54: Sade – “Your Love Is King” (1985)
With her debut album, Diamond Life, Sade brought sex and sophistication back into the spotlight. Yes, there were the New Romantics who sang vaguely about women with exotic names or the heavy metal heathens who pined for Marilyn Monroe through a photograph, but none of them could touch the aching romance evident in Sade’s every word.
The music wasn’t quite jazz, it wasn’t quite soul and it didn’t necessarily slot easily in the pop paradigm either. That may have been its best asset. Listening to the track now, after all these years, it remains fresh, intimate and capable of inspiring chills several times from start to end. Sade could do heartache very well and there is plenty of longing and hurt to be heard across her impressive discography. With “Your Love Is King,” she paused to appreciate her lover, suggest that there were riches to be found in the intimacy shared between them.
Yet, there’s a hint of sadness in her voice, a sense that it’s all somewhat temporary, that the moment won’t last, that there will be some future usurpation. In that, she perfectly captures the pendulum of love and romance and the quest for love and understanding.
If Sade hasn’t been especially prolific in her career, there’s great joy in knowing that what she has given us speaks louder and more clearly than some can in an entire career. – Jedd Beaudoin
53: R.E.M. – “Fall on Me” (1986)
If one were to ask Michael Stipe, his reluctance to sing clearly on R.E.M.’s early albums had more to do with shyness than it did with any artistic conceit. Still, Stipe’s mush-mouthed delivery was a key part of the allure of those early R.E.M. records, another layer of mystery for fans to ponder and obsess over. It was another layer peeled back by Don Gehman, who brought John Cougar Mellencamp’s pop sensibilities to an off-kilter college band on Lifes Rich Pageant in 1986. The marriage was a more harmonious one than one would expect, as Gehman’s work did quite a bit to highlight the band’s songwriting prowess. By making them slightly less weird, Gehman brought attention to Stipe’s thoughtful lyrics and to the band’s impeccable gift for melody, and this was never more apparent than it was on “Fall on Me.”
Ostensibly a song about Stipe’s environmentalist views, “Fall on Me” acts as something of a preview of the socially-conscious material the band would pursue more fully on Document and Green. Here, Stipe’s intent is more ambiguous, though lines like “Here’s the progress/ We have found/ A way to talk around the problem” have a resonance that seems all too prescient today. “Fall on Me” has more going for it than its message, though; it’s simply a great song. It has all of the hallmarks of R.E.M. (jangly guitars, secretly complex rhythms), but each of those parts is so well-drilled that they sound fresher than ever before. What’s more, Stipe and Mike Mills have never sounded better together; their intertwining vocals over the song’s chorus is simply heavenly. Even R.E.M.’s self-imposed difficult promotion of their own music didn’t slow things down, as a video just displaying the song’s lyrics over stock footage entered into regular rotation on MTV. With a song like this, it didn’t seem to matter what visuals were attached to it. – Kevin Korber