Best Songs Ever of the ’80s

Treble staff

As autumn approaches, it can only mean one thing for Treble: decade-in-review time. Last year, as you may recall, we took a look at the Best of the ’70s, beginning with a special Best Song Ever edition of songs that we saw fit to call the best ever of that decade. And now, as we’re a week away from beginning our Best of the ’80s feature, we have a similar list of our favorite songs of the ’80s.

Now, just to clarify, this isn’t an ordered, polled, be-all/end-all list of the greatest songs of the 80s. That would require more time and effort and that’s something that, maybe, we’ll get to another time, if we feel like it. Rather, these are a few dozen songs of the ’80s that we really like, and were inspired to write about for whatever reason struck us. It may not be comprehensive and all-inclusive, but it’s pretty damn good, if we say so ourselves. So without further ado, here are 60-some-odd songs from the ’80s that we just happen to consider the best ever.

“Only a Lad”
by Oingo Boingo
from Only a Lad (1981)

I could have easily written about Only a Lad as a personal best album review, but decided to narrow it down to the title track, one of the standouts on the debut from one of the biggest local bands in the world. Oingo Boingo never became as popular outside of Southern California, but their SoCal fans were legion, packing venues every Halloween. The band mixed genres convincingly, with new wave, soul, metal and ska all taking a seat within their first few albums. In the beginning, Boingo was much more ska-influenced, especially in the rude boy, horn heavy “Only a Lad.” The song tells the tale of a boy causing trouble, with an old lady and a judge making apologies for him, as the title of the song gives away, but frontman Danny Elfman isn’t fooled, hoping he gets the electric chair. Yes, Boingo was dark from the very onset. It would be a few more albums before they would play up the whole `Dia de los Muertos’ theme in design and image, but “Only a Lad” was certainly a step in the direction of the macabre. (By the way, listen to “Nasty Habits” at the end of the album for a sneak peek at Elfman’s future career in film scoring.) – Terrance Terich

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Oingo Boingo - Only a Lad - Only a Lad

“Take the Skinheads Bowling”
by Camper van Beethoven
from Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985)

The first time I heard “Take the Skinheads Bowling” was on a Dr. Demento hosted special weekend on MTV, back when they were still young and less inclined toward reality TV. It was pegged as “weird,” of course, alongside other college rock staples as They Might Be Giants, Devo and Wall of Voodoo. But the entire set of music was pretty entertaining, “Skinheads” being no exception. A longtime college/alternative radio favorite, it’s a silly, random song, with a delightfully catchy chorus. None of David Lowery’s lyrics make a whole lot of sense (“I had a dream I wanted to lick your knees“), but that’s all part of the fun. And the backing vocals are even more hilarious, particularly when “I had a dream last night but I forgot what it was” is followed by “what it was! What it was!” Their songwriting became more serious as time went on, but this California band was already off to a great start with this song. — Jeff Terich

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Camper Van Beethoven - Telephone Free Landslide Victory - Take the Skinheads Bowling

“Controversy”
by Prince
from Controversy (1981)

After three albums, especially the groundbreaking sexcapade, Dirty Mind, Prince was in the spotlight. And we all know what happens when someone gets that much attention, they get dissected. So what does Prince do? He writes about it! “Controversy’s” lyrics were essentially made up of all of the questions he had been asked by both the media and fans such as “Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?” Only Prince could get away with questioning his own sexuality, saying everyone should get nude, and then reciting the Lord’s Prayer all in one song. What a showman! – TT


Prince - Controversy - Controversy

“Smalltown Boy”
by Bronski Beat
from The Age of Consent (1983)

There’s something about stepping into your first apartment — the bare walls, the stains, the ghostly footprints of another person’s furniture — that can be downright horrifying. The space looks enormous compared with your bag of clothes, and, being on your own for the first time, you realize how little of your life feels self-made. Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” sets the perfect image to that feeling: A lonely kid, tired of his fishbowl life, standing on a train platform in the rain. All he has with him is “in a little black case”; behind him are people who will never understand why he’s leaving.

Being an openly gay band, there’s also implications he’s escaping to the Big City for sexual acceptance, but orientation is irrelevant. Anyone can appreciate this, despite the Beat’s forte being gay club-dance pop, much of it pulsing with drum-machine beats loud enough to shatter the closet door. But “Smalltown Boy” is their brilliant anomaly, being a little more pensive. It still has infectious synths, and makes you want to move your feet in nervousness — I picture the kid in the song shifting his weight, waiting for his train. It also has Steve Bronski’s choirboy wail, sad as a loon, carrying a verse that haunts and soothes at once: “The answers you seek will never be found at home / The love that you need will never be found at home.” It’s a pretty good explanation for why you need this feeling, whether in a drab apartment or standing in a puddle on a train platform. – Andrew Good

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Bronski Beat - The Very Best of Jimmy Somerville, Bronski Beat and the Communards - Smalltown Boy

“Jane Says”
by Jane’s Addiction
from Nothing’s Shocking (1988)

Most of Jane’s Addiction’s best songs appeared on Nothing’s Shocking, such as the ode to Ted Bundy, “Ted, Just Admit It…” or the gargantuan “Ocean Size,” but only two songs appeared on two separate albums, those being “Pigs in Zen” and the song from which the band took their name, “Jane Says.” The song tells the story of Jane, a heroin addict who, like most, claims that she’s “going to kick tomorrow.” Harrowing and insightful, it was a ballad that stood apart from their normal Zep meets psychedelic rock and glam mix. For the best version, listen to the one from Nothing’s Shocking, rather than Perry Farrell’s warbly one on their debut live album. – TT

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Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking - Jane Says

“Waterfall”
by The Stone Roses
from The Stone Roses (1989)

The Stone Roses of 1989, young, brash and confident in the release of their debut album, were a force to be reckoned with at the height of England’s now legendary “Madchester” scene. “Waterfall,” a personal favorite of mine from the UK band, is a song influenced as much by Manchester’s budding ecstasy culture as it was by the Thatcher-era politics Ian Brown and his fellow band mates endured. A thread of escapism, in both a physical and mental sense, weaves its way through John Squire’s psychedelically tinged guitar riffs and Brown’s abstract lyrics. Reni’s simple drumbeat and Mani’s hovering background bass provide the rhythmic anchor and a contrast to the lilting imagery: “The wind it just whips her away/ And fills up her brigantine sails.” Brown’s central character, searching for peace through a change in scenery or respite from her own wandering mind through drug use, finds solace in the search and the reassurance that, “She’ll carry on through it all/ She’s a waterfall.” As a precursor to the Brit-pop explosion of the ’90s,”Waterfall” is proof positive that The Stone Roses were unrivaled in the pure talent and artistic vision of their short lived pinnacle. – Mars Simpson

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The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses - Waterfall

