Every No. 1 song of the 1980s ranked

Every No. 1 song of the 1980s ranked from worst to best
By Troy L. Smith
Posted May 13, 2021

Bette Midler
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Ranking the chart-toppers of the 1980s.

1980 music
Ranking the chart-toppers of the 1980s.

By Troy L. Smith, Cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The 1980s were a strange and glorious time in popular music. Compared to the 1970s, pop music became what rock and roll was – a larger-than-life stadium genre that ruled over popular culture.

Compared to the 1990s (and our list ranking every No. 1 of that decade), the 1980s produced more anomalies in the form of chart-toppers that were focused on charitable causes, attached to movies and TV shows, and sometimes went on to become pop-culture punchlines in the decades that followed.

Looking at the 231 songs that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the 1980s, some things make sense like Michael Jackson leading the way with nine No. 1?s. Other things are mind-boggling, like Olivia Newton-John having the biggest hit of the decade or Richard Marx and Billy Ocean (Everyone under the age of 35 screams “Who!?”) becoming prolific hitmakers.

This list is not based on how many weeks each song spent at No. 1. The goal was to rank these hits based on quality, initial popularity, lasting popularity, influence and overall cultural significance.

Some of the best songs of the 1980s remain timeless while others seemed trapped in a decade that was louder and more colorful than anything we’ve seen

We Are the World
Columbia Records

231. USA for Africa – “We Are the World”

Date: April 13, 1985

Weeks on top: 4

“We Are the World” is a song that features the biggest music stars in the world (minus a few wise ones like Prince) each delivering some of the worst vocals of their respective careers (Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Cyndi Lauper’s performances, in particular, are beyond cringeworthy). “We Are the World” raised more than $63 million for Africa, which is an amazing accomplishment. But the fact this mess features the smartest music minds of the 1980s and no one in the room realized how horrible of a song it was is troubling.

230. Starship – “We Built This City”

Date: Nov. 16, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

If there’s ever been a thesis paper written on “We Built This City,” I would love to read it. I don’t know how anyone has ever been able to listen to the entire thing all the way through.

229. Milli Vanilli – “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You”

Date: Sept. 23, 1989

Weeks on top: 2

There are several songs on this list that should never have been a No. 1 hit. But Milli Vanilli’s “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” – with instrumentation a pre-teen could slap together on Garage Band – should never have been a song.

228. Michael Damian – “Rock On”

Date: June 3, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

A masterclass in how you bastardize a really good song. David Essex’s original “Rock On” oozes with cool. Michael Damian’s version? Not so much.

227. Gregory Abbott – “Shake You Down”

Date: Jan. 17, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

Nothing more than cheap (and terrible) knock off of “Sexual Healing.”

226. Will to Power – “Baby, I Love Your Way / Freebird Medley (Free Baby)”

Date: Dec. 3, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

I don’t completely despise Will to Power’s cover of “Baby, I Love Your Way.” But that wasn’t good enough for the Florida dance-pop act, Will to Power (which is an awful name) had to include “Freebird” in its medley, which should constitute a criminal act for just how much it doesn’t work.

225. New Kids on the Block – “Hangin’ Tough”

Date: Sept. 9, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

Rule to live by: If you have to say you’re rough and tough in a song, you most certainly aren’t either of those things.

224. Bobby McFerrin – “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

Date: Sept. 24, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

This is less a song and more a corny pep talk you never asked for…with annoying whistling.

223. Richard Marx – “Hold On to the Nights”

Date: July 23, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

If you were to pour the most unremarkable aspects of 1980s ballads – slow playing piano, below average vocals, terrible guitar playing, etc. – into one song, it would become Richard Marx’s “Hold On to the Nights.”

Debbie Gibson
Atlantic Records

222. Debbie Gibson – “Foolish Beat”

Date: June 25, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

This may sound weird to people who were teens in the late 1980s. But I have a hard time figuring out why Debbie Gibson was as big as she was. She’s not a great singer. And, while her upbeat songs had a slight whimsy to them, her ballads were atrocious. You could compare her to Britney Spears if you want. But Spears had the benefit of Auto-Tune and Max Martin. To her credit (or detriment), Gibson produced the horror that is “Foolish Beat” herself, making her the youngest person to ever write, produce and perform a No. 1 single. That’s quite an achievement even if the song is an abomination.

221. Steve Miller Band – “Abracadabra”

Date: Sept. 4, 1982

Weeks on top: 2

Steve Miller scored several huge hits in the 1970s, earning him some goodwill heading into the 1980s. Unfortunately, “Abracadabra” is the song that cashed in on it. It can’t make up its mind if it’s rock (Is that a guitar solo?), funk or some low-rent form of new wave.

220. Milli Vanilli – “Baby Don’t Forget My Number”

Date: July 8, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

Is this a Milli Vanilli rap song? It’s as if someone realized this was a bad idea about halfway through “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” and tried to morph it into a dance-pop song. That doesn’t work either.

219. Air Supply – “The One That You Love”

Date: July 25, 1981

Weeks on top: 1

I can’t listen to this without thinking of the “Not my tempo” scene in “Whiplash.” The film has nothing to do with Air Supply’s hit (Thank God!). But J.K. Simmons hurling a chair at a student’s head because the tempo of the song he’s playing is all wrong sums up how “The One That You Love” should make anyone feel.

218. Starship – “Sara”

Date: March 15, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

Starship’s “We Built This City” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” often make the list of the worst songs of all time. But there’s clearly something about those songs that linger in our brains. What makes “Sara” much worse is just how forgettable it is.

217. Christopher Cross – “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”

Date: Oct. 17, 1981

Weeks on top: 3

“If you get caught between the Moon and New York City/The best that you can do, The best that you can do is fall in love.” Someone give this guy a hug (or a soft slap in the face)

216. Chicago – “Look Away”

Date: Dec. 10, 1988

Weeks on top: 3

Whether you love or hate Chicago’s 1980s soft-rock output, there’s a big difference between the songs featuring Peter Cetera as the lead singer and the ones featuring Bill Champlin. There’s an emotional surge to Cetera’s voice that makes songs like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “You’re the Inspiration” at least somewhat tolerable. Champlin’s voice, on the other hand, is so non-distinct you can barely remember it’s a Chicago song.

215. Sheriff – “When I’m with You”

Date: Feb. 4, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

The opening to Sheriff’s “When I’m with You” isn’t terrible. In fact, there are a few seconds where you hold out hope that someone like Whitney Houston is about to sing. Then Freddy Curci’s vocals come on. The entire backstory of “When I’m with You” is the stuff of a bad rom-com. Keyboardist Arnold Lanni wrote it after falling in love with his future wife. He didn’t have anything to give her so he wrote her a song. The reason Lanni didn’t have anything to give her was that he was broke and in a band that wasn’t any good.https://4ef5d5294a8aab30a14e2ff7e6734986.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

214. Captain & Tennille – “Do That to Me One More Time”

Date: Feb. 16, 1980

Weeks on top: 1

The least sexy song about sex ever created.

Rock Me Amadeus

213. Falco – “Rock Me Amadeus”

Date: March 29, 1986

Weeks on top: 3

In the mid-1980s especially, there was there were certain songs that were so peculiar they were mistaken being excellent. They were so bad they were good. Only, that’s not how that works. “Rock Me Amadeus” is an awful song that some mistook for genius. If it were released today, it might fall more in line with “Gangnam Style.” I can’t tell you why anyone liked that song. Nor can I tell you why “Rock Me Amadeus” made it to No. 1…only the Eighties.

212. Fine Young Cannibals – “She Drives Me Crazy”

Date: April 15, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

I get it now. “She Drives Me Crazy” is a twisted revenge song. Fine Young Cannibal’s signature hit is about a woman driving the narrator crazy. In response, listeners are gifted with one of the most grating songs to ever top the charts. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

211. Peter Cetera and Amy Grant – “The Next Time I Fall”

Date: Dec. 6, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

Two capable singers (Cetera and Grant) and two good songwriters (Bobby Caldwell and Paul Gordon). You would think “The Next Time I Fall” would be at least on par with the other ballads Cetera sang in the 1980s. But the former Chicago frontman singing “Ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo” just doesn’t do it for anyone.

210. Billy Joel – “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

Date: Dec. 9, 1989

Weeks on top: 2

Billy Joel is one of the great live performers of all time. So, it’s telling that the only time “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was tolerable even in a live setting was when it was sung by Dwight on “The Office.”

209. Mike + The Mechanics – “The Living Years”

Date: March 25, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

This song is about Mike Rutherford’s regret over a feud he had with his now-deceased father is so overdone with its ridiculous choir chorus, it makes me laugh uncontrollably. I’m going to hell.

208. Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes – “Up Where We Belong”

Date: Nov. 6, 1982

Weeks on top: 3

Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’ “Up Where We Belong” is so awful that the people at Paramount Pictures nearly pulled it from the soundtrack to “An Officer and a Gentleman” upon hearing it. Even radio stations sent the song back to the record label thinking it was a joke. And yet, here we are today and “Up Where We Belong” remains one of the biggest movie soundtrack songs of all time; an underdog story just like Richard Gere’s Zack Mayo.

207. Billy Ocean – “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car”

Date: April 9, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

The beginning of Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car” will haunt you. The sounds of a man panting and shouting at a woman, demanding she get in his car just feels wrong on so many levels.

Beach Boys Kokomo

206. The Beach Boys – “Kokomo”

Date: Nov. 5, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

“Kokomo” is one of the most famous songs from the 1980s for the simple fact that it’s a No. 1 hit from one of the 10 greatest music acts in history. And it’s not that bad of a song (at least from a singing standpoint). However, what it represents is troubling. “Kokomo” embodies Mike Love’s willingness to destroy the sophistication of the Beach Boys’ legacy. Or maybe it’s just him wanting to stick it to Brian Wilson. Sure, the Beach Boys began as a surf-rock act. But “Kokomo” is not a surf song. It’s a soft rock tune that was used in the horrible Tom Cruise movie “Cocktail.” Supposedly, Love and his group mates didn’t even invite Wilson to the recording sessions for “Kokomo,” which may be the greatest thing that ever happened to him.

205. Olivia Newton-John – “Magic”

Date: Aug. 2, 1980

Weeks on top: 4

The off-kilter guitars and synthesizers on “Magic” are enough to make your entire body cringe. It certainly adds to the oddity that was “Xanadu,” the soundtrack it’s featured on. “Magic” is quite the endurance test, driven by a disco sound that wants to be soft-rock in all the wrong ways imaginable.

204. The Escape Club – “Wild, Wild West”

Date: Nov. 12, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

No this isn’t the Will Smith abomination from 1999. It may actually be worse. Escape Club thought using gunshots and laser sounds with the phrase “heading for the Nineties” was forward-thinking. Guess again.

203. Bon Jovi – “Bad Medicine”

Date: Nov. 19, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

The moment where Bon Jovi never lowered itself to the glam metal doldrums of songs like “Cherry Pie” and “Girls, Girls Girls.”

202. Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder – “Ebony and Ivory”

Date: May 15, 1982

Weeks on top: 7

The boring “Ebony and Ivory” was No. 1 for seven weeks. Seven weeks! I suppose that’s not shocking considering it was 1982 and Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were two of the biggest stars of the 1970s. The song’s theme of racial harmony is admirable. But using the black and white keys on a piano as a metaphor is…um…Yeah, no.

201. Peter Cetera – “Glory of Love”

Date: Aug. 2, 1986

Weeks on top: 2

Peter Cetera might have been the 1980s pop star who was least aware of his surroundings. Upon leaving Chicago, Cetera didn’t reinvent himself. He simply kept making the same kind of bloated soft rock Chicago had become known for, only worse. “Glory of Love,” from “The Karate Kid Part II” soundtrack,” is relentless in its empty expression. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re in love. It makes you feel like you’re being forced to swallow a giant placebo that tastes like seaweed.

