Chicago16coverChicago – Hard To Say I’m Sorry/Get Away – 1982

How is it possible that this is the first Chicago song that’s been featured here? Crazy. This one was a Billboard Hot 100 #1 for two weeks. It was the first big hit for Chicago since 1977 and would be the first of a string of hits for the band in the 1980s. It’s their “Walk This Way.”

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Michael_Jackson_-_ThrillerMichael Jackson – “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” – (1982)

Thriller was so good that even this, it’s sixth single was still awesome. Originally Michael and someone else wrote a song with this title, but producer Quincy Jones didn’t like it but liked the title enough to co-write this song instead (with James Ingram) and kept the title. It reached #10 on the Hot 100. Strangely, he never performed this song live. 

Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder – “Ebony & Ivory” – (1982)

“Ebony & Ivory” is an often-referenced song from 1982 that hit #1 on the Hot 100 and stayed there for seven weeks. Depending on how you view it, this song is either about black and white piano keys or about people and racial integration. It’s actually about both – but mostly the racial thing. A lot of people think this song was sappy – and my response to that is “It was the 80s.” Strangely, Wonder and McCartney performed this live together in the studio – but the music video was filmed separately because of scheduling issues. Weird.

Billy Joel – “Pressure” – (1982)

Billy Joel was one of the kings of the 1980s. He released so many good songs. This happens to be a rather popular one. It was a top 20 hit on the Hot 100 and – coming out in the early-80s, used a synthesizer (which is weird as he is the Piano Man). This may not have been his biggest album ever, but it did produce a few memorable songs, this among them.

.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.

Stephen Bishop – “It Might Be You” – (1982)

This pop song from Stephen Bishop is a song that sort of defines bad early-80s pop music. It kind of sounds like a sappy jingle written as the theme song to a TV show set in 1981 in some cold place like Chicago. I can picture people’s faces popping up with the actor’s names in big white letters below them. Does that make any sense? I’m close – it was featured in the movie Tootsie. It’s still sappy though.

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.

Michael Jackson – “Thriller” – (1982)

“Thriller” is one of the biggest songs from the biggest album there is. I don’t even know where to start. So I guess I’ll start with what people associate it most with: the music video. It’s actually more of a short film, running over 13 minutes (for a song lasting less than six). Of course, there’s the jacket that Jackson wears in the video – that red and black – which was designed by the wife of the music video’s director: John Landis. It’s the most influential music video. The video was selected to be included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The song (and video) both feature the spoken vocal track from Vincent Price (which is pretty weird if you think about it). I’ve seen this called a “novelty song” which I think is a bunch of crap – funk, disco, pop, okay. But novelty? Sure, it has a distinct Halloween feel but because so much time has elapsed since its release there’s no way to separate our (my) perceptions of the song as a stand-alone or as part of the video.

Anyway, title tracks don’t come better than this, and while “Billie Jean” topped our Top 100 Songs of the 80s list, this song (and everything associated with it) might well be the thing that word-association tests of “Michael Jackson” elicits most.

#13 – Whitesnake – “Here I Go Again” – (1982)

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the album cover to Saints & Sinners before… and that’s probably because I don’t know this song from its original 1982 release on that album. It was re-recorded in 1987 for the album Whitesnake. The 1987 version is the one that hit #1 on the Hot 100. But it’s not like I know what that album cover looks like either. When I hear this song, the first image that comes to mind if Tawny Kitaen sprawling around on the hood of a Jaguar. I’m likely not alone in that…

#16 – Judas Priest – “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” – (1982)

Judas Priest are heavy metal legends and I’m pretty sure it’s because of songs like this (I’m not a Judas Priest expert and 80s heavy metal fans tend to be strangely loyal and die-hard and I don’t want their ire). But, this is the best song by the band that I can think of. What I find kind of strange is that this hard, heavy, crazy rock song was recorded, along with the rest of the album, in Ibiza, Spain – now home to crazy, crazy clubs featuring the best of house music. Regardless of this, Ibiza is still a little too scenic for heavy metal, isn’t it? Shouldn’t heavy metal be recorded in an abandoned factory or some dungeon somewhere? Not paradise.

