When Taylor Swift announced that her next record would be titled 1989—the year she was born—images of a crucifix-hugging Madonna and a Rhythm Nation-pledging Janet Jackson immediately came to mind. The music of the '80s has long been celebrated for its penchant for experimentation and unabashed adoration of all things pop, from the synthed-out bliss of New Wave to the sky-high hair-dos of the Sunset Strip's most notorious metalheads to rappers pushing the boundaries of an ever-changing genre. Approximately nine kajillion compilations of top '80s songs exist, and a visit to your local dive is incomplete unless you spend some quality time with the decade's greatest hits courtesy of an ancient jukebox. People keep hitting replay on these tracks for a reason, and it's because these songs, though they're rooted in the days of DayGlo and The Breakfast Club, are ultimately timeless.
To honor one of the best decades in music and culture, here's a collection of the 89 best '80s songs. Click to the next slide to begin your journey through the decade that gave us Taylor Swift...and so much more.
By Jeff Benjamin, Hilary Hughes, Maria Sherman, and Samantha Vincenty
Devo's live debut of "Whip It" occurred on December 29, 1979: Is there any better way to welcome the arrival of the '80s? With the song's official release in August, the maestros of New Wave popped into national prominence with their geometric hats and digital goodness. "Whip It" wasn't just a futuristic ditty with a surreal video to go with it: The song would become Devo's biggest hit, reaching No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and inspiring covers in later years from the likes of Moby, Powerman 5000 and, of course, Alvin and the Chipmunks.
To call Queen a rock band seems limiting. Frontman Freddie Mercury wrote songs that felt like plays, full productions that began and ended in a little over three minutes. “Another One Bites the Dust” encapsulates this, and you will probably hear it every day for the rest of your life. There are worse fates!
If there was any band that drove home the fact that rock 'n' roll wasn't just a boy's game, it was the Go-Go's. And the rousing cries and jangly riffs of "We Got The Beat" proved that in spades.
Manchester’s Joy Division released “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at the turn of the decade, defining post-punk as we know it with one of the most heart-achingly good singles to hit the dance floor. Gotta love those dark, heavy synths!
A cover of a 1974 Jackie DeShannon song, “Bette Davis Eyes” earned Carnes and co-writer DeShannon GRAMMYs for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The dreamy synthesizer riff and Carnes’ raspy, wistful vocals made it the most popular song on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981.
Men at Work left absolutely nothing to the imagination with their video for this hit: They act out literally every line of the song and even throw one of their own dudes into a tree for his flute solo. Kind of hard to believe that a man from Brussels would spike a Vegemite sandwich like a volleyball, but it's so weird that we're into it.
Blondie were known for their take-no-crap mentality and punk inspirations. “The Tide Is High” is a bit different from the rest of their repertoire; it's a reworking of a ‘60s reggae melody by The Paragons. The Blondie version is better known, taking what could have been a lost tune and making it into something totally new and exciting.
As one of the first bands to popularize electronic music, Kraftwerk smacked everyone in the face with this woozy synth explosion. The single wasn't a chart hit, but it stands as one of their most iconic releases.
Sting and the gang crafted one of their signature tunes in 1981 with "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." The Police's classic starts with a slew of racing synths before exploding into the feel-good chorus.
Does any song sum up love, sex and all the feelings wrapped up in the two better than Marvin Gaye's brilliant slow jam? Shortly after leaving Motown's roster and working through a number of personal issues, Gaye hit the studio creatively revived. He penned the track, which would eventually net him his first GRAMMY wins and set records for its 10-week run atop the Billboard Hot R&B singles chart.
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby! Joan Jett’s classic 1982 single has been reworked time and time again for good reason: It’s characteristically naughty and undeniable. Punk for non-punks!
A single that needs no introduction, but we'll give it one anyway: Michael Jackson's "Thriller" spawned one of the best music videos of all time with its unforgettable makeup, choreography and cinematography. It's inspired countless parodies and imitations. It's one of the first tracks you think of when you're asked to name a favorite from the King of Pop's discography. But cultural significance (and Vincent Price cameo!) aside, "Thriller" went platinum shortly after its release and has since sold over three million units. Those numbers speak for themselves.
