The Top 200 Songs of the ’80s

Treble loves the '80s

20. Pixies – “Where Is My Mind
(1988; 4AD)

Thanks to its consistent placement in movies, commercials, etc., “Where is My Mind?” has turned out to be the Pixies’ big breadwinner. In turn, the song has also become the ideal gateway for many into the band’s addicting catalogue. It makes perfect sense; the song’s contemplative refrain is instantly relatable, even if the dreamlike verses are a bit more peculiar. Even during the verses, the song is so cinematically surreal it’s beguiling. Amidst the slow, melodic build, Steve Albini’s production gives the song a raw vitality. The drums pound away with what would end up being that signature Albini sound and Joey Santiago’s iconic lead riff bleeds through your speakers. The Pixies blueprinted the soft-verse-loud-chorus formula that became so prevalent among ’90s alternative bands. On “Where Is My Mind?,” the band proved reversing that formula could be equally as effective, providing a platform for Black Francis to turn in one of the most haunting performances of his career. – Chris Karman

19. Kate Bush – “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
(1985; EMI)

If one were to merely pore over the lyric sheet of Kate Bush’s stunning 1985 single “Running Up That Hill,” it would be easy to mistake the song for a spare, intimate ballad. Her poetic lyrics, detailing the struggles had by a woman and man in a relationship in trying to understand each other, seem intensely personal, to the point that a listener might feel a bit voyeuristic hearing such heartfelt statements like “If I only could, I’d make a deal with God/ and get him to swap our places.” Yet despite the intimacy of Bush’s soul-baring verses, the song is massive and heroic. It’s a work of stratospheric production, from its chilling walls of synthesizers to its propulsive and booming drums, the likes of which take the passion and power behind Bush’s lyrics to an even greater level. Though it may read like an overheard private conversation, it sounds like voices from Olympus and the crashing of planets. That its original title, “A Deal With God,” almost kept it from being released was a close call; keeping a song this devastatingly affecting and sonically mesmerizing from being heard would be heresy. – Jeff Terich

18. Talking Heads – “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)
(1983; Sire)

There are more well-known Talking Heads songs, Talking Heads songs that were bigger hits, but no Talking Heads song is better loved or more simultaneously emotionally mysterious and available than “This Must Be the Place.” It is simple and joyful, funky, a little goofy, celebratory yet vague about what it is celebrating. There are, to my mind, a whole lot of great lyrics in this song, the kind that get stuck in your head and take on a life of their own, slipping subliminally into conversations about things mundane, profound, and everywhere in between. My personal favorite is “Out of all those kinds of people you got a face with a view,” but the more iconic “I come home, she lifted up her wings / I guess that this must be the place” is also engraved on an important filter in my subconscious. And, honestly, whenever I hear this song I feel like wherever I am at that moment is most definitely the place. – Tyler Parks

17. The Smiths – “There is a Light That Never Goes Out
(1986; Sire)

The quintessential embodiment of Morrissey’s particular vision of romance as doom—or, more specifically, two lovers’ death together as love’s greatest culmination, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” has bewitched all of those with even the slightest flair for the melancholic and the theatrical aesthetics that flair carries in its genetic code. Of course, a great many people prone to such delectable sorrow are indeed of the teenage persuasion, and this song seems not only to be about that time in a person’s life, but to evoke the darker delights of being young, lost and desperately enamored. No one but Morrissey could have come up with the legendary chorus, nor managed to then sing it in a way that makes it seem the most natural romantic sentiment imaginable. – Tyler Parks

16. Depeche Mode – “Never Let Me Down Again
(1987; Mute)

I solicited the guesses of my friends and peers about my own personal favorites of the ’80s. While many were able to intuit some of the deep tracks, no one was able to determine my number one pick. That would be “Never Let Me Down Again,” a song that I would one time classify as a personal and sentimental choice, except for the fact that it has long been a favorite among many of the DM faithful, often played as a dramatic encore. The Sturm and Drang of the operatic outro certainly makes for a dramatic and emotional finish, highlighted by the overlapping voices of Gahan and Gore. The latter’s dulcet intonation of “See the stars shining bright / Everything’s alright tonight” juxtaposed with Gahan’s plaintive request of the title is easily my favorite moment in ’80s music. This moment was made even more captivating by the performance captured at the Rose Bowl on the 101 tour, as Gahan steps out on a jetty from the stage, and the crowd is lit, a sea of 60,000 people waving in unison with the charismatic singer. “Never Let Me Down Again” lives up to its name, as it has rewarded me over and over. – Terrance Terich

