I treasure 80’s music. While much of it is devoid of the moral fabric one might instill in one’s children, it is frightfully easy, with a wave of the hand, to crank up the volume while en route to the Christian school with the kids.
“Daddy, what’s an Obsession?”
Despite the narcissistic, live-for-the-moment drift of most of this era’s tunes, they are one with my past. How could I have traveled across town on a tennis tournament bus without Shout at the Devil? What was a middle school basketball bus trip without Robert Remkes blasting Juke Box Hero on his ghetto box? What would I have done without the Cars’ Drive after I never could quite get a kiss from Audrey Farmer? How could Jeremy and I have put away that 12 pack of Natural Light without the Police’s Synchronicity cassette? Ok, that last one probably could’ve happened without it.
I am SORRY for the numerous omissions of your favorite songs. Remember, this is my list. It’s an odd gathering of tracks. The list leans toward the electronic, but the 80’s allowed for so many genres to be popular. Think of the style chasm between Billy Joel and A Flock of Seagulls. Quiet Riot and Taco. Culture Club and Twisted Sister. This disparity is reflected in my list of faves, so its schizophrenia somewhat forgivable, yes?
The reason I’ve spent months crafting this post is to get the list off my chest, and to number the songs that make me crank the volume and tear up stupidly (yes, I am a crier; never play any music or Pixar movies around me). I’m excited to have finally completed it.
Sirius XM’s 80’s on 8 and First Wave (Ch. 33) have been a considerable influence on the making of this list, as that medium has kept the decade’s music even more alive than it had already been. As a cool throwback, I’ve added all the video links to the images, so you can revel in the memory of these great tunes by watching the videos.
One last thing: I have only included songs that were relatively popular and received lots of airplay. I have a deep library of esoteric songs from different genres that would make an overall top 100, but this list is limited to generally popular songs from the 80’s.
Remember, just click the image to watch the video for the song.
Here we go:
100. Journey – Faithfully – “Highway run, into the midnight sun…..” I’m not a big Journey fan, but this is a beautiful piece, which left us wondering if the girl reciprocated Steve’s faithfulness. Part of me thinks she was just some gold-digging tour strumpet, but who knows? I whole-heartedly disagree, though, with Perry’s assertion that “we all need the clowns to make us smile,” because, um, clowns.
99. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – You Got Lucky – I love MTV video where the band members are futuristic bikers. They dust off a bunch of old technology and seem mildly amused, and then for some reason the guy from Hall & Oates makes an appearance and wins coins at the slot machine. Can’t figure out why an otherwise low-key Tom Petty knocks over the arcade game at the end.
98. The Godfathers – Birth, School, Work, Death – Maybe a one-hit wonder band, but I thought this 1987 jam was way ahead of its time. It led the way to a grungy, irreverent end of the decade. If you haven’t heard this in a while – or ever – give a listen.
97. B-52’s – Rock Lobster – Fred and the girls went to the bottom of the drug bag not only for this song, but the video. Unforgettable riffs. Watch out for that piranha.
96. Van Halen – Hot For Teacher – I heard this recently on a local radio station, where the DJ talked over the entire drum intro. Really, man? Pink slip. Anyway, as a parent of five kids, four of whom are still in school, this video seems more objectionable to me now. But the song itself stands strong, and EVH just kills it. Do you still laugh at “I don’t FEEL tardy”?
95. Genesis – Mama – You just barely remember this song, don’t you? Genesis was never popular with anyone, except with everyone. No one admitted liking them, and I was always on the ‘meh’ side of it, but then out of nowhere comes this hypnotic, industrial offering that I listened to over and over. Seems like an aberration compared to the rest of their collection, but I’m glad they . . . um, aberred. Haha – ha! Ohhh.
94. Slade – Run, Runaway – Did they have much fun with this? Makes you want to do a dosey doe. Their life philosophy makes perfect nonsense: “I like black and white, you like black and white, see chameleon lying there in the sun, all things to everyone, Run Runaway.” But damn, it’s happy!