Vanity 6 was the sexy trio assembled by Prince in the early '80s. They only released one (minorly successful) album, but their presence in the industry was true evidence of Prince's dominating force. Their sound was a sensual, feminine projection of the Purple One.
If you were to look up the definition of "New Wave Perfection," New Order's euphoric, romantic "Temptation" would be it. Green eyes? Blue eyes? Grey eyes? Whatever color yours or your beloved's are, this is one of those feel-good favorites that give you a case of the warm-'n'-fuzzies as soon as the bass kicks in.
Vince Clark is a majorly influential figure in ‘80s synthpop: He left Depeche Mode to co-found Yaz before going on to form Erasure. The true stars of “Situation” are the infectious synthesizer hook and Alison Moyet’s distinctive, slightly androgynous vocals.
Slick synth-pop with a hint of danger, “Hungry Like the Wolf” was Duran Duran’s first taste of chart success in the U.S. We're still not completely sure what the lyric “smell like I sound” actually means, but three decades later, we've decided to stop questioning it.
Not only is Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” the defining single of the pop icon’s career, it’s also the first from her debut solo album. While many artists of the decade would fall victim to the one-hit wonder curse, Lauper used her immediate success to continue kicking butt and taking names. For you ‘90s kids, don’t even pretend the Spice Girls could have existed if it wasn’t for this fierce woman!
New Wave went through its glory moment during the ‘80s. Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” became one of its most recognizable tunes.
Cyndi Lauper seemed to come out of nowhere. As previously mentioned, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was the first single on her debut album. Then came “Time After Time.” Lauper would go on to win hundreds of awards, tour the world and go down in rock ‘n’ roll history, but not before schooling us all with this touching ballad.
David Bowie's "Modern Love" was the first single from his super appropriately titled Let's Dance, and he'd go on to work it into his epic Live Aid 1985 set before re-recording the smash with Tina Turner for a Pepsi commercial a few years later. The chords hold up, and "Modern Love" is a guaranteed dance party maker within seconds of blasting over any given speaker.
To make a good political song is a tricky thing. To make a good political dance song is even trickier. But Depeche Mode nailed it on this single from Construction Time Again. David Gahan’s droning vocals evoke the dispassionate capitalist exchanges described in the verses, while lead songwriter Martin Gore provides sweet relief with the sing-song chorus.
One of the best songs from the soundtrack of one of the best movies from the '80s: Purple Rain, of course. That shuffle rhythm is one of the telltale sonic signs of '80s music.
Culture Club frontman Boy George might be the most glam guy to ever glam. “Karma Chameleon” is his group’s best known hit, a catchy, smart pop masterpiece. The tune is about being afraid of alienation, yourself and learning to overcome it all. Powerful stuff!
Madonna paved the way for so many female pop stars of today, showing that sexuality can be weaponized: She was going to use her body to her advantage, because she was a strong, confident, beautiful woman. If that made you uncomfortable, so be it! “Like A Virgin” takes this to new heights, with Madonna directly separating notions of new love from new sex with every chorus.
Before Carlton nailed the Carlton, the Boss was perfecting his moves and launching the careers of starlets (hi, Courtney Cox!) one snap and side-step at a time. "Dancing in the Dark" was the first single off Born in the U.S.A., which would go on to drop seven songs into the Top 10. "Dancing in the Dark" is the hit to top all Springsteen hits, and one of the most recognizable tunes from the decade.
The sweet, brass and keyboard-driven “Close To Me” is a perfect counterargument to categorizations of The Cure as a “goth band” (a label Robert Smith has repeatedly rejected).
Husband-and-wife duo Nu Shooz scored two major hits in the eighties— “I Can’t Wait” and its follow-up single “Point of No Return”—and these freestyle-influenced jams can still get a party started. This is summertime in song form, all roller rinks and sandy neon-lit boardwalk hangs.
Before Bryan Adams ever really loved a woman, he was singing about the first guitar he ever played. "Summer of '69" puts forth some of the most recognizable riffs of the decade, with Adams' chipper tenor soaring over timeless sentiments. It's pop-rock romance at its finest and a classic for that very reason.
