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“Dolby’s Top 100 Rock Songs of the ’80s”


100 Sonic Youth – “Tuff Gnarl”

1987’s Sister was when Sonic Youth sort of started gradually formulating their songwriting knack. Coming right smack in the middle of the album, “Tuff Gnarl” is seen by many as the album’s classic (I know it was picked by some celeb. to grace Hits Are for Squares), flaunting a pretty decent set of hooks and lyrics about uh… something… all to devolve into some hearty Sonic Youth noise-fu**ing and thereby aptly bookend their “early period.”

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99 Melvins – “Dead Dressed”

The Melvins’ reputation precedes them, obviously: Kurt Cobain’s favorite band and very likely Nirvana’s closest musical influence are veritable gods within the initial Northwest rock zeitgeist that gave birth to “grunge,” as they should be, and this early classic from when they were still toying around with unconventional phrasings snares their exploratory zeal in style.

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98 U2 – “With or without You”

For some reason 1987’s The Joshua Tree seems to get lumped in with U2’s later period of Rattle and Hum, Achtung Baby and whatever other stocking stuffer’s would come after, but look what came before it. The Unforgettable Fire from ’84 bequeathed us two celestial rockers, “A Sort of Homecoming” and “Bad,” each of which would wind up on their four-song live album Wide awake in America, and the single “Angel of Harlem,” which also materialized in that period, still stands as a barn-burning show-stopper of mainstream rock. “With or without You” as a single off The Joshua Tree still musters some of that songwriting electricity that galvanized their work between their political days and their sappy ones.

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97 The Stone Roses – “Elephant Stone”

“Elephant Stone” was but a humble b-side from the UK band but made it onto their authoritative compilation The Complete Stone Roses, and with decent prominence too, placed at track six. And listening to it you can certainly see why: the guitar sound runs that epochal gamut from noise to juiciness and back again, the song itself trotting along with purpose and with a workmanlike, gratifying set of verse and chorus.

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96 Pixies – “Dead”

“Dead,” more than being a BREAKTHROUGH song for the Pixies, per se (their subject matter was pretty twisted from the start), marks an instance where I think Black Francis coiled his songwriting focus into something somewhat significant, both within their catalogue and against other listening experiences today. To me, the song is allegorical: it’s demonic but deceptively simple, every minute part fitting the whole in one noxious burp of pungent lo-fi.

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95 R.E.M. – “Talk about the Passion”

One thing typified by “Talk about the Passion,” one of the shining moments on the band’s full-bodied debut Murmur, is R.E.M.’s penchant for weaving out an intricate college rock tapestry, only to boil things down to a simple, hummable chorus that’s memorable, and also, gratifyingly, somewhat opaque in the lyricism to where they’re open for interpretation.

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94 XTC – “Melt the Guns”

Ah, English Settlement… it’s far and away my favorite XTC album, a streamlined classic of pop rock that also plays as a lasting document in rock production, complete with juicy guitars, booming, centered drums and expansive, sublime song structures. Mid-album centerpiece “Melt the Guns” is a prime suspect of the latter, devolving into this funky rap breakdown midway through only to explode back into that hooky chorus that certainly was the band’s specialty.

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93 Grateful Dead – “Black Muddy River”

The first of a memorable and pretty musically distinct In the Dark four-pack (which certainly at least vies for best Grateful Dead studio album), “Black Muddy River” is a kind of a sister song to “Brokedown Palace,” taking a similar deliberate gait of somber desolation and imbuing a general sense of loneliness, departure and introspection.

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92 Van Halen – “Jamie’s Cryin’”

I’d initially cast this song off as co** rock but then remembered oh yeah, co** rock is kinda fun, and this song just power blasts its way into your head and forces it into nodding along, with a guitar groove too fratty and confident to be ignored.

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91 Billy Squier – “Everybody Wants You”

Possibly residing somewhere in the “Down’s Syndrome” setting of Guitar Hero, this song still somehow finds a way to be energetic and forceful, likely for the cavalier, devil-may-care lyrical knack that Squier has for cutting other people down to size, and himself too.

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90 The Stone Roses – “Going down”

In a recent post I said Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter” was arguably the greatest b-side of all time… enter its heavyweight contender here, a completely sublime piece of pop-rock orchestration about doing something dirty, yes, but coming off clean in doing so and even throwing out a witty Jackson Pollock reference in the process.

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89 U2 – “A Sort of Homecoming”

“A Sort of Homecoming” is the spirited opener on The Unforgettable Fire, which is a 1984 album that marked a serious songwriting turnabout for U2. Per Wikipedia the title refers to the poetic works of Paul Celan, one of whose lines is “Poetry is a sort of homecoming.”

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88 Bruce Springsteen – “Glory Days”

It doesn’t get much more classic than “Glory Days,” evidenced maybe in how he unsheathed it for a 2009 Super Bowl halftime performance, a whole 24 years after its release. At its heart it’s bare-knuckles Bruce Springsteen, valuable in part for me in how he emaciates the separation between him, a rock star, and the proverbial everyman, becoming seamlessly “one of the boys” once more.

