THE TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S
UPDATED 2019 RANKINGS
We have recalculated the rankings of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE ’80S! The original list was compiled in May 2016, based on data collected through April 30, 2016. Now we have factored in an additional three years of data, through April 30, 2019, and the rankings have changed. We have a new #1 song.
Click HERE to see the new list.
TODAY’S FEATURED SONG
This song is actually a medley of two songs from 1964, although Tainted Love by itself became one of the biggest hits of the ‘80s. Soft Cell’s Marc Almond said, “We recorded Tainted Love as a long, improvised 12-inch single that at the end morphed into Where Did Our Love Go by the Supremes. It was chopped in two for the 7-inch version, a half for each side. This was the biggest mistake we ever made: having a cover version on both sides meant we didn’t get any songwriting royalties for the biggest-selling hit of 1981. That must have cost us millions of pounds.” Originally, Tainted Love was released as the A-side of a single, with Where Did Our Love Go as the B-side. Later a version of the two songs together was released (click here), which is an edit of the original extended version (click here) that had been released as a 12-inch single and is almost nine minutes in length. This full version of both songs became very popular in dance clubs, and the edited version of both songs is the generally preferred version for radio airplay, streaming services, etc.
Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go is one of six songs on this list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S that are actually two-song medleys. The others are Need You Tonight / Mediate by INXS at #87, Dance On Your Knees / Out Of Touch by Daryl Hall and John Oates at #192, Hard To Say I’m Sorry / Get Away by Chicago at #241, Baby, I Love Your Way / Freebird Medley by Will To Power at #284, and Sirius / Eye In the Sky by The Alan Parsons Project at #348. In each case, the first song segues into the second song on the original recording. Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go is the only one of these six medleys that isn’t featured on the original album: Soft Cell’s album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret features Tainted Love by itself, and doesn’t even include Where Did Our Love Go as a separate track.
Soft Cell is the English synth-pop duo of vocalist/songwriter Marc Almond and electronic musician Dave Ball. Marc Almond called Tainted Love “a mixture of cold electronics with an over-passionate, over-exuberant, slightly out of key vocal.” Dave Ball was a fan of Northern Soul, a late-‘60s/early-‘70s movement in the United Kingdom that celebrated fast-tempo American R&B music from the ‘60s, and he wanted to do an electronic synth-pop version of an R&B song. American soul singer Gloria Jones’ first version of Tainted Love was released in 1964 (click here) as the B-side to My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home, an unsuccessful single. In 1973, this version of Tainted Love became popular in the Northern Soul club scene. The song’s sustained popularity prompted Gloria Jones to record a second version of Tainted Love in 1976 (click here). This second version inspired Soft Cell to cover it as an encore at their concerts. Soft Cell’s version features a slower tempo, with synthesizers replacing the more traditional instruments. Marc Almond said, “Dave (Ball) introduced me to the record and I loved it so much and we wanted an interesting song for an encore number in our show. Dave loved Northern Soul, and it was a novelty to have an electronic synthesizer band doing a soul song. When we signed with our record company, they wanted to record it. They told us to put bass, guitar and drums on it, as they said it was too odd. They put it out anyway, and the next thing——it was gathering radio play and then it was #1. I was fascinated that it was originally by Gloria Jones, the girlfriend of Marc Bolan, and I’d always been a T. Rex fan.”
Gloria Jones (who was known as the Northern Queen of Soul) was indeed the girlfriend of Marc Bolan, the lead singer of the English glam rock band T. Rex (known for 1971’s Get It On, and 1971’s Hot Love). He produced her 1976 version of Tainted Love, and she sang background vocals with T. Rex from 1973 to 1977. Soft Cell’s Marc Almond said, “I was a huge T. Rex fan and had seen Gloria Jones sing with them, so that clinched it. I loved the title and the opening line: ‘Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away.’ It summed up how I felt. It was 1981 and I was 21, already feeling world weary after some love affairs. I adored the sneering, curled-lip aspect of the song.” Dave Ball said, “When we started on our own version, it felt twisted and strange. That suited us... Tainted Love was a collision of really cheap and really expensive technology.”
Blending Tainted Love with the Motown classic Where Did Our Love Go was a spontaneous decision during the recording process. Where Did Our Love Go is the first #1 song by American female group The Supremes. Billboard ranked it the 10th most popular song of 1964. The Supremes are one of the most commercially-successful acts of Motown Records, an African American-owned record company founded in 1959 that was pivotal in the racial integration of popular music. The Supremes had 12 U.S. Billboard #1 hits, including 1964’s Baby Love, 1964’s Stop! In the Name Of Love, 1966’s You Can’t Hurry Love, 1966’s You Keep Me Hangin’ On. (Kim Wilde’s 1987 cover of You Keep Me Hangin’ On is song #323 on this list.) The lead singer of The Supremes was Diana Ross, who has three songs on this list: her duet with Lionel Richie Endless Love at #91, Upside Down at #160, and I’m Coming Out at #259.
In the U.K., Tainted Love was the best-selling single of 1981. In the U.S., the song peaked at #8 on the Billboard Top 40, and at the time set a record for the song that spent the most weeks (43) on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in the history of the chart. As a result of spending so much time on the chart, Billboard ranked Tainted Love the 11th most popular song of 1982, even though it spent only three weeks in the Top 10. Tainted Love entered the Hot 100 at #90 in January 1982, appeared to peak at #62 five weeks later, and then fell to #100 the following week. But then it started climbing the chart again. It took 19 weeks for the song to enter the Top 40. Tainted Love became a major worldwide hit. Dave Ball recalled, “The song was just played in clubs at first, but then it took off, reaching #1 in 17 countries. Girls would chase us in the street. We were living in a dodgy little housing association flat in Leeds and being flown about in Concorde. Then we’d get home to find neighbors had put graffiti over our door and superglued the locks shut.”
