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.

70. Faith No More – “We Care a Lot” (1987)

Mike Patton is overall a much better frontman and vocalist for Faith No More, except on one song: “We Care a Lot”. Chuck Mosley spits the lyrics with acerbic scorn, with the repeated sardonic chant of “We care a lot!” over a heavy backbeat and Billy Gould’s rumbling bass. Some of the things Mosley derisively singles out include “starvation and the food that Live Aid bought” and “the smack and crack and whack that hits the streets’, skewering society’s short media-driven attention spans and our tendency to focus on band-aids that make us feel good rather than personally working for change. He also takes down our love for empty artifice — “We Care a Lot” enjoys the distinction of being the only song in this list with references to the Garbage Pail Kids and Transformers.

The song was originally recorded for the band’s 1985 album We Care a Lot, a San Francisco-area release with limited distribution. The more widely-known version, and a far superior recording, came on 1987’s Introduce Yourself. Faith No More would grow much tighter musically in the years to come, but the shambolic looseness of “We Care a Lot” fits its insolent vibe perfectly. It would have been impossible to envision that a mere five years later, Faith No More would score a Top 10 pop hit with their surprise smash “Epic”.

69. Tom Tom Club – “Genius of Love” (1981)

Tom Tom Club was an offshoot of Talking Heads that found success with their quirky single “Genius of Love”. Centered around the Heads’ rhythm section of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz and featuring frequent Talking Heads collaborator Adrian Belew on guitar, the infectious groove and dreamy, carefree joy that imbues “Genius of Love” makes it a classic. The second single from Tom Tom Club’s self-titled debut album, “Genius of Love” was a massive success in the dance clubs. It hit #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart and #2 on the R&B chart. On the Hot 100, “Genius of Love” climbed to #31, where it spent two weeks during the spring of 1982.

The genial, colorful, laid-back groove would become a favorite source of hip-hop samples, with everyone from 50 Cent, Ice Cube, Erick Sermon, and Warren G incorporating it into their own work. Perhaps the most famous extrapolation came in Mariah Carey’s chart-topping 1995 single “Fantasy”. “Genius of Love” is part of the fabric of the early ’80s pop and dance scene. Tom Tom Club would never again approach the same heights of success, although they did have a major alternative hit later in the decade with “Suboceana” from their 1988 album Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom.

68. Big Country – “In a Big Country” (1983)

Scotland’s Big Country became a major creative force in the ’80s and well into the ’90s with a series of acclaimed albums, although in America they are best known for their exciting 1983 single “In a Big Country”. Its distinct bagpipe guitar effect, the song’s sonic signature, was achieved by running e-bowed guitars through a pitch transposer. The tight harmony vocals throughout the song give it a frantic sense of exuberance, a rush of rock and roll adrenaline that hasn’t subsided in the 32 years since its release.

“In a Big Country” received enough MTV and radio play for it to reach #17 on the Hot 100. It was the first single from their outstanding debut The Crossing, which also yielded the lesser hit “Fields of Fire”, and has achieved classic cult status among rock fans of the era. This story ends sadly, though. In December 2001, vocalist Stuart Adamson tragically hanged himself in his hotel room in Hawaii after many years of battling alcoholism. “I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered, but you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered.”

67. Ministry – “Stigmata” (1988)

Ministry’s classic “Stigmata” is a massive industrial wall of sound with chainsaw buzz guitars, distorted vocals, and deranged screams by Al Jourgensen. In case that isn’t enough to cauterize your brain, there’s also the earsplitting jackhammer electronic blast-beats. “Just like a car crash, just like a knife,” Jourgensen sneers. “My favorite weapon is the look in your eyes!” The whole thing sounds like a heavy equipment metal machine shop in one of Hell’s outer rings. “Stigmata” is the opening song and highlight of Ministry’s 1988 album The Land of Rape and Honey, generally considered the most influential of their career.

“Stigmata” is sonic overdrive, so intense that it should melt the speakers. The enigmatic lyrics are too darkly abstract to interpret with any degree of certainty; Jourgensen may be ranting against hypocrisy among leaders and in society, or about a particular individual, or possibly he’s looking at himself and raining bullets of self-loathing and disgust at his own skin. However one interprets the song, it’s a powerhouse of loathing and rage — you can feel the anger and disgust swirl up around the song like a dust storm. Al Jourgensen would continue as Ministry’s primary musical force well into the ’90s, while simultaneously struggling with a sometimes debilitating drug addiction.

66. House of Love – “Shine On” (1987)

House of Love’s stunning debut single “Shine On” is a cinematic swirl of delicate beauty, with a thunderous rhythm and Terry Bickers’ darkly shimmering guitar. Everything is bathed in reverb, including Guy Chadwick’s dramatic lead vocals and the glistening harmonies by Andrea Heukamp (who left the band prior to their first album being recorded). There is a classical, almost elegant feel to “Shine On” — it rides the line close to melodrama, but it so staggeringly powerful that it doesn’t feel pretentious. “Shine On” is distant and dreamlike, as if it’s leaking through layers of space or time or another dimension.

It’s what an indie pop band might sound like in a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel. The lyrics are as abstruse as the music, with lovelorn imagery that hints of emotional trauma through the haze of a feverish dream. It’s redolent of late summer evenings, bittersweet memories of youth, and wrenching regret. A much crisper re-recorded version of “Shine On” was included on the House of Love’s 1990 self-titled second album and became a sizable hit in the UK, but it lacks the spooky atmospheric magic of the original single version on Creation Records.