‘80S MUSIC IS THE BEST MUSIC
As an avid lover of ‘80s music, I’ve always wanted to compile THE definitive “Best Of ‘80s Pop Music” list. The ‘80s boasts a wide variety of popular songs and genres. Since the ‘80s, music has become more and more compartmentalized, and popular music now has a lot less variety. Furthermore, music is now categorized into genres to such an extreme degree that people are rarely exposed to different styles of music anymore.
Songs from the ‘80s are still very popular today. To compile this list of THE TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S, what I primarily wanted to measure was staying power: Which songs have sustained in popularity since the ‘80s?
HOW WERE THESE SONGS RANKED?
First, I had to set parameters, or there would have been well over 10,000 songs from the ‘80s to narrow to 500. For a song to be eligible for inclusion on this list, it must have entered the United States Billboard Top 40 between January 5, 1980 and December 30, 1989. (For the January 5, 1980 chart, all songs that were already on the chart and ascending were eligible.)
THE U.S. BILLBOARD TOP 40
The Top 40 is part of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which is the music industry standard by which a song’s popularity is measured in the United States. The Hot 100 has been published weekly by Billboard magazine since 1958. In the ‘80s, the Hot 100 was determined by radio airplay and retail sales data. Today the Hot 100 is determined using both retail and digital sales data, radio airplay data, and streaming activity data provided by online music sources.
19 CRITERIA FOR 2,198 SONGS
There are 2,210 songs that charted on the Billboard Top 40 in the ‘80s. Twelve of those songs were deemed ineligible for this list.
Eight of those 12 songs are ineligible because they were descending the first chart of the decade, and are therefore ‘70s songs that were decreasing in popularity.
(Click HERE to see these eight songs from the ‘70s.)
Four of those 12 songs are ineligible because they are songs from the ‘60s. These four songs had already charted and are therefore not ‘80s songs. These are the same recordings as the original charting songs, not remakes or re-recordings.
(Click HERE to see these four songs from the ‘60s.)
That means that there were 2,198 eligible songs for this list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S.
The songs were scored and ranked based on the following 18 categories, using United States data gathered through April 30, 2019:
Retail and Digital Sales
Awards and Nominations
Music Critics’ Lists
Music Industry Entities’ “Best Of” Lists
Rankings On ‘80s Music Charts
Uses and References In ‘80s Media
Uses and References In Media Since the ‘80s
Social Media Tracking of Song References
Web Monitoring of Song References
Video Hosting Website Views
Attested Influence On Other Artists
Music Video Plays
Sustained Concert Performances
Backlash (This category represents negative points for songs that decreased in popularity.)
Each song was scored based on these criteria, and that is how they were ranked, which is why you can be sure that this is the definitive list of ‘80s pop music.
On this list of pop music from the ‘80s, not only do we have the artists you expect, such as Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna, but we also have artists you might not expect (listed below), who also had popular U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits in the ‘80s, as well as many “one hit wonders” with songs that defy categorization. You won’t find this kind of variety in popular music in any other decade.
Guns N’ Roses
The Sugarhill Gang
The Beach Boys
LL Cool J
De La Soul
Tom Tom Club
Earth, Wind & Fire
Steve Miller Band
Crosby, Stills, & Nash
SONGS EXCLUDED FROM THE LIST
DUE TO EXCLUSION FROM THE BILLBOARD TOP 40
Unfortunately, due to the parameters set (explained in the HOW WERE THESE SONGS RANKED? section) many beloved ‘80s songs were not eligible for inclusion on this list. These songs have become some of the most popular and iconic ‘80s songs. They are not on the list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S because they did not enter the U.S. Billboard Top 40, and they are therefore ineligible.
Click on a song title to go to a video on YouTube (if one is available).
Fight the Power — Public Enemy
Into the Groove — Madonna
I Want Candy — Bow Wow Wow
Blue Monday — New Order
How Soon Is Now? — The Smiths
I Melt With You — Modern English
Straight Outta Compton — N.W.A.
Home Sweet Home — Motley Crüe
Sunday Bloody Sunday — U2
Dancing With Myself — Billy Idol
Crazy Train — Ozzy Osbourne
Situation — Yazoo
Tempted — Squeeze
Closer To Fine — Indigo Girls
Blister In the Sun — Violent Femmes
London Calling — The Clash
Once In a Lifetime — Talking Heads
Sharp Dressed Man — ZZ Top
What I Like About You — The Romantics
Hot For Teacher — Van Halen
Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure
Love Will Tear Us Apart — Joy Division
Tom Sawyer — Rush
Rockit — Herbie Hancock
And She Was — Talking Heads
Should I Stay Or Should I Go — The Clash
Bizarre Love Triangle — New Order
She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult
Trouble Me — 10,000 Maniacs
Jane Says — Jane’s Addiction
Meeting In the Ladies Room — Klymaxx
Handle With Care – The Traveling Wilburys
Peek-a-Boo – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Mr. Brownstone – Guns N’ Roses
I Am What I Am – Gloria Gaynor
Forever Young - Alphaville
Girls On Film — Duran Duran
The Message — Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
Give Me the Reason — Luther Vandross
Goodbye To You — Scandal
Down In It – Nine Inch Nails
Jam On It — Newcleus
SONG TOTALS BY YEAR
Here is the breakdown of the number of songs from each year that are on the list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S:
1984 – 67 songs (13.4%)
1983 – 60 songs (12.0%)
1985 – 56 songs (11.2%)
1982 – 52 songs (10.4%)
1986 – 52 songs (10.4%)
1987 – 50 songs (10.0%)
1980 – 43 songs (8.6%)
1981 – 41 songs (8.2%)
1988 – 40 songs (8.0%)
1989 - 39 songs (7.8%)
THE SONGS THAT ALMOST MADE THE LIST
Here are the 50 songs (listed alphabetically) that almost made the list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S. Click on a song title to go to a video on YouTube (if one is available).
Ain’t Even Done With the Night – John Cougar
Amanda – Boston
Cruisin’ – Smokey Robinson
Endless Summer Nights – Richard Marx
Escape (The Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes
Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car – Billy Ocean
He’s So Shy – The Pointer Sisters
Holding Out For a Hero – Bonnie Tyler
Hungry Eyes – Eric Carmen
Hysteria – Def Leppard
I.G.Y (What a Beautiful World) - Donald Fagen
I Hate Myself For Loving You – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Is There Something I Should Know? – Duran Duran
I’ve Got a Rock N’ Roll Heart - Eric Clapton
Joanna – Kool & the Gang
Ladies’ Night – Kool & the Gang
Land Of Confusion – Genesis
Let’s Go All the Way - Sly Fox
The Look – Roxette
Lost In Your Eyes – Debbie Gibson
Love Come Down - Evelyn Champagne King
Never Knew Love Like This Before – Stephanie Mills
On the Radio – Donna Summer
Only the Lonely – The Motels
Rhythm Is Gonna Get You - Gloria Estafen & Miami Sound Machine
Sara – Starship
Say It Isn’t So – Daryl Hall and John Oates
She’s a Bad Mama Jama – Carl Carlton
She’s Like the Wind – Patrick Swayze featuring Wendy Fraser
Shining Star – The Manhattans
Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves – Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin
Sleeping Bag - ZZ Top
Solid - Ashford and Simpson
Stray Cat Strut – The Stray Cats
Talking In Your Sleep – The Romantics
Things Can Only Get Better – Howard Jones
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight - Genesis
Too Hot – Kool & the Gang
Train In Vain (Stand By Me) - The Clash
Urgent – Foreigner
Walk Of Life – Dire Straits
What About Love? – Heart
While You See a Chance – Steve Winwood
Who’s That Girl – Madonna
Wild Wild Life - Talking Heads
Woman – John Lennon
Wrapped Around Your Finger - The Police
You Give Good Love – Whitney Houston
INELIGIBLE SONGS FROM PREVIOUS DECADES
There are 12 songs that were not eligible to be included on this list of THE TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S because even though they charted on the Billboard Top 40 in the ‘80s, these songs were actually hits in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and are therefore not ‘80s songs. Click on a song title to go to a video on YouTube (if one is available).
Four songs entered the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in the ‘80s, but because they had been Top 40 hits in the ‘60s, they were deemed ineligible for inclusion on this list of THE TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S. These are the exact same recordings that had been hits previously, not remakes or re-recordings:
Do You Love Me — The Contours
(a U.S. Billboard Top 40 hit in 1962 and again in 1988)
Stand By Me — Ben E. King
(a U.S. Billboard Top 40 hit in 1961 and again in 1986)
Twist and Shout — The Beatles
(a U.S. Billboard Top 40 hit in 1964 and again in 1986)
What a Wonderful World — Louis Armstrong
(a U.S. Billboard Top 40 hit in 1967 and again in 1988)
Eight songs were included on the very first U.S. Billboard Top 40 chart of January 1980, but they were deemed ineligible for this list of THE TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE ‘80S because they were descending the chart after reaching their peak popularity in 1979:
Babe — Styx
Half the Way — Crystal Gayle
Heartache Tonight — The Eagles
Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer
Pop Muzik — M
Still — The Commodores
Take the Long Way Home — Supertramp
You’re Only Lonely — J.D. Souther
ARTISTS WHO HAVE THE MOST SONGS ON THE LIST OF 500
MICHAEL JACKSON* – 14 songs (including Rockwell’s Somebody’s Watching Me, on which he provides vocals)
MADONNA – 14 songs
PRINCE – 11 songs (including Stevie Nicks’ Stand Back, on which he plays synthesizers, but not including songs on the list that Prince wrote for other artists: Sheila E.’s The Glamorous Life, Chaka Khan’s I Feel for You, and The Bangles’ Manic Monday)
PHIL COLLINS** – 9 songs (including two songs he performs as a member of Genesis, and songs on which he provides backing vocals and drums: Howard Jones’ No One Is To Blame, and Frida’s I Know There’s Something Going On)
GEORGE MICHAEL** – 8 songs (including three songs he performs as a member of Wham!)
LIONEL RICHIE* – 7 songs
STEVE PERRY* – 6 songs (including five songs he performs as a member of Journey)
WHITNEY HOUSTON – 6 songs
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN* – 6 songs
DURAN DURAN** – 6 songs
TOTO – 6 songs (including songs on which most members of the band perform: Michael McDonald’s I Keep Forgettin’, Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, John Parr’s St. Elmo’s Fire, and Michael Jackson’s Beat It)
DARYL HALL AND JOHN OATES* – 6 songs
STEVIE WONDER* – 6 songs (including Dionne and Friends’ That’s What Friends Are For, and songs on which he plays harmonica: Elton John’s I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues, and Chaka Khan’s I Feel For You)
ELTON JOHN – 6 songs (including Dionne and Friends’ That’s What Friends Are For)
JOURNEY – 5 songs
BON JOVI – 5 songs
CYNDI LAUPER* – 5 songs
U2** – 5 songs
AEROSMITH – 5 songs (including Walk This Way, on which two band members perform with Run-DMC on a remake of Aerosmith’s original song)
STEVIE NICKS – 5 songs (including three songs she performs as a member of Fleetwood Mac)
BELINDA CARLISLE – 5 songs (including three songs she performs as a member of The Go-Go’s)
PETER CETERA – 5 songs (including three songs he performs as a member of Chicago)
DEF LEPPARD – 4 songs
THE POLICE – 4 songs
GUNS N’ ROSES – 4 songs
TEARS FOR FEARS – 4 songs
JOHN (COUGAR) MELLENCAMP – 4 songs
BRYAN ADAMS – 4 songs
PAT BENATAR – 4 songs
TOM PETTY – 4 songs (including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Don’t Come Around Here No More, and Roy Orbison’s You Got It, on which he provides backing vocals and acoustic guitar)
RICHARD MARX – 4 songs (including two songs on which he provides backing vocals: Lionel Richie’s You Are, and John Parr’s St. Elmo’s Fire)
THE POINTER SISTERS* – 4 songs
MICHAEL MCDONALD – 4 songs (including two songs on which he provides backing vocals: James Ingram and Patti Austin’s Baby, Come To Me, and Christopher Cross’ Ride Like the Wind)
HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS* – 4 songs
BILLY JOEL – 4 songs
CHICAGO – 4 songs
JANET JACKSON – 4 songs
* These artists were a part of USA For Africa’s We Are the World, which was not included in their song totals.
** These artists were a part of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, which was not included in the their song totals.
The above ranking of the artists with the same number of songs is based on which artist has the highest ranking song on the list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S.
ARTISTS WHO PERFORM ON SONGS BY OTHER ARTISTS
Here are artists who have songs in the Top 500 who also perform on other artists’ songs:
Philip Bailey – Part-Time Lover
Boy Meets Girl – Let’s Hear It For the Boy
Thomas Dolby – Heaven Is a Place On Earth and Waiting For a Girl Like You
Sheena Easton – U Got the Look
Glenn Frey – Against the Wind
George Harrison – I Won’t Back Down
Dan Hartman – Living In America
Don Henley – Against the Wind
James Ingram – P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
Michael McDonald – Ride Like the Wind and Baby, Come To Me
Eddie Money – I’m Alright
Kenny Rogers – You Are
Toto – St. Elmo’s Fire, I Keep Forgettin’, Human Nature, and Beat It
PLAY THE SONGS & VIDEOS!
Below is an alphabetical listing of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S.
Click on the title of a song to watch a video on YouTube!
(Some videos are not available due to copyright issues.)
In most cases, you will be directed to the original music video from the ‘80s. As we count down the list on our Facebook page, when a song is posted, a description about the song and artist with other interesting information is included with each post, and then added to this list below. New facts and information will continue being added to the list!
Africa by Toto - Song #34
Right now, this song is playing on a never-ending loop somewhere in Africa. In 2019, a sound installation powered by solar batteries was set up by Namibian artist Max Siedentopf, in an undisclosed location in the Namib Desert (the world’s oldest desert, roughly 55 to 80 million years old), to play the song for eternity. Africa is a timeless pop staple that has surged in popularity in the past few years. If this list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S measured popularity only since 2017, this song would probably be #1! Africa has become the subject of many internet memes, entire Reddit pages, and relentless millennial pop culture references. It is one of the most streamed and digitally downloaded songs of the past few years. According to Billboard magazine, “Internet culture has kind of taken it and really shot it into the stratosphere...people started bonding over their love of this song.” Many recent pop culture moments (detailed below) have spiked Africa’s popularity to an astonishing degree.
When asked why the song is experiencing such a wild resurgence, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather said, “I haven’t a f*cking clue and you can quote me on that, but it’s got a great groove. I mean it’s a happy thing. The message of the song doesn’t have anything to do with, ‘Oo baby I love you,’ so there’s no depression there. It’s not political, so there’s no depression there. It’s a fantasy song. It’s like a Disneyland song or whatever. We just went in there and had fun and made this record... People latch onto it. It’s kitschy enough and the lyrics are weird enough that people will remember it.”
Africa was recorded by American rock band Toto, and is featured on the band’s fourth studio album Toto IV. Released as the album’s third single, Africa hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1983, displacing Australian rock band Men at Work’s Down Under (song #47 on this list), another ode to a continent. Africa was a major hit in Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, South Africa, and Switzerland.
Toto formed in 1977. The band broke up in 2008, but then got back together in 2010, and disbanded again in 2019. Toto’s musical style combines elements of pop, jazz, soul, R&B, and rock. The original six members were reputable session musicians, hired for recording sessions and live performances for a variety of artists, which is how they met and decided to form their own band. Members of Toto worked with American jazz rock band Steely Dan (whose Hey Nineteen is song #298 on this list), American soft rock duo Seals and Crofts, American pop duo Sonny and Cher (Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time is song #263 on this list), and American blue-eyed soul singer Boz Scaggs. Four of the Toto guys are featured on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, including two songs on this list: Human Nature, song #315 [see the description of that song for details] and Beat It, song #31. Toto band members also perform on English singer John Parr’s St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion), song #133; American rock band Chicago’s Hard to Say I’m Sorry / Get Away, song #241; and American blue-eyed soul musician Michael McDonald’s I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near), song #374.
