The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 920 to 911
It’s your one way ticket to midnight.
920. “Don’t Believe The Hype,” Public Enemy. Songwriters: Carl Ridenhour, Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, William Drayton; #18 R&B; 1988. Public Enemy formed in New York in 1986 and quickly drew attention with their confrontational sound and attitude. The biting social commentary of of Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour) and the comedic persona of Flavor Flav (William Drayton) made listeners think, or sometimes cringe, and laugh simultaneously. From the groundbreaking album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” “Don’t Believe the Hype” was Chuck D’s message for his listeners to actively engage in critical thinking, particularly when it came to the media narratives. The beat for “Don’t Believe the Hype” came from the 1973 single “Synthetic Substitution” by Chicago born R&B singer Melvin Bliss, a song also sampled by Ultramagnectic MC’s (“Ego Trippin’”), Joeski Love (“Pee Wee’s Dance”), and De La Soul (“Potholes in My Lawn”).
919. “Do You Believe in Love,” Huey Lewis and the News. Songwriter: Robert John “Mutt” Lange; #7 pop; 1982. If you were constructing a list of the “Least Dangerous Rock ‘n’ Roll Acts of All Time,” Huey Lewis would have to be in the conversation, but he did admit to having a financial relationship with Satan. Lewis, “You needed to have a hit or you wouldn’t be able to make records. It was expensive to go into the studio. You couldn’t do it at home on Pro Tools. You needed a hit. We realized that. You had to keep the band alive.” Huey’s first Top Ten single was first recorded, with extraordinarily bad vocals, by the U.K. band Supercharge in 1979 as “We Both Believe in Love.” (The common thread is that both band were produced by Robert “Mutt” Lange). Lewis wasn’t enamored with the slick sound, but thought it was a necessary evil at the time: “You do have to make your deal with the devil, I think, to a certain extent and we’ve done that.”
918. “Love Me in a Special Way,” DeBarge. Songwriter: El DeBarge; #45 pop/#11 R&B; 1984. Like the Jackson 5, DeBarge was a family act signed to Motown, but lead singer El DeBarge’s falsetto voice was more of a throwback to the Chi-Lites and Stylistics than the Jackson 5. Robert Christgau on the A+ rated “In a Special Way” album, “I know of no pop music more shameless in its pursuit of pure beauty–not emotional (much less intellectual) expression, just voices joining for their own sweet sake, with the subtle Latinized rhythms (like the close harmonies themselves) working to soften odd melodic shapes and strengthen the music’s weave. High energy doesn’t always manifest itself as speed and volume – sometimes it gets winnowed down to its essence.”
917. “Be Near Me,” ABC. Songwriters: Martin Fry, Mark White; #9 pop; 1985. The love ballad “Be Near Me” was one of two Top Ten singles for ABC in the USA, with the other being 1987’s “When Smokey Sings.” ABC vocalist Martin Fry, ”We wanted to make the record (the ‘How to Be a Zillionaire’ album) completely synthetic and machine made. The record company in Britain hated it – they really hated it – they were very shocked and wanted me to go and make ‘Lexicon of Love, Part Six’ – but fortunately, like the cavalry coming over the hill, it was our biggest selling record in America. ‘Be Near Me’ and ‘How to Be a Millionaire’ were big hits off that record. Now since then, there’s been a lot of guys in hip -hop and R&B who really love that record – they use it as a reference point and sample it a lot. We really had to experiment to get the sounds and there are a lot of guys in trip-hop and electronica today who are very flattering about that record.”
916. “Xanadu,” Olivia Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra. Songwriter: Jeff Lynne; #8 pop; 1980. Feeling as though the world needed a roller skating disco movie starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly, cocaine addled executives of Universal Pictures came to the rescue in 1980 with the poorly received romantic musical fantasy flick “Xanadu.” Nonetheless, the soundtrack outpaced the movie, going double platinum and yielding the #1 singles “Magic” for Olivia Newton John and “Xanadu,” crediting to the singer and ELO. Once you get past the camp factor, “Xanadu” is like a good ABBA style song. You’ll hum it, if perhaps not loud and proudly. Despite the movie’s limited success, “Xanadu” did inspire a 2007 Broadway musical production of the same name.
