Bow Wow Wow Yippee-Yo, Yippee-Yay: The Best Songs Of The 80s, 100-91
Oct 6, 2007
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So, I wasn't expecting to be sitting here typing this up while bad Eighties videos flicker in the background, but that's exactly what I'm doing. Somewhere, the Gods and Goddesses are smiling. They're probably glancing at Rick James' autobiography, which I have sitting carelessly on the cover of my futon, and noting that I appear to have lapsed into an Eighties time warp-only without the Ocean Pacific shirts, Kangaroos sneakers and bad skin.
Welcome to the first official installment of my list of the Best 100 Singles of the Eighties. I started out with a prelude (which I've conveniently placed at the bottom of this review so y'all can catch up), and here is where the party begins officially.
The first few selections here contain quite a bit of soul and hip-hop, with some folk-pop and girly-rock to add a little flavoring. Let's get rolling with #100
100. "Don't Look Any Further" by Dennis Edwards
Chart Positions: #2 R&B, #72 Pop
You've Heard It: On way too many records to count, although it's likely you've never actually heard this song.
And here's probably the least known song on this entire list. Dennis Edwards was formerly the lead singer of The Temptations (most notably performing lead vocals on the smash "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone"). His gruff, Pendergrass-ian vocals over this mellow, reggae-flavored groove would have been enough to make it a hit. Add in a tasty female vocal from a singer named Siedah Garrett (who went on to duet with The King of Pop on "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" and co-write "Man in the Mirror") who was subbing for an ill Chaka Khan, you have a smash. Add in a loping drumbeat and bassline that's been sampled for everything from Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full" to Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True" and you have a classic. It even tosses in some African chanting a la "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'". Talk about having your bases covered!
99. "Careless Whisper" by Wham! featuring George Michael
Chart Positions: #1 Pop, #1 A/C, #8 R&B
After Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street", it can be argued that "Careless Whisper" has the most recognizable sax intro in recorded history. Cheesy horns aside, this brooding ballad turned George Michael from a joke into a songwriting force to be reckoned with (of course, he later turned back into a joke, but this was fun while it lasted). The man had some pipes too, as evidenced by the falsetto notes he hits at the song's (usually faded out) conclusion. This is the height of Eighties balladry, and has been covered by Ben Folds, Montell Jordan, Brian McKnight, Rufus Wainwright and Tamia, among others. This also started the slightly annoying trend of George making songs whose titles could not be found in their choruses. It also allegedly inspired Debbie Gibson to write the fantastically cheesy "Foolish Beat". And if that's not worth a mention on my list, then what is?
98. "Push It" by Salt 'N Pepa
Chart Positions: #1 Dance (as Double-A side with "Tramp"), #19 Pop, #21 R&B (also as Double-A side with "Tramp")
So I found out not too long ago that Salt-N-Pepa, the greatest female rap group of all time, will be the stars of a reality show on VH-1. In the one clip I saw, Salt (who is now a born-again Christian) objects to performing "Push It" on the grounds that the song is too aggressively sexual, while Pepa (who is decidedly NOT born-again) weakly argues that she always thought the song was about dancing. No one, and I mean NO one-not even me at 11 years old-could hear the whispered "ahhh...push it"s or lines like "Yo baby pop, yeah you, come and give me a kiss, better make it fast or else I'm gonna get p!ssed" and not think S-E-X!! Not much of an actual song when you really listen to it, but damn what a turn on!
"This dance ain't for everybody...only the sexy people!"
97. "Ain't Nobody" by Rufus and Chaka Khan
Chart Positions: #1 R&B, #6 Dance, #22 Pop
Most of you who read my reviews have already seen me profess my undying love for Chaka Khan on more than one occasion. This song serves as proof that great voices can take a totally antiseptic production and turn it into something great. Chaka's eccentric phrasing and ebullient vocals are on display throughout the song, but after the bridge she lets loose with a stream of vocal lava that will absolutely scorch your ears. Already a solo star, this song served as her adieu to former band Rufus, and you've gotta admit that the pioneering funk/rock band went out in style.
96. "Stand Back" by Stevie Nicks
#2 Rock, #5 Pop, #12 Dance
Even though she occasionally sounds like a bleating sheep when she sings, I love Stevie Nicks. She's made fantastic collaborations with Tom Petty and Don Henley (both of which made my final 200, but didn't survive the last cut), but this song proves that the Fleetwood Mac singer had what it took to provide the goods alone...or did it? The song crackles on it's own-upbeat and forceful with some fantastic guitar work and mysterious lyrics ("in the middle of my room I did not hear from you...HUH???), but the song's X factor is an irresistibly itchy synthesizer played by some dude from Minneapolis named Prince. Definitely Stevie at her funkiest.
