Top 10 Pop/Rock Songs of the 80’s – 1987

Well, ’87 is when things start to get a little sparse. There are still some really good songs but the quantity of quality stuff encounters a steep drop-off. 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, 1985 and 1986.

10. At This Moment, Billy Vera – As you know if you’ve been reading these lists, I’m a sucker for sappy love ballads – especially those that are of the baby-please-don’t-leave variety. I’m also a sucker for pedal steel guitar. This song has a slow gospel feel to it that turns country when the pedal still kicks in and then changes yet again to 50’s-style ballad when the horn section enters. The vocals display some of the most genuine emotion that you’re going to find in a song from this era. The guy sounds like he’s really hurting. If I remember correctly, the first time I heard this song was on an episode of Family Ties. Only after that did I start hearing it on the radio.

9. I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight, Cutting Crew – Alright, let’s get one thing straight – chicks dig this song! If you wanted to get a girl in “the mood” back in 1987 all you had to do was pop this cassette in the car stereo and your night just got a little more interesting. The guitar in this song has that edgy, reverby 80’s signature to it. The vocals aren’t great in that they sound like they could be any of the androgenous Brit bands of the time. But the melody and overall production value of the song make up for that.

8. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight, Genesis – I kind of had a wierd relationship with Genesis. I liked pretty much every single they released but I never bought any of their albums. To further confuse things, sometimes I didn’t know if a song was a Genesis or Phil Collins solo single. This song however was one that I had to own and so I bought it on 45, one of the few 45’s I ever bought. This song has a similar feel to “In the Air Tonight”; real atmospheric and kind of menacing. The lyrics of the verses didn’t seem to make much sense. “I’m comin’ down, comin’ down like a monkey” – what the hell does that mean?

7. Will You Still Love Me, Chicago – This is the first single from Chicago 18, as well as the moment that the group said “Peter who?” Despite Peter Cetera leaving the group the band continued their dominance of the mid to late 80’s charts by pumping out another power ballad with a memorable, catchy melody. I mainly remember this song because a girl that I liked invited me to go to the Chicago concert with her and her church youth group. I thought that this was a sign that she was into me. Later though I found out she was interested in one of my friends who was one of those guys that no girls where ever interested in (you know the type I’m talking about). Regardless of this painful memory I still dig the song.

6. The Next Time I Fall, Peter Cetera & Amy Grant – Much like #7, this song hears Peter Cetera ask “Chicago who?” This was his second post-Chicago solo hit and his proof that he could come out with catchy, melodic power ballads on his own. This song caused quite a bit of controversy at my church. Amy Grant up to this point had been a Christian artist and many of the faithful thought that she was betraying her ideals by doing the mainstream crossover thing. My only problem with it was that she sounded really sexy which caused me to think about her in ways that made me feel dirty…but in a good way.

5. Notorius, Duran Duran – With the jangly disco guitar bit and the popping bass line this song saw Duran Duran back in a big way. The horns added a great layer to the song and the melody was up there with all of their great songs. And of course “Notorious” continues their tradition of lyrics that either don’t make sense, are silly or both at the same time. Just a sample: “You own the money, you control the witness. I leave you lonely, don’t monkey with my business.” I hate it when people monkey with my business…I think.

4. The Lady In Red, Chris de Burgh – Chris de Burgh just sounds really cool and smooth in this song. This song is a straight-forward ballad and the only thing that makes it sound like an 80’s tune is the atmospheric keyboard part in the background. Otherwise, I think it could have been a pop standard in any generation. This was a great one to slow dance to at the school social.

3. Mandolin Rain, Bruce Hornsby – Hornsby is another one of those artists that, although I like every single he released, I never bought any of his albums. For some reason this song sounds like Autumn to me. It makes me think of leaves changing colors, pickup football games on the weekend and starting to pull out the sweaters from the back of the closet. Of the two songs that charted for Hornsby in ’87 (the other was his huge hit “The Way It Is”) this one was by far the less popular. I like it better because it’s more melodic and I never did like the preachiness of “The Way It Is”.

2. Don’t Dream It’s Over, Crowded House – My wife is a huge Crowded House fan and would have killed me if I didn’t include one of their songs on this list. However, I can happily say that I included “Don’t Dream It’s Over” without any coercion from her. I love this song. From the reverby guitar bit to the Hammond B3 organ solo that manages to sound classic and contemporary at the same time to the vocals, everything in this song works together to create a distinct sound. You won’t confuse Crowded House with any other band from the 80’s because they have a unique style that’s all their own.

1. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, U2 – U2 finally made the big time with their release of The Joshua Tree in 1987. This is one of only two U2 songs that have reached #1 in the US; the other was “With Or Without You” from the same album. I’m a big U2 fan mainly due to a girl named Sydney that I was in Economics and Psychology classes with in high school. We didn’t really run in the same circles, but both those classes had assigned seating and we sat next to each other in both of them. She knew I was into music and in a band and told me that I really needed to check them out. Before then I had heard U2 on the radio but hadn’t bought any of their albums. I went out and picked up The Joshua Tree and War at the same time and was blown away. I picked this song over “With Or Without You” because I like the gospel theme of it. I always like the fact that U2 could put overt references to Jesus and Christianity in their songs and not suffer in popularity. It’s got a very memorable melody and of course Bono’s vocals are classic. This song would probably make my list of top 10 U2 songs if I was forced to make one.


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.

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.