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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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.

Beatlemania at 45

National Review Online (not a publication that is usually given to writing gushing articles about baby boomer or hippie cultural icons) has a gushing article about the Beatles on this, the 45th anniversary of their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. If you love the Beatles and National Review like I do…enjoy.

Top 10 Pop/Rock Songs of the 80’s – 1982

For the reasons I decided to do these lists, the rules I used, and the 1980 list see this post. For the list for 1981 see this one.

Whittling 1982 down to 10 was actually a lot easier than the previous years. Mainly because 1982 had several songs that were immediately recognizable as above the rest…

10. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, The Police – One of the more upbeat and romantic police songs, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” has a very infectious melody. It almost has a Caribbean feel to it. The song was very easy to relate to since, in my early years of negotiations with the fairer sex, I was awkward and pretty shy. This song also is unique in that there’s a line in it – “Do I have to tell the story of a thousand rainy days since we first met? It’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet” – that’s used in at least one other Police song, “O My God” from Synchronicity, and at least one Sting solo song, “Seven Days” from Ten Summoner’s Tales.

9. Workin’ For The Weekend, Loverboy – Like “Jessie’s Girl” from ’81, this song just sounds like the 80’s. It has the generic DX7 keyboard part and the 80’s guitar sound. This song has a really driving beat and would sound like a good early 70’s classic rock song if not for the keyboards. This song was a big player at the roller skating rink that I used to go to during the summer, and all the hot shot skaters would start doing their various tricks during it. This song, probably more than any other, reminds me of middle school and all that that entails.

8. Heat of the Moment, Asia – I struggled with putting this at number 8 or “Open Arms” by Jouney. In the end, this won out because of nostalgia. As I’ve mentioned before, in my early childhood I listened to what my parents listened to which was Country, Gospel and Elvis. Around 6th grade I started listening to top 40 stuff because that’s what my friends listened to. “Heat of the Moment” really struck a chord with me because it sounded so different than anything I had hear up to that point. The heavy reverb on the vocals and the drums. The interplay between the guitar and synths. The lush backing vocals. All these elements combine to create a classic 80’s one hit wonder.

7. Ebony And Ivory, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder – When I was a kid the only music I listened to was Country, Gospel and Elvis because that was what my parents listened to. The only pop/rock music I was exposed to was from my aunt. I distinctly remember that she had a copy of Wings at the Speed of Sound and remember listening to it at her house. So when “Ebony and Ivory” came out, my first reaction was, “Hey, that’s that keyboard player from Wings.” I’m still embarrassed by that. A duet sung by two certified rock legends, this song was a huge hit in ’82. The lyrics are a bit simplistic and trite but are still pretty good for a pop song taking on a tough subject. I read that this song was recorded live in the studio which, if true, makes the song even more impressive because it has a really great sound to it.

6. Rosanna, Toto – When I first started listening to top 40 music I was instantly drawn to Toto. In general, all their songs are very melodic but their production is a step above easy listening. This song is mellow but the arrangement has enough guitar to be on the rock side of pop music. The song is marred by the incredibly, almost unbearable synth solo. But the horn section and the melody more than make up for it.

5. Do You Believe In Love, Huey Lewis & The News – There was a girl in middle school that I had a huge crush on who was a big Huey Lewis fan. We eventually “went together” for a while and during that time, I bought all of the Huey Lewis albums that were out to date. I didn’t really get into this song until the stuff from Sports was popular. This song is classic Huey Lewis. It has a real doo-wop feel to it updated with the ubiquitous 80’s snyth sound. Lewis is one of the better song writers to come out of the 80’s. He is also one of the most distinctive vocalists.

4. I Love Rock & Roll, Joan Jett – I don’t know why I remember this, but the first time I ever heard this song was on a jukebox at a restaurant that my Aunt and Uncle owned. The only thing I remember about the restaurant is that they had awesome coconut cream pie. But I instantly liked this song. Having listened to Country music most of my life, this song had a somewhat sinister feel to it – in a good way. Joan Jett’s voice was also a complete 180 from any woman I had ever heard sing, she sounded sexy and dangerous. It was almost too much for an 11-year old boy to take. My friend and I were talking about this song and about how, when we were young, we both thought that Jett was hot. When I look at pictures of her from back then she definitely does not seem hot. I think that voice is what made her seem that way. This song was another roller rink staple and has one of the classic guitar riffs of rock and roll.

3. Centerfold, J Geils Band – It’s hard to know where to begin with this song. First off, I challenge you to listen to this song and sit still. You just have to move when you hear it. The melody is infectious and the guitars are understated but awesome. It has a bouncy quality to it and the lyrics are hilarious. Like others on this list this song was a big roller rink player. And though tame by today’s standards, the girls in negligees in the video made my 11-year-old pants go crazy. Nah, nah, na-na-na-nah indeed.

2. Hard To Say I’m Sorry, Chicago – I am a sucker for a sappy love ballad. This song basically started a new career for Chicago. Before this album, Chicago 16, most of Chicago’s hits had been really jazz influenced. This album was their first foray into mainstream pop music. There’s not much to say about this song. It’s a straightforward love ballad with a great melody and lots of 80’s synth on it. My favorite part is the end where it segues into another short song “Get Away”, which has a fast tempo, driving guitars and piano and a great horn arrangement. It’s such a contrast to the first part, but it really works…pure genius.

1. Eye Of The Tiger, Survivor – Even now that I am older and fat this song still makes me want to put on a gray sweat suit and run through the streets of a cold city. I don’t do it – but I want to. However, when I’m on my treadmill and it’s set to 3 miles an hour and this song comes on, I push it up to 3.2 miles an hour. Survivor didn’t have a lot of hits in the 80’s but the few they did have were monsters. This song has a driving feel to it and great vocals. It’s definitive 80’s.

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.