CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 97 – 95

97-new

97. Howard Jones, “New Song”

“I’ve played in lots of bands since I was fifteen,” Howard Jones explained in 1983, at the time his debut single, “New Song,” was bounding up the charts. “But the thing that got me down was that other people in the band used to land up arguing at the end of the day, and I wasn’t really into that. So I decided I just wanted to get in with it in my own way. I found there wasn’t anyone around I wanted to play with.” Luckily for Jones, he took that creative stance at precisely the point the technology made it easier to make full, complex pop songs as a one-man band. That probably helps explain why the synthesizer is featured as prominently on the cover art to the single as Jones himself. In its lyrics, “New Song” makes a direct argument for independent, original voices in pop music, a sentiment Jones’s label highlighted at the time of its release. “The words pretty well sum up Howard’s approach to his own life, which has often been a case of following his heart rather than convention,” a press release insisted. Years later, Jones backed up that implication of lofty intentions. “If you look at the lyrics of that song, they’re pure philosophy,” Jones said. “They’re not like pop lyrics at all. But that was the irony of it. It’s a very pop song. But the lyrics are pure philosophy. What happened is the people who really got me, got what I was trying to do, they understood. And then people who only see things on the surface didn’t get me. And I’ve always had that — either you like Howard Jones or you don’t, there’s no in between. Which I like. I’m happy with that.”

 

96-side

96. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Sidewalking”

The Jesus and Mary Chain had only been releasing music to a broad audience for about four years when they issued “Sidewalking” as a single, in the spring of 1988. Though their chronological span was somewhat limited, they’d already established a signature sound with such force and clarity that they briefly thought the track shouldn’t be released under the Jesus and Mary Chain name. As Jim Reid later explained, “Sidewalking” was a reflection of the music the band was surrounded themselves with. “We dipped our toes into the hip-hop waters at the time,” Reid said. “The drum sample for ‘Sidewalking’ was from Roxanne Shanté, and we were listening to Stetsasonic and Run-D.M.C. and stuff like that.” There was some discussion of either releasing the song under a pseudonym or even farming it out to an artist who fit more naturally into the hip-hop section of the record store. The band may have opted for that misguided approach if not for the intervention of Geoff Travis, the founder of Rough Trade Records. “He said, ‘You’re nuts. It’s just a great record. Just put it out as the Mary Chain.’ So we did,” recalled Reid. Travis knew what he was talking about. “Sidewalking” became the band’s fourth straight single to make it into the Top 40 on the U.K. charts.

 

95-wire

95. U2, “Wire”

Ireland was enduring a brutal heroin epidemic in the early nineteen-eighties, with studies indicating ten percent of young adults in the 15-24 demographic had at least sampled the drug during 1982. This obviously wasn’t going to go unremarked upon by the nation’s rising superstar band with a penchant for commenting on current events. As if U2 weren’t already going to be inclined to weigh in, they’d also seen the scourge hit a few friends and acquaintances. “Wire” was one of the songs U2 offered up as a response the devastation they saw. The track sat on the 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire, which took its name from an art exhibition that took its grim inspiration from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the work’s resulting preoccupation with events of historical significance commanded the most attention, thanks largely to the breakthrough single “Pride (In the Name of Love),” lead singer Bono explained there was another side to the album. As he put it, witnessing the repercussions of heroin addiction “informs the LP a lot more than people realize.” He continued to specifically explain the personal impact. “When your friend becomes a junkie he ceases to be your friend,” said Bono. “He’ll steal from you, he’ll fight you. That had a great effect on me.”

 

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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