The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 100 to 90
She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean.
100. “Have I Told You Lately,” Van Morrison. Songwriter: Van Morrison; Did Not Chart; 1989. “Have I Told You Lately” is either a paean to God or a not so silly love song (a frequent wedding number, per Wikipedia). Author Brian Hinton, “One of the finest love songs of the century, which I remember devastated me when I first heard it, as it seemed both something never quite said before, and yet a song I felt I had known forever. Earthly love transmutes into that for God, just like in Dante, ‘there’s a love that’s divine and it’s yours and it’s mine.’ The morning sun has set by the end of the song, suggesting love shading into death, but subtly.” Written in the style of a classic pop (as in pre-rock ‘n’ roll era) ballad, “Have I Told You Lately” was a major international hit for Rod Stewart in 1993.
99. “Rock with You,” Michael Jackson. Songwriter: Rod Tempterton; #1 pop/#1 R&B; released in 1979, peaked on the charts in 1980. “So much uptempo dance music is threatening, but I liked the coaxing, the gentleness, taking a shy girl and letting her shed her fears rather than forcing them out of her,” Jackson recalled, describing “Rock with You.” Rolling Stone, “Arguably the last hit of the classic disco era, this chart-topper remains one of the great seduction jams in modern R&B, a template for countless wanna-be mirror-ball lotharios, wrapped in vibrant string arrangements and poised halfway between a silk-sheet ballad and a dance-floor burner.” Rock critic Bill Wyman, “Rod Temperton’s graceful stunner, which manages to be a disco song — a potent one — but also an easy-listening classic. Jones’s horn arrangements are terrific. This is the second song on ‘Off the Wall’; after the falsetto on ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,’ Jackson here reveals his adult voice. He’d just turned 21.”
98. “Lovergirl,” Teena Marie. Songwriter: Teena Marie; #4 pop/#9 R&B; 1984. Teena Marie sounded like a Liz Phair who could actually sing when proclaiming, “I just want to be your lovergirl/I just want to rock your world,” following the introduction of, “Coffee, tea or me baby, touche ole.” Marie had sued Motown in 1982 (“every good artist needs a lawsuit” she once quipped to Billboard) and had her only major crossover hit on Epic Records with “Lovergirl,” a mixture of dance, funk, rap, and rock music. Marie on her unique identity in pop music, “I’m a black artist with white skin. At the end of the day you have to sing what’s in your own soul.” Rick James, “Never in my life had I heard such a range with so much passion.”
97. “Mirror in the Bathroom,” The English Beat. Songwriters: Ranking Roger, Andy Cox, Everett Morton, David Steele, Dave Wakeling; Did Not Chart; 1980. Dave Wakeling, explaining, if you’d like to believe it, that the lyrics were not inspired by cocaine, “It was thinking about how self-involvement turns into narcissism and how narcissism turns into isolation, and then how isolation turns into self-involvement again, and how what a vicious cycle that can become.” Blogger Jim Connelly, “Kicking off with an Everett Morton drumroll that instantly gets subsumed into David Steele’s churning bass, Saxa’s sneaking sax and the airy guitars of Dave Wakeling and Andy Cox, ‘Mirror in The Bathroom’ in tunneling inside your head even before Dave Wakeling opens his mouth to sing. It’s as energetic as any punk song of the era, yet totally light on its feet. It’s not quite full-blown reggae or ska either, though it would fit in any playlist of either genre. It’s a whole new thing. There is no real chorus to ‘Mirror in the Bathroom.’ And in fact every time you expect a chorus, here comes Saxa with an extended saxophone solo, carefully choosing his notes as if he’s trying to slow the song down, but totally failing.”
96. “Wild and Blue,” John Anderson. Songwriter: John Scott Sherrill; #1 country; 1982. There were some strange bedfellows at the top of the country charts in 1982. The single named act Sylvia had a #1 country song with “Nobody,” as in “your nobody called today and she hung up when I asked your name.” It’s a pop tune that sounds like a poorly produced Olivia Newton John single. On the other end of the spectrum, the John Scott Sherrill penned “Wild and Blue” is as country as moonshine and kicks like a Tennessee mule. John twangs on steroids on this heartbreak number that was his first #1 song. Songwriter John Scott Sherrill, “I’d been breaking up with my wife and I’d been seeing this other gal who was definitely wild and blue. She’s the girl in that song. She could party and rock harder than anyone I’d known, and just keeping up with her was like a full time job. I’d been sitting around trying to get the phrase ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ in a song, and I started thinking about my girlfriend at the time, and all of the sudden I realized she was the one that was wild and blue.” Also, check out the cover versions by two outstanding female artists – Sally Timms of the Mekons and Lucinda Williams.
