The 1980s was a time of hits. The pop machine was in full swing by then and had confidently snaked its roots down into the heart of the industry. While there are certainly some shocking ’80s songs, the dance tunes were seriously good and there’s no denying that.
We sift through the bad hair, shoulder pads, and jock sweat to bring you the 25 best ’80s songs to party to.
From Wham! to Herbie Hancock we couple the good with the bad to locate the most delicious grooves of a decade. Here are the top 25 ’80s songs.
25. Michael Jackson – Thriller
Probably the most famous film clip of all time accompanies the title track of the best selling album in history. The tune almost didn’t make the cut, twice! Once because Quincy Jones thought it was an afterthought, and again when Michael’s church going friends told him the video promoted devil worship. Hence, the famous card at the opening of the clip.
24. Young MC – Bust A Move
As everybody headed towards a decade of rap, the ’80s were rounded out by some early hip-hop tunes. Young MC’s Bust A Move was a #1 hit in 1989.
Fun fact: Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers played bass on this song and appeared in the video, but he didn’t reap the rewards, and felt extremely ripped off. No song writing credits, no royalties, just $200.
23. Kool and the Gang – Celebration
This post-disco, upbeat dance song was Kool & the Gang’s only American #1. Anytime, anywhere there is something to be celebrated, this tune will be played and it’s oh so good.
Trivia note: This song was played to help welcome home the 52 freed American hostages from Iran in 1981. Three years later in 1984 it was played to hail presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s nomination at the Democratic convention.
22. Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
This was Duran Duran’s breakthrough success in the US and it all came from MTV. Drummer Roger Taylor recalled: “We’d go to Alabama or Texas and the girls would be screaming and the guys in cowboy hats would be looking at us with clenched fists. I don’t suppose they’d seen so many guys in make-up pouting before.”
21. Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
This was originally a hit in Europe in 1982. A year later with the advent of MTV it reached the #1 spot in the US, giving Eurythmics their only US chart topper. Definitely a favourite on the late night dancefloor, Eurythmics know how to concoct a banger.
20. Depeche Mode – Just Can’t Get Enough
According to Depeche Mode vocalist Dave Gahan, this song was written as the punk scene was winding down and London club kids were looking for music they could dance to that wasn’t so aggressive. Makes perfect sense to me!
19. De La Soul – Me, Myself & I
Mixing sex funk with a dose of hip hop, De La Soul’s 1989 hit will have your head banging and hips shaking before you know what’s up. The debut record from the revolutionary hip hop group, Me Myself & I was one of the most innovative records of the late 1980s.
18. Toto – Africa
Before it became the internet’s favourite song, Africa by Toto hit #1 on two Billboard Charts. While they are pretty much only known as ‘the Africa band’, they were all top session musos before forming the group, and guitarist Steve Lukather would like you to know, “We have a lot more substance than that”.
17. Bon Jovi – Livin’ On The Prayer
Frequently cited as the best 80s songs, if you wanna belt out a rock anthem then you can’t go past Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer. This absolute lung buster is as catchy as they come with a truly iconic hook. A downright must for any ’80s playlist.
16. Earth, Wind & Fire – Let’s Groove
While Earth Wind & Fire were undoubtedly pumping out the hits in the ’70s, Let’s Groove certainly holds its own against Serpentine Fire. The last top 10 billboard hit for the band ever, this was an explosive end to the ‘classic era’ of Earth, Wind & Fire before they went on an eight year hiatus.
15. The B-52’s – Love Shack
As far as I’m concerned The B-52’s are geniuses. Whoever can turn such strange, experimental tendencies into highly accessible pop hits is a downright innovator.
The sassy barking of Fred Shneider on Love Shack perfectly counterbalances Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson parts, making for one helluva tune.
