Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1985

20.  “Careless Whisper”, Wham!– My gay-dar was working well by the time the George Michael led group came along.  This probably explains why I did not care for them too much.  However, I’ll have to admit that they had some huge hits in the mid 80s containing very catchy tunes.  The problem with Wham was that their bubbly style made them seem like a male version of the Go-Gos, and that is not a good thing.  That is why I ended up choosing “Careless Whisper” with its ballad style over their bigger hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.”

19.  “Saving All My Love For You”, Whitney Houston– I tend to react negatively to hype, and Whitney got a lot of it when her voice blasted onto the scene, but even back then I could not deny that she was a great singer.  Her songs are not easy to sing along with, for the most part, because they are all a showcase for her incredible vocals.  I chose “Saving All My Love For You” over “You Give Good Love”, but they both are about the same.

18.  “Separate Lives”, Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin– This is easily one of the best duets of the 80s.  Her voice and style of singing hold up well with his as they trade off throughout the song.  It reached #1 in the Billboard Top 100, and was featured on the soundtrack to the great date movie, White Nights.

17.  “One More Night”, Phil Collins– As I did in 1984, I will treat the duet above as a group performance, and include another song by Phil Collins as a result.  “One More Night” was one of four songs that charted off Collins’ great album, No Jacket Required.  I had the album, and like most of the albums that I really liked in that era, I wore it out.  I would know any song off of it if I heard it today, and there are some that did not even chart that I liked a lot such as “Long, Long Way to Go” that featured Sting singing the backup vocals.

16.  “We Belong”, Pat Benatar– This was always my favorite Pat Benatar song.  It was a departure from her earlier ‘rocker-girl’ music and it featured a nice melody and vocal.  I’m not sure if it is a guitar or a keyboard at the beginning of the song but in any case, it is iconic, and I immediately knew the song when heard it at the end of Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby.  That scene where Sacha Baron Cohen is chasing Will Ferrell down the track is classic, and I will probably always associate this song with it in the future.

15.  “We Are The World”, U.S.A. For Africa– Anyone that was young during this era knows this song.  It was a great song, and it was great to see that many of the most popular singers in the world at that time could get together for a good cause.  If this were done today, it would undoubtedly feature Bono, which ever 80s or 90s groups were coming out with a new album, recent groups whose popularity is waning (see Britney Spears), the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and all the failed American Idol winners and finalists.  But, the original truly pulled in the powerhouses of pop music at the time.  Solos included: Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Kim Carnes, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, Daryl Hall, Steve Perry, Kenny Loggins, Bruce Springsteen, Al Jarreau, and James Ingram.  Other artists included: Randy Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Harry Belafonte, Tito Jackson, JaToya Jackson, The Pointer Sisters, Lindsey Buckingham, Jackie Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Jeffery Osborne, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Bette Midler, John Oates and Dan Aykroyd (odd).  Awesome.  And, it could never be done today.  What, no Bono?

14.  “The Search Is Over”, Survivor– This song continued Survivor’s string of great power ballads.  The lead vocals have a nice tone to them, and the song is easy to sing along with.  I chose it over “I Can’t Hold Back” from the same year.

13.  “Lay Your Hands On Me”, Thompson Twins– I love the whole tone to the vocals on this song, and the choral part is even better.  This song was released on their Here’s To the Future album which was the 6th album released in five years for the prolific androgynous British band.

12.  “What About Love”, Heart– Heart burst on the pop scene in 1985 with the release of their debut album, Heart.  It was a smash hit for sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, as was their first of many hits, “What About Love.”  The band led by Ann Wison’s strong vocals was one of the dominant groups in pop music for the next few years, and was easily the biggest girl band of the decade.  Routinely, their songs are attempted by contestants on American Idol, and just as routinely, those contestants are roundly criticized because their vocals are not near as good or as strong as Ann Wilson’s vocals.

