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100 Best Singles of 1984: Pop’s Greatest Year

Let’s go crazy: The standout songs from radio’s ‘Thriller’ season

From Prince to Madonna to Michael Jackson to Bruce Springsteen to Cyndi Lauper, 1984 was the peak of pop stardom. Here's the 100 best reasons why

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns;

From Prince to Madonna to Michael Jackson to Bruce Springsteen to Cyndi Lauper, 1984 was the year that pop stood tallest. New Wave, R&B, hip-hop, mascara’d hard rock and “Weird Al” Yankovic all crossed paths on the charts while a post-“Billie Jean” MTV brought them into your living room. In the spirit of this landmark year, here are the 100 best singles from the year pop popped. To be considered, the song had to be released in 1984 or have significant chart impact in 1984, and charted somewhere on the Billboard Hot 100. 

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100

Corey Hart, “Sunglasses at Night”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Seven
With help from producer Jon Astley, who'd worked on the Who's Who Are You (Pete Townshend was his brother-in-law at the time), Hart rode to short-lived stardom on a distinctively Eighties synth ostinato that was all nagging paranoia and Orwellian menace. He soon demonstrated a keen knack for dodging success, turning down Spielberg's offer to screen test for the role of Marty McFly and passing on an invite to record "Danger Zone" for the Top Gun soundtrack. Still, his career bounced back some in the Nineties, with Hart writing for and performing with fellow Canadian Celine Dion. K.H.

 

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99

Scandal feat. Patty Smyth, “The Warrior”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Seven
Holly Knight wrote Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield"; Nick Gilder sang "Hot Child in the City." This songwriting collaboration mashes together the martial melodrama of the former and the latter's post-apocalyptic urban sleaze — and was more fun than both. Smyth aced the tuff Eighties strut required here, then quickly mellowed out, dueting on ballads with the Hooters and Don Henley — though any woman who dated Richard Hell and married John McEnroe was surely capable of sticking to her guns. K.H.

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98

Dead or Alive, “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 11
A brash, ravishing gender-bender with a fresh mouth and no legit hits, Dead or Alive frontman Pete Burns was in danger of being dismissed as a catty Boy George knock-off by 1984. But then he sought out the young hi-NRG production trio of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman — who'd just had a club breakthrough with "You Think You're a Man" by John Waters' gender-bending grand dame Divine. Their partnership with Dead or Alive resulted in synth-disco burner "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)," which became a U.K. Number One hit (Number 11 in the U.S.). Burns claimed to have written the song by allusively splicing Luther Vandross' club jam "I Wanted Your Love" with chirpy pop-dance blip "See You 'Round Like a Record" by Little Nell (a.k.a. New York nightclub doyenne Nell Campbell), which Stock Aitken Waterman spiffed up in a 36-hour cocaine-amped recording session. Whatever the formula, the song had remarkable staying power, being re-released three more times as a single during the next 20 years. It finally hit Number One thanks to a re-imagining by Flo Rida and Ke$ha in 2009. C.A.

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97

Peter Wolf, “Lights Out”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 12
Peter Wolf bailed on the J. Geils Band in 1983 due to "creative differences," and his 1984 album Lights Out bore the first fruits of his liberated-frontman labor. Produced by Wolf and electro-funk pioneer Michael Jonzun, the record backs up his swaggering voice with future-sounding R&B signifiers that were in vogue at the time — and some synth brass here and there. The title track's popping bass and squealing guitar give way to a percussion-heavy breakdown that sounds destined for a 15-minute extended remix. And why not? Wolf let out his post-last-call flirtations convincingly enough for the track to peak at Number 11 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart. M.J.

 

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96

Tears for Fears, “Mothers Talk”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 27
Inspired by Raymond Briggs' nuclear-fallout graphic novel When the Wind Blows, "Mothers Talk" was the first single off Tears for Fears' dominant Songs From the Big Chair. After a quick Barry Manilow sample (how's that for subversive?), the track's electronic churn builds into a thump somewhere between circa '84 acts Art of Noise and Run-D.M.C. It was eventually overshadowed by slower hits like "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," but it shows mercurial Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith — yelping "We can work it out!" — at their most rebellious, both topically and rhythmically. R.F.

