Some songs just click with us right from the moment we first heard and continues to do so many years later. On song that connected with me from that initial moment is the Greg Kihn Band’s 1981 hit “The Break-Up Song”. To this day, whenever I hear this song, I am transported back to the summer of 1981, when that song got some medium airplay on a couple of radio stations in the Indianapolis whose signal was broadcast throughout Central Indiana. And, since I loved the song, I had to go out and buy the album.
As usual, the Greg Kihn Band’s 1981 album, RocKihnRoll, is a power pop masterpiece. But the centerpiece song was “The Break-Up Song” with the lyrical hook that “They don’t write ’em like anymore.” Which seemed to be an true and ironic statement at the same time. Often, I have attempted to write such a sentiment without success. In other words, the simpler the song sounds, probably the more difficult it is to honestly come up with a song like that. That’s why there are so many one hit wonders.
Still, as far as I am concerned, Greg Kihn should have had more hit singles than he did. In addition to “The Break-Up Song”, that feel-good, summery hit of 1981, Kihn scored again, this time with the biggest hit of his career, “Jeopardy”, which was a Top 10 hit in 1983. To be perfectly honest, I was only a lukewarm fan of that song. To me, it sounded just a bit contrived in order to succeed on MTV, even though I doubt Mr. Kihn would ever really “sell out”like that. But, if we are to be honest with each other, “The Break-Up Song” is the better song.
Right now, I am listening to the RocKihnRoll album for the first time in 25 years, and, besides all the memories associated with the album, I am pleasantly reminded of what a great album it is. Kihn is able to show off his songwriter’s ability to write pure pop for now people, as well as pop songs with a Motown undercurrent with “Womankind.” Kihn also had the ability to predict the “harder” power pop of Donnie Iris with his songs “Can’t Stop Hutin’ Myself” and “Trouble in Paradise”.
Unfortunately (or is it really fortunately? You make the call), rock history is littered with terrific journeymen songwriters like Greg Kihn. I have previously written about Marshall Crenshaw, but there are also Tim and Neil Finn of Split Enz and later Crowded House, Graham Parker and Todd Rundgren. All are fantastic songwriters, yet are met with middling sales and give-or-take critical response. To me, these are the kind of rock songwriters I enjoy, since they are all willing to take risks that may result in failure rather than staying on a path that is less artistic but much more lucrative.
My music collection is loaded with the works of those mentioned, and all the others who fit into this category. I could name drop all day long, but I would be remiss if I did not add Paul Westerberg, formerly of The Replacements; Joe Jackson; and the granddaddy songwriter of my generation, Elvis Costello. Anyway, I will always pick up new music from these people because they run contrary to the chorus of “The Break-Up Song,” since many of these aforementioned artists have recently released some of their finest work here during the 21st century.
Sure, I find joy in my older music. But, I still love to listen to the latest music by many of the artists I listened to in high school and college. Many older artists are currently experiencing a revival in their talents, so you should check out their current CDs. Graham Parker, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Pretenders and Squeeze have all released some of their finest work over the past three or so years.