POP GOES THE DECADE- A totally rad look back at the glorious 80's and all the flicks, fashions, tunes, and TV shows that made the decade so cool and memorable in the first place. Like, for sure!

Monday, July 25, 2011

PLANET ROCK BY AFRIKA BAMBAATA

      DJ Afrika Bambaataa was one of the originators of break-beat deejaying, and their single "Planet Rock" from 1982 was groundbreaking in that it seamlessly meshed rock, funk and electronic music together into one explosive and irresistible hit.  Incorporating the melody of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" with elements of their own music, they created what would become known later as electro funk.  "Planet Rock" was only a minor hit in the US and UK, but its importance is undeniable in that it helped develop the electro style and helped pave the way for techno, trance, and house music.  Rolling Stone magazine would rank "Planet Rock" at #237 in their list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

GREASE 2


     "Grease" was a huge smash in 1978 and made John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John household names.  So it was inevitable that a sequel would follow.  "Grease 2" would mark a return to Rydell High two years after our original gang has graduated, and would have an all-new cast this time around.  Choreographer Patricia Birch (from the first film) returned this time, and also directed the film.  






"Grease 2" has unfairly taken a lot of abuse over the years.  It's been called pretty much everything in the book, and is basically considered a terrible movie all around.  It follows the same formula as the original, and while it cannot boast the presence and chemistry of John and Olivia, I honestly find "Grease 2" more entertaining than the original...  Sure, there are faults with the film-but obviously a lot of ambition went into the making of "Grease 2", and despite its major flaws, there is just something so lovable about this movie.  Or maybe it could just be me.  But it's not because I've talked to others who love it as well...


     Seems not much has changed at old Rydell High.  The T-Birds and Pink Ladies still rule the school, of course.   Miss McGee and Blanche are still terrorized by the student body, but this year we have a new student attending.  Michael Carrington, (played by the criminally sexy Maxwell Caulfield) is actually the cousin of Sandy from the first film and has just arrived from England (!).  Didi Conn returns as lovable Frenchy, who's back at Rydell to get her chemistry degree to open her own line of cosmetics.  



     Johnny (Adrian Zmed) leads the T-Birds this time around, while Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the head of the Pink Ladies.  Seems Steph comes back from summer vacation realizing she's just tired of "belonging" to a T-Bird and wants more out of life- mainly a hot, studly biker God in black leather.  Michael falls head over heels in love with Stephanie, and while Frenchy warns him that she's T-Bird property and unless he's one himself, then she's strictly off-limits.  So of course Michael starts taking bike lessons in an attempt to win over the elusive Stephanie.  And who needs a school dance this time around?  Why not switch it up with a nifty luau to celebrate the end of school!   Yay!


     Technically, there are many flaws with "Grease 2".  For one, although the film is supposed to take place in 1961, the entire production screams the early 80's.  Many of the songs and numbers are cringe-worthy, especially those involving Adrian Zmed, who mercilessly hams it up in every scene he's in.  This time around, the T-Birds are actually quite wimpy, having nowhere near the balls and bravado of the original Birds.  Having said all that, there are some great songs and numbers in "Grease 2".  The opening number, "Back To School Again" by the Four Tops, is actually irresistible and put together quite well.  Other highlights include the smashing bowling alley number "Score Tonight", "Who's That Guy?", "Cool Rider", "Girl For All Seasons", and "Love Will Turn Back the Hands of Time".  
     I grew up watching both of the "Grease" films, and I have to say it's hard to defend "Grease 2" today.   Even though I know that the original "Grease" is light years better in technical terms, I still shamelessly find the sequel more entertaining.  Back in 1983 this shit was like crack cocaine to us- it was powerfully addictive.    Campy kitsch at its best, and we all know it.  But you would be surprised at how many devoted and faithful fans are out there- it's in the thousands.  And it's a mixed bag of fans as well- male, female, gay, straight- there is simply something about this movie that stuck with people.  "Grease 2" has become known as a strangely appealing but really bad sequel, and seems to gather more and more fans every year.  If you go into it without trying to compare the two, you might enjoy it more, perhaps.  You might not enjoy it at all.  But there are lots of us out there who can always curl up to this one on a rainy day and know every word by heart.  And yes, I own the soundtrack.  Here's a taste of the wonder that is "Grease 2"...








