Monday, October 19, 2015

EDITOR BOY'S TOP 200 SONGS OF THE '80s (175-148)

Apologies for the delay of game.  I could blame writer's block again, but that's only half true. Work and life got in the way and slowed things down, and being motivated to jump back in was tough. But I got so lost in it I did more than 25 tunes this time.  I still want to finish before X-Mas and need to get back to record reviews (yes!).
There's a nice eclectic mix to this lot... But it's still all tunes that really resonate with me and seriously define the decade and how it was a big happy mess.


"Boredom Is The Reason"
It was really weird to move out to Los Angeles in 1986 and see what had happened to all the punk and hardcore kids after the Decline Of Western Cilization et al.  Not that I cared or followed much after Black Flag's Damaged and the Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables.  Everything seemed to drift away from melody and hook in transfer for something less fun and interesting. More brooding metallic punk was not what I was looking for. 

"Boredom Is The Reason" is a flash of good old fashioned punk rock verve with solid lyrical consciousness ("you wear a swastika to shock and offend, it becomes so passive, just another trend") that seemed beyond the grasp when it hit in 1984.

THE ANGELS (aka Angel City)
"No Secrets" 
This was one of those seemingly edgy New Wave songs that aired on late night video shows like Hollywood Heartbeat, Rockworld and HBO's Video Jukebox.  In retrospect it's basically a straight ahead rock song touched up with those punchy late 70s guitars and a nervous singer.  Since it rarely made it beyond college radio airplay, it's always had an air of secrecy to it.  For us kids trying to keep the TV volume down at 2am when we saw it for the first time, it was really a seriously heavy blast of modern rock that made us feel like there was something else out there besides Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits.

"A Broken Horse"
LA's early '80s paisley underground spawned a lot of goodies in a very short span.  It really peaked between 1983-1985.  And even though the Brothers Roback split--Dave went off to form the pre-jazzy Star outfit with former Dream Syndicate member Kendra Smith--by the time this EP was made, the SOUND of the band had evolved to it's most deeply refined and inspired. For me, this was the dream moment of everything you wished the Byrds and Neil Young could be in the (then) present day.

"Academy Fight Song"
Of all the Burma biggies (especially "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" and the definitive hardcore rush, "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate") this one feels the most universal.   And to some degree it is their most standard sounding rock song.  But that doesn't detract from it.  It's a hook to die for; the "not not not not"s echoed for years until I tracked this tune down (being a lone single in the pre-CD reissue years made it scarce).  

"Deep One Perfect Morning"
As much as the worship and praise deservedly gets thrown towards the debut, Psychocandy, the 2nd LP still had moments that showed the band hadn't lost fire or the ear for something that could keep you hooked forever.

"Never Let Me Down Again"
If there was any point where their validity was sealed, it was with this tune.  The ever so slightly changing of the guard; away from the twee and clank of the 84-86 run and into some dense foreboding future.  And even some see it as a murky gloom, this one really balances out with an intense, slightly euphoric build that doesn't relent.  

"Perfume Garden"
Even though this is where the band is produced within an inch of losing their identity, it never gets away from what is the essence of the band, which is the muse of Mark Burgess.  A gorgeous surge of a tune and some brief quick shutter glimpse of a moment.

At some point in the early '80s Todd Rundgren decided to take one last crack at writing a great power pop song a la "Couldn't I Just Tell You."  One of them ("Heaven's Falling") he gave to Cheap Trick for the LP he produced, Next Position Please. The other was this gem which ended up on Utopia's 1984 LP, Oblivion.

"Wide Awake"
This is one of those out of the blue strokes of pop magic that proves you should never under estimate anyone.  Elliot's lone solo outing (much like Ace Frehley's solo debut) was far more impressive than the big shots in The Cars (Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr).  Secret weapon was Jules Shear, who co-wrote the tunes with Elliot.

"Da-a- a-a nce"
With very few exceptions (The Vapors), most mod bands paled in comparison to The Jam.  But most had at least one or two fleeting moments of pop genius.  For The Lambrettas, it was this short and to the point nugget.  Punchy (and a bit dated), it still holds up due its momentary style and innocence. Not to be repeated.

"Heaven Help Me"
For me this is the unofficial spiritual connector to the Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey."  For us Stateside they appeared from an odd distant (UK) label, Blanco Y Negro. Both tunes evoke some distant Phil Spector vibe but respectively create some modern middle '80s template; one drenched in reverb and distant feedback, the other (this tune) more traditional with piano and Tracey Thorn's torch singer delivery.  This moment predates the Reid Brothers' by only a few months. 

"All Day"
In retrospect I find it silly to see people divided about this band and their early synth pop beginnings.  A lot of it has enough depth to compete with anyone's fave early '80s UK import a la Soft Cell, Gang Of Four, Heaven 17.  And that's how I prefer to remember them, even though the groundbreaking scream of "Stigmata" was indeed a big deal. This is the sound of walking into alternative dance clubs and not knowing what the fuck you were listening to.