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87 Fishbone – “Cholly”

I must confess I’m not really an expert on all the Fishbone albums but the record company really hit its stride with The Essential Fishbone, which acts in turn as “the essential” founding ska-punk document of our times. “Cholly” comes second and is well… far from appropriate, so decidedly “Fishbone,” in other words.

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86 U-Men – “Dig it a Hole”

One of two U-Men cuts featured somewhere in the glorious rockumentary Hype!, “Dig it a Hole” summons up a demonic mania that is truly frightening in its full velocity, giving way to an unsettling theme repetition at the end. They were too ugly even to be metal, really, so they had no choice to function as the pioneering foundation of Seattle grunge.

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85 Aerosmith – “What it Takes”

We’re wide awake in America, Steven Tyler’s off the junk and Aerosmith put out a new album… life is good! Well, not if you listen to the first song on Pump, but the singles on this LP do tend to pass the test like this pertinent, emotionally rich and ultimately tungsten-tough album closeur.

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84 John Prine – “Only Love”

1984’s Aimless Love is Prine a la carte all the way, with a myriad of sequenced three-minute nuggets of pliable songwriting genius all flanking this sublime and caressing album closeur. But despite this album’s gentle gait and easy disposition, the instrumentation always seems to pay off in its own way too, like the Hammond and steel gracing the gorgeous “Me, Myself and I.”

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83 Bad Brains – “I against I”

On 1983’s Rock for Light, which Kurt Cobain included in his top 50 albums of all time list, Bad Brains was pretty much still plowing ahead with the hardcore punk blueprint they started with, but working in some zesty tempo changes like the one in this one to spice things up and give it their distinct flair.

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82 Sonic Youth – “Cotton Crown”

1987’s Sister is nothing if not eclectic, almost like a sampler hodgepodge of all the styles they’d then go on to employ within full albums at a time. Ironically, even, it’s got a representative in “Cotton Crown” of what would blueprint the ambient, soaring balladry on Rather Ripped, a deliberate vignette of prose poetry from Thurston Moore all over gentle electric guitar. Also of note is how the song kind of discreetly shifts in and out of “chorus” and these things are undefined and hazy, just like the sound itself.

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81 Mudhoney – “Come to Mind”

Just sort of out of accident, this list has accumulated several songs that jointly sort of act as an audible step-by-step blueprint of grunge’s embryology, though it’s hardly necessary to take it too many steps past this authoritative, full-bodied and uncompromising five-minute rocker from Mudhoney. Any further additions were just crowd-pleasing theatrics, which of course are also fun sometimes, too.

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80 The Clash – “The Magnificent Seven”

This is sort of one of those songs I come around to like a deer in the headlights because although I really enjoy it I really don’t KNOW what to say about its stupefying stylistic shift from previous album London Calling (to Sandinista!), why they would to this or what their true identity as a band was at this time. Also they’d make fun of funk on their next album with “Overpowered by Funk” despite that this song takes roughly that exact m.o. Still, it’s an infectious tune and I never seem to want to turn it off.

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79 Talking Heads – “Wild Wild Life”

Some bands when they progress to the latter years of their career dive decisively and unabashedly into the realm of “relentlessly poppy,” to use a term sometimes erroneously ascribed to late-’90s alt-rock acts. Such is certainly the case with this band and this little swatch of bubble gum bliss, which doesn’t even seem as borne to an album as to a backyard BBQ FM radio dial.

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78 The Stone Roses – “Made of Stone”

On the off chance that you can remotely stand Manchester’s The Stone Roses after imbibing their song title of “I am the Resurrection” and their album title of their forgettable debut followup Second Coming (and don’t get me started about “I Wanna Be Adored”), you can uncover some pretty danged hummable and lasting tunes, particularly on the self-titled introduction of them to the world from ’89, which yields this as a late-album midtempo session of melancholy remonstrance, if not to say necessarily a “ballad.”

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77 Van Halen – “Hot for Teacher”

Obviously it doesn’t get much more low-brow than “Hot for Teacher” and its appropriateness for bona fide sleaze sessions like Varsity Blues. But it does come on a classic album (which was originally and I stylized MCMLXXXIV and kinda cool in that way) and what saves it from ’80s butt rock ennui is the uptempo, relentless swagger with which it jibes with original R&B, the drum beat… well, what IS it? It’s animalistic, for one. Apparently Alex Van Halen is actually playing all that sh**, on double bass drums, but I find it hard to believe.

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76 R.E.M. – “So. Central Rain”

Probably considered by some to be R.E.M.’s best song and fairly rightly so, “So. Central Rain” was a flagship offering of the band’s early days, appearing originally on 1984’s sophomore LP Reckoning, and then on 1988’s Eponymous, the guys’ first de facto greatest hits compilation. I think it’s their unabashed embrace of melody and almost complete lack of style (if style is the opposite of “substance” as it is in some proviso binaries), let alone stylistic FRILLS, that cottoned urban American and the rest of the world onto them.

