The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 110 to 101
Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone.
110. “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” Pink Floyd. Songwriter: Roger Waters; #1 pop; released in 1979, peaked on the charts in 1980. After the Syd Barrett era, Pink Floyd didn’t chase after hit singles; they developed concept albums for stoned headphone experiences. Until “Another Brick in the Wall,” the only Top 40 hit the band had in the U.S. during the 1970s was “Money” from “Dark Side of the Moon.” They hadn’t charted in the native U.K. since 1968’s “See Emily Play.” There are a few versions of how this single was shaped. According to producer Bob Ezrin, he felt like the song was a surefire hit, but the original recording was only one chorus and one verse, lasting less than a minute and a half. Thinking back on his experience on Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” he decided to use a children choir to repeat the first verse, reinforcing the theme of public education being more about discipline than intellectual advancement. For his part, Roger Waters has also claimed that it was his idea to have the children’s choir. And for rock audiences, it reinforced that the disco beat wasn’t just for a club experience.
109. “Cars,” Gary Numan. Songwriter: Gary Numan; #9 pop; releases in 1979, peaked on U.S. charts in 1980. Gary Numan (nee Gary Webb) started performing in English punk bands in 1976 and eventually merged the sounds of punk and Kraftwerk with science fiction inspired lyrics to create his own musical niche. As the leader of the Tubeway Army, he scored in #1 U.K. hit in 1979 with “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” The song “Cars” was a major hit in Canada and U.S., becoming one of the first new wave/ synth-pop singles to reach the mass public. Newman on the lyrical theme of Cars as a source of isolationist safety, “A couple of blokes started peering in the window and for whatever reason took a dislike to me, so I had to take evasive action. I swerved up the pavement, scattering pedestrians everywhere. After that, I began to see the car as the tank of modern society.”
108. “Burning Down the House,” Talking Heads. Songwriters: David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth; #9 pop; 1983. Music journalist Michael Gallucci, “Talking Heads’ breakout hit from their breakthrough album (‘Speaking in Tongues’) expanded on the global sounds and styles the group so enthusiastically delved into on their previous record, ‘Remain in Light.’ It’s essentially an art-school/post-punk version of P-Funk’s slippery beats and rhythms.” Drummer Chris Frantz had the original title and music for the song, after fans at a P-Funk concert implored that band to “burn down the house.” Lyrical phrases were used to fit the rhythms as opposed to conveying a story. David Byrne, “We felt it was possible to work within a kind of pop song format and kind of do what you wanted as long as you stayed within that format. And having a love of pop music, we felt that occasionally something we did kind of by accident would connect to a larger public.”
107. “Burnin’ for You,” Blue Oyster Cult. Songwriters: Donald Roeser, Richard Meltzer; #40 pop; 1981. Rock critic Richard Meltzer had a long association with Blue Öyster Cult, writing what Buck Dharma/Donald Roeser described as “Dada-esque free-association lyrics” for their early albums. Roeser on “Burnin’ for You,” “Richard would write on a typewriter and we’d have sheets of lyrics and on the page and it would look just look like poetry with a lot of lower case and free form, free association. I wrote it my garage studio. I’m quite proud of it. It’s one of Richard’s more sentimental lyrics, something he’s not known for (laughs).” Rock critic Donald Guarisco, “In typical Blue Öyster Cult style, this crafty hard rock tune mixes obtuse lyrics with sharp riffs to create a punchy but eccentrically witty rocker. On paper, ‘Burnin’ for You’ could pass as an eccentric pop tune, but Blue Oyster Cult brings it into hard rock territory with their atmospheric but powerful recording: clipped rhythm guitar and a melodic bass line push the verses along and a combination of power chords, new wave-ish synthesizer, and harmonized vocals flesh out the chorus.” As for lyrics, if you are too young to understand what a “B-side” is, you weren’t buying records during the ‘80s.
106. “New Sensations,” Lou Reed. Songwriter: Lou Reed; Did Not Chart; 1984. On the title track to his 1994 album, Lou Reed turns into Mr. Positivity, embracing his marriage, then riding his motorcycle into rural Quaker land to play a hillbilly song on a roadside diner jukebox and enjoy the company of strangers. Kurt Loder, “Never before has Reed seemed so completely and joyfully human as he does on ‘New Sensations,’ and the album’s title track provides its most radiant example: Here, cruising through the hills of Pennsylvania on his motorcycle, Reed reflects on his notorious past and rejoices in the straight married life he’s currently living. Seldom has the simple life been so appealingly portrayed.” Reed biographer Bill Brown describing the emotional pull of the song, “On the last 40 seconds of ‘New Sensations,’ the horizon in front of us keeps opening up wider and wider.”
