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Henley, Cherry Lead the Pack for Midyear Picks

Don Henley and Neneh Cherry travel along dramatically different musical paths, but they end up sharing top honors at the halfway point in the competition for best single record of 1989.

Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance,” which has been in the national Top 10 for more than a month, is a lively, unusually imaginative record that combines many of the elements--from rap to energetic synthesizer pulse--that highlight contemporary dance pop.

By contrast, Henley’s new “The End of the Innocence,"which appears headed for the Top 10, is a gentler work graced with the exquisite feel for songwriting detail and record-making craft that characterized Henley’s work ever since he helped formed the Eagles nearly two decades ago.

But there is a link: Both singles have purposeful edges.

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For all its quirky musical twists, “Buffalo Stance” is a warning to young women (one of the key demographics in the dance-pop market) to value their independence and dignity rather than surrendering to emotional blackmail or sexual stereotypes.

“The End of the Innocence” deals with faded values, on personal and political levels. It’s a song that speaks most directly to--though it is not limited to--the post-collegiate audience that responds to the thoughtful, artful edges in the music of such figures as Henley, Sting, Peter Gabriel and Jackson Browne.

Sample lines:

Who knows how long this will last

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Now we’ve come so far, so fast

But, somewhere back there in the dust

That same small town in each of us.

Here are my choices for the most distinguished and/or entertaining singles of the last six months:

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1. Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” (Virgin)--A sly and sassy, yet also disarmingly tender slice of street-wise admonition to stand up for your rights rather than let insecurities or peer pressure lead you to mistakes in judgment.

1. Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” (Geffen)--Henley’s not prolific (this is the title track from only his third album since he went solo in 1982), but he is one of rock’s genuine perfectionists and this tune, co-written by Bruce Hornsby, lives up to his high standards.

3. U2’s “When Love Comes to Town” (Island)--This Irish band has been accused of exploiting B. B. King and the blues in this selection from last year’s “Rattle and Hum” album, but the spiritually accented “Love” is actually a celebration of the genre that, indirectly, gives the blues singer-guitarist (who duets with Bono Hewson on the song) his best showcase in years.

4. The Stop the Violence Movement’s “Self-Destruction” (Jive)--In one of the most powerful and timely all-star pop efforts since Artists United Against Apartheid’s “Sun City,” a dozen East Coast rappers issue an anti-drug, anti-gang, pro-education plea.

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5. Fine Young Cannibals’ “Good Thing,” (I.R.S./MCA)--Along with the Cannibals’ also sparkling “She Drives Me Crazy,” this frisky dance-rock entry is a key reason why the English trio’s “The Raw and the Cooked” has been the nation’s best-selling album for the last five weeks.

6. Tone Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina” (Delicious Vinyl)--Here’s a pop rarity: a sequel that actually holds up better than the original hit (“Wild Thing”).

7. Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience” (Geffen)--Much of this L.A. hard-rock band’s popularity is based on the snarling dynamics of tunes such as “Welcome in the Jungle,” but the group’s softer side--shown in these delicate country-blues strains and in last year’s “Sweet Child o’ Mine"--is what gives Guns N’ Roses its trace of greatness.

8. Soul II Soul’s “Keep on Movin’ ” (Virgin)--A leader in the growing British soul music scene, Soul II Soul, the loose-knit musical contingent overseen by producer Jazzie B., proves amazingly diverse in its debut album, moving from rap and reggae to understated post-disco. This tune, which has been No. 1 on the U.S. dance charts, is an especially well-designed blend of optimistic lyric and understated, almost melancholy vocal (by Caron Wheeler) and instrumental arrangement.

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9. Inner City’s “Good Life” (Virgin)--The emphasis in this hyperactive dance-floor is on inviting sound textures, with all sorts of turntable high jinks adding to the dizzy exuberance.

10. Elvis Costello’s “Veronica” (Warner Bros.)--Whoever thought the one-time Angry Young Man of British rock would someday write one of the sweetest odes to a grandmother ever delivered in pop?

LIVE ACTION: Neil Young will be at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Aug. 18 and the Greek Theatre on Aug. 19 and 20 for acoustic shows. Tickets go on sale Sunday. . . . Other new Greek dates: the Gipsy Kings (Aug. 4), the Allman Brothers (Aug. 7) and Ziggy Marley (Aug. 9). . . . The Damned headline the Hollywood Palladium on July 20 as part of the British punk band’s farewell tour. Tickets go on sale Sunday. . . . The Godfathers will be at the Palace on July 24. . . . B. B. King will be at the Coach House for three nights, beginning Aug. 14.


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