The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 280 to 271
What a beautiful world this will be, what a glorious time to be free.
280. “Western Sky,” American Music Club. Songwriter: Mark Eitzel; Did Not Chart; 1988. San Francisco songwriter Mark Eitzel established the American Music Club in 1983, which became a rotating group of musicians to fulfill his bluer than blue songwriting vision. (Eitzel is considered a pioneering figure in a subgenre called “slowcore,” a type of rock music known for quiet, slow, often sad songs). Author Jason Motz, “’Western Sky,’ with its Chris Isaak- with-a-sinus-cold vibe, is the textbook definition of sublime. The gut wrenching honesty in a lyric like ‘I won’t see you no more/ who am I to rate so high?’ exemplifies a dour self-deprecation lost on the smugly ironic scenes of the late ‘80s and grunge-gorged ‘90s. Perhaps the finest moment for the band, ‘Western Sky’ would live beyond (the) California (album) to their latter day Warner period, becoming a staple of Mark Eitzel’s solo sets to this date.” Eddie Vedder has noted that the 1992 Pearl Jam song “Black” was influenced by “Western Sky.”
279. “Save it for Later,” The English Beat. Songwriters: Andy Cox, Everett Morton, Ranking Roger , David Steel, Dave Wakeling, David Wright; Did Not Chart; 1982. The English Beat had the ability to make music that sounded good both for the dancefloor and for the overthinking headphone crowd. Dave Wakeling, “I wrote it when I was a teenager. It was about being lost, about not really knowing your role in the world, trying to find your place in the world. So, you couldn’t find your own way in the world, and you’d have all sorts of people telling you this, that, and the other, and advising you, and it didn’t actually seem like they knew any better. So it was like keep your advice to yourself. Save it – for later.” Rock critic Stewart Mason, “’Save it for Later’ has little if any ska to its sound; instead, it sounds like one of the templates that would later be used to create Britpop. Dave Wakeling’s nagging, jangly guitar hook and Andy Cox’s rubbery bass line manage to echo the Beatles and sound utterly contemporary at the same time, and Wakeling’s sly lyrics manage to work in a couple of almost-hidden jokes about oral sex. But it’s the utterly winning, unforgettable chorus that makes the song one of the group’s handful of classics.”
278. “Roses Have Faded,” Smack. Songwriters: Claude/The Manchurians; Did Not Chart; 1985. The members of the band Smack, known by only one name, bonded as teenagers when lead singer Claude asked bassist Cheri if he knew the New York Dolls song “Vietnamese Baby” and was delighted when the answer was yes. This Finnish act merged punk and classic rock influences, sounding somewhat like an early European version of Guns N’ Roses on “Roses Have Faded.” Finland had not shortage of metal acts during the 80’s, in addition to the much mourned Hanoi Rocks, the trio Peer Günt gained popularity in their homeland by creating a sound like Lemmy fronting Poison. The Nights of Iguana emulated the propulsive rock sound of The Cult on “Dry Nancy” and Wild Force went the power ballad mode on “I Want You to Stay.” Also check out Havana Blacks and Gringos Locos if you need to validate that the-clothes-make-the-band generic metal wasn’t limited to the U.S. in the 1980s. Getting back to talking Smack, the band always had a timing issue – Nirvana covered their song “Run Rabbitt Run” in live shows in 1988, which was, of course, three years before anyone had really heard of Nirvana.
277. “Electricity,” OMD. Songwriters: Paul Humphreys, Andy McCluskey; Did Not Chart; released as a single in both 1979 and 1980. Andy McCluskey on this early techno dance number, “I’m sure it was Kraftwerk’s influence behind our penchant for writing love songs to inanimate objects: aeroplanes, telephone boxes, oil refineries. We wrote ‘Electricity’ when we were sixteen, the year we heard ‘Radioactivity.’ I remember many years later being invited to (ex Kraftwerk member) Wolfgang Flür’s apartment and I happened to notice their gold record for ‘Radioactivity,’ which had been a single in France. I said, ‘Oh ‘Radioactivity,’ my favorite Kraftwerk song. You do know that our ‘Electricity’ was our version of ‘Radioactivity’ sped up?’ And Wolfgang and Karl said, ‘Oh yes, we knew that.’” Brian Boone of PopDose, “This bleepy-bloopy ultra-catchy song made by computers about something computers like sounds like early Depeche Mode. Or Kraftwerk. Makes sense, as it’s from late ’70s, depressed Europe trying to find some kind of musical direction in the soup of punk, post-punk, New Wave, and synth pop.”