11.  “Things Can Only Get Better”, Howard Jones– Howard Jones is a great keyboardist, and I love his vocals.  All of his melodies pop, and are easy to sing along with.  I would recommend his The Best of Howard Jones from 1993 to anyone.  The backup singers, made up of the members of the female backup group, Afrodiziak (genius) sound great and help to make the song.

10.  “Money For Nothing”, Dire Straits– This is one of the iconic songs of the 80s.  It would be one of the best one-hit-wonders if the band had not had another hit, but their success never again approached the popularity of this song.  It, of course, begins with Sting’s unmistakable falsetto vocals ethereally asking for his MTV with a keyboard appropriately setting the eerie mood.  Then, the guitar bangs in with the very recognizable riff that continues throughout the song, and it takes off as a tribute to the easily attained fame and riches to be found in the music industry.  The vocals, described by lead singer Mark Knopfler as Sprechstimme, are by definition, vocals that fall somewhere between speaking and singing.  There was some controversy at the time involving the lines containing the words “chimpanzee” and “faggot”, and there were accusations of sexism, racism and homophobia leveled against the band which they denied.  The video filled with cool animation was groundbreaking for MTV, and it was one of their most played that year.

9.  “The Power Of Love”, Huey Lewis and The News– This and “Back in Time” were both featured in the 80s hit movie Back to the Future.  “The Power of Love” has all the qualities of a great Huey Lewis song, strong vocals, big band sound, and a bopping 50s-like rock and roll beat.  I remember seeing Huey Lewis in concert in the 80s.  It was one of the best that I ever saw.  He had the Tower Of Power horn section with him, and at one point, every person with the stage crew, the band and the horn section were on stage at the same time singing and dancing to their doo-wop sound with leather jackets on.

8.  “Material Girl”, Madonna– I chose “Material Girl” over “Crazy For You” and “Live To Tell” because it is the song that I think of when I think of Madonna.  The video with her playing the part of Marilyn Monroe from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was great.  She looked sexier to me with her clothes on in this video than she did in later videos when she took them off.  Her voice has a good, if squeaky, tone to it that matches the Monroe’s vibe.

7.  “Heaven”, Bryan Adams– This and “Cuts Like a Knife” are my two favorite Bryan Adams’ songs.  I liked this song a lot because I could sing it, and it was a cool power ballad.  It still gets a lot of play, and can be heard every season on American Idol.

6.  “You’re The Inspiration”, Chicago– This is probably the most popular song Chicago ever recorded (and that is a lot of songs), but it is not my personal favorite- that would be “Love Me Tomorrow”– or even my favorite from Chicago 17– that would be the unreleased “Remember the Feeling.”  However, that does not mean it is not a great song.  Peter Certera proved, once and for all, that Bill Champlin should be a backup singer for the group with this song.  Certera left the band shortly thereafter.

5.  “Head Over Heels”, Tears For Fears– This was another great hit for the semi-androgynous British pop band.  The key board part that sounds like falling rain as it repeatedly moves down the scale let’s you know what song you are listening to from the beginning.  The lead vocals are very clean, and the backup falsetto vocals match nicely on the verses and chorus.  I chose this song over their bigger hit “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” because I like it better, but they are both great songs.

4.  “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, Simple Minds– What a youth rebellion anthem!  I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than this.  Every child of the 80s reading this sees Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club walking away with his fist (for some reason) in the air in a defiant statement that said, “You might burn me with cigarettes, but I’m still too cool even for myself!”  The song is cool too.  It was the class song for thousands of senior classes that year (pretty much all of the classes that were not gay enough to choose “Friends” as their class song).

3.  “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, REO Speedwagon– Have you ever had a friend who you could not stand to be around when he was with his girlfriend?  When I was in college my roommate was going out with my girlfriend’s roommate (We both eventually married these ladies- I asked mine out first.  He married his first).  There was really no avoiding being around them quite a bit.  The problem was, for instance, at night as I would be watching television in our living room, he would be on the phone with her calling her pet names likes ‘Snoogums” and such.  They would get to the end of he conversation, and then would come the ‘I love you’, ‘no, I love you more’ session (five minutes minimum), and then the ‘hang up’, ‘no, you hang up’ session which rarely ended before I was contemplating ending my own life.

