The 20 Best 80s Songs, According To Musicologists

I’d argue that the 80s was the best decade for pop and rock music in history. I might even win that argument occasionally.

Instead of arguing, how about listening to some of the greatest songs of the 80s and letting them make the case on their own?

Whether you lived through the 80s or you’re approaching things with a fresh ear, there’s something here for everyone. 


Prince
When Doves Cry

It’s funny to think about it but this was a B side. It was Purple Rain, the track that shared a name with the movie that When Doves Cry also featured in, that was the A-side.

And while Purple Rain is, indeed, a classic it’s this brutal love story that opens our list of the best 80s songs because it’s Prince at his very best. 

Listen here.

prince doves cry

Kim Karnes
Bette Davis Eyes

Bette Davis Eyes were a sign of a woman who could never be trusted. 

Bette Davis, of course, being the actress who played morally vague women on screen and who had incredibly distinctive eyes.

However, Bette herself loved this record and so do we. It’s achingly cool and sexy. 

Listen here.

bette davis eyes kim carnes

Phil Collins
In The Air Tonight

There’s so much Phil Collins to choose from in the 1980s but it’s In The Air Tonight that has weathered the years the best.

And, of course, this was a top pick in the first series of TVs Miami Vice, an archetypal 80s moment if ever there was one. 

Listen here.

in the air tonight

Nena
99 Luftballons

There may be no song in history that’s been used in more movies and late night discos than 99 Luftballons. 

It was even re-recorded in English due to its popularity, but the original German version remains the definitive listening experience. 

Listen here.

99 red luftballons nena

Bruce Springsteen
Dancing In The Dark

Why not Born In The USA? Well, it was a close run thing and we went with Dancing In The Dark from the same album for its solid lyricism and infectious groove.

Plus, it’s not about being rejected by society, and that makes it altogether more fun. 

Check out this cover from Lucy Dacus.

Listen here.

dancing in the dark

Eurythmics
Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)

You may be more familiar with the dark Marilyn Manson version of Sweet Dreams but it’s the Annie Lennox original which absolutely encompasses the 1980s pop sound. 

And who are we to disagree? 

Listen here.

sweet dreams

Michael Jackson
Thriller

A list of the best 80s songs would be incomplete without the decade’s best-selling artist and while Whacko Jacko is now a highly controversial figure (and sadly, a deceased figure too), Thriller is still an absolutely iconic track.

Listen here.

thriller

Huey Lewis & The News
The Power Of Love

It was the lead track from The Back to the Future soundtrack and we’re not sure whether it’s the groove of this tune or the thought of jumping in a time traveling DeLorean that ensures its appearance on our list. 

Looking for some power in your day? Then this is the way to go. 

Listen here.

the power of love

Heart
Alone

Ann and Nancy from Heart are rock’s most talented women, for our money, and while the 80s were a great decade for the band, Alone stands, well, alone as their best single by a mile.

It’s the song to mend and break a million hearts. 

Listen here.

heart alone

Bon Jovi
Livin’ On A Prayer

We are, indeed, halfway there as this is the 10th song on our list and it’s worth noting that in a decade when Bon Jovi dominated the charts, there wasn’t a soul who couldn’t sing the chorus of this number. 

The future might have been bleak for Tommy and Gina but this was their shining moment. Rock on. 

Listen here.

living on a prayer

Europe
The Final Countdown

If Bon Jovi had the finest rock chorus with Living on a Prayer, Europe had the greatest keyboard riff in history with The Final Countdown. 

It doesn’t matter whether rock or pop’s your bag, this over the top number will make you smile. 

Listen here.

europe final countdown

Pet Shop Boys
West End Girls

With two massive hit albums and an EP that kept dance floors packed throughout the 80s, you still can’t beat West End Girls. 

The po-faced princes of pop nailed it with their very first release and the song has featured on countless TV and movie soundtracks too. 

With East End Boys, And West End Girls. 

Listen here.

pet shop boys

Human League
Don’t You Want Me

In the “Me Too” era this number is even more relevant now than it was back then. It’s the song of a break up between a strong independent woman and the man who built her career.

It shows how one person can try to exert power over another, even when the balance of things has completely shifted. 

No, she didn’t want him and by the end of the song, that’s super clear.

Listen here.

human league

Queen & David Bowie
Under Pressure

Yes, we know that there’s a huge argument for Bohemian Rhapsody to occupy this slot on our chart but that would mean only Queen appearing here and not David Bowie.

This pairing of the two pop-rock Gods is completely awesome and only slightly spoiled by its association with the dreadful Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby. 

Listen here.

under pressure

Madonna
Like A Virgin

Maybe it should be Material Girl because if there’s a song about 80s greed and its popular appeal, that’s it 

But we prefer the sweeter Like A Virgin which details falling in love for the second time and all the emotions that brings. 

Listen here.

madonna

Salt N Pepa
Push It

Salt N Pepa managed to create an amazing rap song in Push It but somehow they still managed to fill it with the spirit of the decade. 

There’s no indication of the huge developments in rap music over the coming years, this is pure out and out fun by two incredibly talented women. 

Listen here.

push it

Bonnie Tyler
Total Eclipse Of The Heart

After you listen to the original, check out the really literal video of this tune, which will have you both singing the wrong lyrics and laughing heartily.

Yet, as one of the most popular songs to sing in the shower in history (seriously) your life is incomplete until you’ve heard it and once you have? You’ll never get it out of your head. 

Listen here.

bonny tyler

Guns N Roses
Sweet Child Of Mine

Arguably the greatest year in rock music was 1987, with Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Guns N Roses all releasing their greatest work.

And the greatest single of them all? Sweet Child Of Mine is one of the most crowd-pleasing tracks in history. 

Listen here.

guns and roses

The Bangles
Manic Monday

This chirpy pop number is definitely one of the defining songs of the 80s.

And while we know there’s an argument for Walk Like an Egyptian to appear in its place, we think this has aged far better. 

Listen here.

bangles

Survivor
Eye Of The Tiger

It made our list of the best running songs of all time too. 

Eye of the Tiger is the perfect motivational track and its appearance in two Rocky movies, makes it absolutely one of the stars of the 80s music scene. 

Listen here.

eye of the tiger

Final Notes

It is almost impossible to turn the 80s into a list of the best X songs and we’ve left out tons of amazing tracks to do it.

However, we’re confident that every single song on this list was a massive hit, has the sound of the 80s and is still a bundle of fun, today. 

If you’d like to hear all these songs at once, why not check out our Best 80s Songs Playlist on Spotify? 

You might also enjoy our article on the best songs about the moon and the best songs for karaoke

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