Best songs of the 80s
The 1980s was unlike any other decade in music history. The ‘80s gave birth to MTV, and with it epic music videos that stand as iconic to this day. The ‘80s also was the decade in which hip-hop, synth pop, and techno got their legs while artists from Michael Jackson and Madonna to Foreigner and Queen released massive hits that solidified their places in any best-ever discussions. The ‘80s were rad, and the music is proof.
Of course, any discussion about best and greatest and most monumental or culture-changing is subjective, but there are clear ways to track which music actually had the biggest impact—in the form of record sales, radio plays, and awards won, among other measurements.
Stacker wanted to see which songs from the ‘80s were truly the best and decided to use Billboard as the standard bearer. Billboard's chart rankings consist of radio airplay, sales data, and streaming data to help determine which songs from the 1980s were the cream of the crop. We looked through the charts and compiled the perfect list of the top 25 songs from the decade.
Will the list be filled with Michael Jackson? Does Prince make an appearance? Are there some head-scratching surprises? How anyone thinks about the best songs of the decade can be more about feel, but this empirical list is all about the numbers and the money made.
Here are the top 25 hits of the ‘80s based on their overall popularity.
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#25. "Like A Virgin"
The country was reaching its peak over Madonna in 1984 after her self-titled platinum album the year before. She released “Like a Virgin” in November 1984, but the world was already fully teased when she performed the title track at the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards dressed in a wedding gown a couple of months before. The song was such a big hit that Weird Al Yankovic parodied it with his own version, called “Like a Surgeon.”
#24. "Do That To Me One More Time"
Artist: Captain & Tennille
The husband-and-wife duo of Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille, better known as Captain & Tennille, were Grammy Award-winning artists with loads of classic songs like “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Lonely Night,” and “Muskrat Love.” But their hit “Do That To Me One More Time” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980 and has since been featured on big-time shows and movies like “The Simpsons” and “200 Cigarettes.” Unfortunately for the couple, love did not keep them together; they divorced in 2014 and Dragon died in 2019.
#23. "Another Day In Paradise"
Artist: Phil Collins
English recording artist Phil Collins first became famous as the lead singer for the hit band Genesis, but it was his solo career that made him a mega-star. In 1989, Collins released the single “Another Day In Paradise” for the “...But Seriously” album, which was his seventh #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, which has been covered by Brandy, Ray J, and others, was about caring for the homeless and not turning a blind eye to poverty.
#22. "Hurts So Good"
Artist: John Cougar
“American Fool” was John Mellencamp's biggest album, and featured now iconic songs like “Jack & Diane,” “Hand to Hold On To,” and, of course, “Hurts So Good.” The 1982 song helped earn Mellencamp a Grammy Award in 1983 for Best Rock Vocal Performance and it spent considerable time at the top of music charts. The song's popularity also took hold in film and television; it was prominently featured in the classic movie “Footloose,” in addition to TV shows like “Will & Grace” and “Cold Case.”
#21. "Waiting For A Girl Like You"
Released in 1981, the epic ballad “Waiting For A Girl Like You” by Foreigner was a monster hit, but has the dubious distinction of being in the #2 spot on the Billboard charts the longest without ever reaching #1. But cry for Foreigner, as the single was part of the hit record “4” which was #1 on the Billboard charts for 10 weeks. “Waiting” was also big in the pop culture world as it was also featured in “Footloose” (literally in the same scene as “Hurts So Good”) and recently found a new audience when it was part of Netflix's popular show, “Stranger Things.”
#20. "All Night Long (All Night)"
Artist: Lionel Richie
Today, new fans of Lionel Richie might be familiar with him from his judge role on television's “American Idol,” or as the father of reality stars Nicole and Sofia Richie. But in the 1980s, Richie was one of the biggest recording artists and song writers on the planet. “All Night Long (All Night)” was released in 1983, hit #1 on the Billboard charts, and was nominated for three Grammy Awards. In one of the biggest performances of his career, Richie memorably sang the song at the 1984 Olympics Closing Ceremony, along with 200 breakdancers on stage. In pop culture, the song has been heard on everything from “The Simpsons” and “The Fifth Element” to “The Wedding Singer” and “South Park.”
#19. "Say You, Say Me"
Artist: Lionel Richie
Lionel Richie has had five #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and “Say You Say Me” was among them. The song was originally recorded for the film “White Nights,” starring Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov and won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in 1986. Though it was recorded in 1985, the song didn't appear on a Richie album until his release of “Dancing on the Ceiling” in 1986.
Artist: The Steve Miller Band
Yacht rock icon Steve Miller is known for a cavalcade of memorable songs like “The Joker,” “Fly Like An Eagle,” and the 1982 #1 hit “Abracadabra.” The song is from the 1981 album of the same name and was, according to Miller, inspired by watching Diana Ross and the Supremes. More recently, the song may be remembered as part of the soundtrack to “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” film about dueling magicians.
#17. "Billie Jean"
Artist: Michael Jackson
With the recent release of the documentary “Finding Neverland,” Michael Jackson's reputation has taken a hit. But as problematic as he may be today, when he released “Billie Jean” in 1983, The King of Pop was the biggest recording artist on Earth. The song, about a woman who falsely claims a man is the father of her child, won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song and earned Jackson a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. The song is also known for when Jackson was filming a Pepsi commercial where it was prominently featured, and his hair caught fire in an explosion on set.
#16. "Upside Down"
Artist: Diana Ross
If there was anyone who could drag disco kicking and screaming into the 1980s, it was Diana Ross. Ross had six #1 hits on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, including “Upside Down” which is also listed as #77 on Billboard's Greatest Singles of All Time. The classic song, first released in 1980, has been remixed, sampled, and covered by many artists, including Destiny's Child, Salt-n-Pepa, MC Lyte, and others.2018 All rights reserved.