14. Herbie Hancock – Rockit
Herbie Hancock at his weird, wacky, and wonderful best, Rockit sees the Blue Note wizard jamming out in the cyber world. Another classic from one of the greatest to ever have a plunk on the piano, Rockit can do no wrong.
13. Technotronic – Pump Up The Jam
More of a work out than a dance song, this 1989 banger certainly gets you limbered up. The vinyl became so popular among DJs that is was frequently sold out and changing hands for upwards of $100.
12. Rick James – Super Freak
Who doesn’t want to be a Super Freak? Rick James essentially glorifies groupies in this song but it’s so much fun. Ever wanna see a bunch of people get as frisky as possible on the dancefloor? Play Super Freak.
11. Prince – 1999
The groove on Prince’s 1999 is absolutely animalistic. As is customary with Prince it’s dripping with sex and other aphrodisiac musks. It proposes partying as a way of staring into oblivion.
While we prepare for endless posthumous releases it’s nice to look back on the material that Prince considered his best work.
10. Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up
Believe it or not Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up was a major success before it became an Internet troll. The cult hit has made Astley’s name forever known and is a delicious ’80s hit.
9. Madonna – Into The Groove
Disco pop at its finest, Into The Groove was Madonna’s first ever UK Hit. Released as a B-Side to Angel many people bought the 7″ just to get Into The Groove and as a result Angel rose to #5 on the chart.
Madonna felt “retarded” singing it, “but everybody seems to like it.”
8. Wham! – Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
The irresistible looks of George Michael made Wham! an instant pop craze. From 1984, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go is received a Grammy nomination and Wham!’s first American hit.
7. New Order – Blue Monday
New wave pioneers New Order are arguably much bigger that just Blue Monday, but it’s the only song I could live with on a desert island.
The perfect segway from classic to electronica, you will be hard pressed to find a DJ who doesn’t play this song.
6. The Bangles – Walk Like An Egyptian
Walk Like An Egyptian is three and a half minutes of guitar rock heaven with a touch of girl-group pop. There is also a whiff of novelty here and its odd lyrics take us back to the mighty days of Cleopatra ruling the Nile.
The Bangles also essentially trademarked a dance move with one song which is an incredible feat.
5. Human League – Don’t You Want Me
As perfectly constructed as pop can be. The switches between major and minor perfectly reflect the angsty lyrics making for one of Human League best grooves.
Don’t You Want Me is a sublime pop rush, straight to the vein. And we’re still high all these years on.
4. Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)
It’s no lie, Whitney had some pipes. Another sure fire killer, Whitney Houston’s 1987 smash hit is sure to help you find that dance floor soul mate.
Her powerful vocals sailing over the scintillating synth lines and third act key change are no doubt tough to emulate. However, you’re never alone in karaoke and the only thing that will be louder than the bar cheering you on is the eternal glory of this 80s synth pop classic.
3. David Bowie – Let’s Dance
While David Bowie was extremely established in other genres when he followed the trends with ’80s dance music. However he pulls it off so damn well. The songs intelligent strategy is utter simplicity.
Let’s Dance shows Bowie’s chameleonic abilities to exhaust any genre he likes and do it well.
2. Queen – Another One Bites The Dust
Another iconic bass line that defined ’80s songs. In fact, bass defined the ’80s, full stop. Bound to get any dance floor cooking at any time of day, it’s one of many undying Queen hits.
‘Another one bites the dust’ is actually a cowboy phrase. Bassist John Deacon wrote the lyrics. Each verse tells another tale then ‘another one bites the dust’.
1. Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
The second single off the best selling album of all time, Billie Jean is an undeniable classic. Mixed 91 times, sung through a cardboard box and the song to which Michael Jackson first did the moonwalk, Billie Jean has a jelly groove that’s hard to defy.
The handwritten lyrics to Billie Jean even sold for £24,984 at auction in 2012. Perhaps the most famous song of the most famous album ever, this is Michael Jackson at his peak. Unquestionably one of the best ’80s songs of all time.
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