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The 100 greatest songs of the 1980s, ranked – Smooth Radio


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21 March 2023, 11:55 | Updated: 14 August 2023, 14:35
By Tom Eames
The 1980s may have been the decade of questionable fashion choices, but we'll probably say the same about the 2020s in a few years…
It was also the decade of great movies, the rise of video games and downright fantastic music.
We've attempted the ridiculously hard (but not in any way a chore) task of picking the very best 1980s songs ever. Here are our 100 picks – are your favourites in there?
UB40 – Red Red Wine (Official Video)
You might not have realised it, but Neil Diamond first recorded this song back in 1967.
But it's UB40's cover that became the most well-known in 1983. The song truly brought the band to the mainstream, and reached number one in the UK.
It ended up topping the US charts too in 1988, after being performed at Nelson Mandela's birthday tribute concert.
Phil Collins – Another Day In Paradise (Official Music Video)
This ballad saw Phil Collins sing the tune from a third-person perspective, looking at a man crossing the street to ignore a homeless woman, imploring listeners not to turn a blind eye to those in need.
It became Phil's seventh and final number one single in America, while David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash appears on backing vocals.
Culture Club – Karma Chameleon (Official Music Video)
This was the song that made Boy George an even bigger star around the world. It was the UK's biggest selling single of 1984 and topped the US chart.
Boy George later explained the song: "It is about the terrible fear of alienation that people have, the fear of standing up for one thing. It's about trying to suck up to everybody.
"Basically, if you aren't true, if you don't act like you feel, then you get Karma-justice, that's nature's way of paying you back."
Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up (Official Music Video)
If there's one song from the Stock, Aitken and Waterman era that has stood the test of time, it's Rick Astley's international number one smash.
The 1987 dance-pop anthem has lived long in the memory thanks to the Rickroll craze that still goes on today, and the video has been streamed over 1 billion times.
Sting – Englishman In New York
The ‘Englishman’ in question in this song is the famous eccentric and gay icon Quentin Crisp. Sting wrote the song not long after Crisp moved from London to an apartment in the Bowery in Manhattan.
Crisp had remarked jokingly to the musician “that he looked forward to receiving his naturalization papers so that he could commit a crime and not be deported.”
There's not many songs that can feature both a drum breakdown and a saxophone solo closer and still be a massive pop hit.
INXS – Need You Tonight (Official Video)
This funk rock track has one of the most recognisable riffs of the 1980s.
The band's Andrew Farriss said that the riff appeared suddenly in his head while waiting for a taxi to go to the airport to fly to Hong Kong. He asked the driver to wait a couple of minutes while he grabbed something from his motel room.
However, he went up to record the riff and came back down an hour later with a tape to a very annoyed driver.
Spandau Ballet – True (HD Remastered)
This was the song that turned Spandau Ballet from potential one album wonders to true pop legends.
Gary Kemp wrote this love song at his parents' house as a homage to Motown and Marvin Gaye. He said: "'True' became a song about writing a love song. Why 'Why do I find it hard to write the next line? I want the truth to be said?' Because I didn't want to write it down—because there's nothing more embarrassing."
It soon became something of a standard, and one of the best love songs of all time.
Van Halen – Jump (Official Music Video)
Van Halen’s most successful single was the lead track from their 1984 album, and differs from earlier Van Halen songs in that it is driven by a rolling synth line (played on an Oberheim OB-Xa by Eddie Van Halen).
After years as an instrumental, David Lee Roth attempted to come up with lyrics, and remembered seeing a TV report about a man threatening jump off of a building, and that onlookers would probably shout “go ahead and jump”. Instead of being about death, the words were written as an invitation to love.
Billy Ocean – When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going (Official Video)
Probably Billy Ocean's biggest and most famous hit, this track reached number one in the UK and number two in the US.
It was the theme tune to the Michael Douglas movie The Jewel in the Crown and its sequel, and was later a number one for Boyzone in 1999 in aid of Comic Relief.
The Story of… 'When the Going Gets Tough' by Billy Ocean
The Way It Is
This track deals with various social injustices, referencing divides between the rich and poor and racial segregation, and how the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a victory in the civil rights movement, but how more is still needed.
Its famous piano melody later sampled in the 2Pac track ‘Changes’. The song was Hornsby’s most successful, reaching the top spot in the States.
Heart – Alone
Composed by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, this power ballad first appeared via their 1983 pet project, I-Ten, on Taking a Cold Look.
It was later recorded by Valerie Stevenson and John Stamos for the soundtrack of the CBS sitcom Dreams in 1984.
But it wasn't until US rock band Heart cover it that it became a hit, scoring a number one with it three years later. Kelly ended up singing the high harmony parts on the Heart version.
Diana Ross – Chain Reaction (Official Video)
The Bee Gees wrote this classic '80s pop tune from Motown icon Diana Ross, and they also provided backing vocals.
Despite being a number one success in many countries including the UK in 1985, it amazingly only reached number 95 in the US!
Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Relax (Official Video)
Although fairly inauspicious upon initial release, this track eventually became one of the most controversial and successful records of the 1980s, selling over 2 million copies in the UK alone.
