The Top 200 Songs of the ’80s

Treble loves the '80s

100. Morrissey – “Every Day Is Like Sunday
(1988; HMV)

Morrissey, the master of depression presented as catchy, melancholy pop, has built a career on genuine, clever, but often sarcastic and bitterly comical lyricism. But even in his most humorous of offerings, an undercurrent of pain and solitude seems to always loom heavily in the folds. And while there’s something a little funny about the dramatic phrasing of this song’s refrain (“Every day is like Sunday / Every day is silent and gray“) as well as Morrissey’s anticipation of the abyss (“Armageddon – come Armageddon! / Come, Armageddon! Come!“), pensive melodies and Moz’s measured, mournful croon ensure that this tune can pull virtually anyone into a dejected state. Always the literary composer, his reflection on the parallels of sadness and dreary-weathered, off-season seaside towns contains references to Nevil Shute’s novel “On The Beach,” in which residents in Australia await clouds of nuclear radiation to drift into the coastal town of Melbourne (“Come, come, come nuclear bomb!“). Graceful and effortless, “Every Day Is Like Sunday” holds all of Morrissey’s strengths in balance in a way that makes it one of his most genuine and meticulously constructed songs. – Derek Emery

99. Dinosaur Jr. – “Little Fury Things
(1987; SST)

Bands have been making God awful racket with their guitars and whatever else they could find for a while before Dinosaur Jr., but Sonic Youth’s monopoly over it likely gave many the impression that noise was utterly stupid if it didn’t adhere to a larger “vision.” That, of course, is bullshit. Unlike Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. actually came out of the hardcore scene of the `80s and as a result took a more populist—or at least less pretentious—approach to making noise. In the capable hands of J Mascis, the guitar became kind of rad again, and cathartic as well. If his vocal style is any indication, Mascis was looking for anything that wouldn’t bore him to tears. Distortion pedals took him a long way even if he didn’t necessarily show it outside of his actual playing. – Chris Morgan

98.The Chills – “Pink Frost
(1984; Flying Nun)

The signature song from New Zealand’s Flying Nun legends, The Chills, “Pink Frost” is a strange little tune that seems to have quartered a little bit of perfect in its mourning guitars and the mysterious image of pink frost that permeates its every corner. It’s one of those songs you play on repeat on days that seem to have arrived defective, that overwhelms the petty bullshit pouring in from all sides and washes everything out in a blurry watercolor through which the world can be reborn, the dark rivers crossed, and breaths taken through which hope and tomorrow are restored. That may sound and in fact be insane but it is, more importantly, true. – Tyler Parks

97. Madonna – “Burning Up
(1983; Sire)

Madonna’s second-ever single basically DOA’d and I don’t understand why, because it’s awesome. “Burning Up” integrates electric guitar with the drums from Human League’s “Sound Of The Crowd” for what some called a rock edge. But the spirited, groovy 12-inch mix enthuses over a better idea, Madonna the club kid. According to legend she and a pack of friends liked to make out with boys en masse on the dance floor, collect phone numbers and make a show of tossing them to the floor. “Burning Up,” if anything, finalized Madonna’s Big Gulp sexuality and prefigured later, bigger hits like “Lucky Star” and “Like A Virgin.” It was her best introduction, even if almost everybody missed it. – Anthony Strain

96. Talking Heads – “Road to Nowhere
(1985; Sire)

Late in their career, Talking Heads had turned from African-influenced post-punk to slick, considerably more radio-friendly productions on releases like Naked. This song, accompanied by what’s now a gloriously dated stop-motion video, bridges the gap with some of the same squeezebox help Paul Simon employed at points on Graceland. – Adam Blyweiss

95. The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Head On
(1989; Blanco y Negro)

It’s kind of funny, if not surprising, how many songs have been written ambiguously enough not to make a clear distinction between romantic love and drug use. The La’s pulled this off in dreamy, gorgeous fashion with 1988’s “There She Goes,” but The Jesus and Mary Chain took this idea and made it into a rollicking, badass rock anthem just a year later. “Head On” is a song so simple and yet so powerful, it seems to have existed for eternity, its three distorted, chugging chords accompanying ambiguously ecstatic statements like “I come around catching sparks off you” and “Makes me wanna pull the stars from the sky.” What this song is actually about seems irrelevant; with such a universal feeling of euphoria emitting from every streamlined note, its fist pumping appeal translates into whatever the listener desires. – Jeff Terich

