The Boston Globe recently started a feature called “Throwback Thursday.” It was such a fun idea that I’ve decided to steal it. Thank you, BG!
Throwback Thursday: 80s Pop—My Lucky 13
Musically, the 80s was an incredibly rich decade. Choosing thirteen favorite pop songs (I had originally planned to name 10) was impossibly hard. This list, I know, is woefully incomplete, missing so many great songs. An expanded list of 80s faves would have included music from Marvin Gaye, Simply Red, Clash, 10,000 Maniacs, Sinéad O’Connor, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the B-52s, Elvis Costello, Elton John, and many others, but I had to stop somewhere.
These thirteen songs stand out in memory either for their unforgettable sound or because of I’ve retained a strong emotional connection. A few—Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing,” John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels,” and Robbie Robertson’s “Fallen Angel”—might not have made the final cut, but my admiration for the artist and love for their body of work made them impossible to omit.
Do you like 80s music? If so, what are some of your favorite songs?
Van Morrison, “Have I Told You Lately” Avalon, 1989
Dave used to sing these lyrics to me and still often says, “Have I told you lately”—a code for I love you. How could this not be my #1 favorite 80s song?
Queen “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” The Game, 1980
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is a song by the rock band Queen. Written by Freddie Mercury in 1979, the track is featured on their 1980 album The Game, and also appears on the band’s compilation album, Greatest Hits. The song peaked at number two in the UK Singles Chart in 1979, and hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. on 23 February 1980, remaining there for four consecutive weeks. It topped the Australian ARIA Charts for seven weeks.
My favorite Queen ballad, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” was released in the 70s, but I love Queen so much that I had to include one of their songs—not to take anything away from “Crazy Little Thing.” Queen was a hit-making machine and Freddie Mercury, with his powerful four-octave range, could make “Mary Little Lamb” sound amazing – sorry, Adam Lambert; you’re terrific, but you’re no Freddie Mercury.
U2, “New Year’s Day,” War. 1983
“New Year’s Day” is a song by rock band U2. It is on their 1983 album War and it was released as the album’s lead single in January 1983. Written about the Polish Solidarity movement, “New Year’s Day” was the band’s first UK hit single, peaking at #10 on the singles chart, #11 on the Dutch Top 40 and charting on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States for the first time in their career.
My favorite U2 albums, War, Unforgettable Fire, and Joshua Tree, were released in the 80s, with so many amazing songs—”With or Without You,” “The Streets Have No Name,” “I still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Pride,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday”—that it was hard to choose one. The inspirational lyrics and driving instrumental arrangement, for me, make “New Year’s Day” haunting and unforgettable.
Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car,” Tracy Chapman, 1988
“Fast Car” is a single by American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman. It was released in April 1988 from her self-titled debut album. Her appearance on the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute was the catalyst for the song’s becoming a top 10 hit in the US, peaking at number 6 on the Hot 100, and a top 10 hit the UK, peaking at number 4 on the charts there.
This song is so poignant and elegant. Like “My Hometown,” it feels like a quintessentially American narrative, about a young person’s hopes and dreams dashed by the cycle of poverty.
Bruce Springsteen, “My Hometown,” Born In the U.S.A., 1985
My favorite Springsteen album, Born to Run, was released in 1975. Born in the U.S.A., though not, to my mind, Springsteen’s best, is a quintessentially American album. “My Hometown,” with its themes of economic strife and racial tension continues to resonate, even today.
The Police, “Every Breath You Take,” Synchronicity, 1983
“Every Breath You Take” is a song by The Police on the band’s 1983 album Synchronicity, written by Sting. The single entered the charts at position 36 on 4 June 1983. The single was one of the biggest hits of 1983, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks and the UK Singles Chart for four weeks. It also topped the Billboard Top Tracks chart for nine weeks.
At the 26th Annual Grammy Awards the song was nominated for three Grammy Awards including Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
It’s a little embarrassing to list this song because it’s so creepy. But it’s one of those seductive pop songs that draw you in. When it comes on, your ears prick up, and you can’t help but sing along.