The song emphasized the shock impact of Frankie members Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford’s open homosexuality in the song's packaging and music videos, something which was rarely seen in the early 1980s.
Produced by Trevor Horn, it was banned by the BBC due to its suggestive sleeve and lyrics.
ABC – The Look Of Love
Taken from one of the most popular synthpop albums of the era and produced by Trevor Horn, this song is actually split into four parts.
Part 1 is the standard album version (this version), Part 2 is an instrumental version, Part 3 is a vocal version without the orchestral overdubs and Part 4 is a short acoustic instrumental.
The song was inspired by a break-up lead singer Martin Fry had experienced. In the second verse, the “Goodbye” background vocal is spoken by the actual woman in the relationship who had jilted him.
Whitesnake – Here I Go Again (1987 Edit/Remix) HQ
Originally released on Whitesnake's 1982 album Saints & Sinners, this power ballad was re-recorded for their 1987 self-titled album.
The song was re-recorded again the same year as this new ‘radio-mix’ version, which reached number one in the US. The song is about heartbreak and the loneliness that comes with it, and documents the breakdown of singer David Coverdale's first marriage.
Madonna – Papa Don't Preach (Official Video) [HD]
This song's lyrics deal with teenage pregnancy and abortion, and was based on teen gossip songwriter Brian Elliot heard outside his recording studio.
A chart-topper in both the UK and US, the song caused heated discussions about its content at the time. Women's organizations and others in the family planning sector criticized Madonna for encouraging teenage pregnancy, while anti-abortion groups opposed its pro-life message.
George Michael – A Different Corner (Official Video)
Following up on the success of 'Careless Whisper', 'A Different Corner' was the second solo single released by George Michael and helped him to become the first solo act in the history of the UK Singles Chart to reach No.1 with his first two releases.
Speaking in 2014, George said: "I think you can tell that 'A Different Corner' is genuinely the sound of a man whose heart's been broken. I was 19 and the best critique I ever heard of that song was from a friend of mine who said, 'It's beautiful, pathetic, but beautiful.'"
Two months after his death, Coldplay's Chris Martin performed a cover as a tribute to George at the Brit Awards, which featured the late singer appearing in a powerful duet.
Queen – Radio Ga Ga (Official Video)
This track was a commentary on TV overtaking radio's popularity and how one would listen to radio in the past. Roger Taylor later said: "That's part of what the song's about, really. The fact that they [music videos] seem to be taking over almost from the aural side, the visual side seems to be almost more important."
Lady Gaga has credited her stage name to this song, saying that she "adored" Queen. "That's why I love the name", she said.
Blondie – Atomic (Official Music Video)
A song of few words, but a number one hit for Blondie in 1980. Debbie Harry once said of the song’s lyrics: “A lot of the time I would write while the band were just playing the song and trying to figure it out. I would just be scatting along with them and I would just start going, ‘Ooooooh, your hair is beautiful’.”
The word ‘atomic’ in the song apparently carries no fixed meaning and functions more as a signifier of power and futurism. 1970s model Gia Carangi appears briefly in the post-apocalyptic music video.
Rod Stewart – Baby Jane (Official Video)
Taking on a more contemporary synthpop sound, this remains Rod Stewart's final UK number one single.
Speaking about his writing process, he later said he usually puts off writing words until the last minute.
He said: “The way I do it is hum and hah along while the band are playing. I sing whatever comes into my head and nine times out of 10 that will be the title of the song. Either that or I’d just write down a good title – like ‘Young Turks’ or ‘Baby Jane’ – and wait until the right vehicle comes along for it.”
Elton John – I'm Still Standing
If you watch carefully, you can see a young Strictly judge Bruno Tonioli in this Elton John music video as one of the dancers.
During the shoot, Elton bumped into Duran Duran. He complained he was exhausted due to having been up since four in the morning. Simon Le Bon suggested he have a martini. "So I did," Elton later said, "I had six."
Rufus & Chaka Khan – Ain't Nobody (Official Video) Remastered Audio HQ
This R&B and funk track was incredibly ahead of its time, and made a star of singer Chaka Khan.
Rufus keyboardist David 'Hawk' Wolinski was so convinced it would be a hit that he threatened to give the song to Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones for Thriller if the song was not the lead single.
Don Henley – The Boys Of Summer (Official Music Video)
Mike Campbell wrote the music to this track while working on Tom Petty’s Southern Accents album, but later gave it to Eagles singer Don Henley, who wrote the lyrics.
The yacht rock song is about the passing of youth and entering middle age, and of a past relationship. It was covered twice in the early 2000s: as a trance track by DJ Sammy in 2002, and as a pop punk hit by The Ataris in 2003.
Robert Palmer – Addicted To Love (Official Music Video)
This became Robert Palmer’s signature song, thanks in part to its music video featuring high fashion models playing the guitar around him.
Originally intended to be a duet with Chaka Khan, the song was made without her because her record company would not grant her a release to work on Palmer’s label. She is still credited for the vocal arrangements in the album liner notes.
