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The 100 Best Alternative Singles of the 1980s: 40 – 21

We present the best punk, post-punk, new wave, college rock, goth, industrial, new romantic, ska, power pop, hardcore, and indie rock singles of the 1980s.

30. Bauhaus – “She’s in Parties” (1983)

Vocalist Peter Murphy, guitarist Daniel Ash, drummer Kevin Haskins, and bassist David J formed Bauhaus in 1978. Bauhaus were goth pioneers whose most famous single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, was released in 1979. “She’s in Parties” is one of the more accessible Bauhaus tracks, and points to both Peter Murphy’s solo work and Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins, and David J’s work as Love and Rockets. It was the primary single from Burning on the Inside, the band’s final album before disbanding.

“She’s in Parties” reached #26 in the UK, their second-highest placement. As one would expect from Bauhaus, there’s a thick layer of gloom infusing the song like smoke. Peter Murphy’s highly stylized vocal sits atop some crafty musicianship. David J’s bass is a propulsive force, and Daniel Ash’s razor-wire guitar slashes brightly through the murk. “She’s in Parties” references Marilyn Monroe’s gilded image and private turmoil as a reflection of the personas that everyone adopts, that society is in fact built upon. Everywhere you go it’s a different act. While “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” would certainly have been chosen if it came out one year later, “She’s in Parties” isn’t a bad consolation prize.

29. Morrissey – “Everyday Is Like Sunday” (1988)”

Only Morrissey could open a single with the following joyless lines: “Trudging slowly over wet sand / Back to the bench where your clothes were stolen / This is the coastal town / That they forgot to close down / Armageddon — come Armageddon!” “Everyday Is Like Sunday”, the second single from Morrissey’s solo debut Viva Hate, is his version of a hymn. Naturally, it’s steeped in a morose world outlook; it’s almost defiantly grim in the face of a sweeping melody, orchestral grandeur, and Morrissey’s smooth crooning voice.

Morrissey makes his mordant observations with zero traces of irony. It’s not just an act — Morrissey is quite sincere in his regular repudiation of the world around him (and us), and he’s not shy about pointing out its shortcomings (and ours, and his). One wonders how he finds the motivation to keep going. He still performs “Everyday Is Like Sunday” regularly before crowds that sing along and wave their arms in the air as if it was an ode to peace, love, and togetherness instead of a lushly beautiful expression of fatalistic pessimism.

28. The Sugarcubes – “Birthday” (1988)

The breakthrough single for Icelandic legends the Sugarcubes, “Birthday” is frighteningly good — it sounds like absolutely nothing else ever created. “Birthday” is strangely discordant, with a tumbling rhythm, strums of oddly tuned guitar, wheezing trumpet, and Björk’s mystical alien vocals. Her voice is a unique force of nature — just listen to her sing, “She’s painting huge books and glues them together / they saw a big raven / it glided down the sky / she touched it!” Absolutely incredible. There’s an almost childlike simplicity in the evocative and pictorial lyrics.

Björk captures the sense of a five-year-old’s wonder at the world, how children can find things endlessly fascinating and beautiful, as can grown-ups if they so choose. “Birthday” received immediate acclaim upon its release and helped create a massive buzz around the band. It’s included on the Sugarcubes’ debut album Life’s Too Good, a strikingly brilliant collection of oddball pop that is superior to anything Björk has released as a solo artist (and she’s put out some great ones). With Einar Örn playing the Fred Schneider role, the Sugarcubes sound like The B-52’s if they were born in an ocean on one of Saturn’s moons.

27. The Clash – “Rock the Casbah” (1982)

Since the Clash‘s most essential album, London Calling, was released at the very end of 1979 and was thus not eligible for consideration, we instead look to “Rock the Casbah”, from their smash 1982 release Combat Rock. After a long slow climb up the Hot 100, “Rock the Casbah” spent four weeks at #8 in early 1983, becoming the band’s only Top 40 hit in America. Drummer Topper Headon wrote and performed the rollicking piano section over his drums and bass, and Mick Jones added some jagged guitar to go along with Joe Strummer’s searing vocal performance.

Strummer’s inventive lyrics were inspired by an incident in which Iranian citizens were flogged after being caught with a disco album. He parlays that into a sardonic parable about a bumbling Sharif who hates disco and tries to ban it, only to be stymied not only by his own people but even by his military. A striking video was filmed with caricatures of an Arab and Jewish man driving around in a Cadillac listening to a boombox while the band plays the song in front of an oil well (with an armadillo inexplicably wandering around the shot).

“Rock the Casbah” is arguably the most fully developed and richly produced single of the Clash’s career, and it perhaps points to the direction the band might have sounded if they’d continued to develop with their full lineup.

26. The Stone Roses – “She Bangs the Drums” (1989)

Manchester’s Stone Roses helped popularize the so-called “Britpop” movement which dueled with “grunge” in the ’90s for the title of the most ubiquitously annoying and overused label in rock history. The Stone Roses’ debut album was lavishly fawned over by critics and is often considered one of the great debuts in rock history. There is no question that it was influential, as illustrated by the barrage of imitators that sprung up in its wake. “She Bangs the Drum” is winsomely melodic psychedelic rock with a glowing retro vibe. It sounds like someone beamed back to 1967 and snatched it from a jukebox. It’s deliriously joyful.

Even the lyrics sound like they were written around the time of the Monkees: “Have you seen her, have you heard? / the way she plays, there are no words / to describe the way I feel.” John Squire builds a wall of guitar, and he and drummer Reni harmonize with vocalist Ian Brown on the insanely catchy melody. John Leckie’s production work is exceptionally good, as usual. “She Bangs the Drums” has one foot in the ’60s and one foot in the ’90s — ironically enough, the one decade it doesn’t really sound like is the ’80s.