The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 120 to 111
Making love to you was never second best.
120. “Me, Myself, and I,” De La Soul. Songwriters: George Clinton, Paul Huston, David Jolicouer, Vincent Mason, Kyle Mercer, Philippe Wynne; #34 pop/#1 R&B; 1989. As so often happens, De La Soul mixed something familiar with something new to break pop in 1989 with their ode to individualism “Me, Myself, and I.” Rod Houston of Tommy Boy Records, “That massive single actually was a last-minute throw-in. ’Me, Myself, and I’ was not part of the original album, but the feeling was that we needed something that would work for the radio. They were given the directive to go back and come back with something else. And they said, ‘Okay, well, we’ll do that.’ And they went and did their thing and came back and said, “Well, how about this?’ We heard that Funkadelic sample and we were like, ‘Oh, that’ll work!’” Music journalist Richard Watson, “Powered by an infectious central sample of Funkadelic’s ‘(Not Just) Knee Deep, ‘Me, Myself and I’ lit the fuse for the band’s mainstream explosion, and while the Plugs would grow increasingly weary of performing the song to pop crowds unhip to their oeuvre, the tune’s individualist ethos, if not its aesthetic, would remain central to everything that followed.”
119. “You Stupid Asshole,” The Angry Samoans. Songwriter: Mike Saunders: Did Not Chart; 1980. The Angry Samoans voiced teen male hostility with an outrageously funny and offensive sense of humor. Blogger “The Colonel” from Punk Rock News, “The Samoans were always kind of a music geek’s punk band. Started by former music critics (Lester Bangs style), these guys are to hardcore punk kind of what the ‘Scream’ movies are to horror films — part legitimate players, part self-aware satirists of the genre.” Mike Saunders admits he’s just as much of an asshole as the lover he’s dismissing, but summarizes his satisfied feelings of closure with “One, two, I’m looking at you and there ain’t nothing I miss/Three, four, I’m closing the door, ‘Cause you no longer exist.”
118. “Forever and Ever, Amen,” Randy Travis. Songwriters: Paul Overstreet, Don Schlitz; #1 country; 1987. Paul Overstreet went from sleeping in his car in Nashville to being one of the city’s most successful songwriters. He also had a string of nine Top Ten hits as a performer from 1988 to 1991. Still, he and Don Schlitz were pitching their material through the normal business process in 1987 – they hoped Travis would cut “Forever and Ever, Amen” but didn’t dream that it would become his signature song. Lyrically inspired by “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Forever and Ever, Amen” is a pledge of eternal love delivered with a smooth matter of fact confidence. With a lyric that’s clever without being cute and a tone that reflects devotion without being cloying, it’s a perfectly written and delivered country love song.
117. “Part-Time Lover,” Stevie Wonder. Songwriter: Stevie Wonder; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1985. With nothing more than drums, synthesizers, and the backing vocals of Luther Vandross, Syreeta Wright, Philip Bailey (of Earth, Wind & Fire), and Keith John (a son of Little Willie John), Stevie Wonder went to #1 on the pop, dance, R&B, and adult contemporary charts with this “knowing it’s so wrong, but feeling so right” cheating number. Wonder, “When I first heard ‘Part-Time Lover,’ I thought of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love.’ Uh-huh. It’s a combination of (The Supremes’ singles) ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ and ‘My World Is Empty Without You.’ A lot of the songs I write are from my own direct experiences. I remember when I was breaking up with this girl and I was, like, seeing this other girl. I came home and some guy called up and disguised his voice, tried to sound like one of her girlfriends to see if she was around. After I wrote ‘Part-Time Lover,’ I thought about how many people might get into trouble behind that song.”
116. “Rock the Casbah,” The Clash. Songwriters: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Topper Headon, Paul Simonon; #8 pop; 1982. I’m not sure any band had a more bifurcated audience than The Clash. For hardcore music fans, The Clash was one of the most significant bands of the punk rock era, and by extension, one of the most important bands ever. People took the marketing tagline, “The Only Band That Matters,” way too seriously in the pre-MTV era. For pop music fans, they were simply another band from England with a few catchy pop hits. “Rock the Casbah” made light of Middle Eastern leaders who, as part of their national identity, banned Western music. However, most listeners had no idea what the subject matter was and the single was the band’s only U.S. Top Ten pop hit. Bill Wyman of Vulture, “Drummer Topper Headon crafted the music for this mind-bendingly catchy song. The poesy Strummer set to it is highly Dylanesque, both in its manic spew and the contrarian unexpected turns.” Strummer later reflected, “There’s no tenderness or humanity, in fanaticism — that’s what I was trying to say.”
115. “I Melt with You,” Modern English. Songwriters: Robbie Grey, Gary McDowell, Richard Brown, Michael Conroy, Stephen Walker; #78 pop; 1983. Singer Robbie Grey, on his endlessly catchy pop triumph, “I don’t think many people realized it was about a couple making love as the bomb dropped. As they made love, they become one and melt together. I’d always been shouting on songs before, I’d never really sung on a song. And there’s not really any singing on this either, it’s more spoken, but Hugh Jones the producer said, ‘Don’t shout into the microphone, just talk into it.’ I’d never done that before – I was a punk rocker. And so, I did. I just kind of stood back and mouthed the words. And I think that’s a lot of the attraction of the verses on ‘I Melt with You’ is that almost spoken quality.”From the Consequence of Sound website, “How do you top a song like ‘I Melt with You?’ It’s not just difficult; it’s near impossible. Modern English’s landmark hit has managed to tap into the lives of every generation since its 1982 debut. Why? Mostly because there’s nothing really flashy about the song. It’s a simple construction — guitars and drums and timeless poetry — and literally every one who’s ever been head over heels about someone can relate to its central thesis: ‘There’s nothing you and I won’t do/ I’ll stop the world and melt with you.’ Granted, pop culture has done its damndest to make sure it’s remembered as an ’80s song, but that has never once stopped it from soundtracking school dances or kicking off a mixtape between two young lovers.”
