A couple of years ago, I posted the best of the 90s, and the best of the 00s, from my point of view.
A couple of years ago, I posted the best of the 90s, and the best of the 00s, from my point of view. So, a few months after part one, here is the continuation of my look at the 80s, the decade I grew up in (I was born in 1978). As before, I discovered many of these bands subsequently, yes. But music is a voyage of discovery, and I enjoy continuing on that. On with the second twenty…
[Note: This was written a while ago, and like the other lists, has been left as it was written originally – only the formatting has been updated and corrected where appropriate.]
Although later a monstrous hit – heavily reworked and with added rapping – the original of this is a quite lovely, early trance track, and nothing like the stadium-bound, world-straddling dance music that these situationist pranksters eventuallly moved on to. And that’s the crazy thing about these guys, really – they actually were genuinely innovative, trailblazing electronic musicians that hid behind a smart-arse facade…and made a ton of money doing so.
The Stone Roses
I Wanna Be Adored
The Stone Roses
The unbelievable hype, particularly in certain parts of the press of late, of The Stone Roses return during 2012 has perhaps begun to obscure quite how good their debut actually was – and, not to mention, just how far the band progressed from their early singles. Their early singles were broadly disposable, jangling indie-pop, but their debut album took that one stage further with a pristine production. a brooding undercurrent and a collection of songs that were truly brilliant. As a result it is kinda hard to pick a particular song, but the gradual build of the opener, that builds into an epic crescendo, gets me every time.
New Model Army
The Ghost of Cain
Unlike many of my friends, I’ve not seen NMA live, ever, and my route into the band – not that it ever went much further than this – was through Sepultura’s bruising cover of this track. The original isn’t bad, actually: a rousing, snarling rock track whose lyrics indirectly suggest a distrust of authority, with members of a local community taking matters into their own hands to deal with someone who has messed up many lives (I’d suggest it is a drug dealer, myself). When you think in a little more detail about these lyrics, it isn’t hard to see why Sepultura covered it in the first place – the two bands shared a common disgust with their (very different!) worlds all the long.
I’m sure many old-school industrial heads could argue for hours about their favourite Coil work, the main problem being their stylistic shifts and evolution mean that there could be a favourite song for each of their periods of work. Of the early stuff, mind, this track stands out for me – a meshing of unsettling samples, found sounds and a pounding, tribalesque rhythm. Interestingly the vocal work and beats have an echo in some Skinny Puppy work that came about six years later…
My Bloody Valentine
You Made Me Realise
You Made Me Realise EP
The long-standing centrepiece of MBV’s live sets – that somehow I’ve never managed to actually see for myself – this is the track that cemented their reputation for stupefyingly loud and intense live shows. When listening to the perhaps a little thin recorded version, it honestly is difficult to see how. A lovely indie-pop song all the same, but with a few hints of the distortion, guitar multi-tracking and pedal abuse that was to come muddying the clear sonic water just that little bit.
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Just Like Honey
Perhaps the band that can be blamed more than any other for the advent of shoegaze, it was remarkable that when I was recently bought the reissue of Psychocandy, I was flabbergasted at just how well it has stood up. I think that is because beneath the can’t-be-arsed vocals, and the sheets of shredding, metallic guitars, there is an arsenal of glorious pop songs bursting to get out – and here is the best of them.
