apartheid

by Robert Mishou

I caught this video Frankfurt, Germany one night while I was waiting for a live football game to begin. American Forces Network (AFN) was the only TV station Americans living overseas in the ‘80s had to watch. We got one football game every week and when there was a delay in picking up the satellite feed, AFN filled the time with music videos. This one caught my eye because, like USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”, I wanted to identify all of the artists. This song has vocals from, to name a few, Run DMC, Hall and Oates, Kool Moe Dee, Kurtis Blow, Lou Reed, Pat Benatar, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen. The song was used to raise money to fight Apartheid in South Africa. In short, Apartheid was legal racism against the native South Africans endorsed and practiced by the white Europeans who ran the country. It was during this time that Nelson Mandela was kept in prison for trying to end the horrific policies of Apartheid. Sun City was a luxury resort and casino that was visited by celebrities from around the world. It gave a major, consistent boost the South Africa’s economy, so it was seen by those who felt apartheid was a violation of human rights as to hurt the South African government and put pressure on them to end Apartheid. The lyrics are pure protest:

Relocation to phony homelands
Separation of families
I can’t understand
23 million can’t vote
Because they’re black
We’re stabbing our brothers
And sisters in the back

No, this is not great, earth shattering writing, but it did help raise awareness in Americans who did not know much of what was happening in South Africa. Side note: if you have any interest in Apartheid in South Africa I recommend two books – Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane (non fiction) and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (fiction).

Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

by Robert Mishou

I really like Don Henley’s solo work (he will show up twice on this list). I think he is an excellent songwriter and has been since his days with the Eagles. So saying, I was first caught by Bruce Hornsby’s piano playing (Hornsby will also show up on this list) on this song. Once the listener gets through the piano, Henley’s lyrics hit like a punch to the gut. This song revisits the classic struggle of Innocence vs. Experience (expertly set up by British poet William Blake in the Romantic era). This struggle depicts the change we all have to go through as we age – the innocence of youth and how it clashes with experience of adulthood. Henley sets up this conflict by first looking at childhood:

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by

This idealistic youth quickly takes a turn for the worse:

When happily ever after fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

While we all have different experiences, we all grow and learn that the world is not as nice and beautiful as we thought it was. These are tough lessons to experience, but they are unavoidable. There is no real protest yet, until Henley writes:

O’ beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They’re beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail

This is a direct criticism of Ronald Reagan and his policies that damaged the Heartland and farmers of America. Henley wants to go back to a time when life was simpler and all of these issues and problems did not matter. Unfortunately, Henley knows that this is impossible and ends this song with:

Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

This is the tragedy of life. For most of us it begins carefree, but policy and politicians get in the way and ruin it.

Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – Allentown by Billy Joel

Allentown by Billy Joel

by Robert Mishou

Billy Joel is another excellent song writer from the ‘80s who hit with songs like Uptown Girl, Tell Her About It, and later in the decade We Didn’t Start the Fire. In 1982 he released Allentown, and while it only reached #17 on the Billboard weekly charts (but #47 on the year end charts), this song packs an enormous punch. Joel describes life in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a typical coal mining town whose residents are dependent upon that coal and working in those mines for a living. The young people in Allentown are becoming restless because the life that they were promised is not coming to fruition. Their parents and teachers all promised them a comfortable life working with coal, but it is not happening:

Well we’re living here in Allentown
And they’re closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they’re killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line

It is becoming harder and harder for these young people to stay in a town that is economically dying. This now becomes a metaphor for the working class in the Northeastern United States. This area once had an industry that was booming and could easily support those who were willing to work for it. Now, times are changing and, while the will to work is still there, the money is not.

Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave . . .
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real

Ever since the first time I heard this song, these lyrics have stick with me and still stand out today:

Every child has a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our face

Billy Joel is trying to draw attention to a part of the country that is dying. An industry that was once vital to American life is now being left behind; those who are being left behind are suffering, caught in a situation not of their own making and not knowing what to do, caught in a trap of, as they see it, lies.

Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – 99 Luftballoons by Nena

99 Luftballoons by Nena

by Robert Mishou

There are not many hits in the ’80s that were not in the English language, but there are two pretty big hits that were in German. Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus hit #1 in March of 1986 (the only song in German to hit this height). A bit earlier, in 1984, a German song hit #2 (it was kept out of the #1 spot by Van Halen’s Jump) entitled 99 Luftballoons by the band Nena. This song was a clear protest against war and our over eagerness to use weapons to solve problems. The English translation of this song did not chart in the Billboard charts at all and it did change the song’s basic situation, so, having lived in Germany for six years and being married to a lovely woman who teaches German in high school, I am going to use lyrics here from the original version, translated by that beautiful teacher.

The conflict in this song centers around the sighting of ninety-nine balloons flying through the air that are mistaken for UFOs. In a panic, the leader of the military sends out fighter jets and raises the alarm. The song continues:

Neunundneunzig Düsenflieger (Ninety-nine jet aircraft)
Jeder war ein großer Krieger (Everyone was a great warrior)
Hielten sich für Captain Kirk (Thought they were Captain Kirk)
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk (That sent big fireworks)
Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft (the Neighbours did not understand this)
Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht (And felt immediately)
Dabei schoss man am Horizont (They shot at the horizon)
Auf neunundneunzig Luftballons (At ninety nine balloons)

Clearly, the government has overreacted and started a war over a complete misinterpretation of what was seen in the sky. Those government officials thought they were smart and, supposedly in the best interest of the people, aggressively attacked those ninety-nine balloons. The warning comes in the last, somber verse:

Neunundneunzig Luftballons (Ninety nine balloons)
Neunundneunzig jahre Krieg (Ninety-nine years of war)
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger (There was no room for winners)
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr (There is no more war minister)
Und auch keine Düsenflieger (And also no jet airplanes)
Heute zieh ich meine Runden (Today I make my rounds)
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen (See the world in ruins)
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden (Found a balloon)
Denk an dich und lass ihn fliegen (Think of you and let it fly)

Like Russians by Sting coming later, this song expounds on the dangers of nuclear war. In Neunundneunzig Luftballons the destruction comes from a mistake, a misinterpretation – of seeing a danger where there is none and reacting in a fatalistic manner.