Remembering the Songs and Music of the 1980s
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Remembering the Songs and Music of the 1980s

A lot of us grew up with the music of the 1980s. Here is a look back at the songs and music of the 1980s.

For many of us in our early fifties, the start of the 1980s meant the end of school and moving on with life. The 1980s was a new start and the music of the 1980s filled all of our lives.

The 1980s Begin

President Reagan was elected in November 1980 in a landslide and many thought this was a fresh start and an end to the terrible 1970s. Music was also changing as disco and rock operas were coming to an end.

The music of the 1980s started out on a very sad note when on the night of December 8, 1980, Americans who were watching “Monday Night Football” heard Howard Cosell say these terrible words, “An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC news, John Lennon, outside of his apartment building in New York City, the most famous perhaps of all of the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival.”

The depression that fell over an entire generation was so painful you could feel it for months and years, even as John Lennon’s new album, Double Fantasy was released.

Music Videos of the 1980s

With MTV starting in 1981 and VH-1 starting in 1985, these music channels allowed us to not only hear the music but also watch the rock stars and performers. Finally music of the 1980s lifted us out of that funk of the 1970s.

Music has and always will be a big part of our lives and memories, and for anyone who is in their early fifties can remember back then when music changed and came alive again in the 1980s with music videos playing a big part.

During a 1984 discussion between Madonna and John Oats of the group Hall and Oats, he said he was not a television performer; he is a musician while Madonna pointed out that MTV videos allowed more people access to the music and performers. I can understand both points, but this was certainly a big change in music. Not only did rock stars have to write and sing their music, they had to come up with creative videos for their songs.

We all have our different memories relating to the different music of the 1980s. Most of the 1980s were exciting and troubling since the cold war was still very much in our lives and the constant threat of nuclear war was always there. The big musical event of the 1980s happened on July 13, 1985 with the Live Aid Concert. Everyone who was in the 1980s music scene performed at two different venues during this concert. One group was in Philadelphia and the other performed in London.

The 1984 video Like A Virgin by Madonna                         YouTube

Top Songs of the 1980s

The top songs of the 1980s by year, ranked by how many weeks they were number one according to Billboard Magazine were:

  • 1980 was a tie between Call Me by Blondie and Lady by Kenny Rogers.
  • 1981 had Endless by Dianna Ross and Lionel Richie tied with Physical by Olivia Newton-John.
  • 1982 produced another tie for the longest running number one hits at seven weeks was I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder performing Ebony and Ivory.
  • 1983’s number one hit was by The Police with Every Breath You Take at number one for eight weeks.
  • 1984 saw the first number one hit for who would become one of the hottest musical stars of the 1980s with Madonna and Like A Virgin.
  • 1985 was again a tie with Say You, Say Me by Lionel Richtie and We Are The World by USA For Africa
  • 1986 had Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles tied with What Friends Are For by Dionne.
  • 1987 saw Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi and Faith by George Michaels tied at number one.
  • 1988: Roll With It by Steve Winword had the top spot of 1988, being at number one for four weeks.
  • 1989 had Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins and Miss You Much by Janet Jackson tied for the longest at number one.

Music of the 1980s

The above list of music doesn’t begin to show the explosion of videos and music of the 1980s.

Union of the Snake by Duran Duran at the Live Aid 1985 concert.  YouTube

There were many songs and groups we all remember, too many to mention, like Hall and Oats, Stevie Wonder, The Eurhythmics, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp, Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, The Pretenders, Pat Benatar, Sade, The Bangles, The Cars, Billy Ocean, Men At Work, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and many others. Some of the best singer songwriters and groups of the 1980s include the following:

Madonna was named Artist of the Decade by Billboard and had six songs in the 1980s hit number one and the most in the category of single artist. Her many songs of the 1980s included Borderline, Lucky Star, Like A Virgin, Holiday, Vogue, Take a Pose, In the Groove, Papa Don’t Preach, Material Girl, La Isla Bonita, Dress You Up and many others.

George Michaels had seven number one songs including four with the group Wham with songs like Careless Whisper, Faith and Everything She Wants.

Michael Jackson was of course a huge success in the 1980s with songs like Beat It, Thriller, Billie Jean and Say, Say, Say with Paul McCartney.

Prince was considered by some to be a genius of the 1980s music scene with songs like 1999, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry and Purple Rain.

