‘Forever Young’ (by Alphaville)
On the surface, this is a hopeful song celebrating the virtues of youth, but a closer listen reveals a fear of aging and death. The song was written during the Cold War, where the singer is "hoping for the best, but expecting the worst; are you gonna drop the bomb or not?"
Alphaville was a German Synthpop/Rock music group. The song was not a big hit when it was released, but has become well known as a result of its use in movies and TV shows. Among its uses:
The TV show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (episode 103: "Underage Drinking: A National Concern")
Queer As Folk (season 1, episode 18)
One Tree Hill (season 4, episode 16).
The movie Listen To Me
Napoleon Dynamite in the school dance scene.
commercials for Saturn ION automobiles.
A year after this was released, Laura Branigan covered it for her album Hold Me and began performing it as an encore at her concerts. The Canadian dance group Temperance recorded the song in 1996.
In 2005 the Australian band Youth Group recorded this for an episode of the TV show The O.C.. Their release was a hit in Australia.
‘Human Nature’ (by Michael Jackson)
"Human Nature" was written by Steve Porcaro, keyboardist with the band Toto. "I had written the song for my daughter Heather. Something had happened at school and it just inspired me. I wrote the song while we were mixing "Africa" and was just tinkering on the piano and wrote 'Human Nature.' It was one of a batch of three songs I had written in a certain time period. I had written the lyrics, which were the same verse I was singing over and over again. I had the 'why, why' chorus with the slap echo. Like most of my songs it was an unfinished song."
Steve Porcaro and fellow Toto member David Paich worked with producer Quincy Jones on the Thriller album, doing some synthesizer programming and playing. Said Porcaro: "Quincy had been asking David for songs and he was sending a messenger almost every day to David's house - where I was living at the time - to pick up anything David was working on. And so David was sending him stuff. One time, he had gotten a call that the messenger was on his way and he called down to me and told me to throw something we'd been working on onto a cassette. I didn't have any blank cassettes, so I took a cassette that had 'Human Nature' on one side and turned the B-side over, rewound it and put on these two songs of David's. and then gave them to the messenger."
Jones played both sides of the cassette and was excited about "Human Nature." Quincy called David the next day and was raving about this tune that went 'why, why.' It took David half an hour to tell Quincy that it wasn't his song! But the song was incomplete lyric-wise and Jones asked Porcaro to finish them. Porcaro recalls: "I forced myself to write the lyrics and Quincy was less than thrilled with them and he asked me if I would mind if he brought in John Bettis to finish them. I was completely thrilled with what John did with the lyrics."
Quincy Jones assembled an impressive array of talent to work on the Thriller album, including four members of the band Toto. These guys knew the ropes because they were session musicians before they formed the band, and in 1982 they were red hot, scoring hits with "Rosanna" and "Africa" from their album Toto IV, which would win the Grammy for Album of the Year at the 1983 ceremony (Thriller would win the next year).
Four members of the band played on this track:
David Paich: synthesizer
Steve Porcaro: synthesizer
Steve Lukather: guitar
Jeff Porcaro: drums
Paich, Steve Porcaro and Lukather also did the arrangement.
In our interview with David Paich, he explained that Jackson gave them lot of support and creative freedom. "Michael was very involved in it, and he's a perfectionist," said Paich. "He was always in the room with us, privately, saying, 'I just want you to have total freedom to do whatever you want. Just think of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel - do whatever you need to do here. Sky's the limit.'"
The Jazz legend Miles Davis recorded this song in 1985. Steve Porcaro was thrilled when he first heard Miles' version of his tune. "My father was a jazz musician and when I was growing up, most of the music we heard in our household was classical music and jazz - Miles Davis. He was my father's hero. My brother Jeff learnt to play drums listening to 'Bag's Groove.' Miles Davis was ingrained in all of us, so I was completely thrilled. I was so honored. I remember doing a session with the bassist Neil Stubenhaus about six months after Miles did You're Under Arrest. He just cornered me and said 'do you realize how great it is to have Miles do one of your tunes? Do you have any idea what it means?' I certainly did. It's one of the things I'm most proud of out of everything I've done."
In 1985, Miles moved to Warner Brothers records and teamed with Porcaro to record new material for his first Warner album. They went to Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro's studio (The Villa) and tried recording "Exist" and "Walk of Life," but the sessions were unsuccessful. While at The Villa, Miles ended up playing on the Toto tune "Don't Stop Me Now." (Thanks to George Cole, author of The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis, 1980-1991. Cole interviewed Steve Porcaro for the book.)
