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How Do Today's Surf-and-Sand Hits Rank Against Yesterday's?

Comparing 2014 to 1984 beach tunes.

Pop Life

I've never been a fan of the beach. My family is about it, though, so sometime this summer I'll be sitting someplace that smells worse than a Red Lobster Dumpster introducing new grains of sand to my ass crack.

My parents were from Galveston, but they hated the beach. We never went as kids. So I never cultivated a youthful, healthy perspective by building sandcastles or finding seashells like some of you.

Baltimore rockers J. Roddy Walston & the Business (top) were one of the almost 80acts that performed at Free Press Summer Fest at Eleanor Tinsley Park last weekend.
Marco Torres
Baltimore rockers J. Roddy Walston & the Business (top) were one of the almost 80acts that performed at Free Press Summer Fest at Eleanor Tinsley Park last weekend.
Sunday turned out to be much drier than Saturday, when afternoon thunderstorms prompted FPSF officials to evacuate the park, leaving some fans to seek shelter in nearby downtown parking garages. See much more coverage at blogs.houstonpress.com
Marco Torres
Sunday turned out to be much drier than Saturday, when afternoon thunderstorms prompted FPSF officials to evacuate the park, leaving some fans to seek shelter in nearby downtown parking garages. See much more coverage at blogs.houstonpress.com

By the time I got there, I was old enough to drink beer and buy my own music; those were the things that made a beach day more bearable for me. In honor of my first true beach outing 30 years ago, and to steel myself for an imminent trip, I thought I'd see if I'll fare at least as well music-wise this summer as I did in 1984.

Van Halen, "Panama" vs. Paramore, "Ain't It Fun": In the early '80s, you listened to rock and roll at the beach. Rap was a thing, but it wasn't ubiquitous yet. Dolly and Willie were the biggest country stars in the world, but not at the beach. Although you were surrounded by them, if you listened to A Flock of Seagulls at the beach, you were begging to have sand kicked in your face. Just as they do today, kids were listening to The Doors and Zep out there. As for releases from 1984 — the year and the album — Van Halen's "Panama" was as big as the prom queen's hairdo.

The highest-charted song passing for rock on Billboard today is "Ain't It Fun." I once thought Hayley Williams could be the next Pat Benatar. She's excellent live and has a strong voice, but somewhere along the way, she became another pop singer. Advantage: 1984

Prince, "When Doves Cry" vs. DJ Snake & Lil Jon, "Turn Down for What": "When Doves Cry" was my jam when I still had a pube 'stache and weighed less than 180 pounds. That song was everywhere the summer of '84, but that didn't mean it was perfect for the beach, where people go to be carefree. How could you put your blues behind you with Prince reminding you every half-hour of his own dysfunctional relationships?

I plan on hearing "Turn Down for What" at least hourly until Labor Day. At least it sounds like a beach party. And it has a berserk music video that makes the one for "Doves" look like a trip to the funeral planner to discuss long-term arrangements. Advantage: 2014

Ray Parker Jr. "Ghostbusters" vs. Pharrell Williams, "Happy": It had been done before ("Alfie" from Alfie; "Mrs. Robinson" from The Graduate), but soundtrack music became hugely popular in the 1980s. Thanks to MTV, producers could pair songs with visuals from films and air them repeatedly. The perfect commercial.

Sadly, this sometimes resulted in songs like "Ghostbusters." There's a special kind of hatred in my dark heart for this inane song, one that hasn't waned over five American presidencies, the cancellations of 30 years' worth of TV shows or anything else we Americans use to mark time. The song's insipid "I ain't afraid of no ghosts!" was the worst thing to hear at the beach besides "Shark!" I know, you're sick of "Happy." But be happy it's not as dumb as "Ghostbusters." Advantage: 2014

Laid Back, "White Horse" vs. Calvin Harris, "Summer"

I like the fact that Harris doubles as producer and vocalist on "Summer," which should be a staple at parties — beachside or otherwise — for the next couple of months. But "White Horse" was more than a summertime party song; it still evokes an era. As everyone knows, we '80s young adults were stoking St. Elmo's Fire by snorting coke off the smalls of each others' backs. "White Horse" has all the nihilistic decadence you recall from Less Than Zero wrapped in a four-minute head-nodder. Advantage: 1984

Madonna, "Borderline" vs. Iggy Azalea, "Fancy": She came out of nowhere, has the 2014 summertime anthem and boasts an enticingly unapologetic style all her own. Like Madonna 30 years ago, Iggy Azalea is the pop star of the moment. To cop a phrase from back then, she's "tripendicular." But does she have what it takes to become The New Classic? Get back to me when she's surpassed global music superstardom to become one of the most loved, hated, emulated, written- and talked-about women of her quarter-century. Advantage: 1984

ZZ Top, "Legs" vs. Z-Ro, "Crooked Officer": Summer is a good time to celebrate local music. Every Houston artist has a mixtape or CD out, so please play some of it at the beach so we don't have to listen to pop radio stations all afternoon out there. Way back when, I'm sure I heard "Legs" at least once at Stewart Beach. Today I'm happy to hear a lot more hip-hop everywhere, and Z-Ro is a favorite.

I grew up in Hiram Clarke; he's from right next door in Mo City. In many respects, my Houston experience is way more similar to his than the Top's. If you see me out at the beach this summer, I'll be the old man playing "Crooked Officer" when the beach patrol rolls by. Advantage: 2014

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