The Jesus and Mary Chain
“Just Like Honey”
[Blanco y Negro; 1985]
If you want to hear the life and death of a generation compressed into a single pop song, “Just Like Honey” might be as close as you can get. It’s a song amongst a select few (“Hallogallo,” “Only Shallow” to name a couple) that singlehandedly set a pathway toward ubiquitous indie cliches, yet still remain singular. Jim Reid’s whispered baritone touched with just enough reverb to notice, the scorching treble-ridden guitars, the longing-filled melody, the endearingly clumsy metaphors. This is ground zero.
– Will Ryan
Til Tuesday’s biggest hit, and in fact singer Amiee Mann’s best-known song of her long career, was the 1985 pop-rock classic “Voices Carry,” a song that touched on both physical and emotional violence against women, mostly preserved by the unforgettable video, as songs that get played a million times on the radio tend to lose any lyrical meaning. But, the song holds weight years later, with a sing-along chorus, a driving bass-line, and perfectly-placed synth-fills. It is not hard to see how this group not only for the last couple decades housed the critical darling that is Amiee Mann, but also featured her later collaborator, producer Jon Brion, in their touring lineup. Til Tuesday was a new-wave band that never really fit in any scene, which would make sense why they faded out of it so quickly, but Mann’s songwriting talents are as obvious as anything on “Voices Carry.” Plus, bonus points for her hair.
– Philip Cosores
“Blister in the Sun”
If there were a list of the most recognizable songs of the ‘80s, this would certainly be near the top. This post-millenial overplaying has come to the detriment of many songs (namely, “Don’t Stop Believin’”) this one has held up pretty well despite being featured in everything from Wendy’s advertisements to The Benchwarmers. More than anything it’s just cemented a place for folk punk and for these weirdos that purvey it a permanent spot in the collective American consciousness and that’s certainly not a bad thing. I could go way over my word count just listing all the different places that this song has been licensed to, but hey, good for them and good for us. No one really loses when good music finds its way on our screens and in our ears.
– Colin Joyce
“Rock the Casbah”
[CBS / Epic; 1982]
“Rock the Casbah” has been on the radio ever since it was released as a single back in 1982. While it might be overplayed, it’s still a great representation of The Clash. The song tells a fictional story of a king who bans rock music from his kingdom (“By order of the prophet/ We ban that boogie sound/ Degenerate the faithful/ With that crazy Casbah sound”). The people of the land go against this ban and play rock music anyway (“But as the wind changed direction/ And the temple band took five/ The crowd caught a whiff/ Of that crazy Casbah jive”). And when jets are ordered to bomb any places where rock music is heard, the pilots disobey orders and listen to the music themselves (“As soon as the Sharia was/ Chauffeured outta there/ The jet pilots tuned to/ The cockpit radio blare”).
It’s difficult not to imagine a mob of people dancing their asses off! Even as The Only Band That Matters moved away from the punk sound into more experimental waters, the group still retained that fight-the-power mindset.
– Nicholas Preciado
“Fight The Power”
Jarhead may end up having something to do with associating “Fight the Power” with Desert Storm, all depends on how fondly rediscovery treats it. Regardless, the track perfectly captures disharmony with what’s going on around you, as much as any song from the Apocalypse Now did for that generation. Public Enemy’s first song top the rap charts was as big for hip hop as it was for the world, both entirely rooted in the years it was popular, yet simultaneously forever relevant. For that day when you sit back and realize, “God damn, fuck the government.” As cliche as the sentiment may be, any intelligent youth without it is wasted, and the “loops on top of loops on top of loops,” as Chuck put it, shout the message, not a bit dulled from the day Do the Right Thing hit theatres. If life’s feeling a bit dull, just pop in Fear of a Black Planet. If you never have then well, while it’s hard to make an understatement about something so explosive: damn it, it’s about time.
