College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 133 – 131


133. They Might Be Giants, “Ana Ng”

According to John Linnell, “Ana Ng” has its foundation in his childhood memories. “There’s a cartoon I read as a kid in which a character shoots a gun through a globe to find out where the other side of the world is. So that was sort of the beginning,” he told MTV at the time. The comic in question was an installment of Walt Kelly’s great Pogo, and Churchy LaFemme was the pistol-wielding geographer. Further inspiration came from Linnell letting his fingers do the walking through a New York City phone book, noting there were multiple pages of people with the last name Ng. The vowel-free spelling of a name that was more common than he imagined in his limited cultural frame of reference inspired him to start dialing numbers to determine the correct pronunciation. Released, in 1988, as the lead single from They Might Be Giants’ sophomore album, Lincoln, the song was an extension of the bendy, quirky pop inventiveness the duo had already established as their sound, but the romantic pining built into the lyrics helped set it apart. Some fans consider it the one great love song in the catalog of They Might Be Giants. The guys in the band prefer to avoid such simple labels. “I’d say it’s more an endearing song about not being able to have someone who’s too far away,” Linnell said.



132. Hüsker Dü, “Makes No Sense At All”

Everyone knew “Makes No Sense At All” was a turning point song for Hüsker Dü, even the guy who wrote the song. In the biography of the band, written by Andrew Earles, writer Andy Nystrom recalled an encounter with Bob Mould shortly after the song hit in Minneapolis: “I remember telling Bob it was a great song, and maybe in kind of a cocky way, he said, ‘Yeah, that’s the one.'” Beyond the bristling, bold appeal of the song, it also represented Mould expanding his capabilities as an artist. “‘Makes No Sense at All’ sums up all the aspirations I had as a songwriter at that point in my life: ‘How do I continue mining this somewhat pessimistic outlook on life? How bright is the color of the ribbon that wraps this fabulous wrapping paper around this beautifully dark package? How far can I take this thing?'” said Mould. The track was selected as the first single from the band’s 1985 album Flip Your Wig. Though the band seemed fully poised for a breakthrough, “Makes No Sense At All” was also the only official single from the album, a choice necessitated by the fiscal limitations of the small label SST, which had been the band’s home through the first part of their career. That was about to change, however. Hüsker Dü was already signed to Warner Bros., and the major label was interested in releasing Flip Your Wig. The band instead decided the record would be their final bow with SST, which Mould later conceded may have hampered their career growth. “In hindsight, it may have been a misstep in terms of reaching a bigger audience, but at the time it seemed like the honorable thing to do,” Mould wrote in his memoir. “Like I said, we were the good soldiers.” The track was strong enough that it probably didn’t need an extra boost, but it undoubtedly got one from the song on the flip, a cover of “Love Is All Around,” from The Mary Tyler Moore Showa sitcom famously set in Hüsker Dü’s moshing grounds of Minneapolis. The charming, punked-up version of the song was even folded into the official music video for “Makes No Sense At All.” Years later, Mould could still reference the revamped TV theme song to help unlikely listeners understand the appeal of his former band in town.



131. Talking Heads, “(Nothing But) Flowers”

One of the final singles from Talking Heads, “(Nothing But) Flowers” stemmed from David Byrne’s ever-widening musical wanderlust. More specifically, it grew out of Byrne’s affection for Kanda Bongo Man, a Congolese musician. During the recording of the 1988 album Naked, Byrne claimed he started every day by dancing to Kanda Bongo Man’s “Belle Amie.” The track served as initiating inspiration for a studio jam that was eventually shaped into “(Nothing But) Flowers,” and Byrne took pride in the fact that African musicians assembled to pitch in on the album told him “it sounded like something from the old country.” There was yet another geographic region represented in the creation on the song: Manchester, which had so much to answer for. Johnny Marr, the guitarist from the Smiths, was recruited to play on several songs on Naked, and he was a full collaborator. According to Marr, the track was so dominated by its rhythmic elements when he initially encountered it that he had an uniquely difficult time finding his way to a complementary guitar part. “I listened to the track and for the first time I started to panic somewhat because I couldn’t imagine coming up with something,” said Marr. “I usually have a few ideas immediately. I asked them to play it again, and again, and again.” After a walk to clear his head, Marr realized a more robust contribution was required. “So I quite meekly asked for permission to put some chord changes in there,” he said. The amalgamation of styles and influences worked. While hardly a huge hit, “(Nothing But) Flowers” was the last Talking Heads song to make noticeable tremors on the charts.


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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