Pop and rock music boasts more than its share of name songs written about women (or, less often, about men) and plenty that use first names in the title. However, a more select group of tunes directly addresses a person in the title, maintaining that single-minded strand throughout the whole song. Here's a look, in no particular order, at some of the best music of that ilk that came out of the '80s, an interesting list of top hits and lesser-known album tracks from various genres.
The '80s was a confusing decade for the remnants of the band formerly known as Jefferson Airplane, starting with an early-'80s hard rock period and closing out with the dreadful pop of the mid-'80s. Nonetheless, the group, as fronted by the powerful singing of Mickey Thomas, forged at least one brilliant moment with this arena rock stomper from 1980. Thomas' pipes had already become legendary from his vocal performance on Elvin Bishop's wonderful "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," but because of scant contributions from Airplane members (Paul Kantner was the only one left at this point), the band was clearly moving toward dropping "Jefferson" from its name. Still, this is a solid, synth/guitar powerhouse of an arena rock/new wave tune.
This deep album track from 1988's Green Thoughts may just crystallize the band's Beatles/power pop fixation as well as any other music of its career. The track employs jangly guitars and a nearly flawless melodic structure to mesh perfectly with Pat DiNizio's lovelorn lyrics and vocals. This fine college rock band was always far more eclectic than many of its pre-alternative contemporaries, ranging from hard rock crunch to folk rock and back with great ease. DiNizio's pleading, emotional style projects the heartbroken lyrical content with much impact, and the relatively but unjustly unknown status of this tune goes a long way toward proving the Smithereens' importance as an influential and consistent '80s talent.
This is undoubtedly one of the sweetest, most innocent power ballads of the mid to late-'80s, a period steeped in oversexed hair metal versions of the form. But it's also one of the decade's finest mainstream rock, mid-tempo love songs, highly deserving of its No. 1 pop chart peak. Tom Scholz's meticulous arrangements, technical guitar prowess and songwriting perfectionism all help to make the music of Boston an always engaging listen, but it's Brad Delp's vocal performance that gives the song its depth of soul. The fall of 1986 saw many teenage girls across the nation wishing they were Amanda and a host of guys hoping futilely that Amanda would give them the time of day. Or maybe I'm just projecting there a bit.
Though misconstrued as a lovelorn ode to Hollywood actress Rosanna Arquette, this pop/rock hybrid stands up incredibly well a quarter-century later as a stirring piece of music. With lead singer Bobby Kimball augmented ably by several group member contributions, the song is really nothing short of an '80s soft rock masterpiece. Steve Lukather lays down some blistering lead guitar, and the arrangement pulls out all the stops by employing layered horn sections as well as sythesizer exultations. The result, of course, climbed to No. 2 on the pop charts and became a ubiquitous radio favorite of 1982. Chalk up another victory for failed love affairs when it comes to forging pop music nirvana, even if Arquette was not the direct inspiration.
As dance tunes go, Ready for the World's 1985 shining moment certainly has its extremely dated qualities, but ultimately it's a memorable pop confection that comes off far better than many of its drum-machine contemporaries. At least there's a little funk to be found here, and Melvin Riley's breathy vocals do a pretty good job of forming a serviceable amalgamation of Prince and Rick James. The sentiments expressed here don't come off nearly as grandiose as any of the four songs above, but this song didn't become a No. 1 pop, R&B and dance hit for nothing. This is '80s music at its most benign perhaps, but I bet few music fans that came of age in the mid-'80s don't remember it somewhat fondly.
Speaking of grandiose and over the top, Journey frontman Steve Perry showed here that he could wear his heart on his sleeve just as well flying solo as with a full-tilt arena rock band. Taking a break from his multi-platinum gig, Perry scored two major hits with this No. 3 pop smash and "Foolish Heart," both from his 1984 solo outing, Street Talk. Both hits pack in the drama, but this ballad, written for his girlfriend at the time, announces its presence with authority through an a cappella opening in which Perry shouts, quite stylishly, with the aid of echo effect, "Shoulda been gone!" The music that follows doesn't differ markedly from his work with Journey, but it does confirm the singer's massive '80s chart relevance.
OK, it's impossible to argue that this is not a novelty tune, but this huge hit from 1982 is quite simply a brilliant piece of pop songwriting (orchestrated by veterans of the '70s bubblegum/glam scene) that is pulled off admirably by a choreographer/dancer temporarily playing the role of a pop singer. I remember I wore out my last shred of fifth-grade coolness by participating in a group dance/lip-synch performance to this song in front of the whole class. My reward was five years of severe dorkiness and a persistent promise that I would probably never be cool enough to do such a thing ever again. But I'm OK with that, just as Basil probably doesn't mind that her success here was as a bona fide one-hit wonder.
Lead singer Morrissey projects his mopey, lounge singer persona quite brilliantly on this tune, a casual dismissal of the title character delivered with something close to ennui. It provides a perfect opportunity for the flamboyant frontman to amp up the theatricality, an important feature of the legendary post-punk band's work that clashed magically with Johnny Marr's active, inventive guitar. Just as with Morrissey in general, there's much ambiguity floating around this song, but there's no doubt the contrast between the singer's glum lyrics and the upbeat musical mood created by Marr's ringing guitars is exhilarating. Morrissey's ironic detachment hardly has time to get established during this two-minute ditty.