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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 960 to 951

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.

960.  “Walk of Life,” Dire Straits. Songwriter: Mark Knopfler; #7 pop; 1985.  People tend to either love or hate “Walk of Life,” Knopfler’s ditty about ‘50’s rock ‘n’ roll that one could easily hear turned into a Cajun shuffle.  If you google “Walk of Life Worst Songs Ever,” you’ll observe the kind of loathing generally only inspired by white supremacists and undercooked cassava. On another quadrant of the weirdness spectrum is video editor Peter Salamone’s “Walk of Life” project (www.wolproject.com), where he has determined the song is the perfect music for ending any film.  Online re-edited versions of “Planet of the Apes” and “Easy Rider” prove that some humans still have way too much free time.  Mark Knopfler, letting us know that he isn’t Ric Flair, “There’s too many ‘woos’ at the beginning of ‘Walk of Life.’ I heard it on the radio the other day and thought, ‘Oh my God! What was I doing that for?’”

959.  “Shattered Dreams,” Johnny Hates Jazz. Songwriter: Clark Datchler; #2 pop; 1988. Being slicker than Vaseline on a gold tooth didn’t help the stupidly named U.K. duo Johnny Hates Jazz with critics, but if Hall and Oates were your Beatles in the 80s, this band could have been your comparative Knickerbockers. Journalist Kevin Wicks, “Folks, it doesn’t get much more ‘80s easy listening’ than this. If Spandau Ballet‘s ‘True’ and Tears For Fears‘s ‘Head Over Heels’ had a love child, it would sound something like this.” Band member Mike Nocito on the ever important image issue, ‘“Shattered Dreams’ came out in the UK and did incredibly well, but we didn’t have the coolest of image with the press. We went to Italy to do the first TV show there, and the journalist said ‘So, a pop Steely Dan…’, and we thought ‘Oh, you get a bit more where we’re coming from.’ It’s not that we were trying to be that, but in different countries it was a very different perception.”

958.  “Africa,” Toto. Songwriters: David Paich, Jeff Porcaro; #1 pop; 1983.  Jeff Porcaro, “I was about 11 when the New York’s World Fair took place, and I went to the African pavilion with my family. I saw the real thing; I don’t know what tribe, but there were these drummers playing, and my mind was blown. It was the first time I witnessed someone playing one beat and not straying from it, like a religious experience, where it gets loud, and everyone goes into a trance. I have always dug those kind of orchestras, whether it be a band of all drummers. So when we were doing “Africa”, I set up a bass drum, snare drum and a hi-hat, and Lenny Castro set up right in front of me with a conga. We looked at each other and just started playing the basic groove. I was trying to get the sounds I would hear (African percussionists) Milt Holland or Emil Richards have, or the sounds I would hear in a ‘National Geographic’ special, or the ones I heard at the New York World’s Fair.” Toto’s Steve Lukather on the song’s newfound popularity in 2018 via a cover by Weezer, “I never thought I’d live to see a resurgence in a positive way. All of a sudden people are being nice to us. It’s new to me! This has been the most surreal summer of my life.”

957.  “Lady (You Bring Me Up),” Commodores. Songwriters: Harold Hudson, William King, Shirley Hanna-King; #8 pop/#5 R&B; 1981.  The Commodores started as a funk act, devolved into a showcase for Lionel Richie’s sickly ballads, then had their first upbeat hit in several years when band member/multi-instrumentalist/choreographer William King, his wife Shirley, and touring backing musician Harold Hudson penned “Lady (You Bring Me Up).” Richie left the band the following year, after stringing them along according to William King, and the Commodores had trouble developing a new identity. William King, “People gave Richie credit for everything. The world thinks he produced, arranged and wrote everything we did. We all built that sound. He wrote many of the hits but he didn’t write all of them. But that didn’t matter. People thought he did it all. So when he left nobody wanted to know about us. It was a rude awakening.”

956.  “Tell Her About It,” Billy Joel. Songwriter: Billy Joel; #1 pop; 1983. Just like Paul McCartney’s expertise as a melodist could pull him through his tendency to be cloying, Billy Joel’s pop writing skills counterbalances his innate smugness.  “Tell Her About It” is a Supremes/Motown cupcake genre exercise, but everyone has a sweet tooth on occasion.  Joel, “It sounds a little too bubblegum, like Tony Orlando and Dawn.”  Put in the context of Joel’s marriage to Christie Brinkley (the “is she really going out with him?” relationship of that era), singing about romance via conversation seemed like a reason for celebration.