Rick Astley

200. Rick Astley – “Never Gonna Give You Up”

Date: March 12, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

The concept of “Rickrolling” that emerged in the 21st century is fascinating. Rick Astley’s awful song was being used as the ultimate joke decades after America “Rickrolled” itself by pushing a track that woefully pares a baritone with poppy synths to No. 1. Who’s the joke really on?https://4ef5d5294a8aab30a14e2ff7e6734986.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

199. Bad English – “When I See You Smile”

Date: Nov. 11, 1989

Weeks on top: 2

The late 1980s saw a rush of glam metal ballads. “When I See You Smile” is the most ordinary of them all. It’s easy to see why it went to No. 1. Swaying to such a big chorus at a stadium rock show would prove easy. But if you polled 100 people asking them who sings this slow-burner (with its yawn-inducing tempo), it would shock me if any of them could say the words Bad English.

198. Richard Marx – “Right Here Waiting”

Date: Aug. 12, 1989

Weeks on top: 3

For the second single from his album “Repeat Offender” (Yes, that’s the real title of an album), Richard Marx decided to drain a track of everything except a classical guitar and keyboard, and then stretch that sound out for four and a half painful minutes.

197. Fine Young Cannibals – “Good Thing”

Date: July 8, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

The lesser of two evils when it comes to Fine Young Cannibals’ two No. 1 hits from the 1980s. Riding high from the success of “She Drives Me Crazy,” the band’s follow-up single “Good” became equally as huge. It doesn’t quite smack you in the face like its predecessor, but “Good Thing’s” pop-soul vibes wear out their welcome about halfway through.

196. The Bangles – “Eternal Flame”

Date: April 1, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

If you’re a child of the 1980s, there’s a pretty good chance you think you like “Eternal Flame.” But how is it possible to enjoy a lead vocal this bad made worse by over-the-top backing harmonies that make you want to rip your ears off?

195. Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin – “Separate Lives”

Date: Nov. 30, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

Coming off his most dynamic album “No Jacket Required,” Phil Collins joined forces with Marilyn Martin for “Separate Lives” from the “White Nights” soundtrack. But the song doesn’t suit Collins’ voice (Martin is the much better performer here). There’s no charisma in it at all. Somehow, “Separate Lives” makes Phil Collins seem boring at a time in his career when he otherwise was anything but.

194. Huey Lewis and the News – “Stuck with You”

Date: Sept. 20, 1986

Weeks on top: 3

Even with its best songs, Huey Lewis and the News walked a fine line between clumsily lovable and flat-out corny. “Stuck with You” sounds like a song from a bubblegum commercial, only the gum is past its sell-by date. It lodges itself in the back of your teeth with its banality until a cavity forms.

193. Rick Astley – “Together Forever”

Date: June 18, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

Rick Astley became a huge star in the UK after “Never Gonna Give You Up.” But after his two follow-up singles failed to make a dent in the U.S., he went back to the same well for “Together Forever.” This is “Never Gonna Give You Up 2.0.” Better, but only by the most minuscule of margins.

Endless Love

192. Diana Ross and Lionel Richie – “Endless Love”

Date: Aug. 15, 1981

Weeks on top: 9

Much has been said about “Endless Love,” the sappiest of love songs and a misfire for two of the great pop singers of all time. But its biggest offense was how it ruined Diana Ross. Yes, it was a No. 1 hit. But Ross’ career can be defined by what came before “Endless Love” and what came after, considering it marked the end of her Motown era. Richie would continue making excessively sentimental rubbish like this throughout the 1980s. But for Ross, there wasn’t anything of significance that followed. And to think she had released the excellent dance album “Diana” just a year earlier. I blame Lionel.

191. Club Nouveau – ”Lean on Me”

Date: March 21, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

Bill Withers’ original “Lean on Me” is a soul classic. What Club Nouveau does to it is a borderline offensive. The synths tear away at the song’s raw sentiment, making the kind of lame anthem that would play at a D.A.R.E. rally in the 1980s.

190. Bob Seger – “Shakedown”

Date: Aug. 1, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

“Shakedown” shows the power of a blockbuster movie in the 1980s. The Bob Seger song soared to No. 1 on the strength of “Beverly Hills Cop II.” It works wonders during Eddie Murphy’s first scene in the movie. But left on its own, “Shakedown” is an empty tune. Glenn Frey was the original choice for the song after having done “The Heat Is On” (an infinitely better song) for the first film. But Frey hated the lyrics to “Shakedown” and came down with laryngitis before he could change them and record it. For once, a great singer losing their voice was a good thing.

189. Steve Winwood – “Roll With It”

Date: July 30, 1988

Weeks on top: 4

Steve Winwood must have woke up one day and wished he’d written and recorded Junior & the All Stars’ “Shotgun.” So he just went ahead and copied it with the pretentious “Roll With It.” What’s interesting is that Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland eventually earned a songwriting credit, but for a different Junior Walker song, “(I’m a) Roadrunner.”

188. Cheap Trick – ”The Flame”

Date: July 9, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

“The Flame” is the kind of monstrosity that happens when a record label convinces a legendary band to work with outside songwriters.

187. Human League – “Human”

Date: Nov. 22, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

The opening of this one sounds like a poor man’s version of “Jack and Diane.” I also can’t tell if a group named Human League doing a song called “Human” is the lamest thing ever or pure genius. Recently, the song has been relegated to its rightful place — scoring car insurance commercials.


186. Poison – “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”

Date: Dec. 24, 1988

Weeks on top: 3

Thanks to VH1?s “Behind the Music,” we know that Bret Michaels was at a laundromat one night when he called his girlfriend only to hear the guy she was cheating on him within the background. Ouch! You’d think that would produce a rage anthem. Instead, Michaels wrote one of the sappiest and dumbest glam metal ballads of all time. There’s nothing at all exceptional about “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” It’s a song any aspiring songwriter could write at any point in their lives. Yet, Michaels struck the right (awkward) chord at the right time. Good for him. Bad for ears.

185. UB40 – “Red Red Wine”

Date: Oct. 15, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

I don’t know if there’s ever been a more mediocre-sounding song in the history of music. I suppose if you were looking to accomplish such a thing you would take a Neil Diamond song from the 1960s and make it a reggae track.

184. Billy Ocean – “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)”

Date: July 5, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

I’m not sure why Billy Ocean felt the need to jump on songwriters Barry J. Eastmond and Wayne Brathwaite’s tune with the most obvious of lyrics: “There’ll be sad songs to make you cry/Love songs often do/They can touch the heart of someone new/Saying I love you…” Really, Billy Ocean? We expect this sort of thing from Peter Cetera. Not you.

183. Duran Duran – “A View to a Kill”

Date: July 13, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

When Duran Duran signed on to a James Bond theme, the band was fully committed. “A View to a Kill” features the lyrics “Dance into the fire/that fatal kiss is all we feel/Dance into the fire/when all we see is the view to a kill.” No mistaking what the song was for. But “A View to Kill” sounds like the most generic thing Duran Duran ever did. You kind of wish the band and the producers would have just used “Hungry Like a Wolf.”

182. Phil Collins – “A Groovy Kind of Love”

Date: Oct. 22, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

Despite going to No. 1, “A Groovy Kind of Love” doesn’t have any sort of groove and certainly isn’t “groovy.” Collins cover version adds a touch of 1980s synths, but still has less soul than The Mindbenders’ 1965 version, which you should go listen to now.

181. Huey Lewis and the News – “Jacob’s Ladder”

Date: March 14, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

“Jacob’s Ladder” can’t make up its mind as to whether it wants to be another cheesy (but semi-likable) Huey Lewis and the News song or a real rocker. What makes matters worse is that the lyrics are a complete throwaway with cliché after cliche: “Step by step, one by one, higher and higher/Step by step, rung by rung, climbing Jacob’s ladder.”

180. Tiffany – “Could’ve Been”

Date: Feb. 6, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

In the hands of a singer like Whitney Houston, “Could’ve Been” might have worked. Instead, Tiffany is crushed under the song’s emotional weight. The title itself makes the ultimate point – This could’ve been so much better.

179. Roxette – “Listen to Your Heart”

Date: Nov. 4, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

In the liner notes of its greatest hits compilation, Roxette’s Per Gessle admits the group was intentionally trying to make an overproduced and “absurd” radio hit “Listen to Your Heart.” Mission accomplished.

178. Atlantic Starr – “Always”

Date: June 13, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

I like just about every other song Atlantic Starr did (Give me “Secret Lovers” any day of the week). But “Always” just doesn’t do it for me. It feels like a song that’s on the verge of greatness for four and a half minutes but never gets there. Every time it feels like it’s about to make you swoon, it injects a snooze factor.

177. Debbie Gibson – “Lost in Your Eyes”

Date: March 4, 1989

Weeks on top: 3

Debbie Gibson deserves all the credit in the world for writing and producing hit songs at her young age. “Lost in Your Eyes” has a much better melody and vocal performance than Gibson’s other No. 1 hit of the 1980s “Foolish Beat.” Still, I can’t help but wish Steve Perry (or anyone who could actually sing) took this one on.

176. Phil Collins-”Two Hearts”

Date: Jan. 21, 1989

Weeks on top: 2

“Two Hearts” features the usual Phil Collins bounce but falls apart a bit in the chorus: “Two hearts, believing in just one mind/Beating together till the end of time…” I sort of understand what that means, but not really?

175. Bette Midler – “Wind Beneath My Wings”

Date: June 10, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

It’s impossible to separate Bette Midler’s version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” from the movie it was recorded for “Beaches,” and rightfully so. Both are overblown emotional forces that drain you. They’re fine once, but never again.

174. Lionel Richie – “Truly”

Date: Nov. 27, 1982

Weeks on top: 2

It sounds weird to say. But the best thing that could have happened to the Commodores in the early 1980s was Lionel Richie leaving. The group lost its leader. But, had Richie stayed he surely would have dragged the Commodores further into soft pop territory as evident by his debut solo single “Truly.” Richie delivers a good vocal performance on the song. But everything about it lacks emotion. Even Lionel sounds bored.

173. Simply Red – “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”

Date: July 15, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

Simply Red’s jazzy, soft rock cover of “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” was originally a Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes song featuring a staggering vocal performance from lead singer Teddy Pendergrass. Mick Hucknall is not Teddy Pendergrass. This one should have stayed untouchable.

172. Madonna – “Who’s That Girl”

Date: Aug. 22, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

Not only is “Who’s That Girl” the weakest chart-topper of Madonna’s career. It ranks among the least compelling songs she ever recorded. Snooze-worthy dance-pop instrumentation is one thing. Trying to incorporate Spanish lyrics is another. “La Isla Bonita” this was not.

Milli Vanilli

171. Milli Vanilli – “Blame It on the Rain”

Date: Nov. 25, 1989

Weeks on top: 2

Saying “Blame It on the Rain” is Milli Vanilli’s least offensive hit doesn’t mean much. There wasn’t much competition. From a writing standpoint, “Blame It on the Rain” sounds like a hit. Diane Warren works her usual magic. This could have worked as a ballad. But Milli Vanilli (or whoever was singing these songs) wasn’t going to get away with a slow-burner. “Blame It on the Rain” morphs into a clunky dance-pop song. No doubt, millions of people sang along to this one back in 1989. You just won’t find any who will admit it.

170. Sheena Easton – “Morning Train (Nine to Five)”

Date: May 2, 1981

Weeks on top: 2

Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train” had to come out in the early 1980s. It’s a pure nostalgia trip back to 1960s pop. That doesn’t save it from sounding generic. But hey, at least the chorus is good enough for a fun movie or TV montage.

169. Daryl Hall and John Oates – “Kiss on My List”

Date: April 11, 1981

Weeks on top: 3

Daryl Hall has explained the minuscule drum sound on “Kiss on My List” as being a drum machine mixed with actual live drumming. No matter how it came about, it sounds weak. As does the annoying backing vocal that comes in on the pre-chorus.

168. Bon Jovi – “I’ll Be There for You”

Date: May 13, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora were a match made in heaven. “I’ll Be There For You” is a glam metal song that soars on the strength of Sambora’s bluesy guitar and Bon Jovi’s commitment to singing every note like it’s his last. Where it fails in the lyrics: “I wasn’t there when you were happy / And I wasn’t there when you were down…” So when exactly were you there for her, Jon?

167. Steve Winwood-”Higher Love”

Date: Aug. 30, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

On “Higher Love,” Steve Winwood just can’t help himself. He sounds like someone’s uncle grabbing the microphone at a wedding and ruining everything. Whitney Houston’s cover of “Higher Love” would work much better decades later as a tropical house song.