“Rubber Ring”
by The Smiths
from Louder Than Bombs (1987)

The first actual Smiths album I owned was Best Of, Vol. 1, the first half of a rather lengthy two-volume hits set that contained, among their actual singles, some songs that were less widely known, like the b-side to “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side,” the funky, uncharacteristic “Rubber Ring.” Andy Rourke’s bass pops and bounces, while Johnny Marr’s guitar is reserved to clean scratches, escalating to a manic, dizzying chorus with Morrissey singing “la-da-days” rather than real words. But it’s in his actual lyrics during the verse in which the most meaning is placed. When Morrissey sings, “don’t forget the songs that made you cry/and the songs that saved your life” he sings of music as a `rubber ring,’ or lifesaver if you must, adding “they were the only ones that ever stood by you.” Certainly this is something that a band like The Smiths can understand, having been a rubber ring for countless people at one point in time, including yours truly. – JT

“This Woman’s Work”
by Kate Bush
from The Sensual World (1989)

This song first appeared in the US on the soundtrack to the John Hughes film, She’s Having a Baby in 1988. The film depicted the trials, tribulations, doubts and joy of a couple’s first child. Nothing captured those mixed emotions more elegantly than Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” in my opinion one of the most emotionally intense songs she’s ever written. Her knack for the dramatic and heart wrenching (I admit, I cry most every time I hear this song), especially in the repetition of the laments when she adds in “All the things that you needed from me / All the things that you wanted for me.” Now that I am married, I can understand this song even more. But is this song taking place at the onset of pregnancy or after delivery with post-partum depression? Is it from the point of view of the mother, second-guessing their decision, or the father, looking back on their relationship and realizing he never gave enough? Either way, truly stunning. – TT

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Kate Bush - The Sensual World - This Woman's Work

“Happy House”
by Siouxsie and the Banshees
from Kaleidoscope (1980)

Of all the “goth” bands in the post-punk era, the only one that came close to being legitimately scary was Siouxsie and the Banshees. Albums like Juju and Kaleidoscope, while mostly angular punk-influenced rock, had an eeriness about them that many of their peers didn’t capitalize on quite as well. On “Happy House,” the leadoff track to Kaleidoscope, a ghostly, high guitar riff, played by Magazine guitarist John McGeogh lures the listener into this “happy house,” most likely a mental institution judging by Siouxsie Sioux’s descriptions: “we’re in a dream/in our happy house/we’re all quite sane…” Not to mention Budgie’s kick ass drumming; his well-timed crashes and snare hits turn the song from haunting to downright nerve-racking. Flail in the dark when this one is playing, but leave a light on afterward, for your own good. – JT

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Siouxsie and The Banshees - Kaleidoscope - Happy House

“Flowers of Romance”
by Public Image Limited
from Flowers of Romance (1981)

A scoffing is in order every time I see a band categorized as “punk revival,” because these kids don’t fully understand the gravity of what happened with the Sex Pistols. The story is nothing new. Never Mind the Bollocks was the singular moment that distilled the energy of the Stooges and simplicity of the Velvet Underground and reared its ugly head toward the masses; a saving grace to anyone that had grown ill of the overblown excess of baroque rock bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But in addition to being a wonderful collection of tunes, the album was an opening that allowed similar minded people to pursue making music that they felt was important sans technical ability, proper equipment and, in some cases, talent. The great post-punk bands like Wire, Television and Joy Division sounded nothing like the Sex Pistols but were undoubtedly affected by their ethos. Even the leader and figurehead of the Sex Pistols and “punk” as a genre went on to greater things with Public Image Limited. On their 1981 record “Flowers of Romance” Johnny (Rotten) Lydon’s band left behind guitars and song structure altogether and brought to life a set of pulsating bass and drum driven songs headed by Lydon’s caustic snarl. The album’s clear standout is the title track. It begins with a repetitive tom-tom drum beat, and is followed by an understated stand-up bass and synthesizer samples. Lydon enters with tribal-like singing about a relationship that has turned frustratingly stagnant. He pangs, “Behind the dialogue / We’re in a mess / Whatever I intended / I sent you flowers / You wanted chocolates instead / The flowers of romance.” The song climaxes when the lyrics take a more proactive turn. Lydon screams, with his voice doubled for the first time in the song, “I could be Nero / Fly the eagle / Start all over again / I can’t depend on these so-called friends / It’s a pity you need to bend / I’ll take the furniture / Start all over again!” PiL, like the other great post-punk bands, saw the Sex Pistols as the beginning of a new movement, not as its definition, and it helped expand the scope of their work infinitely. – Tyler Agnew

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Public Image Ltd. - Public Image Ltd.: The Greatest Hits, So Far - Flowers of Romance

“No Myth”
by Michael Penn
from March (1989)

The debut of Michael Penn, March contained more than one pop gem, but “No Myth” stands out among the crowd. Consisting mainly of acoustic guitar and drums, this rhythmic track is folk rock and pop all rolled into one. It was the perfect introduction of Michael Penn to the world, proving that a Penn brother could do something other than act. “No Myth” is one of those songs that people never seem to remember by its title, yet the chorus of “What if I were Romeo in black jeans / What if I was Heathcliff it’s no myth / Maybe she’s just looking for someone to dance with.,” there is instant recognition. As it was released at the tail end of 1989, it acts as a great closer to the decade, and a nice segue into the changing styles of the ’90s. – TT

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Michael Penn - March - No Myth

“Accept Yourself”
by The Smiths
from Hatful of Hollow (1984)

In middle school, I didn’t really like The Smiths. In high school, I really enjoyed their singles. In college, I liked those lads quite a lot. And now that I’m in my twenties, I realize that several of their songs have perfectly mirrored my miserable, miserable life. Enter “Accept Yourself,” a splash of bouncing self-doubt and self-loathing. As Morrissey asks in his characteristically morose moan “When will you accept yourself,” it’s hard to not turn the question back on yourself. Add to that the melancholy one’s observation that there’s no one but yourself to blame for the life you hate and that time is wasting away and you’ve got yourself the type of sad-sack slump that not even a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a bouquet-twirling sing along to “This Charming Man” can mend. This forced self-reflection would be entirely unbearable if it weren’t for Johnny Marr’s guitar and Andy Rourke’s bassline. Yet while both Marr’s and Rourke’s contributions are upbeat and run counter to the lyrics, the guitar and bass both strangely complement the song. Like any existential query brought on by some pop music, there’s something sad and yet hopeful about. Even though the moping subject of song probably won’t do anything bout his or her situation, at least The Smiths offer the listener some ability to do something, do anything; at the very least to kick with the fray along to the song in a new pair of shoes. – Hubert Vigilla

“Goodbye Horses”
by Q. Lazzarus
(1988)

