The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 540 to 531

Written by | May 25, 2019 4:30 am | No Comments

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She had 9/10 pants and a very big bra.

540.  “Big Brown Eyes,” The dB’s. Songwriter: Peter Holsapple; Did Not Chart; 1981.  Rock critic Chris Woodstra, describing The dB’s as the missing link between Big Star and R.E.M., “The dB’s ‘Stands for Decibels’ album stands not only as a landmark power-pop album, but also as a prototype for much of the Southern jangle that would follow.”  “Big Brown Eyes” is a terrific love song that mixes power pop with the British invasion.  Various descriptions of the song include “shimmering,” “flawless,” and “a perfect under two-minute miniature.”

539.  “Crash,” The Primitives. Songwriters: Paul Court, Steve Dullaghan, Tracy Spencer; Did Not Chart; 1988. Paul Court on The Primitives’s signature song, which got a new lease on life after being used in the 1990’s film “Dumb and Dumber,” “It was probably one of the first five songs I wrote in 1985, and we dropped it from the set for about a year. We had an abundance of that type of song. It was kind of Ramones, because that’s how it used to sound at first, it was this thrashy thing, and didn’t have the ‘na na na’s on it, just the same melody and words. We kind of reinvented the song in 1987, the version everyone knows, and I think we’d just signed to RCA at this point. We had them giving it a push, and it became the big hit. Then I thought, ‘This is great, it’s a great stepping stone for us to be able to do other sorts of things, once another song is the new thing, it will probably be forgotten about’ but it seems like an all-time classic now or something. Not many people actually know who The Primitives are, but they know that song.”

538. “That Girl,” Stevie Wonder. Songwriter: Stevie Wonder; #4 pop/#1 R&B; 1982. Two moderately fun facts – Stevie Wonder played all the instruments on “That Girl” and the single topped the R&B charts for nine weeks.  Rock critic Robert Palmer in 1982, “Stevie Wonder is a pop star of the brightest magnitude. Several of his harmonically sophisticated, jazz-influenced pop ballads, ‘’Ma Cherie Amour’ and ‘You Are the Sunshine of my Life’’ for example, have become instant standards, performed by pop singers of almost every conceivable stripe, but he has also written rock songs, dance floor funk, angrily explicit protest songs, and many other songs that are more difficult to categorize. He rummages through America’s rich storehouse of vernacular musics for melodic snippets, chord changes, and arranging ideas, but he welds these elements together seamlessly. ‘That Girl’ insinuates melodic fragments and chord changes derived from mid-1960’s Motown soul into a lyrical piece that doesn’t sound one bit old-fashioned.”

537.  “Los Angeles,” X.  Songwriters: John Doe, Exene Cervenka; Did Not Chart; 1980.  X was a critical sensation during the early 1980s, providing a realistic punk rock jolt from America’s Fantasy Land.  “Los Angeles” was a firsthand look at racism.  John Doe, “The girl in the song is based on Fay Hart, a close friend of Exene’s, who was influential in that early scene. She went to England and married Steve Nieve (of Elvis Costello’s Attractions). She had lived there for a couple of years and she became more and more racist and stereotyping people. And to be honest there was a lot of shock value in tended in the lyrics. I wanted to show the dark side or underbelly of Los Angeles. People like Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Nathaniel West did – the Doors did it – so it was time for an update.” I probably should have included “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not” from the “Los Angeles” album on this list, just because the title always made me laugh.

536.  “Just a Friend,” Biz Markie.  Songwriter: Marcel Hall; #9 pop/#37 R&B; released in 1989, peaked on charts in 1990. New York native Biz Markie brought some much needed comic relief to the world of rap during the late 1980s, when West Coast “gangsta” acts were dominating  the genre.  The original title of the wonderfully poorly sung “Just a Friend” was “You Must Be on Speed,” until rapper Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest told him that he would be throwing away money unless he reworked the lyrics.  (Or, in the words of Tip, “I was like ‘Yo, this shit is a hit. You better fuck with it.’”)  The song was a reworked version of Freddie Scott’s 1968 #28 R&B single “(You) Got What I Need.”  Markie, “I was looking for the drums since ‘84, but I never knew the name of them. All of sudden, (rap DJ) Danny Dan the Beatman calls me and says ‘Is this the record you were looking for?’ And he played (Freddie Scott) over the phone.  I knew if I found those drums it was going to be a hit.”

