To make these Best Songs lists work for me, even as I progress along the decades, I have made a conscious effort not to repeat artists from previous lists and to limit my selections to artists and/or songs that in my view, are strongly representative of the decade in question.
Now, the 80s – like the 70s – was a very eclectic period of genres and styles and so what I have attempted here is to have one artist stand as a representation of a particular genre or style symbolic of the 80s. Hope I have succeeded! (In alphabetical order, as usual)
Billie Jean – Michael Jackson (1983)
The best selling artist of the 1980s : that accolade belongs to Michael Jackson without a doubt. The self-styled King of Pop dominated 80s pop music, with slickly produced R&B promoted by stunning music videos.
Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen (1984)
The Boss broke big with his seventh album – Born in the USA resonated well with both critics and audiences alike. The title track has often been mistaken for flag-waving patriotism when in fact it is an inditement on the Vietnam war.
Every Breathe You Take – The Police (1983)
The so-called new wave reflected the impact of punk in the late 70s. Bands like The Police parlayed their hybrid pop-rock-reggae sound into mainstream success. Sting’s paranoid treatise on divorce ended up being the best selling single of 1983.
Hello – Lionel Richie (1983)
Ex-Commodore frontman Lionel Richie was ubiquitous as a solo artist in the 80s. The popularity of the Can’t Slow Down album elevated Richie to superstardom with “Hello” and others (“All Night Long”, “Penny Lover”) leading the way.
In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins (1981)
Phil Collins went from progressive rock drummer to global pop superstar in a decade. Certainly, nobody would have predicted his ascent but his debut single contains one of the most memorable drum rolls of all time! (You know the one)
Money For Nothing – Dire Straits (1985)
MTV referenced, Sting guests and the unassuming singer-guitarist Mark Knopfler turns pub band Dire Straits into arena rockers, with a hit album (Brothers in Arms) to challenge Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon for chart dominance.
Pour Some Sugar on Me – Def Leppard (1987)
Pop-metal in its prime was certainly a strange music sub-genre but long hair and hooks seemed to be popular with the masses back in the day. Too catchy for its own good, this is probably the ultimate crossover hit.
Straight Outta Compton – NWA (1988)
Rap emerged from the streets in the 70s and into the mainstream in the 80s. Groups like Public Enemy, Run-DMC and NWA were able to sell albums despite difficulties in obtaining radio play. Such was the power of this nascent genre.
Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N Roses (1987)
With a guitar riff as iconic as “Smoke on the Water”, Guns N Roses trumpeted their arrival as rock superstars with this memorable moment, forever sealing their place in the rock pantheon.
With or Without You – U2 (1987)
Irish new wavers U2 made the transition to ‘biggest band in the world’ status when they released The Joshua Tree. “With or Without You” with its repeating four chords – and the atmospheric Eno/Lanois production – definitely made itself well known worldwide.
Again, I expect major quibbles with the song selection – I mean, that’s part of the deal. Please do let me know what you think over at the Power of Pop Facebook page.
… still there’s more …