The collaboration between Steven Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr was in tatters. They had completely stopped speaking to one another, putting the future of their band, the Smiths, into a state more dire than doubt. While some of the members — including, according to some reports, Morrissey himself — were still holding out hope that the many rifts could be overcome, it didn’t look good. The terms of the record deal the Smiths has signed with EMI, in 1986, stipulated that new music was due, regardless of the official status of the band. With that in mind, Morrissey sought a new songwriting partner, quickly settling on Stephen Street, who’d served as engineer for several Smiths recording sessions and produced what proved to be the band’s final studio album, Strangeways, Here We Come. With a touch of reticence, Morrissey’s solo career got underway. He assembled a batch of new supporting musicians and began recording at Wool Hall Studio (home of the sessions that resulted in Strangeways), going through a big batch of songs with only fitful success. One of the first tracks to emerge fully formed was “Suedehead,” which shared its title with a 1971 novel by James Moffat (writing as Richard Allen), the middle entry in a trilogy about neo-Nazi youth. The connection between the two works, though, was tenuous. “Does the song have anything to do with the title?” Morrissey offered. “Well, I did happen to read the book when it came out, and I was quite interested in the whole Richard Allen cult. But really I just like the word ‘suedehead.'” Instead of bigoted hooligan high jinks, the song draws from the more general experiences of Morrissey’s youth, particularly one encounter with an unwanted visitor who, whatever their flaws, was quite satisfying in the area of amorous pursuits. Released as the first solo single from Morrissey, in 1988, “Suedehead” was a hit, peaking at #5 on the U.K. charts, higher than any Smiths single had ever managed.
The Alarm wanted to get out into the world, but their third album, Eye of the Hurricane, represented their first steps back toward home. Released in 1987, the lyrics to the album were written entirely in Wales, the country where the band formed, and lead singer Mike Peters maintained the influence of the land was nestled deep in the words. “Rain in the Summertime,” which became the lead single, was a particularly tricky song for Peters. In trying to put lines to a chord sequence developed by bassist Eddie McDonald, Peters felt he had no more than a stopgap solution. “It kind of just came about when we came up with the line ‘I love to feel the rain in the summertime,'” Peters later explained. “A lot of rock songs start with the title, and I always thought, ‘I’m going to change that when I get to the studio.'” No such alteration ever took place, and Peters found himself laboring over a set of lyrics that would suit the title. Ultimately, he drew on the challenges the Alarm were facing as they collectively tried to hold together. “‘Rain in the Summertime’ for me was just the way the band had come to a difficult period, and it was about ‘If I could just run fast enough/ I could leave all of the pain and sadness behind,’ which is another key line in the song,” said Peters. “For me, rain always comes at the end of a drought.”
59. U2, “Desire”
Apart from the person who conceived of its riff, the first person to hear the U2 song “Desire” was an unsuspecting letter carrier making his rounds in the Dublin suburb of Monkstown. According to U2 guitarist the Edge, he was working in a new home he’d recently purchased and had alit on a sound he liked. He was having difficulty putting his hands on a tape recorder to preserve the sonic discovery when the front doorbell rang. “So I just kept playing, went to front door, opened the front door playing the riff,” the Edge recounted. “It was the postman. He gave me two letter. I took them, threw them onto the hall table, still playing the riff, said, ‘Thanks, mate — goodbye,’ kicked the door shut, still playing, walked up the stairs, found the tape recorder next to my bed, and recorded the riff. And that was the beginning of ‘Desire.'” The quest to capture the riff on tape seems a bit extraneous given that the Edge probably could easily recovered it after a fresh listen to the Stooges’ “1969,” the song he readily acknowledges was his chief inspiration. The song served at the lead single for Rattle and Hum, the 1988 double album that was partially a new studio effort, partially a live release, and partially a soundtrack for the concert film and documentary hybrid of the same name. Accordingly, the lyrics address the swelling fame U2 was experiencing and the outsized influence that came with it. “I wanted to own up to the religiosity of rock ‘n’ roll concerts and the fact that you get paid for them,” lead singer Bono explained. “On one level, I’m criticizing the lunatic fringe preachers ‘stealing hearts at a traveling show,’ but I’m also starting to realize there’s a real parallel between what I am doing and what they do.”
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.