Top 10 Pop/Rock Songs of the 80’s – 1986

1986 had some big songs. There were a lot of songs that I really wanted to make the list that I just couldn’t include because I liked these better. If you are interested why I started doing these Top 10 lists (and for the top 10 of 1980) check out my 1980 post. For the others click, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1985.

10. Election Day, Arcadia – After the massive success of Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the members of Duran Duran took a break from being Duran Duran and started a couple of side projects. John and Andy Taylor hooked up with Robert Palmer to form Power Station and Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor formed Arcadia. While Power Station had a different, harder sound, Arcadia pretty much sounded like Duran Duran. “Election Day” reached #6 on the Billboard charts and has the typical atmospheric, keyboard/electronic driven sound. There’s lots of sampling of what sounds like garbled radio chatter throughout and the chorus has a creepy spoken word part voiced by none other than Grace Jones. I had to check the title of the song twice to make sure I got it right because the chorus actually mentions re-election day rather than election day.

9. Kiss, Prince – This song was about as funky as anything I had ever heard by 1986. Having not grown up listening to pop music I had never had much exposure to Parliament or much of the Disco stuff so this was completely new to me. Prince somehow manages to sing almost the entire song in falsetto and not come off as gay (the only other completely falsetto songs I had heard were by the Bee Gees and they did sound gay), which surprised me. “Kiss” has a very minimalist feel to it with pretty much just guitar (and maybe a keyboard?) and electronic drums accompanying the vocals. The song is a little dated now with lines like “You don’t have to watch Dynasty to have an attitude”, but I think it holds up as a cool song. I remember a few years later Tom Jones covering this song but it was nowhere near as cool.

8. Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone), Glass Tiger – A straight forward pop/rock song with a great melody, this song was everywhere when it came out. Bryan Adams was huge when this was released and I’m sure that Glass Tiger thought it was a real score that would catapult them to stardom when they got him to contribute backing vocals to the track. Alas, this was was their biggest of two hits (the other was “Someday”). Doing a quick check on Wikipedia, I found that they actually released 4 or 5 other albums and played at the official opening of the Skydome in Toronto. A good song from a spare band.

7. Your Love, The Outfield – Another good song from an essentially one-hit-wonder band (although, like Glass Tiger, The Outfield had two hits although I couldn’t tell you what the other one was). The instrumentation is pretty straight forward pop/rock – gated, flanged guitars, bass drums with some keyboard thrown in for good measure. I didn’t realize until later that the lyrics to this song are really creepy. Basically the song seems to be about a one night stand with an underage girl while the singer’s steady is out of town. It kind of makes you want to take a shower after listening to it.

6. Spies Like Us, Paul McCartney – From the movie of the same name, this is Paul McCartney at one of his coolest post Beatles moments. The vocals are washed in echo and the guitars are really distorted and dirty sounding. I remember I had to go to a specialty record store to get this single (I still have it) because the soundtrack album did not include it.

5. Glory of Love, Peter Cetera – Right after the huge success of Chicago 17, Peter Cetera decided he could probably do just as well on his own as with Chicago (It’s got to be a little annoying splitting royalties 35 ways or however many band members they had at the time). He was pretty much right, as he had a string of hits over the next several years. This song was off of the Karate Kid IIsoundtrack and pretty much sounded like any other Chicago love ballad from the 80’s; which means it had a great melody, great vocals and lots of DX7 keyboard parts in it. The thing that always frustrated me with Peter Cetera and Chicago was that it was impossible to sing along with the songs without shredding your vocal chords. How does he sing that high?

4. Life In A Northern Town, Dream Academy – I love this song. It has such an atmospheric quality to it. It makes me think of winter (I guess because of the Salvation Army reference) although I think the song is set in summer (“The children drunk lemonade”). Everything is airy and laid back during the verses and then gets really big when the choir and drums come in on the chorus. It’s really a well crafted, beautiful song.

3. Amanda, Boston – I actually “dedicated” this song to a girl I liked on the local Top 40 radio station’s Top 10 countdown show. Boston is a band with a distinct sound that they never changed. Even though this song came out in the mid 80’s, it would fit just as well on one of their 70’s albums. “Amanda” has a great melody and classic rock style.

2. Kyrie, Mr. Mister – File this one under “Craziest Misheard Lyrics Ever”. Having no working knowledge of either Roman Catholicism or the Greek language when this song came out, I thought that the first line of the chorus was “Carry a laser”. Inserting that phrase for the actual phrase, “Kyrie eleison” which means “Lord, have mercy”, gives the song an entirely different and surreal meaning. The song itself is drenched in keyboard parts and distorted, effects-driven guitars. It’s got a driving beat, and would have been a straight rock and roll song if not for the aforementioned keyboards. I picked it over the more laid back hit by Mr. Mister, “Broken Wings”.

1. No One Is To Blame, Howard Jones – My band did a cover of this song, using a guitar for the signature opening riff, and it was a crowd pleaser. This is my favorite Howard Jones song and, like most songs I like, has a great, memorable melody. This is probably Jones’ best studio vocal. My favorite version of this song is from the live album Live Acoustic America, which is just Jones on piano with a percussionist. With all of the production stripped away, the song’s beautiful melody is highlighted and you realize what a great song this really is.

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