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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. 

1984 wham!
50

Wham!, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
George Michael's gleaming tribute to vintage Motown was the latest in a long string of others doing the same (see the Jam's "Town Called Malice" and Hall & Oates' "Maneater"). It was also Wham!'s true U.S. breakthrough, the first of three Number Ones. "'Go-Go' was not a reflection of my personality, it was a reflection of my craft," Michael told SPIN in 1987. But Michael's craft had real personality: His first pop love was the Supremes, and you can hear his adoration in every note. M.M.

 

1984 Huey Lewis and the News
49

Huey Lewis and the News, “If This Is It”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 6
In its day, Huey Lewis and the News' 1983 smash Sports was as ubiquitous and monolithic (and Caucasian) as Weezer's Blue Album or Katy Perry's Teenage Dream were in theirs — consider that this pristine slice of whimsical doo-wop melancholy was the album's fourth single. A primo example of the band's "big fat rockcraft" (as Robert Christgau grudgingly put it), the song is best remembered for its goofy broiling-beach-bum MTV clip, wherein the News gamely consent to being buried in Santa Cruz sand up to their necks. The two requisite swimsuit models now report that Huey and Co. were perfect gentlemen. R.H.

1984 The Go-Go's
48

The Go-Go’s, “Head Over Heels”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 11
It should be illegal to buy a keyboard in this country without testing it via the peppy, wrist-dislocating riff that kicks off this, the leadoff track and one true undeniable moment on 1984's otherwise disappointing (and band-derailing) Talk Show. A Charlotte Caffey/Kathy Valentine joint (few Eighties crews had a deeper songwriting bench), it narrowly tops the decade's other big pop song named "Head Over Heels" on infectious charm alone, though it helps that the video isn't set in a library. Best clapping sound effects this side of "Jack and Diane," too. R.H.

1984 billy idol
47

Billy Idol, “Eyes Without a Face”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 4
Inspired by the super-creepy 1960 French horror flick Les Yeux Sans Visage (that's what the lady is chanting on the chorus), "Eyes Without a Face" is Billy Idol's monster power ballad, his very own "Maps" or "Beth" or "Free Bird." With a slithery, Public Image Ltd.-worthy bass line by salsa king Sal Cuevas, it's the indisputable highlight of Idol's 1983 album Rebel Yell, if not his whole career (and the video is a minor masterpiece of extreme-close-up sneering). R.H.

1984 Eurythmics
46

Eurythmics, “Here Comes the Rain Again”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Four
The dramatic flourishes of Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again" prove worthy of an action flick with a voluminous budget. Partly, that's due to Eighties screen score king Michael Kamen (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon) and members of the British Philharmonic Orchestra signing on for its thrilling string arrangements. Also credit one of Dave Stewart's most-pristine productions blending the orchestral bits with bright synthpop, krautrock and even doo-wop backing vocals. When it rains, it pours: Annie Lennox's lines dance in and out of the shadows at all the right moments. R.F.

1984 Billy Ocean
45

Billy Ocean, “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
Born in Trinidad and raised in Essex, Billy Ocean had been making records in the U.K. for a decade before breaking the U.S. R&B charts with 1981's "Nights." But "Caribbean Queen" went Number One pop in America for good reason: Ocean's lithe but powerful tenor gets its juiciest melody, not to mention a perfectly suited lyric: Bravado ("In the blink of an eye, I knew her number and her name") is softened by vulnerability ("Love was the furthest, furthest from my mind"). "Caribbean Queen" became Jive Records' biggest American hit since two years earlier, when A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran (So Far Away)" hit the Top 10. M.M.

1984 Shannon
44

Shannon, “Give Me Tonight”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 46
The follow-up to Shannon's smash debut single 1984's "Let the Music Play" operates in the same vein, with "Play" producers Mark Liggett and Chris Barbosa creating a slightly icier, yet still club-ready track over which the New York-based singer could unspool her tale of romantic frustration. "Tonight" has a particularly powerhouse vocal performance by Shannon, and it turns almost wrenching near the song's end. It didn't catch the ear of pop radio programmers the way "Play" did, but its chilly atmospherics and lyrical soap operatics did help further establish the parameters of the dance subgenre eventually known as "freestyle." M.J.

 

1984 talk talk
43

Talk Talk, “It’s My Life”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 31
British New Wavers Talk Talk scored their biggest American hit with this soaring synth-pop gem: Warm synthesizer washes, a robust bass line and Mark Hollis' vocal gymnastics asserting independence. For the accompanying video, Hollis pointedly disses lip-syncing by standing in the London Zoo as squiggly animations dance in front of his closed mouth. (The label later forced him to redo it, so they added overblown fake singing via green screen to the original footage.) It only climbed to Number 31, but No Doubt's lite-rock cover hit Number 10 in 2003. R.F.

