SONGS of the 80s

The 80s was an endlessly interesting and divisive decade for music. New technologies and production techniques afforded artists a world of exciting options in the studio, and in turn nearly every genre of music began to sound new and exotic.  MTV debuted in the early part of the decade and led to music videos challenging radio as a primary source of discovery. Popular music shifted as a result – bands and artists now had a new avenue for artistic expression and many proved quite adept at creating captivating visuals to complement their songs. MTV only furthered the more commercial tendencies of 70s arena rock. “Hair metal” bands used videos to their advantage and pop stars trended younger and prettier. No longer could you expect to be a massively popular artist if you only got radio play. Video was indeed killing the radio star. 
Between touring and the constant exposure MTV provided, the 80s saw some acts become overwhelmingly successful. Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, George Michael, Guns n’ Roses, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen were incredibly popular for much of the decade. These artists not only determined what dominated the charts, but often propelled popular fashion, dance, and hair styles as well.  The 80s was tough though for many of the quickly aging rock stars of the 60s and 70s. The new trends in popular music did not sound like the hits of yesterday, but that didn’t stop artists like Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, and Elton John from desperately (and let’s face it, often pathetically) trying to keep up with the times. Most of these artists struggled through the decade and only returned to some modicum of success when they retreated back to more familiar sounds. 

But like the way punk responded to the bigger rock acts of the 70s, the 80s saw the rise of post-punk, hardcore punk, and college rock acts who were not as enslaved to the art of video or trendy new sonics. R.E.M. and The Replacements were like the American underground Beatles/Stones, with each producing a string of excellent records. Both gradually grew a fanbase the old-fashioned way - through great songs, constant touring, moderate airtime, and the word of mouth provided by left of the dial radio stations and fanzines. R.E.M.’s popularity soared, but the more self-destructive Replacements burned out and splintered into the 90s. There was no shortage of great 80s bands (that could be your life) from both sides of the Atlantic. Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Minutemen, Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi, and Pixies continued America’s tradition of gritty rock bands while U2, The Cure, The Smiths, and The Jesus & Mary Chain, all from Europe, made their mark in big ways on American college, and eventually mainstream, radio. The art of the mixtape was born here, passing mysterious new songs amongst friends and family.

The most dramatic change in popular music during the 80s though was the rise of rap music into the public consciousness. What began as a regional soundtrack to block parties and small clubs exploded into a world-wide sensation. The sounds emanating from black neighborhoods in The Bronx and Queens evolved at a lightning pace, from the good time flow of Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, and LL Cool J to the edgier Run DMC to the lyrical wizardry of Eric B. & Rakim to the socially and politically charged Public Enemy.  Soon enough, an angry and controversial strain of rap music was coming from the West Coast with N.W.A. These new sounds and attitudes began in urban areas, but it wasn’t long before suburban kids were in on the secret and a whole new fan base emerged. 
To fully enjoy a lot of the music of the 80s you really have to open yourself up to the cheese. So much 80s music sounds incredibly dated now – there is no decade where the sounds and fashions are as easy to place. Some of it stands the test of time. Some of it is pretty unlistenable in 2020. These were my formative years, and this is the first decade where some of the music on this list was familiar to me at the time without me having to play catch up later on. Born in the USA was my first cassette. Thriller was my first vinyl. I literally remember roller-skating to “Girls Just Want to have Fun” and Twisted Sister and Rick Springfield after school. This list collects my favorite songs from the 1980s as of today – the songs I still want to hear with frequency. This is in no way a definitive list. It’s just a list of some songs from a guy with extra time on his hands. Dig in….