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95

Depeche Mode, “People Are People”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 13
Depeche Mode songwriter Martin Gore once enumerated a list of favorite topics, including "relationships, domination, lust, love, good, evil, incest, sin, religion, immortality." This, their first American hit (not even "Just Can't Get Enough" had charted), hits many of those notes — a rare song about racism that neither shrinks from nor oversimplifies its topic, while remaining catchy as a nursery rhyme. Nevertheless, the band grew tired of it and retired it from performance after their 1988 tour. M.M.

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94

Bon Jovi, “Runaway”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 39
With their very first single, glam-metal trailblazers Bon Jovi nailed the perfect combination of desperation and decadence that would define their career, thanks to "Runaway"'s slithery synths and suggestive lyrics. It came after years of woodshedding, since the band wrote the song in 1980 or '81. The tune only hinted at the unifying power of songs like "Livin' on a Prayer," "I'll Be There for You" and "Bed of Roses," but it showed that these New Jersey no-goodniks had found the nexus of heartfelt balladry and hard-rock guts that would define huge swaths of hard rock later in the Eighties. K.G.

 

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93

The Jacksons feat. Mick Jagger, “State of Shock”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Three
Michael Jackson began 1984 at Number One: Thriller broke the all-time sales record, topping the month-end charts for January, February and March, and the Paul McCartney collab "Say Say Say" was the most popular single in the country for the first two weeks of the year. Sixth months later, he and his brothers scored their final group Top Five by recruiting none other than Mick Jagger to plead for a little "mouth-to-mouth re-susc-it-ation" on the arena funk "State of Shock." Appropriately, the tune was a live favorite, performed both by Jagger (with Tina Turner) at Live Aid and during the closing medley at the Jacksons' Victory Tour, one the highest-grossing shows of the decade. N.M.

 

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92

Tommy Shaw, “Girls With Guns”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 33
Shaw had begun playing guitar for heartland AOR pompers Styx in 1975, right when they were losing their early heavy-metal cred, but in the next few years he nonetheless wrote their most rocking radio standbys — "Blue Collar Man," "Renegade," "Fooling Yourself" — not to mention 1981's "Too Much Time on My Hands," the band's most New Wave single. His only real solo hit took off from the latter: Buoyed by a band of Brits including Wings drummer Steve Holley, its giddy, boinging enthusiasm and uplift oddly could have fit right in on Bad Religion's soon-disowned powerpop bubbleprog masterwork Into the Unknown the year before. C.E.

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91

Laid Back, “White Horse”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 26
Perhaps the most unconvincing anti-drug song of all time, "White Horse" (slang for both heroin and cocaine) became an electro-funk standard by locating that unmistakable Eighties niche of playfully naughty garbaggio. With a wheezing, slide-whistle click-and-thud 808 beat, some proto-acid flickers and a comically ominous Euro voice intoning random claptrap like, "If you wanna be rich/Then you got to be a bitch," Danish duo Tim Stahl and John Guldberg created a time-capsule of borderless synth-and-drum-machine flukery (though you can certainly hear hints of Green Velvet's sly techno prankishness). The B-side of dubious European hit "Sunshine Reggae" (Jack Johnson's ballsy by comparison), "White Horse" was a Number One dance track in the U.S. (Number 26 pop), thanks in part to the help of Prince, who urged Warner Bros. to release a 12-inch single featuring "White Horse" on one side and "When Doves Cry" on the other. C.A.

 

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90

Bruce Springsteen, “Cover Me”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Seven
Bruce Springsteen originally wrote the second single from Born in the U.S.A. for disco queen Donna Summer — although, thanks to the intervention of manager Jon Landau, the Jersey legend wound up keeping it for himself. Its lightning-bolt guitar line and metronomically precise drumming are given extra dramatic heft by Springsteen's fiery, pleading performance. The shimmering, dubby Arthur Baker remix, which adds vocalist Jocelyn Baker and foregrounds the bouncing-ball bass, is enough to make one dream of an alternate universe where Springsteen ditched rock in favor of disco-ball dreams (it just missed the Top 10 of the Hot Dance Club Play chart). M.J.

