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The 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the '80s: Part 5: 20 - 1

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Songs of anxiety, paranoia, freak-outs, chilling verses, feverish desire, harrowing lyrics -- they all make for damn good music.

20. The Police - "Spirits in the Material World" (1981)

The opening track and first single from the Police's fourth album Ghost in the Machine, "Spirits in the Material World" is a tense expression of anxiety and paranoia. It vividly demonstrates how far ahead The Police were over many of their contemporaries in terms of musicianship, their deft arrangements, and the gravity of Sting's lyrics. "Spirits in the Material World" is a complex musical puzzle during the taut verses before retreating to straightforward rock during the chorus. During the verses Stewart Copeland's rhythm anchors the alarm bell combination of reggae-flavored synths and guitar, while Sting's explosive bursts of bass roil like snakes in a burlap sack. Faint squeals of sax and a jittery counter-melody of guitar that floats above the final verse add to the oppressive unease.

"Spirits in the Material World" has a strong sense of foreboding in its political overtones, and sharp disdain for our "so-called leaders". Sting offers no solutions to his caustic observations, only more uncertainty: "Where does the answer lie? / living from day to day / if it's something we can't buy / there must be another way." It's a bleak outlook on the world in general, and it's hard to argue with any of it.

19. R.E.M. - "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" (1984)

Of all the great artists in this list, many with multiple songs that were potential candidates for inclusion, the most difficult band to pin down was R.E.M. They have tons of fantastic songs in the '80s without having one that overshadows all the rest. Ultimately, though, "So. Central Rain" was most pivotal for R.E.M. in many ways. True, "Gardening at Night" and "Radio Free Europe" got them in the door, but "So. Central Rain" kicked the door down and got them permanent residency. "So. Central Rain" was R.E.M.'s slickest and most mature recording up to that point in their career.

The primary single from their all-important second album Reckoning, "So. Central Rain" was a staple on college radio, and MTV even gave the video some limited airplay. It reached #85 on the Billboard Hot 100, and set the stage for an ever-escalating popularity that went through the roof in the '90s. But most importantly, "So. Central Rain" is just a killer tune. It's tight, compact, melodic and with a deeply felt vocal by Michael Stipe.

The freak-out ending, with Stipe wailing achingly and Mike Mills angrily slamming on the piano keys, provides some emotional release from the song's inherent tension. Stylistically it defines R.E.M.'s early period before their sound became much more expansive beginning on albums like Fables of the Reconstruction and Document.

18. Siouxsie and the Banshees - "Peek-a-Boo" (1988)

The track that became "Peek-a-Boo" started life as a possible b-side for their 1987 cover of Iggy Pop's "The Passenger". The stuttering drumbeat was created from a sample of their song "Gun" played backwards, over which wildly inventive instrumentation was added. There's a madly lurching accordion, a single-note belch of bass, and brief samples of brass laden with effects. "Peek-a-Boo" features a dazzling vocal arrangement in which Siouxsie Sioux sings the lurid carnival freak show lyrics from a different part of the sound spectrum on each line. Her vocal phrasing is ingenious throughout.

In the chorus she wails "Peeeek-a-Boo, Peeeek-a-Boo" over a creepy extrapolation of the old jazz standard "Jeepers Creepers". It all comes together in a hallucinatory whirl of diabolical sounds and provocatively sexual imagery. While Siouxsie and the Banshees released numerous great singles in the '80s, "Peek-a-Boo" is their most innovative recording. It was the lead single from Peepshow, arguably the band's greatest album (although many old-school fans will disagree). "Peek-a-Boo" also became Siouxsie and the Banshees' first ever hit on the Hot 100 (reaching #53), and it owns the distinction of holding the first ever spot at #1 when Billboard started its Modern Rock chart on September 10, 1988. The 12" single of "Peek-a-Boo" is worth seeking out for the excellent extended "Silver Dollar" mix as well as its two brilliant b-sides, "False Face" and "Catwalk".

