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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 580 to 571

Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug on 26 reds and a bottle of wine.

580.  “Ballet for a Rainy Day,” XTC. Songwriter: Andy Partridge; Did Not Chart; 1986. Rock critic Erik Klinger, “Arising from a series of difficult sessions with Todd Rundgren, XTC’s ‘Skylarking’ album polishes up the group’s sometimes thorny pop and creates a shimmering, technicolor gem that I’m pretty sure every critic everywhere has called ‘pastoral’ – and for good reason. Not only does it sound wholly organic with its lush strings and instrumentation, but it also conveys an almost spiritual quality in its underlying wisdom, ‘Dear God’ notwithstanding. ‘Skylarking’ is so nearly perfect to my way of thinking that it’s hard to actually pull it apart and turn it into words.”  “Ballet for a Rainy Day,” a mini-suite with “1,000 Umbrellas,” has the feel of the Zombies and the Beatles when those bands mixed whimsy and melody. O.G. music critic John Mendelssohn, “I find it interesting that Rundgren’s involvement with this record is considered to be the pinnacle of both his production career and XTC’s musical career. How often do you see to artists collide in such a fashion, fight tooth and nail with each other and yet walk away with something as complex, intricate and enjoyable as ‘Skylarking’?”

579.  “In My House,” Mary Jane Girls.  Songwriter: Rick James; #7 pop/#3 R&B; 1985. Rick James (bitch) was not only busy as the sole proprietor of punk funk during the 1980s, but he also penned hits for The Temptations (“Standing on the Top”), Eddie Murphy (“Party All the Time”), and the Mary Jane Girls, a vocal group assembled by James.  Journalist Bryan Thomas, “They were mostly known for their titillating lyrics, their steamy videos and sexy on-stage attire, with each of them having an additional look that expressed a personality that Rick James had also chosen for them. They were, in essence, a projection of James’ fantasies.” On the James penned “In My House,” his posse of sex kittens sing about being physically available to fulfill any possible fantasy at any possible time.  Rock critic Jason Elias, “This is a hard-driving, bump and grind of a song. This was near the beginning of Rick James’ infatuation with rudimentary and at times single-minded, synth- based riffs. This time is worked. Part of this song’s appeal is the ever-present and crafty euphemism. In short, a house might not be a ‘home.’ But if Sheena Easton could sing about her ‘Sugar Walls,’ the Mary Jane Girls could harmonize about this. This song is powered by the lead vocals of Joanne McDuffie. Mixing a voice that was equally powerful and restrained, McDuffie also injected just enough sass to make each lyric ring.”

578.  “Someday, Someway,” Marshall Crenshaw.  Songwriter: Marshall Crenshaw; #36 pop; 1982.  Marshall Crenshaw arrived on the scene in 1982 as a modern recreation of Buddy Holly with simple, yet timeless songs like “Someday, Someway.”  Music journalist Steve Peake, “Deservedly one of new wave’s most revered signature singles, this song begins jauntily with a jangly guitar riff for the ages, and Crenshaw manages, impressively, to surpass its charm with fantastic verse and chorus melodies. But the track’s transcendent bridge (‘You’ve taken everything from me, I’ve taken everything from you, I’ll love you for my whole life through’) manages to elevate an already stratospheric melodic intensity to a truly mandatory-smile level.”

577.  “People Who Died,” The Jim Carroll Band.  Songwriters: Jim Carroll, Brian Linsley, Stephen Linsley, Terrell Winn, Wayne Woods; Did Not Chart; 1980.  Author Gerald Howard in Slate, “If Jim Carroll’s name means anything to you, it is probably as the author of the electrifying memoir of teenaged misadventures and heroin addiction in ‘60s New York, ‘The Basketball Diaries.’ The musically inclined will remember Jim’s terrific 1980 rock album ‘Catholic Boy,’ which featured that anthem of early and grisly urban demise, ‘People Who Died.’ Cognoscenti of downtown culture knew Jim as a literary prodigy who was publishing his poems and diaries in the ‘Paris Review’ in his teens. He was a fully paid-up member of New York’s hip aristocracy, Lou Reed’s peer, Patti Smith’s lover, Allen Ginsberg’s acolyte, Robert Smithson’s friend, permanently welcome in the Valhalla of Max’s Kansas City’s back room.” In Carroll’s catalogue of death, his friends overdose, expire from disease, get murdered, and get pushed off the top of a building. They were all his friends and they died.