This was the fifth of seven singles released from the Thriller album. All of them made the Top 10 in the US.
In 1993, SWV (Sisters With Voices) hit #2 in the US with a medley of this song combined with their own release "Right Here."
Sheryl Crow performed with Michael Jackson on his Bad tour, joining him on stage for "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." In 2010, she told Rolling Stone, "My favorite memory of Michael was watching him do 'Human Nature' every night. he'd cry, and those tears were so directly linked to the wounds that drove him to anesthetize himself."
On November 7, 2008, Britney Spears and Madonna performed this at Madonna's Dodger Stadium concert in Los Angeles. Justin Timberlake also performed at the show, joining Madonna on stage for "4 Minutes."
‘The Greatest love of all’ (by Whitney Houston)
This was written by songwriters Michael Masser and Linda Creed. Linda Creed was recovering from breast cancer when they wrote the song in 1977. Originally recorded by George Benson, his version went to #24 in the US. In 1985, the song was revived by Whitney Houston, and on May 17, 1986, it went to #1 for the first of three weeks.
Creed's cancer claimed her life on April 10, 1986. She was later inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on the strength of this song and the many hits she co-wrote for The Spinners, The Stylistics, and other acts on the Philadelphia International label. Phil Hurtt, who also wrote for the label, told us, "There are thousands of ways to say I Love You, and the difficulty is trying to find a nuance, a new way to say what's been said thousands of times, and Linda Creed is someone who was able to do that.
Masser and Creed wrote this for the 1977 film biography of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, and the song first appeared on the film's soundtrack recorded by George Benson. Ali played himself in the movie, essentially recreating his defining moments intercut with clips of his actual fights. Ali was the heavyweight champ at the time of the film's release.
Houston's version was originally the B-side of "You Give Good Love" but the amount of airplay it received persuaded Arista to release it as a single.
‘Let’s go crazy’ (by Prince)
The lyrics are about getting through life and the battle against evil, Satan being the de-elevator. We are encouraged to not allow the devil to break us down and instead to turn to God to help us by going crazy and punching a higher floor (God).
This is the opening song from Prince's film Purple Rain. The album was a soundtrack to the film, and a huge hit, spending 24 weeks at #1 in America. Much of the movie takes place at a club where Prince performs - these scenes were shot at the First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis, where Prince really was a regular player. When Prince and his band, The Revolution, embarked on their tour to promote the album, they used most of the choreography from their film performance of this song for their concert performances.
The beginning of this song is one of the most famous spoken intros in pop history. Prince takes the persona of a preacher and is joined by a church organ as he gives what amounts to a sermon, reminding us that we should enjoy this life, knowing that we can look forward to a world of never-ending happiness when we die. Credit this to George Clinton, who did many similar bits ("free your mind, and your ass will follow...") with P-Funk.
The rock band Incubus recorded a cover for their 2009 two-CD compilation album Monuments and Melodies. It was released as the second single from the set.
Following Prince's death, The Minnesota Wild ice hockey team made the decision to honor him by playing this song when celebrating goals at their home stadium. The song was chosen after a fan poll was conducted to help find a goal theme to replace Joe Satriani's "Crowd Chant."
Bruno Mars, dressed in full Prince regalia, performed this in tribute to Prince, who died the previous year, at the Grammy Awards in 2017.
‘Material Girl’ (by Madonna)
This was written by the songwriters Peter Brown and Robert Rans. The song is about a woman who craves the finer things in life and will manipulate men to get them. Like A Virgin was only Madonna's second album, and she was still developing her image. Much to her dismay, "Material Girl" became Madonna's nickname, but over the next few years she was able to dissociate from the song and establish many new looks. Later in her career, Madonna wrote and recorded many more substantive and personal songs, and adapted a lifestyle that stressed harmony and mindfulness over materialism and excess. This is apparent in her 2003 song "American Life."
The video re-created a classic scene from the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with Madonna as the Marilyn Monroe character. MTV played the video constantly, which associated Madonna closely with the song. Fortunately for her, "Like A Virgin" was an even bigger hit, and after she performed that song on the MTV Video Music Awards she became much more identified with that one.