95. “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” Guns N’ Roses. Songwriters: Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler; #1 pop; 1988. Rolling Stone, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ was born out of a spontaneous jam the members of the band undertook very late in the sessions for Appetite for Destruction. Axl wrote lyrics about his girlfriend Erin Everly, even if he never quite finished them. The line, ‘Where do we go now?’ was originally an honest question. He didn’t know where to take the song at that point, but it seemed to fit and so it stayed in. It became their only Number One hit in America. Rock critic Steve Huey, “Boasting one of the most memorable guitar intros in the history of rock & roll (and there have been quite a few), ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ made Guns N’ Roses superstars. It is the perfect distillation of everything that made Guns N’ Roses’ original lineup so great, and it’s almost incomprehensible that a band wearing its hearts so transparently on its sleeves could also record some of the most self-indulgently offensive hard rock songs of the decade. Yet it’s also evidence of the passion the band brought to both sides of the equation, dramatizing love and hate with equal intensity. The song was an instant classic, and hasn’t lost an ounce of its potency since its release.” From the Rock Hall website, “The song also established lead guitarist Slash as a bona fide guitar hero. With his signature top hat, wild shock of hair and low-slung Gibson Les Paul, Slash struck a singular presence and had the memorable chops to match. The intro to ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ ranks among rock’s great guitar riffs while the main guitar solo translated the mid-tempo rock song’s romantic sentiment into a blistering passage with evocative blues licks and pentatonic runs, and wah-wah effects.”
94. “I Will Dare,” The Replacements. Songwriter: Paul Westerberg; Did Not Chart; 1984. Replacements guru Peter Jesperson, “The joke was, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to be rich! He’s written THE song.’” Author Bob Mehr, ‘I Will Dare’ was another song influenced by the anthemism of U2. ‘That might have been another answer to ‘I Will Follow,’ said Westerberg. ‘Part of it has to do with the band: we’ll dare to flop, we’ll dare to do anything. ‘I Will Dare’ was a good slogan for a Replacements single. On the other hand, it was a kind of love song: ‘Ditch the creep and I’ll meet you later. I don’t care, I will dare.’ The song’s element of illicit romance was rooted in Westerberg’s reality. ‘I think Paul had some dalliances with girls that he probably shouldn’t have at that time,’ noted one of the band’s confidantes. After getting the basic take down, Westerberg borrowed Peter Buck’s twelve-string electric Rickenbacker to add to the song’s jangle, while the bouncy riff that threaded the tune was Bob Stinson’s invention. Buck delivered a spindly sixties folk-rock figure (solo), à la the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Zal Yanovsky. ‘That’s exactly who I was thinking of when I did it,’ said Buck. ‘It only took a minute.’”
93. “Middle of the Road,” The Pretenders. Songwriter: Chrissie Hynde; #19 pop; 1984. Timothy and Elizabeth Bracy of Stereogum, “The lead track from (the 1984 album) ‘Learning To Crawl’ is a killer garage style rocker in which Hynde makes utterly apparent that she has lost nothing off her fastball in the period required to reconstitute the Pretenders. To the contrary, this is one of the great rockers in the catalog — a litany of the villainous industry flacks who would compel Hynde both into a more radio friendly (MOR) sound as well as into their chosen lifestyle of excess fueled decadence. Hynde, for the record, will have nothing to do with it: ‘I’m not the kind I used to be/I gotta kid /I’m 33’ she memorably avers, shaking off her previous party girl image with the assurance of one who knows that edgy and grown up are not mutually exclusive propositions.” Chrissie Hynde performed a harmonica solo that sounded like a hard rock guitar solo, rescuing that instrument from the teary folk crowd.
92. “Changed the Locks,” Lucinda Williams. Songwriter: Lucinda Williams; Did Not Chart; 1988. The daughter of college professor/poet Miller Williams, Lucinda Williams spent most of the 1970s as a folk singer, living in Louisiana, Texas, and New York. During her late twenties, Williams recorded two albums for the Folkways label – one a collection of blues standards (1979’s “Ramblin’”) and the other a set of original material (1980’s “Happy Woman Blues”). After several years of honing her writing skills and avoiding record deals that didn’t fit her vision, she released the “Lucinda Williams” album in 1988 on Rough Trade Records and it’s one of the best singer/songwriter efforts of the decades. Lucinda details how to avoid an unwanted ex-lover on “Changed the Locks.” In addition to getting a new set of keys, Lucinda decides to change her phone number, her car, her clothes, the path of the railroad tracks, and the name of her town. There are poor cover versions of “Changed the Locks” in the universe by Tom Petty and Johnny Cash. Never trust a man to do a job built for and by Lucinda.
91. “You Shook Me All Night Long,” AC/DC. Songwriters: Angus Young, Malcolm Young, Brian Johnson; #35 pop; 1980. Roger Lotring of Loudwire on this American thighs rocker, “The familiar jangling guitar leading to the drum beat is so familiar, by now, ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ can be easily recognized by just the first few notes. Phil Rudd’s strategic cymbal crashes throughout the guitar solo are a masterful syncopated hook.” AC/DC biographer Jesse Fink, “Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, ‘You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long.’’ That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions. I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like ‘She told me to come but I was already there.’ Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-’80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was. What’s also really interesting is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s ‘Never Been Any Reason.’ I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.”