Few decades were as revolutionary in the development of music as the 1980s. Metal, hip hop, synth-pop, grunge, and many other genres were becoming popular, while major artists pushed the limits of what music had done before.
These 101 best songs of the 80s remain iconic and changed the course of music forever.
1. Purple Rain — Prince
Purple Rain is one of the most iconic songs of Prince’s career, becoming one of his signature songs until the end of his life. The track is the quintessential 1980s pop ballad. It was first featured in Prince’s film of the same name. But its most iconic moment came at the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show when Prince performed it live—appropriately, in the rain.
2. Thriller — Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson’s career exploded in the early 1980s, just as MTV was taking off. This gave the star a chance to show off his musical skills and his immense talent for dance. Thriller was one video that helped shape his career—and also paved the way for black artists in the music video industry.
3. I Wanna Dance With Somebody — Whitney Houston
Houston released I Wanna Dance With Somebody in 1987, and it quickly became one of her signature songs. Amazingly, however, critics didn’t love the song, even saying it ripped off the melody of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun. These claims didn’t affect the song’s popularity, and it earned Houston her second Grammy Award.
4. We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel
The 20th century was a time of change at a breathtaking pace. Billy Joel’s 1989 hit was a frantic ode to the rapid pace of the world they had experienced in the last 40 years, defining the new generation. Joel’s song has become a kind of history module on mid-century events.
5. What’s Love Got To Do With It — Tina Turner
In the mid-1980s, Tina Turner’s career was flagging. Following her divorce from Ike Turner, she struggled to make it as a solo artist—until 1984, when she recorded What’s Love Got To Do With It. The song made Turner an icon of the 1980s and one of the most successful female musicians of all time.
6. Like a Virgin — Madonna
Like a Virgin was the title track of Madonna’s second album, released in 1984. Many people have called it the song that launched her to superstar status. The controversial track reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a first for Madonna, and became one of the most iconic songs of her career.
7. Born in The USA — Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 hit is considered not just one of the best of Springsteen’s career but also one of the great rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time. Cleverly disguised as a patriotic anthem, the track is a veiled critique of the US treatment of Vietnam War veterans and the economic and social challenges they faced upon their reintegration into society.
8. Girls Just Want To Have Fun — Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper exploded onto the scene in 1983 with her cover of Girls Just Want To Have Fun. The song wasn’t originally hers, but it has become so intrinsically associated with her career that few people remember that it was a cover. The song launched Lauper’s career and became one of the biggest songs of 1983.
9. Take On Me — a-Ha
Of all the one-hit wonders of the 1980s, 1984’s Take On Me might be one of the most iconic. Recorded by Norwegian band a-Ha, the song climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Part of this was because of its influential music video, which is considered one of the best in MTV history.
10. Every Breath You Take — The Police
On the first listen, it might seem that The Police’s sultry Every Breath You Take is a love song. But once you stop and think about the lyrics, it becomes obvious that it’s not a love song at all, but rather an ode from an obsessed stalker to the object of his fixation. That will teach you not to listen to the lyrics the first time!
11. Sexual Healing — Marvin Gaye
One of the biggest hits of Marvin Gaye’s career happened just two years before he was shot to death by his own father. Sexual Healing was released in 1982, an openly erotic funk groove with the narrator offering himself as the best option for the “healing” that his partner needs. The song won two Grammy Awards.
12. Beat It — Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson was rapidly becoming a superstar in the early 1980s, helped by the rise of MTV and his popular music videos. 1982’s Beat It was the latest in a series of hits. The music video has become one of the most famous in history and was highly influential in developing other music videos throughout the decade.
13. All Night Long — Lionel Richie
Lionel Richie’s 1983 hit All Night Long became a hit for its smooth R&B energy and the singer’s own vocal performance. But it was also known for verses that seemed to be in another language. Later, Richie admitted that the lyrics weren’t in another language at all—they were simply gibberish that he thought sounded good.
14. Under Pressure — Queen & David Bowie
Two powerhouses of 1980s rock came together in 1981’s Under Pressure. The spontaneous collaboration by Queen and David Bowie came about after Bowie ran into the band at a Swiss recording studio. The result was one of the most successful songs in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
15. Never Gonna Give You Up — Rick Astley
Thanks to the internet phenomenon known as “Rickrolling,” even generations who weren’t around for the 1980s are familiar with Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up. The 1987 song was a worldwide hit and helped establish the British singer, more or less, as a one-hit-wonder. Astley himself has embraced the trend, even performing a live Rickroll at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2008.