Model Mak Gilchrist said of the video: “I lost balance on my heels and knocked the top of my guitar into the back of Robert’s head, and his face then hit the mic.”
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]
This track’s lyrics reflected the problems in frontman Ian Curtis’s marriage to Deborah Curtis, as well as his general frame of mind in the time leading up to his death in May 1980.
The title is an ironic reference to ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ by Captain & Tennille.
The other three members went on to form New Order. Stephen Morris later said: “In retrospect, when you listen to it in light of what happened, it seems bloody obvious. I just said ‘These are great lyrics, Ian’. That makes it a bit difficult to listen to now’.”
Soul II Soul – Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) (Official Music Video)
If there was one song that signalled the end of the 1980s and showcased what was to come, it was this R&B dance track from Soul II Soul and singer Caron Wheeler.
Producer Jazzie B said: "Everything about this single was magic. We weren't trying to follow any trend or fit into any category – we were just doing our own thing. … Its shuffling beats were a cross between reggae and what was to become known as hip-hop: breakbeats and electronic sound.
"Caron Wheeler's vocal, coming over these very heavy bass beats, was the icing on the cake."
The Stranglers – Golden Brown (Restored Music Video)
This Baroque-inspired track couldn't have sounded more different to the Strangers' previous punk rock output.
There has been much controversy and confusion surrounding the song's lyrics. For years, the band claimed that the song's lyrics were similar to an aural 'Rorschach test', and that people only heard in it what they wanted to hear. However, most people agreed that the lyrics alluded to heroin use.
Berlin – Take My Breath Away (Official Video – Top Gun)
The main love theme from Tom Cruise's Top Gun movie, this power ballad won an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Song in 1986.
Berlin may have been one hit wonders, but what a hit to have.
Jennifer Rush – The Power Of Love (Official Video) (VOD)
This was an absolute monster hit in 1985, becoming that year's biggest-selling single in the UK, while Rush became the first female artist ever to have a million-selling single.
Perhaps the ultimate power ballad, Celine Dion later scored a massive hit of her own in the following decade.
Billy Joel – Uptown Girl (Official Video)
Speaking to Howard Stern, Billy Joel had originally titled the song 'Uptown Girls' and it was written after he was surrounded by Christie Brinkley, Whitney Houston and his then-girlfriend Elle Macpherson.
It ended up being about his soon-to-be wife, Brinkley, and was inspired by the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The song was a huge hit, and gave Billy his only UK number one in 1983.
Daryl Hall & John Oates – Maneater (Official Video)
'Maneater' was the biggest hit of Hall & Oates’ career and reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it stayed for four weeks. It reached number six in the UK.
John Oates has said that while it is natural to assume the lyrics are about a woman, the song actually was originally written "about NYC in the ’80s. It's about greed, avarice, and spoiled riches. But we have it in the setting of a girl because it's more relatable. It's something that people can understand…"
Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time (Official HD Video)
This was one of Cyndi Lauper's first-ever singles, and was written with Rob Hyman of the band The Hooters. It has become known as one of the best love songs of the 1980s.
The inspiration for the song came after both songwriters were going through similar situations in their own relationships: he was coming out of a relationship, while she was having issues with her boyfriend at the time, David Wolff.
Mike + The Mechanics – The Living Years (Official Video)
The heartbreaking song is written from the perspective of a son who has a conflicted relationship with his dad.
After his father dies, he discovers that he and his dad had a much stronger connection than he realized, and he regrets not saying more while he was still alive.
The song was written by Mike Rutherford and BA Robertson after both of their fathers had recently died, but the lyrics were written by Robertson, and centered on the unresolved issues between him and his father.
Stevie Wonder – I Just Called To Say I Love You (Music Video)
This became Stevie Wonder's biggest ever hit in 1984, and topped the charts in 19 different countries.
The song was written for the movie The Woman in Red, and ended up winning a Grammy and Oscar for Best Song.
Soft Cell Tainted Love (1981)
Gloria Jones first recorded this Northern Soul track back in 1965, but Marc Almond's Soft Cell created one of the greatest cover versions of all time in 1981.
It became a synthpop New Romantics staple, and one of the best-selling songs of all time.
Bee Gees – You Win Again (1987)
This song was a huge comeback for the Bee Gees in 1987. It reached number one and also gave them an Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.
Barry Gibb wrote the melody while Maurice came up with the drum sounds in his garage. Robin said: "We absolutely thought that 'You Win Again' was going to be a big hit. It took us a month to cut it and get the right mix."
Duran Duran – Rio (Official Music Video)
Famous for its yacht-heavy music video, 'Rio' started as an idea by John Taylor about Rio de Janeiro – "the truly foreign, the exotic, a cornucopia of earthly delights, a party that would never stop".
Simon Le Bon wrote the lyrics to the song, and chose not to write about the city but actually about a girl named Rio.The saxophone solo was performed by Andy Hamilton, who has also worked with George Michael and Elton John.
Journey – Don't Stop Believin' (Official Audio)
This track was a mild hit upon its release in 1981, but didn't even reach the UK top 40 at the time.
