Every #1 Song of the 1980s – Series 5

Click for links to Series 4,  Series 3, Series 2, and Series 1 and a quick study of #2 songs

After a brief foray to look at the songs which just missed #1, back to our regularly scheduled programming.  As we add songs – looking through the month of May in the 1980s, the list starts to add songs which evoke summer – and some of the biggest songs of them all.

“Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc (1980) – This is definitely evidence that not everything that endures is that good. Given what was available in the disco, or back end of disco – it is hard to call this a particularly distinguished entry. That said, whether it is via Dumb and Dumber or whatever, this is certainly one of the most well known dance songs of all time. But I cannot generate much enthusiasm here. (29 points)

“Morning Train (9 to 5)” by Sheena Easton (1981) – This might be the strangest number one song of the entire decade. It is clearly one of the worst – indeed, this has nothing in common with the rest of Easton’s 80s career. Seriously – if you have any recollection of Sheena Easton, it was going to be for her hooking up with Prince in the “Sign O The Times” era. Or even earlier – songs that evoke aerobics, like you know …

But no – her biggest hit was actually THIS song – which seems to comparatively have been done with a lobotomy. (20 points)

“Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes (1981) – The biggest single of 1981, Carnes was one of those – like Dolly Parton and Eddie Rabbitt – who found success under the country crossover trend which took hold at the beginning of the decade. By the fates of many of the songs in this part of the decade, this song should not have aged as well as it has. It’s not a great song – but it has endured. (30 points)

“Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis (1982) – Ah, one of those songs that is so well known as to be cliche. It is hard to even type this without lapsing into that slow motion. This is probably the best movie song of the decade – not the best song in a movie – but in terms of evoking the movie (or running generally). Few songs have fit its subject better. (36 points)

“Ebony and Ivory” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (1982) – This was one of the biggest hits of 1982, so that can’t be denied. But of the big hits of the decade, it is among the most dated. OF course it was a huge hit – a collaboration of two of the most illustrious composers of their time. But honestly – I’d rush past this if I had to put together a tribute. It’s fame and whatnot carry this to a higher score than it frankly deserves. (31 points)

“Let’s Dance” by David Bowie (1983) – Bowie’s second number one, it was well known that Let’s Dance was put together with radio in mind. Bowie hired Nile Rodgers as a hitmaker to get him some commercial pop. Bowie was not a fan of this part of his era – which is not surprising given what an uncompromising artist he was. At the same time, he sells himself short. Sure this was pure pop – but it was an excellent example of the form. (38 points)

“Flashdance … What a Feeling” by Irene Cara (1983) – Cara had a big hit with another dance movie title in 1980 with “Fame”. Flashdance itself was a disposable movie, but definitely a piece of 1980s time capsule material. The song is indelible – although about 40% of the time I am not sure if that is a good thing. (34 points)

“Hello” by Lionel Richie (1984) – Oh my. There is a lot to unpack here. This is a typical lousy Lionel Richie croon-fest – even if it is his most well known one. Normally, this would be good for a real toilet bowl score – but the video is pretty great. This is one of those narrative ones, where “Hello” is a tale of romance where Richie is touched by a blind love. At the end she presents him something she sculpted which is “how I see you” which looks less like Richie than 1984 vintage John Oates. Hey if it’s going to suck, might as well get a laugh. (28 points)

“Let’s Hear it for the Boy” by DeNiece Williams (1984) – The other big hit and Oscar nominated song from Footloose, this was DeNiece Williams’ biggest hit. It’s silly – in so many ways, the video, the tempo – for years I kept thinking this was a Lisa Lisa song. This song is okay enough, but has not aged well. (29 points)

“Crazy for You” by Madonna (1985) – Madonna’s 2nd number one, this was yet another movie song (Vision Quest, which features a very early Linda Fiorentino, known for Men in Black for you but probably The Last Seduction for me) Madonna would have a lot of big hits which would define cultural zeitgeist blah blah blah. We can move on now, right? (24 points)

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds (1985) – One of the metrics I have tinkered with is “Capture the 1980s” and really will any song fit the bill better than this one? It was the central song from one of the most well known and “80s” of 1980s movies (The Breakfast Club). This song’s pop historical importance is beyond consensus at this point, even if Simple Minds themselves only had a brief flicker. (42 points)