915. “Heavy Metal,” Sammy Hagar. Songwriters: Sammy Hagar, Jim Peterik; Did Not Chart; 1981. Sammy Hagar wasn’t pussyfooting around during the 1980s – this was a man who PROUDLY refused to drive in accordance with posted speed limit signs. What a bad boy! Matthew Wilkening of Ultimate Classic Rock on this soundtrack number, “OK, granted, neither this song nor Hagar would be considered true heavy metal by anybody but your grandparents. But it packs a dynamite riff, and captures the excitement of going to see your favorite band in concert as well as any track we’ve ever heard. It also proves that Hagar — as much as he understandably defers to his virtuoso bandmates — is far from a slouch when it comes to playing lead guitar. Songwriter Jim “Eye of Da Tiger” Peterik, “I went down to San Francisco and immediately hit it off with him like we were old friends. We wound up that very first day going down to his basement and writing ‘Heavy Metal,’ and then drinking tequila until midnight. He’s the guy that introduced me to tequila straight, and I’ll never forgive him for that.”
914. “Add It Up,” Violent Femmes. Songwriter: Gordon Gano; Did Not Chart; 1983. “Add It Up” is either terribly dark or tremendously droll, depending on your point of view (and, perhaps, maturity level). Gordon Gano sings about involuntary celibacy and hints that his unresolved frustration may result in violence. Bandmate/foil Brian Ritchie wanted to dump the two chord song (which later became the title for their greatest “hits” collection) before it was recorded, considering it boring musically. The instrumental break may place the band clearly in the “amateurism” category, but that doesn’t lessen the intensity level.
913. “Sensoria,” Cabaret Voltaire. Songwriters: Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder; Did Not Chart; 1984. The electronic, post punk outfit Cabaret Voltaire formed in Sheffield, England in 1973, but didn’t release their debut album until 1979. “Sensoria” brings elements of Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa, along with spoken word interludes that remind the listener to “go to church” and “respect those in authority,” to the dancefloor. Roland H. Kirk, “I’d say that with Cabaret Voltaire as well as being really interested in leftfield electronic music, the kind of music that we grew up loving was black music. You wouldn’t call it that now but things like Motown and then later James Brown, George Clinton, (Hamilton) Bohannon, the Fatback Band. That was always there. I think the difference is that when we started in the 70s we weren’t really able to do that kind of stuff because quite simply we weren’t good enough musicians. But when the technology changed in the late70s to early 80s it became more within our grasp to do dance music in inverted comments.”
912. “Master of Puppets,” Metallica. Songwriters: Cliff Burton, Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield Lars Ulrich; Did Not Chart; 1986. Metallica defined the sound of heartland heavy metal during the 1980s, as Black Sabbath had done during the early 1970s. There wasn’t much middle ground with headbanging thrash. Keith Richards, “Millions are in love with Metallica and Black Sabbath. I just thought they were great jokes.” British journalist Dom Larson, “To truly understand the colossal impact on metal of Metallica’s first two albums, first try to imagine that you are 14 and absolutely furious about pretty much everything. There was plenty of noisy, fast and deliberately ‘orrible music available to delinquent teens in the early 80s, but punk rock and heavy metal belonged to an earlier generation: all great music, of course, but nothing we surly longhairs could truly call our own. And then thrash metal happened.”
911. “Rockin’ in to the Night,” .38 Special. Songwriters: Jim Peterik, Gary Smith, Frank Sullivan; #43 pop; 1980. The Southern rock act .38 Special was originally known as the band lead by Donnie Van Zant, the little brother of Skynyd’s Ronnie VZ, but guitarist Don Barnes was the vocalist on the band’s hit singles. “Rockin’ into the Night” was written by members of Survivor, who had yet to break pop with “Eye of the Tiger,” but their producer passed this arena rock number to .38 Special’s manager. By 1980, .38 Special sounded more like Bad Company than the Allman Brothers. Barnes, “Most of the time, if you’re from the west side of Jacksonville, anybody that makes it out of there is either driving a truck or going to prison. We started out being a rehash of outlaw country and Southern rock, but gradually we realized we were more British Invasion and Beatles rather than straight-blues oriented.”