PLAY SOMETHING WE CAN DANCE TO!
Celebrating the Eighties
LOOKING BACK AT A DECADE OF INDISPENSABLE DJ TRACKS
BY JAY MAXWELL
This isn’t just the start of a new year, but the dawn of a new decade. It’s interesting that we view so much of our culture in terms of decades rather than in mere years. For instance, I look at myself as a child of the ’70s since I “grew up” during that time (although many people-including my wife-would debate this). It was during this decade that I was a teenager, graduated from high school and set out to become independent from my parents by joining the Navy. When asked what my favorite music is to listen to when I’m not performing, my reply is always “the ’70s.” But, as 2009 drew to a close a few months ago and a new uncharted decade was about to unfold, I ceremoniously tuned the satellite radio channel up one decade to “the ’80s.” It seemed that every song brought back memories from the decade where Jay Maxwell was “born.”
I know this may sound confusing-that I was born a decade after I grew up. It was in 1982 that I first performed as a mobile DJ and also gave it another try as a radio personality (my first try was in 1977) and that’s when I “gave birth” to the DJ name of Jay Maxwell. The ’80s saw a short lived career for me as a radio and club DJ, but looking back nearly 30 years, for me, the ’80s was the decade that saw the beginning of a mobile DJ career that I still love.
When I changed the station to the ’80s I was pleasantly surprised to hear the same disc jockeys-Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn-that I first heard on MTV in the early ’80s. One of the best bits of trivia is that MTV debuted with “Video Killed The Radio Star,” a song that only went as high as number 40 on Billboard’s Top 40 chart in late 1979, but helped launch a cultural revolution in how music was presented. The first time that I watched MTV was when I was home for just a few days on leave from one of my first patrols aboard the nuclear submarine, John C. Calhoun. Of course, on a submarine when you are underwater, there is no television, so we missed the birth of MTV, but it seemed as though all my friends were glued to the same channel during those few days and the only thing we talked about for days once we returned to our boat was the excitement of an entire station dedicated to only showing music videos. During meals and breaks we would try and remember each video, describing it in detail in case one of us had missed a particular clip.
Based on two recent bookings, I am confident that the music from the ’80s could see a huge revival in the current decade. On the day before the end of the last decade, I performed at an event where almost every song requested was from the ’80s. Another recent wedding reception was booked solely on the fact that the bride wanted to ensure that I had plenty of ’80s music. When a bride comes to the office for her initial consultation, we usually conduct the meeting in a room with only a couch and table. For this bride, I knew the best way to seal the deal was to “allow” her to enter the room with all the music – including an entire wall with vinyl albums. The majority of these albums were from the ’80s and she was nearly speechless that she was able to hold many of her favorite albums in her hands; some she had never seen on vinyl before since she is only in her late twenties. As soon as she would ask if I had a particular LP, I was pulling it off the shelf for her. Not surprising, she booked before leaving our office.
BIG SCREEN CONNECTION
Though the typical party usually doesn’t have just one decade of music requested, most every party has a fair sampling of music from 20 to 30 years ago. At nearly every party we play a song or two from the best-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, a masterpiece of nine songs where a remarkable total of seven were released as singles. In all, Michael had 16 top ten songs in the ’80s, with exactly half of those going to number one. (Oddly enough the single “Thriller” didn’t make the top spot, peaking at number four.) Other artists that ruled the charts in the ’80s and are still popular today at mobile events include Prince (“Kiss” and “1999” both have timeless beats), Madonna (“Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin” are classic), Whitney Houston (if only she could come up with another hit like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”), Bruce Springsteen (the entire Born in the U.S.A. album rocks) and AC/DC (of course, “You Shook Me All Night Long”).
One reason that many songs from the ’80s have become timeless hits at parties is their inclusion on movie soundtracks that are classic in their own right. Movies such as Purple Rain, Flashdance, Urban Cowboy, Dirty Dancing, and Footloose were all in part about dancing, which helped create soundtracks that were mandatory for every DJ’s collection. I’m sure we have all played “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing to close out a show, or have lifted “Take My Breath Away” from the Top Gun soundtrack for a couple’s first dance. One of my favorite soundtracks from this decade only had one dance hit on it, but I nearly wore out my original copy of the Risky Business record (thank you Tom Cruise) playing Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll.”
At first, I wanted to simply have a single Top 40 list of the best party hits of the ’80s, but quickly decided that there were far too many essential hits that needed to be included. That’s why I expanded the selection to include four different categories-Dance, Classic Rock, New Wave, and Slow Songs. There were other categories that could also have been included, but I incorporated all the best tracksinto these four. It’s hard to imagine the handicap we would have if we were not allowed to play songs from the ’80s at an event. Some songs are more popular now than when they were first released such as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Don’t Stop Believing.” Though both the Def Leppard and Journey hits were top ten singles, I rarely played them at parties in the ’80s, but play them at almost every event now. Be thankful for the ’80s. Without party starters like ‘Celebration” and “Love Shack” or favorites like “Super Freak,” “Push It,” and “It Takes Two” we would have to really use our imagination to get certain crowds out of their chairs and onto their feet as they’re yelling, “Play something we can dance to!”
KOOL & THE GANG
BUST A MOVE
GET DOWN ON IT
KOOL & THE GANG
YOU DROPPED A BOMB ON ME
FUNKY COLD MEDINA
I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY
GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
SHE’S A BAD MAMA JAMA
EVERYBODY HAVE FUN TONIGHT
ALL NIGHT LONG
APACHE (JUMP ON IT)
IT TAKES TWO
LIKE A PRAYER
IT’S RAINING MEN
ROCK WITH YOU
For the rest of this list and three other essential ’80s song lists, pick up a copy of Mobile Beat #127 – March 2010, or subscribe to get online access to the complete issue.
Filed Under: Issues from 2010, Music
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