SOUND OF THE CROWD BY THE HUMAN LEAGUE


      The Human League are beyond cool, and this clip easily shows why.  This was white hot in 1981- it was a very exciting era in music.  1981 witnessed the birth of MTV, and this look and sound was extremely influential on music and pop culture- influencing Madonna, the Pet Shop Boys, and many other modern acts as well.  This sounds as if it could be released today- that's how far ahead of their time The Human League were.  Good stuff.


Monday, July 18, 2011

THE SEDUCTION




     Seriously, what's not to love about "The Seduction"?   Once Dionne Warwick begins warbling the title tune over the opening credits, the viewer is blasted head first into full-on 80's kitsch at its best.  The divine Morgan Fairchild plays a popular TV news anchor, Jamie Douglas, who finds herself stalked and spied on by her hunky yet obviously deranged neighbor Derek (Andrew Stevens). Jamie grows increasingly alarmed, as she starts to fear for her life all while reporting on the local "Sweetheart Murders".  Jamie eventually turns to not only her older boyfriend Brandon, played by Michael Sarrazin, but his cop buddy as well.  But the local law basically tell her there's nothing they can do.  So Jamie takes matters into her own hands and goes all Charles Bronson and buys a gun.  Enough is enough already!


 
      I love this movie.  Everything about this movie.  From the cardboard acting and dialogue to the mind-blowing 80's vibe , it's a wonderfully entertaining b-movie thriller that actually boasts some pretty good moments sprinkled throughout.  Although it has great potential and threatens any minute to venture into full-blown shock territory, it never quite does...  It's sorely lacking in the body count department- sure, Derek comes off as obviously unbalanced and creepy... but knocking a couple of people off would have made him seem a bit more dangerous.  Not that it ruins the film, by any means.  It's loads of fun.  But it could have went full throttle on the fear factor.  Oh well.



     Anyway, "The Seduction" is much more of a suspense thriller- an extremely entertaining suspense thriller.  Trash, to be sure, but campy and delicious trash.  And it actually predates "Fatal Attraction" by about 5 years, although it's nowhere near as good a film as that one.  Still, I can always settle down with Morgan and Andrew on a rainy day.  This is pure 80's camp all the way, and only gets better with age.



     Filmed solely for the purpose to highlight the charms of Miss Morgan, the film offers no intellectual insight whatsoever.  This is simply for straight men to watch the lovely Morgan Fairchild stalked by a psychotic stalker and in various stages of undress,  and for gay men to delight in the utter campiness of it all.  Throw in Colleen Camp as Morgan's wise-cracking best friend Robin, and you've got a recipe for fun.  Part slasher, part TV movie, and part soft-core porn, "The Seduction" is prime 80's silliness.  "The Seduction" makes a great double-feature with "Eyes Of A Stranger", starring Lauren Tewes of "The Loveboat" and Jennifer Jason Leigh, or "Eyes Of Laura Mars" with the smashing Faye Dunaway! (The "eye" thing was just a coincidence!)

NIGHT OF THE COMET


     I love this movie.  "Night Of The Comet" is a super-rad teenage zombie flick about two Valley Girls  surviving a mass exctinction by a comet- a comet that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs the last time it swung through Earth's neighborhood.  See, the two sisters are left to an empty world, well, sort of.  Although most of Earth's population are now extinct, there are some left who became zombies, of course.  Starring Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, and cult favorite Mary Woronov, it's a gleeful mix of teen comedy, sci-fi, and horror.  It very smartly manages to lovingly play up the low-budget sci/fi and horror flicks of the 70's while wryly commenting on 80's teen culture at the same time.