Forever immortalized in that scene from that high school movie, Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)" is the quintessential ‘80s teen jam. Channel The Breakfast Club by turning it up, dancing it out and giving your earring to that guy your parents totally wouldn't approve of.
Phil Collins is a serious singer, so his popular “Sussudio” seemed shocking when it was first released in 1985. I mean, think about it: What the heck does “sussudio” even mean? However illogical, the track went No. 1 immediately after release, and its danceability probably has something to do with it.
The third No. 1 of Prince's career, "Kiss" proved the singer could slay any falsetto note, lead a chorus of soul singers and belt it out like a new-age James Brown. Yes, all in one song.
Did your dad drive a station wagon and wear Budweiser baseball caps when he was in Cool Dad mode? Chances are he was blasting Huey Lewis and the News while driving carpool to karate class, and "Hip to be Square" was probably the cornerstone of his playlist. (Caution: Objects In This Video Are Closer Than They Appear.)
Steve Winwood's soulful "Higher Love" wasn't just one of the most ubiquitous hits of '86 and a poppier triumph for the Spencer Davis Group singer: The track featured the untouchable Chaka Khan (just scope the live cut above) and scored Winwood his first No. 1 hit.
John Lydon’s lyrics were inspired by the apartheid segregation struggle in South Africa, interspersed with a variation on the Celtic blessing, “May the road rise to meet you.” Legendary guitarist Steve Vai plays on the track, and it was one of the most successful songs for Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols band.
You know the feeling: You see an attractive stranger, you become immediately infatuated with them, you're addicted. So goes the tale of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love." The video is a sight to be seen and has since been reinterpreted by Shania Twain for her "Man! I Feel Like A Woman" visual, with hotties stepping in where Palmer's models used to be.
The only karaoke standard you'll ever need is this one-hit wonder. Plus, we'll put "Your Love" on every '80s playlist forever and ever, if only because it gives us an excuse to revisit this wonderful SNL sketch that has Peeta from The Hunger Games sporting a mullet and belting out this power ballad.
"Walk Like An Egyptian" hit No. 1 and secured The Bangles Different Light album its eventual triple-platinum status. But most importantly, the song's video showed us what it would look like if international figures such as Princess Diana and Muammar Gaddafi danced like they were hieroglyphs.
A naughty lover and a distraught Jon Bon Jovi are the pieces that built “You Give Love a Bad Name” into one of the Jersey rock band's biggest hits of all time. Love lost has never felt cooler.
Before U2 was dropping their albums in your iTunes account for free, they were the biggest Irish export this side of whiskey and wool. “With or Without You” was the band’s first single from their 1987 album The Joshua Tree, the record that helped Bono go from frontman to music icon.
"Bad" serves as the title track to the Michael Jackson album that spawned five No. 1 singles—the first ever to do so in America. Pop music doesn't get more legendary than this.
Backed by an 808 beat and a syrupy keyboard, a baby-faced LL showed us his sensitive side on this single from his second album Bigger and Deffer. It was brave of LL to be one of the first MCs to rap about his feelings, essentially inventing the rap ballad.
Nothing says Sunset Strip vices quite like Mötley Crüe at their hard-partying, chain-smoking, lady-chasing best! The band is currently on their final farewell tour, but "Girls, Girls, Girls" and the images it conjures of a raucous, rowdy strip club scene (and the hairspray required to keep their perfect coifs in line) will live on forever.
"Faith" not only showcased George Michael's knack for feel-good jams, but its video secured him sex symbol status as his acid-washed jeans, leather jacket and big sunglasses become a defining look of the '80s.
Hot, sticky, sweet and forever on repeat on jukeboxes across the globe, few hair metal anthems really get the party going like Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me." We'll never be able to unsee Tom Cruise's rendition of the hit in Rock of Ages, but that doesn't make us hate the original in the slightest.
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back has gone on to be hailed as Public Enemy's opus, a "focused aural missile" as described by Chuck D and a pivotal work in the canon of American hip hop. This sophomore effort from the group performed considerably better than its predecessor, going platinum 14 months after its release in the summer of 1988. One of its first singles, "Don't Believe The Hype," carried a ton of that weight.
