1989 Top 40 Singles 40-31
40. KISRTY MACCOLL Days (Virgin)
Days was originally recorded by The Kinks in 1968. I acknowledge that their version is superior in almost every way. Kirsty’s version lacks the sincerity and urgency of the original but boy does her version contain a lot of wait.
I miss MacColl’s voice a great deal. Even when she isn’t trying too hard (such as on this single) her range and pitch is such that I just melt. Since her death there hasn’t been a voice of that calibre anywhere near the charts and that’s a real shame. Its a summery feel that infects each and every track she recorded. Days is no exception.
Initially perhaps there was not a lot of point to releasing this as a single apart from the fact that it was a sure fire money spinner. It was the only release from the Kite album that made the top forty which of course proves that the record company sometimes can actually get things right. For me, album opener Innocence was the premier track on the record but what do I know?
So why have I put the song into my top forty? Well after her death in Christmas 2000 the song took on new meaning, the smooth backing vocals became angelic in scope. The lyrics may have well have been penned by the lady herself in the afterlife, as she looks back on her time upon the Earth. Sometimes peeping at the world of popular music through sentimental rose coloured spectacles can revive a record or a even a line as simple as “Now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me”. It becomes essential instead of throwaway. Thus it has become Kirsty’s theme song and it will remain so I imagine until Ray Davies passes on.
39. TOM PETTY I Won’t Back Down (MCA)
This sounds just like the Travelling Wilburys which may account as to why I love it so much. In fact with Jeff Lynn helping Petty write it and George Harrison playing guitar and contributing backing vocals to the session it’s not surprising really. The record was released in between the two Wilbury LP’s so it’s no surprise it feels like a continuation of that project. Not only would it not feel out of place on that first
Wilburys record but it would be one of the stand out tracks just like it is on Petty’s Full Moon Fever album released the same year. I Won’t Back Down is that good.
As with The Beatles and The Travelling Wilburys whenever George Harrison helps out with backing vocals his voice can generate the most sublime harmonies and luckily for the listener it is a first class
performance that’s delivered on this record. Whist the verses have a cold choppy feel as soon as the chorus hits, because of these vocals, the record suddenly glows, radiating out a summery wave of sound. A nice trick.
In more recent times the song has become known for what it doesn’t represent more than for what it does. Famously George W. Bush tried to use the song as a campaigning rally cry during the year 2000
presidential election race. Upon hearing this Petty’s lawyers immediately issued a cease and desist order. The man did not wish to be associated with the “idiot” president. Yet another reason to love this
38. BOB DYLAN Everything Is Broken (Columbia)
For me this is Bob Dylan at his poppy best. Fresh from the troubled sessions of the Down In The Groove album released the year before and revitalised by the success of Travelling Wilburys the great man released his best album in years in the form of Oh Mercy. Lead single was this track and it’s one I instantly loved from the first time I heard it around four years ago until now and trust me, I listen to its parent album a lot. On first glance there is nothing especially exciting about it, there is no mysticism within the lyrics, no great Dylan metaphors and hell, the words even rhyme the whole way through. No, Everything Is Broken finds Dylan finally finding it comfortable to age. The truth is he could spout this type of song out one hundred times a year if he wished but he rarely does, as I have said the songs roots are in pop and a little blues maybe, it’s as if any baggage was left at the studio door.
The lyrics are a wheeze; “Broken cutters, broken saws. Broken buckles, broken laws. Broken bodies, broken bones. Broken voices on broken phones”. If the lines were delivered in jest it wouldn’t work but there is a serious tone to his voice that adds that little bit of magic that in the wrong hands could be a little ridiculous and throwaway. The music loosely rambles on but it’s never too slack in approach. It’s one of those wonderful songs that gets stuck in your head but you don’t actually mind that, it’s welcome to lodge itself there. He may only be in second gear here but Dylan in second gear is still a mile ahead most other artists, no matter what their style, age or the demographic they appeal to. With this return to form he proved than whilst everything else may be broken, he was on the mend.
37. ALICE COOPER Poison (Epic)
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Alice Cooper, even though my favourite band is Kiss and they are hardly spring chickens, when I was in my metal phase Cooper was just too old. By 1989 though because of this single and the album Trash the aged rocker born with the name Vincent Damon Furnier was going through quite the renaissance. Regular Kiss co-writer Desmond Child helped the man achieve this no end. His commercial clout helped spawn the song into the top ten on both sides of the pond making it Coopers most successful single except for Schools Out way back in 1972. Here in the UK it was only the wretched Jive Bunny disco mix single that kept him from the top of the charts.
Watching the video I notice two things. The first is again how old the chap looks. He is surrounded by young glossy hair metal guys playing instruments that could pass for being in Warrant or Faster Pussycat or any of those younger cock rock bands and he impresses on the viewer that he is their deranged angry uncle. It’s quite the experience I can tell you to see all his wrinkles caked by over applied foundation. The second thing I took from watching was the sincerity of the guy. It’s as if he knows that if he blows it this could be his final shot at success. Towards the end of the promo he visibly shakes putting every decrepit muscle he has into the performance.