     Catherine Mary-Stewart and Kelli Maroney play Reggie and Samantha, two fun-loving sisters living in Los Angeles.  Reggie works at the local movie theater and is a video game junkie AND guns expert, whereas Sam is a total Valley Girl and cheerleader.  It seems a huge comet is headed towards Earth, and everybody outside who were exposed to the comet turns to strange, orange dust.  Everybody except our heroines, Reggie and Sam- who both just happened to spend the night in rooms or structures encased with steel (apparently, if you were surrounded by steel, you were safe from the comet's deadly rays... just go with me on this!).


     The fun begins the next morning when the two sisters wake up to slowly realize that everybody is gone... or are they?  Although most of the human population has been wiped out, seems there were some who only got small doses of the comet's rays and didn't die after all.  Instead, they turned into flesh-eating zombies. Yes, you heard me right.  Two Valley Girls battling flesh-eating zombies in an apocalyptic and empty Los Angeles?  Yes, please!  I love the 80's.  And on top of the zombies running around, it seems a demented bunch of scientists are desperately searching for all survivors of the comet...


        Being a true 80's kid, there is much to savor in this flick.  The hair and fashion, for one. This is an 80's lover time capsule. Kelli Maroney absolutely steals the show in just about every scene she's in, but Catherine Mary Stewart shines as tough gal Reggie.  PURE 80's kitsch all the way- it's campy, cheesy, and hilarious fun.  All the makings for a classic 80's flick.



     "Night Of The Comet" skillfully tiptoes between comedy and horror- the scares are minimal, but effective. If you can possibly imagine "Dawn Of The Dead" mixed with "Valley Girl", you get "Night Of The Comet".  One of my all-time favorites of the decade- it's a must-see!  It's totally offbeat and clever, and doesn't try to be anything but what it is- a great big ole' B movie just like they used to make 'em.  Valley Girls vs. Zombies- how could you NOT enjoy a movie like this?  "Night Of The Comet" is a bona fide cult classic.



RETRO ALBUM REVIEW- MADONNA (THE FIRST ALBUM)

     On July 27, 1983 a self-titled album was released by a then-unknown singer with the unusual name of Madonna.  No one had any idea whatsoever that this was the beginning of an extra-ordinary and legendary career.  A new musical icon had arrived- one that would go on to join the ranks of Elvis, The Beatles,and Michael Jackson.  And a female icon, at that.  Rock had always had its bad boys.  Now the girls (and boys!) got Madonna.    She would go on to become a brilliant visual artist, and this first album, although nowhere near the creative heights she would later achieve, still shows an extremely impressive and strong debut album.  Especially in the late 70's and early 80's- an era chock full of one-hit wonders. "Holiday", "Lucky Star", "Borderline", "Burning Up", Everybody",  "Think Of Me", and "Physical Attraction" are standout hits, and along with her unique and sexy style are what made this album so memorable and iconic in the first place.  The album went on to be certified 5x Platinum and would eventually sell over 8 million copies worldwide.
       Sandwiched perfectly between the end of disco and the dawn of New Wave, she was able to find a unique voice and sound.  Filled with catchy pop hooks and shimmering synth beats,  "MADONNA" is an essential 80's album.  Madonna first became popular in the underground club scene of New York, and this record perfectly captures that time and place.
     Her legendary ambition shines through on this album- she makes it very clear who she is and what she's all about.  Revolutionary in that it perfectly melded the underground dance scene, New Wave, and a bit of punk all in one exciting, raw package, it's undeniably one of the greatest albums to emerge from the early 80's.  Madonna's first album brilliantly took disco (which was sadly dead at this point) and re-shaped it into cutting-edge dance pop.  Yielding 3 Top 20 hits, but a whole handful of dance anthems, Madonna's first album is a dance classic that rightfully started one of the most significant female careers in music history.  Now digitally re-mastered, "Madonna" sounds better than ever.

