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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 440 to 431

When you’re following an angel, does it mean you have to throw your body off a building?

440.  “Down Under,” Men at Work.  Songwriters: Colin Hay, Ron Strykert; #1 pop; 1983.  Colin Hay, “It’s a very important song for me. It always felt like a strong song, right from the start. Originally, the idea came from a little bass riff that Ron Strykert, the guitar player for Men at Work, had recorded on a little home cassette demo. It was just a little bass riff with some percussion that he played on bottles which were filled with water to varying degrees to get different notes. It was a very intriguing little groove. I really loved it, it had a real trance-like quality to it. It’s ultimately a song about celebration, but it’s a matter of what you choose to celebrate about a country or a place. White people haven’t been in Australia all that long, and it’s truly an awesome place, but one of the most interesting and exciting things about the country is what was there before. The true heritage of a country often gets lost in the name of progress and development.”

439.  “Roam,” The B-52s. Songwriters: Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, Robert Waldrop, Cindy Wilson; #3 pop; released in 1989, peaked on charts in 1990. Kate Pierson describing her harmony singing with Cindy Wilson, “The inspiration for our vocal harmonies was sort of Appalachian. The way we jammed, we would just get into a trance. Almost like automatic writing, this collective unconscious would take over and sometimes we’d be singing all at once. We’d listen back to the tape and seek out the best parts and patch them together in a collage. I might be doing the high part and Cindy does the low part, but then we would switch. On ‘Roam,’ we crossed over in the highs and lows.”  Take it hip to hip, rocket through the wilderness.

438.  “Hold on Loosely,” .38 Special. Songwriters: Don Barnes, Jeff Carlisi, Jim Peterik; #27 pop; 1981. Songwriter Jim Peterik, “The thing that’s unique about the sound of 38 Special is you took a southern rock band from Florida and a pop/rock guy from Chicago, and you put them together, and you got this hybrid that really didn’t exist before. We were put together by (A&R executive) John Kalodner. They came into town. Don Barnes and Jeff Carlisi sat at my kitchen table, and the first thing we wrote was the intro to “Hold on Loosely.” We caught lightning in a bottle. So we had a high bar to live up to after that. Jeff Carlisi who came up with the magic lick. He said, ‘It’s kind of a Cars ripoff.’ (laughs). Don Barnes had the title: ‘Hold On Loosely.’ I started thinking about dating a girl, and I wasn’t giving her enough space, and she’s going, ‘Hey! Back off, Jim.’ The song wrote itself that day.It was written at my kitchen table in La Grange, Illinois. I wrote ‘Eye of the Tiger’ there, too.”

437.  “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag,” Pigbag.  Songwriters: Simon Underwood, James Johnstone, Chris Lee, Ollie Moore, Roger Freeman, Andrew Carpenter, Chris Hamlin, Mark Smith; Did Not Chart; 1981.  The U.K. post punk/dance band was unusual for its time in that it included a four piece horn section.  Their U.K. Top Five hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag” has free jazz elements and African beats – it sounds like a marching band conducted by Frank Zappa.  From a PigBag interview with an unnamed band member on their eclecticism, “The initial impetus was free jazz – Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders. But that was shaped by what was going around at the time which for us was punk/new wave and dub reggae. Then we started listening to Prince, Fela Kuti, James Brown and Parliament. So there was a range of influences.”

436.  “Boom Boom Mancini,” Warren Zevon. Songwriter: Warren Zevon; Did Not Chart; 1987. Boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini was known for his aggressiveness in the ring.  South Korean boxer Duk Koo Kim fell into a coma after a match with Mancini in 1982 and died shortly afterwards.  Zevon’s lyrics are a commentary on the dark allure of violence. From the “Nightly Song” website, “’The name of the game is be hit and hit back.’ Write a line like that and you can go home knowing you’ve done your job. It comes from Warren Zevon’s ‘Boom Boom Mancini,’ as tough and hard a song as you will ever hear. His voice – direct, insistent, in your face, singing from a place that has learned some hard lessons – finds its match in the pounding and furious rhythm laid down by Bill Berry and Mike Mills of R.E.M. No jingle-jangle here as Berry pounds the drumheads. Peter Buck fills out the sound with wailing guitar riffs. This is not background music.”

435.  “Long White Cadillac,” The Blasters.  Songwriter: Dave Alvin; Did Not Chart; 1983.  Rock critic Mark Deming, “On New Years Day, 1953, 29-year-old Hank Williams died while napping in the back of his Cadillac as he was being driven to his next gig. It’s a potent image, the ‘King of Country Music’ dying in the rolling symbol of his success en route to another show. While Williams is never mentioned by name, it’s obvious that Alvin’s lyrics are meant to record the thoughts of the great hillbilly poet as he takes his final long ride down the lost highway. Dave Alvin sings in a voice laden with emphatic stretched-out notes which sound like the voice of a phantom. It’s a song which respects the legend and understands the importance of an artist such as Hank Williams, but also understands his last ride for what it truly was, a sad and lonely end to an often sad and lonely life.”  Dwight Yoakam had a #35 country hit with his 1989 cover version.

