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.

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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.

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.

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 – 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.