Every #1 Song of the 1980s – Series 7

Click for links to Series 6,  Series 5Series 4,  Series 3, Series 2, and Series 1 and a quick study of #2 songs

As summer gets going in full force and just after Murika! celebrated its birthday – we make the turn in every #1 song of the 1980s. Looking at the 22 songs which hit number one during this month – there are some of the really emblematic songs of the MTV era in particular. A couple of these songs stink, and the end of decade is much more wobbly in retrospect – even if it was the wheelhouse of my pop culture awakening.

“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” by Billy Joel (1980) – The first of Billy Joel’s three number ones in the decade, this is one of those super early 80s songs which do not really resemble the decade at all. It also – especially in the video – is very dated obviously. What I found interesting is that the guitar and general tone is somewhat similar to more outwardly rockabilly stuff, particularly The Stray Cats when they hit a couple of years later. That was a lot cooler though. (27 points)

“The One That You Love” by Air Supply (1981) – Interrupting two stints totalling 9 weeks at the top for “Bette Davis Eyes”, this was Air Supply’s one number one – although they had a long list of simpering soft love songs around that time. This song is fairly typical of the duo’s ouevre – it’s the sort of combination of earnestness and execrable quality which really allows them and Peter Cetera to glow in the dark a bit here. I had never seen the video until I sat down to type this – so I am tempted to give this a higher score due to – let’s just say a wee bit of camp – but I refrain. (20 points)

“Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League (1982) – This is definitely one of the defining videos and songs of the early MTV 80s. This sort of synthesizer laden pop would be a fixture in the decade clearly, and this is one of the better versions of it. Everything, including the video works here. (38 points)

“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (1982) – By the time Rocky III rolled around, the heroic archetype of the first two films had evolved into a formula with the comic book villains (Clubber Lang, hello!). Thankfully, we got Rocky Balboa and Creed to give Rocky some soul at the end – but that does not mean Rocky III was not fun on its own. It also spawned a theme which is every bit the iconic equivalent of Bill Condi’s classic theme for the original. This song has survived – and still works for that purpose of getting the gang amped up. It is clearly way up on any list like this. (44 points)

“Every Breath You Take” by The Police (1983) – This was the #1 song of 1983, and one of the top wedding songs of the decade. As everybody knows by now, that was not what Sting intended. This has always amused me of course, although in a sense when art goes into the domain – it’s value is defined somewhat by what the audience things and interprets, no? I certainly have always found it more haunting than romantic – but who am I? It is not my favorite Police song (“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” is better, although “Roxanne” is not), but it certainly deserves to be mentioned on the list. (44 points)

“When Doves Cry” by Prince (1984) – This is pretty clearly beyond reproach. The famous song without a bass – the legendary opening riff … from one of the decade’s very best albums. It was sampled in MC Hammer’s highest charting song, and it is a song which has remained timeless. It has every reasonable argument to be #1 on this list – but I prefer “Kiss” funky minimalism from the Prince (and one of his other number ones has grown a ton as I’ve gotten older). Game, blouses. (49 points)

“Sussudio” by Phil Collins (1985) – This was a song I enjoyed quite a bit in my youth – I have given positive views on Phil Collins before more gently. At the same time, this song has not aged particularly well. It has not done anything bad – it’s not a bad song. It just has more of a blah feel now. A good, albeit thoroughly unremarkable up tempo. (33 points)

“A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran (1985) – The band’s other number 1 song – the trivia note here is that it is one of the biggest hits of the Bond themes. Only “Nobody Does it Better” and “Goldfinger” itself can claim a seat at the table. Certainly it is the most silly delightful video of any song associated with the franchise. I have pointed this out, but John Taylor has largely defeated aging. (38 points)

“Everytime You Go Away” by Paul Young (1985) – You have to admire the rock solid mulletude in the video. This is one of those easy listening sort of ballads which is a little better than the simpering worst of Peter Cetera (though lacking in the unintentional comedy). There are songs which deserve more space in this missive. As a tip, I am a big fan of Young’s Chi-Lite’s cover, “Oh Girl”. Listen to that instead. (29 points)

“There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” by Billy Ocean (1986) – Of Ocean’s biggest hits, this is the one you probably forgot. I know I did. It really does feel like you had to have one of these ballads if you were a big star in the decade. It is slightly better than you’d expect – but just slightly. (28 points)

“Holding Back the Years” by Simply Red (1986) – This is the sort of song which time helps out. This is a better song than I remember when I was younger. This is squarely in the adult contemporary space (to use industry jibber jabber) and one of the better songs of that ilk on this list. It is not the form which will score too high for me, but this is distinctly better than some of its peers. (32 points)

