Sad songs of misery, lost or unrequited love, betrayal, anguish, teardrops, helpless or hopeless love appear in every decade and there have been heartaches by the number even before Ray Price and Guy Mitchell sang that tune in 1959. Let’s take a trip back in time to the 1980s to see who sang about losing at the game of love.
In 1980, Linda Ronstadt did a remake of Hurt So Bad, a 60s song first made popular by Little Anthony and the Imperials. Linda’s version was actually the 5th cover of that song. There is always someone who falls to pieces when they run into their ex. A lot of people think Linda’s cover is better than the original, but there are still a few holdouts. Some think Little Anthony brought just a wee bit more angst to it than anyone else. That same year, The Spinners did a terrific cover of The Four Seasons’ 1966 hit, Opus 17 (Working My Way Back to You), to which they added a new twist — Forgive Me, Girl. This really gave the song of the penitent cheater a whole new lease and it was a bigger hit than the original.
In 1981, Don McLean did Roy Orbison’s much covered Crying, without coming close to the original. If I covered every cover, we’d never get to the end of the 80s, so let’s cut to the chase and say Vonda Shepard and Deana Carter sang the best female versions. Rebekah del Rio does an awesome Spanish version, Llorando. K.D. Lang also did the song in 1987 with Roy Orbison, but the vocal gymnastics she performs aren’t there to help release the agony. You’re supposed to say “Wow, K.D.!” And that defeats the purpose of wallowing now, doesn’t it? But you can wallow away with the others. REO Speedwagon came along with Keep on Loving You, “I don’t want to eat, I just wanna keep on lovin’ you.” Yes, I know he says they are still together in the song, but I think it’s all in his mind.
In 1982, that very same REO Speedwagon song showed up in the movie, Last American Virgin, and it was all in Gary’s (Laurence Monoson) mind. The Commodores sad love song, Oh, No, was also in the movie. Geeky Gary falls head over heels in love with a beautiful girl who is a pushover for his cool friend. When she ends up pregnant, Mr. Cool dumps her, and Gary pays for her abortion. Then (of course) she goes back to Mr. Cool. It should have been more like Hell, No. Human League had a big hit with their scary break-up song, Don’t You Want Me. Maybe it was just me, but that threatening line: “you better change it [your mind] back, or we will both be sorry,” always made me think of a stalker!
In 1983, Naked Eyes contributed Always Something There to Remind Me to the sad song catalog. That must have been a real nightmare. He probably couldn’t even move to a new town because they’d still have Starbucks, McDonalds, bars, movies and more bars and, well — always something there to remind him. Laura Branigan pondered the age old puzzle, How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?, while Culture Club had a hit with Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? The media had a field day with that title two decades later when Boy George went to jail for chaining a guy to a wall and whipping him.
In 1984, Madonna was on the Borderline of losing her mind. Pat Benatar thought Love was a Battlefield. Huey Lewis (and the News) wanted to know if he was getting the big kiss-off with If This is It (please let me know). Peabo Bryson wanted a second chance because If Ever You’re In My Arms Again (next time I’ll love you much better). That’s what they all say, Peabo.
In 1985, Phil Collins sang another one of those begging songs, One More Night. George Michael poured out his guilty heart (and feet) all the way to No. 1 in Careless Whisper. Such a sad and haunting song, and an appropriate choice when the breakup is your own fault.
In 1986, Bon Jovi had a monster hit with You Give Love a Bad Name, for everyone who had the misfortune to hook up with a player. Mike and the Mechanics sang All I Need is a Miracle. (see Peabo in ’84). Toto sang the lonely and ironic I’ll Be Over You.
In 1987, The Pet Shop Boys teamed up with Dusty Springfield to bring us this sad, helpless love song, What Have I Done to Deserve This? Dusty was an old hand with helpless love songs. In the 60s, she had a huge hit with You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. This was originally an Italian song she liked the melody of. She asked her friend and TV producer, Vicki Wickham, to write some English lyrics for the tune and Vicki enlisted Yardbirds’ manager, Simon Napier-Bell to help out.
In 1988, 17 year old Debbie Gibson wrote and sang Foolish Beat all the way to No.1. This is a classic song of feeling like you’ll never love anyone again when you break up with your first love and just about everyone goes through that at least once, don’t they?
In 1989, Chicago had a huge hit with the ballad Look Away, and Poison sung the blues with Every Rose has Its Thorn. Poison frontman, Bret Michaels, wrote this song after breaking up with his gal, Tracy Lewis. In a VH-1 Behind the Music special, he explained that the rose symbolized his career, which was going great but it cost him his relationship with Tracy.
Time really does heal the wounds of a broken heart if you let it. Hopefully anyone who was shedding tears in their beers back in the day, while these songs played on the jukebox, is well over it by now. There are two more 80s songs that I really think are the saddest of all. One is Suzanne Vega’s domestic violence song, Luka (1987). (The little boy who played the title character in the video was actor, Jason Cerbone, who later appeared in The Sopranos as the ill-fated Jackie Aprile, Jr.) The other is Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car (1988), a song of a young girl’s struggle to get out of poverty and be someone against some pretty high odds. Even if you have never been in either situation, these songs make you feel some powerful sympathy for anyone who has.