24: Tears for Fears – Everybody Wants to Rule the World (1985)
The success of some of the songs on this list is somewhat surprising. This in and of itself is a testament to how much of a free-for-all the pop landscape was in the 1980s. There’s nothing surprising about the success and endurance of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”; this is one of those songs that was tailor-made for ubiquity. A striking departure from the moody synth-pop that preceded it, the song became Tears for Fears’ biggest hit and their most recognizable song to this day. Yet to hear the band themselves tell it, the song was a throwaway that they had to be talked into recording, an idea they considered too light and airy for a proper release. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed in the effort to preserve one of the lasting pop moments of the decade.
The lightness and airy quality that so turned off Tears for Fears’ Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith initially is actually what makes “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” so great. Lyrically, it offers little in terms of meaning or clarity; it’s just a jumble of words so vague in assembly that they mean whatever the listener would like them to mean. Musically, however, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” works in multiple ways. First and foremost, it perfectly mixes moody synth-pop with a pair of fiery guitar solos that appear twice in the song. Furthermore, while the lyrics mean absolutely nothing, both Orzabal and Smith sing with conviction and vigor. As Orzabal’s powerful voice comes to the chorus, it’s impossible not to sing along.
In the end, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a triumph of structure and songwriting skill over personal meaning. It’s melodically superb and arranged to perfection. Hearing it now, it’s somehow both the perfect representation of its time and a timeless composition. When it comes to leaving a musical legacy, Tears for Fears could not have done it better. – Kevin Korber
23: Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes (1986)
Before it became central to the film Say Anything, “In Your Eyes” was central to Peter Gabriel’s 1986 smash So. Issued as the third single on American shores, it’s one of a few on the former Genesis front man’s breakthrough effort that deals with the subject of love. None of them do it quite the same: “Don’t Give Up” (featuring Kate Bush) is not as much about romance as it is about searching for the burning embers of one’s dignity and dreams; “Sledgehammer,” though tender ears may not have realized it, is pure sex. “In Your Eyes,’ however, swings between earthly love and love of the divine.
Once more, Gabriel slides it by the unsuspecting listener but it’s there: The doorway to a thousand churches, the sense of completeness and, of course, the bright-burning light. There’s something decidedly Catholic about it all – the man and woman tied together like mankind and the Holy Spirit – something Gabriel would pick up again a few years later with Us’s “Blood of Eden.” “In Your Eyes” isn’t all fluffy fluff, however. There’s personal struggle within the lyrics, a speaker who is getting tired of working hard at keeping the household going; when he seeks escape, he comes back to where he started, realizing the bonds that have been formed in the home. (Or is it the church?)
Like the religious/spiritual stuff or leave it, the track nods to Gabriel’s longtime appreciation of soul music (listen closely, it’s there), his sense of restraint and ability to hone an arrangement to a fine, sharp point. Manu Katché and Jerry Marotta serve up superlative drum work while bassists Tony Levin and Larry Klein lend the all-important groove. Gabriel offers us a one-of-a-kind performance that never rushes or over-emotes. In fact, there’s something decidedly English about it all, the restraint and sense that even while the shingles on the roof are slipping, all will be calm in the end.
No one can forget the other, equally important, vocal performance here, the impassioned singing of Youssou N’Dour. He was becoming something of a star himself around the time of So and, though he may not have rivaled Gabriel in terms of crowd sizes or sales, his emotional impact cannot be underestimated. This may or may not be Peter Gabriel’s best song from So, but it is one of the best from his entire career and an undeniably great love song at that. – Jedd Beaudoin