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.
After legendary Los Angeles rockers The Eagles broke up in 1980, Texas-born Don Henley started his long and successful solo career a year later, duetting with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks on “Leather And Lace” (from her hugely popular solo debut album, BELLA DONNA). It reached No. 6 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in early 1982.
In August of that year, Don released his first solo album (of five to date), I CAN’T STAND STILL. The first single, the catchy “Johnny Can’t Read,” just missed the Top 40 on the Hot 100, stopping at No. 42. But, it was his second single from the album, however, that really made an impact on his solo career…and cast an unpleasant light in the world of journalism.
“Dirty Laundry” was released in mid-October 1982, and within three weeks of being on the Hot 100, it had already surpassed the peak of “Johnny Can’t Read.” The song is about media sensationalism, yellow journalism and tabloidization of the news, or airing one’s “dirty laundry” about someone through newspapers and television. It’s news reporting at its worst, if it’s really news at all; no regard for the sanctity of good, quality journalism.
This song is 34 years old and the subject is still sadly relevant today. I don’t know why, but TMZ, Rush Limbaugh and The Enquirer come to mind right away. Even the TODAY show, a news program I have watched faithfully for decades, has been letting me down as of late: “Hey, let’s get a high-profile guest on the show, do a badgering interview with them, be sure to say ‘real quickly now’ at least twice during the interview, and rush them off for another guest we can badger the fuck out of.” This doesn’t even begin to examine what Matt Lauer did to Ann Curry (one of the classiest, most professional broadcasters I’ve ever seen) on live television (June 2012), when she was given the boot from TODAY, only to be replaced by Savannah Guthrie, the Queen Badger herself.
Why is “Dirty Laundry” still relevant today? Because, like in the song, news outlets still focus too much on negative news. Sure, NBC Nightly News does leave you with one positive story at the end of the newscast, but for the most part, the news you see or read still tends to lean on the negative. I guess there’s more ratings or money in it.
The inspiration for “Dirty Laundry” came from the negative and sensationalistic news coverage of the deaths of actors John Belushi and Natalie Wood, and even Don Henley’s own arrest in 1980 (he was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and possession of marijuana, cocaine, and Quaaludes after paramedics treated a 16-year-old girl suffering from drug intoxication at his home in L.A.).
Guesting on “Dirty Laundry” is two of Don’s bandmates from The Eagles – Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt, as well as Steve Lukather of Toto, and the late Jeff Porcaro (also of Toto), who played drums.
“Dirty Laundry” spent three weeks at No. 3 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in January 1983, and finishing in the Top 50 for all of 1983. Don Henley’s song of media sensationalism set to smart lyrics and a kick-ass beat resonated around the globe as well, spending a week at No. 1 in Canada, and reaching the Top 10 in Austria, New Zealand and South Africa. It also spent a week at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart and even reached No. 47 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.
Don Henley’s highest-charting solo success would come in the form of another duet, this time with Scandal’s Patty Smyth, and the song “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” which spent six weeks at No. 2 in 1992. In 2015, Don released his fifth album (and his first in 15 years), CASS COUNTY, a Country / Rock album that reached No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Country Albums chart and No. 3 on the BILLBOARD 200 album chart, his highest-charting album on that chart so far.
Truthfully, I was digging “Dirty Laundry” well before I even knew what it was actually about. Though I was never admittedly a huge Eagles fan, I do like a lot of their music, but, I LOVE LOVE LOVE “Dirty Laundry.” This song could be a hit today, and people would get behind it, mainly because it’s a great song, and sadly, because there’s still a lot of “dirty laundry” still waving through the winds of broadcasting and journalism today…