Perhaps I am being unkind. I didn’t like the fact that my buddies all preferred him to Kiss. But I can see why. The song is masterful in execution, foreseeing the upcoming grunge revolution by employing the old quiet / loud technique he appealed to rockers young and old. Crossing boundaries that two years earlier after releasing the disappointing Raise Your Fist And Yell LP he probably thought he would never capture again. Alice never had another hit of this calibre again but still today as he grows ever older he is releasing record after record. No longer caring if it’s a hit or not, the one thing that hasn’t aged over the years is the mans conviction. He really does mean it. Rock and the spectacle of theatre is in this mans blood.
36. PIXIES Here Comes Your Man (4AD)
If The Pixies has a long running comedy series on NBC this episode would be called ‘The one where The Pixies went R.E.M.’. First line “Outside there’s a box car waiting” instantly throws the mind to Michael Stipe’s obtuse lyrics from their Carnival of Sorts (Box Car) record from 1982. But that is only the beginning of the comparisons. Apart from Kim Deals Gigantic effort the previous year Here Comes Your Man is The Pixies most commercial, primed for radio single they ever set to tape. In fact the tune had been kicking around since before they signed a record deal but afraid of losing credibility the band did not air it until the Doolittle album was released. It’s as if the band watched and waited for R.E.M.’s major label debut Green which was chock full of pop gems to be unleashed. Then seeing that the reaction of their fans was on the whole positive released their own pretty assault onto the underground scene.
The blend of Black Francis’ whiny drawl and Kim Deals blissed out backing vocals lifts the song from being a radio friendly pop blast to a sublime and timeless jangle pop dream. If there was more echo it could have come straight from the golden era of Phil Spector. The song is that pop (and that good).
One other great thing about the song is that it lasts for only three minutes which is the perfect length for such a catchy pop song. It leaves you wanting more rather than letting the listener grow tired of the song. A perfect example of a band getting this wrong would be A Flock Of Seagulls with their Wishing single in 1982 where they continue plodding along two minutes after they have already made their pretty pop point.
35. THE WEDDING PRESENT Kennedy (RCA)
I didn’t get into The Wedding Present until January 2010 and it was this song that was the catalyst. When I first heard them in 1990 I thought they were nothing more than indie chancers that sounded a little bit like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin just nowhere as good. Well it took twenty years but now I get it and now that I have got it, it is a wonderful thing.
Kennedy was the bands first top forty hit and although the melody is commercial and the hooks are joyous and listener friendly singer David Gedge’s voice is truly an acquired taste but compared to a Tom Waits or a Dylan the man is positively easy listening. What is so great about his single is that each part is as good as it can be. The punky strummed intro is a stormer, the ramshackle drum beat barely holds the thing together yet it never feels like the song is falling apart and the opening line “Lost your love of life? Too much apple pie?” is fantastically irrelevant and as for the closing minute guitar workout it’s simply a joy, predating The Get Up Kids and their ilk by ten straight years.
Kennedy is a song worthy of kick-starting a musical obsession. Be it hunting down the complete Wedding Present back catalogue or at the very least making a speedy purchase of the parent album, Bizarro.
34. THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH You Keep It All In (Go! Discs)
Whilst this follow up single didn’t reach the heady heights of number two like Song For Whoever, You Keep It All In is equally as strong and the great British Public still bought enough copies to have it reach the top ten, myself included (be it two years after it had fallen out of the top forty, thanks eBay).
Lyrically this is that track that formed my deep love for the band. Singer Paul Heaton spoke to me in a way that Morrissey spoke to his fans the generation before. The man did not skirt around the complex sexual and domestic relationships between men and women. He would go for the jugular, beyond a mere kitchen sink drama, to the point where this ode to domestic abuse struck a nerve inside me and would make me think that I was not alone. In this band I had comrades in arms and the fact they could articulate my thoughts and woes in a three minute pop song with a real strong emphasis on the word pop was a light going on in my head. I didn’t need to saturate myself with thrash metal to overcome all my personal crap and there was a whole other musical world out there to discover and devour.
Oddly enough the band topped the A side with the flip. You Can’t Just Smile It Away is a minimal ballad and a first class love song at that, just as You Keep It All In functioned as a wake up call, …Smile It Away soundtracked my first deep love. Her name was Chelsie Nichols and would you believe no matter how many times I would include it on mixed tapes for her she always preferred Stevie B’s Because I Love You. There’s no accounting for taste, I mean, really. How could the girl pass up lines like “You can’t just pass it away like some silly fashion. No it’s love, and I’ve heard some people say they’ve seen love move mountains”. I tell you that girl had a heart of stone.
33. THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS Ana Ng (One Little Indian)
Before I heard Ana Ng (pronounced Ana aNg) the only smidgen I had heard of They Might Be Giants was the great one hit wonder Birdhouse In Your Soul which came out in a year later in 1990. When interviewed by pitchfork in the mid nineties singer John Linnell recalled being amazed that when looking through the phone book there were pages full of the surname Ng. Taking inspiration from that this song was soon penned.