93. The Fixx – Saved by Zero – Alright so this is my favorite band from the 80’s, and I won’t promise they won’t appear later in the list. This song is on the list because it deserves to be, but also because a local sports show featured this song on its Cheesy 80’s Throwback Song segment and I punched my dashboard. They remarked that this song belonged in the Press-a-button-make-a-song era, which is complete bullshit. Jamie West-Oram’s guitar work always blows me away, and in the video Cy paints himself like a looney, and his art teacher wears a wife beater and gets mad at him and sends the black paint hand monster. Plus Grant Fuhr the hockey goalie makes a cameo at 2:28. So take that, sports radio.
92. Missing Persons – Words – A friend of mine who saw a reunion tour of this band in 2012 said to me about Dale Bozio, “Time has not been kind to her.” But way back in the day, she looked phenomenal in her lack of clothes and rainbow hair, especially to us 14 year-olds. In ’82 during the first few views of this video, I must’ve looked away from her cleavage for just long enough to realize that she and the four band members (including Dale’s ex, drummer Terry Bozio) wore more make up than the entire cast of Toddlers and Tiaras. It may have been the first time for me to notice the emerging blurry gender lines, which MTV so often featured. Apart from all that . . . what a great song.
91. Til Tuesday – Voices Carry – So Aimee is in this abusive relationship with some a-hole who thinks you should fake cry and do stuff for him every once in a while. It is amusing to read comments on the video (scrolling way down) “How DARE THAT JERK treat Aimee like that!!!!” Apparently, Mann still tours and has a fair following, but she will never outdo this 80s gem.
90. Toto – Hold the Line – If only for the magic of Jeff Porcaro’s drumming during the guitar solo. Humongous.
89. The Bangles – Manic Monday – The Bangles have some of the worst songs in pop music history, (Eternal Flame, for example), but this song almost rights the ship for the LA trio. A pleasant piano-laden ditty that I can’t relate to at all, yet enjoy immensely. And no, my favorite movie is not The Notebook.
88. Bow wow wow – Do you wanna hold me? – When I thought the cover of Strangelove’s I Want Candy was gonna be it for the cute mohawked lady and the other dudes, this gem starting getting airplay and it was really memorable to me. Maybe I just attached confusing teen emotions to it, but I genuinely enjoyed it. I disagree, though, that “Tom and Jerry are no solution”, because cartoons.
87. Russ Ballard – Voices – It was the summer of 1984, and I remember hearing this song OVER AND OVER (do you?), which makes me wonder why it’s never included on any 80s station playlists. Indeed, I have emailed Alan Hunter to complain about this, and I am not joking. If you don’t know this song, listen and see if it rings a bell. Definitely deserves a Top 100 spot, if only for the fact that Russ let a snake crawl on his face for the video.
86. Dream Academy – Life in a Northern Town – Is it sappy? Oh hey-oh, ma-ma-ma? Why does this song about an English town strike an emotional chord? No idea, but I can’t ever change the dial. Love the huge swell before the chorus.
85. Human League – Don’t You Want Me? – How many of us guys have declared loud and proud, “I WAS WORK-ING AS A WAIT-RESS IN A COCK-TAIL BAH, THAT MUCH IS TRUE”? Oh, is it just me? It didn’t matter that Human League was a band in which everyone wore too much lipstick; they cranked out some awesome hits, and made my top 100 . . . twice.
84. Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over – Some of my favorite 80s lyrics. “Now I’m walking again, to the beat of the drum, and I’m counting the steps to door of your heart.” Plus, how many videos have band members vacuuming?
83. Oingo Boingo – Dead Man’s Party – In 1985, the year before I got my driver’s license, I rode to high school every day with Sid (then David) Hillman. He would pull up in his army green BMW 2002, blasting what was the underground alternative of the day. This included great bands like The English Beat, Midnight Oil, and Oingo Boingo. There were many Boingo album cuts which I enjoyed immensely, but Dead Man’s Party was among my faves.
82. English Beat – Mirror in the Bathroom – I loved this sound, which was so distinct from other 80s streams. It made you do this weird dance – basically you put on a suit and a fedora and you clutch your fists and pump your arms and legs back and forth. Oh and wear Vans. Thanks again, Sid Hillman, for first exposing me to this great band.
