1980s Music
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1980s rock music is rather looked down upon these days, but it seemed pretty good at the time and not too bad in retrospect. Here’s a reader’s poll from electric guitar maker Gibsons of 1980s songs. (There’s no requirement that they feature electric guitars, but, given the sight, not surprisingly, they almost all do). One thing I would note is that this was still the long era, beginning with the Beatles, when the general superiority in stylishness of British rock music was taken for granted. Of the 25 tracks, 12 are American and 13 from the British Commonwealth / British Isles.

Gibson.com Readers Poll - Greatest Song of the ’80s

1. AC/DC, “Back in Black” (1981)

2. Iron Maiden, “The Number of the Beast” (1982)

3. AC/DC, “Shoot to Thrill” (1980)

4. Dire Straits, “Money for Nothing” (1984)

5. Simple Minds, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (1985)

6. Roxy Music, “More Than This” (1982)

7. Guns N’ Roses, “Welcome to the Jungle” (1987)

8. R.E.M., “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (1987)

9. Van Halen, “Jump” (1984)

10. Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (1988)

11. Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House” (1983)

12. Neil Young, “Rockin’ in the Free World” (1989)

13. Pixies, “Monkey Gone to Heaven” (1989)

14. John Hiatt, “Slow Turning” (1988)

15. Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (1983)

16. Bruce Springsteen, “I’m on Fire” (1985)

17. Guns N’ Roses, “Paradise City” (1988)

18. Fine Young Cannibals, “She Drives Me Crazy” (1989)

19. John Lennon, “(Just Like) Starting Over” (1980)

20. U2, “Where the Streets Have No Name” (1987)

21. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Pride and Joy” (1983)

22. Rush, “Tom Sawyer” (1981)

23. Split Enz, “I Got You” (1980)

24. Modern English, “I Melt with You” (1982)

25. U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (1984)

The Gibsons critics’ poll is decent, too, although their #1 choice, “London Calling” by The Clash seems curious. “London Calling” has always struck me as about the 17th best Clash song ever. It’s monumental in style, but seems underwritten, as if it needs another hook of some sort. I believe somebody could take the catchy bass line from The Pretenders’ “Mystery Achievement,” which was released the same week in December 1979, and add it to “London Calling,” and you’d have a better song.

One of the genres I always liked was the Brideshead Revisited style of Brit Fop Rock where, typically, working class kids like Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music pretended to be all genteel. I was amused to learn that Ferry, the son of a factory worker but now a Tory country gentleman, is the father of Otis Ferry, who is perhaps Britain’s most often arrested crusader for the defense of foxhunter’s rights — a character out of Evelyn Waugh. (In contrast, Joe Strummer of the Clash was a public school boy whose father, a diplomat who held the secret codes at various British embassies, was a good friend of Kim Philby).

Combining the the readers and critics lists:

6. Roxy Music, “More Than This” (1982)

24. Modern English, “I Melt with You” (1982)

10. Duran Duran, “Hungry Like The Wolf” (1982) (or “Rio”?)

11. Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure” (1981)

15. New Order, “Blue Monday” (1983) (or “Temptation” from 1981, where the real hook — “Oh, you’ve got green eyes …” — doesn’t emerge for many minutes)

20. Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (1980)

29. The Smiths, “How Soon is Now?” (1985)

I’d add The Cure’s “In Between Days” as another 1980s classic of jangly toff rock.

If you add together the 50 songs on the critics list and the 25 songs on the readers list, you get 46 from 1980-1984 and 29 from 1985-1989, which accords with my general perception that rock was losing momentum in the 1980s. Of course, I was losing momentum as I was getting older, too, but now I have statistical proof that my crochet (”rock music just isn’t as awesome anymore as it was in December 1979?) was right.

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