Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Don’t You Forget About Me / OMGWTFLOL: Donna Summer & Musical Youth’s “Unconditional Love” (1983)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 25, 2007

“The kind of love I deserve, the kind I want to return”

I’ve been hooked for some years now on these sporadically released 12″ / 80s compilations. What these comps do is take 80s songs that everybody knows (if you were a teenager in the 80s…and living in the UK at the time…) and present them in their original 12″ format–the unedited, dancefloor-ready extended versions that you’re not too likely to hear on the radio these days, unless your local station is awesome and does an 80s club night on Saturdays or something. Consequently, you get to hear some of the best pop songs of the 80s–INXS’s “Need You Tonight,” Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life,” Duran Duran’s “The Reflex”–in ways you’ve never really heard them before, tight pop songs stretched out into (extremely decade-dated) dance epics. For many, the mere idea of this would be grounds for uncontrollable nausea, but for listeners such as myself, the hefty $40 price tags are negligible compared to the thrill of getting an extra couple minutes of The Blow Monkeys’ “Diggin’ Your Scene.” Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah.

An additional thrill of these comps, as exemplified by the All-Pop edition I picked up last week (which, as far as I can tell, bears no discernible thematic difference whatsoever to the last two), is that you also get to hear some 80s gems that had either been obscured by time or by trans-continental divides (apparently, in the UK, Soft Cell had several albums’ worth of hits–who knew?) And so in addition to containing a blissfully dubbed out extendo “Pass the Dutchie” (is there anyone on the planet that could possibly not like this song), 12″/80s Pop also contains kiddie-reggae wonders Musical Youth’s near-2nd hit, “Unconditional Love,” a duet with disco diva Donna Summer that almost scraped the top 40 in 1983 (#43, so close). It’s not quite as all-encompassingly adorable as “Pass the Dutchie”–what could be?–but it deserves more than mere footnote status in a career most assume could be summed up in one song.

I’d previously heard “Unconditional Love” mentioned on either a pop-up video or VH1’s 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonder List, where they also noted that Donna Summer’s love for Musical Youth “proved to not be unconditional” when she refused to perform with them, or something. Indeed, Musical Youth are not even credited on the song, meaning that even if it had managed to break into the top 40, it still technically wouldn’t have disqualified the boys from OHW status. C’mon, Donna, even superdiva Diana Ross managed not to screw the Jackson Five over. Have a heart.

Regardless of the behind-the-scenes drama, the song is all sweetness. A bubbly pop number from that wonderfully uncomfortable musical period stuck in between disco, synth-pop and freestyle, the song sparkles with the innocence and joy of an early New Edition number, though unfortunately missing an NE-style breakdown section (“U is for her Understanding / N ‘coz she’s Never Demanding…”) In fact, it’s Donna Summer that seems like the guest on this song, her vocal sounding distant and phoned-in, and the Jamaican accent she adopts on the chorus sounding more than a little awkward. And I wonder how appropriate lines like “Hasten just to pray / And Jah’s true word obey” would’ve sounded on “She Works Hard for the Money”–just sayin’…

It’s unlikely that you could get away with a song like this today–though it’s arguable (probable?) that the song is about love more spiritual than romantic, a song where a 35-year old woman demands the “unconditional love” of a bunch of 15-and-unders would probably encounter a few roadblocks on the way to pop success. These matters would be helped little by the song’s super-ridiculous video, which features Summer as the boys’ schoolteacher, eventually busting out of her frumpy working woman’s outfit into a blue sequin dress, and leading the boys to skip school and frolic with some keystone cops. The vid’s worth watching if only for the scene where Musical Youth literally break into the classroom (an obligatory scene for any video in 1983, pretty much), presumably because they were late for class. Mrs. Summer reacts by handing each of the boys what appears to be a set of chopsticks. Is this how schools’ disciplinary systems worked in the 80s?

The AMG is pretty wild over the Youth’s debut album, Youth of Today, as well. Anyone wanna confirm or deny this? (Here’s the 12″, by the way)

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One Response to “Don’t You Forget About Me / OMGWTFLOL: Donna Summer & Musical Youth’s “Unconditional Love” (1983)”

  1. Colette said

    Im more in two like more recent singers and groups but the old stuff is good too….
    like the Monkeys and Johnny Mathis ppl like that..

    what groups/singers do you like that are current?

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