The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 170 to 161
Who’s making lover’s lane safe again for lovers?
170. “I Love You, Suzanne,” Lou Reed. Songwriter: Lou Reed; Did Not Chart; 1984. Lou Reed, the expert chronicler of the seedy underbelly of American society, made his debut as a bopping pop singer on the irresistibly fun “I Love You, Suzanne,” even getting a few spins on MTV in the process. Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone, “The exhilarating ‘I Love You, Suzanne’ — from its cute take on the Contours’ ‘Do You Love Me?’ rap through its irresistibly infectious strum-along arrangement and Lou’s understated but pungent guitar leads — is a hit summer single that, should RCA decide to release it as such, will not be denied.” Unfortunately, Lou didn’t conquer the airwaves, but “New Sensations” became his highest charting U.S. album since 1976’s “Coney Island Baby” and that commercial success would continue to grow throughout the rest of the decade.
169. “(Just Like) Starting Over,” John Lennon. Songwriter: John Lennon; #1 pop; 1980. John Lennon made a welcome and overdue return to pop music in 1980 – one that, of course, was tragically cut short. Lennon, “All through the taping of ‘Starting Over,’ I was calling what I was doing ‘Elvis Orbison.’ It’s like Dylan doing ‘Nashville Skyline,’ except I don’t have any Nashville, being from Liverpool. So I go back to the records I know – Elvis and Roy Orbison and Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. I’m a born-again rocker, I feel that refreshed, and I’m going right back to my roots.” Yoko Ono, ‘I love ‘Starting Over,’ but when I hear it now, it just chokes me up a bit because it’s how we felt at the time. We really thought that we were starting over, and it didn’t work out that way.”
168. “Clowntime is Over,” Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Songwriter: Elvis Costello; Did Not Chart; 1980. I have no idea what “Clowntime is Over” is about, but music journalist Marty Hughley’s description as “simultaneously jaunty and jaundiced” seems about right. This is as close as we’ll ever get to hearing Bob Dylan serve as frontman for Booker T. & the M.G.’s.
167. “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” Public Enemy. Songwriters: Carl Ridenhour, Hank Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, William Drayton; #86 R&B; 1988. Producer Hank Shocklee on this intense prison riot/escape rap, “The track felt menacing but it didn’t have enough tension, so I decided to take the piano loop and run it backwards. Whoa! That gave it the tension it needed and it almost made it electric. Chuck had written for it was the most amazing piece of poetry that I have heard from anybody.” Music journalist Stevie Chick, “The Bomb Squad (production team) stripped back the noise to bare, powerful elements here, ceding the foreground to Chuck’s voice spinning a tale of prison rebellion that unfolds like an action movie. Over a needling, loose piano loop (lifted from the Isaac Hayes’ song Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic’), Chuck narrates the escape of a prisoner serving time for rejecting his draft notice and refusing to fight for ‘a land that never gave a damn about a brother like me … I’m a black man/And I could never be a veteran.’ The final two verses are as gripping and expertly paced as an entry from the ‘Die Hard’ franchise.”
166. “Beautiful World,” Devo. Songwriters: Gerald Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh; Did Not Chart; 1981. Beauty being in the eye of the beholder is most vividly expressed on one of Devo’s finest songs. Jerry Casale of Devo, “We wanted to get everybody into a mood where people thought Devo was saying the world was really nice and saying the world was beautiful, then it turns out to be one man’s opinion, which is mine, which is, while the world could be beautiful, it’s not for me because of what I’m seeing. We had a very dark vision. We definitely saw the world crumbling. There wasn’t much optimism. I’ve often said Devo is like the house band on the Titanic, playing familiar tunes that make us feel better as we all go down together.” Mark Mothersbaugh on a less apocalyptic, more practical matter, “Jerry and I both tried to sing like Stan (Ridgway) from Wall Of Voodoo when we were doing the song. I don’t know why, but we could imagine Stan singing that song, so we were both trying to fake his accent and Jerry did a great job so he ended up singing on the record.”
