100 Best Songs Of The 1980s

100 Best Songs Of The 1980s | NME.COM.

Earlier in the month, the UK’s NME busted out its Best Tracks Of The ’70s list, and now they’re back in rankonia mode to appraise the best tracks of the following decade. The Smiths, New Order, Pixies, and Stone Roses tie for most selections, with three apiece. Scan the entire list below, but I have included the videos for the top ten.  Get ready for some flashbacks.

10 Rakim ‘Paid In Full’

Released: July 1987

Featuring a fistful of samples, this pivotal rap tune would be the foundation of a number of soul numbers including tracks from Soul II Soul and Enigma. But it was Rakim’s brilliantly humble rap that elevated this track into the realms of the truly legendary.

9 New Order ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’

Released: September 1986

A shiny bauble of pure pop goodness from the fab four. Like the yang to ‘Blue Monday’’s ying, this track was a tripped out love song to a strange relationship. Hooky’s bass was delicate and pounding and Bernard Sumner’s vocal line was deceptively boyish.

8 The Cure ‘In Between Days’

Released: July 1985

A goth love song? What next? Robert Smith’s beautiful slice of pounding acoustic-pop was a surging, multi-tracked work of wonder that continued the band’s run of brilliant singles, following ‘The Love Cats’ and preceding ‘Close To Me’.


7 Neneh CherryBuffalo Stance

Released: December 1988

‘Buffalo Stance’ came along at a time when dance, hip-hop and pop were creating thrilling hybrids (see also ‘Salt N Pepa’s ‘Push It’ and Tone Loc’s ‘Funky Cold Medina’). Punk survivor Cherry sounded effortlessly in control as she rapped about her crew (based on the very real Buffalo crew), making the listener feel totally part of her world. And what a chorus.

6 Prince ‘When Doves Cry’

Released: May 1984

Released as the lead single from his seminal Purple Rain album and film, the bass-free ‘When Doves Cry’ was a thing of graceful beauty. A slice of Freudian autography, the deceptively simple music was played by the man himself. A generation uniting number that would alter Prince’s career, confirming his place as a titan of 80s pop.

5 The Specials ‘Ghost Town’

Released: June 1981

Unemployment, social unrest and racial tension powered ‘Ghost Town’, which caught the multi-cultural Specials at a politically febrile moment in time. The people of Britain were “getting angry”, and this was mirrored in the song’s haunting production and sense of dislocation. More than a pop song, this was a brilliant piece of art-as-social-comment.

4 Talking Heads ‘Once In A Lifetime’

Released: October 1980

Talking Heads and Brian Eno created this most postmodern of tracks. David Byrne’s genius lyric about melting away in suburbia (and the existential crisis that ensues) was one thing. But combining it with a gigantic gospel-tinged chorus the world could sing along to? That was the real master-stroke.

3 The Smiths ‘How Soon Is Now’

Released: August 1984

US label boss Seymour Stein said it was “the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ of the 80s,” and he wasn’t far off. Sounding like nothing else in the Smiths cannon, it paired Morrissey’s most painfully personal lyric with Marr’s most musically inventive soundscape (he later cited obscure disco songs as influences). The result was indie gold.

2 Joy Division ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’

Released: April 1980

Released one month before Ian Curtis’ death, NME’s original review called the song a “tombstone”. It eerily prefigured the future. Curtis’ lyrics read like a suicide note (“There’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold,”) but there’s something weirdly uplifting about the way the song hurtles towards that final chorus.

1 New Order ‘Blue Monday’

Released: March 1983

The biggest selling 12” of all time was a pivotal moment in dance music. Mixing cold wave sentiment with the disco influence of Sylvester and Donna Summer, the result was a stunning explosion of drum machines, wibbly synths and Bernard Sumner’s no-nonsense vocal style. Nearly 30 years later, it still sounds amazingly modern.

