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 – 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.

Top 10 Pop/Rock Songs of the 80’s – 1983

Well, as I get into the years ’83, ’84 and ’85 the task of getting down to 10 songs is getting harder and harder. For 1983 there were at least 10 songs that I really loved that I had to kick off the list. For why I started doing these lists and for the 1980 list see this post. Here are the lists for 1981 and 1982.

10. Photograph, Def Leppard – Def Leppard was the first hard rock band that I remember crossing over to the pop charts although Van Halen might have something to say about that. Anyway, this song had a great melody and the vocals were great. Mutt Lange became famous producing these guys and I read once that he would have them lay down up to 30 vocal tracks for each song which is why they sound so full. One of the other great things about this song, and the album Pyromania, is that the band members had all of their limbs.

9. Always Something There to Remind Me, Naked Eyes – The way this song starts out with the ringing church bells makes this song instantly recognizable. I had a hard time choosing between this song and “Promises, Promises” which is a moodier song. This one won out mainly because the melody – of the chorus especially – is one of the best of the 80’s.

8. Jeopardy, Greg Kihn Band – This song has a sparse, groovy feel to it. It’s one of the best one hit wonders of 83.

7. Goody Two Shoes, Adam Ant – I had a friend who had very eclectic musical tastes and had all of the Adam Ant import albums. So I actually heard this before it was big here in the States. This song is hard to describe. The horn section kind of sounds like Big Band and Swing. The beat is almost Rockabilly. The melody is great and Ant is probably the whitest guy to ever mention Al green in a song he was singing while dressed as an Indian.

6. Separate Ways (Worlds Apart), Journey – This is one of my favorite Journey songs. The thing I remember most about this song is that in the video the band is shown playing “air” instruments, which I always thought odd. This was a great power ballad and is a great showcase for Steve Perry who has one of the stronger voices in pop.

5. Sweet Dreams, Eurythmics – This brooding, dark hit from the Eurythmics is one of my favorite songs from them. The lyrics and synth parts combine to give this song a sinister feel. Annie Lennox has one of the greatest voices of her generation.

4. Africa, Toto – I don’t know if this or “Rosanna” was a bigger hit for Toto but, for me, this is Toto’s signature song. I remember it seemed weird to me that there was a pop song about Africa. Like all Toto songs this one has a great melody and lush instrumentation. It also may be the only pop song to mention Kilimanjaro.

3. Little Red Corvette, Prince – Since I was an innocent, church-going kid when this song came out, it took me a while to figure out that it was dirty. I really thought that this was a car song. Prince is a master of groovy, infectious melodies and it was hard to choose between this and “1999” for inclusion on this list. If I remember correctly, this song is what caused my parents to ban me from listening to Prince and afterwards I had to hide any subsequent Prince tapes that I bought.

2. Billie Jean, Michael Jackson – Well, we now know that the kid was indeed not his son (unless a turkey baster was involved) since Jackson is a freakish, gay pedophile. I really hate to put a Jackson song on the list but Thriller and all of the singles off of it were just huge. Plus Jackson probably wrote the most infectious melodies of the 80’s. It’s really too bad he went off the deep end.

1. Every Breath You Take, The Police – This is probably the biggest hit by the Police. Everything about this song is subtle from the beautiful, understated guitar part to the lyrics that you don’t realize are creepy stalker lyrics until you’ve listened to the song a few times. Like “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”, Sting and the Police manage to make a huge pop hit with a creepy subject and this time they actually make it sound like a sweet love song.