Here’s the top 10:
1. Money for Nothing – Dire Straights
2. Fortress Around Your Heart – Sting
3. Don’t You For Get About Me – Simple Minds
4. Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Tears for Fears
5. That Was Yesterday – Foreigner
6. One More Night – Phil Collins
7. Boys of Summer - Don Henley
8. Lonely Ol’ Night – John Cougar Mellencamp
9. Power of Love – Huey Lewis and the News
10. Glory Days – Bruce Springsteen
It’s a fascinating list, in part because of the pop culture time capsule it provides, but also because it is a time capsule into my own formative years of music listening. 1985 is probably the last time I relied on the radio to provide the soundtrack to my day. I had been buying albums (yes, the big black slabs of vinyl) for a while at this point, of course, but that year and into the next is where you would mark the pretty clean break on the timeline of my life. You can thank the acquisition of two albums: The Replacements’ Tim and R.E.M.’s Lifes Rich Pageant the following year. Those two benchmarks, along with a handful of others, pushed me toward the need to hear my own music rather than be limited to what the local radio station deemed worthy of airplay. So, while I owned or taped from friends 15 of the albums from which some of these songs were pulled, the part of my collection not represented on a list like this from a Midwestern AOR station was growing.
I made the playlist below (which includes 10 of the top 11 because Foreigner’ “That Was Yesterday” wasn’t available) and found that listening to it took me right back to my teenage years. But it didn’t conjure nostalgia, but rather relief. If things had fallen a different way for me, I could still be living in Des Moines listening to KGGO (and, it’s clear, still hearing these songs). Nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but I’m glad for the alternate course that found me constantly searching for new sounds, still able to enjoy many of the songs on this list despite the cheese factor that kept them from aging well (or, truth told, starting out very well).
A list today of my favorite music from 1985 would include things like Tim, R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction, the Minutemen’s 3-Way Tie for Last, Hoodoo Gurus’ Mars Needs Guitars and maybe Psychocandy from the Jesus and Mary Chain. But a lot of that was hindsight. If given the choice, I’d pick any of those over anything on this list. but if push comes to shove, there are still several songs here I wouldn’t turn off if they came on the radio. There’s a lot of Bruce Springsteen here, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Sting, Simple Minds, John Mellencamp, the Cars, Jon Fogerty and Hall and Oates. Some things I liked as a teenager are cringe-inducing now (I’m looking at you, Mr. Mister) while some bands I ignored back then have become favorites (the mighty Cheap Trick).
So, 25 years on, here’s a snapshot of Midwestern rock ‘n’ roll. Here’s the list in full, and here’s a playlist from the top 10 (or so):
Surprise! In the battle of superstar Christmas albums, it’s no contest: Bob Dylan bests Sting.
The intent of these two discs is different. Dylan surely hopes his disc will bring Christmas cheer, while Sting probably imagines his ideal listener in front of the hearth of a stone castle’s main room sipping a glass of port. Each artist includes 15 songs, and one need look no further than the tracklistings to tell the difference. Dylan includes “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Silver Bells,” while Sting’s tunes come from the likes of Praetorius, Schubert and Bach.
If Sting is good for anything these days, it’s subverting expectations. Solo career tailing off? Cut an album of ancient lute music. Making inroads as a classical artist? Reunite the Police. Fans eager to hear the next thing from that still vital band? Go back to classical music and make the world’s first completely joyless Christmas album.
Sting was sliding down a slippery slope toward irrelevance when he decided to reunite the Police. It was his most purely commercial and calculated move of the last two decades. After that triumphant return, he could have done just about anything. Fans would have loved to see the Police go into the studio, but there was little chance of that. A big rock album from Sting was a possibility, or at least a return to the airy pop he was making in the early 1990s. Instead, he returned to the contemplative, mannered music he was making before the reunion. The result, If On a Winter’s Night…, is an impressive collection of music both new and old (mostly old), but as a Christmas album, it’s a complete dud.
Even those of us who cringe at any bit of treacle in our music can at least tolerate a bit of goodwill and cheer (and sappiness) when it comes to Christmas music. Sting takes the opposite tack, however, offering the perfect soundtrack for the ascetic atheist winter carnival of one. It is at times beautiful, but it doesn’t seem to have a place.
Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart, meanwhile, is the sign of an artist who gets it. No one expected this from Dylan, of course, particularly given the creative hot streak he has been on over the past decade-plus. But, like Sting, Dylan is one who seems to revel in subverting expectations.
Perhaps it is the charitable intent behind the disc (all proceeds go to charity) that steered Dylan in the right direction, or, more likely, it is simply his affection for classic songs. Whatever the cause, he offers spirited and silly takes on some of the best-known (and best-loved) carols. His jaunty performance fits well with the material. The swooning strings and jingle-ready backing singers are a bit much, but Dylan clearly had a vision here, and he executes it to the fullest.