Saturday, 15 August 2009
Top 100 favourite songs of all time [Part 4: The 80s]
Next we move on to the 80s. It was decade of excess and self-indulgence for many musicians, but it was also home to lots of fantastic music if you dug a little deeper than what was in the pop charts. Of course, there's a few guilty pleasures too.
Before I go on, a few people have questioned my "one song per artist/band" rule. They have a valid argument; If I didn't have this restriction, there's a good chance that A day in the life by the Beatles would place higher than most of the songs in this list. But I stand by my rule -- as I said in the first post of the series, I made this rule to keep it interesting and to stop it becoming a love letter to my favourite musicians. So while the title of this series is "Top 100 favourite songs of all time", feel free to read it as "Favourite song of 100 different artists/bands". Not as catchy, and definitely wouldn't get as many google hits now would it?
The Bangles - Eternal Flame
Yep, this is one of those trademark guilty pleasures. There's a few readers right now who are probably laughing that I included this song in the list. Put it down to nostalgia if you will, but I loved this song when it came out, and it has sentimental meaning to me as well. Just a great love song, all said and done.
Kate Bush - And Dream Of Sheep
There's about 5-6 tracks from her masterpiece Hounds of love which I could have put here, but the opening track from the side B musical suite The Ninth wave just edged its way to the top. I remember the exact moment when I first heard this song - when Brett Anderson named it as one of his favourite songs on the J-Files Suede radio special. It's an enchanting number with a wonderful lullaby-like quality that always pulls me into the emotional core of the album.
Elvis Costello - Indoor Fireworks
It's not one of his most well-known songs, but this gorgeous dark country ballad from his superb 1986 album King of America is one of his finest compositions, both musically and lyrically. It took me a lot of convincing to get into Elvis Costello -- my friend Adam lent me both his Very best of CD and Brutal youth but neither grabbed me. Then one day I found myself humming the melody to this song and couldn't get it out of my head. I bought Very best of shortly after, followed by King of America. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Echo & The Bunnymen - The Killing Moon
This song received a second chance at international acclaim when it was featured at the start of the cult classic movie Donnie Darko. It encapsulates that dark 80s indie goth pop sound that was perfected by fellow British bands The Smiths and The Cure, and at the individual song level, it is perfection of the genre. I have subsequently tried to get into the highly acclaimed parent album Ocean rain, but can't quite understand what all the fuss is about. Maybe it's because the rest of the album pales in comparison with what they achieved here.
Peter Gabriel - Don't Give Up
A wonderful duet between the former Genesis frontman and quirky chanteuse Kate Bush, I adore the lyrical message of this song. While its message is hardly subtle (the title of the song pretty much sums it up), I'd like to think that this song has helped to save at least a few lives in its time. Musically it is quite minimalistic, which has made it age pretty well and sound a lot less dated compared with some of his other songs from the period like Sledgehammer.
The Go-Betweens - Quiet Heart
It begins with an intro that is quite reminiscent of With or without you, before the late Grant McLennan enters with one of his finest vocal performances. The song is embellished with emotional strings and a harmonica solo in the middle section courtesy of Robert Forster. Much of 16 Lovers Lane consists of love songs with dark undercurrents, and has often been called the indie Rumours. This song stands out from the album, because there doesn't seem to be anything sinister going on -- it's just a pure, unabashed love song, and all the better for it.
Michael Jackson - Billie Jean
I'm not just jumping on the MJ death bandwagon when I say that he was a pop genius, completely deserving of the King of Pop title that was bestowed upon him. This one is probably his finest song, just edging out a few close runners-up. While he didn't write all of his classic songs, he did write this one which gives it bonus points. And any song which introduced the moonwalk to the world has to be a certified classic. And what a killer bassline!
Billy Joel - Miami 2017 [Live]
This is the definitive version of this song (from 1981 live album Songs in the attic) which was first released in its studio version on his 1976 album Turnstiles. It's an exhilarating live performance which is definite proof that there was a lot more to Billy Joel than his overplayed MOR radio staples. What makes this song one of my absolute favourites is the atmosphere generated by the audience's response to the lyrics. The rest of the album is pretty amazing too.
Paul Kelly - To Her Door
Picking a favourite Paul Kelly song was difficult. For those who haven't heard of Paul Kelly (presumably because you are not from Australia), he's one of our national treasures -- no singer/songwriter has been able to capture the essence of Australiana like this man has. He's the Australian Bob Dylan. While he has tens of songs which could be considered classics, there's something special about this catchy tale of a dysfunctional family (and marriage breakdown) that I'll always come back to.
Bob Marley - Redemption Song
Let's begin with some useless trivia -- for many years, I thought the opening line of this song was "The pirate's just a rabbi". Bob Marley is another one of those genius singer songwriters, and his Legend compilation is the token reggae album in thousands of households who want a nice and concise way of appreciating the genre. Luckily, this song is included on there, so even the casual reggae listener is able to appreciate his finest song -- a politically inspiring masterpiece with arguably his finest vocal performance. It was also the last song on Uprising, the final album released during his lifetime. Which makes it a pretty poignant epitaph as well.
Metallica - Fade To Black
I'm not a huge fan of the heavy metal genre, but I do enjoy some of Metallica's early work (Ride the lightning, Master of puppets, Metallica). This is the token power ballad on their 2nd release, Ride the lightning. It's an epic composition from beginning to end, starting out delightfully subdued, and eventually rocking out in a blissful metal climax of sound. Listening to this song makes me upset about the lack of dynamics in modern music - they don't write 'em like this anymore.
