Top 10 Pop/Rock Songs of the 80’s – 1984

My last Top 10 of the 80’s post was on Jan 23rd. My computer crashed and it has taken me until now to remake my 1984 list – mainly because I’m lazy. For the reason I started this list and the criteria I used, check out my 1980 list. The others can be found at 1981, 1982 and 1983.

The way that I compile these lists is by going into iTunes, creating a playlist, and then moving every song from the Billboard Top 100 of that year that I even remotely like over to that list. I then go back through and remove songs until I get to the top 10. 1984’s initial list was much bigger than any other year – I think around 49 songs. But it seemed like 84 was the easiest so far to get down to 10 because there were several songs that I new had to be in the top 10.

So here we go…

10. I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Elton John – This is probably my favorite Elton John song. It has a slow gospel feel to it and is just an outstanding melodic ballad. Elton John has one of the most distinctive voices in pop and this is a great vocal performance by him. John had a bit of a resurgence in his carreer in the mid-80’s and this was his biggest hit. Two things about this song that put it over some of the others: 1) The bass in this song has a good, percussive sound. 2) It was used for the montage of Peter being in a wheelchair for all of 45 minutes on Family Guy.

9. You Might Think, The Cars – I really wanted to include “Magic” by the Cars in the top 10 for this year because I think the melody of the chorus is one of their best, but “You Might Think” is a better overall song. Bouncy and upbeat, the Cars did a perfect job of melding traditional rock instrumentation (guitars, piano, bass) with New Wave instrumentation (synths, digitized drums). I have a vivid memory of the video for this song, especially the fly with the Rick Ocasek head, and it won Video of the Year at the first MTV Video Music Awards show.

8. Say, Say, Say, Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – This song was huge (I think it was #2 overall for the year). Michael Jackson was at the height of his Thriller popularity. McCartney had been having a bit of a comeback. Both of these guys were masterful writers of melodic pop songs so you know that anything they wrote together almost had to be great. Back then there was a phenomenon that was kind of a precursor to the Karaoke craze. There were booths, usually in malls, where you could go and record yourself singing with an accompaniment track and then they would sell you a cassette of the results. The first time I ever did this, a friend of mine and I recorded “Say, Say, Say”. The Jackson part was so high, that my friend had a hard time hitting it. They had to slow the track down to lower the key so it ended up being this really slow version of the song. But did it impress the ladies, you’re asking? No. No it did not.

7. Missing You, John Waite – This is one of those songs that puts me in a nostalgic mood. I can remember specific things that I was doing while this song was on the radio. And of course it reminds me of the melodramatic fellings one has when you’re young and sparring with the fairer sex. I’m pretty sure that the girl that I used the Texas Rangers analogy on was on my mind every time I heard this song in ’84.

6. Sunglasses At Night, Corey Hart – I remember where I was the first time I heard this song. I was in the Comic Zone picking up the latest copies of The Flash, Green Lantern and Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars which means not only that I have a pretty good memory but also that I am such a nerd. This song still sounds really cool to me. The opening keyboards sound vaguely ominous. The first part of the chorus has the really cheesy synth line but is redeemed in the second part by the great guitar riff. Hart’s vocal has a vague rebel-without-a-cause feel to it that really makes the song. 

5. Let’s Go Crazy, Prince – From the opening church organ over which Prince gives his weird sermon to the closing spastic guitar solo this song reeks of over-the-top, look-at-me-I’m-the-next-Hendrix arrogance. But it’s also a really bad ass song. This may not be my favorite song off of Purple Rain (that would probably be “Baby I’m A Star” or “Darling Nikki”) but it’s my favorite of the hits from it. This is Prince at his apocalyptic best.

4. If This Is It, Huey Lewis & The News – Once again, this is a song that makes me think about a girl. The song explores the classic love-me-or-leave-me theme and does it well. Huey Lewis has a great knack for mixing 50’s doo-wop style with contemporary sounds. This is one of his best melodies and one of his best vocals as well.

3. Against All Odds, Phil Collins – So much has been written about this song that it’s hard to say anything original. If you don’t already know, Collins wrote most of his songs from this period about his ex-wife. Think he was bitter? This has got to be the best vocal performance Collins ever laid down on vinyl. It’s hard to think of any other song that conveys such raw, genuine emotion.  

2. Hard Habit To Break, Chicago – As I’ve stated before, I’m a fan of the sappy love song and this one is the sappiest. Chicago had a very distinctive sound for their 80’s albums and “Hard Habit to Break” is typical of that sound. The lush background music, the overly processed vocals and of course the horns all combine to create a real gem of a song. I also like the dual lead vocal bit.

1. Sister Christian, Night Ranger – More than any other song, this song says 80’s to me. The build up to the chorus still gives me that feeling where you just want to turn it up as loud as it will go. The song (which was written about one of the band member’s sister) starts out as a straight forward ballad with just piano and vocals and then turns into a soaring power ballad when the rest of the band kicks in for the chorus. This song always makes it onto my road-trip mixes.

