The 1980s was an extraordinary decade for music. Music from the ’80s includes a wide array of incredible artists and songs and evolved fast, sounding significantly different at the end of the decade than it did at the beginning.
Here are FanLabel’s standout, iconic ’80s songs you’ve got to know:
1980: “Back in Black” – AC/DC
The band released the song “Back in Black” as a tribute to the former lead singer, Bon Scott, after he passed away. It is the first song on their album of the same name. They wanted the song to honor Scott without sounding morbid. This is one of the all-time best selling albums, and according to some lists only topped by “Thriller.”
Honorable Mentions 1980:
“Call Me” – Blondie
“Another One Bites The Dust” – Queen
“London Calling” – The Clash
“She’s So Cold” – Rolling Stones
1981: “Tainted Love” – Soft Cell
“Tainted Love” was originally written by Ed Cobb and recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964, gaining notoriety when re-recorded by Soft Cell 17 years later. The Soft Cell version spent 43 weeks on the Hot 100 chart. “Tainted Love” was the one and only Soft Cell song to hit the charts at all, as it is our only one hit wonder on the list.
Honorable Mentions 1981:
“Girls on Film” – Duran Duran
“Super Freak” – Rick James
“Don’t Stop Believin’” – Journey
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (feat. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) – Stevie Nicks
1982: “Should I Stay or Should I Go” – The Clash
A unique component of the “Should I Stay or Should I Go” is the echoing of the lyrics in Spanish (kind of weird, but it works), sung by band member Joe Strummer and friend of The Clash, Joe Ely. One of the more iconic parts of the song, when lead vocalist Mick Jones yells “split!”, was actually unintentional–Ely and Strummer snuck up on Jones to scare him while he was recording and this was his response.
Honorable Mentions 1982:
“I Love Rock n’ Roll” – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
“Thriller” Album – Michael Jackson
“Sexual Healing” – Marvin Gaye
“I Ran (So Far Away) – A Flock of Seagulls
1983: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” – Eurythmics
“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” was the Eurythmics’ first hit after the breakup of their old band, The Tourists. It’s a great example of how that culture-shifting phenomenon called MTV was a new force in the music biz. MTV propelled the Eurythmics’ song into fame through heavy airplay of the band’s music video. One of the Eurythmics, Dave Stewart, said in an interview that his goal with the music video was “to make a commentary on the music business but also make something a bit performance art – weird and dreamlike.”
Honorable Mentions 1983:
“Burning Down the House” – Talking Heads
“Every Breath You Take” – The Police
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
1984: “Purple Rain” album – Prince and the Revolution
Hailed regularly as one of the best albums in history, “Purple Rain” has been certified 13-times platinum…who knew that was even possible? The album is preserved by the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”.
Honorable Mentions 1984:
“Jump” – Van Halen
“Like a Virgin” – Madonna
1985: “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” – Dead or Alive
The song’s quality and catchiness is evident in its ability to remain a jam over the years. It has been re-released as a single three times since its original release, and has charted in the UK all three times. If you weren’t around in the ’80s, you may recognize this track from Flo Rida’s 2009 hit song “Right Round.”
Honorable Mentions 1985:
“We Built This City” – Starships
“Things Can Only Get Better” – Howard Jones
“Lay Your Hands on Me” – Thompson Twins
1986: “You Give Love A Bad Name” – Bon Jovi
It was a great year for Bon Jovi in 1986–“You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer” were both No. 1 hits. Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Richie Sambora originally wrote the song for another group, but decided to keep it after they finished because they liked it so much. This is also another song that climbed to the top of the charts after airplay of the music video on MTV.
Honorable Mentions 1986:
“Walk This Way” (feat. Aerosmith) – Run-DMC
“Livin’ On A Prayer” – Bon Jovi
1987: “Pour Some Sugar On Me” – Def Leppard
Def Leppard’s hit song, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was not originally intended to be on their album “Hysteria.” The band had just finished recording the album when member Joe Elliot was messing around the guitar and overheard by others. They suggested what he played be turned into a song, and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was born.
Honorable Mentions 1987:
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” – Whitney Houston
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – U2
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses
1988: “I Hate Myself for Loving You” – Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
The song was originally written by Jett and titled “I Hate Myself Because I Can’t Get Laid.” It was changed after well-known and respected songwriter Desmond Child’s suggestion to put the word “love” in the title. Rolling Stones’ guitarist Mick Taylor is featured in the song.
Honorable Mentions 1988:
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” – Bobby McFerrin
“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” – Poison
“Fast Car” – Tracy Chapman
1989: “Pump Up The Jam” – Technotronic
The Belgian group’s song was the first techno song to break into charts in the United States. The lead vocalist, Ya Kid K, was not actually the woman featured on the album cover or the music video, who was fashion model Felly. The song’s producer made this decision because he wanted a different image for Technotronic.
Honorable Mentions 1989:
“Personal Jesus” – Depeche Mode
“Free Fallin’” – Tom Petty
“Love Shack” – B-52’s
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