The Best 80s Songs : Music We Will Never Forget
The ’80s marked a shift from disco to dance music. Electronic sounds and variations of rock n’ roll are examples of genres that characterized the 80’s. An assortment of radically different songs made their way up the charts at this time and are still beloved and listened to by many people. Without further ado, here’s a list of the best 80s songs.
“Beat It” by Michael Jackson
Fronting the pop culture scene in the ’80s, several of Michael Jackson’s songs are unforgettable and timeless classics. This song, in particular, is from Jackson’s sixth studio album, Thriller. “Beat It” dominated the Billboard charts at number one for a staggering three weeks, and ultimately became a certified 5x platinum track. Thanks to this track as well as other hits from the album (Billie Jean, for example), Thriller became the bestselling album of all time. This song is undoubtedly one of the first songs to come to mind when hearing the name, “Michael Jackson.
“Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen
“Under Pressure” is perhaps the best example of the masterpieces that can be born when two legends collaborate. Bowie, who had been charting consistently since the late ’60s, and Queen, a legendary rock band whose career kicked off not too long after debuting, combined their genius together in this production. Though Freddie Mercury and David Bowie clashed during production over lyrical and melodic choices, the outcome was this iconic track. The song has been praised by many, some even claiming it is the best song of all time.
“Take on Me” by A-ha
Despite commonly being one of the songs first listed when discussing music that characterizes the 80’s, “Take on Me” was not an immediate hit in its time. The song only gained momentum on the charts after two versions and three releases of it were made. Following this track and the album it was featured on, the band struggled to maintain their success. This song marks the golden era of A-ha, and perhaps the peak of their career as well. With its upbeat, irresistibly addictive melody, this song is on many people’s ‘favorites’ playlist.
“Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners
A song with a thinly veiled message about resisting against the sexually constrictive catholic church, “Come on Eileen” is the 80’s rebel anthem. Its promiscuous lyrics combined with the perfect blend of Celtic and more modern instrumentals set this song apart from the others. When this unique track finally earned the number one spot on the Billboard charts, it had managed to dethrone the king of pop himself, Michael Jackson. This song continues to live on in our current pop culture, as it was featured on blockbuster movie hits such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
“In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
Perhaps Collins’ number one hit, “In the Air Tonight” is well known for its whimsical drum break and gut-wrenching lyrics. The song has oftentimes been described as the perfect blend of pop and rock elements. It will leave the listener feeling perplexed, maybe even a little bit unsettled in the best way possible. This unique tune will linger upon your mind, even after only one listen.
“Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
It is not an exaggeration to say that there isn’t a single person who hasn’t heard of this song before. Certified as a triple-platinum single in digital sales alone, this timeless tune never fails to entertain. The song has charted on and off multiple times throughout the decade, ultimately becoming the track that defines the band “Bon Jovi” itself. With vocals that make you want to belt out the lyrics alongside Jon Bon Jovi, this ‘feel good’ song will uplift anybody’s day.
“Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen
The paradoxical nature of this song makes it memorable for many. With an upbeat melody but dark, haunting lyrics, this song seems to describe the state of mind many of us are trapped in. Distressed and confused, lonely and afraid, yet we still manage to power through life with a dance and a smile. This song is Bruce Springsteen’s highest-charting song to date. It spent a month at the number two spot around its release date.
“Material Girl” by Madonna
Trending on apps such as TikTok and appearing in recent major productions such as Stranger Things and Crazy Rich Asians, this tune is still extremely relevant in teen pop culture today. Critics have claimed that this track is what established and set Madonna’s influence in stone. “Material Girl” calls out the materialistic attitudes that many of us fall prey to; in a world where those with the most glitz and glamour are the most highly recognized, it is hard not to. The satirical nature of this addictive song is irresistible.
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper
Though this track was originally written and recorded by someone entirely different in 1979, Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 version is what popularized and defined this tune. Many have cited this song as the official ‘feminist anthem,’ as women were finally beginning to fight for more equality and empowerment around this time. Regardless, this song is relatable to many of us to this day. With Lauper’s captivating vocals, you will find yourself hitting the repeat button multiple times for this tune.
“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!
This song was the English duo’s first number one hit in the US and UK. Though the music video for this track has been cited as the worst music video to ever exist by some, it is undeniable that the song itself is a hit. The energetic, up-tempo nature of this song is practically impossible to resist. The song has earned a platinum certification in the US for the outstanding number of copies sold.
“Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran
Written by one of the most prominent bands leading the ‘new wave’ movement, “Hungry Like the Wolf” was created through toying with emerging, brand new technology in the music industry. The perfect harmony of guitar riffs and electronic elements created a sound unique, unheard of to listeners back then. Even today, this top three billboard charting song sounds fresh to our ears even after multiple listens.
“Africa” by Toto
This abstract tune has perplexed many for decades. Written by band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the two claim the song is about one’s love for the continent itself rather than a personal, human love affair. The song has remained relevant in pop culture today, appearing in several memes and TV shows in recent years. A cover of this song by a modern band called Wheezer is also noteworthy, as it spurred the reemergence of this track on the Billboard charts in recent years.
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears
The existentialism found in this song is unparalleled. Part of the ‘new wave’ genre gaining prominence in the early ’80s, this song discusses our desire for power and control, and the corruption these desires bring. Despite knowing everything is temporary, we still continue to thirst for success and wealth. The ability to put such heavy and uncomfortable topics into a concise, beautifully sounding song is fascinating, and what makes this tune so commendable.
“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
Fascinatingly, this track is the top-selling digital track of the 20th century. It is from their 7th studio album, Escape. Critics have claimed this song marks the pinnacle of rock, with its flawless guitar riffs and smooth vocals. This song has remained a favorite for karaoke lovers, even cited as a life ‘anthem’ for many. It’s understandable: to never lose sight of your emotions and keep believing is a good motto to live by.
“Total Eclipse of Heart” by Bonnie Tyler
Platinum-certified and in the top five best-selling singles of all time for its home country of release, “Total Eclipse of Heart” is the song that defines Bonnie Tyler’s career. In an era full of upbeat dance songs or rock n roll bangers, this ballad illustrates the melodramatic side of the ’80s. Tyler’s dreamy vocals give an enchanting, irresistible aura to the entirety of the song, making it one of the most famous rock ballads of all time.
“I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston
Many people will claim that this is the song that represents the 80’s. Topping the charts in a whopping 13 countries, this Grammy award-winning song was a smash hit in its time and continues to make waves in today’s society as well. Houston’s vocals seem to be made for the energetic, bubbly nature of this song. You won’t be able to resist singing and dancing along when this playful, upbeat tune comes on.
“When Doves Cry” by Prince
The top-selling song of 1984 and the most popular song from his most popular album, “When Doves Cry” from Prince’s fourth album “Purple Rain” is one to be remembered. The song was the last to earn a platinum certification before the standards were loosened entering the 90’s. The prominence of the synthesizer, the lack of a bassline, and the blending in of the guitar riffs sets this song apart from many others, and explains why it was so popular back then, and still is now!
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns n Roses
No matter how controversial this song is, it cannot be denied that the tune is explosive in popularity. The guitar solo found in this song is cited by many as the best guitar solo of all time, Rolling Stones going as far as stating this song ‘changed the world.’ Lovers of rock n roll will always find solace in this song, and the memories that it holds.
“Heaven is a Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle
This heartwarming tune topped the charts around its release date and was even nominated for a Grammy. The song has been featured in many modern productions, a noteworthy one being an episode from Netflix’s Black Mirror titled “San Junipero.” Carlisle released numerous versions of this song following its popularity, the most recent one being an acoustic ballad version in 2017. However, it is the popular opinion that nothing can beat the original.
“Back in Black” by ACDC
This song is bittersweet, as it marks the start of a brand new ‘ACDC’ following the death of their original vocalist, Bon Scott. It is a tribute to Scott as well as an introduction to their new singer, Brian Johnson. The album where this track is found, also titled Back in Black, became one of the highest-selling albums of all time. As of the current date, the song has reached double-platinum status, which is highly commendable.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash”
This song became the only chart-topper from the British punk band, The Clash. Though the tune is not as popular as many of the other songs featured on this list, it is still relevant in pop culture today. The song makes an appearance several times on Netflix’s Stranger Things, and other modern-day cinematic productions. Its cyclical guitar riff and drum beat are almost hypnotic, creating an addictive melody that consistently reels listeners in.
“Every Breath You Take” by The Police
This song, written by Sting, topped the Billboard charts in the US and UK for a staggering two months. It won two Grammys and has been recognized as the most played song in radio history. The prominence of this song in modern day is still all there, with Sting taking home two grand in royalties for this track every day, to this day. The complexity of this song, how it can be interpreted as a love song or a sinister vengeful tune, is what makes it such an iconic, irresistible tune.
And that’s it! That’s our list of the best 80’s music, but we’d love to hear from you! Are there any songs that we left out?
Let us know in the comments below!