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89

Steve Perry, “Oh Sherrie”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Three
Steve Perry was still a member of Journey when he released Street Talk, his first solo album, and the lead single from that record, written for his then-girlfriend Sherrie Swafford, bore many of his band's signature touches — pealing guitars, urgently pled verses and a sense of arena-rock pomp. (Perry's exuberant vocal performance helped, too.) The clip became an MTV staple because it sated the era's then-overwhelming appetite for more music that sounded like Journey, but its presentation of Perry as everyman, embarrassedly rolling his eyes at an overblown Medieval Times video concept and blowing off work to hang out with the woman he loved (played by Swafford herself), helped it stick in the public's mind decades later. M.J.

 

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88

Lionel Richie, “Stuck on You”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 3
The ex-Commodore grew up in Tuskegee, Alabama, hearing the Grand Ole Opry, and his Seventies band's "Easy" and "Sail On" had a subliminal rural tinge, so it's no shock that he'd eventually try country — even, per the 45 sleeve, a cowboy hat — on for size. Early Eighties Nashville hitmakers like Earl Thomas Conley, Razzy Bailey and Ronnie Milsap had singing styles steeped in R&B, so Richie's timing was right. A down-home countrypolitan arrangement, toasty-cozy crooning and heading-back-home theme out of "Midnight Train to Georgia" helped "Stuck on You" go Top Five pop, Top 25 country and Top 10 R&B. Has any single done that since? C.E.

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87

The Pointer Sisters, “Jump (for My Love)”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Three
The Pointer Sisters may have dabbled successfully in Forties retro and M.O.R. previously, but pleasure-droid synthpop was just them. Their full-tilt conversion into glossy Eighties electronics was as exciting a makeover as the Bee Gees going disco. We had to wait till 1992 for Kris Kross and House of Pain to definitively prove the Jump Theorem (every hit single called "Jump" is awesome), but this gravity-defiant hit (released in close proximity to Van Halen's "Jump," it should be said) clued us in early on. K.H.

 

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86

The Police, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Eight
"Every Breath You Take" stole all the oxygen, but the moody keybs and tiny-cymbal crashes and Sting's 200-pound Greek mythology shout-outs ("You consider me a young apprentice/Caught between Scylla and Charybdis") all added up to "Wrapped Around Your Finger" being the powerful secret hero of the indomitable Synchronicity. It is for the best that 5 Seconds of Summer didn't actually attempt to cover it; and whoever lit all those candles in the video (it was most likely neither Godley nor Creme) hopefully got a raise. The one-two punch of this and "Tea in the Sahara" is the best surprise-bummer-ending album closer of the Eighties. R.H.

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85

Bryan Adams, “Run to You”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Six
The former glam-rocker and future schlockmeister from Canada, at his commercial and creative peak, borrows hard-popping six-string jangle from the Byrds via "Don't Fear the Reaper." He and perennial writing partner Jim Vallance earmarked the song for Blue Öyster Cult, who turned it down. So Adams kept it for himself, parlaying a moral quandary about being Somebody Else's Guy into his career's most impassioned performance — even though the video suggests that who he's cheating with isn't another woman, but his guitar. C.E.

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84

R.E.M., “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 85
Nameless when they played it in 1983 on Late Night With David Letterman (their TV debut), and later tagged "Southern Central Rain" before being abbreviated by singer Michael Stipe, this suggestive, ambling almost countryish song was quickly identified as R.E.M.'s obvious crossover shot (though it only got as far as Number 85 on Billboard). The band's label, I.R.S. urged a move to a bigger, pro-style studio to record second album Reckoning and Pete Buck even used the "Rockman" amp set-up (developed by Boston's Tom Scholz) for his 12-string Rickenbacker on the chiming, inviting intro. Stipe's lyrics were cryptic and doleful till toward the end, when the band locked into an insistent, would-be krautrock drone, with a plinking piano, pealing guitar and Stipe wailing "I'm sorry." This was R.E.M.'s commercial throat-lump moment, when their mystery became not just something to immerse yourself in, but a stance to adopt and buy into. Refusing to lip-sync for the video, Stipe sang live, while his bandmates were obscured by scrims, unwittingly setting in motion the cult of authenticity that would dominate the alt-rock Nineties. C.A.