165. “Stomp!,” The Brothers Johnson. Songwriters: Louis Johnson, George Johnson, Valerie Johnson, Rod Temperton; #7 pop/#1 R&B; 1980. The Brothers Johnson were an L.A. funk duo, who broke pop in the 1970s while sporting Afros that made them look like Chia pets that had overdosed on TruGreen fertilizer. The released Top Five singles in ’76/’77 – the mid-tempo dance number “I’ll Be Good to You” and the Shuggie Otis cover “Strawberry Letter 23.” The Quincy Jones produced, post disco, galvanizing “Stomp!” was their last crossover pop hit. (The single was #1 in New Zealand for six weeks in 1980, which sounds like a big deal until you discover that Joe Dolce’s “Shaddap Your Face” was #1 in New Zealand for eight weeks in 1980 and 1981). Music journalist Daryl Easlea on ‘Stomp!’, “It is as good as the best of anything by their peers, Chic, Earth, Wind & Fire and Rufus. Its killer chorus, well-arranged strings and bass breakdown from Louis Johnson make it one of perennial sounds of a Saturday night.” The Brothers Johnson disbanded in1982, after Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson started focusing on studio work, including backing Michael Jackson. Louis, who died in 2015, “Every time I’d get in the car to go somewhere, I’d hear me playing the bass. I was all over the place.”
164. “New Year’s Day,” U2. Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.; #53 pop; 1983. The stirring anthem “New Year’s Day” didn’t make U2 a major pop band in the United States, but it did lay the foundation for the band to become a defining international act of their era . Annie Zaleski of Billboard, “A song about soldiering forward and bridging divisions despite strife, ‘New Year’s Day’ exemplifies the ways early U2 refracted the modern world in inventive ways, while still striving for timelessness. Thematically, Bono told the Los Angeles Times in 2005 that ‘New Year’s Day’ was inspired by the image of Lech Walesa, head of the Polish trade union Solidarity, helming a Jan. 1 worker’s strike. Musically, the song is fresh-sounding new wave. The Edge pulls double duty, bashing out scorching guitars and desolate piano, while Clayton contributes a livewire bass line, which evolved from him working out how to play Visage’s synth-pop gem ‘Fade to Grey.’” Bono on the twist to the “under a blood red sky” lyrical theme, “At the same time, it’s a love song. Love is always strongest when it’s set against a struggle.”
163. “You Got Lucky,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Songwriters: Tom Petty, Mike Campbell; #20 pop; 1982. Billboard magazine, “A delectable moment of synth-pop swagger from the rarely malevolent Petty. ‘Good love is hard to find/ You got lucky, babe, when I found you,’ Petty taunts on the chorus, with the keys chiming in like backing singers to provide further shoulder-dusting.” Singer/songwriter Johanna Warren, on whether Petty’s being a jerk or insecure, “’You Got Lucky’ used to be one of my least favorite Petty songs because it struck me as kind of arrogant and slightly misogynistic, but at some point I realized the genius of the recording is that it’s got this slippery, layered psychological depth to it that is so human. There’s this overconfident machismo thing happening on the surface, in the performance and production, but when you get down to the emotional core of the song, what’s being expressed is really a lot of pain and insecurity, fear of abandonment, and a need to feel honored and special — all such deeply relatable, tender feelings that most us have a hard time expressing vulnerably without protective egoic shields.”
162. “Poison,” Alice Cooper. Songwriters: Alice Cooper, Desmond Child, John McCurry; #7 pop; 1989. Alice Cooper had his first Top Ten single since 1977’s “You and Me” with the romantically conflicted pop metal of “Poison.” Music journalist Charlotte Runcie, “’Poison’ takes a simple message – love hurts – and gives it all the trimmings of erotic glam rock, dripping with references to chains, cruel kisses, and black lace on sweat. Alice Cooper’s malevolent vocal slithers over the defiant call-and-response song structure: ‘One look (one look)/Could kill (could kill)/My pain, your thrill.’” Micheal Gallucci of Ultimate Classic Rock, “’Poison’ sounds like a typical ’80s pop-metal number at times, but Cooper’s intensity brings it to a whole other level.”
161. “Have a Little Faith in Me,” John Hiatt. Songwriter: John Hiatt; Did Not Chart; 1987. John Hiatt sounds somewhat like an exuberant, Midwestern Van Morrison on the sobriety plea “Have a Little Faith in Me.” Rock critic Jim Connelly, “The best song Hiatt will ever write was just Hiatt alone at a piano singing for his very life. Slow, stately and cut from the same cloth as ‘Let it Be,’ but based on soul not gospel, ‘Have a Little Faith in Me’ features Hiatt’s piano confidently marching through the chords on the chorus, acting as a support system as he begs, pleads and cajoles for a chance, maybe his first, more likely his last. After the modulation, he gets more and more desperate, and the cracks in his voice start to show. Which is great, because a more technically adept singer would sound insincere, and ‘Have a Little Faith in Me’ would completely fall apart. Instead, it gets by on the strength on the utter sincerity he projects.”