Fast forward to 2009, and its use in shows like Glee and The Sopranos helped bring it back into the mainstream, and it was a surprise hit around the world once again. It's now a guaranteed moment at every wedding and house party setlist.
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (Official HD Video)
Released in 1982, this was Marvin Gaye's first song since his exit from Motown a year earlier. Taken from the Midnight Love album, it was a huge comeback for Marvin and something of a career renaissance.
Featuring whispers from Harvey Fuqua, the sexually-charged became one of his biggest and best-known songs.
Roxy Music – More Than This
From the Avalon album, this song was Roxy Music's final UK top 10 hit, reaching number six in 1982.
Bryan Ferry later said he began writing songs for Avalon while on the western coast of Ireland, which he believes led to the melancholic sound of the album.
Bill Murray famously sings a karaoke version of the song in the movie Lost in Translation.
Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes – (I've Had) The Time Of My Life (Official HD Video)
Written for Dirty Dancing, this is the ultimate '80s movie song. It's a perfectly fantastic finale moment, and is always a karaoke favourite.
It won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy, and is one of the greatest duets of all time.
Mr. Mister – Broken Wings
This song was co-written with lyricist John Lang, who was inspired by a book called Broken Wings, written by Kahlil Gibran. The book, which was written in 1912, is a story of a love that is doomed by social convention.
The line ‘take these broken wings and learn to fly’ appears in The Beatles song ‘Blackbird’, with Paul McCartney and John Lennon also drawing from the work of Gibran.
The band’s name came from an inside joke about a Weather Report album called Mr Gone.
Starship – Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now (Official Music Video) [HD]
Pop-rock veterans Starship provided this '80s anthem as the main theme song to romantic comedy Mannequin in 1987, and it's still a classic.
Not only was it a number one hit around the world, but it was nominated for an Oscar.
The Cars – Drive (Official Music Video)
This soft rock anthem was former new wave band The Cars' biggest hit, released in 1984.
A year later, it became mostly associated with Live Aid, after it was used as the backing to a montage about the famine in Ethiopia. The band donated proceeds from a re-release of the song to the charity.
Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart (Video)
Written by Meat Loaf's longtime collaborator Jim Steinman, this was a UK number-one hit for Bonnie Tyler in 1983.
Steinman later said of the song's origins: "I was trying to come up with a love song and I remembered I actually wrote that to be a vampire love song. Its original title was 'Vampires in Love' because I was working on a musical of Nosferatu, the other great vampire story. If anyone listens to the lyrics, they're really like vampire lines. It's all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love's place in the dark…"
Wham! – Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (Official Video)
Choose Life! This song gave Wham! their first number one in both the UK and US.
Produced and written by George Michael, he said that inspiration for the song was a scribbled note that Andrew Ridgeley had left for his parents, intended to read "wake me up before you go" but with "up" accidentally written twice, so Andrew wrote "go" twice on purpose.
Phil Collins Against All Odds (Official Music Video 1984)
This gorgeous ballad sees Phil implore an ex-lover to "take a look at me now", knowing that reconciliation is "against all odds" while considering it worth a shot.
It was recorded for the movie of the same name and reached number one in the States. It was later a number one in the UK for both Mariah Carey with Westlife in 2000 and X Factor winner Steve Brookstein in 2005.
Lionel Richie – Hello (Official Music Video)
One of Lionel Richie's biggest ever hits, this song went to number one in both the UK and US in 1984.
Lionel initially felt that the song was "corny" but "by the time I finished the verse, I fell in love with the song again". And you've got to love that music video!
Irene Cara – "What A Feeling" (1983) – MDA Telethon
When you think of '80s cinema moments, the sight of Jennifer Beals swapping her welding gear for a seriously epic dance routine to the tune of 'What a Feeling' in Flashdance is right up there.
Irene Cara's anthem won an Oscar and Golden Globe for best song in 1984.
Tracy Chapman – Fast Car (Official Music Video)
One of the greatest and most-played ballads from the '80s, this became Tracy Chapman's signature song in 1988.
Speaking to Q magazine, Tracy Chapman once said: "It's not really about a car at all."Basically it's about a relationship that doesn't work out because it's starting from the wrong place."
The song is said to tell a grittily realistic story of a working poor woman trying to escape the cycle of poverty.
Yazoo – Only You (Official Music Video)
Vince Clarke wrote 'Only You' as a sentimental ballad, and wanted to find a singer who could perform it with emotion, after his former band Depeche Mode turned it down.
At the same time, singer Alison Moyet placed an ad in Melody Maker looking for a new band. Clarke had heard Moyet perform with other bands on the pub circuit, and felt she was a perfect fit for the song.
The song brought the duo together and became a big hit, and was later covered by everyone from The Flying Pickets to Kylie Minogue.
U2 – With Or Without You (Official Music Video)
A number one hit in America in 1987, this power ballad helped turn U2 in rock giants.
Featuring trademark sustained guitar parts played by guitarist the Edge, the love song was inspired by Bono's conflicting feelings about the lives he led as a musician and domestic man.
