220px-bella_donna_albumStevie Nicks – “Edge of Seventeen” – (1981)

When an artist goes solo and has a huge hit I always wonder if their solo hit would’ve worked if it came from the band. In this case, I don’t think this would’ve made a great Fleetwood Mac song. This was her first true solo single (there were two before it but both were duets). The guitar riff was later used by Destiny’s Child on “Bootylicious.” “Edge of Seventeen” has to be Stevie Nicks’ signature solo tune, even if it (barely) failed to crack the top ten on the Hot 100.

Patti Austin & James Ingram – “Baby, Come to Me” – (1981)

I sorta went with the whole “save the best for last” thing with this song. While we’re not quite done with our big duet post rundown, we’re getting close. And I love this song. The music is perfect 80s, and the harmonizing between Austin and uncredited backing vocals-provider Michael McDonald is just fantastic. In 1982 this song peaked at #73 on the Hot 100. Later that year it appeared on General Hospital and re-charted – this time at #1. Worthy of it, I’d say.

Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty – “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” – (1981)

This was the debut single from Stevie Nicks’ solo career and it was the only song from her first album that she had no part in writing. This one was actually written by Tom Petty and a Heartbreaker (Mike Campbell). They were going to do it as a single for their band but someone managed to get Stevie Nicks into the recording booth and it ended up as a top five hit for her in 1981 (it peaked at #3). Really good song from the both of them, but largely overlooked today.

Lionel Richie & Diana Ross – “Endless Love” – (1981)

“What? Friends listen to ‘Endless Love’ in the dark” is one of my most-used quotes from Happy Gillmore. “Endless Love” was actually from a movie of the same name starring Brooke Shields. The movie is largely forgettable but the song it spawned was huge and remains much more famous. Billboard called it the greatest duet of all time, which I would call accurate. There have been successful covers, too (which we’ll get to in a few weeks). This would have been a much more appropriate song to post last Friday on Valentine’s Day.

Stevie Nicks & Don Henley – “Leather and Lace” – (1981)

I’m starting something new this week. It’s not a countdown. Instead, I’m just going to feature duets until I basically run out of them. From the 80s (Monday), 90s (Wednesday), and 2000s (Friday). The first is from two huge stars: Stevie Nicks (of Fleetwood Mac) and Don Henley (of the Eagles). Stevie Nicks wrote the song for Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter – but their version never even appeared on the album they released together (which was actually called Leather and Lace). Instead, Nicks recorded it with Henley and it went to #6 on the Hot 100.

#9 – Sheena Easton – “For Your Eyes Only” – (1981)

The beginning of this song made me just think “Um, why did I rank this #9?” Then it gets going and it sounds like an actual song – not just a James Bond movie theme song. It was a top five hit on the Hot 100 and was nominated for an Oscar. It has that good (yes, I said “good”) early-80s pop feel to it. Plus, Sheena Easton was hot stuff in the 1980s and was probably more Bond-girl like than any other Bond theme performer.

AC/DC – “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” – (1976)

AC/DC’s third studio album was released in Australia and most of the world in 1976. It wasn’t officially released in the United States until 1981 – which is weird because Bon Scott had already passed away by then and Brian Johnson’s first album with the band, Back in Black was already a huge album. I guess it was a good time to capitalize on the band’s popularity – and it worked because this was their 3rd-highest selling album. The title track is a good one and was voted the 31st best hard rock song of all time by VH1, if that means anything to you.

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.”

Tommy Tutone – “867-5309/Jenny” – (1981)

Here’s a classic 80s tune that slipped through the cracks back when we had our big 80s countdown. This was a top five hit on the Hot 100 in 1981 and it made a lot of people call the phone number 867-5309 and ask for “Jenny.” I bet it still happens, too. And anyone with that number is either A. clueless B. an idiot or C. desperately hoping someone will call them. Depending on who you ask, the song was written about someone named Jenny and that was her actual phone number. I think you’d get sued pretty quick in for trying a stunt like that today. Some businesses actually seek the song out because they are guaranteed callers. It’s a great prank, and a decent 80s track.

The Cars – “Shake It Up” – (1981)

“Shake It Up” was a top five hit for The Cars in 1981. It’s a “party song” – but I think I can qualify that by saying “by 1980s standards.” It is definitely the best song from the album, also called Shake It Up. The album was a success compared to their previous, more rock-oriented album. I’ve never considered The Cars as a major “rock” band – always more of a pop rock band. That’s obviously what they were best at.

#19 – Rush – “Limelight” – (1981)

Okay, so Rush isn’t a hair band – but they are a rock band and that is the technical criteria to make this list. “Limelight” is one of the band’s better-known songs and is featured on Moving Pictures, the band’s most popular album – which was released in 1981. So there you go, a rock song from the 80s (with or without massive hair).

Rush – “Tom Sawyer” – (1981)

From my favorite Canadian band – to my not-so-favorite. I don’t know what it is about Rush, but they just bore me. This is one of their most popular/most well known songs and it’s heavy on the synthesizer (but hey, it was the 80s). “Today’s Tom Sawyer – He gets high on you.” I don’t know what that means. I do like the opening lyrics, however: “A modern day warrior – mean, mean stride. Today’s Tom Sawyer – mean, mean pride.” Don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, but I kinda like it. True story: within one hour of driving across the border from Washington state to British Colombia one summer, this song came on a Canadian radio station. Which I kinda expected.

