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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

Playlist 80: Cover Songs

Back on the old blog I used to maintain, I would post about '80s music because '80s music is the greatest music ever and I don't even know why we're having this conversation. Just about any song from that decade is attached to a memory for me, however trivial it me. So, I see no reason not to continue this schtick here.

The theme today is cover songs. The list below is a sampling of cover songs released in the '80s. I'm not sure what else to write as setup for this, so let's dig in.

"Boy From New York City," The Manhattan Transfer (1981)

Confession time. When this song was first released in the summer of '81, I thought they lyric was "Oo wah, oo wah, poo poo pity." I have no idea what that meant, but I didn't question it. If the lady on the radio sings "poo poo pity," then it's poo poo pity. I'm sure the songwriter had their reasons. The song was originally recorded by The Ad Libs and released in 1964. Maybe it was some hip lingo of that day. I was 13. What did I know? Imagine my embarrassment that the lyric is actually "cool, cool kitty." I'm not sure this makes any more sense because now it's like they're asking a cat to tell them about this boy from New York City. Pop music can be so confusing.

"Crimson and Clover," Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (1982)

When Joan Jett and the Blackhearts released the I Love Rock 'n' Roll album, I was blown away. I also wondered why someone didn't create a TV show for them. Think about it. Joan Jett travels around the country with her band The Blackhearts. In each new town, they get immersed in a mystery that must be solved and in the end they teach valuable life lessons to the youth of America because that's what rock 'n' roll is all about. Solving mysteries and making a difference. I'm sure someone thought of the same idea for Tommy James and the Shondells when they released the original version of "Crimson and Clover" back in 1968, but we all know that would've been a cheap cash grab attempting to exploit the youth culture of the day by a cynical corporate media. My version would've been better because it would've had heart. Black heart.

I'll excuse myself from the table.

"Always Something There to Remind Me," Naked Eye (1983)

When this cover of an old Burt Bacharach song (Look him up, kids. I ain't gonna spoon feed you) came out in the summer of '83, I loved it. Cool keyboard work, nice vocal work that I could mimic, and a bouncy tune. Then, one night, I listened to the song while wearing headphones. I was in the midst of a deep teenage brood about girls and love and pizza. They lyrics of this song struck me as rather dark. Dionne Warwick first recorded it in the '60s (look her up, kids) and her version has a slight melancholy to it, but the more I've listened the Naked Eyes version, the darker it feels. It's a song about obsession and stalking and I try not to listen to it alone or in the dark. Still a bouncy tune, though.

"They Don't Know," Tracey Ullman (1984)

When my novel Kilroy Was Here was released, I thought about what I might want to do next. What should I write? A sequel seemed logical, but I didn't really know where to start. Then, one day while on a plane to somewhere for work, I was listening to my massive '80s playlist on Spotify. Nearly 800 songs. Look it up, kids. That's when "They Don't Know" came on. I don't know why this Tracey Ullman cover of a Kristy McColl song sparked with my imagination. Maybe it was because I was looking out the window of the plane. I pictured one of my characters listening to this song while traveling in space. Next thing I knew, I had chapter one of the sequel written. Funny how that works.

"Sea of Love," The Honeydrippers (1985)

In college, I was part of an attempt to air a sketch comedy show on the campus television channel. We called it "Cape Garage Door" One of the bits we recorded was about a group called Woody and the Sharks, a ficticious band that specialized in lip-syncing other artists' music. The song we chose for them to debut with was this cover of an old Phil Phillips song from 1959. If memory serves, Woody and the Sharks was intended to be a recurring bit that would eventually get them their own all-musical episode. Alas, the "Sea of Love" sketch was their only appearance because that's showbiz, baby.

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