105. “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” Stevie Wonder. Songwriter: Stevie Wonder; #5 pop/#1 R&B; 1980. Stevie Wonder paid tribute to Bob Marley with the reggae themed “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” which was released one year prior to Marley’s death from cancer. Author James Perone, “Wonder’s music and arrangement is appropriately stripped down to the sound of a ska band. The vocal echo Wonder (as the record producer) adds to the lead vocal also reflects the style of Jamaican record making.” The song was similar to “Sir Duke” in that both paid respects to music legends and were performed in the style of the artist being recognized.
104. “I Want You Back,” Hoodoo Gurus. Songwriter: Dave Faulkner; Did Not Chart; 1984. Music journalist Stewart Mason on this manic pop thrill record, “The first single by the Hoodoo Gurus immediately put the Australian quartet in the forefront of the mid-’80s power pop scene; ‘I Want You Back’ is a classic of the form, up there with Big Star’s ‘September Gurls’ or the Posies’
‘My Big Mouth.’ Musically, Alan Thorne’s production is something of a three-minute seminar on how to add hooks to a song, from the slow fade-up of the opening (a neat gimmick that not enough bands have ever used) to Dave Faulkner’s perfectly overdriven, close-miked acoustic rhythm guitar; James Baker’s just-so drum flourishes in the bridge that leads to the chorus; and (the best part) Brad Shepherd and Clyde Bramley’s near-yelled backing vocals in the choruses. Lyrically, the song is a bit of a fake-out, at first glance seeming like yet another lost-love power pop song. A slightly closer listen makes it sound like the revenge fantasy of a jilted ex, but full attention to Faulkner’s lyrics reveals it to be somewhat more mature than that: he’s not particularly broken up about the end of the relationship – ‘Then she left, as people do’ is his resigned shrug.” The Hoodoo Gurus became pop stars in their native Australia with hits like the resentful “Bittersweet” and the rocking loneliness of “What’s My Scene?”
103. “Raising Hell,” Run-D.M.C. Songwriters: Daryl McDaniels, Rick Rubin, Joseph Simmons; Did Not Chart; 1986. “Kings from Queens from Queens come Kings/We’re raisin’ hell like a class when the lunchbell rings” begins Run-D.M.C.’s best rap/rock fusion, a slamming track with beats harder than diamonds, an AC/DC style guitar riff, and lyrics proclaiming their royal status. Author Tom Moon on the production, “Shrewdly, Rick Rubin leaves the vocals untouched, so that it’s possible to hear every last bit of the electrifying volleys between Simmons and McDaniels. These endure as some of the most intense point-counterpoint rapping in hip-hop history.”
102. “Freeway of Love,” Aretha Franklin. Songwriters: Jeffrey Cohen, Narada Michael Walton; #3 pop/#1 R&B; 1985. Susan Whitall of the Detroit News, “Part of Aretha’s appeal was that she didn’t scorn pop culture, and was open to new sounds. She could sing opera, but she never lost her love of a good party and getting down.” Rolling Stone, “The lead single from Franklin’s mid-Eighties smash ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who?’ album is an exuberant electro-soul jam that honors the combined power of the open road, the pink Cadillac and Aretha Franklin’s inimitable voice. Zoomin’ was produced by Narada Michael Walden, who was brought in to orchestrate the album by Arista bigwig Clive Davis. ‘I had written ‘Freeway of Love’ for myself,’Walden told Billboard in 2003. ‘But I flipped it and rewrote the lyrics for her. However, all those little (ad-libs) in that song, like ‘better than ever street,’ were things she worked up off the top of her head.” Franklin’s lusty vocal and Clarence Clemons’ exuberant sax solo combined for pop-soul gold, with the song reaching Number Three on the Hot 100 and snagging her a Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammy for the 10th time.”
101. “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” The Gap Band. Songwriters: Lonnie Simmons, Rudy Taylor, Charlie Wilson; #31 pop/#2 R&B; 1981. Blogger Jeff Terich, “As the Gap Band eased into the ’80s, so did their technology, with big, beefy synthesizers taking over where fat basslines once were. The synths at the heart of ‘You Dropped a Bomb on Me’ are the main attraction, vibing and pulsing while Wilson pursues an extended metaphor for being turned on by a fine female.” With its whistling bomb sound effect, this tale of being sexually awestruck has remained relevant as an arena rock jock jam. Justin Baker, Memphis Grizzlies Click Effects Operator, “’You Dropped a Bomb on Me’ not only signals immediate crowd happiness – but when you play it out at regular events people act like their team just hit the big shot and go nuts just the same.”