Top 10 Pop/Rock Songs of the 80’s – 1985

84 and 85 were the mother of all years for 80’s pop/rock songs. Out of the Billboard top 100 for 1985, 66 songs made it on to my initial list. I think that this has been the hardest year to pare down to 10. For the reason I started these lists and the criteria I used, check out my 1980 list. The others can be found at 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984.

10. Freedom, Wham – Let me say that it was hard to choose which Wham song would be included on this list. Let me also say that it was hard for me to admit that I felt like I was going to have to include a Wham song on this list. Let me further say that I realize that this probably makes me a) a woman or b) gay. Either way please don’t tell my wife. Wham had four songs make the Billboard Top 100 for the year. That’s pretty salty. When it came down to it, I ended up making a choice between the two lesser known songs – “Freedom” and “Everything She Wants”. Freedom won because it’s probably the most upbeat, sing-able song from anyone in 85. George Michael could really churn out masterful melodic pop back in the day. The bass line on this song is surprisingly good and the harmonies are classic. The piano part in the bridge adds just the right touch.

9. Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Tears For Fears – When I was in 9th grade I joined my first band (named oh-so-cleverly Face Down). This was before I learned to play the guitar so I was just the lead singer. This was one of the first songs we learned and we thought we were the shit. I love the feel of this song. The interplay between the synths and the guitar is such that sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.

8. We Belong, Pat Benatar – This song is the one I thought the longest and hardest about. I really love this song and it is probably responsible for keeping “Voices Carry” and one of the Madonna songs off of the list. More than anything, the reason this song is on the list is that it demonstrates the incredible voice that Pat Benatar has. Her other songs from this period saw her trying to rock out and sound all tough. But on “We Belong” her voice has an incredible tenderness and sense of vulnerability to it. Beautiful.

7. Boys of Summer, Don Henley – My wife and I both love music, and so when we first started dating music was a big topic of conversation. I learned that she liked Metallica andBarry Manilow. That she liked Neil Young but only the acoustic stuff. And I also learned that when this song came out she misheard the lyric “your brown skin shining in the sun” as “your breasts give shade in the sun”. My first thought upon hearing that was – those are some impressive breasts! This song just sounds cool. To me it had a sort of menacing quality to it which was only intensified by the fact I didn’t know what a “Deadhead” was and so had really no reference to interpret the “deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” lyric. The whole album that this song is from, Building the Perfect Beast, is great and had several hits . Henley has always been a great lyricist and this song is one of his best as a solo artist.

6. Easy Lover, Phil Collins and Phillip Bailey – This song is probably the rockingest (is that a word?) Phil Collins song ever. And while the lyrics are about a dirty, two-timing woman, this song is refreshingly upbeat for Collins, who ended his streak of gut-wrenching, heart-breaking suicide songs with this one. I didn’t really know who Phillip Bailey was when this came out, but I new he had a unique voice that I liked.

5. Take On Me, A-ha – The video is what I, and probably most people, really remember about this song. It was so cool with it’s mixture of animation and live action. The song itself is classic 80’s and in fact I would imagine that if I had to make a top 10 list of songs that defined the 80’s, this song would be on it. I think the only thing analog on this record is the vocal. Everything else is digital: drums, bass and keyboards. And of course there’s the crazy, unbelievably high vocal on the chorus that became the envy of every Vienna Boy’s Choir member.

4. A View To A Kill, Duran Duran – I didn’t really get into James Bond movies until I married my wife, who owns every bond movie and has seen each of them at least twenty five times. However, a girl I dated back then loved Bond and so, when A View To A Kill came out, I went to see it. I found myself actually enjoying it and it has remained one of my favorite Bond movies ever since (despite the fact that Grace Jones gets naked in it – ewwwww!). Now at that time I was a huge Duran Duran fan and I absolutely loved this song. I love everything about this song from the sampled synth hits to the effects drenched vocals to the weird lyrics. As a Bond song, this one is second only to “Live and Let Die”.

3. Power Of Love, Huey Lewis & The News – As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of Huey Lewis. He has a knack for taking old genres and instrumentation and giving it a contemporary twist. This is a straight-forward rock song about, uh, well, the power of love. The song is, of course, from the Back To The Future soundtrack and came out right after the huge success of Sports. This was Lewis’ first song to hit number one on the Billboard charts. 

2. Can’t Fight This Feeling, REO Speedwagon – Music has always been a big part of my life and there are songs that trigger specific memories everytime I hear them. “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is one of those songs. I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing and who I was thinking of the first time I heard this song. I’ve said in previous posts that REO Speedwagon are the masters of the power ballad and this is their masterpiece. The melody is beautiful and is perfectly highlightedby the sparsely instrumented opening verse; then soars when the band comes in on the chorus. This song is the 80’s update to “You Don’t Know Me” by Ray Charles and if you’ve ever loved someone who had no clue about your feelings, you can relate to both.

1. Money For Nothing, Dire Straits – This was one of the songs that made me want to learn to play guitar (which I eventually did). I was huge into the Police when this came out and remember thinking it was super cool when I heard Sting sing the opening “I want my MTV”. I know that Dire Staits was huge in England by the time Brothers In Arms came out, but this was my first exposure to them. I bought the album on the strength of this song alone and was justly rewarded because it’s a great album. I didn’t realize until my friend told me, that some of the lyrics in the song evidently caused some controversy and the band drew some fire from the PC police. I guess it never occured to people that, just like an author writing a first person novel, a song sung in the first person doesn’t have to be the songwriter’s actual views.

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