The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 900 to 891
Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey.
900. “What You Need,” INXS. Songwriters: Andrew Farris, Michael Hutchence; #5 pop; 1986. “What You Need” was a last minute addition to the “Listen Like Thieves” album, completed after producer Chris Thomas noted that the record needed a hit single. Andrew Farris, “We left the studio that night knowing we had one day left and we had to deliver ‘a hit.’ Talk about pressure. The band’s performance on that track is amazing. We absolutely nailed it.” Rock critic Steve Huey on the band’s breakthrough American hit, “’What You Need’ had a stomping groove that sounded a little like the Rolling Stones without the blues influence, plus a swaggering performance by vocalist Michael Hutchence. Like nearly every great pop single, ‘What You Need’ is tightly constructed, with no wasted space or unnecessary repetition anywhere. Even though INXS would prove themselves a terrific pop outfit many times over the next few years, ‘What You Need’ remains one of their most infectious numbers.”
899. “Tired of Toein’ the Line,” Rocky Burnette. Songwriters: Rocky Burnette, Ron Coleman; #8 pop; 1980. Rocky Burnette was considered a rockabilly artist in 1980, perhaps more due to heritage than the sound of his music. Johnny Burnette, his father, was the leader of the Memphis based Rock and Roll Trio who reshaped the jazz number “Train Kept A-Rollin’” into a lean, urgent, howling rocker. “Tired of Toein’ the Line” sounds more like Jeff Lynne than Carl Perkins, which means its slick, tuneful, and imminently catchy. Rocky has kept a low profile since becoming a one hit wonder in 1980. Billy Burnette, Rocky’s first cousin, was a member of Fleetwood Mac from 1997 to 2005.
898. “Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love),” The Ramones. Songwriters: Joey Ramone, Daniel Rey; Did Not Chart; 1984. “Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)” is the kind of pop punk that would keep Billie Joe Armstrong busy shoveling cash with a backhoe a decade later. Here’s the Jerry Springer-like twist on this soap opera love triangle – “he caught him with another, it turned out to be her mother, what a tragedy.”
897. “Fantastic Voyage,” Lakeside. Songwriters: Fred Alexander, Norman Beavers, Marvin Craig, Tiemeyer McCain, Thomas Shelby, Stephen Shockley, Otis Stokes, Mark Wood; #55 pop/#1 R&B; 1981. “Fantastic Voyage” was a slide, glide, slippity-slide party funk number, reflecting P-Funk’s influence on this Dayton, Ohio act. Coolio took this escapism song and rewrote as a mainstream gangsta rap hit for a 1994 #3 pop hit, which was much less fun, but more profitable. Lakeside percussionist Fred Alexander in 2018, “It’s 37 years old and still being played. It still amazes me that people still go crazy. When we were working on the record, I didn’t have a clue (it would be so popular). Who doesn’t want to go on a fantastic voyage?”
896. “Touch of Grey,” Grateful Dead. Songwriters: Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter; #9 pop; 1987. The Grateful Dead, popular music’s quintessential psychedelic band, had their first and sole pop hit by recognizing the hippie generation had turned middle aged on “Touch of Grey.” Songwriter Robert Hunter when asked about the song by “Rolling Stone,” “You know, I’ll give you the blistering truth about it. A friend brought over a hunk of very good cocaine. I stayed up all night. And at dawn I wrote that song. That was the last time I ever used cocaine. Nor had I used it for many years before that. Now I listen to it and it’s that attitude you get when you’ve been up all night speeding and you’re absolutely the dregs. I think I got it down in that song.” Even if that answer is completely made up, it perfectly fits the Dead ethos.