 

1984 Philip Bailey & Phil Collins
42

Philip Bailey & Phil Collins, “Easy Lover”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Two
Two guys named Philip — one from Earth, Wind & Fire, and one from Genesis — curdled one of the finest examples of premium-grade Eighties pop cheese. It's about a lover of the easy variety, but good luck parsing much else. Riding essentially a sped-up version of the heavy guitar/synth interplay that starts Harvey Mason's '81 jazzy slab of funk "How Does It Feel," "Easy Lover" is pretty much all harmonies, all Bailey in the stratosphere and all fun. Co-written by Mason's future Fourplay bandmate Nathan East, and originally on Bailey's album Chinese Wall, the track was accompanied by a goofy video starring the duo navigating helicopters, dressing rooms and eventually a soundstage to film a music video within a music video. R.F.

 

1984 Bananarama
41

Bananarama, “Cruel Summer”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Nine
Though they "dressed like blokes," as member Keren Sera put it, Bananarama were a classic girl group, albeit in English synth-pop guise. "Cruel Summer" was their "Where Did Our Love Go?" or "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" — a classic the second it left the speakers. As with many English acts on this list, this was their American breakout, hitting the Top 10 and garnering them an unexpected fan: Sara Dallin told The Guardian about Mike Tyson "burst[ing] into 'Cruel Summer' when he saw us" at a hotel in Los Angeles. M.M.

1984 Duran Duran
40

Duran Duran, “The Reflex”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
Full of surrealistic imagery and a tour de force vocal performance by Simon LeBon, the opening track of Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger was a bit amorphous on first listen, its disparate elements never quite congealing. But after being given a sleek, yet feisty remix by Chic's Nile Rodgers (who would become a frequent Duran Duran collaborator; he recently blogged about working with them on their forthcoming album) the track became a pop smash. Under Rodgers' guidance, the flinty guitars and popping bass of "The Reflex" played off LeBon's whined "why-y-y-y-yyyy" in a deliriously fun way, and radio programmers took to it as well; "The Reflex" eventually became the MTV darlings' first Number One hit in America. M.J.

 

1984 Deniece Williams
39

Deniece Williams, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
If Deniece Williams had stuck with her original plan, she'd have been a nurse, and the Footloose soundtrack would lack its most effervescent hit. Instead, Williams dropped out of Morgan State University and dove headlong into a career in music, highlighted by this effort, which would become her second Number One and earn her an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. In the decades since, she's transitioned to gospel, won three Grammys and thoroughly secured her place in Eighties lore by recording "Without Us," a.k.a. the theme song to Family Ties. J.M.

1984 ratt
38

Ratt, “Round and Round”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 12
Junky, trashy, downright ratty, these Hollywood rodents' first and biggest smash was as close as hair-metal got to garage punk — which might explain why, before Atlantic picked them up, they'd put out a debut EP on an indie label whose other acts were the Alley Cats and Surf Punks. "Out on the street, that's where we'll meet," pouty Stephen Pearcy starts, ready to rumble, and before long the compact crunch, circular structure and tuneful twin-guitar breaks are framing confessions of self-abuse. In the video, Milton Berle — uncle of a band manager — dresses in drag, making the world safe for glam metal's own cross-dress routine. C.E.

1984 Whodini
37

Whodini, “Friends”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 87 
An early victory for rap's pop appeal, Brooklyn trio Whodini blurred the lines until the vocal harmonies of hip-hop groups like the Crash Crew felt like the vocal harmonies of R&B groups like Frankie Beverly and Maze, until the quiet-storm beats of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" (which "Friends" recalls) could be played next to a Run-D.M.C. stomper. The timeless message on this track — "Friends: How many of us have them?"— gave Whodini pop-rap crossover before the Fresh Prince and hunk status before LL Cool J. "That's the title they've given us, the sex symbols of rap," rapper Jalil told the L.A. Times in 1986. "The last sex symbol in rap was Kurtis Blow. But now you've got three for the price of one!" C.W.

1984 Cyndi Lauper
36

Cyndi Lauper, “She Bop”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Three
1984 was a banner year for female masturbation in pop music. Cyndi didn't outright say the "m" word like Prince did on "Darling Nikki," but her code was hardly subtle — she's not reading Blue Boy for the articles or worrying she'll go blind because glaucoma runs in the Lauper family. The pearl-clutching busybodies of the PMRC, who listed "She Bop" among the "Filthy Fifteen" songs corrupting Eighties teens, were right to be worried: With everyone acting like sex should be solemn or sleazy, Cyndi's ecstatic gulps and yelps showed us it could just be goofy fun. K.H.

 

1984 The Romantics
35

The Romantics, “Talking in Your Sleep”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 3
These Detroit power-poppers with poofy hair so astounding, it's gif-worthy, hit it big in 1979 with "What I Like About You," which 51 percent of Americans still think was the Kinks. Impressive! This was a calmer, moodier, creepier piece of jangle-noir, caught halfway between the Buzzcocks and the Strokes, just catchy and charismatic enough to avoid being overpoweringly pervy. Kris Kross later sampled it, which is the highest compliment a song of this type can receive, other than a restraining order. R.H.

