College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 52 – 50

52 crash.jpg

52. Primitives, “Crash”

Before the Primitives got around to recording their first album, they’d already decided that “Crash” was one of their less significant songs. “We wrote that very early on and then we dropped it from the set,” explained Paul Court, the band’s guitarist and chief songwriter. “We had a lot of songs like it, three chord style Ramones numbers, and then our producer Paul Sampson said it was a good song and that we should resurrect it.” That was only the beginning of Lazarus-like capacity for revival that the song had. It was definitely a college radio hit when it was released as the lead single from the Primitives’ debut album, Lovely, released in 1988, but it could have easily faded away. Then, several years later, it was included on the soundtrack for Dumb & Dumber, which was hardly the companion disc for Titanic in terms of record sales, but it did get the song in front of a whole new group of listeners. Even though it was discarded, Court says that he knew the pop gem was special shortly after they laid it down on tape. “I think when we recorded it it did stand out,” he said. “It had all those lovely elements to it, the melody, the three chords. I always thought it was special. I just had a feeling inside. I didn’t think it would get to where it did, though.”


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51. Wire, “Ahead”

When Wire released the album The Ideal Copy, in 1987, it was the band’s first full-length in almost a decade. That sort of revival was rare enough at the time, but Wire did something even more novel: they completely transformed their sound. In the last nineteen-seventies, Wire released fierce, pummeling records with punk energy and abrasive artiness. When they came back together, Wire committed to a stark, icy electronic music that was very much of the era but well-removed from their own musical history. “We got there in the end but it took us a couple of years,” Wire lead vocalist and chief songwriter Colin Newman later noted. “It felt strange as well, because in your twenties you have this insane confidence, like you rule your own world, but you don’t actually even rule your own sandwich. That starts to dissipate as you get into your thirties. You feel more vulnerable, and less like you have any control over how anything works.” For college programmers, Wire was tapping into something. “Ahead,” released as an advance single, proved that a band willing to embrace innovation was going to be welcomed back, regardless of the length of the layoff.


50 shock.jpg

50. Peter Gabriel, “Shock the Monkey”

Often, external interpretations of art default to the most obvious ideas. There are plenty of music fans who will still insist that Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” is about shock therapy. He insists that is not the case. Instead, he sees it as a fairly basic love song, albeit one that has a darker twist to it. “It refers to jealousy as a trigger for an animal nature to surface,” he said. Released in 1982, as a single from Gabriel’s fourth solo release, the song represented a breakthrough for the artist in the United States, carrying him into the Billboard Top 40 for the first time. In fact, it was a bigger hit in the U.S. than in the U.K., another first for a Gabriel single. Like many other artists, Gabriel benefited from bringing a more complex sensibility to the music video crafted for the song. Issued at a time when MTV was still hungry for content, Gabriel’s dark, distinctive “Shock the Monkey” video took up prominent residence on the cable network’s playlists.


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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