Battle of the Song Titles - Round 2
by Scott Bass
Greetings, dear reader. You may remember that in our last encounter, we agreed that choosing a "best song ever" for any particular genre is a fool's errand. But perhaps a bit of fun can be had debating which particular song title wins the scuffle for largest splash on the cultural radar. Names of songs get repeated quite often, but when you mention a song title without the name of the band... which artist would be in the #1 spot on the "survey says" master scoreboard? Tonight's card is filled with talented fighters. Get ready to rumble!
CONTENDERS: The Stranglers vs. The Presidents of the United States of America
The Stranglers definitely went there first, this single from their 1977 debut LP features a looming bassline that lightheartedly romps throughout as bouncy counterpoint to the misogynistic lyrics (the ‘70's were a different time and the Stranglers were out to shock). “Peaches" was the Stranglers' first Top 10 UK single but like all of their British hit records to come would barely be noticed in the States. So in 1995, when the Presidents of the United States released the 3rd single from their self-titled debut, folks on this side of the pond weren't exactly thinking of the infamous Stranglers track... but they were thinking "what a weird freaking song this is!" Well, at least that's what I thought it when it came out. Containing lyrics that are either nonsensical or genius, and I'm really not sure which it is, The POTUS followed up their unexpected oddball hit "Lump" with this and it's just as much an example of stripped-down goofball brilliance. In comparison to the Stranglers, the President's reign would be but a flash in the pan. But there's no denying that these are both pretty great songs.
WINNER: The Stranglers
TITLE: "Love Song"
CONTENDERS: The Damned vs. The Cure
In 1989, The Cure were really enjoying some commercial traction when they released "Love Song," the 3rd single from their album Disintegration. Sadly, the band's best work was already behind them and in retrospect this "hit" is kind of a big yawn. The song's "I will always love you" hook barely qualifies as 45 material, Roger O'Donnell's keyboard sounds like it came from a Radio Shack clearance aisle, and the song's tempo never gets out of first gear. Look how bored they are in the video! Not their finest moment. By contrast, 1979's single by The Damned shares the same title but nothing else with its better-known counterpart. For a pre-hardcore era, on this 7", these blokes are really pushing the punk tempo to the limit. But unlike much of the generic early-80s HC that would be inspired by tracks like this, The Damned pack an album's worth of emotion, guitar melody, and lyrical catchiness into just over two minutes. This was their first big single in the UK, making the Top 20 and landing them on Top of the Pops. It's easy to see why the kids went nuts. This match-up is easy.
WINNER: The Damned
TITLE: "A Million Miles Away""
CONTENDERS: The Plimsouls vs. Stiv Bators
Underground power poppers The Plimsouls became a nationally-known affair in 1983 when the first single from their second album "A Million Miles Away" was included on the soundtrack for the movie Valley Girl. The track exemplifies all of the best qualities of their punk-influenced but decidedly pop-aspiring style: memorable guitar leads, harmony-laced vocals, and a big catchy chorus that will inevitably get stuck in your head after a listen or two. But did they nick the title? Just a few years earlier in 1980, musical chameleon Stiv Bators, after having been a Time magazine recognized punk icon as frontman for The Dead Boys (but a couple of years before his reinvention as a goth-Rocker fronting Lords of the New Church) was a bona-fide power pop solo artist . After the Dead Boys disbanded in 1979, Stiv swapped coasts moving to L.A. and released a few records for Greg Shaw's Bomp Records. According to Shaw, at this time Stiv wanted nothing more than to "win respect as a singer of contemporary pop rock." And in underground circles at least, he accomplished that goal. His "A Million Miles Away," released in 1980, is every bit as good of a genre example as the Plimsouls' song with the same title and would have made a fine single. So is the repetition a mere coincidence? I can't say and I also can't pick a winner on this one. I really like both of these tracks.
