The 1980s – I’ve talked about them before, do ya kennit? It’s when I was born, it’s when you were born – and even if you weren’t, with the amount of retro mewling and nostalgia surrounding the era these days, you probably feel like you were.
Christmas Telly in 2020 was a bit of a shambles – the days of big movie premieres on Terrestrial TV are long gone thanks to the convenience and availability of Streaming Services, but generally there are a few good shows held back specifically for the holidays by the big British Corporations. My only genuine British TV viewing this Christmas were the fantastic Waterhole: Africa’s Animal Oasis – which saw Chris Packham and Ella Al-Shamahi following the design and aftermath of a human-made Waterhole in Africa, and keeping tabs on the different species turning up to use it – and Channel 4’s Jungle Mystery – Lost Kingdoms Of The Amazon, which followed Ella (again) travelling the Amazon to investigate new proof of the ancient civilizations spread down the river with numbers presumed to be in the millions, and how descendants of these tribes are struggling to survive today.
One mainstay of End Of Year programming is the C-List Celeb pandering ‘Nation’s Favourite’ lists. Every year, most channels will have a Favourite Christmas Songs or Favourite Movie show to eat up a two hour block while the engorged viewer sweats the last leg of turkey out from their pits, but we do get the more curious ventures such as Britain’s Favourite Toy or Britain’s Favourite Biscuit. This year as I was channel hopping I stumbled upon the final fifteen minutes or so of Channel 5’s Britain’s Favourite 80s Song. Now, I’ve no idea who voted for this – presumably some random 1000 idiots were selected (based on the top ten selection), but generally lists of these type cater to the audience the Channel markets to. An NME list of best 80s song would feature a lot more Indie artists than a more populist magazine. Channel 5 has largely given up its more controversial leanings and is now a semi-populist version of Channel 4. Therefore, you’ll expect mostly big hits and Number 1 singles, lots of one hit wonders, with the odd interesting selection.
Lets take a look at the top 50 songs as voted for by Britain, and weep.
50. Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
To its credit, the show is presented by Craig Charles (who makes everything better), but you know there’s going to be a heavy reliance on pop over Indie or Metal, and a lot of British synth artists I absolutely despise who get an unusual amount of credit for apparently creating a new genre. I’ve always argued that synth is an instrument (shock) not a genre – and that the Synth-Wave, New Wave artists were fairly inept creatively, relying on this new fangled instrument (which had been around in previous decades) to bolster average or boring pop songs. The only real legacy or influence that the artists prevalent in this generation have is a legion of even shittier pop and dance acts, and a further dumbing down of Chart Music. Relax is a prime example – it’s an ordinary song – crap vocals, decent melodies, it only stands out because of its synth. It’s not a favourite of mine, but it’s absolutely massive and is always going to appear on a list such as this.
49. You Spin Me Round – Dead Or Alive
You can have all the androgyny you want, that’s great, but your song is shit. Repetitive dog crap, horribly sung like so many British male vocalists of the 80s. I don’t think I ever heard this song in the 80s – it somehow passed me by until it inexplicably took on a second life in the 2000s, and now you can’t escape the thing. A turgid heap of toilet run-off.
48. Vienna – Ultravox
The first song I didn’t really know. Unsurprisingly it’s another synth number, it’s another deep, low vocal – at least until the chorus. It’s slow and melancholy, but at it’s core it is fairly boring. Apparently it was held off Number 1 by Shut Up A Your Face, which is clearly the superior song. I always go for melody and emotion over production or instrumentation – if the core of your song is so hollow that it is only memorable for its use of an instrument, then it’s just surface bullshit. Sure I can enjoy it, but in most cases not. Mix your melody and emotion with production and then we’re talking.
47. Kids In America – Kim Wilde
It’s another synth based pop song, but this one actually nails the melody portion. It’s a silly, pandering lyric, but it’s throwaway fun with a very catchy chorus.
46. The Final Countdown – Europe
An all time classic. Of CHEESE! We have the usually likeable Lucy Porter mixing up Metal bands with whatever the fuck Europe was supposed to be, because you can’t have a musical countdown list without some idiot attempting to mock a genre they clearly don’t understand. It’s a song about nothing, but it’s easily one of the most recognisable songs ever written and is ludicrously catchy. When I was DJing on New Year’s Eves – this was always the song before Midnight.
