By Jack Sharkey, August 18, 2017



Social conscience began to creep into our collective MTV-fueled soundtrack. Sure, there were tons of songs about love, lust and all of that fun stuff, but pop was also sending messages again.   


You Can Call Me Al - Paul Simon Goofy video aside, there is no way to put in context today how much angst and furor Simon's 1986 album Graceland casued when it was released. In 1980, United Nations Resolution 35/206 effectively banned artists from performing in apartheid ruled South Africa. Artists like Queen and Rod Stewart were harshly criticized for accepting big fees to play at South Afrtica's Sun City resort. Simon didn't perform in South Africa, but he did go there to record with local musicians - a gray area of the resolution but one that was scrutinized and criticized all the same. History shows that maybe Simon's introduction of South African music and musicians to the rest of the world may have done more to publicize the apartheid state than the boycott did. 


Walk This Way - Run DMC / Aerosmith Eleven years after Aerosmith had a minor hit with their ode to teenage lust, Run DMC and the band joined up to completely break down the barriers between rock & roll and hip-hop. Until 1986, hip-hop was really only popular among urban kids (regardless of color) and on some college campuses. After this song hit the airwaves and the tongue-in-cheek video hit MTV, all bets were off and hip-hop was mainstream.   


That's What Friends Are For - Dionne & Friends AIDS was a full-blown epidemic and no one really knew what the cause was or how safe anyone was from contracting this new horrible disease. It seemed everyone knew someone who had been taken from us because of AIDS and a cloud of doubt and fear hung thickly in the air in the summer of 1986. That's What Friends Are For was originally written by Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer-Sager in 1982. In 1986 Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight took the somewhat sappy ballad and put a human face to the epidemic with proceeds all going to AIDS research and prevention charities.   


Sledgehammer - Peter Gabriel The most played video in the history of MTV, Sledgehammer featured the Memphis Horns and some fabulous soul riffs, but no one cared. It was the video that caught everyone's attention and for good reason. In the days before computers did our art, this video was like nothing ever seen before - because no one had ever seen anything like it before. Gabriel spent sixteen hours under a plate of glass as the stop-action scenes were filmed, but video magic aside, So and Sledgehammer are fabulous songs to test your audio system with, even thirty years later.


Papa Don't Preach - Madonna The Material Girl had way better songs (including Material Girl) and in fact a lot of people had way better songs in 1986, but very few (if any) shook up the old folks like Madonna's Papa Don't Preach did. Some people said the song promoted teenage pregnancy while others said it was a positive message about something that wasn't exactly a new problem - no matter, everyone was talking about the song and within eight weeks it had become Madonna's fourth consecutive Number One single.



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