The 1984 video Jump by Van Halen                                   YouTube

Van Halen, with David Lee Roth as lead singer along with brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen had big hits like Panama, Jump and Hot For Teacher.

Stevie Ray Vaughan has been called one of the great blues guitarists, was also a big part of the music of the 1980s. Along with his group Double Trouble had songs including Couldn’t Stand The Weather, Cold Shot and Pride and Joy.

Men At Work, an Australian group had the hits Who Can It Be Now and Down Under.

Conclusion of the 1980s Music

There was so much music in the 1980s; it is hard to mention all of the songs. The music started to change again towards the late 1980s with rap and hip-hop. As many stars of the 1980s faded, Madonna continued as the most prolific performer long after the 1980s and today ranks number two behind the Beatles on Billboard’s All-Time Top Selling Artists list. The music of the 1980s ended on a sad note when Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash on August 27, 1990.

Copyright © September 2011 Sam Montana


Cover picture of Stevie Ray Vaughan - Ray Maclean/Flickr

Eighties Club - Top 100 songs for each year in the 1980s

1985 Live Aid lineup

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Comments (23)

Wow, its hard to tackle such a big subject in one article, but I think you did a good job Sam. Very entertaining!

Okay, now I'm feeling old. There are at least five of my all time fav numbers on this list! Still I got a list to program my music with for today:)

Thanks Peter, it was a big subject but fun, so much music back then. Cashlash, it made me feel old also. Hard to believe how fast time flies by.

Many of the artists in the 80s are my favorites and the Beatles for sure, yes I agree of feeling old (yes I just turned 59 yesterday) but hearing the music brings back those memories back then, all those young adventures and experiences, you know...... great music revival Sam.

I can beat you all - I remember the late fifties Golden Age of Rock n Roll. (I was so tiny back then though...) LOL However, I really enjoyed the article Sam...real good writing.

Happy birthday Ron. It is amazing how, no matter what decade, certain songs can sure bring back memories.

Ranked #4 in Music & Musicians

Great, wide-ranging survey of 80s music. My vote for greatest group of the 80s goes to The Smiths

The eighties certainly has the great collection of music with crucial events in it shaping music history. You did an excellent overview of the period, Sam. I like Van Halen the most and thank you for including their monumental hit song 'Jump' which could lift the spirit without even trying.

Great work

Enjoyed this one! Boy, how I remember the songs and music of the 80's. I often reminisce about the songs of the 80's. Whitney Houston was one of my favorites music artist along with many more. Actually, people who are in their 40's can appreciate this music era also. Thanks much for posting... you did an excellent job in putting this piece together. Voted up :-))

Nice write up on the music of the80's Sam, but, as I think you know, I'm a dyed in the wool Country and Western music person. I prefer the classic country sound because the music industry has taken the "Country" out of Country and Western music. I prefer C&W of the 60s and earlier.

Hi Deep Blue, I had a heck of a time deciding on which videos to use. Jump by Van Halen is one song that really reminds me of the 1980s whenever I hear it. Thank You Donata. I agree that people in their 30s and 40s know the music also since they grew up with the same music, the MTV generation.

Jerry, I understand what you are saying about C&W music. Once in a while I used to listen to the old C&W from the 60s with Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Roy Clark etc. I think the last C&W song I actually liked was in the early 1980s with the song Big City by Merle Haggard.

This is very, very excellent. I love that you enumerated the number hit each year...

I sorta missed the 80's - focusing on raising two little boys kept me too busy to even notice the 80's culture :) Maybe that's a good thing. People say things about something that happened and I just look at them with a blank stare. My world was skateboards and comic books and how to keep the pet garter snake from continuing to escape from the aquarium.

I love music and there was some great stuff in the '80's. Well done.

You have done an amazing job with this one, Sam

Never quite got over losing John . . .

Its impossible to list every good 80s band, but I must add U2. I first heard this band in 1982 with New Years Day, a powerful song, this band has since soared into the eyes of the world, but they were very much involved with the music scene, and politics, even then.

I agree James. Brenda, you are right, I did forget U2. I will have to add them in as they were a big part of the 1980s.

Thanks a lot the greeting Sam.

How about the 1880s? Now, there were some foot-stompin' tunes back then.

My children drove me crazy with this music. YOu have done a great job on this composition.