8: The Cure – Pictures of You (1989)
Having the Cure place so highly on the best of the ’80s list is somewhat a personal vindication. At the peak of their popularity in their ’80s, sure, they were selling out Dodger Stadium and huge arenas, but in reality, the Cure has never been a popular band. They were always relegated to the weird, theatre kids who supposedly would never get a job. This song is no exception: it never really hit the charts, although you’d never know it now by visiting any coffee shop in the US or UK. Over the years, their music has aged so incredibly well that…well, look at us now!
“Pictures of You” is the second track and fourth single from 1989’s Disintegration, arguably the peak of the Cure’s career. “Pictures of You” validates every 14-year-old’s heartbreak, even if you’re now 44. The song is rumored to be about being on tour and missing one’s family, but at a recent show, I heard an alternative interpretation – a widow missing her lover. However you interpret the macabre yet warm and heartfelt lyrics, the impact is unmistakably Cure and focused on loss.
The Cure’s sound is characterized by the use of a Bass VI, which is a guitar with that employs bass strings. That gives the Cure their thick sound and edge. Disintegration is practically a commercial for this instrument, as it employs the Bass VI to its most potent degree. Robert Smith’s downward sliding riffs and drone notes in “Pictures of You” are prominent in the multiple solos in the original seven-and-a-half-minute version of this song.
The craft of several, simple guitar parts over the top of the arpeggiated bassline and Bass VI leads capitalize on the Cure’s song writing prowess. Simply put, it is hard to write so many parts that intertwine the way they do. And that’s a big part of the staying power of this band, this album and this song: it’s downright interesting. You can listen to this album over and over and still find a new nuance that you’ve never heard.
Longing, desire, loss – all of these stack up to the Cure’s lasting legacy of being a gothic band, pop songs be damned. As the Cure ages, “Pictures of You” will continue to be a legacy that will be played at so many Gen X funerals that it will likely become cliché. Do it anyway. It’s a great song. – Cedric Justice
7: Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
It was never meant to be a swansong, rather the start of something bigger and better than anything they’d done before. Originally unveiled during a supporting run of the Buzzcocks’ UK tour in 1979, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” went on to become a bleak anthem and Joy Division’s defining moment. An anti-love song, particularly in the wake of lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide in May 1980 on the eve of what was to be the band’s first American tour. It’s a fitting epitaph for the troubled 23-year-old epileptic; so much so that the titular phrase was chosen by Curtis’ widow to adorn his tombstone.
Released as a single the month after Curtis’ death, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” went on to become the band’s highest and only charting song, reaching number 13 on the UK singles chart and number 42 on the American dance charts. Regardless of the tragic circumstances leading up to its release, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” would’ve remained one of the most melancholic singles of all time; the ultimate downer that still manages to hook the listener from note one. Anchored by an incessant guitar opening that soon gives way to an airy synth instrumental section wherein the chorus melody is performed, it carries with it all the hallmarks of an iconic single. From the very first strum of the acoustic guitar, the song becomes immediately identifiable. There’s then a wash of emotionality as the melody rises from the chaos ahead of Curtis’ disembodied vocal performance.
Since its original release, it has been both repackaged and covered countless times, each time further cementing the song’s place within the pantheon of unimpeachably brilliant singles. Quite a feat for a song that opens with one of the bleakest lyrical portrayals of a relationship on its last legs: “When the routine bites hard/ And ambitions are low/ And the resentment rides high/ But emotions won’t grow/ And we’re changing our ways/ Taking different roads/ Then love, love will tear us apart again.” Made all the more emotionally devastating given Curtis’ subsequent suicide, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” nonetheless carries within its darkest moments a flicker of idealistic hope that comes through on the keening chorus melody and propulsive instrumental backing. Beautifully sad and sadly beautiful, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is, simply put, one of the greatest songs ever written. – John Paul