John Lennon, “Watching the Wheels,” Double Fantasy, 1980
“Watching the Wheels” is a single by John Lennon released posthumously in 1981 after his murder. It was the third and final single released from Lennon and Ono’s album Double Fantasy, and reached number 10 and number 7 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100 and Cashbox Top 100, respectively. It also peaked at number 30 in the UK.
“I’m no longer on the merry-go-round,” Lennon sings. So many of us want to get off the merry-go-round, yet don’t, whether or not we have the resources. Lennon’s fans had trouble understanding why he pulled back, but in retrospect I think a lot of us see the bravery in his stance—saying I’m done, I want to watch the wheels go round. I remember the day Lennon died, walking around the house in a daze as if he were someone I actually knew. I’d grown up listening to the Beatles, so emotionally he was part of my life. This song, for me, has added poignancy, as Double Fantasy was Lennon’s final studio album.
R.E.M, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” Document, 1987
“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” which appeared on R.E.M.’s 1987 album Document, the 1988 compilation Eponymous, and the 2006 compilation And I Feel Fine… The Best of the I.R.S Years 1982–1987. It was released as a single in November 1987, reaching No. 69 US Billboard Hot 100 and later reaching No. 39 in the UK singles chart on its re-release in December 1991.
The frenetic stream-of-consciousness lyrics and driving instrumentals stand out in my mind.
Weather Girls, “It’s Raining Men,” Success, 1982
“It’s Raining Men” was recorded by The Weather Girls in 1982. The song had been offered to Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Cher, and Barbra Streisand before being accepted by Martha Wash and Izora Armstead of The Weather Girls, with their version becoming an international hit, selling over 6 million copies worldwide.
I taught aerobics for five years in the late eighties. When I wanted to inspire, “It’s Raining Men” was one of my go-to songs. It’s one of the most fun, upbeat, danceable songs I’ve ever heard.
Cindy Lauper, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” She’s So Unusual, 1983
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was the first major single released by Lauper as a solo artist and the lead-off single from her debut album She’s So Unusual. The single was Lauper’s breakthrough hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming a worldwide hit throughout late 1983 and early 1984. It remains one of Lauper’s signature songs and was a widely popular song during the era of its release, the 1980s. The “Rolling Stone & MTV: ‘100 Greatest Pop Songs’: 1-50″, “Rolling Stone: “The 100 Top Music Videos”” and the “VH1: 100 Greatest Videos” lists ranked the song at #22, #39 and #45, respectively. The song received a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Musically, from She’s So Unusual I prefer “Time After Time,” but my daughters used to prance around the house, singing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Every time I hear this song I see my four little girls, dancing, and I fall in love all over again.
Robbie Robertson, “Fallen Angel” Robbie Robertson, 1987
“Fallen Angel” is lyrically about Robertson’s former bandmate Richard Manuel, who took his own life in 1986. Peter Gabriel sings with Robertson on this track.
Robbie Robertson is one of my favorite male musicians of all time. I love the melancholic Biblical tone, the haunting lyrics, and Native American influences in “Fallen Angel.”
Michael Jackson “Beat It” Thriller, 1982
Produced by Quincy Jones (co-produced by Michael Jackson), the third single from Jackson’s sixth solo album, Thriller (1982, the best-selling album of all time), with a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen. “Beat It” received the Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, as well as two American Music Awards.
For me, this song is bittersweet. Thoughts of the song, or the album, Thriller, inevitably call to mind Michael Jackson’s tragic trajectory, from young, sexy pop idol to broken man. On the sweet side of bittersweet, this song reminds me of my kids, dancing around the house, singing, “Beat it, beat it, beat it.” And I can’t help but smile.
Kim Carnes, “Bette Davis Eyes,” Mistaken Identity 1981
“Bette Davis Eyes” spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was Billboard‘s biggest hit of the entire year for 1981. The recording won the 1982 Grammy Awards for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
I love this song because it brings Bette Davis and classic movies to mind, but mostly because it’s immensely sing-able and just plain fun.
What are your Throwback Thursday 80s music memories?