American Idol Top 8, Tuesday April 7, 2009, Season 8

Find my latest American Idol article here.
The theme this week was ‘Songs from the Year they were Born.’  This was encouraging because I thought we had a chance to hear some popular music from the 80s and early 90s.  Unfortunately, the contestants, for the most part, chose poorly.
I have a friend who has commented on the fact that the show needs to be paced better so that the singers at the end get a fair hearing from the judges.  Never was that more apparent than tonight.  Adam deserved to get his fair share of praise at the end, but he did not.
Danny Gokey, “Stand By Me”– I hated the beginning of the song.  It was out of tune, and the arrangement was awful.  It paled in comparison to Mickey Gilley or any else who has every sung the sung the song.  Then, the beat picked up, and I didn’t like it any better.  He never seemed to be on top of the notes.  It just seemed weird, and seemed like something out of a variety show.  I normally like what he does, but not that.  I hope going first, and not doing well does not damage him too much.

The judges liked it, and I was confused.

Kris Allen, “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”– This seemed like the Big Band version of this song.  The arrangement was, once again, very weird.  The original to this song was very edgy, but the horns in this version seemed to neuter it, even though Kris put as much edge on his voice as he could.  The vocal was good. He was on pitch, and had great diction as usual, but the arrangement just seemed unbalanced.  It was not bad, but was my least favorite thing he has done.

The judges hated the arrangement as much as I did.

Lil Rounds, “What’s Love Got to With It”– I thought she started well, but she was flat again pretty early in the song.  It seemed sort of like a karaoke bar version of the song early on, but when she got to the chorus, it got a lot better.  As she moved up into her registry and projected, her notes were more on pitch and her tone sounded better.  She has never been one of the best in this competition, but tonight was the best that she has done in a few weeks.

The judges agreed with me again.  Good judges.  Have a cookie.

Anoop Desai, “True Colors”– I worried about him being able to do justice to this song, but he started it well.  This song is a great choice because it is a singer’s song and a vocal showcase if you do it right.  When the drums came in and it sped up, I liked it a little less, but for the most part, it was good.  It was my favorite up to this point, but that is not saying a whole lot.

The judges liked it for the most part, but Simon was right to point out that it was not all that.

Scott MacIntyre, “The Search is Over”– Just as with Kris, I was impressed to see that he also could play the guitar as well as the piano.  My first thought was, “Boy he took all the edge off of this song.”  It was a little like Barry Manilow sings Survivor.  It paled in comparison, and the big falsetto notes made me cringe in pain.  All in all the vocal was not that bad except for that one big note (that was a big mistake), and the times when he was flat.  The problem with Scott is that he has less musical range than anyone on the show.  You could just play the same performance every week, because that is what you are going to get.  And, he never takes it to another level.

The judges were mixed at best.  Randy was spot on when he said that it was just OK, and that is not enough at this point.

Allison Iraheta, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”– When I head that she was going to sing this song, I thought, “I’d like to hear her sing this well.”  Her main problem is that she tries a little too hard to be cool.  The chorus was the best part, and the big note sounded very good.  It was easily the best thing so far this evening, but again, this night has not been the best ever on the show.

The judges loved the vocal.  Simon and Randy gave her great advice when the talked about the need for her to be more personable.  That means putting down your guard, and trying a little less hard to be cool.

Matt Giraud, “Part Time Lover”– I thought the start was going to be weird, but I ended up liking it.  When the song took off, it got even better.  The style of this song was perfect for him.  In places, it was a little rough as he went down in his registry, but for the most part it was very good. The best he has done in a few weeks.

The judges got a little carried away with their praise.

Adam Lambert, “Mad World”– His vocals were off the chart, once again.  It was similar, but still different from the Gary Jules version of the song.  I liked the tender, and ominous style that Adam delivered in this song.  I want to know what he cannot sing.

Simon was the only one who commented, but he gave a standing ovation.

If I had to choose a bottom three this week, it would be Scott, Danny and Lil.  I would choose Scott to go home.

 

 

 

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1985

20.  “Careless Whisper”, Wham!– My gay-dar was working well by the time the George Michael led group came along.  This probably explains why I did not care for them too much.  However, I’ll have to admit that they had some huge hits in the mid 80s containing very catchy tunes.  The problem with Wham was that their bubbly style made them seem like a male version of the Go-Gos, and that is not a good thing.  That is why I ended up choosing “Careless Whisper” with its ballad style over their bigger hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.”

