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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 140 to 131

If loving you is a big crime, I’ve been guilty a long time.

140. “September Song,” Lou Reed. Songwriter: Kurt Weill, Maxwell Anderson; Did Not Chart; 1985. “September Song” was written by German composer Kurt Weill with lyricist Maxwell Anderson for the 1938 Broadway production “Knickerbocker Holiday.” The song was specifically written for actor Walter Hudson with consideration given to his limited vocal range. Hudson’s version of the aging romance number hit the pop charts in 1939 and the song was a hit for Liberace, Jimmy Durante, and Willie Nelson, among others. Reed, who had stated that he wanted to be the “Kurt Weill of rock ‘n’ roll’” hit the sweet spot on his version, perfectly combining reflection and determination.

139. “The Mercy Seat,” Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Songwriters: Nick Cave, Mick Harvey; Did Not Chart; 1988. Ben Hewitt of The Guardian on Nick Cave’s famous capital punishment tale,”’The Mercy Seat’ sounds genuinely sick: diseased and malformed, with shivering strings and a stark, serpent-like piano line from Mick Harvey that tries to wind and slither out of the noise-rush. Cave takes on the role of a killer condemned to death row, droning like a demented narcissist as he flits from crazed delusion (‘The face of Jesus in my soup’) to feverish Old Testament gibbering (‘An eye for an eye / A tooth for a tooth’) until the gruesome end (‘And the mercy seat is glowing / And I think my head is smoking”’. Cave is arguably the finest narrative songwriter of his generation, but the power of ‘The Mercy Seat’ is in how fragmented it is: it’s less a story than an avant-garde poem, a jumble of thoughts spilling out of some poor sod’s head, and here he’s less singer than he is a method actor chewing over a meaty soliloquy at the grimmest curtain call of all.”

138. “Everybody Knows,” Leonard Cohen. Songwriters: Leonard Cohen, Sharon Robinson; Did Not Chart; 1988. Synth pop was like kudzu during the 1980s, even wrapping its tentacles around the poetic dark music of Leonard Cohen, who catalogues a series of ills on “Everybody Knows.” Rolling Stone, “’Everybody Knows’ must be the most pessimistic song in Cohen’s vast catalog. Here are things that everybody supposedly knows: The dice are loaded, the boat is leaking, the captain lied, the poor stay poor, the rich get rich, the plague is coming and moving fast. It’s quite the bummer, but somehow packaged all together you get the feeling we’re going to survive this parade of horrors together. Over the years it’s been covered by everyone from Don Henley to Concrete Blonde to Rufus Wainwright.”

137. “That’s Entertainment,” The Jam. Songwriter: Paul Weller; Did Not Chart; 1981. Bassist Bruce Foxton, “It’s an opinion on a society that he was part of at the time and felt bored with. He had a sense of frustration, and thought, ‘There must be more to life than this.’ It was quite experimental, because it’s mostly acoustic guitar. Initially my reaction was, well, what do you want me and Rick to do? It was so fantastic and succinct. We crept in with a bit of bass and a snare drum, but it didn’t need anything else. It’s a very tensed-up sort of record, a clenched rhythm, because it’s a very frustrated lyric. The snare drum is like a punch in the gut.” Tom Pinnock of Uncut, “Written – so legend has it – in 10 minutes flat during a lager-fueled burst of creativity at Weller’s Pimlico flat, ‘That’s Entertainment’ provides a beautifully desolate, scrapbook of suburban lives played out ‘feeding ducks in the park and wishing you were far away’ to rival Ray Davies at his peak.”

136. “If I Didn’t Love You,” Squeeze. Songwriters: Chris Difford, Glenn Tilbrook; Did Not Chart; 1980. Chris Difford, “It’s about the early cosy part of a relationship, which I call the nesting stage. It’s a lovely place to be, somewhere where I think people only go two or three times in their life. At the same time it has that juxtaposition of emotions saying ‘If I didn’t love you I’d hate you,’ because at the back of your mind you’ve got that insecurity about your inability to have a proper relationship with somebody. I also love Glenn’s slide guitar solo. When he first did it I thought ‘This guy’s out of his tree. What’s he doing?,’ but it’s brilliant.” Tilbrook, “The lyric caught a lot of people’s imaginations because of that thing Chris does so well, picking up on small, almost irrelevant details. What he wrote here rang absolutely true to me and was all the more powerful for it. The line ‘The record jumps on a scratch’ was such a gift that I had to use it, so we sang ‘If I, If I, If I, If I, If I.’” Also, I might add, “Singles remind me of kisses/Albums reminds me of plans” is one of the best music nerd lines every written.