166. Phil Collins – “Another Day in Paradise”

Date: Dec. 23, 1989

Weeks on top: 4

“Another Day in Paradise” has the distinction of being the final No. 1 hit of the 1980s and the first No. 1 song of the 1990s. No one can ever take that away from Phil Collins. But his song about white privilege in the face of homelessness doesn’t hold up. It’s a case of Collins trying too hard on song so sad, it sounds more like a breakup record.

165. Lionel Richie – “Say You, Say Me”

Date: Dec. 21, 1985

Weeks on top: 4

“Say You, Say Me” is Lionel Richie attempting to recreate the vibe of The Beatles in the 1960s. He doesn’t come all that close. Still, I suppose people have done worse things than try (and fail) to rip off The Beatles.

Paul Young
Columbia Records

164. Paul Young – “Every time You Go Away”

Date: July 27, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

Hall & Oates first recorded “Every time You Go Away” (written by Daryl Hall) in 1980. Paul Young’s version is lighter, which equals boring. But to Young’s credit, it was more in-tune with the soft-rock drama of the 1980s, which is why it went to No. 1.

163. Whitney Houston – “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”

Date: Sept. 26, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

It seems strange to have a Whitney Houston ballad this low. But “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” is the equivalent of the song the DJ puts on at a wedding that clears the dance floor. Even this early in her career, the by-the-numbers ballad was beneath Houston.

162. Billy Joel – “Tell Her About It”

Date: Sept. 24, 1983

Weeks on top: 1

“Tell Her About It” was Billy Joel paying homage to the Motown sound of the 1960s. But there are two problems with that. First, Berry Gordy had a rule that every Motown song begins with a sound that immediately hooks you. “Tell Her About It” doesn’t have that. Second, have you ever heard a song from Motown’s golden era that was this animated? Joel was simply incapable of doing anything subtle in the 1980s.

161. George Harrison-”Got My Mind Set on You”

Date: Jan. 16

Weeks on top: 1

You have to wonder if “Got My Mind Set on You” would have received any criticism if it weren’t by a Beatle. It’s a fairly clever pop song. However, George Harrison loses points for taking James Ray’s original 1960s rock song and turning it into something a bit hackneyed. He should have had better intuition considering the Beatles began their career covering other artists’ songs.

160. Chicago – “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”

Date: Sept. 11, 1982

Weeks on top: 2

To enjoy “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” you have to come to terms with what Chicago was in the 1980s. The jazz-rock act of the 1960s and 1970s wasn’t coming back. That being said, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” is the best ballad from Chicago’s regrettable soft rock era. A big reason for that is producer and co-writer David Foster, who can direct Peter Cetera on when to turn it up and when to calm down. That makes all the difference on a song that can come close to numbing your brain.

159. Eddie Rabbitt – “I Love a Rainy Night”

Date: Feb. 28, 1981

Weeks on top: 2

It’s not shocking to learn that Eddie Rabbit first wrote and recorded “I Love a Rainy Night” 12 years before it was released. The song is soaked in a more simplistic 1960s sound that draws its influence from the country side of Elvis Presley. The final version of the track isn’t as bombastic as the other big tunes of the 1980s. But it’s hard to find too much wrong with its vivid lyrics and catchy chorus.

158. Paul McCartney – “Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)”

Date: June 28, 1980

Weeks on top: 3

As the opening track on Paul McCartney’s second album, “Coming Up” plays like a lo-fi funk experiment showcasing what McCartney could do with minimalistic recording techniques. The live version, recorded in Glasgow with Wings in 1979, takes the subtle delights of the song and blows them up into a case of a band trying a little too hard.

157. George Michael – “Monkey”

Date: Aug. 27, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

As pop albums of the 1980s became blockbuster events, labels began trying to squeeze out every ounce of radio airplay they could. That led to fifth and sixth singles from albums that we didn’t need. George Michael’s “Monkey” is an example of this. Whether it’s the album or single version of the song, “Monkey” feels like a low-rent funk song masquerading as a dance tune. Even Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ remix couldn’t save it. On “Monkey,” Michael asks “Do you love the monkey or do you love me?” I think we know the answer.

156. Richard Marx-“Satisfied”

Date: June 24, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

As you can tell, I’m not the biggest Richard Marx fan. But since his non-distinct pop-rock song “Satisfied” is his least offensive hit of the 1980s, we should celebrate just how huge he was. Marx had 14 top 20 hits over seven years, including the three No. 1?s on this list. The artists who had more chart-toppers than Marx are either in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or should be (Lionel Richie, George Michael). All jokes aside, Richard did his thing during a decade when pop had reached a new peak.

155. Billy Ocean – “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)”

Date: Nov. 3, 1984

Weeks on top: 2

Billy Ocean may have been the most pedestrian hitmaker of the 1980s. But there’s no denying the guy had hits. His most memorable is “Caribbean Queen,” both because its title sticks out and because the chorus explodes. Ocean wasn’t the greatest singer in the world. But he could deliver a hook with conviction.

154. Kim Wilde – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”

Date: June 6, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

In theory, Kim Wilde should be ridiculed for taking on one of Motown’s greatest songs and turning it into a dance-pop tune. However, her version plays it smart by coming off less like a cover and more like the kind of remix DJs would put together in the 1990s and 2000s.

153. Whitney Houston – “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”

Date: April 23, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

A good song. But can you imagine what Houston would have done with “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” a decade later? The song demands some serious soul. But Houston was still showing restraint as a pop artist in her early days. “Where Do Broken Hearts” is a well-written and performed song that “The Bodyguard” era Houston would have elevated to a showstopper.

Culture club

152. Culture Club – “Karma Chameleon”

Date: Feb. 4, 1984

Weeks on top: 3

Culture Club is responsible for what I consider to be one of the greatest songs ever written in “Time (Clock of the Heart).” But that gem only went to No. 2, making “Karma Chameleon” the group’s signature song, which is a shame as it plays into the kitschy impression some fans falsely have of Culture Club. “Karama Chameleon” isn’t a bad song. It just doesn’t show what the group was truly capable of.

151. KC and the Sunshine Band – “Please Don’t Go”

Date: Jan. 5, 1980

Weeks on top: 1

If KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Please Don’t Go” seems completely detached from the 1980s sound, that makes sense. It was released in July 1979 and eventually became the first new No. 1 song of the 1980s. Credit to the group for scoring a chart-topper for in decade, even if it is less fun than “Get Down Tonight” and “Boogie Shoes.”

150. Men at Work – “Who Can It Be Now”

Date: Oct. 30, 1982

Weeks on top: 1

On “Who Can It Be Now,” Men at Work deliver one of the best (and most simplistic) choruses of the 1980s. But the verses (and that awful bridge) sound like The Police if Sting’s brain was on the fritz.https://4ef5d5294a8aab30a14e2ff7e6734986.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

149. Exposé – “Seasons Change”

Date: Feb. 20, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

“Season’s Change” packs on the drama right from the beginning. Producer and songwriter Lewis Martinee knew how to get your attention with synths and that awesome saxophone. Yet, with all do respect to Expose, he just didn’t have the vocalist to make it incendiary.

148. Wham! – “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”

Date: Nov. 17, 1984

Weeks on top: 3

Even if you’re willing to admit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is a good pop song (which it is), it’s hard to take seriously. The song’s goofy vibes border on parody. That’s not out of step with the 1980s, but it does make Wham!’s hit fall short compared to George Michael’s other hits on this list.

147. Lionel Richie – “Hello”

Date: May 12, 1984

Weeks on top: 2

If you’d never seen the creepy video for Lionel Richie’s “Hello” would you like the song? It’d be an interesting case study. “Hello” is a song that sits firmly on the line between a great pop song and a corny love tune. Ultimately, it’s both. Lyrically, “Hello” is laughably overly simplistic. But it also features one of Richie’s most convincing vocal performances.

146. Mr. Mister – “Kyrie”

Date: March 1, 1986

Weeks on top: 2

“Kyrie” has all the bells and whistles of a great 1980s pop-rock song and a glorious hook that feels like it’s from a different track than the verses. The song’s weak spot is the emptiness of its lyrics. “Kyrie” means “Lord, have mercy” in Greek. Thus, what could have been a great love song (had the lyrics suited it) becomes a Christian rock song that’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

145. Stars on 45 – “Stars on 45 Medley”

Date: June 20, 1981

Weeks on top: 1

Even by disco standards, the opening to “Stars on 45” is a bit much. Then those guitar chords of Shocking Blue’s “Venus” kick in and the “Stars on 45” morphs into a tribute to a bygone era. This should be a tasteless mess. But it works because the choice of songs in the medley borders on perfect, leaning into the novelty of it all.

Simply Red

144. Simply Red – “Holding Back the Years”

Date: July 12, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall certainly didn’t look the part. A redhead from Manchester doing his best to match the vocal prowess of 1960s soul singers he idolized. But on more than one occasion, Hucknall manages to pull it off. Simply Red’s catalog peaks with “Holding Back the Years,” the blue-eyed soul song most suitable to Hucknall’s smooth voice. It’s not overly sentimental and its soft-rock leanings aren’t as mundane as his other hits. Producer Stewart Levine, who had worked with the likes of Minnie Riperton, Lionel Richie and Patti Labelle knew how to modernize Hucknall’s sound so that “Holding Back the Years” feels very familiar while also being somewhat original.

143. Paula Abdul – “Forever Your Girl”

Date: May 20, 1989

Weeks on top: 2

Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” is one of the more under-appreciated blockbuster pop albums of the 1980s. It marked the first times an artist scored four number-one songs on the Billboard Hot 100 with their debut. And yet, the title track is probably the least exceptional of the bunch. “Forever Your Girl” is void of attitude, the thing that made Abdul’s best songs distinct from most other dance-pop and new jack swing songs. It’s still a fun pop song. Just not “Straight Up.”

142. REO Speedwagon – “Keep On Loving You”

Date: March 21, 1981

Weeks on top: 1

“Keep On Loving You” was a showstopper of a pop song back in the 1980s that made stadium crowds swooned. You could say it’s fallen off a bit, doing the same only at grocery stores.

141. Billy Joel – “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”

Date: July 19, 1980

Weeks on top: 2

I can’t tell if Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” is a critique or an homage. The lyrics wreak with insecurity from a guy who seemed threatened by the attention punk and new wave bands were getting. Yet, the song rips off the styles of those bands. It still doesn’t make sense to me.

140. Gloria Estefan – “Don’t Wanna Lose You”

Date: Sept. 16, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

For the first single from her debut solo album, Epic Records wanted to showcase Gloria Estefan’s stellar voice. The chorus to “Don’t Wanna Lose You” surely does that. The problem is getting there as the verse feel monotonous. Thus, if you’re naming your favorite Estefan songs, it’ll probably take a while before you get to “Don’t Wanna Lose You.”

139. Whitney Houston – “Saving All My Love for You”

Date: Oct. 26, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

“Saving All My Love for You” is a song about being the other woman. Yet, you don’t get that sense from the emotion (or lack thereof) in Houston’s performance. Chalk it up to Houston being in her early 20s when the song was recorded. The performance doesn’t suit the theme. And yet, it’s still a tremendous vocal showcase.

138. Heart – “These Dreams”

Date: March 22, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

“These Dreams” marks a turning point for Heart. The hard rock band was used to writing its songs. But upon hearing Martin Page Bernie Taupin’s “These Dreams,” originally intended for Stevie Nicks, the Wilson sisters couldn’t pass on it. From that point on, Heart earned its money in sappy soft rock, some of it good (like “These Dreams”), and some bad.

137. Boston – “Amanda”

Date: Nov. 8, 1986

Weeks on top: 2

You have to give Boston’s Tom Scholz credit. Six years deep into the 1980s and dude had no desire to create a song befitting the decade. Boston’s No. 1 hit “Amanda” is about as 1970s as the 1980s get. Call it soft rock, but the song would fit right in as a ballad on Boston’s best 1970s albums, which is (kind of, sort of) a compliment.