Siouxsie and the Banshees
I’ve never been a devoted fan of this band, but there are certain parts of their backcatalogue that still are better than just goth dancefloor nostalgia, and here is one of them. An astonishing percussive charge, and Siouxsie’s vocals soar over the top. Goth rock bliss. Interestingly enough, though, this band were one of the very first live bands I ever saw…
The Number of the Beast
The Number of the Beast
In these days where it isn’t all that unusual for a rock/metal band to experience relatively big success, I’m not sure it is possible to imagine just how much of an impact Iron Maiden made when they first started bothering the charts. Still, some things never change – this songs lyrical content of course incurred the wrath of the Christian right in the US, even if really it is nothing more than an observation on shlocky horror films. Still, the subject is only part of the appeal. The galloping rhythm, the endless guitar solos, the chorus that proved once and for all, perhaps, that the devil really does have the best tunes, and that instantly recognisable intro. The kind of intro that just about anyone would recognise as Maiden, I suspect…
Just squeaking in at the end of the decade, one of the seminal dance tracks that is responsible for so much that followed it. Chillout, trance, some areas of where house music went. So it is to blame for a lot of shite, I guess, but the original always sounds better, right? Even the saxophone here sounds like it belongs – which was an effect seriously overused in early nineties dance music…
Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes
The recent 25th anniversary celebrations for this seminal album for once felt justified, as opposed to being yet another cash-in (have you seen the “35th anniversary edition of Never Mind The Bollocks” recently advertised?). The reason? This album actually really did change attitudes and help usher in new musical tastes, at least in the West. Yes, there may have been some disquiet over Paul Simon ignoring the Anti-Apartheid cultural boycotts, but the results were frankly extraordinary, and I think it is fair to say that this album was the first that really brought what became known as “World Music”, for better or worse, to a worldwide audience. There is barely a note wrong on this album, and picking a particular song for this was really quite difficult. But in the end, it has to be the glorious meshing of African and Western on Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes, opening with the a capella verses, before that wonderful rhythm kicks in to carry the song forward. For an experiment that no-one was ever sure was going to work at all, the fact that this album is still revered even now – incredibly, it hasn’t dated a day, perhaps something to do with the fact that even the politics that crop up here and there are a little more abstract – is testament to just how successful and game-changing it was for all concerned.
Twenty-eight songs, thirty-three minutes, effectively the work of two seperate incarnations of the same band across the two sides of the album, the shortest recorded song ever included…in fact reading all of that you could probably play You Suffer at least twice, maybe three times in the same time. But aside from the numbers, and the novelty, this album blazed new trails like few others in metal. Basically the birthplace of grindcore – and the countless sub-genres that followed – this is a crusty, ugly, primitive record. But it was never meant to be anything else. The title track still fucking rocks, mind, even if it seems to need a few seconds to pull itself out of the murk around it and start off that galloping riff, before finally losing the shackles entirely around the halfway mark to properly hit warp speed.
The Birthday Party
Release The Bats
Release The Bats 7″
The demented glory of Nick Cave’s early band’s most famous song has not diminished over the years. Yeah, so it is a bit of a goth cliche nowadays, but who cares? Anyway, less actual goth music and more a rockabilly groove with a frankly crackers lyrical story, it really is kind of amazing that Nick Cave turned to such serious musical realms in the aftermath of this band – although maybe he needed a return to reality after the chaos of this band…
The Human League
Love Action (I Believe in Love)
Hardly the synthpop fluff band that their biggest singles suggest they were at face value, instead what became The Human League actually was the root of three Sheffield electronic acts. One became the mega-selling Human League, one became the ultra-experimental Clock DVA, and the third became the (perhaps surprisingly) politically-focussed Heaven 17. Of course, the various splits and changes made a massive difference to their sound, and they developed fast – the difference between early single Being Boiled and the track in question here could be measured in light years, frankly, when in reality it is only three years. The big difference by 1981 was Phil Oakey’s move towards a more poppy, commercially aware sound, and this track was the one that really broke them through – and like many other songs in this list, it isn’t hard at all to see the massive influence that this had on artists that followed in their wake. For me the killer moment, though, isn’t that wondrous chorus – it is the multi-tracked vocals in the bridge.
Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?
Dave Mustaine has, in recent years, outed himself as a (far)-right-wing Republican, spouting all kinds of bullshit in the press to anyone who will listen, but if you rewind 26 years to 1986, you end up with with a very different picture of him. The title track to this album is one of the few Megadeth tracks I ever loved, and like much of the thrash-metal from that time it still stands up exceptionally well. As does the subject matter, too, detailing the disconnect between youth and the ruling class, where it appears that nothing whatsoever has changed. In an age of high youth unemployment, as so-called austerity sweeps away many chances of opportunity, it just appears rather ironic that the older Mustaine is now on the side of the fence that wants to deny that youth the opportunities that he wanted once upon a time.