1. Teen Age Riot // Sonic Youth
2. Left of the Dial // The Replacements
3. Ceremony // New Order
4. Purple Rain // Prince
5. Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) // Kate Bush
6. Follow the Leader // Eric B. & Rakim
7. Where the Streets Have No Name // U2
8. Lorelei // Cocteau Twins
9. Head On // The Jesus & Mary Chain
10. Tougher Than The Rest // Bruce Springsteen

Disturbance At the Heron House // R.E.M.
Debaser // Pixies
Rebel Without A Pause // Public Enemy
There Is A Light and It Never Goes Out // The Smiths
Fisherman's Blues // The Waterboys
I Won't Back Down // Tom Petty
Radio Free Europe // R.E.M.
Lyrics of Fury // Eric B. & Rakim
With Or Without You // U2
Unsatisfied // The Replacements 

Just Like Heaven // The Cure
When Doves Cry // Prince
Freak Scene // Dinosaur Jr.
Voices Carry // Til' Tuesday
What Do All The People Know // The Monroes
Every Grain Of Sand // Bob Dylan
Don't Dream It's Over // Crowded House
Hang Down Your Head // Tom Waits 
Here Comes Your Man // Pixies
Born Under Punches // The Talking Heads

The Waiting // Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Welcome To The Jungle // Guns n' Roses
Atlantic City // Bruce Springsteen
Set It Off // Big Daddy Kane
More Than This // Roxy Music
Temptation // New Order
Eye of the Tiger // Survivor
Tell Me When It's Over // The Dream Syndicate
Bring The Noise // Public Enemy
Blue Sky Day // Died Pretty 

Can't Hardly Wait // The Replacements 
My Philosophy // Boogie Down Productions
Watch Your Step // Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Love Will Tear Us Apart // Joy Division
The Promise // When In Rome
Once In A Lifetime // The Talking Heads
Fall On Me // R.E.M.
Peter Piper // Run D.M.C.
Shake Your Rump // The Beastie Boys 
Fairytale of New York // The Pogues 

Microphone Fiend // Eric B. & Rakim
The Rainbow // Talk Talk 
Sucker M.C.s // Run D.M.C.
Isolation // Joy Division
When You Were Mine // Prince
Back In Black // ACDC
Don't Stop Believin' // Journey
In Between Days // The Cure
Bad // U2
Just Like Honey // The Jesus & Mary Chain

I Melt With You // Modern English
I Apologize // Husker Du
Beyond Belief // Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Age of Consent // New Order
Rebels // Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The Whole of the Moon // The Waterboys
Hysteria // Def Leppard
A Little Respect // Erasure
Let's Go Crazy // Prince
Waiting Room // Fugazi 

The Hardest Walk // The Jesus & Mary Chain
New Orleans Is Sinking // The Tragically Hip
Promise // Violent Femmes
Walk of Life // Dire Straits
Rhymin' & Stealin' // Beastie Boys
People Who Died // The Jim Carroll Band
P.Y.T. // Michael Jackson
Ashes To Ashes // David Bowie
Memphis, Egypt // Mekons
Birthday // The Sugarcubes
Laughing // R.E.M. 

Don't You Forget About Me // Simple Minds
The Killing Moon // Echo & The Bunnymen 
Manic Monday // The Bangles
Jessie's Girl // Rick Springfield
Bastards of Young // The Replacements 
Ask // The Smiths
She Bangs The Drums // The Stone Roses
Fearless Heart // Steve Earle
Pure // The Lightning Seeds
In Your Eyes // Peter Gabriel

Little Red Corvette // Prince
Highway Patrolman // Bruce Springsteen
Monkey Gone To Heaven // Pixies
I'll Be You // The Replacements
Black Steel In The Hours of Chaos // Public Enemy
Heaven // Bryan Adams
Pictures Of You // The Cure
Bonzo Goes To Bitsburg // Ramones
Rock The Casbah // The Clash 
Last Caress // Misfits 

Hungry Like The Wolf // Duran Duran
Small Town // John Mellencamp
Tunnel Of Love // Dire Straits
We Belong // Pat Benatar
Running To Stand Still // U2
Time After Time // Cyndi Lauper
Remember // The Mighty Wah!
Forces At Work // The Feelies
Los Angelos // X
It's Tricky // Run DMC