136. Billy Idol – “Mony Mony”

Date: Nov. 21, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

November 1987 may have been the greatest month in the career of Tommy James and the Shondells. The month featured two covers of the 1960s garage rock band’s songs that went to No. 1. First up was Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Then came, Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony,” which ironically kicked Tiffany out of the top spot. Idol first covered the song in 1981, but the studio version didn’t catch on. A live version of the song, driven by Idol’s energy, did the trick six years later.

Columbia Records

135. New Kids on the Block-”I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)”

Date: June 17, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

It makes sense that “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” would be New Kids on the Block’s first No. 1 hit. For as much as dance-pop was a force in the 1980s, teenage girls were just looking for a reason to swoon for the five-piece boy band. On “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever),” songwriter/producer Maurice Starr puts together a simple R&B drum beat that sounds like a hundred other songs from the decade. But the key to the song’s appeal (at least for teens) is Jordan Knight’s falsetto. It ridiculous how high he gets, stretching out his standout moment on “Please Don’t Go Girl” (one of the great boyband songs of all time) for an entire song. You can’t help but picture prom dance floors packed to capacity in 1989.

134. Phil Collins – “Sussudio”

Date: July 5, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

Only Phil Collins could get away with this. “Sussudio” is his most blatantly 1980s sounding song and based around an improvised lyric (Yes, that’s correct “Sussudio” means absolutely nothing). What makes the song one of Collins’ catchiest is his ability to channel (or rip off) Prince’s Minneapolis sound. But who can blame him?

133. Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald – “On My Own”

Date: June 14, 1986

Weeks on top: 3

The movie “The 40-year-Old Virgin” turned Michael McDonald into a punchline to the point you forget just how great of a singer he was. He more than holds his own with the amazing Patti LaBelle on their duet “On My Own” (until LaBelle turns things up a notch towards the song’s end). It’s not the most riveting song of the 1980s. But “On My Own” did get a lot more interesting as of late thanks to Patti LaBelle’s Verzuz battle with Gladys Knight. LaBelle revealed she has a “long story” about McDonald she can’t share on camera. Hmmm…

132. Kenny Loggins – “Footloose”

Date: March 31, 1984

Weeks on top: 3

There’s an episode of the office where Jim hops into a convertible with Stanley, who tells Jim to put on some Loggins. Jim responds by saying, “Loggins and Messina.” To which Stanley drops a gem, “Did I say Messina?” That’s right, Jim. Did Loggins and Jim Messina ever craft anything remotely as exciting as “Footloose?” “Your Mama Don’t Dance” ain’t bad, but it ain’t “Footloose.” Put on some Loggins (if you’re middle-aged) and forget Messina.

131. Ready for the World – “Oh Sheila”

Date: Oct. 12, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

One of the best Prince knockoffs you’ll ever hear. Admittedly, Ready for the World could have tried harder on “Oh Sheila.” The lyrics are mostly throwaway, including the segment that goes “I want to di a di da li, a di a di da li…” Because of that, one has to wonder if Prince hated the fact this fusion of funk, pop and electro was falsely attributed to him over the for years.

130. Dionne Warwick – “That’s What Friends Are For”

Date: Jan. 18, 1986

Weeks on top: 4

The original version of “That’s What Friends Are For” was never meant to be taken too seriously. It was written by Burt Bacharach and performed by Rod Stewart for the comedy “Night Shift.” But bring in Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Elton John and Wonder’s harmonica in for cover version, and it’s tearful hugs a plenty in the name of AIDS research. The song raised $3 million for the worthy cause.

129. Patti Austin and James Ingram – “Baby, Come to Me”

Date: Feb. 19, 1983

Weeks on top: 2

Patti Austin and James Ingram might not be most people’s choice to duet a sensual anthem. Listeners weren’t initially keen on it either. The song fell flat upon its April 1982 release. Then came the power of “General Hospital” and the seductive style of Luke Spencer. “General Hospital” used the song over and over again as Luke became the show’s biggest star. Viewers of the top-rated soap opera couldn’t get enough of it and just after Valentine’s Day 1983 it went to the top of the charts.

128. Cutting Crew – “(I Just) Died in Your Arms”

Date: May 2, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

You can almost feel singer-songwriter Nick Van Eede and Cutting Crew checking off every cliché of the 1980s sound when putting together their debut single. The drama. The generic guitars. The tempo that refuses to pick up. And yet, Van Eede gives the performance of his career on the chorus. The emotion feels authentic to the point where you’re willing to sit through uneventful verses just to get to the hook.

127. Stevie Wonder – “Part-Time Lover”

Date: Nov. 2, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

“Part-Time Lover” is the sound of Stevie Wonder in cruise control. The synthpop song almost seems beneath him. And yet, it was a massive crossover success, going No. 1 on four different Billboard charts. Interesting triva: “Part-Time Lover” features backing vocals from Luther Vandross, Earth, Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey and Wonder ex-wife Syreeta Wright.

126. Mr. Mister – “Broken Wings”

Date: Dec. 7, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

Can a song be both over-produced and show restraint? If so, that’s “Broken Wings.” It’s a pop-rock ballad with way too many bells and whistles and lyrics that are just as generic as Mr. Mister’s other hit “Kyrie.” What makes “Broken Wings” the slightly better song is that it’s a song constantly on the verge of exploding for all of its four-plus minutes. Even when it tries to soar for a brief moment during its second half, “Broken Wings” reverts to its overwhelming anticipation and an even louder drum beat. For better or worse, it hooks you.

125. Bryan Adams – “Heaven”

Date: June 22, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

Anyone who’s read my rankings of the No. 1 of the 1990s knows I’m not the biggest Bryan Adams fan. His songs are quite pretentious. But I don’t hate “Heaven.” The song’s bombastic guitar and drums are a bit much. But Adams’ raspy voice keeps it grounded. He’s like Peter Cetera with strep throat. I can dig that for a few minutes.


124. Tiffany – “I Think We’re Alone Now”

Date: Nov. 7, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

There’s a reason “I Think We’re Alone Now” is one of the most iconic songs of the 1980s. The way it starts screams dance-pop. But once Tiffany comes in, it becomes more than that. There’s suspense in her voice that’s captivating even if you have no idea what she’s singing about. Tiffany’s vocal isn’t great. But the song manages to keep you hooked to its drama throughout despite a misguided synth-keyboard solo tries to ruin things. “I Think We’re Alone Now” is a cover of a great (and probably better) Tommy James & The Shondells song. But Tiffany owned it in 1987.

123. Daryl Hall and John Oates – “Private Eyes”

Date: Nov. 7, 1981

Weeks on top: 2

“Private Eyes” has a fun narrative (that would be creepy if Hall & Oates ever took themselves too seriously), yet another great bass line and Daryl Hall hitting all the blue-eyed soul notes he can handle. But the best thing about “Private Eyes” is the music video, an essential slice of the 1980s if there ever was one.

122. Michael Sembello – “Maniac”

Date: Sept. 10, 1983

Weeks on top: 2

This isn’t the first time we’re going to visit the amazing soundtrack to “Flashdance.” The backstory behind Micahel Sembello’s contribution is something to marvel at. Before maniac, Sembello had worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson (his song “Carousel” just missed making it on to “Thriller”). He originally wrote “Mania” as a horror theme after seeing the 1980 slasher film of the same name. But producer Phil Ramone saw something else in it and had Sembello rewrite the lyrics. It still sounds a little creepy. But that synth-pop groove is magic.

121. Michael Jackson – “Dirty Diana”

Date: July 2, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

“Dirty Diana” is a great rock song that, when released in 1988, became a favorite among Michael Jackson fans. By today’s standards, it’s a bit cringeworthy. The misogyny in shaming a groupie doesn’t sit well in the #MeToo era (It shouldn’t have sat well in any era).

120. Stevie Wonder – “I Just Called to Say I Love You”

Date: Oct. 13, 1984

Weeks on top: 3

Not even the great Stevie Wonder was immune to being a bit trite. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from the soundtrack to “The Woman in Red” may be the most ordinary sounding hit of Wonder’s career. And yet, the sugary sweet chorus remains a pickup line that will never get old.

119. Martika – “Toy Soldiers”

Date: July 22, 1989

Weeks on top: 2

It’s hard to blame anyone who hates “Toy Soldiers.” Despite being about drug addiction, the song’s chorus sounds like it was recorded on “Sesame Street.” But there’s also something abstract and, thus, intriguing about it. The song’s childlike vocals, combined with its atmospheric tone, is as alluring as it is haunting.

118. Def Leppard – “Love Bites”

Date: Oct. 8, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

It makes sense that “Love Bites” is the only No. 1 hit Def Leppard had on the Billboard Hot 100. Tracks like “Photograph” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” are better tunes. But “Love Bites” makes the best use of Mutt Lange’s boisterous production. Any raw sentiment is stripped away for a glam metal anthem that’s unrelenting.

117. Christopher Cross – “Sailing”

Date: Aug. 30, 1980

Weeks on top: 1

Christopher Cross wouldn’t have been my pick as the guy to invent yacht rock. These days, it would be easy to imagine the Texas native fronting a Southern indie rock band. But at the start of the 1980s, he was on a pure soft-rock nostalgia trip with “Sailing.” Emphasis on the “soft” part. And yet, “Sailing” has one heck of a melody with Cross’ lyrics and vocal performance transporting you back to a more light-hearted time.

116. Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton – “Islands in the Stream”

Date: Oct. 29, 1983

Weeks on top: 2

The Bee Gees originally wrote “Islands in the Stream” for Marvin Gaye and then recorded it themselves as a 1980s synthpop song. It seems odd that Kenny Rodgers would change the song for his album “Eyes That See in the Dark.” But thank God he did. By making it a country song Rogers was onto something adding Parton for a duet by two of the biggest country stars of all time. It’s become a go-to karaoke song for the ages.

115. Kool & the Gang – “Celebration”

Date: Feb. 7, 1981

Weeks on top: 2

“Celebration” is a masterclass in not overthinking things. The temptation had to be there for Kool & the Gang to blow this thing out. However, the group shows great restraint by rooting its post-disco party anthem in funk. Everything else (from the crowd shouts and subtle horns) is just a feathery touch meant to keep the celebration going.

114. Vangelis – “Chariots of Fire”

Date: March 20, 1982

Weeks on top: 1

Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” is the biggest anomaly on this list. Not only is it instrumental. But it’s also part of an electronic score for a film that was popular but not that popular. You could make the case that it was Vangelis’ score and the scene in appears in that pushed “Chariots of Fire” to its Academy Award for Best Picture.

113. Michael Jackson with Siedah Garrett – “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”

Date: Sept. 19, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was the first single released from “Bad,” which seems surprising now. I suppose something had ease fans into what would otherwise be Jackson’s most aggressive album. “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” is a good song, but far from Jackson’s best ballad.

112. Queen – “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”

Date: Feb. 23, 1980

Weeks on top: 4

Freddie Mercury is the greatest rock singer of all time. But it wasn’t always about his range. The man had a tremendous amount of charisma, which is the only way Queen could pull off a rockabilly song like “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Brian May’s guitar playing certainly helps. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” may not have the epic nature of Queen’s greatest songs, but it’s a nice little detour on the road to massive arena rock.

111. Aretha Franklin and George Michael – “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)”

Date: April 18, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

Talent recognizes talent. The rest of the world may have been focused on George Michael’s tight jeans and leather jacket. But Aretha Franklin was after his brilliant voice for their 1987 duet. The lyrics to “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)” are ripe with cliches and the guitars riffs aren’t anything to write home about. But this is a masterclass in hitting the right notes from two of the greatest vocalists of all time.

110. Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson – “Say Say Say”

Date: Dec. 10, 1983

Weeks on top: 6

The bar for Paul McCartney-Michael Jackson collaborations was set kind of low in the 1980s by the corny “The Girl Is Mine” from “Thriller.” “Say Say Say” was recorded first but released after. It works much better mostly because the track plays towards Jackson’s wheelhouse more, following in the footsteps of the post-disco music he created on “Off the Wall.”

