College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 202 – 200

202 better

202. The Who, “You Better You Bet”

A necessary piece of music trivia in the arsenal of every fan so inclined to mentally gather such minutiae is the status of the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” as the very first music video played on MTV. You’ll never win a bar bet with that factoid, but knowing the first song to be played twice on the network could earn a free drink. Following the Buggles’ inaugurating clip, Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run,” and Rod Stewart’s “She Won’t Dance with Me,” MTV aired the music video for “You Better You Bet,” the first single released from the Who’s 1981 album, Face Dances. Fifty videos later, in between Andrew Gold’s “Thank You For Being a Friend” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Bring It All Home,” they circled back to the Who offering, making it the first beneficiary of the programmer’s penchant for saturation airplay, albeit a far milder version of that scheduling technique. “You Better You Bet” is notable as the first Who single released without drummer Keith Moon, who’d died three years earlier, arguably the least surprising casualty of rock ‘n’ roll hedonism in history. While only a modest hit (amazingly, the Who rarely had truly big hits in the United States, crossing into the Billboard Top 10 only once in their storied career), “You Better You Bet” quickly became one of the band’s favored standards, standing shoulder to shoulder with the major songs from their nineteen-sixties heyday and their time as maestros of epic rock opera. Lead singer Roger Daltrey has cited it as one of his favorites to sing, and it boasts one of Pete Townshend’s most irresistible set of lyrics, embodied by the playfulness of “I drunk myself blind to the sounds of old T. Rex/ And Who’s Next.” It’s maybe best, then, to avoid thinking about the skeezy origin of those lyrics, which Townshend acknowledged were inspired by a young woman he was seeing outside of his crumbling marriage. This girlfriend, he further explained, was “the daughter of a friend of mine. I wanted it to be a good song because the girl I wrote it for is one of the best people on the planet.”

201 need

201. INXS, “Need You Tonight”

As was the case with “What You Need,” the song that became INXS’s breakthrough hit, “Need You Tonight” was created because they band’s producer surveyed an album’s worth of material and decided he didn’t hear a single. Chris Thomas was the studio artist presided over the band’s work in both instances. Following the success of “Need You Tonight” and its accompanying album, Listen Like Thieves, expectations were high for INXS’s full-length follow-up. Guitarist Andrew Farriss and lead singer Michael Hutchence were told to sequester themselves in drummer Jon Farriss’s Hong Kong apartment until they came up with the new song. According to Andrew Farriss, the song’s enveloping riff popped into his head just as the proscribed international jaunt was about to get underway. He explained, “I was actually sitting in the back of the car that was taking me to the airport. Just before the guy could pull away, I heard the guitar line in my head, told the guy I’d forgotten something, and ran upstairs.” He recorded a quick demo in his apartment as the vehicle idled below. When he connected with Hutchence in Hong Kong, the singer delivered his part with comparable rapidity. After several hours of repeatedly listening to demo, Hutchence composed the full set of lyrics in a matter of minutes. The song became an enormous hit for the band, their sole chart-topper in the U.S., and a mainstay on MTV, eventually cleaning up at the 1988 Video Music Awards. It probably helped that the clip was augmented by the sedate stream of consciousness song “Mediate,” (presented as essentially its own bonus music video, which was directly inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” as presented in the documentary Don’t Look Back) reflecting the way the two tracked merged together on the album. That flourish of album tracking was the result of happenstance when the demo of “Mediate” was first played in the studio. David Nicholas, an engineer on the album who’d been specifically selected by the band, related, ” The day [Andrew Farriss] came in and played the demo, ‘Need You Tonight’ was playing in the background, and the idea hit me. I rewound his tape and hit PLAY just as ‘Need You Tonight’ ended and it synced up so perfectly that I actually thought something was wrong. It was one of those very spooky studio moments where you aren’t sure what is happening.”

200 magic

200. The Police, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”

“Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” was released as a single late in 1981, becoming the biggest hit by the Police to that point. The band had a lot of material under their stylish belts by then. It was, after all, the second single from the band’s fourth album, Ghost in the Machine. But it was also one of the older songs in songwriter Sting’s repertoire. According to the former Gordon Sumner, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” was written shortly after he first moved to London, in 1975. He found the reaction to the song to be discouraging, later noting that an audition at the Zanzibar in Covent Garden led to the harsh assessment “We need commercial hit songs. We don’t need this kind of stuff.” The Police first took a pass at it in 1977, with a very spare demo, but Sting conceded it wasn’t right for the earlier records. It was only with Ghost in the Machine, and the decision to finally give up on explicit attempts to please the masses. Sting said, “Our previous records were experiments in commercialism. I’d been obsessed with the idea of coming up with a commercial record. Ghost doesn’t have that concern. It’s just us.” Even still, Sting had to push against the resistance of his bandmates, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, to get the song on the album. That was hardly the last time contentiousness would creep into the process.

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.