No, Paula Abdul wasn't just chosen to be one of the first judges on American Idol because of her wacky sense o' humor and feelings: Her '88 smash "Straight Up" made for a remarkable debut, especially considering how, at the time, Paula was basically a choreographer first and a singer second. Director David Fincher (Gone Girl, The Social Network) created the single's black and white vid, which would collect a handful of awards at that year's VMAs.
The '80s birthed hair metal, the pretty version of a genre that's otherwise inaccessible on the aesthetic front. And Poison, with sultry singer Bret Michaels, lead the way. One of the band's best known tunes is “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” the ultimate ‘80s power ballad. For those about to rock, put your guitar down and get ready to swoon.
The Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis-produced New Jack Swing gem has the boys grappling with their emotions over a breakup. “If It Isn’t Love” showcases a more mature New Edition, as their voices had lowered since the “Candy Girl” days, and Bobby Brown found solo success after getting voted out of the band. Bonus fact: The song’s visual also inspired Beyoncé’s “Love on Top” video.
The Beach Boys may be known for surf rock and California cool, but "Kokomo" is a fictional tale of paradise. Piña coladas, anyone?
Not only is Gun N’ Roses' “Sweet Child O’ Mine” a total banger, it’s also one of the first songs kids learn on guitar! (Not the solo, obviously. That territory can only be traversed by Slash.) The tune is found on the band’s third album, their legendary Appetite for Destruction. Axl Rose-inspired bandana not required for listening, but recommended.
“Wild Thing” was written by “Bust A Move” rapper Young M.C., but it’s Tone-Loc’s gravelly voice, heavy-breathing “ha ha”-es on the chorus and looped Van Halen sample that elevate this party rap to classic status. It's understandable if you confuse this song with Loc’s follow-up single “Funky Cold Medina”...because let's be honest, both songs sound very similar.
Swedish musician Neneh Cherry reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the single from her debut album Raw Like Sushi. She gifted the world with “Wearing padded bras, Sucking beer through straws,” a gorgeously vivid description of teen delinquency. Fun fact: Neneh’s brother is “Save Tonight” singer Eagle Eye Cherry.
If you’ve gone dancing at any “'80s night” ever, you’ve heard the dance floor erupt in cheers the moment Andy Bell sings, “How can I explain/when there are few words I can choose?” The plea in Bell’s voice injects emotion into the song’s buoyant call to love without fear.
The hilarious, family-friendly songs on He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper display the affable charm that landed Will Smith a sitcom on NBC. The song also won the first-ever GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Performance, the controversial precursor to the current GRAMMY rap categories.
Before the Backstreet Boys, 'N SYNC, 5ive, O Town and the small army of boy bands that exploded in the '90s, there were the New Kids on the Block, those rambunctious kids from Boston with devilishly good looks and equally stunning vocals. Think of this track as the role model for "I Want It That Way" or "Bye Bye Bye."
Billy Joel is a master songwriter, and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is one of the greatest examples of his skills. The lyrics reference historical events that had happened since 1949, the year Joel was born. (Bonus points if you know one verse of the song that isn't the "JFK! BLOWN AWAY! WHAT ELSE DO I HAVE TO SAY!" part.)
3 Feet High and Rising was a groundbreaking debut that eschewed tales of gang wars and urban blight in favor of references to Johnny Cash and educational cartoons, effectively redefining the boundaries of hip hop in the late ‘80s. A surprising number of rappers have sampled Steely Dan—Kanye West used “Kid Charlemagne” on 2007’s “Champion”—but De La Soul’s “Eye Know” was the first, and the most fun.
The lead single from Paul’s Boutique comes out swinging and—like the rest of the album—contains a dizzying amount of samples, pop culture references and love for their native New York City. It’s a shame NYC was robbed of a proper Beastie Boys Square honoring the group and their landmark release.
Madge's gospel-pop single was accompanied by a super-controversial music video that sparked religious groups to call for a national protest of Pepsi (which planned to use the video in a new ad campaign). Talk about a holy hit!
A classic power ballad that reminded us of Cher's incredible pipes. Meanwhile, its video reminded us of Cher's incredible ass.
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