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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 190 to 181

Lift up the receiver, I’ll make you a believer.

190.  “Personal Jesus,” Depeche Mode. Songwriter: Martin Gore; #28 pop; 1989. Martin Gore of Depeche Mode on “Personal Jesus” being inspired by the Priscilla Presley book “Elvis and Me”: “It’s a song about being a Jesus for somebody else, someone to give you hope and care. It’s about how Elvis was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships – how everybody’s heart is like a god in some way, and that’s not a very balanced view of someone, is it?” Justin Martin of Stereogum, “While rhythm has always been central to Depeche Mode’s songs, on ‘Personal Jesus’ it was the song — one idea that’s so good it can be retooled and recycled and still sound fresh. As techno took over the early ’90s, Depeche Mode was perhaps unknowingly one of the bands leading the way.”

189.  “Dweller on the Threshold,” Van Morrison.  Songwriters: Van Morrison, Hugh Murphy; Did Not Chart; 1984.  Van Morrison cared nothing about chasing commercial trends during the 1980s. Producing his own music, he blended his love of R&B and jazz often with spiritual themes.  Author Bill Friskis-Warren, “’Dweller on the Threshold’ is Morrison giving voice to his overwhelming desire for transcendence, a thirst that, while never quenched, and perhaps because of that, infuses all of his music and makes so much of it sublime.”  Also, Jesus always goes better with a groove.

188.  “Age of Consent,” New Order. Songwriters: Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert; Did Not Chart; 1983. Aaron Lariviere of Stereogum, “When you write a bass line this good you better believe it’s gonna get played through the whole goddamn song. Sure, Peter Hook mixes it up (a hair) once the vocals kick in, but ‘Age OF Consent’ is essentially one perfect bass part played for five minutes. The song presents a perfect opportunity for the rest of the band to vamp while Hook and drummer Stephen Morris hold it all down. Bernard Sumner cuts loose with gentle, meandering solos offset by jagged rhythm guitars, all while relating a plaintive tale of a relationship gone south. Keyboardist Gillian Gilbert occasionally pulls up a synth patch that feels strangely like the synth from ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart,’ lending ‘Age of Consent’ the weight and consequence to stand tall in the shadow of its untouchable forebear. It’s wistful, it’s playful, and it’s just this side of perfect.”

187.  “Pink Cadillac,” Bruce Springsteen.  Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen; Did Not Chart; 1984.  Springsteen entered the rumbling world of rockabilly, while saluting the Chuck Berry tradition of writing about an automobile as a sexual metaphor, with the 1984 B-side “Pink Cadillac.”  The Boss, “This is a song about the conflict between worldly things and spiritual health, between desires of the flesh and spiritual ecstasy.” Music journalist Caryn Rose, “The music is down and dirty, embodying the sound of bar band in the corner of a dive with a packed dance floor ‘on a Saturday night.’ Extra points for ‘My love is bigger than a Honda/It’s bigger than a Subaru.’”  Natalie Cole scored a #5 pop hit in 1988 with her triple condom stiff R&B take.

186.  “Steppin’ Out,” Joe Jackson.  Songwriter: Joe Jackson; #6 pop; 1982.  British songwriter Joe Jackson started as an acidic new wave rocker, finding the U.S. Top 40 in 1979 with the addled attraction number “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”  He was a smooth crooner by 1982’s “Steppin’ Out.” Rock critic Stephen Holden, “Joe Jackson’s ‘Night and Day’ (album) captures the flavor and tempo of contemporary Manhattan very evocatively. The hybrid Latin rhythms echo New York’s vivid multi-ethnic swirl, while Mr. Jackson’s blunt, catchy tunes pay homage to the city’s longstanding pop traditions.” Ian Cohen of Pitchfork, “Its perky, Kraftwerk-ian bassline and gilded keyboards offer a wide-eyed view of the world—either the result of naivety or a hit of the purest coke.” “Steppin’ Out” received a Grammy nomination for “Record of the Year,” but lost out to Toto’s “Rosanna.” That’s kind of the musical equivalent of losing a hot girlfriend to a guy whose stained teeth are only made less noticeable due to his bladder control issues.