94. Prince – “I Would Die 4 U
(1984; Warner Bros.)

Each of the nine songs on Purple Rain makes a dramatic sonic statement, whether it’s the title track’s soulful epic balladry, the massive funk of “Baby I’m a Star” or the hard rocking raveup of “Let’s Go Crazy.” Yet “I Would Die 4 U” is oddly subtle by Prince’s standards. A refreshing jolt of ethereal funk, “I Would Die 4 U” is every bit as urgent and danceable as the album’s many other singles, yet, paradoxically, feels breezy, lighter than air. Likewise, the Purple One’s declaration, “I’m not a woman/ I’m not a man/ I am something that you’ll never understand,” is an equally nebulous series of statements, possibly alluding to his faith, though definitely not explicitly. Subtlety never really was Prince’s thing, and for a while, at least, excess served him just fine. But with three fleeting minutes on “I Would Die 4 U,” he proved he could create a transcendent, perfectly crafted single without breaking a sweat. – Jeff Terich

93. The Chameleons – “Up the Down Escalator
(1983; Virgin)

Not many of the early ’80s post-punk giants succeeded at writing that one great rock `n’ roll anthem, and that shouldn’t be too surprising. That wasn’t really their aim, now, was it? There were, of course, exceptions – The Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty In Pink” only took five years to become a hit, and we all saw what happened with U2. But Manchester’s Chameleons, or Chameleons UK as they were known in the states, showed much stronger proficiency in penning soaring rock anthems fit for airplay and fist-pumps. “Up the Down Escalator,” the catchiest of the bunch, displayed the kind of jagged guitar riffs that justified mentioning them in the same breath as Joy Division or Comsat Angels while boasting the kind of adrenaline-pumping melodies that U2 haven’t written in decades. It may have been just slightly too arty for as broad an audience as Bono and the Edge would later command, but when Mark Burgess belts, “There must be something wrong boys!,” it’s hard to picture him delivering that sentiment anywhere but in an arena. – Jeff Terich

92. Peter Gabriel – “In Your Eyes
(1986; Geffen)

As if it wasn’t enough that “In Your Eyes” made us melt in a mix of passion and tribal drums, Lloyd Dobler had to go and ruin the idea of romantic gestures for everyone, in using it to woo Ione Skye. Peter Gabriel’s sandpaper voice has never sounded as smooth as on this track. “In Your Eyes” sat among a bevy of chart toppers on So, yet still stood out somehow, far outlasting the others with respect to the test of time. The extended version, which is usually also the live version, has quite a dramatic opening, yet I still have a hard time deciding if I prefer one over the other. It’s not often that a song stands as a symbol of an entire decade’s worth of romantic love, but that’s exactly what “In Your Eyes” is. – Terrance Terich

91. The Smiths – “Panic
(1986; Rough Trade)

Oh Moz, you sly devil. By taking one of the most radio friendly melodies in the Smith’s discography and pairing with lyrics about the awful state of popular music, with “Panic” the Smiths more or less dared DJs to play a record that calls for their hanging. Though the song calls out to UK cities large and small, it’s a universal conceit. “Panic” always reminds me of standing around at junior high dances, praying for the Coolio and Mariah Carey to stop long enough for just one Pearl Jam song, or at the very least Oasis. The Smiths caught some heat for “Panic” due to the lyrics about burning down discos, some people viewed that as racially charged. But in calling out all those provincial towns – Dublin, Dundee, Humberside – the band was just acknowledging music fans who lived far from the zeitgeist and, in the pre-Internet era, at the mercy of the guy spinning records at the local station or club. A jangly gem, I’m sure this song is still speaking to budding audiophiles everywhere. – Elizabeth Malloy

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