The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 40 to 31
Will her heart ever be satisfied? There she goes again with another guy.
40. “They Don’t Know,” Tracey Ullman. Songwriter: Kristy MacColl; #8 pop; 1984. British songwriter Kristy MacColl penned “They Don’t Know” and released the original version in 1979. After actress/comedienne Tracey Ullman scored a #2 U.K. hit with her cover of the 1964 Irma Thomas B-side “Breakaway,” MacColl pitched “They Don’t Know” to Ullman and contributed backing vocals, as well. Rolling Stone, “Ullman’s debut album, ‘You Broke My Heart in 17 Places,’ was a peak moment of new wave’s obsession with the girl-group era, covering early-to-mid-Sixties singles from Irma Thomas, Marcie Blaine, and Sandie Shaw. But it was this cover of Kirsty MacColl’s swooner ‘They Don’t Know’ that became an international smash — Ullman made the connection more explicit by amping up the kitsch, adding Spectorian production, indulging huge harmonies and performing in a brilliantly acted video that showcased her comedy chops.” This was easily the best girl group inspired single of the 1980s.
39. “Tunnel of Love,” Bruce Springsteen. Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen; #9 pop; 1988. Springsteen, “(The) ‘Tunnel of Love’ (album) captured the ambivalence, love and fear brought on by my new life. I was no longer a kid and now neither were the people who populated my new songs. If they didn’t find a way to ground themselves, the things they needed – life, love and a home – could and would pass them by.” Journalist Sanfraz Manzoor, “Listening to ‘Tunnel of Love’ reminds me of what Bob Dylan said about his 1975 record ‘Blood on the Tracks.’ ‘A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album,’ Dylan said. ‘It’s hard for me to relate to that. You know, people enjoying that type of pain.’ There is a fair amount of pain in ‘Tunnel of Love’ – the dull gnawing pain of seeing life stray from the hoped for script.” Springsteen summarized the turmoil in his soon to end marriage to Julianne Phillips with the lines, “There’s a room of shadows that gets so dark brother/It’s easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love.”
38. “Freak Scene,” Dinosaur Jr. Songwriter: J Mascis; Did Not Chart; 1988. The Amherst, Massachusetts rock band Dinosaur Jr. mixed classic and punk rock influences to much greater influence than immediate impact. Journalist Rob Hughes, “’Freak Scene’ was the definitive alt-rock anthem, a three-and-a-half-minute barrage of sound that opened the door for grunge while also finding room for not one but two face-melting guitar solos.” Nirvana biographer Everett True, “Dinosaur Jr. were a huge influence on the Seattle scene. The description that was applied to grunge early on – ‘ hard music played to a slow tempo’ – could have been designed for Dinosaur. The opening song on 1988’s ‘Bug’ (album), ‘Freak Scene,’ invented the slacker generation.”
37. “Sexual Healing,” Marvin Gaye. Songwriters: Marvin Gaye, Odell Brown, David Ritz; #3 pop/#1 R&B; 1983. Marvin Gaye used modern drum machine technology with a lyric of sexual desire to construct what Blender magazine called “the plaintively blue-balled model for basically every slow jam” since its release. Chris Norris of The New Yorker, “By 1982, Marvin Gaye had fled drug, money, and family problems to the small Belgian city of Ostend, severing his ties with Motown. Fragile and paranoid, Gaye began working on new music, gravitating to an instrument that would preserve his isolation. ‘He wanted to use synthesizers and drum machines so he could do it all himself,’ the engineer Frank Butcher says in the documentary. ‘He didn’t want anyone else involved.’ Butcher recalls Gaye pushing buttons, setting levels, programming beats and cueing rhythms, without singing or saying a thing. Once he was finished building the song, Gaye pushed ‘play’ and sang the vocal line to the song ‘Sexual Healing.’ It sounds nothing like hip-hop or techno, despite being made almost entirely with a Roland TR-808 drum machine. That song sounds like it does because it was Marvin Gaye using the 808. Surprisingly often, the ghost in this machine is the human standing beside it.”
36. “Word Up!,” Cameo. Songwriters: Larry Blackmon, Tomi Jenkins; #6 pop/#1 R&B; 1986. Cameo was a popular R&B act, who released seven gold albums before having their major crossover success with the electronic funk of “Word Up!” Frontman Larry Blackmon gained infamy by wearing the shiniest codpiece in music history. Chris Norris of Blender, “Jamming on bass and guitar in their hotel suite, Cameo found one particularly mean groove and began refining, distilling. They developed a gunshot snare sound by recording in a stairwell at Manhattan’s Quadrasonic studios. And when they were satisfied with the track’s intensity, Blackmon got into character. Blackmon, ‘You get a song like you get a script for a movie. You create a character that best suits the song’s attitude. (In ‘Word Up!), he’s hip, he’s slick, he’s a guy who’s been around. He’s a New York guy, he’s a Paris guy. He’s international.’”
35. “Jump,” Van Halen. Songwriters: Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth; #1 pop; 1984. Author Chuck Klosterman, “As an articulation of unadulterated joy and the unprecedented power of six rudimentary keyboard chords arranged in the best possible sequence, ‘Jump’ is without flaw or peer.” Producer Ted Templeton, “Eddie wrote this thing on a synthesizer. I really hadn’t heard it for a long time, then they laid it down one night at the studio in Ed’s house. I went it the next day, I heard it and it just killed me. It was perfect. And I played it for the people at Warner Brothers, just the track, there wasn’t a song, it was just his synthesizer part. And everybody at Warner Brothers flipped out and we went in and cut the track the same way, almost identical.” Music journalist Gary Graff, “Eddie may have locked horns with Roth and Templeman over the idea (of the synth based riff), but the resulting tune was just over four minutes of pure pop fun, with a hook (inspired by the synth track on Hall & Oates’ ‘Kiss on My List’) that was tailor-made to become a sports arena anthem.”
