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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 370 to 361

I want the doctor to take your picture/So I can look at you from inside as well.

370.  “We Got the Beat,” The Go-Go’s.  Songwriter: Charlotte Caffey; #2 pop; 1982.  The Go-Go’s first hit the pop charts with “Our Lips Are Sealed” which peaked at #20, but became a national sensation when “We Got the Beat” shot to #2 nationally.  It was the band’s biggest hit and was kept out of the top slot by Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”  Songwriter Charlotte Caffey, “I thought it would be very clever to do (a cover of the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ hit) ‘Going to A Go-Go.’ (Narrator, “It would not have been clever”).  I was listening to it a lot one day, and later that night, the song came to me within five minutes. I don’t even know if it has anything to do with listening to that song, but this whole idea came to me. It was one of those things that just went right through me and came out my hand; I wrote it down, recorded it a little bit, and then brought it into rehearsal a few days later.”

369.  “Nobody Told Me,” John Lennon.  Songwriter: John Lennon; #5 pop; 1984. John Lennon had started writing what became a posthumous Top Ten single in 1976 and had originally intended to give the song to Ringo Starr.  Music journalist Michaelangelo Matos noting that the record wasn’t an intended final product, “Instead of double-tracking himself per usual, this relaxed take shows how powerfully natural and sharp-witted a singer he was.” Hearing John Lennon, three years after he had been assassinated, singing about embracing the vagaries and complexities of life was strangely comforting.  Or, in John’s words, “Most peculiar, mama…ROLL!”

368.  “Got My Mind Made Up,” Bob Dylan.  Songwriters: Bob Dylan, Tom Petty; Did Not Chart; 1986.  Tom Petty on this playful, gospel tinged rocker, “Bob says ‘Let’s write a song about Florida!’ And I said no. He goes (singing) ‘I’m going to Tallahassee …’ and I said no, ‘I’m going to Libya.’ And he sings ‘There’s a guy I gotta see/He’s been living there three years now/In an oil refinery.’ Great! And then we did another one. Writing with Bob is great, because if you throw one line he comes back with three great lines.” Dylan was backed by the Heartbreakers on this number and his partnership with Petty seemed to revitalize his spirit during the 1980s.  Dylan, “I thought the world of Tom.  He was a great performer, full of light, a friend, and I will never forget him.”

367.  “Don’t Tempt Me,” Richard Thompson. Songwriter: Richard Thompson; Did Not Chart; 1988.  Richard Thompson is primarily known for his expertise as a guitarist, bringing traditional Celtic and English folk music into a contemporary context.  Perhaps inspired by working with Loudon Wainwright III during the 1980s, he released one of his broadest comedy numbers with “Don’t Tempt Me,” narrating a jealous rage at a metaphorical monkey simulating sex with his gal on the dancefloor.  One of the few songs of the decade to mix a death threat with bagpipes.

366.  “Oblivious,” Aztec Camera. Songwriter: Roddy Frame; Did Not Chart; 1983. Joseph Neff of The Vinyl District on this Top Twenty U.K. hit, “Oblivious’ can be accurately assessed as an exceptionally written tune. This was maximal, accessible, unabashedly sophisticated Pop Music not only shirking off any tangible debt to punk but also steering far clear of the swelling tide of the synth-wave. Amongst the ingredients in ‘Oblivious’’s stew is flamenco-styled acoustic guitar (with an exquisitely rendered solo from Frame), swells of smooth organ and rich backing-vocal accents. And while the front-man’s voice is modest, it’s also well-assured and in total synch with the whole.”  That solo is the astounding work of a man who had been playing guitar for fifteen years and was still a teenager.