576.  “You’ve Still Got a Place in My Heart,” George Jones. Songwriter: Leon Payne; #3 country; 1984. Leon Payne was a blind multi-instrumentalist who performed with Bob Wills in 1938 and started his recording career in 1939.  He had a Top Five country single in 1949 with “I Love You Because,” a love song later covered by Ernest Tubb, Elvis Presley, Al Martino, and Jim Reeves. Payne would have more traction as a songwriter than performer with covers by Hank Williams (“Lost Highway,” “They’ll Never Take Her Love from Me”), George Morgan (“Cry-Baby Heart”), Eddy Arnold (“Call Her Your Sweetheart”) and Hank Snow (“For Now and Always”).  It was a long journey for Leon Payne’s 1950 composition “You’ve Still Got a Place in My Heart” to become a major hit.  The original recording by Leon, also known as the Blind Balladeer, went nowhere but was revived by Dean Martin in 1968 for an adult contemporary hit.  Con Hunley, who refers to himself as the Smoky Mountain Blue Eyed Darlin’, had a #14 country hit with his 1978 version.  This slow-paced number gives George a chance to invest emotion into every syllable.  God, what a voice.

575.  “She’s a Beauty,” The Tubes. Songwriters: Fee Waybill, David Foster, Steve Lukather; #10 pop; 1983.  The Tubes began their career as an edgy satirical group, performing songs like “White Punks on Dope” and “Don’t Touch Me There,” with lead singer Fee Waybill assumed multiple stage personas to include Dr. Strangekiss (a “crippled Nazi”), country singer Hugh Heifer, and a British drug addled rock star named Quay Lewd.  Eventually everyone has to pay their utility bills and by the early 1980s the Tubes were recording with members of Toto.  “She’s a Beauty,” a lyric reportedly inspired by an interaction Fee Waybill had with a Frisco peep show performer, is a high quality replication of the early ‘80s Huey Lewis and the News sound.  Waybill would go on to write ballads with Richard Marx and currently manages office buildings with government leases.

574.  “I’m No Angel,” Gregg Allman. Songwriters: Tony Colton, Phil Palmer; #49 pop; 1987. Record executive Michael Caplan, “I found Gregg’s four song demo cassette in my bosses’ garbage. Most label higher ups were only interested in potential megahits. The Allman Brothers were not sexy. I listened to that demo and the first song was ‘I’m No Angel,’ which I thought was great. So I signed Gregg to Epic.” The “come and let me show you my tattoo” cheeky, hard living number “I’m No Angel” sounded autobiographical, no doubt assisting its run to #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart in 1987.  It’s success on classic rock radio resulted in The Allman Brothers reforming at the end of the 1980s and performing together until 2014.

573.  “Ragin’ Eyes,” Nick Lowe. Songwriter: Nick Lowe; Did Not Chart; 1983. Despite Nick Lowe’s stature as a songwriter and producer, he’s a one hit wonder as an American recording artist, peaking at #12 on the pop charts with the eternally whipsmart (in the right measure) 1979 single “Cruel to Be Kind.”  After the 1981 breakup of his short lived, power pop supergroup Rockpile, Lowe released several quality solo albums during the 1980s, although with diminishing commercial returns.  The tuneful, smart, wry “Ragin’ Eyes” is one of the songs that could have fit easily on his classic late 70’s albums “Jesus of Cool” or “Labour of Lust.” Chris Ingalls of Pop Matters, “Ragin’ Eyes’ sounds like something Buddy Holly would’ve cranked had he survived that plane crash.”  Well, only if the four eyed, holy one had a better sense of irony.

572.  “I Can’t Stand It,” Eric Clapton. Songwriter: Eric Clapton; #10 pop; 1981.  I’m always amazed when Eric Clapton sounds awake – this is the guy who made snorting cocaine sound as exciting as researching environmental tax loopholes for free range parrot colonies. After coming out of slumber for this Top Ten single, he had the rest of the decade to go back into his usual hibernation.

571.  “I Kiss the Flowers in Bloom,” Close Lobsters. Songwriters: Andrew Burnett, Robert Burnett, Tom Donnelly, John A. Rivers, Graeme Wilmington; Did Not Chart; 1987.  Not an animated crustacean family act, the Close Lobsters were a drab looking Scottish jangle pop band.  “I Kiss the Flowers in Bloom” has been favorably compared to R.E.M. and Oasis – it’s lyrically repetitive but the guitars are sweet seduction.  I admire the band simply for the following album and EP titles, none of which I am making up: “Foxheads Stalk This Land,” “Headache Rhetoric,” and “Kuntswerk in Spacetime.”

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