Only Dance 1980–1984

1995: JCI OPCD-1685 JCD-3149

  1. Super Freak (Part 1)

    Rick James

  2. Rapture


  3. Rock This Town

    Stray Cats

  4. We Got the Beat

    The Go-Go’s

  5. You Dropped a Bomb On Me

    The Gap Band

  6. Rockit

    Herbie Hancock

  7. Burning Down the House

    Talking Heads

  8. Back On the Chain Gang

    The Pretenders

  9. Caribbean Queen (No More Love On the Run)

    Billy Ocean

  10. Ladies Night

    Kool & The Gang

  11. Mickey

    Toni Basil

  12. One Thing Leads To Another

    The Fixx

  13. Let’s Hear It For the Boy

    Deniece Williams

  14. You Make My Dreams

    Daryl Hall and John Oates

  15. Strut

    Sheena Easton

  16. Whip It


  17. The Other Woman

    Ray Parker Jr

  18. Self Control

    Laura Branigan

  19. Please Don’t Go

    KC & The Sunshine Band

  20. Let the Music Play


Overall this is a pretty impressive and somewhat representative sample of the British and American music of the day, which isn’t to say all the tracks are great (because some of them were schlock then and remain so). One great way that’s communicative is in the juxtaposition of different and sometimes almost opposing styles, with pop fluff like “Let’s 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 there’s 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 there’s “Please Don’t 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” wasn’t 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 Hynde’s lyrics imbue it with more inherent interest than era-nonspecific songs usually have. “We Got the Beat” on the other hand is much more dated—pop 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, 1976’s “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. It’s 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 it’s 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 hasn’t 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 it’s 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 it’s presumptuous of me to describe these tracks as not having heralded where music would go after them; it’s 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 didn’t 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.