Make every effort not to think about The Silence of the Lambs. True, it’s hard not to picture Buffalo Bill dancing in a bathrobe with a scalp on his head, moths fluttering around him. But it’s a really good song! It’s got creepy, echoing synths, a pounding drum machine, and cryptic lyrics, but what really makes it unforgettable is Q Lazzarus’ androgynous voice. Almost whispering, she “hooos” and disagrees with an old man, who tells her some unnamed drama in her life will pass on like everything else. Chanting “Goodbye horses” at the end of the song doesn’t explain just what that drama is, but it makes for a dreamy effect, whether you’re listening to it while driving late at night, or dancing in your private dungeon, rubbing lotion on your skin. – AG

“Bitchin Camaro”
by Dead Milkmen
from Big Lizard in My Back Yard (1985)

Not that there weren’t serious aspects of the era, but I always look back on the ’80s as a decade that was, well, kinda silly. After all, this was the decade that gave us both Flashdance and Footloose. It also gave us “Bitchin’ Camaro,” the breakthrough, some might say signature, song by The Dead Milkmen. Essentially a pisstake improvised chat between Joe Jack Talcum and Rodney Anonymous that mentions, among other things, a Doors cover band called Crystal Shit, a bar that lets sixteen year olds drink, and driving a Camaro back from the Bahamas, to which Joe hilariously replies “you’re kidding!” In the final third of the song, the band bursts into a quick, messy punk song that awesomely rhymes “donuts on your lawn” with “Tony Orlando and Dawn.” From the point that this song had made its way into the household back in the mid-80s, every Camaro became “bitchin” by default. Supposedly, there are other versions that were recorded with different improvised intros, but the one that lives on is, amazingly, still pretty funny. – JT

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The Dead Milkmen - Big Lizard In My Back Yard - Bitchin' Camaro

“I Go Crazy” & “Postcards from Paradise”
by Flesh For Lulu
from Long Live the New Flesh (1987)

If you ask US and UK fans about Flesh for Lulu, you’ll likely receive completely different responses. Long Live the New Flesh was the band’s attempt at US stardom, and with two hit singles, they somewhat succeeded, alienating their British fanbase. The two songs are similar, but equally infectious. Their UK career was based on the Stones, but these songs were a little less blues and a little more arena pop / rock. The band got lumped in with acts like Gene Loves Jezebel and were mostly forgotten after these two songs faded from airplay, but I still throw this record on and at least listen to these two classics again and again. “I Go Crazy” was featured numerous times in the John Hughes film, Some Kind of Wonderful, which was Hughes’ way of rectifying the idiotic Hollywood ending of Pretty in Pink. (Duckie fans, I feel your pain). “Postcards from Paradise” was covered by Paul Westerberg on his album, Stereo, yet remains untitled due to Vagrant Records’ feeling that the song was uncool. They apparently wanted it removed from the record entirely. Westerberg, rightly, said they were just too young to understand. – TT

“Lyrics of Fury”
by Eric B & Rakim
from Follow the Leader (1988)

By the early ’90s, every hip-hop group, British dance pop outfit and big beat DJ was using the break from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” but Eric B. did it first, and he did it best. Simple, yet heavy, and most certainly funky, “Lyrics of Fury” is an intense slab of hip-hop that was harder hitting than anything else in the ’80s, save for Public Enemy, and maybe Boogie Down Productions. Rakim’s vocals not only flow fluidly, but they come with an incredible force, referencing horror movies (which pairs well with that weird, creepy sample that interrupts every so often), and reaching a jaw-dropping peak during his “fearafied freestyle” as he spouts: “it’s only one capable/breaks the unbreakable/melodies unmakeable/pattern unescapable.” A stroke of genius that would forever be imitated, “Lyrics of Fury,” like many of the duo’s other songs, set the bar pretty high for those to follow. – JT

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Eric B. & Rakim - Follow the Leader - Lyrics of Fury

“Driver 8”
by R.E.M.
from Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)

“Driver 8” was the first R.E.M. song in which I could understand every word Michael Stipe was singing. I still may not have been able to `interpret’ every word, but he was finally annunciating. The line that always comes to mind when thinking about this song is “The power lines have floaters so the airplanes won’t get snagged.” It reminded me of a time when I asked my dad about those floaters and he explained to me just as concisely as Stipe what they were for. There’s such a sense of small town pastoral innocence that it quickly became one of my favorite songs. You can see the train in your mind, see the blue sky and hear the bells ringing. I also think of this song when I am rushing and worried about work, deadlines or getting somewhere on time. Stipe sings, “We can reach our destination, but we’re still a ways away.” – TT

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R.E.M. - Fables of the Reconstruction - Driver 8

“Destination Unknown”
by Missing Persons
from Spring Session M (1982)

Known almost as much, if not more so, for frontwoman Dale Bozzio’s bright pink hair and sci-fi outfits as for their music, Missing Persons still made an outstanding breakthrough debut with Spring Session M, the title being an anagram for the band’s name. There were a handful of hits on the record, including “Words” and “Walking in L.A.” “Destination Unkown” was arguably the best, a solid pop song with a one-note bassline and Warren Cuccurullo’s descending guitar riffs, and fluffy, meaningless lyrics squeaked out so perfectly by Bozzio. It’s not a complicated or showy song, which comes as a surprise, considering two members of the band had previously played with Frank Zappa, but it’s a damn good one. And don’t think that Bozzio’s look and singing style haven’t influenced many who came after. Gwen Stefani, you should be ashamed of yourself. – JT

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Missing Persons - The Best of Missing Persons - Destination Unknown

“Shoot You Down”
by APB
from Something to Believe In (1985)

“Shoot You Down” shows how funky-ass Scotsmen work it: they do it with a relentless bassline groove and rhythm section that carries the song from start to finish, they do it with crunchy guitars like fuzzy exclamation marks, they do it with hand claps, they do it kind of like a collaboration between Gang of Four and Aztec Camera. And they do it so well that you start nodding your head, you clap, you ba-ba-bum along with the bassline, you get up and dance, you sing “I would like to shoot you down” and “Funk get ready to go / Funk get ready to roll” with Iain Slater, and you feel all the better for it. No wonder people were willing to pay more than $200 for the album before the reissue. – HV

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APB - Something to Believe In - Shoot You Down

“Raspberry Beret”
by Prince
from Around the World in a Day (1985)