17. Tom Waits - "Time" (1985)

There's nobody remotely like Tom Waits. He's a lyricist almost without peer. Waits' whiskey and cigarette-smoked voice is that of a consummate storyteller, his nuanced and expressive phrasing injecting meaning and feeling into the words. His 1985 album Rain Dogs is one of the decade's most essential, and it's centerpiece is the poignant acoustic ballad, "Time".

Waits doesn't follow normal convention in anything he does. He often begins each line of vocal a half-beat ahead of the guitar, so it falls dripping from the start of his voice like rain cascading to the pavement. "Time" is a sad portrait of grief and acceptance, of moving on from a devastating, senseless loss. Waits' poetic lyrics reach to the very soul of his characters. Each of them is struggling with something, such as the death of young men in war: "Well things are pretty lousy for a calendar girl / the boys just give right off the cars and splash into the street".

Indeed, Waits' masterful imagery in "Time" is melancholy. No matter how many times death visits, he's always just around the corner with your loved ones in its shadow. Waits speaks from death's point of view in the chilling verse, "so put a candle in the window and a kiss upon his lips / as the dish outside the window fills with rain / just like the stranger with the weeds in your heart / and pay the fiddler off 'til I come back again". It's a reminder, as if we needed another one, that time on this world is short, and the time we have to love one another grows shorter every day. Don't waste it.

16. Sonic Youth - "Teen Age Riot" (1988)

Sonic Youth's 1988 album Daydream Nation is one of the cornerstones of '80s alternative rock, and its high point is the seven-minute behemoth, "Teen Age Riot". It begins hesitantly with a long hazy intro, Kim Gordon deadpanning "spirit desire / we will fall" and other murmurings. When the song finally gets going it turns into feedback-drenched surf rock, fizzing with voltage. Thurston Moore's vocals peek through unassumingly from under a web of inexorable guitars. Drums crash during the long instrumental break notable for Gordon's wildly untamed bass.

Strangely enough, the song was written as a fantasy imagining Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Mascis as a kinda rock 'n' roll President who can harness the defiant energy of the youth. Moore explicitly references his fellow noise-rocker here: "You come running in on platform shoes / with Marshall stacks to at least give us a clue / ah, here it comes / I know it's someone I knew." The lyrics are enigmatic, but seem to imagine a world where leadership gives in to the innate rebelliousness of youth and allows them to learn from their foibles rather than allowing their mistakes to ruin and mark them for life, as is often the case now: "So who's to go take the blame for the stormy weather / you're never gonna stop all the teenage leather and booze / it's time to go round / a one man showdown / teach us how to fail." Learning how to fail isn't always easy.

15. Jane's Addiction - "Jane Says" (1988)

"Jane Says" is a gripping tale of drug abuse and a damaged relationship. It's an idiom borrowed from Lou Reed, particularly echoing "Caroline Says" which tackles similar subject matter. "Jane Says" was first released in live form on the band's self-titled 1987 debut, with the studio version appearing on their brilliant 1988 release Nothing's Shocking. The song is notable for its simple repetitive two-chord circular acoustic guitar, with steel drums sometimes echoing the pattern.

"Jane Says" was inspired by Perry Farrell's ex-roommate, actually named Jane, and many of the struggles detailed in the song echo her life. We understand the Jane that Farrell is portraying, and can even see her in our heads. Farrell's voice is high and reedy, weighted with obvious empathy, particularly when he sings "Jane says, 'I've never been in love -- no I don't know what it is", and "She don't mean no harm she just don't know what else to do about it."

"Jane Says" reached #6 on the Modern Rock Chart in November 1988, and nine years later a live version charted at #25. Jane's addiction released two perfect albums in Nothing's Shocking and its 1990 follow-up, Ritual de lo Habitual, but they then fractured into pieces before reuniting in 2003 and again in 2011 with a much slicker, heavily produced hard-rock sound.