45. The Tide Is High – Blondie
One of Blondie’s most poppy moments, this cover song is almost as gorgeous as 1980 Debbie Harry. She doesn’t sing it very well or anything, but it’s such a sweet melody that it’s always going to be a winner. And even if it’s not, I’m too busy being mesmerized by Debbie’s face to care.
44. Money For Nothing – Dire Straits
The biggest song from one of my Favourite 80s Albums, Money For Nothing is far from my favourite song on said album, but again there’s no escaping that huge riff. Knopfler is such an underrated guitarist, but not the greatest singer in the world. Outside of the riff, the song is a tad on the meh side.
43. Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley
The Eddie Munster of the Pop World, Rick Astley, meets with the Bin Laden/Hussain/Pinochet of the Pop World – Stock, Aiken, Waterman. This trio generated so much unforgiveable copycat crap in the 80s that it beggars belief. And yet, many of their songs – well, a few of their songs were undoubtedly catchy. One of the main problems I have with their stuff is that they are such cut and paste jobs – you hear one of their songs and you know instantly that it’s them – same instruments, same beat, same rhythm, same production, same soulless smiles – and the videos are almost identical too – bad dances, same camera movements, same colours. It’s ridiculous and cannot in any way be taken seriously as something to purchase or respect. As much as pop metal bands like Europe can be ridiculed, Stock, Aiken, and Waterman songs are so much more ripe for arse-ripping. As for this song… everyone knows it, big chorus, could have been sung by anyone. A darker, slower, not shitty pop version of this song could be interesting.
42. Walking On Sunshine – Katrina & The Waves.
I’m not sure what this is doing on the list – it’s a happy bouncy song forever used in Holiday adverts, but nothing special. The only special comment I can make on the song is that I always enjoy pissing off Iggy Pop fans by saying the intro to Lust For Life and this are identical.
41. China In Your Hand – T’Pau
I’ve always liked this one – no big story behind it, no real reason for me to like or dislike it. It’s just a decent little song which has always been there.
There’s a break in the countdown to talk about MTV and a couple of random other songs – maybe to fill up time, maybe because the Producer of the show was upset their favourite songs were missed out. In retrospect, MTV may have been one of the worst things to ever happen to music, leading to a reliance on visuals and looks over sound and song, a reliance which remains to this day, and has perhaps become the most important facet of creating a hit.
40A. Wild Boys – Duran Duran
Duran Duran were very much style over substance in their biggest songs and videos, and if there’s a single takeaway from the decade as a whole, as it pertains to chart music, it’s style over substance. There are a lot of Duran Duran songs I love – this isn’t one of them – and beyond the bombastic shouting of Wild Boys, there’s not a lot to it.
40B. Thunder In The Mountains – Toyah Wilcox
I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this one, which makes me wonder why it’s on a list like this or who the hell voted for it. Just an excuse to get Toyah in to the show as a commentator.
40. Don’t Leave Me This Way – Communards
Another cover, another terrible synth dance track. A shocking, truly shockingly awful video, with Mr Jimmy Sommerville being possibly my least favourite artist ever thanks to him appearing in no less than four acts I despise – this bunch, Bronski Beat, Fine Young Cannibals, and his solo work. I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke, but his music is the antithesis of everything I enjoy.
39. Purple Rain – Prince
Prince… everybody goes on about him as this chameleon figure, changing genres, having so much variety…. I haven’t heard this at all (in the admittedly small handful of songs from him that I know). I’m in no way versed in the dude’s music, but essentially everything I’ve heard from him is very similar – pop funk. And I don’t like much of it. I’ve wanted to delve into his back catalogue for some time, but I’ve held off by the fact that I don’t really like his biggest tracks, such as this. If I don’t like his best stuff, how the hell would I fare with everything else.
38. Dancing In The Dark – Bruce Springsteen
Out of all the good Springsteen songs they could have picked, they went for this. It’s… fine. Boring, repetitive, not the best vocal, okay melody, okay lyrics, terrible video. Whatever.
