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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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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 gu