535.  “Pump Up The Volume,” M/A/R/R/S. Songwriters: Martyn Young, Steve Young; #13 pop; 1988.  Sal Cinquemani of “Slant” magazine, “M/A/R/R/S’s ‘Pump Up the Volume,’ which took its title sample from an Erik B. & Rakim song, was a milestone in the world of sampling culture, snatching bits of Criminal Element Orchestra’s ‘Put the Needle to the Record,’ old soul records (a few years before Josh Davis hit the dustbins), and Ofra Haza’s ‘Im Nin Alu’ (long before Kanye played his 45s at the wrong speed), just to name a few. A one-off collaboration between U.K. indie label 4AD’s Colourbox and AR Kane and DJs C.J. Macintosh and Dave Dorrell, the track was a patently European interpretation of American house music and became the first big crossover U.K. house hit. Produced by the famously outspoken John Fryer (who would go on to helm Nine Inch Nails’s ‘Pretty Hate Machine’), ‘Pump Up the Volume’ traversed multiple genres in its myriad incarnations, topping the dance charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and eventually becoming both a Top 10 hip-hop hit and dance-pop radio staple in the U.S., transforming both genres with the drop of a needle.”

534.  “The Killing Moon,” Echo and the Bunnymen. Songwriters: Will Seageant, Ian McCulloch, Les Pattinson, Pete de Freitas; Did Not Chart; 1984. Ian McCulloch, not being humble about this U.K. Top Ten single, “I’ve always said that ‘The Killing Moon’ is the greatest song ever written. I’m sure Paul Simon would be entitled say the same about ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ but for me ‘The Killing Moon’ is more than just a song. It’s a psalm, almost hymnal. It’s about everything, from birth to death to eternity and God – whatever that is – and the eternal battle between fate and the human will. It contains the answer to the meaning of life. It’s my ‘To be or not to be.’ One morning, I just sat bolt upright in bed with this line in my head: ‘Fate up against your will. Through the thick and thin. He will wait until you give yourself to him.’ You don’t dream things like that and remember them. That’s why I’ve always half credited the lyric to God.”

533.  “Fake,” Alexander O’Neal. Songwriters: James Harris, Terry Lewis; #25 pop/#1 R&B; 1987. Mississippi native Alexander O’Neal moved to Minneapolis during the mid-1980s and collaborated with the burgeoning superstar production team of Jimmy Jam (James Harris) and Terry Lewis.  Jimmy Jam on working with O’Neal, “The thing about Alex is that he can do both uptempo and ballad songs really well. A lot of singers can’t do both. Another thing about Alex which is so cool is that he has this voice that sounds like he’s been through a lot.”  “Fake,” O’Neal’s biggest U.S. success, replicated the hard hitting R&B/electronic funk sound that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had popularized with Janet Jackson.  Jimmy Jam in 2016, “I heard a Sam Smith record, I think, which could have come straight out of Alexander O’Neal’s ‘Hearsay’ album, which we made in 1987. Before that, it was Britney Spears. You stay around long enough, you get to hear that.”

532.  “Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness – The Coldcut Remix),” Eric B. & Rakim. Songwriters: Eric Barrier, Rakim Allah; Did Not Chart; 1988.  “Paid in Full” had been a minor R&B hit for Eric B. & Rakim, but was made much more interesting after the English dance music duo Coldcut produced a seven minute jouney into sound remix filled with vocal hooks and spoken word samples.  From the hip hop scribe known as “Androids,” “Coldcut had done a number of tracks with Queen Latifah when she was emerging. This remix of Eric B & Rakim’s classic ‘Paid In Full’ still goes down as one of the first commercially successful remixes ever, although Eric B and Rakim were split on it. Rakim was reportedly in love with it, calling it the best remix he’d ever heard, while Eric B is said to have called it ‘girly disco music.’ Whatever the case may be, Coldcut’s unique blend of ‘Im Nin’Alu’ by Ofra Haza with the ‘Paid in Full’ instrumental helped push this track to commercial success overseas, and is a bonafide classic in both hip-hop and dance music lore.”

531.  “Shiftless When Idle,” The Replacements. Songwriters: Paul Westerberg; Did Not Chart; 1981.  The Replacements announced their zero fucks to give attitude on “Shiftless When Idol,” from their 1981 debut album, “Sorry, Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash,” proclaiming, “I ain’t got no idols, I ain’t got much taste/I’m shiftless when I’m idle, I got time to waste.” Rock critic Stuart Mason, “Even in the Replacements’ earliest hardcore days, they still owed more to the Stones than the Sex Pistols. ‘Shiftless When Idle’ has a two-guitar rhythm-and-lead part that’s pretty far removed from the standard hardcore unison riffs; even more impressively, it has an actual bridge! Well, OK, the bridge consists of Westerberg singing nonsense ‘na-na-na’ syllables over a slightly different version of the song’s main riff, modulated up a half step before it goes into a weirdly Bachman-Turner Overdrive-like solo, but still, how many hardcore bands were doing stuff like that in 1981?”

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