The ultimate 80s songs list
Perhaps you just want to enjoy a moment of nostalgia, looking back to your musical youth. Or maybe you’re having a retro party and need an 80s songs list to inspire the soundtrack. Either way, this guide contains some of the best 80s songs of all time. As well as few of the worst…
Whether you want a list of 1980s disco songs, an 80s love songs list or just to know the top ten 80s songs, they’re all here in this countdown of the top 100 hits of the 80s. Is your favourite here? Many of the following have defied time and are still played regularly on the radio, while others bit the dust once the big, brash decade was over.
Some songs on this list I love, while others – inspire a feeling closer to loathing. I’m sure you’ll see what I mean when you reach number 21…
Here is is – the ultimate 1980s songs list. This is the 80s top 100 tunes according to singles sales. And the numbers never lie, right? Well… I’ll let you make your own mind up.
The top 100 80s songs list
100. Love of the Common People – Paul Young
Ah, Mr Young. His parents lived behind us in Luton, when I lived there for a couple of years with my family. In a bigger house than ours, of course. I went to his old school at that time too. Ashcroft High, in case you’re interested. Anyway, Paul Young was one of those stalwarts of the scene, and thoroughly deserves a spot in any 80s music list. Will he feature again? Read on to find out if he lays his hat at a higher number…
99. All Night Long – Lionel Richie
I’m quite pleased to see this one. As 80s male singers’ love songs go, this one isn’t too cheesy. It’s one you can hear again without getting sick of it, as it’s pretty subtle. Well done Mr Rich Tea.
98. Golden Brown – The Stranglers
Well surely this is one of the most talked about tracks of the 80s. It was certainly the subject of much speculation at my secondary school (the one after Luton when I moved back to Northumberland). Was it about drugs? Apparently yes – heroin – and women also. Both of which apparently gave Hugh Cornwell ‘pleasurable times’.
97. Love and Pride – King
‘That’s what my heart yearns for now’, etc. Very catchy, this one. Although this was first released in April 1984, it didn’t make the charts until February 1985. It stayed at number 2 for 3 weeks, held from the top spot by number 24 in this list.
96. Woman – John Lennon
This song might be unbearably corny if it had been recorded by anyone else, but being by John Lennon does of course give it cachet. It is gentle rather than over-the-top, which helps too. It was apparently written for women generally as well as Yoko specifically. Aww.
95. Ashes to Ashes – David Bowie
Whether it’s categorised as new wave, art rock or new romantic in style, this song was described by Bowie himself as ‘a 1980s nursery rhyme’. This was one of the earliest releases on this 80s hits list, and apparently it was also Bowie’s own way of bidding goodbye to the 70s. It also features Major Tom from Space Oddity of 1969 – the tune which you could say, in turn, wrapped up the 60s for Bowie.
94. Hands Up (Give Me Your Heart) – Ottawan
When I saw that this was in the list, my first thought was ‘Who?’ It seems I’m not the only one – this track featured on a NOW album called ‘Forgotten 80s’. I’ll let you be the judge of whether this one is best left in the past. The band were also responsible for the better known D.I.S.C.O., released in 1979.
93. Happy Birthday – Altered Images
The first one in this top 80s songs list that is featured on The Soundtrack of my Life, a blog post that was one of the first I ever wrote. (Like many of the tunes listed here, it has since been re-mastered.) This one dates back to when I was only about 7, and a party in a local hall. One of the earliest 80s songs I actually remember hearing, at the time, presumably not long after its 1981 release.
92. Take On Me – A-ha
I’m surprised A-ha don’t feature much higher in the list if I’m honest. They are one of the key bands I remember from the decade. Though I was a teenage girl… everyone I knew had a major crush on Morten Harket. According to Mister, at his school it was Mags – Magne Furuholmen. Whichever tickled your fancy, this was the one that got the whole world in A-ha’s hands. Not least because of its ground-breaking, animated pencil sketch video. As for me, I didn’t really fall in love with a pop star – apart from he at number 51 on this list – until Bros came along.
91. Baggy Trousers – Madness
There’s not a lot of ska in this list, but here’s one from Suggs and co. Still going strong by the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012 and beyond. In 2019 they released a song entitled Bullingdon Boys (Don’t Get Bullied by the Bully Boys). A protest against the latest Tory leaders and their fellow Etonians and Oxford graduates, clearly.
90. A Good Heart – Feargal Sharkey
This was a bit of an 80s one hit wonder, but no less good for that. It was actually penned by Maria McKee – better known perhaps for her own power ballad Show Me Heaven, used in the Tom Cruise film Days of Thunder. Sharkey has since moved into the commercial side of the music industry, but this song was a success worldwide.
89. 9 to 5 – Sheena Easton
This is not to be confused with the Dolly Parton track of the same name – which I hear more often on the radio. For this reason it is often known as Morning Train instead. I don’t remember much else about Ms Easton – apart form the fact that all the grown-up men seemed to fancy her!
88. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
Back in the 80s Michael Jackson could do no wrong, and it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that this isn’t his only single in this 80s hit songs list. The man had two of the decade’s top three albums, for goodness’ sake. Reportedly the lyrics reflect the experiences groupies’ claims on his older brothers during The Jackson Five years. Whatever the subject matter, the tune blends pop, funk, dance and disco with a dash of R&B. Rolling Stone placed the track at number 58 on their best songs of all time list – higher even than its position in the UK singles chart of the 80s.
87. When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean
From Billie Jean to Billy Ocean. What a voice this man has. Still – my bestie saw him live fairly recently. This became famous for being featured on a major 80s film soundtrack, as the theme tune for The Jewel of the Nile starring a then-young Michael Douglas. The song’s video starred Danny DeVito, Kathleen Turner and he playing the role of backing singers, and that may have led to the tune becoming a worldwide smash. It spent 4 weeks at number one in the UK, held off the top spot in the US by Whitney Houston.
86. Working My Way Back to You – The Detroit Spinners
My first instinct was to think that surely this song pre-dated the 80s? At a guess, I would have placed it in the 60s or 70s. In fact it was first released by The Four Seasons in 1966, before being covered by Spinners in 1979. It hit the UK charts in 1980. Apparently Boyzone also recorded a version for their debut single in 1994.
85. Being With You – Smokey Robinson
I’ve got to be honest – this one by American artist Smokey Robinson is a bit too sugary for me. Definitely one for the romantics out there. That said is not to detract from the achievement of scoring a hot hit on both sides of the Atlantic, however. This was Smokey’s first UK hit as a solo artist. Tamla Motown also released a Spanish version of the song.
84. It’s My Party – Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin
I wasn’t sure what this was – a quick look on YouTube later and I almost wish I hadn’t bothered – their number one appearance on Top of the Pops was dire. Perhaps that’s why Amazon don’t even seem to sell a download version of this. If you want it on vinyl, you might be lucky. Though why you’d want it at all is beyond me. Cry if you want to, indeed.
83. (Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon
This track was only released about six weeks before John Lennon was fatally shot in New York in late 1980. It was also something of a comeback tune, after Lennon’s five year break from the music industry. (Just Like) Starting Over is still his biggest solo hit in the US, where it was number one for five weeks after his demise.
82. Move Closer – Phyllis Nelson
Fast forward to the middle of the decade now, to one of the 80s power ballads in this top 100. The seventh best selling song of 1985, it spent five months in the UK singles chart, despite making any impact on the US Billboard Hot 100. And Nelson is American, too. The song made number 2 in Ireland and also found success in Australia and several other countries.
81. I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) – Whitney Houston
Another song about dancing with a loved one – although this one is more upbeat. Whitney’s second album featured this song, and that made number 6 on the best selling albums of the 80s list. It’s one of those top 80s songs of all time that still gets a lot of airtime, even over 3 decades later. Not least because of her stunning vocals. I had both of her first two albums on vinyl – sadly long gone to a charity shop now.
80. Ghost Town – The Specials
The release of this song coincided with the occurrence of rioting in several British cities. More lately, it was associated with the Covid pandemic when lockdowns left streets around the world empty. At the end of 1981, Britain’s three biggest music publications all awarded it the title of ‘Single of the Year’. The band were apparently referencing unrest in Bristol and Brixton that took place in 1980, before the rioting that took place in parts of Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and again in South London.
79. I Feel For You – Chaka Khan
Written by Prince, this song first appeared on his 1979 album before Chaka Khan covered it in 1984. It’s a classic tune, funky with a disco beat and pretty forward-thinking for its time. The vocals, of course, are superb. Once, in 1998, Prince and Chaka Khan actually performed the ditty as a duet. It was number 1 in the UK for 3 weeks in late 1984. In late 2019, a Prince acoustic version was released via streaming and 7 inch vinyl: the latter version sold out.
78. Coward of the County – Kenny Rogers
American country music sensation Kenny Rogers would not have crossed my mind when thinking of an 80s music hits list – yet here he is. It peaked at number one in the UK, as well as in various other countries worldwide, including Ireland and selected US and Canadian charts (it peaked at number 3 on the US Billboard, but topped others including the Hot Country Songs one). I’m amazed it outsold some of the lower placed tunes in this list, but that’s the music industry for you. Full of surprises.
77. Together We Are Beautiful – Fern Kinney
Well – here’s another example of how this 80s songs list top 100 can be quite unexpected at times. Have you even heard of Fern Kinney? I hadn’t. It was number 1 in the UK for a week in March 1980 – not bad for a track that was originally meant to be a B-side. Charting also in the Netherlands, South Africa, New Zealand, Belgium, Ireland and Australia, it was almost a one hit wonder. Groove Me was Kinney’s other success.
76. I Should Be So Lucky – Kylie Minogue
This well known ditty launched the glittering career of the Australian pop princess, yet things apparently ran far from smoothly at the start. The energetic song was written and recorded in a rush, yet Stock, Aitken and Waterman as well as Kylie herself soon had a number one smash on their hands. Global success followed for Ms Minogue – and to this day, still does.