16. Africa — Toto
Though Toto had a long and successful career, none of their songs is as well-known as the 1982 track Africa. The track’s enduring popularity surprised even the band members themselves. It reached No. 1 in both the US and Canada and remains an icon of the 1980s, even recognized by people who weren’t alive for its initial release.
17. Livin’ On a Prayer — Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi released Livin’ On a Prayer in 1986 and it quickly became the band’s signature song. Ironically, Jon Bon Jovi himself didn’t care for the song and initially tried to stop its release. His efforts were in vain, however, and it remains one of the biggest songs in the band’s history.
18. Control — Janet Jackson
While her brother was rapidly establishing himself as a superstar, Janet Jackson was also stepping into her own career. Her 1986 song Control, released as the title track on her album that year, was a massive success and beat her own brother for an award for Best Music Video.
19. Come On Eileen — Dexys Midnight Runners
The 1980s were full of massive hits from bands that qualified as one-hit wonders, never returning to the charts after their 15 minutes of fame. One of these was 1982’s Come On Eileen, a groovy dance track from British band Dexys Midnight Runners. It was so popular that it even displaced Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean at No. 1 on the charts, but the group never had another hit.
20. Another One Bites The Dust — Queen
Queen was one of the biggest bands of the 1970s and 1980s. Led by enigmatic frontman Freddie Mercury, they released hit after hit, starting the decade strong with 1980’s Another One Bites The Dust. The song is among their many best-known tracks and received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal.
21. Karma Chameleon — Culture Club
In 1983, the world was entranced by the British band Culture Club and their single Karma Chameleon. It became one of their biggest international hits (though they had success in their native UK in the past), particularly because of the influence of the song’s music video and frontman Boy George’s enigmatic style.
22. Hungry Like The Wolf — Duran Duran
Duran Duran is intrinsically linked with the 1980s (even referenced in the 2000s hit 1985) and one of their biggest hits was 1982’s Hungry Like The Wolf. The bubbly rock song evokes both themes of sexual desire and animalistic urges that made Duran Duran one of the most recognizable bands of the decade.
23. Should I Stay Or Should I Go — The Clash
English punk rock band The Clash defined the evolution of music in the UK throughout the 1980s. One of their biggest hits was 1981’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go, a growling rock song that has been called one of the greatest of all time. Though it didn’t break the Top 40 in the US, it experienced a resurgence of popularity a decade later.
24. Super Freak — Rick James
Rick James’ 1981 hit Super Freak remains a classic of the 1980s songs that featured sexually liberated women in the style of later songs by Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. Its iconic opening introduces the character as “a very freaky girl …the kind you don’t take home to mother,” It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.
25. Don’t You (Forget About Me) — Simple Minds
Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me) became famous after it was featured in The Breakfast Club. John Hughes’ movies are as intrinsically part of the 1980s as big hair, so it is no surprise that the song has become an unforgettable song of the decade.
26. Total Eclipse Of The Heart — Bonnie Tyler
Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler catapulted to international fame in 1983 when she released Total Eclipse Of The Heart. The ballad became a worldwide hit not just because of Tyler’s throaty vocal performance but also because of the music video, which featured her racing dramatically through the halls of a Gothic sanatorium.
Recommended: Our top list of 80s love songs
27. Time After Time — Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper had many hits throughout the 1980s, most of them from her debut album, She’s So Unusual. Time After Time was included in this collection, released in 1983. The bevy of award nominations for the album as a whole and Time After Time as a single helped establish Lauper as the icon of the 80s that she remains today.
28. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) — R.E.M.
R.E.M.’s 1987 hit was a fast-paced rock song contrasting the chaos of the Cold War and the cultural upheaval of the 1980s with a blithe, carefree attitude. To people of the time, it did seem like the end of the world. But for those like the members of R.E.M., they saw no reason to panic about it.
29. Borderline — Madonna
Madonna is one of the quintessential artists of the 1980s, releasing hit after hit throughout the decade. One of her early successes was 1983’s Borderline, which is seen as one of her essential tracks. It was an international hit, helping to establish Madonna as the queen of modern pop music.
30. West End Girls — Pet Shop Boys
The British duo, Pet Shop Boys, released West End Girls in 1986, the only major hit of their career. The song is a punchy synth-pop ode to finding love across the tracks hoping to land a wealthy girl. It might describe a uniquely British experience, but the song became known worldwide.
