6: New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle (1986)
The ‘80s saw its fair share of musical advances and revolutions, but few have had the same impact on today’s music that electronic music has had. The decade saw the rise of the synthesizer, the sampler and the drum machine as instruments to be taken seriously rather than just novelties. Sure, novelty still existed in the realm of electronic music (it was still pop, after all), but groups like New Order showed that the medium, with its swirl of inorganic sounds and endless parade of remixes, could truly be art. By the middle of the decade, New Order had so mastered the style that they could scarcely do anything wrong. The top 10 for this list could easily be New Order songs, but in the interest of fairness, special attention must be paid to “Bizarre Love Triangle,” New Order’s greatest masterpiece in a career full of them.
The truth about New Order is that their lyrical perspective never shifted much once they became New Order. While they lacked Ian Curtis’ uniquely dour outlook, there’s a perpetual sense of melancholy that flows throughout New Order songs, particularly “Bizarre Love Triangle.” Bernard Sumner tells a tale of doomed love as he sounds equal parts excited and terrified about what the future will bring. It’s a simple tale of complex emotions made deeper by the constant bashing of electronic drums. The song reaches its zenith during is all-percussive middle eight, during which New Order somehow extract a flexible, natural-sounding groove from primitive drum machines. To this day, “Bizarre Love Triangle” doesn’t sound excessively dated or too much of a product of its time, which is a testament to just how good New Order were at making this kind of music. Even the various remixes of the song (my personal favorite being the Extended Mix that appears on the Substance compilation) only serve to highlight how great of a song it is. Chop it up and stretch it out all you want; you can’t fuck up “Bizarre Love Triangle.” – Kevin Korber
5: Prince – Little Red Corvette (1982)
In the hands of a lesser musician, a song conflating a promiscuous woman and a car could be a disaster. It sounds like an uncomfortable metaphor Alex Jones might use to convince his daughter to be celibate—if he still had custody of her, that is. But this is Prince! A man so singular and talented we never once questioned his parents proclaiming his royalty fresh out the womb.
“Little Red Corvette” opens with that synth drum beat and that steady, steamy build, foreshadowing the heavy drama about to unfold. The yarn he spins, cooing to a free-spirited woman whose sexual experiences make him nervous, makes more sense thanks to the palpable dread and consternation Prince’s vocal performance implies. This is a story about a man riding a roller coaster of emotions before hooking up with a vixen. He can be forgiven for his literal smorgasbord of clumsy but endearing double entendres, even if the “horses/jockeys” bit is a mite cringey.
While the track writhes and slinks like foreplay before crescendoing with that sex-charged guitar solo from Dez Dickerson, Prince’s voice is the finest instrument employed in its production. His infamous vocal range and ability to stretch his vocal cords to superhuman elasticity provide the song with its loping ups and downs, whispering in your ear one minute before screeching at the top of his lungs the next. Prince made countless songs about sex and was better at belting about boning than any of his horny predecessors or peers, but few of his classic jams about lovemaking actually evoke the beast with two backs quite as purely as this one, mixed metaphors be damned. As an aside, the song also makes literal the 20th century’s great unspoken truth: that many men really, really wanted to fuck their cars. – Dominic Griffin