What better place to start than with "Lunatic Fringe" by Red Rider? It's a song I've heard for years, but I never knew the artist until recently, when I saw it featured on a Vh1 "one hit wonders" countdown. The band is the north of the border combo Red Rider, featuring future "Life is a Highway" singer Tom Cochrane. "Lunatic Fringe" is one of those songs that seems to have just been dropped out of the sky solely for the purpose of being pumped through the sound systems of pickup trucks in the heartland as it's being played on the local classic rock station.
You can tell it's from 1981, because the drums and guitars are leavened by a good dose of synthesizers, which give the song the added ingredient to put it over the top. Like their Canadian peers Rush, Red Rider (at least on this track) figured out how to make synthesizers work in the interest of the song, rather than the other way around, especially in setting an ominous mood at the beginning. The loud splashes of synth in the breaks raise the drama, too.
My favorite part about the song, however, is the fantastic rolling rhythm established at the beginning, which suggests a semi-truck of pure rocking power cruising down a glorious highway. By the early 1980s, most classic rock had become completely uninteresting from a rhythmic point of view. I also really dig the soaring steel guitar solo, which sounds like something the Edge would have played had he grown up in Winnipeg rather than Dublin.
Furthermore, I've recently discovered the political meaning of the song; the title refers to the rise in right wing, racist extremists at the time the song was written. Very rarely can such a pointed political song ("you're not gonna win this time") rock this hard without devolving into sanctimony.
Of course, there's plenty here to make me sheepish, from the 80s production to the simplistic nature of the lyrics (lack of sanctimony only carries you so far) to the fact that this is the kind of song that Kenny Powers listens to. But hey, I am sure there are others of discerning taste who like this song. I know you're out there.