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83

Diana Ross, “Swept Away”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 19
Propelled by backup vocals, production and a guitar solo from Daryl Hall while Arthur Baker keeps the multi-layered machine-funk percussion up to date, the supreme Supreme makes her last great single — and also, simultaneously, one of her hardest rocking and most oceanic. After a whisper-spoken intro about a dream tryst on an island beach, her singing turns Middle Eastern, then the fling floats out to sea since "nothing lasts forever" even if "the rise and fall is endless." So she just rides the torrential current, cooing, flirting, growling, admonishing — in the 12-inch version, for well over seven minutes. C.E.

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82

John Lennon, “Nobody Told Me”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Five
It's tempting to imagine what might have been had Lennon re-cut the vocal to his final Top 10 hit, something he planned to do after New Year's Eve, 1980. He'd cut the track early in the sessions, deliberately leaving it aside for the follow-up to Double Fantasy — it didn't fit that album's domestic mood. What we've got, though, is plenty: Instead of double-tracking himself per usual, this relaxed take shows how powerfully natural and sharp-witted a singer he was. The song, by the way, was initially written by Lennon for Ringo Starr. M.M.

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81

Jocelyn Brown, “Somebody Else’s Guy”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 75
A disco fave who sang on underground classics like Musique's "Keep on Jumpin'" and Inner Life's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," Jocelyn Brown scored her biggest solo hit with "Somebody Else's Guy," a torn, funky lament written when Brown and her sister Annette realized they were both being two-timed. The song remains a party favorite, but back in 1984, Brown and producer Allen George had to fight to get it released. "A lot of older black A&R guys are totally out of touch with the street," the latter told Billboard's Nelson George not long after the single's release. "All the majors turned down 'Somebody Else's Guy,' saying it was too old-fashioned. Yet on an indie, Prelude, it was a huge record. They don't want to give young blood a shot at bringing in an unknown artist." N.M.

 

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80

Robin Gibb, “Boys Do Fall in Love”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 37
The blue-eyed-soul Bee Gee made his New Wave move late, with stuttering, silly synth-pop that somehow echoed the then-emergent evolution of both Italodisco (the song went Top 10 in Italy) and Latin freestyle (it was shaped by a team of producers who'd just kicked off the genre with Shannon's "Let the Music Play"). Chirpingly cheerful about boys getting love on a Saturday night, yet sheltering a secret sadness that slips out whenever Gibb grabs angelic high notes, "Boys Do Fall in Love" can also be heard as a male mirroring of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." And in its sci-fi video, set in A.D. 2184, people do futuristic things: wearing Devo glasses, for instance, and sliding CDs into a player. C.E.

 

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79

Genesis, “That’s All”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 6
A simple piano-driven tune written in homage to the Beatles, "That's All" marked the tipping point of Genesis' transformation from prog pomp-masters to pop hitmakers. It was the band's first Top 10 hit in the U.S., as well as the first for Phil Collins as a songwriter (his cover of "You Can't Hurry Love" grazed the top echelon a couple of years earlier). A few months later, Collins would top the chart as a solo artist with "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)," and remain a ubiquitous presence for the rest of the decade. A.S.

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78

The Cars, “You Might Think”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Seven
"Mutt" Lange all but invented the sound of pop metal with Def Leppard's Pyromania and AC/DC's Back in Black, and look what he's done to these rock & roll clowns — turned them into fast machines and kept their motors clean. On the first single from the Cars' 1984 album, Heartbeat City, chrome-plated hooks are buffed free of all art-pop residue or new-wave anomie. Elliot Easton's precise guitar bits go out for a tuneful spin before pulling right back in where they started and Greg Hawkes' keyboards are as persistent and repetitive as a song about an ingratiating stalker calls for. K.H.

