Top 25 Rock Songs of the 80s


Aerosmith – “Janie’s Got a Gun” – (1989)

“Janie’s Got a Gun” was the second single from Aerosmith’s 1989 album Pump. It was a top five single on the Hot 100, peaking at #4. Often combined with the preceding track on the album, “Water Song” – which is a 10-second instrumental track, this song is one of Aerosmith’s biggest hits and it still receives a fair amount of airplay on classic rock radio. A good tune from Aerosmith’s big hair days (have those days actually ended?).

Eddie Money – “Take Me Home Tonight” – (1986)

Yes, we’re still doing the duet thing. So what’s with this song? Well it was never released as a “duet” but it was recorded and certainly is a duet. The female vocalist? Ronnie Spector, former leader of the 60s girl group The Ronettes. This was an album rock chart #1 and a top five hit on the Hot 100. It’s one of Eddie Money’s signature songs and one of the best radio-friendly Top 40 rock songs of the 80s.

Lita Ford & Ozzy Osbourne – “Close My Eyes Forever” – (1988)

Here’s a power ballad duet from the glam metal era. It features one of the kings of heavy metal: Ozzy Osbourne and one of its queens: Lita Ford. Lita was Lita Ford’s first album under the supervision of her new manager: Sharon Osbourne – thus Ozzy’s participation. As strange as it seems now, you can actually understand Ozzy’s vocals. Watch the video and relish in the awful hairstyles of the past.

AC/DC – “Given the Dog a Bone” – (1980)

Here’s another non-single track from the greatest rock-n-roll album of all time. Don’t agree that it’s the best? Well it’s the second-best-selling album of all time behind Thriller. AC/DC is a band known for their sexual innuendo and this track is a fine example of that. Can’t figure it out? I find that hard to believe, but congratulations on your innocence.

Def Leppard – “Foolin’” – (1983)

Do you like hair bands? It was a (short-lived) phase I went through a couple years ago. For the most part they’ve never been too appealing to me but I will admit that Def Leppard is one of the biggest bands to come out of the 80s. This is a hard rock song known for its stuttering chorus “F-f-f-foolin'” and the well-sung line “Is anybody out there?” This song hit #28 on the Hot 100, making it the third-biggest hit from Pyromania.

.38 Special – “Caught Up In You” – (1982)

Apologies to mega-fans, but there are only two .38 Special songs that really stand apart (at least to me). This is one of them and the newer of the two. I always kind of assumed .38 Special was a poor-man’s Lynyrd Skynrd, but I guess that’s not really true as this band was all-80s, whereas Skynyrd was mostly the 1970s. There is a piece of this song – or, more correctly, a piece of the bassline at one specific part of the song that sounds identical to the Police’s “Roxanne.” Listen for it around the 2:13 mark in the song. Also, this song peaked at #10 on the Hot 100 and topped the Mainstream Rock chart.

AC/DC – “What Do You Do For Money Honey” – (1980)

There’s something about the opening chords of this song that make it seem like it could be any AC/DC song – but I’m sure there are people who think all their songs sound the same. This song was the third track from Back in Black – which happens to be one of the greatest albums in rock history. It was never a single, but it’s one of the songs I like the most on the album – mostly for Brian Johnson’s quick-lyric’d “whaddya do for money honey how do you get your kicks” semi-rap.

Metallica – “Fade to Black” – (1984)

Well you can’t buy Metallica MP3s on Amazon, apparently. “Fade to Black” is a pretty good Metallica song from the 80s. Ride the Lightning was also one of their better albums. While it’s still metal, the song is much softer than many of Metallica’s songs – maybe that’s because it features a strong acoustic guitar before the electric really takes over. It also has an awesome guitar solo. Just something a little heavier for your Monday.

Madness – “Baggy Trousers” – (1980)

Madness is an awesome band. They put out some awesome songs in the 1980s. This is one of the most famous. It came out during a time when ska revival was in its prime and New Wave was just getting started. There’s also some punk in there as well. Madness was one of the leading bands of the ska punk scene (originating with 2 Tone, which throws New Wave in there too). One reason I like Madness is that they’re fun – their songs aren’t dark and depressing – they’re upbeat and happy. And you really can’t get much more upbeat and happy than a song like this, about baggy trousers of all things.

Van Halen – “When It’s Love” – (1988)

This was Van Halen’s last major hit of the 1980s. It was a #1 on the Modern Rock chart and a top five on the Hot 100. It’s a power ballad and used lead singer #2, Sammy Hagar. If you listen too closely to the music, it can definitely sound a bit dated, but overall the song really isn’t that bad. As far as Sammy Hagar tracks go, this is one of the best.

