I’ve been open about stealing this idea. Todd in the Shadows did 10 worst lists s for several years including this year. I’m not original is my point. But I am an optimist. I choose to look back happily. So here I am at 1987, which he made seem like a wasteland. And you know what? It is. 1987 is a profoundly awful year in film. I don’t want to hear any griping about the quality of films now when Jaws the Revenge and Superman IV happened this year. As for the music? It’s definitely dull. Looking at this list, I found way less that I struggled to cut. But I’ll say this. The good is great. So no more wasted time.
My number 10 isn’t what I’d call a great song. With its juvenile lyrics and barely put together production, it’s hard to truly defend it. Hell the band itself doesn’t now. But you know what? The 80s were so slick and put together that we need one juvenile blast. And it’s coming from an iconic group at least.
10 Beastie Boys- Fight For Your Right. Just so that we’re clear, satire being lost on people is nothing new. This is a prime example of that. The song laughs at muscle headed frat boy culture. That they adopted it is their fault. The song is iconic. It shreds so damned hard still and I stress, next to Is This Love it must have felt atomic. I said I don’t call it great. That’s absurd. This is an awesome song.
The 80s were immeasurably better for us having Billy Idol. Few people who were cool then seem cool now. Billy Idol just had that flinty badass quality that cuts across time. But when you marry that to a silly song, somehow he seems even cooler.
9 Billy Idol- Mony Mony. Not the last Tommy James and the Shondells cover on this list. The 80s had a strange relationship with the 60s. Acts that were big in the 60s were big then but also covers were huge. This is a prime example. Nobody’s burning up the charts with a cover of Everywhere. Oh yeah, the song. That’s the thing. This refuses description. It’s just pure bouncy glee. It’s so shallow. But it’s exactly the right mood you want. Pure bubblegum.
Staying on 60s nostalgia, I hate it. It’s the biggest load of garbage. For one thing, the 60s were way more conservative than credited. Go look at the pop charts. Go look at the movies. For another, the boomers eventually faded into the plastic culture the 60s rebelled against. I’m 37 and I’m far too cynical to endure that junk. So if a great 60s band sells out then in my book, they simply found their truth.
8 Starship- Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now. I love this song and I think I love it mostly because it doesn’t feel cynical. Which it should since it’s co-written by the ultra cynical Diane Warren. But regardless this song just works. Everything about it feels like it’s meant to be shouted. And honestly I believe Grace Slick more here than on say White Rabbit. She gives her all here. Too bad the film this is on is an atrocity. Moving on.
There is no way Fleetwood Mac ever should have recorded another album after Rumours. It’s virtually impossible to imagine a group of people that actively recorded an album about how much they hated each other would ever work together again. The album should have finished and they should have gone to different continents. But they kept going for far longer. And we won.
7 Fleetwood Mac- Little Lies. There’s no denying Fleetwood Mac in the 80s was a different band. They rolled with a less organic, more out there sound and it fit them. I love Big Love, a track exclusively by the boys, from this year. But Little Lies is the band at its dreamiest aside from Everywhere even as once again it’s a call out to toxic relationships. And it’s honestly their bluntest. This was co-written and sung by Christine McVie who always seemed to have the band’s sarcastic side and her clear, emotional vocals contrast beautifully with lyrics about willful self delusion. This song is sarcastic, cynical, and ethereal.
I noted that nostalgia seems weirdly decompressed now. We don’t have nostalgia for the late 2000s even though they’re as far away and honestly further than the 80s nostalgia of the 90s. The idea of Rolling in the Deep as a nostalgia song is horrifying. But the next song was a nostalgia song in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, a (great) movie that is now 24 years old and used it when it was 10 years old like that is now. Please stare in awe at the creeping specter of death.
6 Wang Chung- Everybody Have Fun Tonight. How do I have a song with the lyrics Everybody Wang Chung Tonight on my list? Because I can’t imagine this list without it but that really is absurd self promotion. Especially from a group that SHOULD SO NOT have had THAT name. But dammit a classic is a classic. I love that this song feels like an order to have fun and you will obey. It sounds like a perfect party. It’s so bouncy and goofy. It’s pure ridiculousness and vintage 80s.