The six original Toto members were David Paich (keyboards and vocals); brothers Jeff Porcaro (drums) and Steve Porcaro (keyboards and vocals); Steve Lukather (guitars and vocals); David Hungate (bass guitar); and Bobby Kimball (lead vocals). Mike Porcaro (bass guitar) joined his brothers’ band in 1982. Six additional members were added over the years, as members left and re-joined, and a few of them died. Why the band is named “Toto” depends on which members of the band you ask. In the early ‘80s, some of them said that the band was named after Toto the dog from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. But Jeff Porcaro apparently wrote the word “Toto” on the band’s first demo tapes, in order to distinguish them from other bands who worked in the same studio. And some band members say that “Toto” came from the Latin phrase in toto, which means “all-encompassing” or “in total,” with the significance being that the band members brought together many different styles of music from their extensive experience with other musicians.
Africa was written by David Paich (who performs lead vocals on the song) and Jeff Porcaro, neither of whom had ever been to Africa when they wrote the song. According to Jeff Porcaro, the song is about “a white boy...trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.” David Paich said, “At the beginning of the ‘80s I watched a late-night documentary on TV about all the terrible death and suffering of the people in Africa. It both moved and appalled me and the pictures just wouldn’t leave my head. I tried to imagine how I’d feel about if I [were] there and what I’d do.” Because he’d never been to the continent himself, he based the song’s landscape descriptions on an article in venerable American magazine National Geographic: “I was a big reader of National Geographic. I’ve just always kind of been fascinated with Africa. I just kind of romanticized this story about a social worker that was over there, that falls in love and...is having kind of a paradox, trying to tear himself away from Africa to actually have a life.” David Paich attended Catholic school as a child, where several of his teachers did missionary work in Africa. Their missionary work became the inspiration behind the famous line, “I bless the rains down in Africa.”
But some of the Toto guys were not fans of the song originally. Steve Lukather said, “I thought it was the worst song on the album. It didn’t fit, the lyrics made no sense, and I swore that if it was a hit record, I’d run naked down Hollywood Boulevard! That’s how good I am at picking singles! I mean, I love the song now but, to be honest with you, at the time I thought it was really the oddball song on the album. It almost didn’t make the record, and it was a #1 worldwide single, and still gets played everywhere today. No matter where I go in the world, people know that song. It’s bizarre!” Steve Porcaro described the song as a dumb experiment with goofy lyrics that were just temporary placeholders, particularly the line about the Serengeti: “As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.” Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, located in Tanzania. The Serengeti is an ecosystem, a geographical region in Africa that spans both Tanzania and Kenya. The Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro are both located in the northern part of Tanzania, but you can’t actually see Kilimanjaro from the Serengeti, which is about 200 miles (320 km) away.
Toto has released 14 studio albums, seven live albums, one soundtrack album (for the 1984 film Dune, written and directed by David Lynch), 19 compilation albums, and 65 singles. Only 10 of those singles charted on the U.S. Billboard Top 40, and all except one of those 10 are from the ‘80s. Africa is featured on Toto IV, the band’s fourth (and most commercially and critically successful) album, released in 1982. Rosanna (which is song #388 on this list), was the lead single from Toto IV, and peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. The second single was Make Believe, which peaked at #30. Africa was the third single, and the final single released from Toto IV was I Won’t Hold You Back, which peaked at #10 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. Toto’s other hit songs in the United States are 1978’s Hold the Line, 1980’s 99, 1984’s Stranger In Town, 1986’s I’ll Be Over You, 1986’s Without Your Love, and 1988’s Pamela.
Toto IV was the final album with the original Toto lineup, and it received seven Grammy nominations in 1983, winning five of them, including Album of the Year. The other nominees for Album of the Year were American rock musician John (Cougar) Mellencamp’s American Fool, which features two songs on this list: Hurts So Good at #101, and Jack and Diane at #24; American pop musician Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain; American jazz/rock musician Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly; and English pop musician Paul McCartney’s Tug of War, which features his duet with American R&B/pop musician Stevie Wonder, Ebony and Ivory, song #267 on this list. Toto also won 1983’s Record of the Year (which is awarded to the artist, producer, and others who were involved in the actual recording of the song), but not for Africa——The winner of Record of the Year was Rosanna. The other nominees were English jazz/pop musician Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out, song #455 on this list; Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s Ebony and Ivory; American country singer/guitarist Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind, song #450; and Greek composer Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire, song #314. Rosanna was also nominated for Song of the Year (which is awarded to the songwriters), but lost to Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind. The other nominees were Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s Ebony and Ivory, American rock band Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, song #13 on this list; and Donald Fagen’s I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World), which did not make this list, but came close. Toto was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1979, but lost to American disco group A Taste of Honey.
Africa has been covered by many artists. The most well-known cover is by American alternative rock band Weezer in 2018, after a teenager’s viral Twitter campaign (@WeezerAfrica) implored the band to do the cover for nearly six months with tweets like, “It’s about time you bless the rains down in Africa,” and the hashtag #WeezerCoverAfrica. Before covering Africa, Weezer covered Toto’s Rosanna (click here) as a way of trolling fans clamoring for Africa. Ultimately, the band gave in to fans’ demand, and Weezer’s version of Africa (click here) peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Alternative Songs chart. Weezer’s video for Africa is a mirror-image parody of their 1994 debut single Undone – The Sweater Song. The parody features American musical comedian “Weird Al” Yankovic as Weezer’s frontman Rivers Cuomo, with his band members replacing Weezer. “Weird Al” is known for his lampoons of hit songs. On January 1, 2019, Weezer performed Africa live on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve (click here). In response to Weezer’s cover of Africa, Toto did a cover of Weezer’s 2001 song Hash Pipe (click here for Toto’s version).
Other artists who have covered Africa include experimental collaboration Zo! and Tigallo (featuring American rapper Phonte) in 2008 (click here); American musician Scott Bradlee’s jazz-oriented collective Postmodern Jukebox in 2011 (click here); American Christian rock band Relient K in 2011 (click here); English comedy lounge band The Lounge Kittens in 2016 (click here); American musical comedy duo Ninja Sex Party in 2017 (click here); American soul musician CeeLo Green in 2018 (click here); and jazz vocalist Robyn Adele Anderson, who did a bluegrass version in 2019 (click here).
Africa has been sampled and interpolated in many songs, including 1992’s Steady Me by German pop singer Sandra; 1999’s New World by American rapper Nas; 1999’s Tempo Critico by Italian rap group Sacre Scuole; 2002’s Heart of Man by American rapper Xzibit; 2003’s Murder Reigns by American rapper Ja Rule; 2007’s Anything by American pop singer JoJo; 2008’s Africa by Lebanese-Canadian pop singer Karl Wolf featuring Culture; 2009’s The 12 Days of Christmas by American a cappella group Straight No Chaser (which became one of the very first viral videos and made the group famous); 2010’s Huey Newton by American rapper Wiz Khalifa featuring Curren$y; 2010’s vaporwave-genre song A1 by experimental electronic musician Chuck Person, aka Oneohtrix Point Never; 2011’s Fight for You by American pop singer Jason Derulo; 2011’s How I Feel by American rapper Lil B; 2012’s Keep Ballin by American rapper Red Café; 2013’s Reloaded by American rapper Rich Homie Quan; 2016’s Africa by Swedish production duo Bacall & Malo featuring Nigerian singer Prince Osito; 2017’s Be Right Back! by American rapper Ezri; 2018’s Ocean To Ocean by American rapper Pitbull featuring Rhea; and 2019’s Selfish by Belgian DJ and record producer Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike with Kosovo-Albanian singer Era Istrefi.
Africa has been featured in quite a few television shows, including the very first episode of Stranger Things; Scrubs (click here); Family Guy (click here); Community (with American actress Betty White – click here); and South Park (in two episodes of its 20th season – click here and here). In 2013, American pop singer Justin Timberlake and American talk show host Jimmy Fallon performed it in a sketch on The Tonight Show (click here). In 2013, Africa was used by CBS during coverage of the funeral of South African president Nelson Mandela, which even the Toto guys thought was inappropriate: David Paich stated publicly that CBS should have used actual South African music instead.
Michael Jackson almost recorded this song for the Thriller album! Producer Quincy Jones wanted Ain’t Nobody, and he almost got it. Rufus keyboardist David Wolinski wrote the song, and the other members of the group didn’t like it, but they recorded it anyway, to be included as a bonus track on the band’s 1983 live album Stompin’ at the Savoy, which was to be the group’s final album because the band members had decided to split up. David Wolinski wanted the song to be released as the album’s first single, and threatened to pull the song from the album and give it to Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson if the band did not agree. Executives at Warner Bros. Records and the band ultimately agreed, and Ain’t Nobody was released in November 1983; it reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart and #22 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. The song was also included on the soundtrack for the 1984 breakdancing film Breakin’, and is featured in a sequence in the film (click here).
Rufus was an American funk band that formed in Chicago, Illinois in 1970. Rufus had 10 U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits, including 1974’s Tell Me Something Good (written by Stevie Wonder) and 1975’s Sweet Thing. Chaka Khan joined as lead vocalist in 1972, and quickly became the focus of the band’s image. Chaka Khan became so popular that Rufus became “Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan,” one of the most influential funk bands of the 1970s, with four consecutive #1 albums on the U.S. Billboard R&B album chart, and five #1 songs on the R&B singles chart. Chaka Khan signed a solo contract with Warner Bros. Records in 1978, but she remained part of the band until 1982. Chaka Khan’s real name is Yvette Marie Stevens. At the age of 14, she joined the Black Panthers, one of the most influential political organization of the 1960s. Known as the Queen of Funk, Chaka Khan has won 10 Grammy Awards, including two as a member of Rufus——both in the category of Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: Tell Me Something Good and Ain’t Nobody.
Ain’t Nobody has been covered several times, and some of these versions became dance hits around the world. Examples include British singer Jaki Graham’s 1994 version (click here); Jamaican singer/songwriter Diana King’s 1995 version (click here); a 1996 interpolation of the song (click here) for the soundtrack of the film Beavis and Butt–Head Do America by American rapper LL Cool J (whose I Need Love is song #371 on this list); Richard X vs. Liberty X’s 2003 song Being Nobody, which combines the lyrics of Ain’t Nobody with the music of Being Boiled by The Human League (whose Human and Don’t You Want Me are songs #404 at #39, on this list, respectively); and the most successful cover of the song, German DJ Felix Jaehn’s 2015 worldwide hit Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better) featuring vocals by English singer Jasmine Thompson.
In 2018, Ain’t Nobody was adopted by fans of Nottingham Forest Football Club (a professional football club based in Nottinghamshire, England), and the song has previously been used by supporters of Arsenal Football Club, Wales national football team, and West Ham United Football Club. Chaka Khan has two more songs on this list of the TOP 500 SONGS OF THE 1980S: I Feel For You (written by Prince and featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica), is song #153, and she sings with Steve Winwood on Higher Love, song #130.
Alive and Kicking by Simple Minds - Song #494
All Night Long by Lionel Richie - Song #68
All Out Of Love by Air Supply - Song #253
All Through the Night by Cyndi Lauper - Song #181
Alone by Heart - Song #121
Always On My Mind by Willie Nelson- Song #450
Always Something There To Remind Me by Naked Eyes - Song #92
America by Neil Diamond - Song #461
Angel by Aerosmith - Song #412
Angel Of the Morning by Juice Newton – Song #370
This song has been recorded by many artists (including other artists on this list: Olivia Newton-John, Chrissie Hynde with The Pretenders, Dusty Springfield, and Bonnie Tyler), but Juice Newton’s 1981 version is the highest-charting and best-selling version in the United States. This song earned Juice Newton a Grammy nomination in 1982 for Best Contemporary Female Pop Vocal Performance. Jamaican musician Shaggy’s 2001 hit song Angel heavily samples this song’s melody, with different lyrics.
Another Brick In the Wall (Part II) by Pink Floyd - Song #25
This song is divided into three parts on the 1979 album The Wall, a double album with four sides. (These were vinyl records back then.) Part II was released as a radio edit single and entered the Billboard Top 40 in 1980. On the album, Part I is the third track on side one, Part II is the fifth track on side one, and part III is the sixth track on side two. On other albums, there are alternate versions of the song, blending the separate parts with other songs. To hear all three parts together, click here.
Any Way You Want It by Journey - Song #211
Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) by Christopher Cross - Song #177
At This Moment by Bill Vera & the Beaters – Song #442
This song was originally released in 1981, but it did not enter the U.S. Billboard Top 40 then. After being featured on the popular TV show Family Ties, the song became a Top 40 hit in 1986.
Automatic by The Pointer Sisters - Song #486
Baby, Come To Me by Patti Austin and James Ingram - Song #217
Baby, I Love Your Way / Freebird Medley by Will To Power - Song #284
This song combines two rock songs from the 1970s: English-American rock musician Peter Frampton’s Baby, I Love Your Way (which peaked at #12 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1976) and American Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird (which peaked at #19 in 1975; a live version peaked at #38 in 1977). Will To Power is known for dance-pop and freestyle music, which originated in South Florida in the ‘80s. The group’s name comes from a prominent concept of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, first mentioned in his 1883 novel Thus Spake Zarathustra, in which Nietzsche describes the will to power as the unexhausted procreative will of life. Although Nietzsche never precisely defines the concept of the will to power in his work, leaving it open to subjective interpretation, the concept applies to the primary driving force of all life to transcend the self through creative power.
Baby, I Love Your Way / Freebird Medley hit #1 in December 1988, and Billboard ranked it the #9 song of 1989. Although sometimes considered a one-hit wonder, Will To Power had another hit song: a remake of 10cc’s I’m Not in Love, which peaked at #9 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1990; they also had three hits on the U.S. Billboard Dance Club chart, all of them in the ‘80s: Dreamin’, Say It’s Gonna Rain, and Fading Away.
Peter Frampton’s Baby, I Love Your Way first appeared on his 1975 album Frampton. A live version of the song (click here) was included on his 1976 multi-platinum album Frampton Comes Alive!, which is the version that became popular. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic rock anthem Free Bird is often considered the band’s signature song. It is consistently played as the finale of their live performances, and it is their longest song, sometimes surpassing 14 minutes in length when played live. Free Bird was first featured on the band’s 1973 debut album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh–’nérd ‘Skin–’nérd). Free Bird is ranked #3 on Guitar World’s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos. Free Bird is included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and it is ranked #193 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2009, it was named the 26th best hard rock song of all time by VH1. Free Bird has been featured in numerous video games, television shows, and movies. Some of the movies are Soylent Green, The Towering Inferno, Sid and Nancy, This Is Spinal Tap, Time Bandits, Spaceballs, Wayne’s World, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, High Fidelity, Speed, Lethal Weapon 4, The Doors, The Last Boy Scout, Forrest Gump, Blood Diamond, Dude, Where’s My Car?, The Full Monty, Napoleon Dynamite, Toy Story 3, and Mad Max: Fury Road. In the Will To Power song, the Freebird lyrics are slightly different: The original line “and the bird you cannot change” was changed to “and this bird will never change.”
Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) by Soul II Soul - Song #268
This song peaked at #4 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1989, and peaked at #1 for four weeks in the U.K. the same year. The British R&B group Soul II Soul has had over a dozen members over the years; DJ and producer Jazzie B is the only member who has been with the group since its inception in 1988. He said, “Everything about this single was magic. We weren’t trying to follow any trend or fit into any category. We were just doing our own thing... Its shuffling beats were a cross between reggae and what was to become known as hip-hop: breakbeats and electronic sound... [T]his was a moment that put British music back on the map. It also came out at a special time in the industry’s history——just before digital took over and everything seemed to fall apart.” The lead vocals on Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) are provided by guest singer Caron Wheeler, who embarked on a solo career the following year. The song also features the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra. Soul II Soul’s first hit was Keep On Movin’, which peaked at #11 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in September 1989, but did not make this list. The beat for Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) (which is also used in Keep On Movin’) is based on hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim’s 1987 song Paid In Full. Several versions of Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) exist: the original album version is a capella (click here), the first single version adds instrumentation, and the second single version, which is the one that became popular (click here) includes new lyrics and the chorus. There are also various extended remixes and a club mix (click here).
Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) has been performed, covered, and sampled many times. In 1991, English pop singer George Michael performed the song with American singer Lynn Mabry at the Rock in Rio 2 music festival (click here), and he continued to perform it throughout his 1991 Cover to Cover tour; and a version of his hit song Freedom! ‘90 (Back to Reality Mix) features an interpolation of the song. Panamanian-American DJ Clue? produced a version featuring American R&B singer Mary J. Blige and American rapper Jadakiss, Back to Life 2001. The song is sampled in American rapper The Game’s However Do You Want It, and American rapper Big Boi’s Shutterbugg. In 2000, VH1 ranked Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) 50th on their list of the 100 Greatest Dance Songs. In 2006, Slant magazine ranked the song 57th on a list of the 100 Greatest Dance Songs. The song won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1990. Soul II Soul has been nominated for five BRIT Awards——twice for Best British Group. Billboard magazine ranked Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) the 42nd most popular song of 1989.
Bad by Michael Jackson - Song #322
This song was originally conceived as a duet between Michael Jackson and Prince by legendary producer Quincy Jones (who produced Michael Jackson’s albums Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad, as well as USA For Africa’s We Are the World, which is song #112 on this list). Quincy Jones said that he had pictured the pair battling it out in the video, but Prince declined and said that the song would be a hit without him. In 1997, Prince said, “The first line in that song is, ‘Your butt is mine,’ so I was saying, ‘Who gonna sing that to whom? Because you sure ain’t singing it to me, and I sure ain’t singing it to you.’ So right there we got a problem.”
Michael Jackson stated that Bad was based on a true story about a young man living in poverty who went to a private school hoping improve his life, but was murdered by his former friends when he returned home for Thanksgiving break. In his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk, he said, “Bad is a song about the street. It’s about this kid from a bad neighborhood who gets to go away to a private school. He comes back to the old neighborhood when he’s on a break from school and the kids from the neighborhood start giving him trouble. He sings, ‘I’m bad, you’re bad, who’s bad, who’s the best?’ He’s saying when you’re strong and good, then you’re bad.” The Bad video/short film, which is over 18 minutes long, was directed by Martin Scorsese (the renowned director of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed, The Wolf Of Wall Street, and many more). It first aired on the CBS prime time TV special Michael Jackson: The Magic Returns in 1987. In the video, Michael Jackson’s mother is played by American soul singer Roberta Flack. In one of his first roles, American actor Wesley Snipes (who would later star in White Men Can’t Jump and the Blade film trilogy) plays the rival gang leader. In 2017, Wesley Snipes told Conan O’Brien that his role was intended for Prince, but that after Michael saw Wesley’s Snipes’ audition, he changed his mind; he said, “I blew Prince out of the water. Michael had told Prince that he had the role, and then he met me and kicked Prince to the curb. Imagine that.”
Martin Scorsese said that the video was a different directing experience for him: “Shooting the big dance scene was the allure of it. Michael was never a person who was overly enthusiastic. He was quiet. Accepting. How should I put it? He was very precise about what he wanted in the choreography. He was concerned, like with any great dancer-—they like to be seen full figure. But that wasn’t the case because I’d planned other things. The use of close-ups, and tracking him. Eventually he understood that. There was never any resistance, but questions. He was open to everything.” The video has similarities to the 1961 film West Side Story. According to dancer/choreographer Toni Basil (whose Mickey is song #196 on this list), “If you look at Bad, that’s taken straight out of West Side Story. If you interview any of those choreographers, you’ll see that Michael looked at West Side Story over and over and over again. If you put the song Cool from West Side Story up against that, you’ll see hunks taken. Not that it wasn’t great, but Michael would never say where he was inspired from.” To see the undeniable similarities, check out Cool from West Side Story here. At the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards, the Bad video was nominated for Best Choreography, as was Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel (song #171 on this list), but the winner was his sister Janet Jackson’s video for The Pleasure Principle (which did not make this list, but came close). Watch Janet’s video here.
Bad was the second of a record five consecutive #1 songs on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 from one album. The other #1 songs from the album are I Just Can’t Stop Loving You (which did not make this list), The Way You Make Me Feel (#171 on this list), Man In The Mirror (#81), and Dirty Diana (#438). The Bad album has sold over 35 million copies worldwide. In 2009, on VH1’s 100 Greatest Albums of All Time of the MTV Generation, Bad is ranked #43. On Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Bad is ranked #202. The Bad album was nominated for six Grammy awards: Album of the Year (losing to U2’s The Joshua Tree, which has three songs on this list: Where the Streets Have No Name at #137, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at #111, and With Or Without You at #16), Best Pop Vocal Performance – Male (losing to Sting for his album Bring On the Night), Best R&B Vocal Performance – Male (losing to Smokey Robinson for Just To See Her, which did not make this list), and Record of the Year for Man in the Mirror (losing to Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin, #394 on this list). Bad won Grammys for Best Engineered Recording – Non Classical, and Best Music Video – Short Form for Leave Me Alone (watch it here). Internationally, the song Bad was a huge hit: It reached #1 in 11 countries, including Ireland, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, and Spain, and it charted in the Top 10 in Australia, Austria, France, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden, and the U.K.
Bad Medicine by Bon Jovi - Song #405
Beat It by Michael Jackson - Song #31
Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil - Song #449
Being With You by Smokey Robinson - Song #490
Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes - Song #57
Better Be Good To Me by Tina Turner - Song #401
Billie Jean by Michael Jackson - Song #6
Blame It On the Rain by Milli Vanilli – Song #496
Break My Stride by Matthew Wilder - Song #297
This song peaked at #5 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40, and was ranked as the #27 most popular song of 1984. American musician Matthew Wilder said that the inspiration for this song was not a failed romantic relationship, but rather his failed professional relationship with music industry mogul Clive Davis, who was the head of Arista Records at the time. (Clive Davis is credited for making superstars of many artists, including Janis Joplin, Santana, Barry Manilow, Bruce Springsteen, Chicago, Billy Joel, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, and Whitney Houston.) According to Matthew Wilder, Clive Davis signed him in 1981, but didn’t like any of his work, which prompted him to write Break My Stride. He recorded the song on his own and submitted it to Arista, but Clive Davis’ reaction was, “Interesting song, but not a hit.” (Wrong!) Frustrated, Matthew Wilder then requested that Arista drop him, and he made a deal with Private I Records, and of course, Break My Stride became a huge hit. But Private I Records was involved in some dubious activity: The owner was the subject of a federal investigation (which lasted from 1986 until the charges were dropped in 1996); radio stations were being paid to play the label’s songs, including Break My Stride (in 2000, the owner was indicted for extortion and loan sharking).
American rapper and producer Puff Daddy interpolated Break My Stride on 1997’s Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down, with the lyrics, “Can’t nobody take my pride, can’t nobody hold me down, oh no, I got to keep on movin’.” This interpolation is one of the first instances of an artist using a popular song in this way, which became a trend in the late-’90s. Matthew Wilder has had success as a songwriter and producer. He produced American rock band No Doubt’s album Tragic Kingdom, he wrote the song Reflection for American singer Christina Aguilera, and he provided the singing voice of Ling in the 2009 animated movie Mulan (and was nominated for an Oscar for Original Music Score for his work on that film). Matthew Wilder is technically not a one-hit wonder because his follow-up to Break My Stride peaked at #33 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1984: The Kid’s American.
Candle In the Wind (Live 1986) by Elton John – Song #356
This version of Candle In the Wind was recorded live in Australia in 1986, and entered the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1987. The original version of this song (click here), which was not released as a single, and sounds very different than the later versions, is on Elton John’s 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Elton John and his long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin originally wrote this song about American singer/actress Marilyn Monroe (whose real name was Norma Jeane Mortenson), but in 1997, they rewrote the lyrics and re-released a new version of the song as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, a member of the British royal family known for her charitable work, who died in a car crash in 1997. Elton John performed the song at Princess Diana’s funeral (click here). The 1997 version is one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Caught Up In You by .38 Special - Song #328
This song was written by American rock band .38 Special’s co-founder and guitarist Jeff Carlisi and lead vocalist Don Barnes, with Jim Peterik, who was a member of American rock band Survivor (Survivor’s only song on this list is the huge hit Eye Of the Tiger, at #13). This association became a source of contention. The first U.S. Billboard Top 40 hit song for .38 Special was 1981’s Hold On Loosely (which did not make this list, but came close), which Jim Peterik originally wrote for his band Survivor. When Hold On Loosely wasn’t chosen for Survivor’s album, it was offered to .38 Special, and it became their first hit song, and led to Carlisi, Barnes, and Peterik collaborating and writing more songs for .38 Special.
Jim Peterik stated, “There was a lot of resentment that I was writing songs not only for Survivor, but I was writing them with .38 Special too. I’m talking about resentment from my own band, Survivor. What I tried to explain to them, which fell on deaf ears, was that the .38 songs would never have been right for Survivor. They came from another place in me and were very much a product of the synergy of Don Barnes, Jim Peterik, and Jeff Carlisi. All they could see was competition on the charts from someone who wrote the songs for both bands. He explained that he had to meet with the .38 Special guys secretly so that his Survivor band members would not know: “We had to find places to write songs. We couldn’t go to the band house, and at my house, what if one of the guys stopped over? So we went to my mother’s house and wrote in the basement. We were writing Caught Up In You in this gloomy room in my mother’s basement all dark and dank, and we’re writing this hit song. I was feeling like the bad kid playing hooky or something.”
Survivor’s lead guitarist Frankie Sullivan is also a credited writer for Caught Up In You, because, according to Jim Peterik, he demanded credit for the use of a chord progression in the song, which was intended to be used in a Survivor song. Jim Peterik stated, “Even though there was no solid evidence to the similarity, I got .38 to agree to cut him in to the copyright just to avoid a lawsuit.” The highest charting hit for .38 Special is the lostly forgotten Second Chance, which reached #6 in 1989 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. (Caught Up In You peaked at #10, and Hold On Loosely peaked at #28.) In 2009, Jeff Carlisi said, “To this day when the name .38 Special comes up, nobody says Second Chance! It was our biggest hit but people always think of Hold On Loosely or Caught Up in You first.”
Chariots Of Fire - Titles by Vangelis - Song #314
This electronic piano piece is one of only two instrumental songs on this list (the other is Kenny G’s Songbird at #491). When it was originally released as a single in December 1981, the title was simply “Titles,” but within two months, the title was changed to Chariots of Fire – Titles for easier identification with the 1981 British historical film that it is from, Chariots Of Fire. The film is based on actual events about two religious athletes (a Christian and a Jew) in the 1924 Olympics. In a very well-known scene from the film, the song plays while the athletes run in slow motion. It is also the film’s opening titles sequence, which is why it was originally named “Titles” on the film’s soundtrack. Listen to the full soundtrack here.
The film’s title is a reference to a line in the William Blake poem “Jerusalem” (“Bring me my chariot of fire”), which was adapted into the hymn Jerusalem for the film’s soundtrack. The original phrase chariots of fire is found in the 12th book of the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament: 2 Kings 2:11 (“As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven”) and 2 Kings 6:17 (“Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha”). Chariots Of Fire – Titles peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in May 1982, and Billboard ranked it the 12th most popular song of 1982.
The real name of Greek composer Vangelis is Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou. He is a significant figure in electronic music, notable for adding ambient, jazz, and orchestral elements to his music. The decision for Vangelis to compose a synthesizer-heavy score for a historical film was unheard of at the time because most period films featured traditional orchestral music. Chariots Of Fire won the Academy Award for Original Music Score; the film was nominated for seven Oscars, and won four: Original Screenplay, Costume Design, and Best Picture (beating Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Reds). Vangelis also composed the synthesizer-based score for Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner (click here).
Chariots Of Fire – Titles is often associated with the Olympic Games. It was used prominently at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Chariots Of Fire – Titles has often been used for comedic effect in movies, television shows, and advertisements, in which characters are running in slow-motion. A notable example is the 1983 film National Lampoon’s Vacation, in a scene in which the Griswold family finally arrives at the fictional theme park Walley World and runs toward the entrance (click here). Other similar uses occur in the films Mr. Mom, Happy Gilmore, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Bruce Almighty, Old School, Kicking & Screaming, and Madagascar.
Cherish by Kool & the Gang - Song #307
This song is the #1 U.S. Adult Contemporary hit of the ‘80s. (The Billboard Adult Contemporary chart was created in 1961 for radio stations that wanted to distinguish themselves from “rock and roll” stations.) Cherish is the third single released from Kool & the Gang’s 16th studio album Emergency, and it quickly became (and still is) a wedding song staple. The first two songs released from the album were Top 10 hits, but they did not make this list: Misled and Fresh.
Kool & the Gang is an American band formed in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1964 by brothers Robert “Kool” Bell and Ronald Bell when they were teenagers; the group originated as a traditional jazz group called The Jazziacs. Kool & the Gang had 20 songs on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 from 1973 to 1987. Cherish peaked at #2 and stayed there for three weeks in 1985, kept from the #1 position by Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing (song #150 on this list). The band’s commercial breakthrough came in 1973 with their fourth album Wild and Peaceful and their first big hit Jungle Boogie, which was later featured in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction. The band’s biggest hit is 1980’s Celebration (#54 on this list), which has become the worldwide quintessential song for any kind of celebration. (It was even played to celebrate the return of the 52 American hostages on January 27, 1981 during the Iran Hostage Crisis.) Celebration and Cherish are the band’s only songs on this list, but three of their songs came close to being in the Top 500: Too Hot, Ladies’ Night, and Joanna. Additionally, three members of Kool & the Gang (Robert “Kool” Bell, James J.T. Taylor, and Dennis Thomas) perform with Band Aid on Do They Know It’s Christmas? (#236 on this list); they and Jody Watley (whose Looking For a New Love is song #340 on this list) are the only Americans to be a part of Band Aid.
Kool & the Gang was the opening act for American hard rock band Van Halen’s 2012 U.S. tour. Yes, that is an odd combination, but it was the idea of Van Halen’s lead singer David Lee Roth. Van Halen has three songs on this list: Jump at #43, Panama at #141 (both with David Lee Roth as lead singer), and Why Can’t This Be Love? at #352 (with Sammy Hagar as lead singer). According to Robert “Kool” Bell, “People said, ‘How the hell is that going to work? The rock bad boys of the 1980s and Kool & the Gang?’ We surprised them all. David Lee Roth——he had a vision. He came to me and said: ‘We were hot in the ‘80s with Jump when you had Ladies’ Night. Our fan base is 60 percent ladies. Come on, Kool, let’s go have a party.’ And that’s what we did, and we shocked everybody.”
Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Band Aid – Song #236
Artists who perform on this song who also have songs on this list are Sting (of The Police), Bono and Adam Clayton (of U2), Duran Duran, George Michael, Boy George and Jon Moss (of Culture Club), Robert “Kool” Bell, James “J.T.” Taylor, and Dennis Thomas (of Kool & the Gang), Phil Collins, Spandau Ballet, Paul Young, Bananarama, and Jody Watley. Because David Bowie and Paul McCartney were not available when the song was recorded, they added spoken messages that are included on the alternate extended version of the song.
Do You Believe In Love by Huey Lewis and the News - Song #324
This song is the first hit for American rock band Huey Lewis and the News. It peaked at #7 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in May 1982. Because their first album (which was self-titled) did not do well commercially, Chrysalis Records informed Huey Lewis and the News that they would be dropped if their second album did not produce a hit; it was strongly suggested that Do You Believe In Love be included on their next album Picture This. The band resisted, but eventually gave in, and this song became their breakthrough hit, which can largely be attributed to American television channel MTV for putting the video in heavy rotation during its first year, when there weren’t a lot of videos available.
