One of the indicators that the nineteen-eighties was a time of very different expectations around bands’ productivity, there was some anxiety around how long it had been since new Siouxsie and the Banshees music had hit record store shelves when “Cities in Dust” was issued as a single, in August of 1985. This was despite the fact that had put out a full-length album and an EP the prior year. A trio of singles had been drawn from those two releases, each of which performed with the usual level of respectability on the U.K. charts, though falling short of the chart heights achieved by their 1983 cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” which had risen all the way to #3. Concern about the long recording process around what would become their seventh studio album, Tinderbox, were pronounced enough that when “Cities in Dust” was polished into proper shape, the label quickly put it out, some six months ahead of the album. A fulsome embrace of the band’s goth and post-punk foundations, “Cities in Dust” reveled in the inherent gloom that came with a musical depiction of the volcanic demise of the ancient city of Pompeii. This was hardly the pining romance glop of most pop music. Another solid performer on the charts in the band’s home country, “Cities in Dust” also provided a hint of the crossover possibilities for Siouxsie and the Banshees’ music when it became their first song to move up to the Top 20 of the Billboard dance chart.
In late 1984, Eoin McEvoy mailed a tape to a friend of his named Paul David Hewson, but known the rest of the world — with rapidly growing recognition — as Bono. It was the latest iteration of music from a band that included McEvoy as lead singer. Taking the name Cactus World News for an early, rejected song, the band’s newest music caught Bono’s attention, and he signed them to Mother Records, the upstart vanity label granted to his band, U2. Bono’s commitment was so thorough that he produced the first single by Cactus World News, “The Bridge,” claiming no one else could properly showcase the band’s strengths. That lineage was probably enough to stir the interest of the music industry, in the early stages of embracing bands that hewed to the general U2 sound. Cactus World News was signed by MCA Records, and the label released the group’s debut album, Urban Beaches, in 1986. “Years Later” was the second single. Big, driving, and anthemic, the track was fated to draw comparison with U2. Cementing that evocation of their benefactors and countrymen, the Cactus World News song even had political, reportorial lyrics, with a glum survey of the changes happening in their home base of Dublin. That was no mere happenstance. Indeed, it was a crisply clear reflection of the band’s mission. “We have plenty to say about things we know about, like our environment,” McEvoy said. “These are our statements, and personally and collectively they come together in very much the same direction. We’re printing the lyrics with the album, because we do want people to read them, but we won’t sit down and explain them afterwards.”
Culture Club was mired in failure when they went into the BBC studios to record a performance for a radio show. The band’s first two singles had stalled on the charts, and they were generally feeling a sense of futility about this new musical endeavor. When they finished recording the bit for the radio ahead of schedule, they decided to take advantage of spare studio time unexpectedly available to them. They started noodling around together, landing on the languid, lilting melody that would shortly transform into “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me.” Once Boy George added lyrics, many in their circle were certain the resulting track would be their breakthrough hit, but the lead singer was resistant to see it released, even threatening at one point to quit the band if “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” became their third single. In part, George thought it wasn’t really in line with the club music the band intended to make, but he later conceded there was a more close-to-the-bone motivation behind his protest. He felt the song was too overt an expression of the tumultuous romantic relationship he was in with Culture Club’s drummer, Jon Moss. “It was so personal in a way that our other songs weren’t,” George explained. “It was about Jon. All of the songs were about him, but they were more ambiguous.” The label prevailed, and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” was released in the autumn of 1982. It wasn’t simply the breakthrough that had been predicted; it was a worldwide smash, topping the U.K. singles charts for three weeks and making it to the runner-up position in the U.S., where it couldn’t quite overcome the juggernaut of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
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.