Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1986

20. “My Hometown”, Bruce Springsteen- I wasn’t a big Springsteen fan when I was growing up, and I’m still not.  While I consider myself to be a patriotic American, I found his trademark anthem “Born in the U.S.A.” to be way too affected for my tastes.  However, I have to admit that I like some of his slower stuff.  This song has a nice nostalgic message and a cool electric organ part.  Springsteen keeps a nice tone to his vocal throughout the song.  It actually reminds me more of a Billy Joel song in style and lyrics.

19. “The Way It Is”, Bruce Hornsby and the Range- The keyboard part sets the mood at the beginning of this song.  Then, it gets even cooler (word?) when the drums and the rest of the band come in with a jazzy feel.  Hornsby has a nice tone to his voice and just enough grit to keep it serious.  The song has a very pretty, whole sound, but the tempo keeps it from being easy listening.  The most interesting thing about this song is that it tackles a very unusual subject for eighties pop: racism and the American Civil Rights Movement.  You would never get that from the tune and tone of the song.

18. “Stuck With You”, Huey Lewis and The News- This song continued Lewis’ string of hits throughout the mid-eighties.  The video for the song was dreadfully cheesy even though it did have a hottie, but the bee-bop style gave fans of the band exactly what they had grown to expect from them.

17. “Human”, Human League- This song reminds you of “Shout” by Tears for Fears with a forceful beginning and dark baseline, but then the keyboard comes in and lightens the mood considerably.  To call this band androgynous would be an understatement.  Tammy Fae is only slightly less made up than the lead singer.  The tone to the vocal and the DX7 keyboard make the song.  The spoken word in the middle a little cheesy.

16. “Greatest Love Of All”, Whitney Houston- Whitney Houston hit her stride with this song.  She is a powerhouse and the song is a showcase for her vocals.  The tender, positive message of the lyrics was refreshing and different from most of her love songs.  The song makes even more sense when you know that the writer was a mother with terminal breast cancer.  I chose over it “How Will I Know” which also charted the same year.

15. “Glory Of Love”, Peter Cetera- This was the first song released by Cetera after he left Chicago and was released on his Solitude/Solitaire and again on the soundtrack to the Karate Kid Part II for which it earned him an Oscar and a Golden Globe.  It is a power ballad in the Cetera/Chicago style, and features his unmistakable tenor vocals.  The piano and string parts round-out the song nicely.  The horns in the song are quite different from those to be found in a traditional Chicago song, and are much more orchestral in tone, but they go well.

14. “Take Me Home”, Phil Collins- The staccato percussion at the beginning of the song sounds like rain in a good way, but by the time the song hits the chorus it has sort of an anthem quality.  This is more easily understood when one realizes that the full sound of the vocals is bolstered by both Sting and Peter Gabriel among others.  Most people associate the song with fond memories of home, but Collins claimed that it was about a patient in a mental institution and likened it to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

13.  “Livin’ On a Prayer”, Bon Jovi- The anthem style of this song and the bass line make you tap your toes as you sing along.  It is really just a straight up rock & roll song with Jon Bon Jovi singing in his quasi rock/metal style.  This song has become the trade mark of the band, and experienced a revival during the weeks after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

12. “Alive and Kicking”, Simple Minds- It was clear from the production value of the video, that the band had a budget of about 50 cents to spend on it, but I was afraid while watching it that the bassist would fall off the edge of the cliff that he was standing on.  As for the song, it continued with the same style that their mega hit from the year before, “Don’t You Forget About Me,” delivered.  The vocal is strong and clear, the percussion continues to deliver a punch, and the piano solos are memorable.

11. “If You Leave”, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark- The vocal is very much like the one found in the previous listing for Simply Minds.  It has the same strong whole tone to it.  However, the whisper quality that the vocals take on when they get to the chorus makes the song more interesting.  The synth-keyboards drive the song from beginning to end with a nice sax solo thrown on the middle.

10. “No One Is To Blame”, Howard Jones- There are several incarnations of this song out there.  My favorite is the one that starts out with the light percussion and keyboard.  It is really nice to listen to.  Jones voice, as always, sounds great on the song.  I think that Howard Jones may be the most underrated artist of the 1980s.

