College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 55 – 53

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55. Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”

“I had so many people come up to me and say that they felt it was their song,” Tracy Chapman said about “Fast Car,” the lead single from her 1988 self-titled debut. “And someone told me at one point that they thought I’ve been reading their mail. They were saying, ‘You seem to know my story,’ and people would come up and tell me about a car relationship and some detail that they felt was in the song that represented something that happened in their lives.” The singer-songwriter whose high school classmates joked would someday “marry her guitar and live happily ever after” had a true meteoric rise upon the release of her first album, in 1988. Just a couple years earlier, Chapman was making some extra scratch by busking on the streets of Boston, when she caught the ear of the son of a major publishing company executive. That eventually got her into the offices of Elektra Records, and a music career followed. Though “Fast Car” hardly sounded like the other music making major chart headway in 1988, a chord was clearly struck by the heart-rending tale of lovers on the edge of desperation with only memories of the freedom felt while racing in the streets to provide them solace. “Fast Car” made it into the Billboard Top 10 and immediately cemented Chapman as a soft-spoken sensation. “It’s as I planned it,” Chapman dryly joked to Rolling Stone at the time. “Club dates to stadiums.”


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54. Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, “If You Were a Priest”

Years after the release of the 1986 album Element of Light, Robyn Hitchcock would cover the Psychedelic Furs, convincingly making one of the bands most famous songs his own. Back then, though, he merely aspired to appropriating some of their sonic tricks, acknowledging that their greater commercial success was on his mind. “They came out after The Soft Boys, but they overtook us — which wasn’t hard — very quickly, and toward the end we actually opened for them,” Hitchcock said. “They were the only band in Britain I really knew, and they’d kind of done it right. They’d got a deal with CBS, had real fans and groupies, and had proper tour support. They had it like it was supposed to be, and then they went off to the States and took off …. I’d become a convert to the Furs, and I think that sort of sound, the way the voice goes over the chord change and the voice hits one note, it’s a Furs-y kind of thing. That’s what I was headed toward on that one.” Hitchcock may have been borrowing slightly from others, but an artist as singular as him is unlikely to ever sound derivative. Only Hitchcock could find tuneful sweetness in lyrics like, “If you were a nun/ I would surely run/ Way down to the hospital and/ Cover all your charts/ With decorated hearts.”


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53. Eurythmics, “Here Comes the Rain Again”

According to Dave Stewart, “Here Comes the Rain Again” began with a squabble. Still awash in the global success of their breakthrough single, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Stewart and his bandmate Annie Lennox were staying in New York City’s Mayflower Hotel, in a room that overlooked Central Park. Stewart was playing around with a new keyboard he’d purchased and Lennox wanted her own turn with it. Disinclined to share, Stewart kept tinkering while Lennox was left to sullenly look out on the park, surveying the weather. “I was playing these little melancholy A minor-ish chords with a B note in it,” Stewart later wrote. “I kept on playing this riff while Annie looked out the window at the slate gray sky above the New York skyline, and sang spontaneously, ‘Here comes the rain again.’ And that was all we needed.” They recorded the song for the 1983 album Touch, bringing an orchestra into an old church that hadn’t quite completed a planned renovation into a studio, forcing the string players to improvise their playing spaces, uses hallways and restrooms. Released as a single in early 1984, “Here Comes the Rain Again” became the second major hit for Eurythmics, making it into the Top 10 in both the U.K. and the U.S.


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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