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75 AC/DC – “You Shook Me All Night Long”

Oddly enough “Thunderstruck” come to find out is actually from the ’90s, though being wedged firmly in the “classic rock” channel like ’93’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” so that left the Back in Black (the band’s first album with Brian Johnson as lead singer in for the recently deceased Bon Scott) material and you’ve just gotta gravitate to the glossy, arena-rock unruliness and heavy metal swagger of this one. Strangely this song is now considered an “oldie” but it gave a good name to ’80s metal in its day, at least.

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74 Poison – “Nothing but a Good Time”

Poison, a band that seemed from their album covers to toggle directly back and forth between leather androgyny and KISS-aspiring Satanism, certainly hit their stride with catchy, jaunty number, a song that ska band Reel Big Fish picked up for covers material to pretty decent results. I give them props for actually being responsible for the songwriting themselves and with all sharing the credit… just a bunch of good time dudes rocking.

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73 U2 – “Bad”

How strange the band is in a way for positioning this song seventh on The Unforgettable Fire, which for a lot of people is probably a relatively “forgettable” album (though it certainly shouldn’t be), because it has the poignancy and climactic fury to serve as a lead single and even quite the cash cow for any given album, and even some bands’ careers, more than likely.

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72 Dire Straits – “Money for Nothing”

I think I’ve tried to analyze this song on occasion to little or no avail, over the years: and in general getting to the bottom of British discourses in pop culture can be a sort of disillusioning affair, but it captured the zeitgeist of MTV, that’s for sure, rocking out extra swanky and skanky sort of like ZZ Top’s TV-pandering Eliminator from ’83 (conspicuously absent from this list, ahem).

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71 XTC – “Runaways”

In general, XTC was an English post-punk firebrands with the songwriting duo of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, the former being more prolific with the latter’s musical statements being broader and perhaps reaching greater heights, as with this sublime English Settlement album opener about an at-risk kid and his or her big-city plight in this ever-changing world.

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70 David Bowie – “Modern Love”

Like a lot of other stuff that was going on in 1983, Bowie’s 15th studio album Let’s Dance was full of a lot of glitz and glam that would seem to make MTV turn their opulent heads (Bowie being a sort of godfather of glam already, in his own right, every bit the stylized showman to take advantage of something like MTV). Album opener “Modern Love” though almost seems like an anomaly, snowballing up a little more soul influence and creative substance than was the general trend at the time.

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69 Bruce Springsteen – “Hungry Heart”

1980’s The River, only The Boss’ fifth, was actually a double album and yielded seven singles: appropriately enough this is music that’s universally enjoyable and really needs no introduction, fully ingratiating itself to any FM classic rock format and existing in our vocal chords as much as it does in our minds.

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68 Mudhoney – “Mudride”

This plays as the quintessential low, dirty and sadistic Mudhoney anthem in their catalogue: “Take you down to the dirt / Drag you through the mud / Drag you through the mud”. Like “Come to Mind,” it’s set to a slow, deliberate tempo, but flares out some killer, classic grunge riffs so as to solidify the style and overall Seattle movement.

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67 The Clash – “Car Jamming”

Combat Rock is never discussed as arguably being The Clash’s best album and listening to it against London Calling I’m really not sure why: it’s easily more creative and original than Calling, which features at least two de facto covers (“Brand New Cadillac” and “Wrong ’em Boyo), and seems more stylistically eclectic against Calling’s rote rockabilly/power pop format. “Car Jamming” is tense and restless, fully encapsulating of the exciting new direction the band was going in in the early ’80s.

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66 Pixies – “Vamos”

“Vamos” is the maniacal, strange and pummeling ride coming most way through their somewhat of a breakthrough ’88 album Surfer Rosa, where, true to form of Steve Albini being present, the dark and twisted senses of humor seemed to grown like ivy on a stark and unassuming brick Chicago building.

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65 Grateful Dead – “He** in a Bucket”

In a way, it would be understandable to hate the Grateful Dead if the first song they heard by them were “He** in a Bucket,” with its explicit sexual references, depiction of a “biker” and the sort of nauseatingly sanguine, “cool-guy” persona of singer Bob Weir. I’m sort of still trying to fully figure out what I think of it myself but it’s certainly memorable with a chorus that seems to have been repeated in every biker bar across the land: “I might be goin’ to he** in a bucket babe / But at least I’m enjoyin’ the ride”.

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64 U-Men – “Shoot ’em down”

The U-Men are basically the foundation of grunge: started in the early ’80s, bridging an elusive gap between punk metal, cathartically wild and answering to exactly no one in the quest for style or creative direction. “Shoot ’em down” isn’t so much catchy as it just has this signature, almost funky groove that would set the blueprint for countless bands to jam to from the Melvins to Mudhoney to Queens of the Stone Age.