Dance Me to the End of Love
The eighties were hardly a busy period release-wise for Cohen – only two albums were released – but songs from that period have become some of his most enduring and popular, it seems. Obviously Hallelujah is one of them, covered by just about everyone who has released music in the last thirty years or so, it sometimes feels, but I was always more of a fan of Jeff Buckley’s cover than the original. So let us look elsewhere on Various Positions, to the opening track in fact – a glorious celebration of enduring love that actually has a really quite dark origin.
Straight Outta Compton
Straight Outta Compton
If ever there was a case for music as social realism, NWA was it. A searing, seething polemic of a song (and album) that blazed it’s way of out South Central Los Angeles in the mid-eighties, taking up the baton of the still-new rap music and injecting a bitter, angry “sound of the streets”. The beats may have sounded familiar, but the lyrics certainly didn’t. Detailing the tough life on the streets, this was a life being harassed by the police, crimes, guns, drugs and little hope. Perhaps this was the warning of what was to follow a few years later in Los Angeles. Either way, an astonishing product of it’s time (and I could have included Fuck Tha Police or Express Yourself just as easily), the music hasn’t dated but it could at least be hoped that the lyrics are no longer relevant – sadly I suspect this isn’t the case.
The success of So was powered forward by then-revolutionary videos and the thundering singles that accompanied them, but the flip-side to these, the more experimental tracks that broadly closed out the album, were – and still are – worthy of just as much attention. Mercy Street is one of these tracks, a bleak, sparse (and near-beatless) song dedicated to Anne Sexton, and lyrically shares the darkness that inhabited her work. Like the rest of the album the bass booms underneath everything – this really is an album designed to be played very loud indeed! – but the electronic effects that make up the rest of the musical accompaniment here sound beautifully fragile and melancholic, perfectly matching the outlook of the lyrics.
Out of Step
Out of Step
Ok, so I was never interested in being Straight Edge. I chose to enjoy various elements that Straight Edge folks eschewed, but that was my choice, theirs theirs. It doesn’t mean that we can’t find common ground in musical taste, mind, particularly in the bruising early-eighties hardcore of Ian MacKaye’s first band. This was fast, heavy music to get angry to, but crucially Minor Threat had something to say. Sick of watching their peers throw their lives away in various ways, they chose to eschew drugs, booze, smoking and casual sex, and channel their anger and energy in different ways (which in their case happened to be being one of the trailblazers of a then-new genre of music). Ok, so their flame burnt brightly for only a short while, but they influenced many and splintered into a few other bands, most notably Fugazi, who took the hardcore sound entirely in different directions. As for this song? A one-minute blast reminding that their ideals are “Out of Step” with everyone else, but that they really couldn’t give a fuck that they were. It was all about choice, and still is.
For me Joy Division’s finest song, three minutes of some of the finest post-punk in existence…that is (from what I can tell) simply about the joys of losing yourself in listening to music, particularly in this case by listening to the radio. Another perspective could be that it is about using music as a metaphor for blocking out the horrors of the outside world. Either way, this is still-thrilling stuff, with that bassline propelling the whole song and all but compelling you to dance, dance, dance. (And yes, I know this only just about counts as an eighties song)
There was always something joyous about just how fucking unhinged Black Francis could sound at points during his songs. Not just when he was singing about aliens, or planets, or losing his mind, but when he properly let loose and screamed. Such as here, where he rambles on about “hips like cinderella”, and sneering at his subjects, before roaring out that chorus that comes out of nowhere. Oh, and the close, as he summons hell with all it’s demons for just a few seconds. Two demented minutes that better Debaser every time.