And it’s such an odd beast of a song. It splutters, stops and starts for its entire run. It feels as though during the recording process the band compressed the hell out of the guitars and drums and punched in complete silence between the choppy riff. It’s so unusual at first I thought it was a remix but by the second listen the melody hits and lodges into your mind.
Ana Ng was the catalyst that triggered my interest in the band. At first I bought the parent album Lincoln but didn’t find too much comfort there, perhaps They’ll Need A Crane was another standout but it really sounded like a debut by a band finding it’s feet. Although disheartened I took another punt, this time with 2005’s Here Come The ABC’s an album written specifically for children. Oddly, I quite liked this but it’s not something I listen to all the time. Yet nothing compared to that moment when Ana Ng hit me. It was one of those moments that you get when you’re obsessed with discovering new bands or unearthing old ones. It’s just a shame that They Might Be Giants didn’t really have enough balls to back it up or maybe I just chose the wrong place to start.
32. PRINCE Arms Of Orion (Warner Bros.)
Prince makes this sound effortless. One single, two of the greatest ballads released this year. On side one we have The Arms Of Orion itself, taken from the Batman soundtrack but lyrically it could relate to any lovers separated by distance. “Orion’s arms are wide enough to hold us both together. Although we’re worlds apart I’d cross the stars for you”. So far so Bryan Adams you may think but there is an honesty in the delivery that breaks through the vomit inducing sentimentality. Here Prince is aided in his quest by some time collaborator Sheena Easton. This is the key. By having her sing back the words to her muse the song is made believable. It’s an overblown grand gesture of a song that perhaps would not have made my best singles list if it wasn’t for the heart stopping genius of the flip side.
I Love U In Me lyrically is as dirty as Prince gets. The eloquent verse “I promise myself not to come until she does, then she took both hands and a liar I was. No man in this world could ever hope to last when my baby downshifts and starts pumpin’ fast” is crude enough to fit on his Dirty Mind record or even the most lewd bits from his 1999 double LP. But where this differs is that instead of the funk and the hard dance beats, here Prince lays a gentle fairytale tune to underscore the nasty
words. It works a charm. As perverted as his verse maybe, after hearing I Love U In Me I find myself wanting to listen again. Firstly because the man had the sheer balls to release it in the first place and secondly because it’s just such a great song. It’s such an honest message and the music’s subtlety gives credence to what would otherwise came across as a desperate and childish act of sexism ala 2 Live Crew whose pathetic As Nasty As They Wanna Be was released around the same time as this. My advice? Stick with Prince. He makes being a pervert seem cool and sophisticated.
31. MADONNA Like A Prayer (Sire)
By the release of this single I was gently slipping from my Madonna phase so I could wholly embrace heavy metal and yet she kept releasing singles that were constantly top shelf. Her consistency was nothing short of amazing. The kid who loved pop inside of me just could not let her go, no matter what my metal head buddy’s thought of me, Madonna and Prince would make sure that a candle was still lit for me if ever I wanted to return to my old ways, which of course I did and every now and again still do to this day.
By 1989 and the release of this single Madonna was still the press’ darling. Whipping up controversy at every turn, from her recent divorce with Sean Penn to her poor box office returns for her vanity film
projects Shanghai Surprise and Who’s that Girl the front page would be held and Madonna would be on it. It was a furore that blitzed that of Britney Spears more recent breakdown and it lasted eight years straight only subsiding after her In Bed With Madonna movie. After that it appeared that there was nothing more to tell and not another inch of her body to sell.
It was the video for Like A Prayer that stirred the hornets nest this time around. The United States bible belt finally lost their rag with her, Pepsi pulled out of an advertising endorsement deal that cost
millions (then let her keep the money so as to make a quick getaway) and even the Catholic Church took offence to the images portrayed within. So what did Madonna and regular director Mary Lambert (who also directed the Stephen King movie Pet Sematary this year, so well done her) do to enrage the civilised world? How about a cross burning Ku Klux Klan style, not enough?. How about showing Madonna afflicted with stigmata and bleeding from her hands. Still no good? Well, perhaps the inclusion of Christ portrayed by black actor Leon Robinson was the final straw that had Pepsi Co running for the hills. The decision could have backfired disastrously for her and she took an awful risk but Madonna has never been a person to do things by half measures and she went for it. Her artistic vision on film for ever. As it turns out she made the right choice.
Upon release Like A Prayer was a massive success. Selling millions and making number one on both sides of the pond. The video and song itself consistently make the all time great lists (normally in the top
tens of those as well) and although Madonna was already an 80’s Icon this projected her into a whole other level of fame, along side The Beatles and Elvis. Quite a select club I think you’ll agree.
The song itself will need no introduction to anybody reading this but from her opening question of simply “God?” to the closing female gospel singers that fill out the chorus Madonna’s Like A Prayer is a template of what can be possible with a simple seven inch single. All the hoo ha that was created from the video would mean nothing without an excellent single to showcase it and that is exactly what she delivered. Unfortunately for me what followed were the two disco flavoured singles Express Yourself and Cherish which I didn’t fall for as hard. But compared to any acid house or other dance related record of this year Madge’s tracks still hold up today. Just.