Mary Lambert, who worked on most of Madonna's early videos, directed the clip, but Keith Carradine portrayed the director in the video (this "film within a film" concept was an early MTV staple, first seen in the Human League video for "Don't You Want Me"). He is the son of actor John Carradine and half-brother of David, but despite his pedigree, this video may have been his biggest role. He did have a hit song called "I'm Easy" in 1976.
The song and video were widely misinterpreted as Madonna playing a capricious gold digger. The video concept was Madonna as an actress playing this role, but as soon as she's off camera, she's a regular gal who likes the simple things - we see her drive off with a regular dude in a crappy car. The irony was lost on or ignored by journalists looking for a storyline or moniker for Madonna, so the name and the image stuck.
In a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna was asked about her first impressions hearing the demos for this song and "Like A Virgin." She replied: "I liked them both because they were ironic and provocative at the same time but also unlike me. I'm not a materialistic person, and I certainly wasn't a virgin." Expanding on her "not materialistic" statement, she said, "I feel lucky to be able to afford a Frida Kahlo painting or live in a nice house, but I know that I can live without it. I'm resourceful, and if I ended up in a log cabin in the middle of the forest, that would work too. These things are not mandatory for my happiness."
The video shoot for this song was where Madonna first met her future husband, Sean Penn. The connection was Meegan Lee Ochs, who was working on the shoot and had been Penn's assistant (she's also the daughter of the late folk singer Phil Ochs). Penn came by the shoot and got his first look at Madonna when she was in full costume.
The characters on Sesame Street did a version of this song called "Cereal Girl."
In 2010, Madonna and her 13-year-old daughter Lourdes launched their "Material Girl" juniors clothing line at Macy's. Many of the looks are inspired by Madonna's '80s outfits.
‘I just called to say I love you’ (by Stevie Wonder)
This was featured in the movie The Woman In Red, starring Kelly LeBrock as the woman and Gene Wilder as the married man who is mesmerized by her. Stevie wrote the score for the movie. He got the gig after Dionne Warwick, who was working on the soundtrack, suggested him to the producers of the film. Wonder ended up contributing songs as well, and the soundtrack contains songs from both Stevie and Dionne. The movie's producers rejected some demos written by Jay Graydon and David Foster, and one of those songs became "Who's Holding Donna Now," which was a hit for El DeBarge.
This is Motown's biggest-selling single ever in the UK, where it was Wonder's first #1. It was his eighth #1 in the US
This won the Oscar for Best Original Song, beating out "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)," "Footloose," "Let's Hear It For The Boy" and "Ghostbusters."
Wonder claimed that he wrote the music for this song in 1978, and then "modernized" it when he added lyrics for the soundtrack. Wonder is an extremely prolific composer and was constantly coming up with songs that he would sometimes revisit much later.
In the 2000 movie High Fidelity, this is the subject of a rant by a character played by Jack Black. In the film, a man walks into the record store and asks for this song so he can give it to his daughter. Black's character, who is working there, scolds him for wanting such and awful song and goes on to explain that his daughter probably hates it and it was clearly the low point of Wonder's career.
Wonder had moved to a much more adult contemporary sound when he released this song. His early hits like "Superstition" and "Higher Ground" were often filled with funk, but in the '80s, songs like this one and "Part-Time Lover" had a smoother sound, resulting in big hits, but disappointment for those hoping for a classic Wonder groove.
Stevie sang some of this when he made an appearance on The Cosby Show in 1986. The episode was called "A Touch of Wonder," and was later cited by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson as an inspiration to many young musicians who became interested in samplers and making music after seeing Wonder on the show.
‘Call me’ (by Blondie)
This song is about a prostitute. It was featured in the film American Gigolo in a scene where the lead character is "working."
European disco producer Giorgio Moroder wrote this with Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry, who thus became the first woman in British chart history to write three #1 hits. However she hadn't been Moroder's first choice. The Italian disco king had originally wanted Stevie Nicks to provide vocals on the track but the Fleetwood Mac vocalist declined the offer.
This was the most successful of all Blondie singles in their native USA. It was the best-selling single of 1980.
In 2002, The Box Tops recorded this for the compilation album When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You'd Hear. Cevin Soling, who was executive producer on the album, explains: "I got the Box Tops back together again, and that was a blast. That was so much fun working with the Box Tops. Especially with Alex Chilton there singing. I didn't produce that. I was in the studio, but the producer on that one was a buy named Benji King, who was the keyboard player for the band Scandal. That studio experience was pretty funny, because he's so full of energy. He's always excited and always really into things. The Box Tops are each one degree more laid back to the next. Coming from the South, they're all kind of very chill. Until you get to Alex Chilton, who's practically catatonic. And so you have that contrast." (Check out our interview with Cevin Soling.)