– Chase McMullen
“Here Comes Your Man”
[4AD / Elektra; 1989]
Not to be overlooked as their closest encounter with mainstream recognition, “Here Comes Your Man” might just be the best song on the Pixies’ best album. And in a lot of ways it sums up what the band did really well. That indelible riff that kicks off the proceedings is about as memorable as they come; it’s the kind that makes you want to learn the guitar and start your own group. The juxtaposition of the music and Frank Black’s tense lyrics act as a microcosm of his usual ferocity, but it’s hushed here, more than any other song on Doolittle. Not your typical Pixies fare, but it still winds up being a perfect 200 seconds of pop.
– Brendan Frank
“The Magnificent Seven”
[CBS / Epic; 1980]
The Clash were constantly, impossibly ahead of their time. In 1981, they returned to New York and booked Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five as openers for a string of dates in Times Square, but (shockingly!) the NYC punks were unready for any sort of change and pelted the openers with beer and spit. But at the very least The Clash had taken notice, recognizing the potential of hip-hop as well as its connection to punk own aesthetics and ethics. Lyrically, “The Magnificent Seven” is familiar territory for the band, taking on class, consumerism, and culture; but at the heart of the song is Joe Strummer’s excellent stream-of-consciousness flow over a grooving dub-inspired beat, and more importantly a punk band doing the most punk rock thing possible — disrupting the rigid expectations of a genre they defined.
– Jon Blistein
[Parlophone / EMI; 1988]
Deconstructing “The Rainbow” is a master’s class worth of material. The song is built out of a stew of classical, jazz, blues, and experimental rock influences into something that has never since been replicated or even tried despite this being the groundwork for post-rock to follow nearly a decade after. But what’s striking about “The Rainbow” is how driven emotionally it is. Talk Talk was a pop group moving toward more heady territories on The Color of Spring. “The Rainbow,” the long form opener of Spirit of Eden, escapes the experimental indulgences it could have easily slipped into with its colossally broad pallet. Mark Hollis’s moaning vocals and Mark Felham’s screaming harmonica backed by ebbing strings and smokey piano create a foremost tear-jerking atmosphere.
– Will Ryan
“The Boy With a Thorn In His Side”
[Rough Trade; 1985]
According to Morrissey, the titular “thorn” represents the music industry, and the repeated question “Will they ever believe me?” refers to DJs and executives who wouldn’t play The Smiths’ records. But it’s most commonly interpreted by the listening public to be a song about a gay romance struggling in the face of societal ignorance: “How can they see the love in our eyes / And still they don’t believe us?” Really, it doesn’t matter what Morrissey — or anyone else, for that matter — says about the song. It belongs to nobody in particular; it’s one of those songs to which each listener will ascribe his own personal interpretation. This is what great songs (and great albums like The Queen Is Dead) do: they get played in candlelit bedrooms by moody teenagers, and blasted in car rides home from a crush’s house, and reproduced word for word in an untold number of diaries now hiding in their authors’ dusty closet top shelf. In other words, a great song is a personal song, and the Smiths’ passionate paean to “a murderous desire for love” means a great deal to a lot of people. So actually, “The Boy with a Thorn in his Side” belongs to everyone. It’s not just about Morrissey’s experiences or doomed attraction; it’s about coming home from the record store with this album in tow, perhaps a bit less lonely than you were before you bought it.
– Josh Becker
As far as Beastie Boys deep cuts go, you can’t get much better than “Car Thief.” On an album that’s already a glorious, cultural, musical, self-referential hodgepodge, “Car Thief” stands out as one of Paul’s Boutique’s funniest, funkiest, and most surreal tracks. With the Dust Brothers pulling samples from everything from Funk Factory’s “Rien Ne Va Plus” to Max Yasgur’s speech at Woodstock (which they turn into, duh, a pot joke), MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D are at their best here, dropping science with the stoned ease of seasoned pros, their overlapping, intertwining lines hypnotic. “Car Thief” is pure braggadocio, from those gruesomely hilarious opening lines to the back-to-back name-checking of James Brown and Saint Anthony. Plus is there really a better line than, “Homeboy throw in the towel/ Your girl got dicked by Ricky Powell.” No. There isn’t.
– Jon Blistein