 

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77

Hall and Oates, “Out of Touch”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
"AOR is starting to go more in our direction, which is black-white crossover," Daryl Hall told Billboard in a 1984 story on their Big Bam Boom LP. "Radio is heading more in that direction now than at any time in the past 15 years." He and Oates responded to these shifts with "Out of Touch," the rare tune that becomes a hit on the pop, R&B, dance and adult contemporary charts. With two thick bass lines and drum machine percussion, "Out of Touch" was even a favorite of New York mix-show DJs like Red Alert and the Latin Rascals, who would occasionally play it (or Arthur Baker's dub remix) alongside electro by Hashim and Man Parrish. N.M.

 

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76

General Public, “Tenderness”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 27
After the English Beat dissolved in 1983, vocalists Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger formed General Public alongside other refugees from New Wave-era acts like the Clash, Dexys Midnight Runners and the Specials. The Clash's Mick Jones departed the group midway through the recording of their first album, but not before adding guitars to a few tracks, including the deceptively world-weary "Tenderness." Blending sparkling keyboards with Wakeling and Roger's pumped-up melancholia, the track not only laid out the funny-cry-happy appeal of early modern rock, it set the table for similarly quasi-triumphant tracks like Robyn's "Dancing on My Own." M.J.

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75

Billy Joel, “Uptown Girl”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Three
Billy Joel wrote "Uptown Girl" about his girlfriend at the time, model Elle Macpherson. But the song (released in 1983) came to be more popularly associated with his co-star in the video, Christie Brinkley, who Joel married in 1985. Evidently this Frankie Valli-inspired piece of vocal-group revisionism reminded him of Brinkley as well: The song was dropped from Joel's concert set lists in the mid-Nineties when the couple was splitting up. A.S.

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74

J. Blackfoot, “Taxi”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 90
Once a member of thrice-pop-charting turn-of-the-Seventies Stax vocal quartet the Soul Children (and before that a teenage Tennessee State Pen inmate), Mississippi-born J. Blackfoot was already in his late thirties when he grabbed his biggest solo hit. "Taxi" was Top Five R&B, if only Number 90 pop, and even then probably the last blues-guitared, catfish-and-cornbread-fed Southern soul to score so high on either chart. It came from a small-label album called City Slicker, which depicted Blackfoot as a country man navigating urban streets — here, trying to reach his baby across town before her new love does. Hitchhiking won't cut it, so he whistles for a cab and pleads for the driver to take the freeway. Hope he made it! C.E.

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73

Def Leppard, “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 61
Def Leppard gave their 1981 single "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" a second chance in 1984, capitalizing on their "Photograph" ubiquity by reissuing their second full-length, High 'n' Dry, with a synthesizer-imbued remix. The effect turned a fragile hard-rock power ballad into something huge, and previewed their late-Eighties reign: bombastic production, multi-tracked harmonies and a pop malleability that transcended hard rock. Mariah Carey took it one step further in 2002 when she turned it into a full-on, symphonically orchestrated R&B song. K.G.

 

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72

Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take it”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 21
A visually striking band, a chorus that's fun to shout, a video with a parents-versus-kids storyline (in the clip, "I wanna rock!" is the headbanger equivalent of clicking your ruby slippers): How could this fail in the MTV era? "We're Not Gonna Take It" was (and remains) an anthem, through and through, with a simplistic, catchy, knuckle-headed melody so primal that the guitar solo just repeats it. Joan Jett and Green Day have riffed on it, "Weird Al" has turned it into a polka and the Broadway musical Rock of Ages made it a staple of the Great White Way. K.G.

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71

Jellybean, “Sidewalk Talk”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 18
Madonna penned the first single to be credited to her then-boyfriend, New York DJ John "Jellybean" Benitez, and handled vocal duties on its chorus. (The breathy Catharine Buchanan, who passed away in 2001, sang the verses.) Similar in style to the ramped-up club music that made tracks like the Benitez-produced "Holiday" early-Eighties radio staples, "Sidewalk Talk" distills the essence of New York — full of fast-moving possibility and flash, but to be handled with caution in order to be survived. M.J.

