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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 870 to 861

He could throw that speedball by you, make you look like a fool, boy.

870.  “Brand – New – Life,” Young Marble Giants.  Songwriter: Stuart Moxham; Did Not Chart; 1980. The Young Marble Giants were Welsh post punk musicians influenced by the usual alternative suspects (Velvets, Bowie, Roxie Music).  Future chiropractor Alison Station was an indie rock godmother, with her “coolly unadorned” vocals, per rock critic Erik Hague.  The band is so minimalist they make the Ramones sound like Queen.  You keep expecting a kick out the jams moment on “Brand – New – Life,” a song about wanting to move forward from a broken relationship, but not having the wherewithal to do so.  It’s all tension, no release – as relentless self-pity should be.

869.  “Red Blue Jeans,” John Kilzer.  Songswriters: Richard Ford, John Kilzer: Did Not Chart; 1988. West Tennesse native John Kilzer’s resume circa 1988 included being a college basketball player, a college professor, and a major label recording artist. Rosanne Cash covered Kilzer’s composition “Green, Yellow and Red” on her 1987 “King’s Record Shop” album and his 1988 album “Memories in the Making” was released on Geffen Records.  The raspy voiced “Red Blue Jeans” sounds like a college professor (“She’s got Stalin on the wall/Beatles in a box”) channeling Bryan Adams and Sammy Hagar and resulted in a #12 AOR hit.  Dr. Kilzer later added Associate Pastor for St. John’s Recovery Ministries to his resume.

868.  “Don’t Let Him Go,” REO Speedwagon.  Songwriter: Kevin Cronin; #24 pop; 1981.  The Champaign, Illinois act REO Speedwagon had AOR success during the late 1970s with “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” “Roll with the Changes,” and “Time for Me to Fly,” but didn’t become the kings of the county fair midways until their 1980 album “Hi Infidelity.”  Kevin Cronin’s chirpy vocals didn’t keep teenage girls and boys from flicking their Bics to the power ballad “Keep on Loving You,” which topped the pop charts in March of 1981.  “Don’t Let Him Go” is a sharp rocker, described by Chuck Eddy as a “Bo Diddleyed do-si-do,” that proves that stealing from the right influences can make anyone sound better.

867.  “Open Your Heart,” Madonna. Songwriters: Madonna, Gardner Cole, Peter Rafelson; #1 pop; 1987.  Madonna was like Diana Ross in that both divas had limited vocal range, but defined the sound of pop music in their particular eras.  Madonna was unlike Diana Ross in that, as a white woman, she could push cultural buttons/boundaries without sacrificing (and even enhancing) her mainstream appeal.  Madonna took this standard pop song, originally penned without her as a demo for Cyndi Lauper, and turned it into a dance number.  Like many female artists, Madonna is underrated as a songwriter.  Love her or hate her, the woman had a vision.

866.  “Breaking the Law,” Judas Priest. Songwriters: Rob Halford, K. K. Downing, Glenn Tipton; Did Not Chart; 1980. Glenn Tipton, “We used to meet up at various houses to write, and we just broke into that riff one day and the song wrote itself. We wrote that song in about an hour, I think. Rob just started singing, ‘Breaking the law, breaking the law,’ and before we knew it we had a classic Priest song.” Halford, “It was a time in the UK when there was a lot of strife – a lot of government strife, the miners were on strike, the car unions were on strike, there were street riots. It was a terrible time. That was the incentive for me to write a lyric to try to connect with that feeling that was out there. We never went into a room and said, ‘We’ve got to try and get this punk attitude into our music,’ but it certainly seemed to capture some of that anarchy in its projection, musically.”  Both “Living After Midnight” and “Breaking the Law” peaked at #12 on the U.K. pop charts.

865.  “I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” Keith Whitley. Songwriters: Sonny Curtis, Ron Hellard; #1 country; 1989.  Keith Whitley started performing on the bluegrass circuit during the 1970s, working in Ralph Stanley’s band and being a member of J.D. Crowe’s New South.  Pushing thirty, Whitley moved to Nashville in 1983 and quickly signed with RCA Records.  He received artistic control of his work late in his life, allowing him to demonstrate his stripped down, soulful version of country music.  “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” was co-written by Buddy Holly’s old pal Sonny Curtis and while lyrically, it’s somewhat of a standard overcoming hard times number, Whitley’s fatal alcohol addiction provides an element of depth and irony.  This was the #1 single on the 24th of April in 1989.  Whitley died on May 9th.

864.  “Glory Days,” Bruce Springsteen. Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen; #5 pop; 1985. Joe DePugh was a seventh grade classmate of Bruce Springsteen and a teammate on his Little League baseball team.  In 1973, DePugh and Springsteen had a chance meeting in a New Jersey bar and that encounter inspired the life-will-pass-you-by story song “Glory Days.” DePugh, “He lost interest in baseball, and I was nothing but sports.” The two men have met intermittently over the years.  DePugh in 2011, “He said, ‘Always remember, I love you,’ not like some corny Budweiser commercial, but a real sentimental thing. I was dumbfounded.” Springsteen on the organ hook, “I wanted to get a merry-go-round organ sound, like a roller rink. That’s a happy sound.”

863.  “Let My Love Open the Door,” Pete Townshend. Songwriter: Pete Townshend; #9 pop; 1980. Rock critic Richie Unterberger, “A peppy, hopeful love song, ‘Let My Love Open the Door’ became a U. S. Top Ten hit for Pete Townshend in 1980, anchored by the kind of repeating synthesizer figures that he’d used in some of the Who’s recordings in the previous decade. Although Townshend brushed the song off as ‘just a ditty’ in ‘Rolling Stone’ shortly after its release, in 1996 he revealed it was about love of the holiest sort. ‘It’s supposed to be about the power of God’s love,’ he remarked. ‘That when you’re in difficulty, whether it’s major or minor, God’s love is always there for you.’” Studio musicians Tony Butler (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums) formed Big Country a few years later.

862.  “The Tide is High,” Blondie.  Songwriter: John Holt; #1 pop; 1980.  “The Tide is High” was originally released in 1966 by the Jamaican vocal group The Paragons.  Blondie heard the song from a compilation tape and, wanting to keep the Jamaican feel, asked the U.K. the band The Specials to perform on the track, but they declined.  Sean Lennon, “The one modern song I remember (my father) listening to was ‘The Tide Is High’ by Blondie, which he played constantly. When I hear that song, I see my father, unshaven, his hair pulled back into a ponytail, dancing to and fro in a worn-out pair of denim shorts, with me at his feet, trying my best to coordinate tiny limbs.”  The English girl group Atomic Kitten took “The Tide is High” to #1 on the U.K. charts in 2002.

861.  “Sledgehammer,” Peter Gabriel. Songwriter: Peter Gabriel; #1 pop; 1986.  Peter Gabriel went from being a left of the dial prog rock specialist to the top of the pop charts with his 1986 single “Sledgehammer,” which benefited greatly from a creative video treatment.  Gabriel, “I was playing at that time with the idea of doing an album full of soul songs. As a teenager, soul music was one of the things that made me want to be a musician. It was really passionate and exciting… Wayne Jackson, who plays on that track, was also with Otis Redding and was touring with him when I saw them in London. So, that was a thrill for me, just to get a whole lot of fan stories. But I think the song was more influenced by many of those Stax and Atlantic tracks rather than Otis particularly.”

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