The handful of you who read this blog consistently know that music has always been a big factor in my life. I have always loved singing, playing, writing and listening to music. I have a friend who thinks that the Golden Era of pop music was the 80’s. While I don’t agree with that, I did grow up in the 80’s and the top 40 stuff from that time period was my introduction to rock music.
Another friend of mine gave me a collection of MP3s that contains the Billboard top 100 songs for each year from 1950-something up through 2007. One day I was looking at the 80’s and realized that there were a huge amount of great songs done back then, especially the mid-80’s. So I thought I would do a Top 10 list for each year. Before we get started, let me tell you a few of the rules I constrained myself to:
First you need to remember that music appreciation is subjective. Music can’t be broken down, analyzed and then scored on a graph. All of these songs are going to be my favorite songs. There will be some deserving songs left out and probably some undeserving songs put in due to my particular tastes.
All of these songs are selected from the Billboard Top 100 list for each year. A friend of mine pointed out that one of Phil Collins’ greatest songs, “In the Air Tonight”, for some reason wasn’t on the Top 100 list for 1981, the year that it was released. He also provided me with a list of every song released in each of the years of the 80’s but I decided it would be way too much of a beating to go through those lists. So I decided to stick with the top 100 lists.
When picking these songs I tried to pick the best songs. When I say that, I mean songs that stand the test of time as a song. Melody is a big player with me. If a song has a great melody, I’m probably going to like it regardless of genre or arrangement. There were a lot of songs in the 80’s that were really popular at the time because of a bit. I tried to ignore these songs and only pick songs that have elements that would make it great in any era. This would explain why “Whip It” by Devo did not make any of my lists. Many people would consider it one of the quintessential 80’s songs and it was. But if you take away the novelty of the weird synths and strange outfits you’re left with a pretty boring song. Now that doesn’t mean I excluded any song because of it’s instrumentation or arrangement. But if those things were the only thing going for it, it was out.
I decided early on that I would not have any two songs from the same artist on one year’s list. If there were two great songs from one artist that were close to making it, I picked the one I liked best and tossed the other.
I decided to go with only pop/rock songs. There were several years that had some country songs that crossed over and charted on the pop charts. I decided not to include those. I would, however, consider a true pop song done by a traditionally country artist. “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton would be an example of this.
Well, I guess that’s about it. So, without further ado, here you go…
10. “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”, Pink Floyd – I am not a big Pink Floyd fan. I respect their musicianship and influence, but most of their stuff is so depressing that if I listen to more than two or three songs in a row it kind of makes me want to jump off of a really tall building. This song makes the top 10 mainly because 1980 was a pretty sorry year for music. Most of it was, to paraphrase Robbie Fulks, soft rock 70’s crap. One of the reasons I like this song is that I was able to beat someone down with it. I had a friend who was a huge fan of Pink Floyd. One day we were in the car and this song came on and I said, “hey, it’s Pink Floyd’s disco song.” This freaked him out and he insisted that it couldn’t be disco since it came out in the mid 70’s. I told him that it came out in 1980 and then told him to listen to the bass line and the guitar riff and tell me that it wasn’t a disco song. He couldn’t…and was never the same again.
9. “Take the Long Way Home”, Super Tramp – This song is from the album Breakfast in Americawhich was a monster hit for Super Tramp. It’s not my favorite song from that album; that would probably be “The Logical Song”. But it’s a nice bouncy pop song. I really like the multi-tracked lead vocals and the harmonica bit. Having said that, this song would probably not make the list in any other year.
8. “Magic”, Olivia Newton-John – I really hated to put this song on the list because I don’t like it very much. But it was probably Newton-John’s biggest hit of the 80’s besides “Physical”. I do think she has a great voice and I like a lot of her 70’s stuff that has more of a country feel to it. I mainly remember this song from P.E. class in elementary school. We would listen to it during our calisthenic warm-ups. I was listening to the song while making this list and do have to admit that the vocals have a very sexy quality to them.
7. “Coming Up”, Paul McCartney – This is one of my least favorite McCartney hits. But once again, 1980 was a bad year for music. This song is from McCartney II on which McCartney played everything. He released it 10 years after McCartney on which he also played everything. That first album had the great single, “Maybe I’m Amazed”. And that gives you an idea of the difference in quality between the two albums. “Coming Up” basically sounds like a song recorded by a robot. But hey, it’s McCartney so it’s not horrible.
6. “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me”, Billy Joel – This is a great Billy Joel song. I love the call and response format of the verse using the single-tracked and double-tracked vocals. It has very minimal instrumentation, basically an understated guitar part, bass and drums during the verses/choruses and then comes in big on the breakdown with the cool 50’s style sax solo. Billy Joel is one of those few performers who can pull off tender ballads and real rockers equally well. He rocks on this one.
5. “Let My Love Open the Door”, Pete Townshend – This song has a great, infectious melody and continues Townsend’s experimentation with synthesizers. For a guitarist, Pete really did a lot of keyboard stuff. The backing vocals beginning at the first turn around and continuing on through the verses really make the song. I remember when the news came out that Townshend had done some bi-sexual “experimenting” in the 70’s we started calling the song “Let My Love Open the (Back) Door”.
4. “Don’t Do Me Like That”, Tom Petty – Tom Petty was an anomaly in the early 80’s. In a music scene that was dominated by easy listening, disco, the beginnings of New Wave and punk, Petty was just a good old fashioned classic rocker. With the classic line-up of guitar, bass, organ and drums this song could easily be mistaken for a late 60’s/early 70’s track. The song has a great B3 organ part reminiscent of Dylan’s stuff. Overall the song is very upbeat and jaunty. This is one of my favorite Petty songs.
3. “This is It”, Kenny Loggins – I hate to admit it, but I’m a bit of a Kenny Loggins fan. This song is definitely a lot different from the folk-rock sounds of Loggins & Messina. It has a disco feel to it, but the melody is great. Michael McDonald co-wrote the song and sings on it as well. I’m not sure, but it sounds like he might have produced it because it has a latter-day Doobie Brothers feel to it. If you ignore the overwrought lyrics – which are Loggins’ attempt to be deep, this song is pretty good.
2. “The Long Run”, The Eagles – This was the Eagles swan song. This is probably my favorite Eagles song, mainly because it’s one of their few straight forward pop songs. Henley is in fine form on this one and it sounds like Walsh had a lot of say on the sound of this song because it has the classic Walsh slide parts. This whole album was great and just goes to show that it’s better to go out on top.
1. “Misunderstanding”, Genesis – This is one of my favorite Genesis songs and would probably make the list in several other years. The do-wop backing vocals combined with the swirling synths make the song very unique. Phil Collins has made a career writing great heartbreak songs. And this song captures the angst of being two-timed by your sweetheart. Classic post-Gabriel Genesis.