The original 1981 video for Tainted Love (click here) features Marc Almond in ancient Greek attire singing the song to a little girl. Tainted Love was re-released in 1991 and became a Top 5 hit in the U.K. a second time, seven years after Soft Cell had broken up. (Soft Cell reunited in 2001 until 2003, to tour and record their fifth studio album; Soft Cell reunited again in 2018.) With the 1991 re-release of the song, a new video (click here) was also released, featuring a man who can’t sleep being visited by starry apparitions, while Marc Almond sings in the night sky. In the United States, Tainted Love is Soft Cell’s only hit song, but in the United Kingdom, Soft Cell had nine additional Top 40 songs after their first hit Tainted Love, including Bedsitter, Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, Torch, and What!, all from the ‘80s.
Tainted Love is sometimes erroneously believed to be about the HIV/AIDS crisis that became an epidemic in the ‘80s, but the song was written in the ‘60s, and the “tainted” love has nothing to do with the disease. Marc Almond, who is a gay man, said, “It was the first time we’d heard about this then-unnamed disease that was affecting gay men in America. It wasn’t an intentional tie-in, but as the record hit the American charts, it took on this other meaning.” In 1985, just a few years after the Soft Cell version of the song was a huge hit, British experimental band Coil recorded a drastically re-arranged, slowed-down version of Tainted Love (click here), meant to be a reflection on the emergent HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is depicted in the video. Marc Almond makes a guest appearance in the Coil video. It’s important to note that in the ‘80s, the subject of AIDS was taboo; U.S. President Ronald Reagan barely mentioned the crisis, even though AIDS was first identified in 1981 (the year Soft Cell’s Tainted Love was released). Reagan did not mention AIDS publicly until 1985 (the year Coil’s Tainted Love was released), even though by then, the epidemic had claimed the lives of over 16,000 people in the U.S. By 1987, over 50,000 U.S. citizens had died due to complications from HIV/AIDS. One of the greatest criticisms of the Reagan administration is its silence about the epidemic. In this milieu, Coil’s version of Tainted Love and the band’s donation of the proceeds to AIDS research are noteworthy; this was the first time in music history that profits were donated to an AIDS-related organization, the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Tainted Love has been sampled and covered in many different genres. Most famously, it is heavily sampled in Barbadian singer Rihanna’s 2006 huge hit SOS. It is also sampled in Australian pop duo The Veronicas’ 2007 song Hook Me Up. In 1997, Tainted Love was used in a commercial for Levi Strauss & Co. (click here), directed by American filmmaker Spike Jonze (who would later direct several films, including 1999’s Being John Malkovich, 2002’s Adaptation, 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are, and 2013’s Her). Artists who have covered Tainted Love include American punk band The Finger in 1992 (click here), British a cappella group The Flying Pickets in 1992 (click here), American industrial rock band Marilyn Manson in 2001 (click here), German orchestra Palast Orchester in 2002 (click here), American all-female group Pussycat Dolls in 2005 (click here), American a cappella group Straight No Chaser in 2010 (click here), German rock band Scorpions (whose Rock You Like a Hurricane is song #139 on this list) in 2011 (click here), and American pop duo Pomplamoose in 2018 (click here).
Using the TABLE below, you may sort the list of THE TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S by rank, title, artist, and year.
When sorting song titles or artists in the table, they will be alphabetized. (The four songs that begin with a parenthesis will be listed first, followed by the four songs that begin with numbers.)
Songs and artists that begin with A or The are alphabetized that way. (For example, you’ll find The Police and The Pretenders with the letter T, and A Flock Of Seagulls with the letter A.)
Solo artists are alphabetized by their first names. (For example, Bryan Adams is with the letter B, and Richard Marx is with the letter R.)
To see all of an artist’s songs ranked in order, enter the artist’s name in the search box, and then, to sort the results by rank, click on the # at the top of the first column.
THE SEARCH BOX
The SEARCH BOX is in the top right corner of the table. When you type a word or words into the SEARCH BOX, the table will collapse, revealing the search results, which you may then sort by clicking on the table headers. (NOTE: To get back to the full list of 500 songs after doing a search, you must clear the search box.)
SORTING BY YEAR
To see songs from a specific year ranked in order, enter an apostrophe and the year (for example: ‘84) in the search box, and then sort the results by rank. The year listed is the year that the song entered the United States Billboard Top 40.
HOW WERE THESE SONGS RANKED?
For more information about how this list was compiled, click HERE.
PLAY THE SONGS & VIDEOS!
To play the songs on the list, click HERE, where you will find them listed alphabetically, and then click on a song title to be taken to a video on YouTube (if a video is available). In most cases, you will see the original video from the ’80s.
DETAILS ABOUT THE SONGS & ARTISTS
For more information and interesting facts about the songs and the artists, plus other great ‘80s songs that didn’t make this TOP 500 list, and much more, please go to PAGE 2: THE MUSIC.
WHO HAS THE MOST SONGS?
Who has the most songs on the list – Madonna, Prince, George Michael, Whitney Houston, or Michael Jackson? Click HERE to find out.