College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, #154 – #152

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154. Stray Cats, “Rock This Town”

To get noticed, and appreciated, for their quintessentially American sound, Stray Cats needed to got to the U.K. Lead singer and guitarist Brian Setzer explained that the journey across the Atlantic was spurred specifically by a lack of stateside interest in their rockabilly sound. “We were getting fed up because the record companies didn’t want to know about it,” Setzer said. “We had heard that in places like France and England rock and roll never died. We just decided to go over there for the hell of it. We sold everything we owned. Jim sold his ‘66 Pontiac. We went with nothing.” They started playing clubs and quickly generated enough buzz that major musical figures came to see the shows. One of those spectators was Dave Edmunds, who wound up producing their first records. Members of the Rolling Stones also came by, which led to Stray Cats securing an invite to open three U.S. dates of the rock legends’ tour in the fall of 1981. At that point in time, Stray Cats didn’t have a single record out in their home country, even though they’d had huge hits in the U.K. Finally, EMI America cobbled together selected tracks from the first two U.K. albums of Strays Cats into Built for Speed, the band’s U.S. debut. The interest from the record company executives might have been a long time coming, but music fans warmed to the band right away. “Rock This Town,” the lead single from the album, became a Top 10 hit.


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153. Thompson Twins, “Hold Me Now”

According to Tom Bailey, bassist and lead vocalist of Thompson Twins, the band experienced a certain detachment from the moment that their star ascended. When the 1983 single “Hold Me Now” starting steadily climbing the charts, the band was ensconced in a distant studio, recording the material that would eventually accompany the track on the 1984 album Into the Gap. “We were in the studio in the Bahamas cutting tracks for it, and ‘Hold Me Now’ was already on the charts so we were pretty excited,” Bailey later said. “We were very isolated at this point, but we were getting messages saying that it had gone on to the Top 100 and then the Top 40 and then the Top 20, which really set the bar very high when you are accomplishing a project like that.  We knew we had to edit the album so it was very fun but high pressure.” Whatever worries the band might have had about their follow-up material being up to snuff didn’t translate into equal wariness from those who bought and played music. “Hold Me Now” became the first in a string of hits, and Into the Gap sold over five million copies worldwide. The song itself was inspired by a fight and reconciliation between Bailey and bandmate Alannah Currie, who were then a couple. Appropriately, the two wrote the song together. “We actually decided, well, this is an interesting emotional subject,” Bailey said. “What it feels like to get back together again after separation and the kind of ideas that come up and the way that emotion and physicality somehow are brought together.”


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152. INXS, “This Time”

According to producer Chris Thomas, his efforts on the INXS album Listen Like Thieves were a deliberate attempt at bridging the gap between the band he’d heard on prior records and the band he saw play live. When INXS was touring to support the 1984 release The Swing, Thomas attended a show in Los Angeles. “The gig I saw at the Hollywood Bowl was a dangerous concert,” he later said. “Grown women were throwing themselves at the stage. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen a gig that exciting or a band having that kind of effect on people in years.” The attempt to capture that energy and excitement proved fruitful. Listen Like Thieves was a breakthrough, led by the single “What You Need.” The band’s global success would be properly ratified with string of hits from their next album, Kick, but they had a modestly successful immediate follow-up when “This Time” was released as the second single from Listen Like Thieves. With its snaky guitar lines, and smoldering vocals from Michael Hutchence, it arguable comes even closer that its immediate predecessor to capturing that swagger Thomas spied at the Hollywood Bowl.


As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.

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