College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 46 – 44

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46. Romeo Void, “Never Say Never”

Romeo Void were still early in their career when they found themselves working with Ric Ocasek, then exceedingly well-versed in the creation of hits thanks to his prominent place in the Cars. According to Deborah Iyall, lead singer and chief songwriter of Romeo Void, Ocasek became a fan of the band because a roadie kept playing their music of the Cars’ tour bus. After a meeting at a Boston gig, the band eagerly agreed to Ocasek’s offer to record together, and they showed up after a tour with a handful of songs. Because it was still in an unfinished state, “Never Say Never” wasn’t among them. “We recorded ‘Not Safe,’ ‘In the Dark,’ and ‘Ventilation’ with the idea being to maybe put out a 45,” recalled Iyall. “We closed up the studio, said our goodbyes, and went to play another gig that night in Boston. And at that show we did ‘Never Say Never’ as an encore.  Ric’s engineer, Ian Taylor, came to the gig, and afterwards he came backstage and said, ‘Why didn’t you play that song for us?! I’m calling Ric right now.  You’re going to load your equipment back into the studio because we are going to record that song!'” Originally a raucous jam that stretched to over thirteen minutes, the version that served as the title cut was trimmed to Romeo Void’s 1981 EP was half that length. And more editing was to come. “The really short one came when we got signed to Columbia and they needed something that was ‘single length’ and ‘radio friendly,’  hence the cymbal crash over the F-word,” Iyall said.


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45. The Smiths, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”

Perhaps only Morrissey could take the famously petulant British music press’s lack of enthusiasm for his band’s success and spin it into a strident — albeit somewhat satiric — comparison to the travails faced by Joan of Arc. Released — at guitarist Johnny Marr’s insistence — as the lead single for the 1986 album The Queen in Dead, “Bigmouth Strikes Again” could be taken as a purposeful statement from the Smiths, but Morrissey himself was usually quick to downplay that interpretation. “I would call it a parody if that sound less like self-celebration, which it definitely wasn’t,” Morrissey said. “It was just a really funny song.” One element that Morrissey found particularly amusing was the backing vocal track. Despite a plan to enlist Kirsty MacColl for those duties, Morrissey was playing around with the pitch-shifting technology available in the studio and came upon a sped-up version of his voice that cracked him up. “He could hear himself sounding like one of the Chipmunks or Pinky and Perky and he was rolling on the floor laughing,” bassist Andy O’Rourke said. The gimmicky vocal track was included, with the singer cheekily credited as Ann Coates.


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44. The Smithereens, “Blood and Roses”

According to Pat DiNizio, lead singer and chief songwriter of the Smithereens, the creation of one of the band’s earliest singles was an almost spontaneous affair. “In the case of ‘Blood and Roses,’ it hit me in an instant,” he said. “I was walking home from work back in 1985. I worked at a nightclub called Folk City. The song just came to me. The real struggle was to get it on tape and sing it into the tape recorder before I forgot it.” With a title nicked from a short story by the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, “Blood and Roses” served as the first single from the 1986 album Especially for You, the debut full-length from the Smithereens. It also featured in the largely forgotten nineteen-eighties film Dangerously Close. While that might seem like an insignificant detail, the starring space on the film’s soundtrack got the Smithereens into circulation on MTV, a very necessary step at the time. It was Cannon Films, the freewheeling, upstart studio, that financed the band’s music video. “We’re very happy with the video,” DiNizio said at the time. “It captures the mood of the song, and it’s not a sexploitation thing that has girls dancing around half-naked.”


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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