31. Welcome To The Jungle — Guns N’ Roses
Few groups define the late-80s glam metal genre as well as Guns N’ Roses. Their 1987 hit Welcome To The Jungle is undoubtedly one of their most iconic and has been called one of the best rock songs of all time. It was inspired by a homeless man yelling at Axl Rose during his first visit to New York City.
32. Billie Jean — Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson had many major hits throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but there are a few songs that made his career start. One of these was Billie Jean, released in 1982. The song was inspired by threatening letters Jackson received where fans claimed that he had fathered their children. It won two Grammy Awards and is notable for introducing the famous moonwalk dance.
33. Here I Go Again — Whitesnake
The 1980s were characterized in part by the Second British Invasion, the increasing popularity of British punk rock bands on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the many was the UK band Whitesnake, who erupted onto the scene with their 1982 hit Here I Go Again. It has become one of the most famous hard rock songs of all time.
34. Love Shack — The B-52’s
In some ways, few videos exemplify the height of the MTV era better than The B-52’s Love Shack, despite the fact that it was released in June 1989. It has become the band’s most famous song, making them widely considered a one-hit wonder despite earlier success. The music video won several MTV Video Music Awards.
35. Jack & Diane — John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp was a superstar of the 1980s, but these days he’s best remembered for the 1982 hit Jack & Diane. The song tells the story of an all-American teenage romance with inspiration from Sweet Bird Of Youth by Tennessee Williams. It was noted for its unique instrumentalization, which includes a famous clapping track.
36. Down Under — Men At Work
In 1980, the Australian band Men At Work introduced the world to the concept of vegemite. The song Down Under is a uniquely Ozzie song, with plenty of vocabulary and descriptions of experiences that the rest of the world would have needed to be more familiar with. That didn’t stop the song from becoming a worldwide hit.
37. Upside Down — Diana Ross
Diana Ross had been a solo artist throughout much of the 1970s but had found only moderate success throughout the decade. In 1980, she released Upside Down, a smooth R&B hit that went to No. 1 on the charts and earned her a Grammy Award nomination. It signaled a resurgence in her career that would continue throughout the 80s.
38. This Charming Man — The Smiths
Among the most successful bands of the Second British Invasion was The Smiths, who released a number of international hits throughout the 1980s. One of these was 1983’s This Charming Man, the tale of meeting a handsome stranger on the road. It was notable for its depiction of homosexuality in music at a time when this was not widely accepted.
39. Just Like Heaven — The Cure
The Cure released Just Like Heaven in 1987, initially for use as the theme song of the French television show Les Enfants du Rock. The song was inspired both by a vacation that frontman Robert Smith took with his wife and memories of doing magic tricks during childhood, bound up with imagery of being overwhelmed by kissing someone.
40. Sweet Child o’ Mine — Guns N’ Roses
Sweet Child O’ Mine is considered one of Guns N’ Roses’ signature songs, but it was all inspired by a jam session using a “circus-like” melody. The song was released in 1988 and hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the band’s only song to do so. It was composed in honor of the girlfriends of the band members at that time.
41. Fuck Tha Police — N.W.A.
N.W.A. is widely credited not just for launching the careers of major rappers such as Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, but also for shaping the genre of hip hop as a whole. Their 1988 song Fuck Tha Police was one of the earliest and most influential protest songs calling out police brutality against minorities.
42. Pour Some Sugar On Me — Def Leppard
Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me is widely considered not just the band’s signature song, but also one of the quintessential songs of the 1980s. The track reached No. 2 on the charts when it was released in 1987. It’s widely remembered for its unique stream-of-consciousness lyrics and use of dictaphones.
43. Jessie’s Girl — Rick Springfield
Jessie’s Girl is now considered a classic of the 1980s, but it wasn’t popular during its initial release in 1981—at least, not for 19 weeks. Later, it became a sleeper hit, climbing to the top of the charts around the world and eventually earning Springfield a Grammy Award. It was inspired by a real girl that the singer had a crush on.
44. London Calling — The Clash
London Calling was released in December 1979 and became an international hit throughout 1980. The song uses the World War II radio broadcast phrase to draw attention to the social and political upheaval of the UK in the late 1970s.
Issues highlighted include drug use, poverty, police brutality, and the threat of flooding from the River Thames.
