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Best 50 Songs From The 1980s

Welcome to our nostalgic journey through the vibrant and eclectic musical landscape of the 1980s! This decade was a melting pot of genres, where pop, rock, new wave, and hip-hop not only coexisted but flourished, defining the sounds that shaped a generation.

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From the iconic synth beats that became the hallmark of the era to the rock anthems that filled stadiums, the 80s offered a rich tapestry of auditory delights that continue to resonate with fans old and new.

Whether you’re a lifelong fan or exploring this era’s music for the first time, join us as we celebrate the best songs from the 1980s. Get ready to relive the decade of great 80s artists when music was as colorful and diverse as fashion, and every song had the power to become a timeless classic.

#50 With or Without You – U2

Released in 1987, “With or Without You” features U2’s emotive exploration of contradictory feelings in a tumultuous relationship. Its haunting melody, driven by The Edge’s distinctive guitar work and Bono’s passionate vocals, captures the band’s ability to convey deep emotional landscapes within the format of a pop song. Its simplicity and profound depth exemplify the power of U2’s music to resonate with listeners globally.

#49 I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

A defiant anthem celebrating rock music’s rebellious spirit, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” became a massive hit in 1981. Its catchy chorus, gritty guitar riffs, and Joan Jett’s powerhouse vocals capture the essence of rock’s allure, making it an enduring symbol of empowerment and the quintessential rock anthem of the 80s.

#48 Fight for Your Right – Beastie Boys

Released in 1986, “Fight for Your Right” humorously addresses teenage rebellion and party culture. Its blend of rock and hip-hop elements, along with the Beastie Boys’ irreverent delivery, made it an anthem of youthful defiance. The track showcases the band’s innovative approach to music and explains why it’s a pivotal track of the era.

#47 Karma Chameleon – Culture Club

This 1983 hit is known for its colorful melody and lyrics exploring love, trust, and transformation themes. Boy George’s soulful performance over a blend of pop, reggae, and new wave sounds made “Karma Chameleon” a global sensation, reflecting the 80s’ musical diversity and the band’s unique appeal.

#46 Need You Tonight – INXS

“Need You Tonight,” released in 1987, showcases INXS’s sleek rock and funk fusion, highlighted by Michael Hutchence’s sensual vocals. Its minimalist groove and catchy hook exemplify the band’s ability to craft irresistibly danceable hits, cementing its status as a seductive classic of the decade.

#45 Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds

Immortalized by its association with “The Breakfast Club” (1985), this song addresses themes of identity and remembrance. Its anthemic quality and emotional resonance struck a chord globally, making it a signature 80s track and an iconic piece of pop culture.

#44 All Night Long (All Night) – Lionel Richie

Released in 1983, “All Night Long” blends Caribbean rhythms with Richie’s smooth vocals to create a festive celebration of music and dance. Its universal appeal and catchy, feel-good vibe exemplify the 80s’ penchant for joyful, danceable music, making it a staple of the decade.

#43 Walk Like an Egyptian – The Bangles

This 1986 track stands out for its distinctive riff and quirky lyrics, capturing the 80s’ spirit of fun and innovation. The Bangles’ harmonies and the song’s unique concept made it a pop culture phenomenon, showcasing the diverse musical styles that flourished during the decade.

#42 Rebel Yell – Billy Idol

With its 1983 release, “Rebel Yell” combines punk’s energy with a rock ‘n’ roll swagger, powered by Idol’s charismatic vocals and Steve Stevens’ guitar work. The song’s rebellious vibe and anthemic chorus embody the 80s rock ethos, making it a defining track of Idol’s career and the era.

#41 Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Tears for Fears

This introspective 1985 hit, with its lush production and reflective lyrics, delves into the desire for power and the complexities it brings. Its enduring appeal lies in its melodic sophistication and how it captures the spirit of the times, securing its place as one of the decade’s most iconic tracks.

#40 Push It – Salt-N-Pepa

As a groundbreaking track in female rap, “Push It” (1987) stands out for its infectious beat and empowering lyrics. Salt-N-Pepa’s boldness and the song’s danceability brought hip-hop to mainstream attention, highlighting the genre’s growing influence and the diversity of 80s music.