South Bronx // Boogie Down Productions
Most Of The Time // Bob Dylan
Dirty Old Town // The Pogues
Heaven Is A Place On Earth // Belinda Carlisle
Tota Eclipse of the Heart // Bonnie Tyler
The Message // Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
Mountain Song // Jane's Addiction
Texas Flood // Stevie Ray Vaughn
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side // The Smiths 
You Gots To Chill // EPMD

Lips Like Sugar // Echo & The Bunnymen 
Where Eagles Dare // Misfits
Sometimes It Snows In April // Prince
The Best of Everything // Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Living On A Prayer // Bon Jovi
Death + The Maiden // The Verlaines
This Angry Silence // The Television Personalities
Plainsong // The Cure
I Ain't No Joke // Eric B. & Rakim
Tell Me When It's Over // The Dream Syndicate

Pearly Dewdrops' Drop // Cocteau Twins
Waves of Fear // Lou Reed
Crash // The Primitives
Don't Change // INXS
St. Elmo's Fire // John Parr
Roam // The B-52s
Islands In The Stream // Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton
Atmosphere // Joy Division 
No Clocks // Pylon
Sister Christian // Night Ranger

Begin The Begin // R.E.M.
Rock Box // Run DMC
All I Want Is You // U2
Black & White // The dB's
The Bridge // MC Chan 
This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) // Talking Heads 
Shoot To Thrill // ACDC
Schizophrenia // Sonic Youth 
Talent Show // The Replacements 
I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man // Prince

This Is The One // The Stone Roses
Sweet Chid O' Mine // Guns N' Roses 
A Question of Lust // Depeche Mode
I Know You Got Soul // Eric B. & Rakim
I Would Die For U // Prince
Take The Skinheads Bowling // Camper Van Beethoven 
Suedehead // Morrissey 
The Ghost In You // The Psychedelic Furs
Forget Me Nots // Patrice Rushen
Straight Out The Jungle //
Laughing Boy // Died Pretty

Youth of America // Wipers
True Faith // New Order
Talk About The Passion // R.E.M. 
Hold Me Now // Thompson Twins
Postcards from Paradise // Flesh for Lulu
Express Yourself // Madonna
Ego Trippin' // Ultramagnetic MCs
Shoot Out The Lights // Richard & Linda Thompson
Mandinka // Sinead O'Connor 
History Lesson pt.2 // Minutemen 
Sometime To Return // Soul Asylum

Song To The Siren // This Mortal Coil
Photograph // Def Leppard
My Melody // Eric B. & Rakim
Graceland // Paul Simon
Blue Thunder // Galaxie 500
Straight To Hell // The Clash
Eternal Flame // The Bangles
Desire // U2
Forever Young // Alphaville
Raised Eyebrows // The Feelies
Its My Life // Talk Talk 

Everybody Wants To Rule The World // Tears For Fears
They Always Come // Dinosaur Jr. 
Kiss Off // The Violent Femmes
The Divided Sky // Phish
The Way You Make Me Feel // Michael Jackson
I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues // Elton John 
The Breaks // Kurtis Blow
Dancing With Myself // Billy Idol
Copperhead Road // Steve Earle
You Might Think // The Cars 
Straight Outta Compton // NWA

One More Try // George Michael
The Cutter // Echo & The Bunnymen
Buddy // De La Soul 
Johnny Hit And Run Pauline // X
Here's Where The Story Ends // The Sundays
You Are The Everything // REM
Blind Willie McTell // Bob Dylan 
Sherry Darling // Bruce Springsteen 
Take It On The Run // REO Speedwagon
Primitive Painters // Felt

Panic // The Smiths 
Tally Ho! // The Clean 
Masimbabele 83 // The Unknown Cases
If You Leave // OMD
Emma's House // The Field Mice
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness // John Prine
Top Billin' // Audio Two
Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away) // Motley Crew
Son Of A Gun // The Vaselines
Another Nail For My Heart // Squeeze
Pink Frost // The Chills

