32: A Flock of Seagulls – I Ran (So Far Away) (1982)
When “I Ran (So Far Away)” emerged as a single in 1982, there was something undeniably exciting about the tune. The guitar remained sparse but insistent, reminiscent of the work that U2 had offered up previously and that Big Country would soon bore into our collective musical memories via “In a Big Country.” It had that odd, squared off feeling like Gary Numan’s “Cars” yet retained a trace of the human, while also seeming positively plucked from somewhere in a post-human future.
Listening to it today does nothing to dim its shining nature. You can hear the traces of Eno (and Fripp) moving around between the verses and choruses and the hooks remain impossible to ignore, coming early and often and carrying us to some place positively magical. Paired with the record’s second single (“Space Age Love Song”), “I Ran” should have created a more loyal following for the Liverpool outfit. Heck, any song and any band smart enough to work “aurora borealis” into a single deserves more than its share of praise.
That wasn’t to be, though. Whether it was the name, the sheer infectious nature of the group or those wickedly forward-thinking hairstyles, A Flock of Seagulls failed to ignite further interest with music beyond the debut album. One might come up with easier answers to more difficult questions, but speculating on the group’s decline might lead to expecting that the Flock didn’t slot easily into any one place. The music had more muscle than Duran Duran; they had better, more enduring hooks than a number of New Romantic groups did; but maybe they didn’t have the same charisma.
If it’s been a moment since you’ve taken in “I Ran” in all its glory, this may be the time: Grab the full five-minute album version and enjoy. You’ll be there for some time, digging and digging for why and how a song could start and remain to be so decidedly irresistible. – Jedd Beaudoin
31: Prince – Kiss (1986)
Prince didn’t produce “Kiss.” He gave it to Mazarati, one of myriad Minneapolis funk bands in his orbit, and he liked what they did with it so much he snatched the whole backing track back and did his own vocals on it. It’s a classic Prince piece-of-shit move, up there with kicking everyone out of his own party so he could watch Finding Nemo. But perhaps it was necessary. Prince saved his best work for himself and gave his dross to everyone else (look no further than “Manic Monday”). What “Kiss” would have been without Mazarati is anyone’s guess, and the original demo isn’t terribly inspired; he could shit songs like that out every hour. What matters here was Prince’s taste. The “uhh!” at the beginning is the noise I imagine he made when he first heard what Mazarati did to his song. He heard it and knew exactly what to do with it.
Prince’s vocal is a masterful slow build. He starts out mouselike and hushed, then slowly his high notes get higher and higher until finally his voice explodes in some of his most violent screeching this side of “The Beautiful Ones.” There are all sorts of cute quirks, which could only have been the result of Prince’s auteur brain going, “What does this song need?” Smoochy noises. That butterfly of guitar on the chorus. Even on his best work, Prince never let even his worst ideas go to waste, and nearly every idea on “Kiss” is fantastic—especially on the album version, which ends curtly on the word “kiss” instead of more deflating funk guitar, as on the 7”.
And though many of its smarts come from other people, it’s still a Prince song all the way, especially in how it plays with the classic Prince duality between loverman and awkward weirdo hermit. Is Prince really doing away with standards or is he just desperate? Is he such a casanova or does he just get seduced a lot? It’s certainly one of the sexiest Prince songs, in part because the lyrics mean you had a chance with that guy. No wonder it was a hit. – Daniel Bromfield