135. “Girls Like Me,” Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo. Songwriter: Bonnie Hayes; Did Not Chart; 1982. “They got a word for girls like me/They got a name but I don’t want to use it.” San Francisco musician Bonnie Hayes had her biggest commercial success as the songwriter of the Bonnie Raitt hits “Love Letter” and “Have a Heart,” but should have broken pop with the spirited girl group styled new wave single “Girls Like Me.” Music journalist Stewart Mason, “One of the great lost singles of the American new wave, this song, based on Hayes’ rollicking piano riffs (including an outstanding electric piano solo) and her cheerfully sassy vocals, is every bit the equal of any Go-Go’s or Bangles single. A sly portrait of the modern teen with an endearing level of both sweetness and self-reliance, not to mention a fizzy power-pop kick, ‘Girls Like Me’ was begging to be an anthem, but never got the exposure it really needed.” Fans of movies from the 1980s may remember this song from the underwear dance scene in the Nicholas Cage film “Valley Girl.” I surely do.

134. “Beat Dis,” Bomb the Bass. Songwriters: Pascal Gabriel, Tim Simenon; Did Not Chart; 1988. English producer Tim Simenon was a missing link between Steinski and the Dust Brothers in his audio collage technique, sampling from music (primarily rap), television, and radio to create his acid house dance track “Beat Dis.” Rock critic Amy Hanson, “Defining himself as a sampledelic masterblaster of all that the genre espoused, Tim Simenon pulled plenty of soundbytes from his extensive bag of tricks to create one of Britain’s finest dance hits. ‘Beat Dis’ not only anticipated the heavy beats that would come to dominate modern club music in the early 1990s, but also drew inspiration from America’s burgeoning hard rap scene. The combination proved explosive as the song rocketed to the top of the British charts, giving Simenon a #2 topper, and that despite initially being disguised as a white label ‘import’ from New York.” Simenon went on to produce Neneh Cherry, Seal, Sinead O’Connor, and Depeche Mode, among others.

133. “I Stand Accused,” Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Songwriters: Tony Colton, Ray Smith; Did Not Chart; 1980. Eric Adams of the A.V. Club on this adrenaline rush R&B love-as-sin song, “’I Stand Accused,’ based on the Merseybeats cover of Tony Colton’s slow-burning original—begins as a copy-of-a-copy prospect. Yet the revved-up ‘Get Happy!!’ version claims the song for Costello and The Attractions, splashing it in the colors of Steve Nieve’s calliope-esque organ and folding the wordplay of the original’s lyrics into Costello’s fondness for acid-tongued doublespeak. Working from the template set by Colton and Ray Smith, the singer-songwriter taps the properly manic vein of a lover speaking as if his feelings are on trial. It’s the perfectly post-modern vibe to wrap up a record that aspired to be dated before it hit the shelves: The earnest yearning of an early rock single turned inside-out to become a frantic plea of guilt.”

132. “All That I Wanted,” Belfegore. Songwriter: Meikel Clauss; Did Not Chart; 1984. Belfegore was a short-lived German band, alternately described as heavy metal or new wave goth, that have been compared to Public Image Ltd and Killing Joke. Music journalist John Doran, “A monster of a record and maybe a decade or so ahead of its time compared to the Electro-Industrial hoo-ha of today. A pile-driving sound with superb vocals, and a shame the band split up so soon after getting a major deal. They should have been huge.” Chuck Eddy on naming the band industrial metal innovators, “Their insertion of tense guitar grind and hushed moaning into dirged-out metronomics (via Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank) on English-mangling tracks like ‘Comic with Rats Now’ proved prescient and very goofy.”

131. “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Joy Division. Songwriters: Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner; Did Not Chart; 1980. Joy Division formed in Manchester, England in 1976, inspired by the Sex Pistols but developing a completely different sound. Music critic John Bush, “Joy Division became the first band in the post-punk movement by emphasizing not anger and energy but mood and expression. Though the group’s raw initial sides fit the bill for any punk band, Joy Division later incorporated synthesizers (taboo in the low-tech world of ’70s punk) and more haunting melodies, emphasized by the isolated, tortured lyrics of its lead vocalist, Ian Curtis.” Ian Curtis became a tragic legend, committing suicide after “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was released. Music journalist Ben Hewitt, “’Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is Joy Division’s whole history carved into one stone tablet: the legend that’s inscribed on Curtis’s memorial stone, and an entire legacy distilled into 3m 46 sec of perfect pop music. It’s also unlike anything else in their entire back catalog. There’s no heavy murk or Gothic doom, just that gorgeous, squirreling synth that’s sad and sweet, vulnerable and lost. And while Curtis’s words are so often rooted in morbid fantasy worlds, there’s no concept here: just the harsh reality of a relationship withered and gone wrong. ‘Why is this bedroom so cold? You’ve turned away on your side,’ he asks, bitter and bruised, as two people lie next to one another but can’t bring themselves to talk or touch.”

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