Forget about the synthetic “oonce oonce” of techno: Latin music is the ultimate form of dance music. Something about the combination of layered percussion, bright horns and lively polyrhythms makes for an undeniable and joyous groove which, we speculate, is exactly the reason why so many well-known artists chose to incorporate these elements into their recorded output during the “80s.
The songs on this list comprise the best Reagan-era attempts at mixing mainstream pop music with either Latin or Afro-Caribbean inspired sounds. Some of the artists featured below worked frequently in this hybrid style, while others were simply dyed-in-the-polyester pop stars trying to cash in on a new fad. Either way, these tunes all are equally deserving of heavy, heavy rotation on Ann Arbor radio stations.
10. “Hot, Hot, Hot” by Buster Poindexter
Ole, ole, ole! This salsa-inflected number recently set a Guinness world record by inspiring the highest number of wedding reception conga lines in just one hour (exactly 43). “Hot, Hot, Hot” marked the biggest career hit for Poindexter, a saxman and bandleader best known for his alleged role as the ghost of Christmas past in Bill Murray”s “Scrooged” (“Hot, Hot Hot” is not to be confused with “Ho ho ho”).
9. “Pass the Dutchie” by Musical Youth
An early anthem in the war for marijuana legalization, “Pass the Dutchie” shocked the world as Musical Youth”s five Rastafarian youngsters glorified, through their catchy, kiddie-reggae tune, the smoking and subsequent passing to the left of pot. In 1982, the underage members of Musical Youth were brought before an antiquated, white-wigged federal court on two counts of possession with intent to sell as well as resisting arrest, but after breaking into a spirited rendition of “Dutchie,” all charges were dropped.
8. “The Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge
After polishing their gospel-style vocal chops Sundays at the Fountain Street Church, the DeBarge family broke out of the fertile Grand Rapids music scene with “Rhythm of the Night.” Well-known pop music critic John Gonzalez called it “the most authentic expression of feel-good Latin energy by a West Michigan group since “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe.” Rumor has it that El DeBarge progeny Chico DeBarge still can feel the rhythm of the night, and that he indeed dances until the morning light.
7. “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon
As his 1986 Graceland album is the epitome of bastardizing er, incorporating distinctly African musical elements, it”s no surprise that Rhymin” Simon is represented on this list. The hard part, though, is selecting just one song from this excellent collection of slyly appropriated musical collaborations. We went with “Al” because we”re big Chevy Chase fans. According to popular legend, the song”s title was inspired by Ladysmith Black Mbambazo member Alangoneyou Dhamshombo who said to Simon, “Mr. Paul, you can call me Al, because you”re too fucking lazy to learn my given name.”
6. “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC
“Well the walls were shakin”/The earth was quakin”/My mind was achin”/We were makin” it” this one speaks for itself.
5. “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel was originally the singer for Genesis, an art rock band from England. After being replaced by Phil Collins, Gabriel moved to South Africa, where he lived in a shanty-town for several years, learning local customs and living with a woman who spoke no English. Legend has it that this track was originally called “Flies Are Breeding (In Your Eyes),” and was inspired by Gabriel”s memories of the multitude of malnourished corpses preyed on by swarms of mosquitos. When he returned Stateside, a lengthy, half-coherent speech by John Cusack, who for encouragement held aloft a boom-box blasting Collins” “Sussudio,” convinced Gabriel to change the tune to a more accessible, groove-inflected romantic ode to red-eye syndrome.
4. “Africa” by Toto
Toto was Dorothy”s dog Dorothy was swept up in a tornado and sent to Oz. Speaking of Oz, that place was just as foreign to Dorothy as Africa must have been to Toto the band when they wrote this slice of new-age cheese, what with their distinctly non-African synthesizers and overwhelming whiteness. “Boys,” a Columbia Records exec. must have said, chomping on a cigar and throwing his arm around the shoulders of drummer Jeff Porcaro, “You ain”t never been to Africa, have you?” No, sir. “Well, that”s alright. With a beguilingly alluring chorus like that, each of you should make yourselves enough scratch to fund your very own African rhino safari.”
3. “Red, Red Wine” by UB40
“Red, Red Wine” combines a blissed-out tune with immaculate production, a slick pseudo-reggae sound and one all-important X-factor: An appeal to Americans” weak-kneed longing for vin rouge. Sure, purists might note that while an authentic reggae outfit like Third World would rather cruise the streets of Kingston and pass big spleefs back and forth, this inauthentic reggae band from the not-so-mean streets of Birmingham, England, chose to record a Neil Diamond song devoted to a drug that you can purchase at any corner liquor store. But guess which band had a hit on VH-1?
2. “Kokomo,” by the Beach Boys
The Beach Boys rose to fame with songs that were about all the best California had to offer girls, fast cars and surfing, namely. But by 1986, the Golden State just wasn”t cutting it as a source of pop song fodder. For truly faddish subject matter, you had to look to super-exotic locales like those showcased in “Miami Vice,” Jimmy Buffett tunes or the Christopher Atkins-vehicle “The Blue Lagoon.” This in mind, Beach Boys vocalist Mike Love assembled his remaining beach brethren to record “Kokomo,” a tune that name-checked Caribbean provinces like a 7th-grader frantically trying to finish his geography report. It”s not brimming with genius like the oldies, but you gotta respect the kitschy “tropical” melody as well as the video, which features TV legend John Stamos on drums and Mr. Love miming the Kenny G-style sax solo.
1. “All Night Long (All Night)” by Lionel Richie
Unlike Madonna, Prince and several other pop stars who turned out an armload of hits during the “80s, Lionel Richie was never terribly obsessed with “reinventing” himself, not counting that one time when he quit the Commodores, grew that wicked jherri-curl and became an introspective ladies” man. But with “All Night Long (All Night)” Richie cast himself as an easy-listening pied piper, summoning anyone who would listen and especially wearers of pastels, drinkers of wine coolers and your mom, too to get their lite-funk groove on. This No. 1 marked the first time since he lent his voice to the “dores “Brickhouse” that Lionel went out of his way to make some feel-good music, and the party-time horns, silky synths and multi-ethnic chants certainly didn”t hurt his cause. “Hello. Is it me you”re looking for?” No, Lionel, we ain”t looking for nothin” but a good time, and so long as this tune is on the stereo, we”ve just called to say thanks for the merriment. Let the music play on play on play on …