The English Beat – “Rotating Head” – (1982)

Like Yaz, The English Beat was known by a different name in the U.K. than they were in the U.S. In Britain, they were simply ‘The Beat’ as I suppose the ‘English’ may have been redundant. You know, how like in France they call French Fries just ‘fries.’ Anyway, there is an instrumental version of “Rotating Head” and it’s called “March of the Swivelheads.” I have never heard it and see no need to hear it as this version is just fine. You may know it best as the song Ferris Bueller runs home to at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Every time I hear the hook of this song I picture Matthew Broderick jumping over a fence via trampoline in slow motion. Every time. Never fails. Just watch out for Mr. Rooney waiting in your back yard!

The Waitresses – “I Know What Boys Like” – (1982)

The Waitresses were a new wave band from Akron, Ohio and this was their biggest non-Christmas themed hit – hitting #62 in 1982. It was originally released in 1980 but failed to do anything. Yes, the song is somewhat nerve-grating, which is why if you want to see what this band was capable of, you need to check out their 1981 Christmas hit “Christmas Wrapping” which is actually quite good. The Waitresses had disappeared by 1984.

Yaz – “Don’t Go” – (1982)

British synthpop group (duo) Yazoo was known as “Yaz” in the United States. It’s kind of lame that they had to change the name of the group to perform in the U.S. (a rock band had the name Yazoo), but they still managed to churn out a hit or two. Their debut album, Upstairs at Eric’s contained this single which is synthpop magic. Seriously, 80s synth tracks don’t get better than this – it is the epitome of synthpop. Enjoy it!

John Cougar – “Hand to Hold On To” – (1982)

This was the third track and the third single from American Fool and considering that it followed up both “Hurts so Good” as well as “Jack & Diane” it really never stood a chance. It flew under the radar in 1982 and still does. I’ve heard it on the radio, but not with the same frequency we get other Mellencamp hits. It’s still decent and very early-80s-Mellencamp.

Duran Duran – “Rio” – (1982)

“Her name is Rio…” Duran Duran had one of their biggest hits with the title track to their 1982 album Rio. The song features a catchy synth hook and lots and lots of sax. So yeah, it’s pretty 80s. So is the video with the band in colorful suits hanging out on a yacht in the Caribbean – which makes sense because the song has a very tropical feel – the title referring to many of the Rios of Brazil and the song mentions the Rio Grande.

Men At Work – “Who Can It Be Now?” – (1982)

This song hit #1 before Men At Work’s most famous single, “Down Under” and most people don’t remember it nearly as well – which I think is fair as “Down Under” was pretty big. This doesn’t ooze “Australia” like “Down Under” does but it does have that kickin’ saxophone which was seemingly de rigueur throughout the 1980s.

John Cougar – “Hurts So Good” – (1982)

This was a serious contender to make the list and at the last second I substituted “Pink Houses” in for it. I like this one better… but man, if there was ever a music video that can really ruin a song for you, this is it. Why is he wearing a leather shirt, bandana and chaps? Man, the 80s were weird.

ABC – “The Look of Love” – (1982)

This was a #1 in Canada and a top ten in the U.K., Sweden, and Australia. ABC was a great synthpop group – yes, I’m aware that many people consider that an oxymoron. The Lexicon of Love was the band’s first – and best – album. It contained their best singles and it was basically downhill from the starts, which kind of sucks, but that’s pretty much the music business in a nutshell.

Men Without Hats – “The Safety Dance” – (1982)

Men Without Hats were Canadian? I thought they were from Australia, but I guess I was confusing them with Men at Work. Men without hats at work. Yeah, it’s kind of a weird song. “We can dance if we want to; we can leave your friends behind. Because your friends don’t dance if they don’t dance then they’re no friends of mine.” That’s the chorus that comes round and round. Someone I worked with once asked another employee if she had ever heard of “The Safety Dance.” She said “No.” Then he proceeded to play for her, via YouTube, some 15 minutes worth of the song. Moral of the story: if anyone ever asks you if you’ve heard this song, please, for the love of your coworkers, just say, “Yes.”