81. John Waite – Missing You – When I first heard this, I was probably mired in so much infatuation, puppy love, and frustration, that this song “meant” something to me (a ridiculous ascription, really). But a song that still resonates. It’s funny to look at the video, where Waite wears his usual left-ear earring, which I remember caused arguments among friends, “Which side means you’re gay?” I think we agreed that it all depended on whether you were Australian or not.
80. The Police – Synchronicity I – This ubiquitous trio could easily populate 25-30% of this list, so I’ve reserved only the best. I remember, way back in the day, I saw a TV commercial promoting the Police’s Synchronicity tour. This song was playing during the ad, and it might have been what caused me to buy the cassette, which I wore out three times over. Can Stewart Copeland play the drums at all? If I’m in the car during this tune, I will be air-drumming like a total fool.
79. Billy Squier – The Stroke – I recall being fascinated by the reverse snare drum in this tune (which I discovered was treated with reverse reverb, not magically swiffed by the drummer). But what an enormous jam that was ahead of its time. I heard a DJ say recently that Squier is among the most sampled artists by modern musicians, Eminem the most recent that comes to mind.
78. Pretenders – Middle of the Road – In a moment I will take to the grave, filled with utter remorse, I must admit to shouting an awful epithet at Chrissie Hynde. It was the U2 Joshua Tree tour, Oakland Coliseum, 1988. 60,000 of us crammed into the venue to see the BoDeans, the Pretenders, and U2. We had been waiting all day, and while the entertainment and ambience were fantastic, I had lost some patience. In between songs, I shouted (in my alcohol soaked state), “GET OFF THE STAGE YOU LESBO! WE WANT U2!” This set humanity back about 100 years, of course, so, sorry about that (although 18 year-olds can accomplish this on an average day). As to whether she actually heard me . . I doubt it. But the 500 people within earshot did. ANYWAY, as I age ever so gracefully, I realize how much I really enjoy the Pretender’s music. Here’s one of my faves.
77. Queen w/ David Bowie – Under Pressure – Two enormous personalities, one unforgettable track.
76. Asia – Only Time Will Tell – The cool prog rock vibe of Asia comes from the pedigree of its members (dudes from Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and others). These Brits could really throw together a tune. And because they called themselves ‘Asia’, they could put a huge blue dragon on their album cover.
75. B-52’s – Love Shack – Yes, sometimes a happy song is the LAST song you need, right? But this is just enormously well produced. It’s like WAAAOOOOP I’m at a party. Love the beehive girls, Kate & Cindy, and the “knock-kncok” sequence.
74. The Fixx – Deeper and Deeper – This was originally released on the Streets of Fire soundtrack. I never saw this movie, although I’ve heard that, quality-wise, it’s on par with Porky’s 3. None of this diminishes that mesmerizing tone at the beginning, which sounds like a roller coaster going backwards through a swarm of robot locusts. I loved this song from the start, and had to bite the bullet, purchasing the Streets of Fire soundtrack on cassette (yup, the rest of it was awful).
73. Power Station – Some Like it Hot – The long-version drum intro by PS drummer Tony Thompson is maybe the coolest percussive section in all of 80s music. No slouch either, Duran Duran bassist John Taylor does some of his best work here. Great jam.
72. Information Society – What’s on Your Mind? (Pure Energy) – “Best Sample of Mr. Spock” award goes to Information Society. I thought this big dance-industrial-pop song was a trendsetter. The video is sort of unfortunate, however. To describe it I must borrow a phrase from a good friend, Shawn: “Prepare to have Skittles burned into your eyeballs.”
71. Eurythmics – Love is a Stranger – When Annie Lennox put on that blonde wig, she was suddenly hotter than cayenne pepper. Luscious beats and synths by Dave Stewart, and gorgeous vocals by Annie. Could’ve done without the creepy doll in the video.
70. Pat Benatar – Heartbreaker – So I got Heartbreaker on a 45 RPM back in 5th grade. I would blast it over and over and play air-guitar with all the fervor you’d expect from a 10 year-old. Benetar’s opera past served her really well in this song. While many disagree, I put her above Heart’s Ann Wilson as the best female rock singer.