The Jacksons – Can You Feel It
Written by brothers Michael and Jackie, this song about creating a world of peace and harmony featured solo leads by Randy and Michael.
It was one of the biggest hits for the brothers under the Jacksons moniker rather than the Jackson 5, and its video was an epic nine-minute version with added sound effects and guitars that deserves to be seen in all its glory.
Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer (HD version)
This song was influenced by 1960s soul music, in particular those made by Memphis label Stax. The song is generally about sex, with the lyrics being loaded with… phallic symbols.
Its iconic famous music video was directed by Stephen R Johnson, and featured Aardman Animation providing groundbreaking claymation. Peter Gabriel said: “If anyone wants to try and copy this video, good luck to them”.
Queen – Under Pressure (Official Video)
Queen had been working on a song called ‘Feel Like’, but were not yet satisfied with the result.
David Bowie had originally come to sing backup vocals on another song, but his vocals were removed because he was not satisfied. The final version of this song, evolved from a jam session that Bowie had with the band.
Brian May later said: “It was hard, because you had four very precocious boys and David, who was precocious enough for all of us. Looking back, it’s a great song but it should have been mixed differently.”
Tina Turner – What's Love Got To Do With It (Official Music Video)
This song ended up becoming Tina Turner's most successful song ever, and was taken from her 1984 album Private Dancer.
It was later used in the 1993 film of the same name, based on Tina's life.
Amazingly, it was first offered to Cliff Richard, who rejected it. It was also given around to Phyllis Hyman, Donna Summer and even Bucks Fizz. The Fizz even recorded a version but it was shelved as Tina got hers out first.
Guns N' Roses – Sweet Child O' Mine (Official Music Video)
Featuring one of rock's most distinctive guitar riffs thanks to Slash, this crowd pleasure featured on Guns N Roses' debut album Appetite for Destruction.
Lead singer Axl Rose was listening to the band upstairs in his room and was inspired to write lyrics, basing it on his girlfriend Erin Everly (the daughter of Everly Brothers star Don Everly and Venetia Stevenson).
The Bangles – Eternal Flame (Official Video)
Bangles member Susanna Hoffs teamed up with seasoned songwriters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly to write this power ballad.
he song was inspired by two eternal flames: one at the gravesite of Elvis Presley that the Bangles saw when the band visited Graceland, and one at a local synagogue in Palm Springs which Steinberg attended as a child.
Hoffs later revealed she sang the recording completely naked after producer Davitt Sigerson pranked her by saying Olivia Newton-John had done the same thing.
Barbra Streisand — Woman In Love Video HQ
This was the song that truly took Barbra Streisand into the mainstream pop world, thanks to her collaboration with the Bee Gees' Barry Gibb, who co-wrote this song with his brother Robin.
It was a huge hit around the world, and is perhaps her greatest hit single ever. However, she is not actually a fan of the song herself. She has said that she doesn't believe in the lyrics, and has very rarely performed it live.
Erasure – A Little Respect (Official HD Music Video)
This '80s anthem is about a plea for reconciliation from a lover who has been hurt by their partner, and was an outlet for producer Vince Clarke to get his emotions out via Andy Bell’s fantastic vocals.
“Andy is much better at offering his heart to the world and expressing how he feels, he’s a king at that,” he said.
Fleetwood Mac – Everywhere (Official Music Video)
Written and sung by Christine McVie, 'Everywhere' reached number four in the UK Singles Chart in 1988.
Its video was based on the poem 'The Highwayman' and follows the story of a traveller in love with the landlord's daughter.
George Michael, Aretha Franklin – I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) (Official Video)
This Grammy Award-winning duet was a number one smash around the world for Aretha and George Michael in 1987, and was co-written by Simon Climie of Climie Fisher fame.
It had been one of George's ambitions to perform with Aretha, and producer Clive Davis put the two in touch. It was originally intended as a solo song for Tina Turner.
New Order – Blue Monday 88 (Official Music Video)
The original version of this track remains the best-selling 12” single of all time, and was written in response to crowd disappointment at the fact that they never played encores.
The song was planned to allow them to return to the stage, press play on a synthesiser and leave the stage again, but while writing the song it evolved into a project that the band quite liked.
This version was a more palatable 4 minute release, and was remixed by Quincy Jones. It reached top five in the UK and topped the US dance chart.
Elton John – I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues
This was one of Elton's biggest hits of the 1980s, and features none other than Stevie Wonder on harmonica.
It has since been covered by the likes of James Blunt, and as a duet with Elton and Mary J Blige.
Simple Minds – Don't You (Forget About Me)
Scottish band Simple Minds were brought in to record the main theme for teen drama The Breakfast Club, and they couldn't have done a better job.
One of the greatest '80s movie moments is surely Judd Nelson's John Bender fist pumping the sky to the tune of this '80s banger.
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Official Video – Shortened Version)
The title track of the world’s best-selling album was written by English disco pioneer Rod Temperton, and was originally called ‘Starlight’. The song also features horror icon Vincent Price performing a tongue-in-cheek ‘rap’.
