November 2010

#29 – Men at Work – “Down Under” – (1982)

You know this song from the early percussion before the music really kicks off. How many pop songs can you name whose “flute part” is so well known? How many pop songs do you know with a flute at all? “Down Under” was a #1 for Men at Work – it remains their best known song. Business as Usual was also their most successful album, containing two #1 hits. Everything I know about Australia I learned from this song. Vegemite sandwiches for instance. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been adopted as their national anthem yet…

#30 – The B-52’s – “Love Shack” – (1989)

Kudos to The B-52’s for doing their own thing all of the time. Really, there isn’t any other band quite like them. I mean, look at their clothes – they haven’t changed in almost 30 years. Tell me this isn’t one of the catchiest songs you’ve ever heard. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like this song. It’s so upbeat and happy that it’s impossible to loathe, unless you’re The Grinch or Scrooge or somebody like that. Remarkably, as popular as this song is, it only made it to #78 on the Hot 100. Cosmic Thing contained other hits as well – the unbelievable “Roam” among them. And yes, that is RuPaul in the “Love Shack” music video.

#31 – Joe Jackson – “Steppin’ Out” – (1982)

I really like songs whose music is lyrical. The opening chords before he begins singing actually say the chorus… but without speaking. With each hit of the bells comes another syllable of the chorus. It happens in other songs, but this one seems more profound for some reason. This was Joe Jackson’s biggest hit in the U.S. (#6) but not necessarily his best known. The song definitely has an 80s-new wave-synthpop feel to it, but you can’t help but notice the jazz undertones. And no, he is not related to Michael Jackson.

#32 – Gregory Abbott – “Shake You Down” – (1986)

Yes, that picture links to the audio cassette version of Gregory Abbott’s 1986 release Shake You Down. So buy that up. This was Gregory Abbott’s biggest hit and only number one (it was also his first single). It’s a wonderful soul hit that is really smooth and really 80s. My favorite part? The “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” part. Not only does Mr. Abbott shake it down, he breaks it down… the back and forth between the background vocals and his powerful lead vocals makes for a great effect.

#33 – A Flock of Seagulls – “I Ran (So Far Away)” – (1982)

A Flock of Seagulls is one of the signature new wave bands of the 80s. The lead singer, Mike Score, is responsible for the “Flock of Seagulls” haircut that is a big symbol of both new wave and weird 80s culture. “I Ran” is one of the major one-hit wonders of the decade, but it only made it to #9 on the Hot 100. It was used as the theme for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in 2002 – whose various soundtracks are fantastic for the 80s music fan. In fact, the music in that video game is one of the more amazing things about video games in general… it really makes the game.

#34 – DeBarge – “Rhythm of the Night” – (1985)

DeBarge is one of my favorite bands to randomly bring up in a conversation, because not many people in today’s society really know what I’m talking about. If you ask someone if they know El DeBarge, they look at you, not sure what you’re asking them. But then there are people who remember them – and this song. “Rhythm of the Night” has the 80s-calypso beat that made so many 80s songs feel so tropical. There are so many 80s hit songs that feel like they should’ve been in Cocktail. This song was written by Diane Warren, who has written about half of the huge hits you’ve heard in the past 30 years (okay, not really). But this song really gave her career a boost. It was a #3 single in the U.S. – a feat DeBarge could never match.

#35 – Kool & the Gang – “Celebration” – (1980)

This is one of those songs that everybody has heard. If you live in a modern society, then you’ve heard this song – I have no doubt. Kool & the Gang had a string of hits in the 70s and they kicked off the 80s in style, hitting #1 with this song. It dominated radio for a while and it really has never gone away since. It’s catchy and fun and a staple at weddings everywhere. It’s an all-time classic song that I can’t see never being popular at, well, celebrations.

#36 – Simply Red – “Holding Back the Years” – (1985)

Simple, melodic and beautiful. There is emotion in the lyrics of Mick Hucknall, the composer and singer of this song. The jazzy nature of the music and the crescendo of the lyrics make for a soothing song that becomes really easy to sing along with. The song was originally recorded by Hucknall with a band called the Frantic Elevators in the early 80s and it charted unspectacularly in the U.K. In 1985 it was released again, this time with a new band called Simply Red and it went to #1 in the U.S. and #2 in the U.K. They would score a second #1 at decade’s end with a cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.”

