The Top 200 Songs of the ’80s

Treble loves the '80s

60. Tears for Fears – “Head Over Heels
(1985; Mercury)

Tears for Fears did for synth pop what Helmet did for metal. Both represented the zenith of their chosen styles and both made them easier to for your average white suburbanite to digest rather than crazy denim jacket headbangers (Helmet) or sexually liberated, chemically enhanced club dwellers (Tears for Fears). Indeed, there was something macho about Tears for Fears that was lost on likeminded bands like Depeche Mode, New Order and Erasure. “Head Over Heels,” to be sure, is as glittery a song about longing and love as one could ever hope for—and oh how they hope—but it is more assertive than mopey or sensual, more in tune with nervous even aggressive passions in which one is more inclined to act on impulse and less inclined to think, kind of like jumping out of the trenches and into the no man’s land amid heavy fire for the fuck of it. Tears for Fears created some of the most memorable melodies of the decade but delivered them with remarkable gusto, as if this was the music to which we were meant to pump fists. – Chris Morgan

59. Pixies – “Here Comes Your Man
(1989; 4AD)

I’ll never quite grasp why the Pixies didn’t experience more mainstream success in their heyday. I’m sure there are a multitude of reasons, based in socioeconomics and the time-space continuum and whatnot, but none of them seem to hold water when I hear a song like “Here Comes your Man.” From the moment that jaunty guitar riff starts, to when Black Francis and Kim Deal start trading vocals in the chorus, it has all the makings of a hit. Like, a really big hit. Alas, it was not to be. Of course, all this glorious, unsung underground stuff from the ’80s eventually broke free in the form of other bands in the ’90s, and the Pixies have gotten their due in recent years, so all’s well that ends well. But still, I can’t help but think the world would be a better place if more people heard this when it was new. – Elizabeth Malloy

58. Madonna – “Into the Groove
(1985; Sire)

There are a great many anemic songs about dancing and there are a great many Madonna songs that have passed through ubiquity to nullity, but “Into the Groove” is neither of those things. It is, rather, a synth-funk bomb that immediately projects the more than pleasant images of Madonna dancing in Desperately Seeking Susan, and is light years ahead of almost every ’80s song that plays up the dancefloor and its links with transcendence and sex, the possibility of something remarkable happening and of being someone remarkable who you are not in your day-to-day life. And it just circles and circles, repetition upon voluptuous repetition, circling you until you are dancing like the most wonderful asshole in the world. – Tyler Parks

57. Siouxsie and the Banshees – “Cities in Dust
(1985; Polydor)

From their early days as a pummeling punk band with a flair for the dramatic, Siouxsie and the Banshees had clearly mastered the art of intensity. Even amongst lineup changes, additional keyboard arrangements and eventually dance beats, Siouxsie Sioux remained a commanding force to be reckoned with. Case in point, on the group’s seventh album, Tinderbox, as they grew increasingly melodic and danceable, the intensity of Sioux’s performance on the album’s centerpiece “Cities in Dust” hadn’t diminished one iota. The melody may be more immediate, but her depiction of a city covered in volcanic ash remained troubling. The song’s haunting synth generated bells may illustrate just why the band was considered inadvertent pioneers of the goth movement, but their newfound accessibility showed they were clearly capable of much more. – Chris Karman

56. De La Soul – “Me, Myself and I
(1989; Tommy Boy)

One of the greatest (and most fun) hip hop songs ever, “Me, Myself and I” continues to be living proof that sometimes great samples make great, and unique, songs. Taking from, among other sources, Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” and the mad cosmic funk of Edwin Birdsong’s “Rapper Dapper Snapper,” De La crafted a ferociously infectious and witty jam about living a hip-hop life outside the trappings of dark sunglasses, gold chains and track suits. Somehow even more colorful than even the clothing of the three men who thought it up, it has already lived a long and much loved life, and should continue to pop up pleasantly in all the right (and wrong) unexpected places. – Tyler Parks