TITLE: "I'm On Fire""
CONTENDERS: Bruce Springsteen vs. Chelsea
Would anyone say "I'm on Fire" is their favorite Bruce Springsteen song? Seems unlikely. As one of a record-tying seven Top 40 singles from the 1984 Born In The USA mega-smash LP, this single was released in '85 when The Boss really was on fire commercially, and it got heavy rotation on the FM dial as well as MTV. That doesn't change the fact that while atmospheric, it's a relatively boring and unremarkable track. Rumor has it that the song was written "on the spot" by Bruce and the boys while messing around in the studio. I believe that rumor. In the other corner, let's contrast with the leadoff track to UK punk act Chelsea's debut LP, released in 1979. This "I'm On Fire" shows a band that has come a long way from their amateurish 1977 debut single, "Right to Work." Chelsea's take at the title positively smokes at a punker's pace but packs poppy background vocal harmonies in the pre-chorus against a call-and-response chorus that has probably birthed numerous earworms the year it came out. The survey is wrong on this one, even if most people think of Springsteen when they hear this title, I have to call this one as I see it.
On fire, yet remarkably cool.
TITLE: "Head Over Heels""
CONTENDERS: The Go-Gos vs. Tears For Fears
This one is interesting if only because the two songs came out so closely together and from artists both coming from the same New Wave circuit (though different countries). Each of these singles would serve as reasonable representations of two groups coming at the post-punk rock, FM-friendly market from totally different directions. The Go-Go's track demonstrates a band that has fully matured from its ridiculously amateurish punk roots into a full-fledged Top 40 Pop hit machine. Perhaps not as peppy as the singles from their first two albums (like "We Got the Beat" or "Vacation"), this debut single from their third album Talk Show shows that in 1984 new wave was not yet dead and the Go-Go's still had some go-go. In the other corner, Tears For Fears' "Head Over Heels" features a group that has almost completely shed its new wave roots like a snakeskin, turning into a legitimate pop-rock anthem powerhouse. Already popular in the UK, it wasn't until their 1984 album Songs From The Big Chair that they broke like a levee onto U.S. airwaves and eardrums with a string of singles, starting with the chart-topper "Shout" and then followed by the equally-ubiquitous at the time "Everybody Wants To Rule the World" and then this song. While the Go-Go's version of "Head Over Heels" exhibits a group that's waning on their crest, the Tears For Fears version shows a duo only beginning to exhibit their cultural relevance.
WINNER: Tears For Fears
CONTENDERS: The Knickerbockers vs. Thompson Twins
All single-word titles are going to be common and so which artists you think of when you hear this title says a bit about your personal musical tastes. For this author, it's going to be a toss-up: the Knickerbockers' sing-along ‘60's Beatles worship that is scary on-point vs. 80's new wave pop from a UK group calling itself "Thompson Twins" despite having three members during their most popular period (later incarnations took the count up to seven). Despite a long career spanning eight albums over the course of a decade (1981-1991), The Thompson Twins were always treated poorly by the press and in retrospect, it's understandable. This may not have been style over substance, but the ratio was still messed up with too much of the former and not enough of the latter. And let's be honest, the chorus to this one is pretty stupid. ‘Lies, lies, lies, yeah!’ Um, OK. Not exactly poetry. Nice hair though. Jump back twenty years to NJ when a group called The Knickerbockers recorded a track that on first listen, most listeners unfamiliar with the song will assume is the Beatles. Not only do the guys sounds just like the Fab Four, but this song contains all of the characteristics of a classic Beatles record that either McCartney or Lennon would have been proud to call their own. This one is a no-brainer.
WINNER: The Knickerbockers
TITLE: "I Don't Care""
CONTENDERS: Final Match Battle Royale
These three simple words sum up the rock n' roll attitude so well that it's inevitable that they'd be so often used by artists at their craft. Would the following artists please report to the ring: Fallout Boy, Green Day, The Boys, Shakespeare's Sister, Ricky Martin, James Brown, Buck Owens, Lulu, Elton John, Leslie Gore, Ghostface Killah, Ricky Martin, Ray Charles, Black Flag, The Roots, Willie Nelson, Bananarama, Pat Travers, Bad Manners, Liberace, Judy Garland, Waylon Jennings, Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr., Apocalyptica, Brad Paisley, Elle Varner, Eartha Kitt, Stevie Nicks, Bing Crosby, and MC Hammer. I understand that many other artists have recorded songs called "I Don't Care" but the ring has a weight limit. And really, there's no need to wrestle. I wouldn't dare try to rank these songs against each other as each one of these artists recorded their own particular version to express the simple fact that they simply don't give a rat's ass about what any of us think. And that's cool.
WINNER: Everybody wins!
Dare encourage a part three? Lock me up for crimes against music journalism? Let us know what you think and feel free to submit suggestions.
Also see Round 3 of the song title battle.
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