Ah the 1980s: the decade of Me, Reagan, parachute pants, jellies, Michael Jackson, hair metal, rap as a popular musical medium and so much more. The 80s birthed MTV and the rise of the video star who had to look as good as they sang. There were huge superstars such as Madonna and Michael Jackson plus plenty of one-hit wonders like Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy" or "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. For many the 1980s is a decade is awash in over indulgence, terribly dated synth noises, and a white-washed rap movement to sooth the masses. But for those of us of a certain age there is no better decade than the 80s. Here at Blinded by Sound we are of that age (even if we're a bit older or younger) and we're proud to bring you the very best of that glittery, neon decade.
Heather Van Keuren: "I Remember You" - Skid Row
Favorite song of the '80s you say? Where do I begin? Which year, genre, artist do I pick? The '80s for me was sectioned off into periods of my life since I was 5-14 in the '80s. We have early '80s pop which I'm still madly in love with, the amazing new wave and post punk movement with goth touches (Depeche Mode, Joy Division, The Smiths and The Cure I'm talking to you). Then there was the rap and hip hop bands that flipped onto my radar around 1985. If I had to pick one song of one genre and one band I'd say the band that I found at 14 and changed my life (for a few years, until my next life changing music discovery) was “I Remember You” by Skid Row.
The band's eponymous debut album was released in early 1989, “I Remember You” found it's way onto the airwaves in late '89 and it was all I listened to for about two years straight. “I Remember You” is the perfect song for a lovesick, confused 14 year old girl. The pretty, baby-faced lead singer didn't hurt matters either. “Woke up to the sound of pouring rain/wind would whisper and I'd think of you/and all the tears you cry they call my name” were the most romantic and heartfelt lyrics I think I'd ever heard or at least paid attention to at that point in my life. Of all the songs and artists I wanted to pick for this entry this one made the list because when I listen to it to this day over 20 years later I'm immediately back in my 8th grade bedroom on my white, wrought iron day bed listening to this song on repeat until I fall asleep.
Melinda Crosby: "How Soon is Now?" by The Smiths
If there are people in the world who don't think that The Smiths' "How Soon is Now?" is the best song of the '80s, I can only imagine that they didn't spend that decade as I did - pubescent, depressed and dressed in black, spending countless hours alone in their bedroom with only their teenage angst to keep them company.
Now their best known song, hearing it for the first time was the one of the few rays of light during a dark time of hormones and new hair growth. Who was this man singing of loneliness and needing to belong; of overwhelming shyness and leaving a party on his own at the end of the night? And how did he get inside my head?
I've heard it suggested that "How Soon is Now?" is The Smiths' most popular song because of Johnny Marr's incredible guitar chord. But I'd counter that with the argument that its appeal lies in Morrissey's poignant, simple lyrics that get to the heart of what it's like to feel lonely and isolated - a universal feeling that's rarely spoken about. Listening to it provided comfort - then and now - in knowing I wasn't alone in my aloneness.
Josh Hathaway: "Head Over Heels" by Tears For Fears
I thought this would be easy. I thought wrong. There are thousands of songs I could have chosen but I decided not to take the easy way out and take something timeless that eschews what the '80s were and meant and instead opted for something that stands up long after the decade ended but still bears the artifacts of it.
Most '80s music for me was heard after the fact due to the conditions of my raising and my geographic location. Looking back, there was a lot of absolute shit from that decade and I'm not sorry I missed it. There were a handful of songs that got through my parents' restrictive efforts and the doldrums of Iowa. I fell in love with Tears For Fears with Songs From The Big Chair (and can I please interrupt myself to say this album just doesn't get its due whether we're talking about great albums of the '80s or beyond) and could have selected 2/3 of that record for my song of choice. "Shout" introduced me to them and blew my mind. "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" blew my young mind. Either of them are worthy choices but "Head Over Heels" has long been, in my mind, the masterpiece of that masterful record. I wouldn't be without it. Roland Orzabal's lead vocal is fantastic (there was a time I thought I actually did a respectable job mimicking it; I was wrong). The guitar solo isn't the dazzling, virtuosic excercie that would come to fascinate me but there's something potent about it, something so lyrical.