Full List:
100. Paul Simon – “Graceland”
99. The Clash – “Straight To Hell”
98. Dead Or Alive – “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)
97. Pixies – “Where Is My Mind?”
96. OMD – “Enola Gay”
95. Elvis Costello – “Shipbuilding”
94. Starship – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”
93. The Clash – “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”
92. Fleetwood Mac – “Everywhere”
91. INXS – “Need You Tonight”
90. Primal Scream – “Velocity Girl
89. Lil Louis – “French Kiss”
88. Bruce Springsteen – “Atlantic City”
87. Blondie – “Atomic”
86. Madness – “House Of Fun”
85. Womack & Womack – “Teardrops”
84. Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”
83. James – “Sit Down”
82. The Stone Roses – “She Bangs The Drums”
81. Van Halen – “Jump”
80. S’Express – “Theme From S’Express”
79. Cyndi Lauper – “Time After Time”
78. Faith No More – “We Care A Lot”
77. De La Soul – “The Magic Number”
76. Simple Minds – “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
75. Dead Kennedys – “Too Drunk To Fuck”
74. Orange Juice – “Rip It Up”
73. The Fall – “Hit The North”
72. The Clash – “Rock The Casbah”
71. Queen & David Bowie – “Under Pressure”
70. Talking Heads – “Road To Nowhere”
69. Metallica – “Master Of Puppets”
68. Sonic Youth – “Teen Age Riot”
67. Duran Duran – “Rio”
66. U2 – “With Or Without You”
65. Melle Mel – “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)”
64. Nirvana – “About A Girl”
63. Depeche Mode – “Never Let Me Down Again”
62. Sundays – “Can’t Be Sure”
61. The Waterboys – “Whole Of The Moon”
60. Guns N’ Roses – “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
59. Iron Maiden – “Run To The Hills”
58. Bomb The Bass – “Beat Dis”
57. Psychedelic Furs – “Pretty In Pink”
56. Soul II Soul – “Back To Life”
55. 808 State – “Pacific State”
54. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – “Two Tribes”
53. The Cure – “Just Like Heaven”
52. Bruce Springsteen – “The River”
51. The Jam – “Going Underground”
50. MARRS – “Pump Up The Volume”
49. My Bloody Valentine – “You Made Me Realise”
48. Prince – “Sign ‘O’ The Times”
47. Grace Jones – “Pull Up To The Bumper”
46. Pixies – “Monkey Gone To Heaven”
45. Don Henley – “The Boys Of Summer”
44. Morrissey – “Everyday Is Like Sunday”
43. Kate Bush – “Hounds Of Love”
42. Cameo – “Word Up”
41. Dexys Midnight Runners – “Come On Eileen”
40. Happy Mondays – “Hallejulah”
39. Echo And The Bunnymen – “The Killing Moon”
38. Run DMC – “Walk This Way”
37. AC/DC – “Back In Black”
36. R.E.M. – “The One I Love”
35. NWA – “Straight Outta Compton”
34. The Smiths – “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”
33. Madonna – “Like A Prayer”
32. The Stone Roses – “Made Of Stone”
31. New Order – “Temptation”
30. Pet Shop Boys – “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”
29. The Jam – “That’s Entertainment”
28. Sugarcubes – “Birthday”
27. The Pogues – “Fairytale Of New York”
26. David Bowie – “Ashes To Ashes”
25. Public Enemy – “Don’t Believe The Hype”
24. The Jesus And Mary Chain – “Just Like Honey”
23. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – “The Mercy Seat”
22. Dinosaur Jr – “Freak Scene”
21. This Mortal Coil – “Song To The Siren”
20. Salt N’ Pepa – “Push It”
19. Joy Division – “Atmosphere”
18. Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean”
17. Bon Jovi – “Livin’ On A Prayer”
16. Pixies – “Debaser”
15. Pet Shop Boys – “It’s A Sin”
14. The Smiths – “This Charming Man”
13. The Jesus And Mary Chain – “April Skies”
12. The Stone Roses – “Fools Gold”
11. Human League – “Love Action (I Believe In Love)”
10. Eric B. & Rakim – “Paid In Full”
09. New Order – “Bizarre Love Triangle”
08. The Cure – “In Between Days”
07. Neneh Cherry – “Buffalo Stance”
06. Prince – “When Doves Cry”
05. The Specials – “Ghost Town”
04. Talking Heads – “Once In A Lifetime”
03. The Smiths – “How Soon Is Now”
02. Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
01. New Order – “Blue Monday”

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