As I grew older, I gained an appreciation for the premise of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”, which for the record is great. However, this was released when I was 11 and back then the song grabbed my attention for two reasons: it was once theme music on Saturday morning WWF programming, and I really (really) liked singing the whole “Kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down” lines over and over again.
Of course, Dirty Laundry was far more than just catchy hooks and awesome keyboard riffs. It’s a rousing, melodic, categorical nasty assault on the mainstream media.
The inspiration for Henley doing Dirty Laundry stemmed from the heartlessness media reports in the eyes of many that encompassed the deaths of John Belushi and Natalie Wood at the beginning of the 80s. Soon after journalists would converge all over Henley after he got pinched for contributing to the delinquency of a minor while also possessing weed, coke and ludes.
I worked in the media for several years— well I did if you include basement blogging and writing for countless shitty print rags, but I digress. Anyway, I came to know several journalistic terms and “is the head dead yet” is among them. It means once something is being printed (or in today’s age, posted and screenshotted) it cannot be changed. Henley uses this lingo, masterfully in his song.
Dirty Laundry was Henley’s first major hit as a solo artist and my personal favorite. That’s saying plenty, as I greatly admire much of his work; especially The End of Innocence, Boys of Summer, The Last Worthless Evening and Heart of the Matter. I truly love Henley’s voice—so much that were I putting together of Mt. Rushmore of pop male vocalists Henley would be a strong contender to find his face on it.
Chart Success: It peaked at number-three on the Billboard Hot 100. It remained on the charts for 19 weeks and finished 1983 ranked 34th on the year-end Billboard Hot 100.
Great Lyrics: This may be the most contemptuously disapproving tune about mainstream media ever.
“We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blond
Who comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry
Can we film the operation?
Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom got a running bet
Get the widow on the set
We need dirty laundry”
Fun Facts: This is what Songfacts.com says about Dirty Laundry: “The lyrics make fun of news anchors who are more concerned with their looks than accurately reporting the news. Many local news stations have at least one “bubble headed bleach blond.” The folks who work behind the scenes in local news are usually well aware of the superficial and vapid product they create, and many stations have used this song on their TV station blooper reels. Before YouTube, these local news bloopers lived on tapes tucked away in the dark corners of newsrooms.”
100. Hall & Oates – I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)
99. Michael McDonald – I Keep Forgetting
97. The Police – Every Little Thing She Does Does Is Magic
96. Madonna – Papa Don’t Preach
94. Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time
93. Kenny Loggins – Danger Zone
92. Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes
89. Journey – Don’t Stop Believing
87. Debbie Gibson – Foolish Beat
86. Glen Mederios – Nothing’s Going To Change My Love For You
85. John Cougar – Jack and Diane
81. Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
79. Shelia E. – The Glamorous Life
77. Whitney Houston – Greatest Love Of All
76. Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – Say Say Say
75. Flock of Seagulls – I Ran (So Far Away)
74. Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It
73. Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie
72. The Police – Every Breathe You Take
71. Survivor – The Search Is Over
70. REO Speedwagon – Keep On Loving You
68. Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel
67. Kenny Loggins – Meet Me Halfway
66. Irene Cara – Flashdance…What A Feeling
65. Tina Turner – What’s Love Got To Do With It
64. Phil Collins – One More Night
63. Europe – The Final Countdown
62. Patrick Swazye – She’s Like The Wind
61. Matthew Wilder – Break My Stride
60. Men Without Hats – Safety Dance
59. Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
58. Huey Lewis & The News – Power Of Love
55. Styx – Too Much Time On My Hands
53. Olivia Newton John – Physical
49. Marvin Gaye- Sexual Healing
48. Huey Lewis & The News – Do You Believe In Love
44. New Edition – Mr. Telephone Man
43. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA
42. Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
41. Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody
39. Bruce Springsteen – Dancing In The Dark
38. Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
37. Christopher Cross – Sailing
34. Foreigner – I Want To Know What Love Is
33. Pat Benatar – Love Is A Battlefield
32. USA For Africa- We Are The World
30. Kenny Loggins – I’m Free (Heaven Helps The Man)
29. Dexys Midnite Runners – Come On Eileen
28. J. Geils Band – Centerfold
27. Hall & Oates – Private Eyes
24. Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now
23. Eddie Murphy – Party All The Time
22. Jermaine Stewart – We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off