The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 910 to 901
And don’t it feel good.
910. “Walking on Sunshine,” Katrina and the Waves. Songwriter: Kimberley Rew; #9 pop; 1985. Katrina Leskanich, “I thought ‘Walking on Sunshine’ wasn’t really us. Vince de la Cruz, our bass-player, thought it was irritating. I was going through a Velvet Underground and Nico phase – lots of black eyeliner – and here was a Motown-type fun song about sunshine. It proved to be a total dancefloor emptier. So we dropped it. Later, we’d realised that, however annoying ‘Walking on Sunshine’ was at first, it was impossible to get out of your head. As we were recording it, an arranger wandered in and said: ‘You should put horns on that.’ And he hummed what became that pumping melody. But the horn section we got in whined so much about how hard it was to play that we had to drop the key just for them. It had a feel-good element that was perfect for radio. I’d been this sulky goth and suddenly I was ‘Chrissie Hynde with a smile’ fronting ‘the new Monkees.’ The song changed my life. I’ve ended up adoring it.”
909. “Last Cigarette,” Dramarama. Songwriter: John Easdale; Did Not Chart; 1989. The New Jersey band Dramarama was the type of no gimmicks, traditional rock act that had trouble gaining traction in the video era. The nicotine addiction “Last Cigarette” was a #13 Modern Rock hit in 1989 and the title was stolen by the lesser New Jersey act Bon Jovi for a 2005 album cut. Rock critic Ned Raggett, “The great ‘Last Cigarette’ continues the Dramarama tradition of strong lead singles, hitting and ripping with the prime energy of early New York glam/punk and even earlier rave-ups without sounding dated in the least.” John Easdale on his art, “The songs are all about me. They’re all for everybody, but they come from me. If I’m doing my job right, then people will see a bit of themselves in the song; respond to it some way. I write very few happy love songs, you know. My songs are more violent and twisted, and I feel gratified to share them with the world.”
908. “Pink Houses,” John Mellencamp. Songwriter: John Mellencamp; #8 pop; 1984. Mellencamp, “I was driving through Indianapolis on Interstate 65 and I saw a black man holding either a cat or a dog. He was sitting on his front lawn in front of a pink house in one of those shitty, cheap lawn chairs. I thought, ‘Wow, is this what life can lead to? Watching the fuckin’ cars go by on the interstate?’ Then I imagined he wasn’t isolated, but he was happy. So I went with that positive route when I wrote this song. This one has been misconstrued over the years because of the chorus – it sounds very rah-rah. But it’s really an anti-American song. The American dream had pretty much proven itself as not working anymore. It was another way for me to sneak something in. Now when I hear that song, all I can think is: ‘Why didn’t I do a better job on the last verse?’ If I had written it today, the last verse would’ve had more meaning.”
907. “Things Can Only Get Better,” Howard Jones. Songwriter: Howard Jones; #5 pop; 1985. Howard Jones was a proud representative of the Brit Synth Pop With Silly Hair movement of the 1980s. Jones reflecting on his signature song, “I thought, ‘People are listening to me, so what can I give them that is really going to help?’ And every single person on the planet goes through bad times. And it’s great sometimes to have somebody say to you, ‘Come on, even if it gets so you lose everything and everything goes horribly wrong, you can still pick yourself up and go forward, and you can make it right, you can make things get better.’ I think pop music, one of the things it should be is like a cheerleading song that helps you get through a bad time and pick you up a bit when you’re feeling a bit exhausted and glub. And that’s what I really wanted to do.”
906. “Tokyo, Oklahoma,” John Anderson. Songwriter: Mick Vickery; #30 country; 1985. Songwriter Mack Vickery thought that “Tokyo, Oklahoma” would be “a damn big smash or nothin’.” This tale of international romance between Tok-San Itchy-Ban and Miss Soo-Ling-Foo stalled out at #30 on the country charts, as the public didn’t clamor for the geisha girl meets cowboy love story. Vickery, on one of his more questionable lyrical choices, “I had trouble trying to figure out a phone number in Tokyo. I didn`t have any idea what the prefix would be. The only two Japanese things I could think of were Hiroshima and Nagasaki – from the atomic bomb, you know. Hiroshima flowed better, so I just made up the number that flowed the best: Hiroshima 7-9805.” This number is massively politically incorrect and quite hysterical, nonetheless. In 1970, the songwriter released the “Mack Vickery Live! at the Alabama Women’s Prison” album, which should have gone double platinum solely based on the cover. Vickery stood in front of a jail cell with a guitar slung over his shoulder like a rockabilly stud, while four female inmates looked suitably attentive in prison dresses. If bad taste is timeless, that album is eternal.
