Realistically, the 1988 album Conscious Party was always meant to be be a sort of coming out party for Ziggy Marley. Signed to Virgin Records with his band the Melody Makers, which included a handful of his siblings, the son of the most legendary reggae artist of all time was a focus of the new label, certain they’d be able to capitalize on the familial connection with all those high school and college kids who tacked posters of the Legend album cover to their walls. Talking Heads members and Tom Tom Club chiefs Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth were recruited to produce Conscious Party, which was Ziggy’s first outing in his new corporate recording home. Everyone was keenly aware of the history. Frantz and Weymount even told engineer Glenn Rosenstein to read a biography of Bob Marley before working on the record. (He declined the suggestion.) There were plenty of unique things that came with being the offspring of the reggae legend. “My father gave me herb when I was young,” Ziggy once noted, “He’d say, ‘Ziggy, take a draw.'” Besides the herbal indoctrination, there was also a hereditary facility for music and an ability to capture attention if the track was right. Though Virgin Records had some initial success with “Tumblin’ Down” as a single, it was “Tomorrow People” that crossed over in a major way, even scratching its way into the Billboard Top 40, a feat Papa Marley never managed. To find the secret of how Ziggy ingratiated himself to the masses, if only for a moment, one could do worse than considering the evaluation of his mother, the estimable Rita Marley. “His music is caressing, you know?” she observed at the time. “Ziggy’s music don’t make you worry.”
Kate Bush was in the midst of personal change when she began work on the songs that would comprise her 1985 album, Hounds of Love. Following the release of The Dreaming, in 1982, she moved out to the British countryside and immersed herself in the comparative quietude of her new landscape. Though The Dreaming had been a bit of a commercial disappointment, Bush felt it was the closest she’d ever come to realizing her artistic aspirations on the resulting pressed record. The first song she wrote and recorded (as a demo) in the comfort of her rural home was given the title “A Deal with God.” Comfortable in a romantic relationship with her regular bassist, Del Palmer, Bush was nonetheless pondering the the communication breakdowns that naturally occurred between the sexes. Her resulting theories drove the new song. “I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman,” Bush later explained. “And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised.” The only way to achieve that switcheroo, Bush surmised, would be through a pact with a greater power. Deals with the devil were commonly evoked in such instances. Bush went a different way. “I thought, ‘Well, no, why not a deal with God,'” she said. “You know, because in a way it’s so much more powerful the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you.” The song was reportedly worked up in a single summer evening, Bush nestled in the music room of her home. The resulting demo wasn’t simply a blueprint. It was the very foundation of the finished track, elements layered onto what Bush had already recorded. “It wasn’t a demo, it was a working start, and we carried on working on the original,” engineer Paul Hardiman affirmed. Though all agreed the resulting track was strong, Bush’s label was squeamish about the title, claiming they’d have difficulty selling it in some of the more religious European territories. Bush kindly acquiesced, allowing the eventual single to draw its title from another phrase prominent in the song: “Running Up That Hill.”
According to Nile Rodgers, the sound of David Bowie’s 1983 album Let’s Dance began with a photograph. “We met at his Manhattan apartment, where he showed me a picture of Little Richard in a red Cadillac and said, ‘I want my album to sound like this,'” Rodgers said. “He just had to show me a picture, and I completely understood.” Bowie had enlisted Rodgers, famous as the lead guitarist for Chic and the man behind a bevy of disco classics, as a producer, eagerly urging him to concentrate on making an album full of hits. Among the songs Bowie presented to his new collaborator was a plaintive ballad played on acoustic guitar called “Let’s Dance.” According to Rodgers, he immediately identified a disconnect between the lyrics and music in what Bowie played for him. “I come from dance music,” Rodgers told Bowie. “You can’t call that thing you just played ‘Let’s Dance.'” Working with engineer Bob Clearmountain, Rodgers transformed the song, piling on funk elements and dosing it with an internal dance floor charge. Adding to its layers, the track featured guitar work from Stevie Ray Vaughan, who Bowie gravitated to after watching the blues purist play the Montreaux Jazz Festival. The requisite music video featured a young couple of Australian Aboriginal descent, depicting the prejudice they faced. Bowie called it “a direct statement on integration.” Much of the video was shot in the Carinda Hotel, located in a New South Wales community with a population in the double-digits. According to Lena Peacock, who was the partner of the business’s owner at the time, the appearance of a rock legend in their humble town was a major shock.”When they rang up to make the arrangements, they didn’t tell us who it was, so noone expected it,” she remembered years later. “Let’s Dance” was the only Bowie single to top the charts in both the U.K. and the U.S.
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.