There are simply those songs that you remember from your past that you can remember every word to. I know of a few people who, due to repetition, can repeat every line of certain TV show theme songs (for some reason, most can remember “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”). I know that my junior high friend Chris and I both knew every line to “Raspberry Beret.” Prince had a penchant for ’60s AM radio sounds at this time and was also evident in “Take Me With U” and “Manic Monday” which he wrote for the Bangles. But “Raspberry Beret” tells the tale of a boy’s first time, which he “wouldn’t change a stroke, `cause baby I’m the most, with a girl as fine as she was then.” My favorite part of the song is still the bridge when he sings, “The rain sounds so cool when it hits the barn roof, and the horses wonder who you are / Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees, and you feel like a movie star.” I wrote in our look at out-of-print CD’s that I always thought Ian Broudie’s band the Lightning Seeds took their name from the song until I learned that he sang “sees” instead of “seeds,” but it turns out that Ian made the same mistake and really did name his band after the misheard lyric. I love it. – TT

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Prince - Around the World in a Day - Raspberry Beret

“Everywhere that I’m Not”
by Translator
from Heartbeats and Triggers (1982)

Most people only know this one particular song from this San Francisco new wave band, making them one of those infamous `one hit wonders.’ Back in college, I used to host ’80s themed parties and would load up mixes with these nuggets. I would buy cheap plastic party tumblers and write the names of these songs, one per cup, on the rim. Then, when that partygoers’ particular song would play, they’d have to finish whatever was still inside. Ah, the good old days and any excuse to get loaded. Anyway, back to the song. It’s fairly simple with the singer, in the chorus, naming the places that his love is and he is not, Tokyo, New York and Nova Scotia. The jangly Beatlesesque guitars play as the verses sing of seeing someone you think is that person you miss, but just can’t be (haven’t we all done that after an unexpected split?) The best part echoes the singer’s frustration at being without his girl as he stutter sings, “That’s impossible that’s im / That’s impossible that’s imposs / That’s impossible that’s im-poss-ible.” Many mistakenly thought this song was about the loss of John Lennon, but it turns out not to be true, much like Filter’s “Hey Man Nice Shot” not being about Kurt Cobain. Or are they? – TT

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Translator - The Best of Translator: Everywhere That We Were - Everywhere That I'm Not

“Middle of the Road”
by The Pretenders
from Learning To Crawl (1984)

Though often cited as a “punk” or “new wave” band in their formative years, it wasn’t long before The Pretenders made clear that they were a straight-up rock `n’ roll band. Case in point: “Middle of the Road,” the opening kick-ass rocker on their third album, Learning to Crawl. Remarkable not only for being a successful attempt at reassembling a band after the death of James Honeyman Scott and the departure of bassist Pete Farndon, it was also a magnificent song, perhaps the band’s best. Featuring falsetto “whoooo-oooo-oooo-oooohs” and a truly awesome progression of riffs, it’s the ultimate road trip song, though the lyrics actually seem to be more about defying age: “The middle of the road is trying to find me/I’m standing in the middle of life with my plans behind me.” I bought this album after being let out of my last day of high school, and feeling as if I were in that exact position. Of course, in the end, Chryssie Hynde sings “I’ve got a kid/I’m thirty-three,” so maybe I didn’t actually identify with the song as much as I thought at the time…-JT

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The Pretenders - Learning to Crawl - Middle of the Road

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom score
by John Williams
from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Sure, Raiders of the Lost Ark is still the better movie by far and yes, I still have a copy of the Raiders soundtrack on cassette somewhere in a box in the Bay Area gathering dust along with my dad’s 8-track copy of Frampton Comes Alive. And yet, I can’t help but enjoy the Temple of Doom score a bit more. It may be because the score, like the movie, is zany — John Williams’s iconic, heroic score for the title character’s exploits incorporating the melody from the opening musical number, Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” and a happy-go-lucky, child-friendly leitmotif associated with the sidekick Short Round. – HV

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John Williams - The Music of John Williams - 40 Years of Film Music (Box Set) - End Credits (From "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom")

“One Night in Bangkok”
by Murray Head
from Chess (1984)

Did you all know that librarian Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a pop singer older brother? Murray Head is indeed Anthony Head’s sibling and “One Night in Bangkok” is his one hit, an unlikely pop music confection with heavy lyrics from a Broadway musical. Lyricist Tim Rice hooked up with the two men from ABBA to create Chess, a musical look at tensions between the US and USSR through the metaphor of the game. Head was featured in the cast and sang this song, sounding more like M’s “Pop Muzik” than a musical number. The verses are spoken rather than sung with such great memorable lines as “I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine.” and “I’d let you watch, I would invite you / But the queens we use would not excite you.” Chess and double entendres meet in lines like, “One town’s very like another / When your head’s down over your pieces, brother.” – TT

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Murray Head - Greatest Hits - One Night in Bangkok

“A New England” and “St. Swithin’s Day”
by Billy Bragg
from Life’s a Riot w/ Spy vs. Spy/ Brewing Up with Billy Bragg (1983/1984)

My two favorite Billy Bragg songs, both of which were among his earliest, happen to also be two of his saddest songs ever recorded, and having nothing to do with the political themes that would often be his trademark. “A New England” is shorter and punkier, borrowing an opening line from Simon & Garfunkel’s “Leaves That Are Green” and finding the downcast narrator making wishes on satellites as he laments “I wish…I wish you cared.” Yet “St. Swithin’s Day” is the slower of the two, another breakup song, and a truly heartbreaking ballad at that. Without the tinge of humor in “A New England,” however, it’s almost downright depressing. Bragg recounts, “it’s not the same, I miss the thunder, I miss the rain/and the fact that you don’t understand casts a shadow over this land/but the sun still shines from behind it.” Between the two, the listener is treated to contrasting sides of Bragg’s songwriting style, and a pair of the best break-up songs of the decade, or ever, really. – JT

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Billy Bragg - Must I Paint You a Picture? - The Essential Billy Bragg

“Life in a Northern Town”
by The Dream Academy
from Dream Academy (1985)

Dreamy ’60s pop made a big comeback with this gem from British trio the Dream Academy. This string-laden whispery track was supposedly a paean to Nick Drake, but the lyrics also act as reverie for a time now gone and also seems to hint at a father figure leaving his family, as there’s no work to be had. A man sits down to tell the gathering children about the past, “In winter 1963 / It felt like the world would freeze / With John F. Kennedy and the Beatles.” The bombastic chorus, mostly just “hey ma’s” and other operatic scat like sounds make it one of the most memorable songs of my early teen years. – TT

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The Dream Academy - The Dream Academy - Life In A Northern Town (LP Version)

“Hounds of Love”
by Kate Bush
from Hounds of Love (1985)

These days I hear this song quite often when I think about a person I’m infatuated with. I’ve always been a coward – though some would say dunce – In matters of love so I suppose that’s pretty fitting. But thinking about it more, I think maybe I always heard this song; its steady pulse of cello pit-pattering in my timorous heart all my life with every encounter with unrequited love, every heartache from each not-quite-there relationship, every quite content glance joined by a secretive, almost embarrassed smile. I’ve heard the susurrus of this song every time I fell in love because Kate Bush perfectly communicates that exhilarating first encounter with someone you want to love. There’s that admission of cowardice and vulnerability joined by self-deprecation, then a steady chase until there, if it all works out, you’re locked in an embrace where you can feel the cellos and strings of each others hearts. You lock together and can’t let go, don’t want to let go, because this is precisely what you both really need. – HV