Barbara Streisand

109. Barbra Streisand – “Woman in Love”

Date: Oct. 25, 1980

Weeks on top: 3

Despite “Woman in Love” being, perhaps, the biggest pop hit of Babara Streisand’s career, she rarely performs it live. Streisand has publicly admitted she doesn’t find the lyrics believable. But that was never the point. “Woman in Love” is Streisand singing a Bee Gees song. Barry Gibb helmed Streisand’s massively successful album “Guilty.” There are post-disco touches to just about every song that makes for an interesting contrast to Streisand’s traditional pop voice. It’s tempting to say that a song like “Woman in Love,” which mimics a Bee Gees chorus, would sound better if Gibb’s group sang it. But, despite not liking the lyrics, Streisand sings the heck out of the song.

108. Phil Collins – “One More Night”

Date: March 30, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

No one knew how to milk a hook like Phil Collins. On “One More Night” he opens the song with a taste of the chorus. It’s an odd move but one that made it seem like he could just keep uttering those three words over and over again and have a No. 1 hit on his hands. Admittedly, “One More Night” is another one of those Collins songs that finds him wallowing in self-pity. But damn if you don’t want to hug that guy.

107. Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine – “Anything for You”

Date: May 14, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

Anyone who followed Miami Sound Machine knew the group’s days were numbered. Gloria Estefan had solo star written all over her. So, when “Anything for You” finally earned the group its breakthrough in the U.S., it was only a matter of time. The song features one of the best vocals of Estefan’s career and a fantastic Latin acoustic guitar solo before EVERYONE started using them in the 1990s.

106. Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam – “Lost in Emotion”

Date: Oct. 17, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

If you dig into “Lost in Emotion,” you’ll find a wide variety of influences, including Latin music, Motown and electro. The genre-bending was a hallmark of the emerging freestyle seen in New York City courtesy of production collective Full Force. The combination of the production work and a simple, clever hook made “Lost in Emotion” not just a big hit, but a unique one at that.

105. Billy Vera and the Beaters – “At This Moment”

Date: Jan. 24, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

When “At This Moment” was released in 1981, Billy Vera and the Beaters’ blue-eyed soul song barely made a dent on the Billboard charts. Yet, when it was featured in an episode of “Family Ties” in front of 30-plus million viewers five years later, all bets were off. The song’s emotional power became more apparent once it was associated with Alex and Ellen’s love.

104. Madonna – “Papa Don’t Preach”

Date: Aug. 16, 1986

Weeks on top: 2

Madonna’s fourth No. 1 single drew a lot of criticism at the time from family planning organizations for “encouraging” teen pregnancy with its lyrics. Yet, over time, the subject matter of “Papa Don’t Preach” has somewhat fallen by the wayside to make it more of a vague rebellious anthem. The song was a standout from Madonna’s “True Blue” album for its catchy hook but falls just short of reaching the next-level status of her biggest singles from the decade.

103. Paula Abdul – “Cold Hearted”

Date: Sept. 2, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

Paula Abdul’s catchy dance track “Cole Hearted” strives for attitude but not enough that it feels dangerous. It dips into the new jack swing genre without feeling like it’s a take on hip hop. What put Abdul ahead of the younger artists making the same kinds of songs is that her songs were good. Very good.

102. Toni Basil – “Mickey”

Date: Dec. 11, 1982

Weeks on top: 1

Tony Basil deserves props for adding the catchiest elements “Mickey,” a song originally recorded by the UK act Racey with the title “Kitty.” It was Basil who changed the title and added the hook “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine, you blow my mind.” Much of the song feels dated. But there’s nothing dated about the song’s chanting part that feels like it comes out of nowhere. It worked as recently as 2005.

Olivia Newton-John

101. Olivia Newton-John – “Physical”

Date: Nov. 7, 1981

Weeks on top: 10

The biggest hit of the 1980s didn’t come from Michael Jackson, Madonna or Prince. It belongs to Olivia Newton-John. As you might imagine, the stars had to align for this to happen. Netwon had established herself as a harmless country-pop singer in the 1970s. The final scene in “Grease” made her a bit of a sex symbol. Then came “Physical” and its suggestive lyrics, which may seem mild by today’s standards but got the song banned on some radio stations in 1981. Listeners didn’t care. From a structural standpoint, it’s the perfect mix of dance-pop and rock with a groove that’s seductive. Newton-John’s mundane vocal might seem odd (and lame) now. But back then, it felt like listening to her transformation from an innocent young woman to a sexy pop diva.

100. John Parr – “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)”

Date: Sept. 21, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

How the heck did John Parr’s soaring anthem become associated with a boring melodrama of a film? Well, Parr found inspiration for the lyrics to “St. Elmo’s Fire” not from the movie of the same name, but from the story of athlete Rick Hansen traveling around the world in his wheelchair to raise awareness for spinal cord injuries. The result is quite the Eighties dance-rocker produced by David Foster.

99. REO Speedwagon – “Can’t Fight This Feeling”

Date: March 9, 1985

Week son top: 3

“Can’t Fight This Feeling” feels like the song takes forever to get to the chorus. And the lyric “It’s time to bring this ship into the shore” is downright awful. Yet, no version of your life sounds like “Can’t Fight This Feelingm, which is why it works. Not every song had to be relatable or take you back to a specific moment in your life. Sometimes you just need an escape and few bands got you there better than REO Speedwagon.

98. Lionel Richie – “All Night Long (All Night)”

Date: Nov. 12, 1983

Weeks on top: 4

Even if you were a fan of Lionel Richie’s solo ballads, you couldn’t help but wonder when the guy was going to come alive. He was in the Commodores after all. “All Night Long” isn’t as much of a dance song as, say, “Dancing on the Ceiling.” But it is more capable in showing the full arsenal of Richie’s production work by bringing in elements of reggae and calypso.

97. John Lennon – “(Just Like) Starting Over”

Date: De. 27, 1980

Weeks on top: 5

“(Just Like) Starting Over” sounds more like a Paul McCartney song than a John Lennon tune with its uptempo rock vibes and cute melody. But it is a fitting farewell for Lennon, who was murdered before it hit No. 1. It features one of his most nuanced vocal performances (as he dips into an Elvis-like tone) and is riveting in its positivity.

96. Prince – “Batdance”

Date: Aug. 5, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

Leave it to Prince to release one of the weirdest No. 1 hits of the 1980s. “Batdance” is a combination of several songs and ideas Prince was working on at the time. The result is a scatter-brained tune with samples from 1989?s “Batman” film that incorporates elements of rock, funk, hip hop and dance. “Batdance” isn’t the easiest song to digest. But its genius lies in the madness.

95. Genesis – “Invisible Touch”

Date: July 19, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

“Invisible Touch” is the sound of confidence. When Genesis entered the studio to record what would become its biggest album, the group was coming off its first multi-platinum album and Phil Collins was a bonafide solo superstar. “Invisible Touch” rides that wave as a larger-than-life pop sound heard on Collins’ biggest solo hits. Ironically, former frontman Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” was the song that knocked “Invisible Touch” out of the top spot in 1986.

94. Bruce Hornsby and the Range-”The Way It Is”

Date: Dec. 13, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

“The Way It Is” is one of those rare pop songs that would work just fine as an instrumental. But that would take away from Bruce Hornsby’s message about the Civil Rights Movement. Hornsby smartly doesn’t overplay his hand (like, say, Phil Collins on “Another Day in Paradise”), drawing the listener in with an infectious piano melody. It was so enticing it would become the backbone for no less than four major hip hop songs, including 2Pac’s iconic “Changes.”

93. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes – “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”

Date: Nov. 28, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

Not the song you would have initially picked to be the biggest hit from the soundtrack to “Dirty Dancing.” Heck, its shortened version is nearly five minutes long. And yet, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” manages to maintain its infectious groove throughout. It’s hard not to move your feet and attempt (and likely fail) to do the film’s climactic dance move.

Kim Carnes
EMI America

92. Kim Carnes – “Bette Davis Eyes”

Date: May 16, 1981

Weeks on top: 9

Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” is a unique kind of new wave song with Carnes’ bluesy voice. America’s infatuation with it lasted over two months. And as Taylor Swift has proven, for anyone seeking some indie cred, there were worse ways to spend three and a half minutes in 1981.

91. Whitney Houston – “Greatest Love of All”

Date: May 17, 1986

Weeks on top: 3

From a writing standpoint, “Greatest Love of All” is a sappy mess. Lyrics like “I believe the children are our future” are about as run-of-the-mill as it gets, which is why George Benson’s 1977 original version (which had the word “The” at the beginning of it) wasn’t that huge of a hit. That being said, Whitney Houston’s version of the song is one of the great miracles of her career. She makes it epic, pushing it beyond its lyrical limitations towards soaring territory. “Greatest Love of All” was the first proof that Houston could sing ANYTHING and it would sound great.

90. Michael Jackson – “The Way You Make Me Feel”

Date: Jan. 23, 1988

Weeks on top: 1https://4ef5d5294a8aab30a14e2ff7e6734986.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

It may open with a growl, but “The Way You Make Me Feel” is one of the more tame uptempo songs from Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” Jackson had the rare gift of utilizing a more rock-driven voice even on his R&B records, which gives “The Way You Make Me Feel” its swagger. As does the video that finds trying to woo a woman with his voice and dance moves. The entire choreography style of gliding down a street while singing to the woman of your dreams would be copied endlessly by R&B artists in the decades that followed.

89. Daryl Hall and John Oates – “Out of Touch”

Date: Dec. 8, 1984

Weeks on top: 2

It’s a running joke at times to ask what John Oates does in Hall & Oates. But if you want to shut someone like Chris Rock up play them “Out of Touch.” Oates came up with the chorus for the duo’s No. 1 hit by toying around with a synthesizer for the first time. Hall & Oates dress up “Out of Touch” in 1980s new wave, but it’s a soul record at its core and a fantastic one at that.

88. Kenny Rogers – “Lady”

Date: Nov. 15, 1980

Weeks on top: 6

Of course “Lady” was written and produced by Lionel Richie. The song, which was his first production work outside of the Commodores, sets the blueprint for every ballad Richie would sing for the rest of his career. But what Kenny Rogers had that Richie didn’t was authenticity in his voice. On “Lady,” Rogers sounds like a broken man expressing his love for a woman he can’t live without. The subtle crackle in Rogers’ voice that propelled so many country hits was still as addictive as ever.

87. Madonna – “Open Your Heart”

Date: Feb. 7, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

Madonna’s relationship with the male gaze and all the things she did with it was an important part of her impact. “Open Your Heart” and its music video is the moment she subverted the male gaze and became a true sex symbol. It’s a true turning point in her career.

86. Foreigner – “I Want to Know What Love Is”

Date: Feb. 2, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

It’s hard to argue against a song that supposedly brought Ahmet Ertegun to tears. Foreigner frontman Lou Gramm goes all out (with help from the New Jersey Mass Choir) on “I Want to Know What Love Is.” You kind of wish he would have slow-played it just a bit. The come-down after the first chorus is a bit jarring. But Gramm’s begging has no limits. It only gets bigger and better as it drains everything out of you.

Robert Palmer
Island Records

85. Robert Palmer – “Addicted to Love”

Date: May 3, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

Supergroup The Power Station, which consisted of singer Robert Palmer, Chic drummer Tony Thompson and Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Andy Taylor, had a few hits. But much of the group’s legacy lies in how it established the blueprint for Palmer’s solo sound. “Addicted to Love” could have very well been a Power Station song. It’s even produced by Bernard Edwards, who helmed much of the group’s work. But Palmer had bigger ambitions for “Addicted to Love,” including it being a duet with Chaka Khan. However, the latter’s label wouldn’t give her the okay. So Palmer went it alone. The funky and endlessly catchy rock song scored big thanks in no small part to the video and its high fashion Nagel models.

84. Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam – “Head to Toe”

Date: June 20, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

Production team Full Force’s mix of the New York Freestyle sound and soul gave Lisa Lisa’s music a unique sound. But it wasn’t without comparison. It’s no surprise that “Head to Toe” was succeeded at No. 1 by Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

83. Whitesnake – “Here I Go Again”

Date: Oct. 10, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

Whitesnake first released “Here I Go Again” in 1982. That version is a throwaway blues rock song with David Coverdale’s amazing voice as its only saving grace. In 1987, Coverdale and Whitesnake got the idea to re-record the song, only this time as a glam metal track. The results are like night and day. The second version, redone by producers Mike Stone and Keith Olsen, is a thriller whose blues roots take some of the glitz off of its glam vibe. More importantly, the song’s production lives up to Coverdale’s stellar vocal.