895. “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” Boz Scaggs. Songwriters: Boz Scaggs, David Foster; #15 pop; 1980. William “Boz” Scaggs performed in a teenage band with Steve Miller, then followed his friend to the Bay area in the late ‘60s. Scaggs found fame as a blue-eyed soul singer during the ‘70s, backed by several studio musicians who would evolve into – hold the line! – Toto. Toto was back for the 1980 album “Middle Man,” which yielded the Top Twenty singles “Jojo” and the scarred relationship number “Breadown Dead Ahead.” His material during this era was high quality L.A. studio rock, like Jackson Browne without the legitimate romantic angst. Scaggs, on his life’s ambition, “I’m still trying to re-create a Ray Charles concert that I heard when I was fifteen years old, and all my nerve endings were fried and transformed, and electricity shot through me.”
894. “Am I Evil?,” Diamond Head. Songwriters: Sean Harris, Brian Tatler; Did Not Chart; 1980. The English metal act Diamond Head were an important link in the evolution of heavy metal, moving the genre from Black Sabbath toward the thrash attacks of Metallica and Megadeath. Brian Tatler, “I can remember wanting to write a song heavier than Black Sabbath’s ‘Symptom of The Universe.’ So when I came up with that riff, I think we all said: ‘That’s good. We should work on that.’” Tatler’s thoughts on the Metallica cover of “Am I Evil?”, “We listened to it, and thought: ‘It’s heavier and tighter’, but we didn’t think it was any better than our version. Because, of course, we’re proud of our own recording.” Answer to the title question – yes.
893. “Cuts Like a Knife,” Bryan Adams. Songwriters: Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance; #15 pop; 1983. Adams, “I think that I’m one of the world’s best mumblers, I can mumble some of the best lyrics, but putting them together is another story. I think that’s where (co-writer) Jim (Vallance) is really good – he can piece a story together. It’s just a good thing to have the tape rolling when you’re recording me. The best example was when we wrote ‘Cuts Like a Knife,’ which was just literally a mumble. We looked at each other, rolled the tape back, and it sounded like ‘cuts like a knife,’ so we started singing that.” Vallance, “There’s a long tradition in pop music of songs that employ ‘na-na-na’ choruses: ‘Hey Jude’ by The Beatles, ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ by Steam, ‘Lovin,’ Touchin,’ Squeezin’’ by Journey, and more recently ‘Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)’ by Train. Adams and I tapped into that tradition for the out-choruses of ‘Cuts Like A Knife.’”
892. “Bam Bam,” Sister Nancy. Songwriters: Winston Riley, Ophlin Russell; Did Not Chart; 1982. Forget “Pass the Dutchie,” Jamaican DJ/singer Sister Nancy had the best reggae jam of 1982 with the infectious groove of “Bam Bam.” The beat was sampled from the 1974 reggae song “Stalag 17” by Ansell Collins and Sister Nancy’s recording was later sampled by Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Lauren Hill, among others. Sister Nancy (Ophlin Russell) is considered a groundbreaking female figure in dancehall music during the 1980s. She moved to New Jersey in the 1990s and is now retired from a bank accounting job. Thirty two years after “Bam Bam” was released, it topped the iTunes reggae chart in February of 2015.
891. “Jump (For My Love),” The Pointer Sisters. Songwriters: Stephen Mitchell Marti Sharron Gary Skardina; #3 pop/#3 R&B; 1984. Keith Harris of Rolling Stone, “The Pointer Sisters may have dabbled successfully in Forties retro and M.O.R. previously, but pleasure-droid synthpop was just THEM. Their full-tilt conversion into glossy Eighties electronics was as exciting a makeover as the Bee Gees going disco. We had to wait till 1992 for Kris Kross and House of Pain to definitively prove the Jump Theorem (every hit single called ‘Jump’ is awesome), but this gravity-defiant hit (released in close proximity to Van Halen’s ‘Jump,’ it should be said) clued us in early on.” Along with “Automatic,” “I’m So Excited,” and “Neutron Dance,” “Jump” was one of four consecutive Top Ten singles The Pointer Sisters released during 1984, storming the airwaves with their new wave influenced R&B dance sound.