“Canary in a Coalmine”
by The Police
from Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)

Of the three albums The Police released in the ’80s, Zenyatta Mondatta was, unfortunately, the only one that didn’t make it to our list of the best albums. That doesn’t mean it didn’t have a few choice songs, of course, including my favorite, “Canary in a Coalmine.” Though “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” was, for most, the star of the album, this short burst of energetic ska-pop was no less fun. Singing about a hypersensitive person, Sting’s lyrics are silly and absurd—”first to fall over when the atmosphere is less than perfect/your sensibilities are shaken by the slightest defect“—yet they’re part of what makes the song so fun. That it is so simple is what makes it so appealing, in the same way as many of the band’s early songs did. — JT

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The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta - Canary in a Coalmine

“People Who Died” & “88 Lines about 44 Women”
by Jim Carroll & The Nails
from Catholic Boy & Mood Swing (1980/1984)

These two songs were similar in their natures, being near-recited lists of people in the singers’ lives. For Jim Carroll, the one-time basketball prospect turned junkie turned diarist and poet (he wrote the book and was the subject of the film, The Basketball Diaries), his was a list of all of his friends who had died, most from drugs, set to blistering guitars. Carroll’s voice starts somber, but by the end he is frantic and overwrought, adding to the punk tension. For the Nails, a Boulder, Colorado band, theirs was also a list, but a personal list of the 44 women he had either been with or known. With just a drum machine and a synthesizer, the singer goes about his business giving a name and a little bit of info on each woman, such as the one we all wanted to hear the `rest of’ in junior high as it was bleeped on the radio, “Linda thought her life was empty / filled it up with alcohol / Katherine was much too pretty / She didn’t do that shit at all.” – TT

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Jim Carroll - Catholic Boy - People Who Died

“I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down”
by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
from Get Happy (1980)

Elvis Costello takes Sam and Dave’s slow and soulful “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” and turns it into a song deceptively upbeat complete with boiling organs and a giddy bassline that dances up and down the street. In this incarnation of the song, you don’t necessarily feel like hanging your head and shuffling your sad feet. Costello’s cover is ecstatic and cathartic, like the narrator of the song is picking himself up if only to fall down again. But he’s not down for the count for the moment. He’s dancing like that bassline, and he’s snapping and stomping and he’s maybe out with his friend for a pint and a good time; and even though his heart’s broken in two, he’s still got his happy feet and, more than anything, he’s still in love. Hopefully he’ll be ready for the next fall. – HV

“Mirror in the Bathroom”
by English Beat
from I Just Can’t Stop It (1980)

Though the English Beat had come around after Madness, The Specials and The Selecter had already made their entrance into the second wave of ska, they were arguably writing the best songs. Their first hit, “Mirror in the Bathroom,” didn’t have quite the happy-go-lucky demeanor that eventually came to be identified with ska. Rather, “Mirror in the Bathroom” was haunting and paranoid, with lyrics about cocaine addiction. Dave Wakeling’s verses provide an almost hallucinatory foil to the dark grooves, as he sings “mirror in the bathroom, I just can’t stop it/every Saturday find me window shopping/find no interest in the racks and shelves/just a thousand reflections of my own sweet shelf.” Though thousands of bands would come to steal the opening drum taps to this song, it’s the original that never gets tiresome. – JT

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The English Beat - I Just Can't Stop It - Mirror In the Bathroom

“Wouldn’t it be Good?”
by Nik Kershaw / Danny Hutton Hitters
(1983/1986)

I got it bad, you don’t know how bad I got it / You got it easy, you don’t know when you got it good.” These words open up the song “Wouldn’t It Be Good,” a song that reminds me the grass is not always greener on the other side. Nik Kershaw wrote this song in 1983, as it appeared on his debut album, Human Racing, but Danny Hutton, formerly of Three Dog Night, made it even more famous by his cover on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. (Can you tell at this point that I’m a huge John Hughes fan?) I am hard pressed to actually pick which version I prefer as each have their respective styles and moments, but that’s what happens when the song is written well. Unfortunately, its theme went against the film’s ending, as Andie didn’t learn that the richies had it better, ending up with Blane instead of Duckie, as Hughes had originally intended. – TT

“Breaking the Law”
by Judas Priest
from British Steel (1980)

I’m not much of a metalhead; I own exactly zero Slayer albums and the same amount of Metallica. I have my bands I like, sure, but I could never fully immerse myself in the genre. That said, there’s something I find totally awesome about Judas Priest. As part of the British New Wave of heavy metal, they took the existing crunch of Sabbath and added some accessibility and hooks, thus resulting in anthems like “Breaking the Law.” Paired with an infamously ridiculous video depicting the band robbing banks, and frontman Rob Halford clad in a suit, of all things. It might be a little dated, but it still rocks hard. And, curiously enough, like just about every other ’80s UK rock icon, Halford lived in San Diego for a time (he moved here around the time that he “came out”) and I happened to run into him on occasion. Dude’s tall. — JT

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Judas Priest - British Steel - Breaking the Law

“Everyday I Write the Book”
by Elvis Costello and the Attractions
from Punch the Clock (1983)

Being a book lover, this song is very special to me. Elvis uses literary terms to describe a love affair’s arc to perfection in this ’60s soul classic, complete with horns and female backup singers. The first verse mentions footnotes and editions while the second puts the affair into chapters. Paragraphs and quotation marks also appear, proving that Costello still had the genius lyrical touch. “Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal / I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel.” – TT

“No New Tale to Tell”
by Love and Rockets
from Earth Sun Moon (1987)

No disrespect to the Jesus and Mary Chain, a great band with many great albums, but some of the credit given to them in a recent wave of dark, trippy rock groups (BRMC, Dandy Warhols, even The Yeah Yeah Yeahs) should have actually been given to Love and Rockets. Compare “Godless,” “Love Burns” or “Gold Lion” to “No New Tale to Tell” and you’ll see what I mean. Initially acoustic and folky, the song is built around a classic and catchy chord progression that quickly escalates into a heavier, psychedelic rock song. And during the chorus, when David J and Daniel Ash harmonize shouting the song’s title, it gets absolutely heavy. Yet, there is a lighter side to the song, and by that I mean the `monkey flute’ solo, which I recall witnessing my brother and one of his friends imitate when they were in high school. Maybe you had to be there… – JT

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Love and Rockets - Earth Sun Moon - No New Tale to Tell

“Ask”
by The Smiths
(1986)