82. Roxette – “The Look”

Date: April 8, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

The first of four chart-toppers for Roxette, “The Look” is all about rhythm and tempo. Both are perfect. Per Gessle has admitted that the lyrics were written down as a throwaway. In truth, they never mattered. It’s his delivery that hooks you.

81. Terence Trent D’Arby – “Wishing Well”

Date: May 7, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

“Wishing Well” is the kind of song you hear and say, “That guy is going to be a huge star for a long time.” That wasn’t in the cards for D’Arby who had a couple more modest hits before disappearing. “Wishing Well” is a low-key funk song driven by D’Arby’s brilliant vocal.

80. Deniece Williams – “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”

Date: May 26, 1984

Weeks on top: 2

Songwriters Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford wrote “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” on short time restraints, which is probably a good thing. Deniece Williams’ hit is one of the more simplistic hits of the 1980s that relies on Williams’ big voice to give it the happy vibes. The song is, of course, from the soundtrack to “Footloose” and the scene where Kevin Bacon teaches Chris Penn how to dance (He never really got it, did he?). You can hear the same kind of appeal in “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” that you hear in Whitney Houston’s stellar dance songs of the early to mid-1980s.

79. Belinda Carlisle – “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”

Date: Dec. 5, 1987

Weeks on top: 1

“Heaven Is a Place on Earth” is a perfect pop-rock song that sounds a lot like other “perfect” pop-rock songs. Written by Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley, the song taps into Carlisle’s roots as a new wave pioneer with the Go-Go’s. Does the song lean too heavily on its chorus? Maybe (I mean, does anyone know the verses by heart?). But how could it not when Carlisle’s blissful voice is soaring to the heavens, which are apparently on Earth.

78. Starship – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”

Date: April 4, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

It’s been said that no pop act committed more crimes against humanity than “Starship.” I’m not here to argue that. But there’s something about the band’s third No. 1 single “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” that’s endlessly joyous. The production is a bit overblown and the lyrics are as common as it gets. And yet, sometimes mediocre songs with thrilling hooks have a way of making you feel amazing.

77. Ray Parker Jr. – “Ghostbusters”

Date: Aug. 11, 1984

Weeks on top: 3

Most movie songs that hit No. 1 usually do so because they’re about something a bit vague that doesn’t need the movie to make sense. Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” wasn’t that. This is a theme as specific to a movie as there ever was. The song’s success is a testament to how big of a movie “Ghostbusters” was in 1984 and how catchy of a song Parker crafted for it.

76. Huey Lewis and the News – “The Power of Love”

Date: Aug. 24, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

“The Power of Love” may be as cheesy as other pop-rock songs by Huey Lewis and the News. But the song always had the cool visual of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) skateboarding at the start of “Back to the Future” to go with it. “The Power of Love” is easily the catchiest thing Huey Lewis and the News ever released with an inescapable groove and awesome bridge. This is what Billy Joel should have sounded like in the 1980s.

75. The Bangles – “Walk Like an Egyptian”

Date: Dec. 20, 1986

Weeks on top: 4

There was no leaving anything to chance with The Bangles “Walk Like an Egyptian.” Producer David Kahne was very meticulous in choosing who sung what and even used a drum machine rather than the group’s live drumming. Heck, even the whistling sound on the record was done by machine. But all of those moves paid off. “Walk Like an Egyptian” was known for creating a dance movement. Yet, what stands out most is just how sexy it still sounds.

74. Men at Work – “Down Under”

Date: Jan. 15, 1983

Weeks on top: 4

Men at Work first released “Down Under” as a B-side to its local single “Keypunch Operator.” That version of “Down Under” is pretty mundane. However, the version released a year later once the group signed to Columbia Records emphasizes the track’s new wave production and bouncy reggae influence. The song’s joyful tempo would prove timeless, as it still serves as a point of pride in Australia and fun listen anywhere in the world.

73. Los Lobos – “La Bamba”

Date: Aug. 29, 1987

Week on top: 3

In case you needed a reminder that “La Bamba” was one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time, Los Lobos was there in 1987. The band’s version doesn’t veer too far away from Ritchie Valens original, except to turn up the guitars which gives it a much-needed modern feel. It might seem weird to have a band cover Valens classic for the soundtrack of a movie about his life. But it worked.

Jessie’s Girl

72. Rick Springfield – “Jessie’s Girl”

Date: Aug. 1, 1981

Weeks on top: 2

I have a female cousin named Jessie who likes the song “Jessie’s Girl” but hates that they use what she calls the incorrect form of “Jessie” for a guy. That’s one of the only bad things you can say about Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” The success of “Jessie’s Girl” coincided with Springfield’s stardom as an actor on “General Hospital.” Ironically, Springfield only took the role of Dr. Noah Drake because he didn’t think his music career would take off. How wrong he was.

71. Michael Jackson – “Man in the Mirror”

Date: March 26, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett caught lightning in a bottle with “Man in the Mirror,” a song that would have likely been a big hit had they given it to any number of artists. However, when they brought it to Michael Jackson, he fell in love with it. Quincy Jones and Jackson added their epic touches to the production and “Man in the Mirror” almost immediately became one of Jackson’s signature songs.

70. Wham! – “Everything She Wants”

Date: May 25, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

Following the releases of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Freedom” and “Last Christmas” it was clear George Michael no longer needed Wham! He was now writing and producing the duo’s hits all by his lonesome. The next song in a line of million-sellers was “Everything She Wants.” It’s not as immediately memorable (or infamous) as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” but it’s the better song and a peak of post-disco.

69. Madonna – “Crazy for You”

Date: May 11, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

When Madonna went to record “Crazy for You,” a pop ballad written by John Bettis and Jon Lind for the film “Vision Quest,” she was not a star. Lucky for the team behind the movie’s soundtrack, that would soon change. “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” would plant the seeds for Madonna becoming a megastar. But “Crazy for You” proves more in terms of her vocal ability. Anyone who thought Madonna was style over substance had to take note of the emotion packs into a song that still ranks among her greatest slow burners.

68. The J. Geils Band – “Centerfold”

Date: Feb. 6, 1982

Weeks on top: 6

The J. Geils Band’s brand of blues-rock always had a raucous party vibe to it. But with “Centerfold,” the pop sounds the band toyed with during the late 1970s take centerstage. Usually, that would earn an act a ton of criticism. But J. Geils Band avoided much of that for the simple fact that songs like “Centerfold” were so much fun.

67. Bon Jovi – “You Give Love a Bad Name”

Date: Nov. 29, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

You can pretty much hum the verses to “You Give Love a Bad Name” (which is kind of sort of what Jon Bon Jovi does in a low singing voice). Nothing else matters when you have a hook like “Shot through the heart/And you’re to blame…you give love a bad name.” Even the biggest of Bon Jovi haters (which includes me) can’t deny the power of that hook.

66. Yes – “Owner of a Lonely Heart”

Date: Jan. 21, 1984

Weeks on top: 2

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” might as well be by another band. Yes diehards, more in tune with the band’s 1970s prog-rock work, would scoff at the idea that one of Yes’ greatest songs was this No. 1 hit. But you can thank (or blame) Trevor Rabin for that. He’d already composed “Owner of a Lonely Heart” before joining Yes. The other members of Yes – Jon Anderson, Tony Kaye, Chris Squire and Alan White – reworked the song a bit giving it more of a soulful feel with fewer bells and whistles. The result is an unlikely great dance-rock song from, arguably, the greatest progressive rock band of all time.

65. Daryl Hall and John Oates – “Maneater”

Date: Dec. 18, 1982

Weeks on top: 4

Fact: No one gave us more amazing basslines than Hall & Oates. The hook on “Maneater” (and its background ad-libs) is brilliant. But what makes it so astonishing is that the song creates a sort of film noir vibe as it builds the story of a woman that will chew you up and spit you out.

64. Bananarama – “Venus”

Date: Sept. 6, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

It’s hard to blame producers Steven Jolley and Tony Swain for rejecting Banarama’s idea to turn Shocking Blue’s country-rock classic into a dance song. But British producer Stock Aitken Waterman got what they were going for. Like any song that should sample or cover “Venus,” the guitar parts are untouchable. But Banarama knew a lot could be done with the chorus, like turning it up to level 11. That monster chorus made the song a massive hit around the world and, for a certain generation, the only version of “Venus” that matters.

63. John Waite – “Missing You”

Date: Sept. 22, 1984

Weeks on top: 1

John Waite has spent part of the 21st century proving just how great of a song “Missing You” is, re-recording it in country, bluegrass and acoustic form. It works no matter what genre he puts it in. Of course, the version that went to No. 1 pumps in some 1980s synth sounds into its soft-rock vibes, making it the kind of song that could consume an episode of “Miami Vice.”

62. George Michael – “One More Try”

Date: May 28, 1988

Weeks on top: 3

It’s crazy to think how overlooked “One More Try” is as a George Michael song (at least compared to his other huge singles from the 1980s and early 1990s). “One More Try” is quite possibly the peak of George Michael as an all-time great vocalist, especially when you consider the song is very much the blueprint for a lot of the blue-eyed-soul ballads that would come after it.

The Police

61. The Police – “Every Breath You Take”

Date: July 9, 1983

Weeks on top: 8

A song’s popularity rarely gets as complex as that of “Every Breath You Take.” Sting wrote it following on the verge of a divorce (and engaging in a highly publicized affair). The track is about an obsession with a lover that pretty much amounts to stalking. And yet, “Every Breath You Take” has been treated, for decades, as one of the great love songs of all time. It’s also one of the most successful, accounting for about a third of Sting’s publishing revenue. Sting himself has often downplayed how great of a song “Every Breath You Take” is mostly due to its simplicity. Indeed, it’s not the most dynamic song by any means. But “Every Breath You Take” does meld together piano, guitars, bass, a digital drum machine and synthesizers perfectly. Even if it is super creepy.

60. Duran Duran – “The Reflex”

Date: June 23, 1984

Weeks on top: 2

Nile Rodgers has produced better songs than “The Reflex.” But no track shows how great of a producer he is more than Duran Duran’s No. 1 hit. The album version of “The Reflex,” from 1983?s “Seven and the Ragged Tiger,” is underwhelming. Then Rodgers got his hands on it, threw in a Roland Jupiter-8 keyboard and magic happened.

59. Jan Hammer – “Miami Vice Theme”

Date: Nov. 9, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

A TV theme with no lyrics that goes to No. 1 on the charts. That better be one heck of a TV show or, better yet, a cultural phenomenon. And that’s precisely what “Miami Vice” was. As a piece of music, Jack Hammer’s “Miami Vice” theme an interesting composition that fuses elements of rock and electronic music, driven by its pulsating drums. But it’s the montage that instantly plays in your head that makes the song iconic. Pure 1980s coolness.

58. Madonna – “Like a Virgin”

Date: Dec. 8, 1984

Weeks on top: 6

Madonna had great songs before “Like a Virgin.” But none of them made her an icon. The songwriting of Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg on “Like a Virgin” is pitch-perfect. But it’s producer Nile Rodgers who gives the song its melodic sheen. Madonna handles the rest sounding like a girl becoming a woman. She was already there.

57. Blondie – “The Tide Is High”

Date: Jan. 31, 1981

Weeks on top: 1

Blondie spent the 1980s perfecting new wave, pop-rock and even dabbling in hip hop. So why not reggae as well? The group’s cover of The Paragons rocksteady anthem “The Tide Is High” was a bold move that paid off. Blondie was a lot of things including No Doubt before No Doubt.

56. Michael Jackson – “Rock with You”

Date: Jan. 19, 1980

Weeks on top: 4

“Rock With You” is one of the more subdued hits of Michael Jackson’s career. But it’s also one of the finest showcases of how great of a singer he is. The song’s subtle disco grooves serve as the perfect backing for Jackson’s voice, which shows restraint while also functioning as one of the most beautiful sounds music has ever witnessed.