19.  “Saving All My Love For You”, Whitney Houston– I tend to react negatively to hype, and Whitney got a lot of it when her voice blasted onto the scene, but even back then I could not deny that she was a great singer.  Her songs are not easy to sing along with, for the most part, because they are all a showcase for her incredible vocals.  I chose “Saving All My Love For You” over “You Give Good Love”, but they both are about the same.

18.  “Separate Lives”, Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin– This is easily one of the best duets of the 80s.  Her voice and style of singing hold up well with his as they trade off throughout the song.  It reached #1 in the Billboard Top 100, and was featured on the soundtrack to the great date movie, White Nights.

17.  “One More Night”, Phil Collins– As I did in 1984, I will treat the duet above as a group performance, and include another song by Phil Collins as a result.  “One More Night” was one of four songs that charted off Collins’ great album, No Jacket Required.  I had the album, and like most of the albums that I really liked in that era, I wore it out.  I would know any song off of it if I heard it today, and there are some that did not even chart that I liked a lot such as “Long, Long Way to Go” that featured Sting singing the backup vocals.

16.  “We Belong”, Pat Benatar– This was always my favorite Pat Benatar song.  It was a departure from her earlier ‘rocker-girl’ music and it featured a nice melody and vocal.  I’m not sure if it is a guitar or a keyboard at the beginning of the song but in any case, it is iconic, and I immediately knew the song when heard it at the end of Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby.  That scene where Sacha Baron Cohen is chasing Will Ferrell down the track is classic, and I will probably always associate this song with it in the future.

15.  “We Are The World”, U.S.A. For Africa– Anyone that was young during this era knows this song.  It was a great song, and it was great to see that many of the most popular singers in the world at that time could get together for a good cause.  If this were done today, it would undoubtedly feature Bono, which ever 80s or 90s groups were coming out with a new album, recent groups whose popularity is waning (see Britney Spears), the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and all the failed American Idol winners and finalists.  But, the original truly pulled in the powerhouses of pop music at the time.  Solos included: Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Kim Carnes, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, Daryl Hall, Steve Perry, Kenny Loggins, Bruce Springsteen, Al Jarreau, and James Ingram.  Other artists included: Randy Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Harry Belafonte, Tito Jackson, JaToya Jackson, The Pointer Sisters, Lindsey Buckingham, Jackie Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Jeffery Osborne, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Bette Midler, John Oates and Dan Aykroyd (odd).  Awesome.  And, it could never be done today.  What, no Bono?

14.  “The Search Is Over”, Survivor– This song continued Survivor’s string of great power ballads.  The lead vocals have a nice tone to them, and the song is easy to sing along with.  I chose it over “I Can’t Hold Back” from the same year.

13.  “Lay Your Hands On Me”, Thompson Twins– I love the whole tone to the vocals on this song, and the choral part is even better.  This song was released on their Here’s To the Future album which was the 6th album released in five years for the prolific androgynous British band.

12.  “What About Love”, Heart– Heart burst on the pop scene in 1985 with the release of their debut album, Heart.  It was a smash hit for sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, as was their first of many hits, “What About Love.”  The band led by Ann Wison’s strong vocals was one of the dominant groups in pop music for the next few years, and was easily the biggest girl band of the decade.  Routinely, their songs are attempted by contestants on American Idol, and just as routinely, those contestants are roundly criticized because their vocals are not near as good or as strong as Ann Wilson’s vocals.

11.  “Things Can Only Get Better”, Howard Jones– Howard Jones is a great keyboardist, and I love his vocals.  All of his melodies pop, and are easy to sing along with.  I would recommend his The Best of Howard Jones from 1993 to anyone.  The backup singers, made up of the members of the female backup group, Afrodiziak (genius) sound great and help to make the song.

10.  “Money For Nothing”, Dire Straits– This is one of the iconic songs of the 80s.  It would be one of the best one-hit-wonders if the band had not had another hit, but their success never again approached the popularity of this song.  It, of course, begins with Sting’s unmistakable falsetto vocals ethereally asking for his MTV with a keyboard appropriately setting the eerie mood.  Then, the guitar bangs in with the very recognizable riff that continues throughout the song, and it takes off as a tribute to the easily attained fame and riches to be found in the music industry.  The vocals, described by lead singer Mark Knopfler as Sprechstimme, are by definition, vocals that fall somewhere between speaking and singing.  There was some controversy at the time involving the lines containing the words “chimpanzee” and “faggot”, and there were accusations of sexism, racism and homophobia leveled against the band which they denied.  The video filled with cool animation was groundbreaking for MTV, and it was one of their most played that year.

