100 Best Songs of the ’80s (#60-51)

These are the top 100 songs of the 1980s.

58: The Jam-That’s Entertainment (1980)

When The Jam released its debut album In the City, a clarion call of 1977, singer-guitarist-songwriter Paul Weller was a mere 19 years old. Full of piss and vinegar, the Jam moved through mod, punk and northern soul and progressed to expansive Beatles-inspired psych-pop, all with increasingly biting social commentary on the cusp of the Thatcher era. The band’s fifth album Sound Affects continued the trend with this single, one of its only hits to prominently feature acoustic guitar.

“That’s Entertainment” pulls no punches as Weller almost casually assesses his then current situation. “A police car and screaming siren,” “a freezing cold flat with damp on the wall” and “waking up from bad dreams and smoking cigarettes;” these brutal realities are tempered by a handful of small, sweet joys as even Weller recognizes that life throws us a bone sometimes with “A hot summer’s day and sticky black tarmac/ Feeding ducks in the park and wishing you were far away.” It’s not pretty, but it’s real – all laughed away with a refrain of “that’s entertainment,” which may be why the song is so enduring.

Surprisingly, “That’s Entertainment” was not originally released as a single in England, but that did not stop it from charting as a European import single. That was the level of popularity The Jam commanded for the last few years of its existence. Commercial success aside, the song’s “‘s legacy is secured by varied covers and tributes. Weller has been invited by both established legends (Noel Gallagher) and newcomers (Miles Kane) to perform it, while festival crowds belt back every “la la la la la.” Not bad for a song Weller claims he wrote in ten minutes after a night out at the pub. — Edward Dunbar

57: New Order – True Faith (1987)

The New Order discography can be a bit difficult, if not outright frustrating, to process. With countless remixes and alternate versions, theirs is a living catalog of songs rooted in the synthetic world of dance music. This single is no exception, released in no less than five versions in 1987 alone. In its original form, the song appeared on the band’s singles collection Substance in a move that would become common as artists increasingly willed their new material into greatest hits status. Released in the summer of 1987, “True Faith” would hit number four on UK charts and crack the U.S. Top 40, a first for the band.

One of the stranger, more surrealistic videos of the ‘80s, “True Faith” is truly something to behold. Opening with two performers slapping each other in time with the song’s drums, it devolves into a Felliniesque explosion of the intriguingly bizarre. From the trio in puffy, striped suits jumping about, running in reverse and general wreaking havoc to the woman in what appears to be either a turtle shell on backwards or a giant walnut signing the lyrics, the video is nothing but a series of incongruous images. Not that this is out of character for the band, as the title is never mentioned in the song’s lyrics.

Instead, as with the majority of New Order’s mid-to-late-‘80s move into unabashed dance music territory, “True Faith” relies on the percolating bass and the four-on-the-floor, heavy snare on the two and four drumming to which the lyrics become secondary. By no means obscured, they play a supporting role for the listener who, moved by the heavy dance rhythms, might miss the maudlin nature of the lyrics. Showing a visceral through line from their brief tenure as Joy Division, Bernard Sumner’s read of the chorus is stylistically and emotionally bleak: “I used to think that the day would never come/ I’d see delight in the shade of the morning sun/ My morning sun is the drug that brings me near/ To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear.” Had listeners stopped to take note of the song’s sentiments, they may well have ceased their dancing, turned off the lights and crawled back into bed. – John Paul

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