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63 Van Halen – “I’ll Wait”

“I’ll Wait” is like that bizarre moment on MCMLXXXIV when David Lee Roth actually buttons up and transforms into like a “nice guy,” of sorts, which could partly explain why it’s the less popular of the singles on this album but also tows along a pretty danged infectious groove and chorus, in the process.

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62 Journey – “Who’s Crying Now”

“Who’s Crying Now” is the pithy lead single off Journey’s 1981 project Escape, an LP that also brought us “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Open Arms,” tellingly enough. The song must have made such a splash with its poker-faced sneer in the throes of romantic ruination, too, that they even released it twice.

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61 The Stone Roses – “Bye Bye Bad Man”

I’m just so nauseated with the public’s general conception of what the best Stone Roses songs are: this bizarre mid-album nugget of tough love (or “sweet hate,” more accurately) epitomizes their undervalued, forgotten side of expedited, celestial pop hook, with the guts to be catastrophically mean while sounding on the surface like saints.

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60 Talking Heads – “(Nothing but) Flowers”

This I have to say was when I was growing up my first introduction to how weird David Byrne was (a concept of which there have since been many reiterations, of course), the reverse of the typical trend to wanting his concrete-laden commerce back and caustically rejecting the proliferation of annoying flowers like daisies, et. al. The song comes on their last album Naked.

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59 XTC – “Generals and Majors”

I tend to lamp up for this band’s blistering best-of ejaculation The Compact XTC in general, with “Generals and Majors” probably being a rare point where they cast aside their astonishingly weird sense of humor long enough to write a viable UBIQUITOUS radio single, in this case sort of a chicken-or-the-egg proverb of man and his inherent bellicose nature, a favorite topic of Andy Partridge’s.

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58 Sonic Youth – “The Sprawl”

In a way it seems strange to think of Sonic Youth as an ’80s band (their breakthrough album with this cut Daydream Nation issued in ’88) because they were almost certainly more popular and what’s more just as much of an underground, counterculture draw in the mid-’90s, when demigods like Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder were singing their proclamations, and rightly so. “The Sprawl” is one of the few songs on this list to feature a female lead singer, Kim Gordon, and to me definitely lassos up some of their mean, unapproachable and noxious energy lyrically that made them so dangerous and so exciting and meaningful to so many musicians, mainstream and indie alike.

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57 Pixies – “Hey”

“Hey,” a late-album track on the band’s shining moment Doolittle, is a pretty universal fan favorite, a gem in my ears for the gorgeous, hypnotic guitar riff from Joey Santiago and for what at least for the Pixies is a sort of gentle resignation, like resting confidently on a streamlined swatch of songwriting that needs no fake energy or artificial additives of any kind.

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56 U2 – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for”

People might be surprised somewhat at the lack of Joshua Tree dominance of this list… to be honest I’ve heard most of these songs so much that I can’t even full appreciate them anymore but this tune in particular seems to hit on a certain tender fragility, intriguing too for its coming from such a huge rock star and still oozing out with ambition and frustration. Check out Tomas Doncker’s cover if you’re ever bored.

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55 Huey Lewis & the News – “I Want a New Drug”

That groove and chord progression are just so infectious on Huey Lewis’ third album Sports from ’83 (I’m slowly starting to uncover a decent amount of vital music from my birth year, something I never thought I’d do). According to Wikipedia too in the ’80s it topped the “Dance Club Chart,” which is nothing if not a sign of the times.

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54 The Police – “Every Breath You Take”

1983 strikes again here with The Police’ fifth and final effort Synchronicity and this tune which seemed catchy, amorous and destined for MTV greatness (and VH1 too as well, from what I remember, at least in their “best of the ’80s” specials and whatnot). In a way it’s sappy and corny but it does actually come in handy if you’ve experienced a relationship heartbreak, I think.

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53 U-Men – “They!”

I can’t seem to get the U-Men’s album straight and really it’s a moot point anyway: their energy was raw, revolutionary and crushing the whole way through and their trailblazing brand is stamped on all their songs, including this heartwarming tale of one little girl’s favorite animals being “Gone in a puff of smoke on the road”. John Bigley then starts back in with his orangutan “ooh-ahh” chants and the grunge-grafting beat goes on.

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52 Pixies – “Wave of Mutilation”

I once heard “post-punk” defined as roughly music with catastrophic or even apocalyptic subject matter in the lyrics, set to bright, Beach Boys chords. Well it doesn’t get much more prime suspect than this little Pixies nugget of “sugar pop” which even seems to rejoice about sailing away “On a wave of mutilation”, all in the revitalized mode of prominently placed meter permutation, to keep things interesting and inherently Pixies.

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51 The Rolling Stones – “Start Me up”

“Start Me up” comes on 1981’s Tattoo You (which also wields the refreshingly non-romantic “Waiting on a Friend”) and should be commended for not shying away from the Stones’ original, founding playbook of straight-ahead rock and roll with jagged, muscular Keith-ian riffs.