45. Take My Breath Away — Berlin
Berlin’s song Take My Breath Away was recorded for the 1986 movie Top Gun. It became famous for its use in romantic scenes between the characters played by Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise, and has been widely parodied ever since. After its initial release, Take My Breath Away became a No. 1 hit worldwide.
46. Everybody Have Fun Tonight — Wang Chung
In 1986, English synth-pop duo Wang Chung released Everybody Have Fun Tonight. The upbeat dance hit became an international sensation and coined the phrase “Everybody Wang Chung tonight.” The band said the phrase meant having fun without inhibition in whatever manner spoke to you and whatever environment you found your niche.
47. Straight Outta Compton — N.W.A.
Straight Outta Compton was featured as the lead single from the debut album of hip hop group N.W.A. The song was the first major hit for the group and has long been considered one of the most influential songs in the history of hip hop. Straight Outta Compton was also a notable track in the introduction of gangsta rap.
48. Just The Two Of Us — Grover Washington & Bill Withers
1980’s Just The Two Of Us was a collaboration between Bill Withers and Grover Washington, a light R&B song that strikes a strong contrast to most of the heavier music of the decade. The smooth love song proved to be popular, winning a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song that year.
49. Back In Black — AC/DC
Back In Black was the title song of AC/DC’s 1980 album, which was their comeback after the death of frontman Bon Scott. The song proved that there was a future for the band under their new lineup, earning a reputation as one of the best metal songs of all time.
50. In The Air Tonight — Phil Collins
Phil Collins’ haunting song, In The Air Tonight, has become popular not just because of his performance but also because of rumors surrounding its inspiration. However, none of these are true, and the song was actually inspired by Collins’ frustration after his divorce. The song also led to changes in electronic drum machines thanks to its innovative percussion track.
51. Hounds Of Love — Kate Bush
Kate Bush’s song Hounds Of Love was the title track of her highly successful album of 1986. The song describes falling in love against your will, like prey being chased by a pack of hounds. But leave it to Kate Bush to make it uniquely her own—the song opens with a sound clip from the horror movie Night Of The Demon.
52. I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) — Daryl Hall & john Oates
Hall & Oates released I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) in 1981. The hit song was widely assumed to be a love song, but it was actually about the pressures of the music industry and how musicians could be tempted to sell their integrity. However, the duo said that they made the lyrics intentionally vague so that everyone can relate.
53. Our Lips Are Sealed — The Go-Go’s
The Go-Go’s can’t exactly be described as a one-hit-wonder band. They were more like a four-hit wonder band, enjoying a series of successes at the start of the 1980s. Their best-known song is 1981’s Our Lips Are Sealed, which became a worldwide hit. It has been called one of the best pop songs of all time.
54. We’re Not Gonna Take It — Twisted Sister
Few bands better exemplify the over-the-top, big-haired glam metal movement than Twisted Sister on their 1984 track We’re Not Gonna Take It. The song caused controversy, as some of the lyrics were interpreted as violent. But it’s more likely that parents were shocked by their rebellious teens singing a song of defiance than anything else.
55. I Love Rock ‘n Roll — Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
I Love Rock ’N Roll had been recorded several times throughout the 1970s, at one point even by Joan Jett herself. But it wasn’t until she covered the song once again with her new group the Blackhearts that it became a hit. I Love Rock ‘N Roll climbed to the top of the charts in 1981, cementing Jett as the queen of the rock scene.
56. Blue Monday — New Order
British band New Order released Blue Monday in 1983; it’s been called a stepping stone between the definitive sound of the 1970s and that of the 1980s. The song combined elements of synth-pop and dance-pop to create a unique sound that both became a massive hit and helped define the music of the mid-decade.
57. Tainted Love — Soft Cell
Tainted Love had a long journey before finally making its way to Soft Cell’s version. The earliest recordings were made in the 1960s, with elements of soul music. The song was rediscovered in the early 1970s and became a hit on the Northern soul scene in the UK. But it wasn’t until 1986 when Soft Cell covered it that it became an international success.
58. Modern Love — David Bowie
David Bowie’s 1983 hit Modern Love hit the scene with a unique fusion of rock and new wave music; it became a worldwide hit and helped cement Bowie as one of the leaders of the 80s rock scene. It became one of the singer’s signature songs until his death in 2016.
59. Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) — Eurythmics
Eurythmics captured the world in 1983 with Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). Their success came in part to the public’s fascination with frontwoman Annie Lennox, whose androgynous, eye-catching style made a massive statement at the time.
