The Top 200 Songs of the ’80s

Treble loves the '80s

130. Roxy Music – “More Than This
(1982; EG)

Admittedly, Roxy Music was in far less adventurous territory by the time of their last album, Avalon, than they were in their early to mid-`70s prime, but don’t even think about tagging their sophisticated pop with a derogatory term like adult contemporary. With its slick production and elegant synth washes “More Than This” may fall loosely under the banner of soft rock, but this is no frivolous love song. Quite the contrary, in “More Than This,” Bryan Ferry ponders hefty, unanswerable questions such as the nature of what can and cannot be changed in life. It’s Ferry’s delivery that really sells the song, his inescapable longing lifts the song into the sublime. – Chris Karman

129. Depeche Mode – “Personal Jesus
(1989; Mute)

By 1989, exploring power dynamics between lovers was hardly a new subject for Depeche Mode, whose previous singles had included tunes like the BDSM-themed “Master and Servant” and jailbait-lust number “Question of Time.” Released just prior to 1990’s Violator, on which the single would also appear, “Personal Jesus” was a forerunner of what would become the best selling record of the band’s career, eventually landing the #3 slot of the U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Hits among other sales charts around the world. Inspired by Pricilla Presley’s description of her relationship with Elvis in her 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me,” and armed with a march-like drum cadence and swaggering bass groove, the synth-rock quartet crafted a dark, mysterious, and catchy song with lyrics that toyed with the idea that in many relationships one figure can take on the role of a mentor, or “savior.” No stranger to pushing buttons for the sake of exploration, with “Personal Jesus,” lead songwriter Martin Gore hit on something dark, but strangely universal–Who out there hasn’t at some point been involved in an unhealthily unbalanced relationship? With its driving beat and thumping groove of its bass line, the song is still as unhealthily alluring as the object of a love fixation. – Jamie Ludwig

128. U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday
(1983; Island)

In the decade of Live Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, and “We Are the World,” popular artists didn’t shirk from injecting social awareness into their music. In 1983, U2 made a blatant political statement with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – a distinctive plea from one of the quintessential Irish bands, whose home country was entrenched in a bitter conflict at the time. Obviously informed by the continuing “Troubles” in Ireland and deeply resonant with the people of their homeland, this anthem also looked beyond one particular incident or people to make a wider statement about violence and suffering across the world. The lyrics may not be subtle, but they are effortlessly transformed from trite to true by Bono’s impassioned and genuine vocal performance. While, like many U2 songs, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is centered on The Edge’s undeniable guitar riffage, virtually every layer of this song is a hook that grabs hold and refuses to let go, all colliding in what is perhaps the most anthemic single of the 1980s. – Derek Emery

127. Violent Femmes – “Add It Up
(1983; Slash)

There was a stretch of time in middle school when my younger brother would call 98.5 KOME everyday and request “Add It Up.” Looking back, it seems all too fitting. Think of all the dark things going on in early adolescent minds. Pretty icky, right? “Add It Up” burns with the sex and the violence in the thoughts of angry young men. It’s restless, it’s confessional; it’s a dark little psycho city full of menace. There’s the sexual tension and frustration, sublimated in most cases through lots of rock music and frequent masturbation. (Mockingly, the radio edit of the lyric “Why can’t I get just one fuck” replaced the f-word with a woman moaning in ecstasy.) There’s the anger and violence caused by hormones out of control, sublimated in most cases through lots of rock music and frequent masturbation. There’s even a bass solo, which in lesser songs is akin to masturbation but here communicates that rage, lava-like, brimming over and enveloping everything in its path. This is the song for the difficult, angry alleyways of adolescence that creep on into adulthood. – Hubert Vigilla

126. Duran Duran – “Save A Prayer
(1982; EMI)

The first true “video band” used tropical backdrops for a series of music videos associated with their punishingly good second album Rio. While both the title track and “Hungry Like the Wolf” ended up with iconic associated imagery, this cut may have been the album’s best dovetail of sound and vision. The synthesized wind-instrument sounds surrounding Simon le Bon’s dismissive tenor suggest otherworldly and magical relationships, even without the visual aids of jungle waterfalls and ancient ruins. – Adam Blyweiss