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50 Talking Heads – “Burning down the House”

Kicking off the decisively poppy but catchy and groovin’ Speaking in Tongues in style, “Burning down the House” is surely one of the most recognizable rock songs in our culture today and shows off some of the funkiest synth playing you’ll ever hear in your life.

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49 John Fogerty – “The Old Man down the Road”

I’m sure I’ve beaten this dead horse into the ground on this site before but it’s a story too funny to leave out, of this being the song that got Fogerty sued for plagiarism for sounding too much like HIMSELF (the apparent founding material was “Run through the Jungle” by Credence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty’s former band which had carried a different record label). The sense of rustic scene and danger is undeniable, anyway, potentiating Fogerty’s wolverine howl into something pretty timeless.

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48 The Smiths – “This Charming Man”

I must confess to having had The Smith’s Best… I and Rush’s Exit… Stage Left pretty much GLUED into my CD player in college to the point where I probably neglected this band’s proper albums to an extent — in a way they’re singles minded though because the vocalist doesn’t write any of the music, just these lyrics as in this tune that seem just impossibly strange, droll and ultimately memorable.

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47 Melvins – “Echo Head/Don’t Piece Me”

Gluey Porch Treatments, which was the first quintessential Melvins album in that it inaugurally sprawled out from basic (though nice) hardcore punk into this expansive sludge rock that seems to almost evade the concept of meter entirely and go on to inform the headier sectors of the grunge movement, takes off at track two with this intimidating slab of mania that seems to turn from world-weary adage to zoomed-in life frustration with frightening effortlessness.

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46 Bruce Springsteen – “Born in the U.S.A.”

Of course the classic story with this tune is that it’s actually a dark, satirical look at America, which has famously escaped some politicians who used it to soundtrack inaugurations or famous speeches. It’s a song so good you wish it would last forever with its unflinching look at the doomed lower class and with The Boss’ classic, swagger-filled vocals.

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45 Dire Straits – “So Far away”

Sometimes bands will stockpile songs and then chuck them onto albums that come out much later than they were written and I kind of have a suspicion that that happened with this one, especially with how curiously thin Brothers in Arms (1985) is on quality material, but it’s got the rich, lamenting vibe we know and love with this band and it’s definitely a worthy radio favorite from over the years.

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44 Peter Cetera – “Glory of Love”

I think I used to hear this song in like the Kroger where I worked or something like that and it never really made an impression because I was just never that much of an ’80s guy or a cheesy pop go (ok I was a cheesy pop guy), but the Chicago lead singer really ended up oozing into my psyche with this one big time, with some unforgettable vocals and an unflagging, tenacious look at how to keep a relationship going when you know there’s a lot of good in it still.

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43 R.E.M. – “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)”

It seems like the dial really got turned up to 11 with this one and this recent Coronavirus crisis, which really is foolish since the bulk of the lyrics seem so applicable to the ’80s like the “Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs” reference and the frill of TV still being a novelty thing to mention as something that ironically and tragically sort of rules our lives today. He** , a family watching TV together would probably be considered relatively sociable, today.

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42 Fishbone – “Skankin’ to the Beat”

“Skankin’ to the Beat” was surely a revelation in the overall style, taking the pioneering ska of the late ’70s like The Toasters and making it MORE in every way — faster, louder drums, more prominent, entertaining vocals and just a more intense, meaningful musical experience in every way. I saw this band live one time and thoroughly recommend their concerts, if you ever get the chance.

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41 Pixies – “I Bleed”

The Pixies hit their career apex in ’89 with Doolittle, I’d say, which is full of classic little journeys of near-impeccable power pop like “I Bleed.” This fourth track on the album in particular blends bright, gorgeous melodies and guitar runs with some psychopathic energy and screams from singer Black Francis, somehow streamlining it all into one median, distinct feeling on the flanks of which none of these seemingly foolish adornments seem pretentious or inappropriate.

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40 Van Halen – “Panama”

You just can’t beat the blinding horsepower-filled burn of this tune, the perfect soundtrack to summer barbecues or patio drinking. It’s the David Lee Roth incarnation of Van Halen at its finest, when they ruled the world in terms of raw and rugged classic rock mastery.

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39 Sonic Youth – “Candle”

“Candle” pops up on the band’s classic Daydream Nation and I think has an eerie way of blending heady vocal melody with a tense, sort of foreboding vibe that fits in with the junkie skit that comes right before it. It’s sort of hard to figure out what the song’s about and that’s almost even sort of appropriate, what with the beautifully dark essence exuded by the expanse and the noise of the music itself.

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38 Meat Puppets – “Swimming Ground”

Many people would probably favor the improvisational and noodley Up on the Sun title track to this one in terms of mid-’80s Meat Puppets eliteness but I think with “Swimming Ground” they pared their songwriting m.o. down to something a little more succinct and meaningful, charmingly looking back on an innocent time in childhood, goofing around off the beaten path in a little reservoir, or whatever the case was.

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37 Bad Brains – “The Regulator”

You get so wound up sometimes in the excitement and the furious energy of singer H.R. and his band that the tempo changes fully miss you — but they’re back out in full force in the gripping, breakneck “The Regulator,” a denizen of the band’s ’82 self-titled debut.