#39 Enter Sandman – Metallica

Though released in 1991, “Enter Sandman” captures the heavy metal spirit that grew in prominence during the late 80s. Its dark lyrical themes and aggressive riffs showcase Metallica’s mastery, making it a landmark track that bridges the 80s’ rock scene with the evolving metal genre of the early 90s.

#38 Pour Some Sugar on Me – Def Leppard

This 1987 anthem is celebrated for its catchy chorus and glossy production, epitomizing the glam rock excess of the 80s. Def Leppard’s blend of hard rock hooks and pop sensibilities made “Pour Some Sugar on Me” an unforgettable track that defined the band’s sound and the era’s musical landscape.

#37 Blue Monday – New Order

Released in 1983, “Blue Monday” is a pioneering electronic track that combines synthesizer-based instrumentation with a danceable beat. Its influence on the development of electronic and dance music is undeniable, making it a key track of the 80s and a testament to the decade’s innovative spirit.

#36 Should I Stay or Should I Go – The Clash

This 1982 release by The Clash merges punk rock energy with a rockabilly twist, exploring themes of indecision and relationship turmoil. Its catchy hook and dynamic sound made it a stand-out track, reflecting The Clash’s impact on music and their ability to blend genres.

#35 Back in Black – AC/DC

AC/DC released “Back in Black” in 1980 as a tribute to their late lead singer Bon Scott. The track’s powerful riffs and Brian Johnson’s commanding vocals made it a hard rock anthem of resilience and rebirth, highlighting the band’s enduring influence and the timeless appeal of rock music.

#34 West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys

“West End Girls,” released in 1985, is a synth-pop masterpiece with its moody atmosphere and introspective lyrics about class and urban life. The Pet Shop Boys’ sophisticated sound and thought-provoking content made it a defining track of the 1980s, showcasing the decade’s penchant for electronic innovation.

#33 Losing My Religion – REM

With its jangling mandolin riff and introspective lyrics, “Losing My Religion” (1991) captures REM’s transition into mainstream success. Although it came out at the dawn of the 90s, its thematic depth and alternative rock sound were deeply rooted in the evolution of 80s music, making it a bridge between decades.

#32 Money for Nothing – Dire Straits

This 1985 hit critiques the music industry and consumer culture with its iconic opening riff and innovative music video. Dire Straits’ fusion of rock and emerging video technology captured the 80s zeitgeist, making “Money for Nothing” a landmark track in music history.

#31 Material Girl – Madonna

Released in 1984, “Material Girl” critiques and celebrates materialism with Madonna’s charismatic performance and the song’s catchy hook. Its iconic music video and pop appeal encapsulate Madonna’s influence on the 80s pop scene, making it a key track that defined her as a pop culture icon.

#30 How Will I Know – Whitney Houston

With its infectious melody and Houston’s powerhouse vocals, “How Will I Know” (1985) is a joyful expression of young love and uncertainty. The track’s pop sensibility and vocal prowess showcased Whitney Houston’s immense talent and the era’s love for danceable, emotionally resonant music.

#29 Jump – Van Halen

“Jump,” from 1984, showcases Van Halen’s blend of hard rock with synthesizers, highlighted by Eddie Van Halen’s electrifying guitar solo. Its anthemic chorus and uplifting melody capture the band’s musical prowess and the era’s penchant for combining rock with new technology.

#28 Call Me – Blondie

Released in 1980, “Call Me” is a new wave rock track that served as the theme for the film “American Gigolo.” Its driving beat and Debbie Harry’s cool vocals capture the era’s blend of punk energy and danceable pop, cementing its place as a defining track of the 80s.

#27 Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Eurythmics

This 1983 hit by Eurythmics explores the pursuit of ambition and the search for fulfillment wrapped in a synth-pop package. Its haunting melody and innovative use of synthesizers helped define the decade’s sound, making it an enduring classic of the 80s.

#26 Tainted Love – Soft Cell

Released in 1981, “Tainted Love” is Soft Cell’s synth-pop rendition of a soul classic, distinguished by its catchy synthesizer riff and Marc Almond’s plaintive vocals. Its themes of love gone wrong and the song’s electronic production make it emblematic of the 80s sound.