125. AC/DC – “Back In Black
(1980; Atlantic)

Let it be known that throughout rock history, only one band has ever been able to replace their lead singer (deceased, no less) and get away with it. AC/DC is that band. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Brian Johnson’s ferocious screech is nearly as legendary as Bon Scott’s own mighty growl, but what primarily separates AC/DC from unsuccessful experiments as VanHagar, VanCherone or, you know, Judas Priest with the guy from the Judas Priest tribute band is that Australia’s baddest rock ‘n’ roll outfit managed to release their greatest song, and for that matter album, with Scott’s successor. “Back In Black” isn’t necessarily a drastic alteration to the blues-based hard rock anthems the group cranked out in the years preceding, it was just that much louder, stomped that much harder, and carried itself with that much more swagger. Surely there could be no better eulogy to one of rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest badasses by turning out this bad motherfucker of a tribute and having it sung by an equally badass frontman. – Jeff Terich

124. Gang of Four – “To Hell With Poverty!
(1981; EMI)

With their second album Solid Gold, Gang of Four seamlessly began adding dancier rhythms to the jagged punk and funk combination of their debut post-punk masterwork Entertainment!. “To Hell with Poverty!”, originally appearing in the United States as the lead track on the Another Day/Another Dollar EP, quickly followed the band’s second album. In many ways, the song is a natural continuation of that album’s genius. Jerky stop-start dynamics are carried by an uncontainable bass groove and characteristically serrated guitar work. What throws the track over the top are the echoing “ows” of vocalist Jon King which bounce off of the song’s walls in between his typically unflattering commentary on capitalism. With “To Hell with Poverty!”, Gang of Four continued to define and push the parameters of the same dance-punk that made a resurgence last decade with bands like the Rapture and Radio 4. – Chris Karman

123. Bruce Springsteen – “Dancing In the Dark
(1984; Columbia)

Following the release of his fragile, pessimist masterpiece Nebraska, The Boss set out to record his most pop-driven record to date: the upbeat, anthemic, and relatively synth-heavy Born in the U.S.A. Widely considered to be one of Springsteen’s absolute best, this record would go on to be one of the best selling records of all time, propelled heavily by a series of massively successful singles. The first, “Dancing in the Dark,” no doubt departed the furthest [from his previous work], its driving beat, guitar jangle and walls of synthesizers starkly refashioning the bombastic Bruce power-anthem as pure pop accessibility. But the fit is remarkably comfortable; Springsteen’s raspy croon fits in perfectly and soars with enough charisma to inspire just about anyone to join him on stage and bust out whatever goofy-looking ’80s dance moves come to mind. “You can’t start a fire without a spark“— Bruce didn’t know how right he was. – Derek Emery

122. The Birthday Party – “Nick The Stripper
(1981; Missing Link)

Dapper gentleman though Nick Cave is, as frontman of Australia’s notorious post-punks the Birthday Party, “sexy” wasn’t part of his vocabulary. Even when confronting sex itself via “Nick the Stripper,” a self-referential single with a fittingly bizarre video, Cave lobs phrases like “fat little insect” and “hideous to the eye” at his slithering ecdysiast of an alter-ego. Tracy Pew’s sly bass rumble and Rowland Howard’s reverb-heavy jangle take the scenario a step further by giving this birthday suited grotesque a sultry post-punk burlesque soundtrack. The result, ironically, is a little sexy, despite Cave’s horrifying squeals, which, no doubt, contributed to the coining of the word ‘pigfuck.’ There’s probably a reason why this hasn’t replaced “Pour Some Sugar On Me” as exotic dancers’ favored backdrop. – Jeff Terich

121. Aztec Camera – “Oblivious
(1983; Rough Trade)

Avoiding distorted, abrasive guitars and glossy synthesizers in favor of a sprightly, flamenco-inspired guitar pop style, Aztec Camera were something of an anomaly in new wave. And their biggest hit, 1983’s “Oblivious,” sounded like practically nothing else released at the time, driven by then 18-year-old Roddy Frame’s youthful gloom and dazzling instrumental feats. Like a Scottish sophisti-pop combination of both Morrissey and Johnny Marr, Frame deadpans lines like “I hear you crying and I want to kill your friends” and “They bought the bullets and there’s no one else to shoot” over elegantly intricate acoustic riffs that escalate into one of the decade’s greatest solos. Yet despite the jaw-dropping interplay between Frame’s perfectly timed wordplay and infectious melodies, the song’s breezy feel and delightfully unshakable chorus are engineered for maximum replay value. – Jeff Terich

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