“Everything She Wants” by Wham! (1985) – Sort of the forgotten child of Wham’s three biggest hits – but it probably shouldn’t be. It’s still a good song in its own right. At the same time, I still had to remember that this happened, so there you go. (32 points)

“Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer (1986) – Like the Simple Minds song earlier, the story of the decade cannot be written without this song. The videos clearly shape the endurance of this song, but hey – there you go. As a rock song, this has survived – and largely on merit. Palmer had a terrific rock singer voice. But then, there are the models – who are clearly there as objects – the background images for almost any memory of Palmer. (37 points)

“West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys (1986) – The second perfect score so far, this is The Pet Shop Boys biggest US hit. This is an objectively flawless synth-new wave song which hits all the markers. The lyrics have some social consciousness for them, the song has not dated in any meaningful way. When I put this on to find the video clip, I listened to it seven more times. Like the songs at the very top of this list, this is both a great example of the 1980s, and transcendent – it’s one of the best songs of this or any other decade. (50 points)

“Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston (1986) – The last and biggest single from her debut album, this is one of the songs most indelibly etched on my elementary school childhood. I remember doing it in music class in 3rd/4th grade. Not all of Whitney’s ballads were good – most were kind of simpering. But this is an order of magnitude above it, and still works on its cheesy, intended level. (41 points)

“(I Just) Died in Your Arms” by Cutting Crew (1987) – While the Pet Shop Boys and Whitney Houston were among the most enduring acts of the decade. In fact, a lot of the higher ranked songs on this list are things which endured because of enduring artists. And then, you have this – one of the best songs of the decade for my money – but dropped in from space by a band who would not do anything else I’d remember again. The song’s importance is hard to argue – but it’s quality as a pop song isn’t. (42 points)

“With or Without You” by U2 (1987) – I’ve seen U2 twice, both on lucky breaks. While they are not my favorite band or anything – at a certain point you don’t turn the chance to see an act of that magnitude down, especially when you only had to pay face value for the tickets. They were good both times, even if they were promoting largely meh albums. And of course – even while promoting, say “Vertigo”, they were not going to leave without stuff from this vintage. This song, the first of their two #1 songs, does not need much explanation. It’s one of their signature songs, one of the best pop songs ever made, and that it unleashed Bono on the world ever since is not the song’s fault. (50 points)

“Wishing Well” by Terrence Trent D’Arby (1988) – When I listen to the weekly Top 40 on Sirius XM, when they do 1988 and this song comes up, the DJ always notes the same story, about how Terrence Trent D’Arby declared his debut as the most important album since Sgt Pepper, the sort of deluded, lofty claim that is now reserved for rappers (specifically rappers whose name rhymes with Munyay Test). While clearly that did not work out – his lone #1 remains an earworm with a hook which is hard to get out of your head. (and that is a compliment, mostly) (35 points)

“Anything for You” by Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine (1988) – As is typical, a band who produced some pretty good up-tempo, fun dance music – has its first #1 with a croony ballad. There is not much to say here – aside from hoping this turned into “The Rhythm is Gonna Get You” (31 points)

“One More Try” by George Michael (1988) – I think this ended up one of the best selling singles of the calendar year. Again, the lure of the ballad to the top of the charts. It was not the best ballad on the Faith album – “Kissing a Fool” is pretty clearly a better song both musically and vocally. It’s good by simpering ballad standards, but that is about it. (36 points)

“I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi (1989) – The band’s fourth #1, and it’s least. It has not survived the way “Living on a Prayer” has, and has frankly, been drowned out by numerous other successful, better monster ballads. I will note that it seems the band’s hair looks especially well conditioned here – I am not sure if that is worth extra credit. (33 points)

“Forever Your Girl” by Paula Abdul (1989) – This is one of the songs which I like much better now than I did in 1989. I guess it was partly being inundated with her popularity – the way any popular artist on the radio starts to grate. This is probably not as well known now as “Straight Up”, but it is a catchier song with a cheekier video (kids help) – even if there is no Arsenio Hall cameo. (35 points)

So – through the Month of May – we are up to exactly 100 songs. The current scoreboard? See below, complete with a new #1.