I stayed with TFF after Curt Smith departed and Roland carried on and rejoiced when they made new music together on Everybody Loves A Happy Ending. The magic was still there all those years later but for my money, nowhere more than here. I can't believe how many years it's been since this was released but I keep coming back to it and I expect I always will.
Funny how time flies...
Mat Brewster: "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" by Poison
I was born in 1976 which technically makes me a child of the 80s but I've always felt like I was adopted. I didn't seriously start listening to music until my mid-teenage years which puts us into the early 90s. It was college around 1995 when everybody started getting seriously nostalgic for everything 80s and when I started to hear so many of those pop and New Wave tunes and became a serious child of the 80s.
It was the metal, or more specifically the hair metal that sealed the deal for me. Winger, Warrant, Mötley Crüe, freaking Bon Jovi, Poison and a whole host of other leather cladded, make-up wearing, hair pimped up for miles, testosterone fueled hard rockers all did it for my pubescent boyhood. They took out the androgeny from glam, the sulinesss out of punk, the metal out of heavy and dressed it up with big pop hooks and put the power back into ballads. It amuses me now that so many of these bad ass rockers had their biggest hits with syrupy, acousitc driven ballads about getting the girl, losing the girl or just pining in the wind.
And nobody did it better than Poison. When they rocked they did it with a smirk to let you know they were having the most fun ever, but when they settled down for a little balladry the schmaltz was high, the poetry bad, and the ladies swooned. "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" is by far their best song what with its soft acoustic guitar strum, its swelling electric solo and a chorus to outdo every hard rocking chorus since Led Zeppelin climbed those stairs. I mean who can resist Brett Michael when he waxes Shakespearian with "Every rose has its thorn/just like every night has its dawn/just like every cowboy sings his sad, sad song/every rose has its thorn"? Even John Milton weeps at those words.
Kit O'Toole: “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
No other artist defined the 1980s like Michael Jackson, from his songs to his clothes to his dance moves. While he experienced previous success through the Jackson Five and as a solo artist (particularly with 1979's Off The Wall), “Billie Jean” and its album, Thriller, skyrocketed Jackson's career into the stratosphere. Technically, “The Girl Is Mine” was released as the first single, but “Billie Jean,” its accompanying video, and Jackson's performance on the Motown 25 TV special officially kicked off his 1980s reign.
The title character represents groupies that accused Jackson and his brothers of fathering their children, and the lyrics typify Thriller's often paranoid tone. “She came and stood right by me/ Then the smell of sweet perfume/ This happened much too soon,” he virtually cries, seemingly powerless against the woman's charms. He advises others to “always think twice” and that “mother always told me be careful of who you love/ And be careful of what you do 'cause the lie becomes the truth.” This dark message is accompanied by the track's key factors: that pulsating drumbeat and the walking bass line. These elements enhance the track's danceability while maintaining the overall sense of doom.
“Billie Jean” also broke through musical and racial barriers. Still in its infancy, MTV refused to air videos by African-American artists, but Jackson's popularity could not be denied. Its slick video, which features a paparazzi member chasing after the singer, dazzleswith its special effects and Jackson's fleet-footed dancing. Radio also remained segregated at the time, but “Billie Jean” defied any easy categorization. Was it rock, R&B, or pop? Since the song did not follow a specific format, it received widespread airplay. Once Jackson debuted the moonwalk while performing the single on Motown 25, neither MTV nor radio could ignore his talent. That simple yet powerful drumbeat not only introduced “Billie Jean,” but signaled a massive change in television, radio, and music.
Joanie Hunt: "Gypsy" by Fleetwood Mac (And Then I Totally Cheated And Listed A Bunch Of Other Favorites, Too)
I've spent several days trying to narrow down my selection of 80s music to something manageable and here I sit: with a good 200 songs I can't live without. What to do? What. to. do. And then I had a thought: what if none of us could choose from all that glorious hair metal, new wave, punk rock, bubble gum pop, classic rock 'n' roll goodness? What if we didn't have to? After I stopped laughing and wiped the tears away, I came to my senses and grudgingly pulled five songs from my list that I felt really defined what the 80s meant to me.
