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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 260 to 251

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong are here to make everything right that’s wrong.

260.  “There She Goes,” The La’s. Songwriter: Lee Mavers; released in 1988, #49 pop; peaked on the charts in 1991. The Liverpool jangle pop band The La’s may have been singing about heroin (“Racing through my brain, pulsing through my vein”) or romantic obsession on the lush sounding “There She Goes.” Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie in 2006, “While I find what I consider the perfect song to be relative to the constantly changing moods and emotions in my life, the one song I constantly come back to is ‘There She Goes’ by the La’s. It defines the perfectly written pop song: an instantaneously recognizable melody and lyric set to simple, economic musical structure. It is such a simple song that it boggles the mind that someone hadn’t already written it. Regardless, for just over two minutes, ‘There She Goes’ lifts me off the ground and removes the troubles from my mind in a way no other song has ever done. Even when I hear it now, I feel the same sense of joy and elation I did when I heard it for the first time nearly 15 years ago.”

259.  “Androgynous,” The Replacements.  Songwriter: Paul Westerberg; Did Not Chart; 1984.  The early albums by The Replacements were overflowing with sonic chaos, making “Androgynous,” Paul Westerberg’s piano based humorous and loving tale of acceptance, a strange outlier.  The lyrics are too good not to quote, “Mirror image, see no damage/See no evil at all/Kewpie dolls and urine stalls/Will be laughed at, the way you’re laughed at now/Now, something meets boy, and something meets girl…” Westerberg had been experimenting with performance make-up and received a decidedly negative reaction from young males in the audience.  Westerberg on the title, “A girl said it to us. I didn’t know what it meant.”  After looking up the definition, he wrote the song on his parents’ piano.  “Androgynous” has been covered by many acts, but most fittingly by Joan Jett and Ezra Furman.

258.  “Bikeage,” Descendents.  Songwriter: Bill Stevenson; Did Not Chart; 1982.  The Descendents formed in Southern California in 1977 and their first album was 1982’s “Milo Goes to College.”  The title was a reference to lead singer Milo Aukerman’s education pursuits, which resulted in him working as a research biochemist.  The band perfected a pop punk sound years before Blink 182 and Green Day took that genre to the bank.  “Bikeage” is a song about innocence lost – the narrator rages at a teenager who is plunging into the drug and alcohol lifestyle.  Bill Stevenson, “I’m clearly making a statement about substance abuse, but I’m not doing it in an overt way; I’m doing it in a way that was very personal to me because someone I knew was being affected by that stuff.”

257.  “Prison Bound,” Social Distortion.  Songwriter: Mike Ness; Did Not Chart; 1988.  The L.A. punk rock band Social Distortion formed in 1978, but had trouble gaining commercial or artistic traction as frontman Mike Ness cycled through addiction, rehab programs, and jail.  Ness, “I’d been in trouble with the law and I was just grateful that I didn’t have to go down the same path as the one a lot of my friends did. This song still means a lot to me.”  Musically, “Prison Bound” is a mixture of punk and country influences, while lyrically the narrator makes no excuses and contemplates his future by requesting, “Tell my girl I’ll be back someday.”  A dash filled summary from rock critic Joel Francis, “Social Distortion’s presentation recalls Black Flag – full of furious energy and tattoos – but its content – songs of the downtrodden and desolate searching for redemption – could have come from the Acuff-Rose catalog.”

256.  “Possession,” Elvis Costello and the Attractions.  Songwriter: Elvis Costello; Did Not Chart; 1980.  The lyric “you lack lust, you’re so lackluster” is generally Exhibit A when criticizing Elvis Costello for sacrificing depth for wordplay, yet “Possession” still hits the mark as an effective short story about love gone sour.  Blogger Kevin Davis, “In ‘Possession’ I hear a perfectly toned little pop song with a pure, rich melodic center, and while I can see where someone would bring charges of over singing against Costello for his performance here, I think the exaggeratedly emotional, somewhat teary-sounding sense of pleading is both welcome contrast to and respite from the spitfire ironies and wisecracking of the (Get Happy!!) album as a whole. ‘Possession’ is one of its few tracks on the album that pays tribute to its sources in melody and harmony as much as in rhythm. Its key is simplicity, and there weren’t many Costello songs in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s whose keys were simplicity; in that sense, this is something of an advanced piece of writing for the man, an early version of the kind of easygoing, major-key pop melody he’d advance on songs like ‘Man Out of Time’ and ‘Blue Chair.’”

