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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 470 to 461

I can’t believe the news today.

470.  “The Way You Make Me Feel,” Michael Jackson. Songwriter: Michael Jackson; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1988. From Rolling Stone’s “50 Best Michael Jackson Songs” Article, “’The Way You Make Me Feel’ and ‘Smooth Criminal’ are simply the grooves I was in at the time,” Jackson said. The third consecutive Number One single from Bad is the last unambiguously buoyant hit of Jackson’s miraculous Eighties. ‘That was one of my favorites,’ says keyboardist Greg Phillinganes. ‘I remember how much fun I had laying down those offbeat parts, the bass line, all that stuff, and watching the expression on Michael’s face.’ The idea for the unshakable groove came from Jackson’s mother, Katherine, who suggested he do a song ‘with a shuffling kind of rhythm.’ Jackson replied, ‘I think I know what you mean,’ and quickly came up with something (originally titled ‘Hot Fever’). Jackson recorded all the vocal parts, including the backing vocals, dancing around a darkened studio to the track. Recalled engineer Bruce Swedien, ‘He’d sing his line, then he’d disappear into the darkness.’”

469. “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide,” The Kings. Songwriters: Mister Zero, David Diamond, Aryan Zero; #43 pop; 1980.  John Picard from the Canadian rock band The Kings, “We never made a million dollars, but we had a song that people love and has stood the test of time.” Music journalist Sean Leary, “This messy, mammoth, magnificent double-A side medley has it all: a grungy guitar riff, a ‘Louie, Louie’-style organ line, anthemic lyrics and a sweeping, dynamic scope that swings from minimal instrumentation to explosive, all-out walls of sound.” Picard, “`We’ve played in bars where we’ll play ‘This Beat’ and ‘Switchin’’ at the end of a set, and people will come up to us and say, `You guys are really good.’ We’ll tell them that the songs are all originals and they’ll say, `Well, not the last one,’ and we’ll have to convince them that we actually wrote that song medley.”

468.  “Stigmata,” Ministry. Songwriter: Al Jourgensen; Did Not Chart; 1988.  The Chicago band Ministry were pioneers of industrial rock during the 1980s and their 1988 album “The Land of Rape and Honey” eventually reached Gold certified status. From the Only Solitaire website, “’Stigmata’ opens the album with a hellish yell that dissolves itself in awful white noise and a three-chord guitar riff that seems to be sucking the very soul out of you, and the electronically treated vocals on here are some of the most unsettling I’ve ever heard, especially when it comes to Al totally strangling himself with those guttural sounds. But, like I said, it’s catchy! You’ll never again manage to get that riff out of your head.”  An unsettling or beautiful merger of industrial music and heavy metal, depending on your perspective.

467.  “Uptown,” Prince.  Songwriter: Prince; #5 R&B; 1980.  Kenneth Partridge of Billboard on this new wave funk jam, “Prince looks beyond the bedroom, sort of, with this utopian funk-rock anthem. With its infectious verse bass line and pre-chorus power chords, it bridges the musical gap between Kool and the Gang and The Clash. The message falls within that same intercultural chasm. The song opens with Prince hitting on a girl who questions – as many fans must have – whether he’s gay. Genuinely shocked by her small-mindedness (‘I just looked her in the eyes/ and I said, ‘No, are you?’).”  Prince’s 1980 vision of a perfect society: “White, black, Puerto Rican/Everybody just a-freakin’.”

466.  “In the Dark,” Billy Squier. Songwriter: Billy Squire; #35 pop; 1981. Massachusetts native Billy Squier was a member of the ‘70s hard rock outfit Piper, which released two commercially unsuccessful albums, then began his solo career in 1980.  He had his breakthrough single in 1981 with “The Stroke,” a song about an activity you can’t perform while typing.  Eduardo Rivadavia from the Ultimate Classic Rock website, “‘In the Dark’ in many ways crystallized Squier’s most successful musical template, characterized by muscular power chords, stinging leads, a hypnotic keyboard pattern and, on this occasion, menacing lyrics delivered with gusto by the man himself.” Big Daddy Kane on Squier’s big beat influence on rap music, ““He’s definitely someone who helped mold and shape hip-hop with his music. I would put him in the category of James Brown, the Honeydrippers and Chic. He gave the B-boys and B-girls a track to dance to, but it would only be a DJ or an MC who knows who Billy Squier is.”