14. Depeche Mode - "Everything Counts" (1983)

Depeche Mode is often dismissed by critics who view them as lightweight, and it's true that some of their early work hasn't aged well. That said, their influence as electronic music pioneers is undeniable, and they've scattered dozens of essential recordings over a 35-year career that is still going strong. "Everything Counts" is Depeche Mode at their best (until 1990's Violator, that is). Perhaps no line better defines the rapacious '80s than, "The grabbing hands grab all they can -- all for themselves, after all".

"Everything Counts" is structured as a contrast between the rough-hewn verses with Dave Gahan's bold baritone vocals and the sweetly melodic chorus featuring Martin Gore's smooth tenor. The arresting electronic arrangement is a cleverly conceived mix of multiple synthesizer parts and samples.

The lead single from the band's third album, Construction Time Again, "Everything Counts" reached #6 in the UK and in America it made the Billboard Dance chart, reaching #17. A live recording taken from the band's successful 1989 live album 101 was also released as a single, and hit #13 on the Modern Rock Chart.

13. U2 - "Bad (Live)" (1985)

Although "Bad" was included on U2's 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire, it's the epic eight-minute live version from the Wide Awake in America EP that became a staple on college and rock radio. The recording was taken from a November 12, 1984 performance at the NEC Arena in Birmingham -- the 37th show of the tour. By this time the band had honed the song into a dramatic powerhouse with a soaring passion and intensity that is absent from the comparatively sedate studio recording. From the bright keyboards that open the song, to the Edge's glimmering lines of guitar and Bono's towering vocal performance, "Bad (Live)" was the most powerful musical statement U2 had achieved up to that point in their career. It received enough airplay to reach #19 on the Mainstream Rock Chart despite its length.

This is a song that transcends the turbulent, political and sometimes spiritually strident brand of rock for which U2 had become known since their Three EP debuted in September 1979. "Bad" is about addiction, a subject Bono has delved into numerous times. There is powerful yearning and inspiration driving the song, a feverish desire to help someone break their chains: "If I could through myself / set your spirit free / I'd lead your heart away / see you break, break away". U2 takes a lot of flak for their supposed bombast these days, but perhaps some folks are so jaded that they are unable to take real passion radiating directly from the heart at face value.

12. The Church - "Under the Milky Way" (1988)

The lead single from Australian band the Church's fifth album Starfish, "Under the Milky Way" is a brooding, elegantly orchestrated song with sparkling trills of keyboard and Steve Kilbey's romantic baritone over a 12-string acoustic guitar. The distinct bagpipe-like solo is played from an e-bowed guitar sampled through a synclavier. The production and arrangements are stellar -- the layers of sound all gel perfectly and create a wonderfully lush and mysterious vibe. The song's beautifully haunted imagery is evocative of lost love and painful regret. "Under the Milky Way" is one of those songs that totally eclipses everything an artist has been about before, and shapes everything the artist does thereafter. It reached #26 on the Hot 100, and the atmospheric video received substantial airplay on MTV.

The Church has recorded many great songs in the years since, but they have never really been able to escape the song's considerable shadow. Their most recent album, Further/Deeper, is an outstanding gem that was released in the US earlier this year and has thus far been largely overlooked.

11. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - "The Mercy Seat" (1988)

"The Mercy Seat" sounds like boulders crashing down a mountainside while a hurricane of guitars, pianos, strings and wildly crashing drums all slam into each other. Cave inhabits the wretched mind of a condemned killer about to burn for his sins, "The Mercy Seat" representing both his awaiting electric chair and what he imagines will be his perch in the Kingdom of Heaven. The harrowing lyrics are a constant fission of Biblical and violent imagery, with Cave alternating between growling the verses like a psychotic zealot, and chanting the choruses with feverish madness. He proclaims his innocence, and ends each maniacal verse with the resolutely defiant declaration, "I'm not afraid to die".

As the mania builds intensity at each pass of the mantra-like chorus, the condemned begins dropping dark hints that his evil side did in fact kill. Perhaps the victim was his wife, as hinted by the lines: "My kill-hand is called E.V.I.L. / Wears a wedding band that's G.O.O.D. / 'Tis a long-suffering shackle / Collaring all that rebel blood". By the end of the song you can almost feel his blood boiling as the current of fire courses through his veins, his defiance fizzling away at the very last moment: "But I'm afraid I told a lie."

