College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 151 – 149

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151. The Dead Milkmen, “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything)”

The adamant disdain suggested by the parenthetical annexation to the Dead Milkmen single “Instant Club Hit” wasn’t a mistake. It was a clear expression of lead vocalist Rodney Anonymous’s intent in writing the song. “For a couple months, I hung out at this club in Philly,” Anonymous reported. “I have, like, no sense of rhythm, so I can’t dance. So I wouldn’t dance at this club. I’d just sit there at the bar and drink and growl, basically. To people like me who aren’t hair farmers, it’s just a horrible place to be trapped. But it`s the only place to go in Philadelphia if you’re looking for a place where you can drink until five in the morning.” The track became the first and only single from Bucky Fellini, the third studio album from Philadelphia’s brattiest, funniest punk rock band. Released in 1987, Bucky Fellini was the band’s first album for Enigma Records, and they were hoping it would deliver a more significant breakthrough, as evidenced by an excursion away from the safety of their hometown to record it. That also meant a heftier price tag, which made the tepid performance that much more disappointing.  The single made an impact, though, boosted by the batch of remixes included on the vinyl pressing, presumably pitched right at the audience the song mocked. At the time, Anonymous said he was fine with any theoretical crossover dance floor success that might come, no matter how ironic or hypocritical it might be. “If these people want to dance around to it, I don’t care,” he said. “Maybe it’ll start a trend where people stop wearing black clothes and all the girls stop looking like Siouxsie Sioux.”

 

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150. Hüsker Dü, “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely”

“Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely” was the first single from Candy Apple Grey, the major label debut of Hüsker Dü and the band’s fifth album overall. Upon its release, in 1986, Lin Brehmer, then the music director of Chicago radio station WXRT-FM, raved about the record and the band to Billboard, saying, “a little band from Minneapolis named Hüsker Dü, whose music renders much of what passes for rock ‘n’ roll and stuff as nonsense. If you can’t hear this band, check your social security number.” While I’m not entirely certain as to what that thrown down challenge means, I can stand by the fundamental appreciation of the music. There was always a swinging pendulum between the two Hüsker Dü songwriters, with drummer Grant Hart taking the momentary lead with the success of this song. Years after its release, Hart saw the song, like almost the rest of his Hüsker Dü legacy, as something that didn’t stir much personal affection but was handy from time to time, especially when audiences aren’t responding to his more recent music with consternation. “It is like second nature that I will play ‘Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely’ as a means of immediately applying the aloe to the scorched skin,” Hart explained. “As a means of, ‘OK, they won’t be mad at me if I play this.'”

 

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149. u2, “With or Without You”

According to Bono, “With or Without You” is about “the violence of love.” “I see it in myself and in other people around me that love is a two-edged sword,” the U2 lead singer explained. “I didn’t want to write about romance because that doesn’t interest me as much as the other side.” No matter Bono’s inspiration, his bandmates didn’t respond favorably to his first pass at the lyrics. As with almost everything that was created for The Joshua Tree, the album that elevated U2 to superstardom, Bono was urged to take another crack at his wordsmithing. “He had a whole set of lyrics for most of the album, but the band weren’t happy with them,” related Dave Meegan, an engineer on the record. “They were really critical of Bono at the time, and they sent him off to rewrite them all.” In the end it seemed to work out. As for “With or Without You,” it had the added benefit of producer Brian Eno’s studio creativity. He took fairly straightforward music and filtered it through a bevy of effects that gave the final track a spectral, alluring quality. Most involved with The Joshua Tree were convinced that “With or Without You” was an obvious choice for the album’s first single, with only the band members — especially Bono — as holdouts, initially fretting that it wasn’t strong enough to grab the attention of radio programmers. Those worries proved unfounded. “With or Without You” became U2’s first song to top the Billboard singles chart, spending three weeks in the top position in May 1987.

 

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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