15. New Order – “Bizarre Love Triangle
(1986; Factory)

One in a series of amazing singles released by New Order in the 1980s, “Bizarre Love Triangle” is probably the most immediately recognizable and enjoyable this side of “Blue Monday.” Just the kind of emotive club jam synonymous with this Greater Manchester band, this massive tune is propelled by a relentless 4/4 beat, synth bass slaps, and characteristic walls of keyboards and electronics. The title of course says it all; Bernard Sumner’s charmingly imperfect and tender vocals communicate the perpetual uncertainty that is inherent in any love triangle, the agony of waiting and wondering captured brilliantly in the chorus: “Every time I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray / I’m waiting for that final moment / You say the words that I can’t say.” More of an emotional sketch than a clear delineation, the song remains purposely ambiguous on specific detail and allows the listener to fill in the blanks with their own situation. Sometimes it works out in your favor, sometimes not, but whether you’re on the precipice of joy or misery, this song is infinitely relatable and pretty much impervious to wearing out its welcome. – Derek Emery

14. The Jam – “That’s Entertainment
(1981; Polydor)

With one simple but stirring chord progression, the Jam churned out what is arguably the finest song in their impressive catalogue. With little more behind him than an acoustic guitar, an effective bass, and some backing “la’s,” Paul Weller delivers a fit as intense as any of the band’s louder moments. With unwavering conviction, Weller paints a vivid picture of an urban life that’s far less than satisfying. The deafening sounds of urban clamor, the petrol-filled air, and a freezing cold flat all serve to illustrate the looming futility of it all. Even some of the more comforting imagery, such as “cuddling a warm girl,” is stained with the smell of “stale perfume.” This would make for a pretty dismal affair, but the real power of “That’s Entertainment” is the way Weller subtly acknowledges in the song’s refrain the beauty and life within the yearning and frustration. – Chris Karman

13. Fugazi – “Waiting Room
(1988; Dischord)

Fugazi had a reputation of being unafraid to preach and lecture their fans and live audiences on the tenets of living a certain way, at times delving into a particular smugness that put off some. But in between that whole mess, they sure had a hell of a lot of fun and, though some people forget, enthusiastically celebrated individuality. On “Waiting Room,” one of the most accessible and – dare I say – poppy Fugazi songs, palm-muted guitar chugs follow the lead of the steadily driving rhythm section and at precisely the right moments collapse into a couple brief, tension-building crescendos and breakdowns. This immaculately recorded and produced track finds Ian MacKaye righteously deriding our collective apathy and laziness, pledging to stop wasting time himself, while Guy Picciotto demands that everyone else “come on and get up!” The playful call-and-response between MacKaye’s rasp and Picciotto’s distinct, androgynous vocal work is nothing short of incredible, its inimitability helping to confirm this song’s status as a true classic of the decade. – Derek Emery

12. New Order – “Blue Monday
(1983; Factory)

“Blue Monday” helped to popularize electronic dance music with mainstream audiences. This was kind of a big deal back in the 1983, when club music was still largely underground and considered among many music fans to be sub-par to other genres (Consider “Disco Demolition Night,” a promotional event gone wrong when near-riots ensured after crates of records were blown up during a White Sox double header). “Blue Monday” hypnotized listeners with infectious beats, soaring synth lines and wild guitar riffs. The lyrical subject of the song has been highly debated, with speculations including the suicide of their former bandmate, Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis, a bum relationship, and the effects of cocaine use on the personality. Sumner’s deadpan vocal delivery seems to suggest the answer hardly matters, even as he asks probing questions such as, “How does it feel when your heart grows cold?” At nearly seven and a half minutes, “Blue Monday” remains one of the longest playing pop songs to ever break into radio charts, and remains widely covered and sampled ever since. – Jamie Ludwig

11. Sonic Youth – “Teenage Riot
(1988; Blast First)

“Teenage Riot” finds the Youth buying into what all those hardcore bands they were so ashamed of not being were selling. The kids were, indeed, the Kids, and they were legion, gathering in the sewers of America lying in wait to at least take a decent beer-laced piss on the White House. It’s anybody’s guess though as to whether or not any of the Kids in the pre-Nirvana era wanted to make the time to listen to Sonic Youth’s tight but epic opener to Daydream Nation. It was a pretty ambitious statement of purpose and a rich and textured guitar track. It was, in effect, a precursor to “Paranoid Android” but very American, actually believing that the Kids would, given time, win by simply being the losers they were all born to be. We now know that winning is totally overrated, but it’s good to know that we are living more in Sonic Youth’s America than in Ronald Reagan’s America. – Chris Morgan

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Scroll To Top