276. “She Bangs the Drums,” The Stone Roses. Songwriters: Ian Brown, John Squire; Did Not Chart; 1989. The Stone Roses perfectly captured the optimism of 60’s rock with their should-have-been-an-anthem “She Bangs the Drums.” Author David Pollock, ‘“She Bangs the Drums’ is another contender for the definitive Stone Roses song. The hi-hat tingles with anticipation, the bass builds with hair-raising determination and finally Squire’s guitar soars, coupled with the lovesick opening couplet ‘I can feel the Earth begin to move/I hear my needle hit the groove.’ To call it a simple song is to disregard the beauty of its construction; this song boiled three decades of guitar pop down to the bare bones of the euphoria of meeting someone you desperately want to be with and hearing a song you can’t stop playing. Listening to ‘She Bangs,’ only stony hearts will fail to see why a generation fell hard for the Roses. It’s the sound of that brief but beautiful moment when the teen years become hopeful young adulthood. ‘The past was yours but the future’s mine/You’re all out of time’ were lines utterly justified by the song.”
275. “What I Like About You,” The Romantics. Songwriters: Wally Palmer, Mike Skill, Jimmy Marinos; #49 pop; 1980. Guitarist Wally Palmer on the “lightning in a bottle” hit, “Everything just really clicked with that writing and the performance of that song. We knew it as soon as we heard it coming back out of the speakers. Sure, the other songs on the album were all our babies. We loved them all. But for some reason, this one, you heard it (and) it just stuck out.” Brian McCollum of the Detroit Free Press, “With a chiming guitar riff concocted by Mike Skill and lead vocals from Jimmy Marino, the song brought giddy handclaps and a recurring ‘hey!’ chat inspired by the Yardbirds’ ‘Over Under Sideways Down.’ It was three minutes of infectious power pop.” “What I Like About You” was a #29 pop hit for Texas singer Michael Morales in 1989 and a #1 hit for John Mellencamp when he called it “R.O.C.K in the U.S.A.”
274. “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World),” Donald Fagen. Songwriter: Donald Fagen; #26 pop; 1982. What could Donald Fagen do with optimism besides skewer it? OK, history lesson – “I.G.Y” is a reference to a 1957 inter-government project titled “International Geophysical Year,” in which sixty-seven countries, to include the U.S. and the Soviet Union, participated in cooperative scientive studies. Studies of Antartica, and the subsequent Antartica Treaty, are touted as one of the successes of the project, but the intent was to advance a wide range of Earth science fields of study. Fagen frames the lyrics from a hyperbolic, quixotic point of view: “A just machine to make big decisions/Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision/We’ll be clean when their work is done/We’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young.” Matching these lyics with a swinging, bouncy tune was part of Fagen’s genius or pathology.
273. “Head Over Heels,” Tears for Fears. Songwriters: Roland Orzabal, Curt Smith; #3 pop; 1985. “Head Over Heels” is phenomenal ear candy – a stately piano intro is hooked with swirling synthesizers, then a sharp guitar lick snags the listener before the rythym section kicks into gear (Curt Smith also displays how important a real bassist is, even in synth pop). It’s a big, gushy romance number with an irresistibly lilting melody. “I wanted to be with you alone and talk about the weather” is either the lamest pickup line ever or the smartest non-threatening one.
272. “Career Moves,” Loudon Wainwright III. Songwriter: Loudon Wainwright III; Did Not Chart; 1985. Loudon Wainwright, “I think I’m great. I mean, I might as well come out and say it. Like most people, I have an ego and I’m in show business, so you have to have kind of a healthy, conflagrated ego to a degree.” “Career Moves” is a melancholy overview from Loudon Wainwright about umpteen years of “bangin’ and tunin’” guitars while writing “again and again about unhappy love.” Of course, he doesn’t leave out the upshot, singing in his world weary voice, “To stand on a stage doesn’t make me afraid/I’m comfortable up there, it’s gotten me laid.”
271. “And the Cradle Will Rock…,” Van Halen. Songwriters: Michael Anthony, Alex Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen, David Lee Roth; #55 pop; 1980. Van Halen turned to the timeless theme of rock music as teen rebellion (“Have you seen Junior’s grades?”) on the 1980 single “And the Cradle Will Rock…”. Eddie Van Halen, “That was the first time I played keyboards in the studio. A lot of people don’t know that because it really doesn’t sound like a keyboard. I had an old Wurlitzer piano and I pumped it through my Marshalls. That was my first encounter with the band not wanting me to play keyboards – when we did the song live, Mike (Anthony) played them. They didn’t want to see their guitar hero playing keyboards.”