9. “True Colors”, Cyndi Lauper- She may have been hard to look at, but Cyndi Lauper could deliver a great song when she tried in the middle 1980s when she tried, before the drugs destroyed her career.  “True Colors” was the first single released of her follow-up to her mega album, She’s So Unusual, and was the title track.  It was the only good song on the album, but it was a very good one.  The soft guitar with percussion that is the main instrumentation throughout the song is very nice, as is the soft tone of Lauper’s voice and her ability to deliver emotion.  If you are going to listen to her version of the song, you need to know, that she has very little diction, and her dress in the video makes it unwatchable.  However, the lyrics are what make this song truly great, and I have sung it to my daughter since she was a tiny baby.  It has proved its staying power by being used in ad campaigns by seven different products world-wide.  I would like to know how much money she made off of Kodak alone.

8.  “Higher Love”, Steve Winwood- This song has an upbeat island quality to the rhythm and the instrumentation.  Winwood’s vocal is kind of a Bill Medley meets Huey Lewis sound.  It has a little edge, but still a good tenor tone to it. The backing vocals are great, and remind me Howard Jones’ back-up singers.  The music video, once again, looks like someone spent about a dollar on it, but for some reason MTV nominated it for an award, which it did not win.

7. “Your Love”, Outfield- This song has a cool rock & roll feel to it, and the vocals sound great.  The lead singer’s voice goes so high that it is practically impossible to sing along with, unless you sing an octave lower than he does, but it is still one of my favorite 80s songs.  It is the most tender song ever written about a guy who just wants to screw a girl behind his girlfriend’s back without any consequences.  How could a girl possibly say no to a proposal like that?

I have a memory that sort of goes along with this song.  The stars had aligned in the summer of 1986.  My favorite band, Journey, had gotten back together with Steve Perry to produce their last decent album, Raised on Radio.  It, of course, was no where near as good as their precious stuff, but I rushed out to buy it, and quickly knew every song.  Journey was coming to Dallas that summer, and I rushed out to buy my tickets.  It got even better, their opening act was slated to be The Outfield, my favorite new group.  Greatness.

Tragedy struck a few weeks before the Dallas concert.  Apparently, A bass amp fell on the head of a member of The Outfield, and they were scratched from the Dallas show.  Glass Tiger of “Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone” fame was inserted in their place.  I don’t know why, but I have always been bitter that I had Glass Tiger foisted on me instead of getting to hear The Outfield.

To be honest, Glass Tiger was pretty cheesy in concert.  The lead singer had the whole 80s big curly hair thing going on, and the white, rocker, sequined-jacket worn open with no shirt underneath.  He sat down on the edge of the stage and blatantly pandered to the girls in the front row as if they were actually there to see him.

My bitterness was pretty focused by then.  My seats were on the second row on the left side of the stage, and there was a gangway for the singers to walk almost up to where we were sitting right in front of us.  I had my lighter, as all good fans at a concert did in those days, and when he made his way up the gangway right in front of me, I lit the lighter, and threw ‘the bird’ (flipped him off) up for him to see in perfect backlight.  He did not even make it to the end of the gangway, but immediately turned around, and went to the gangway on the other side of the arena where he sang for some time.  Giggle.

I still have hardness in my heart toward this band for upstaging The Outfield (even if they really had nothing to do with it), and that is probably why they did not make my list.

6. “Never”, Heart- Heart continued their dominance as the biggest female group of the 1980s with “Never.”  I chose this or over the softer, “These Dreams” because it was a much bigger it, but they are both great songs.  Anne Wilson’s voice dominates this song, as it does all Heart songs.  This is another song that can be heard yearly on American Idol, and it usually either makes or breaks the contestants.

5.  “West End Girls”, Pet Shop Boys- I had to have at least one song from the Pet Shop Boys on my lists, and that song had to be West End Girls.  The bass-line is the most memorable part of this song.  It has a funky quality to it, and the vocal, while spoken in the verses, has a nice tone in the chorus.  The song and lyrics are obviously concerned about something, but I was never quite sure what it was until I read on Wiki, that the song is a social commentary “inspired by T.S. Elliot’s poem The Waste Land.”

4.  “Sledgehammer”, Peter Gabriel- This song would probably make anyone’s top 10 songs of the 80s list.  It was everywhere in the summer of 1986.  The surreal quality of the video and the cool stop-motion animation make it arguably the best music video ever.  It has won the most MTV music video awards (nine), and is the most played video ever (according to MTV).  Gabriel sings with a quirky style, and is backed by a big band funky horn section that sounds great.  The Japanese synthesized flute solo in the middle of the song always makes me think of dancing chickens.  The R&B background singers at the end of the song are also very good.

