(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )
Last spring Buddha Records and Entertainment Weekly teamed up to release a series of various-artists compilations celebrating pop radio’s contributions to the national soundtrack, 1970 to 1990. At one disc per year, the series seemed especially designed to facilitate cultural archeology; at $9.99 per disc, it made nostalgia affordable.
Unfortunately, circumscribed no doubt by prohibitive licensing fees, the compilers settled for recycling songs that were already among the K-Tel generation’s most recycled. The result: instead of insight, the discs yield an existential queasiness like the kind one gets from looking at old high-school yearbooks and discovering that what he once thought cool was actually a fashion casualty. Nevertheless, the eating of humble pie is not without its pleasures. Consider the following disc-by-disc breakdown a gastronome’s guide.
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1970 (Buddha). Between the Jackson 5’s “ABC” and the 5 Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child,” even the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” regains its original bubblegummy freshness. The triptych of Melanie, the Hollies, and Ray Stevens at their most lachrymose, however, does not. Where’s James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel like Being like a) Sex Machine” (peak Billboard position: 15) when you need it?
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1971 (Buddha). Aretha’s “Spanish Harlem” is a nice touch considering this series’ general dearth of legends, and thanks to the inclusion of Melanie’s “Brand New Key” I can finally retire my scratchy forty-five. I do believe, however, that with the inclusion of “Maggie May” I now own seven copies of the bugger.
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1972 (Buddha). If as George Miller once joked the line “For there ain’t no one for to give you no pain” in “A Horse with No Name” is the worst line in pop, at least it’s balanced here by one of the best, “Please, baby, go all the way” as emoted by a young, hormonal Raspberry named Eric Carmen. The other ten tracks--many of them quite fine--capture AM’s last gasp, with Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” a flatliner for sure.
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1975 (Buddha). At last, disco (K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Silver Convention) and a prototypical “boy band” (Bay City Rollers)! Alas, sensitive birds (Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You”) and a horse with a name (Michael Murphey’s “Wildfire”).
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1976 (Buddha). That with one hand we could lay such undeniable records as “Boogie Fever,” “Rubberband Man,” “You Sexy Thing,” and (Orleans’) “Still the One” on the checkout counter and with the other vote for Jimmy Carter says more about the aftershocks of Watergate than the our collective susceptibility to oil crises and WIN buttons. As for “Afternoon Delight,” well, the Starland Vocal Band wasn’t cursed with the Best New Artist Grammy that year for nothing.
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1980 (Buddha). Not all schlock is bad schlock: Side by side with Christopher Cross’s “Sailing,” Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” achieves genuine grandeur. And although “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” hasn’t aged particularly well, the best shots of Lipps Inc., the Romantics, J. Geils, and Gary Numan have.
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1981 (Buddha). Not all schlock is good schlock: side by side with best shots from Rick Springfield, Juice Newton, and Hall and Oates, Air Supply’s “The One That You Love” goes out with a whimper. Yet to be determined: the significance of the Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand” and Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” charting in the same year.
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1982 (Buddha). At last, new wave (the Cars, A Flock of Seagulls, the Human League) and songs about lust interests (“Centerfold,” “Maneater,” “867-5309/Jenny,” “Rosanna”)! Alas, Laura Branigan and Olivia Newton-John.
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1985 (Buddha). Sure I’m grateful for the “Miami Vice Theme”--what fan of G. Gordon Liddy's radio show wouldn’t be? Starship, Autograph, the Hooters, and post-Sports Huey Lewis, however, have me wondering what horrible deeds I must've done in a previous life.
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1986 (Buddha). The Death of Homogeneity--or the Triumph of Novelty. What else does one call Run D.M.C. honoring Aerosmith, Falco honoring Mozart, Eddie Money honoring Ronnie Spector, the Dream Academy honoring Nick Drake, or Timbuk 3 period? Still catchy after all these years: “Walk like an Egyptian” and “Word Up."
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1989 (Buddha). At last, rap (Tone Loc, Young M.C.) and the Art of Noise Featuring Tom Jones! Alas, Richard Marx (at the nadir of his slow-dance phase). Not bad: Mike and the Mechanics’ “The Living Years.” Above-average: Martika’s “Toy Soldiers.” Riff of the Decade: Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.”
Entertainment Weekly--The Greatest Hits 1990 (Buddha). Where are they now? Let’s see: Stevie B played the Back-to-Back club last month, Vanilla Ice played the Strip last year, the chubby Wilson Phillips girl had her stomach surgically closed off, M.C. Hammer is an evangelist--after that I give up. And so apparently have Paula Abdul, Billy Idol, Technotronic, Snap, Poison, Michael Penn, and Black Box.