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100 Best Songs of the ’80s (#90-81)

These are the top 100 songs of the 1980s.

88: George Michael- Faith (1987)

In the pursuit of freedom, faith nourishes. This is evidenced by the (literal) stylings of George Michael between the neon pop of Wham!’s “Freedom” (1984) and the anthemic sophistication of Michael’s “Freedom ’90” (1990). “Faith” was a chrysalis moment for the singer, whose shedding of his bubblegum image was both deliberate and spectacular.

The introduction fades into the stately plumes of a cathedral organ. Strip away the context and strain a little, and you’ll recognize the melody underneath the pomp: “I don’t want your freedom…” The phrase ends ceremoniously with sustained chords and an imagined “Amen.” The religious overtone is equal parts wedding and funeral, baptism and benediction. Without a breath of hesitation, Michael kicks in with that irresistible guitar strum, and we witness the first shake of that forever-memorialized ass.

Well I guess it would be nice/ If I could touch your body…”: coy first words for an album whose tracklist is dotted with reprises of “I Want Your Sex.” But “Faith” is a cooler affair, this is about leaving, not luring. It’s a tight, clicky arrangement, save for the sprawl of a honky-tonk-soaked guitar solo. Michael’s guitar acts as a sidekick, swinging in time with his hips and those percussive strums. Can you even think of this song without seeing that hip shake? That butt wiggle? The visual impact of the shot direction in “Faith” makes obvious the intention of sexualizing Michael both through his image and the R-rated subject matter of his work on this album. A flash of stubble, the tap of a steel-tipped cowboy boot: objectify and commodify those assets. Sex sells. And so it did.

As Michael would later quip in “Freedom ’90,” “But when you shake your ass/ They notice fast/ Some mistakes were built to last.” Beyond being a middle finger to those “boys on MTV,” it’s likely a statement of remorse, as Michael reportedly felt trapped by Faith’s success. Typifying the best and worst impulses of MTV image-making, “Faith” is an essential snapshot of Michael’s artistic evolution. Lucky for us, we can still flip through the close-ups. – Stacey Pavlick

87: The Jesus and Mary Chain- Head On (1989)

In one of the most definitively rock ‘n’ roll interviews ever given, a Belgian journalist asks a young and upcoming Scottish alternative rock band what they’re “about.” Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain explains that the band is “a very commercial group” and says they want to do for the ‘80s what the Beatles did for rock music in the ‘60s. He does all of this without a hint of irony. As a viewer, you’re not sure whether to laugh or to scoff at the casual display of nearly-delusional arrogance. Meanwhile, Bill Reid sits next to him silently nodding his straight-face only adding credence to his brother’s remarks. Meanwhile, Bobby Gillespie is passionately making out with someone at the other end of the sofa as though none of this is happening. The entire bizarre scene takes place in 1986 after the band had released Psychocandy — a cacophony of white noise and surf rock that, despite being absolutely amazing in its own right, has absolutely nothing to do with these crazy but seemingly prophetic comments.

The follow-up album Darklands would take a step in that direction, but it isn’t until the groundbreaking crossover that occurs on 1989’s Automatic that the public at large began to pay attention. Back on that sofa, Jim also said “I’ve got my eye on the charts and the United States of America, Britain and all over the world. Our direct competition is Culture Club and Duran Duran” — citing two of the biggest bands of the era. “Head On” was the single he must have had in mind. Propelled by a dance-floor friendly, hi-hat heavy rhythm, it nailed the trendsetters of the time like New Order and Joy Division while avoiding the easily dismissed trappings of a glam image.

The single bridged two worlds of fans and propelled them to something just short of household name. Alternative dance music fans were now on board and looking backward, bemused at their past, while new fans were wondering where they’d came from. Bill Reid’s rock guitar riffs, melodic marching note guitar solos and the sincere and passionate refrain “Makes you wanna feel/ Makes you wanna try /Makes you wanna blow the stars from the sky!” brought them “Head On” with the charts. – Darryl Wright

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