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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

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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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Madonna, “Borderline”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 10
"I dared to believe this was going to be huge beyond belief, the biggest thing I'd ever had, after I heard 'Borderline,'" Seymour Stein, the record man who signed Madonna, recalled. "The passion that she put into that song, I thought, there's no stopping this girl." His gut was right on target: The fifth and final single from Madonna's 1983 debut album was her first to hit the Top 10. The melodic synth-a-palooza with the plunky low end was one of two on the LP penned by Reggie Lucas, who used a drum machine instead of a live drummer for the first time on the tune, doubling a synth bass with Anthony Jackson on electric bass guitar ("They're playing so tight you can't tell the difference," Lucas said). Madonna turned in a sweetly-sung, restrained but emotional vocal (her voice wavers just so when she gets to "Feels like I'm going to lose my mind") about a beau who has her heart twisted. The radio remix, which trims nearly three minutes from the tune, boasts one of Madge's most iconic fade-outs, standing by as she "la la la"s into the void. C.G.

Prince1984

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13: RITZ CLUB Photo of PRINCE, Prince performing on stage - Purple Rain Tour (Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

Richar E. Aaron/Redferns

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Prince and the Revolution, “When Doves Cry”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
The year's biggest hit (five weeks at Number One) was also its most visionary. After the shrapnel of Prince's introductory guitar volley settles, a hypnotic Linn drum pattern syncs with a synth figure courtly enough for a minuet. Vocals of cold menace and desperate abandon vie for preeminence until climatic screeches of pain carry the day. It's a song that has everything — except a bass. Prince brazenly lopped off his original bass line the studio and then, according to engineer Peggy McCreary, boasted, in true Prince fashion, "There's nobody that's going to have the guts to do this." K.H.