In 2009, Franz Ferdinand covered this song for the War Child Presents Heroes charity album.
This song was covered by the heavy metal band In This Moment on their 2008 album, The Dream.
Giorgio Moroder told Billboard magazine that his difficult experience of recording this song with Blondie taught him not to work with rock bands. "There were always fights," he recalled. "I was supposed to do an album with them after that. We went to the studio, and the guitarist was fighting with the keyboard player. I called their manager and quit."
‘Another one bites the dust’ (by Queen)
This is one of the hardest Queen songs to understand. The opening line reads, "Steve walks warily down the street, his brim pulled way down low. Ain't no sound but the sound of his feet, machine gun ready to go..." Also, the last phrase spoken in the song is not "Shoot Her" or "Shooter," but "Shoot Out."
Though probably not intentional unless someone did an excellent splicing job, the "Another one bites the dust" line quite clearly says "...Decide to smoke marijuana" when played backwards. This is especially clear toward the end of the track when Mercury repeats the line with only the drums playing.
Queen bass player John Deacon wrote this song. All four members of Queen wrote songs, and each wrote at least one hit. Deacon also wrote "You're My Best Friend."
Deacon was influenced by the Chic song Good Times. In an interview with the New Musical Express, Chic bass player Bernard Edwards said: "Well, that Queen record came about because that bass player spent some time hanging out with us at our studio. But that's OK. What isn't OK is that the press started saying that we had ripped them off! Can you believe that? 'Good Times' came out more than a year before, but it was inconceivable to these people that black musicians could possibly be innovative like that. It was just these dumb disco guys ripping off this rock 'n' roll song."
Deacon played most of the instruments on the track: lead and rhythm guitars, bass, reversed piano and additional percussion. Brian May did some guitar effects with harmoniser (in the interlude), and Roger Taylor played the drum loop. Surprisingly, there are no synthesizers.
While the band and producer Reinhold Mack were mixing the track, Brian May's roadie suggested it to be released as single; the band didn't like the idea but were finally talked into doing it when Michael Jackson, after a concert, suggested the same idea.
John Deacon claimed in a 1980 interview that Roger Taylor opposed the song's drum beat. This is backed up by the comments of several figures in the Days of our Lives documentary, who noted that Taylor hated having tape put on his drums to deaden the sound.
However, the drummer denied this in an interview with Mojo magazine October 2008. He insisted: "I'd already had an ineffectual pop at that kind of music with 'Fun It,' on the Jazz album. I was never against 'Another One Bites The Dust,' but I was against releasing it as a single."
In 1998, this was used in a commercial for AIWA sound systems. In the ad, a guy drives around with this blaring from his car stereo. At the end of the commercial, we realize he is driving a hearse.
Freddie Mercury loved this track. Brian May recalled to Mojo: "Freddie sung until his throat bled on Another One Bites The Dust. He was so into it. He wanted to make that song something special."
During production of the movie Rocky III, this was used in a key scene where Rocky is training for a fight. Producers could not get permission to use the song, so Sylvester Stallone hired Survivor to write an original song instead, which turned out to be "Eye Of The Tiger."
Queen were originally reluctant to release this as a single, but backstage after a Queen gig at the Los Angeles forum, a visiting Michael Jackson convinced them it would be a hit. "Michael and all his brothers were all going, 'That's a fantastic track. You must release it,'" recalled Queen drummer Roger Taylor to Q magazine December 2009.
This meeting lead to several recordings and collaborations between Freddie Mercury and Jackson, all of which remain unreleased.
Weird Al Yankovic got his first chart placing with his parody of this song: "Another One Rides The Bus." It bubbled under on the Hot 100, placing at #104 in 1981. After a few more minor hits, he landed "Eat It" at #12 in 1984.
This was the single that really broke the band in America, and it garnered a huge following amongst American Disco audiences, with many fans and journalists convinced it was a black man singing lead vocals (these people obviously hadn't heard of Queen before so didn't know what Freddie looked like). The band occasionally were unsure of how to deal with this - Roger Taylor jokes in the Days of our Lives documentary of having fans shouting "you guys are bad!" in the street, and he had to ask "does that mean good or what?"