"The Mercy Seat" peers into the demented inner thoughts of a malevolent spirit with a blistering ferocity and malevolence that only Nick Cave could have produced. It was the lead single from his aptly-named 1988 album Tender Prey. The shortened single version is notably more polished than the titanic seven-minute album version, which is far superior.

10. XTC - "Dear God" (1986)

"Dear God" started life as the b-side to the single "Grass", from XTC's 1986 album Skylarking. "Dear God" became college radio's preferred track, and the band quickly added it to subsequent pressings of Skylarking, reissued it as a single, and filmed a chilling video. The song is an incendiary indictment of the Christian deity featuring a tremendously powerful vocal performance by Andy Partridge over a striking acoustic guitar and string accompaniment.

As unremarkable as that seems now, 30 years ago it was daring and shocking in its way to suburban youth discovering alternative music and hearing something that pointedly challenges a belief system that has surrounded them since birth. It's jarring, and ultimately thought-provoking. Some of the best art tries to make sense of our circumstances and the world around us.

"Dear God" does, after all, posit legitimate questions. Why do the innocent suffer? Why are the weak killed by the strong, the rich allowed to pillage the poor? The world over, people die in misery and horror every day. Of course the wrenching finale is an outburst of raw anger. Partridge, who had been sardonic, wry and pointed during the first 3/4 of the song, repudiates God with a series of desperate accusations of neglect, beginning with the provocative, "I won't believe in heaven or hell, no saints, no sinners, no devil as well, no pearly gates no thorny crown you're always letting us humans down."

This isn't John Lennon's luminous imagining of no religion. This is direct confrontation. It's riveting drama, with Partridge's strident vocal buffeted by jolts of strings. Then at the very climax, it falls back to the intro, with a young child speaking to God over a simple acoustic guitar. As to the song's questions… No answers have as yet been forthcoming.

9. The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Just Like Honey" (1985)

The third single taken from Scottish band the Jesus and Mary Chain's landmark debut album, Psychocandy, is the stately "Just Like Honey", a dusky romantic dream that unfolds under fuzzy swirls of feedback. It opens with the distinctive drum riff from the Ronettes 1963 single "Be My Baby", and the track in general sounds like '60s guitar-pop swallowed in an acid trip buffeted by gales of swaying distortion. Jim Reid's vocals are smooth like the honey in his title as he ponders a one-sided, obsessive love that is too sweet to set aside just because of a little hurt and pain. There's a certain innocence and naivety to his lovelorn lyrics, like he's in way over his head but is captive to his hopeless feelings.

The pace is leisurely and measured, the melody unfolding under the increasingly powerful layers of William Reid's heavily reverbed guitars. Psychocandy is one of the great debut albums of the decade. It's influence is especially felt in the "shoegaze" sub-genre which would include artists like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. "Just Like Honey" was memorably featured in a key scene in director Sofia Coppola's 2002 film Lost in Translation starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

8. The Cure - "A Forest" (1980)

The Cure's debut Three Imaginary Boys (1979) is a collection of melodic but slightly kooky power-pop. For their next album Seventeen Seconds (1980), the band went in a much more austere and emotional direction, inspired by the icy ambient soundscapes of David Bowie's Low. The first single is their epic achievement "A Forest".

Opening with keyboard that sounds like a beam from an alien starship, a stately and simple guitar pattern emerges, followed by a rumbling bass and taut rhythm. It's a stark atmosphere of tension that builds for a full 1:47 before Robert Smith begins his echoey, dreamy vocal about a man haunted by the vision of an imaginary girl who is lost in a forest. Much in "A Forest" is left to the imagination. There is so much space in the recording, every sound so perfectly placed.

