By the end of the past spring, my K-Tel obsession had lost a good deal of its momentum. I’d already picked up the most obvious and essential compilations and my interest had started to drift toward cowpunk and Paisley Underground obscurities that went overlooked during my Nineties vinyl collecting days.
The few K-Tel releases I did acquire during the slack period came from the tail end of the label’s golden era, when the eclectic and “anything goes” messiness of the late 70s and early 80s begun hardening into the videogenic and overproduced bombast of the Big Pop era.
It was the last time I gave an earnest shit about contemporary pop music, and even that was largely driven by the power of the promotional mini-movies which had grown to eclipse the songs themselves. I have incredibly mixed memories about the time, which also happened to coincide with me starting junior high and moving out of North Woburn.
I got Let’s Beat It as part of a K-Tel Class of 1984 two-fer with the previously discussed Hit Mix. In keeping with the era’s spirit of corporatized charity, the album was compiled and marketed as a benefit effort on behalf of some cancer research organization. Not only did that branding allow K-Tel to surf the prevailing zeitgeist, but it also allowed K-Tel to land some acts (Macca and Jacko, namely) which would’ve been too rich for the label’s licensed lifeblood.
A1 Paul McCartney And Michael Jackson – Say Say Say
A2 Cyndi Lauper - Girls Just Want To Have Fun
A3 The Cars – You Might Think
A4 Olivia Newton-John – Twist Of Fate
A5 Journey – Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
A6 Asia – Heat Of The Moment
A7 Quiet Riot – Cum On Feel The Noize
B1 Michael Jackson – Human Nature
B2 Billy Joel – Tell Her About It
B3 Men At Work – Down Under
B4 The Police – Every Breath You Take
B5 Pat Benatar – Love Is A Battlefield
B6 Daryl Hall & John Oates – Maneater
B7 Dan Fogelberg – The Language Of Love
The track list is fairly solid, and light years ahead of Hit Mix‘s when it comes to reflecting my immediate pre-teen tastes. Seven of the fourteen tracks manage to clear my “fondly regarded” threshold, and several of those I’d qualify as genuine favorites. That’s a pretty high ratio for K-Tel, yet it works against the album when it comes to deciding what to toss on the turntable during my down time.
As I’ve said before, these period compilations appeal to me because of their holistic nature. They capture the warts-and-all sounds of a given moment, rather than just the low-hanging fruits of selective memory.
That evocative power can cut both ways. I’m fine with listening to “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” or “Love Is A Battlefield” on their own. Hearing them lumped together in a playlist with other familiar ditties of that era is disconcerting in the extreme, however. For every fond memory it rekindles, it dredges up a barrel full of unpleasant ones, the nostalgia buzz harshed by waves of vague residual anxiety.
1984 wasn’t even a particularly traumatic year for me, but it demarcates a hard boundary between my childhood and everything since. My jaundiced view of the mid-Eighties is as much a reaction to that adolescent snap to sharp focus as it is about any cultural trends or artifacts. The past is full of ghosts, and some of them can be down right malevolent.