465.  “Rock the Bells,” LL Cool J. Songwriters: James Todd Smith, Rick Rubin; #17 R&B; 1986.  Rolling Stone, “Leaping off a hard-rock riff from AC/DC’s ‘Flick of the Switch’ (also tapped for the Beastie Boys’ ‘Slow and Low’), Long Island teenager James Todd Smith calls out every rapper in town, disses Michael Jackson and Prince, dismisses Bruce Springsteen and pledges to ‘make Madonna scream.’ The third single from his 1985 debut is Rick Rubin’s remix of an early 12-inch version that, in fact, had bells. But this one rings even louder. It’s a rap Rosetta Stone quoted to this day. LL liked it so much he sampled it himself on 1991’s equally crushing ‘Mama Said Knock You Out.’”  Producer Rick Rubin reflecting on “Rock the Bells” in 2015, “I think the best records are the ones that don’t fit. If it fits, then you probably won’t remember it. The real revolutionary records are the ones when you first hear it you don’t know what to make of it.”

464.  “Free Nelson Mandela,” The Special AKA. Songwriter: Jerry Dammers; Did Not Chart; 1984. British songwriter Jerry Dammers turned protest into a party on the lively dance number “Free Nelson Mandela.”  Dammers, “I knew very little about Mandela until I went to an anti-apartheid concert in London in 1983, which gave me the idea for ‘Nelson Mandela.’ I never knew how much impact the song would have; it was a hit around the world, and it got back into South Africa and was played at sporting events and ANC (African National Congress) rallies – it became an anthem.” Veteran broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, “Now we have this sainted vision of Mandela, but at the time Thatcher treated him as a terrorist. So to release a record about someone whom your PM considers a terrorist is quite brave.”

463.  “Copperhead Road,” Steve Earle.  Songwriter: Steve Earle; Did Not Chart; 1988. Steve Earle looked to be a major new commercial artist after his 1986 “Guitar Town” album went to #1 on the country charts.   However, his 1987 release “Exit 0” was a disappointment and he went down an alternative country path for 1988’s “Copperhead Road.”  Earle, “It was sort of obvious that country music had decided that I didn’t belong, and I had to find another place to go. So, I started finding ways to get on rock radio. I needed to get played somewhere else in order to keep having a career. I wanted to do enough that I didn’t have to get a job.” The bluegrass meets metal  “Copperhead Road” sounds like a movie – starting with a blaring bagpipe intro, then describing a ‘Nam vet from a bootlegging family who gets into the weed business.  Duplicating the violence of the narrator’s professed profession, the drum beats sound like machine gun fire.  Give Earle credit for voicing the outlaw, redneck survivalist theme before it became a cliché.  In the sheer weirdness department, this take no prisoners, kill the feds number inspired a country line dance.

462.  “Centerfield,” John Fogerty.  Songwriter: John Fogerty; #44 pop; 1985.  Fogerty on his ode to America’s pastime, “When I was a little kid, there were no teams on the West Coast, so the idea of a Major League team was really mythical to me. The players were heroes to me as long as I can remember. I’d hear about (Babe) Ruth and (Joe) DiMaggio, and as my dad and older brothers talked about the Babe’s exploits, their eyes would get so big. ‘Centerfield’ is about baseball, but it is also a metaphor about getting yourself motivated, about facing the challenge of one thing or another at least at the beginning of an endeavor. About getting yourself all ready, whatever is necessary for the job.” Fogerty writing about the album of the same name, “’Centerfield’ was a wonderful vindication, and a big success. The album went to number one, which is unbelievable. There were three hits on that album and it was critically acclaimed. It was one of those moments, like the Boston Red Sox finally winning the World Series after a hundred years.”

461.  “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2.  Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr.; Did Not Chart; 1983.  Bono, “We were trying to be the Who meets the Clash.”  Rolling Stone from the article “U2’s 50 Greatest Songs,” “Bono’s inspiration: the 1972 massacre when English soldiers shot and killed 14 unarmed protesters in the Northern Irish town of Derry. ‘We realize the potential for division in a song like that,’ the Edge told a journalist. ‘So all we can say is that we’re trying to confront the subject rather than sweep it under the carpet.’ U2 made a grand statement of militant Christian pacifism, with Larry Mullen Jr.’s martial drums, violin from Steve Wickham – a stranger the Edge met at a Dublin bus stop – and Bono waving a white flag onstage. As Bono told Rolling Stone at the time, ‘I’m not interested in politics like people fighting back with sticks and stones, but in the politics of love.’

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