When "A Forest" is performed live, it becomes a behemoth often stretching well past its studio length, building to an immense climax with Smith restlessly calling out the song's final vocal line "again and again and again and again and again…" with manic intensity, leading the band into a protracted full-throttle ending that slowly collapses one instrument at a time. First the drums give out, while the guitar squalls continue over the thumping bass. Then finally the guitar peters away, and only the solitary bass survives for ten more seconds.

"A Forest" is a powerful recording, emanating unease, isolation, and dark wonder. It became the Cure's first Top 40 hit in the UK, reaching #31, and was the first proof that the Cure was more than just an awkward power-pop trio. "A Forest" laid the groundwork upon which all future Cure songs were built.

7. New Order - "Blue Monday" (1983)

Out of the ashes of Joy Division rose a New Order, one that is together even today, about to release a new album (minus bassist Peter Hook). New Order's first post-Joy Division material sounded like a natural extension of what they'd been doing previously -- singles like "Temptation", "Everything's Gone Green", "Ceremony" and their album Movement were not too far removed from their previous band's work. But they soon moved into a more electronic pop direction, while always retaining their experimental edge.

They released some classic '80s singles throughout the decade, but the undisputed triumph of them all is "Blue Monday", a seven-minute electronic dance recording that is almost as influential in its way as Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". It's impossible to quantify the imitations that flooded the marketplace in the wake of "Blue Monday" and it's mix of sullen emotion and dancefloor kinetics. Vocalist Bernard Sumner's dour vocals are quite suitable for a "blue monday" -- he sounds like a wounded man, his voice wrenched with hurt, as he repeatedly asks his lover "how does it feel to treat me like you do?" Electronic effects between the verses add sonic texture that jolts out of the speakers and grabs you.

The original 1983 single hit #9 in the UK and #5 on the U.S. dance chart. A remixed version hit #3 in the UK and #68 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988.

6. Echo and the Bunnymen - "The Killing Moon" (1984)

Some bands, even those with a strong overall catalog, have that one special song which obviously towers mightily above all their others. For Echo and the Bunnymen, it's unquestionably "The Killing Moon", an enchanted epic with cinematic sweep and gothic beauty. "The Killing Moon" is darkly romantic, with glistening cellos and a deeply resonant lead vocal by Ian McCulloch. Everybody in the band delivers their best.

The atmosphere is elegant and mysterious, with flourishes of electric guitar and keyboard over the bedrock foundation of sinewy strands of acoustic guitar, Les Pattison's rumbling bass and innovative brushwork by the late drummer Pete de Freitas. McCulloch's highly stylized lyrics read like something Mina might have written in Bram Stoker's Dracula: "In starlit nights I saw you / so cruelly you kissed me / your lips a magic world, your sky all hung with jewels / the killing moon will come too soon."

The song meanders for nearly six minutes, its long evocative ending emblazoned with Will Sergeant's sonorous guitar lines and McCulloch ad libbing soaring variations of the main melodic hook, progressively further down in the mix of a musical arrangement that becomes more tempestuous as the song winds to its conclusion. "The Killing Moon" was released as the first single from the band's fourth album Ocean Rain, and was an immediate Top 10 hit in the UK. McCulloch himself has been effusive in his praise for the song over the years, calling it the best ever written. He might not be too far off.

5. David Bowie - "Ashes to Ashes" (1980)

Eleven years after "Space Oddity" ends enigmatically with its hero drifting silently out into space, Major Tom returns, and he's far more damaged than when he left. "Ashes to Ashes" is a brutal shattering of illusions. Musically it's as otherworldly as its celestial subject matter, with multiple interlocking keyboard parts, all eerie and all with distinct sounds, the trippy syncopated rhythm, the popping bass that strums your very soul, the boomerang guitar riffs. The bits and pieces of sonic invention are perfectly balanced and react to one another.

Of course, it's Bowie's stunning vocal arrangement that brings the real haunted magic. The creepy nursery rhyme ending is like a mantra, or a riddle that remains unresolved. "My mama said "to get things done, you better not mess with Major Tom."" Remember, kids, the Major Tom of your youth? The tragic hero astronaut who gets lost in space, his famous last words, "Tell my wife I love her very much," the staunch patriotic role model that every dad wanted to be? Well surprise, he's back! Very much not dead, and oh yeah, he's an addict. It's a parallel that has happened millions of times the world over, as we grow up and learn things are not always as simple as they seem when you're a child. It need not be anything as lurid as drug addiction, although that is certainly often true. It could be any siren that derails us.