"Wild Flower"
It's still an odd and slightly tragic reality to know that this band's godhead and genius debut (1984's Limping For A Generation) is virtually unknown whilst their lone legacy is a so-so pop hit called "Digging Your Scene."  What's missed is a brilliant concoction that mixed Marc Bolan along with pre-Acid Jazz Jazz swing and some sense of early '80s New Romantic verve that equaled Martin Fry in its smashing sense of outward aplomb. 

With song titles like "He's Shedding Skin," "Atomic Lullaby," "Fat Cat Belusha," "Professor Supercool," "Man From Russia," "Waiting For Mr. Moonlight" and "Trashtown Incident" it should've knocked down more doors. Alas, the public didn't bite and the boys dumbed it down to break the scene.  "Wild Flower" is the classic single that never was.

"Uncertain Smile" (12" version)
There's still something so very "other" about this record. And it hit at a point when there was an anything goes mentality. So why not 10 minutes of something hypnotic and unique?  Matt Johnson would go on and become a pretty well known '80s alternative musical figure but this entry point still remains his most audacious. Very deeply intriguing.

"Freak Scene"
Even though 1985's "Repulsion" really felt like a harbinger of what would become the slacker and indie aesthetic, it is 1988's "Freak Scene" that holds up as the stunning classic.  And seriously, they never improved upon it despite exploring heavier and weirder spaces and getting tagged in the grunge scene.

"Ode To A Koala Bear"
McCartney's lowest point musically was 1981-1985.  Sure he was creative and could come up with a tune... And despite the well-intentioned Tug Of War the sense of the magic and spark that was Macca seemed hard to find. After Back To The Egg the cherry picking became a lot harder. It wasn't until he aligned himself with 10cc's Eric Stewart by mid decade, that he began to blossom again, and his late '80s collaboration with Elvis Costello ended things on a high note.

So, why this "lost" tune?  Well, it might have to do with the fact that Paul can sometimes be at his best when he is not over-thinking or trying too hard. His gifts are so deeply entrenched in him, that sometimes a "ditty" is pure magic and can hold as a timeless pop classic.  Not that this one is, but it definitely holds up.  There is very little known about it, but it definitely FEELS and sounds like a musical answer to John's "(Just Like) Starting Over."


Before The Smiths there was Orange Juice. Besides their label mates Aztec Camera (who really gave Johnny Marr a lot to chew on) Edwyn Collins and company really created an obtuse pop netherworld that left boys like Morrissey dreaming of something else besides the New York Dolls.  It's pop, but it's quite weird.
This is the moment where everything seemed up for grabs with unabated youthful pop vision.

"Brush Me Back"
Like R.E.M., who they drew a lot of inspiration from, Dumptruck's '80s output has a significant point where they break from the more obscure artful sense and become more direct.  Unlike, R.E.M., with Dumptruck this was a good thing. Their first two albums were the type that got most of us indie college pop nut jobs all in a tizzy.  In retrospect, they sound a bit uneven.  Seems Seth Tiven's muse would grow and become fully formed by 1987 when a lot of the buzz was on the way down. Many of our faves by this point had either broken up (Bongos) or had splintered (dB's).  So, when 1987's For The Country came out it was one of the greatest unexpected surprises. Too bad it was 1987 and not 1995 where they would've given The Jayhawks' Tomorrow The Green Grass a serious run for its money as the best alt-country album.
"Brush Me Back" is a timeless gem that has the classic effortless grace of Neil Young.  Seth Tiven deserves the highest praise for being able to create this at a point when no one else (except Flying Color) was even in the same time zone.  Producer Hugh Jones (yes!) is the secret weapon.

"Dear Friend"
Even more obscure and removed from the mainstream than Dumptruck was this proto-alt Country pop band who really knew their way around a hook and made one quick debut and fell off the face of the earth.  The only thread of hipster cred came with producer Tom Mallon who joined American Music Club around the same time.
"Dear Friend" is a glorious roots-rock based Power Pop classic; just a little bit more twangy than the Plimsouls but still very '80s California-esque. 

"I Remember"
The power pop side of punk that would become de riguer after 1992 when Green Day exploded, was still a great underground secret in 1987 despite the best interests of The Descendents who really did all of the hard labor by laying down the groundwork.  Leave it to the Canadians to help solidify a movement. Along with The Nils, John Kastner's Doughboys made the late 80s an exciting time for underground punk that thrived on hooks and melody (and brevity).
"I Remember" is the great introduction I had, and it has yet to age or lose impact.  It's always an immediate, "Turn it up!" moment.