69. The Cars – Heartbeat City – Cars’ keyboardist Greg Hawkes is one of my all-time music heroes. His mastery is on display in this pensive, longing tune from the album of the same name. Loved this entire album from ’84.
68. Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls – My friend Randy’s FAVORITE band to bash from the 80s, this overtly English duo had many synth-y successes, wooden English snobbishness notwithstanding. If? When? Why? WHOTT? How much have YOU gott? I dug and dig it.
67. Simply Red – Holdin’ Back the Years – – Couldn’t leave out this dial-stopper. Epic vocal performance by Mick Hucknall. Definitive 80s.
66. Sly Fox – Let’s Go All the Way – Enormous beats and scratches, and an unforgettable tune from when I was 16. I remember wondering, “Does he mean ALL THE WAY, like, ALL THE WAY, or just like, in life in general? But the video, guys . . . just, why?
65. Love & Rockets – I’m Alive – John Walker and Tim Avila, I raise a glass to you. Brings back memories of SCU 1989. As an aside, I sing this song to my wife, whether she’s around or not. Scarily accurate!
64. The Who – Eminence Front – A track so killer, it survives Pete Townshend’s unforgivably bad vocals.
63. The Fixx – Are We Ourselves? . . . to which a great philosopher might respond, “May I ask who is inquiring?” Oh please just spend a moment to go see Cy’s 8-lb. cell phone! This was really the only hit from the group’s third CD, Phantoms.
62. The Police – Wrapped Around Your Finger – Don’t we all want to skip around in slow motion knocking over a spiraling maze of candles? Sting works out who’s wrapped around whose finger in this lush piece. Pretty cool how they sync the slow-mo drumming to actually keep time. He must’ve played it faster in real time, I guess?
61. Don Henley – Dirty Laundry – OK so Mr. Ponytail telling us how to vote didn’t endear him to many people back in the day. But damn, the guy had some great songs in the mid to late 80s. “The bubble-headed bleach-blonde comes on at 5. She can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye.” Amazing guitar solo, to boot.
60. The Cure – Hot! Hot! Hot! – The music world should thank Robert Smith and his compadres for setting the bar higher and higher. I always loved their constant experimentation and instrumentation. You never knew what to expect. This track from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me just gets me out of my seat.
61. Devo – Whip it! – A song that became so popular so fast, it was easy to miss its artistry. It’s so clean and tight, it almost begs the red potter’s hats.
60. Peter Schilling – Major Tom – Not sure why Schilling chose the same fate, story line, rank, and first name as the David Bowie track of the same name, but I get chills as the song culminates in the “Coming, coming home” vamp. The song itself leaves doubt as to his fate, but the stupid video shows a burning ship crashing to earth at the end. Bummer.
59. The Smiths – There is a Light That Never Goes Out – Perhaps Mozzer and the Smiths are their own category, but their impact on me was deep. At 18, when not wearing out all of their cassettes, I was sporting the pompadour and wallowing around as Morrissey might have liked. But when the teen angst subsided (at 26), I discovered I could not let go of the brilliant music. I’m a huge Smithy, and always will be. There is a Light . . is from the all time epic LP The Queen is Dead.
58. Judas Priest – You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ – It really didn’t matter if you could understand what Rob Halford was howling; this was a great soundtrack for bus rides, the weight room, or getting speeding tickets.
59. The Police – Every Breath You Take – A simple, tight melody about letting an old love go. This song thrust the trio into mega stardom, as Synchronicity sold 8 million copies in the US.
58. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Cities in Dust – These Goth torchbearers had some accessible tunes, and this one’s my fave. Siouxsie never once smiles, though, which lends to the stigma of her being a pompous bitch. One wonders.
57. AC/DC – Back in Black – I guess my list might be a sham if this one were omitted. All the car commercials and football stadium rotations can’t take away this rock anthem’s solid place in music history. All credit to Brian and the boys down under. Such a jam.
56. Talking Heads – Burning Down The House – Maybe their most popular tune, I enjoy it for its keyboard wizardry and the vamp over the last minute. A volume-turner-upper.
55. Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – We all stared wide-eyed at the orange-haired lady in the suit, pounding her fist on the table, while Dave Stewart nuzzled a cow. What was happening? These videos and songs made the 60s and 70s seem so formulaic and innocent. The 80s were in full swing, and we youth were guzzling more odd, beautiful imagery than had every been possible. I guess I remember chuckling at Annie for this vid, but what a legacy she’s built since.
54. Peter Gabriel – Mercy Street – A track from the So LP. Wicked beautiful, with crawling, sparkling synths, this song alludes to the life and troubles of poet Anne Sexton.
53. Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight – Maybe the novelty of the “apex moment” drum fill has worn off a little, but this was such a well written, well produced track, it merits mention on this list. Not sure if the background story is true, but apparently Collins witnessed a man drown, while another man looked on and didn’t help. Years later, I guess he invited the man to the show, and called him out during the song, and had police arrest him. Not gonna Google or Snopes; I prefer to maintain the slight fabric of my past and say “IT HAPPENED”.
52. Simple Minds – Don’t You Forget About Me – Perhaps this tune owes its immense popularity to Breakfast Club, but it really stuck out as one of the songs of our generation. I heard that this song was pitched to the Fixx, and they rejected it. Wonder how each of these bands’ careers might have been different if they’d said ‘yes’?
51. Naked Eyes – Promises, Promises – Such a smooth track, which manages to avoid the blatant overuse of Octopads, unlike their other popular hit, Always Something There to Remind Me. Love this video, where the band members are basically guilty of homicide, yet they blame the lady.
50. Simple Minds – Alive & Kicking – This was a great motivational song after I’d received my kidney transplant! After 10 months of hell on dialysis, Alive & Kicking brought on the stupid tears, even though it’s a love song. How epic is the piano break before the final stretch?
49. A-ha – Take on Me – Just LOVED the synths when I first heard this! Such a clever arrangement. Brilliant concept on the video also, with the “half-animation” story. Cool to think that any character can escape a comic book by banging himself against a wall.
48. Pet Shop Boys – Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) – Combine English accents and synthesizers, and I’m practically sold. I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks . . . .
47. Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation – Big industrial drum beats and robotic precision by the dancers. Probably Janet’s best, yes? It only could’ve been better if Janet’s wardrobe had malfunctioned at some point during the video.
46. U2 – New Year’s Day – The War LP had some of U2’s best. I remember this video vividly, with Adam in the snow with his snare drum, and of course unplugged guitars. Band must have been freezing their asses off. Absolute perfection on the guitar solo, Mr. Edge, sir.
45. The Housemartins – Happy Hour – This band got spillover fans from sounding similar to the Smiths, but Paul Heaton and band were legit talents! The London 0 Hull 4 LP had tons of fun songs; turns out they also have the best (read: campiest) videos as well. Hat tip to Kevin Follett for introducing me to this great band.
44. Front 242 – Headhunter – This industrial outfit, full of silly Germans, had some crossover success with this dance floor bomb. I saw them live at San Francisco’s Fillmore Theater in 1989. Back then, it was an epic entrance when they came in wearing helmets that shot red lasers through the thick fog. This video, by contrast, features a lady wearing an egg helmet, and it’s the dumbest thing I can recall watching in my entire life.
43. Nine Inch Nails – Head Like a Hole – I remember in 1990 when NIN opened for the Jesus & Mary Chain. After leaving the stage, everyone was like HOLY SHIT WHAT WAS THAT!? They rocked so hard that our faces melted off. Of course, Reznor’s notoriety really took off with The Downward Spiral, but this track got them on the big radar.
42. Oingo Boingo – Just Another Day – Even early on, hearing Boingo tracks, I was amazed by Elfman’s talent. No wonder he went on to movie soundtrack greatness and beyond. As for this splendid track, that xylophone guy is the man.
41. The Bangles – Walk Like an Egyptian – Stop punching yourself in the face, Chris Arthur! This song is impossible to not love, minimally talented band members notwithstanding. (Well, they’re Mozarts compared to the Go-Go’s). I admit, this would seem to fall in a category of songs I would despise (Walk The Dinosaur, Tarzan Boy), but it has a special appeal I can’t explain, so here it is.