37. Chain Reaction – Diana Ross
Yeah, I love this song. It’s cheesy as the in-betweens of a tramp’s toes, but it’s pure sweet golden melody goodness. For some reason, they spend most of the time on this entry talking about Ross being a Diva (like this is in some way a good thing) and her clothes and the video. Keep it to the song, guys, especially when it’s a good song.
36. Don’t Stand So Close To Me – The Police
It’s an odd one… yeah, the subject matter is plenty icky, but like many Police songs it tows the line dangerously between white boy reggae rubbish, and goodness. The song shifts between minor and major in quite a jarring way – I’d have preferred it to go in a different direction for the chorus, but the verses are good. Some bin-lid comments that the song is like a precursor to #Metoo – no… it’s simply good morals and not being a repulsive shitbag – such notions did exist prior to Twitter. Mostly a nothing song I forget as soon as it ends.
35. Eternal Flame – The Bangles
Well, one of my favourite all time songs by one of my all time favourite bands, sung by one of my all time favourite singers. It’s perfect. I can’t quantify what it is about Susannah Hoffs’ voice that I love… but I will never tire of it.
34. Addicted To Love – Robert Palmer
Part of me really hates this song. It’s not good. But there’s still something about it. Bit of a one hit wonder.
33. I Just Called To Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder
This one gets ridiculed quite a lot. Yeah, it’s another cheese gobbler, but it’s sincere. I could of course lose all the little twee bleepy blop sounds – but once again – the sign of a truly good song is when you strip the production away, sing it solo or with minimal backing and it has the same impact. It’s rather lovely.
32. What’s Love Got To Do With It – Tina Turner
Yeah, good song – she had a few of them in the 80s.
31. Karma Chameleon – Culture Club
It’s androgyny done right, hint hint Dead Or Alive. Cheese? Check. Cheekbones? Check. Fun song great melodies? Check. It’s pure 80s silly fun.
30. Tainted Love – Soft Cell
Nope, hate this song. More synth junk. Take away the crap (in other words, listen to the original) and it’s… a little better. For such an average song it has been covered hundreds of times – but there’s not a good version of it to be found.
29. Africa – Toto
I really don’t get why this is a thing – not then, and certainly not now. Sure the 80s were a weird time when any old novelty shite should become successful… I guess that mirrors today’s meme-led world. It’s not terrible… I just don’t understand its success or how it has lasted so long. Once more, it’s the production which takes the song to the next level, beyond its fairly ordinary roots. If I heard it once I’d like it but forget it. For whatever reason it has persisted. Yet another one hit wonder.
28. 500 Miles – The Proclaimers
It’s another novelty song, which wasn’t intended to be one, and another which has inexplicably stayed with us long past its Use By Date. Featuring one more dismal video, it’s a catchy throwaway song which was a hit because everyone was on Coke, and now everyone remembers it in some semi-ironic way. It has been played at every wedding I’ve ever attended. Apart from my own. But seriously, what the hell is up with their mouths?
27. Everywhere – Fleetwood Mac
I always forget this is Fleetwood Mac. I’m surprised it’s on the list at all – I didn’t think people liked it. I still don’t think they do, given that it only receives about 30 seconds of coverage compared to every other song on the list so far. Again, fine, throwaway, don’t dislike, don’t care.
26. Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid
Yep, thought it may have been higher. I guess it deserves to be there for its cultural importance. It’s a good song too.
25. Red Red Wine – UB40
Probably my host despised band ever. Everything these fuckers have done should be confined to The Great Void.
24. Come On Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Another one hit wonder, another wedding song, another novelty song. I still like it though.
23. Total Eclipse Of The Heart – Bonnie Tyler
Yep, love it. Like it? I don’t know, I certainly have sung it enough times over the years.
22. Careless Whisper – Wham!
I’ve never understood it myself, but George Michael and Wham! were huge. Sure, there are a couple of songs I enjoy but the vast majority of his solo, and the group’s material is sugary pop guff. Rather than spend a couple of minutes talking about the song, they launch into a 5 minute segment showing a whole bunch of Wham! hits. This song is one I like when it’s on, but only to a certain degree – the saxophone sounds ridiculous, the verses are bland, pre-chorus is good. It’s the sax that everyone remembers, I tend to forget everything else about it.
