There was a noticeable drop off in the quality of the music from 1986 to 1987. Many more of the Billboard Top 100 from 1987 had a gimmicky quality to them, and as a result they were pushed off the list. The style of music was obviously changing as power ballads with great melodies and lyrics were replaced with trite dance tunes from groups like Wang Chung and others. I found this list much harder to compile because many of the songs with sing-able melodies were, for lack of a better term, gay. I found myself forcing songs like, “Somewhere Out There”, “Only In My Dreams”, “Never Gonna Give You Up”, and “Lady In Red” off the list for this very reason. I have to be honest, most of the songs on this list would not have even been considered for the 1983-1985 lists, but you have to go with what you have.
20. “Open Your Heart”, Madonna- Madonna was hitting her stride when she released True Blue. This song typified the dance music style that dominated her music for the next four or five years. It is upbeat and causes you to tap you feet when you listen to it. I chose it over the title track from this album.
19. “Faith”, George Michael- Speaking of gay, coming in at number nineteen we have this little ditty by George Michael that was one of the most popular songs of the year. It definitely had a strong melody, and you almost have to move when you hear it. By this time, George Michael had realized that Wham was nothing without him, so he decided to destroy them by leaving the band and going out on his own. I found his flamboyant arrogance to be off-putting.
18. “Mony Mony”, Billy Idol- I found Billy Idol’s act fairly off-putting also, but much less gay than George Michael’s. Idol came across as the guy with the biggest case of short-man’s syndrome in the music business. He was always taking a swing at the screen, and his music often reflected this quality. I put this song on the list because of its staying power and popularity on movie soundtracks. Idol shouted his vocals more often than he sang them, but his songs were catchy if also very gimmicky.
17. “We’ll Be Together”, Sting- I like sting, and his tenor vocals quite a bit, but this would probably not even make my top ten songs featuring him. It is very upbeat and different from most of his other stuff. It is definitely quirky, and the video reminds me of later Janet Jackson material.
16. “Electric Blue”, Icehouse- It took an Australian group to carry on the tradition of bands like Naked Eyes, The Thompson Twins and Simple Minds in 1987. The keyboard sound is very 1980s as is the whole tone on the tenor vocals. The girl in the video is also Hot!
15. “Bad”, Michael Jackson- Again, I found myself trying to keep this song off the list because of the whole pedophilia thing, but it was simply too big of a song for me to do so. The tune is unmistakable as it begins with the guitarist hammering out six heavily distorted notes before the drums kick in. There is no other song that is more associated with Michael Jackson.
14. “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, Def Leppard- This is one of those songs that I had no idea what the lyrics were. I don’t even remember what crazy words I substituted for the actually lyrics, but I am sure they were funny. It is the epitome of the rock anthem, and almost forces the listener to stand up and clap his hands above his head (very ’80s).
13. “Little Lies”, Fleetwood Mac- This instrumentation in this song is very 1980s from the keyboard, to the drums and the guitar. As I have said earlier, I did not start listening to Pop/Rock music until the 1980s, and as a result I did not know anything about Fleetwood Mac’s earlier work. I also did not like hype, so when they had their comeback in the ’80s, I was taken aback by all of the hype that went along with it. This set me against them early on. As I have grown older, I have realized that their music was pretty good. Linday Buckingham has a nice voice, and the melody of the song is easy to sing along with. I always said back then, that Stevie Nicks must have sold her soul to the devil (yes, I heard the witch rumors) for good looks and fame, because ‘Lord knows she can’t sing.” That may have been a little harsh too. She was nice to look at, but her voice had a very different tone to it. It sounded like she was a smoker, but she hit her notes, and her tone still had a full sound.
12. “Wanted Dead or Alive”, Bon Jovi- The acoustic guitar part on this song is what makes the song. Even the lead guitar has a picked sound that conveys the old west sound that is the point of the song. Jon Bon Jovi is very affected, but that is what you get with these guys, and you should not expect anything else. The song is very commercial, and has been used for products as well as theme songs for television programs.
11. “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, Crowded House- For anyone who grew up in the ’80s, this is known as the “hey-now” song. As far as being able to sing along with a memorable melody goes, it does not get much better than this. The baritone/second tenor voice of the lead singer is also easy to sing along with (at least for me). His vocal has a very good tone to it, and the chorus is well backed by other singers.
10. “The Finer Things”, Steve Winwood- This is my personal favorite song by Winwood. The keyboard and sax set a mellow mood at the beginning of the song. Winwood has a pretty high voice, but the chorus is still good to sing along with, even if you have to sing an octave below him. It is bubbly and upbeat but he keeps it from going the way of a group like Wham, for instance.
9. “(I Just) Died In Your Arms”, Cutting Crew- The staccato keyboard with the cello at the beginning of the song set a good 80′s mood for the song. When the guitar and drums come in, it becomes a standard 80′s power ballad, and that’s a good thing. The vocal is good, but I was creeped out when I read the Wiki for this song. It says, “The words ‘I just died in your arms tonight’ originally came to Van Eede while he was having sex with his girlfriend [I'll have to try that. Usually I just think about baseball.], ‘death’ being an often-used metaphor for orgasm.” This would be the lyrical equivalent of too much information. However, I find his thought processes to be strange. I know I’m not the one who usually thinks about death while I’m making love.
8. “Mandolin Rain”, Bruce Hornsby and the Range- Hornsby’s strong piano chops are highlighted throughout this song. This song is cool and melow. It in no way makes you want to do anything very active while you listen to it. Hornsby’s vocals are excellent and easy to listen to.
