Metro Weekly

The 50 Greatest Pop Songs of the ’80s, Nos. 50-41

The music of the 1980s remains as enduring as ever, beloved by those who lived through the decade as well as by younger fans who tend to look back at the period’s garish excesses with some degree of bemusement. The dawn of MTV ushered in an exciting era for music defined by flashy videos, outlandish fashion, massive hair, and scores of great singles that cover a vast range of stylistic territory.

To complement our 4th Annual Summer Music Issue, we’re counting down the 50 Greatest Pop Songs of the ’80s, 10 per day, with new installments daily at noon through Friday, July 10. All of the songs selected appeared in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart sometime during the ’80s. Only one song per artist is included.

The top 10 will be revealed exclusively in the print edition of Metro Weekly on Thursday, July 9, and online Friday, July 10, at noon.

50. “Love Shack” – The B-52’s (1989)

The party anthem for the fall of ’89, “Love Shack” has lost none of its manic charm. A high-energy stomper with audacious vocals by Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson and Fred Schneider, the song is a zany thrill ride. Witty, nostalgic and whimsical, and featuring a guest spot by the Uptown Horns, the song soared to No. 3 for two weeks, the first time the veteran band’s quirky dance-rock had ever infiltrated the mainstream.

49. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” – Crowded House (1986)

The lush guitar ballad from the Australian trio’s self-titled debut, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” has an air of dreamy melancholy as frontman Neil Finn contemplates obstacles to life and love. Finn’s vocal performance is earnest and rich with feeling. A doleful organ, by producer Mitchell Froom, provides the song a dreamy, early ’70s retro feel. Crowded House has released incredible music since, but “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is the once-in-a-career classic for which they’ll always be remembered.

48. “Africa” – Toto (1982)

The epic third single off Toto IV, the band’s commercial pinnacle, “Africa” became their only No. 1 hit. The loping rhythm upon which the track is built is actually a short piece snipped from a free-form jam by drummer Jeff Porcaro and percussionist Lenny Castro and then looped throughout the song. With lofty vocal harmonies and a lush musical arrangement that captures an air of mystery, “Africa” remains one of the decade’s most revered singles. Point of interest: Despite the popular meme that depicts Dorothy’s little dog Toto thinking “I miss the rains down in Africa,” the line in the song is actually “I bless the rains down in Africa.

47. “Cars” – Gary Numan (1980)

The lead single from Numan’s third album, The Pleasure Principle, “Cars” was one of the most influential releases of the new wave era. With dark waves of synths fizzing with electricity and Numan’s oddly robotic vocals creating an unsettling mood, it was a radically unusual Top 40 hit at the time. Unlike many synth-pop songs of the ’80s, “Cars” doesn’t sound thin and tinny — the use of real rather than electronic drums and bass guitar gives it a rock and roll kick. Crank it up on a great sound system and be prepared to be blown away.

46. “All Night Long (All Night)” – Lionel Richie (1983)

A soulful party song with a Caribbean flair, “All Night Long (All Night)” quickly shot to the top of the pop chart in 1983. To give the song an international feel, Richie affects a slight faux-Jamaican accent, and also includes a segment of nonsensical lyrics he invented to sound vaguely African. The song begins with a slow, sultry groove before erupting with steel drums, marimba, a jubilant horn section and the sounds of celebration. Richie performed “All Night Long” at the closing ceremony for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, forever cementing its legacy.

45. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” – Yes (1983)

After forming in London in the late ’60s, Yes released a string of magnificent progressive-rock epics in the ’70s. By the early ’80s, the band shifted in a mainstream direction. Their 1983 album 90125 became the band’s commercial apex, lifted by the smash “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” An electric rocker with a strong melody, a simple but memorable bassline, massive guitar riffs and unexpected bursts of electronic effects, “Owner of a Lonely Heart” spent two weeks at No. 1. It’s potent, tightly wound and surprisingly focused, given the song’s complicated genesis involving multiple writers, musicians and producers. It marked the band’s final appearance in the Top 10.

44. “Eternal Flame” – The Bangles (1988)

Co-written by vocalist Susanna Hoffs with ace songwriters Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg (who also penned Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”), the exquisite ballad “Eternal Flame” was the second hit from The Bangles’ Everything. Built around a graceful music-box motif on keyboard and percussion, it boasts a subtle bassline and swirls of delicate strings. Hoffs’ lead vocals and the harmonies by Vicki Peterson, Michael Steele and Debbi Peterson are gorgeous, especially during the dramatic climax.

43. “Let the Music Play” – Shannon (1983)

As the first “freestyle” dance song to make a mainstream impact, “Let the Music Play” is widely regarded as groundbreaking. Although disco had long since been declared dead, dance music was poised to make a major comeback on Top 40 radio, and Washington, D.C. native Shannon provided the spark. Shannon’s vocal is cool and sexy, the groove scorching hot. With its sinuous melody and insistent rhythm, “Let the Music Play” is still more-than-capable of filling up a dance floor.

42. “Tainted Love” – Soft Cell (1981)

Recorded in 1964 by California soul singer Gloria Jones, “Tainted Love” began life as an obscure b-side. Jones re-recorded it with a disco vibe in 1976, but it still failed to make an impact. Enter British synth-pop duo Soft Cell who, five years later, revamped “Tainted Love” into a new wave classic by slowing it down and infusing it with an aura of seedy decadence. The song is an insidious earworm, with a clever arrangement of dusky synths and fabulous electric whip cracks. It’s an obligatory part of any ’80s night, a brisk sing-along punctuated by those inevitable hand-claps.

https://youtu.be/L87DDH3pWN0

41. “Sexual Healing” – Marvin Gaye (1982)

By the early ’80s, Marvin Gaye had been struggling personally and professionally for years. His last major hit had been the 1977 chart-topper “Got to Give it Up (Part 1).” The 1982 album Midnight Love was a fresh start for the artist — a perfect balance of polished and modern R&B combining with Gaye’s singular vibe. The lead single, “Sexual Healing,” is a slick soul ballad with a stunning gospel-tinged vocal. Gaye suddenly had a major hit on his hands, and Midnight Love became the most successful album of Gaye’s storied career, selling nearly 4 million copies. Any hopes of a long-term rebirth were quickly dashed, however, when the singer’s father shot and killed him during an argument.

The top 10 will be revealed exclusively in the print edition of Metro Weekly on Thursday, July 9, and online Friday, July 10, at noon.

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Music writer for Metro Weekly. Contact at cgerard@metroweekly.com.

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