The Top 200 Songs of the ’80s

Treble loves the '80s

50. New Order – “True Faith
(1987; Factory)

From 1983’s Power, Corruption and Lies up through 1989’s Technique, and even occasionally thereafter, New Order operated essentially as two separate bands. They were club-centric electronic pioneers, responsible for such massive singles as “Blue Monday” and “Fine Time,” but they were also responsible for some damn fine post-punk guitar pop, ranging from Joy Division bequeathal “Ceremony” to the deep cuts on Low-Life and Brotherhood. But my personal favorite single is one that smashed those two bands together. “True Faith” is six of the finest minutes in the band’s catalog, pulsing and rhythmic, danceable and massive, but still showcasing Peter Hook’s melodic bassline and Bernard Sumner’s distorted jangle in ample supply. It’s simply the most New Order they’ve ever been. And as evident in its video clip, which took the basic concept of Kate Bush’s “Sat In Your Lap” and ran amok, it’s also apparently the weirdest they’ve ever been. But this dance-heavy post-punk anthem is so transcendent, so powerful, that, in spite of its defeatist lyrics about heroin addiction, it leaves one feeling, frankly, extraordinary. – Jeff Terich

49. Tears for Fears – “Everybody Wants to Rule the World
(1985; Mercury)

You know, for a song about world domination, crushing your enemies, and warfare, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is downright sunny. It’s the aural equivalent of what’s best in life. It’s so breezy all around, particularly those two recurring, zephyr-like chords in the verse (which the entire song was written around, apparently). Even my first memories of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” have an innocence to them: I was around six or seven when I watched Real Genius, not really processing the material back then but just knowing that 1) the people on screen were playing in popcorn and 2) I really liked the song that played while the people were playing in popcorn. It may be those layers of graveness and levity that makes this song so great. So yes, there’s the warning for the would-be conquering kings out there that seems straight out of an essay on Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” but it never gets in the way of being an infectious pop song and vice versa. – Hubert Vigilla

48. ESG – “Moody (Spaced Out)
(1983; 99)

ESG would go on to be heavily sampled and drummer Valerie Scroggins hilariously indicted for worker’s comp fraud, but they were real originalists. I love house or disco tracks with lots of space written into them and “Moody (Spaced Out)” is still a spanking fresh example of instruments opening lanes. The bass is frantically massaged and the hi-hats are hypnotic but each element pretends the other doesn’t exist. Contrast that with the sheets of raw noise that jut abruptly out of nowhere and as quickly disappear and you’ve got a masterpiece of control. Not many individual songs explain the contemporary existences of The xx and These Are Powers; “Moody (Spaced Out)” is one of them. – Anthony Strain

47. Nine Inch Nails – “Head Like a Hole
(1989; TVT)

Bow down before the one you serve.” No one can ever say that Trent Reznor isn’t dramatic. More than two decades before Reznor would become Hollywood’s soundtracking golden boy, he was making electronic industrial music palatable for the masses. “Head Like a Hole” was the first song that many heard from NIN, being the opening track of Pretty Hate Machine, and its most successful single. Some could argue that it was the song that fired the first salvo of the dour ’90s, after a decade of new wave and new romanticism. Those people might be right. Whether you think the album hasn’t aged particularly well, or has stood the test of time, it can’t be denied that “Head Like a Hole” was and is a revolutionary track. – Terrance Terich

46. Mission of Burma – “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver
(1981; Ace of Hearts)

Long before angst built up and destroyed Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails turned misery and self-loathing sexy, and Arcade Fire began penning rallying cries to disillusionment, a post-punk outfit from Boston with a penchant for the accessibly abrasive addressed the inevitable disappointment in coming of age with this fist-pumping punk rocker. “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” isn’t necessarily Burma’s loudest, fastest or most brutal song, at least not on a musical level, but Clint Conley’s lyrics cut far deeper: “Once I had my heroes/ Once I had my dreams… the truth is not that comfortable, no.” It’s an exercise in frustration, a form of primal scream therapy for the disenchanted. And it delivers redemption in the form of an ascending, towering chorus that demands one to shout along. That’s when it all gets blown away. – Jeff Terich

