10. Howard Jones, "Things Can Only Get Better"
This is a very Brit-heavy top ten. Jones is one of the great forgotten pop stars of the 80s, scoring a bunch of hits. Unfortunately for him, his sound was so clued into the times that it aged very poorly. This song's chorus still gets me, though. I hear it and I am immediately transformed to hanging out at the public pool in the summer of '85, when the PA played the local hits station all summer long.
9. Power Station, "Some Like It Hot"
Power Station were THE supergroup of the 80s, including members of Duran Duran and Robert Palmer. "Some Like It Hot" takes the big bang sound of the 80s to its furthest limits. Palmer has the salacious sweat to give this number some extra sizzle with the crack rhythm section of Chic's Tony Thompson and Duran's John Taylor behind him. I imagine this song was huge in the clubs in '85.
8. Billy Ocean, "Suddenly"
Another Brit! Billy Ocean had a huge raft of hits in the mid-1980s. This one cuts against type as a syrupy ballad. Usually his songs had a big happy sound ("When The Going Gets Tough" etc.) or a slightly dark, rain slicked streets feel ("Caribbean Queen"). The structure and melody sound straight out of the late 70s, it's a very unlikely 80s hit.
7. Murray Head, "One Night In Bangkok"
That's right, yet another Brit, performing a song from a musical co-written by Bjorn and Benny from ABBA. Nowadays the Orientalism of the lyrics bugs me, but at the time I loved this song. It has a kind of thumping, sleazy beat to it that was unlike most stuff on radio. Back then I had no clue about the musical and its commentary on the Cold War, or what a "massage parlor" was. Flute solo!
6. Madonna, "Crazy For You"
Madonna's image and presentation were revolutionary but her music has always been kinda boring and derivative. This song was hardly innovative, but was a straight up ballad, as opposed to the dancier stuff that she put on the charts. It's also the first single where I really feel like she learned to use her voice well.
5. Sade, "Smooth Operator"
And now back to the Brits! This song has a funky, skanky feel from the 70s, but a sultry sax tailor-made for the 80s. Sade really gives this song the subtle interpretation that it requires. I was getting into Bond movies when this song came out, and I always pictured the "smooth operator" to be a Bond-like character.
4. Harold Faltermeyer, "Axel F"
How much did we love synthesizers in the 80s? So much that a synthesizer instrumental made the top ten, baby. Nine year old me LOVED this song. It was freakin' ubiquitous back then, from wedding dances to the radio to the background of the hold screen for the local cable access TV station.
3. Tears for Fears, "Everybody Wants To Rule The World"
The production is peak 80s but this song still holds up. Tears for Fears were in many ways the absolute tail end of New Wave, and figured out how to blend those sensibilities with the demands of the mid-80s pop world. (And they were, of course, British.) Their lyrics were deeper than the run of the mill top 40 stuff, but the choruses were still catchy.
2. Simple Minds, "Don't You (Forget About Me)"
More Brits, by way of Scotland. Due to its inclusion in The Breakfast Club, this song has become a metonym for the 1980s. It has the exuberance of youth and that teenage feeling of emotional friction. While the production is total 80s, it still holds up because lead singer Jim Kerr puts some real feeling into and the music itself has some of that gusto in it.
1. Wham! "Everything She Wants"
This one kinda scared 9 year old me. This talk of "you're having my baby" confused and frightened me. Did people who weren't married have babies? (I was a very innocent child, which would soon lead to plenty of taunting.) Needless to say, more Brits! This song is very 80s in its tale of personal ruthlessness. Some people want to use you, some people want to be used by you.