The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 290 to 281
Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again.
290. “Start Me Up,” The Rolling Stones. Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards; #2 pop; 1981. Rock critic Matthew Wilkening, “Of all the half-finished, reclaimed songs that made up the Rolling Stones’ hastily assembled and yet surprisingly cohesive 1981 collection ‘Tattoo You,’ ‘Start Me Up’ clearly had the biggest impact. The spare, swinging riff-based track — considered by some purists to be the band’s last great song — famously began life as a reggae number, and was reportedly attempted, then discarded during the sessions for no less than three albums before producer Chris Kimsey helped convince Keith Richards that the song was more than merely a retread of their past work.” Chris Kimsey in 2004, “I’m not sure whether (Keith) likes it to this day. I don’t think it’s one of his favourite songs, although it’s obviously everyone’s favourite guitar riff; his guitar riff.” Keith Richards, “One of the great luxuries of The Stones is we have an enormous, great big can of stuff. I mean what anybody hears is just the tip of an iceberg, you know. And down there is vaults of stuff. But you have to have the patience and the time to actually sift through it.” “Start Me Up” doesn’t rank as high as “Brown Sugar” or “Gimme Shelter” or “Satisfaction” or “Tumbling Dice” or “Paint It Black” in the Stones pantheon. However, sometimes just getting within sniffing distance is a substantial feat.
289. “Inside My Brain,” Angry Samoans. Songwriter: Gregg Turner; Did Not Chart; 1980. Embracing psychiatric illness might not be a smart commercial move, but the Samoans did so on “Inside My Brain.” Perhaps the theme is not surprising for a band that played gigs at California’s Camarillo State Mental Hospital during this timeframe. On this journey to the center of the mind, the narrator scans his mind to find rats, black Christmas trees, barb wire, and funeral homes. The means of relief? Drilling a hole in his head. Seeing Gregg Turner perform “Inside My Brain” at the “punk club” in rural Taylor, Texas was a definite music highlight for me in 2019.
288. “Cult of Personality,” Living Colour. Songwriters: Corey Glover, Vernon Reid, Muzz Skillings, Will Calhoun; #13 pop; 1989. Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid on this dazzling neon lights/Nobel Prize rocker, “Metal has always been a very tribal thing. It’s also extremely competitive. I embraced the power of hard rock, but we were unwilling to play by its rules and culture. Some felt we were provocative merely for existing. ‘Cult of Personality’ was about celebrity, but on a political level. It asked what made us follow these individuals who were larger than life yet still human beings. Aside from their social importance, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King both looked like matinee idols. That was a strong part of why their messages connected. Even now it’s why Barack Obama has that certain something.” And the music? “That cool riff had a Zeppelin-ish vibe, but also a Mahavishnu Orchestra thing going on. It was based on a series of notes that Corey had sung – my attempt to repeat that (on guitar). I already had the lyrics, but with the music in place it very quickly took on a life of its own.”
287. “When You Say Nothing at All,” Keith Whitley. Songwriters: Paul Overstreet, Don Schlitz; #1 country; 1988. Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz were pushing through an unproductive songwriting session and came up when the concept of a love song about saying “nothing at all.” From The Boot website, “Keith Whitley — who had previously passed on ‘Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her,’ which became a hit for George Strait, and ‘On the Other Hand,’ a No. 1 single for Randy Travis written by Overstreet and Schlitz — was determined to not let anyone else record ‘When You Say Nothing at All.’” Whitley, “After I let those two get away, we had a runnin’ joke that Don and Paul wanted me to record another one of their songs, and get the first crack at a single on it. So when I heard ‘When You Say Nothing at All,’ I wasn’t about to let that one slip through my fingers.” Alison Krauss took ownership of this love song with her 1995 interpretation, but Whitley’s #1 single displayed his warm, gentle soul.
286. “Better Things,” The Kinks. Songwriter: Ray Davies; #92 pop; 1982. “Better Things” is an empathetic expression of hope, most tunefully constructed. Optimism, you can never have too much of it. Bryan Wawzenek of Ultimate Classic Rock, “Davies offers the loveliest of benedictions in ‘Better Things.’ Coming from a songwriter, some of the blessing is spelled out in musical terms – rhyming verses, a great chorus. Reading the lyrics, ‘Better Things’ comes across as a little corny. But listening to this ’80s gem reveals its true nature: one of the sweetest and most mature breakup song in rock ‘n’ roll history.” I’ve always loved these lyrics – “It’s really good to see you rocking out and having fun/Living like you’ve just begun/Accept your life and what it brings/I hope tomorrow you’ll find better things.”
