The Top 200 Songs of the ’80s

Treble loves the '80s

140. The Fall – “I Am Damo Suzuki
(1985; Beggars Banquet)

YouTube comment wars are the unholiest kind of internet; one for “I Am Damo Suzuki” addresses the debt New Wave owes Krautrock, whether or not post-punk is a misnomer for post-Kraut, and other barely-relevant sundries, although what’s indisputable is how fine everyone is with a Jehovah’s Witness getting his own rock song. I personally am wild about it. I love how literal The Fall made their tribute (“generous/ valeric/ Jehovah’s Witness“) when they weren’t making it surreal (“the fuckup like red acid rain…who is Mr. Karlheinz Stockhausen?…Soundtracks! Soundtracks!” Actually all of that’s pretty literal, too.) When the drums come in (“drums come in!“) they’re pitched so weird and at such an angle from the phrasing it’s like some kind of mechanical accident. This song is jagged with way more garish horror than its hero warranted, maybe. But that’s also barely relevant. – Anthony Strain

139. Peter Gabriel – “Sledgehammer
(1986; Geffen)

The `80s introduced a unique conundrum for music fans: Do I really like this song, or just the video? I’ve often wondered this about Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” The video, full of bizarre stop motion animation, including dancing chicken carcasses, was somewhat revolutionary when it came out, and certainly contributed to the popularity of the song. But listening to it now, divorced from the video, the song still stands on its own. Channeling the brass and bass of Stax soul, throwing in some odd flute flourishes and a lot of sexual metaphors, “Sledgehammer” is the rare song that lends itself to both the dance floor, and repeat, reflective listens on your headphones. I’ve heard it countless times and still often pick up on something different happening deep in the tracks. – Elizabeth Malloy

138. Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force – “Planet Rock
(1982; Tommy Boy)

The only thing better than one Kraftwerk sample is two Kraftwerk samples, the evidence of which is “Planet Rock.” There was a point in New York’s history when dance culture was wild in the streets and no other song short of, y’know, actual “Dancin’ In The Streets” makes me think of that, or wish I’d been there, more. Incidentally I’m pretty sure “Planet Rock”‘s attribution of punchy, ominous electro made it a little easier for the Neptunes to exist. To be sure, hip-hop and synth effects have rarely found that kind of synergy since. The dancing in the video cinches it; as some inspired wacko on Twitter said once, “why is it called breakdancing when it fixes everything?” – Anthony Strain

137. Iron Maiden – “Run to the Hills
(1982; EMI)

“Run To The Hills” was, for many, an introduction to Iron Maiden, and for others, the introduction to one of the decade’s most enthusiastic and charismatic frontmen, Bruce Dickinson. The single shone the light on a new wave movement of heavy metal coming out of England in the late ’70s and early ’80s, bringing to the forefront not only a titan like Iron Maiden, but bands such as Judas Priest and Mötörhead, as well. who played their music with more grit and attitude compared to their hair metal counterparts across the pond. Although the leather clad blokes were mainly underground successes playing up a quiet dignity, and despite the short era of success and excess that the Sunset Strip rockers enjoyed, Iron Maiden lives on, keeping heavy metal alive for more than three decades. – Jordon Chiarelli

136. XTC – “Dear God
(1987; Geffen)

Not to put too much weight on a pop song, but hearing “Dear God” was the first time that I remember hearing religious views challenged. Today, you can hear any number of people, from Bill Maher to Joss Whedon, or even Adam Savage, speaking about a lack of faith. “Dear God” starts with the voice of a child, backed by acoustic guitar, reading a letter to God, somewhat angry about the lack of actual divine intervention on earth. The voice changes to that of Andy Partridge, and at a certain point, the acoustics change to electrics. And while the music becomes charged, so too does the rhetoric. It’s brilliantly constructed, incredibly memorable, with a masterful balance between verses, bridge, and kinetic crescendo. A few years later, Trent Reznor would sing, “God is dead, and no one cares,” and all of these ideas have been posited before (Nietzsche, anyone?), but never this infectiously. – Terrance Terich