21. I’m Still Standing – Elton John
I feel the exact same way about Elton as I do about George. Wildly overrated in my opinion, but this is a good enough song. Certainly would never make my personal top 50 1980s songs, but I don’t have anything negative to say about it. Once again, they spend most of their time speaking about the video and choreography.
Again, we take a break in the chart to talk of the video and its cost rather than the song. They main feature here is Duran Duran’s Rio, with a bit about how White Artists had money thrown at their videos over Black artists. It’s a decent song, kind of always sounds like a Bond song. Not one I ever think about it, but like any number of 80s songs it has always been part of my life.
20. Take On Me – A Ha
The Duran Duran bit was obviously a precursor for this. It was only a matter of time before this showed up. I like it. It’s hard not to. It’s not amazing or anything, but again there is no escaping it if you grew up in Britain in the 80s and 90s.
19. I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston
Whitney – what a talent. Then it all went a bit wrong. You’d be hard pushed to find a more perfect 80s pop song, or pop song of any generation, than this. It’s unnecessarily stretched out towards the end, but no doubt a great song.
18. The Winner Takes It All – ABBA
Yeah, I must do an ABBA walkthrough on the blog. This is an endlessly beautiful, sad song. There you go – melody, emotion, instrumentation, all perfect. Just a shame the band is heralded as this big Camp thing rather than the genuinely great songwriters they were. Not that I’ve heard any of their albums in full… actually, we had Voulez Vous in the house when I was growing up so I probably did listen to the full thing.
17. Everybody Wants To Rule The World – Tears For Fears
I didn’t think this was as popular as it seems to be, but fair enough. It’s a decent song but I have no specific thoughts on it.
16. Uptown Girl – Billy Joel
Novelty song, but one by someone prolific. Prolific, but I know barely any of his stuff. It’s silly, but catchy, like the best novelty songs.
There’s another break to talk about fashion – I always love when people go on about how ridiculous the hair and the outfits were back then, without looking at the absolute state of what they’re currently wearing and which will no doubt be a similar source of ridicule in a few years time. There of course needs to be a bit about Duran Duran versus Spandau Ballet. Still not a single mention of any of the genuinely good musical movements of the 80s, but there you go.
15. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me – Culture Club
I prefer Karma Chameleon. This is fine.
14. Don’t You Forget About Me – Simple Minds
Fair enough. I’ve never been the biggest fan of this one, and Simple Minds are another one of those groups I’m subtly advised to listen to. I haven’t heard anything to push me in their direction, beyond bands I do like citing them as an influence.
13. Lets Dance – David Bowie
This is somewhat surprising. I guess they had to get Bowie in there somewhere, far from his best song, far from my favourite from him.
12. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
Finally. I wasn’t sure if there would be anything from Michael given the latest accusations towards him after his death. It’s difficult to separate all of that stuff from his music and from your feelings about him, but jeebus his music is still so effing good. I’ve never been that fussed on the video, which of course they spend too long talking about, but the song is an all time classic.
11. In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins
I’ve never understood the love this guy gets either, or the success. A handful of fairly good songs. I think this song has been drastically overrated over time (HE SUDDENLY PLAYS THE DRUMS) but I appreciate the downbeat nature of the song. This is one of his good ones, but I’m not a super fan.
10. Super Trouper – ABBA
Interesting. I never thought much of this one – it does suffer somewhat from sounding like just another ABBA song and gets lots amongst all the other hits for me. I’m baffled it’s as high as it is, higher than The Winner Takes It All and Billie Jean!
9. Eye Of The Tiger – Survivor
Another novelty song and essentially a one hit wonder, littered with cheese crumbs. But you wouldn’t change a single thing about it. A perfect example of the pop rock song, and one which never fails do get middle aged men pumped up.
There’s a break to talk about technology and synth, as if we haven’t had enough of that already. They start with I Just Can’t Get Enough. See, it’s songs like this which push me back from ever listening to Depeche Mode. Again, some of my favourite bands cite them as influences, but there hasn’t been a single song of theirs which has given me the kick in the spine big enough for me to care. To me this just seems like another repetitive pop song too reliant on the novelty new instrument, and made worse by the bland droning vocals.