Then there was being with them.  You were never really with them.  They were with each other in their own little world getting as close as the clothes on them would allow, and calling each other pet names in sweet high pitched voices totally oblivious of the fact that every around them was visibly ill.  I swear.  I had to eventually sit my roommate down and explain the concept of ‘too cute’ to him.

All during this time, “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was their song.  He played it all the time.  She played it all the time.  They played it all the time.

I think it says a lot about the greatness of this song that through all of that, I still liked it.  And, here it is at #3 on my 1985 list.  It’s probably better than that even, but I hold a long grudge.

2.  “Take On Me”, A-Ha– This song is another of the great one-hit-wonder songs of the 80s.  The Norwegian pop band A-Ha, fronted by Morten Harket, used this song to feature his soaring vocals that hit before-unseen heights for a male voice in popular music.  It also has a signature keyboard part that makes the song instantly recognizable.  The video for this song was one of the most popular of the 80s featuring a sappy love story between a guy in a comic and a girl.  What made it special was its use of animation and real-life video in the same frames bringing the comic book characters to life, then having them interact with the real-life characters almost seamlessly.  The girl is very cute also.

1.  “I Want To Know What Love Is”, Foreigner– What a great song.  This may be the best power ballad of all time.  The vocals are great, and adding the gospel choir brought it to a whole new level.  The keyboard, as with most good power ballads, is great also.

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 1986

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1987

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Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1984

1984 continues the run of great hits that came with the middle of the 1980s.  I had real problems narrowing the list down to 20 for this year.  As a result, from thus point, at least through 1986, I will give a list of songs that almost made the cut at the end.

20.  “Uptown Girl”, Billy Joel– This song was one of the many hits off his Innocent Man album.  It continues the be-bop style that was found in “Tell Her About It”.  The video featured his then wife Christy Brinkley looking very nice, and Joel as a mechanic.  It’s a fun song, and I chose it over his other hit from that year, “An Innocent Man”.

19.  “Say Say Say”, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson– This is the third duet featuring McCartney to chart in a two year period, and the second for the team of Jackson and McCartney.  The other Jackson/McCartney song was “The Girl Is Mine”, and the third duet was the Stevie Wonder/McCartney hit “Ebony and Ivory”.  “Say Say Say” is a fun song, and it stayed in Billboard’s #1 slot for six weeks which was impressive considering the other great music that was out that year.

18.  “Here Comes The Rain Again”, Eurythmics– This is the second song from the Annie Lennox led band to make one of my lists.  It carries on many of the qualities of their earlier hit, “Sweet Dreams” including great vocals, keyboards , and a prominent use of stringed instruments (not just guitars).  Lennox’s voice has a smoky affectedness to it that makes it interesting to listen to.

17.  “I Can Dream About You”, Dan Hartman– This is definitely a one-hit-wonder from a guy I could not have named if you had paid me, but I could easily sing the song a the way through though.  It has a very catchy melody that moves along briskly and is easy to follow.

16.  “Easy Lover”, Phillip Bailey duet with Phil Collins– This is one of my top three duets of the 1980s.  The two Phils’ voices sound great together.  Collins is great as usual, and Bailey shows that he really has some pipes and range when he takes over for his verses.  For those who do not know, Phillip Bailey sang with Earth Wind and Fire before he teamed up with Collins.  He later had a solo career in Christian Contemporary Music, and finally rejoined his old band, re-billed as Phillip Bailey and Earth Wind and Fire to continue releasing music on the Christian charts.

15.  “Sister Christian”, Night Ranger– This was a great Power Ballad by a one-hit-wonder band, and recounts the coming of age of a young woman.  In the video, the band is stereotypically 80s from the hair to the dress.  The song is a very good representation of a power ballad sung by a ‘hard rock group.  It begins with a nice, soft keyboard and vocal, but by the chorus has developed into a full-fledged power ballad.