#25 Don’t You Want Me – The Human League

A tale of romantic power dynamics set against a backdrop of synthesizer-led music, “Don’t You Want Me” (1981) became a defining anthem of the synth-pop genre. Its catchy chorus and narrative structure showcase the blend of storytelling and electronic music that was pioneering at the time.

#24 What’s Love Got to Do with It – Tina Turner

Tina Turner’s 1984 comeback single speaks to the complexities of love and independence, wrapped in a smooth pop-rock production. Its success marked Turner’s resurgence as a solo artist, highlighting her powerful vocals and resilience, which are the reasons for its timeless appeal.

#23 Faith – George Michael

Released in 1987, “Faith” combines rockabilly rhythms with pop sensibilities, showcasing George Michael’s songwriting and stylistic versatility. The song’s catchy hook and Michael’s charismatic performance make it a standout track that defined his solo career.

#22 Enjoy the Silence – Depeche Mode

“Enjoy the Silence,” from 1990, is a meditative take on love and miscommunication, set to Depeche Mode’s signature synth-pop sound. Its lush production and memorable melody underscore the band’s ability to blend dark themes with accessible pop, securing its place in 80s lore.

#21 Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads

This 1980 track uses a repetitive, hypnotic rhythm to explore themes of existential wonder and the unconscious routine of life. Its innovative fusion of new wave and world music, combined with David Byrne’s distinctive delivery, make it a thought-provoking masterpiece of the era.

#20 Sweet Child o’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses

A rock ballad from 1987 that juxtaposes Axl Rose’s raw vocals against Slash’s iconic guitar riff, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” explores themes of love and longing. Its combination of hard rock edge with melodic sensibility makes it a timeless hit and a high point of 80s rock.

#19 Walk This Way – Run-D.M.C.

This 1986 collaboration with Aerosmith redefined genre boundaries, blending hip-hop with rock in a groundbreaking way. Its success paved the way for future genre-crossing collaborations, making it a pivotal moment in music history.

#18 Just Like Heaven – The Cure

Released in 1987, “Just Like Heaven” is a love song wrapped in the band’s signature post-punk sound, marked by swirling guitars and Robert Smith’s emotive vocals. It stands as one of The Cure’s most beloved tracks, encapsulating their music’s dreamy, melancholic essence.

#17 Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper

Released in 1983, this song became an anthem for female empowerment and individuality, set to vibrant synth-pop music. Lauper’s spirited performance and the track’s infectious energy make it a joyful celebration of freedom and identity.

#16 In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins

Phil Collins’ 1981 solo debut is famous for its atmospheric production and the iconic drum break. The song’s introspective lyrics and Collins’ haunting vocals make it a powerful ballad that has remained a staple of 80s music folklore.

#15 Let’s Dance – David Bowie

In 1983, “Let’s Dance” brought together a smooth rock and dance music blend featuring Nile Rodgers’ slick production and Bowie’s charismatic delivery. Its infectious rhythm and engaging lyrics reflect Bowie’s ability to reinvent himself, marking a high point in his career.

#14 How Soon Is Now? – The Smiths

Released in 1985, this track is a quintessential expression of angst and isolation, draped over Johnny Marr’s shimmering guitar work. Its depth and the emotional resonance of Morrissey’s lyrics have cemented it as a touchstone of alternative rock.

#13 Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran

This 1982 hit embodies the new wave’s flashy aesthetic, combining synth-driven hooks with sultry lyrics about desire. Its catchy melody and vibrant video helped propel Duran Duran to global fame, making it an enduring symbol of 80s pop culture.

#12 Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey

A rock anthem from 1981 that has transcended its era, “Don’t Stop Believin'” combines uplifting lyrics with memorable melodies. Its enduring popularity is a testament to its universal message of hope and persistence, qualities that define many 80s classics.

#11 Another One Bites the Dust – Queen

This 1980 track by Queen combines a funky bassline with rock dynamics, exploring themes of triumph and defiance. Its crossover appeal and distinctive sound make it one of the band’s most enduring hits, showcasing their versatility and innovation.

#10 Born in the U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen

Released in 1984, this anthemic track critiques the treatment of Vietnam veterans, wrapped in a deceptively upbeat melody. Springsteen’s raspy vocals and the song’s powerful narrative make it a poignant reflection on American identity and one of his most recognized works.