95. "One Step Up" by Bruce Springsteen
Chart Positions: #2 Rock, #13 Pop
I live in New Jersey now, so if I don't give props to Bruce Springsteen I get locked in a box and lit on fire while riding through the Turnpike. Thankfully, I actually enjoy the guy's music. "Tunnel of Love", an album which painfully enacted the dissolution of his marriage to actress Julianne Phillips, is and always will be my favorite Bruce album (you'll find another song from it later on in this list), and "One Step Up", the third single from the album, is absolutely haunting. Armed with a simple acoustic guitar, bass and timpani drums, Bruce spends the first two verses moaning over the end of his relationship. In the song's third verse, he meets a girl at a bar. Apparently "she ain't lookin' too married, and as for me, baby, I'm pretending". He's joined on vocals at this point by Patty Scialfa, the woman who would become the future Mrs. Springsteen. Very rarely have art and life intersected as perfectly as they have on this song.
94. "Invincible" by Pat Benatar
Chart Positions: #10 Pop
"Fair is fair!!"
If you're my age and you got shuttled to bad movies (I even saw "Lucas"!!!), then you remember "The Legend of Billie Jean". Without going into specifics, let's just say that the two most memorable things about the movie were this song and the fact that it featured Christian Slater in (what I think was) his first film role. Teeny tiny Pat Benatar conjures up all the rage she can possibly muster for this rocking track, which sounds suspiciously like U2's "Two Hearts Beat As One" (another song I'd have included had I allowed myself to bend some more rules). It's one of those fist-pumping, righteously angry songs that were all the rage back then.
"What are we running for? We have a right to be angry!! What are we running for? When there's no one we can run to anymore?"
93. "Atomic Dog" by George Clinton
Chart Positions: #1 R&B, #38 Dance
You've Heard It: Sampled on just about every West Coast "G-Funk" record
As the leader of Parliament/Funkadelic, George Clinton provided us with some of the funkiest, and strangest music of the Seventies. There are folks that are still trying to figure out "Maggot Brain". "Atomic Dog" was a hell of a lot more accessible, but still way too out there for the average pop radio listener (to wit, the song didn't even crack the Top 100 on the pop chart despite hitting the top of the R&B charts-one of two songs included here to have that distinction). What can I say? Some things are just too funky for the mainstream? At this point, George had disintegrated his bands and was operating on the synthesizer, but the focus on electronics made him no less funky. This ode to a canine superhero ("Ain't yo' average Huckleberry Hound!") rocks dancefloors worldwide to this day, and Snoop and Ice Cube could both make greatest hits compilations based on the amount of times they've ripped off this song.
92. "Love Is A Battlefield" by Pat Benatar
Chart Positions: #1 Rock, #5 Pop
She was opera-trained, so it was a given that Pat Benatar had the pipes. Who knew the Brooklyn girl could catch a groove, too? While this song's not exactly...er, "urban", it was certainly more danceable than her usual touch rock-chick songs. I can't think of the song's plaintive chorus these days ("We are young/heartache to heartache we stand") without thinking of a particular "South Park" episode, but that doesn't take away from the fact that this song is totally in the pocket. Having what was easily one of the five greatest (meaning: most campy) videos of the decade helped a lot too.
91. "Tell Me I'm Not Dreaming (Too Good To Be True)" by Jermaine and Michael Jackson
Chart Position: #1 Dance
So...um, yeah. At the height of little brother Michael's success with "Thriller", Jermaine Jackson left Motown Records and was signed to Arista by Clive Davis. He also rejoined his brothers in The Jacksons at this time. The first single from his self-titled Arista debut was supposed to be "Tell Me I'm Not Dreamin'", a duet with Michael that was co-written by Donna Summer's husband, Bruce Sudano. The high-energy duet received tons of airplay right off the bat and even hit the summit of Billboard's club play-based Dance chart.
Despite the fact that Michael was at his career apex and that the song was (in my opinion) one of, if not his best vocal performance ever (he COMPLETELY upstages his big brother). This Grammy-nominated tune never scaled the pop or R&B charts. Why? Well, it wasn't released as a single until nearly a year after the album's release. And even then, it was relegated to a B-side, and Michael's vocals had been erased from the track. While at the time, Jermaine complained that it was Mike's record company that refused to allow the release, it later came to light that MJ sabotaged his big bro's release himself. Dirty pool, but still a great song. And since it charted somewhere, it's on my list! Yay!!
Up next: A few of the Talking Heads take a break, the first appearance by a purple genius, and Jennifer Beals in spandex. Yum!!