75. Town Called Malice – The Jam
The so-called ‘Wild Man of Woking’ apparently did write this about his home town in Surrey – a pretty dull commuter town as it goes, but surrounded by some lovely English countryside. It’s also home to three of the dearest friends I met during my year in Australia. One of their mates used to work for Paul Weller, and was often found wearing the artist’s cast-offs. It entered the charts at number one, where it remained for 3 weeks. I adore it most for its use in Billy Elliott – it suits that part of the story so perfectly. Apparently the title references the classic novel A Town Like Alice, too.
74. Dancing in the Street – David Bowie & Mick Jagger
I had this one on vinyl – when I looked it up on Amazon I saw the same cover that I remember from when my parents bought it for me in the mid-80s. Bowie and Jagger covered this Marvin Gaye (et al) track in 1985 to raise money for Live Aid, and it topped the Uk singles chart for 4 weeks. It was performed by the duo at the Princes Trust concert in June 1986, and has featured on various compilations. In 2011, Rolling Stone readers placed it eighth in a list of the best collaborations of all time.
73. Down Under – Men at Work
Another chart hit that was originally intended as a B-side, this one might just have fuelled my 90s obsession with all things Australian; I even went out there for a year in 1996, during which time I frequented a legendary Sydney music venue. This track topped the charts in the UK, Australia and the US, as well as several other countries around the world. It is still often played at sporting events in Australis, keeping the royalties flooding in for this Melbournian band.
72. Geno – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Not Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ most famous song, but this one, their second single, still spent 2 weeks at number 1 in the UK. Apparently it was written and performed as a tribute to Geno Washington, an American soul singer. It is still a popular tune… though I doubt it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that this band appear again higher up in this list.
71. The Lady in Red – Chris de Burgh
Of all tunes in this list of 80s songs, this one really divides opinion. It’s seen as romantic by some, yet supremely irritating by others. Whatever you make of it, the track topped the charts in the UK as well as 4 other countries. It propelled Chris de Burgh to international stardom and even reached number 3 in the US. Love it or loathe it? I’ll leave you with this – a critic said in the mid-90s that the only artist who had created a more annoying song was James Blunt. In 2001, it was also placed fourth in a list of the UK’s most hated number ones ever. And now it’s going through my head on endless repeat…
70. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go – Wham
Ahh, that’s better. Nothing like a bit of Wham to blow those cobwebs away. I remember clearly the day I took ownership of this single on 7 inch vinyl – my dad was taking me shopping and said I could choose a record to buy. I heard this on the radio and that was it – a lifetime of being a George Michael fan began. Did I have a ‘Choose Life’ t-shirt? I honestly cannot remember!
69. You Drive Me Crazy – Shakin’ Stevens
This man was phenomenally successful during the 80s – one of the biggest solo artists of the decade, in fact. Another artist who divides opinion. I don’t hear a lot of his music these days – with the notable exception of Merry Christmas Everyone. I’m sure he could live a lavish lifestyle on the proceeds of that single alone.
68. Only You – The Flying Pickets
I remember this one really well – it was number 1 at Christmas in the UK and Ireland in 1983, when I would have been 9. It had been released by Yazoo the year before, when it peaked at number 2, but this a capella cover did even better, spending 5 weeks at number 1. It has since also been recorded in Spanish by Enrique Iglesias.
67. Ebony and Ivory – Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder
This one stirred up some controversy, leading to it being banned in South Africa during the days of apartheid. The reason given was that Stevie Wonder Best Original Song Oscar in 1984 ‘in the name of Nelson Mandela’. It was written my Paul McCartney on his Scottish farm, and has always had a mixed reception in critical terms. Some see it is overly simplistic, as well as sickly sweet. Commercially, it clearly did well and was number one in the US as well as in the UK.
66. Living Doll – Cliff Richard & The Young Ones
Aww, Rik Mayall. We spent the day in London when he died, and had passed close to his Barnes home en route. Then Ade Edmondson complained that he’d gone and died without him, or words to that effect. I was a bit too tender in years to appreciate The Young Ones – though I love Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Perry – but I remember this one well. Nice to see a less serious side to Cliff Richard, actually.
65. The Only Way Is Up – Yazz
Another artist whose album I owned on vinyl, but I rarely hear Yazz these days. She was something of an 80s icon, with her bleached, close cropped hair and sporty style of dressing. Perhaps if I watched TOWIE I would hear it more, as it’s used as the show’s theme tune. It was the second biggest seller in 1988, and spent 5 weeks in pole position.
64. We All Stand Together – Paul McCartney & The Frog Chorus
And here’s Mr When I’m Sixty-Four – at number 64. I love that. Featured in a Rupert the Bear film, this was hardly McCartney’s finest moment – yet it was immensely popular. It was intended as a children’s song, of course, which seemingly gave many people a good excuse to buy it.
63. Chain Reaction – Diana Ross
I remember this one being performed – or the video played – on Top of the Pops almost as if it was yesterday. Written by the Bee Gees – and featuring Barry Gibb vocals – it was rather daring for its day. Look up the lyrics from ‘you make me tremble when your hand moves lower’ onwards and you’ll see what I mean. I just remember her atop a podium in a red, flowing dress, certainly first in any chain of command.