Jane’s Addiction – “Jane Says” – (1988)

“Jane Says” was the first single from Jane’s Addiction – a mediocre rock band formed in L.A. in 1985 that received way too much attention about ten years ago when they got back together to release a new album that wasn’t that good. Some introduction, eh? They did put out a few songs that were okay though, and this is one of them. Gotta love a song whose title references the name of the band – doesn’t seem too terribly creative when it’s your lead single, but thankfully they had other hits that showed they weren’t “all about Jane.”

Queen & David Bowie – “Under Pressure” – (1982)

It’s quite possible that by the time “Under Pressure” was released in 1982 (okay, as a single in 1981), that Queen’s best years were behind them. Of Queen’s singles catalogue, there are but a small handful of “must hears” that came out after this. This was their last truly great, truly huge, single. It was a #1 in the U.K. – probably having to do with it being a collaboration between two of Britain’s biggest rock acts. David Bowie was at the studio recording backing vocals for another track (which was thrown away) but ended up sitting down and writing this song with the band instead. When it first came out, Queen incorporated it into their live act, sans Bowie. It wasn’t until Freddie Mercury passed away that Bowie started doing it live. And, as far as the elephant in the room on a music blog that started as a giant list of songs from the 90s – yes, I will admit, that, as good as this song is, I am severely disappointed every time I hear this on the radio. When those first notes start up, I’m sitting there going “Yes, ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ is about to be on.” Then there are two piano keys struck and I get sad. I know it shouldn’t be this way, but it is. As Vanilla Ice said, “There’s goes… mine goes…” Yeah, yeah.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “The Waiting” – (1981)

A couple of months ago we had a Tom Petty week where we featured songs from solo Tom Petty. I apologized to The Heartbreakers and promised to make it up to them. So here we are: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers week. We start with “The Waiting” which is my favorite song from the band from the 1980s. It was a Top 20 hit in the U.S., and the biggest single from the 1981 album Hard Promises. “The waaiiiting is the hardest part.”

Aerosmith – “What It Takes” – (1989)

It’s not that the song is terrible – it isn’t – but it certainly isn’t my favorite and I wouldn’t say I enjoy listening to it. I think it has mostly to do with the fact that it’s from a period of rock music that I don’t necessarily enjoy. Not the high point of rock and roll, the late 80s. This also wasn’t the high point for Aerosmith. We’ll call it an “average” Aerosmith tune.

Also, this is Aerosmith week (not an official holiday)! An 80s track on Monday. A 90s track on Wednesday. And something newer than that on Friday. Enjoy.

Survivor – “High on You” – (1984)

This is a rock song that screams “80s” but not necessarily “80s rock.” The music is rock with a very upbeat, almost pop like feeling – but Jimi Jamison’s lyrics, delivered in a Steve Perry-esque kind of way. It’s melodic and you could very easily mistake it for Journey. It’s weird… it’s a ballad but it’s so upbeat that it doesn’t feel like a ballad. Enough talk. Go listen to it. Here are some lyrics: “Talkin’ to myself, runnin’ in the heat. Beggin’ for your touch, in the middle of the street and I – I can’t stop thinking ’bout you girl. I must be living in a fantasy world. I’ve searched the whole world over, to find a heart so true. Such complete intoxication, I’m high on you.”

Tom Petty – “I Won’t Back Down” – (1989)

Full Moon Fever was a solo album (meaning sans The Heartbreakers) and it contained some of Tom Petty’s most famous songs. This is among them. This song was written by Petty and co-Wilbury Jeff Lynne. Actually, Lynne and George Harrison both provided backing vocals as well as additional guitar, making this a 3/5 Wilbury tune. Every now and then this song pops up in America for reasons of Nationalism (9/11) or during Presidential campaigns (which is kind of annoying). It’s one of those songs that everyone has probably heard and it’s one of the best tracks from Full Moon Fever.

Van Halen – “Love Walks In” – (1986)

“Love Walks In” was the third single from 5150 – which was the first “Van Hagar” album where Sammy Hagar had replaced David Lee Roth as the band’s lead singer. The song reached #22 on the Hot 100 and was a top five hit on the rock charts. I think this is the best track on the album – synth-heavy… kind of a power ballad. It’s not the most hard-rock thing Van Halen has done but it’s not the most pop-y either. It’s just solid 80s.

