College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 64 – 62

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64. Hoodoo Gurus, “I Want You Back”

The casual listener would be forgiven for assuming that “I Want You Back” is just another pining pop song, the next nearly indistinguishable boxcar on the endless train of the musically lovelorn line. Instead, the single from the 1984 album Stoneage Romeos, the debut release from Hoodoo Gurus, addresses the turmoil in the band’s lineup. Though the song resides on the first full-length from Hoodoo Gurus, the group had already endured quite a bit of personnel turmoil, including the departure of original guitarist Rod Radalj. Apparently nursing some ill feelings about the growing influence of lead singer Dave Faulkner on the creative direction of the band, Radalj decided to quite. From there, according to Faulkner, Radalj “went off and joined this country/punk band called the Johnnys, and they’ve got this gimmick of wearing cowboy hats and going, ‘Yeeha!’ while throwing gear at each other.” Faulkner’s dismissiveness was reciprocated by Radalj, who had plenty of unkind things to say about his former bandmates. “Basically, when Rod Radalj left the Gurus he was very dismissive of us, trying to move on and kind of burn everything behind him: ‘Oh, it’s not worth staying in that band. They’re terrible!’” Faulkner later explained. “So I basically turned that emotion around: ‘Here’s this guy who ditched us and he’s acting like the spurned lover!’ It was me saying, ‘You’ll regret it.’”


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63. The Cure, “Just Like Heaven”

“Just Like Heaven,” the third single from the 1987 album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, was a  sizable hit for the Cure — their first to nudge into the U.S. Top 40 — but that was all part of lead singer Robert Smith’s long plan. He landed on the melody a few years earlier, and he and the band worked it into tune with the working title “Shivers.” When, in the mid-nineteen-eighties, the producers of a French music television series called Les Enfants du rock approached the Cure about providing its theme song, the instrumental that would evolve into “Just Like Heaven” was the track they turned over. “I already felt it was the most obvious single, and it meant that the music would be familiar to millions of Europeans even before it was released,” explained Smith. Smith finally found his way to the lyrics after going on holiday at the imposing British seaside spot Beachy Head. A more harrowing portion of that trip likely inspired the music video, which set Smith twirling precariously on a crag above crashing waves. “We’d been drinking and someone thought it would be cool to go for a walk,” Smith said. “But suddenly the fog came in and I lost sight of my friends and I couldn’t see my hand before my eyes. I thought I might fall down the cliff if I moved my foot, so I had to sit down until dawn.” Of course, Smith had the perfect gloomy, goth capper to the story. “Later I heard my friends didn’t even look for me,” he added. Despite the influence of his night alone in the fog, the prevailing sentiment of “Just Like Heaven” is that of woozy love, inspired by Smith’s romance with Mary Poole, who’d become his wife less than a year after the single’s release. “The song is about hyperventilating – kissing and fainting to the floor,” Smith said. “Mary dances with me in the video because she was the girl, so it had to be her. The idea is that one night like that is worth 1,000 hours of drudgery.”


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62. The Cult, “Love Removal Machine”

The Cult intended to follow up their 1985 album, Love, with a new disc of music entitled Peace. They had it all recorded, but it wasn’t ready to go, at least not in their collective opinion. Even though there were misgivings about the album as a whole, the band agreed that “Love Removal Machine” needed to be the first single. To try and spruce it up, they sought out producer Rick Rubin, then riding high from helping to turn the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill into a blockbuster. Rubin agreed to work with the Cult, but he didn’t necessarily think a simple remix would cut it. “Well, he agreed to remix the whole album if we recorded ‘Love Removal Machine’ with him from the ground up,” guitarist Billy Duffy explained. From the very beginning of their work together, the band realized they were completely simpatico with Rubin, so they decided on a much broader reset plan. “He got where we were straight away and we just thought, ‘OK, let’s do the whole album,'” said Duffy. “That decision was made so quickly. We’d just come over to talk about a remix, and ended up recording an album. I didn’t even have any of my guitars there — I wasn’t going to lug this huge Gretsch across for a meeting, but we ended up staying. Every note of that album is recorded on rented equipment.” As for “Love Removal Machine,” lead singer Ian Astbury conceded that the music stemmed from the band’s admiration for the pounding glories of AC/DC, maybe with a little bit of vintage Rolling Stones dribbled in. The lyrics, on the other hand, aspired to weightier themes than was all that common in the song’s sonic ancestors. “I think ‘Love Removal Machine’ came out of man’s inhumanity to man,” Astbury said. “It talked about materialism and prostitution as being other aspects of the machine that takes away from the human spirit, then put it in a rock ‘n’ roll vehicle that was very accessible.” Lest that seem too intellectually ponderous, Astbury offered an undercutting addendum: “It came out during the Electric album, and we were pretty hammered in the studio.”


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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