Steve Martin – “A Holiday Wish” – (1986)

This was an SNL sketch back in the 1980s where Steve Martin just sits in front of the camera telling us his five Christmas wishes. And it’s hilarious. It works as just audio too, because you can see his mannerisms just by hearing his voice. The wishes start sweet, but quickly descend into madness. Classic Steve Martin.

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Peter Cetera & Amy Grant – “The Next Time I Fall” – (1986)

This was a #1 hit for Peter Cetera and Amy Grant and it comes off of Peter Cetera’s most successful solo album. This was Amy Grant’s first hit in mainstream music and the song that marked her shift away from Christian music. I like Peter Cetera’s voice and the weird twang or whatever it is that he has when he sings. Whenever I hear Amy Grant’s voice, I can only think of Christmas music. This is solid 80s.

Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald – “On My Own” – (1986)

This Hot 100 #1 hit was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick, but never released. So Patti LaBelle and the former lead singer of the Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald – the best voice in blue-eyed soul – put out a version to top the charts. The duet was not recorded live together, but instead recorded in different cities independently and merged into one track. If you like McDonald’s unique voice, you’ll like this song.

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.

Gloria Loring & Carl Anderson – “Friends and Lovers” – (1986)

This is a super-80s duet from Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson. Loring – now known as the mother of Robin Thicke – was an actress-turned-singer known mostly for her role on Days of Our Lives. Carl Anderson is best known for his work on Broadway. They teamed up in 1986 and recorded this song – which topped the Adult Contemporary chart and hit #2 on the Hot 100 in 1986. This song is the definition of 1980s Adult Contemporary.

Aretha Franklin & George Michael – “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” – (1986)

This extremely 80s-sounding song from Aretha Franklin and George Michael was a #1 hit on the Hot 100. This was the era of Aretha’s pop resurgence and George Michael was a really big deal in 1986. I’ll be honest, this is a pretty good song with pretty good vocals. Sure it sounds a little dated (like it came out of a Beverly Hills Cop movie or something) but I still like it.

Billy Ocean – “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going” – (1986)

Billy Ocean loved him some long song titles. This was a #2 hit in the U.S. and a #1 in many counties around the world. It was kept from #1 in the U.S. by Whitney Houton. This was also the theme song for the movie The Jewel of the Nile and the music video features the three main stars of the film as backup singers in white suits.

Nu Shooz – “I Can’t Wait” – (1986)

If you like synth-heavy 80s tunes, this track is for you. It’s a dance song all the way, hitting #1 on the Hot Dance Singles chart while only managing #3 on the Hot 100. If you asked me to name a song to play at an 1980s dance club, I would either say this or a particular song by Chaka Khan. As 80s as this song sounds, the music video is 80s-horrid and very bizarre. It was Nu Shooz’s first charting single and by far their biggest.

The Human League – “Human” – (1986)

I always suspect something is up when an artist has a song that is similar to the name of the artist. In this case, the band would’ve had to have been incredibly patient to pull one over on us, as they adopted the name “The Human League” around 1981 and this song didn’t come out until 1986. It’s one of their best known songs, although you might not realize that it’s actually them. It was a #1 in the U.S. and Canada and the second-biggest hit for the band. If you don’t recognize it by title alone, I would highly recommend giving it a listen as it’s actually really good – and you just might recognize it by sound.

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.

#11 – Europe – “The Final Countdown” – (1986)

Oh, that wonderful keyboard! I guess this was glam metals attempt to incorporate synth pop into their sound. This is such an incredibly recognizable song – especially that keyboard riff. It’s one of those tracks that appears on uplifting and sports/triumph lists. Frankly, when I hear this song I can only think of one thing and that is Gob Bluth’s magic acts from the TV series Arrested Development. Will Arnett dances around stage with a knife in his mouth while this song plays before he performs a big “illusion.”

#18 – Bon Jovi – “You Give Love a Bad Name” – (1986)

I don’t consider this really heavy rock – it’s almost more pop rock than glam metal – but anything with the term “glam” in it implies a certain poppy-ness. This was the first single from Slippery When Wet and the first #1 for Bon Jovi. Let’s face it, like them or not, Bon Jovi is one of the definitive 80s rock bands and this is one catchy song.