AC/DC – “That’s The Way I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll” – (1988)

This was the second and final single from AC/DC’s 1988 album Blow Up Your Video. Strange fact I can’t quite believe but then again I’m reading it on Wikipedia: this is the last album that singer Brian Johnson (or anyone not named “Young”) is credited as a songwriter. Malcom & Angus Young wrote all songs on all future albums. If that’s true it’s insane. The album kind of fizzled and didn’t go anywhere and the single didn’t either for the most part but it’s solid 80s AC/DC… the sort of final sendoff to the 1980s from one of the biggest rock groups of the decade.

#1 – AC/DC – “Back in Black” – (1980)

So for our #1 rock song of the 80s, we go to the beginning of the decade for AC/DC’s rebound album. Bon Scott was the lead singer of AC/DC beginning in 1974 and when he died in 1980, the band brought in Brian Johnson. As Scott’s awesome lyrics helped launch the band into the big time, he wasn’t someone that could easily be replaced. This song was their tribute to him and it rocks. It was a Top 40 hit in the U.S. – which is good, but not great. But it was songs like this that shot this album to the top. Back in Black went on to sell 49 million copies – making it the second highest-selling album of all time. Which goes to show you the boundary-less appeal of AC/DC – a hard rock and heavy metal band that made it big in the mainstream. It’s the greatest rock album of all time. Period. And it’s title song is the best rock song of the 80s.

#2 – Aerosmith – “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” – (1987)

I just realized that three of the top five songs on this countdown were from 1987… as if that was some kind of high-water mark in rock music. I don’t think that’s it, but it was still a pretty good year. This song was a very important part to Aerosmith’s career – it marked their comeback from the brink that they teetered on for most of the 80s. Yeah, Run-DMC helped them out somewhat but this was them on their own. And this was the first single from “Permanent Vacation” and while it only barely cracked the Top 15 on the Hot 100, it was still a huge hit that receives regular airplay today. It’s one of those songs that everybody knows and Steven Tyler’s inspired lyric delivery is certainly not a hindrance. What’s it really about? I don’t know, but if you caught Steven Tyler’s appearance on American Idol this past season, I think I have an idea…

#3 – Van Halen – “Jump” – (1984)

Is there a more famous synth line in a rock song than this? I don’t think so. 1984 is Van Halen’s best album and this might be the best song on it (I really like “I’ll Wait”). The brilliant part of this song is that Van Halen managed to take two of the most popular genres of music in 1984 and combine them into one massive hit (it was a #1 for about a month). That is, they took synth pop and stadium rock and threw them together. Also, it has really simple lyrics (how many times can you yell “jump!” in about four minutes?) that are easy to sing along to. This is pop music songwriting at its best.

#4 – Guns N’ Roses – “Paradise City” – (1987)

“Paradise City” was the third top ten single from Guns N’ Roses, peaking at #5 in 1988. I don’t quite think this qualifies as their “most widely known” song but it’s fairly iconic. You’ve got Slash, slashing it up on the guitar and Axl Rose screaming the lyrics. Half of this song is at performed at warp speed, which is pretty cool. The only bad part? It’s by Guns N’ Roses – so if you didn’t get to see it live back in the day, you’re probably out of luck. Because Axl Rose is kind of a walking ___(negative noun of your choice here)___ and it will be a miracle if they ever perform as a band again.

#5 – Def Leppard – “Pour Some Sugar on Me” – (1987)

This is the Def Leppard song. When the 90s came, their music got, well, uhh… not better. It only hit #2 on the Hot 100 but it is their best known song and widely considered one of the greatest songs of the 80s. It remains a big hit today featuring in movies and being one of very few pre-internet age songs to have reached Gold Certification for having more than half a million [legal] downloads.

#6 – Scorpions – “Rock You Like a Hurricane” – (1984)

Scorpions were from Germany (that’s right, it’s not The Scorpions) but there was nothing definitively German about their music. I once heard this song while driving through Florida the night before a massive hurricane was supposed to hit. Timing. Watch the music video… this is definitely 80s metal. I’d say that this is the band’s signature song as it’s one of the biggest rock songs of the decade, but you may silently disagree if you wish. Or, leave a comment and tell me how wrong I am.

#7 – Quiet Riot – “Cum On Feel the Noize” – (1983)

This is a cover of a song by British rock band Slade, who did it in 1973. Quiet Riot’s version pretty much kicks ass. It’s immensely singable and plays almost as much as a dance track as it does solid, heavy metal. If you’re going to be a one-hit wonder, this is definitely the way to do it – completely awesomely. “Come on feel the noise… girls rock your boys… we’ll get wild, wild, wild…”

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