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The 1,000 Greatest Songs of the 1980s – 970 to 961

The Mariah Carey edition.

970.  “Cherry Bomb,” John Mellencamp. Songwriter: John Mellencamp; #8 pop; 1988. Johnny Cougar updated Bob Seger’s “sweet sixteens turned thirty one” with “seventeen has turned thirty five” and took a song title from the Runaways while pumping high school nostalgia on “Cherry Bomb.”  For better or worse, John Mellencamp blazed the trail for Kenny Chesney’s entire career.

969.  “Do Ya,” K.T. Oslin. Songwriter: K.T. Oslin; #1 country; 1987. “Do you lie awake thinking I’m the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?”  K.T. Oslin wasn’t pulling any punches on this long-term relationship request for validation.  Musically, it may have been light pop pretending to be country, but I’m not sure anyone has ever written about mature relationships in the genre with more honesty than K.T.  Years later, she talked about her thought process on writing and how it relates to this #1 country single, “I like to write stories rather than just ‘I love you and I’m going to love you forever.’ I want to know, ‘Why? Why are you going to love me forever?’  I try to write songs about people and real situations and to make them dramatic because it keeps it interesting for me.”

968.  “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” Stevie Wonder. Songwriter: Stevie Wonder; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1984. During the 1970s, The Persuasions sang about the thin line between swoon and gag, a concept Stevie Wonder put to the ultimate test with the sentimental ballad “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”  From “The Telegraph,” “Some die-hard fans contend that Stevie Wonder’s biggest hit is a schmaltzy blight on the Motown legend’s career. I prefer to see it as a self-consciously yet nourishing portion of vintage soul-pop.” Robert Christgau argued the latter case, calling the song “a broad-spectrum shout-out that spoke to the shared experience of more potential listeners than anything Irving Berlin ever wrote.”  Geniuses often get the benefit of the doubt.

967.  “Islands in the Stream,” Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb; #1 pop/#1 country; 1983.  The Bee Gees are famous for their lengthy successful careers in pop and disco music, but the Aussie brothers also popped up on the country charts occasionally.  Olivia Newton John had a #5 country hit in 1976 with the Barry and Robin Gibb number “Come on Over.”  “Rest Your Love” was a #39 country hit for the Bee Gees in 1979 and the Conway Twitty cover of that song went to #1 in 1981.  The Bee Gees originally thought that “Islands in the Stream” might be a good fit for Marvin Gaye, but it was ultimately given to Kenny Rogers.  The story goes, and this sounds too good to be true, that Rogers was having problems making the song work, Dolly was in a nearby studio and a duet magically occurred.  This was a crossover #1 pop hit for Kenny and Dolly and the country superstars worked together intermittently for decades.  Most of the 1983 Kenny Rogers album “Eyes That See in the Dark” was written by The Bee Gees, including the #3 country hit “Buried Treasure.”

966.  “Just an Illusion,” Imagination. Songwriters: Steve Jolley, Tony Swain, Ashley Ingram and Leee John; #27 R&B; 1982.  The three piece dance act Imagination, named in tribute to John Lennon, achieved major international success during the early 80s and their 1982 atmospheric synth pop/dance single “Just an Illusion” went Top Ten in thirteen countries. Keyboardist Leee John reminiscing on the era, “I was a club scene kid. I came from clubs like Crackers and Birds Nest we were part of a whole North London movement, we were part of Brit Funk. Guys like Junior, The Cool Notes we all hung around together. What we did on ‘Top Of The Pops” was an extension of the club scene and we wanted to bring that into your front room. And it wasn’t just us. The new wave kids were exploding out of it to against this bleak backdrop of Thatcherism.” Destiny’s Child changed the title to “Illusion” for their 1998 cover version and Mariah Carey sampled the song for her 2005 single “Get Your Number.”

