The Best Songs of the 1980s Will Invoke Nostalgia for High School Dances

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One might not think there were very many exceptional songs to come out of the 80s. That isn’t exactly the case. Despite being awash in synthetic music, the 1980s provided us with some of the most unique and innovative sounds to emerge from music. The following five songs were groundbreaking in their own right, and have withstood the test of time (and VH1’s capitalizing on nostalgia). Break out those legwarmers, and settle in for five of the best hits of the 1980’s.

5 “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper

What would the 80s be without a little Lauper? A stereotypical 80s song, “Time After Time” is unique in the sense that it is a truly genuine love song. Lauper’s own distinct vocal style made her stand out amongst the other 80s pop acts, and the sweet simplicity of “Time After Time” made it one of the best love songs to come out of the 80s. It fit with the decade’s moral code, but broke through the stuffiness that the decade offered. Instead, it showed an honest, heartfelt side of the typical pop love ballad, making it more than just your typical 80s song. Instead, it became a meaningful expression of love, and continues to be one of those songs – the kind you put on a mixtape (or a flash drive) to give to your crush (or your friend-with-benefits). Standing the test of time, “Time After Time” will continue to be a simply great love song.

4 “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” – The Beastie Boys

Three white Jewish kids from Brooklyn were the last people you expected to see on MTV’s hip-hop video collection. And yet, there they were. The Beastie Boy’s breakthrough song, “Fight For Your Right” was the musical version of Ferris Buller’s day off. Perfect for every 80s kid who just wanted to let loose and have fun, The Beastie Boys did the unthinkable – crafted a musical revolution with a song that was genuinely, really freaking fun. There is no way to listen to “Fight for Your Right” without singing along, very loudly I might add. It inspires a true carefree attitude that music is sorely lacking at times, while simultaneously proving that musical walls can be broken (metaphorically and literally!)

3 “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson

Putting aside all the drama, Michael Jackson was one hell of a revolutionary artist. The true king of pop, Billie Jean took the 80s by storm. It was the predecessor to Kanye’s “Gold Digger” (and he should give credit where credit is due). “Billie Jean” not only featured unbelievably catchy hooks, Jackson’s distinct vocal abilities, but also his unbeatable dancing. The song was electrifying – easy to dance to, easy to sing along to, and really fun despite the strange message in the lyrics. The poor child! The song leaves the message open ended – and it’s up to you to decide if the kid is or isn’t his son. Regardless, the song isn’t really about the message in the lyrics, but more the overarching sound which was indubitably awesome.

2 “Walk This Way” – Aerosmith & Run DMC

Together, the 70s rock and 80s hip-hop groups broke through a literal wall with the 1987 version of “Walk This Way.” Combining two genres that had basically never been combined before was a revolutionary step in music. It forced people who didn’t see eye to eye to accept the fact that all musicians are artists, and they all have worth. “Walk This Way” is a catchy song on its own, but combined with Run DMC’s lyrical and musical ability, the song took on new life. It was novel to see Steven Tyler performing alongside Jam Master Jay was quite shocking, yet completely fitting. Both groups banded together to prove something, and succeeded. “Walk This Way” won both groups the Best Single Award at the Soul Train Music Awards (where you never would’ve expected to see Aerosmith), and was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame (where you’d be hard pressed to see another hit by Run DMC). It showed where the world was heading – a melding of genres, races, backgrounds, and music to create something inexplicably sweet.

1 “Under Pressure” – David Bowie & Queen

Not only one of the best songs of the 80s, “Under Pressure” is one of the best songs of the century. Both David Bowie and Queen were powerhouse musicians in their own right – together, they could do no wrong. “Under Pressure” was an interestingly thought provoking song, mixing both artists’ distinct musical capabilities. It is a song that forces the listeners to think about their own actions and responsibilities in creating the world we live in. Yet, it also exonerates us from feeling too full of blame, and professes the message that there can be a change, if we just band together to make one. However, a song like that would mean nothing if the musical prowess behind it was lacking. Bowie and Queen paired up were unstoppable, and there was never a song as definitively unique sounding as “Under Pressure,” or more momentous.

Conclusion

These five songs show that the 1980s were more than just a sea of neon, glitter, and trips to the mall. Even if it didn’t seem like it, the musical world kept on rolling, and solid acts continued to produce meaningful songs. In a decade that, with hindsight, seems devoid of any culture, these five songs show that even through the artificial cultural void of the 1980s, musicians will always find a way to prevail. And these five songs will maintain their importance throughout time.

Gabriella Geisinger is a 23-year-old human, born & raised in NYC. Most think she’s always been human, but the truth is she started out as a lion cub & recently completed her transformation into female form, after working one full year at SPIN.

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