3.  “Addicted To Love”, Robert Palmer- This was another great 80s song and video.  You only have to hear one Robert Palmer song to know his rock & roll style, and you only have to see one of his videos to understand his main marketing technique: Sexy girls in semi sheer black tights and no bras sell.  And, boy do they.  I was a pretty traditional guy growing up in the 80s.  I liked the hot, pretty girl, and I was always turned-off by the hot, dirty or skanky girl.  When Robert Palmer came along with his pseudo-gothic girls, I was faced with a dilemma.  Those girls were definitely not traditional, but they were also definitely hot.  Eventually, I stopped wondering why, and decided to just enjoy the show.

2.  “Broken Wings”, Mr. Mister- I made these lists a while ago, and have been writing the blurbs about each one as I prepare to publish them.  When I went back to the 1986 list, I immediately realized that I had made a mistake.  One of my rules from the beginning was that I was not going to put more than one song from any group on the same list.  However, when I opened the 1986 list back up, I realized that I had two songs from the same group at the #2 and #3 spots.  It was just a careless error, but it underscored to me how much I liked both of these songs when I tried to decide which of them to actually include at #2.  In the end “Broken Wings” barely beat-out “Kyrie.”  The iconic bass line with the brush on snare at the beginning of the song let you know what song you listening to from the first couple of notes.  Together with the keyboards, they give the song an eerie and ethereal feel.  The vocal has a whole and strong tone that is easy to sing along with, and when it gets to the “Let us in…” lyric, it soars (good effect in a song about wings).

1.  “Say You, Say Me”, Lionel Richie- This is my personal favorite song by Richie.  The lyrics have a positive message about people getting along and understanding each other.  It was in the great date movie, White Nights for which it earned an Oscar and a golden Globe, but did not appear on the soundtrack.  Richie released the song on his Dancing on the Ceiling album after it had already hit number one in December the year before (1985) as a single.  The music has a creepy, reverb quality that is highly synthesized, but it is the vocal that is great.  If I hear this song on the radio today, I can’t help but sing with it, and when it is over, I always want to hear it again.  Greatness.

Top 20 80s Pop/Rock Songs (Category)

Top 20 1980’s Pop/Rock Songs By Year (Criteria)

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1980

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1981

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1982

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1983

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1984

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1985 

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1987

12 Responses

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  8. Their third album, Secret Samadhi, a live LP, followed in 1997 but saw even less success than their previous album. Pathetique Sonata

  9. Hi this blog is great I will be recommending it to friends.

  10. [...] Posts Top 20 1980s Pop/Rock Songs by Year (Criteria)Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1984Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1986Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs of 1985Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1981Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1980Top 20 [...]

  11. Hello. I found your blog quite by accident. I saw a link to your Top 20 of 1980 list and have been following your view of the entire musical decade. I’ve read most of your blog and it turns out we’re nearly the same age, have some very similar political views, and have very similar musical tastes. I also, along with my wife, watch and analyze American Idol every week, so now I look forward to your opinions on that as well. But I’m mostly intrigued by your musical lists. I started making my own lists in 1983 (age 12) and now I have lists that stretch from 1964 to the present. Though I was born in 1971, my father raised me on music, and I have developed an extensive collection and knowledge of popular music from the 1960s on. I have my own Top 20s which are comparable to yours. I even have my own eligibility rules for each year. (I do allow more than one song per artist, if applicable. After all, a good song is a good song and maybe they just had a good year) Some songs I have in one year, you have in another year, and some of your facts are incorrect, but I’m not here to debate you. I just like looking at lists like these. Anyway, if you’re ever interested in hearing some of my 80s lists, or any other year, let me know. John.

  12. Thanks for the positive feedback. As far as my facts go, most were taken off Wiki. If I have it wrong feel free to point it out.
    The reason you would have songs in a different year than I did , was that I took a little license with this. If a song chaeted in two years (say from November 1986 to March 1987), I allowed myself to choose which year I wanted to put it in. By doing this, I was able to include a few more good songs in the great years, and put some better songs on the years that were not as strong.
    Again, thanks for the feedback, and feel free to provide me the link to your blog. I will put it on my blog roll.

    The Management

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