“This Corrosion” now stands so clearly as the signature song of the Sisters of Mercy that it’s easy to overlook that, in the chronology of the band, it was actually considered a comeback single. Shortly after the group had a couple of modest hits on the U.K. charts, in the mid-nineteen-eighties, they splintered apart. Guitarist Wayne Hussey and bassist Wayne Adams quickly formed a new group called the Mission. While they were making their own headway with British music fans, Sisters of Mercy lead singer Andrew Eldritch was largely absent from the scene, offer little explanation beyond saying he was “traveling for a bit.” There wasn’t even any particular indication that he’d carry on the Sisters of Mercy until “This Corrosion” arrived in the fall of 1987, in advance of the band’s sophomore album, Floodland. “It’s about the idiots, full of sound and fury, who stampede around this world signifying nothing,” Eldritch said of the single at the time. “It’s about people who sing about the revolution while selling it short, about people who sing about the corrosion of things while they themselves are falling apart. People who miss the point… It’s also stupidly over-the-top bombastic, but rightly so.” Given those aspirations to the over-the-top bombast, the Sisters needed the right collaborator in the studio. In the eighties, that could mean only one man: Jim Steinman, the impresario of excess who presided over some of Meat Loaf’s most notable efforts as well as similarly grandiose hits from Bonnie Tyler and Air Supply. “‘This Corrosion’ is ridiculous,” Eldritch said. “It’s supposed to be ridiculous. It’s a song about ridiculousness. So I called Steinman and explained that we needed something that sounded like a disco party run by the Borgias. And that’s what we got.” That swelling sonic splendor paid off nicely for the Sisters of Mercy. “This Corrosion” became the band’s first to cross into the U.K. Top 10 and also the first to make an appearance on the U.S. Club Play charts.
“Billie Jean” wasn’t the first single from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but it was undoubtedly the one that signaled the artist and his album were heading into uncharted territory in terms of global popularity. The song spent seven weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100, so it clearly had a lot of fans. At least one of them had some conflicted feelings about the track, however. “I loved that song, danced to it in the clubs, but fuck Michael Jackson,” Romeo Void lead singer Debora Iyall said. “If some woman comes to you and says, ‘I think you fathered my child,’ to respond, ‘The kid is not my son.’ I thought that was really cold, so ‘Girl In Trouble’ is my answer to him.” Released as the lead single for 1984 album Instincts, the band’s third and final full-length outing, “A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)” finds Iyall offering pointed but encouraging words to a young friend going through a difficult time. “It’s a tough talk for girls,” Iyall explained. “I had a very good best friend, and I wrote it with her in mind, she is the ‘she’ in the first verse.” The song brought Romeo Void their sole foray in the Billboard Top 40, peaking at a modest #35.
The single that was, by some measures, the second biggest hit for the Police had its genesis in some gentle jibing from a romantic partner. According to Sting, he was sulking after his divorce from him first wife, Frances Tomelty. Of course, this sulking was taking place in Jamaica, with his new paramour — and future wife — Trudie Styler nearby, so there were compensations for his misery. Still, sad is sad, and a rock ‘n’ roll poet with heady tastes is sure to express his existential agony in a highly dramatic fashion. As Sting recounted, he was sitting in the yard watching the sunset. After taking note of a pronounced level of sunspot activity, he announced to Styler, “There’s a little black spot on the sun today.” After the requisite pause for effect, he added, “That’s my soul up there.” Whatever sympathetic coddling he hoped to receive from Styler never arrived. “Trudie discretely raised her eyes to the heavens,” Sting reported. “‘There he goes again, the king of pain.'” He took that exchange and spun it into a typically moony, romantic, eloquent track. Released as a single from the 1983 album Synchronicity, the final full-length studio release from the Police, the song made it into the Billboard Top 5. Though the song’s success practically mandated that Sting would be called upon to perform it for the rest of his career, the raw feelings behind its creation never fully receded. Years later, when the Police embarked on a highly unlikely reunion tour, Sting acknowledged his need to employ some distancing strategies when “King of Pain” came up on the set list. “I sing it like an actor would,”he said.
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.