“Invisible Touch” by Genesis (1986) – Genesis is one of the weakest bands to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Seriously. What is funny is that the band is hailed as a progressive rock icon – which certainly describes their 4-man incarnation I suppose. But the Genesis who was actually successful happened after Gabriel left and Phil Collins took over the lead. Can you name anything Genesis did with Peter Gabriel? Now Genesis was extremely successful in the post-Gabriel incarnation, with this being their biggest hit. But a good, cheeky, pop band is not the sort of thing I’d call legendary. Nobody is putting Toto in the Hall either. But that has nothing to do with this song, which is never unpleasant to encounter. (34 points)

“Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel (1986) – Ah, but Peter Gabriel DID leave Genesis for his super interesting solo career. Gabriel has always done his own thing, always interesting – sometimes intersecting with mainstream pop, but not necessarily. What is there to say about “Sledgehammer”? It’s one of the most recognized (and best) videos ever made – it was one of the earliest Ardman Animation gigs (Wallace and Gromit), and really one of the best uses of the medium. The song itself still holds up as well. (42 points)

“Alone” by Heart (1987) – Heart and Chicago are very similar sort of arcs to me. Both of them had these cool, frankly kind of kick-ass rock bands in the 1970s – there are entries which come on classic rock or whatever and still work great. But the bands biggest commercial successes took place in the 1980s via balladeering and clear corruption to satisfy Top 40. This is a perfect example, and not surprising it was one of the biggest hits of 1987. Ann Wilson’s voice salvages whatever can be salvaged ultimately here. (32 points)

“Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson (1988) – Look, he’s gone hard! It is a sign of Jackson’s pull, like how he got Eddie Van Halen to a solo on “Beat It”, that he got Billy Idol’s guitarist for this. This is one of Jackson’s more atmospheric, interesting songs – it stands outside of his more danceable or softer songs. Like Janet Jackson did in 1990 with “Black Cat” this sort of interpretation of a hard rock song is not one of the songs which is easily remembered, but it works out to be one of his better ones. (37 points)

“The Flame” by Cheap Trick (1988) – Sometimes, when it comes to the “monster ballads” it’s just personal taste. This is objectively not as good a song as, say, “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”. But this is distinctly better than some of the similarly mawkish soft rock songs which made it big. Of course, like Heart, some of their earlier work colors my thinking here. (35 points)

“Hold On To the Nights” by Richard Marx (1988) – The first #1 for one of the great mullets of the decade. He had another similar ballad in 1989. That was better. (29 points)

“Roll With It” by Steve Winwood (1988) – When I was a kid, Michelob was advertised a lot on TV. Not Michelob Ultra (there was no Michelob Ultra). In 1988, Michelob was selling themselves as the beer of the night – and they used classic rock guys among the pitchmen. It helped Eric Clapton make a return and helped promote Steve Winwood’s Roll With It album. The title track, one of the biggest hits of 1988, is one of my favorite songs of the decade. I do think the video helped – it really does fit the style the song evokes. Just a genuinely excellent rock song. (45 points)

“Baby Don’t Forget My Number” by Milli Vanilli (1989) – As I had talked about in the Number 2s piece, Milli Vanilli’s music would absolutely play on Top 40 stations now. They are one of those bands who have been erased from the record due to that scandal – but honestly, if you look at the music produced, you have to admit that it’s largely solid silly dance pop. (34 points)

“Good Thing” by Fine Young Cannibals (1989) – Interestingly, “She Drives Me Crazy” has probably survived better, and it probably should have. The falsetto, the video – it is a distinctive song. This song, their second #1 is significantly more “normal” – less interesting but a better song in the vein of a “Roll With It”. I like the piano solo – which was not something you got much of in the decade. (33 points)

“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Simply Red (1989) – Simply Red was covered earlier. Squarely in the adult contemporary zone here, this Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes cover was the band’s second #1. This song did not improve on the Melvin version – and while perfectly okay, is certainly not as good as their other #1. (30 points)

“Toy Soldiers” by Martika (1989) – I can’t believe this happened. As I have pointed out before, my pop culture awareness occured around late 1988-1989. I knew this song was bad even then. Wikipedia tells me this song is about her friend’s cocaine addiction – which is more poignant if you are trying to get me to change my mind. Whatever heft it gives the lyrics – there is a lack in lots of other areas, singing, guitar solo – that musically it sounds like umpteen other ballads. (20 points)

After 7 months, the big board:

