The Top 200 Songs of the ’80s

Treble loves the '80s

110. Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark – “If You Leave
(1986; Virgin)

“If You Leave” is probably not OMD’s critical or discerning fan favorite, but it certainly remains the emotional pick. Played during the romantic ending of Pretty in Pink, it immediately won over the hearts of lovelorn teens everywhere, almost as much, if not more, as “In Your Eyes” from Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. Rather than the cold, somewhat robotic synths of their past, “If You Leave” is full of warmth, adorned with strings, and dripping with simple and somewhat nonsensical lyrical honey. Though we all rooted for Duckie, “If You Leave” softened the blow for a somewhat disappointing Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy smooch. And if you’re griping about a spoiler alert, you’re 25 years too late. – Terrance Terich

109. Spacemen 3 – “Walkin’ With Jesus
(1986; Glass)

Somewhere on the far edge of Psychocandy‘s brilliant fusion of white noise and girl group harmonies, Spacemen 3 launched into a searing, bloody-minded explosion called “Walkin’ With Jesus” that took the sound of confusion to an even more intense peak of amphetamine insanity joy. “Here comes the sun / the sound of love,” sings J Spaceman/Jason Pierce and whether that is god, the actual sun, or an incantation of light induced by drug A, B or F, it burns as bright and as rapturously as just about anything that has ever appeared in a (droning, buzzing, fraying or otherwise) rock and roll song. – Tyler Parks

108. Duran Duran – “Hungry Like the Wolf
(1982; Capitol)

I have other favorite Duran Duran songs. When it comes to the Wild Boys, I prefer the deep cuts. But, there’s no getting around how hugely successful and ubiquitous “Hungry Like the Wolf” was back in 1982. Whether it was Simon Le Bon’s off key, yet earnest whines, John Taylor’s disco inspired bassline, or the animalistic sexual moans in the coda, “Hungry Like the Wolf” became one of Duran Duran’s signature songs. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have an expensive, cinematic video, directed by Russell Mulcahy, and modeled after Indiana Jones films. Of course, if anyone can explain “I smell like I sound” or “straddle the line in discord and rhyme,” I think a lot of us want to know. – Terrance Terich

107. Elvis Costello and the Attractions – “Beyond Belief
(1982; Columbia)

With the suspenseful boom of a bass string, “Beyond Belief” begins like a great thriller. The audience is left hanging as Costello sets an elaborately detailed stage for the actions about to unfold. Yet, therein lies the brilliance; though this is a song that intricately stacks brick by brick of palpable tension, nerves and sweat, despite its final 30 seconds of explosive climax, there is, for Costello, like an earlier song of his, no action. Eyeing a target of sexual attraction in an “almost empty gin palace,” Costello retreats into self-defeat, lamenting, “I know there’s not a hope in Hades / All the laddies cat call and wolf whistle/ So-called gentlemen and ladies/ Dog fight like rose and thistle. “And in the end, the high energy coda is merely a reflection of his resignation: “Once this seemed so appealing/ now I am beyond belief.” Like all great literature, “Beyond Belief” is not for casual consumers looking for the happy ending, it’s for those who take delight in wordplay and allusion. In just two minutes and 30 seconds, Costello crafted possibly the most intricate and cleverly crafted song of his career. – Jeff Terich

106. Loose Joints – “Tell You (Today)
(1983; West End)

It’s no surprise, since he appears most definitely to have been one himself, that a great many pieces that Arthur Russell had a hand in are fantastic anomalies. “Tell You Today” is most definitely one of those, a single released in 1983 that clatters along on an Afro-disco beat, shoots into orbit on a bristling, seriously shake-inducing horn section, finally tumbling into some huge, smiley whistling and Russell’s warm, fragile and romantic voice expressing some stumbling moments of tremendous and everyday love/joy. There really isn’t anything quite like it in his or anyone else’s oeuvre and it is fun to watch it get people on its wavelength. – Tyler Parks