285. “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry),” R.E.M. Songwriters: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe; #85 pop; 1984. Michael Stipe suffers through the frustration of an apology that receives no acknowledgment on the dour “So. Central Rain.” Music journalist Josh Modell, “R.E.M.’s ridiculously fertile early years hit their stride with “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry),” from 1984’s ‘Reckoning.’ The band’s second album brushed aside some of the shadowy kudzu of Murmur, revealing a serious pop jones in ‘(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville.’ But it was ‘So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)’ that perfectly bridged the gap, and it’s certainly one of the best songs the band ever wrote.” From the Don’t Forget the Songs 365 website, ““So. Central Rain” moves me every time I hear it. The longing for connection that reflected in Stipe’s aching vocal mirrored my own. Every time I hear it connects me, not with sadness, but with a sense of gratitude for R.E.M. keeping me hopeful when I had no prospects in front of me.”
284. “If You Want My Love,” Cheap Trick. Songwriter: Rick Nielsen; #45 pop; 1982. John Borack of Goldmine, “Best Ballad of the ‘80s, anyone? For sheer Lennon-meets-McCartney-head-on splendor, it’s pretty damned hard to top this one. One of Zander’s finest ever vocals, punctuated by his oh-so-Paulie ‘woooos.’” Robert Christgau, “The most eloquently eclectic Beatle tribute ever recorded.” And the ever enthusiastic Tuk Smith of Louder Sound on this #2 Australian hit, “This ballad is massive. They start with the chorus – and you know you’ve got balls when you start with the chorus right out – and then the verse-bridge thing is this weird Beatles, minor E, crazy thing. I don’t even know how it works or how they developed that vocal melody over the top of those verses, but it’s killer, and this was when Robin was really showcasing his voice. The chorus sounds like it could have been a Slade chorus to be honest – it’s that arena, to me. I love it.” Steve Crawford, “WHOOOOOO!”
283. “Don’t Be Cruel,” Bobby Brown. Songwriters: Kenneth Edmonds, Antonio Reid, Daryl Simmons; #8 pop/#1 R&B; 1988. Songwriter Daryl Simmons, “One day, we hear this beat coming out of the guest house. (‘Boom Boom Taka Boom, Boom Taka Boom, Boom Boom Taka Boom’). And Kenny (Edmonds) was like, “What the hell is that?” So we run in the room and L.A. (Reid/Babyface) said, ‘I got this beat!’ I said, ‘Damn…that shit is nasty! That’s already a song by itself!’ Kenny said, ‘All I got to do is put the right thing on it.’ So Kenny went to the bass sizer (creating the bass line). We said, ‘This is Bobby…this is so nasty. This is Cruel…this track is Cruel.’ So that’s how Kenny came up with Don’t Be Cruel as the concept.” Michael Gonzalez of Ebony, “I respected Michael Jackson, but he only sang about being bad; Bobby Brown was a bad boy for real. As rock critic Chuck Eddy once wrote in ‘Spin,’ “Bobby slayed anybody who got in his way.”
282. “Lovesong,” The Cure. Songwriters: Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson, Roger O’Donnell, Boris Williams, Lol Tolhurst; #2; 1989. Music journalist AJ Ramirez on this love-that-feels-like-home, huggable goth hit, “Robert Smith wrote this exquisite number (the Cure’s biggest American hit) as his wedding gift for his wife Mary. (Funny note: Smith confessed in an interview that his wife would’ve probably preferred diamonds). ‘Lovesong’ is as stark and monolithic as anything the Cure recorded during the late 1980s, yet its to-the-point lyrical sentiments, its incredible chorus, and its note-perfect guitar solo (fly me to the moon, indeed!) all conspire to make it the brightest, most affirming ray of light to be found in the band’s frequently maudlin songbook.” Smith in 1989, “It’s an open show of emotion. It’s not trying to be clever. It’s taken me ten years to reach the point where I feel comfortable singing a very straightforward love song.” Rock critic Rob O’Connor on the bigger picture, “The ’80s production values ruined so many great songs and musicians. It also made for some great productions for those who were comfortable surrounded by reverb and synths and big drums. I can’t imagine the Cure becoming the Cure in any other decade.”
281. “Sixteen Blue,” The Replacements. Songwriter: Paul Westerberg; Did Not Chart; 1984. Westerberg takes on the combination of boredom and frustration of the teen years on “Sixteen Blue.” Music journalist Michael Hann, “’Unsatisfied’ is usually held up as the definitive Paul Westerberg ballad, but this is the one that grabs me every time. His vocal is perfect – for a singer with a limited range, he was startlingly expressive, and his gravelly, battered tone gave him an unusual ability to communicate empathy. ‘Sixteen Blue’ (another perfect title) is one of the greatest-ever songs about being a teenager. Westerberg was only 22 when he wrote it, and it helped to have an actual 16-year-old around, in the form of Tommy Stinson. It veers from defiance to vulnerability, from witty to accepting. Musically, it’s beautiful: the melody is perfectly pitched, and it ends with a great miniature guitar solo from Bob Stinson. Stinson was the perfect guitarist: tuneful but fierce and wild. He seemed like someone who was trying to play classic rock and getting it all wrong, creating something even more memorable as a result.”