Time to move on to a decade that I was actually alive for (the whole decade!). This made the list a little difficult, since I had to battle nostalgia when deciding if a song was actually as good as I remembered it to be, and compare songs that have recently become favourites with ones that I loved back then. Still, even though I was alive for all of the 80s, I wasn’t really a music consumer (what with being 3-13 years old). Instead, I listened to whatever was around me, and had no appreciation for quality. So I was able to dismiss sentiment fairly easily this time.
5. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson from Thriller (1983)
Truth is, there were several songs that I could have easily put at number five on this list, so I decided that Michael Jackson’s status of Artist of the Decade (in my mind anyway) was the tiebreaker. After all, one can do worse than having a Michael Jackson track on an 80s list. As solid a dance pop song as there’s ever been, it’s a track so good that you can listen to it and forget what a freak its composer turned out to be. Seriously, try and listen to it and not move (I kinda want to Moonwalk right now). Hard to believe there was a time where Jacko could make a semi-autobiographical song denying the paternity of a child. Nowadays, there’s very little that we’d have a hard time believing in relation to Michael Jackson, but impregnating groupies would qualify.
Sample lyric: “Then she looked at me, she show me a photo
My baby cried, ’cause his eyes where like mine”
4. “Debaser” by Pixies from Doolittle (1989)
Inspired by a French surrealist film by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí called Un Chien Andalou, Debaser is one of the most brilliant pieces of gobbledygook ever. Black Francis’ urgent vocals reach out and grab you over Kim Deal’s bass solo, creating a surrealist nightmare that doesn’t really sound like it comes from the 80s at all. It sounds like it came out a month ago, which is a credit to the Pixie’s innovative sound, and shows that most of the bands I listen to owe them a creative debt.
Sample lyric: “Got me a movie, I want you to know
Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know”
3. “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure from Boys Don’t Cry (1980)
I’m getting conflicting information on when this was released as a single. Some sources say June 1979 (which would put it on the wrong list), others say August 1980 (which is why I have it here). I’ll go with 1980, the year it appeared on the pseudo-album by the same name (an American release that had a lot of the same songs as 1979’s UK release Three Imaginary Boys). That’s the year most people would have first heard it, right? I know some people will be disappointed with the fact that with all of The Cure’s ambitious songs, I choose one of its more poppy tracks as my favourite, but what can I say? I love it. I love how the song can sound both peppy and morose all at the same time.
Sample lyric: “I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
‘Cause boys don’t cry”
2. “This Charming Man” by The Smiths from The Smiths (1983)
I listed it as my favourite Smiths song a year ago, and it still is, so of course it had to make the list. The Smiths are one of my all-time favourite bands, and probably would have had two songs on this list if I wasn’t limiting myself to one track per artist, so the only question was where it would place on the list. But while The Smiths are my favourite 80s band, I had to give the honour of best song to another band.
Sample lyric: “A jumped-up pantry boy
who never knew his place
he said “Return the ring”.
He knows so much about these things.”
1. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division, a single later collected on Substance (1980)
Even if the song hadn’t reached legendary status when Ian Curtis committed suicide not long after the single’s release, it would still be a phenomenal song (Curtis’ wife Deborah had its title inscribed on Ian’s tombstone). The contradiction implied in the song’s title is reflected in the way the uptempo track meshes with the dark, somber tone of the lyrics (along with Curtis’ ever-present morose vocal stylings). The lyrics are brilliant, describing a relationship that has run its course because the lovers can’t move on to the next level but still love each other. It happens quite frequently in relationships, and when it does, the love the couple shares for each other causes even more pain, because it just isn’t enough to get over the stagnant relationship. It’s not something usually represented in song, as songs usually go for more operatic heartbreak, and never represented as sublimely as it is here.
Sample lyric: “Do you cry out in your sleep? All my failings exposed
There’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold
Is it something so good just can’t function no more?”
Honourable Mentions: “Children’s Song” by Slick Rick, “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes, “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen, “When Doves Cry” by Prince, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2