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70

Midnight Star, “No Parking (on the Dance Floor)”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 81
Midnight Star, an electro-funk group from the unlikely locale of Frankfort, Kentucky, went double platinum with their fourth album, No Parking on the Dance Floor, thanks to a string of singles ("Freak-A-Zoid," "Wet My Whistle") that masterfully combined Kraftwerk's minimalist blips with pop-sized hooks. Third single, "No Parking (on the Dance Floor)," was a hypnotic mix of Rick James grooves and vocoder sizzle; and the eye-catching video possibly got a boost from Prince lookalike busting a move. A.S.

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69

Ray Parker Jr., “Ghostbusters”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
Quite possibly the best blockbuster-movie theme song of the decade also triggered one of the 1980s' gnarliest musical lawsuits. And sure, it does sound like Ray Parker Jr. baldly ripped off Huey Lewis, but this is catchier than "I Want a New Drug," exuberant horns and all, and thus charted higher on the Hot 100. Plus: Did the Reagan Era produce a better, truer bridge than "Bustin' makes me feel good"? Alas, it was the apex of Mr. Parker Jr.'s career, and his royalty situation is still a mess; his only hope now is to somehow talk Bill Murray into another sequel. R.H.

 

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68

Van Halen, “Hot for Teacher”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 56
The last of the four of singles from Van Halen's blockbuster 1984, "Hot for Teacher," with its legendary intro of Alex Van Halen overdubbing multiple bass drums, wound up being the swan song for David Lee Roth's original tenure with the band. The wildly entertaining video, co-directed by Roth, showed the frontman going on to become "America's favorite TV game show host" — something that was a little prophetic. Within a few months, Diamond Dave would take his increasingly wacky aesthetic to solo clips like "California Girls" and announce his departure from the band. A.S.

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67

Madonna, “Like a Virgin”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
If the hits from Madonna's 1983 debut established her as a star, it was the title track from 1984's Like a Virgin that vaulted her into icon status, rocketing to the top of the Hot 100 in its sixth week on the chart. Madonna has played up the ambiguity of the lyric, which has been interpreted in many ways (most famously and explicitly in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs), but the song was originally conceived by songwriter Billy Steinberg as a tender ballad inspired by a new love after a depressing heartbreak. It was Madonna herself, however, who suggested the title of the parody "Weird Al" Yankovic later recorded, "Like a Surgeon." A.S.

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66

Elton John, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Four
Elton John had dallied with other lyricists since the late Seventies, but 1983's Too Low for Zero reunited him full-time with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, who responded with the words for Elton's finest Eighties hit. It's not a lyric Taupin is especially proud of: On his website, he expresses regret over the line "I simply love you more than I love life itself," a sentiment he calls "false." But it elicits one of Elton's most heartfelt performances, abetted by the first of Stevie Wonder's two great charting-in-1984 harmonica guest spots (the other: Chaka Khan's "I Feel for You"). M.M.

 

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65

Laura Branigan, “Self Control”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 4
Like this booming bridge-and-tunnel torch-dance diva's even bigger "Gloria" two years before, "Self Control" was an English translation of an Italian pop hit. And though it scaled dance and adult-contemporary as well as pop charts, its sound and mood was just as much post-Benatar rock and goth without making an issue of it: Branigan "live(s) among the creatures of the night," since when the light's out it's more dangerous. In the video, directed by William Friedkin of The Exorcist fame, she descends to the cellar from her bedroom to encounter an orgy of masked, nearly naked freaks and vampires. Especially given the song's decadent Eurotrash past, debts to Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" hardly seem a stretch. C.E.

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64

Matthew Wilder, “Break My Stride”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Five
The debut single from this former Bette Midler backup singer is a jaunty bit of pop-reggae with a chorus tailor-made to help people lift themselves out of whatever malaise they might be in. It was probably inevitable that this idiosyncratic track, marked as much by Wilder's feather-light voice as it was by its "hang in there" poster feel, would be Wilder's only Top 10 hit, but his influence has reverberated beyond the Eighties. "Stride" was interpolated by Puff Daddy for "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down," which rocketed past the original's Number Five showing, topping the charts in 1997. In recent years Wilder has produced No Doubt's similarly bouncy Tragic Kingdom, as well as tracks by Miley Cyrus (in Hannah Montana mode) and Kelly Clarkson. M.J.