#37 – Foreigner – “Waiting For a Girl Like You” – (1981)

Foreigner produced some solid rock hits in the closing years of the 1970s. When the 80s started, they released 4 which contained two good rock singles and this: the power ballad (and they would chart another successful ballad in 1984). This was a huge hit for Foreigner – it went to #2 and stayed there for a record 10 weeks. Because this song was lighter fare than most of Foreigner’s hits, it gave them massive exposure. And because of it, you can now hear many classic Foreigner rock songs on adult contemporary stations and not just classic rock stations. Trivia: the synth hook in this song was performed by Thomas Dolby, who, when he recorded it, wasn’t really anybody.

#38 – Eric Carmen – “Hungry Eyes” – (1987)

Here’s another song from Dirty Dancing. The music is kind of simple, but the lyrics and their stellar delivery is what sells this song. “Hungry Eyes” is delivered in a very quasi-soulful way and the intermittent lines “One look at you and I can’t disguise” and “I feel the magic between you and I” sound like they’ve been plucked from some mega-hair power ballad. Wow, that was a big sentence. Eric Carmen had other small 80s hits (this one went to #4) but is probably better known for his 70s his, including those with The Raspberries.

#39 – U2 – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – (1987)

As much as I love “Pride (In the Name of Love)” – and I really do love that song – I felt that The Joshua Tree needed to be represented here as it is one of the biggest albums of all time. This song is amazing and I think it’s the pick of the bunch from the album – which is full of great singles. This song has a unique and very rhythmic beat that almost implies physical movement, even though it’s just a song. This wasn’t U2’s first big hit (it was the second consecutive #1 hit from the album) but it helped cement their legacy, in America especially as they have always been bigger in Europe than in North America (even to this day). The hits from The Joshua Tree remain staples of American pop radio today and will be there for the foreseeable future.

#40 – Benny Mardones – “Into the Night” – (1980)

Gotta love that unnecessary piano – this song screams “80s.” “Into the Night” was originally released in 1980 and it went to #11 on the Hot 100. Then, for whatever reason, it was added back into radio playlists in 1989 when it re-charted and again made it into the top 20. This was the only hit for Benny Mardones (although it was technically a hit twice, so is he still a one-hit wonder?). Mr. Mardones was from Cleveland even though I always assumed he was Cuban, and I don’t know why… (Cuba-Cleveland, what’s the difference?).

#41 – Steve Winwood – “Higher Love” – (1986)

Gaaa… trying to pare down four excellent Steve Winwood songs is impossible! “Higher Love” was the first single released from Back in the High Life and it became his first #1 hit, winning him multiple Grammys. Steve Winwood had a string of hits in the 80s, and this was his most successful album. His solo career during the 1980s is almost unrecognizable to the Winwood of old as he was in some serious classic rock bands in the 60s and 70s – the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith. Out of the hard rock came some great pop hits, proving that successful career direction changes are indeed quite possible.

#42 – Rick Springfield – “Jessie’s Girl” – (1981)

The song Rick Springfield is best known for – he had other, smaller, lesser hits – is about his love for his friend’s girlfriend. And it is catchy. “‘Cause she’s watchin’ him with those eyes and she’s lovin’ him with that body, I just know it” is, I think, one of the best sung parts of song – ever. The music video, as most videos from the 80s is a bit weird (playing the guitar in the bathroom mirror?). This was Rick’s only #1 hit and, apparently, he doesn’t even know who this song was written about. He never knew her name and she’s probably out there somewhere, clueless that she is responsible for a big 80s hit. Are you Jessie’s girl?

#43 – Bryan Adams – “Summer of ’69” – (1984)

Does this qualify as Bryan Adams biggest hit? It hit #5 (and he’s had other #1s) but this has to be the best known, right? I’d certainly say so. If someone said, “Name a Bryan Adams song,” I’d like to think most people would say “Summer of ’69.” Then there’s the whole controversy about what it is he is referring to in the song title. Bryan Adams was 10 years old in 1969 and, unless he was some kind of prodigy – which he wasn’t (sorry, Bryan) – he probably wasn’t in bands where the members were old enough to “quite and get married.” But then again, everyone involved with this song has come out and said, at some point, that it is most certainly about sex.

