142. Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian”

“Walk Like an Egyptian” was written by Liam Sternberg after he saw people awkwardly trying to keep their balance as they crossed the deck of a fairy, putting him in mind of the stiff figures in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Sternberg shopped a demo featuring Marti Jones on lead vocals. Toni Basil turned the song down, and Lene Lovich recorded it, though her version never saw release because she decided to take a sabbatical from the music business for most of the nineteen-eighties. So the demo track kept kicking around, eventually landing on cassette sent to producer David Kahne as he was considering material for Different Light, the second full-length studio album from the Bangles. Though a strong perception developed positioning Susanna Hoffs as the lead singer of the Bangles, the vocal duties were shared somewhat evenly be all four members of the band. That was true of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” with Hoffs, guitarist Vicki Peterson, and bassist Michael Steele each taking a verse. Only drummer Debbi Peterson was left out, the indignity compounded when Kahne opted for a drum machine track instead of her handiwork in the final version of the song. Perhaps understandably, she didn’t have warm feelings for the song. “‘Walk’ to me is a nice little novelty song…but I don’t feel like it’s us,” Debbie Peterson said. Whether or not it was properly representative of the band, “Walk Like an Egyptian” was the Bangles’ biggest hit, settling at #1 on the Billboard charts for four weeks and being designated by the publication as the top single of 1987.



141. Men At Work, “Down Under”

Though the Australian band Men at Work were responsible for some of biggest hits on the U.S. charts in the early, their music initially baffled the major label honchos who’d signed them. Their debut album, Business as Usual, didn’t see release in the United States until some six months after it first started stirring up audiences in their homeland. “The record was rejected twice by the A&R department of CBS in America because they didn’t think there were any hits on the record – despite the fact that ‘Who Can it Be Now?’ and ‘Down Under’ were on it,” lead singer Colin Hay later explained. “They were idiots. Early on it was really quite difficult to get a release in America.” If “Down Under” wasn’t the band’s breakthrough hit, it was undoubtedly the song that defined them, in no small part because of its unashamed commitment to trafficking in pieces of their Australian culture likely to be somewhat perplexing to listeners in other parts of the world. Besides the famed vegemite sandwich reference, the song opens with the lines “Traveling in a fried-out Kombi/ On a hippie trail, head full of zombie.” For most, the translation of a helpful Australian was required to make that tumble of words into anything more than catchy gibberish. Though the song feels buoyant and celebratory, Hays notes it had a more politically pointed undercurrent. “The chorus is really about the selling of Australia in many ways, the overdevelopment of the country,” Hays said. “It was a song about the loss of spirit in that country. It’s really about the plundering of the country by greedy people. It is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense. It’s really more than that.” The single became the band’s second to top the Billboard chart, staying in the peak position for three weeks in early 1983. Years later, it also brought about a legal headache when the band was named in a copyright infringement suit, claiming the song’s flute solo was lifted from the Australian standard “Kookaburra,” written by Marion Sinclair, in 1932. The band eventually lost the case, and Hay opined the stress of it all contributed to the death of his former bandmate Greg Ham, who played the disputed notes on the original recording.



140. Yes, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”

In 1983, there wasn’t supposed to be a band called Yes. The prog rock giants broke up following the tour in support of their 1980 album, Drama, largely because several band members splintered off to pursue other projects, leaving the few remaining musicians feeling it was inappropriate to continue on under the established moniker. One of those new projects was a band called Cinema, formed in part by Yes alumni drummer Alan White and bassist Chris Squire. Once other Yes bandmates orbited into the project, the associated record label made the strong suggestion that they give up the pretense and reclaim their old band name (which the label surely felt was more famous and potentially lucrative). One of those returning cohorts was singer Jon Anderson, who was handed a mostly completed track shortly after he joined up. “The song was already finished, but there were no verses,” Anderson recalled. “They had tried some verses and it really wasn’t working. They had the chorus, they had the arrangement. I came in and all the songs were virtually put together, but there was a lack of choruses here, verses there.” He quickly lit upon the opening lines — “Move yourself/ You always live your life/ Never thinking of the future” — and was off from there. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” became the lead single from the 1983 album 90125. It also became the first song that Yes took to the top of the U.S. charts, spending two weeks there in early 1984.


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.

One thought on “College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 142 – 140

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