50: U2 – Where the Streets Have No Name (1987)
There is nothing typical about U2’s 1987 coup The Joshua Tree. The album starts out with a dreamy organ solo (by producer Brian Eno, no less) that gives way to a highly delayed, and completely the Edge-tinged, guitar arpeggiation. As Adam Clayton’s bass kicks in, Larry Mullin Jr. revs up the energy with a heavy tom fill, which underpins the whole song and lends an infectious energy that is perfectly syncopated with the Edge’s delay. The execution is stellar. Thus begins the journey to Joshua Tree, an album chock full of hits and quality B-sides, with nary a flop on the whole album. “Where the Streets Have No Name” capitalizes on U2’s ability to push boundaries while maintaining an authentic balance of rock and pop at the same time.
Lyrically, there is an overtone of rebelliousness and breaking free from a shackled existence. That’s also reflected in the music video, which was filmed in downtown L.A. Newscasters jab at “rowdy” fans and authoritarian L.A. police puff their collective chests: they are “shutting this down now.” But U2 doesn’t care. They have fans to please and authorities to gleefully snub. On a rooftop. Right before rush-hour traffic. People cheer and dance in the streets while helmeted police eye the crowds warily. It is the most ‘80s thing in the world: speaking to authority via partying.
“Where the Streets Have No Name” continued U2’s meteoric trajectory to stardom, and it placed well in the pop charts in the UK, Canada and US. It hit number 1 in Ireland and New Zealand. Bono’s choruses of “Blown by the wind” continue the soaring ascent, up and up, past the “desert plain” and into the sky where vultures catch the desert heat that turns “love to rust.” The concept of having streets with no name is more of an equalizer and commentary on class, which foreshadows Bono’s later social work. In Ireland, like in much of the world, your neighborhood can betray a lot about you, including your social standing, religion and income. Keep soaring, U2. Keep soaring. – Cedric Justice
49: Bruce Springsteen – I’m on Fire (1984)
There’s no getting away from it. Any respectable ‘80s single in the middle of the decade more or less had to incorporate a synthesizer if it stood any chance of reaching the top of the charts. It doesn’t matter if they were the most blue-collar, all-American rocker or manufactured pop idol, it was just the new toy of the era and artists would’ve been remiss not to take advantage of it. Bruce Springsteen was no exception. The Boss found himself noodling away on some melancholy lyrics during the early sessions for the album. A few brief verses about desire and sexual tension formed the basis for a slow jam that was quickly backed by the band with a straight-forward accompaniment. A repetitive guitar lick, a deceivingly upbeat rockabilly drum pattern and a moody, wavering and forlorn synth line took something that could have been an unfinished, abandoned idea of a song and turned it into what would become the fourth single from Born in the U.S.A.
By most accounts, this track, despite being from his biggest album, was a sleeper hit. Often it seems people discover it in retrospect, through inevitable cover songs, which came years later and sought to endow it with far more meaningful and emotional delivery than it probably deserved. By today’s standards, lyrics like, “Hey little girl, is your daddy home?/ Did he go and leave you all alone?/ Mmm, I got a bad desire/ Oh, I’m on fire,” would probably have protesters up in arms. But we give him the benefit of the doubt because he is, after all, the Boss. So let’s just assume “little girl” and “daddy” are used figuratively, the latter a placeholder for “other important man.” Either way, the presence of someone else makes our protagonist’s desired hook-up somewhat problematic even for a guy who’s just dancing in the dark. For those who value fidelity, it’s enough to “cut a six inch valley through the middle of [your] skull.”
The unrelenting boxcar rhythm gives the track a clockwork feel, which seems timely amid the increasing influence of electro-pop and yet out of place among the rest of the albums more traditional rock appeal. But in keeping with the experimental nature of the era as a whole, Springsteen offered a little change of pace that would survive to become one of his most timeless songs. – Darryl G. Wright