965.  “This Little Girl,” Gary U.S Bonds.  Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen; #11 pop; 1981.  Gary U.S. Bonds topped the pop charts in 1961 with his classic party rocker “Quarter to Three,” but had been off the Top 40 airwaves for almost two decades when Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt came to his aid, producing the 1981 album “Dedication.”  Springsteen was repaying a musical debt in that the percussion sound and honking sax sound of Bonds’ early hits clearly influenced the music of Springsteen’s E. Street Band.  Springsteen tracked down Bonds in the late 1970’s to pitch the potential collaboration and their partnership began with the inauspicious beginning of Bonds asking, “Who the hell is Bruce Springsteen?”

964.  “Cat People (Putting out Fire),” David Bowie. Songwriters: Giorgio Moroder, David Bowie; #67 pop; 1982. Quentin Tarantino on using “Cat People” in his film “Inglorious Basterds,” “I’ve always really loved that song. It’s one of my favorite David Bowie songs of the ’80s but I never liked the way it was used in the (1982) movie (“Cat People”) because Paul Schrader didn’t really use it in the movie. He just threw it in the closing credits and I remember me and all the other guys at Video Archives were very disappointed by that. We’d go, ‘Man, if we had a song like that written for our movie, we’d build a 20 minute sequence around it!’ So I did.” Former disco kingpin Giorgio Moroder had penned the music first, then Bowie wrote the lyrics around the film title concept.  The single topped the charts in several European countries.

963.  “Birthday,” Sugarcubes. Songwriters: Bragi Ólafsson, Sigtryggur Baldursson, Þór Eldon, Björk Guðmundsdóttir, Einar Örn Benediktsson; Did Not Chart; 1988. Blogger Adrian Cepeda, “The Sugarcubes’ ‘Birthday’ is the quintessential Björk single. It has all her trademark qualities – her sexy shriek, the vivid imagery and otherworldly lyrics that we have come to know and love. ‘Birthday’ is the song that started it all, the one that introduced a tiny Icelandic chanteuse to the world.” Björk, “When I was a kid, all old men that influenced me sort of erotically, without doing anything, really. Men at 50 and stuff like that. But, you know, without doing anything … so that’s the feeling.”  The sound? Think Pere Ubu if David Thomas was a shrieking, sexually obsessed Icelandic chanteuse.

962.  “Get Down on It,” Kool & the Gang. Songwriters: Ronald Nathan Bell, Claydes Charles Smith, George Melvin Brown, James “J.T.” Taylor, Robert Spike Mickens, Robert Earl Bell, Eumir Deodato; #10 pop/#4 R&B; 1981. Music journalist Brad Shoup, “Even as Kool & The Gang distilled their post-disco sound into an even leaner pop-funk, they remained the spiritual inheritors of disco’s mission of fun for its own sake. Though they initially made their mark as a funk act, Kool & The Gang spent a good part of the ’60s as a soul revue explicitly patterned on Motown. Kool & The Gang recorded for De-Lite for the majority of their career, but they learned all the right lessons from Berry Gordy’s empire. ‘Get Down on It,’ like so much of the Gang’s output, was infectious and impeccable, with the band in a tight gyre around the central hook.”

961.  “The Body Rock,” The Treacherous Three.  Songwriters: Pumpkin (Errol Bedward), Bobby Robinson, Moe Dewese, Kevin Keaton, Lamar Hill; Did Not Chart; 1980.  “We got something new! We got something new!” The Treacherous Three declared their innovation skills on “The Body Rock,” a song that mixed fast paced, multiple rappers with rock guitar well before RUN-D.M.C. popularized that recipe.  Kool Moe Dee, “People started saying — oh yeah Moe Dee the guy with the fast rhymes. A lot of MCs don’t know that you write rhymes in the same cadence that you speak combined with the way that you breathe.”  “The Body Rock” demonstrates that before rap was “black America’s CNN,” it was a block party.  The bassline from this song was sampled on Mariah Carey’s 1997 #1 pop hit “Honey.”

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