135. Jane’s Addiction – “Jane Says
(1988; Warner Bros.)

Heroin use has never sounded so beautiful. Dave Navarro’s acoustic guitars, Stephen Perkins’ steel drums, and Perry Farrell’s distinctive whiskey soaked scratchy vocals combined in a magical way on “Jane Says.” First appearing as a live track on Jane’s Addiction’s live debut (itself, a rarity), “Jane Says” was an anomaly of sorts. Other than the more sober covers, “Jane Says” was a stand out slow burner among a series of high-energy glam rock. The song itself is heartbreaking, about the titular Jane, a heroin addict who has never known real love, and famously, “only knows when someone wants her.” “I only know they want me,” is what Jane ultimately says, among other things, and Farrell squeezes out every ounce of pathos. – Terrance Terich

134. U2 – “New Year’s Day
(1983; Island)

Bono once remarked that in the early days, U2 was a band of “miserable bastards,” at least when compared to their work from Achtung Baby forward. He may very well be right; who the hell writes a pop song about Lech Walesa (even if subconsciously)? Yet U2 sounded their most inspired when at their most martyr-like. You can hear it in “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” you can hear it in “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, and above all, you can hear it in “New Year’s Day.” A fairly simple love song wrapped in an immortal package, “New Year’s Day” is one of the biggest songs ever written by one of the world’s biggest bands, all scratchy guitars, slithering bassline and chilly piano. Its instrumental midsection is arguably its highest peak, with Bono adding nonverbal sounds to the haunting, minor key proceedings. Even the abandonment of language can’t take away his earnestness. – Jeff Terich

133. Morrissey – “Suedehead
(1988; HMV)

After the Smiths’ sudden breakup in 1987, with his deft guitar work and exceptional ear, many assumed that it would be Johnny Marr who would go on to continue achieving success, leaving Morrissey to flounder. Any doubts in Morrissey’s ability to conjure life post-Smiths were promptly quelled with his debut solo single “Suedehead.” Not only did “Suedehead” storm the UK Top 5 -— a feat the Smiths were never able to achieve — but it was a damn good song, easily holding its own when held up against his former band’s classics. Pleading to a lover that won’t leave him alone long enough for his obsession to diminish, Moz plays the victim better than just about anyone else on the planet. Meanwhile, the song’s jangling chords and a swelling keyboard are positively danceable. “Suedehead” was the first staple in what has become the institution known as Morrissey. – Chris Karman

132. Eleven Pond – “Watching Trees
(1986; Self-released)

One of the great unearthed gems brought back to the world at large by compilations like Cold Waves and Minimal Electronics and The Minimal Wave Tapes, as well as labels like San Francisco’s Dark Entries, Eleven Pond’s “Watching Trees” is a new wave juggernaut of jagged, churning synth arpeggios, voyeuristic love/lust, New Order guitar lines, and trembling, twilight atmospherics. The band was from Rochester, N.Y., but “Watching Trees” has a great deal in common with the more brutal and minimalistic music being made on the other side of the Atlantic at the time, utilizing the new machines available to create a sound less indulgent than alien and uncompromising. But it also brims with pop pleasantries, and in the intersection between malice and sugar, something truly intoxicating emerges. – Tyler Parks

131. Beastie Boys – “Paul Revere
(1986; Def Jam)

Everyone knows about the Golden Age of Hip Hop’s crown egg: the Beastie’s Licensed to Ill. The album is the first of the genre to top the Billboard Top 200, it’s Capitol Record’s highest selling debut with nine million copies sold, and possesses probably two of the biggest singles of the decade with “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” Their third single however, is quite a bit different from the first two. There are no hooky guitar riffs, but rather a spare beat with the Beasties actually rapping. The single showcases the first well-known white rappers and what the Beasties were really all about. And we can likely thank its acceptance by mainstream audiences for the Beasties’ more-rap-than-rock evolution that continued to progress for the next couple decades. – Jordon Chiarelli

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