Do You Believe In Love was written by Robert John Mutt Lange, who has produced albums for AC/DC, Foreigner, The Cars, Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Michael Bolton, Britney Spears, Maroon 5, Lady Gaga, Nickelback, and his ex-wife Shania Twain. When he wrote the song and submitted it to Huey Lewis and the News, it was titled We Both Believe In Love, but Huey Lewis revised the lyrics and changed the title. Apparently, Robert John Mutt Lange inadvertently ripped off the 1978 song Sweet Talkin’ Woman by Electric Light Orchestra when he wrote Do You Believe In Love. The songs have the same melody and similar opening lyrics (“I was walking down a one way street; Just a looking for someone to meet...” compared to “I was searching on a one-way street; I was hoping for a chance to meet...”) Check out the comparison of the two songs here. Huey Lewis and the News have three other songs on this list: Stuck With You (#407), I Want a New Drug (#376), and The Power Of Love (#170).
Don’t Get Me Wrong by The Pretenders - Song #440
Don’t Stand So Close To Me by The Police - Song #379
Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey - Song #1
Don’t Talk To Strangers by Rick Springfield - Song #472
Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin – Song #394
This song is entirely a cappella, with overdubbed voice parts and other sounds made by Bobby McFerrin, and contains no musical instruments at all. It won Grammys in 1989 for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. George H. W. Bush started using this song for his 1988 U.S. presidential campaign, but that ended when Bobby McFerrin objected.
This song by British synth-pop group The Human League was designated by Rolling Stone magazine the “breakthrough song of the Second British Invasion of the U.S.,” which refers to the period of mid-1982 to mid-1986 when a wide variety of music artists from the U.K. became popular in the U.S., primarily due to the American television channel MTV, which launched in 1981. Don’t You Want Me was a worldwide hit, peaking at #1 in the U.K., and becoming 1981’s best-selling single and the 5th best-selling single of the ‘80s in the U.K. In the U.S., Don’t You Want Me also reached #1, and Billboard magazine ranked it the 6th most popular song of 1982. It also hit #1 in Norway, New Zealand, Belgium, Ireland, and Canada. Ironically, the group’s frontman Philip Oakey did not want the song to be released as a single because he considered it the worst song on the group’s third album Dare, and called it a “poor-quality filler track.” He fought the release of the song, describing it as “a nasty song about sexual power politics,” but he was overruled by executives at the group’s record company Virgin Records.
The Human League is an English synth-pop group formed in Sheffield, England in 1977. Originally named The Future, when some founding members left the group in 1980 due to recurring conflicts (and then formed the new wave band Heaven 17), the group changed its name to The Human League, which was inspired by the science fiction board game Starforce: Alpha Centauri. In this wargame, “The Human League” is an empire that wants more independence from Earth. Frontman Philip Oakey, who provides lead vocals and keyboards, is the only member who has been in the group since 1977. In 1980, he saw two 17-year-old girls, Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall, at a nightclub and recruited them to be background singers and dancers, even though neither of them had any experience singing or dancing professionally. Various musicians were hired to work on Dare and subsequent albums. Since 1987, The Human League has remained a trio composed of Oakey, Sulley and Catherall.
Don’t You Want Me is notable for being the first #1 song in the U.S. and the U.K. to use the revolutionary Linn LM-1 drum computer, the first programmable drum machine that sampled real drums rather than creating sounds synthetically. Introduced in 1980, the LM-1 became a staple of ‘80s pop music, and was used in many ‘80s hits, including Stevie Wonder’s Part-Time Lover (song #300 on this list), Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax (#213), Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ (#167), Don Henley’s The Boys Of Summer (#116), Culture Club’s Do You Really Want To Hurt Me (#97), Pat Benatar’s Love Is a Battlefield (#38), Irene Cara’s Flashdance...What a Feeling (#26), A-ha’s Take On Me (#11), and Prince’s I Would Die 4 U (#330), Little Red Corvette (#27) and When Doves Cry (#2).
The video for Don’t You Want Me was one of the most expensive at that time. Rather than using cheap video tape, which was standard then, it was shot on 35mm film, which gives the video a cinematic look. Philip Oakey credited the video and MTV for making the song a hit: “I don’t think we would have had a #1 if it weren’t for the video and MTV. Trying to interpret songs with video is a real problem, but at the same time, we know that we wouldn’t be here without video.” The video was directed by Steve Barron, who directed many renowned ‘80s videos, including Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing (song #150 on this list) and A-ha’s Take On Me (#11). The video depicts the filming and editing of a murder mystery, with members of the group playing the roles of actors and production staff. In the original video, some of the characters are shot with pistols, but these shootings were later omitted from the video and replaced with slow-motion montages.
In 1995, a remix of Don’t You Want Me (click here) by German-American electronic group Snap! was released to coincided with the group’s repackaged “Greatest Hits” compilation (which was originally released in 1988), and this remix was a hit in the U.K. In 2014, the original version of Don’t You Want Me was a hit again in the U.K., peaking at #19 on the U.K. Singles Chart (and hitting #1 in Scotland), due to a social media campaign by fans of Aberdeen Football Club in Scotland, after winning the 2014 Scottish League Cup. The song was routinely chanted at games, with the lyrics changed to “Peter Pawlett baby,” referencing their midfielder. Don’t You Want Me has been covered by many artists over the years, including British rock band The Farm in 1992 (click here), Swedish dance/pop group Alcazar in 2002 (click here), American rock band Neon Trees in 2012 (click here), and American synth-pop group Information Society featuring American pop singer Vitamin C in 2016 (click here).
After the worldwide success of Don’t You Want Me, The Human League had five more U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits: 1982’s Mirror Man, 1983’s (Keep Feeling) Fascination, 1986’s Human (which was also a #1 song in the U.S. and is song #404 on this list), 1990’s Heart Like a Wheel and 1995’s Tell Me When. Prior to the release of Don’t You Want Me, three songs from the 1981 Dare album were hits in the U.K.: The Sound of the Crowd, Love Action (I Believe in Love), and Open Your Heart. Although not a Top 40 hit in the U.S., the group’s 1984 song The Lebanon is noteworthy for its politically-charged lyrics about the Lebanese civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, and had been exacerbated by an Israeli invasion in 1982. The Lebanon was a hit in the U.K. and is considered a radical departure from The Human League’s synth-pop sound, with its heavy use of bass and rock guitars; in fact, some critics pointed out that the group was violating its “no guitars rule” that they had publicly announced in 1981.
The Human League was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1983, but lost to Men At Work, who have two songs on this list: Who Can It Be Now? (#302) and Down Under (#47). The other nominees were Jennifer Holliday, Stray Cats (whose Rock This Town is song #413 on this list), and Asia (whose Heat Of the Moment is song #197 on this list). The Human League is still touring. In 2012, the group went on a 35th anniversary tour across Europe and the U.K.
Dr. Feelgood by Mötley Crüe - Song #281
In 2018, Mötley Crüe announced that the band had reunited to work on new music, but don’t expect the band to tour. Mötley Crüe’s final performance was on December 31, 2015, and because the band members signed a “cessation of touring agreement,” they are prevented from touring under the name Mötley Crüe. Dr. Feelgood is Mötley Crüe’s biggest hit; released in 1989 as the first single from the band’s fifth studio album of the same name, Dr. Feelgood peaked at #6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. In 2009, Dr. Feelgood was ranked the 15th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1. Lead singer Vince Neil said, “I knew it was a classic from the time I heard that very first ‘bomp bomp bomp bomp.’ That intro just kind of grabs you. This song has been popular for 20 years. It was funny because I was watching VH1 and they had the greatest hard rock songs and Feelgood was 15 or something. I was like, ‘Wow, of all time.’ Then you have Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith and AC/DC and Feelgood. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ It’s our signature song in some ways.” Bassist Nikki Sixx said that the song was inspired by drug dealers.
Mötley Crüe is an American heavy metal band that formed in 1981 in Los Angeles, California. The band’s original lineup was Vince Neil (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), Mick Mars (lead guitar), Nikki Sixx (bass and keyboards), and Tommy Lee (drums, percussion, and keyboards). Vince Neil left the group from 1992 to 1996, and Tommy Lee left the group from 1999 to 2004. Other than those gaps, the original lineup has remained the same. Nikki Sixx said, “I wanted a band that would be like David Bowie and the Sex Pistols thrown in a blender with Black Sabbath.” He wanted to call the band “Christmas,” but the other band members did not like that name. Mick Mars remembered being called a “a motley looking crew” when he was with a previous band, and with a modified spelling (including two sets of metal umlauts inspired by the German beer Löwenbräu, which the members were drinking at the time), the band decided on the name Mötley Crüe.
In the ‘80s, the band members were known for outlandish clothing, high-heeled boots, and heavy make-up, and they were notorious for their decadent lifestyles fueled by alcohol and other drugs, with many widely-publicized incidents, sexual escapades, arrests, and lawsuits, some of which were later revealed to be publicity stunts. In 1984, Vince Neil was charged with a DUI and vehicular manslaughter, and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail (but he only served 18 days) and paid a $2 million fine. In 1987, Nikki Sixx overdosed on heroin and was declared legally dead on the way to the hospital, but he was revived with two shots of adrenaline. By 1989, all of the band members entered drug rehabilitation, except for Mick Mars, who cleaned up on his own. They were all reportedly sober at the peak of the band’s popularity in late-1989, when the Dr. Feelgood album hit #1 and stayed on the U.S. Billboard album chart for 114 weeks. In 1998, Mötley Crüe’s contract with Elektra Records expired, which put the band in total control of its publishing and music catalog; very few music artists own the master license to their material.
In 2011, Mötley Crüe toured with Poison for the band’s 30th anniversary and Poison’s 25th anniversary (Poison has three songs on this list: Nothin’ But a Good Time at #399, Talk Dirty To Me at #336, and Every Rose Has Its Thorn at #96). In late-2011, Mötley Crüe toured the U.K. with Def Leppard (Def Leppard has four songs on this list: Love Bites at #288, Rock Of Ages at #157, Photograph at #52, and Pour Some Sugar On Me at #7). Dr Feelgood is Mötley Crüe’s only song on this list, but the band did have six more U.S. Billboard Top 40 songs: Smokin’ in the Boys Room, Girls, Girls, Girls, Kickstart My Heart (which was inspired by Nikki Sixx’ almost-fatal heroin overdose in 1987), Without You, Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away), and Home Sweet Home ‘91. Home Sweet Home was originally released in 1985, and the original video (click here) was a huge hit on MTV, but the original version of the song did not enter the U.S. Billboard Top 40, peaking only at #89, which is why it was not eligible for this list.
In 1990, the song Dr. Feelgood was nominated for a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance, but lost to Living Colour’s Cult of Personality (song #262 on this list). Mötley Crüe was nominated for an American Music Award for Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Artist in 1990 (but lost to Guns N’ Roses) and nominated again in the same category in 1991 (but lost to Aerosmith). Mötley Crüe’s album Dr. Feelgood was nominated for an American Music Award for Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Album in 1990 (but lost to Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction); in 1991 the album was nominated again in the same category, and won. Mötley Crüe was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006. The band made a guest appearance and performed Dr. Feelgood on an episode of the American TV show Bones in 2009 (watch the clip here). In 2006, Mötley Crüe was ranked 10th on MTV’s list of the Top 10 Heavy Metal Bands of All-Time, and in 2014 Mötley Crüe was ranked 29th on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.
Edge Of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks - Song #135
Electric Avenue by Eddie Grant - Song #271
Endless Love by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie - Song #91
Eternal Flame by The Bangles - Song #406
Every Breath You Take by The Police - Song #8
Every Little Step by Bobby Brown - Song #459
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic by The Police - Song #147
Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison - Song #96
Every Time You Go Away by Paul Young - Song #256
Everybody Have Fun Tonight by Wang Chung - Song #238
Everybody Wants To Rule the World by Tears For Fears - Song #21
Everything She Wants by Wham! - Song #165
Express Yourself by Madonna - Song #280
This song is the second single released from Madonna’s 4th studio album, 1989’s Like a Prayer. Two other songs from that album are on this list: Cherish at #453, and Like a Prayer at #12; Madonna has a total of 14 songs on this list (more than any other artist, except that she’s tied with Michael Jackson). Express Yourself was very well-received by music critics for its message about gender equality and equality for oppressed minorities. It was a hit song around the world, peaking at #2 in the U.S., #5 in the U.K, and #1 in Canada, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland. In her 1997 book Madonna in Her Own Words, she says, “The ultimate thing behind the song is that if you don’t express yourself, if you don’t say what you want, then you’re not going to get it. And in effect you are chained down by your inability to say what you feel or go after what you want.” Madonna later explained further: “The message of the song is that people should always say what it is they want. The reason relationships don’t work is because they are afraid. That’s been my problem in all my relationships. I’m sure people see me as an outspoken person, and for the most part, if I want something I ask for it. But sometimes you feel that if you ask for too much or ask for the wrong thing from someone you care about that that person won’t like you. And so you censor yourself. I’ve been guilty of that in every meaningful relationship I’ve ever had. The time I learn how not to edit myself will be the time I consider myself a complete adult.”
Express Yourself is a tribute to the American band Sly and the Family Stone, which had a major influence on funk and psychedelic music in the late-’60s. Sly and the Family Stone is the first major American rock group with a lineup that reflected both racial and gender diversity. Two of the band’s biggest hits are Dance to the Music and Everyday People; both were Billboard Top 10 hits in 1968. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Sly and the Family Stone 43rd on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and three Sly and the Family Stone albums are included on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
The Express Yourself video was directed by David Fincher, who also directed the films Alien 3, Seven, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and Gone Girl. David Fincher also directed the videos for Steve Winwood’s Roll With It (#344 on this list), and Paula Abdul’s Straight Up (#117) and Cold Hearted (#319). David Fincher directed the video for Madonna’s Vogue (which is not on this list because it was released in 1990. In 1989, with a budget of $5 million, Express Yourself was the most expensive music video made up until that time, and it is currently the third most expensive video of all time, behind Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s Scream at #1, and Madonna’s Die Another Day at #2. The Express Yourself video is an homage to the 1927 Fritz Lang classic silent film Metropolis, and even features an epigraph from the film at the end of the video: “Without the Heart, there can be no understanding between the hand and the mind.” Metropolis is a German film that is widely lauded as a pioneering work of science fiction. Express Yourself premiered on MTV on May 17, 1989, and was aired every hour on MTV for three weeks. At the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards, Express Yourself was nominated for Best Female Video, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Direction, and Best Art Direction, winning the last three categories. Billboard named it the Best Music Video of 1989, and it continues to be ranked among the greatest videos ever made.
Express Yourself was written and produced by Madonna and Stephen Bray, whom Madonna met when she studied dance at the University of Michigan; in 1979, Madonna was briefly the drummer for his band The Breakfast Club (whose song Right On Track was a Top 10 hit in 1987, but did not make this list). She and Stephen Bray formed the group Emmy and the Emmys, but Madonna left the rock-oriented band to pursue music that was more dance-oriented. They still collaborated over the years, most notably on the 1986 song True Blue, which did not make this list; and Into the Groove, which was ineligible for this list because it was never released as a single in the U.S. and therefore didn’t enter the Billboard Top 40——but Into the Groove is the #2 song on a separate list of the TOP 50 CRUCIALLY ICONIC ‘80S SONGS that were NOT popular in the U.S. in the ‘80s, featured on this website. In 2010, Express Yourself was performed by the female characters on the TV show Glee (click here) on an episode devoted to Madonna’s music, titled “The Power of Madonna.” In 2016, Express Yourself was featured in a Pepsi commercial for Super Bowl 50; Pepsi had signed her to a $5 million deal in 1989, but then dropped her because of her controversial video for Like A Prayer, song #12 on this list.
Father Figure by George Michael - Song #132
The Final Countdown by Europe - Song #145
The Flame by Cheap Trick - Song #272
Flashdance...What a Feeling by Irene Cara - Song #26
Fool In the Rain by Led Zeppelin - Song #134
Footloose by Kenny Loggins - Song #72
Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty - Song #84
Freeway Of Love by Aretha Franklin – Song #295
This song became American music legend Aretha Franklin’s 15th Top 10 hit on the U.S. Billboard Top 40, and earned her an 11th Grammy win for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Yes, she won in that category 11 times, including for the songs Respect, Chain Of Fools, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing. She won in that category eight years in a row, from 1968 to 1975. She won a total of 18 Grammys and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987——She is the first female performer to be inducted. She received the Grammy Legend Award in 1992, a special award that has only been given to 15 artists (other artists on this list who have received the award are Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Smokey Robinson, and Elton John).