And what's so wrenching about "Ashes to Ashes" is the bridge, the heaving desperation that Bowie imparts in Major Tom's voice: "I never done good things! I never done bad things! I never did anything out of the blue. Want an axe to pick the ice! Want to come down right now." But then, Bowie has been skewering "heroes" his whole career, it's perfectly understandable that he'd tear down one of those he raised himself. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, it is indeed true -- and in "Ashes to Ashes" Bowie dares to say the simple truth, which is that we are all only human.

4. Talking Heads - "Once in a Lifetime" (1980)

Despite its status as one of the decade's most enduring singles, "Once in a Lifetime" didn't exactly burn up the charts. As the lead single from the band's landmark 1980 album Remain in Light, "Once in a Lifetime" reached #14 in the UK, and failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 until a live version from the Stop Making Sense album hit #91 in 1985. As with many songs on this list, the chart positions don't tell the story.

"Once in a Lifetime" is certainly one of the most important singles of the new wave era, and its parent album Remain in Light is an absolutely essential part of any '80s music collection. David Byrne's spastic movements and the imagery in the video is as iconic as the song itself. It's part of the fabric of an entire era, the start of the information age, the dawn of MTV and pop culture overload. Its message was perfectly timed. The circular groove could be the years passing by, one after another like an hour on a clock that gets smaller with each rotation of its hand. It may cause you to pause and examine yourself. How did I get here? Where am I, exactly? It may cause moments of sudden clarity. We may contemplate the choices we've made and the consequences. Roads taken and untaken. How the massive spider web of actions and reactions and ripples of pure chance have conspired to somehow put us right where we are at this very moment. And we may think of the eternal, the "water flowing underground… same as it ever was."

The music is joyous, though, not fatalistic or grim. Who cares how I got here? The fact is I am here. It's not about the quickly passing years, or the mistakes and regrets that we live with. It's about the now, living the life you deserve in the situation you are in. "Once in a Lifetime" happens every moment, and those moments are ours to seize.

3. Kate Bush - "Running Up That Hill" (1985)

"A Deal With God" became "Running Up That Hill" because record company executives were spooked by the prospect of the word "God" in the title of Kate Bush's first major single in three years -- they were afraid some religious countries, the US included, would shun it. Possibly they were correct, but it's not because the song has anything to do with God. God is a minor character in this drama.

"Running Up That Hill" is the timeless relationship dance of men and women (or any combination of the sexes, for that matter) misunderstanding each other. Sensual and warm as a heartbeat with insistent tribal drums, waves of the fairlight synth, and an intricate and richly layered vocal arrangement, "Running Up That Hill" is a pure marvel as a recording. It's so tense you can feel the anguish flow out of the speakers like waves of heat. Bush's vocal is passionate and inflamed, at times unhinged.

Very few artists know how to layer numerous vocal parts to such astonishing effect as Kate Bush, who never shies away from theatricality if needed. Turn off the lights, put on your best headphones, hit play and just focus your concentration on all the vocal parts happening across the sound spectrum -- it's nothing short of stunning. There is passion in this couple, that is certain, but with the passion comes the power to wound.

"Running Up That Hill" is about trying to see things from the other's perspective, the real impossibility of understanding exactly how someone is feeling no matter how close you may be, no matter how many sparks of electricity unite you. It's an ongoing battle with no resolution, and it's never been explored with such radiant grace as by Kate Bush on "Running Up That Hill".

As the lead single from her classic Hounds of Love, "Running Up That Hill" became Kate Bush's only Top 40 hit in America, reaching #30 in November 1985. In the UK, it topped out at #3, her biggest hit there since her chart-topping debut single "Wuthering Heights" seven years earlier. A partially re-recorded 2012 mix was issued in celebration of the Olympic Games in London, and "Running Up That Hill" became a hit yet again.