Lennox became an icon for female rockers throughout the 1980s; meanwhile, the song would go on to be inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2020.
60. Push It — Salt-N-Pepa
In the mid-1980s, hip hop was still an emerging genre, and female hip hop groups were difficult to find. That changed with the emergence of the female rap duo Salt-N-Pepa, whose 1986 hit Push It became a massive success. It redefined the role of women in hip hop, paving the way for other female rappers such as Missy Elliott and Queen Latifah.
61. Teen Age Riot — Sonic Youth
In the late 1980s, indie rock was emerging into the mainstream. Sonic Youth was one of the most influential indie groups of the time; their biggest hit was 1988’s Teen Age Riot. Rolling Stone later gave the song a nod by including it on the list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock ‘N’ Roll,” particularly due to its use of distortion and stream-of-consciousness lyrics.
62. You Shook Me All Night Long — AC/DC
AC/DC was one of the biggest rock bands of the decade, and their 1980 hit You Shook Me All Night Long remains one of their most iconic songs. The song is well remembered for its obviously sexual but still perplexing lyrics, with lines such as “knocking me out with those American thighs.”
63. Fight The Power — Public Enemy
Public Enemy’s song Fight The Power was first released on the soundtrack of the 1989 film Do The Right Thing. It was a massive hit, helping to further define the sound of hip hop as the 80s transitioned into the 90s. It has been called one of the best songs of all time—of any genre.
64. (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) — Beastie Boys
In 1986, hip hop group Beastie Boys decided to lean hard into the rebellious rap persona. The resultant single was (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party), a song that both embraced and mocked the defiant teenage scene that existed to scandalize parents as much as possible. It came with a music video that, appropriately, portrayed a high school party gone to extremes.
65. 99 Luftballons — Nena
The 1983 German hit 99 Luftballons was strongly influenced by the division of Germany at the time. It became a critique of war, with the red balloons a symbol of the freedom that would ultimately win despite many years of conflict. The song struck a chord with US audiences, and 99 Luftballons became a hit in the US as well as West Germany.
66. Gigantic — Pixies
Gigantic by Pixies was a 1988 song about a white married woman falling in love with a black man. Though the song was only moderately popular at the time, it is now considered a stellar example of the emerging alt-rock scene of the late 1980s. It was inspired in part by the 1986 movie Crimes Of The Heart, which told the story of an illicit love affair.
67. Bastards Of Young — The Replacements
The 1985 song Bastards Of Young was partially inspired by bands such as The Who. The Replacements were an important part of the emerging grunge rock genre of the time, and the song became an anthem of Gen X, who felt alienated from their Baby Boomer parents. The song also includes a nod to frontman Paul Westerberg’s birth, which his mother induced on New Year’s Eve to claim him as a tax dependent.
68. Close To Me — The Cure
The Cure’s 1985 song Close To Me was a success in many countries around the world including the UK. The song is about experiencing a constant sense of impending doom, a common side effect of having an anxiety disorder. The narrator can’t shake the feeling that something horrible is about to happen.
69. Fast Car — Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman’s 1988 song Fast Car helped launch her career, a gentle folk-pop song telling the story of two characters caught in a cycle of poverty. The song earned three Grammy Award nominations, winning the award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. It remains widely known to this day.
70. Everybody Wants To Rule The World — Tears For Fears
The 1985 synth-pop song Everybody Wants To Rule The World is a cynical look at the natural human desire for power. Though it was influenced by the Cold War, the song’s political themes and discussion of corruption are still just as relevant in the modern world, making it a timeless hit.
71. When Doves Cry — Prince
Prince was rapidly becoming a pop star and a sex symbol in the 1980s, with hits such as Purple Rain and When Doves Cry. The latter, released in 1984, became iconic not just for the music but also for the music video, which featured a naked Prince climbing out of a bathtub.
72. Don’t Stop Believin’ — Journey
Journey is now irrevocably associated with their 1981 hit Don’t Stop Believin’, which has been called one of the greatest rock songs of all time and merited induction into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. Critics will be quick to point out that “south Detroit” isn’t a place—but that never thwarted the song’s popularity.
73. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go — Wham!
English duo Wham! was successful throughout the 1980s and notably launched the career of pop icon George Michael. Their 1984 hit Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was inspired by a miswritten note. George Michael’s idea for the song was to draw on the popular genres of the 1960s and 1970s. It worked and became one of the band’s biggest hits.