62. True – Spandau Ballet
Of course this one belongs on any list of 1980s new wave songs. Spandau Ballet were perhaps the ultimate 80s new wave band. Written by Gary Kemp, it is one of those iconic 80s power ballads. Again it has it critics, but I rather like this one. As well as Gold. In the early 90s, the tune was sampled on PM Dawn’s Set Adrift on Memory Bliss, which Kemp received his due writing credit for.
61. Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler
I rather like Bonnie Tyler’s gravelly tones, but my mum could not stand her. Which led me to proclaim – in my mother’s words, presumably – ‘pain in the neck, mammy!’ when she appeared on TV. It’s still a hit with the British public, coming third in a countdown of the nation’s favourite 80s number ones in 2015. This tune surely defines the term 80s power ballad – Ms Tyler even had the big, backcombed hair thing going on.
60. Let’s Dance – David Bowie
This is Bowie’s third appearance in this list of songs from the 80s so far – and we’re not even near halfway yet. It is also one of the UK’s top 300 singles sellers of all time, and was produced by the mighty Nile Rodgers. It’s a funky pop song with hints of dance, new wave and disco. A great reflection of Bowie’s style and one of my favourites from him
59. The Tide is High – Blondie
This tune will always remind me of Muriel’s Wedding – one of my favourite films ever. (I told you I was obsessed with anything Australian. Michael Hutchence most of all.) Originally written in 1967, Blondie covered it in 1980 and it made number one in the UK, US, Canada and New Zealand. Until Maria hit the charts in 1999, it was Debbie Harry’s last number 1 here.
58. I Want to Know What Love Is – Foreigner
Of all power ballads from the 1980s, this is one of the best. In my book, anyway. It’s powerful without being schmaltzy, romantic without being sickly. Chart-wise it achieved some big things, knocking Band Aid off the top spot here and Madonna across the pond. It has been featured in various films and is no doubt still a high earner in terms of royalties. I often hear it on the radio and am always glad to. In fact, ‘Alexa?’
57. Frankie – Sister Sledge
‘Frankie, do you remember me?’ Well I certainly remember this one – an 80s song that occupies the same space in my psyche as Mickey by Toni Basil. Nile Rodgers produced this one too – he sure was a busy man during the 1980s. Despite being number 1 here for 4 weeks, this one didn’t do so well in Sister Sledge’s native US.
56. D.I.S.C.O. – Ottawan
It’s Ottawan’s second appearance in this 80s top hits list, the first being for Hands Up. This one is much better, I think – irresistibly catchy and just the right side of cheesy. All together now – ‘she is D – delightful…’ and so on. A D.I.S.C.O. classic that’s got to be top of any 80s disco hits list.
55. Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson
Though I loved this at the time and appreciate it as a decent tune, for some reason it irritates me now. Don’t you find that you tire of certain songs after a while? Well this is one of mine, even though I owned the 7 inch vinyl version back in 1986. Astonishingly, this dates back to 1957, when it was released to reach number 6. In ’86, it was number 1 for 4 weeks. I find it slightly amusing that ‘reet’ means ‘right’ where I come from. Yep, North East England.
54. I Want to Wake Up with You – Boris Gardiner
Can I just say that the best thing about this is the reggae beat – and leave it at that? Please?
53. Like a Virgin – Madonna
That’s better – TG for the Queen of Pop. And Nile Rodgers – again. Surely one of the most iconic 80s pop songs from a legendary artist. Madonna made it OK for young women to be bold about what they wanted, and boy do we love her for that. The track is listed as one of the top ‘500 songs that shaped rock and roll’ according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Quite rightly, too. Even if it does have more of a dance beat.
52. Shaddap You Face – Joe Dolce
Sorry, but what is this doing here? It outsold Like a Virgin? Really? Its 3 weeks at number 1, holding off Vienna by Ultravox – is a travesty. Enough said. Now I must ask Alexa to play something else before this takes hold in my head…
51. Every Loser Wins – Nick Berry
Oh my. Nick Berry was one of my first – and hottest – crushes. I was 12 when this came out, and in love with one of British soap’s biggest actors. Yes, it’s terrible – punk Mary, an Eastenders character at the time, was quite right to call it ‘sentimental garbage’. But I really loved him. Scary to think my daughter will be feeling this way about men in just a few years. (She, of course, will be locked up until she’s 40.)
Top 50 80s songs
So we’ve waded through some of the garbage that the 80s brought our way. Now, surely, it’s time for the good stuff. Does it get better? You’ll have to read the rest of the list to find out. Suffice to say it wouldn’t be the 80s without a few seriously cheesy numbers…
50. 19 – Paul Hardcastle
Vietnam. S-s-saigon. This 80s tune is not an easy one to forget. Just as those who did fight the Vietnam War will no doubt be mentally – and perhaps physically – scarred for life. Paul Hardcastle’s other best-known tune was probably The Wizard, a verion of which was used as the Top of the Pops theme tune for over five years, between 1986 and 1991. 19 was a massive hit worldwide – 185’s best selling single in 13 countries.
49. The Birdie Song – The Tweets
Possibly the most irritating track ever, I’m ashamed to say I owned this one on vinyl. In fact it was the first single I ever called my own. I was only 7, though. Dire. How did it reach the top 100, never mind the top 50, of this 80s songs list? That’s all I have to say, folks.
