College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 214 – 212

214 melt

214. Modern English, “I Melt with You”

After the Snow, the second album from Modern English, represented a very deliberate stab at creating big pop hits. The band’s debut full-length, Mesh & Lace, released one year earlier, was very much in the gloomy, agitated post-punk mode perfected by Joy Division. When it came time to follow it up, they wanted to do something markedly different. At the time, lead singer Robbie Grey explained, “We could have easily carried on with the Mesh & Lace formula. We could have played the barren landscape, the heavy drumming, distorted guitars, and wailing vocals game for six or seven albums if we’d wanted to. But the point is, we’ve moved on. Now, more than ever, we’re in a bracket of our own. There’s songs on the new album crying out to be played on Radio One.” Borrowing Grey’s metaphor, it’s fair to say that no song cried out louder or more persuasively than “I Melt with You,” which was released as the album’s second single. Seemingly a fairly straightforward love song, Grey claimed the track has far darker underpinnings related to a more literal interpretation of its title. He said, “‘I Melt With You,’ you see, was supposed to be about a couple who is making love as bombs are dropping all round them, or imagining that happening as they make love.” While this stands as one of those inescapable songs from the nineteen-eighties, “I Melt with You” was only a modest hit back when it was released in 1982, going no higher than #76 on the Billboard chart. Interestingly, that was the exact same peak hit when the band released a newly recorded take on the song as a single eight years later. The band offered up yet another take on the song in 2011, recording a somber, slowed down version for the soundtrack of the movie that nicked the familiar title.

213 walking

213. Katrina and the Waves, “Walking On Sunshine”

The Waves had kicked around as a band for quite some time before the name of lead singer Katrina Leskanich got prominent placement. Kimberly Rew was in bands called the Waves before and after his tenure in the Soft Boys. In the second instance, it was the name he brought with him after joining a group known as Mama’s Cooking, which was primarily a covers band. Rew brought a big batch of songs with him, so the band started playing originals when they changed their name to the Waves. Leskanich got prime billing when the band was told they were more likely to get gigs on military bases if it was obvious that they had a female singer. The composition in Rew’s songbook that earned the band seemingly endless airplay was “Walking on Sunshine,” which they’d taken several passes at before producer Pat Collier helped guide them to the version that took them all the way into the Billboard Top 10. Rew conceived of the song as a ballad when he wrote it, but Leskanich wanted to really unleash on it, leading to the bouncier version that would provide the underscore to countless montages.

212 numbers

212. Bongos, “Numbers with Wings”

Straight outta Hoboken, the Bongos had a string of U.K. singles in the early nineteen-eighties, which were tied together to form the band’s debut full-length, Drums Along the Hudson, released in 1982. One year later, the Bongoes released Numbers with Wings, an EP that represented their first outing with major label RCA Records. The record also saw the band expanding from a trio to a quartet with the addition of guitarist James Mastro. Producer Richard Gottehrer was enlisted to give the band’s music a little more polish and the kind of focused attention that could elevate the songs. For the title track, Gottehrer sensed that lead singer Richard Barone was struggling to bring the right level of emotion to his vocals. Gottehrer had the other studio technicians and band members leave the room so he could work one-on-one with Barone. In Barone’s memoir, Frontman, he wrote that Gottehrer “would direct me as a film or theatrical director would, using his gestures and facial expressions to pull out the most emotion and meaning from the minima lyrics. When I heard the result, I couldn’t believe it was me.” The resulting track became the first single released from the EP.

As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.

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