2. The Smiths - "How Soon Is Now" (1984)

With an expression of loneliness and disillusionment that straddles the line between maudlin self-pity and soul-wrenching melancholy, the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now" spoke to a generation trying in some way to connect and find their place in the mystifying and often cruel world they inhabit. That line "I am human, and I need to be loved just like everybody else does" practically defines an entire subgenre of music, derided as whiny mope-rock by detractors, but revered by those who relate to its message.

Morrissey's milky and strangely fey voice paints dejection with a timorous vulnerability that sometimes sparks to defiance. It's easy to relate to the painful recitation of social rejection: "There's a club if you'd like to go / you could meet somebody who really loves you / so you go, and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own / and you go home and you cry and you want to die." Morrissey understands the intense pain of rejection and loneliness. These are not ephemeral feelings -- they can wear down the soul.

Morrissey's empathetic anthem for the disillusioned is surrounded by a glorious musical soundtrack. "How Soon is Now" features Johnny Marr's famous tremolo guitar work, which is the centerpiece of the long, beautifully cinematic instrumental section in the song's middle. Marr and producer John Porter create a distinct musical vibe that certainly doesn't sound like any other Smiths' tune. "How Soon Is Now" was originally released as the b-side to the single "William, It was Really Nothing".

The band added it to their compilation album Hatful of Hollow, and it was appended to the U.S. version of Meat Is Murder. It was finally released as a single in its own right in 1985, and reached #24 in the UK. Over the years appreciation for "How Soon is Now" has grown, and it's become synonymous with alternative rock in the '80s. It's one of those singles that no longer belongs those who created it. It's an anthem for the misunderstood, to put it simply; the different, or as might be appropriate here, the alternative.

1. Joy Division - "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (1980)

There could only be one choice -- Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was recorded at the very dawn of the '80s, just weeks into the decade, and it set a standard impossible to match. Joy Division has always sounded a galaxy apart. Their influence on music in general is incalculable, but particularly in the "alternative" universe. If someone writes that a particular band sounds like Joy Division, everyone knows exactly what this entails, but it's far more than just about the clones with spiky guitar and sullen vocalists (and there have been many).
The visceral, wrenching emotion, bottled so tightly in the form of Ian Curtis was influential in itself, in the level of passion and intensity. His mannerisms, his doleful voice, the unremittingly bleak and isolated tone of his lyrics... Joy Division was never about pop melody, until "Love Will Tear Us Apart". Although it's an acerbic riposte to the chirpy "Love Will Keep Us Together", Curtis and his bandmates nonetheless wrote what can pretty accurately be considered Joy Division's version of a pop single. Of course, we're still a long way from AM radio territory.
The song still sounds channeled from another dimension, wherever it is that Ian Curtis resides. Curtis details the disintegration of a relationship in his oddly detached croon, asking "Why is the bedroom so cold? / You've turned away on your side, is my timing that flawed?" as if out of idle curiosity. Icy synths echo the main melodic hook over a clattering bass by Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner's guitar (which reinforces the main melody). Stephen Morris' furious drumwork is the foundation that holds everything together.
Joy Division's only chart single in the UK, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" reached #13 in June 1980, a month after Ian Curtis hanged himself while listening to Iggy Pop's The Idiot. Curtis slammed the door shut on what might have been. Joy Division's music would be compelling whether Curtis died or not, although there is no question that his death has given the band a sort of mythic quality. It's almost sacrilege to even consider anything Joy Division ever issued as less than divine brilliance, especially because of the paucity of material. But the reality is that Curtis' suicide only rendered the music more potent.
The songs are so personal and so piercingly intense, you can't really disconnect the man from his work. Through Joy Division's catalog we're privy to the deepest struggles of a man so disturbed he found it unbearable to live, and committed the ultimate act of self-destruction. All that struggle set to music, and we know how the story ends. It's the soul scraped bare, music at its most elemental and primal.

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