If “Hounds of Love” plays every time I fall for someone, it’s “Ask” that plays while I try to conjure up the courage to act. It’s actually a pretty good accompanying soundtrack to the train wreck comedy of a cowardly love life. As the song plays somewhere down the hall, he’ll have his hands in his pockets while his voice cracks so it almost sounds like the harmonica that kicks in during the second verse. He’ll scuff his shoes, pivoting on the balls of his feet in time to the poppy bounce of the rhythm section, wearing the soles down until there’s only a faint membrane between his toes and the linoleum. And his words, as well meaning as he wants them to be, will wind up so coy, so oblique, even though he can see in her smile and that she wants him to ask her something. Maybe that smile means she couldn’t say no, but he’ll back away and run. Oh well, at least there’s always that buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg who things he’s pretty cool. – HV

“Shipbuilding”
by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
from Punch the Clock (1983)

This touching song was one of the first with serious implications from Elvis Costello. Written about the Falkland Islands conflict, the song juxtaposes the jobs that war brings to small manufacturing towns, with the death of that town’s young people in the war itself, surely something we can all relate to at this point. Costello starts the song with a lyric that says it all, “Is it worth it?” Chet Baker makes an appearance, playing a stunning trumpet solo five years before his death. Suede would later cover the song for a benefit album for the non-profit group Warchild. – TT

“I Often Dream of Trains”
by Robyn Hitchcock
from I Often Dream of Trains (1984)

Robyn Hitchcock has gone through many incarnations during his career, from his punk rock days in the Soft Boys to his later jangle-pop years. Briefly, however, he went the Billy Bragg route, recording an album primarily of guitar and voice, titled after its final track, a solemn waltz that has been covered many times over. And there’s a damn good reason why so many, ranging from Firewater to Grant Lee Phillips, have taken on this classic—it’s a simple, yet somber and elegant folk tune with universal themes, primarily the dream of escape. He’s always psychologically somewhere else: paradise, Basingstoke or Reading, and even when he’s with his love, his mind goes straight to those outbound locomotives. They’re not headed anywhere in particular, just somewhere else, and like Hitchcock, it’s true that we often feel that compulsion to visit that elsewhere as the trains beckon. – JT

“Voices Carry”
by Til Tuesday
from Voices Carry (1985)

Lest we forget, Aimee Mann, singer and writer of magnificent songs and inspirer of art films, started out in a band. `Til Tuesday burst onto the MTV pop scene with “Voices Carry,” a dramatic synth song that gave power to the silenced `other women’ of the world. Long before Gwen sarcastically smirked that she was just a girl, Mann told a story of the girl on the side, told to keep it down before anyone hears of the illicit affair. It was the band’s one shining moment before obscurity and then Mann’s inevitable successful solo career. Even then, with one hit song (amongst a vast sea of one hit wonders), I just knew that Mann was something special, inspiring both a crush (rat-tail and all) and a profound admiration for her powerful voice. – TT

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'Til Tuesday - Voices Carry - Voices Carry

“Too Shy”
by Kajagoogoo
from White Feathers (1982)

Considered to be one of the more recognizable of the one hit wonders, “Too Shy” is often underrated. Its slinky bassline and danceable grooves were second only to perhaps Duran Duran in stylishness, and frontman Limahl’s voice lended a sultry and sexy spice to the mix. Sure, they never had another hit in the U.S., but Limahl (an anagram for his last name, Hamill) did score another one solo with his theme for The Neverending Story. I now, however, always associate that film with The Dark Crystal, mostly because Limahl more than resembled a gelfling. Back on track, the song’s hooks and pop sheen are absolutely undeniable and had the band kept it together, could have probably scored several more hits. – TT

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Kajagoogoo - White Feathers - Too Shy

“This Above All”
by Matthew Sweet
from Inside (1986)

I remember reading in a review that this was a song that Matthew Sweet should revisit and re-record, that the overwrought synths and production hamper what could have been a really good song. Yeah, I would definitely like it to be revisited 20 years later with his current power pop chops, Richard Lloyd accompanying on lead guitar with a wall-to-wall solo, but there’s still a lot of pull (or whatever you want to call it) in Sweet’s very young voice belting out the guitar and synth-driven song. The lyrics are an impassioned carpe diem, albeit lacking in the usual deftness with which he construct his later lyrics, the chorus hook is potent even with all the fluff getting in the way. Really, “This Above All” is a misstep in the right direction, a foot in the door and a penny on the floor that pointed at the possibilities that were later realized. Here’s to hoping he revisits his first steps. – HV

“Get the Balance Right”
by Depeche Mode
(1983)

When I was younger, I never really got the hang of singles. I was a full-length album kind of guy. Luckily, my sister was a collector of singles in the 12-inch / Dance Remix variety, and I was exposed to several songs I might have otherwise been deprived of. One of those was Depeche Mode’s breakout single “Get the Balance Right.” Not featured on any album until a greatest hits compilation two years later, the song was DM’s first real foray into their darker side. Martin Gore’s lyrics set to Dave Gahan’s voice had never sounded as polished or as lyrically adventurous. “Just Can’t Get Enough” was a big dance hit, but couldn’t touch later DM in the department of words. Rather than saying, “When I’m with you baby, I go out of my head,” Gahan was singing, “Concerned and caring, help the helpless, but always remain ultimately selfish.” Gahan’s delivery of the bridge’s last line, “It’s almost predictable,” remains one of my favorite DM moments. – TT

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Depeche Mode - The Singles 81>85 - Get the Balance Right!

“Strange Weather”
by Tom Waits
from Big Time (1988)

Much like Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” or Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” or really any song that Prince wrote for another singer, “Strange Weather” was written for an artist other than its composer. Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan wrote the song for Marianne Faithfull, who recorded it on her album of the same name. However, much like those aforementioned tracks, hearing the original songwriter’s take provides a much different experience. While Faithfull’s is theatrical and laden with strings, in the hands of Tom Waits, it’s somewhere between Threepenny Opera and the film scores of Nino Rota, mixed with Waits’ own scratchy voiced delivery. Oddly enough, it’s one of Waits’ most curiously romantic songs, featuring lines like “a love like ours my dear, is best measured when it’s down/and I never buy umbrellas, because there’s always one around.” Waits’ only recording of the song is on the soundtrack to his concert film Big Time, but as wonderfully as its recorded here, it hardly seems necessary for there to be any other version. – JT

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Tom Waits - Big Time - Strange Weather

“Cyrano de Berger’s Back”
by X
from See How We Are (1987)

Even though it’s X without Billy Zoom, it’s still X, sort of. Well, regardless, the closer on See How We Are, “Cyrano de Berger’s Back,” was on repeat the other day and it stayed that way for the better part of an hour. I do have a bit of a preference for the threadbare rehearsal version of the song on the reissue of Los Angeles, but the album version’s interplay between John Doe and Exene is hard to keep out of my head. There’s something so wonderful about how their voices complement each other, another well-arranged game of vocal tag as they loll around the allusion to everyone’s favorite big-nosed fellow who helps woo the ladies. – HV

