On Sunday, June 12, 2016, my dear friend and former Portlander Michelle Fire Eater will make her first appearance on my little radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG Community Radio), in 9 years, and with a kick-ass theme show she thought of a couple of years ago – THE HEAVY 80s – it wasn’t all bubblegum, you know…
THE HEAVY 80s will feature songs that actually had substance to it, and covered a vast number of subjects including drug abuse, rejection, racism, homophobia, bullying, teenage depression and suicide, alcoholism, feminism, child abuse, homelessness, poverty, difficulties for farmers in the Midwest, media sensationalism, Apartheid, The Cold War, The Vietnam War, AIDS, the Kennedy Assassination, and protests against war, dictators and more.
This week on the blog, I’ll highlight some of the songs Michelle and I will be featuring on THE HEAVY 80s.
Today (6.7.2016) would have been Prince’s 58th birthday, and people are celebrating him on what is now known as Prince Day. Michelle and I could prolly pull off an entire show of HEAVY 80s songs just by Prince. Behind the funk, behind the kick-ass guitar and vocals, he released a lot of songs that had a bit more to them than most folks would think.
Examples include 1982’s title song from **1999**, an apocalyptic party anthem and Cold War Classic, 1985’s “Pop Life” involved drug abuse, 1981’s “Ronnie, Talk To Russia” was another Cold War Classic and a plea for President Reagan to talk to Russia and stop the possibility of a World War III, and of course, 2015’s brilliant and moving “Baltimore,” a protest song in response to the fatal police shooting of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, April 2015. Six Baltimore police officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray.
When it came to the title track of Prince’s brilliant 1987 double album, SIGN “O” THE TIMES, Prince didn’t hold back and delved into a number of heavy topics, some of which had never appeared before in song – gang violence, natural disasters, poverty, drug abuse, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, (again) the strong possibility of World War III, and AIDS.
Prince was absolutely not a fan of Ronald Reagan, and though Reagan knew about AIDS as early as the first year of his Presidency (1981), he was reluctant to talk about it for years. “Sign ‘O’ The Times” was one of the first songs ever to mention AIDS, I think, in part, because Reagan wouldn’t.
Around the globe, “Sign ‘O’ The Times,” reached the Top 10 in the U.K., Belgium, Canada, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand and Norway. Here in America, the “Sign ‘O’ The Times” single reached No. 2 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart and spent a week at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s R&B Chart.
Over on the Hot 100, “Sign ‘O’ The Times” debuted in early March 1987, weeks before the album’s release, and it was in the Top 10 within a month and a half. It spent a quick week at No. 3 in late April 1987 and fell off the chart as quick as it climbed up the Hot 100, but Prince’s message got out there.
On May 31, 1987, one day after “Sign ‘O’ The Times” fell out of the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100, President Reagan made his first public speech about AIDS and established a Presidential Commission on HIV. I know it’s prolly unlikely, but I’d still like to think Prince and “Sign ‘O’ The Times” had something to do with that…