I have a memory of this song associated with Six Flags Over Texas. During my junior and senior years in high school, I had a car and a season pass to Six Flags ($44.00, greatness). I would go all summer long, once or twice a week. That year I remember that Six Flags had ponied-up and bought Bose speakers that piped music throughout the park, especially for those standing in line. The only problem was that they only had about 25 minutes of music on the loop that they were playing, so you got to hear the same songs over and over as you stood in line all summer long. “Mandolin Rain” was one of the songs, and I bet I heard it 1,000 times at the park that summer. It says something that I still can listen to it and enjoy it today.
7. “In Too Deep”, Genesis- This was the second song released off their mega-album Invisible Touch, and it is clearly influenced by Collins’ extremely successful solo albums that were released prior to it. The song is much slower and subdued than much of the older Genesis material. It has a very nice acoustic quality that comes from dual acoustic guitars, and a grand paino. It has one of my favorite vocals from Phil Collins, and I chose it over “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”.
I went to the Invisible Touch concert when it came to Dallas. Unfortunately, I was unimpressed. “Mama” was dark and great, but, for the most part it was just a bunch of Abacab stuff, which I did not know at the time. He did not even sing “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” even though the concert was sponsored by Michelob. He didn’t sing one Phil Collins’ song, and Mike and the Mechanics did not do any of their stuff. I learned another thing that night. You can have too many 10 minute drum solos in a concert. There was no encore, and finally it was over. I later heard that Collins’ was sporting a 102 degree temperature during the concert, but I still felt short-changed by the whole thing.
6. “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life”, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes- This is one of the best duets of the 1980s. Bill Medley is better known as a Righteous Brother, and he can definitely bring the vocals. The song’s popularity was increased by the fact that it was associated with the huge 80s chick flick Dirty Dancing. The harmony is great, and the chorus builds to a point where the two singers sound enraptured.
5. “Alone”, Heart- Anne Wilson and Heart continued their dominance of the mid-eighties with another of their signature power ballads. The soft start with the piano/keyboard at the beginning of the song with Anne Wilson’s softer voice sounds great. Then, chorus the powers in and provides the signature Heart sound. If you want to win American Idol, do a great version of this song (see Carrie Underwood).
4. “The Next Time I Fall”, Peter Cetera and Amy Grant- In the summer of 1986, I got very involved with a youth group at one of the local churches in my home town. I also got into CCM (Christian Contemporary Music for the heathens out there), just as it was hitting its zenith. Amy Grant was the biggest name in CCM at the time. As her popularity continued to grow, she began to experiment with crossing-over into popular music. First, her Unguarded album failed to mention God anywhere, and many CCM fans noted that the songs could be as much about a boyfriend as about God. Then, she actually released a few songs onto the secular (not Christain, again for you heathens) market.
I remember that there was actually a debate on the local radio station (KOJO, later KLTY) in Dallas as to whether her music should be played at all on their station any more. I knew that these ideas were wrong-headed even as a pompous high school kid. Christianity can be very divisive and counter to its own goals a lot of the time. Here we had a young woman who could have drawn more people to their station and the religion by crossing-over into mainstream music, but the first thought was to drive her away.
It’s funny to listen to CCM today. As sad as it has become, one thing is easy to see. They have reversed their attitudes, and any secular song that could be reinterpreted with a positive Godly message is re-recorded by Christian Artists (almost always not as well as the original).
As far as the duet mentioned above goes, it was one of my favorites of the decade. Cetera definitely has the lead role in the song, but Grant’s harmonies are what make it great. She also looks good in the video. The original version with the heavily synthesized keyboard sound was good, but there is a live version with a full orchestra that sounds even better.
3. “Will You Still Love Me?”, Chicago- Fans of any successful group in the 80s would wait on pins and needles for the inevitable news that their favorite band had broken up (or a key member had died). The worst part was that it was often career suicide for all involved. This, however, was not the case for Peter Cetera and Chicago. He left the band shortly after it finished recording Chicago 17 in 1985, but both he and the band experienced great success with their next albums. Chicago replaced Cetera with Jerry Scheff and picked up right where they left off recording great love songs and power ballads. “Will You Still Love Me” is a great example of one of these. Scheff actually sounds a lot like Cetera on the vocal, and the keyboard/piano led instrumentation picks up right where Chicago 17 left off. The orchestral backing on the song sounds great, but the strings and light horns do not deliver the standard “Tower of Power” horn sound that is expected from Chicago.
2. “Doing It All For My Baby”, Huey Lewis and The News- Once again, Lewis delivered the be-bop style that his fans looked for. I love the horns and Hammond organ sound at the beginning and throughout the song. Lewis’ vocal is as good as ever. Topping out at #93 on the Billboard Top 100 for the year, this song is easily the most underrated song of his career. I have a tip for anyone who wants to hear this song. Download it from Itunes. The video is 7:53 long, it is horrible, and you will never be able to get that part of your life or the part of you that died as you watched it back.
1. “With Or Without You”, U2- I explained on an earlier post that I was not a fan of U2 in the 80s, and I don’t even know why. Let me say now, that if for no other reason than their two big songs of 1987, “With Or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, they are a great band. I committed at the start of this not to put more than one song from a given group on any year’s list, but either one of these two songs would have held the top spot in 1987. I had a hard time choosing which one I like best, and it came down to popular culture and the inclusion of “With or Without You” in the seminal episode of Friends that made the decision for me.
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 1986
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