Freeway Of Love revitalized Aretha Franklin’s career. She hadn’t had a Top 10 hit since 1973’s Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do). Randy Jackson, best known as a judge on the singing competition television show American Idol, plays electric and synthesized bass on Freeway Of Love. The song also features saxophone by Clarence Clemons, who is a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Clarence Clemons performs saxophone, percussion, and background vocals on Bruce Springsteen’s album Born In the U.S.A., which has four songs on this list: Glory Days at #225, I’m On Fire at #228, Dancing In the Dark at #76, and Born In the U.S.A. at #32.
Aretha Franklin has another song on this list: her duet with George Michael, I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) at #282. See the description of that song for more details of her life. Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, which she performs with Eurythmics, came close, but did not make this list of 500.
Freeze-Frame by J. Geils Band - Song #492
Funkytown by Lipps, Inc. - Song #63
Genius Of Love by Tom Tom Club - Song #477
Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr. - Song #200
Girl You Know It’s True by Milli Vanilli - Song #392
Girls Just Want To Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper - Song #10
Give It To Me Baby by Rick James - Song #381
The Glamorous Life by Sheila E. - Song #390
Gloria by Laura Branigan - Song #108
Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen - Song #225
Glory Of Love by Peter Cetera - Song #251
Goody Two Shoes by Adam Ant - Song #289
When this song was released in 1982, Adam Ant had given up cigarettes and alcohol, and he was never a drug user. Goody Two Shoes is about Adam Ant’s frustration with the media, which is depicted in the video. Often interviewers would be shocked that such a flamboyant personality abstained from the typical indulgences of rock stars, and they would ask him, if he didn’t drink or smoke, then what exactly did he do? He said, “Goody Two Shoes was a sort of ‘answer back’ manifesto and just trying to keep things level-headed because I felt that, and still do, to a degree, that going on stage is creating an illusion. It’s magical and it’s wonderful and I love doing it, but off stage there has to be time out.” Adam Ant (whose real name is Stuart Leslie Goddard) did have one vice, which he spoke about openly: sex. He gained popularity in the U.K. as the lead singer of new wave group Adam and the Ants during the burgeoning punk rock movement in the late-’70s. He and the band developed a cult following when punk rock was transitioning to the post-punk and new wave era, and they were notorious for campy and explicitly sexualized stage performances.
Adam and the Ants scored more than a dozen hits in the U.K., including the #1 songs Stand and Deliver and Prince Charming. When the group broke up in 1982, Adam Ant embarked on a solo career and had a few hits in the U.K. Throughout the early ‘80s, he was one of the most popular celebrities in England, known for his outlandish costumes and charisma, but in the U.S., his only ‘80s hit was Goody Two Shoes, which peaked at #12 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40, largely because MTV put the video in heavy rotation. Goody Two Shoes peaked at #1 in both the U.K. and Australia.
Adam Ant later had two minor hits in the U.S. in the ‘90s: Room At the Top and Wonderful. Adam Ant also worked as an actor in over two dozen films and television shows from 1985 to 2003. There are two different versions of Goody Two Shoes, and two different videos: the single version has a more reverberating drum track, and its accompanying video features Adam Ant dancing alone on a stage (watch it here); the version of the song on his album Friend or Foe sounds notably different, and its accompanying video shows a typical day in the life of Adam Ant, from when he wakes up and gets dressed, to being hounded by the press, to bringing a woman to his bedroom at the end of the day.
Got My Mind Set On You by George Harrison - Song #291
This song is the last #1 hit on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 for any member of The Beatles. As a solo artist, George Harrison (who died of lung cancer in 2001) had 13 U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits, including two more #1 songs: 1970’s My Sweet Lord and 1973’s Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth). In 1981, All Those Years Ago peaked at #2, but did not make this list. George Harrison’s final solo hit was When We Was Fab, which peaked at #23 in 1988. George Harrison was the lead guitarist of The Beatles, and he was sometimes referred to as “the quiet Beatle.” He broadened the scope of The Beatles’ music by incorporating Indian instrumentation and elements of Hinduism. After the band’s breakup in 1970, he released the triple album All Things Must Pass, which received critical acclaim and includes his most successful hit single My Sweet Lord.
Billboard ranked Got My Mind Set On You as the 3rd most popular song of 1988. It was written and composed by Rudy Clark, and originally recorded by James Ray in 1962 (click here). George Harrison had released his commercially unsuccessful album Gone Troppo in 1987, and this simple cover song proved later that year that he could still release a popular mainstream song. (Notably, many of his fans hate this song.) Until The Beach Boys’ 1988 release of Kokomo (song #218 on this list), George Harrison held the record for longest span between #1 hits (14 years). Other members of The Beatles have songs on this list: Paul McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder Ebony and Ivory is song #267, and his duet with Michael Jackson Say Say Say is #478; John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over is #347, and Watching the Wheels is #487. George Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: as a solo artist in 2004, and as a member of The Beatles in 1988, when Got My Mind Set On You was #1, making him one of the few inductees to have an active single on a U.S. Billboard chart at the time of induction.
Greatest Love Of All by Whitney Houston - Song #138
Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac - Song #429
Hard Habit To Break by Chicago - Song #451
Hard To Say I’m Sorry / Get Away by Chicago – Song #241
Hard to Say I’m Sorry was released as a radio edit single that fades. On the album Chicago 16, Hard to Say I’m Sorry segues into Get Away. The song was featured in the 1982 film Summer Lovers and on its soundtrack. Although the Get Away portion is included in the film, only Hard to Say I’m Sorry is included on the film’s soundtrack. The version of both songs together has become popular over the years.
Harden My Heart by Quarterflash - Song #308
Did you know that American rock group Quarterflash’s lead singer Rindy Ross is also a saxophonist? She plays the sax on this hit song, which peaked at #3 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1981. Harden My Heart was originally released as a single (click here) in early-1980 by a band named Seafood Mama, and it was a regional success on radio stations in Portland, Oregon. When the band changed its name to Quarterflash the next year and released a different version of the song, it became a huge hit. The name Quarterflash comes from an Australian slang description of new immigrants as “a quarter flash, three quarters foolish.” The band was originally made up of the married couple Rindy Ross (lead vocals and saxophone) and Marv Ross (guitars), with other members. Having a lead singer who also played saxophone made Quarterflash noteworthy. Rindy Ross said that the saxophone was as an extension of her voice, which helped her express things that she could not express with her voice alone. Harden My Heart was released the same year that MTV went on the air, and the video contains bizarre, random images that have nothing to do with the song: jugglers, flamethrowers, bulldozers, and children in bathrobes at a large makeup vanity table in the desert. Rindy Ross also wears a bathrobe, as well as a leotard and a tuxedo, and the band performs in a water puddle in a warehouse, while dressed-up guys on motorcycles drive around them. It was common in the early days of MTV for artists to put peculiar images in their videos so that they would be memorable. Billboard ranked Harden My Heart the #13 most popular song of 1982. Quarterflash had two other U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits (which did not make this list of 500): 1982’s Find Another Fool and 1983’s Take Me To Heart.
The Heat Is On by Glenn Frey – Song #367
This song, featured in the 1984 film Beverly Hills Cop, was co-written by German composer Harold Faltermeyer (who also plays keyboards and bass on the song). He himself had a hit song from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, Axel F, which did not make this list, despite being a #1 song. Axel F is the electronic instrumental theme song of Eddie Murphy’s main character Axel Foley. The music video for The Heat Is On was the first one to use clips from a movie interspersed with performance footage.
American singer/songwriter Glenn Frey died in 2016. He was a founding member, lead singer, and frontman of American rock band the Eagles. Eagles band member Don Henley (who also has solo songs on this list: Dirty Laundry at #414, and The Boys Of Summer at #116) also sang lead on many Eagles songs, and wrote most of their songs with Glenn Frey. One song by the Eagles made this list: I Can’t Tell You Why, at #489, on which neither Don Henley nor Glenn Frey sing lead; it is the first single to feature Timothy B. Schmit on lead vocals. After the Eagles broke up in 1980, Glenn Frey had a successful solo career that includes the U.S. Billboard Top 40 ‘80s hits The One You Love, Smuggler’s Blues, You Belong to the City, and True Love. The Heat Is On is the highest charting solo single on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 by any member of the Eagles.
Hey Nineteen by Steely Dan - Song #298
This song is the ninth of 10 U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits by American jazz rock band Steely Dan, all between 1972 and 1981, which include Do It Again, Reelin’ In the Years, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, and Peg. Steely Dan’s only other ‘80s hit is Time Out Of Mind. Hey Nineteen peaked at #10 in 1981. Steely Dan is the duo of Walter Becker (guitars, bass, backing vocals) and Donald Fagen (piano, keyboards, lead vocals) who recorded with a variety of different musicians. For example, Jeff Porcaro was a drummer for Steely Dan who later formed Toto; Toto has two songs on this list: Rosanna at #388 and Africa at #34. Also, Michael McDonald played keyboards and provided background vocals for Steely Dan; he has two songs on this list: I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near) at #374 and his duet with Patti LaBelle, On My Own, at #279.
Steely Dan is named after a dildo from the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. Donald Fagen said, “We had to come up with a name in a hurry, and Walter and I were both Burroughs fans, though he was not known at the time. It was an in-joke. Who’s going to know what Steely Dan was? And we figured that, like most of our bands in the past, it would fall apart after three months, so we didn’t think much about it.” Steely Dan’s style includes elements of jazz, pop, and R&B, with cryptic and satirical lyrics. Donald Fagen said that his hope was that songs like Hey Nineteen would be enjoyed by soccer moms in dentist chairs bobbing their heads, unaware of the filthy lyrics. The point of view of Hey Nineteen is of an older man unable to relate to a 19-year-old who doesn’t even know who Aretha Franklin is (“Hey Nineteen, that’s ‘Retha Franklin; She don’t remember the Queen of Soul...”). (Aretha Franklin has two songs on this list: Freeway Of Love at #295, and her duet with George Michael, I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), at #282.) Steely Dan broke up in 1981, shortly after Hey Nineteen was a hit, but they reunited for a tour in 1993, and then recorded an album in 2000, Two Against Nature, which won four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. Steely Dan released a final album in 2003, and continued to tour until Walter Becker died of cancer in 2017. Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001.
Hold Me Now by Thompson Twins - Song #283
This song was an international hit for the British band Thompson Twins, and reached #3 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in the spring of 1984. The group formed in 1977 and was named after two bumbling detectives (Thomson and Thompson) from the Belgian comic strip The Adventures of Tintin (a series of 24 comic albums created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, who wrote under the pen name Hergé; this series of comics was one of the most popular in Europe in the 20th century.) The lineup of the band changed over the years, but the band is most well-known as the trio of Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie, and Joe Leeway, which was the lineup from 1982 to 1986. Hold Me Now was written by Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie (who were married in 1991) after a heated argument: “Emotionally, it was written as the result of some argument that was resolved between Alannah and myself,” explained Tom Bailey in 2014. “We actually decided, well, this is an interesting emotional subject. What it feels like to get back together again after separation and the kind of ideas that come up and the way that emotion and physicality somehow are brought together.” Thompson Twins had a new wave sound and typically used electronic instruments, but Alannah Currie explained that Hold Me Now was different: “It’s such an emotional song [that] we wanted to have that warmth you often can’t get from synthesizers.” Hold Me Now features guitars, xylophones, piano, and Latin percussion.
Thompson Twins performed Hold Me Now on July 13, 1985 at Live Aid, a huge benefit concert that raised funds to help people who were experiencing severe famine in Ethiopia, held simultaneously on stages in Philadelphia and London. After performing Hold me Now on the Philadelphia stage, Thompson Twins performed Revolution by The Beatles with Madonna on backup vocals and tambourine, and producer Nile Rodgers on guitar (watch the performance here). Nile Rodgers is known for producing and collaborating with many artists including Thompson Twins and Madonna, as well as Diana Ross, David Bowie, Duran Duran, INXS, George Michael, Britney Spears, Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Avicii, Sam Smith, Pitbull, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Keith Urban, and Christina Aguilera.
Billboard ranked Hold Me Now as the 24th most popular song of 1984. It has been featured in the films The Wedding Singer, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Better Living Through Chemistry, and the TV shows Cold Case, Everybody Hates Chris, The Simpsons, Scream Queens, and New Girl. A remix of the song by Metro Boomin (click here) was used as part of a 2018 advertising campaign for The Gap. Hold Me Now is Thompson Twins’ only song on this list, and it is the biggest hit of the group’s seven U.S. Billboard Top 40 songs; some of the other songs are Lies, Doctor! Doctor!, Lay Your Hands On Me, and King For a Day. Hold Me Now was a #1 song on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart (for the extended dance version of the song, click here).
Hold On To the Nights by Richard Marx – Song #311
This song is one of two hits by American singer/songwriter Richard Marx to make this list of 500. Right Here Waiting is #109, but two of his songs came close to making this list: Endless Summer Nights and Don’t Mean Nothing. Hold On To the Nights was the fourth and final song released from his self-titled debut album, and his first song to reach #1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. Hold On To the Nights hit #1 in July of 1988, preventing Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me from reaching the #1 position. (Despite the fact that the Def Leppard song never reached #1, it is the #7 song on this list.) Prior to his success as a solo artist, Richard Marx provided backing vocals on John Parr’s St. Elmo’s Fire (#133 on this list), and Lionel Richie’s You Are (#377 on this list).
Holding Back the Years by Simply Red – Song #343
British blue-eyed soul band Simply Red’s lead singer Mick Hucknall (who was nicknamed “Red” because of his hair) wrote this song as a reflection on his childhood. He was an only child, and his mother left him when he was three years old. The turmoil caused by the abandonment inspired lyrics such as, “Strangled by the wishes of pater, hoping for the arms of mater...” (These words are informal, primarily British uses of the Latin words father and mother, respectively.) In 1987 this song was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals. (It lost to That’s What Friends Are For by Dionne and Friends, song #178 on this list.)
Human Nature by Michael Jackson - Song #315
This song is one of six on this list from the world’s best-selling album, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Members of American rock band Toto were involved in the lyrics, arrangement, and recording of Human Nature. The song was originally written by Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro, who also plays synthesizers and did the arrangement with fellow Toto members David Paich (who performs additional synthesizers) and Steve Lukather (who plays guitar); Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro performs drums on the song. Toto has two songs on this list: Rosanna at #388 and Africa at #34; Toto band members also perform on three additional songs on this list: Michael McDonald’s I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near) (#374), John Parr’s St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion) (#133), and Michael Jackson’s Beat It (#31).
Steve Porcaro wrote the original lyrics for Human Nature after his daughter had a difficult day at school. He said, “I had written the song for my daughter Heather. Something had happened at school and it just inspired me. I wrote the song while we were mixing Africa and was just tinkering on the piano and wrote Human Nature. Thriller producer Quincy Jones asked the Toto guys for some songs for the album; they submitted a cassette tape with demo tracks on it, which Quincy Jones was not interested in, but the other side of the tape had Human Nature on it, and Quincy Jones inadvertently heard it and loved it. He said, “All of a sudden, at the end, there was all this silence. There was, ‘Why, why, dah dah da-dum dah dah, why, why.’ Just a dummy lyric and a very skeletal thing——I get goosebumps talking about it. I said, ‘This is where we wanna go, because it’s got such a wonderful flavor.’” Even though Toto had not intended to submit Human Nature for consideration, they agreed to let Michael Jackson record it for Thriller. But Quincy Jones was not happy with the lyrics for the verses and asked prolific songwriter John Bettis to rewrite them. John Bettis also wrote the lyrics for three other songs on this list: The Pointer Sisters’ Slow Hand (#397), Whitney Houston’s One Moment In Time (#258), and Madonna’s Crazy for You (#122).