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X - See How We Are - Cyrano de Berger's Back

“Mexican Radio” & “Camouflage”
by Wall of Voodoo / Stan Ridgway
from Call of the West / The Big Heat (1982/1985)

“Mexican Radio” made me an instant fan of the quirky ’30s gangster style deliver of Stan Ridgway. The album, Call of the West, mixed the Los Angeles goofy charms of Oingo Boingo and a long lost Hollywood studio panache that could somehow mix noir, western and sci-fi all in one. Songs like Voodoo’s cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” stood out in their body of work, but “Mexican Radio” was their one major claim to fame. This Devo meets Elfman depiction of tourists in Mexico put Ridgway in the spotlight, later collaborating with Police drummer Stewart Copeland for a song in the movie Rumble Fish. Ridgway’s debut solo album contained the closer “Camouflage,” a Twilight Zone-like story song about a Marine who saves the frightened narrator in a Vietnam firefight, only to discover that the savior had been in a coma for days. – TT

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Stan Ridgway - The Big Heat - Camouflage

“Sailin’ On”
by Bad Brains
from Bad Brains (1982)

Bad Brains were (and possibly still are, as they’re reported to be releasing a new album sometime in the future) one of the most volatile acts ever. Frontman H.R., aside from being unreliable, was also notoriously violent and foul-tempered. Moreover, they invented hardcore punk, their explosive sound and presence prompting many violent outbursts at shows, which got them banned from shows in their home of Washington, D.C. But that’s another story. Their vinyl introduction, so to speak, came with a heavy and hard-hitting, yet catchy tune at the beginning of their self-titled debut. A far cry from their beginnings as a jazz fusion group, Bad Brains created a destructive and powerful sound, and “Sailin’ On” became an instant classic. Covered by artists like Moby and No Doubt, its influence spread well into the mainstream, despite the band’s extremely non-mainstream presence. But the funny thing is, for all their eardrum-bursting dreadlocked rabble-rousing, this song is in essence, a breakup song—the “I Will Survive” of the punk era. — JT

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Bad Brains - Bad Brains - Sailin' On

“19”
by Paul Hardcastle
(1985)

Besides “Camouflage,” my other favorite Vietnam War inspired hit is “19” by British dance composer Paul Hardcastle. Using only samples from radio and television to comprise the lyrics (and a few singing girls), along with keyboard new wave backing, the song gives a depiction of war from many different sides. The biggest revelation to come from this song was the reason for the title, that the average age of a World War II soldier was 26, but for a Vietnam War soldier, it was 19. In a way, it was like a song “wiki” of the Vietnam War, giving tidbits of information, statistics and terms such as “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Besides all of that it was a darn catchy song. – TT

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Paul Hardcastle - Cover to Cover - 19

“I Left My Wallet in El Segundo”
by A Tribe Called Quest
from People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythms (1989)

It would be another two years before A Tribe Called Quest would release their masterpiece, The Low End Theory, but they introduced themselves in 1989, the same year that De La Soul would do so. One such gem on their debut was a funny song-story about losing one’s wallet while on a road trip in a Dodge Dart. Flowing along a rolling beat and featuring a great mariachi sample, the song is most certainly catchy, particularly during the chorus, as Q-Tip refrains: “I gotta get it, got-got-ta get.” Yet the best part of the whole song comes when Tip gives a beatless monologue as he reaches his unfortunate realization: “It was a brown wallet, it had my props numbers, had my jimmy hats—I gotta get it, man!” Particularly during an era when political acts like Public Enemy and gangsta rappers like N.W.A. were beginning to rise in popularity, A Tribe Called Quest offered a different take, one that was artistically viable and innovative, but still knew when to have a little fun. – JT

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A Tribe Called Quest - Peoples' Instinctive Travels & the Paths of Rhythm - I Left My Wallet in El Segundo

“Stand”
by R.E.M.
from Green (1988)

As far as radio hits go, “Stand” was about as big as they get, and for good reason. From the unassuming organ intro that melts quickly into Peter Buck’s seamlessly arpeggiated guitar riff and Michael Stipe’s anthemic lyrics, to the slamming of piano keys over Bill Berry’s steady skin-slapping, it’s a head-bobber all the way. With one of the most memorable choruses I’ve ever heard, and one which R.E.M. will probably never top, “Stand” is a song you absolutely cannot help but sing along to. Stipe’s invitation to “think about direction / wonder why you haven’t now” is brilliant in it’s simplicity; a gentle call to self-examination without being the slightest bit overbearing. Packaged in a gleaming pop wrapper, “Stand” proved R.E.M. deserved their new major label status, with a radio-ready sound that had the songwriting to back it all up. – MS

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R.E.M. - Green - Stand

“A-E-I-O-U Sometimes Y”
by Ebn-Ozn
from Feeling Cavalier (1983)

This odd synth duo from New York City was named after its members’ last names minus the initial consonants, in other words, Liben and Rosen. They had one fairly obscure hit, the talk / rap / dance song “AEIOU Sometimes Y,” and in the 22 years since its release, I’ve never forgotten it. Rosen raps about an incredible Swedish girl that he meets in a café and his courtship of said girl, with the choruses displaying a more philosophical bent. The voice of the chorus tells us that there are over 178 parent languages in the world, with over 1000 dialects, and that it’s amazing we can even communicate. We then revert back to Rosen, the cocksure lothario spouting nothing but chauvinistic vitriol. The dichotomy was lost on most, but then again, it was the shallow ’80s, and most synth songs were simply about love and dancing. With their one hit wonder status intact, Liben went on to join Scritti Politti while Rosen became screenwriter who worked for Oliver Stone. – TT

“More to Lose”
by Seona Dancing
from “More to Lose” b/w “You’re On My Side” (7″ and 12″ singles) (1983)

“More to Lose” can only be described as what would happen if Starship covered “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” but I mean that in a good way. Before Ricky Gervais heard Patrick Stewart’s pervy pitch for a movie on “Extras” and before he won two Golden Globes for the British version of the show “The Office,” Gervais was one-half of the short-lived new romantic outfit Seona Dancing. Managing to peak at a paltry #70 on the Billboard charts, the band broke up in 1984. According to a Seona Dancing fansite, their single “More to Lose” became a hit in the Philippines in 1985, though the DJ had incorrectly called the song “Fade” and misattributed said song to a band called Medium. Other DJs would transpose the false song name with the false band name. Gervais — then something of a fey pretty boy with sleek hair and rouged cheeks — delivers lyrics such as “A thousand tortured lives have fallen / Wounded dying cut down by the / Questions that we’ve sharpened / Just to save our losing days” like a karaoke Morrissey over an admittedly pretty piano melody that, as Michael Sutton puts it, conveys the sound of falling tears. The end result is at once sincere and kitschy, like angsty high school poetry written after your first break up. – HV