VALLEY GIRL



         "Valley Girl" is a delightful and legendary 80's time capsule that will always have a special place in my heart.  From the first time I caught it on HBO in the summer of 1984, I immediately fell in love with this movie. It's definitely one of the best 80's comedies of all time- easily joining the ranks of such classic teen romps as "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" and "Sixteen Candles".  "Valley Girl" is a deliciously retro snapshot of a specific time and place in pop culture- Southern California in the early 80's, to be exact.  The Valley Girl craze was all the rage at the time, and the New Wave in music had just exploded in a sonic boom that's still reverberating today.  "Valley Girl" captures this time in history perfectly.



          Deborah Foreman stars as Julie, who's dating high school hunk Tommy, and lives in the San Fernando valley with her friends. One night at a party they meet two guys from Hollywood. There is an instant attraction between Julie and Randy, an outsider played to perfection by Nicholas Cage. Sparks fly, but there is resistance from both sides. Randy and his bf Fred, are punks from Hollywood- whereas Julie and her circle of friends are from the Valley.  These kids are from two separate worlds here, and a great and timeless love story begins to play out in front of us.  Only set to a seriously kick-ass New Wave soundtrack.




        Cage and Foreman have real chemistry here, and it's obvious ten minutes into the movie that it's a notch or two above your typical sleazy 80's sex flick.  "Valley Girl" comes across as quite adult and sophisticated, while at the same time lovingly and realistically showcasing teen life.  The film offers the requisite profanity and occasional nudity, but is actually far more sweet and innocent.  And intelligent. 




         Deborah Foreman and Nicholas Cage make this movie, plain and simple.  Director Martha Coolidge deliciously captured their crackling chemistry onscreen- Cage's Randy is the perfect match for Foreman's Julie, and they are a delight to watch together.  Colleen Camp and Frederic Forrest are a hoot as Julie's hippy parents, and 80's staples Elizabeth Daily (Dottie in "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure), Michael Bowen (Larry in "Night Of The Comet"), and Lee Purcell (Susan in "Stir Crazy") only add to the movie. 



    I honestly can't find anything negative to say about "Valley Girl".  It's simply one of the best teen comedies of the decade- possibly of all time.  On top of the classic star-crossed lovers storyline, a killer cast and a killer soundtrack help shoot "Valley Girl" into the stratosphere of 80's coolness.  Two decades later, the film offers major nostalgic value to anybody who was lucky enough to grow up in that magical time period.  Yet still remains as fresh and relevant as when it was first released.  Everything about this movie works.

   

        Deborah Foreman is absolutely charming in this movie- she exudes an effortless cool that's only more tubular now.  She's an 80's icon for sure, and she was born to play this role.  "Valley Girl" is far above your mindless 80's sex comedy.  It's got heart, it's got charming characters you root for, and some real acting involved.  This film belongs in any serious 80's collection.  And any movie that offers the immortal classic "I Melt With You" by Modern English on the soundtrack is totally cool in my book.  Epic on all levels.








80's HEARTTHROBS- ROB LOWE


     Rob Lowe was simply one of the biggest teen heartthrobs of the 80's.  His good looks caused thousands of girls (and boys) to swoon over the latest edition of Tiger Beat, but on top of his good looks, Rob would go on to star in some of the most memorable movies of the decade.  "The Outsiders" shot Lowe to stardom, and he immediately  followed that memorable debut with such 80's staples as "Class", "St. Elmo's Fire","Oxford Blues",  "About Last Night", and "The Hotel New Hampshire". Those films would cement Lowe's status as a member of Hollywood's "Brat Pack", which would also include such hot young stars as Demi Moore, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy.  Rob continued to act frequently in films and on tv throughout the 90's and 00's, on top of still being criminally good-looking.