Human Nature is famously sampled in the 1993 hit by the R&B all-female group Sisters With Voices (better known as SWV) Right Here (Human Nature Remix), which is a remixed version of the group’s debut 1992 song Right Here. The remixed version was produced by R&B musician Teddy Riley and peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40, exceeding the popularity of the original Michael Jackson song, which peaked at #7. The video for Right Here (Human Nature Remix) features brief clips of Michael Jackson performing on his Dangerous World Tour, and the song is included on the soundtrack of the 1993 film Free Willy. Singer/rapper Chris Brown’s 2011 song She Ain’t You samples both Human Nature and Right Here. For an extended remix of all three songs, click here. Jazz legend Miles Davis recorded a version of Human Nature in 1985 (click here), and singer/guitarist John Mayer performed a mostly-instrumental version of Human Nature at Michael Jackson’s memorial service in 2009 (click here).
Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen - Song #332
This song is American singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen’s first U.S. Billboard Top 10 hit, which peaked at #5. His first Top 40 hit was Born To Run, which peaked at #23 in 1975. Hungry Heart was the lead single from his fifth album, 1980’s The River. His next album, 1984’s Born In the U.S.A., spawned an astonishing seven Top 10 songs, four of which are on this list: I’m On Fire (#228), Glory Days (#225), Dancing In the Dark (#76), and Born In the U.S.A. (#32). The three that did not make this list are Cover Me, I’m Goin’ Down, and My Hometown. Bruce Springsteen originally wrote Hungry Heart for American punk rock band The Ramones, but his manager convinced him to keep the song for himself, because other songs of his had become hits after being given to other artists, such as Blinded by the Light by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, which reached #1 in 1977, and Fire by The Pointer Sisters, which peaked at #2 in 1978.
The title Hungry Heart comes from a line in the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “For always roaming with a hungry heart.” In a 1981 Rolling Stone readers’ poll, Hungry Heart was named Single of the Year, and Bruce Springsteen won for Best Artist, Best Album (The River), and Best Male Singer. He was nominated for a 1982 Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance——but for the song The River rather than for Hungry Heart. He lost to Rick Springfield for Jessie’s Girl (#18 on this list); other nominees included Rick James for Super Freak (#88), and Rod Stewart for Young Turks (#265).
Bruce Springsteen’s voice was slightly sped up on the recording of Hungry Heart, to produce a higher vocal. Hungry Heart is featured in the 1983 film Risky Business starring Tom Cruise, which was the first time a Bruce Springsteen songs was used in a film. It has appeared in many films over the years, including 1998’s The Wedding Singer, 2000’s The Perfect Storm, and 2013’s Warm Bodies. A tradition when performing Hungry Heart live is that the audience sings the first verse and chorus of the song, which started in 1980 at a show in Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon. On the day John Lennon was killed in 1980, he said that he thought Hungry Heart was a great record, and compared it to his song (Just Like) Starting Over (#347 on this list), which was released three days after Hungry Heart.
I Can Dream About You by Dan Hartman – Song #350
American musician Dan Hartman wrote this song for the 1984 film Streets of Fire, in which it is performed by the fictional group The Sorels (click here for the movie clip). An actor performs the song in the film, but Dan Hartman’s version is on the film’s soundtrack and was released as a single. Daryl Hall said that Dan Hartman wrote I Can Dream About You for him and John Oates to perform, but they had declined to record it. In 2004, Daryl Hall & John Oates did record their own version of this song, with different lyrics (click here). Dan Hartman co-wrote and produced the James Brown hit Living In America (#334 on this list). He did have a few minor hits: 1978’s Instant Replay, 1984’s We Are the Young, and 1985’s Second Nature. Dan Hartman was a closeted homosexual. He was diagnosed with HIV in the late-’80s, and kept his HIV status a secret. He died of a brain tumor in 1994 at age 43.
I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) by Aretha Franklin and George Michael - Song #282
Aretha Franklin, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 76, had her final big pop hit with this George Michael duet from 1987. Aretha Franklin had only two #1 songs on the U.S. Billboard Top 40: this song and her signature song, 1967’s Respect. She has another song on this list: Freeway Of Love at #295. (Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, which she performs with British pop duo Eurythmics, didn’t quite make this list.) Of course, Aretha Franklin is best known for her music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, but she had quite a few hits in the ‘80s (and a couple in the ‘90s). In the ‘80s, she had nine U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits. In addition to the three already mentioned, her other ‘80s hits are Jump To It, Who’s Zoomin’ Who, Another Night, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Jimmy Lee, and Through the Storm, a very strange duet with Elton John. Additionally, her duet with Whitney Houston It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be just missed the Top 40, peaking at #41; if you don’t remember this song, it is worth listening to, especially for the hilarious fake argument between the two divas over a man at the end of the song (“Get real!” “YOU better get real!”)
Aretha Franklin’s influence throughout the ‘80s is undeniable. Steely Dan’s Hey Nineteen (song #298 on this list) mentions her (“Hey Nineteen, that’s ‘Retha Franklin; she don’t remember the Queen of Soul”). The video for Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know (song #125 on this list) features a cameo of Aretha Franklin at the 3:59 mark, with the lyric, “I’m asking you, ‘cause you know about these things.” (Note: She isn’t Whitney’s godmother, but at Whitney’s funeral in 2012, Dionne Warwick incorrectly stated that she was, which infuriated Aretha, who told the Associated Press, “She blatantly lied on me...fully well knowing what she was doing.”) Aretha Franklin is also known for her appearance in the iconic 1980 film The Blues Brothers, in which she performs a different version of her 1967 hit Think (watch the scene from the movie here).
Here is what Aretha Franklin said about I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me): “The first time I heard George was with Wham! and I liked it then. He had a very unique sound, very different from anything that was out there. When Clive suggested we get together for I Knew You Were Waiting, I was all ready.” This song was not originally written as a duet; it was Clive Davis’ idea for Aretha Franklin and George Michael to record it together. (Music industry mogul Clive Davis is credited for making superstars of many artists, including Janis Joplin, Santana, Barry Manilow, Bruce Springsteen, Chicago, Billy Joel, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, and Whitney Houston.) In his 1991 book Bare, George Michael said, “Nobody can emulate Aretha Franklin. It’s stupid to try. I just tried to stay in character, keep it simple. It was very understated in comparison to what she did.”
This song came after George Michael’s success with Wham! but before his solo career made him a superstar. The Wham! songs on this list are Everything She Wants (#165), Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (#42), and Careless Whisper (#29), which is technically a solo effort, but credited to “Wham! featuring George Michael.” I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) was released in January of 1987, and George Michael’s album Faith was released in October of that year; songs from that album on this list are I Want Your Sex (#498), One More Try (#188), Father Figure (#132), and Faith (#51). Randy Jackson, best known as a judge on American Idol, plays bass guitar on I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me). The song won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal.
Aretha Franklin sang gospel music as a child at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her father was a minister. By the end of the ‘60s, she was designated “The Queen of Soul.” Some of her most recognizable songs include 1967’s (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman, 1967’a Chain of Fools, 1968’s I Say a Little Prayer,
and 1971’s Spanish Harlem.
Aretha Franklin is the recipient of many honors. She was the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 1987). She won 18 Grammy awards, she received the Grammy Legend Award in 1992 (a special award that has only been given to 15 artists), and she was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. She was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994, a recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. In 2010 and again in 2013, Rolling Stone magazine ranked her the #1 greatest singer of all time. Her voice was declared a Michigan “natural resource” in 1985. One of her most memorable moments is her performance of the opera aria “Nessun dorma” at the 1998 Grammy Awards, when she stepped in at the last minute for Luciano Pavarotti, who had cancelled because of a sore throat after the show had already begun; watch her breathtaking performance here. In 2018, it was announced that American singer and Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson will play Aretha Franklin in an upcoming biopic, scheduled for release in 2020.
I Know There’s Something Going On by Frida – Song #430
Frida is Anni-Frid Lyngstad, a member of Swedish pop group ABBA. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of ABBA in 2010. (ABBA also has a song on this list: The Winner Takes It All at #222.) When she was recording this song, Frida wanted to distance herself from “the typical ABBA pop sound.” This song was produced by Phil Collins, who also plays drums and provides backing vocals. Phil Collins has a total of nine songs on this list, including this one and Howard Jones’ No One Is To Blame (#320 on this list), on which he also plays drums and provides backing vocals. Billboard ranked I Know There’s Something Going On as the 20th most popular song of 1983, even though it never reached the U.S. Billboard Top 10.
I Need Love by LL Cool J - Song #371
This song was LL Cool J’s first U.S. Billboard Top 40 hit. He had already established himself as a prominent hip-hop artist when he was 17 years old with his 1985 album Radio, and this song became one of the first rap songs to go mainstream. Dotdash (formerly About.com) ranks I Need Love as the #13 song on its list of the Top 100 Rap Songs (which was updated in 2017). I Need Love is #60 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop (which was compiled in 2008). LL Cool J said that he wrote the lyrics in 30 minutes when he was 18 years old and meditating about his loneliness in his grandmother’s basement. He said, “I was talking about a true spiritual love, and romantic love also. Just true love, companionship. That’s something I wanted.” The music (both the melody and the beats) was taken from the 1984 instrumental song Zoraida’s Heartbeat by Jayson Dyall, who had given LL Cool J a cassette tape of several songs. Jayson Dyall never received any acknowledgment from LL Cool J or Def-Jam Records for originally writing the music for this song.
This song is the biggest hit for British-American rock band Foreigner. In 1985, I Want to Know What Love Is was a worldwide smash, reaching #1 in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden. Billboard magazine ranked this song the 4th most popular of 1985 in the U.S. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 479th on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Foreigner co-founder Mick Jones told Songfacts: “I Want To Know What Love Is started off on more of a personal level. I’d been through a lot of relationships that eventually failed, and still searching for something that could really endure... It became more of a universal feeling... [I] realized suddenly that I’d written almost a spiritual song, almost a gospel song. Sometimes, you feel like you had nothing to do with it, really. You’re just putting it down on paper, or coming up with a melody that will bring the meaning of the song out, bring the emotion out in the song.” He told Classic Rock magazine, “I always worked late at night, when everybody left and the phone stopped ringing. I Want to Know What Love Is came up at three in the morning sometime in 1984. I don’t know where it came from. I consider it a gift that was sent through me. I think there was something bigger than me behind it. I’d say it was probably written entirely by a higher force.” That higher force was channeled through the New Jersey Mass Choir as well, along with the gospel vocalizing of Jennifer Holliday on what is essentially an enduring spiritual rock anthem.
According to Mick Jones, the choir didn’t have the magic during the first recordings, but after gathering in a circle and saying the Lord’s Prayer (found in the Christian Bible, Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4), the choir was electrified: “We did a few takes, and it was good, but it was still a bit tentative. So, then they all got round in a circle, held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer. And it seemed to inspire them, because after that they did it in one take. I was in tears, because my mum and dad were in the studio too, and it was so emotional... I’ll always remember them getting in a circle before we did it and everyone saying the Lord’s Prayer.” Mick Jones knew the song needed a choir. The New Jersey Mass Choir is affiliated with the Gospel Music Workshop of America, an annual international gospel music convention founded in 1967 that brings together people of many faiths from all over the world. The New Jersey Mass Choir recorded its own version of the song in 1985 (click here). American R&B singer and actress Jennifer Holliday also provides vocals on the song. She starred in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls from 1981 to 1983, playing Effie (Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for playing the same role in the 2006 film version). In 1983, Jennifer Holliday won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls, which peaked at #22 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1982. She also won a 1982 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in Dreamgirls. I Want To Know What Love Is also features keyboards by Tom Bailey of the British band Thompson Twins, whose Hold Me Now is song #283 on this list.
Foreigner is a British-American rock band that formed in 1976 and is still together today. Mick Jones (not to be confused with Mick Jones of English rock band The Clash, which has song #163 on this list: Rock the Casbah) is the only original member of Foreigner who has remained with the group from the beginning. Mick Jones performs lead and rhythm guitars, and keyboards, as well as backing and lead vocals. He also produced much of Foreigner’s material, and he produced work for other artists, including Van Halen’s 1986 album 5150 (which features Why Can’t This Be Love?, song #352 on this list), and Billy Joel’s 1989 album Storm Front (which features We Didn’t Start the Fire, song #318 on this list). Foreigner has had 26 band members over the years (not including a dozen who have accompanied the band while touring), and the group has disbanded and reformed several times. Mick Jones formed the band with fellow Brit Ian McDonald and American singer Lou Gramm, later to be joined by Brit Dennis Elliott, and Americans Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi. The band’s name came from the fact that half the members were from England and half were from the United States; no matter which country they were in, half of the band would be “foreigners.” Most of Foreigner’s songs were written by Mick Jones and lead singer Lou Gramm together, but according to Mick Jones, I Want to Know What Love Is was his solo composition, which Lou Gramm was not thrilled about because he worried that the song would push the band into the adult contemporary category, away from its traditional rock roots, which had been established in the late-1970s. According to Lou Gramm, while his contribution to the song is uncredited, he was actually responsible for 40% of the writing and composition of I Want To Know What love Is, contrary to what Mick Jones says.
I Want to Know What Love Is was the lead single from Foreigner’s fifth album, Agent Provocateur. Foreigner has released nine studio albums, seven live albums, and 20 compilation albums. Foreigner has had 16 U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits, including eight songs from the ‘80s, but the only other Foreigner song that made this list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S is 1981’s Waiting For a Girl Like You, which is song #240. Foreigner’s other hit songs include 1977’s Feels Like the First Time; 1977’s Cold As Ice; 1978’s Hot Blooded; 1978’s Double Vision; 1979’s Head Games; 1981’s Urgent; 1981’s Juke Box Hero; 1985’s That Was Yesterday; 1987’s Say You Will; and 1988’s I Don’t Want To Live Without You.
Foreigner’s self-titled debut album was released in 1977, followed by Double Vision in 1978, Head Games in 1979, and 4 in 1981, which spent 10 weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard album chart. Agent Provocateur was released in 1984, followed by Inside Information in 1987. Mick Jones’ released his own self-titled album in 1989, which features the U.S. mainstream rock hit Just Wanna Hold. Lou Gramm has released four solo albums, the first of which is 1987’s Ready Or Not, containing the hit Midnight Blue, which peaked at #5 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. Lou Gramm had another solo hit in 1989 with Just Between You and Me, which peaked at #6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. Lou Gramm left Foreigner in 1990 and rejoined in 1992, but left again in 2003. Mick Jones stated that he and Lou Gramm split due to communication problems: “I think we really tried hard to save it, but it got to the point when we both realized that to go on would be detrimental for both of us.” In 2002, Lou Gramm and Mick Jones performed together for the last time until 2013, when they performed together after being inducted into the U.S. Songwriters Hall of Fame.
I Want To Know What Love Is has been featured in many TV shows over the years, including episodes of Miami Vice in 1985 (click here); Quantum Leap in 1992; Cold Case in 2007 (click here); Modern Family in 2013 (click here); Glee in 2014 (click here); New Girl in 2014 (click here); Orange Is the New Black in 2015; Big Love in 2016; American Horror Story in 2019; and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in 2019. Movies that feature I Want To Know What Love Is include 2007’s Good Luck Chuck; 2009’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel; 2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine; 2011’s Happy Feet Two; 2012’s Rock of Ages (sung by Tom Cruise with Malin Akerman: click here); 2016’s Bad Moms; 2016’s The Boss; 2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard; and 2018’s Pacific Rim: Uprising.
Surprisingly, I Want To Know What Love Is has been sampled in several hip-hop and rap songs, including 2000’s In My Life by American rapper Memphis Bleek (click here); 2009’s Read Between Tha Linez by American rapper Guru featuring K Born and Highpower (click here); 2009’s Lonely Lyfe by American rapper Nems (click here); 2010’s In My Life by Moroccan-American rapper French Montana (click here); 2011’s In My Life by American rapper K.A.R. featuring Fat Joe (click here); 2011’s In My Life by American rapper Chinx Drugz (click here); and 2014’s TimeshareCondominium by American rapper BONES (click here).
