October 2010


#51 – Cutting Crew – “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” – (1986)

Some people think this song was by Foreigner (who was also in the power ballad business in the mid-80s). But English band Cutting Crew was behind it. The song opens with some very airy keyboarding before you get that really dramatic and exhaustive “Oh” from lead singer Nick Van Eede. This song went to #1 in four countries and was a top 5 hit in 5 others. But Cutting Crew remain a one-hit wonder.

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#52 – The Commodores – “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” – (1981)

This song is responsible for one of the most perplexing music videos of all time. It’s like they forgot that they had a music video due the next day and someone said, “Oh, there’s a soccer field. Let’s go.” Four minutes of out-of-sync choreography and too-short shorts later, they had themselves a music video. This is the most upbeat Commodores song I know and it is easily my favorite. It went to #8 in the U.S.

#53 – Fine Young Cannibals – “She Drives Me Crazy” – (1989)

There are two things that stand out in this song: the percussion and the vocals. The percussion is really loud and kind of its own separate thing. The vocals are high pitched – almost Barry Gibb-like in their delivery. After watching the music video, I would have never guessed that’s what the lead singer looked like, but it makes sense in a weird late-80s sort of way. This song went to #1 in the U.S. and #5 in the U.K. Oh, and is the album title, The Raw & the Cooked at least slightly disturbing, considering the band’s name?

#54 – Madonna – “Like a Prayer” – (1989)

This list almost went without a Madonna song and any 80s music list without a mention of Madonna is surely incomplete. Luckily, Lipps Inc released their album Mouth to Mouth (which contained “Funkytown”) in 1979, thus making it ineligible to be on this list. I almost went with it anyway, but that wouldn’t have been fair to the Sugarhill Gang or Gary Numan, who were also both bounced from the list at the last second. I think this is one of the best songs of Madonna’s career (right there with “Vogue” and “Ray of Light”). The gospel choir (who were probably unaware at the time of recording this song just what exactly the music video would contain – burning crosses) really adds to the song. If anyone actually cares enough to find Lady Gaga shocking, they should take a look back to Madonna (her entire career) as she shocked and angered more people than Lady Gaga can ever dream of.

#55 – Don Henley – “The Heart of the Matter” – (1989)

This is, quite literally, a last minute substitution (I write these a few weeks in advance and am re-writing this right before it publishes). I originally had “The End of the Innocence” here (The End of the Innocence is also the title of the album that these two songs share). But every time I hear this song I can’t help but go: “Hey, this is a good song.” Sure, it has a slight moral-ness to it but it’s actually quite good. This is the type of song that I really like but whenever it comes on the radio I’d flip the station in search of something a little more upbeat and sing-along-y. But I rarely turn this song off. And I’m not sure why. Anyway, I like this one better than “The End of the Innocence” – but that song will kick off our list of songs that barely missed this countdown.

#56 – a-ha – “Take on Me” – (1985)

With one of the greatest and most well-known synth-riffs of all time, “Take on Me” has become one of the definitive songs of the 1980s. It hit #1 in multiple countries including the U.S., U.K. and a-ha’s home country of Norway. The music video for this song was quite original in its day: a mix of pencil-sketch animation and live-action. Unfortunately for a-ha, this song was so big that it overshadowed everything else they ever did, including a James Bond theme two years later.

#57 – Chris de Burgh – “The Lady in Red” – (1986)

Doesn’t Chris de Burgh sound almost nervous as he’s singing this? I think his voice is quivering. I know some people that loathe this song, but I love it. This is easily his most famous song (does he even have others? If he does, do they matter? No.). Trivia: Chris de Burgh was the first “western performer” to do a concert in Iran since their revolution in 1979. His concert was in 2007. More trivia: In 2006, de Burgh claimed that he had Jesus-like powers of healing and allegedly healed peoples’ injuries. So yeah, he’s an evangelist now.