"In Green Fields"
One of the coolest things I got to see in the '80s was my childhood friend Frank Daly become a legitimate player in the underground punk rock scene.  Not that long after our air guitar stints as Kiss in my parent's basement, Frank jumped into the fray as a member X1 Whiteman (among others) until he met Mark Arnold and joined Raw Material which ended in as mysterious a way as Ritchey Edwards' exit from Manic Street Preachers. Mark and Frank were lucky to join Mike Conley for the last phase of M.I.A. circa 1986. Big Drill Car was formed just as M.I.A. was ending.  They debuted in 1988 with their Small Block EP.  In 1989 they hit their stride with CD Type Thing which included this classic which set the blueprint for most to follow.  Now, if only Frank could get a check for paving the way for Green Day and the rest who took the formula to the bank.

"Build A House"
Personally, this tune should be in my top 20, but I'm trying to balance my personal faves with choices that had some impact. And it definitely sucks that this formation of Dancing Hoods never took hold after only one godhead album, 12 Jealous Roses. (A debut EP had preceded it.) Dancing Hoods were a double threat with Bob Bortnick and Eric Williams as lead singers. Guitarist, and future Sparklehore main man, Mark Linkous had yet to step out of the shadows; he did lend a hand in the songwriting process, however.
Bortnick would end up holding onto the band after he and Eric split in 1987.  
What got lost in the split was the pure pop essence of Williams.  On 12 Jealous Roses its songs like "Build A House" that give it a deeper value than just another garage power pop elpee.  This was one of the few that could hold its own against The Plimsouls and Hoodoo Gurus. "Build A House" will forever be one of the greatest love songs ever written in the middle 1980s. Still makes my summer playlist every year.

"Smalltown Boy"
Some '80s synth pop songs transcend their trappings and are far above mere dance floor fodder.  And almost all of them came from the UK.  As much as I enjoy a lot of synth pop, there's a ton I can live without.  Can't exactly say why, but the difference between "Smalltown Boy" and everything by The Communards is massive. Chalk it up to pop luck.  Wonder in a moment.  An echo of some classic melancholy woe.  This one's got it.  And you can dance to it.

"Cico Buff" 
So there's lists and there's compilations and there's a lot of Cocteau Twins music to dig through; most of which all is of some real interest.  But for all the praise and reverence for early stuff like "Lorlei" and "Sugar Hiccup" I don't seriously connect to their stuff until 1988's Blue Bell Knoll which is probably a very unhip thing to say.
Nonetheless, try and find a more gorgeously hypnotic song than this one. For me, this is it.  A peak.

"From Blenheim Crescent To Cheyne Walk"
If I didn't have a French Connection (writer and DJ, Jose Ruiz) I would've never heard of Johan Asherton.  In France, the '80s saw a big resurgence in garage rock and a vociferous following for '70s punk legends who never got their due (Johnny Thunders, Elliot Murphy, Willie Alexander). 
Asherton was part of the new uprising with a band called The Froggies. He went solo by decade's end.  This track is a very cool, to the point, acoustic homage to Marc Bolan that gets past being just that and goes one better by making it fresh and new for the turn of the decade.  A truly inspired moment.

"New York, New York" 
It's easy to get long winded about Andy Shernoff and Handsome Dick Manitoba. Simply put, The Dictators were/are one of the all-time greatest live rock and roll bands to walk the earth. And their legacy, after all these  twisting years has finally gotten most of its due. Their time spent in the wilderness that was the 1980s was only seen by diehard New York area fans who caught their incendiary live reunion shows.  Top Ten went on to form the Del Lords and by the late '80s Andy, Handsome Dick and Ross The Boss formed Wild Kingdom with JP Patterson and Daniel Rey.  This lone ball of fire track, was a "lost" Dictators track that finally got its due on the Mondo New York soundtrack.  To say it RIPS is an understatement.  Lemmy blinked for this one, I'm sure.

"New Thing"
I had zero tolerance for almost all of the 1980s hair metal bands once Mutt Lange forgot what a snare and kick drum were and began to indulge with samples and sequencers to make it all poofy and pointless. It all went south so fast with Motley Spue and the rest of 'em.  Even standard bearers like Cheap Trick fell victim of songwriting teams and faceless power ballads.  What a fucking mess it was. 
Leave it to some closet Off Broadway fans to bring some sense of classic pop virtue and old school '70s hard rock dynamics.  Sure, they had the hair, and the drums were still a bit poofy, but at least there was a real drum track. And this one just jumped out of the radio and said, "Here's how it's done!" Sadly it was bit too late, but these Chi-town boys did at least get some cred and recognition and became a fave among the cross over power pop fans who had a sweet tooth for good hard rock.

"Ace Of Spades"
This could be in the top 20 and is probably the greatest hard rock song of the decade.  Alas, my '80s tastes seriously vary, but I will put this stone cold classic right next to Prefab Sprout as something akin in its sense of purity and vision. It's all in the attack.

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