I Want To Know What Love Is has been covered by dozens of artists, most famously by American singer Mariah Carey in 2009 (click here). Foreigner’s Mick Jones stated, “I think she’s actually retained the integrity of the song. You know, the arrangement is very similar to the original. They haven’t tampered with the song too much. She’s captured a certain emotional thing, a feeling. And you know, it’s always flattering to have people cover your songs. Well, sometimes not so flattering, depending on who it is. But I think she’s put a lot of emotion into it. You can feel that she’s gotten inside of the song.” A wide variety of artists from many genres have covered I Want To Know What Love Is, including American comedy rock band Big Daddy in 1985 (click here); Welsh pop singer Shirley Bassey in 1991 (click here); American pop singer Rita Coolidge in 1992 (click here); Filipino pop singer Regine Velasquez in 1996 (click here); Australian pop singer Tina Arena in 1997 (her version was produced by Foreigner’s Mick Jones, and includes a previously unrecorded bridge between the second and third choruses, specifically written for her by Mick Jones – click here); American rock singer Gary Puckett in 1997 (click here); Rappers Against Racism featuring Down Low, La Mazz and Scream Factory (which includes additional lyrics) in 1998 (click here); American contemporary Christian singer Kathy Troccoli in 2000 (click here); American R&B singer Gloria Gaynor in 2001 (click here); American R&B singer Rhona Bennett in 2001 (click here); American country singer Wynonna Judd in 2004 (click here); American Indie pop band La Musique Populaire in 2004 (click here); American pop singer Clay Aiken in 2006 (click here); Spanish singer Julio Iglesias in 2006 (click here); American gospel singer David Phelps in 2008 (click here); Irish stage show group Celtic Thunder in 2008 (click here); South African reggae musician Lucky Dube in 2009 (click here); American soul singer Leela James in 2009 (click here); Filipina pop singer Sarah Geronimo in 2011 (click here); American country singer Kenny Chesney in 2016 (click here); Swedish band Amason in 2016 (click here); and Norwegian folk singer Ane Brun in 2017 (click here).
In 2018, all surviving original members of Foreigner performed with the current lineup, starting a series of concerts that year called Foreigner Then and Now. In 2019, they all planned to do it again, but Lou Gramm was too ill to join them. In January 2020, Foreigner announced a 2020 summer tour of the U.S. with Kansas and Europe (who has song #145 on this list, The Final Countdown) called Juke Box Heroes, in reference to Foreigner’s 1981 hit song of the same name. For an extended version of I Want To Know What Love Is, which features more of the choir, click here.
I Would Die 4 U by Prince and the Revolution - Song #330
This song was the fourth single released in the U.S. from the 1984 Purple Rain soundtrack, the sixth studio album by Prince, and the first album to feature his band The Revolution. After Prince’s death on April 21, 2016, I Would Die 4 U re-entered the U.S. Billboard Top 40, and peaked at #39, which was 32 years after its initial release, when it peaked at #8. In 2012, the Purple Rain soundtrack was added to the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry list of sound recordings that are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.
I Would Die 4 U is one of three songs on the album (along with Baby I’m a Star and Purple Rain) that were recorded live at a 1983 show in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Prince later reworked the songs with overdubs and edits. On the album, I Would Die 4 U segues into Baby I’m a Star, which is how they are performed in the film (click here). There is an extended version of I Would Die 4 U that is over seven minutes longer than the original version (which isn’t even three minutes long). This extended version (presently unavailable online) is actually a rehearsal jam with The Revolution and musicians from Sheila E. and her band. On the 1984 Purple Rain tour, the song was a showcase for Sheila E., who was Prince’s opening act and also performed with him on stage. (Sheila E.’s The Glamorous Life, which was written by Prince, is #390 on this list.)
There has been much speculation about the meaning of I Would Die 4 U, specifically whether it is about Jesus, the Christian messiah, or about Prince’s own Messiah complex. Some of the lyrics seem to address the Christian understanding of Jesus’ message: “And if you’re evil, I’ll forgive you by and by,” and, “No need to worry, No need to cry, I’m your messiah and you’re the reason why,” and, “I’m not a human, I am a dove, I’m your conscience, I am love, All I really need is to know that you believe.” According to the 2013 book I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon by Touré, Prince intended sexuality to be linked to the worship of God, which is why he incorporated classic Christian messages into his music.
Prince has a total of 11 songs on this list: U Got the Look (#321), Sign O’ the Times (#287), Raspberry Beret (#212), Let’s Go Crazy (#66), 1999 (#62), Kiss (#40), Purple Rain (#30), Little Red Corvette (#27), and the #2 song of the entire decade, When Doves Cry. Prince also plays synthesizers on Stevie Nicks’ Stand Back (#59), and he wrote songs that were hits for other artists: The Bangles’ Manic Monday (#128), Chaka Khan’s I Feel for You (#153), and Sheila E.’s The Glamorous Life (#390). While both Madonna and Michael Jackson have more songs on this list than Prince (they have 14 songs each), Prince has six songs in the top 100; Madonna and Michael Jackson have only four songs each in the top 100.
American pop singer Justin Timberlake performed a portion of I Would Die 4 U at the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Prince’s hometown), during which a projection of Prince was shown and a recording of Prince singing the song was blended with Justin Timberlake’s performance (click here).
I’ll Be There For You by Bon Jovi - Song #364
Did you know that American rock band Bon Jovi has won only one Grammy award, and that none of their music from the ‘80s was even nominated for a Grammy? I’ll Be There For You is the third single released from Bon Jovi’s fourth album, 1988’s New Jersey. I’ll Be There For You is the band’s fourth and final #1 song on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. The others are Bad Medicine (#405 on this list), You Give Love a Bad Name (#50), and Livin’ On a Prayer (#3). Wanted Dead Or Alive is also on this list, at #110. Formed in 1983, the five-man band was inducted into U.S. Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018. Bon Jovi received the Award of Merit at the American Music Awards in 2004, and lead singer and namesake Jon Bon Jovi and lead guitarist Richie Sambora (who wrote I’ll Be There For You) were inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009.
The New Jersey album produced five U.S. Billboard Top 10 hits, which is a record for the most Top 10 singles spawned by a hard rock album. In addition to Bad Medicine, the other three Top 10 songs are Born to Be My Baby, Lay Your Hands on Me, and Living in Sin, none of which made this list. MTV banned the video for Living In Sin because it featured some racy sex scenes; once it was edited, MTV put it in heavy rotation. Despite the huge success of Bon Jovi in the ‘80s, the band didn’t get its first Grammy nomination until 1997, for Best Music Video, Long Form (Live From London). Bon Jovi has been nominated for a total of 10 Grammys, but not for anything from the ‘80s. Bon Jovi has only won one Grammy: Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for Who Says You Can’t Go Home, with country singer Jennifer Nettles in 2007.
I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross - Song #269
Diana Ross was reportedly afraid that this song would ruin her career because of its association with the LGBTQ+ community and “coming out.” When she recorded it, she was unaware that the phrase “coming out” was used as a way to announce publicly one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Ironically, the idea of I’m Coming Out came to the song's writer Nile Rodgers when he saw three Diana Ross drag queens at a gay club in New York City. The song had a different meaning for Diana Ross, who had just left Motown Records and was “coming out” as an independent artist. But when she was informed that “coming out” was associated with the LGBTQ+ community, she thought that people would think that she was gay and that her career would be ruined. In 2013, Nile Rodgers told British newspaper The Mail on Sunday that I’m Coming Out was written “because of her gay following,” but that he had misled Diana Ross about it: “A DJ told her [the song] was going to ruin her career——people would think she was gay. It was the only time I’ve ever lied to an artist. I said, ‘What are you talking about? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!’” It turns out that she had nothing to worry about: I’m Coming Out peaked at #5 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1980, and has sustained as an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community for almost 40 years——and at her performances and concerts since the ‘80s, I’m Coming Out is usually the first song she performs.
In 1979, Diana Ross hired American music producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards to create material for her 10th album Diana, which became her biggest-selling solo album. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards are the founders of the ‘70s disco band Chic (pronounced sheek), known at that time for the 1978 hit song Le Freak and the 1979 hit song Good Times. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote and produced music for many artists, including Sister Sledge’s 1979 hit We Are Family; David Bowie’s album Let’s Dance (which includes two songs on this list: Modern Love at #114 and Let’s Dance at #93); Madonna’s album Like a Virgin (which includes three songs on this list: Dress You Up at #483, Material Girl at #158, and Like a Virgin at #28); and the remixed single version of Duran Duran’s The Reflex (#285).
I’m Coming Out is sampled in the 1997 huge hit Mo Money Mo Problems by American rapper The Notorious B.I.G. featuring Puff Daddy, Kelly Price and Mase. It’s also sampled in American pop singer Ariana Grande’s Break Your Heart Right Back, from her 2014 album My Everything. In 1994, Diana Ross performed I’m Coming Out while running onto the field at the World Cup at Soldier Field in Chicago; unfortunately, when she kicked the ball, she missed the goal, and the goal came tumbling down (watch it here). Diana Ross has been nominated for 12 Grammys, but she never won a Grammy (unless you count USA For Africa’s We Are the World, song #112 on this list) until she became the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. In addition to I’m Coming Out, Diana Ross has two more songs on this list: Upside Down at #160, and her duet with Lionel Richie Endless Love at #91.
I’m On Fire by Bruce Springsteen - Song #228
I’m So Excited by The Pointer Sisters – Song #131
This song was a U.S. Billboard Top 40 hit twice in the ‘80s. The original version entered the Top 40 in 1982. A slightly remixed version was a bigger hit in 1984.
I’m Still Standing by Elton John - Song #417
In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins - Song #48
In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel – Song #243
This song entered the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1986. It was re-released in 1989, due to the its inclusion in an iconic scene in the popular 1989 film Say Anything... It did not re-enter the Top 40 in 1989, but it came very close, peaking at #41.
Into the Night by Benny Mardones – Song #341
This song was a U.S. Billboard Top 40 hit for American pop singer Benny Mardones twice in the ‘80s. The original version of the song was a bigger hit, peaking at #11 in 1980. A slightly different recording of the song became a hit in 1989, after Arizona radio station KZZP did a “Where Are They Now?” segment, and the song became popular again, peaking at #20. The song spent a total of 37 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, breaking the record of 36 weeks set by Laura Branigan with Gloria (song #108 on this list) for the song by a solo artist spending the most weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in the ‘80s.
Into the Night is one of four songs on this list that were U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits twice in the ‘80s: Send Me an Angel (#474) by Real Life was a hit in 1984, and again in 1989; Red Red Wine by UB40 (#136) was a hit in 1983, and again in 1988; and I’m So Excited by The Pointer Sisters (#131) was a hit in 1982, and again in 1984. American rock 'n roll singer Chubby Checker was the first to have a song become a hit twice, with The Twist, which was a hit in 1960 and again in 1962. Other artists who have done this include American R&B group The Contours, whose Do You Love Me was a hit in 1962 and again in 1988; American pop duo The Righteous Brothers, whose Unchained Melody was hit in 1965 and again 1990; and British rock band Queen, whose Bohemian Rhapsody was a hit in 1976 and again in 1992. In fact, in 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody became a Top 40 hit a third time, due to the successful film, also titled Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen has three songs on this list: Crazy Little Thing Called Love (#70), Under Pressure with David Bowie (#44) and Another One Bites the Dust (#17).
The lyrics of Into the Night have been controversial, because of how it begins: “She’s just 16 years old, leave her alone, they say.” It sounds like an inappropriate relationship. American pop singer Benny Mardones said that the 16-year-old girl in the song was a real person named Heidi, who lived near him and walked his dog Zanky. He said that the relationship was not sexual, and that he looked after Heidi when her father abandoned her and her family. One morning when he had been up all night writing music with a friend, Heidi came and took Zanky for a walk, and Benny’s friend said, “Oh, my God,” and he responded, “Hey, Bob, she’s just 16 years old. Leave her alone,” and they wrote the song right then. But radio stations were reluctant to play the song at first. Benny explained, “When it first was released, R&B stations all over America thought I was black. Then they found out I was white and they dropped the record. White radio was afraid to touch it because they thought it was about me dating a 16-year-old girl at my age. So Polydor Records sent out like 3,000 letters to radio stations across the country explaining what the song was really about. And the song got added and almost instantly started playing all over America.”
Islands In the Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton – Song #373
This song was written by English pop group The Bee Gees, originally for American R&B artist Marvin Gaye, but it was instead recorded as a duet by country superstars Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. It is named after the 1970 novel of the same name by American author Ernest Hemingway (the novel was published in 1970, nine years after Hemingway’s death). The B-side of Islands In the Stream was a new version of Dolly Parton’s 1974 country hit I Will Always Love You, which she re-recorded in 1982 for the film The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, in which she stars with Burt Reynolds (watch the film clip here). Of course, in 1992, Whitney Houston released her version of I Will Always Love You, which became her biggest hit, from her film The Bodyguard, in which she stars with Kevin Costner.
I’ve Never Been To Me by Charlene – Song #391
How does a song with the lyrics, “I’ve spent my life exploring the subtle whoring that costs too much to be free,” become such a huge hit in the ‘80s? I’ve Never Been To Me was originally released in the United States in 1977, and it barely registered. The song was re-released in 1982 after a Florida radio station started playing it, and it eventually reached #3 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. This song is American pop singer Charlene’s only memorable hit, but she did record a duet with Stevie Wonder: Used To Be, which almost made the U.S. Billboard Top 40 in 1982. A 2006 CNN poll listed I’ve Never Been To Me as the #4 worst song of all time. It is featured in the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and in 2007’s Shrek the Third. It has also been featured on the television shows Will and Grace, Desperate Housewives, and Saturday Night Live. In a 2004 episode of The Simpsons, Homer acknowledges that he has been to space, and then replies, “And yet I’ve never been to me.”
Jack and Diane by John Cougar - Song #24
Janie’s Got a Gun by Aerosmith - Song #306
Jeopardy by The Greg Kihn Band - Song #431
Jessie’s Girl by Rick Springfield - Song #18
Jump by Van Halen - Song #43
Jump (For My Love) by The Pointer Sisters - Song #415
Jungle Love by The Time - Song #466
Just Like Heaven by The Cure - Song #115
(Just Like) Starting Over by John Lennon - Song #347
In 2018, Billboard ranked this song as the 68th most popular song of the last 60 years on its “hottest-of-the-hot” list, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the pop chart (see the list here). If (Just Like) Starting Over is that high on the Billboard list, then why is it only #347 on this list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S? One reason is because the Billboard list only measures this song’s popularity in the ‘80s, while this list measures a song’s popularity from the ‘80s through 2019. Another reason is the timing of John Lennon’s death: This song entered the Billboard Top 40 on November 1, 1980. When John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, (Just Like) Starting Over was at #8. Then the sales and airplay of this song skyrocketed, which took a few weeks for the chart to reflect (Billboard’s charting is delayed by almost two weeks because of the time it takes to gather the data and generate the rankings). This song hit #1 on December 27, and it stayed there for five weeks. As a result of its amplified sales and sustained popularity, Billboard ranked (Just Like) Starting Over the 4th most popular song of 1981, and the 68th most popular song of all-time, but when was the last time you actually heard this song?
(Just Like) Starting Over was the first new recording John Lennon had released in five years. His previous hit was a cover of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, which peaked at #20 in 1975. Ben E. King’s original 1961 song (click here) was a hit again in the ‘80s, when it was re-released to coincide with its use as the theme song in the 1986 film Stand By Me. John Lennon had taken a five-year recording hiatus to spend time with his wife Yoko Ono and their son Sean, who was born in 1975. (Just Like) Starting Over was the first single released from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy album; the other songs are Watching the Wheels, which is #487 on this list, and Woman, which didn’t make this list. Double Fantasy initially received negative reviews from music critics, but when John Lennon was murdered three weeks after the album’s release, several negative reviews by prominent critics were withheld from publication. The album became a worldwide commercial success, and won a Grammy award for Album of the Year. In 1989, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 29th on its list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.