Jermaine Stewart – “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” – (1986)

This is the song that Jermaine Stewart is known for. He had other singles so I won’t go calling him a one-hit wonder, but this was as big as it was going to get for him. Unfortunately, Mr. Stewart passed in 1997 from AIDS-related liver cancer. The song was used in an episode of Miami Vice, which helped its popularity. It’s a catchy, pop R&B tune that sounds like a mix of Michael Jackson and Prince (but that last part might because he is in a very Prince-like pose on the album cover)… if only there were doves flying out from behind him it would complete the 80s cliché.

Paul Simon – “Graceland” – (1986)

Another song here that doesn’t really make sense. But this was the song I was listening to when one of the most surreal experiences of my life occurred. I was riding a TGV at full speed – 186 mph – through France as the sun was setting. The sky was orange and pink and blue and then we just went blasting through an expansive field of sunflowers – as far as the eye could see for what seemed like forever but must’ve really been about 30 seconds. Paul Simon singing about going to Graceland to this awesome beat and me with my head sideways on the headrest staring out the window as the sunflowers wilted in the breeze of the train. It was incredible.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “If You Leave” – (1986)

A little more new wave/synth pop – this time from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – probably more well known in abbreviated form as OMD. The song was from the movie Pretty in Pink – another 80s classic. Have you noticed that today’s movies don’t feature original music as they used to? It kinda sucks. How did this song not end up on our top 100 countdown? Somebody’s getting fired!

Janet Jackson – “Nasty” – (1986)

This song has one of the catchiest synth-hooks I’ve ever heard. It’s from Janet’s 3rd studio album, 1986’s Control and if there’s a song from that album you need to hear this is it. “Nasty” has become one of Janet’s signature songs and it consistently ranks on lists of the greatest pop songs from the 80s or any era.

The Bangles – “Walk like an Egyptian” – (1986)

This is the best thing The Bangles ever did. The drum machine gives this song a great tempo (even though it cut out the band’s drummer, Vicki Peterson – who was also asked not to do the lead vocals… ouch). This is one of the great pop songs of all time and a #1 all over the world. Kind of pathetically, Clear Channel declared this song “inappropriate” to play after the 9/11 attacks. The Clear Channel list stands, to me at least, as one of the biggest over-reactions of all time. It’s full of seemingly random songs that talk about things that most sane people consider “good” – like Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Uh-oh, I’m beginning to rant and need to cut this off.

Wang Chung – “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” – (1986)

“Everybody Have Fun Tonight” is the most famous song from London-based New Wave band Wang Chung. The band was popular enough in the early 80s that The Cars were actually opening for them. That cannot be right. The music video for this song is seizure-worthy – so be careful. There is still much debate about what exactly the lyrics “everybody Wang Chung tonight” actually means. There’s no denying that it definitely sounds dirty.

Sigue Sigue Sputnik – “Love Missle F1-11” – (1986)

I’m not really sure how to describe this song. Bizarre? Kinda. The band, whose name continues to mystify me, was a new wave band out of England and this was their only hit, its success helped by the song’s use in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The tempo is ridiculous but it’s great fun to listen to, although the music video is so overlaid with sound effects that it’s hard to distinguish which sound effects are part of the song and which are from the video.

Berlin – “Take My Breath Away” – (1986)

Berlin, who were from Los Angeles, naturally, had one major hit and this was it. It won an Oscar and Golden Globe because of its use in Top Gun on whose soundtrack it appeared. The music video is just clips from the movie – Tom Cruise riding a motorcycle really fast, Tom Cruise walking, Tom Cruise making out with Kelly McGillis, Tom Cruise sad after Goose’s demise, Kelly McGillis sad that Tom Cruise is sad, Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis reuniting after Tom Cruise is done being sad – you know, Top Gun stuff. Still, this song is an 80s classic and when you hear it, you immediately think: Tom Cruise and Top Gun – or at least you should.

#4 – Paul Simon – “You Can Call Me Al” – (1986)

This stands as one of – if not the – catchiest song I have ever heard. Name another song with such a prominent trumpet and pennywhistle. Yeah, didn’t think so. Somehow, Paul Simon had bigger solo hits than this as “You Can Call Me Al” only went to #23. The entire Graceland album is brilliant, incorporating sounds of South Africa (and you can hear a little of it on this track). The hook is impossible to get out of your head once it’s there, and for some reason, I don’t mind it one bit. The video is hard to turn off, with Chevy Chase lip-synching and him and Paul Simon playing instruments and dancing. Trivia: the title of Collective Soul’s 1993 album Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid is taken from this song. You have no idea how proud I was of myself the day I figured that out my own. The lyrics can be interpreted as a man having a mid-life crisis, and because I love it, here they are, in their entirety:

 

A man walks down the street

He says why am I soft in the middle now

Why am I soft in the middle

The rest of my life is so hard

I need a photo opportunity

I want a shot at redemption

Don’t want to end up a cartoon

In a cartoon graveyard

Bonedigger bonedigger

Dogs in the moonlight

Far away my well-lit door

Mr. Beerbelly Beerbelly

Get these mutts away from me

You know I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore

 

If you’ll be my bodyguard

I can be your long lost pal

I can call you Betty

And Betty when you call me

You can call me Al

 

A man walks down the street

He says why am I short of attention

Got a short little span of attention

And wo my nights are so long

Where’s my wife and family

What if I die here

Who’ll be my role model

Now that my role model is

Gone gone

He ducked back down the alley

With some roly-poly little bat-faced girl

All along along

There were incidents and accidents

There were hints and allegations

 

If you’ll be my bodyguard

I can be your long lost pal

I can call you Betty

And Betty when you call me

You can call me Al

Call me Al

 

A man walks down the street

It’s a street in a strange world

Maybe it’s the Third World

Maybe it’s his first time around

Doesn’t speak the language

He holds no currency

He is a foreign man

He is surrounded by the sound

The sound

Cattle in the marketplace

Scatterlings and orphanages

He looks around, around

He sees angels in the architecture

Spinning in infinity

He says Amen! and Hallelujah!

 

If you’ll be my bodyguard

I can be your long lost pal

I can call you Betty

And Betty when you call me

You can call me Al

Call me Al

#7 – Pet Shop Boys – “West End Girls” – (1986)

This is the best synthpop song ever. Period. It was a #1 single – rightfully so. Brilliant opening lyrics: “Sometimes you’re better off dead / there’s a gun in your hand and it’s pointing at your head / you think you’re mad / too unstable / kicking in chairs and knocking down tables / in a restaurant / in a West End town / call the police / there’s a madman around / running down / underground / to a dive bar / in a West End town.” Then the chorus starts about the “East End boys and West End girls.” The opening lyrics are delivered very straightforwardly – mostly spoken. This song has the unique ability to draw you into it without you noticing. It almost puts you in a trance. It’s dark, urban, and terrifying. “Here today / built to last / in every city and every nation / from Lake Geneva to the Finland station.” Then there’s those haunting backing vocals. And I have to mention it – probably the best spoof of any song I’ve ever heard is a takeoff of this by Flight of the Conchords called “Inner City Pressure.” For what it is, it is brilliant.

#19 – Kenny Loggins – “Danger Zone” – (1986)

Top Gun had a pretty good soundtrack, and with all due respect to Berlin, this was the best song from it. I love the images that appear in my mind whenever I hear this. F-14 Tomcats launching off the end of an aircraft carrier somewhere in the south Pacific during the 1980s. Maverick and Goose high-fiving on the mutual feeling they have of the need for speed. Kenny Loggins is throwing some kick ass vocals out on this track too. It was one of his last big hits (if not the last). It sucks too because during the 80s he was almost bound to doing theme songs – ahem, Footloose. This song proved he still had it. Apparently Bryan Adams rejected doing this song because of its ridiculous patriotism. Well Bryan Adams is Canadian, so whatever, I’m glad Kenny got it.

#22 – Bon Jovi – “Livin’ on a Prayer” – (1986)

Slippery When Wet was Bon Jovi’s breakout album and this song was their big breakout hit (even though it was their second #1) – and remains their signature song to this day. It’s un-toppable. Doesn’t everybody know this song and its opening lines, “Tommy used to work on the docks…”? New Jersey produced a lot of working class sing-a-long songs in the 1980s. They brought us Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. The one thing I really love about this song? Richie Sambora’s talk box – it really sets it apart.

#28 – Genesis – “Invisible Touch” – (1986)

Genesis had a bunch of great songs in the 80s. I picked “Invisible Touch” to represent them on this list because it’s very upbeat and fun and it was also their biggest, most successful single. It was their first #1 hit. Interestingly, this was the first time a band hit #1 after one of its band members had done it on their own (Phil Collins had 4 #1s before this song made it to the top). Invisible Touch was also the name of the album, and it was a good one. I count four other great singles besides this one – which is a lot. Phil Collins had a huge impact on 80s music – and Genesis’ former lead singer, Peter Gabriel, bumped this song from its #1 spot with “Sledgehammer.”