48. Super Trouper – ABBA
1980 was certainly a big year musically, with all sorts of artists keen to make their mark on the new decade. ABBA among them with this, their 1980 album’s title track. It featured on ABBA Gold as well as in the film Mamma Mia – the former being one of the 90s’ best selling albums. This was ABBA’s last UK number 1 single, and the fourth best seller for the entire year.
47. Making Your Mind Up – Bucks Fizz
Fronted by cheery cockney Cheryl Baker (who was born in Bethnal Green), Bucks Fizz took this song to Eurovision in 1981. You might want to read the next line slowly. Britain won the Eurovision Song Contest with this. Yes – we actually won. It has happened five times, but this was the only time we came first during the 80s. We’ve only won once since – in 1997. Another record belongs to us, too, for being placed second 15 times.
46. One Day in Your Life – Michael Jackson
The 8os were an epic decade for MJ, and this song kicked it all off. Re-released since 1975’s Forever Michael, this tune spent 2 weeks at number 1. It surely belongs on any list of 1980s summer songs, as it peaked during June and July 1981. This was Michael Jackson before he became the global solo megastar that he was by the end of the decade, although he was already well known as a member of The Jackson Five.
45. Freedom – Wham
Yay! Another Wham tune makes the top 50 – this one would definitely make it onto my best 80s songs list, too. Instead of singing its praises, I’m going to mention here the Andrew Ridgeley question. Was he needed, many people ask? Well my answer to that it – how do we know if we would have had one – George Michael – at all, without the other? I doubt even he would argue that his contribution to the duo was as sizeable or important. Nevertheless, he certainly had some sort of input.
Perhaps he bolstered George Michael’s confidence, or brought out his musical ability. The bottom line is, he let his best mate shine, and they were lifelong friends. A team leader is no use without team members. Could a doctor, for instance, even do their job without nurses, health care assistants, hospital porters, cleaners, physiotherapists and so on? Without Wham we might never have even heard of George Michael. No Andrew Ridgeley, no Wham. That’s my tuppence worth on the matter. Every person’s contribution matters.
44. Seven Tears – Goombay Dance Band
What? Who? Apparently they were German, and it was number 1 for 3 weeks. There’s no accounting for public tastes in music, is there?
43. Vienna – Ultravox
A highly credible entry now from a band that does belong on any list of 1980s songs. Midge Ure was famous for two big things during the 80s, one being the Band and Live Aid movements, the other being this song. An atmospheric number from this new wave band that is certainly their signature song. Midge Ure’s too – he has often performed it solo. It was also, as you might expect, performed during the Live Aid concert in 1985.
42. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now – Starship
Now this one, featured in the movie Mannequin, definitely belongs on any 80s power ballads list. I love it. It surely defines the genre while avoiding being too schmaltzy. The film, too, starring Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City and Andrew McCarthy (whatever happened to him? )was an 80s favourite of mine, and the song’s video features scenes from it.
41. The Land of Make Believe – Bucks Fizz
I’m surprised that this sold more copies during the 80s than Making Your Mind Up, but let’s be honest – it’s hardly the biggest shock in this list. This one did well in other European countries, too, reaching number 1 in Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands as well as the UK. Perhaps that earlier Eurovision success helped it to earn a place in the top 50 of this 80s songs list.
40. This Ole House – Shakin’ Stevens
On my – him again. This time with a cover of a 1954 Rosemary Clooney song. It topped the charts both then and in 1981 when Ol’ Shaky – aka Michael Barratt – recorded it. The thing is, it’s a blooming catchy tune. Just as well it doesn’t get much airtime these days, really.
39. I Don’t Wanna Dance – Eddy Grant
Written, performed and produced by Eddy Grant, this reggae style song was number 1 for 3 weeks in late 1982. According to Grant, it’s as much about not wanting to agree with an idea or go along with anything if ‘the feeling ia bad’.
It seems strange, when seeing the Reverend Richard Coles on TV, that he had anything to do with this, but life’s like that. This hit was featured on my life soundtrack piece, when I mentioned just how ‘joyful and triumphant’ it is. Many must agree, as a 2015 ITV poll revealed it to be the public’s 16th favourite number one from the 80s.
37. Mistletoe and Wine – Cliff Richard
This popular Christmas hit actually dates from 1976, when it was penned for a London musical based on the story of The Little Match Girl. It remained relatively unknown until Cliff scored a hit with it in 1988. Despite being released late in the year, it managed to become 1998’s best selling single in the UK. As with many Christmas songs from this 80s songs list, this still often commands the airwaves towards the end of each year.
36. Prince Charming – Adam and the Ants
I’m pleased this one’s on the list of the UK’s top 100 80s music singles. Daring, different, stirring and strident are words that come to mind when thinking of Adam and the tiny creepy crawly creatures. The video was decadent and ground-breaking too, featuring Diana Dors as the fairy godmother and Adam himself as Cinderella. Ridicule is nothing to be scared of, indeed.
35. Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley
No one’s forgotten this one, have they? I’ve seen a meme referring to it doing the rounds on social media more than once, referring to the fact that Mr Astley would never: give you up, let you down, run around, desert you… and so on. Suited and booted and serious-looking, Rick was one of Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s biggest rising stars. It was the best selling single of 1987, and picked up the BRIT for Best British Single in early 1988. This also reached number 1 in 25 countries worldwide. Does this man even need to get out of bed ever again?
34. Pass the Dutchie – Musical Youth
Only ever on the left hand side, mind. With its reggae beat, this tune was a success stateside as well as reaching the top spot here in Blighty. It was also number 1 in several other European countries as well as in Israel, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Not bad for a song about a dutch oven. Ahem.
33. Feels Like I’m in Love – Kelly Marie
This one sounds more 70s to me, but then it was released in 1980, right at the start of the decade. Apparently Elvis Presly was initially intended to sing it. That fits, with all that bit about the knee-shaking.
32. Save Your Love – Renée and Renato
I’m not sure if I’m impressed or appalled that Phil Collins knocked this off the top of the charts after a four-week stay, as I’m neither a fan of this song or of he. At least it was You Can’t Hurry Love, not one of his ballads – and despite his album sales, he doesn’t actually appear on this 80s songs list. In some way this paved the way for the 90s, as it was the first ever indie number 1 hit. A model rather than Renée herself appeared in the video. A Telegraph poll ranked this as the fifth worst Christmas chart-topper ever.
31. Into the Groove – Madonna
This song was featured in Desperately Seeking Susan. I don’t know about you, but I desperately wanted to be Madonna in that film. She was so sassy and self-assured. Two things I was not during my preteen years. (Though the sass certainly came later when I actually hit my teens.) One of the defining dance/pop tracks of the decade, for sure, and top place in any Madonna songs list from the 80s in terms of UK sales.
30. Antmusic – Adam and the Ants
What’s the connection between Antmusic and John Lennon’s demise? The latter kept the former from the top of the charts in late 1980, as Imagine took that position following the Beatle’s murder. I cannot actually remember hearing about Lennon’s death at the time. I would only have been six, but my mother being a big Beatles fan I’m still surprised I don’t recall anything. As one of the top 10 bands of the 80s, it’s no surprise that Adam and the Ants are featured more than once in this top 100.
29. Red Red Wine – UB40
Originally a Neil Diamond track, this one surprised me a little. Not least because former UB40 frontman Ali Campbell lives about a mile from me, in Christchurch, Dorset. He’s a close neighbour of a fellow school mum I know. The inclusion of this tune also highlights the popularity of reggae during the 80s. Apparently Neil Diamond approves of the cover, and even sometimes performs UB40’s reggae fusion version himself.
28. Woman in Love – Barbra Streisand
To me Barbra Streisand is Mrs F from Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers, a film series full of charming and slightly deranged characters. I have limited knowledge of her as a vocalist, but I do quite like this. It avoids being overly sweet and sickly – unlike a lot of other love songs from the 80s.
27. Agadoo – Black Lace
Oh my. I’m not sure I wanted to be reminded of this one. Totally ashamed to admit that I had the album – Party Party – on vinyl. Despite being excluded from Radio One’s playlist, this spent an astonishing 30 weeks in the singles chart during 1984. In 2003, Q magazine voted it the ‘worst song of all time’. I cannot add anything to that.
26. Don’t Stand So Close to Me – The Police
Ah, the former teacher from the Toon. Was this based on real-life experience, being about a schoolgirl and teacher fling? Sting, who wrote it, has previously denied so. This song has been referred to more frequently in recent times, citing the relevance of its title to social distancing during the Covid 19 pandemic. Who would ever have imagined that kind of use for a tune from an 80s songs list?
25. Imagine – John Lennon
From his 1971 solo album of the same name, Imagine topped the charts again following John Lennon’s death a decade later, in December 1981. It’s his best known and best selling single, equally well received by the public and critics alike. This is one of those iconic tracks that has inspired many a cigarette lighter or mobile phone torch moment among crowds the world over. In 2000, George Michael bought the piano Lennon used for composing this tune, to make sure it stayed here in the UK. Good on you, Yog.
24. I Know Him So Well – Elaine Page & Barbara Dickson
This duet, from the musical Chess, was a huge hit in the UK, although it didn’t have that much success elsewhere. Chess was the result of a collaboration between Tim Rice – mostly known for his work with Andrew Lloyd Webber – and Benny and Björn from ABBA. It is certainly one of the best known 80s female singers’ love songs, and despite being rather cheesy, I do have a fondness for it.
23. Hello – Lionel Richie
‘Hello. Is it me you’re looking for?’ Surely one of the most quoted lyrics ever, it earned Richie 6 weeks at the top of the UK singles chart in 1984. It was also number 1 in Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland.
22. Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club
When considering the most defining music of the 80s, surely this tune would have to make the list. As the third single from Boy George and co, this one made the grade and propelled them to stardom. The highest chart poistion reached by either of their previous singles was number 100. Do You Really Want to Hurt Me was number 1 for 3 weeks in autumn 1982. The tune’s new wave melody and the blue eyed, soulful lyrics combined all the best sounds of the 80s. Including just a subtle hint of reggae. When the band played as a last-minute inclusion on Top of the Pops, they made newspaper headlines because of Boy George’s androgynous appearance.
