Only Dance 19801984
1995: JCI OPCD-1685 JCD-3149
The Gap Band
Kool & The Gang
Daryl Hall and John Oates
Ray Parker Jr
KC & The Sunshine Band
Overall this is a pretty impressive and somewhat representative sample of the British and American music of the day, which isnt to say all the tracks are great (because some of them were schlock then and remain so). One great way thats communicative is in the juxtaposition of different and sometimes almost opposing styles, with pop fluff like Lets Hear It for the Boy and Let the Music Play so jarringly at odds with the (to me) much more engaging and thrilling Rapture and Whip It, for example.
Then theres the unique tracks such as the incomparable Super Freak, so often pillaged by the much-less-talented and its R&B cousin the slick The Other Woman, And You Dropped a Bomb on Me had a similarly great groove but tried to marry R&B and New Wave elements without quite having the under-track to make it work as released. (I later came to *quite* enjoy it, however, when it was played in a dance-club setting with amply augmented bass elements, and in fact it was partly to have a copy of it, even in its anemic form, in my library that I bought this CD. The Other Woman was significantly one of the others, as I loved [and still do] its downright dirty parallel sax riffs.)
Rapture and Whip It register seismographically as unusual events, but they seem to have, in the end, been more general shock-generators than progenitors of any one style. By contrast, the tone of the abundant music that flooded that era with creativity and new angles is represented here more by Strut, One Thing Leads to Another, and to a degree You Make My Dreams although the latter is also simultaneously a bit of a throwback, just not to the the extreme that Rock This Town was with its upfront rockabilly aesthetic. And then at the other extreme theres Please Dont Go, which truly sounds like the justifiably dying gasp of the 1970s trying desperately to make it in the 80s by way of a synth. I would have expected Burning Down the House, along with Rapture and Whip It, to have been harbingers of what music was to come, but as it turned out things soon got more general-rock-oriented on most fronts, with World Music coming in a bit later and then Grunge reducing the new-music-al scene to a wasteland for a long time. The edge wasnt sustained or exploited as much after this, perhaps.
Back on the Chain Gang could play in several musical periods without standing out as anything in particular, just catchy, but Hyndes lyrics imbue it with more inherent interest than era-nonspecific songs usually have. We Got the Beat on the other hand is much more datedpop fluff borrowing an edgy veneer to sell to a trending audience. Rockit was also a product of its music-technology moment, not bad but not exactly enduring either a fun experiment and one less kitschy than, say, 1976s A Fifth of Beethoven (which I confess I do like).
Ladies Night is a good example of late Disco music that had such good R&B groove elements that it managed to survive for later years appreciators despite also being a big ol pile of corny schlock and, well, Disco excess. Its a track I can only enjoy if I happen to be dancing to it on a dance floor, basically. Caribbean Queen, however, was lame generic fodder then and remains so today. Ditto Self Control.
Mickey is harder to pigeonhole, in part because its such relentless pop (and was back then too) and in part because it has edges of irony and societally dark overtones which were (to me) easy to pick up on when it was first being played; the problem is probably that it just got played so goddamned much over time that it lost its power and just sounded trite after a while, which is too bad because it really was a slyly subversive little vehicle for getting Middle America exposed to The Unknown.
The same cannot be said of Rapture, which hasnt lost a bit of its power over time. Rapture was a trip then and continues to be so, a nighttime journey through musical back streets that introduced non-metropolitan audiences to burgeoning urban cultures which were still novel even to New Yorkers, and its one that traverses multiple musical landscapes and passes through a couple of sonic doorways in the process yet always retaining that killer groove (which only relents for a developmental sequence in the long version of the track (not this 5:38-long one) and the choruses. Besides having overtones of being a drug trip during the rap sections, it also tantalized with its utterly offhand reference to dancing man-to-man which registered with the 14-year-old me a bit.
Perhaps its presumptuous of me to describe these tracks as not having heralded where music would go after them; its entirely possible that many of them have fostered resultant musical development in their image or even just continued passing batons along waypoints. I only make these observations based on overall impressions I have of where the world of Rock/Pop/etc. turned out to have most productive presence, and I do regret that we didnt get more of the edgy and genuinely interesting aspects that this musical moment, showcased here in brief, indicated might be forthcoming. But then Eurythmics came along and provided a fair amount of that in their own way, for 10 years or so, so perhaps all was not lost.
Comments © 2015 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.