1) "Gypsy" - Fleetwood Mac. For this Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac lover, I don't think there's another 80s song that defines what the band or what Stevie meant to me over the years. I could have gone for something off one of her solo albums, but then I'd have an even longer list. As I toss back my long blonde hair (still, again, whatever), I can imagine myself in front of the mirrored closet in my parents' room, wrapping scarves around me so they could float and billow about as I twirled and twirled for hours while no one else was home. So I could become the gypsy "that I was."
2) "White Wedding" - Billy Idol. Is there really anything more to say? Billy. Idol. C'mon! Punk finally had a new face for us Americans. Sure, we still loved the Ramones, but Idol wanted to twist punk into something a little different. He did it, too. All that bleach and bling and black leather helped sell plenty of records. Not bad for a bloke from Britain, eh? And don't forget, it's a nice day to start agaaaaaaaaaain!
3) "Roll Me Away" - Bob Seger. Chosen for the soundtrack of Mask because Bruce Springsteen wouldn't allow the studio to use any of his music in the movie, it is, by far, THE BEST road trip song ever. Imagine this: your arm propped on the door (getting sunburned, of course), wind whipping through your hair, stereo blasting, and the sun following you as you speed across the desert toward the great Pacific Ocean where cold beer and good friends await. Wow! I think I'm making this my theme song. I think I also want it played at my funeral.
4) "Big Guns" - Rory Gallagher. "Pride & Joy" - Stevie Ray Vaughan. I can't think of one without the other. Both men seemed able to tap into something much deeper than the average guitarist and I remember being blown away by each of them for the sheer power they managed to elicit from their instruments. Little did I know when I first heard "Pride & Joy" that it would become the song I'd sing to my son and then sing along with my son so many years later. Now that the little boy is much older and he's listening to both artists (actually, he listens to all on this list).
5) "She's Tight", "If You Want My Love", "Just Got Back", and "Baby Loves To Rock" - Cheap Trick. First two are from the album One On One and the latter are from All Shook Up. Many people think Cheap Trick began and ended with Live From Budokan, but I firmly believe they've only gotten better with age, with much of their might showing itself in their work from the 80s. The fact that I've only listed four songs is a testament -- not only my great restraint, but -- to the great music they put out during this decade. If I went into every personal reason for loving these particular songs, you'd accuse me of oversharing and sounding much like a terrible fan girl. I am. A fan girl, that is. Have been since I heard the first strains of "I Want You To Want Me" and "Surrender". Again, those are amazing songs, but they were just the tip of the iceberg. And if you listen to these others, you'll hear a fuller, richer sound the band developed over time. They could rock your socks off, they could coax you out of your clothes, or they could bring tears to your eyes. Range, people. RANGE. The band had it then and still has it now.
6) "Don't Dream It's Over", "Something So Strong" - Crowded House. Neil Finn. The end. Okay, you need more? The imagery in the lyrics, the melodies, the way both songs capture the feeling of the 80s -- each in a different way -- are what make these special. And they paved the way for more Finn-y goodness to come. "Don't Dream It's Over" is just beautiful. Lyrically, it's packed with more color than most paintings. Musically, it's practically a lullabye for the angst-ridden soul, if ever I heard one. "Something So Strong" is that buoyant, love-fueled feeling of a summer romance. You know, the one you thought would last forever, but was over just before Labor Day. Still, you didn't much worry about it because as summer love goes, that was the purest love you'd ever felt and this song is the one that always reminds you how perfect it was.
Double Extra Bonus!
7) "Valley Girl" - Frank Zappa. Like, totally, I'm sure. Gag me with a spoon. I was at school one day when someone came up to me and said, "do the song! Do the song!" I replied, "like, oh my god! What are you talking about? What song?" By the time I got to my first class, I'd had 17 identical requests. By lunchtime, I'd heard the song and felt as though Frank Zappa and I had simply spent ages together. He captured my friend Joy and me perfectly with "Valley Girl".
So there you have it. 12 of my Top 5 songs of the '80s.