40. Blondie – Heart of Glass – Known for being a band with an impressive array of styles, this particular tune features Debbie Harry, Language Mixologist. I doubt you Googled this like I did (because one unintelligible lyric was driving me crazy) she says, “MUCHO MISTRUST, love’s gone behind.” Maybe she came up with that line in between negotiations with her Mexican drug dealer; you know, she looks really medicated in this vid. Hard to believe this is 35 years old.
39. INXS – What You Need – I’m not sure what producer Chris Thomas did to achieve such a distinct sound, but if you were alive in 1985 and heard this, it was fresh compared to everything else that had preceded it. To me, it’s the drums; in particular, newer snare sounds. Indeed, it was a time when scads of new drum technologies were appearing. It was also probably how the song was mixed. Either way, the sound of this and other subsequent INXS smashes (eg. New Sensation) were filled with life and energy. The 82 pound Michael Hutchence could also dance and sing his ass off.
38. Michael Jackson – Thriller – Even without the grandiose John Landis-produced video, Thriller is a pop music standard. I don’t believe the video version of the song is available, but I LOVE the extended instrumental section during the zombie dance.
37. Van Halen – You Really Got Me – To their credit, the Kinks defined a new rock era with the original version of this song in 1964. But VH, in their own right, continued to shape 80’s pop metal with galvanizing songs like this. I always wonder if Ray and Dave Davies loved this version or despised it. Me love.
36. Pat Benatar – Promises in the Dark – If you listen to enough PB tracks, you realize how great Spyder Giraldo is on guitar. He must also be an A-grade husband, as he and Benatar are still married. No offense, Pat, but you can’t undo that Love is a Battlefield video.
35. Def Leppard – Rock of Ages – Rise up, gather ’round, rock this place to the ground!! Such a humongous beat during that section . . . and there’s a similar one in Pour Some Sugar on Me. Stalwart producer Mutt Lange must have been channeling his inner industrial artist. These beats could easily be swapped for Skinny Puppy tunes. Love how there’s so much “space” in there. GADS you probably don’t know what I’m talking about or don’t care.
34. The Clash – The Magnificent 7 – I was so glad to have Clash enthusiast and oft-baked Jim Yelenick as a freshman dorm-mate. He had every Clash song ever made, including rare b-sides, extended remixes, and out-of-print editions (I’m still looking for the extended Bankrobber dub). As for the present song, Mag 7 paints a dismal picture of the daily worker. “It’s no good for man to work in cages, hit the town, drinks his wages.” RIP Joe Strummer.
33. Fleetwood Mac – Gypsy – Stevie Nicks is certainly my favorite singer among the bleaters (see Belinda Carlisle et. al). Would love to see them live someday.
32. Talking Heads – Girlfriend is Better – If for some reason you never respected this band much, watch this video from Stop Making Sense. David Byrne in his iconic oversized suit, amazing backing vocals and band . . this is one for the ages. Such an incredible song and performance.
31. Erasure – A Little Respect – I’m not sure why I thought this was an ABBA cover (it’s not), but Vince Clarke and Andy Bell could really produce a great song. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if it was Vince or Alison Moyet singing. This one in particular I’ve enjoyed more as I’ve grown older.
30. The Cars – All Mixed Up – So practically the ONLY “album cut” on the whole Cars LP was this. It sat among huge hits like Just What I Needed, Best Friend’s Girl, Let the Good Times Roll, etc. Remember as Moving In Stereo faded out, this song came in? I love Ben Orr’s writing so much.
29. John Mellencamp – Crumblin’ Down – As an absolute non-fan of modern country, it’s odd that I dig so many of JM’s tunes. I guess there are arguments out there that he created the rock/country hybrid (although I wonder what the Eagles would say about it). Negative points for his “Call me Cougar” phase, but I love this tune.