105. XTC – “Generals And Majors
(1980; Virgin)

XTC could rock and pogo with the best of their UK post-punk peers, but what set them apart from their more abrasive contemporaries, aside from later forays into pastoral orch-pop, was the band’s sense of smirking delight. Easily one of the most satirical and cynical bands of the 1980s, XTC never came off as painfully earnest (like U2) or misanthropic (like Magazine) or completely insane (like The Fall). Instead, they delivered their scathing barbs with a smile, best exemplified by standout single “Generals and Majors.” The stomping disco-punk beat approximates the sound of soldiers marching, as does the whimsical whistling outro. And it’s hard not to picture Andy Partridge grinning as he sneers, “Generals and majors always seem so unhappy unless they got a war.” It’s a shame Partridge’s stage fright kept the band from continuing to perform live, long-term, because this sounds like it would have been a ripper live. – Jeff Terich

104.The Waterboys – “The Whole of the Moon
(1985; Island)

“The Whole of the Moon” is a song all about the power of imagination, and the perceived shortcomings and self-consciousness of one person in relation to the limitless potential of another. These `others’ have been rumored to be anyone from C.S. Lewis, to Mark Helprin, and even to Prince, though it could easily have been addressed to a friend or lover who is creative, yet insular. The imagery of the lyrics is only one aspect to the brilliance of the track, with its big multi-instrument sound. Along with other bands from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, the Waterboys defined an entire genre, with Mike Scott as the pied piper, leading his fans into worlds of wonder. I loved them all, the Alarm, Big Country, and later spinoff World Party, but This is the Sea was always my touchstone, and “The Whole of the Moon” a go-to track for a much needed emotional charge. – Terrance Terich

103. U2 – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
(1987; Island)

The ubiquitous nature of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (and U2 themselves) can make it easy to underestimate the song’s profundity. Even in the band’s fledgling days, U2 was never exactly adverse to weighty, world-bearing topics; “I Still Haven’t Found…” still files as one of the weightiest. It’s an honest look at their personal struggle with faith, doubt and a search for meaning. The song’s success lies in the balance beam it straddles. It’s insightful and knowing, yet unsure and self-effacing; far-reaching, but not overcooked. Each of the Edge’s ringing guitar sounds are discreet, but layered to gorgeous affect. It’s a gospel anthem sung with typical fervor, whose influence can still be spotted today in anyone from the Arcade Fire to Coldplay. – Chris Karman

102. Simple Minds – “Don’t You (Forget About Me)
(1985; Virgin)

For a while, Jim Kerr tried to out-Bono Bono, and he came pretty close. It would take a song that they didn’t write to vault Simple Minds into the hive mind of pop culture stardom. They had come close several times, with tracks like “Up on the Catwalk” and “Waterfront,” but nothing trumps a central song in one of the most popular John Hughes teenage films. Originally meant for Cy Curnin (The Fixx) or Billy Idol, it took Simple Minds a while to get used to the idea of having a number one hit they didn’t pen, but the world got used to it right away, and it became an anthem of ’80s nostalgia. – Terrance Terich

101. Split Enz – “Six Months In a Leaky Boat
(1982; A&M)

Long after shedding the garish, theatrical image they assumed in the ’70s New Zealand’s Split Enz matured into one of the greatest pop bands to hail from their fair Pacific island nation. And in “Six Months In A Leaky Boat,” their soaring 1982 hit, the Finn Brothers pay tribute to their homeland, with mightily crooned lines like “Aotearoa, rugged individual, glisten like a pearl/ at the bottom of the world,” incorporating imagery of early settlers as well as the Maori name for New Zealand. But more than mere geography or history lesson, “Six Months In A Leaky Boat” is a cathartic testament to endurance. It’s only in the song’s final act that Tim Finn utters the words “Ship wrecked love can be cruel,” revealing a doomed relationship deep in the hull of our heroic sailors’ vessel. In the end, there are only rocky shores and sea monsters below, but with a melody this powerful and hooks this enormous, no journey seems too far, nor any obstacle too insurmountable. – Jeff Terich

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