If you want the quick and dry version, you can just research the singles which garnered the highest sales or perhaps you can measure the time a song spent on the charts. But doing that is boring, right?
So let’s talk about some other factors which can decide what the top songs of the 1980s were. In a sense, it’s all about longevity and influence. How many songs of that era are still loved today? And when today’s kids listen to 80s music, which songs still manage to grab their attention? What songs are simply required as part of any decent 1980s playlist?
Here are some likely candidates:
The Police “Every Breath You Take”
Talk about a beloved song. This one sold a lot of singles, and also caused the sales of the album Synchronicity to rise. It was so huge in 1983 that it spent 8 weeks at #1 in the Billboard singles chart. And it also won the Grammy for Song of the Year, despite the fact that Michael Jackson was winning just about every category in the 1984 Grammy Awards.
The secret to its success was that both pop and rock enthusiasts really loved the song. It worked as a love song played at weddings and as a commentary on the stalking phenomenon. This song would eventually become a mandatory part of any best song list of all time.
U2 “With or Without You”
U2 was already famous all over the world for “New Year’s Day” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, but acclaim in the US still eluded them. That problem was solved with the release of the monumental album The Joshua Tree and the launch of “With or Without You” as the lead single. It was a breakthrough for U2 in America, and it would cement their place as one of the greatest bands the world has ever seen.
The song seems simple when you hear it, but the structure is unusual and the lyrics are unclear. It starts out as a ballad with a memorable bass line, until it rises to a crescendo of vocals and guitars.
Run–D.M.C. “Walk This Way”
Now this song is truly influential. This song propelled Run – D.M.C to the top of the charts, and it took Aerosmith along for the ride and revived the aging band’s career.
The influence of this song on modern music is remarkable. It popularized the style of rapping the stanzas while singing the chorus and it also introduced the combustible mix of rap and hard rock which would later be known as rap metal. Steven Tyler still has a career today because of this song.
New Order “Bizarre Love Triangle”
While New Order’s “Blue Monday” is probably more famous in the US (it’s the top-selling 12-inch single of all time), there’s no mistaking the appeal of “Bizarre Love Triangle” on just about everyone who’s ever heard it. This is the perfect example of 80s synth new wave, and the song has been covered by numerous artists.
Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child of Mine”
Hard rock with pop sensibilities, the guitar work of Slash in this single is absolutely sweet.
Now what’s on your list?