905. “Out of Touch,” Hall & Oates. Songwriters: Daryl Hall, John Oates; #1 pop/#24 R&B; 1984. John Oates, “’Don’t lose your soul’ is one of our central themes. Soul matters. Roots matter. They’re the source of your power, your core, the energy that sets you apart from the molecules in the wallpaper.” Music journalist Nick Murray on this song’s universal appeal, “’Out of Touch’ (was) a hit on the pop, R&B, dance and adult contemporary charts. With two thick bass lines and drum machine percussion, ‘Out of Touch’ was even a favorite of New York mix-show DJs like Red Alert and the Latin Rascals, who would occasionally play it (or Arthur Baker’s dub remix) alongside electro by Hashim and Man Parrish.” This was the duo’s sixth and final #1 pop hit. Daryl Hall, “Obscurity is just obscurity. There’s no romance in obscurity.”
904. “Pride and Joy,” Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Songwriter: Stevie Ray Vaughan; Did Not Chart; 1983. Bassist Tommy Shannon on recording the first Stevie Ray Vaughan album, “It was us playing what we played every night. Stevie said, ‘We’ve waited our whole lives to record this record.’” SRV’s solo is included in Guitar World’s “100 Greatest Solos of All Time.” Dickey Betts, “When I heard that on the radio, I just said ‘Hallelujah.’ He was just so good and strong and he would not be denied. He single handedly brought guitar and blues-oriented music back to the marketplace.”
903. “Forever Young,” Alphaville. Songwriters: Bernhard Lloyd, Marian Gold, Frank Mertens; #65 pop; released in 1984, peaked on charts in 1988. Alphaville was a German studio synth pop band who had several international hits during the mid-1980s, including the “Napoleon Dynamite” slow dance/striving for immortality ballad “Forever Young.” Singer/songwriter Marian Gold on the beautifully naïve composition, “It’s a phenomenon. (Keyboardist) Bernard (Lloyd) came up with the playback and the chords, and it had that trumpet part in it already. I took it home (and) wrote the lyrics. I came in and sang it and thought, ‘Yeah, it’s a nice song. Probably a little bit too commercial in the chorus.’ The song came out and became a thing on its own. I have no explanation for it. It touches so many hearts, souls and minds because it seems to speak to every generation. Or to every problem in the world. It has this fantastic title that I stole from Bob Dylan. But, hey, Rod Stewart did the same thing. (Laughs)”
902. “Sara,” Fleetwood Mac. Songwriter: Stevie Nicks; #7 pop; 1980. “Sara” was the third major hit that Stevie Nicks penned for Fleetwood Mac, following “Rhiannon” and “Dreams.” It was the only song from the experimental “Tusk” double album that sounded like the classic pop material the band released on their 1975 “Fleetwood Mac” and 1977 “Rumours” albums. It’s been reported that the lyrics were inspired by a pregnancy that Nicks terminated resulting from her relationship with Don Henley. Nicks, “I knew that ‘Sara’ would be very popular because I loved writing that song. I remember the night I wrote it. ‘I sat up with a very good friend of mine whose name is Sara, who was married to Mick Fleetwood. She likes to think it’s completely about her, but it’s really not completely about her. The true version of that song is 16 minutes long. It’s a saga with many verses people haven’t heard.”
901. “This Charming Man,” The Smiths. Songwriters: Johnny Marr, Morrisey; Did Not Chart; 1983. Morrisey, on singing in a way that made listeners either want to hug or punch him, “I really like the idea of the male voice being quite vulnerable, of it being taken and slightly manipulated, rather than there being always this heavy machismo thing that just bores everybody.” Johnny Marr on the inspiration for his famed jangle pop riff on the band’s first U.K. Top 40 single, “A couple of days before I wrote ‘This Charming Man’ I’d heard ‘Walk Out to Winter’ by Aztec Camera and I felt a little jealous. My competitive urges kicked in. I felt that we needed something up-beat and in a major key for Rough Trade to get behind. That’s why I wrote it in the key of G, which to this day I rarely do. I knew that ‘This Charming Man’ would be our next single.” Rock critic Rob Sheffield, perhaps describing why The Smiths had such a strong following, wrote that “This Charming Man” has “a melancholic yet fearless sound.”