best 80s songs
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The 100 Best Alternative Singles of the 1980s: 80 – 61

Just imagine songs this extreme making the American Top 40, let alone the Top 10… unthinkable.

80. Bob Mould – “See a Little Light” (1989)

After the disintegration of Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould retreated to rural Minnesota to plot his first solo album. The highly polished, largely acoustic Workbook was a radical departure from the raw and edgy rock he’d been known for in his prior band. His songwriting talents were maturing and he delivered a strong collection of melodic, introspective acoustic rock. He drafted Pere Ubu rhythm section Anton Fier and Tony Maimone to play on the album. The first single was “See a Little Light”, an upbeat charmer that finds Mould exploring a melodic side to his writing that he’d only hinted at in Hüsker Dü. Despite the song’s sunny disposition, with a soaring chorus, jangly guitar, and the great Jane Scarpantoni providing a beautiful undertow of cello, the song finds Mould at the moment of realization that a relationship is doomed and a lover is going to leave.

Workbook was only the beginning for Mould. Over the 26 years since college radio embraced “See a Little Light”, Mould has released numerous solo albums, a pair of acclaimed power pop LPs in the ’90s with Sugar, and is now one of rock’s most respected elder statesmen. “See a Little Light” remains Mould’s most widely recognized tune, and in 2013 he enshrined it as the title of his biography, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody.

79. Pale Saints – “Sight of You” (1989)

The Leeds, England-based indie-pop trio Pale Saints are best known for their majestic and darkly obsessive “Sight of You”, originally released in September 1989 on their EP Barging Into the Presence of God, and then re-recorded for their 1990 full-length debut The Comforts of Madness. Vocalist Ian Masters’ reverb-laden performance of the syrupy-sweet melody soars over deeply churning guitars. Masters’ dulcet voice is all the more chilling as he contemplates murdering a man who is evidently his former lover’s new boyfriend: “I think of him / I think of him soaked all in red / I wish him dead”.

The lyrics, almost nursery rhyme in their simplicity, give a peek into the mind of someone detached from empathy — throughout the song, he’s concerned only with his own thoughts and feelings. “Sight of You” builds to a menacing crescendo at the 5:00 mark and then falls apart listlessly with a haphazard drum part dueling with an elastic bass as it fades to silence, unresolved. Pale Saints eventually split in 1996 after failing to break through commercially, but they left behind a treasure of music that seems barely to have been discovered. It’s time for that to change.

78. Black Flag – “Rise Above” (1981)

California punk rockers Black Flag released their debut album Damaged in 1981 to little fanfare. Still, in the years since, it’s universally recognized as a landmark in American punk. Singer Henry Rollins had just joined the band, and he belted out the ragged tunes with raw and intense focus. “Rise Above”, the album’s opener and anarchist anthem, is blistering full-throttle hardcore. “We are tired of your abuse / try and stop us it’s no use… / We’re gonna rise above!!” is the shouted chorus, and when you hear it, there’s no doubt they believe it.

Like the rest of Damaged, “Rise Above” is non-stop — it barely lets you breathe. Greg Ginn and Dez Cadena’s dual guitars clash violently behind Rollins’ ranting, and Robo’s drums are fierce and unhinged. At the 1:26 point, there is a brief but piercing guitar solo that’s like a drill to the ear. “Rise Above” packs a sonic punch despite its murky production and mix. This isn’t music for audiophiles — “Rise Above” is nihilistic mosh pit fodder, two-and-a-half minutes of the real thing.

77. INXS – “Don’t Change” (1982)

Shabooh Shoobah is the album in which it all came together for INXS — it set the Australian band on the path to international stardom. Its two major singles are particularly noteworthy: the new wave rocker “The One Thing”, which became the band’s first American hit, and the electrifying “Don’t Change”. After an opening swell of keyboards that sound like the sun rising, there’s a few seconds of rattling guitar, and then the full band erupts ferociously. Drummer Jon Farriss plays with wild abandon, and Michael Hutchence has by this time turned into a first-rate rock ‘n’ roll frontman.

Although “Don’t Change” failed to follow “The One Thing” into the US Top 40, it’s indisputably one of the band’s most pivotal singles. It helped raise expectations for their next two albums, The Swing and Listen Like Thieves, both of which were substantial hits. “Don’t Change” is a young, energetic, fresh-faced version of INXS, which would become wiser and more jaded as the years went on. It’s a glorious affirmation of self — be proud of who you are, don’t let things you can’t control crush your spirit, and most definitely be loud.

76. The Sisters of Mercy – “This Corrosion” (1987)

Opening with eerie choral vocals, “This Corrosion” is a magnificent dark epic that melds industrial and goth into a massive wall-of-sound production that’s aggressive and danceable. The full-length version, from the band’s second album Floodland, is a punishing 11 minutes. “This Corrosion” is a tensely dramatic rocker with a hard-driving electronic beat, ornate vocal arrangements, and bursts of wailing guitar. The song only intensifies as it rips over your psyche like a tornado swirling slabs of crashing metal. Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Eldritch’s vocals are reminiscent of Peter Murphy in all his glowering beauty.

It’s easy to imagine a dark, dungeon-like club packed with a crowd all in black slamming into each other and spinning wildly to these heavy mechanized beats. When Eldritch growls lines like, “On days like this / in times like these / I feel an animal deep inside”, one is strongly reminded of a particular Nine Inch Nails juggernaut from the ’90s. “This Corrosion” hit #7 on the UK singles chart. Just imagine a song this extreme making the American Top 40, let alone the Top 10… unthinkable.