#58 – Stray Cats – “Stray Cat Strut” – (1982)

“Stray Cat Strut” was Brian Setzer’s second big single. His first was the Stray Cats’ “Rock this Town” which is very reminiscent of a certain Bill Haley song from 1955. The Stray Cats were the first popular Rockabilly group to come along in what had been more than 20 years. And they were it. The Great Rockabilly Revival of the 1980s started and ended with the Stray Cats. Credit to Brian Setzer though, he single-handedly brought about two different revivals almost 20 years apart (see our 90s countdown for “Jump, Jive, An’ Wail”). I love the jazzy delivery of these chorus lyrics: “I don’t bother chasing mice around / I slink down the alleyway looking for a fight / Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night / Singin’ the blues while the lady cats cry, / ‘Wild stray cat you’re a real gone guy. / I wish I could be as carefree and wild / But I got cat class and I got cat style.'”

#59 – Billy Joel – “Uptown Girl” – (1983)

Just like Huey Lewis at #60, I again had a multitude of tracks to sift through and this one was a bit tougher. Of the 13 I considered from Billy Joel’s 1980s releases; I had to discard many of them for being run-of-the-mill (if you can even say that about most of those excellent songs). It came down to two of them. I chose “Uptown Girl” mainly because it’s my favorite Billy Joel song. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was the other and I still feel bad for not including it. Those brilliant people at VH1, I believe, named it one of the Most Awful Songs ever or something and it certainly is not. I promise a breakdown of that song once this list is over. But “Uptown Girl” is the song we are talking about here and I believe that the reason I like it so much is that it is similar in many ways to songs from groups like the Four Seasons – with its doo-wop beat. Billy Joel really shows off his range here to singing high falsetto notes for much of the song. It’s good stuff.

#60 – Huey Lewis & the News – “The Power of Love” – (1986)

I had about 10 good Huey Lewis songs to choose from the 1980s and this one rose to the top. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was in Back to the Future – one of the definitive films of the decade (Doc Brown is in the music video). This song was Huey Lewis & The News’ first number one hit and it was also nominated for an Oscar. Listening to it again and again, I’ve realized the two things that really sell it are 1) the vocals (of course) and 2) that catchy keyboard bit that keeps popping up throughout the song. Huey Lewis was an 80s musical institution.

#61 – Mr. Mister – “Broken Wings” – (1985)

This is one of those 80s classics. Strong vocals delivered in that high and wailing way accompanied by a steady beat and some kind of electronic note and aching guitar. It’s so archetypal that maybe, just maybe, all other 80s songs should be compared to this to measure their 80s-ness. This was a #1 hit for Mr. Mister and there are people who consider this band a one-hit wonder when they are definitely not. In fact, Welcome to the Real World spawned two #1 hits – the other being the nowhere-near-as-good “Kyrie.”

#62 – Todd Rundgren – “Bang the Drum All Day” – (1983)

This song pops up everywhere – because people seem to love it. And why not? It’s an anti-work anthem an no one really like to work, do they? It’s also played a lot over the loudspeakers at many NFL stadiums. It’s a fun song from Rundgren’s not-so-fun sounding 1983 album The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect. This is one of his latest hits, his other big songs coming out in the early 1970s. This song didn’t crack the top 60 on the Hot 100, but it’s still well known today. So make of Billboard’s system what you will.

#63 – Dan Hartman – “I Can Dream About You” – (1984)

“Mo-ving side-walks – I don’t see under my feet.” Dan Hartman, the one-time bassist for the Edgar Winter Group, had a moderately successful solo career in the 1980s with interesting songs like this. This song was featured in the film Streets of Fire, which is a part-musical that stars Rick Moranis – so yeah, it is completely understandable if you’ve never heard of it, much less seen it. This song was Hartman’s biggest hit, although he followed it with a few dance hits before passing away in 1994.

#64 – Talking Heads – “And She Was” – (1985)

It was a tough call between this song and “Once in a Lifetime” (and even “This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody)”) – in the end I really don’t know why I picked this one over the other two. My favorite Talking Heads songs are from the 70s anyway. Hm, that makes it sound like I’m angry at the Talking Heads or this list or something. Okay, I just got to the part in the song where they are going “hey, hey, hey, hey,” ad infinitum, and that’s why I like it more than “Once in a Lifetime” – it’s more fun.

#65 – Howard Jones – “No One is to Blame” – (1985)

There was a lot of weird hairstyles in the 80s… but Howard Jones pretty much takes the cake… it’s like one of the Coneheads joined A Flock of Seagulls. This song was originally released in 1985 on the album Dream into Action. It was re-recorded and mixed (with help from Phil Collins) and released again in 1986 on the album One to One – it is this redone version that is the one you are probably familiar with (and it’s better). Jones was a new wave musician – and one of the bigger ones – but this song never seemed new-wave-y to me at all. It has more of a pop ballad feel. Either way, it’s good.

