I started to title this entry “Coolest 80’s Songs,” but then realized that isn’t much fun. That’s been done before. I decided to create this list as a sort of musical Rorschach test. I wrote down the first ten 80’s songs that jumped to mind, and then ranked them according to how much I used to play them over and over as a kid.
I rarely had money to buy actual albums as a kid, but I did have a small boombox and a lot of blank cassettes. I would record a song off the radio, and then play it endlessly until I wished it didn’t exist anymore. Today, there is no need for that, as the radio performs that function just fine (for example: Adele, Carly Rae Jepsen, and that “Moves Like Mick Jagger” song).
I found it very interesting that none of the bands I consider my 80’s favorites turned up in this list (Erasure, New Order, The Smiths, or The Cure). I also deliberately left out cool 80’s groups and/or songs that were big in the 80s but which I didn’t come to love until later (Siouxsie and the Banshees, Alphaville). Many songs I chose are one hit wonders. Many just resonate with me for various reasons, or bring back specific memories.
I suggest anyone else try this. Write down 10 songs from any period off the top of your head. Then try to figure out why you chose them. It’s fun! Or at least it’s fun to me…
10. “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister
There appears to be a religious underpinning to this song, so I should officially hate it. And—as with many songs from the 80’s—my 2012 sensibility tells me I should find it cheesy. But I loved it then, and I love it now. It has an awesome 80’s beat, and a great post-bridge climax (whoa-oh-oh, whoa-oh-oh, WHOA-OH-OH, followed by acoustic goodness) that still gives me chills. It also has a cute blonde guy in a leather jacket.
And—other than the fact that Kyrie Eleison is Greek for “Lord Have Mercy”—there is no evidence that Mr. Mister was trying to preach at us. Thank you, Mr. Mister, for keeping that to yourself.
9. “In Your Room” by the Bangles
It is odd that this should come up before “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” or one of the best covers ever: “Hazy Shade of Winter.” But I couldn’t help it. I like those other songs just fine, but this is the one that popped up in my head first.
For those of you unable to read subtext (or in the case of this song, TEXT), this is one of the many songs from the 80’s about masturbation. There are many, many songs from the 80’s on that topic (Sugar Walls, Dancing with Myself, Turning Japanese, She-Bop), and I find it interesting that they were born during an era when AIDS was killing a lot of sexually active people. But I didn’t interpret it that way back then, just like I didn’t realize Kyrie might have been about a religious experience. I just liked the 80’s beat.
I still love the Bangles, and have to admit that Susanna Hoffs is one of the few women out there for whom I would switch teams.
8. “Down Under” by Men at Work
Officially, my favorite Men at Work song is “Overkill,” but this one is the more obvious choice. I actually remember listening to this on an 8-track. My older sister had cheated Columbia House (as we all did at one point during the 80’s) by taking advantage of their “order a bunch of crap for a penny and never actually buy anything from us ever again” deal. I have no idea why she ordered 8 tracks instead of cassettes. Maybe it was so we could listen to music in the ’78 Impala Station Wagon? We had a stereo with a tape deck inside the house, but not in the boat/car.
This song also taught the world about Vegemite, though I’m not sure that was exactly a good thing. That stuff is nasty.
7. “We Built This City” by Starship
I knew nothing about the 60’s coolness that was Jefferson Airplane or that they eventually evolved into Starship (though I believe Grace Slick was the only original member left) when they were all the rage in the 80’s. I actually kind of hate “Sara” and “Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” but I remember loving this one. I played it over and over and over. Especially the Grace Slick “Corporation Games” part. Yes, we do indeed just want to dance here. Someone DID steal the stage. What is up with that?
They seemed like such rebels; I wasn’t old enough to see the irony of the “anti-corporate/pro rock-and-roll” message embedded into a very cliché 80’s corporate music video. And is that backdrop in the beginning of the video the same landscape used for the Teletubbies? Check it out. I swear it’s the same grassy knoll.
Oh well. I still love it.
6. “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder
I can’t figure out where I came up with this one, but it is still one of my favorite 80’s anthems. It came out in 1983, so I was only 8. I guess the theme always resonated with me: “I got to keep on moving.”
I just watched some footage of Matthew Wilder for the first time on Youtube, and see that his ‘fro and molester moustache probably prevented him from attaining further success. He is not exactly rocking those leather pants as one would expect from an 80’s rocker.
Still, though, he deserves props for this 80’s gem. As long as you don’t look at him…
5. “Africa” by Toto
I absolutely detest everything else by Toto, from lame 70’s “Hold the Line” to cheesy 80’s ballad “I’ll Be over You.” But this song rocks. Even the band itself considers the song an oddity, completely out of line with the rest of their music. I tend to agree.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I learned the lyrics are “I bless the rains down in Africa.” I had no idea what they were saying when I was a kid. The song is infectious. The library-themed video is actually pretty imaginative and holds up well. Good fun.
4. “La Isla Bonita” by Madonna
To this day, this is still my favorite Madonna Song. “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl,” “Like a Prayer,” “Ray of Light,” etc. just can’t compete with this song. The Latin beat. Madonna’s bold, short haircut and sassy red dress. The scenery. The candles. I freaking love this song. I love the video even more.
Don’t even try to argue that there is a better Madonna song.
3. “Holding out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler.
My sister had the Footloose Soundtrack in 1984. I remember listening to the whole thing repeatedly, but this one was my favorite. I was already sold on Bonnie Tyler for her epic, creepy “Total Eclipse of the Heart” video. This one was even better.
The video is full of 80’s goodness. Bonnie shows her versatility as an actress by depicting both “White-Flowing-Gown-Angel Bonnie” and “Prairie Bonnie.” We get shoot-outs, whips, white water rafting, cowboys, horseback riding– the whole nine yards. Why is her house on fire? We don’t know! But it’s fun. And we know Bonnie will win out in the end.
As an added bonus, check out Jennifer Saunders singing this song for Shrek. It rocks too.
2. “Mickey” by Toni Basil
Okay. It is just now dawning on me just how gay this list is. I don’t care. This song rocked my world when I was 7. It is one of my earliest memories of an MTV video. I just looked up Toni Basil on Wiki, and learned that she is actually older than my mother. She was rapidly approaching 40 when she donned that cheerleading uniform.
Good for her.
1. Take on Me by Aha
I am not surprised this one popped up. This is without a doubt the best 80’s song in existence. It is definitely the best one hit wonder ever. The video is legendary. Who didn’t want to be whisked away by a sexy black and white comic book character back then? Just me? Okay.
You love this song, though. Admit it.
If you haven’t checked out the literal version, do so. It is hilarious.