How to Define Cheeziness ... 80s Style
from The Legion of Bitter Alumni (which unfortunately I can't find the link for)
Cheezy 80s Homepage
In an attempt to even further diversify the broad-reaching and
ever-topical nature of this fine publication, I have managed to persuade
the fine and lovely people down at LOBA headquarters that it would be
appropriate to range into issues involving the fast-paced and
far-too-often kinetic world or the recording industry. As you may have
noticed, I am also pushing hard for longer sentences.
In any case, this article is the result of a lifetime (albeit a 23-year
lifetime) of in-depth investigative research, philosophical speculation,
and far too much time spent listening to my inner child. Spanning the
globe to bring you the best in quality entertainment, The Legion of
Bitter Alumni presents....
First, the ground rules. Although each and every song that ended up on
my list should be easily recognizable by anyone who was a regular radio
listener in the days that led to the creation and proliferation of "Top
40" stations, no special allowance was given for popularity. All songs
have been graded on cheeze value alone; while particularly esoteric
songs have been avoided, Cyndi Lauper was not guaranteed consideration
The debate over how to define cheeziness has been the subject of
passionate argument for countless millenniums (millennia?), and it is
not my goal to attempt to answer that question for the ages in this
article. To me, cheeze is a certain feeling that we all get at one time
or another. Some embrace it; others are repulsed.
10. If You Leave -- OMD
The name of the group alone was enough to give Junior High students
pause -- Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. As for the song itself, its
popularity was at least somewhat assured by being associated with the
inexplicably popular movie Pretty in Pink, which was yet another John
Hughes effort at establishing Molly Ringwald as some sort of 80s sex
goddess, contrary to all of the observable evidence. The song qualifies
for my list under its own merits, however. The light, ethereal tones
completely devoid of any apparent rock influence are the natural
extension of such cheeze masterminds as Frankie Avalon. The impassioned
breathy vocals whisk the listener away, entirely masking the fact that
the lyrics themselves make no sense whatsoever. The song is also graced
with two elements that are essential to 80s cheeze: mindless repetition
and an ability to takes oneself far more seriously than one should.
9. Der Komissar -- Falco / 99 Luftballons -- Nena
Hey, on any list involving the 80s, a tie is inevitable. In this case,
the special nature of these songs pays tribute to the quality of the
American listening audience. Both of these songs were immensely popular
despite the inability of the typical American to understand what either
song was saying since, as you well know, they were in German.
Although English versions eventually were broadcast as well, the German
versions deserve special notice for pointing out the irrelevance of
anything other than having a good beat to a song's popularity. In both
cases, listeners were inevitably disappointed when, after an auspicious
opening moment, it was discovered that the English versions were being
played. As with these listeners, the pervasive German influence will
always have a special place in this writer's heart. Nothing beats the
thrill of suddenly hearing "Kool and the Gang" in the midst of a foreign
8. Like A Virgin -- Madonna
I like to think that her first two albums reveal the true Madonna.
Someone who isn't afraid to simply have fun without bothering to have to
think about the "quality" of her music. All too often in the last few
years, this one-time paragon of cheeziness has shown signs that she is
taking herself far too seriously, and that she has begun to think of
herself as an "artist."
Whether or not the real Madonna is the cunning businesswoman we have
seen in the last five years, Madonna's emergence in 1982 also ushered in
the era of cheezy 80s music. Originally intended as a workout aerobics
album, this debut showed signs of her coming dominance over the genre,
but her particular talents were never exploited so effectively as in
this anthem for high-schooler-infested malls across America.
7. Safety Dance -- Men Without Hats
One has not truly experienced life until one has seen a group of people
(almost certainly intoxicated) attempt to spell out "SAFETY" with the
music, in the manner of YMCA. While OMD, Madonna, and to a certain
extent even Falco had some staying power, Men Without Hats was a prime
example of the American one-hit-wonder. Although the group has
reportedly recorded more than three albums, most American citizens are
unable to even remember the name of this group, although the song
lingers yet in their memory.
The theatrical nature of the lead vocalist Ivan Doroschuk is
particularly noteworthy, although the key to the song is indisputably
the choral repetition and helpful spelling guide to those who may be
higher-brain-function-impaired. Also notable for the memorable video
6. Freeze Frame -- The J. Geils Band
The annals of history are filled with classic struggles for dominance:
Capone vs. Ness, Frazier vs. Ali, Kirk vs. Khan, Freeze Frame vs.
