College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 100 – 98


100. New Order, “The Perfect Kiss”

It’s difficult to pin down precisely which version of the New Order song “The Perfect Kiss” sits at the momentous #100 position on this chart. On the 1985 album Low-Life, the song finishes its work in just under five minutes. There are a flurry of other edits of the track across different seven-inch singles, sometimes shaving as much as an additional minute off the song. Arguably the best known, though, is the iteration released as a twelve-inch single, that clocks in at a robust 8:46. And it’s a few second longer yet in the official music video, directed by Jonathan Demme, one year off of the release of the seminal Talking Heads concert film, Stop Making Sense. Featuring a new live in-studio performance captured, the video lets the song stretch out to the epic proportions that could leave dance floor denizens spent. Interestingly enough, it’s only the longer version that includes the title in the lyrics, announcing with the final lines, “My friend, he took his final breath/ Now I know the perfect kiss is the kiss of death.” That grim line has been interpreted by some to be a reference to Ian Curtis, the doomed lead singer of Joy Division, the band that New Order spun out of. According to New Order’s Bernard Sumner, though, the song wasn’t constructed while the band was in a particularly reflective mood. “‘Perfect Kiss’ was written in a mad session in the studio,” Sumner later explained. “It was written, recorded and mixed in seventy-two hours without any sleep whatsoever. I’d already done a bit of synth at home, the bass line and we did the rest in Britannia Row. By the end of it we were out of our minds. We did it in such a compressed time because we had a tour of Australia straight after.” Even the most foreboding lyrics of the song supposedly have a benign, simple origin. “He has always been so strange/ I’d often thought he was deranged/ Pretending not to see his gun/ I said, ‘Let’s go out and have some fun'” weren’t poetic and cryptic, according to Sumner. Instead, they represent the plainest of reporting. “We were in one guy’s house in America and he was pulling guns out from under his bed — his personal arsenal,” Sumner said. “And then we went out and had a great night!”



99. Greg Kihn Band, “Jeopardy”

Greg Kihn was arguably one of the more unlikely beneficiaries of the music video revolution. By the time of the 1983 album Kihnspiracy, the rock ‘n’ roll performer, either on his own or with the band that conspicuously bore his name, had been cranking out albums with punny titles at a yearly pace for almost a decade. Though the Greg Kihn Band had a minor hit with the single “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em),” released in 1981, they were mostly cult heroes at best. Then the band’s label, Berserkley Records, connected them with director Joe Dea, who wanted to move away from the straightforward performance videos that were the order of the day. For “Jeopardy,” the first single from Kihnspiracy, Dea and Berserkley label owner Matthew King Kaufman turned to Kihn to figure out how to come up with something unique for the accompanying promotional clip. “I remember having lunch with them and he was, ‘What do you like?’” Kihn said.  “I remember telling him that I like horror movies. I like Ray Harryhausen. I like monster movies. I like the old Universal horror movies. So then, bingo! ‘How about like a Night of the Living Dead where you’re getting married and it turns into a horror movie?’ And I said, ‘Joe, you can make this as realistic as you want. My life is an open book.’ In a way it’s based on my first marriage.” Bolstered by MTV airplay, “Jeopardy” became the band’s biggest hit, making it to the runner-up spot on the Billboard Hot 100, though it couldn’t muscle past Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”



98. Dead Milkmen, “Bitchin’ Camaro”

“Bitchin’ Camaro” is the sort of song that will stay with a band and its performers forever. After the Dead Milkmen broke up in the mid-nineteen-nineties, most of the band members went on to fairly mundane professions, working as journalists or in IT. Rodney Linderman, who went by the moniker Rodney Anonymous while on the Dead Milkmen roster, explained that unexpected recognition could invade their day jobs. “People listened to us in college, and they run into us later, and they’d be, like, vice presidents of companies,” he said. “I was in a meeting once, and in the middle of it this vice president raises his hand. It’s not even question time. He says, ‘You’re that guy from ‘Bitchin’ Camaro,’ right?’ Everyone turns and looks. Some of them had no idea what he was taking about. I just said, “Yes, I am,” and moved on.” Of course, “Bitchin’ Camaro” was quite the attention-getter and highly memorable, injecting punk brattiness with an oddball sense of humor. Even before it was nestled right in the middle of the band’s 1985 debut album, Big Lizard in My Backyard, “Bitchin’ Camaro” was getting noticed. “Early on, we had a champion in Philly with the Penn radio station, WXPN, and they picked up a homemade recording of ‘Bitchin’ Camaro,’ and it kind of took off from there,” drummer Dean “Clean” Sabatino recounted. “We played a couple of hardcore shows and the people had really identified with that song. They knew all the words already.”


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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