Computer World 2 // Kraftwerk
Holdin' On // Tane Cain
Lost // Meat Puppets
Nothing's Going To Happen // Tall Dwarfs
Sunday Bloody Sunday // U2
No Surrender // Bruce Springsteen 
Words // F.R. David
Joed Out // The Verlaines
See A Little Light // Bob Mould 
Holiday In Cambodia // Dead Kennedys

Total Trash // Sonic Youth 
Cruel Summer // Bananarama
Pink Turns To Blue // Husker Du
If I Should Fall From The Grace Of God // The Pogues 
Living After Midnight // Judas Priest 
Ha Ha I'm Drowning // The Teardrop Explodes
Police On My Back // The Clash
Terms Of Psychic Warfare // Husker Du
The Bottom Line // Big Audio Dynamite
Hounds of Love // Kate Bush

A Sort of Homecoming // U2
Buffalo Stance // Neneh Cherry 
Without Love // Bon Jovi
I Can't Live Without My Radio // LL Cool J
Tell Me // Galaxie 500
Heaven & Back // Mekons
Where Is My Mind? // Pixies
Provisional // Fugazi
Your Wildest Dreams // The Moody Blues
Cartoon // Soul Asylum

This Is The Sea // The Waterboys 
Gypsy // Fleetwood Mac
The Magnificent Seven // The Clash
In A Jar // Dinosaur Jr. 
Out of Hand // The Mighty Lemon Drops
Drive // The Cars
Vivienne // The Cannanes
Walking On Thin Ice // Yoko Ono & Spiritualized
Anything, Anything // Dramarama
Ship Of Fools // World Party 

About A Girl // Nirvana
Someday // Steve Earle
Death Valley '69 // Sonic Youth
Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam // The Vaselines
Ace of Spades // Motorhead
Man Out Of Time // Elvis Costello & The Attractions 
So Wat Cha Sayin' // EPMD
Corona // Minuetmen 
Tower Of Song // Leonard Cohen 
No Sleep Til' Brooklyn // Beastie Boys 

Brilliant Disguise // Bruce Springsteen
A Million Miles Away // The Plimsouls
Electric Blue // Icehouse
Sit Down // James
Touch of Grey // Grateful Dead
Cast A Shadow // Beat Happening
Fallen Angel // Poison
Master of Puppets // Metallica
Bringin' On The Heartache // Def Leppard
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) // R.E.M.
April Skies // The Jesus & Mary Chain

2000 Miles // The Pretenders
Hello Cruel World // Mekons
I Held Her In My Arms // Violent Femmes
I Kiss The Flowers In Bloom // Close Lobsters
Livin' On A Prayer // Bon Jovi
Mad World // Tears For Fears 
Fake Friends // Joan Jett & The Blackhearts 
In A Big Country // Big Country
(Feels Like) Heaven // 
Trusted Words // The Reverbs

Carolyn's Fingers // Cocteau Twins
Tugboat // Galaxie 500
When I Think Of You // Janet Jackson
Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) // Squeeze
Since You're Gone // The Cars
Hells Bells // ACDC
Tunnel of Love // Dire Straits 
Bizarre Love Triangle // New Order
Cotton Crown // Sonic Youth
Close To Me // The Cure

I Wanna Be Adored // The Stone Roses
Fallen Angel // Poison
The Orchids // Psychic TV
Goodbye Horses // Q Lazzarus
Strange Boat // The Waterboys 
Teenage Wildlife // David Bowie
Better Things // The Kinks
This Is England // The Clash 
Janey Don't You Lose Heart // Bruce Springsteen
Alive & Kicking // Simple Minds

Watching Trees // Eleven Pond
Psycho Beat // 39 Clocks
A New England // Billy Bragg
Ghost Town // The Specials
Six Months In A Leaky Boat // Split Ends
Up and Down The Escalator // The Chameleons

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