34. “I Will Follow,” U2. Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.; Did Not Chart; 1980. Rolling Stone, “It’s coming from a very dark place,” Bono said of the opening track – and crowning moment – on U2’s debut album, noting that it was inspired by ‘real anger and an enormous sense of yearning.’ Written about the love between a son and his mother (Bono’s died when he was a teen), it gave stomping U.K. post-punk a heraldic urgency. ‘I remember picking up Edge’s guitar and playing the two-stringed chord … to show the others the aggression I wanted,’ Bono recalled. ‘The percussion in the drop was a bicycle spinning, wheels upside down and played like a harp with a kitchen fork.’ ‘I Will Follow’ quickly became their live trump card; the Edge recalled a Boston gig where they played it three times, as set opener, closer and encore, to a rapturous crowd. ‘We left the stage feeling incredible.’” Journalist Caryn Rose, “The opening thrum of guitar notes, a literal siren, mystical bells in the distance, a rhythm section playing almost off-rhythm, and those opening lines, sung by a voice full of urgency and emotion: ‘I was on the outside/When you said you needed me …’ It sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. The otherworldly noises acting as percussion — bicycle spokes, broken bottles — and the guitar moving back into angelic notes, before picking up the SOS pace into full speed, coming out of the bridge and back into the last chorus. There is so much going on that it leaves you breathless. It is one of the best opening songs on a debut album, ever. Live, it turned into a maelstrom, and never really stopped.”
33. “The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley. Songwriters: Don Henley, Mike Campbell; #5 pop; 1985. Rolling Stone, “Don Henley may not be the world’s most easy-going person, but he has a way with words. Take the line ‘Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac’ from his 1984 hit ‘The Boys of Summer.’ Is there any better way to show how the idealism of the Sixties gave way to the greed and materialism of the Eighties? He did it in 13 words, and the rest of the song is equally strong. Co-written by Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, it’s a simple tale of a yuppie who misses his summer love.” Jim Beviglia of American Songwriter, “In many ways (this is) an anti-summer song. Indeed, one of the first lines out of Henley’s mouth is ‘The summer’s out of reach.’ Instead of a treatise on sun, surf, and all the rest, ‘The Boys Of Summer’ presents a wistful portrait of a man clinging to a lover who has left him in the cold for the titular flavors of the season. Henley borrowed the title from Roger Kahn’s famous book about the Brooklyn Dodgers and used it to represent everything youthful and vibrant with which the narrator can no longer compete.”
32. “Genius of Love,” Tom Tom Club. Songwriters: Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Steven Stanley; #31 pop/#2 R&B; 1982. While on hiatus from the Talking Heads in 1981, the band’s rhythm section created one of the most sampled songs of its era (the website ‘Who Sampled’ lists 149 different songs that have tapped into “Genius of Love”). Tina Weymouth, “It just has a texture that sounds like magic. It was kind of a different edge. Everything else was about 120 bpm at the time for dance music, and we wanted to slow it down to give it more internal swing, and not have any four on the floor – maybe give it kind of an island feel as well. I can’t remember if it was 112 bpm or something. Maybe it was around 108, but it was really slow for us, because we were used to playing these nervous paces and breakneck speed and stuff, so it was a delightful challenge.” Chris Frantz, “It was a song that was pioneering. At the time there was nothing that sounded like it, and frankly, except for the people that have sampled it, there still isn’t.” Journalist Zachary Hoskins on the Weymouth family girl power, ““Genius of Love” isn’t raw, tough, or ballsy; the vocals, by Tina and her sisters Laura and Lani, are sweet and feminine, and the lyrics are all about how much she loves her boyfriend. It’s a celebration of an oft-scorned ‘feminine’ aesthetic, years before Taylor Swift and the ‘poptimism’ movement made perceived girliness into a critical badge of honor.”
31. “There She Goes Again,” Marshall Crenshaw. Songwriter: Marshall Crenshaw; Did Not Chart; 1982. Marshall Crenshaw tackles the classic pop themes of heartbreak and lost love on the will-her-heart-ever-be-satisfied “There She Goes Again.” Music journalist Steve Peake, “Crenshaw’s brilliant debut appropriately explores familiar romantic lament territory, and once again the artist’s melodic finesse and guitar focus dominate the proceedings to fine effect. Crenshaw’s lead vocals have always been both lovely and powerful, but this shimmering instrument found particular precision on what is widely seen as his finest record. That’s part of why so many songs have such tremendous staying power, but Crenshaw’s maturity as a songwriter came early and never wavered throughout his career. ‘It’s a sad situation, but I know what I ought to do,’ Crenshaw croons. ‘I’m gonna find someone better. Go have fun, little girl, I can live without you.’ An exquisite confluence of melody and lyricism.” Iman Lababedi of Rock NYC on this tale of unattainable satisfaction, “The first time I heard (Crenshaw’s debut) album, it took me an hour to get past the first song, ‘There She Goes Again.”