Oh look, it’s another one – Enola Gay by OMO. Bleepy synth? Check. Droning male vocal? Check. Awful video? Check. One hit wonder? Check. This may as well be Depeche Mode or any of the other synth artists on the list. Was it influential? Don’t care.
8. Don’t You Want Me – The Human League
See above comment. Except this is a little better.
7. Sweet Child Of Mine – Guns N Roses
About f’ck’n time. An antidote to every other piece of crap on the list, though admittedly as overplayed as everything else here.
6. Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This – Eurythemics
Inevitable. It’s certainly memorable, as one note as it is.
There’s a shocking revelation about Madonna – not a single Madonna song makes the countdown, which honestly is truly bizarre. Regardless of how you feel about her music, she was one of the most successful artists of the decade so to not have a song on this list is nonsensical. I call shenanigans.
5. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
Yep, great song. Love Cyndi, doesn’t get the credit she deserves.
4. Livin On A Prayer – Bon Jovi
It was bound to happen – I’m surprised they only have one song on the list (not surprised it’s this one) and I’m surprised it’s this high.
3. Radio Gaga – Queen
2. Every Breath You Take – The Police
Yeah, I’ll take that. I’m not a fan of Sting or The Police, but this is their undoubted masterpiece.
- Last Christmas – Wham!
I’m surprised it’s top, but maybe it’s because it’s that time of year. No doubt it’s a great song, but best song of the 198os? Nah, mate, nah.
There you have it. No room for Madonna. No room for U2. A single Michael Jackson song… if we think purely about biggest selling artists there was also no AC/DC, Jennifer Rush, Kylie Minogue, John Lennon, and if we think about other genres there’s no New Order, Iron Maiden, Metallica, no Sinead O Connor, New Kids On The Block, BROS, no Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, or MC Hammer, no Kenny Rogers, The Cure, The Pixies, or Kate Bush. Of course, you can’t fit everyone in.
What are your thoughts on this list? Which songs would you have liked or expected to see on here? Let us know in the comments!
Great post 🙂 Speaking of “In the Air Tonight”, did you finally go on youtube to watch Genesis music video of “Land of Confusion”? As much as I love “In the Air Tonight”, I personally feel that “Land of Confusion” is the crowning achievement of their 1980’s work. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂
I’ll try to give that a shot today, and see how they compare to Marillion 🙂
I watched the video – hadn’t seen it before and I don’t remember hearing the song. It’s all very 80s, but funny they got the Spitting Image style going, makes sense due to the political content. Some amusing movie references too. The Manics did something vaguely similar (with masks) for The Love Of Richard Nixon video, though I’m not a fan of that song.
Glad you gave it a watch 🙂 I will check out that Love of Richard Nixon video by Manic Street Preachers 🙂
I lived throughout the entirety of the 1980s, and while MOST of your tunes in your “top [enter number here]” list are good tunes, your critique is based on not knowing about the band/artist or having an inclination of the music played.
To offer a full unbiased critical opinion you need to listen to a hell of a lot of tunes, or lived through that period to understand WHY some of the music was popular, or what the song lyrics were about.
While I get you haven’t listened to all of Prince’ back catalogue, or Phil Collins, etc etc., you’ve put tracks like “Relax” at 50 without knowing why you have your list all about face.
This isn’t a top 50 of greatest 80s tunes at all, it’s 50 great tunes you don’t understand why they are great, and your opinion of those choons.
Either get the list right, or get your opinions in order. Or just change the title of the page. To have someone offer you to listen to other Phil Collins tunes via Genesis, is making my pee water itch. You can’t compile a list of greatest 80s tunes and then disrespect the tune/artist/group or genre without understanding the context.
I’m either going full on triggered 🤣 or this just simply is a half asked attempt at critique .
You same to have made the mistake of not reading the full post.
This is NOT my list. It was a list created for a TV show which I have subsequently commented on.
If I were to make a list of either the ‘best’ or my personal favourite songs of the 80s, most of these songs would not be on those lists.