This was used in a 2016 commercial for the Hyundai Genesis that first aired on the Super Bowl. In the spot, Kevin Hart uses the Car Finder app to track down the guy who is using it to take his daughter on a date. After tormenting her suitor, Hart says, "A dad's gotta do what a dad's gotta do."
‘(Just like) starting over’ (by John Lennon)
This song embodied the sense of renewal in Lennon and Yoko's professional and personal lives during the writing and recording of Double Fantasy. "It was kinda obvious what 'Starting Over' was about," said journalist David Sheff, who did the last major interview with Lennon, to Mojo. "He'd been untrusting of Yoko, she'd been untrusting of him, all that kind of stuff. But in that one song was this incredible optimism and joy."
This was released in the United States October 27, 1980, which was the same day Mark David Chapman bought the gun he would use to kill Lennon on December 8. "Starting Over," which came out in the UK on October 24, was Lennon's first release since 1975. The Double Fantasy album was issued on November 17.
Lennon wrote this while vacationing in Bermuda earlier in the year.
Despite being the first single in five years from one of the most famous musicians on the planet, this song took a while to catch on. In America, it entered the Hot 100 on November 1, 1980 at #38 and made a slow but steady climb up the chart. Here's the progression:
Nov. 8: #32
Nov. 15: #10
Nov. 22: #9
Nov. 29: #8
Dec. 6: #6
Dec. 13: #4
Dec. 20: #3
Dec. 27: #1
When Lennon was killed, fans quickly scooped up the single along with lots of other Lennon material, but it took a few weeks for the chart to reflect these sales. When it hit #1, it stayed there for five weeks.
This was recorded at The Power Station in New York City. Musicians included Tony Levin on bass, Earl Slick on guitar, and Andy Newmark on drums.
Double Fantasy was released on David Geffen's record label, DGC. Many labels were competing for the album, but Geffen impressed Lennon when he wrote directly to Yoko and agreed to release it without hearing it first. All of Lennon's previous albums were released on The Beatles' label, Apple.
John and Yoko were considering doing a tour when this was climbing the charts.
This was one of the last songs recorded for the album. Lennon was not sure he should record it, but his producer and session musicians convinced him it would be a hit. It became the first single from Double Fantasy.
The day this was released, Yoko Ono hired a skywriter to write "Happy Birthday" above New York.
Lennon said in his last Rolling Stone interview in 1980: "All through the taping of 'Starting Over,' I was calling what I was doing 'Elvis Orbison.' It's like Dylan doing Nashville Skyline, except I don't have any Nashville, being from Liverpool. So I go back to the records I know - Elvis and Roy Orbison and Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis."
The copy of Double Fantasy that Mark Chapman asked Lennon to autograph might be the most valuable record in the world. The record, which figured in the court case, not only has Lennon's autograph but also boasts Chapman's fingerprints on the cover. In 2003, the record was sold for £525,000 but its value has since rocketed.
‘Take me home’ (by Phil Collins)
Often misconstrued to be about a man returning home, Collins stated on VH1 Storytellers that the song's lyrics refer to a patient in a mental institution, and that he was inspired by the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Sting and ex-Genesis band mate Peter Gabriel sang backup vocals. Also featured is former Culture Club backing singer Helen Terry.
In 2003 the hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony heavily sampled the song for their single "Home." Their version reached #19 in the UK (the same as the original version), and Collins appeared in the video.
Collins explained in Rolling Stone: "Bone Thugs-N-Harmony called me up and said, 'We've done a version of your song 'Take Me Home' and we'd like you to be in the video.' I said, 'No, I'm not in America.' They said, 'They can come wherever you are.' I said, 'Don't make me say, 'No, f--k off.'' But then I heard the song, and I quite liked it, and they agreed to come to Geneva. How could I disappoint these guys? They were nice lads."
The video features Phil Collins singing a couple of lines from the song in various cities around the world, including London, Moscow, New York, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney.
This was originally released in the UK in 1985. It released in the US in March 1986, only after Phil Collins appeared in the TV series Miami Vice.
The music of Genesis featured in the 2000 film American Psycho, which examines greed and insanity with the financial industry as a backdrop. This song found its way into a key scene of the Season 2 premiere episode of the TV series Mr. Robot, which takes on these same issues. The lead character in the episode suffers from blackouts, so the refrain, "'Cause I don't remember," makes sense.