The Top 200 Songs of the ’80s

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Treble loves the '80s

180. Orange Juice – “Blue Boy
(1980; Postcard)

The first Orange Juice record may be the best Orange Juice record. The claim is definitely debatable and given credence by the fact that Edwyn Collins continues to feature it in his live shows to comprehending and immensely appreciative audiences. It is rock and roll filtered through punk, given some air to breathe, more than a touch of wit, and inflamed with a romantic disposition that spreads itself grudgingly across the song’s surface. As its title does not suggest, “Blue Boy” is shot through with a euphoria that verges on mania, a euphoria captured in Collins’ garbled but grittily poetic vocals, the scratched guitars and circling bass riffs—something is happening but we aren’t quite sure what it is. And that is exciting. – Tyler Parks

179. The Chameleons – “In Shreds
(1982; Epic)

As a somewhat recent convert to The Chameleons, it’s gotten to a point where pretty much every major song by them is a favorite. “In Shreds,” their first single, shows The Chameleons at their most aggressive and desperate. This is not just a bout of angst — something you can discount as “just a phase” — “In Shreds” is an existential malaise. Rather than an angry teenager, the song has more to do with those “angry young men” works of the ’50s and ’60s. There’s a fundamental dissatisfaction with life that’s palpable in the song. That may explain why the lyrics and the guitars cut so sharply or why the drums explode rather than just pop. Any victories are small victories and fleeting; instead of a girlfriend, there’s a whore. The only fate is to become another schlub at the factory, or at least be on the dole until another factory job opens up. “In Shreds” at least provides some catharsis. It’s a scream for something more to life even if there isn’t much to living except for the ability to scream. – Hubert Vigilla

178. Psychedelic Furs – “Love My Way
(1982; CBS)

It’s nothing new to note all the similarities the 1980s shared with the 1950s, but hearing “Love My Way” simply makes it more tangible. Along with the return to economic prosperity and yuppie conformity came a legion of feel-good rock songs and tender backseat “necking” songs that encapsulated the youth of America in a big way that not even grunge can boast. “Love My Way” is the latter type of song and it led the pack easily, its simple guitar riff meshing well with its moody synths and heated, desperate vocals. It’s very much lodged in its time and place, and probably stokes in those a little younger than Barack Obama fond memories of a time in which much good was possible and all the shitty things in the world could be alleviated simply by making out. The sentiment was, of course, lost on the Communist young who at the time weren’t allowed to listen to music made past 1929 and in any Western nation. – Chris Morgan

177. Was (Not Was) – “Wheel Me Out
(1980; Antilles)

There are one-hit wonders, classically oversimplified but built for trivia, and then there are the isolated songs that are so out in front of the rest of an artist’s catalogue it’s embarrassing. My favorite of these is “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand,” but that’s another decade. “Wheel Me Out” falls into that second, stranger category. Besides anticipating the unfortunate habit of making your band’s name hard to Google, Was (Not Was) basically fought and died in an impenetrable seriocomic avant-garde fog. How “Wheel Me Out” wound up on the right side of history, I’m not sure. But it controls a mad-jazz trumpet solo and a crazy non-sequitur conversation by immaculate four-on-the-floor means; the result is one of the most surreal small sample sizes of funk ever made. I put it in my top twenty for purposes of this list, `cause wow. Compared to the band’s other output, it is a rare moment of clarity. – Anthony Strain

176. Phuture – “Acid Tracks
(1987; Trax)

It sounds silly but the best way to separate acid house from its progenitor is not to talk about psychedelic drugs and smiley faces but to imagine literal acid tossed in a literal face. Messing around with texture doesn’t really get more visual. Phuture, a collective already immersed in the nascent Chicago house scene, made “Acid Tracks” by availing themselves almost exclusively of the TB-303 synth, never before a primary instrument. The result was a messy, bloopy system of interlocking steps and squiggles that did not instantly kill – the signature DJ Ron Hardy once played it four times in one night at the Music Box in an effort to move the crowd. What came after, of course, was a whole unapologetic counterscene of intricate bass overload; contrast that with the brooding, simplified stomp of “Acid Tracks” and it’s hard to see why excess was ever a problem. In that respect the song is guilty but not responsible; incidentally it also has no more problems moving crowds. – Anthony Strain

175. Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight
(1981; Atlantic)

If you ever find yourself directing a scene for film or television in which you need to create tension and an ominous atmosphere, just throw this song on the soundtrack and call it a day. “Cool” is not a word often associated with the works of Phil Collins these days, but “In the Air Tonight” is a cool song. Building from a creepy whisper to a near crescendo of bass and `80s production values, and then pulling it all back to a simmer just when you think its going to blow – few songs can give you the impression that shit is about to go down like this one, and then hold your interest while said shit does, in fact, go down. Phil’s got a lot of cheesy stuff on his resume, but he got this one right. – Elizabeth Malloy

174. Siouxsie and the Banshees – “Happy House
(1980; Polydor)

In the late ’70s, Siouxsie and the Banshees earned a reputation as being some of the most provocative, obnoxious punks in the UK. It didn’t hurt having Sid Vicious in the band at the time, nor did their now-infamous half-hour performance of “The Lord’s Prayer.” But by 1980, Sioux, Steven Severin, John McGeoch and Budgie had molded their dark and theatrical punk rock into a more twisted and psychedelic, yet oddly melodic form, which reached perfection with single “Happy House.” McGeoch’s guitar weeps and wobbles like moans from beyond, a warning emanating from this so-called house where the refrain “we’re all quite sane!” likely means just the opposite. The fantasy world that Siouxsie Sioux and her co-conspirators create is a creepy one, a nightmarish asylum of unspoken horrors, backed by one of the most kickass beats ever recorded. – Jeff Terich

173. Depeche Mode – “But Not Tonight
(1986; Sire)

Dave Gahan’s pleasure at being so wet may not have done him any favors, at least among Gorewhores. Nevertheless the B-side to “Stripped,” a single the band had higher hopes for, represents a jocular rift in their darkly emotive chronology. Between “A Question Of Time” and “Strangelove,” “But Not Tonight” proved Depeche Mode could turn a silly little trick into an affirmation of life. In the right context “Oh God it’s raining” sounds like Martin Gore parodying his own dour sensibility. In any context, the ultratight 12-inch version, particularly, bursts out of big speakers like a bolt of black ice. The knobbed charm of that keyboard could never be mistaken for dead. – Anthony Strain

172. Danzig – “Mother
(1988; American)

After Glenn Danzig left his punk rock roots behind, he was quickly adopted by the heavy metal world, a fairly comfortable fit for a man who kept his hair long and pasted merchandise with Satanic skull imagery. But Danzig isn’t so much metal as extra loud blues-rock, taking AC/DC’s template of filtering simple power chord grooves through massive Marshall stacks. Basic, but effective, particularly when paired with Danzig’s Jim Morrison-esque croon. Though “Mother,” Danzig’s flagship hit, didn’t reach massive fame until its re-release in 1994, its original incarnation on the band’s debut remains a hard rock classic, all three-chord hooks and angst. Nowadays, Danzig doesn’t seem so threatening, but when he belts “If you wanna find hell with me, I can show you what it’s like!“, he, for a short time at least, sounds like the kind of dude you don’t want to mess with. – Jeff Terich

171. Scritti Politti – “Perfect Way
(1985; Warner Bros.)

Possibly the most recognizable tune from this London-based group of sophisticates, “Perfect Way” exemplified the technical prowess and breathy exposition found throughout Cupid & Psyche 85. Between the statuesque figure cut by leading man Green Gartside and the literate pop constructed from synthesizers and thesauri, Scritti Politti did indeed “make the girls go crazy.” – Adam Blyweiss

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