100 Best Songs of the ’80s (#50-41)

These are the top 100 songs of the 1980s.

46: The Stone Roses – Fools Gold (1989)

Trying to explain the impact of the Stone Roses to an American audience is difficult. They were at the forefront of a movement that made a lasting, worldwide impact on music and on popular culture as a whole, but that impact wasn’t felt in the United States until long after the Roses slipped into irrelevance. In 1989, though, the Roses were a big enough deal to turn a small British island into a one-day Mecca of drugs and hedonism. Their music synthesized rock star posturing with forward-thinking arrangements and a working-class sneer, but none of their songs pointed to the future of music quite in the way that “Fools Gold” did. By embracing house music, the Stone Roses turned a generation of kids raised on guitar rock into disciples of the dance floor, doing their part in creating the rave phenomenon that would soon go worldwide a few years later.

Today, “Fools Gold” still stands as a masterclass of the Roses’ virtuosity. Few rhythm sections were as tight and as rhythmically diverse as Mani and Reni, and their work here is the best they’ve ever done. John Squire, who bears the co-writing credit on the song, chimes in with simple, effective guitar work that loops in and out with each rhythmic shift. Lyrically, Ian Brown is effectively talking nonsense, though he claimed that the song tells the plot of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But, as is often the case with Brown, it’s less about what he says and more about how he says it. Even as he stays at a low, quiet register, his cocksure confidence never dissipates. Even though it came relatively late in the band’s career, “Fools Gold” feels like a statement of arrival and intent from the Stone Roses. Sadly, the band never fully explored the possibilities opened by the song, but sometimes it only takes one song to change everything. – Kevin Korber

45: Daniel Johnston – True Love Will Find You in the End (1985)

Daniel Johnston loves the Beatles. He learned to play piano from a Complete Beatles songbook, recorded a literal account of their history on his tape Yip! Jump Music and, to this day, still cites them as his main influence. One of the great eureka moments in his career was hearing Ringo admit (as Johnson quotes): “We took other people’s songs and rearranged their chord structures to write songs.” This is probably true; the Beatles internalized hundreds of songs in Hamburg. And Johnson, who internalized hundreds of Beatles songs, started rearranging their songs and writing his own lyrics to the chords.

Johnson’s music is, of course, nothing like the Beatles’. What he seems to have learned most from studying them is how to cram multitudes into deceptively small, simple songs. And perhaps the best song he ever wrote is “True Love Will Find You In The End.”

Look at the words on a page, two simple stanzas, and they don’t look like much. Listen again, and it unspools its depths. Why is the language he uses to describe love so deathlike? “The end?” What end? An end within this life or an end beyond? Many people never find true love, and certainly most people don’t find it at the literal end of their lives. In Johnston’s eyes, it’s when you “step into the light,” (“the light, the light,” he repeats, eerily) because true love is looking for you too. I’m not sure he’s talking about an afterlife, but the ambiguity of the message opens up the possibility. The only thing that’s certain – and what makes the song so wrenching – is that true love might not come for a long time.

The Beatles catalog is full of tricks like this. “Help!” and “Think For Yourself,” love songs on first glance but scarier and more poignant when you realize no pronouns are used and the songs could be addressed to anyone. “Norwegian Wood,” with its revenge that might not even be a revenge. None of the Beatles would have written a song like “True Love Will Find You In The End.” Daniel Johnston is no Lennon-McCartney. But he’d be happy to know that, with this song, he’s working in the tradition of the masters. – Daniel Bromfield

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