Top 50 Tracks of the 1980s: # 10-6

10. XTC, “Towers of London”
XTC might haveĀ been as big as The Police if Andy Partridge had wanted to be Sting. Of course, they were great because Partridge had no interest in being anyone but himself. Although not as well-known as “Dear God” or “Senses Working Overtime”, this single contains All Good Things About XTC: a proto-Britpop hook, a heavy (but not derivative) 1960s flavor, a heart-stopping, key-changing bridge and Partridge’s love-it-or-hate-it wail (I love it).

9. Kate Bush, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”
Her only hit in the US–it reached # 30 and even now it’s astonishing it went that far. I don’t think I could capably describe this song to someone who hasn’t heard it, because it doesn’t sound like much else. Individual elements, such as that wonky, three-note synth riff or the understated, almost martial beat don’t seem like they’d ever go together in theory, so call Bush an alchemist and marvel that she created something this blindingly original (and so much more) before she turned 30.

8. Cristina, “Is That All There Is?”
Some days I believe this is the best cover version of all time. I mean, Peggy Lee’s original was warped to begin in, but this twisted new wave chanteuse (on the same record label as #18!) deliberately turns it into bratty high camp, rewriting the lyrics to say stuff like “he beat me black and blue AND I LOVED IT” in a voice dripping with sarcasm and spite. It’s a hoot worthy of The B-52’s if they were fronted by a punk Norma Desmond.

7. Talking Heads, “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”
One day I’ll post a list of favorite album openers and this one from Remain In Light will be near the top. David Byrne’s abrupt “HAH!” kicks off nearly six minutes of a relentless groove that doesn’t build but arrives fully formed. What’s on top that groove, however, appears piece by piece (think of the band’s gradual entrance in the concert film Stop Making Sense a few years later) until you get a hypnotic, symphonic whole you wish would extend as far as a Fela Kuti number.

6. Erasure, “A Little Respect”
Speaking of great album openers… while “Chains of Love” was technically the bigger hit, this duo’s other best-known song (the first track on The Innocents) has permeated the culture more extensively (even driving the narrative of a Scrubs episode!) and why not: it transcends gimmickry, genre and era with that delicate but disarming melody and Andy Bell’s elastic, yearning, heartfelt vocal.