14.  “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, The Police– This is one of my favorite Police songs.  It has a subdued sultry tone that at times seems almost haunting.  The main instrument in the verses in the chime, and it sounds great as a punctuator for Stings voice.  The melody is easy to sing and memorable, and video looks great with the candles everywhere in a sort of maze.

13.  “Hold Me Now”, Thompson Twins– This is a very nice, easy to sing song by one of the many semi-androgynous British New Wave bands of the 80s.

12.  “Oh Sherrie”, Steve Perry– Steve Perry finally decided that the best way to showcase his great vocal ability was to dump his band, and in 1983 he released his first solo hit, “Oh Sherrie”.  It is a great song that begins with him belting out the first line a cappella.  The background vocals are also nice on this song.

11. “Legs”, ZZ Top– This was the biggest in a strong if hits by the iconic and very hairy guitar band.  Even their guitars were hairy, but ZZ Top was just cool.  I remember the video with that super-hot girl in it.  Nice.  I went to their Eliminator tour, and saw them on the fourth night of four sold out shows at reunion arena in Dallas.  It was great, even though they played a lot of old stuff I had never heard before.  The stage was the dashboard of the car from the video, and halfway through the show it morphed into the control panel for the space shuttle.  This concert was my first exposure to large groups of people smoking pot.

10.  “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”, U2– I have a confession.  I did not like U2 in high school.  I don’t even know why.  As a result, I do not know a lot of their stuff, but as the years have gone by, I have been confronted with the undeniable truth that they recorded some of the great songs of the 80s.  Today, I have a reason not to like them (I don’t see eye to eye with all of Bono’s politics), but I realize that songs like “Pride” are great, and deserve to be in any 80s list.

9.  “Like a Virgin”, Madonna– Madonna made my high school pants go crazy.  Her music before this “Lucky Star” and “Borderline” had a lot more of a be-bop quality.  “Like a Virgin” had a different quality, sexuality, and it worked.  Her slightly nasal voice fit in well with her new attitude.  I still remember her singing this on the VMAs while wearing a hot wedding dress.  Nice.

8.  “Shout”, Tears for Fears– This was the first mega hit for the British pop band.  It has a driving beat that I can still hear as a ‘Boom, Boom, Boom” of the rim-shots in my head as I think about this song.  It is right in a teenager’s wheelhouse with its angst-ridden lyrics that are all about expressing your rage at that age.  Oddly, the angry lyrics and beat are backed up by a very nice vocal, especially in the verses.

7.  “Drive”, Cars– The slow cool sound of this song is a departure from the normally quirky, syncopated style that the band normally put forth.  It showcased Rick Ocasek’s unique vocals, and tackles the unusual subject, for a pop song, of drug abuse.  I chose it over “You Might Think”, which is undeniably a more traditional Cars’ song, simply because I like it better.

6.  “Hard Habit To Break”, Chicago This was the second release (the first being, “Stay the Night”) from the mega-album, Chicago 17.  It featured dual vocals from Bill Champlin and the rising star, Peter Certera.  This song recaptured the more traditional Chicago big-band sound with a great horn part in the middle while retaining their new Power Ballad style that was seen on Chicago 16.

5.  “If This Is It”, Huey Lewis and The News  This was the hardest choice that I have had to make between two songs by the same band in the same year on these lists up to this point.  In the end, I chose “If This is It” over “The Heart Of Rock ‘N’ Roll” because I like to do-wap sound in the first one better than the “Rock Around the Clock” style of the second one (though as I write this, it does not sound like a very good reason).  They are both great songs, and Lewis shows his versatility by being able to sing the ballad or the rock song very well.  In the end, I’ll just flip a coin.  Heads it is, and I still choose “If This is It.”