74. You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) — Dead Or Alive
Dead Or Alive was one of many bands of the Second British Invasion, best known for their 1985 hit You Spin Me Round (Like a Record). A success on both sides of the Atlantic, the song would later be adapted on Flo Rida’s 2009 hit Right Round, which featured vocals from Kesha.
75. Faith — George Michael
In 1987, George Michael released his first solo album, launching his career as a standalone artist. The title track was Faith, a song that became an international hit and cemented the pop star’s status as a sex symbol. This was due largely to the music video, which featured an unshaven George Michael in a leather jacket and blue jeans.
76. Bring The Noize — Public Enemy
Public Enemy was majorly influential on the burgeoning hip hop scene of the 1980s. One of their biggest hits of the decade was their 1987 collaboration with Anthrax, Bring The Noise. The song was featured in the film Less Than Zero and included lyrics calling for hip hop to be considered a primary musical genre.
77. Just a Friend — Biz Markie
Released in September 1989, Biz Markie’s Just a Friend just barely squeaks in at the end of the decade. Nevertheless, its popularity established it as a classic of early hip hop and earned Biz Markie a reputation as a one-hit wonder. Just a Friend tells the story of a woman leading a man on while dating another on the side.
78. Computer Love — Kraftwerk
Another emerging genre in the 1980s was electronica. In 1981, the German electronic band Kraftwerk released Computer Love, a song about the possibilities of dating in the era of technology. It was originally a German language song before being re-released in an English version.
79. Master Of Puppets — Metallica
One of the most famous examples of thrash metal was Metallica, and their 1986 song Master Of Puppets is widely considered to be one of the best metal songs ever recorded. The track, which is famous for its intense guitar solo, deals with themes of drug use and compares drug users to puppets who can’t control themselves.
80. Everywhere — Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 song Everywhere saw a rare moment of Christine McVie on lead vocals, rather than Stevie Nicks. The song was critically acclaimed and became one of the band’s best songs of the 1980s, showing a move into a soft pop genre that was different from Fleetwood Mac’s work of the 1970s.
81. Love Will Tear Us Apart — Joy Division
English band Joy Division released Love Will Tear Us Apart in 1980—a posthumous release for frontman Ian Curtis, who died by suicide a month earlier. The song is about Curtis’s tension in his marriage and the anxiety surrounding his diagnosis of adult epilepsy, which was a significant factor in his depression toward the end of his life.
82. Walk Like An Egyptian — The Bangles
The Bangles’ 1986 song Walk Like an Egyptian swept the world, becoming the band’s first significant hit. The song compares pictures in Egyptian pyramids to modern dance moves, suggesting that there are movements that unite humanity across cultures and eras and indicating that we have more in common than we might think. Pretty deep stuff for a pop song.
83. Love Is a Battlefield — Pat Benatar
Pat Benatar’s 1983 song Love Is a Battlefield was a worldwide success, a powerhouse ballad that compared falling in love to fighting in a war. The song topped the Billboard charts and won Benatar a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
84. White Wedding — Billy Idol
Billy Idol’s 1982 track White Wedding wasn’t necessarily the most successful song of his career, but it is often considered his signature. The song is best remembered for its gothic music video, which featured a wedding ceremony that included leather-clad dancers and a ring made of barbed wire.
85. Addicted To Love — Robert Palmer
Robert Palmer’s 1986 song Addicted To Love owes its popularity to two factors: Palmer’s own stellar performance and the music video, which featured a group of models performing as the band playing the song.
It was a worldwide hit and is widely considered the signature of Palmer’s career. It was later the subject of an extremely successful cover by Tina Turner.
86. With Or Without You — U2
U2’s acclaimed album Joshua Tree was released in 1987. The album featured With Or Without You, inspired by Bono’s conflicts between his personal and professional life.
The song was a major hit, in part because of its unique instrumentalization and Bono’s vocal performance, which struck a strong contrast to his usual style. It is widely considered not only one of U2’s best songs, but also one of the best rock songs of all time.
87. Atmosphere — Joy Division
Joy Division’s 1980 song Atmosphere was released mere months after the death of the band’s frontman Ian Curtis. It is considered one of the group’s best songs and is often held alongside iconic tracks such as Love Will Tear Us Apart.
It was included on their final album, as they broke up officially in July of that year before reforming as the band New Order.
