Sunday, July 25, 2010

December 1, 2009: Psychobabble’s 11 Greatest Singles of 1984

As the year winds down, Psychobabble sweeps up the debris of 2009’s anniversary-related nostalgia. So, let us venture back 25 years, pull on our stonewashed nut huggers, follow Ronald Reagan’s lead by turning a blind eye to the mounting AIDS epidemic, and take a listen to 11 tubular singles that probably wouldn’t pass muster with Tipper Gore’s newly established Parents’ Music Resource Coalition. These are Psychobabble’s 11 Greatest Singles of 1984!

11. “Sunspots” by Julian Cope

An authoritative guitar lick launches this weighty slab of neo-psychedelia by former Teardrop Explodes frontman, Julian Cope. The song is utterly infectious because of (rather than in spite of) an awkwardly lumbering rhythm, although Cope’s wacky ejaculations of “Meeeeeeeeow!” don’t hurt.

10. “The Caterpillar” by The Cure

The Cure set their flanged guitars aside to deliver a wonderfully weird bit of rustic psychedelia that would have stirred Syd Barrett’s envy. Drums beat a tribal rhythm, acoustic guitars chime, fingers skitter up and down a piano keyboard like the many legs of the title critter, a fiddle flutters, and Robert Smith flickers.

9. “She Told Me Lies” by The Chesterfield Kings

Wait a minute… is this 1984 or 1965? The Chesterfield Kings grind out one of the most authentic chunks of garage rock to hit during the decade of antiseptic drum machines and synthesizers. Greg Prevost sneers like he’s testifying at the Church of Sky Saxon while a Farfisa creepy crawls all over his drainpipe trousers.

8. “Eyes Without a Face” by Billy Idol

Billy Idol doesn’t just borrow the title of George Franju’s horror masterpiece Les Yeux sans Visage, he nicks the film’s Gothic beauty. Of course, Billy Idol being Billy Idol, he is unable to keep his silliness completely at bay (hence the mid song rap about taking a “psychedelic trip” in Las Vegas), but “Eyes Without a Face” is all the more endearing for it.

7. “So. Central Rain” by R.E.M.

The classic R.E.M. sound encapsulated in three-minutes of perfectly moody pop. Michael Stipe mumbles his incantation of apology; Peter Buck’s angelic 12-string Rickenbacker ensures that all will be forgiven.

6. “Swimming Horses” by Siouxsie & the Banshees

On their previous album, the brilliant A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, Siouxsie & the Banshees fully shed the strident abrasiveness of their earlier records in favor of a more nuanced, ethereal sound. On Hyaena, they achieved the pinnacle of that aural magic with “Swimming Horses”, which matches the Banshees’ shimmering backing with Siouxsie’s most effectively bizarre surrealist imagery.

5. “Pink Frost” by The Chills

New Zealand’s The Chills borrow liberally from ‘60s psychedelia, yet this record could not have been made anytime other than the 1980s. Martin Phillipps’s extra-emphasized accent and the waves of synthy guitars set “Pink Frost” aside from the music it inspired, but it remains as spine-tinglingly haunting as the best of Pink Floyd or The Velvet Underground.

4. “(My Girl) Maryanne” by The Spongetones

A refreshing blast of Mersey Beat pop by way of a quartet of North Carolinians with totally unacceptable mustaches and mullets. The Spongetones started life as a Beatles cover band, which should be no shocker after hearing this glorious power popper about a lovably chatty lass.

3. “Take Me With U” by Prince and the Revolution (with Apollonia)

Honestly, any single culled from Prince and the Revolution’s masterpiece Purple Rain could justifiably sit in the upper end of this list, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Prince’s dalliances with Beatlesque pop. “Take Me With U” is not as galvanizing as “Let’s Go Crazy” or as intense as “When Doves Cry”; it’s just a magnificently executed pop single, and the way Prince’s voice mingles with Apollonia’s raises the little hairs on the back of my neck.

2. “William, It Was Really Nothing” by The Smiths

Swirling and dizzying and cascading like sheets of rain falling on “a humdrum town”, “William, It was Really Nothing” sums up the undying appeal of The Smiths as gorgeously as any of the other great singles by the greatest singles band of the ‘80s. Many fans got hung up on Morrissey’s faux moroseness, but tracks such as this reveal that he always kept his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek. How can anyone mope around to lyrics like “How can you stay with a fat girl who’ll say, ‘Would you like to marry me? And if you like you can buy the ring’… I don’t dream about anyone except myself”? That shit is hilarious!

1. “I Will Dare” by The Replacements

The Replacements’ growing cult must have been baffled after hearing their debut single of 1984. Suddenly, Paul Westerberg and his gang of drunks had gone from shambling hardcore punk to exquisitely romantic mandolin-driven pop. Sure, there are still remnants of the old ‘Mats on the accompanying album, Let It Be (ain’t nothing romantic about the screaming slop of “Gary’s Got a Boner”), but “I Will Dare” proudly displays the incredible songwriting craft that had always been lurking beneath their gravel-vocals and gritty guitars.
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