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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 940 to 931

The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’.

940.  “Freeze-Frame,” The J. Geils Band. Songwriters: Seth Justin, Peter Wolf; #4 pop; 1982. The J. Geils Band incorporated new wave elements into their traditional R&B sound for their 1981 album “Freeze-Frame.” Peter Wolf may have been comfortable talking to the New York Times about the connections between expressionism in painting and its relationship to punk rock, but “Freeze-Frame” had a more fundamental topic, dancing “the spotlight grind.” The stop start chorus and camera sound effects were ear catching fun, but perhaps a bit too slick for the band’s traditional base.  Tensions with the direction of the band resulted in Peter Wolf’s departure in 1983.  An observation from rock critic Jason Roth regarding the breakup, “In music, as is generally the case, when one window closes another invariably opens. Huey Lewis must have literally pole-vaulted out of bed, sensing the opportunity.”

939.  “Rock Steady,” The Whispers. Songwriters: Babyface L.A. Reid Bo Watson Dwayne Ladd; #7 pop/#1 R&B; 1987. The Los Angeles vocal group The Whispers formed in 1964 and reached the Top Ten of the R&B charts for the first time with 1970’s “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong,” which must have had some serious payola behind it. They didn’t break pop until 1980’s Top Twenty dance funk number “And The Beat Goes On” and had the biggest hit of their career with 1987’s “Rock Steady,” and updated version of ‘70s disco.  From the “Riquespeaks” website, “Amidst all the youth-oriented music that would come to dominate the R&B sound in ’87, this song found a groove that all ages could identify with. It was also the first major hit for an artist outside of their own group to be produced by L.A Reid and Babyface, who would go on to define the sound of R&B in the ’90s. L.A and Face cooked up this killer, drum machine bass groove in their home studio, and when it was time to name the song, looked at the equipment that was holding their gear, all with the ‘Rocksteady’ brand, for their lyrical and thematic inspiration.”

938.  “Holy Diver,” Dio. Songwriter: Ronny Dio; Did Not Chart; 1983. The heavy metal act Dio was formed in 1982 after lead singer Ronny James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice left Black Sabbath.  “Holy Diver” was the title track to their debut album, which sold consistently enough through the decade to be certified platinum in 1989.  Rolling Stone magazine on the LP, “More bracingly metallic than anything he had done before – thanks in part to 20-year-old Irish guitarist Vivian Campbell, whose crunchy chords and squealing leads meshed perfectly with the paint-peeling intensity of Dio’s piercing wail – stirring anthems like ‘Stand Up and Shout,’ ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ and the immortal title track found Dio planting one boot in ‘Dungeons & Dragons’–style fantasy and the other in contemporary social commentary.” Ronnie James Dio in 2008, “That was a time before the internet when no one knew everything about your life and you could play with imagery and archetypes a bit more and no one really had any perspective on who you really were. Now, people turn on the computer and everyone knows what you’ve had for breakfast. I think that takes away some of the power and mystery from rock and roll.”

937.  “Got a Hold on Me,” Christine McVie. Songwriters: Christine McVie, Todd Sharp; #10 pop; 1984.  Christine McVie always seemed like the sanest member of Fleetwood Mac, somewhat like being the accountant for a professional cheese sculpting troupe.  When she released her 1984 solo album (titled , of course, “Christine McVie), she wasn’t going to delve into Venezuelan tribal music or incorporate possum chortles into her music.  Her Top Ten single “Got a Hold on Me” sounded exactly like what she would contribute to a Fleetwood Mac album and radio listeners hummed in appreciation. McVie’s advice and her no nonsense approach to her art, “Learn your instrument. Be honest. Don’t do anything phony. There is so much crap floating around. There is plenty of room for a bit of honest writing.”