 

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63

ZZ Top, “Legs”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
Although the song was interpreted as a purely lascivious celebration of female anatomy (a fact the video certainly played up), ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons originally wrote "Legs" after he saw a young lady running to get out of the rain. The band reigned over 1983 with Eliminator hits like "Gimme All Your Lovin'" and "Sharp Dressed Man," the bearded thirtysomething rockers adapting surprisingly well to the MTV era. But the Texas trio saved the best for last with the album's fifth single, which wound up being the biggest hit of their career — 45 years and counting. A.S.

 

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62

Animotion, “Obsession”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Six
"Obsession" was originally recorded by co-writers Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight and included in the 1983 stripper-hunk love saga A Night in Heaven (starring Lesley Ann Warren and Christopher Atkins — giving this tune extra Eighties points all by itself). But in the hands of S.F. synth-poppers Animotion, "Obsession" is Eighties sleaze so ultimate that Adrian Lyne should be kicking himself for not directing the video. M.M.

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61

Yes, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 1
Buggles mastermind and burgeoning synth-pop genius Trevor Horn was first drafted into Yes to front the band on 1980's Drama after the departure of founding member Jon Anderson. While that album didn't reverse the band's downward creative and commercial trajectory, Horn remained on as a producer when a new side project, Cinema, turned into a Yes reunion when Anderson came back into the fold. The resulting album, 90125, was an unexpected pop juggernaut, with "Owner of a Lonely Heart" perfectly merging Yes' prog ambitions with Horn's cutting-edge sonics and pop smarts. A.S.

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60

John Cougar Mellencamp, “Pink Houses”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 8
Adding "Mellencamp" to his name meant the Coug was taking his greasy small-town Midwest populism seriously now. As with Springsteen's to the east, his lyrics left themselves open to misinterpretation and appropriation by all stripes — that interstate running through the old black man's front yard inevitably lured eminent domain-obsessed Tea Party types. But Reaganomics made the simple man paying for the bills and pills that kill timely regardless, and the Hoosier bard's band — anchored by drum hero Kenny Aronoff — made folk-rock kick like three-chord frat-rock. In decades since, artists from Leather Nun ("Pink House," 1986) to Kenny Chesney ("American Kids," 2014) couldn't leave the archetype alone. C.E.

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59

Pat Benatar, “Love Is a Battlefield”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Five
Pat Benatar was already a darling of both rock radio and MTV when she released her first live album, Live From Earth, in late 1983. But it was one of two new studio tracks tacked on to the end that became her biggest crossover success. The video, one of the first with dramatic dialogue outside of the musical segments, was patently ridiculous, with Benatar playing a teenage working girl who stands up to her pimp — but the video's dance sequence became a pop-culture sensation. Benatar, who said she had "two left feet," recalled, "I was crying… I'm happy I did it, but I can't say there was one moment where it was pleasant." A.S.

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58

Rebbie Jackson, “Centipede”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 24
As sinuous and vocally self-assured as any Jackson family record not made or fronted by Michael, his squeal-prone eldest sibling's first and highest hit was nonetheless written and produced by him. And his repressed, tormented sexuality runs all through its slithering electro-funk: "You crawled into the bathroom window, to bite him with your love," like a smooth criminal — only here the metaphor is a creepy-crawly arthropod with way too many legs, a "hot" one for some reason, that turns into a snake in the final verse. On Rebbie's album, she also covered Prince's "I Feel for You," only a week after Chaka Khan did. The Pointer Sisters had done it two years before, actually, but Chaka won. C.E.

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57

Scorpions, “Rock You Like a Hurricane”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 25
Scorpions could barely crack the Top 40 in their native Germany, let alone cross it at all in the States before the primal, fist-banging call-to-arms "Rock You Like a Hurricane." Its guitar riff (which mirrored the melody of the salvo) was seemingly cut from the same swath as metal anthems like "Iron Man" and "Smoke on the Water." It all added up to for a powerful, seething proclamation of rock, an undeniable call to play air guitar like few songs had done before. The song and its video (whose cage match predicted the next year's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) made Scorpions megastars in 1984, notching them a triple-platinum album and paving the way for huge hits throughout the decade. K.G.

