Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1987

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”, HeartAnne 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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Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1983

From 1983-1986 80s music hit its high point.  There was a plethora of good songs released during this four year period, and many were forced off the list that would probably have been included in previous years.

20. “She’s A Beauty”, The Tubes– I love the syncopated style of the guitar and keyboard at the beginning of the song.  The funhouse theme of the video was cool, and the woman in the mermaid suit was hot, hot, hot.

19.  “Up Where We Belong”, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes– Joe Cocker has a face for radio and a voice that is the male version of Fran Drescher, but his hyper-affected style, and gravelly sound proved just right for this great 80s love song.  It was the theme song for the great movie, An Officer and a Gentleman.  The song made a clean sweep of the awards topping the charts, winning a Grammy, a Golden Globe and an Oscar.

18.  “Overkill”, Men At Work– “Overkill” is generally regarded as the best song by the Australian band Men At Work.  It was more mature than many of their early hits, but 80s music had matured faster than the band did, so even though I like it better than “Down Under”, it is further down the list in 1983.

17.  “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”, Eurythmics– This was the first big hit for the band that was fronted by Annie Lennox.  Her strong alto vocals matched well with the synthesized sound of the music.  The video is very surreal, and features the Lennox and keyboardist Robert Crash in a field with cows and cellos at one point.  This song proved that the synthesizer alone had the ability to make a song that was distinctively 80s.

16.  “Photograph”, Def Leppard– Def Leppard pulled hard rock music into the pop music genre.  They were the first (and really the only) hard rock group that I have ever liked.  Their songs were still very melodic and singable.  All you really need to say is, “One armed drummer!”

15.  “Electric Avenue”, Eddy Grant– Eddie Grant was just cool.  The synthesizer and bass give this song a disco-funk feel.  You have to move when you hear this song, and it is still played quite a bit today.

14.  “Der Kommissar”, After The Fire– This song was released the year before in German by the unknown (at that time) Falco, and it was the B-side a few years later on “Rock Me Amadeus”.  After the Fire released the song in English in 1983.  The song is still very popular today, and has been repeatedly sampled by Hip Hop artists.  Most notably it was the basis for MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” in the 90s.  When I hear it, I see myself looking down at the Frogger machine at the local skating rink as I was growing up.  You could count on hearing it about once an hour.

13.  “Modern Love”, David Bowie– This is easily my favorite David Bowie song.  The beginning of the song almost sounds like and Eagles’ song, until the keyboard and Bowie enter.  The song is upbeat, toe-tapping, and the sax part is nice.  The background singers really make the song.  If I had liked Bowie more at the time, this probably would have been one of my favorite songs of the 80s.

12.  “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All”, Air Supply  This song signaled the end of Air Supply’s run, but it was a great way to end it.  The beginning with just the keyboard is iconic, and the tenor’s voice seems to go into the stratosphere.  The song is still heard often today.

11.  “Tell Her About It”, Billy Joel– The bee-bop style with the horn back-up in this song is excellent.  Billy Joel proved again that he could sing almost any style with this song.  The Rodney Dangerfield appearance in the video is nice.

10.  “She Blinded Me With Science”, Thomas Dolby– This song features a great keyboard player providing some great keyboards.  You know the song in about two notes.  It is a little quirky with the weird old man screaming, “Science!”, but that chick in the video with the violin drawn on her back may have the best figure that I’ve ever seen.

9.  “Cuts Like a Knife”, Bryan Adams– I always liked the tone of Bryan Adams voice.  This sing one of the all-time great “na-na” songs, and is easy to sing along with.  I like it better than his other hit from that year, “Straight From the Heart.”

8.  “Maneater”, Daryl Hall and John Oates– You know this song in just a couple of notes.  The baseline with the echoing, whammy keyboard sound is memorable, but the sax makes the song.  This is one of my favorite Hall & Oates songs.  According to Hall, Kelly LeBrock was the inspiration for the song.  I remember those legs from Woman in Red, and I have to admit they inspired my 14 year old hormones quite a lot.  This is another Hall & Oates song that is sampled a lot by Hip Hop groups.  I chose it over “One on One” which also charted this year.

7.  “Billie Jean”, Michael Jackson– I really did not want to put any Michael Jackson songs on the list, what with all of the pedophilia and all, but I just had to include the greatness of Billy Jean.  Most people regard it as his best song, and it carries with it the complicated issue of teen pregnancy.  The bass line and percussion part are iconic.  The addition of an orchestra made the feel of the music much deeper and less disco, than it would have seemed without it.  The song garnered two Grammies for Jackson, and the video featured the stylistic dance style that because a hallmark of Jackson videos in the next few years.

6.  “Every Breath You Take”, The Police– This is one of the best of the Police songs.  It is a little more of a vocal feature for Sting, and a lot more mellow than some of their earlier releases.

5.  “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”, Bonnie Tyler– I love this song, and it is the rare true female power ballad.  The piano is the feature instrument with a memorable four note repetition.  The piano is great but not as great as Bonnie Tyler’s vocal.  She’s incredible, and the emotion that she conveys with her vocal is moving.  The background vocal is also an important part of the song.  It is interesting to note that the song was inspired Wuthering Heights.

4.  “Faithfully”, Journey– This is the second of the two great and enduring power ballads by Journey to make it onto the list.  You can find some of Steve Perry’s best vocals on this song.  I chose it over “Separate Ways” and “Send Her My Love” both of which are great songs.

3.  “Africa”, Toto– This is the second and last great song for this band of musical ringers.  The keyboard part carries the song.  The vocal has an ethereal quality until it hits the chorus, and then it soars.

2.  “Always Something There To Remind Me”, Naked Eyes  This song and the #1 song on this list from 1983 would probably make my top ten for the who decade. They both still get a lot of play, and you can hear them almost anywhere.  The four note keyboard part is iconic, and stays in your head.  In the end, this song is just cool, and is why chose it over their other great hit, “Promises Promises” from the same year.

1.  “Come On Eileen”, Dexy’s Midnight Runners  1983 presented us with several great one-hit-wonders, including the number one hit which I consider the greatest to be the best one-hit-wonders of the 80s.  This song exposed me to my own Irish musical heritage, eventually leading me to other music like Folk Like Us, The Chieftains, Lorenna McKennitt and even Enya.  I love the sound of an Irish fiddle, and this song definitely delivers.  I liked this song so much that I eventually bought an imported album called The Very Best of Dexy’s Midnight Runners.  What could go wrong?  I mean they claimed that this album contained the very best music that Dexy’s Midnight Runners had to offer.  After listening to all 25 songs (most of which were a whip), I realized that I knew two of them, period.  They were “Come On Eileen” and the live version of “Come On Eileen”.

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 1984

 Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1985

 Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1986

 Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1987