28. U2 – Bad – Well the argument is “Which version is better?” The Wide Awake In America live version is really strong, but I prefer the album version (from Unforgettable Fire). It’s hard to really say why this song is so powerful. Bono brought such passion to each song, you would follow him anywhere. Well, musically, at least. Forget all that social change stuff.
27. The Fixx – Red Skies – “Red Skies are dyed!” sang Brian Smith wrongly. Ah, this KHS memories. Maybe the only worse one was Johnny Skikas, butchering a Beastie Boys lyric, “I showed her my rise (instead of “told her some rhymes”) and she pulled up her skirt.” Cy and the band made this great song even catchier by adding all the Whoa, oh, oh, oh-oh, oh oh oh’s. If you’ve never seen them live, definitely go. Yes, they are still touring!
26. Yes – Owner of a Lonely Heart – So the guy in the video just about loses it when the iguana flickers its tongue. So much panic, and so many animals pecking at him. The actor did a great job of losing his mind, while the band just rocked this tune with amazing prog-rock precision. I think the memorable drum interludes were sampled gratuitously by many, many 80’s electronic bands.
25. Rush – Tom Sawyer – So for most guys it’s essentially impossible to NOT air-drum the four-sectioned drum fills after the guitar solo, am I right? Geddy Lee’s like-it-or-hate-it rodent-toned vocals are merely an accompaniment as the band accomplishes a feat of rock n’ roll force. For me, the Moving Pictures LP got lots and lots of play (and scratches).
24. Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes – Long before Renee Zellweger and Tom Cruise were completing each other, PG was describing his completeness in your eyes. He was maybe Sting’s only competition at writing the best exotic pop. This track just takes you to another place from the start. Do you remember the other tracks on the So LP? Excellent Birds? Red Rain? Don’t Give Up?
23. The Cure – Lovesong – Beautiful sentiments sung in the simplest way. “However far away, I will always love you, however long I stay, I will always love you, whatever words I say, I will always love you.”
22. Robert Plant – Big Log – I’m trying to think of a worse song title. I’m thinking. I’m Googling. Wow, there is an entertaining list of awful titles here, among them the Statler Bros.’ You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too. But, really, Mr. Plant, whoever looked at you and said, “Yeah, yeah, Big Log,” needed his head examined. Thankfully, the lyrics don’t mention literal or figurative logs. Gorgeous song which should be enjoyed on a hammock and a smoke of some sort.
21. The Fixx – One Thing Leads to Another – So YEAH you’re seeing lots of Fixx and U2 near the top of this list, eh? How about Cy in the tunnels with the dobermans!? How about Jamie West Oram’s guitar riff and Dan K. Brown’s bass licks in this song? Definitely some of the best the 80’s had to offer.
20. U2 – Where the Streets Have No Name – The Joshua Tree cassette got more reps than almost any in my collection. It has crazy energy! After the keenly orchestrated intro and the tumbling drums build, it’s almost impossible for Bono to not say, “I WANNA RUN.”
19. The Time – Jungle Love – “Hey Jesse! Na-naw, Jerome. Chayuss!” I have danced the wild dance as this jam pounds through the speakers. Usually in the Odyssey at a stoplight. One hit wonder from the villain in Purple Rain.
18. AC/DC – Hell’s Bells – The somber beginning and subsequent “build” of this song are epic among all rock n’ roll songs. When working out, during the first verse “I’m rollin’ thunder, and pourin’ rain, I’m comin’ on like a hurricane,’ I can pretty much bench 800 lbs.
17. The Clash – Radio Clash – Oh, it was maybe 1982 or so, and I went on a trip somewhere where I had to be around other kids from other places. And here comes Mr. Cool, with his jam box on his shoulder, playing THIS SONG. I will never forget it! Funky Punky.
16. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Runnin’ Down a Dream – How many occasions have you sat in a parking lot, waiting to get out of your car, because this song was on?
15. The Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star – I remember not liking this song much when it first came out. Yes, it was the first video ever on MTV, and very fittingly so. But as I heard this song over and over, decade after decade, it got more and more beautiful and powerful. Not necessarily because of its message, but the compositional wholeness of the song and the amazing classical reprise at the end.