Song Artist
1 West End Girls Pet Shop Boys
2 Kiss Prince
3 With or Without You U2
4 Beat It Michael Jackson
5 Billie Jean Michael Jackson
6 Rock With You Michael Jackson
7 Father Figure George Michael
8 Jump Van Halen
9 Livin on a Prayer Bon Jovi
10 Down Under Men At Work
11 Faith George Michael
12 How Will I Know Whitney Houston
13 Like a Virgin Madonna
14 The Tide Is High Blondie
15 Centerfold J Geils Band
16 (I Just) Died in Your Arms Cutting Crew
17 Don’t You (Forget About Me) Simple Minds
18 We Are the World USA For Africa
19 Like A Prayer Madonna
20 Greatest Love of All Whitney Houston
21 Rapture Blondie
22 Man in the Mirror Michael Jackson
23 Careless Whisper Wham featuring George Michael
24 Footloose Kenny Loggins
25 Walk Like an Egyptian Bangles
26 Karma Chameleon Culture Club
27 I Love Rock and Roll Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
28 Celebration Kool and the Gang
29 So Emotional Whitney Houston
30 Two Hearts Phil Collins
31 Need You Tonight INXS
32 Call Me Blondie
33 Let’s Dance David Bowie
34 Never Gonna Give You Up Rick Astley
35 Every Rose Has Its Thorn Poison
36 My Prerogative Bobby Brown
37 Got My Mind Set on You George Harrison
38 Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car Billy Ocean
39 Addicted to Love Robert Palmer
40 Owner of a Lonely Heart Yes
41 Forever Your Girl Paula Abdul
42 Maneater Darryl Hall and John Oates
43 Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 Pink Floyd
44 Rock Me Amadeus Falco
45 Chariots of Fire Vangelis
46 Open Your Heart Madonna
47 One More Try George Michael
48 Wishing Well Terrence Trent D’Arby
49 The Way You Make Me Feel Michael Jackson
50 Say, Say, Say Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
51 9 to 5 Dolly Parton
52 Straight Up Paula Abdul
53 The Look Roxette
54 I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) Aretha Franklin and George Michael
55 Flashdance … What a Feeling Irene Cara
56 That’s What Friends Are For Dionne Warwick
57 Physical Olivia Newton John
58 I Can’t Go For That Hall and Oates
59 I’ll Be There For You Bon Jovi
60 Crazy Little Thing Called Love Queen
61 Everything She Wants Wham
62 Africa Toto
63 Come on Eileen Dexy’s Midnight Runners
64 These Dreams Heart
65 Anything For You Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine
66 Ebony and Ivory Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
67 The Living Years Mike and the Mechanics
68 At This Moment Billy Vera and the Beaters
69 Bette Davis Eyes Kim Carnes
70 She Drives Me Crazy Fine Young Cannibals
71 Eternal Flame The Bangles
72 Kyrie Mr. Mister
73 Shake You Down Gregory Abbott
74 Kiss Is On My List Hall and Oates
75 Funkytown Lipps, Inc
76 Let’s Hear It for the Boy DeNiece Williams
77 Keep on Loving You REO Speedwagon
78 Hello Lionel Richie
79 I Love a Rainy Night Eddie Rabbitt
80 Lost in Your Eyes Debbie Gibson
81 Say You, Say Me Lionel Richie
82 Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now Starship
83 (Just Like) Starting Over John Lennon
84 Crazy for You Madonna
85 Seasons Change Expose
86 Can’t Fight This Feeling REO Speedwagon
87 One More Night Phil Collins
88 I Want to Know What Love Is Foreigner
89 Escape (The Pina Colada Song) Rupert Holmes
90 Sara Starship
91 Lean on Me Club Nouveau
92 Baby, Come to Me Patti Austin and James Ingram
93 Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) Phil Collins
94 Where Do Broken Hearts Go Whitney Houston
95 Could’ve Been Tiffany
96 Do That To Me One More Time Captain and Tennille
97 Jacob’s Ladder Huey Lewis and the News
98 Morning Train (Nine to Five) Sheena Easton
99 When I’m With You Sheriff
100 Please Don’t Go KC and the Sunshine Band
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