55. Dire Straits – “Money for Nothing”

Date: Sept. 21, 1985

Weeks on top: 3

“I want my MTV…” Is there any phrase from any song that feels more synonymous with 1980s culture? Lyrically, “Money for Nothing” is told from the perspective of a working-class guy who can’t stand what he sees on MTV. The use of a homophobic slur was troubling. Thankfully, it’s buried under a fiery guitar sound Knopfler ripped from ZZ Top.

54. Toto – “Africa”

Date: Feb. 5, 1983

Weeks on top: 1

Though accurate, to label “Africa” soft rock doesn’t do it justice. The song is far more intricate than most of the other soft rock anthems of the 1980s. “Africa” makes use of world music and rhythms in a way more subtle than what Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel were doing, which is probably why the band gets less credit.

Dolly Parton
RCA Nashville

53. Dolly Parton – “9 to 5”

Date: Feb. 21, 1981

Weeks on top: 2

Dolly Parton’s star was shining bright in the early 1980s both with “9 to 5” the song and the movie she starred in of the same name. That comedy made way more money than anyone expected and the song rose to the top of the charts at a time when that was mostly unheard-of for country artists unless they went pop. Parton isn’t the greatest vocalist in country music history. But she had attitude and swagger for days. “9 to 5” is an infectious slice of working life for a woman and one of many times Dolly wowed the masses.https://4ef5d5294a8aab30a14e2ff7e6734986.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

52. Cyndi Lauper – “True Colors”

Date: Oct. 25, 1986

Weeks on top: 2

After such an amazing run in 1984, you can excuse people for doubting Cyndi Lauper could duplicate that success. Then came “True Colors.” The title track from Lauper’s 1986 album was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly who originally offered it to Anne Murray. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Lauper singing the song. There’s a raw and vulnerable nature to Lauper’s vocal performance, delivering Steinberg and Kelly’s amazing lyrics with the kind of emotion most singers try for but are never reach.

51. Survivor – “Eye of the Tiger”

Date: July 24, 1982

Weeks on top: 6

As the story goes, Sylvester Stallone originally wanted “Another One Bites the Dust” as the theme song for “Rocky III,” but Queen said no. Lucky him. Sly then turned his attention to Survivor guitarist Frankie Sullivan and keyboardist Jim Peterik who gave him a gift for the ages. “Eye of the Tiger” and its driving hard rock sound remains a popular anthem today, even among politicians (to Survivor’s dismay).

50. Wham! featuring George Michael – “Careless Whisper”

Date: Feb. 16, 1985

Weeks on top: 3

“Careless Whisper” is the moment in which everyone took notice of amazing George Michael’s voice. He always sounded good in Wham! But “Careless Whisper” finds him oozing with emotion in a way that the song’s music is almost unnecessary. Of course, what would we do without that iconic saxophone part?

49. Phil Collins – “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”

Date: April 21, 1984

Weeks on top: 3

“Against All Odds” shouldn’t be a Phil Collins song. From a songwriting standpoint, it may very well be his masterpiece. But even in the studio version, he struggles with the high notes. And yet, that’s what makes it so endearing. There’s honest desperation that morphs into a likability on “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” that’s palpable.

48. Berlin – “Take My Breath Away”

Date: Sept. 13, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

The magical part of “Take My Breath Away” had already been created long before the track got to new wave act Berlin. Producer Giorgio Moroder had impressed filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer with Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” a key song to be used in Bruckheimer’s film “Top Gun.” Tasked with delivering a romantic theme, Moroder reached into his bag of tricks and crafted a monumental bass sound that would anchor “Take My Breath Away.” Berlin’s Terri Nunn would go on to nail the vocal on a song that takes your breath away every time you hear it.

47. John Mellencamp – “Jack & Diane”

Date: Oct. 2, 1982

Weeks on top: 4

“Jack & Diane” had the potential to be a mess. John Mellencamp’s other songs were warm, subtle pieces of heartland rock. But “Jack & Diane” takes off in epic fashion. The now-iconic intro was kind of an accident. Mellencamp later admitted that the clapping in the middle of the guitar part was done just to keep time. It was supposed to be removed in the mixing process, but Mellencamp decided to keep it in. Wise move.

46. Whitney Houston – “So Emotional”

Date: Jan. 9, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

Often overshadowed by “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “So Emotional” might be the bigger showstopper. No other Houston song of the 1980s has a chorus that explodes like this. It’s also a precursor to Houston’s vocal performances of the 1990s, where the restrictions were all taken off and she could push her voice to unparalleled heights.

45. Michael Jackson – “Bad”

Date: Oct. 24, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

Michael Jackson originally intended for “Bad” to be a duet with Prince. But he didn’t need him. When MJ decided he wanted to make a rock album, he went full tilt with the attitude saturated title track. Suddenly the kid wearing a sparkly glove and doing the Moonwalk was a bada**.

44. Irene Cara – “Flashdance… What a Feeling”

Date: May 28, 1983

Weeks on top: 6

What makes “Flashdance…What a Feeling” so impactful is that even people who weren’t into electronic music could get into it. Producer Giorgio Moroder had pushed the genre he helped revolutionize into pop territory. It’s one of the most important moments in the history of dance music.

43. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”

Date: March 20, 1982

Weeks on top: 7

Joan Jett’s “I Love ‘N Roll” is the ultimate case of someone covering a song and making it their own. With her breakthrough hit, Jett became a rock icon by creating a prog-rock anthem for the ages that spent seven weeks at No. 1.

42. Tears for Fears – “Shout”

Date: Aug. 3, 1985

Weeks on top: 3

Tears for Fears’ biggest hit arrived at a time when stadium rock was taking off. It didn’t matter “Shout” was a pop song. It is the kind of anthem built for big crowds and big moments.

41. Blondie – “Rapture”

Date: March 28, 1981

Weeks on top: 2

Blondie’s “Rapture” was the first mainstream pop song to feature rapping, even if Debbie Harry’s flow is kind of wack. Yet, without the hip hop elements, “Rapture” is a fantastic new wave song where Harry makes her vocals a piercing instrument that’s about as seductive as anything from the 1980s.

40. George Michael – “Faith”

Date: Dec. 12, 1987

Weeks on top: 4

On the title track to his massively popular album, George Michael soaks up the irony of the song’s title. He makes it sound like the opening of a church service before giving listeners a sexual experience over a simple acoustic guitar.

Epic Records

39. Heart – “Alone”

Date: July 11, 1987

Weeks on top: 3

“Alone” had been recorded a couple of times (including once by John Stamos) before Heart got to it. But the song was a perfect match for the more pop-oriented sound the band was going for in the 1980s. Fans of “American Idol’s” glory days know every female singer with a big voice wanted a crack at “Alone” and who can blame them? The song’s verses pile on the drama before the chorus explodes. Nancy Wilson sang lead on Heart’s other No. 1 hit of the 1980s, “Dreams.” But for “Alone” they knew how to bring out the big guns with Ann Wilson.

38. Paula Abdul – “Straight Up”

Date: Feb. 11, 1989

Weeks on top: 3

“Straight Up” was a breakout moment, but not just for Paula Abdul. The song began as a demo written and produced by Elliot Wolff, then only known for Johnny Gill’s top-10 hit “Super Love.” But once Abdul saw the potential in Wolff’s merger of dance-pop and new jack swing, things changed for both of them. Wolff would go on to work with some of the biggest names in the industry and Abdul would become of the biggest pop stars on the planet.

37. Bonnie Tyler – “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

Date: Oct. 1, 1983

Weeks on top: 4

In any other decade “Total Eclipse of the Heart” would constitute a bad song. But not the 1980s, a decade that couldn’t help but give us drama. And Bonnie Tyler’s huge hit is as dramatic as it gets. A lot of the “bad” songs on this list are unremarkable. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is anything but, which is why you’ll find someone at every karaoke bar in the world willing to belt it out.

36. Peter Gabriel – “Sledgehammer”

Date: July 26, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

Much of the attention for “Sledgehammer” goes to its groundbreaking video. But the song itself ranks among the most bonkers things Peter Gabriel ever did as an artist, which includes his time with Genesis. Gabriel piles on the layers (a flute, organ, synth, etc.) for a song that brilliantly melds elements of dance-pop, rock, funk and soul.

35. Bobby Brown – “My Prerogative”

Date: Jan. 14, 1989

Weeks on top: 1

Bobby Brown was just about done with recording his second studio album when he came up with the theme for “My Prerogative” and tapped producer Teddy Riley for its sound. The duo’s work would become the quintessential new jack swing anthem and allow Brown to own the bad boy image that would help make him a megastar.

34. Tina Turner – “What’s Love Got to Do with It”

Date: Sept. 1, 1984

Weeks on top: 3

“What’s Love Got to Do with It” was originally recorded by a British pop group no one remembers. Producer/writer Terry Britten reworked it a bit for Tina Turner. But, still, it seems like an odd fit. Much of the song finds Turner showing an amazing level of restraint until her voice explodes. And it’s that voice that wins out. Rock and roll had never seen anything like Tina Turner and she was finally being given the kind of pop-rock songs she was born to sing.

33. Bon Jovi – “Livin’ on a Prayer”

Date: Feb. 14, 1987

Weeks on top: 4

In terms of its lyrical content, “Livin’ on a Prayer” feels like the most successful song Bruce Springsteen never wrote. But, sonically, Springsteen was never this zealous. Richie Sambora all but consumes the first third of the song with his talkbox. Before you can tell Bon Jovi to slow down, “Livin’ on a Prayer” is off and running. The lyrics aren’t all that elaborate. But Jon Bon Jovi sings the everyman story like there’s no tomorrow.https://4ef5d5294a8aab30a14e2ff7e6734986.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

32. The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”

Date: July 3, 1982

Weeks on top: 3

The Human League’s songs could be either annoying or annoyingly great. “Don’t You Want Me” falls into the latter. It opens as a run-of-the-mill synth-pop song that could go either way. Then that chorus hits. The hook is delivered in almost a lazy fashion. But the words “Don’t you…Don’t you…” are soon consuming your brain.

31. Van Halen – “Jump”

Date: Feb. 25, 1984

Weeks on top: 5

“Jump” is known as the Van Halen song where Eddie Van Halen supposedly put down his guitar for a keyboard (Though, there is a sick guitar solo in the song). It also should be known as one of the band’s best and catchiest tracks. Van Halen would only get bigger after “Jump” and there’s a reason for that.

30. Lipps, Inc. – “Funkytown”

“Funkytown” is a song with a universal message about the dream of heading to a bigger city. Of course, the way Lipps, Inc. expresses that is quite the showcase. “Funkytown” would make Lipps, Inc. a one-hit-wonder. But the disco/funk group can hold its head high knowing it delivered one of the great synth riffs in music history.

Waner Bros.

29. a-ha – “Take On Me”

Date: Oct. 19, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

Thanks to the rise of MTV during the decade, many of these songs are embedded in our memories along with their videos. None more so than “Take On Me” and its legendary pencil-sketch clip. But that shouldn’t overshadow the blissful synth-pop of the song and one of the best choruses of the decade. Morten Harket hits all the right notes, even ones that few other men could hit at the time.

28. Simple Minds – “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”

Date: May 18, 1985

Weeks on top: 1

Released on the soundtrack to “The Breakfast Club” and used during the film’s iconic opening, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” will forever exist in the history of cinema. But taken alone, it’s one heck of an epic new wave song with one of the most soaring synth hooks of the 1980s.

27. Madonna – “Live to Tell”

Date: June 7, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

Madonna had reinvented herself numerous times in her career. But perhaps nothing shifted fans and critics closer to the idea of her as an artist early on than “Live to Tell.” It was a towering ballad that was as grown up as anything Madonna had done up until that point. It wasn’t just a sonic reinvention, either. Madonna’s greatest ballad came with a video that introduced her Marilyn Monroe-inspired blonde hair.

26. U2 – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

Date: Aug. 8, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

Listening to U2?s “The Joshua Tree” feels like a religious experience both in how great the album is and how it opens. The one-two punch of “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is something to behold. The former feels like a come-down moment and a chance for anyone to exhale as U2 crafts a song that ranks among the most beautiful of the band’s career.