255.  “Blister in the Sun,” Violent Femmes. Songwriter: Gordon Gano; Did Not Chart; 1983. It’s somewhat odd that a song about taking drugs and self-gratification has become somewhat of a retroactive standard.  Sarah Larson of The New Yorker, “If you’re a Violent Femmes fan who’s been to a baseball game in the past decade, you’ve probably heard the beginning of ‘Blister in the Sun’ and laughed. It’s a jaunty bit of music, innocent and urgent, perfect for revving up fans. An acoustic bass plays a singsong melody, solo. Two snare-drum beats punctuate it, twice. The bass line repeats; the snares repeat. Then an acoustic guitar joins in, and everyone’s in on the good time. At the stadium, that’s all you hear; you laugh because the rest of the song continues in your head. A nasally weirdo sings ‘When I’m a-walkin’, I strut my stuff, and I’m so strung out.’ He’s high as a kite, he just might stop to check you out; he stains his sheets, his girlfriend is starting to cry, he’s like a blister in the sun, and he likes big hands. If you’ve heard the song in a dancing-and-singing scenario, you’ve noted the palpable relief when the ‘Let me go on’ part comes around, so people can forget about the stained sheets and the crying for a minute.”

254.  “Rock Box,” Run-D.M.C. Songwriters: Darryl McDaniels, Joseph Simmons, Larry Smith; Did Not Chart; 1984.  With the release of “Rock Box,” a new alliance was formed in popular music.  Darryl McDaniels, “’Rock Box’ was the first rap rock record. It took Eddie Martinez’s rock guitar to get us on MTV. Our producer, Larry Smith, came up with the idea. The rock-rap sound was Larry Smith’s vision, not Rick Rubin’s. We did two versions of ‘Rock Box,’ because we didn’t  want the guitar version playing in the hood. But when DJ Red Alert played it on his radio show, black people loved the guitar version more than the hip hop version.” Questlove of The Roots, “Run-DMC officially ushered in the B-boy period of hip-hop, where the everyman had a chance to escape poverty and invisibility and make it. Now the cherry on top was finding the perfect middle in which they could hit two birds with one stone – rock fans and hip-hop progressives. Of course, MTV was wide open, having let MJ and Prince in the door some two years before. So this was the perfect formula, the single that knocked down many obstacles enabling hip-hop to become the new gospel.”

253.   “Levi Stubbs’ Tears,” Billy Bragg. Songwriter: Billy Bragg; Did Not Chart; 1986.  Billy Bragg’s musical history has been a mixture of folk and punk ethos, leaving him left of the dial in the U.S., but he was a legitimate U.K. pop star during the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. John Tryneski of Pop Matters, “In ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ Bragg paints a bleak but empathetic picture of a woman who ran away from home as a teenager to marry a man not worthy of that word. Although he’s boorish and cruel, she would rather suffer his abuse than live alone. Echoey vocals and stark guitar mirror the woman’s isolation and it’s not until the song’s coda that the mood lightens. As Bragg starts singing about the greats of Motown he’s joined by light bongos and trumpet and the song lifts off. The only relief to her loneliness is the love songs of her youth. Although it’s one of his saddest tracks, ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ is also one of the most powerful. Bragg always had a knack for exposing the often-unseen trials and burdens that come with being a woman in modern society, and he never does it more skillfully or compassionately than in this song.”

252.  “Makes No Sense at All,” Hüsker Dü . Songwriter: Bob Mould; Did Not Chart; 1985.  Bob Mould, “’Flip Your Wig’ was my favorite record from that band. It was the best times, the best camaraderie. The songwriting was at an all-time high. ‘Makes No Sense at All’ sums up all the aspirations I had as a songwriter at that point in my life: ‘How do I continue mining this somewhat pessimistic outlook on life? How bright is the color of the ribbon that wraps this fabulous wrapping paper around this beautifully dark package? How far can I take this thing?’ It’s a super simple song, and I play it every night still. It’s one of those handful of songs in my catalog that has so far stood the test of time, and I never get tired of paying it. People in the crowd never get tired of singing it back to me.”

251.  “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” The Clash. Songwriters: Topper Headon, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer; #45 pop; 1982. Texas singer/songwriter Joe Ely, “I ran into them accidentally in New York when they were cutting ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ and Strummer said, ‘Hey, help me with my Spanish.’ So me and Strummer and the Puerto Rican engineer sat down and translated the lyrics into the weirdest Spanish ever. Then we sang it all.” Mark Deming, “From ‘Louie Louie’ to ‘Bitchin’ Camaro,’ the history of rock is dotted with any number of wonderfully stupid songs, and ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ is a true classic in this grand tradition.” Mick Jones, “It was just a good rockin’ song. Our attempt at writing a classic. When we were just playing, that’s the sort of stuff we’d play.”

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