21. Swing the Mood – Jive Bunny
5 weeks as the UK number 1 in summer 1989 and the second best selling single of the year. Not only that but it topped the charts in a whole list of other countries. Its presence on this 80s songs list is no less than a travesty. We can only hope that once people bought the single, they didn’t feel the need to subject themselves to the entire album…
Top 20 80s singles
Surely the best song from the 80s is now within reach? Here they are – the top 20. Numbers 20 to 10 include a couple of film theme tunes. Beware the lion on this 80s songs list…
20. Ride on Time – Black Box
This was definitely one of those 80s singles that helped to pave the way for the 90s’ music scene. Released in 1989, it was included on Black Box’s 1990 album. There’s another tie – after controversy caused by the band sampling Loleatta Holloway’s vocals, they re-recorded the track, this time with Heather Small. She later became famous as lead singer with M-People, one of the 90s’ top bands. I saw her in Wigan a few times, when it happened that both she and I were dating local lads.
19. Uptown Girl – Billy Joel
The Westlife cover of Uptown Girl was awful – what’s the point if you’re not bringing anything new to the table? Thankfully, though, Billy Joel’s original is a joy. I heard it just this morning, and I never tire of it. I also love the fact that it’s inextricably linked to true love story. Even if Joel and Christie Brinkley’s marriage didn’t quite last a decade. He also dated Elle Macpherson, apparently, before he and Brinkley got together.
18. Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Jr
This film was a huge hit in the mid-80s, and so was the theme tune. I definitely had this one on 7 inch vinyl. It also inspired a couple of lawsuits between Ray Parker Jr and Huey Lewis, with winners on both sides. Ghostbusters was the singer’s only UK top 10 hit, spending 3 weeks at number 2. Being a decade defining hit, though, means it has earned a place on this 80s songs list.
17. Fame – Irene Cara
My clearest memory of this track concerns a middle school (ages 9 – 13, a system used in some parts of the UK) disco. We pulled those dark brown plastic chairs from their stacks and climbed on, ready to jump off with arms and legs akimbo at the exact moment when Irene Cara sang ‘Fame!’ The song and the movie both inspired an entire generation to don leotards and take to the stage. If only for a short while.
16. The Lion Sleeps Tonight – Tight Fit
I had this single too. Not that it’s anything to be proud of. This track actually dates back as far as the late 1930s, when it was first written in Zulu. Tight Fit’s version was far from the only cover, and it was used again in 2019 for a soundtrack to The Lion King.
15. Especially For You – Kylie Minogue & Jason Donovan
I must admit I have a weakness for this song. Even though it’s just so cheesy. What would any top 100 songs of the 1980s be without a few naff duets? Kylie and Jason were so fresh-faced, and we so knew they were an item, back in the heyday of Neighbours. A few other stars from the antipodean soap tried their hand in the music business, with varying degrees of success. None, though, have been quite as successful as Kylie. It’s not only me who likes this tune, either – it came 20th in an ITV poll of the public’s favourite 80s hits.
14. Stand and Deliver – Adam and the Ants
If you’d asked me which band would appear thrice in this list of 1980s pop music songs I would not have said Adam and the Ants, whom I’d more or less forgotten about. This one’s great though – being all about dandy highwaymen makes a refreshing change from all those love songs.
13. Blue Monday – New Order
I think I’ll always associate this track with the 90s – Madchester in particular, as it was New Order and Factory Records who bankrolled the Hacienda. It even has more of a 90s sound, to me. Yet it erally belongs on the 80s songs list. This is still the best selling 12 inch single ever, yet it lost money as some of the sleeves cost more to make than the single made. If any one track connects 80s and 90s music, then it would have to be this.
12. The Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
We have Sylvester Stallone and the Rocky film franchise to thank for this one – it was used as the title track for Rocky III in 1982. The story goes that Queen refused to allow the filmmakers to use Another One Bites the Dust – their first choice. It didn’t hamper this song’s success – it was number 1 in America for 6 weeks and 4 weeks in the UK, as well as topping other singles charts across the globe.
11. Tainted Love – Soft Cell
Sitting just outside the top 10 is this, which I’ve only just discovered was a cover version. I guess I’m not alone in being unable to imagine this song being sung by anyone other than Marc Almond. It was 1981’s best seller in the UK, while stateside it peaked at number 8 but spent an impressive 43 weeks on the Billboard. Originally regarded as a Northern Soul track, Soft Cell certainly put their own synth-pop twist on this. That ITV public poll placed this fifth among all UK 80s number ones.
Top 10 80s singles
And finally (almost) we’ve reached the top 10 hits of the 80s. Will it include your favourites? Whether it’s a yes or no, there are bound to be tunes you expected to see here – alongside, perhaps, a few you didn’t. One 80s band even appears twice in the top five of this 80s songs list…
10. Come On Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
I completely forgot that I’d owned this one on 7 inch vinyl until I looked it up on Amazon and saw the cover. Or maybe my parents did. Either way, we gave this one house room, with no idea what a wedding dancefloor classic it was to become. Love it or hate it, there’s certainly no escaping it. It was the best selling single of 1982 and won the Brit for Best British Single too. Bit of 80s pop trivia for you – Máire Fahey, who played Eileen in the video and who was pictured on the sleeve, is the sister of Siobhan from Bananarama.