Centerfold. While both songs are true bastions of cheeziness, it has
long been my opinion that the fake camera sounds in this song (much
worse even than those in Girls on Film) put it over the top. With the
lyrics seemingly shouted from the entire group, the J. Geils Band wasn't
afraid to put the emphasis squarely where music-buyers in the mid 80s
wanted it -- on the mind-numbingly simplistic synthesizer chords that
composed what passed for a chorus. I challenge the reader to try to
forget that pounding electric sound...
5. Karma Chameleon -- Culture Club
Somehow, without anyone much noticing, Boy George has begun to sneak
back into American culture. Starting with The Crying Game and moving to
Entertainment Tonight and demi-regular appearances on E! ("the
entertainment network"), Boy appears set to re-emerge. With his more
somber contemporary musical forays, perhaps the time has come to
belatedly acknowledge the contributions of the rest of Culture Club to
the cheeze culture.
This song had it all. A controversial front-man, a fun fast-paced song,
and an actual hint at the idea that the song meant something, even if
the vast majority of listeners had never heard of "karma" in 1985 --
obviously it had something to do with color ("red, gold, and green"?).
While Culture Club became a temporary fad and they had a couple other
hits, this song remains a tribute to the things that made the 80s great
4. Can't Fight This Feeling -- REO Speedwagon
One of the two consummate prom songs of the 80s (the other being Phil
Collins's One More Night), this song inspired strong emotion in those
that heard it -- often repulsion and slight nausea. A love ballad with
every tried-and-true metaphor that the band could dredge up and
completed with rhyming couplets, only the most obsessively thick
individuals of the era could take this song seriously. Still, I have
always been entertained by it, primarily due to the realization that
these people were willing to record it and perform it publicly.
Although they tended to less blatantly cheezy, love ballads proliferated
the music scene of the 80s much like any other period. While earlier
balladeers tended to acknowledge the somewhat silly nature of their
undertaking, however, 80s groups tended toward a straightforward
earnestness which served to underscore their ridiculous nature. Those
who know me are aware that I am also unable to speak of this song
without pointing out the amazing ability of lead singer Kevin Cronin to
hold his "r"s far beyond the limits of normal human endurance.
3. Hungry Like the Wolf -- Duran Duran
No discussion of 80s music could possibly be complete without Duran
Duran. Although their latest album reveals that there may have been
actual musical talent lying dormant within them, they were the
banner-carriers of the cheeze generation throughout the 80s. The
group's popularity led certain over-excitable record executives compare
them to the Beatles and after their initial breakup had enough left over
to support both Power Station and Arcadia, not to mention the solo
career of Andy Taylor.
Picking between Duran Duran's many songs has always been a source of
strife among 80s aficionados, with contenders the like of Rio, Please
Please Tell Me Now, The Reflex, Girls on Film, and Union of the Snake,
just to name a few. This list is personal in nature, however, and this
song has always been special to me. From the woman's laugh at the start
to the solemn "Doo-doo-doo" chorus, Duran Duran proves that guitar too
can be cheezy.
2. Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go) -- Wham!
Wham! -- a group so important that its name needed punctuation. George
Michael and Andrew Ridgeley ("the luckiest best friend in the world")
had people rhythmically rocking back and forth (what passed for dancing
at the time) with enthusiasm. Wham! and later George Michael alone went
on to immense popularity but it was this quirky little song from whence
it all sprang. Based primarily on Michael's uncanny ability to stretch
his voice considerably higher that the standard male range with the
traditional synthesizer and drum machine thrown in for good measure Wake
Me Up helped the emerging 80s form a sound all their own.
The song's immediate embrace by an eager populace was a sure signal to
important record executives of the triumph of form over substance.
Clearly, musical mastery and technical competence was no match for a
simple repetitive beat and a good hook. Few songs could ever manipulate
the formula as well as this one, however.
1. Don't You Want Me? -- The Human League
Like a force of nature, this song maintains its stranglehold on the top
spot as cheeziest song of the 80s. Long acknowledged as the paramount
exemplar of the style, Don't You Want Me? has been the cheezy song of
choice for reviewers from Tim Culler to Scott Martin. Coming from a
band which admitted that they didn't really know how to play their
instruments, this song was an anthem of would-be swingers and sexual
The story of a cocktail waitress and her narcissistic ex-lover tapped
into the American subconscious in a way previously exploited only by
Copacabana. Perhaps the simplicity of the song left listeners awed by
the idea that they too had all the talent necessary to become pop
superstars. Perhaps its unchallenging beat and easy-to-sing-along
vocals simply remind us all of a simpler time. Whatever the reason,
this song is destined to live on in the hearts and minds of cheezy music
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