Price recorded it on his second take, after it had been written by Temperton in the taxi on the way to the studio!
A 14-minute film was made for the song directed by John Landis, in which Jackson turns into a zombie and performs a dance routine. It has often been voted the greatest music video ever made.
George Michael – Faith (Official Video)
This funky song was written, arranged and produced by George Michael himself. The song became one of his most popular and enduring tracks.
It also introduced the world to George's iconic leather jacket and blue jeans combo. It topped the US charts in 1987 and reached number two in the UK.
Bon Jovi – Livin' On A Prayer
Weddings, house parties and '80s cheese nights wouldn't be complete without it.
Explaining what the song was about, Jon Bon Jovi said: "It deals with the way that two kids – Tommy and Gina – face life's struggles, and how their love and ambitions get them through the hard times.
The song became the band's signature song, has sold million of copies, and has just under a billion views on YouTube as of 2023.
Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls (Official Video) [HD REMASTERED]
The group's debut single is also their very best, and is a pioneering piece of synthpop.
The Pet Shop Boys burst onto the scene in 1984 with this dark track, which was influenced by hip hop music and a TS Elliot poem. The song was written about class and the pressures of inner-city life.
Patrick Swayze – She's Like The Wind (Official HD Video) ft. Wendy Fraser
Co-written and sung by actor Patrick Swayze, this song was originally intended for the soundtrack of Grandview, USA, and was meant to be about Jamie Lee Curtis’ character in the film.
However, the song was not used, and so during the production of Dirty Dancing in 1987, Swayze played the demo for producer Linda Gottlieb and director Emile Ardolino. They loved it and it was recorded for the soundtrack.
Duran Duran – Save A Prayer (Official Music Video)
Released in 1982, this mellow pop classic reached number two in the UK, their biggest hit at the time.
The song began with Andy Taylor and Nick Rhodes picking out chords together, before Simon Le Bon wrote the lyrics.
The song is about a chance meeting between two people, that turns into a one-night stand. Le Bon described it as "realistic, and not romantic".
Paul Simon – You Can Call Me Al (Official Video)
This catchy 1980s anthem was the first single to be released from Paul Simon's iconic album Graceland. In the UK it peaked at number four.
The song is about a person seemingly experiencing a midlife crisis. Its lyrics were partially inspired by Paul's trip to South Africa and his experiences with its culture.
It had one of the most famous music videos of all time, with Paul being joined by actor Chevy Chase, who had rehearsed the lyrics on the way to the shoot.
Bryan Adams – Summer Of '69 (Official Music Video)
Originally titled 'Best Days of My Life', this song was amazingly not a hit in the UK (only reaching number 42), despite it being arguably Bryan Adams' best known and most loved song!
Bryan later said: "That song is 25 years old now so it's had that many years to incubate. A lot of songs, like that one, hit big in America but really not anywhere else. It didn't chart anywhere in Europe until at least 10 years after it was released. I think songs can have a life of their own regardless of the promotion."
Michael Jackson – Man In The Mirror (Official Video)
Despite being one of Michael Jackson's signature songs, this was actually written by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard.
It remains one of the most inspirational tracks of all time, and was one of the reason behind its album Bad's huge success.
Madness – It Must Be Love (Official Video)
Labi Siffre first released this song as a soul ballad in 1971, before Madness released a more famous cover 10 years later.
One of their most popular songs, this quirky little love song was a number four hit. In a nice touch, Labi Siffre makes a cameo in the music video.
Huey Lewis & The News – The Power Of Love (Official Video)
The ultimate feel-good '80s movie pop anthem, Huey Lewis was hired to come up with a couple of tunes for Back to the Future, and he more than succeeded with this.
It was nominated for an Oscar, but lost out to Lionel Richie's 'Say You Say Me'.
Ultravox – Vienna (Official Music Video)
A staple of the synthpop genre, this song took its inspiration from the 1948 film The Third Man, which is based around the Austrian capital Vienna. It was famously stuck at number two behind Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap You Face’ for several weeks.
Midge Ure said of the song: “We wanted to take the song and make it incredibly pompous in the middle, leaving it very sparse before and after, but finishing with a typically over-the top classical ending.”
Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (Official Video)
This Eurythmics track remains one of the most iconic synthpop tracks of its era. It was a huge hit worldwide, reaching number two in the UK and number one in the US.
According to Annie Lennox, the song is about the unhappy time she felt after the breakup of first band The Tourists. She said: "[It's] basically me saying: 'Look at the state of us. How can it get worse? I was feeling very vulnerable. The song was an expression of how I felt: hopeless and nihilistic'."
However, David Stewart thought the lyrics were too depressing, and added the 'hold your head up, moving on' line to make it more uplifting.
David Bowie – Let's Dance (Official Video)
In 1982, Nile Rodgers met David Bowie in the New York club Continental, where the two shared a conversation about their musical interests. Bowie later invited Rodgers to his house in Switzerland, which Rodgers assumed was an audition.