55. Soft Cell – “Tainted Love
(1981; Sire)

A one hit wonder in the United States whose legacy here is largely relegated to “Best of the ’80s!” mix CDs you find in bargain bins at Bed, Bath & Beyond, English duo Soft Cell were nonetheless a pioneering act in synthpop music, and their influence can still be heard today. “Tainted Love” was by far their biggest hit, but its sound colored a lot of what would be heard for the rest of the decade. A cover of an obscure British soul song from the `60s, the members of Soft Cell added spacey blips and binks to “Tainted Love,” and drum machine flourishes that sound like robots clapping. The effect is one of the coldest, most distant sing-along favorites ever. The song has something of a reemergence every few years thanks to an appearance in a movie or commercial. If you listen to anyone from Nine Inch Nails to Cut Copy, it’s kind of like it never left. – Elizabeth Malloy

54. Tom Tom Club – “Genius of Love
(1981; Sire)

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, half of one of the most articulate and difficult bands ever, formed Tom Tom Club nearly as a rebuttal. They accidentally made a dance track so filled with edge and spirit it enthralled a generation and prosecuted dancefloor relativism from decade to decade. Pretty much all beat, “Genius Of Love” merged tropical esoterica with the familiar grooves of Bohannon and Sly Stone when that kind of ideation wasn’t really done, at all. Frantz himself maintains that, except for the samples, there’s never been a song that sounds quite like it. Of course the two most famous usages are for “Fantasy” and “Return of the Mack,” two of the most bodaciously great talking points of ’90s radio. That’s not an accident; “Genius Of Love” is a cyclical pop miracle. Checking out “Genius Of Love” on Jimmy Fallon earlier this year was like stumbling into a glamorous bodega of citywide proportions, Frantz and Weymouth grinning hugely amid a manic multi-hued circle of friends. The song was 30 years old but having the prime time of its life. – Anthony Strain

53. Joy Division – “Heart and Soul
(1980; Factory)

If Joy Division’s calling card, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” shows the British post punk pioneers at their most accessible, “Heart and Soul,” finds the group at its most majestic and exploratory. The long-form, free-flowing song is structured around Peter Hook’s bass line, which provides a rock solid core, creating a trance-like effect as each additional instrument takes turn taking center stage. Ian Curtis’ echo-laden vocals float in and out of the picture like a ghostly apparition whose messages –“Existence well what does it matter? / I exist on the best terms I can / The past is now part of my future / The present is well out of hand” — seem prophetic with the knowledge that Closer was released just weeks after the singer’s suicide in the spring of 1980 and that his legacy as a cult figure has grown stronger with each passing year. – Jamie Ludwig

52. Pixies – “Gigantic
(1988; 4AD)

Kim Deal not only takes center stage on “Gigantic” by providing some alternately cool and unhinged vocals, but drops the heavy, tumbling bassline that really makes it into the tipsy anthem that it is. Based on the film Crimes of the Heart, which depicts a married white woman who has an affair with a black teenager, “Gigantic'”s lyrics roam around a woman’s voyeurism of a black man making love to another woman, making the chorus both hilarious and, well, gigantic. But, honestly, you hardly need to understand the link between one line and the next to get carried away by this one. You don’t even need to understand a word of English. Quiet, loud, quiet, loud—there is just something about it, and “Gigantic” is proof of the Pixies uncanny mastery of the dynamic that they did so much to perpetuate. – Tyler Parks

51. Bruce Springsteen – “I’m On Fire
(1985; Columbia)

I’m a late convert to the Church of Bruce. But, when I fell for the Boss’ music, I fell hard. Eventually, I’d love to have his entire collection on vinyl. However, early on, I didn’t understand his appeal. When Born in the U.S.A. came out, I completely misunderstood it. I thought “Dancing in the Dark” a silly pop song with a goofy live video. I mistook the title track thanks in part to the Republican attempted co-opting of it, and like many, thought it was a patriotic anthem. Then I heard “I’m on Fire.” I was immediately transfixed. The lyrics are simple and the music spare, but together they make the most haunting, passionate, subversive, erotic love song ever written. – Terrance Terich

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