We have a hard one this week. Generally I’ve heard that years like 1980, 1990, and 1991 stunk. And did they? Eh. We’ll have to see. But 1982 truly did. This year hurt to study. The bad this year is so bad. The top song was Physical by Olivia Newton-John. Down the list you have Pac-Man Fever, Hooked on Classics, Chariots of Fire theme, and those are the interesting ones. I’ve Never Been to Me was a hit this year. Don’t Stop Believing was this year and I hate that song. There’s also a lot of country and while I will actually include some of it eventually, it’s all bad here. I strained for 10 good songs. But I got there. Barely.
I start on an odd note. See, I don’t actually like this song. I find it dark and unpleasant. But there’s a difference between I don’t like something and I don’t think it’s good. This is a very good song. It’s not meant to be liked.
10 The Human League- Don’t You Want Me. This is a very, very dark song. It’s a song about a deeply abusive relationship that is at the absolute moment of collapse and it’s not a both sides story. He’s evil. She’s found the strength to tell him off. It’s a difficult song. But in a very tame, soft era it stands out. It feels important and bold. That I don’t like it is the point. It’s good ugly.
I hate how bland this year was but I’m not immune to the cheese of it. I like Eye of the Tiger and almost had it on. I like ridiculous 80s songs. How can you not? Well, time to go one with one of the most 80s songs.
9 Asia- Heat of the Moment. I think what I respond most to with songs like this is how big they are. This is a declaration. It’s joy. It’s breathless joy and you just ride it. Every note is supersized. No wonder it’s a go to for big moments. The 40 Year Old Virgin killed with it. It’s just so exactly the song it should be. It celebrates a moment in memory and makes it outsized.
I really didn’t think this series was going to be this heavy on some of the groups that have shown up so much. I love Genesis but I don’t think they’d be so pervasive. I love Fleetwood Mac but I really didn’t know how good the 80s were for them. Lindsay Buckingham had several solo hits. They won’t ever make this list though. Stevie Nicks though does show up. Cool.
8 Stevie Nicks- Edge of Seventeen. For a song that barely notched into the top 100, this is one of the most influential songs I’ll cover this decade. It’s not just the direct lift in Destiny Child’s Bootylicious (which IS NOT making my best of list) or Miley Cyrus’ Midnight Sky (not in a year I’m covering but a kickass song), it’s that it feels like the dawn of a whole style. You can see the after effects of it for decades, especially in the 90s. It’s Nicks at her purest. She sounds incredible here and she wrote the hell out of it. Truly one of a kind.
In a year of blandness, I’m very happy to get back to true punk icons. Look, I hate the Sex Pistols. I think Billy Idol is a poser. There’s a lot of very inauthentic punk music. (Just a heads up: I’m not talking about Green Day who will be very prominent in the next two decades.) I want to celebrate true punk. And even if this song isn’t political or about anything, it does have a kick.
7 The Clash- Should I Stay or Should I Go. Ah, this is what I love. This is low and honestly could be higher but this is how the cards fell. This is just good classic rock. Good guitar work. Simple hook. Great sneering vibe. This is what rock should sound like. This also feels like where you’re getting some of the last kick of the 70s. This was actually written in 1981 but it feels 70s. It’s got a bite. It’s rough. It’s just wonderful.
Yeah the first few years of the 80s are going to sound like the 70s. That’s something you see for the first two to three years of any decade. Which is why it’s logical to have a disco song on my list. Kinda don’t have more to say.
6 Laura Branigan- Gloria. Ok maybe this isn’t straight disco. It’s somewhere between that and the female power pop we will see later. But it feels more of that than this age. Whatever it is it’s great. Branigan had a good few years in the 80s but this is her longest lasting song and I think it’s because it’s unique. It doesn’t feel like anything else. It’s operatic. It’s a woman speaking to another. It’s dramatic. And it holds up.
I noted my issue with 1982 is it was bland. And that’s weird when you consider that there were novelty songs on the list but those weren’t good or interesting. I just wanted to see more great interesting acts break through the Kenny Rogers logjam. Thankfully there was one example.
5 The Alan Parsons Project- Eye in the Sky. I love that this was an honest to god hit in 1982. Huge even. Like there are songs on my next list that are iconic that didn’t make the year end but by god The Alan Parsons Project had a certifiable hit. And it should be a hit. This is the kind of dark, smoky piece I love. It’s a song about surveillance and distrust and unlike Every Breath You Take you can’t miss it. It’s smooth but the lyrics are incredibly bleak. Bonus that the album includes the perfect Sirius as the lead in.
Once again, I’ll say how much I love The Go-Gos. They had a unique sound. Belinda Carlisle could’ve made my list 2-3 more times as a solo vocalist. 1982 was their big year and I could’ve put Our Lips Are Sealed on the list. It’s so good. Same for We Got The Beat. But I’m cynical. I like another song more.
4 The Go-Gos- Vacation. Another very dark, dark song. This is about being unable to get over someone. The chorus is so incredibly sarcastic and I love it. It’s bitter and angry. It captures a common emotion but one you never hear discussed: trying to self care and failing. Haven’t we all been there? It’s so relatable. As always, the band kills it. Everything is superficially fun but even the music sounds strained, stressed. One of a kind.
I hate Jack and Diane. I hate Pink Houses. But I don’t hate John Mellencamp. It’s kind of funny that I can despise someone’s biggest songs but actually really like the guy’s other stuff. I think it’s as simple as he can’t talk directly about Americana but he sure as hell can make it.
3 John Mellencamp- Hurts So Good. Like Lonely Ol Night, this song is 30 years late. It belongs to an earlier era in the best way. It’s a backwoods rock song about a tough relationship and it rocks. It’s infused with that raw energy. Mellencamp has such a great rockabilly snarl in his voice. It’s just such a perfect throwback.
Like I’ve stressed. 1982 is just not my idea of a great year. A prime example is Open Arms by Journey. Now weirdly I like a song like it by them we will get to in 1996 but I’m allergic to this. It’s just so dead. Isn’t a love song supposed to make you feel happy? That’s the case with our top two. First, back to The Police.
2 The Police- Every Little Thing She Does. Sting is a genius songwriter. I know he’s known as a vocalist and he’s incredible at that but it’s his writing here that shines. It’s a simple idea for a song. A man in love. And it’s nothing but genius phrasing. The song also builds brilliantly from a very simple slow pace to a frenzy of madness. The whole thing is pure and light. I can’t listen to this and not be impressed with it.
I need to once more acknowledge how strongly I’m influenced by shows like One Hit Wonderland. My number one is a song that was featured. It wasn’t the band’s hit but the case was made it’s not not a hit. It’s shown up in the MCU! It’s a song I should’ve paid attention to before that show highlighted it. If 1982 is a meh year, this is a beacon.
1 A Flock of Seagulls- Space Age Love Song. There aren’t many new wave songs that touch this one. This is to me the pinnacle. This is an anthem of joy and love, a perfect space age love song. The lyrics are fine but this is all mood. It’s spacey and ethereal and atomic. You want to live in this song. It’s hard for me not to be in awe of it. And I’m not mad I Ran is the better known song. It’s great too. But seriously this is as great as the decade got.
Next time: the single best song of the decade arrives.