Ah, the 80’s. An amazing time in entertainment. The era that brought us the rebirth of the video game industry also brought us some of the best music in history; at least, in my eyes. I’m a big fan of much of the music from the 1980’s, and I thought it would be nice to make a top 10 list of my personal favorite songs from this era.
For this list, I am using the time scale of 1980 to 1990, since there is a general debate on just which year a decade begins in. This works fine for a list like this, though, so that’s a non issue. I wanted to have an additional rule, though – No songs by Michael Jackson would appear on this list. I’m a huge fan of his work, and considering the worldwide popularity he had during the 80’s and early 90’s, this list would otherwise be filled with his music, so I decided it would be more interesting to ignore his amazing work and focus on other artists of the 80’s.
Of course, another rule to this list would be one song per artist, which really isn’t too hard a rule to follow, but I thought it would keep things fair.
While I consider myself somewhat educated on music, for whatever that is worth, I am no expert on compositional terminology. All I can say is, in vague terms, why I like the song, and maybe why it ranks where it does on the list, take that for what it means to you as you go read.
Lastly, this article is a partial repost of a planned 3 part article I started late last year. I never wrote parts 2 and 3, so I decided to finally finish this article as one complete piece.
That all being said, let’s begin!
10: Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
Often incorrectly considered the theme to Rocky, this song about attacking a challenge head on has stuck in the back of my mind since my youth. Something about the catchy rhythm and subtle, yet equally aggressive overall tone of the song seems to have influenced my music tastes in my youth. All in all, a song I never mind hearing come up on a random playlist.
9: Europe – The Final Countdown
Ah, arena rock. Hair bands were all the rage in the 1980’s, the equivalent of boy bands in the 1990’s. No single song better captures the overblown style of arena rock than this song. As anyone reading this blog would know, I love space travel and as silly as it sounds, this songs theme of leaving Earth for Venus is really interesting to me, and the synthetic sound dominating the song mixed with a strong percussion makes this song that most people seem to hate something I absolutely adore. I’ve actually gotten into arguments with people in cars when this would show up randomly on the radio, demanding that I get to listen to it because I like the song.
Silly? Sure. Worth it? Totally.
8: Bryan Adams – Summer of 69
Probably an unexpected entry on this list, Summer of 69 is one of those songs that makes me smile every time I hear it. The key drive to me liking this song is how Bryan Adams raspy voice blends in to the chorus – the already catchy patterns of the song come alive telling a typical story of someone reminiscing about their youth. The funny thing is, the song isn’t actually about the Summer of 1969, but instead, about the sexual act.
Yep. And people say the music of today is full of sex. This won’t be the only song on this list with such tones to it though….
7: Madonna – Like a Prayer
Before Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj made being weird an everyday pop trend, there was Madonna. Sexually overcharged, even for the 1980’s, her music, and more importantly, her videos, stirred quite a bit of controversy. Today, they seem tame, but back then, these videos made MTV seem like a den of evil.
While the song itself seems to focus lyrically on the feeling of elation that someone deeply in love can feel from simply hearing their beloveds voice, the music video was really what pushed things over the edge.
in 1989, this song pushed the controversy in music videos to a new level, with its heavy religious symbology of a black youth being accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Indeed, it goes so far as to depict a black Jesus, which obviously would be a big no-no to the majority of the populace of the US at the time if its release.
Musically, the song is amazing, somehow mixing 80’s pop with gospel, some rock elements, and very aggressive patterns, creating a beautiful and somewhat haunting track that I have always adored. I recall seeing the music video sometime in the very early 90’s and thinking it was amazing. That opinion has not changed.
6: Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence
Fitting just at the tail end of what would qualify as an 80’s song, this 1990 single from Depche Mode has a sound that, years down the line, makes me think of early 90’s Seattle grunge mixed with 80’s synthpop. Whatever you would classify this song as sound wise, it still, for me, has a very sharp, cold tone that I never get tired of. A sadness permeates the track, with lyrics invoking the all too familiar feeling of simply wishing to be left alone.
Contrasting this isolated overtone is the line “all I ever needed is hear in my arms,” accurately capturing that feeling of how one person, or thing, can make a person feel that much better when it seems nothing else in the world is worth caring about.
Perhaps I am projecting my own feelings onto the song, or maybe Depeche Mode did a perfect job capturing that feeling of wanting to be alone in the universe; alone, save for that one thing that makes you happy.
5: New Order – True Faith
Related to our previous song, this 1987 single from New Order has a much happier tone, but in some ways even darker lyrics. To me the song invokes the cold nature of just giving up. It seems a trend that when people finally just stop caring about something, they immediately think back to the past – perhaps because the future of that subject is meaningless to them, it’s all they can do is think of the past.This really is a hard song to describe. The lyrics and song tone seem happy at first glance, but as the song continues, the darker tones take hold of the lyrics.
Make of the song what you will. All I know for sure is I love the mixed emotions it brings.
4: George Michael – Careless Whisper
With the most recognizable saxophone line in all of music, this is one of those songs I can remember in my youth hearing and enjoying. I don’t have much to say on this one, amazingly. A song about the regret of betraying the trust of your partner thankfully doesn’t resonate with me in my personal life, but what does resonate is the sheer passion with which George Michael sings.
3: Cyndi Lauper – She Bop
Ah, She Bop. Most people know Cyndi Lauper for her hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” but for me, the grungy sound of She Bop is, to me, her better work. A strong synth bass with perfect tone mixed with lyrics about masturbation, of all things, creates quite the auditory experience to me. There is something to be said about the glassy plucking sound during the chorus that acts as the “icing on the cake” to a song that, for as strange a subject as it talks about, stands unique even amongst 80’s pop music.
2: Cutting Crew – (I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight
Another instantly recognizable song from the 80’s. Like Careless Whisper, I really don’t have much to say about this one. Lyrically the song has mixed interpretations – to me, it tells the story of a young man who has just realized he is being used by a woman he loves for her own satisfaction. Others take it more wildly, but I leave my interpretation there. The overall composition is one that just rings perfectly in my ears, with the music carrying the emotions far better than the lyrics, as good as I think they are, ever could.
1: Talk Talk – It’s My Life
This isn’t just my favorite 80’s pop song, this is one of my favorite songs of all time. There is really no way to describe just why I like the songs as much as I do. As this list shows, I’m a lover of 80’s synthesizers. Like any instrument though, they can create a tone that you can absolutely adore, or absolutely hate. Talk Talk seemed to know what they were doing with the equipment of their era, with their 1984 album “It’s My Life” being, to me, one of the best examples of their understanding of these machines.
The lyrics speak for themselves. I don’t have any deep comments on them, but the actual music and composition, something about it is just above and beyond nearly anything else I have ever heard.
Possibly the greatest thing about this song isn’t even a part of the song itself, but the music video – in this case, the UK version, which consists of nature documentary footage with lead singe Mark Hollis shown in the London Zoo, with an odd squiggly line censoring his mouth – this was a statement on how the band felt their music videos were being censored by their music label, EMI. The international version of this video was more traditional, showing the band playing with the original video shown behind them. They still acted silly in this video, though, so their comedic protest still seems to have gotten across.
To be honest, I was only originally exposed to this song due to the band No Doubt doing a cover of it back in 2003. I enjoyed the song, and later found a song by the same title on an old 80’s compilation CD I happened to have. That’s when I discovered the No Doubt version was a cover of this song, and also discovered just how amazing this song itself was to me.
I wish I could expand on these songs more, but with music, that’s actually somewhat hard to do. All I can do is share what I can say on them, and share the music videos with you for you to enjoy.