Violent Femmes – “Blister in the Sun” – (1982)

This song is wonderfully bare. They could’ve packed it with another five instruments to make it seem a little fuller but that would have been foolish. Some of the lyrics in this song are whispered and then the next lines are yelled. That, with the sophomoric sounding music makes this song seem like it was done by a bunch of amateurs. But amateurs don’t have big mainstream success (okay, well some do). I don’t really know much about the Violent Femmes except that I know some people who drove two hours to see a free concert by the band and I thought they were crazy.

John Cougar – “Jack and Diane” – (1982)

This is one of the biggest songs of the 80s – I chose “Pink Houses” for the countdown because this seemed too obvious, but in reality this was a far bigger hit and far more important in 80s music and the career of John Mellencamp, who at this time was going by John Cougar. It was his biggest hit – a #1 for four weeks in the fall of 1982. Jack and Diane became defining characters of the 80s. Everyone knows who they are and everyone knows about the Tastee-Freez. This song oozes nostalgia about American youth – a theme throughout most of the Mellencamp catalog.

Marvin Gaye – “Sexual Healing” – (1982)

Marvin Gaye released more awesome songs during the 1960s than just about anyone I can think of (the Supremes, maybe?). In 1982 he released Midnight Love – his first non-Motown album. And it contained “Sexual Healing” which was a top 5 hit in the U.S. and a #1 elsewhere. It was his first hit in 5 years and remains one of his most popular songs. It would also be his final hit as he was murdered by his own father in 1984, a day before his 45th birthday. Marvin Gaye had one of the smoothest voices in recording history and it’s kind of fitting that his final hit and legacy stem from one of the smoothest songs in recording history.

The Psychedelic Furs – “Love My Way” – (1982)

“Love My Way” is one of the best examples of popular new wave and for whatever reason I strongly associate it song with the Thompson Twin’s “Hold Me Now.” The percussion here really makes the song stand out (well that and the synthesizer – but that’s a given for just about every 80s pop tune). This song was featured in the movie The Wedding Singer but The Psychedelic Furs might be more famous for their song “Pretty in Pink” which inspired the movie of the same name.

#1 – Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean” – (1982)

Well here it is. “Billie Jean” was revolutionary in every way and stands as one of the best, most important songs in history. The bass line is one-of-a-kind and instantly recognizable. Michael Jackson was at his very best with this track and it’s a big part of the reason why Thriller is the number one selling album of all time. The song hit #1 in the U.S. & UK and several other countries and went on to win multiple Grammys. The music video almost single-handedly threw MTV into the spotlight and made the channel a success. The video is iconic – with the light-up sidewalk and the amazing dance moves that Jackson would later go on to showcase on the TV special Motown 25. During his performance he debuted a new thing called the “moonwalk” while wearing a black sequin jacket and a lone white glove – forever his signature move and look. To think that producer Quincy Jones didn’t originally want this song on the album is kinda scary. Would Michael Jackson be The King of Pop without this single? Maybe, but the title wouldn’t be anywhere near as convincing. This song (and its performer) are legendary. Both had such a large effect on the recording industry that it borders on immeasurable and I think it’s the perfect song to end our countdown on.

#15 – Prince – “1999” – (1982)

If you wanna hear this on YouTube, be quick – Prince is notorious for not allowing anyone to hear and song he is even associated with unless they are throwing all kinds of money at him. Not only is this one of the best songs of the 80s, it’s one of the best songs of the 90’s as well – having re-charted and received a lot of airplay in its title year. It was this party anthem that put Prince on the map. The follow up single, “Little Red Corvette” made it into the Top 10 and after that, “1999” made it to #12. In 1999 it re-charted at #40, making it Prince’s last Top 40 hit. I think this has to be Prince’s defining song. “Purple Rain” gets a lot of attention, but that was because of the accompanying movie. If “1999” was a movie, then this would surely get more attention.