114. “Ah! Leah!,” Donny Iris. Songwriters: Mark Avsec, Donny Iris; #29 pop; 1981. Donny Iris, a visual proponent of the Buddy Holly school of nerd rock, was a member of The Jaggerz in the early 1970s. The Jaggerz went to #2 on the pop charts in 1970 with the sleazy come on commentary “The Rapper” and Iris also was a member of Wild Cherry after they recorded “Play That Funky Music.” He had three Top 40 hits in the early ‘80s with this testimony to the powers of evil lust being his biggest. Iris, “Originally Mark (Avsec) had the idea of an anti-war song. It started out just as a chant – it’s not a chick’s name, it’s not a certain person or individual, in particular. We wanted to have a hook, or a chorus, to the tune, that sounded almost like a Gregorian chant, and somehow Mark came up with the ‘Ah, Leah’ just like a chant. I said, ‘You know what, Mark, that’s a chick’s name,’ so that’s how we named it ‘Ah, Leah.’ It just so happens that there was a girl by the name of Leah who had dated one of the guys in The Jaggerz years ago, and I always loved that name. It sounds kind of passionate, when you talk about not being able to be with a chick, and every time you see this girl, you just go nuts, but it ain’t right, you know, something’s wrong with it. We thought that it was a passionate kind of tune.” Ed Masley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “That sound was perfect for the New Wave ’80s, taking a cue, as it did, from Roy Thomas Baker’s production on those early records for the Cars but with a more insistent bass line and an arty vocal breakdown that was damn near Bowie-esque.”
113. “Dear God,” XTC. Songwriter: Andy Partridge; Did Not Chart; 1987. Andy Partridge on his famous look at atheism, “As a kid, I was really…I got myself worked into such a sweat over religion. I remember that, about the age of eight or nine, one afternoon I had visions in the sky of clouds parting, and there was God on His throne, surrounded by angels, talking to me and grinning at me. I mean, if I lived in a Catholic community, I could’ve milked that and made myself a fortune! But, no, I think it happened because I was in such a hysterical state about religion as a child, and about the existence of God and that sort of thing. Religion is a source of a lot of problems, and if there is a God, he would hate Christianity, he would hate Islam, he would hate Buddhism, he would hate everything that’s done in His name, because nobody behaves in a way that you’re supposed to behave.” David Yaffe of The Paris Review, “What was truly terrifying about the song was its harmonic beauty, the way those descending notes and glorious extended vocal lines followed the chords and made its blasphemy somehow numinous and sublime.” “Dear God” was originally left off the “Skylarking” album, then added later. Producer Todd Rundgren, “Andy (Partridge) was afraid that there would be personal repecurssions for taking on such a thorny subject. What a pussy. They put ‘Dear God’ on the B-side of ‘Grass,’ what’s supposed to be the first single. Everybody flips the record. ‘Dear God’ becomes a giant phenomenon, saves their career.”
112. “Don’t Let’s Start,” They Might Be Giants. Songwriters: John Flansburgh, John Linnell; Did Not Chart; 1986. They Might Be Giants were smelling the cat food in their bank account when they let loose on this bizarre tail that wags the hound number. With the combination of the drum machine, upbeat tempo, sharp/choppy guitar licks and surreal lyrics, this is in many ways the signature song for the band’s early period. Inspirational lyric, “No one ever gets what they want and that is beautiful/Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful.” Timothy and Elizabeth Bracy of Stereogum, “The herky jerky pop gem from TMBG’s self-titled 1986 debut helped set the template for the band’s patented blend of synth driven hooks, killer melodies and oddly dyspeptic lyrics, which often create a surreal and disorienting sense of disjunction when juxtaposed alongside their seemingly sunny delivery. Linnell conjures a sentiment as dark and existentially cold as any to be found on a Voidoids record. The difference here is that TMBG doesn’t sound angry or alienated or even sarcastic — they sound absolutely tickled.”
111. “Kids in America,” Kim Wilde. Songwriters: Marty Wilde, Ricky Wilde; #25 pop; 1982. Kim Wilde was a major pop star in the U.K., releasing thirteen Top Twenty pop hits from 1981 to 1983. In the U.S., her success was limited to her 1987 #1 cover of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and her youth-will-conquer-all anthem “Kids in America,” a song written by her brother and father. Kim, describing her brother’s mode of operation, “Ricky’s influences at the time included Ultravox, John Foxx, Gary Numan, The Skids, Sex Pistols, Clash, Kraftwerk and The Stranglers. Those were the records he was listening to non-stop, and those were the kind of records he wanted to make. He wanted to combine that synth element with a pop and rock sensibility to make the new sound. He had it very clearly in his head, and ‘Kids in America’ really embodies that sound.” And the lyrics? “My dad’s head went into a fantasy, this idea of everything being better in America. for his generation, that was very true. Everyone was going to drive in movies and drinking milkshakes and having hamburgers in America. We weren’t doing things like that in the UK. When Elvis and rock’n’roll was imported over from America, it was to a generation of kids whose parents had dealt with the war, and rationing, and they’d all been brought up in pretty poor conditions. When rock’n’roll came along, it was a great thing for the kids to dream about again. That’s where the great love affair started for my father – as soon as he heard an Elvis Presley record.”