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36 The Clash – “Should I Stay or Should I Go”

What makes it even weirder that Combat Rock is never offered as the best Clash album is that it probably features the two biggest hits of their career — “Rock the Casbah” and this straight-ahead classic of power pop that offers a rare glimpse into the romantic life, fortunate or not, of lead singer Joe Strummer.

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35 Rush – “Limelight”

I’m kind of a bad Rush fan because I don’t even like 2112, instead gravitating constantly to the band’s live album Exit… Stage Left. Well “Limelight” is probably my favorite thing the band ever did that DIDN’T make that live album, with its near-flawless sound and production building over expert chops all to a memorable, catchy chorus that still has some of those refreshingly philosophical Rush lyrics.

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34 Talking Heads – “Swamp”

There comes a time in every band’s career where they write a chorus of a pervasive radio song that’s absolutely nothing but gibberish. Ok probably not, but that would be a funny idea, wouldn’t it? “Swamp” is a thoroughly classic, irreplaceable staple of classic rock that seeps its way into the new wave and even lo-fi or college rock realms, as well, doing more than justice to each of them.

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33 Bob Seger – “Against the Wind”

Critics had quite a feast on this 1980 album of the same name but I and pretty much everybody else can at least agree on this song — even if you’ve heard it too much and think it’s overplayed chances are you’ve sunk into it while it was on more than you even know, when relaxed fists and an open heart, at that.

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32 John Fogerty – “Centerfield”

Ack… this wasn’t the song I wanted to see, or this wasn’t the YEAR I wanted to see it — in fact I almost laid in to this one Facebook page for sharing it a couple weeks ago in the throes of the pandemic shutdown and the significant delay if not entire deletion of baseball in 2020. It will always be classic to me though and sometimes I apply it to myself and my attempted teaching career, which was curtailed by my misdemeanor criminal history.

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31 Pat Benatar – “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”

Here’s another tune that goes perfectly for sports, the work of songwriter Eddie Schwartz and mainstay of her second LP Crimes of Passion. I personally love the timbre in her voice when she hits those notes of “FIRE AWAY”, and of course the unflinching disposition before romance, which seems to be a pretty reliable American songwriting motif.

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30 Morrissey – “Everyday is Like Sunday”

It’s widely publicized that Morrissey was from Manchester, the main blue-collar manufacturing city in north England, and has made other British towns the subject of his work like “Come back to Camden.” As far as I know the town mentioned in this number is unnamed, but it might actually be close to Liverpool, where the Beatles are from. Anyway, I think it paints a stark and telling portrait of the North country, where the weather is probably wetter, the wind blows a little colder and the good times perhaps harder to come by. 10,000 Maniacs picked it up for some nice covers material.

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29 The Police – “King of Pain”

“King of Pain” is one of those really cool vials of songwriting that just seems defiantly, almost impossibly original, like it came to Sting in a dream, or something even stronger than your basic hallucinogens. It calls 1983’s Synchronicity home and has a precocious way of being catchy while never really conjealing around a chorus of any sorts.

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28 Billy Squier – “Lonely is the Night”

Sometimes everything just comes together in the studio and makes the song completely electrifying — in this case it was the singer’s voice, the booming, pliable sound and of course that set of perfect key changes that send the chorus to explosive heights. “Lonely is the Night” is absolutely the perfect bar juke box song.

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27 U2 – “I Will Follow”

The first song on U2’s first album gives some inkling of the punk direction they could have gone in for the rest of their career, and which from what I understand a lot of fans who were poised to yell “sell out” actually wanted them to go. Honestly the rest of Boy was so ethereal and textured that this was probably always a lost cause, but we’ll always have “I Will Follow” at least as a modicum of what little the band had of a pop-punk predilection.

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26 Grateful Dead – “Throwing Stones”

My able digestion of this noodley, hazy guitar sound tell me that I’m a Deadhead at heart and perhaps not everybody would so compliantly cotton on this music as me. One thing that at least should be agreed upon is the relentlessness with which Bob Weir’s lyrical depictions gather steam throughout this song, belting out humanistic frustrations from a celestial introduction and in perfect tune with the times. It comes on In the Dark from ’87 which is a pretty strong Dead studio album.

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25 Whitesnake – “Here I Go Again”

I had one pretty adamant argument with a friend one time about this song — I personally vouch for it and its relentless, independent spirit, despite its pretty firm residence within hair metal and my never having owned this band’s boxed set, or anything.

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24 Bruce Springsteen – “Dancing in the Dark”

“Dancing in the Dark” shares an album with “Born in the U.S.A.” (of the latter’s title) and perhaps precariously usurps the latter on this list but I guess I just have a tendency to favor immediate situations of passion or emotion, in music, over politics and humanistic vignette, though that type of thing should be called for and welcomed sometimes too.