The Go-Go’s – “Our Lips Are Sealed” – (1981)

Although it never ventured higher on the charts than #20, this song stayed on the charts for over a year and became one of The Go-Go’s biggest hits as well as scoring a spot on Rolling Stones‘ list of the 100 Greatest Pop Songs. One thing I really like about this song is that it’s not really all that clear what they are actually saying – but I’m sure I’m not missing out on some profound truth. Quick: name the members of The Go-Go’s. Belinda Carlisle. That’s all I know. Good enough.

The J. Geils Band – “Freeze-Frame” – (1981)

Freeze-Frame was the biggest commercial success for The J. Geils Band, the title track being the second biggest single from it. The band was formed in 1967 but didn’t really make it big in the mainstream until this album: success is elusive, I guess, would be the moral there. “Freeze-Frame” hit #4 in the U.S. and continues to receive airplay on a fairly consistent basis. And it should, because this is what catchy pop-rock is all about.

Tom Tom Club – “Genius of Love” – (1984)

Tom Tom Club was a side project of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz – husband and wife and both members of the Talking Heads. This song has a very Talking Heads feel but a little more pop-y. This song is probably more famous for being sampled more times than I can count. It’s one of the most heavily sampled tracks from the 80s, appearing, perhaps most famously, in Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.” The band performed the song recently on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (not sure how long that YouTube link will work). Needless to say, they still rock.

#3 – Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight” – (1981)

I’m pretty sure this stands as the most famous and well known Phil Collins song. Musically, it’s pretty dark. There’s this kind of smoky atmosphere created by these long buzzing chords over that steady drum beat. Right before the final chorus, the drums explode with the very famous and much loved “doo-dom doo-dom doo-dom.” Everybody loves that part. Everybody waits for it. Then everybody starts banging on whatever is around them – steering wheel, desk top, etc. Lyrically it’s mostly uninteresting – just the same thing repeated over and over. There’s that myth that this song is about a drowning that Phil Collins witnessed. But even Phil doesn’t really know what this song’s about. He discovered a cool effect while messing around with some drums in a recording studio and wrote a song around it. This song was used in the first episode of Miami Vice – which cements its status as an 80s legend. Lately, it’s been popping up everywhere – which has to have something to do with its everlasting popularity. It was semi-annoyingly used in the movie The Hangover, where it was introduced to an entire new generation of fans more or less as a joke. But my favorite recent usage has to be in the Cadbury gorilla commercial. That commercial helped propel the song back onto the UK music charts – reaching #14 (and #1 in New Zealand). When you say “80s music,” this is generally the first song that comes to mind.

#6 – Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin’” – (1981)

This song was a top ten hit upon its initial release (#9). It’s been a mainstream radio staple for 30 years and its popularity in the past 10 years is equal, if not greater than, when it was first released. This song is in the top 25 most downloaded (iTunes) songs of all time. This song has been in too many movies and TV shows to list, although I will say that it was famously in the final scene of The Sopranos. The opening keyboard gives this song away immediately, and when Steve Perry’s blasting vocals build to that final crescendo, you really feel it. People, and I’ve noticed this a lot among younger and younger generations, love this song. Rightfully so.

#11 – Billy Vera & the Beaters – “At This Moment” – (1987)

Originally recorded and released in 1981, “At This Moment” didn’t become a hit until it was featured in an episode of Family Ties in 1986. Then it went to #1 in January of 1987. The song is beautiful and has the required 1980s saxophone. It’s very bluesy/jazzy. And the power of the lyrics when accompanied by very little instrumentation is quite great. Billy Vera & the Beaters could never match this success – some songs just can’t be topped.

#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?

#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.

#74 – Loverboy – “Working for the Weekend” – (1981)

“Working for the Weekend” is an upbeat pop rock song from the otherwise Canadian hard rock band Loverboy. The song has popped up all over the place. The Todd dances to it during air band tryouts on “Scrubs” – wearing what I can only assume are the same pants featured on the cover of Loverboy’s 1981 album Get Lucky. It’s featured in a pretty funny scene from the Adam Sandler movie Click. Most famously, perhaps, it was used in the famous Chippendales sketch on “Saturday Night Live” where Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley dance to it (I can’t find the video).

#77 – The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me” – (1981)

“You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar” is how this opens, but you know this song before it even gets that far. From the opening synthesizer hits you know what you’re in for. This is among the very finest synthpop songs of all time. It went to #1 in the U.S. and The Human League could never quite match its success even though they tried. They had plenty of other singles but only a few of them are worth noting, and none were as big as this.

#99 – Rod Stewart – “Young Turks” – (1981)

Ah, Rod Stewart back when he was still releasing new and original music instead of his semi-annual cover albums full of songs like “Proud Mary” and whatnot. The 1970s Rod Stewart was more of a rocker with a raspy voice. This kicked off the Rod Stewart of the 1980s and 90s who went the more pop route and eventually tried to become a crooner. “Young Turks” almost feels like something from Flashdance with its happening beat. It’s interesting to note that this was the first music video to feature break dancing – for whatever that’s worth.

#100 – Kim Carnes – “Bette Davis Eyes” – (1981)

Kim Carnes’ rough and raspy voice proved just the right thing to take this Jackie DeShannon song to number one in 1981. It was there for nine weeks and it won two big Grammys: song and record of the year. Who would have ever thought a song about Bette Davis would become so popular 30+ years after her prime. I’d be willing to bet that, when the song came out – as well as now – more people know who Bette Davis is because of this song than from her performance in classic movies such as All About Eve. I’d also be willing to bet that more people know this song than know who Kim Carnes is.