434.  “Cattle and Cane,” The Go-Betweens. Songwriters: Grant McLennan, Robert Forster; Did Not Chart; 1983. Author Laurent Shervington, “Grant McLennan’s ode to childhood is undoubtedly one of the best songs the Go-Betweens recorded. Something in the vivid imagery McLennan’s lyrics create elevates in a way that feels incidental and yet so well-executed. McLennan wrote the song using Nick Cave’s acoustic guitar, describing it as a song ‘to please [his] mother’ and in order for her to hear it he had to sing it over the phone to her, as the cattle station she lived on lacked the technology (to play the recording). Critically applauded as a classic Australian song, ‘Cattle and Cane’ is a song of homesickness (the Go-Betweens had been living in England for a few years) and yearning for the past as a place, with fond memories of a landscape that was but a world away.”

433.  “Bon Vie Vie (Gimme the Good Life),” T.S. Monk. Songwriters: Lawrence Russell Brown, Sandy Lizner; #63 pop/#11 R&B; 1981. Thelonious Monk III, the son of the famous jazz pianist of the same name, was making international dance music similar to August Darnell’s work with  Kid Creole and the Coconuts on the 1981 R&B hit “Bon Vie Vie (Gimme the Good Life).” Robert Christgau, who would later name “Bon Vie Vie” the second best single of the decade, summarized, “a rich song about aspiring to the rich life that’s ebullient on top and this far from desperation underneath–inheres as much in Thelonious Jr.’s unslick, high-humored vocal and explosive percussion as in an arrangement that keeps revealing new pleasures.”  Monk, who is now a jazz ambassador, on his celebrity name challenge, “The critics were saying, ‘How could Thelonious Monk’s son be playing R&B?’ They were talking like I was committing sacrilege. These were the same people that professed to love my father. If they remotely understood him they would have known exactly why I was doing R&B. The most disrespectful thing I could have done was try to emulate my father.”

432.  “She’s an Angel,” They Might Be Giants. Songwriters: John Flansburgh, John Linnell; Did Not Chart; 1986.  They Might Be Giants formed the world’s most quirky and tuneful musical duo in 1982 and started bewildering pop music fans with their 1988 eponymous album. On “She’s an Angel” the narrator falls in love with a literal or figurative angel and the Shriners provide date transportation.  Jesse Hessenger from the A.V. Club website, “Like The Beatles, the primary author of a They Might Be Giants song can usually (though not always) be identified by which band member is singing. On the earliest TMBG albums, Flansburgh jumps through a lot of stylistic and experimental hoops, while Linnell’s talent for idiosyncratic pop songs seems to emerge almost fully formed. ‘She’s n Angel’ is a case in point, a perfect love song about not knowing what to do when you think you’ve found a perfect person.”  On the other arm, Stewart Mason of the All Music website calls “She’s an Angel, “The darkest song of They Might be Giants’ early career – which was replete with morbid subjects and depressive images.”  So, sing or mope along, depending on your worldview.

431.  “Hey Ladies,” Beastie Boys. Songwriters: MCA, Adrock, Mike D, Barbarella Bishop, Matt Dike, Ronald Ford, John King, Gaary Shider, Linda Shider, Michael Simpson, Larry Troutman, Roger Troutman; #36 pop; 1989. Jacob Adams from the Pop Matters website, “On ‘Hey Ladies,’ the Beastie Boys prove that their hip-hop collage approach to making tunes is applicable to the four-minute single format, and can yield a track that is both technically accomplished and danceable. From the beginning, we notice how self-assured and ‘absolute’ the groove is. With samples from the likes of the Commodores, Kool and the Gang, and Cameo, ‘Hey Ladies’ might have the funkiest feel on (the) Paul’s Boutique (album).  Just because the tempo and groove of ‘Hey Ladies’ hold steady doesn’t mean that it’s not a song of great complexity. The Beasties are dropping names and cutting up tapes just as much as ever. Bits of lyrics from ‘Funky President’ by James Brown, ‘War’ by Edwin Starr, and ‘Hush’ by Deep Purple, among others, are dropped precisely into the track to contribute (sometimes ironically) to the song’s meaning. The shaky, goofy-sounding line ‘She thinks she’s the passionate one’ from Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’ serves as a self-deprecating reminder that the Beasties aren’t taking their own bravado too seriously.”

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