185.  “Superman,” R.E.M.  Songwriters: Mitchell Bottler, Gary Zekley; Did Not Chart; 1986.  R.E.M. momentarily rescued the 1960’s Texas sunshine pop/kindergarten psychedelic band The Clique from obscurity with their cover of “Superman,” a song they improved a thousandfold.  John Everhart of Stereogum, “’Superman’ finds him confidently keening, ‘If you go a million miles away I’ll track you down girl,’ as Peter Buck’s Rickenbacker chimes like a clarion bell throughout the chorus, echoing Mills’ exaggerated, cartoonish confidence.”  Keyboardist Oscar Houchins of The Clique on the song’s garage rock resurrection, “It was a shock. I don’t think any of us had thought about that song in years. Even at the beginning we never thought much of the song. It was the kind of thing we were hoping our fans would forgive us for recording.”

184.  “Seven Year Ache,” Rosanne Cash.  Songwriter: Rosanne Cash; #22 pop/#1 country; 1981. Rosanne Cash, the daughter of Johnny who studied drama and English for a year at Vanderbilt, was born into the music business.  She started performing with her father in the mid-1970s and released her first album in 1978.  After being signed by Columbia Records, she had three minor country hits from her 1980 “Right or Wrong” album.  The title track to her 1981 release “Seven Year Ache” provided Rosanne with her breakthrough hit and signature song.  Her first #1 country single was a self-penned heartbreaker about a husband chasing tail on the bar scene instead of communicating with his wife.  Even with the weird, cascading steel guitar sound, this was Cash’s only hit to crossover to the pop charts (peaking at #22).  Her marriage to producer Rodney Crowell outlasted the seven year ache by half a decade. Rock critic Thom Yurek on the “Seven Year Ache” album, “Rosanne Cash’s masterpiece paved the way for Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, and then some. Proclaimed by Cash and her husband/producer/collaborator, Rodney Crowell, as ‘punktry,’ the album adds an entirely new twist on the Nashville sound. Perhaps it is because this is L.A. country and reflects the cocaine bliss in the sound of the era as well as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’ does.”

183.  “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely,” Hüsker Dü .  Songwriter: Grant Hart; Did Not Chart; 1986.  Rock critic Andrew Unterberger, “One of the critical songs not just of the Hüsker Dü discography, but of all college rock. It’s not the most fraught of lyrical conceits for Hart & Co. — for once, they don’t seem as shellshocked as they are just desperate to move on — but the frustration of being unable to do so explodes with every measure, Hart’s frantic drum work never better as he seems to be personally fist-punching the cymbals on the chorus. If Grant Hart has a defining moment on record, it’s at the final verse, when he gets a call he can only presume to be from his ex, and a lifetime’s romantic exasperation culminates in a climactic couplet that one-ups even Paul Westerberg: ‘Please leave your number and a message at the tone/ Or you can just go on and LEAVE ME ALONE!’ He sounds pinched, he sounds flustered, he sounds far too distraught to take any sort of satisfaction from the kiss-off.”

182.  “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” Camper Van Beethoven.  Songwriter: David Lowery; Did Not Chart; 1985.  CVB frontman David Lowery on this satirical take on life, “I never thought that ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’ would become a hit. If someone had traveled from the future and told me we would have a hit on our first album I would not have picked this song as being the hit. Not in a million years. We regarded ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling ‘as just a weird non-sensical song. The lyrics were purposely structured so that it would be devoid of meaning. Each subsequent line would undermine any sort of meaning established by the last line (author’s note – a fine example, ‘Everybody’s comin’ home for lunch these days/Last night there were skinheads on my lawn’). It was the early 80′s and all our peers were writing songs that were full of meaning. It was our way of rebelling.”

181.  “Cruel Summer,” Bananarama.  Songwriters: Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey, Steve Jolley, Tony Swain, Karen Woodward; #9 pop; 1984. The vocal trio Bananarama formed in London in 1981 and scored two Top Five U.K. hits recorded with Fun Boy Three in 1982 – “It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way You Do It)” and “Really Sayin’ Something.  Those singles were modern takes on 60’s girl group music with the later being a cover of Motown’s Velvelletes 1965 R&B hit.  The English production team of (Steven) Jolley & (Tony) Swain gave the group a modern pop/dance sound with “Cruel Summer,” which might have the best marimba riff of any Top 40 tune since “Under My Thumb” by the Stones.  Bananarama vocalist Sara Dallin, “The best summer songs remind you of your youth: what you did in your holidays, how it felt when you first kissed a boy, going away without your parents. For me, our hit, ‘Cruel Summer,’ played on the darker side: it looked at the oppressive heat, the misery of wanting to be with someone as the summer ticked by. We’ve all been there!”

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