#66 – Night Ranger – “Sister Christian” – (1983)

“You’re motoring. What’s your price for flight? In finding Mr. Right?” is the famous repeated line from this song that it is often mistaken as the song’s title. It’s a great line to scream along with, pretending you have really big hair. Night Ranger was a hard rock group but this song isn’t quite so “hard,” more of a power ballad really – which is a big part of the reason it was able to become a top five hit (their biggest) – although, the music video has its fair share of 80s hard rock music video clichés. Um, that last sentence is bulky and awkward and probably not grammatically correct. Oh well, this is a blog post about Night Ranger.

#67 – John Mellencamp – “Pink Houses” – (1983)

John Mellencamp was one of the most successful and popular artists of the 1980s, singing about Middle America and everyday life and all of that. This is the song that most exemplifies the whole “average American thing,” for he says things like, “Ain’t that America, you and me…” etc. This song was featured on 1983’s Uh-Huh along with the also good “Crumblin’ Down” and “Authority Song.” It made it to #8 on the Hot 100 – and yes, this is the Mellencamp entry on this list. No “Jack and Diane” here.

#68 – Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – “I’ve had the Time of My Life” – (1987)

Dirty Dancing was a landmark of the 1980s – both as a film and a soundtrack. The original soundtrack contained 12 tracks, about 9 of which were massive hits at one time or another. Three of those were first released on this soundtrack – which is quite a feat (one of which is featured elsewhere on this list). The other one was “She’s like the Wind” which was a #3 hit for Patrick Swayze. “I’ve had the Time of My Life” was performed by Righteous Brother Bill Medley and Queen of 1980s Film Theme Duets Jennifer Warnes (see also: “Up Where We Belong” with Joe Cocker, from 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman). This song won an Oscar for Best Original Song and a Grammy for Best Pop Performance (Duo or Group) and it went to #1 on the Hot 100.

#69 – Run-D.M.C. with Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith – “Walk This Way” – (1986)

“Walk This Way” was originally released on Aerosmith’s 1975 album Toys in the Attic. It was a success then – being one of two top 10 singles for Aerosmith in the 70s. Run-D.M.C. covered it in 1986 with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry and this version made it to #4 on the Hot 100 – a then record for a rap song. The track helped not only bring Run-D.M.C. into the mainstream, but rap in general. And it gave new life to Aerosmith who had hit a kind of stagnant period during the 80s. After “Walk This Way” Aerosmith was able to pump out hit after hit for the next 15 years. This song is also responsible for all future mixtures of rap and rock. All in all, not only is this a great song – it is an important one as well: for Run-D.M.C., the rebirth of Aerosmith, and rap music in general.

#70 – Billy Idol – “Mony Mony” – (1987)

So there are two versions of this song. The studio version that was recorded for and released on 1981’s Don’t Stop. Then there was a live version recorded in 1987 and released on Vital Idol. The 1987 version went to #1. This song is a cover of a Tommy James & The Shondells’ song. When Idol’s version went to #1, it replaced Tiffany’s cover of Tommy James’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” at the top spot. Isn’t that weird? Two covers of songs originally by Tommy James & The Shondells went to number one in the U.S. in 1987 by separate artists performing his songs in separate genres. I’m pretty sure that qualifies as a weird coincidence. Yeah, Billy Idol had some other great songs in the 80s but his version of this song rocks.

#71 – Duran Duran – “Hungry Like the Wolf” – (1982)

Rio is Duran Duran’s best album. Okay, best album of the 80s – I’ll argue that 1993s self-titled album, aka “The Wedding Album”, is better. But talking about Rio I was torn between “Hungry Like the Wolf” and the album’s title track, but “Hungry Like the Wolf” won on the fact that it is more upbeat and that it is shorter. “Rio” kind of drags, but this one just goes. Gotta love the guitar riff that comes flying through before the tribal-like drums that help evoke the jungle that they are singing about – and that is featured in the music video… although, I’m not sure just how many wolves there are in the jungle.