14. Michael Jackson – Beat It – Dudes knife-fighting and then Michael convinces them to have a DANCE OFF. Only slightly less ridiculous than Zoolander’s walk off. Did you know that Eddie Van Halen only played the guitar solo? Some other guy did the rest.
13. Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime – Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Here comes the twister. David freaking Byrne is so irresistibly bizarre, it enhances his genius. In that odd scenario where aliens permit you to be someone else, I’m probably him.
12. Robert Plant – In the Mood – I really only remember the video for the – WHAT? – breakdancing dudes. Sorta cool how their dance fits. GORGEOUS keyboard work throughout.
11. Phil Collins – Don’t Care Anymore – Such a desperate, spiteful Phil Collins, railing against that WOMAN who done him wrong. Phil manages to produce a second sparse, drum-centered song that builds anger and ends in victory. Nomo, nomo. Nomo, nomo.
AND NOW, can you STAND THE EXCITEMENT?!?!? IT’S THE . . . . . .
10. Human League – Human – Cheated on my taxes. HEY I’m only human. Choked a guy who cut me off in traffic. HEY I’m only human. OK so dumb paradigm of living one’s life, but the funky alt-smoothness of Human League’s biggest hit is irresistible! Definitely top 3 drum loops in all of 80s music. In the modern version of the song, that loop extends gets isolated and extended at the end. I found it funny hearing a story about this band, that they’d had little success early on, but then were encouraged by their agent to hire on “real” musicians. Glad they did!
9. Michael Jackson – Billie Jean – Before building our new home last year, we considered putting in those tiles that light up when you step on them, but turns out it was cost prohibitive. So now we have a pet tiger instead. Certainly the King of Pop at his best!
8. Rush – Subdivisions – WHOA these guys have so much talent, and it gelled to perfection here. Geddy on keys and Peart’s drums near the end just build a legendary aural memory. So huge and enjoyable every time.
7. The Fixx – Stand or Fall – IT’S THE EURO THEATER! As 14 year olds, we had no idea what that meant, and still really don’t. So the white horse in the video and gets to take a few naps, and the band members play war. Umm, this one is surely better without the visuals, but an all-time fave for me with a simple message.
6. When in Rome – The Promise – Thankfully Colleen was pleased when, about 10 years ago, I announced that this was our song. The ultimate one hit wonder band, I heard Sirius DJ Richard Blade announce, “they never really had any other songs worth remembering.” But what a hit it was.
5. The Cars – Drive – In this tune, Ben Orr is that guy who loves the girl, but she just wants to be friends, because she’s dating Ric Ocasek. He goes to the ends of the earth for her (listening to dreams, telling her it’s too late, and of course driving her home), but she doesn’t reciprocate. Then all the band turns into mannequins, as bands do. Either way, a gorgeous composition by Greg Hawkes, Ric Ocasek, and Ben Orr.
4. U2 – The Unforgettable Fire – I don’t really even know what this song is about, but I think it’s the first time the band experimented with string sounds in their tunes. Strings were heard prominently in subsequent U2 songs, like One Tree Hill from the Joshua Tree LP, but the way this was crafted had a lasting effect on me. Bono’s vocals are magical. This song had countless reps on the vinyl and in the cassette player.
3. Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now – . . . . warm my heart, stay with me . . . Maybe it’s better to not be able to articulate why a song hits a person with such emotion. I can’t with this one, as it hits hard.
2. The Police – King of Pain – Well, back when I was quite ill for a long time, I pretended I was the King, and it sure felt like it some days. Either way, beautiful imagery by Sting through metaphor or simile or allegory or whatever it’s called. And Steward Copeland, oft spazzing out and hyper during tracks (in a good way), slinks his way silkily through this one.
1. Don Henley – Boys of Summer – I am really sorry if you just threw your hands up in agony, having hoped for Love in an Elevator, Wanted Dead or Alive, or heaven forbid, Welcome to the Jungle. Sorry but I had to keep it sappy! There’s something powerful about how old Don is clinging to love, bleeding memories, and professing love for the future, even though there’s been a separation. As for the tune itself, sound selection and note choice are the best!
Thanks so much for taking the time to go through this list. Please comment as needed!