After the smashing amount of great music to choose from in 1983, 1984 was a little easier for me to narrow down to ten picks. Yes, it’s the year that everyone made the same Orwellian joke, and the year that Van Halen made sure to release that so-titled album in January, but my most-loved songs from this time head in a different direction. Once again, I must point out that I am not trying to make a definitive list of the “Greatest” songs from each year, but rather curate an unnumbered collection of personal favorites, while still attempting to be concise.
Somewhat surprisingly, my picks aren’t entirely British. Break out the heavy black eyeliner, friends, it’s time for…
Purple Rain – Prince
Oh, Tiny Purple One, we cannot forget you. You know, I’ve never actually seen this movie, and I’m not sure how, since I remember a time when it seemed like VH1 played it whenever they had a spare few hours. (That and Selena, which I’ve watched somewhere near eleventy-gerbillion times.) Perhaps if it ever makes it onto Netflix streaming, I’ll give it a go. Until then, I’m content with the music. I love how “Purple Rain” is restrained, in Prince-terms, yet it’s still “big.” At over eight minutes long, it has strings, guitar solos that aren’t overly indulgent, and a long outro. I dig it.
Ryan Johnson, the musician friend of mine that I keep mentioning by name in my ongoing quest to promote him (so please indulge me while the quest continues), whose own work I hope to talk about come 2013, does a cover of this song that I also dig. It becomes more blues-adjacent in his hands, and there’s something transcendent about a great cover that gets me every time.
Got a Hold on Me – Christine McVie
Speaking of indulgences, Christine McVie’s self-titled second solo album is so very mid-1980s that it’s almost embarrassing. Almost. I more enjoy the bluesy piano of her first, The Legendary Christine Perfect Album (1970), but I still have a weakness for her lovelorn, clichÃ©-ridden pop songs. “Got a Hold on Me” is one of the strongest songs on the album, for when outside a Fleetwood Mac record, it’s almost as though she has trouble with having that many minutes allotted only to her. She shares songwriting duties here too. It’s still vastly better than her 2004 third album, which I bought to support the cause, but ended up selling for store credit.
It’s My Life – Talk Talk
Go home, No Doubt fans, you’re drunk if you find their cover superior. Okay, yes, I might be prejudiced in that I’m not a huge No Doubt fan, but I do really love this Talk Talk song. Singer Mark Hollis has more of a mournful quality to his voice rather than Gwen Stefani’s show-off style, and I love the echos of Bryan Ferry that “It’s My Life” has, which makes sense considering they once worked with Roxy Music collaborator Rhett Davies.
This video is interesting for having Hollis’ mouth crossed out by various animated shapes, and for whatever reason, I find the last silent 30 seconds amusing, the kangaroo at sunset. While it looks around, you’re waiting for something to happen, but no. They will do what they want.
My Ever Changing Moods – Style Council
Though I prefer The Jam and Paul Weller on his own, I still love a lot of Style Council’s output. This video is sort of ridiculous, with its bicycles mounted on trailers, but jazz-adjacent Weller is enjoyable. If I really wanted to break out the Weller Slow-Jamz, I’d embed “You’re The Best Thing” (as heard at Gwen and Rhys’ reception on Torchwood) but I’ll let you click on through for that one.
I got the UK version of this album, CafÃ© Bleu, for one dollar at Jackpot Records in Portland, Oregon. A dollar! The amount of US-love for Weller is woefully insufficient – this album was called My Ever Changing Moods here, in a nod to the only hit single the band ended up having in this country. Style Council ended up being more political as they went on, but we’ll get to that in 1985.
I’m on Fire – Bruce Springsteen
Obligatory: Bruuuuuuce. No, I will not be talking about “Born in the USA” or “Dancing in the Dark,” which are of course classic songs in their own way, but “I’m On Fire” is easily my favorite song on the album. It wasn’t released as a single until 1985, but let us go with the album’s release date, since that is when the song first became available.
Tell me now, baby / is he good to you? / Can he do to you the things I don’t do? / I can take you higher…
Mmmhmm. Sing it.
Love, lust and longing all wrapped into one song, and the video? Now that’s a good-looking man.
Bat For Lashes also does an excellent cover of this song, as does a certain aforementioned friend. Because apparently I am easily won over by people who like all the same music I like.
Finally, I feel I must tell this story: When my husband was a small child, someone asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer? “The Boss.”
The Killing Moon – Echo and The Bunnymen
Oh my god is Ocean Rain an excellent album. I could have gone with any of the songs off the album, and I almost decided upon “Seven Seas,” but “The Killing Moon” won out based on how often I find it stuck in my head. “So cruelly you kissed me / your lips a magic world…”
I don’t really have much more to say other than you should perhaps play this song more than once right now. Bask in that echo-y piano, friends.
Cherry Bomb – Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
Joan Jett is a fox. Is not was – I saw her play in 2011 and she still looked great and rocked just as hard. We had the kids with us, and hearing the boy, at not quite 4-years-old, sing along to the chorus of “Cherry Bomb” made me proud. Both kids loved being there. It wasn’t their first concert – that was Lucinda Williams – but I hope it was a memorable one.
I know that Jett did this song with The Runaways first, but she sings it herself on the album Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth. The woman is a badass and known to play pretty great covers.
Pride (In the Name of Love) – U2
I’m a big proponent of The Church of Rock n Roll – That is to say, the community one feels being among other fans of a particular band, singing along proudly and with reverence. It’s not that I feel that musicians should be held up as infallible gods. No, they are, for the most part, ordinary individuals who have a particular, extraordinary talent. They should remain people – and certain musicians themselves would do best to remember that – but the songs? Well, if the songs we love didn’t take us to a higher plane, then we wouldn’t have music.
Still, I must tell this joke:
Q: What’s the difference between God and Bono?
A: God doesn’t think he’s Bono.
I chose this live version of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” because of the sea of people who came to hear U2, to participate in the act of singing this fantastic song. Also, there’s something fantastic about Bono’s way of massively singing out into that crowd. I love it. Say what you will about the man, but his voice can be something other.
How Soon is Now? – The Smiths
Up until I started researching which albums came out in 1984, I had no idea that “How Soon is Now?” was originally a B-side to the song, “William, It was Really Nothing,” and then it was subsequently featured on the 1984 compilation Hatful of Hollow before appearing on the more widely known 1985 album Meat is Murder.
I came late to The Smiths party, despite my affection for most things from the North of England, because Morrissey is one of those people I don’t really enjoy watching perform. Something about his way of doing so rubs me the wrong way (“…I go about things the wrong way…”) and I’m still not a huge fan of his solo stuff, but The Smiths? Yes, The Smiths I can finally get behind as long as I am only listening. Johnny Marr’s guitar-work and overall arrangement of the songs is what does it for me. There’s something otherworldly about the music, paired with the all-too-real lyrics about extreme shyness and loneliness, and it’s easy to see how disaffected kids growing up in Thatcher’s England would’ve latched onto the band and gone on to create their own.
Dear Prudence – Siouxsie and The Banshees
What’s that? Another cover song? You’re goddamn right it is. Yes, this song was originally released in the UK in 1983 as a standalone single. However, the US version of their 1984 album HyÃ¦na had this song included, so that’s where I’m going to count it because 1983 was already a very full year, as far as what I could decide to talk about.
“Dear Prudence” is of course originally a Beatles song from The White Album, written for Mia Farrow’s sister, who became fanatical about her mediation practice while in India with the band. It’s also one of my favorite performances in the film Across The Universe.
So let Wikipedia refresh your memory, and tell me your favorite songs from 1984.