“Go!”
by Tones on Tail
(1984)

It’s curious, to me that one of the best dance singles of the ’80s, and the career defining song by Daniel Ash’s Tones on Tail, is as difficult to find as it is. Not available on any currently in-print Tones on Tail release, aside from in “Club Mix” form, “Go!” requires a little tracking down on the part of the consumer. John Cusack fans should remember that it was on the soundtrack to Grosse Point Blank, along with that weird re-recorded version of “Blister in the Sun,” however. Initially a b-side, “Go!” was never meant to be a prominent fixture in ToT’s rotation. Whoever was the first to flip that 12″ should be thanked for turning the song into a hit. It’s no mystery as to why this song appealed to such a wide audience; it had a a good beat, a great bassline, lots and lots of cowbell and dadaist, nonsensical lyrics—”ya ya ya ya ya ya ya.” Now that’s a hit! – JT

“The Safety Dance”
by Men Without Hats
from Rhythm of Youth (1982)

Forever the butt of many jokes, “The Safety Dance” was actually one catchy ass tune. Accompanied by a weird video with dancing midgets and an odd dance, later cribbed for use in the film, A Knight’s Tale, whether intentional or not, Men Without Hats’ first hit (yes, they had more! Anyone remember “Pop Goes the World?”) took the radio and MTV world by storm. Besides, you know you’ve made a memorable song when Homer Simpson lampoons it with “You can dance, you can dance, everybody look at your pants!” – TT

End credits theme
by Michael Boddicker
from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

This may be a backhanded compliment to a movie I actually do like, but the best part of the quirky cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is the end credits. Yeah, there’s Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) singing “Since I Don’t Have You” to a distraught Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) and there’s that line about the watermelon, but the end of the movie is so cool even given its simplicity. Banzai and his merry and motley band of rock and rollers, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, march through an empty canal to Michael Boddicker’s synth score. The melody is mousey and yet memorable, and I’m given to whistling it or humming it to myself while walking around, particularly in empty canals. The end credits of Buckaroo Banzai were memorable enough for Wes Anderson to end The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in similar fashion, and fittingly, that was the best part of that movie as well. – HV

“True Faith”
by New Order
(1987)

New Order’s “True Faith” is a song that, for me, will forever be tied to its remarkable, surreal and colorful video. Depicting brightly painted mimes in puffy outfits bouncing and slapping each other to the beat of the song, it’s an absurd, quite hilarious juxtaposition to the heavier drug themes in the song. Partly because of the video and partly because of the song’s infectious bassline and hard-hitting beats, “True Faith” became one of the band’s biggest hits when it was released in 1987. When I first heard it, I became hooked, myself, listening to it on cassette over and over again on long car trips. I sometimes do the same thing now, only on CD or iPod, but I still never tire of it. I always get chills when I hear Bernard Sumner sing “I used to think that the day would never come/I’d see the light in the shade of the morning sun” as the song seems to rev up and explode into a dark, yet powerful direction. – JT

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New Order - International - The Best of New Order - True Faith

“I Melt With You”
by Modern English
from After the Snow (1982)

Perhaps only rivaled by Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” in the `most played after its heyday’ category, Modern English’s new romantic hit “I Melt With You” was a breakthrough smash, inspiring a host of new millennium retro bands. It was accessible enough to become recognizable worldwide, and heartfelt enough to become the love theme for the film Valley Girl. If people still made mixtapes, “I Melt With You” would still be one of the most used songs in the history of audio courtship. Even if you can’t remember the lyrics, you can still join in at the humming bridge! – TT

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Modern English - Pillow Lips - I Melt With You

“Every Breath You Take”
by The Police
from Synchronicity (1983)

Most cannot refute that The Police were not only a big part of the British new wave Invasion, but that they were also instrumental in creating a mass consciousness that drew people in from every social class, every ethnicity, every creed, and every age group to come together and enjoy their songs. The album that may be responsible for their universal appeal was Synchronicity, the LP which held the magnetic single “Every Breath You Take.”

In 1983, the single remained at No. 1 for an unprecedented eight weeks. It broke records in sales and became a song that withstood the test of time as still plays on commercial and contemporary radio stations across the globe. Back in 1983, I was just a gangly kid who had no idea of the impact the song would make on others and me. That just happened to be the year that The Police played one unforgettable night at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York. The tickets sold for $15 a piece and the show was sold out before noon on the day they went on sale, again breaking records. My brothers and I could not afford tickets nor would we have been one of the lucky 70,000 people who got through at Ticketmaster. We had one chance to be at the show and that was to take the No. 7 train, which stopped at Shea Stadium.

When we got to the stadium, the parking lot was packed with onlookers who also missed the opportunity to purchase a ticket. I don’t remember scalpers, probably because if you had a ticket you were inside enjoying the show, not trying to sell the tickets to the highest bid and mingling with us loafers. Joan Jett, the current headliner for the Vans Warped Tour 2006, was the opener. From the parking lot and the No. 7 train station you could hear everything. It was great. Both Joan Jett and The Police sounded amazing. The amplified sound was on megahertz power. I remember being able to hear the music from every corner around the stadium. A group of us even managed to see some of the show from behind the scoreboard. Bless baseball stadiums for keeping the score board so high up and giving people outside of the fortress a wide view of the stage.

Sting was dressed in all white and when The Police started the first notes to “Every Breath You Take,” the applause was deafening. Then everyone went completely silent. It was the song that evening which captured every single person’s attention and held the crowd in the palm of Sting’s hands. When he finished the song, the applause was so loud I was sure the bleachers would come tumbling down from the earth quaking tremors and pounding. After the show, people leaving claimed to have felt the stands shaking from the volume of applause. It was the show that beat all shows to follow for me. It broke down every wall that ever polarized people and brought everyone together collectively.

Sting wrote in his autobiography how passionate he is against methods of marginalizing people. He grew up in Newcastle, England where people were constantly being marginalized – boys from girls, scholars from delinquents, Catholics from Jews, etc. He strived to write songs that did not marginalize people and brought them together. Touching them with universal themes like “Every Breath You Take” is evidence that he achieved his objective.

“Every Breath You Take” is one of those songs that appeals to everyone from every place in the world. Even in war-torn Yugoslavia the song had a strong presence. It made people forget their differences and brought them together on one universal plane. The hypnotic flow of the melody and the lyrical hooks are engrossing and naturally became a part of me. It was my first love of British rock and you never forget your first love. – Susan Frances

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The Police - Synchronicity - Every Breath You Take

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