#9 Take on Me – A-ha

With its iconic sketch animation video and high-flying vocal melodies, “Take on Me” (1985) became a pop sensation. Its blend of catchy synth-pop with an unforgettable hook exemplifies the 80s’ innovative music video era and its ability to elevate songs to global hits.

#8 Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi

This 1986 rock anthem tells a story of resilience and hope through hard times, powered by Richie Sambora’s talk box guitar riff and Jon Bon Jovi’s emotive vocals. Its universal appeal and sing-along chorus make it a defining track of the decade.

#7 Purple Rain – Prince

As the title track of Prince’s 1984 album and film, “Purple Rain” is a sweeping power ballad that showcases his artistry and emotional depth. Its blend of rock, R&B, and gospel elements, along with Prince’s unforgettable guitar solo, make it a timeless piece that captures the essence of the 80s musical genius.

#6 Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

“Billie Jean,” released in 1983, combines a compelling narrative with a groove-heavy beat, showcasing Jackson’s impeccable production and vocal prowess. Its widespread acclaim is attributed to its innovative sound and the iconic moonwalk performance that accompanied it.

#5 Every Breath You Take – The Police

This 1983 hit by The Police, with its haunting melody and Sting’s introspective lyrics about love and obsession, showcases the band’s ability to blend pop with more complex themes. Its enduring popularity is due to its universal relatability and the band’s musical craftsmanship.

#4 I Wanna Dance with Somebody – Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s 1987 hit encapsulates the joy of dancing and longing for companionship, highlighted by her powerful vocals and upbeat production. Its enduring appeal lies in its infectious energy and Houston’s unparalleled vocal talent.

#3 When Doves Cry – Prince

Released in 1984, this minimalist masterpiece by Prince explores complex themes of love and sorrow. Its innovative instrumentation and emotional depth showcase Prince’s genius, making it a standout track of his career and a defining song of the era.

#2 Like a Virgin – Madonna

Madonna’s 1984 hit, with its catchy beat and playful lyrics about new love, was a pivotal track in her career. It epitomizes the decade’s pop sensibilities and Madonna’s knack for creating provocative and catchy music that defined a generation.

#1 Thriller – Michael Jackson

“Thriller,” released in 1982, is not just a song but a cultural phenomenon that blends pop with horror themes, epitomized by its groundbreaking music video. Its compelling blend of Quincy Jones’ production and Jackson’s performance makes it iconic, representing the height of Jackson’s career and the 80s pop zenith.

What is the most played song from the 1980s?

The most played song from the 1980s, especially in radio airplay and enduring popularity, is often cited as “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. Released in 1983, its haunting melody and profound lyrics have made it a staple on radio stations and playlists worldwide.

What is the best song from the 80s?

Determining the best song from the 80s is subjective and varies based on individual tastes and criteria such as chart success, cultural impact, and longevity. However, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” released in 1983, is frequently mentioned due to its groundbreaking production, captivating lyrics, and the iconic moonwalk performance that Jackson debuted on television. It represents a pinnacle of 80s music in terms of influence and recognition.

Who had the most top 10 songs in the 80s?

Michael Jackson had a total of 9 songs in the top 10. He also dominated the charts with hits like “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller.” Both artists’ significant chart presence underscores their dominance in the 80s music scene.

Who had the most #1 hits in the 1980s?

Michael Jackson had the most #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1980s. His album “Thriller” alone spawned several #1 singles. Throughout the decade, he solidified his status as a pop icon with his unmatched ability to produce hit after hit, further establishing his legendary status in the music industry.

Is the 1980s the best decade for music?

Deciding the best decade for music is subjective, as each era offers unique contributions. The 1960s sparked a rock and cultural revolution, the 1970s introduced punk and disco, the 1980s were known for new wave and hip-hop’s rise, and the 1990s saw grunge and alternative rock’s emergence. Each decade reflects significant musical innovation and genre diversity, making “the best” music decade a matter of personal connection to the era’s sound and artists.

Emily, a writer and retro music enthusiast at Upbeat Geek, delves into the history of music and pop culture, spotlighting legendary artists and trends. A fixture at festivals and concerts, she brings the latest in music lore to the forefront. Emily’s love for music research is matched by her enjoyment of leisurely Sunday walks with her dog, Lee, reflecting her areas of writing: music and pop culture.

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