The pair then worked together on this track and the album of the same name, giving Bowie one of the biggest hits of his career.
Madonna – Like A Prayer (Official Video)
Written and produced by Madonna and Patrick Leonard, this track saw Madonna enter a new artistic and personal approach to songwriting, as she believed that she needed to cater more to her adult audience.
The song is about a passionate girl in love with God, who becomes the only male figure in her life. The music video sees Madonna as a witness to the murder of a girl by white supremacists.
While a black man is arrested for the murder, Madonna hides in a church, and it also features a dream sequence about kissing a black saint.
The Vatican condemned the video, while family and religious groups also protested its broadcast. All the fuss did was make Madonna an even bigger star.
Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb decided to write this song as an R&B tune for Marvin Gaye, but it later transformed into a country-pop crossover.
"The story is the producer and the writer on the song was one of the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb," Kenny Rogers told People magazine.
"And we had been singing this song in my studio in L.A. for four days. And I finally said, 'Barry, I don't even like this song anymore.'
"And he said, 'We need Dolly Parton.'"I said, 'Well, why not, you know?'. And Ken Kragen, my manager said, 'I saw her downstairs.' I said, 'Well, go get her.' "And Dolly, in her inimitable fashion, marched into the room and the song was never the same."
Michael Jackson – Beat It (Official 4K Video)
This song and its video helped Thriller become the world’s best-selling album of all time. Producer Quincy Jones had wanted to include a rock song in the vein of The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’, though Jackson reportedly had never previously shown an interest in the genre.
The lyrics relate to life on the streets and gang activity, something Jackson was very detached from. Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo, after doing it as a favour for Jones, and was not paid aside from two six-packs of beer!
Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder – Together in Electric Dreams (Official Video)
This was first recorded for the 1984 movie Electric Dreams, and later formed part of Human League frontman Philip Oakey and electronic musician Giorgio Moroder’s collaborative album a year later.
In the UK, it proved to be even more popular than the movie it was intended to promote. It is often mistakenly attributed to The Human League, though they have often performed it live.
Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill – Official Music Video
EMI bosses were hesitant to release the song with its original title of 'A Deal with God' due to possible negative reactions because of its use of the word 'God'. Kate Bush relented and changed the title.
The song itself has often been misinterpreted. Kate later said: "I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can't understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other's roles, if we could actually be in each other's place for a while, I think we'd both be very surprised!
"And really the only way I could think it could be done was either… you know, I thought a deal with the devil. And I thought, 'well, no, why not a deal with God!' Because in a way it's so much more powerful the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you. You see, for me it is still called "Deal With God", that was its title."
The song had a resurgence in popularity in 2022, after its heavy use in the latest season of Stranger Things.
Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Official Music Video)
One of their signature songs, this track gave Tears for Fears one of their biggest international hits in 1985, despite being one of the last songs recorded for Songs from the Big Chair.
Curt Smith sang lead vocals on the track, which is about the desire humans have for control and power, and the themes of corruption.
The group re-recorded the song titled 'Everybody Wants to Run the World' as a charity single for the Sport Aid campaign a year later.
Simply Red – Holding Back The Years (Official Video)
This heartbreaking ballad reached number one in the States, catapulting the group into instant superstardom.
Mick Hucknall wrote it when he was just 17, but the chorus didn't arrive until years later. He wrote it after the chaos created when his mother left the family when he was three years old.
It was co-written with Neil Moss, a member of Mick's first group The Frantic Elevators.
John Farnham – You're the Voice (Official Video)
This power ballad was co-written by Keith Reid (‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’) and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band singer Chris Thompson.
It became one of the biggest Australian hits of all time, and was a success around the world, though in the US it was Heart’s cover in 1991 that proved more popular.
It has been used in various TV shows and movies, including in Peter Kay’s Car Share, when his character John passionately sings along to the song while driving to work.
a-ha – Take On Me (Official Video) [Remastered in 4K]
This '80s classic actually flopped twice before it was finally a hit around the world. This was largely down to its revolutionary rotoscoping animation music video, taking six months to complete.
It then became a worldwide hit thanks to the video and its heavy use on MTV, reaching number one in the USA and number two in the UK.
The Police – Every Breath You Take (Official Video)
Often mistaken for a love song, it's one of the most misinterpreted tracks in the history of music, when it's in fact about a deluded stalker who convinces himself that the emotions he feels are true love.
Written after Sting separated from his first wife, the song's creation was fraught with in-fighting within the band (who were actually physically punching each other in the studio) with Sting saying that the time of its release that "it's a nasty little song, really rather evil."
It was the first single released on The Police's final album Synchronicity, ensuring that the trio went out on a supreme high with the song winning Song of the Year at the 1984 Grammy Awards and staying at the top of the US Billboard Charts for a total of eight weeks.
The Human League – Don't You Want Me (Official Music Video)
One of the best-selling singles of the 1980s, this surprising Christmas number one sold over 1.5 million records upon its release in 1981.
The song was inspired after singer Philip Oakey read a story in a teen-girl's magazine. he was also inspired by the film A Star Is Born and decided to turn the song into a duet with one of the band's two teenage female vocalists.