9. The Power of Love – Jennifer Rush
The highest placed ballad by a female artist in this list, this was a typical 80s number. Big hair, big voice, and in this case, huge hit. While it didn’t top the charts in Rush’s native America, it was 1985’s best seller here and in other countries including Canada, Australia and Spain. Celine Dion covered the track in 1994, when it finally went to number 1 in the US.
8. Careless Whisper – George Michael
I’m never sure whether to think of this as a Wham track or a solo song, to be honest. It was featured on Wham’s Make It Big and The Final albums, yet was marketed as as single with only George Michael on the cover. Either way, it’s one of my favourite tracks GM ever recorded. (My favourite lyrics come from A Different Corner, however.)
7. Karma Chameleon – Culture Club
1983 was the year for Culture Club. This is also one of the planet’s top sellers ever, with in excess of 5 million copies sold. Here in the UK, it’s also in the top 40 best sellers of all time, and won the Best British Single Brit – or BPI award as it was known back then.
6. Last Christmas – Wham!
Released as a double A side in 1984 with Everything She Wants, this Christmas song became famous again after George Michael’s death. Not least because it never made number 1 back in the day. It was 36 years later, in 2021, that it finally reached the top spot in the first chart of the new year. There was a big reason why this song didn’t make it to number 1 in the 80s – and that was the best selling single of the entire decade. But we have 4 more to go before we find out what that was.
5. Don’t You Want Me – The Human League
This one did make it to number 1 at Christmas in 1981, although we all associate it with cocktail bar waitressing work than the festive season. The synthpop band also made it in the US, topping the Billboard for 3 weeks in summer 1982. It’s a highly respected track – regarded as a seminal tune in the ‘Second British Invasion’ of the USA (the first being in the 60s, when our music first invaded the Billboard). Selling over 1.5 million copies to date, it was a huge success.
4. Two Tribes – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
It’s not my favourite FGTH track – that honour belongs to The Power of Love. But it’s one of two in the top five 80s singles – a phenomenal achievement for Holly Johnson and co. This went straight in at number 1 in 1984 and 9 weeks at the top made it the longest-running UK 80s number 1. Not bad for an anti-war ditty that also had a go at the oil industry.
3. I Just Called to Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder
Motown’s biggest success in the UK came from Stevie Wonder, a man that can surely do no wrong musically. It is still his best selling track. Who would have thought that such a simple premise could spurn such a hit?
2. Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
You could buy ‘Frankie Says Relax’ t-shirts from my local market before my classmates and I really knew what this song was about. Chilling out, right? They’re still sold to this day – along with the ‘Choose Life’ ones worn by Wham in the video for Wake Me Up Before You Go Go. An essential accessory for any 80s party, to complement your ultimate 80s songs list.
1. Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid
George Michael made music history by singing on this and releasing Last Christmas around the same time, as he featured on both the number 1 and number 2 records at the end of 1984. A million copies sold in the first week, with a further two notched up by the close of the year. Despite Band Aid II, 20 and 30 as well as other versions, none have matched the enduring popularity of the original. When it comes to Christmas music, the 80s really did make a massive contribution.
The hits and misses of the 80s
There you go. Is it what you expected? If you hoped for an 80s rock songs list of best selling number ones, then you may be sorely disappointed by the absence of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Bon Jovi or Van Halen. I know I am. I’m amazed that Freddie Mercury and co are absent, too. There are many tribute bands dedicated to impersonating them. Certainly one of the 80s’ best bands.
If you required a list of 1980s dance music songs, however, then you’d be better off heading to the 90s, during which some of the best dance anthems ever were released.
Some artists and bands are noticeably absent from this 80s songs list. What about the Pet Shop Boys? Duran Duran? While I’m not disappointed by the absence of Phil Collins, I am a little surprised – though maybe everyone just bought No Jacket Required instead. I would have thought Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun would be here for sure, but it only reached number 2 in the UK.
Prince, too – where is he? Purple Rain, When Doves Cry and many more were well recieved both critically and by the public. As one of the defining artists of music history – let alone the decade – Prince surely should be here.
Frankly there are some real travesties here. You know who they are. Music experts have often said that album seles are a better indicator of quality and longevity, and perhaps they’re right.
There are plenty of corkers too, though. Essentials on any 80s songs list. So grab a Malibu and pineapple (with a cocktail umbrella), don your ‘Choose Life’ or ‘Relax’ t-shirt, find some flourescent legwarmers and fluff up your hair. Then we can really get the 80s party started.
- Top 80s compilation albums
- 80s Eurovision song contest winners
- Best 1980s party albums
- Hottest male artists of the 80s & 90s
- NOW compilations of the 80s
Note – This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy via these, I may earn a small fee. This does not affect the price you pay in any way. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.