45. Kate Bush – “Hounds of Love
(1985; EMI)

An indisputable masterpiece from one of the most talented and enigmatic songwriters of the past thirty years, Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love,” if anything, is a composition of staggering emotional depth. Touching on the fear of commitment and the certain measure of innocence lost in love, here love’s pursuit is cast as just that – a relentless, one-sided chase. Kate plays the hunted, fleeing fearfully from the inevitable: “When I was a child / Running in the night / Afraid of what might be.” But she also admits that her fear masks her true desire to be loved (“I’ve always been a coward / I never know what’s good for me“) and ultimately allows her pursuer to catch and overcome her, blissfully succumbing to the hounds. Framed by minimal and hypnotic instrumentation – booming percussion, cello, and a melodic synth drone – her complex and charming lyrical work is complemented brilliantly by her raw and otherworldly vocal performance. From trembling murmurs to triumphant howls, her flawless stylistic and emotional range is vast and sets her even further apart from any other artist of the 1980s. – Derek Emery

44. Blondie – “Call Me
(1980; Chrysalis)

One of the first big hits of the decade, Blondie’s strutting, swagger-drenched disco punk banger “Call Me” became the band’s biggest American release mainly due to its affiliation with the movie American Gigolo, later to be re-released countless times internationally. The extended soundtrack version, (clocking in at more than eight minutes) was released first by Polydor, while the band released their own 7- and 12-inch single editions on Chrysalis, later hitting European markets. The ubiquity didn’t hurt, of course, but its massive hooks and badass strut of a melody are ultimately what gave this new wave standout a stiletto kick up the charts to end up as the band’s second U.S. Number 1 single. – Jordon Chiarelli

43. Liquid Liquid – “Cavern
(1983; 99)

Rarely can a song be said to be responsible for bringing on the downfall of two record labels, but that is indeed the case with “Cavern.” A sample of the track (played by the Sugar Hill Records house band) was used by Grandmaster Melle Mel for the also exceptionally fantastic “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It),” but after that song became a large scale hit both labels ended up in court, involved in a case that would set precedents for sampling laws to come. 99 Records, Liquid Liquid’s label, won the case but Sugar Hill declared bankruptcy and that was the end for both labels. All of this to say, there isn’t much that needs to be said about the actual song. It has one of the best basslines ever, the percussion is insanely kinetic, and Sal Principato singing “slip in and out of phenomena” is among the inexplicable joys of life. – Tyler Parks

42. Bruce Springsteen – “Atlantic City
(1982; Columbia)

Bruce Springsteen’s output throughout the ’70s is unimpeachable, but the greatest thing The Boss ever did was start listening to Suicide and record 10 hopelessly dark four-tracked acoustic ballads. On Nebraska, darkness wasn’t so much on the edge of town as a behemoth devouring its population. Still, with “Atlantic City,” Bruce managed to take a broken, hopeless, hard-luck scenario and turn it into an anthem of redemption and rebirth. Every verse of “Atlantic City” is a scene of chaos or tragedy, from the “chicken man” being blown up, to the “trouble bustin’ in from out of state,” to the final ambiguous “little favor” that the protagonist is prepared to do. It’s a bleak statement, a portrait of a man who’s out of options. And yet, as The Boss repeats until the song fades to a faint echo, “everything dies, baby, that’s a fact/ and maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” It’s circular and zen-like, both terribly defeating and inspirational. It’s the kind of deeply affecting statement that haunts you to your very core. – Jeff Terich

41. Violent Femmes – “Blister In the Sun
(1983; Slash)

There’s a great scene in the quintessential `90s drama “My So-Called Life” where mopey, introverted everyteenagegirl Angela Chase is dancing around her bedroom in a nightgown to this `80s song, ecstatically celebrating the fact that she’s over her crush (which, of course, she totally isn’t). She’s lip-syncing the words, especially emphasizing the “When I’m out walking, I strut my stuff” part, blissfully glossing over the, “I’m high as a kite” line. The scene, like the song, epitomizes teenage-hood and all its highs, lows, and contradictions. Gordon Gano is singing about how wonderfully confident he feels… when he’s stoned out of his mind. This toggles back and forth between a verse about his embarrassing nocturnal emissions and how his behavior is making his girlfriend cry, and it’s all set to the bounce of one of the most recognizable riffs of the decade. The Violent Femmes wrote some of the greatest odes to loserdom of all time. This one stands out because it gives the loser narrator a chance to feel really cool, even if he totally isn’t. – Elizabeth Malloy

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