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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Queen & David Bowie
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.
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.
Salt N Pepa
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.
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.
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.
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?
The first time Nicholas went to a live gig, 31 years ago, it turned out to be an Iron Maiden secret gig and he became hooked on the music scene. He was one of the founding writers for Astro Zombie a heavy metal and new world techno-inspired zine and his interview with Rob Caggiano of Anthrax brought in over 300,000 readers. He’s based out of Southeast Asia now, but his love of music is as strong and diverse as ever.