25. Queen – “Another One Bites the Dust”

Date: Oct. 4, 1980

Weeks on top: 3

There’s no shame in copying the bassline to Chic’s “Good Times.” Lots of artists of done it. In Queen’s case, it gets the ultimate cool factor on “Another One Bites the Dust” thanks to Freddie Mercury’s fiery vocal. He could hit the highest notes in the world, but he could also pile on the attitude. It’s hard to teach that level of swagger.

24. Dexys Midnight Runners – “Come On Eileen”

Date: April 23, 1983

Weeks on top: 1

Of all the drunken college bar songs that have stood the test of time – “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Don’t Stop Believin’” – Dexy Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen” has to be the strangest. First, you can barely understand a word in the verses. Second, the song’s structure is odd, featuring a bridge that randomly goes from a slow tempo to a faster pace that ultimately closes out the song. “Come On Eileen” also has numerous versions, some featuring a fiddle. Yet, no matter how, why or when you hear it, the chorus produces a singalong fest. “Come On Eileen” is endless fun with no less than a handful of different melodies or rhythms that hook you.

23. Prince and The Revolution – “Let’s Go Crazy”

Date: Sept. 29, 1984

Weeks on top: 2

Opening tracks don’t get much better than this. “Let’s Go Crazy” presents Prince’s “Purple Rain” (both the album and movie) as a spiritual awakening. “Let’s Go Crazy” is the spark that lit the match on a cultural sensation. Even if you weren’t a Prince fan, you found yourself convinced of his talent after he breezes through two blistering guitar solos. Yep, this guy was a force of nature.https://4ef5d5294a8aab30a14e2ff7e6734986.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

22. Cyndi Lauper – “Time After Time”

Date: June 9, 1984

Weeks on top: 2

No one has ever sung “Time After Time” better than Cyndi Lauper. But the song is also testament to the songwriting skills of Lauper and co-writer Rob Hyman. “Time After Time” feels like an ageless wonder of a pop song that anyone with a decent voice could score with.

21. Janet Jackson – “Miss You Much”

Date: Oct. 7, 1989

Weeks on top: 4

Teddy Riley is credited with inventing new jack swing. But the origins of the sound start with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis as far back as Janet Jackson’s “Control.” With the genre reaching its peak, Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” continued to ride the wave, most notably on “Miss You Much.” The No. 1 single is technically dance-pop, but you’d certainly be forgiven for calling it new jack swing. The biggest difference is just how much the powerhouse sound of “Miss You Much” blows everything that sounds like it out of the water.

George Michael
Columbia Records

20. George Michael – “Father Figure”

Date: Feb. 27, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

After the release of “Faith,” George Michael was a sex symbol that drove women wild. Looking back, it’s easy to find signs of his sexuality in a song like “Father Figure.” But the lyrics are ambiguous. Besides, that wasn’t the point. “Father Figure” is an emotional tour de force about wanting to be everything to the person you love, regardless of whether you were gay or straight. It’s simply a great love song.

19. INXS – “Need You Tonight”

Date: Jan. 30, 1988

Weeks on top: 1

“I’ve got to let you know, you’re one of my kind…” Now that’s a pickup line! INXS’ only No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 is also the band’s most seductive. On “Need You Tonight,” Michael Hutchence delivers sex appeal like only he can over a backing that was more funk than it was dance-punk.

18. Whitney Houston – “How Will I Know”

Date: Feb. 15, 1986

Weeks on top: 2

Following a collection of singles that were ballads, “How Will I Know” jumps into your ears as the third single from Whitney Houston’s debut album. The light-hearted synth-funk song isn’t necessarily a dancefloor anthem. It’s far too breezy for that. Still, there’s something upbeat Whitney that packs a huge punch. She could do R&B and traditional pop. But when sings over something this exicting, look out!

17. Pink Floyd – “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”

Date: March 22, 1980

Weeks on top: 4

On its surface, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” doesn’t sound like the work of one of the most experimental bands in rock history. But dig deeper and your mind is blown. As part of a three-part work on rock opera “The Wall,” “Part 2” functions as a protest song from the perspective of school children. Producer Bob Ezrin somehow convinced Pink Floyd to make it a post-disco track. The result is a wonder of a pop song that’s one of the most progressive things Pink Floyd ever did.

16. Michael Jackson – “Beat It”

Date: April 30, 1983

Weeks on top: 3

Leave it to Michael Jackson, a pop star, to release one of the greatest rock songs of the 1980s. Eddie Van Halen’s presence on “Beat It” feels over-blown. But even listening to his solo today gives you chills. Does Van Halen have more complex guitar songs? Yes. But on “Beat It,” he becomes part of a perfect song, all parts accenting each other for something that bops.

15. U2 – “With or Without You”

Date: May 16, 1987

Weeks on top: 3

As with most things U2, “With or Without You” brings the weepy drama. Bono is torn between the woman he loves and the life on the road he has worked so hard for. Overdramatic? Yep. But it’s impossible not to get lost in the sentiment of “With or Without You,” especially when taken with all the over-the-top synth experiments of the 1980s. “With or Without You’s” likability is built around raw emotion. Bono draws you in before The Edge makes his guitar weep.

14. Blondie – “Call Me”

Date: April 19, 1980

Weeks on top: 6

“American Gigolo” is a film about a high-priced male escort (Richard Gere) who is supposed to be oozing with cool. But the most stylish thing about the film is Debbie Harry and Blondie’s “Call Me.” Backed by Giorgio Moroder’s fierce synths, “Call Me” is a swaggering anthem owned by Harry at every minute. It’s a brilliant theme that shoves the fairly good movie it is associated with aside, claiming the appropriate spotlight owed to it.https://4ef5d5294a8aab30a14e2ff7e6734986.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Tears for Fears
Mercury Records

13. Tears for Fears – “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”

Date: June 8, 1985

Weeks on top: 2

“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a desolate record. Most of Tears for Fears’ songs were. But the big single from the band’s second album “Songs from the Big Chair” comes with a driving pop sound that goes against any sad notions. It lures you in and makes you happy. It’s an astonishing achievement that can only be accomplished by the best and most well-produced pop songs.

12. Diana Ross – “Upside Down”

Date: Sept. 6, 1980

Weeks on top: 4

“Upside Down” is the song where Diana Ross finds herself falling apart, mentally and physically, with despair over a cheating fool. What pushes the track to standout status is the production work. There was always more of an art to Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards’ work than it was given credit for. With “Upside Down” they somehow showcase a sense of distress while giving you something you can dance to.

11. Prince and the Revolution – “Kiss”

Date: April 19, 1986

Weeks on top: 2

Many Eighties pop songs get bashed for being rudimentary in sound. But not Prince’s “Kiss.” It’s stripped down beyond the point of sanity. But the remarkable nature of “Kiss” comes from the ever-so-subtle touches Prince adds, including its sputtering drum line and a funky guitar solo. It’s just James Brown enough to make you move while also containing Prince’s one-of-a-kind aesthetic.

Pet Shop Boys

10. Pet Shop Boys – “West End Girls”

Date: May 10, 1986

Weeks on top: 1

The original, 1984 version of “West End Girls,” produced by Bobby Orlando, comes across as a by-the-numbers Eighties dance song. But when Pet Shop Boys re-recorded the track a year later, producer Stephen Hague understood the potential of its gritty vibe. It was the second version of the song that topped the charts and serves as one of the more unique hits of the decade. The lyrics and their delivery come with a sense of mixed feelings, almost dismissive of the vibe the track is creating. That contrast gives “West End Girls” a sense of intrigue and allure that holds up to this day.

9. David Bowie – “Let’s Dance”

Date: Jan. 30, 1982

Weeks on top: 1

David Bowie originally demoed “Let’s Dance” as an acoustic song. But when he hired Nile Rodgers to produce his 15th studio album, plans changed. Rodgers wanted the song to be something you could move to. Merging elements of funk, new wave and post-disco, Rodgers presented “Let’s Dance” as the infectious dance song you hear today. Bowie’s charisma and swagger did the rest. The result is the only Bowie song to ever top the charts in both the U.S. and UK.

8. Daryl Hall and John Oates – “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)”

Date: Jan. 30, 1982

Weeks on top: 1

From start to finish, no Hall & Oates song hooks you like “I Can’t Go for That.” It’s a head-scratcher of a track with a vague meaning as unclear as Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” But “I Can’t Go for That” is slick new wave. Hall and Oates’ greatest song is too catchy to deny.

Janet Jackson

7. Janet Jackson – “When I Think of You”

Date: Oct. 11, 1986

Weeks on top: 2

Coming off of two lackluster albums, Janet Jackson chose “What Have You Done for Me Lately” and “Nasty” as the songs to reintroduce her adult persona to the world. They did the trick with sass, establishing her freedom as an artist. But “When I Think of You,” her first No. 1, was the track that proved Jackson was a hitmaker who could someday rival her famous brother. The track, produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, has more sheen than anything the production team had put forth, making it easy to latch onto “When I Think of You” right from its first few seconds. If previous singles had made you notice Janet, “When I think of You” is the song where you fell in love with her.

6. Eurythmics – “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”

Date: Sept. 3, 1983

Weeks on top: 1

There’s a reason “Sweet Dreams” has been covered so many times. When you think of the synths of the 1980s, the Eurythmics’ hit is right where your mind goes. But there’s something refined and meticulous about Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart’s original that makes it untouchable. The synth line is beyond catchy with a deliberate menace mixed in. Even Marilyn Manson couldn’t come close to matching its haunting nature.

5. Guns N’ Roses – “Sweet Child o’ Mine”

Date: Sept. 10, 1988

Weeks on top: 2

Slash may have famously hated the simplicity of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” when Guns N’ Roses recorded it, but he had to know what he was doing. You don’t toy around with a guitar riff during a jam session without feeling like you’ve got something. Guns N’ Roses would have just been a really great hard rock band without “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” But the song made Guns N’ Roses massive rock stars.

Whitney Houston

4. Whitney Houston – “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”

Date: June 27, 1987

Weeks on top: 2

Whitney Houston’s meteoric rise to stardom in the 1980s was built around her having one of the greatest voices in music history. So, naturally, the focus of how to use that voice would be ballads. And yet, Houston’s popularity didn’t fully explode until she wanted to dance. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” is very much in line with the sound of the 1980s. But the one thing the song had going for it that no other hitmaker had was that incredible voice. Somehow, Houston’s vocals sound even bigger and brighter on a dance-pop song. It was unexpected, but a formula every female pop star would seek to copy to this day.

3. Madonna – “Like a Prayer”

Date: April 22, 1989

Weeks on top: 3

Madonna had already entered her 30s when she went in to record her album “Like a Prayer.” But the music she’d released wasn’t that far off from the teen pop that dominated the 1980s. It’s something Madonna recognized, seeking to appeal to an older audience with her next effort. The title track to “Like a Prayer” would do just that. The dance bounce of Madonna’s previous work is still there. But the song’s themes were as mature as anything she’d put forth. The controversial video would find Madonna toying with her critics. But the true jaw-dropping aspect of “Like a Prayer” is just how larger than life it is as a pop song.

2. Prince – “When Doves Cry”

Date: July 7, 1984

Weeks on top: 5

There’s nothing like “When Doves Cry.” It’s a weird funk odyssey that drawn out on paper, should have never been a hit. Famously, there is no bassline (virtually unheard of for a mainstream pop song at the time). There’s also the subject matter of the song that’s as baffling as it is alluring. And yet, you can’t get enough of it. No one ever made more brilliant, strange pop music than Prince and “When Doves Cry” was his peak. Fittingly, it was the final song he wrote for “Purple Rain.” “When Doves Cry” most points towards the futur. The song didn’t just make Prince a star. It cemented him as one of the great musical geniuses of all time.

Billie Jean

1. Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean”

Date: March 5, 1983

Weeks on top: 7

There was no other option. When you look at the entire landscape of pop music in the 1980s, it centers around the release of “Billie Jean.” Michael Jackson’s earth-shattering hit made everything that came before it feel old. Everything that came after had the unenviable task of living up to it. It’s the ultimate pop song. The opening drums and bassline are unmistakable. It broke down the color barrier at MTV. It remains a party starter to this day. Most importantly, it made Michael Jackson (the kid turned adult music star) the biggest pop force on the planet, a title he held onto for the entire decade, despite only dropping one more album.

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