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Top 10 Pop/Rock Songs of the 80’s – 1981

For the reason behind these lists and the rules I used for selecting the songs, check out this post.

1981 was a lot tougher to narrow down to the top 10. But nevertheless it had to be done…

10. (Just Like) Starting Over, John Lennon – This song is off of the album Double Fantasyin which John and Yoko each take every other track. I deliberately use the word track rather than song. Because the Yoko tracks can only be considered songs if you broaden your definition of song far enough to include cows farting on flat rocks. The song starts out simply with just Lennon’s voice and a guitar. When the band comes in it essentially becomes a 50’s doo-wop song with a modern twist. The lyrics are easy to relate to for anyone who has been married for a while and has kids.

9. Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do), Christopher Cross – This song seemed to be ubiquitous for at least two or three years. I really hate to include it because I’m not a big fan of easy listening music, but melody is a big player with me and once you hear this song it stays in your head for days. Cross’s voice is really girly and weak and I think this song could have been done better by a singer with a stronger voice.

8. Greatest American Hero, Joey Scarbury – I remember when this show came out I was instantly hooked on this song. Oddly enough this song is linked in my memory with the grand opening of the first Wal-Mart in my home town. I remember this song was playing when we walked in. The chorus of this song is really catchy and upbeat. I also digg the harmonized guitar solo.

7. Morning Train (Nine To Five), Sheena Easton – This was the sweet, innocent Sheena Easton before she met Prince and decided to go with the slutty image. This is another song that you’ll be humming the chorus of days after you hear it. It has the great hand claps in the chorus which I always love. Sheena’s voice is a little nasally but still not bad.

6. Another One Bites The Dust, Queen – This is Queen’s requisite disco song. It seems like every great rock band that was around in the late 70’s and early 80’s had to do one. The bass line in this song is classic and the guitar parts are smoking. I remember this mainly because during the breakdown Freddy Mercury is doing some vocal riffing and I thought he yelled out, “I’m adopted!” I don’t think that’s what he’s actually saying, but I still can’t tell what it is.

5. Take It On The Run, REO Speedwagon – This song is weird. Ostensibly, the song is about a girl running around on her boyfriend. The lyrics are in the first person and waffle between belief and disbelief. The chorus is the most bi-polar part of the song. First the singer says: “You take it on the run baby. If that’s the way you want it baby, then I don’t want you around.” Then he suddenly has faith in his girl: “I don’t believe it. Not for a minute.” Finally, he seem to justify her cheating somehow by saying: “You’re under the gun so you take it on the run.” So the singer has gone from contempt to fidelity to justifying/forgiveness(?) all in the span of 20 seconds. I guess it’s possible that this song was written by a pregnant woman – that’s the only person I’ve encountered who can go through that many emotions in such a short span of time. Having said all of that, REO Speedwagon are the masters of the power ballad and this is my favorite of theirs that year.

4. Kiss On My List, Hall & Oates – Hall & Oates started out as a kind of “blue-eyed soul” group. Songs like “Wait for Me”, “Sarah Smile” and “She’s gone” all have that feel. But in the early ’80’s they went for a more pop/rock feel and that’s the stuff of theirs that I really like. This was a hard choice for me. Hall & Oates had some great songs out in ’81. I had narrowed it down to this one and “You Make My Dreams Come True”. In the end I picked this one because it’s a little more melodic. They are both great and, if it weren’t for my rule that no artist could have two songs in any year, they would probably both have made it.

3. 9 To 5, Dolly Parton – I really love this song. It’s really upbeat and has the great percussion part using the typewriter. This song has one of the best melodies (if not the best) on this list. It’s just a really catchy tune with a great arrangement. It also shows the versatility of Dolly Parton. This song makes me wish that Parton had done some more exploration of the pop genre. I think this song shows she could have been great at it.

2. Don’t Stand So Close To Me, The Police – This is one of the best Police songs ever. It has an ominous and subdued feel to it during the verses that enhances the creepiness of the subject matter. But then the chorus has an upbeat, pop feel to it. The counter melody line of the last choruses is great as well. In the end, Sting is probably the only songwriter that can write an upbeat pop song about a teacher fantasizing about an under-aged student and have it become a hit.

1. Jessie’s Girl, Rick Springfield – If for nothing else, this song would probably be number one for the simple fact that it’s the only rock song I’ve ever heard that uses the word “moot”. This song is quintessential 80’s pop/rock. It has a great rhythm guitar part, a classic synth part in the bridge and a very 80’s guitar solo. The song is just very catchy and has a classic rock theme – wanting a woman that belongs someone else.

Top 10 Pop/Rock Songs of the 80’s – 1980

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.