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23 The Stone Roses – “Waterfall”

In all honesty I never saw this song falling this far… is it just me or did the ’80s kinda, like, wanna rock? I ended up accumulating more songs that were meaningful and unforgettable to me for this post than I envisioned, but “Waterfall” is a near perfect swatch of songwriting out of Britain’s finest, again showcasing their penchant for quick, closely rendered notes and runs that act as veritable pillars of invincible catchiness.

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22 Tom Petty – “Free Fallin’”

This tune from ’89’s Full Moon Fever, which is a solo album apparently and not with the Heartbreakers, is sort of an emotional tune I always THINK is going to be lame and sappy, until I actually HEAR it, with its perfect guitar sound, sublimely simple and direct chord progression, that nice snare run buildup in the third verse and then that almost banjo-y sounding guitar at the end, just to name a couple of things that make it a unique and permanent member of classic rock’s very elite.

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21 Aerosmith – “Janie’s Got a Gun”

Since “Sweet Emotion” rambled out in the ’70s, this song ended up ranking premierely among Aerosmith songs on the list, a couple of strong points being of course are the watery, sapphire sound of Joe Perry’s guitar and the gripping, disturbing subject matter. Apparently the subjects in the song are pretty much fictional, but they seem alive anyway, and according to Wikipedia Steven Tyler spent nine months on the lyrics to this song.

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20 Meat Puppets – “Light”

I swear to God so many things about this band pi** me off, just one of which is that they have this compilation called Classic Puppets which I can’t find anymore on any streaming and which has this flawless, absolutely gorgeous version of this particular tune. Anyway, the layman’s version popped up 1989’s Monsters, which is a pretty solid album with what you’ve gotta admit is an historically elite cover art.

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19 Sonic Youth – “Total Trash”

About halfway through Sonic Youth’s tour de force Daydream Nation you come to “Total Trash.” Up to this point, you’ve been exposed to some of the harshest, most uncompromising popular rock you’ve probably ever been capable of, so this tune in particular settles in as something that weaves up a BIT more melody than its cohorts and hence makes for a nice, sustaining album centerpiece before we get to more mayhem, like a skit of a junkie calling Thurston Moore and asking “Did you find the sh**?”

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18 Rush – “Tom Sawyer”

“Tom Sawyer” kicks off Moving Pictures with style and vigor, arguably the band’s best and most popular song to date and again not shying away from big, philosophical themes in the lyrics. Also is this the song where Geddy Lee’s voice gets the HIGHEST of all? It sounds so effortless that you don’t even seem to notice but it just might be.

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17 Don Henley – “The End of the Innocence”

“The End of the Innocence” comes on the ’89 Don Henley album of the same name and is I think a song of incredible beauty, for the little things like Henley’s inflections and pitch slurs down to the notes he hits and the stately but poignant riff that introduces the song and also sends it shimmering into the night at the end.

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16 Van Halen – “Jump”

So much about this song is so infectious and sure to get your head nodding like that thumping bass, the timeless keyboard riff and the verbose, furious guitar solo which actually I think is the first instance of six-string guitar in the entire song. I’ve heard lots of interviews and theories about its meaning but it hardly seems to matter — its energy itself is raw and catalyzing, making for a monumental rock listening experience, particularly if you’re watching David Lee Roth do the splits in mid-air, of course.

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15 The Stone Roses – “She Bangs the Drums”

“She Bangs the Drums,” the second song on The Stone Roses’ classic self-titled debut, finds Ian Brown and John Squire’s songwriting techniques ignited to full force, moving toward a chorus key change and a timeless, gargantuan hook that goes on to govern the song and really to cause energy to emanate to the whole album, meanwhile.

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14 Elton John – “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues”

It was picked up with some notoriety for a pretty well-showcased Mary J. Blige concert in the ’90s, but Elton John’s version will always be authoritative and irreplaceable, the songwriting work of John and Davey Johnstone and Bernie Taupin, all Britons, for a full-bodied and robust UK export that still plays as one of the best love songs of all time.

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13 The Clash – “Rock the Casbah”

According to Wikipedia, “Rock the Casbah” was borne out of a jam session of Joe Strummer and his violinist friend Tymon Dogg, who had been playing around with Eastern scales. Personally, I’d always pegged it as a product of an experience of a visit to India by the band, but apparently it was all manifested in some England living room, with the interesting wrinkle of Strummer randomly yelling “Rock the casbah” and Dogg mistaking his words for “Stop, you cadger!”

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12 Pixies – “Here Comes Your Man”

For some including me, probably, this is the centerpiece of Doolittle and of the Pixies’ career at large, obviously a memorable and catchy surf-rock jaunt with that precious sort of immediacy most bands just can’t achieved. One thing I just noticed in my last listen to it, too, is the guitar duality — that jangly, sort of summery sounding riff in the chorus to that more high-pitched and mellow axe that takes over for the bridge, almost seeming to be falsetto-ing. The Pixies always seemed to have just enough instrumentation, while certainly never “showing off” in that category.