New Order - Temptation
This would be on my shortlist of the most blissful, uplifting pop songs I have ever heard. Another great song I discovered via the superb Trainspotting soundtrack, this is early New Order (circa 1982) at their very best. It's a superbly constructed song from beginning to end, from the delicious fade-in, to Bernard's fantastic vocal performance throughout, to the delightfully lovesick lyrics. It doesn't matter if you've got green eyes, blue eyes or grey eyes -- this is pop music at its finest.
Pet Shop Boys - It's A Sin
From one perfect pop song to another. Pet Shop Boys do have a bit of a daggy reputation, and I'm definitely destroying whatever street cred I have (not much, mind) by saying how much I adore this song. From the moment that synth riff kicks in at the start, to the gloriously uplifting chorus, this song makes me smile. What's wrong with music that makes you happy? The difference between this song and more contemporary pop music is that this song is over 22 years old now and still sounds amazing. There's not many pop songs released these days that have a shelf life of a year, let alone 2 decades.
R.E.M. - Fall On Me
In what seems like an attempt to buy back some street cred after a few guilty pleasures, I've chosen an obscure R.E.M. track from the early "indie" part of their career, before they joined a major label with 1988's underwhelming Green. While debut album Murmur is their vibe-inducing album-length masterpiece, this beautiful ballad from 4th album Lifes rich pageant is their finest song to date. The harmonies and vocal interplay between Michael Stipe and Mike Mills is out of this world, and the middle 8/bridge section with the "Well I could keep it above, but then it wouldn't be sky anymore" part is quite simply one of those perfect musical moments.
The Replacements - Unsatisfied
The 'Mats captured that undeniable feeling of teenage angst better than any other band, and this song is their finest moment. An emotional and epic anthem, it covers similar lyrical territory to the classic Stones number Satisfaction, but while Mick Jagger and co. were difficult to relate to (being massive rock stars and all that), Paul Westerberg and co. were guys that you could imagine living next door to. And that makes the emotional impact of this song all the more powerful.
Bob Seger - Against The Wind
Another song I got into via a soundtrack, this time the excellent double CD compilation for Forrest Gump. I'm a sucker for nostalgic, country-influenced heartland rock -- and this song ticks all of the emotional checkboxes for me. It sounds like simpler times, and it's sung with such conviction and honesty from Mr. Seger that I can't imagine ever growing tired of it.
The Smiths - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Oh my. Does music get any better than this? Exhibit A in the case of Morrissey being labeled as a morbid, depressing, lyricist -- but real fans of the Smiths know that there's a witty irony to his lyrics which makes most of their songs appealing on multiple levels. This is a masterpiece of musical composition, where all the elements are in place for maximum emotional impact. What other band can make an accident involving a double decker bus sound so goddamn romantic?
Split Enz - Message To My Girl
Nice segue from a morbidly ironic love song to this beautiful heart-on-the-sleeve number. Neil Finn had certainly written and performed his fair share of classic new-wave songs with the Enz before this (I got you), but this was a real crossover song which could appeal to almost any music fan. In many ways, it hinted at the direction he would take with his new band Crowded House several years later.
The Stone Roses - I Wanna Be Adored
I bought the eponymous debut by The Stone Roses on a whim many years ago, having never heard any of their songs. It was one of the greatest risks I ever took, as the album is now in my top 3 albums of all time. The album works on many levels; as a cohesive time capsule of late 80s "Madchester" guitar-based pop, and as a collection of individual masterpieces like this opening number. All the elements are in place here -- the atmospheric fade-in, that opening guitar riff, the groovy rhythm section, and Ian Brown's perfectly-matched vocals. A song (and album) to make you fall in love with music all over again.
Richard & Linda Thompson - Walking On a Wire
I discovered the folky genius of Richard & Linda Thompson a few years ago when I picked up their final album Shoot out the lights (from 1982). It was one of those albums that I appreciated at the time, but it didn't blow me away. Then a few months later I decided to revisit it, and when the groove of Don't renege on our love blasted out of the speakers of my car, I realised that I had significantly undervalued this gem of an album. Walking on a wire is the second track on the album, and the best song they ever released -- the combination of Linda's emotionally-affecting vocal performance and Richard's spine-tingling guitar work is a match made in heaven.
Traveling Wilburys - Tweeter And The Monkey Man
The debut album from this super-group (George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne) could quite easily have drowned in its own excess, if the "too many cooks spoil the broth" theory applied to putting too many musical geniuses in the studio together. Luckily, for the sake of music listeners everywhere, it worked remarkably well. While there are some moments of collaboration on the record, in many ways it can be looked upon as a collection of individual contributions like this little number, which could have easily been released on a Bob Dylan solo record. Ironically, it was one of the best Bob Dylan songs since his mid-70s work on Blood on the tracks and Desire.
Weird Al Yankovic - Good Old Days
I've talked about this song before, and I'm sure some people will laugh at my inclusion of a Weird Al number in my list of 100 favourite songs. But I don't see any reason why this hilarious James Taylor/Warren Zevon satire can't be recognised for what it is -- a wonderfully written and performed song. Weird Al is an incredibly versatile musician and songwriter, and this song is a perfect example of his immense talent.
Gheorghe Zamfir - The Lonely Shepherd
Yet another song I acquired through its inclusion on a Tarantino soundtrack -- this time Kill bill. While not my favourite Tarantino soundtrack, it is home to this beautiful pan flute instrumental. As the other songs in this list probably indicate, I generally prefer my music with vocals. An instrumental has to be something pretty special for me to rate it so highly. This is a special song, and it's one of those songs that you probably don't recognise by name but will find instantly familiar the first time you hear it.