955.  “Brooklyn-Queens,” 3rd Bass. Songwriters: Peter Nash, Michael Berrin, Sam Sever; #82 R&B; released in 1989, peaked on the charts in 1990. MC Serch (Micheal Berrin) and Pete Nice (Peter Nash) were white rappers from New York who earned respect through their rapping skills and appreciation of hip hop history and culture.  On the third single from their certified gold 1989 release “The Cactus Album,” 3rd Bass sampled The Emotions’ “Best of My Love,” always a smart move, while creating a party rap about gold diggers.  Jack Erwin from “The Complex” website, “The song itself isn’t about Brooklyn all that much; it’s about ladies who have their eyes on men’s wallets, a tried and true (but mostly tried) rap song trope. But it’s undeniably a JAM, in the old school blunts-and-forties-on-a-summer’s-day way.”

954.  “Fantasy,” Aldo Nova. Songwriter: Aldo Nova; #23 pop; 1982. Rock critic Bret Adams, “Canadian rock singer/songwriter Aldo Nova doesn’t get enough credit (some cynics would say blame) for helping invent the 1980s pop-metal genre, which focused equally on hard rocking anthems and soaring power ballads. Aldo Nova appeared in 1982 complete with irresistible melodies and choruses, explosive guitar licks, and huge-sounding drums. It was a full year or more before Def Leppard, Night Ranger, Bon Jovi, and others would latch on to this formula and rocket to stardom. Nova wrote, produced, arranged, and performed his double-platinum debut album by himself, except for drums and some bass guitar and piano parts. Nova is quite proficient on guitar, but his secret weapon is his keyboard and synthesizer prowess. The hit single (and early MTV favorite) ‘Fantasy’ cannot be denied; it’s loaded with guitar and keyboard hooks as well as a catchy chorus.”  Despite his one hit wonder status, Aldo Nova has had a successful career as a writer and producer.  His writing credits include – get this – the early 2000s hits “A New Day Has Come” by Celine Dion and Clay Aiken’s 2003 U.S. #1 pop hit “This is the Night.”

953.  “Conga,” Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine.  Songwriters: Enrique Garcia; #10 pop; 1985.  The Miami Sound Machine formed in 1975, originally known as the Miami Latin Boys, changing their name in 1977 with singer Gloria Fajardo (Gloria Estefan) joined the band.  The group releases seven Spanish language albums from 1977 to 1984, but didn’t find success until switching to English lyrics for their 1984 “Eyes of Innocence” album.  They brought the Latin dance beat to U.S. pop radio “Conga,” a single that peaked at #10 on the pop charts six months after it was released.  Author Amaya Mendizabal, “’Conga’ hit at a time when Miami was enjoying a renaissance thanks, in part, to the resurgence of its South Beach neighborhood and the popular NBC TV series ‘Miami Vice’.” Estefan, who became a non-threatening symbol of diversity for middle America, “Radio kept saying, ‘We can’t play this.’ But once they played it, the phones would go crazy,”

952.  “Fisherman’s Blues,” The Waterboys.  Songwriters: Mike Scott, Steve Wickham; Did Not Chart; 1988.  The Waterboys took the sounds of traditional Celtic folk music into the U.K. pop charts during the 1980s, with Mike Scott doing a better Dylan than Bobby Z. was during that time frame.  “Fisherman’s Blues” sounds like “Hurricane” era Dylan, something that can be attributed to/blamed on Steve Wickham’s fiddle breaks.  Mike Scott on pitching a song for Dylan in 1985, “I sang a verse or two, the band joined in and Dylan played burbling lead guitar. When the song finished, he walked over to me, put a gentle hand on my shoulder and said in a kindly tone, ‘You can keep that one.’”

951.  “Life in a Northern Town,” Dream Academy. Songwriters: Gilbert Gabriel, Nick Laird-Clowes; #7 pop; 1986. Songwriter Nick Laird-Clowes, “We had the idea, even before we sat down, to write a folk song with an African-style chorus. We started it and when we got to the verse melody, there was something about it that reminded me of Nick Drake, who I had been turned on to in 1972 by Roundhouse DJ Jeff Dexter. It was Jeff who first informed me what a brilliant record ‘Bryter Layter’ was. He claimed, ‘I know where that guitar is and one day we’ll get hold of it.’ I was working at the RCA record factory in Ladbroke Grove at the time and bought Nick Drake’s guitar for £100. When the single was completed I dedicated it to Nick.” Also, the Paul Simon like impressionistic nostalgia was not by accident.  Laird-Clowes, “”I played Paul Simon the song and he asked, ‘What are you going to call it – ‘Ah Hey Ma Ma Ma?’ I told him that we intended to name it ‘Morning Lasted All Day.’ ‘That’s no good,’ he said and so I came up with ‘Life in A Northern Town,’ which he thought was a great title.”

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