During production, John Lennon referred to (Just Like) Starting Over as the Elvis/Orbison track, because of his impersonation of the vocal styles of Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison (whose You Got It is song #445 on this list). (Just Like) Starting Over was nominated for a Grammy for Record of the Year, but lost to Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes (song #57 on this list); the other nominees were Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) by Christopher Cross (#177), Just the Two of Us by Grover Washington, Jr. (#143), and Endless Love by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie (#91). The original title of the song was Starting Over; at the last minute “(Just Like)” was added to the title because country singer Tammy Wynette’s song Starting Over had just been released.
Just the Two Of Us by Grover Washington, Jr. - Song #143
King Of Pain by The Police - Song #317
This song is from British rock band The Police’s fifth and final studio album, 1983’s Synchronicity. Synchronicity is the simultaneous occurrence of two or more events that appear meaningfully related but have no discernible causal connection. Synchronicity was first described by Carl Jung (the founder of analytical psychology) in the 1920s; Sting, the lead singer of The Police (who also plays bass guitar, piano, and synthesizers) was inspired by Carl Jung to write King Of Pain, which is about Sting’s separation from his wife. Sting said, “I conjured up symbols of pain and related them to my soul. A black spot on the sun struck me as being a very painful image, and I felt that was my soul up there on there on the sun. It’s just projecting your state into the world of symbolism, which is what poetry’s all about, really.”
Sting said that he wrote King Of Pain while in Jamaica with his future wife Trudie Styler: “I was sitting moping under a tree in the garden, and as the sun was sinking toward the western horizon, I noticed that there was a lot of sunspot activity. I turned to Trudie. ‘There’s a little black spot on the sun today.’ She waited expectantly, not really indulging my mood but tolerant. ‘That’s my soul up there,’ I added gratuitously. Trudie discreetly raised her eyes to the heavens. ‘There he goes again, the king of pain.’” Sting was also inspired by novelist Arthur Koestler, who wrote The Ghost in the Machine in 1960s; The Police’s fourth album was named after his book. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, the #147 song on this list, is from that album. The Police have two more songs on this list: Don’t Stand So Close To Me, at #379, and Every Breath You Take (also from Synchronicity), at #8.
The Police recorded the Synchronicity album on the Caribbean Island of Monserrat. King Of Pain was a difficult song to record, and the sessions were contentious because Sting didn’t accept most of the suggestions from band members Andy Summers (who plays electric guitar) and Stewart Copeland (who plays drums and percussion). The Police broke up in 1986, but reunited in 2007 for a world tour that ended in 2008. According to Rolling Stone magazine, “Each cut on Synchronicity [is] not simply a song but a miniature, discrete soundtrack.” In a 1983 Rolling Stone readers’ poll, Synchronicity was voted Album of the Year. It is on Rolling Stone’s lists of the 100 Best Albums of the Eighties (#17) and the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (#448).
At the 1984 Grammy Awards, the album won Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, beating Big Country’s In a Big Country, Huey Lewis and the News’ Heart and Soul, Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House (song #230 on this list), and ZZ Top’s album Eliminator, which includes the #205 song on this list, Legs. (In this Grammy category, a song or an entire album may be nominated.) Synchronicity was also Grammy-nominated for Album of the Year, but lost to Michael Jackson’s Thriller (which has six songs on this list); the other nominees (which each have two songs on this list) were David’s Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man, and the Flashdance soundtrack. In 2003, The Police were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. American singer/songsriter Lady Gaga performed King Of Pain with Sting at the iHeart Radio Festival in 2011 (click here). In 1984, a music video was made for King Of Pain (click here), but it was released only in Australia.
Kiss by Prince and the Revolution - Song #40
Prince’s record company did not like this song, and Prince had to demand that it be included on his album and released as a single! Kiss was the lead single from Prince’s 8th album Parade. It was a #1 hit in the U.S., a huge hit worldwide, and the 19th most popular song of 1986 in the U.S. according to Billboard magazine. Following Prince’s death in 2016, Kiss re-entered the U.S. Billboard Top 40, peaking at #23; it also re-charted in several other countries. Kiss is song #461 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Kiss won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song, but lost to Anita Baker’s Sweet Love (song #460 on this list). The week that Kiss hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40, the #2 song was The Bangles’ Manic Monday (song #128 on this list), which was written by Prince.
Originally, Prince created the melody, lyrics, and basic song structure of Kiss, and then gave a demo to his bass player Brown Mark, who needed songs for the debut album of his R&B/funk band Mazarati. After Mazarati and producer David Z worked on the song, Prince decided to record it himself, retaining the rhythm, background vocal arrangement, and background vocals that Mazarati contributed, but removing the bass line, adding the guitar break in the chorus, and replacing their vocals with his own, using his falsetto Camille voice (for information about Prince’s abandoned Camille project, see the description of U Got the Look, song #321 on this list).
The final version of Kiss was too minimalist for Prince’s record company Warner Bros., but Prince was insistent that the song be included on Parade and released as the first single. According to David Z, Prince “basically forced Warners to put it out... You could really see the resistance of the corporate power of a major record label to something that was so different from what they were expecting. That record was up against the paranoia of radio and the power of corporate record labels. That time, the record and the artist won. These days, neither one would have had a chance in hell.” David Z also stated, “The power of that track is its ability to pull people in. The listener has to provide a lot of what’s missing. You have to use imagination to listen to that record. It really makes the listener part of the process.”
After Prince’s death in 2016, some comments surfaced that he wrote as a guide for the liner notes for his 1993 greatest hits collection. About Kiss, he wrote the following, speaking of himself in the third person: “PRN [Prince Rogers Nelson] after recording this, shelved it because he thought it 2 strange a production 4 human consumption. It was included on the Parade album as an afterthought. PRN thought it never quite worked on that album. Every time he plays it live, he changes the arrangement. Probably still feels the same about the public’s acceptance of the sound. In concert it’s never sounded like the record.”
Parade was the fourth and final album to feature The Revolution as Prince’s backing band. The album received acclaim from many music critics, and was widely regarded as a creative comeback after 1985’s poorly-received Around the World in a Day (which features Raspberry Beret, song #212 on this list). Parade served as the soundtrack to Prince’s second film Under the Cherry Moon. Prince directed and starred in the film, which was a critical and commercial flop. At the 1986 Golden Raspberry Awards (which recognizes the worst of cinema each year), the film won Worst Picture (tying with Howard the Duck), as well as Worst Screenplay, Worst Actor and Worst Director (Prince), Worst Supporting Actor (Jerome Benton), and Worst Original Song for ♥ or $ (Love or Money), which was featured in the film and was the B-side of the Kiss single, but was not included on the Parade album. Under the Cherry Moon was also nominated for Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star (Kristin Scott Thomas, who would later be nominated for an Oscar for her performance in 1996’s The English Patient). Watch a short clip of Under the Cherry Moon here. Other songs from Parade that were released as singles in the U.S. are Mountains, which peaked at #23 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40, and Anotherloverholenyohead.
In 1986, just nine months after the release of Kiss, British alternative rock/dance band Age Of Chance released an industrial cover of the song (click here) with much of the lyrics changed. Age Of Chance also released a remix of the song called Kisspower, which includes samples from the Prince original, as well as samples from other ‘80s songs such as Run-D.M.C.’s Walk This Way (song #45 on this list), Janet Jackson’s Nasty (#290), Bruce Springsteen’s Born In the U.S.A. (#32) and several others. Due to copyright infringement concerns, Kisspower was released only as a promotional single with a limited number of copies. Had it been widely released, it would have been one of the first mainstream songs primarily featuring music sampling. Six months after Kisspower, Pump Up the Volume (song #293 on this list) became the first mainstream hit song made up almost entirely of samples. Kisspower is regarded as a landmark song for sampling, which became prominent in the ‘90s.
Kiss has been covered, sampled, and featured in a wide variety of media. In 1988, British synth-pop group Art of Noise released a cover version of Kiss (click here) featuring Welsh singer Tom Jones on vocals, which became a worldwide hit. Kiss is featured throughout the 2006 animated film Happy Feet (watch a film clip here). Kiss is sampled in American hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse’s 1992 song The Juggla. Kiss is also sampled in American rapper The Notorious B.I.G.’s Would You Die for Me, which appears on his 1999 posthumous compilation album Born Again, and features rappers Lil’ Kim and Puff Daddy. American rapper Lil Wayne interpolated Kiss in his 2007 song Get High Rule the World. American pop band Maroon 5 covered Kiss (click here) on the deluxe edition of their 2012 album Overexposed (but Prince didn’t like it, and told Billboard magazine, “Why do we need to hear another cover of a song someone else did? Art is about building a new foundation, not just laying something on top of what’s already there.”). Kiss was performed by actors Matthew Morrison and Gwyneth Paltrow on the American TV show Glee in 2011 (click here). And American actress Julia Roberts sings Kiss while in the bathtub in the 1990 film Pretty Woman (click here).
The extended version of Kiss (click here) contains much more elaborate instrumentation, adding bass guitar, organ, and horns. Also added are new lyrics, and a hilarious argument (at the 6:15 mark, and picking up again at the very end of the song and fading out) between Prince and American singer/songwriter Jill Jones fighting about...Prince on television! She says, “Oh my God! Isn’t that Prince on television? Is he the strangest looking thing you’ve ever seen or what? Don’t you touch that channel! Leave it alone! Do you value your life?!”
Kiss is Prince’s third of five #1 U.S. Billboard Top 40 hits. His first two #1 songs were from 1984’s Purple Rain soundtrack: When Doves Cry and Let’s Go Crazy; his last two #1 songs were 1989’s Batdance, which did not make this list, and 1991’s Cream. Prince has a total of 11 songs on this list of the TOP 500 POP SONGS OF THE 1980S: U Got the Look (#321), Sign O’ the Times (#287), Raspberry Beret (#212), Let’s Go Crazy (#66), 1999 (#62), Kiss (#40), Purple Rain (#30), Little Red Corvette (#27), and the #2 song of the entire decade, When Doves Cry. Prince also plays synthesizers on Stevie Nicks’ Stand Back (#59), and he wrote songs that were hits for other artists: The Bangles’ Manic Monday (#128), Chaka Khan’s I Feel for You (#153), and Sheila E.’s The Glamorous Life (#390). While both Madonna and Michael Jackson have more songs on this list than Prince (they have 14 songs each), Prince has six songs in the top 100; Madonna and Michael Jackson have only four songs each in the top 100.
Kyrie by Mr. Mister - Song #277
Kyrie Eleison, which is a Greek phrase (ἐλέησόν με κύριε) that means “Lord, have mercy (on me),” is a part of many religious rites in Eastern and Western Christianity. In the Christian Bible, the phrase occurs 10 times in the book of Psalms, three times in the Gospel of Matthew, and once in the Gospel of Luke. According to American pop band Mr. Mister’s frontman Richard Page, the entire song is essentially a prayer: “I get a lot of power from meditation, from being still and realizing that what I’m doing is insignificant compared to the universe. That’s what the song is all about.” An urban legend circulated that Richard Page wrote this song while lying in a hospital bed after an assault; in fact, his cousin John Lang (who wrote the lyrics to Kyrie) was the one who was assaulted, but the incident had nothing to do with the song: He said, “Richard Page did write the music and melody, but I am the one who wrote the lyrics. I got the inspiration from singing it as a kid in an Episcopal church in Phoenix.”
In contemporary Greek, one of the English translations of the root word kyrios (κύριος) is “Mister,” but the band’s name came about because while working together, they would call each other “Mr. This” and “Mr. That,” which eventually became Mr. Mister. The four-man band (which formed in Phoenix, Arizona in 1982 and disbanded in 1990) consisted of Richard Page (lead vocals and bass guitar), Steve George (keyboards and backing vocals), Pat Mastelotto (acoustic and electronic drums and percussion), and Steve Farris (guitars and backing vocals). Prior to forming the group, Richard Page had worked as a session musician for legendary producer Quincy Jones, and had composed music for Michael Jackson, Rick Springfield, Donna Summer, and Kenny Loggins, all of whom have songs on this list.
After the first Mr. Mister album (I Wear the Face) was released in 1984, Richard Page was asked to replace Bobby Kimball as the lead singer of Toto, and later he was asked to replace Peter Cetera as the lead singer of Chicago, but he declined both offers. Kyrie was written in 1984 while the band toured with Adam Ant. In 1985, Mr. Mister opened for Tina Turner on her Private Dancer tour. Mr. Mister also toured with Don Henley, The Bangles, Eurythmics, and Heart. All of the artists named here have songs on this list. Kyrie is the second single released from the band’s second album Welcome to the Real World. It peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40, and is ranked as the 9th most popular song of 1986. The first single from the album was an even bigger hit: Broken Wings (which is song #126 on this list) also peaked at #1 and is ranked at the 5th most popular song of 1986. Mr. Mister’s Broken Wings was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, but lost to USA for Africa’s We Are the World (song #112 on this list).
Lady by Kenny Rogers – Song #362
In the late-‘70s, American singer/songwriter Lionel Richie pitched this song to his group The Commodores, which was known for funk and soul, but the band turned it down. Later, when he decided to compose the song, he wrote it specifically for Kenny Rogers, who was an established country music star. Lionel Richie had been a singer and saxophonist with The Commodores since 1968, and they were known for groovy dance songs, such as Brick House, and also for romantic, easy listening songs, such as Easy and Three Times a Lady. Kenny Rogers said, “The idea was that Lionel would come from R&B and I’d come from country, and we’d meet somewhere in pop.” Lady became one of Kenny Rogers’ biggest hits. In 2012, Lionel Richie said that Lady was his most profitable song, and then added, “I have an estate that Lady bought.” Lionel Richie’s work as producer of the song was his first venture away from The Commodores; he left the group in 1982 and began his very successful solo career.
Lionel Richie recorded a version of Lady on his 1998 album Time (click here), and he and Kenny Rogers recorded the song together on Lionel Richie’s 2012 album Tuskegee (click here). Also in 2012, the pair performed the song live at the 2012 concert special ACM Presents: Lionel Richie and Friends in Concert. (Watch Kenny Rogers tell the story——including how Lionel Richie wrote the second verse of the song on the toilet——and perform the song with him here.) Lady spent six weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 at the end of 1980. Billboard ranked it the 3rd most popular song of the year. On its end-of-decade chart, Lady is ranked as the 10th most popular song of the 1980s, and it is ranked 47th on The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs (which includes songs from 1958 to 2008).
Kenny Rogers has had 21 songs on the Billboard Top 40, including his duet with Dolly Parton, Islands In the Stream (#373 on this list). Kenny Rogers also performs on USA for Africa’s We Are the World (#112) which was also written by Lionel Richie (with Michael Jackson). Some of Kenny Rogers’ most recognizable hits include 1977’s Lucille, 1978’s The Gambler, and 1979’s Coward Of the County.
The Lady In Red by Chris de Burgh – Song #361
This song was a worldwide hit in 1986/1987, and was a #1 song in 25 countries, but it has suffered from backlash since the ‘80s. It was voted the 10th most annoying song of all time in a 2000 Dotmusic poll. In 2014 it was voted the third worst song of the ‘80s by Rolling Stone readers (the second worst was The Final Countdown by Europe, #145 on this list; the worst was We Built This City by Starship, #338 on this list). British-Irish singer/songwriter Chris de Burgh omitted this song from his 2012 acoustic album Home, which is a compilation of re-recordings of his favorite songs. He said, “One of the problems of having such a huge worldwide hit like Lady in Red...is that you get pigeonholed, and so the other 250 songs you’ve written and recorded become irrelevant... I do diminish it slightly when performing live. I take the microphone and leave the band and walk through the audience, hugging people. The Lady In Red is featured in the following films: 1988’s Working Girl, 2000’s American Psycho, 2004’s DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, and 2008’s Baby Mama.
Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire - Song #313
This song is one of the last hits for American R&B band Earth, Wind & Fire, one of the few bands that was successful before, during, and after the disco era, with 16 songs that charted on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 between 1974 and 1983. The band does not consider itself part of the disco genre, even though 1979’s Boogie Wonderland is a disco staple. Other hit songs by Earth, Wind & Fire include 1975’s Shining Sta