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11 Meat Puppets – “Out My Way”

“Out My Way,” the band’s mini-LP from 1986 of the same name, for whatever reason isn’t on Spotify (it must have something to do with its reissue label Rykodisc not being able to wield the master recording) and this is certainly one of in my opinion the great musical tragedies of our time because that sucker rocks all the way through and really might even be the band’s best album. The title track comes at track two and I think imbues an incredible sense of freedom and the great, wide open west. The Meat Puppets hail from Phoenix, Arizona.

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10 Pretenders – “Back on the Chain Gang”

This song sums up the artful, inspired side of the ’80s just about flawlessly to me, with Chrissie Hynde’s voice projecting all hearty and colorful, delving into some catchy “oh-oh-oh”’s with the band bellowing out some watery, celestial guitar.

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9 Bad Brains – “Re-Ignition”

Not enough can be said about this blistering epic from the D.C. quartet that landed on ’86’s I against I and which there’s absolutely ZERO grunge band that didn’t take inspiration but more importantly stylistic influence from. Without question, they nailed that palm muting/bass throttling technique that everybody tried to copy, but not before that punk intro that’s so frenetic and jagged that when they unveil this new style, it’s all the wilder.

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8 Grateful Dead – “Touch of Grey”

Probably not many bands belt out their defining career statement 22 years after issuing their first album, but not every band has a singer go to jail for heroin possession and be possessed by an incredible, Earth-shifting creative muse that would summon up such a classic as “Touch of Grey.” I’m so glad they placed it first on In the Dark, too, where many bands might have been tempted to bury it late to try to look faux-poignant: it’s the perfect album opener and in general deserves to be showcased whenever possible as an American centerpiece.

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7 Bruce Cockburn – “If a Tree Falls”

Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn shelled out his 16th album Big Circumstance in ’88 and just happened to pepper in this infinitely playable, catchy and gorgeous ode to nature here, featuring a spoken word verse detailing specific crimes against the environment, to rally around a simple, potent chorus: “If a tree falls in the forest / Does anybody hear?”

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6 Pink Floyd – “Learning to Fly”

Sorry to send Roger Waters into an epileptic seizure of jealousy, if I do, but this stuff is, like, really good, Pink Floyd boiled down to its new lineup of David Gilmour and Nick Mason and unleashing this cosmological masterpiece of radio rock with booming drums and a near-perfect chorus.

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5 Dire Straits – “Walk of Life”

Again with “Walk of Life” I get the troubling suspicion that it was written back in the ’70s and stockpiled for the rainy day that was ’85’s Brothers in Arms (perhaps Mark Knopfler eyed MTV and its audience with a certain opportunistic glint in his eye) but I don’t think anybody would deny its awesomeness, that glammy synth sort of belying the song’s gutbucket, rockabilly bass line and general undergirds.

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4 The Smiths – “How Soon is Now?”

More than anything, you could say, THIS is the Smiths song that Johnny Marr really made scoot, with that whammy bar rhythm guitar demonstration that acts as the song’s undeniable catalyst, of course not to take away from Morrissey’s lyrics of insecurity and despair that would probably go on to influence other introverts in Britain like Thom Yorke and worldwide, like Elliott Smith, et. al.

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3 Sonic Youth – “Teen Age Riot”

For as spellbinding as Lee Ronaldo’s guitar intro to this song is, Thurston Moore to me still steals the show with one he** of a vocal and the strange and memorable lyrical pairing “’Cause it’s gettin’ kinda quiet in my city head / It takes a teenage riot to get me out of bed right now”. Sometimes it’s these really obtuse, specially alienated states of mind, like the desperation David Byrne had spoken of in his personal life before hitting it big, that are so unknowable but also make for some of the most vital music, as a miraculous sort of foil of that unforgettable state.

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2 XTC – “Ball and Chain”

“Ball and Chain,” unlike most of the English Settlement album from ’82 that it issues on, was written by band member Colin Moulding, who I think just had a preternatural knack for catchy hooks, the type of thing that indeed drives this song. But that repeated chorus of “Save us from the ball and chain / Save us from the ball and chain” is what’s really driven into my mind out of this project, the incredible, overarching humanistic sympathy implied by its hypnotic pervasion of the song and the ease with which you can grasp and embrace its meaning, given some battle or another you’re fighting in your everyday life.

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1 Talking Heads – “Once in a Lifetime”

As much as we’ve all heard this tune, as much as it dominated MTV, classic rock and critical acclaim (a curiously precious tight rope walk to tiptoe for its combination of style and substance), it seems like people are always, still, more and more, catching on to its power and its glory. I know for a fact I just murdered it at karaoke this one time, for instance, and still got a standing ovation. But anyway, I think mainly what makes it great is it’s FUN and David Byrne can just unleash all this weirdly juxtaposed imagery like a “shotgun shack” and a “beautiful wife” and somehow transmit that despite these little details that sort of superficially define us, we’re all at the same time in a weird way all going through some of the same things, and of course “There is water at the bottom of the ocean”, as an apparently unrelated sidenote.

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