 

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56

Bronski Beat, “Smalltown Boy”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 48
Balancing melancholia and backbone in his falsetto, Jimmy Somerville lends soulful voice to disenfranchised LGBT youth in Bronski Beat's "Smalltown Boy." The tumultuous synthpop anthem gives listeners encouragement run away because "The love that you need will never be found at home." It's easy to hear why the Beat's hissing drums and keyboard loops found a heartbeat in clubs, but the "It gets better" message — poignant without being heavy handed — keeps Somerville singing it to this day. Recently, he reinvented it as a piano ballad. R.F.

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55

Billy Idol, “Rebel Yell”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 46
"White Wedding" had already made Billy Idol an MTV star before he released 1983's Rebel Yell. But the album's title track and lead single didn't take off until a 1984 re-release following the success of "Eyes Without a Face." Idol didn't write the song about the whiskey — although he was introduced to the brand when he saw some other rock stars, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, taking swigs from a bottle of Rebel Yell. A.S.

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54

Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, “Say, Say, Say”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
In what would become one of pop's most famous and turbulent intergenerational friendships, Paul McCartney became something of a big brother to the only pop star of the Eighties whose popularity rivaled that of the Beatles. Although their first collaboration, "The Girl Is Mine," is mainly remembered as the weakest link in Thriller's chain of hits, their second duet, for Macca's 1983 Pipes of Peace, found common ground with an uptempo rock song. It was Number One for six weeks between 1983 and 1984, and, as Billboard reported last year, the 40th biggest hit of all time. A.S.

 

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53

“Weird Al” Yankovic, “Eat It”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 12
Even the man's own Twitter bio acknowledges that this will forever be "Weird Al" Yankovic's tastiest calling card. The Michael Jackson parody won him his first Grammy (for Best Comedy Recording, beating out Rodney Dangerfield and Richard Pryor) and rhymes "Raisin Bran" with "kids starving in Japan." The video, with its non-stop barrage of visual gags, helped establish MTV (and music video as an iconic medium) almost as much as the videos it was spoofing. MJ loved it, or at least tolerated it. R.H.

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52

Cherrelle, “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 79
The Minneapolis-based producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis began developing their distinctive sound — sweeping synths, crisp bass lines, irresistible melodies that straddled the line between electro-funk and R&B — as members of the Time in the early Eighties. The sinewy, synth-drum-heavy "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" was one of a handful of tracks the pair produced for Fragile, the debut album by the Los Angeles-based singer Cherrelle. "Turn" only just broke into the Hot 100, but it eventually became known as one of Jam & Lewis's signature tracks, as their sound started to dominate the decade via Janet Jackson, New Edition and George Michael. In 1986, blue-eyed soul man Robert Palmer took a smokier version to Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100, and Mariah Carey used the original instrumental bed for her 2001 version, which appeared on the soundtrack to her notorious quasi-biopic Glitter. M.J.

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51

Dan Hartman, “I Can Dream About You”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Six
The 1984 "rock & roll fable" Streets of Fire was a critical and commercial flop, but the retro-futuristic lead single from its soundtrack, "I Can Dream About You," dominated radio long after the movie left theaters. Dan Hartman's version of "Dream" doesn't appear in the movie, where "Dream" is performed by the in-universe band the Sorels; instead, actors Grand L. Bush, Stoney Jackson, Mykelti Williamson and Robert Townsend mime a version performed by vocalist Winston Ford. But Hartman's version dominated radio, in part because it encapsulated the mid-Eighties vogue for callbacks to the early Motown era. (In 2005 Daryl Hall revealed that Hartman had actually written "Dream" for Hall & Oates.) Hartman gives as much oomph to his impassioned vocal performance as he does to the track's delectable guitar solo, making for a track that, today, ably doubles down on the idea of "retro." M.J.