Song Artist
1 West End Girls Pet Shop Boys
2 Kiss Prince
3 With or Without You U2
4 When Doves Cry Prince
5 Beat It Michael Jackson
6 Billie Jean Michael Jackson
7 Rock With You Michael Jackson
8 Father Figure George Michael
9 Roll With It Steve Winwood
10 Jump Van Halen
11 Livin on a Prayer Bon Jovi
12 Down Under Men At Work
13 Every Breath You Take The Police
14 Eye of the Tiger Survivor
15 Faith George Michael
16 How Will I Know Whitney Houston
17 Like a Virgin Madonna
18 The Tide Is High Blondie
19 Centerfold J Geils Band
20 (I Just) Died in Your Arms Cutting Crew
21 Don’t You (Forget About Me) Simple Minds
22 We Are the World USA For Africa
23 Sledgehammer Peter Gabriel
24 Like A Prayer Madonna
25 Greatest Love of All Whitney Houston
26 Everybody Wants to Rule The World Tears For Fears
27 Rapture Blondie
28 Man in the Mirror Michael Jackson
29 Careless Whisper Wham featuring George Michael
30 Footloose Kenny Loggins
31 Walk Like an Egyptian Bangles
32 Karma Chameleon Culture Club
33 I Love Rock and Roll Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
34 Celebration Kool and the Gang
35 So Emotional Whitney Houston
36 Don’t You Want Me The Human League
37 Two Hearts Phil Collins
38 Need You Tonight INXS
39 A View to a Kill Duran Duran
40 Call Me Blondie
41 Let’s Dance David Bowie
42 Never Gonna Give You Up Rick Astley
43 Dirty Diana Michael Jackson
44 Together Forever Rick Astley
45 Time After Time Cyndi Lauper
46 Every Rose Has Its Thorn Poison
47 My Prerogative Bobby Brown
48 Got My Mind Set on You George Harrison
49 Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car Billy Ocean
50 Addicted to Love Robert Palmer
51 Owner of a Lonely Heart Yes
52 I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) Whitney Houston
53 Forever Your Girl Paula Abdul
54 Maneater Darryl Hall and John Oates
55 Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 Pink Floyd
56 Rock Me Amadeus Falco
57 Chariots of Fire Vangelis
58 Open Your Heart Madonna
59 One More Try George Michael
60 Wishing Well Terrence Trent D’Arby
61 The Flame Cheap Trick
62 The Way You Make Me Feel Michael Jackson
63 Say, Say, Say Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
64 9 to 5 Dolly Parton
65 Straight Up Paula Abdul
66 The Look Roxette
67 Head to Toe Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam
68 Invisible Touch Genesis
69 The Reflex Duran Duran
70 I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) Aretha Franklin and George Michael
71 Baby Don’t Forget My Number Milli Vanilli
72 Flashdance … What a Feeling Irene Cara
73 Good Thing Fine Young Cannibals
74 That’s What Friends Are For Dionne Warwick
75 Physical Olivia Newton John
76 I Can’t Go For That Hall and Oates
77 Sussudio Phil Collins
78 I’ll Be There For You Bon Jovi
79 Crazy Little Thing Called Love Queen
80 Everything She Wants Wham
81 Africa Toto
82 Holding Back the Years Simply Red
83 Satisfied Richard Marx
84 Alone Heart
85 Coming Up Paul McCartney
86 Come on Eileen Dexy’s Midnight Runners
87 These Dreams Heart
88 Anything For You Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine
89 Heaven Bryan Adams
90 Ebony and Ivory Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
91 The Living Years Mike and the Mechanics
92 At This Moment Billy Vera and the Beaters
93 Bette Davis Eyes Kim Carnes
94 If You Don’t Know Me By Now Simply Red
95 Foolish Beat Debbie Gibson
96 She Drives Me Crazy Fine Young Cannibals
97 Eternal Flame The Bangles
98 Kyrie Mr. Mister
99 Hold On to the Nights Richard Marx
100 Shake You Down Gregory Abbott
101 You Keep Me Hangin On Kim Wilde
102 Kiss Is On My List Hall and Oates
103 Funkytown Lipps, Inc
104 Let’s Hear It for the Boy DeNiece Williams
105 Everytime You Go Away Paul Young
106 Keep on Loving You REO Speedwagon
107 There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry) Billy Ocean
108 Hello Lionel Richie
109 It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me Billy Joel
110 I Love a Rainy Night Eddie Rabbitt
111 Live to Tell Madonna
112 I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) New Kids on the Block
113 Lost in Your Eyes Debbie Gibson
114 Say You, Say Me Lionel Richie
115 Always Atlantic Starr
116 Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now Starship
117 (Just Like) Starting Over John Lennon
118 On My Own Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald
119 Crazy for You Madonna
120 Seasons Change Expose
121 Can’t Fight This Feeling REO Speedwagon
122 One More Night Phil Collins
123 I Want to Know What Love Is Foreigner
124 Stars on 45 Medley Stars on 45
125 Escape (The Pina Colada Song) Rupert Holmes
126 Wind Beneath My Wings Bette Midler
127 Sara Starship
128 Lean on Me Club Nouveau
129 Baby, Come to Me Patti Austin and James Ingram
130 Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) Phil Collins
131 Where Do Broken Hearts Go Whitney Houston
132 Could’ve Been Tiffany
133 Do That To Me One More Time Captain and Tennille
134 Jacob’s Ladder Huey Lewis and the News
135 Morning Train (Nine to Five) Sheena Easton
136 When I’m With You Sheriff
137 The One That You Love Air Supply
138 Toy Soldiers Martika
139 Rock On Michael Damian
140 Please Don’t Go KC and the Sunshine Band
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