4. “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, Yes– Guitar is the star instrument in this progressive rock anthem by the British band, Yes, from the distorted guitar at the beginning to the long guitar solo in the middle of the song.  The vocals, provided by lead singer Jon Anderson have an almost hard rock quality which would have worked with a band such as Poison, Metallica or Def Leppard.  The back-up vocal, provided by Trevor Horn, who wrote the song, provides the familiar refrain “Owner of a Lonely Heart!” in the song.  The whole tone to his vocals is a nice contrast to the rocker sound of Anderson.  The video for this song is a surreal journey into the mind of a crazy person, and could have been a predecessor for the Fear Factor show.

3.  “Time After Time”, Cyndi Lauper– Lauper’s persona at the time was a big turn-off to me, but I’ll have to admit, she could write and sing a song very well when she really wanted to.  I still like this song today, and am pleased when I hear it on the radio or in a restaurant.  It gets tons of play, and is often heard in the score of a movie.  It has been covered on about 50 albums including artists such as Willie Nelson and Christian artist Phil Keaggy.  The most memorable appearances in movies include Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and Napoleon Dynamite.  It was easy for me to choose this song over her other 1984 whip of a hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

2.  “Hello”, Lionel Richie– After making his mark with the Commodores’ “Three Times a Lady,” and “Still,” and again later with his smash duet with Diana Ross, “Endless Love,”  Richie released his first solo album in 1982 which included the hit, “Truly,” but was otherwise unremarkable.  In 1983, he released his super-album, Can’t Slow Down from which six of the eight songs were released and did well.  The best of these songs was unquestionably “Hello.”  It’s a beautiful love song, and the video featuring Richie who is in love with a blind woman is very memorable. 

I went to see Lionel Richie in concert when I was in high school.  It was a good show with Sheila E. singing in her underwear (hot!), and a superior technical performance when Richie took the stage.  Back then, you had to buy a T-shirt every time you went to a concert, and I bought one that was black with a big Lionel Richie face on it in some puffy raised-up synthetic paint (so gay).  I remember wearing it to Sunday night church (Sunday night was less formal in our church of about 800 regulars).  At the end of the service, I was standing there talking with my buddies when the preacher walked up to me, and tapped me on the back.  “I was just wondering who the black guy was that was staring at me the whole time I was preaching.”  I’m sure I turned red, and I was never quite sure if it was the fact that I wore a concert T-shirt to church that he did not like or the fact that there was a black man on it that he did not like.  In any case, I did not wear that shirt to church again.

1.  “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)”, Phil Collins– I know I am fudging on one of my rules by having “Easy Lover” at #16, and this at number one, but I chose to look at the duet as a different group in this case, much like I would not have a problem putting a Genesis and a Phil Collins song on the same list.  This is one of the most soulful love songs (or ‘my heart has been ripped out’ songs) that you are ever going to hear.  It’s perfect.  The piano part is memorable, and the vocal is great.  I would love to sing along with it, but I can’t make my voice do the kinds of things that Collins can.  This is another song that came on the heals of Collins’ messy divorce, and his pain is evident in the lyrics and vocal.  The song was released as the title song of a movie starring Jeff Bridges and James Wood which was a remake of an old Robert Mitchum movie called Out of the Past.

 

Here is a list of songs I liked that did not make it onto the list in 1984:

“The Warrior”, Scandal

“Almost Paradise”, Mike Reno and Ann Wilson

“Say It Isn’t So”, Daryl Hall and John Oates

“I Just Called To Say I Love You”, Stevie Wonder

“Cruel Summer”, Bananarama

“Missing You”, John Waite

“On The Dark Side”, John Cafferty and The Beaver Brown Band

“Footloose”, Kenny Loggins

“One Night In Bangkok”, Murray Head

“Joanna”, Kool & The Gang

“God Bless the USA”, Lee Greenwood

“Jump”, Van Halen

“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, Wham!

 

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 1985

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1986

Top 20 Pop/Rock Songs from 1987