CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 106 – 104

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106. New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle”

When New Order got down the business of creating their fourth full-length album, Brotherhood, they wanted it to have a sonic schism. That approach naturally had an impact on the songwriting and recording process for every track, including the album’s sole official single. “‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ is a brilliant track, but it was kind of done in a schizophrenic mood that we were trying to do one side synthesizers and one side guitars,” drummer Stephen Morris later explained. “I don’t know. It didn’t quite work.” Built around one of the band’s very best hooks, “Bizarre Love Triangle” also commands attention with its irresistible song title, making it a curiosity as to whether or not it would have been quite as impactful had it finished as “Broken Promises” or “Broken Guitar Strings,” two of the names used when it was performed live as a work in progress. Bassist Peter Hook maintains that the title was simply waiting for the right song to come around. “We used to take our song titles from many different places — books, TV, anything we saw that sounded good we would write down and use at a later date,” Hook said. “That’s why a lot of our songs have titles that are completely separate to the lyrics.” Since it was released as a single in late 1986, tethering the song to a striking music video was a basic requirement. To achieve that, the band and label managed to secure the directing services of  the artist Robert Longo, famed for his Men in the Cities series. The kinetic imagery of the resulting clip captured the attention of MTV programmers, who gave it generous airplay, helping “Bizarre Love Triangle” to become the first New Order single to push into the Billboard Hot 100, albeit peaking at a modest #98.

 

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105. The Housemartins, “Happy Hour”

When the Housemartins emerged on the music scene, in the mid-nineteen-eighties, they were regularly, jokingly billed as “The fourth most popular band in Hull,” trailing, among others, Sigue Sigue Sputnik. They might not have been able to even place or show in their port city hometown, but the Housemartins had a fine run on the U.K. charts, notably breaking through with their third single, “Happy Hour.” Released in 1986, the track is a prime example of the Housemartins style, obscuring downbeat lyrics with chattering, buoyant music, meaning listeners often needed a few spins before really catching the grimness at play. It might sound like a jolly, raucous night at the pub, but lines like “Where they open all their wallets/ And they close all their minds” tell a different story. Because there’s nothing the British music press adores more than a trumped up rivalry between two bands, reporters and columnists eagerly pushed the notion that the Housemartins were duking it out with the Smiths, leading the Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to take a swipe at the other band, offering “Happy Hour” as damning evidence. “The Housemartins?” he said at the time. “I couldn’t acknowledge them as the competition without a smile on my face. And if they really are our closest rivals, it’s no wonder I’m so confident about the Smiths! The Housemartins! ‘Happy Hour’ was a complete rip-off of ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have,’ and they’ve nicked others, too.”

 

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104. Let’s Active, “Every Dog Has His Day”

When it came time to promote Let’s Active’s third album, Every Dog Has His Day, I.R.S. Records stuck with the previously established game plan of calling attention to the group’s association with other, higher-selling acts. Instead of leaning on band leader Mitch Easter’s notable resume entry as producer of the earliest R.E.M. records, the label turned to the most famous fan of Let’s Active. Robert Plant’s status as a rock legend was obviously secured by his time spent yowling in front of Led Zeppelin, but he was also in a period of professional rejuvenation in 1988, thanks to the album Now and Zen. The ad campaigns around both the album Every Dog Has His Day and its lead single, which was the title cut on the record, centered on Plant’s seal of approval. The icon evidently had no problem with this, as he was championing Let’s Active all on his own. “It’s been really wild, he’s been mentioning us just constantly in all the interviews he’s done lately,” Easter noted at the time.  “It’s just like this thing from the blue….When we went over to Wales in November to record the record we ran into him, because he lives near there, and it was the same thing. He couldn’t tell us enough how great we were. It was just weird. He was obviously completely sincere because he knows the records inside out.” Enthusiastic as Plant and college radio might have been about Let’s Active, broader commercial success wasn’t in the offing, something Easter and his colleagues realized once and for all while touring to supporting Every Dog Has His Day. Guitarist and keyboardist Angie Carlson (who was also married to Easter at the time of the album’s release) pegged the low point as a theme park gig. “We were billed under Baby Shamu at Sea World,” she said. By 1990, the band was no more.

 

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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