Susan Ann Sulley was asked to take on the role. Until then, she and Joanne Catherall had only been assigned backing vocals. Sulley says she was chosen only through "luck of the draw".
Prince – Purple Rain (Official Video)
'Purple Rain' was originally written as a country song, and was intended to be a collaboration with Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks.
Prince explained the meaning of 'Purple Rain' as: "When there's blood in the sky – red and blue = purple… purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain."
The song became something of a singature song for Prince, and he famously performed it in the rain during his Super Bowl halftime show.
Lionel Richie – All Night Long (All Night)
In this Caribbean-influenced song, Lionel admitted that the ‘African’ lyrics, such as ‘Tom bo li de say de moi ya’ and ‘Jambo jumbo’, were in fact made-up gibberish. He described these portions as a “wonderful joke”, after he discovered that he lacked the time to hire a translator.
Lionel said: “What I try to write about are real events. There will always be an easy like Sunday morning. There will always be an endless love. There will always be an all night long.”
Bonus fact: A young Richard Marx recorded backing vocals for this song.
ABBA – The Winner Takes It All (Video)
Bjorn Ulvaeus has denied that his heartbreaking ballad is about his and Agnetha Faltskog's divorce. However, he has said that is about divorce in general and the emotions that come with it.
The song put Agnetha in the strange situation of being asked to sing a breakup song, written by her ex-husband, just a short period afterwards.
However, Bjorn didn't intend it to happen this way. She later said it was her favourite ABBA song to perform.
Foreigner – 'I Want To Know What Love Is' [Official Music Video]
Foreigner's biggest ever hit, this excellent power ballad reached number one in both the UK and US.
Writer Mick Jones said of the song: "I don’t know where it came from. I consider it a gift that was sent through me. I think there was something bigger than me behind it. I’d say it was probably written entirely by a higher force."
Fact: it features keyboard work by Thompson Twins frontman Tom Bailey.
Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Official 4K Video)
This is one of the ultimate feel good songs ever released, and was the lead single from Whitney's second album.
It was written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, aka Boy Meets Girl, who had previously offered their hit 'Waiting for a Star to Fall' to Whitney, but she turned it down.
It became one of Whitney's signature tunes, and was the title to her official biopic in 2022.
Queen – I Want To Break Free (Official Video)
Written by bassist John Deacon, the song is from the male perspective of the women’s liberation movement. The video parodied Coronation Street, and famously showed all four members in drag, a move which saw the video banned on MTV in the States.
“They must’ve thought men dressing up in drag wasn’t ‘rock’ enough,” said Roger Taylor. The famous electric guitar solo is not actually a guitar, but rather a synth by Fred Mandel, something Brian May wasn’t on board with at first.
Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight (Official Music Video)
Famous for its epic drum solo, Phil Collins’ debut solo single was written during the grief he felt after divorcing his first wife, Simone.
The lyrics take the form of a dark monologue directed towards an unnamed person. An urban legend has claimed that it's about a drowning incident in which someone who was close enough to save the victim did not, while Collins, who was too far away to help, looked on.
The song was famously used in a Dairy Milk advert in 2007, in which a gorilla drummed along to it, because why not?
Toto – Africa (Official HD Video)
It's almost impossible to not burst into song at the top of your lungs as soon as you hear the famous catchy intro of Toto's 'Africa', let alone its epic chorus.
In 2015, David Paich said that the song is about a man's love of the continent Africa, rather than a personal romance.
He based the lyrics around a late night documentary with depictions of African plight and suffering. It had a lasting impact on him: "It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn't leave my head. I tried to imagine how I'd feel about it if I was there and what I'd do."
George Michael – Careless Whisper (Official HD Video)
This was the song that made people stand up and take notice of George as a credible artist outside the pop fun of Wham!
Released when he still in the boyband with Andrew Ridgeley, the song topped the charts around the world. Co-written with Andrew when they were 17, the song took inspiration from stories from Michael’s early romantic experiences with two different girls.
He later said: "The whole idea of 'Careless Whisper' was the first girl finding out about the second – which she never did. But I started another relationship with a girl called Alexis without finishing the one with Jane. It all got a bit complicated."
Jane found out about her and got rid of me. The whole time I thought I was being cool, being this two-timer, but there really wasn't that much emotion involved.
"I did feel guilty about the first girl – and I have seen her since – and the idea of the song was about her. 'Careless Whisper' was us dancing, because we danced a lot, and the idea was – we are dancing…but she knows…and it's finished."
Michael Jackson – Billie Jean (Official Video)
There are several claims on the meaning behind this classic song’s lyrics. One suggests that they came from a real-life experience, in which a female fan claimed that Michael Jackson (or one of his brothers) had fathered her twins. However, Jackson stated that it was actually based on groupies he had encountered.
The song was promoted with a short film that broke down MTV’s racial barrier, and his performance on Motown 25, in which he premiered his ‘moonwalk’.
It remains perhaps the greatest pop song of all time, and has that timeless quality that will never disappoint.
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