Let’s go to the mall! Yes I promised last time we would hit the mall queens. And we are indeed. First, I pose a question. Should covers count for this list? A cover song after all is road tested. It’s been a hit once and it’s not unexpected it’ll be a hit again. I think you can argue I’m cheating to put one on. But I already had one last list and I had a great Tommy James cover down this list. And I’m going to put another one here.
5 Tiffany- I Think We’re Alone Now. Look, this song always works and it always works because it never feels dated. It always feels like a perfect anthem of youthful rebellion. And I like this version a lot. Tiffany wasn’t a great singer and I’m not shocked this was her biggest blip on pop culture. But this is a perfect update. It feels like the 80s response to the original. It’s a perfect little bubblegum song made to play for the 80s. It’s slick and glossy like the malls it was made to blare in. And it perfectly captures the moment.
The worst trend of 1987 was the constant trend of boring droning music. So much of 1987 seemed like it was on Sominex. Why did we have so many songs that were just slow, tuneless regretful music. Only once this year did it fit. But it fit hard.
4 Crowded House- Don’t Dream It’s Over. On paper this is everything I hate about the year. It’s restrained. It’s sluggish. It’s very minor key. But that’s the point. This is a song about a troubled relationship and trying to find peace. The song sounds like someone trying to be diplomatic and it fits. It’s a perfect anthem for trying to make things work. It’s also sonically just a dream. That perfect sloping rhythm just works. It soothes so much. I also really love Something So Strong from the band this year but this is the classic.
So I covered Tiffany above. She had a great mall song. But what was the best. I’m going with my #3. And I credit the writer. Tiffany used a cover for gold but to truly know what the sound was, to make the perfect song for a teenage girl, you had to actually be 14.
3 Debbie Gibson- Only in My Dreams. What a marvel this song is. It’s so simple it could be a hit on any decade. The sentiment is so timeless. And again, I put that down to the songwriter, Gibson herself, being 14 when she wrote it. Because that’s the thing. It sounds like a 14 year old girl’s idea of love and that never comes out so unfiltered. Definitely not in 1987. The production on it is also absolutely perfect. This is such a happy place song for me.
Covers have dominated a lot of discussion on this list with two covers on it. But now the coin is flipping. The band Disturbed is really great at covers. Their cover of If I Ever Lost My Faith in You is fantastic. They did a great and remarkably faithful take on The Sound of Silence. But while I like their cover of this next song, they couldn’t touch the classic.
2 Genesis- Land of Confusion. This is such a weird song for this year. Nothing else sounds this violent or this tense. It’s a bleaker than bleak look at the darkness of the world and it really shows off how great Phil Collins is at expressing seething rage. While we think of the 80s as the greed era, it was also a deeply political and angry time. That’s what this reflects. This belongs to the 1987 that gave us Wall Street. And it just hasn’t lost one second of power.
I had to change how I do this project. See I was limiting myself to the top 100 for the first two rounds. And I stand by those lists. My number ones each year are among my absolute favorite songs. But as I’ve done research for future lists, there are great songs that do not make the year end lists. And when I get to the 1990s, I’m going to focus so hard on alternative and country that the lists are irrelevant basically because that’s not what I listened to. So I’m opening it up. And that starts here. Not a giant hit. But iconic.
1 The Cure- Just Like Heaven. Yeah this is one that wouldn’t have made it on without research and that’s a mistake. Because Just Like Heaven has to be here. And it has to be number one. And yes technically it had its peak in 1988. I don’t care. It’s mostly a 1987 single as it peaked 1/9. This is just everything I love about a song. Getting lost madly in emotion and completely living in the vibe. Robert Smith is known for his darkness but damn does he make this song seem so thrilling. As he should since he based it on a trip with his future wife. It’s exactly what the song feels like. It’s bliss.
It’s going to be very silly next time in 1986.