365.  “Desire,” U2.  Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.; #3 pop; 1988. Rolling Stone, “Drawing inspiration from the Stooges’ raucous, proto-punk classic ‘1969’ (hardly the stuff of hit singles in 1988), Bono and the Edge wrote a song that made the Billboard Top Five and earned U2 one of their first Grammys. Driven by a thunderous Bo Diddley rumble and capped off with Bono’s searing harmonica solo, it provided a sharp contrast to the uplifting expansiveness of ‘The Joshua Tree’ (album), let alone anything else on the radio.” The Edge, “I liked the fact that it was totally not what people were listening to. It was a rock & roll record – not a pop song.”

364.  “Every Breath You Take,” The Police. Songwriter: Sting; #1 pop; 1983.  Sting, “I think it’s a nasty little song, really rather evil. It’s about jealousy and surveillance and ownership. I think the ambiguity is intrinsic in the song however you treat it because the words are so sadistic. On one level, it’s a nice long song with the classic relative minor chords, and underneath there’s this distasteful character talking about watching every move. I enjoy that ambiguity. Once I’d written and performed it, I realised it was quite dark. My intention might have been to write a romantic song, seductive, enveloping and warm. Then I saw another side of my personality was involved, too, about control and jealousy, and that’s its power. It was written at a difficult time.” Guitarist Andy Summers, “Without that guitar part there’s no song. That’s what sealed it. My guitar completely made it classic and put the modern edge on it. I actually came up with it in one take, but that’s because Sting’s demo left a lot of space for me to do what I did. There was no way I was just gonna strum barre chords through a song like that.”

363.  “10-5-60,” The Long Ryders. Songwriters: Sid Griffin, Barry Shank; Did Not Chart; 1983. Journalist Matthew Greenwald, “The opening salvo to the Long Ryders’ debut EP, this song underlines the band’s deep garage roots. Built around a snaky, Yardbirds-inspired electric guitar riff, it’s an explosion of the simple desire to play LOUD rock & roll. Coming in the middle of the soulless new wave explosion, it was certainly a breath of fresh air. A wild psychedelic instrumental bridge (a nod to the Yardbirds and the Velvet Underground) is equally striking. The lyrics mirror the music, being an aural house party.” Stephen Deusner of Stereogum, “As they chant those obscure numbers on the chorus, the song becomes a boisterous mission statement.”

362.  “Turning Japanese,” The Vapors.  Songwriter: David Fenton; #36 pop; 1980. This British new wave act was so worried about being a one hit wonder band that they made sure that “Turning Japanese” was their second single. Unfortunately, their first single (“Prisoners”) bombed and they became what they feared. Either an ode to self satisfaction or a pained look at lost love, “Turning Japanese” is chocked full of more riffs and humor than most bands manage in an entire career. Songwriter Daven Fenton, “I wrote it as a love song. But when I went to America everyone said to me, ‘Is it about wanking?’ In interviews, I’d say alternatively, ‘Yes, it is,’ and ‘No, it’s not.’ It could be about a lot of things. I just woke up with that phrase in my head. It’s just an image which captures what that song was all about. But, no it wasn’t intended to be about wanking at the time. What surprised me was that the Americans thought it was an English phrase!”

361.  “Passionate Kisses,” Lucinda Williams.  Songwriter: Lucinda Williams; Did Not Chart; 1988. “Passionate Kisses” is the biggest hit that Lucinda’s ever written.  Unfortunately, the hit part of the equation belongs to Mary Chapin Carpenter, whose lackluster cover version was a #4 country single in 1993.  Lucinda takes on Maslow’s hierarchy in “Passionate Kisses,” quickly moving from wanting the basic physiological needs of food and clothing, then moving to self-actualization through romantic bliss. It’s a rare combination of pop hooks and optimism from Lucinda.  When I met her in Portland in the early 1990s, I tried to get her to dismiss Carpenter’s cover, but even in the pre-internet days, she was too savvy or sweet to take that bait.  Carpenter had the second cover hit from the 1988 “Lucinda Williams” album, Patty Loveless took the lonely, Corona drinking office clerk of “The Night’s Too Long” to #20 in 1990.

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