88. When You Were Mine — Prince
Prince’s 1980 song When You Were Mine was one of his earliest major hits and remained a staple of live performances for the rest of his life. It later received new life when it was covered by Cyndi Lauper, yet it remains quintessentially a Prince hit—and one of the biggest songs of the decade.
89. Edge Of Seventeen — Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks was embarking on a solo career after leaving Fleetwood Mac; her first major hit as a solo artist was Edge Of Seventeen. Released in 1981, the song was inspired by the deaths of Nicks’s uncle and John Lennon within a few weeks of one another. It earned a Grammy Award nomination and has become one of the singer’s signature songs.
90. It’s Like That — Run-DMC
Released in 1983, Run-DMC’s It’s Like That is considered one of the most important songs of early hip hop. It set the stage for many themes of the genre, such as racial and social inequality, poverty and unemployment, and other issues. It has become one of Run-DMC’s signature tracks and was performed regularly until the group disbanded in 2002.
91. Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) — Kate Bush
English songstress Kate Bush had a series of hits in 1985 when she released her album Hounds Of Love. One of its tracks was “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”. Now considered one of Bush’s most famous songs, it experienced a resurgence in popularity after being featured on the Netflix show Stranger Things in 2022.
92. Jump — Van Halen
Van Halen’s album 1984 is considered one of the most iconic of the 1980s. It featured the single Jump, which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Initially inspired by television footage of a suicidal person, it was changed to be an encouragement to “jump” into big life decisions that could be seen as frightening.
93. Every Rose Has Its Thorn — Poison
Glam metal was becoming popular during the 1980s, and one of the most iconic songs of the genre is 1988’s Every Rose Has Its Thorn. The track was inspired by frontman Bret Michaels’ realization that his girlfriend was cheating on him. It has come to be considered one of the most important songs in the history of glam metal.
94. Mickey — Toni Basil
The opening of Toni Basil’s 1981 song Mickey has become almost legendary, and generations have learned to chant “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind,” The song incorporated aspects of bubblegum pop and new wave music and was partially inspired by cheerleading routines, which were performed in the music video.
95. Rock Me Amadeus — Falco
Rock Me Amadeus made history in 1986 when it became the first German-language track to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, recorded by Austrian singer Falco, was about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and drew inspiration from the 1984 movie Amadeus, which followed his rivalry with composer Antonio Salieri.
96. The Sweetest Taboo — Sade
English band Sade released The Sweetest Taboo in 1985, their second No. 1 hit in a row on the contemporary charts. The song cemented Sade as the quintessential voice of the quiet storm subgenre, a smooth, jazz-infused R&B style. The Sweetest Taboo was an international hit, reaching No. 1 on adult contemporary charts in the US and Canada.
97. I’m Coming Out — Diana Ross
While not gay herself, Diana Ross has long been considered an LGBTQIA+ icon. This was further bolstered when she released I’m Coming Out in 1980—a song that her producers worried would ruin her career. Instead, it became a major hit and is now considered one of her best tracks. Ross usually performs it as the first set during her concerts.
98. Boyz-n-The-Hood — Eazy-E
Hip hop was becoming more widely known in the late 1980s, popularized by rappers such as Eazy-E. His 1987 hit Boyz-n-The-Hood helped spread the emerging genre of gangsta rap, particularly West Coast rap that centered around neighborhoods such as Compton. The song was further popularized after its re-release on Eazy-E’s album with N.W.A.
99. Like a Prayer — Madonna
Madonna had many major hits throughout the 1980s, but one of them wasn’t released until the very end of the decade. Like a Prayer came out in 1989, a pop ballad that incorporates Gospel music. The music video was highly controversial, featuring religious and sexual imagery that many people found to be sacrilegious.
100. About a Girl — Nirvana
Nirvana was just becoming more widely known in the late 1980s, largely on the emerging grunge scene in Seattle. About a Girl was released on the band’s debut album, Bleach, in 1989. Kurt Cobain wrote it about his on-again, off-again relationship with Tracy Marander, and it is considered a skilled departure from his usual style of the time.
101. Don’t You Want Me — The Human League
British bands such as The Human League ruled the synth-pop scene of the early 1980s. The 1981 song Don’t You Want Me topped the dance charts well into 1982 and is vaguely based on the story of A Star Is Born. It is widely remembered as one of the best songs to come out of the UK in the 1980s.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.