Inspired by last Sunday’s polarizing episode of Masters Of Sex which struggled with the thorny question of what it means to be a man, here are a bunch of new wave songs which touch, however tenuously on the subject of masculinity.
“I Need A Man,” The Eurythmics
When I interviewed fellow forty something Amy Poehler last week, she gushed about her 80s idols — Annie Lennox, Cyndi Lauper — and how, unlike today’s female pop stars, she never got a real sense of what they looked like without their clothes. “I knew their bodies of work, not their bodies,” Poehler said. The first time we glimpsed Lennox she was pounding her fist on a boardroom in “Sweet Dreams,” and she continued that show of strength with “I Need A Man”:
“I don’t need a heartbreaker
Fifty-faced trouble maker
Two timing time taker
Dirty little money maker
Muscle bound cheap skate
Low down woman hater
Triple crossing double dater
Yella bellied alligator…”
“Demolition Man,” Grace Jones
Speaking of strong women, Grace Jones scared the shit out of me — and that was long before she was cast as Bond villain May Day in A View to a Kill. Written by Sting (and later recorded by the Police), and produced by Chris Blackwell and Alex Sadkin, it not only has a cover of “Warm Leatherette” on the b-side, but another song called “Bullshit.” (plus Grace Jones also recorded a song called “I Need A Man”- jb bringing the Grace Jones facts)
“I’m Your Man,” Wham!
George Michael would go on to write and record many a mature, sophisticated classic after his split from Andrew Ridgeley, but never again would he record anything as infectious and youthful as this number. How much fun is this to sing along to? (Although the “ain’t no such word as “no” could be misconstrued as a bit rape-u in today’s overly PC times.)
“Who Can It Be Now?” Men At Work
The charts were a paranoid place in the early 80s, thanks to a trio of stalker anthems: Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and this first big hit from these Vegemite eaters from Down Under. Men At Work would go on to be kind of a joke band (thanks to their image; the songs were solid). However, we didn’t know anything about them when “Who Can it Be Now?” was released, and this song — and creepy video with the lazy-eyed Colin Hay — was like a sneak attack.
“Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!”, Devo
Ok, so this is an album. But, continuing with the fear-factor theme, the single “Jocko Homo” still weirds me out to this day. In Mad World: The Book, JB likens it to “the national anthem for a country I never wanted to visit.” And the video is a Twilight Zone episode.
“Mirror Man,” Human League
You learn something new every day! Apparently the titular subject is none other than Adam Ant. According to Phil Oakey, Ant was such a big star at this point (1982) that he seemed in danger of believing his own hype.
“I Love A Man In A Uniform,” Gang Of Four
Ah, the go-go eighties, when a bunch of British Marxists could write a song that mocked the patriarchy and the military-industrial complex and get America dancing to it.
“How Men Are,” Aztec Camera
Roddy Frame, troubadour of East Kilbride, on the outskirts of Glasgow. How does a guy whose songwriting abilities grew richer over the years just fade from view? Mainstream success makes some artists stagnate, it just made Roddy Frame write even more satisfying songs. Like this one, which asks the time-honored question, “Why should it take the tears of a woman to see how men are?”
“Marching Men,” Rich Kids
When I talked to Midge Ure for MW:TB, we discussed the massive hype the Rich Kids received and how it was never met by commensurate success. He said that this song was the direction he and drummer Rusty Egan wanted to take but the rest of the Rich Kids hated it so much it broke the band up and ultimately pointed the way towards Visage and Ultravox. The video is embarrassing on an almost heroic level.
“The Man Who Dies Everyday,” Ultravox
From the John Foxx incarnation. Too synthy for the punk audience they still courted, too sneery for the burgeoning electronic audience, early Ultravox were marooned in no man’s land. But it’s not hard to hear their influence on early Gary Numan and Simple Minds.
“I Don’t Depend On You,” The Men
After Virgin snapped up the first incarnation of The Human League, the label suddenly decided it’s new signing was a little on the strange and alienating side so it insisted they take a shot at making a commercial record. The result was this peppy number produced by early Duran knobman Colin Thurston and somewhat contrarily released under the moniker The Men. It doesn’t sound that far removed from something that might have shown up on “Dare” a couple of years down the line.
“Yesterday’s Men,” Madness
Bleak as ever, this is a long weary sigh as the promise of youth fades away and middle-aged conformity looms ever closer.
“The Man With The Child In His Eyes,” Kate Bush
Even back in the comparatively innocent days of 1978, eyebrows were raised by this song inspired by Lewis Carroll’s relationship with Alice Riddell, the seven year-old who inadvertently acted as Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” muse. From the vantage point of 2014, when Britain is awash in a murky paedophilia-in-high-places scandal that’s only going to dig up even more geriatric politicians, pop stars, priests, dj’s and comedians previously protected by the establishment, this wistful ballad sounds like a nightmare. (Bush fans are begging her to remove recently incarcerated octogenarian child-harasser Rolf Harris and his trademark digeridoo from the title track of her album The Dreaming.)