#44 – Bruce Hornsby & the Range – “The Way It Is” – (1986)

This is one of those songs with a “social message.” It talks about racial segregation and how more civil rights are needed. The way the lyrics are delivered is more interesting than what they are saying. And listen to that piano. I don’t really know how to describe that piano hook that is so famous from this song. If you know it, you’ll recognize it immediately (although none of Bruce’s original music videos are online, a TV performance from 2004 will have to suffice, but it gets the point across). This was The Range’s only #1 hit – but they weren’t a one hit wonder.

#45 – Sheena Easton – “Strut” – (1984)

The music in this song (especially the beginning) sounds like it was lifted straight from a Peter Gabriel song, like “Sledgehammer” or something. The music video is just plain awful (did any sax player ever wear a shirt with sleeves in the 80s? because I’ve yet to see one), but the song is catchy as hell, especially the chorus: “Strut, pout, put it out, that’s what you want from women / Come on baby, what you takin’ me for? / Strut, pout, cut it out, all takin’ and no givin’ / Watch me baby while I walk out the door.” I guess this qualifies as dance-pop, but I file it under “guilty pleasure.”

#46 – Modern English – “I Melt With You” – (1982)

Modern English was a one-hit wonder from the 80s – and their only “hit” only made it to #78 on the Hot 100. So how is it that this song is so well known so many years later? I still hear it regularly on radio stations for the quickly aging (sorry, but it’s true) Generation X. When it comes down to it, this really is a good song even though the synth sounds like it was recorded off a bad video tape – it’s out of tune or just weak or something. It’s a great new wave pop song from the 80s – and that’s just about what this countdown is about.

#47 – Yes – “Owner of a Lonely Heart” – (1983)

Yes released some major classic rock songs in the 1970s, including “Roundabout,” which contains, perhaps, the greatest performance on bass that I’ve ever heard. This song is quite different from that. It has much more of a pop feel with screaming guitar riffs and some weird noises thrown in here and there that I can’t quite identify because I’m too busy either dancing in my chair or playing air-bass – which is something I do often to Yes songs. This was Yes’s only #1 hit.

#48 – Depeche Mode – “Never Let Me Down Again” – (1987)

Depeche Mode started pushing out hits in the early 1980s and, well, they were okay. I think they really hit their stride in 1987 with Music for the Masses, which contains this song. Their next album Violator took their greatness one step further – and they’ve, as recently as 2009, continued to put out solid tracks. This song is somewhat synth-heavy, which is cool, but the lyrics aren’t delivered in any special, outstanding way. I think it’s the 80s-Britishness that really sells this one. It only made it to #63 on the Hot 100, but this is one of the more popular songs at a live show.

#49 – Boy Meets Girl – “Waiting For a Star to Fall” – (1988)

Boy Meets Girl consisted of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam. Their work primarily consisted of writing songs for other singers like Whitney Houston, Bette Midler and Deniece Williams. This song was originally written for Whitney Houston but she wanted no part of it for whatever reason. So when it remained unreleased, Boy Meets Girl decided to release it themselves and it went all the way to #5 on the Hot 100. The saxophone in this song really gives it away as an awesome 80s track.

#50 – Simple Minds – “Alive and Kicking” – (1985)

Ha! It was a foregone conclusion that Simple Minds was going to be on this list, but I bet you didn’t expect it to be this song. Scottish band Simple Minds is best known for their huge #1 hit from The Breakfast Club, but there is something about this song that really draws me to it. The word “epic” is definitely overused today, but it is the only word I keep coming back to when trying to describe this song. The soft background singing builds with intensity: “What you gonna do when things go wrong? What you gonna do when it all cracks up? What you gonna do when the love burns down? What you gonna do when the flames go up? Who is gonna come and turn the tide? What’s it gonna take to make a dream survive? Who’s gonna touch to calm the storm inside? Who’s gonna save you?” And then the lead singer blasts “Alive and kicking.” It’s epic like the sun coming up over the mountains is epic. It’s powerful.