936.  “Living in the Future,” John Prine.  Songwriter: John Prine; Did Not Chart.  Author Jon Bernstein, “Prine blends goofball wit and aw-shucks surrealism to conjure the ordinary and the profound, absurdist whimsy and existential despair, laughter and tears. These juxtapositions have long been the songwriter’s trademark.”  Prine, perfectly reinforcing Bernstein’s point, “We are living in the future, I’ll tell you how I know/I read it in the paper fifteen years ago/We’re all driving rocket ships and talking with our minds/And wearing turquoise jewelry and standing in soup lines.”

935.  “The Winner Takes It All,” ABBA. Songwriters: Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus; 1981.  ABBA singer Agnetha Faltskog on the band’s last Top Ten U.S. single, “Bjorn wrote it about us after the breakdown of our marriage. The fact that he wrote it exactly when we divorced is touching really. It was fantastic to do that song because I could put in such feeling. I didn’t mind sharing it with the public. It didn’t feel wrong. There is so much in that song. It was a mixture of what I felt and what Björn felt, but also what (bandmates) Benny and Frida went through.”  Bjorn on drinking brandy while writing the lyrics, “Usually it’s not a good idea to write when you’re drunk, but it all came out on that one. By the time I wrote ‘The gods may throw their dice’ the bottle was empty.”

934.  “Tarzan Boy,” Baltimora. Songwriters: Mauirizio Bassi, Naimy Hackett; #13 pop; 1986. Baltimora was the brain child of Milan, Italy based producer/musician/singer Mauirizio Bassi, who discovered Northern Ireland based dancer Jimmy McShane and, in a pre-Milli Vanilli move, chose the photogenic McShane to be the face of the project.  Author Brent Mann, “The feeling that pervades Baltimora’s single is one of exhilarating escape, fleeing the mundane for the exotic. And with its pulsating techno beat, ‘Tarzan Boy’ is among the best dance tracks ever.” Jungle calls and synth bass lines made sense together during the 1980s.

933.  “Everyday I Write the Book,” Elvis Costello. Songwriter: Elvis Costello; #36 pop; 1983. Elvis Costello finally broke into the U.S. Top 40 in 1983 with the romance as author’s inspiration number “Everyday I Write the Book.”  Costello, “I wrote it just for a joke, but that’s often the way to write a hit record (laughs). We had a group on the road with us that was trying to write these very self-conscious pop jangly kind of songs and that was their trip (author’s note – this is possibly a reference to The Plimsouls). So I thought I’d tease them by writing something that was like what they did, only sort of better than them (author’s note – Costello’s producer changed the direction of the song from Merseybeat to modern pop). I wrote it in ten minutes. ‘Everyday I Write the Book’ is a knockoff of Nick (Lowe’s) ‘When I Write the Book’ with a little Rodgers and Hart thrown in.'”

932.  “Big Bottom,” Spinal Tap.  Songwriters: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Rob Reiner, Harry Shearer; Did Not Chart; 1984.  The English heavy metal band Spinal Tap released a dozen albums from 1967 to 1982 (1972’s “Blood to Let” and 1974’s “Intravenus de Milo” represent high points for the band) before finding fame with the 1984 documentary “This is Spinal Tap.”  That film turned their career up to eleven, despite the absence of “Lick My Love Pump” from the soundtrack album.  “Big Bottom” may have inadvertently sounded a tad like Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” but lyrically it’s a “the bigger the cushion/the sweeter the pushin’” salute to bum cakes that serves as the transitional booty tribute between Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

931.  “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” Aerosmith.  Songwriter: Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Desmond Child; #14 pop; 1987.  Aerosmith couldn’t give their albums away during the early 1980s, but like The Kinks in 1971, they returned to radio after a long dry spell with a comedic gender bending number.  Professional song doctor Desmond Child, “Steven Tyler showed me a song they had written called ‘Cruisin’ for the Ladies’ and I said that’s a very boring title.  Steven volunteered sheepishly when he first wrote the melody he was singing ‘dude looks like a lady.’ He got the idea because they had gone to a bar and seen a girl with big, ginormous rock blonde hair and the girl turned around and it ended up being Vince Neil of Motley Crue.  I talked them into the whole scenario of a guy that walks into a strip joint, falls in love with the stripper onstage, and finds out she’s a guy.”

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