9.  “The Power Of Love”, Huey Lewis and The News– This and “Back in Time” were both featured in the 80s hit movie Back to the Future.  “The Power of Love” has all the qualities of a great Huey Lewis song, strong vocals, big band sound, and a bopping 50s-like rock and roll beat.  I remember seeing Huey Lewis in concert in the 80s.  It was one of the best that I ever saw.  He had the Tower Of Power horn section with him, and at one point, every person with the stage crew, the band and the horn section were on stage at the same time singing and dancing to their doo-wop sound with leather jackets on.

8.  “Material Girl”, Madonna– I chose “Material Girl” over “Crazy For You” and “Live To Tell” because it is the song that I think of when I think of Madonna.  The video with her playing the part of Marilyn Monroe from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was great.  She looked sexier to me with her clothes on in this video than she did in later videos when she took them off.  Her voice has a good, if squeaky, tone to it that matches the Monroe’s vibe.

7.  “Heaven”, Bryan Adams– This and “Cuts Like a Knife” are my two favorite Bryan Adams’ songs.  I liked this song a lot because I could sing it, and it was a cool power ballad.  It still gets a lot of play, and can be heard every season on American Idol.

6.  “You’re The Inspiration”, Chicago– This is probably the most popular song Chicago ever recorded (and that is a lot of songs), but it is not my personal favorite- that would be “Love Me Tomorrow”– or even my favorite from Chicago 17– that would be the unreleased “Remember the Feeling.”  However, that does not mean it is not a great song.  Peter Certera proved, once and for all, that Bill Champlin should be a backup singer for the group with this song.  Certera left the band shortly thereafter.

5.  “Head Over Heels”, Tears For Fears– This was another great hit for the semi-androgynous British pop band.  The key board part that sounds like falling rain as it repeatedly moves down the scale let’s you know what song you are listening to from the beginning.  The lead vocals are very clean, and the backup falsetto vocals match nicely on the verses and chorus.  I chose this song over their bigger hit “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” because I like it better, but they are both great songs.

4.  “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, Simple Minds– What a youth rebellion anthem!  I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than this.  Every child of the 80s reading this sees Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club walking away with his fist (for some reason) in the air in a defiant statement that said, “You might burn me with cigarettes, but I’m still too cool even for myself!”  The song is cool too.  It was the class song for thousands of senior classes that year (pretty much all of the classes that were not gay enough to choose “Friends” as their class song).

3.  “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, REO Speedwagon– Have you ever had a friend who you could not stand to be around when he was with his girlfriend?  When I was in college my roommate was going out with my girlfriend’s roommate (We both eventually married these ladies- I asked mine out first.  He married his first).  There was really no avoiding being around them quite a bit.  The problem was, for instance, at night as I would be watching television in our living room, he would be on the phone with her calling her pet names likes ‘Snoogums” and such.  They would get to the end of he conversation, and then would come the ‘I love you’, ‘no, I love you more’ session (five minutes minimum), and then the ‘hang up’, ‘no, you hang up’ session which rarely ended before I was contemplating ending my own life.

Then there was being with them.  You were never really with them.  They were with each other in their own little world getting as close as the clothes on them would allow, and calling each other pet names in sweet high pitched voices totally oblivious of the fact that every around them was visibly ill.  I swear.  I had to eventually sit my roommate down and explain the concept of ‘too cute’ to him.

All during this time, “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was their song.  He played it all the time.  She played it all the time.  They played it all the time.

I think it says a lot about the greatness of this song that through all of that, I still liked it.  And, here it is at #3 on my 1985 list.  It’s probably better than that even, but I hold a long grudge.

2.  “Take On Me”, A-Ha– This song is another of the great one-hit-wonder songs of the 80s.  The Norwegian pop band A-Ha, fronted by Morten Harket, used this song to feature his soaring vocals that hit before-unseen heights for a male voice in popular music.  It also has a signature keyboard part that makes the song instantly recognizable.  The video for this song was one of the most popular of the 80s featuring a sappy love story between a guy in a comic and a girl.  What made it special was its use of animation and real-life video in the same frames bringing the comic book characters to life, then having them interact with the real-life characters almost seamlessly.  The girl is very cute also.

1.  “I Want To Know What Love Is”, Foreigner– What a great song.  This may be the best power ballad of all time.  The vocals are great, and adding the gospel choir brought it to a whole new level.  The keyboard, as with most good power ballads, is great also.

Top 20 80s Pop/Rock Songs (Category)

Top 20 1980’s Pop/Rock Songs By Year (Criteria)

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1980

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1981

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1982

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1983

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1984

 

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1986

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1987