1984 Night Ranger
34

Night Ranger, “Sister Christian”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Five
A power-ballad standard — it's been in Rock of Ages, on Glee and can be heard on the Emotion 98.3 station in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. "Sister Christian" is a really big, often ridiculous ode to drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy's virtuous younger sister, a roller-coaster ride of somber pianos and searing solos that took the band to the upper reaches of Billboard. More than a decade later, director Paul Thomas Anderson unearthed it for Boogie Nights, where it scores one of the film's most memorable scenes. J.M.

 

1984 Bruce Springsteen
33

Bruce Springsteen, “Dancing in the Dark”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Two
Springsteen had been recording Born in the U.S.A. for two years — much of it was cut prior to the release of its predecessor, Nebraska — and he wanted to be done. However, his manager, Jon Landau, refused to let him call it quits: They needed a hit single. Springsteen got angry and irritated, wrote a song about it — and that song eventually spent four weeks at Number Two, beaten out successively by Duran Duran and Prince. Nevertheless, it was the push Springsteen needed to become a bona fide pop star: "Dancing" was the first of Born in the U.S.A.'s seven Top 10 hits. M.M.

 

1984 queen
32

Queen, “I Want to Break Free”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 45
After 1982's synth-dance mixed-bag Hot Space, an abandoned soundtrack (for The Hotel New Hampshire) and side- and solo-project distractions, Queen's 11th album was released at a sketchy time in the band's career — yet, "I Want to Break Free" is perhaps their most oddly in-your-face bit of playful uplift. Written by bassist John Deacon, it's a mid-tempo declaration with no chorus, just Freddie Mercury's love-lost verses building up drama until a goofy synth solo leads to a subdued instrumental bridge, another verse, and Mercury wailing the title repeatedly on the outro. The song became a controversial firestarter due to its video, in which the band members dressed in drag as a parody of British soap opera Coronation Street, with choreography provided by the Royal Ballet. Brit fans got the joke, but fans in America viewed the cross-dressing as a coming-out for Mercury, who wore a wig and fake breasts in the video and onstage (the video was banned by MTV and rocks were hurled at Mercury during a concert in Brazil). Conversely, in most of the rest of Europe, the song was viewed as an anthem of resistance against political oppression. C.A.

 

1984
31

The Pointer Sisters, “Automatic”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Five
After Thriller, a blockbuster album was expected to yield hit after hit, and the Pointer Sisters' late-1983 Break Out, their synth-pop summation, is a paradigmatic example, yielding three Top Ten hits. The best is one of the great Prince rips — "Automatic" is like an inverted "1999," from the fanfare-like synth riff with clipped funk guitar responses to the bassy "Au-to-ma-tic" that caps the chorus echoing "Don't worry, I won't hurt you." The groove powers the arrangement, but this record won a Best Vocal Arrangement Grammy Award for good reason as well. M.M.

1984 Frankie Goes to Hollywood
30

Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Relax”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Ten
BBC's Radio One DJs missed the sexual implications of this track's drawn-out hook — probably having missed the Frankie magazine ads featuring taglines like "All the nice boys love sea men" and "19 inches that must always be taken." Not long after they helped the record become one of the most popular in the U.K., the network promptly banned it — a decision that, no surprise, boosted its popularity even more. Of course, even if the record's hard, Hi-NRG sound was mostly the work of producer Trevor Horn, the band themselves were no naïve bystanders. "Morley had his strategy all worked out," backing vocalist Paul Rutherford later recalled, referring to the ZTT Records mastermind who planted those ads. "He wanted it to be like the Sex Pistols — all the outrage, controversy — but this time with all the sex." N.M.

The Time 1984

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Photo of Morris DAY (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns

29

The Time, “Jungle Love”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 20 
To what could this title be referring? Nothing racial, surely — not from Prince, who two years earlier on "D.M.S.R." was instructing, "All the white people clap your hands on the four." And not from the Time, the band he'd masterminded for his hardcore R&B ideas. It might have been a one-joke idea were Morris Day not so ingratiating — he even sells "Come on, baby, where's your guts? You wanna make love or what?" — or the groove so hot. It became the Time's biggest Hot 100 hit yet, getting steady play on MTV and WTBS's Night Tracks. But it was a last gasp — Day had already moved to Los Angeles, ending the Time until a 1990 reunion. M.M.

1984 Teena Marie
28

Teena Marie, “Lovergirl”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Four
In three decades of R&B singles by this self-proclaimed "black artist with white skin" — 29 charting songs, total — only "Lovergirl" peaked higher on the pop charts. That's probably because, in addition to its typically atypical in-your-face-and-all-over-the-map blend of scatting, semi-rapping, robotic chanting, French words and unwarranted proactive apologies for being "passé" and "old hat," it was clearly a funk & roll move for the age of Prince, Michael and her mentor Rick James, complete with half-minute guitar solo. That's one kick-ass co-ed biracial band backing her in the video, too — though, on record, Teena was just as capable of playing almost all those instruments herself. C.E.

1984 new edition
27

New Edition, “Cool It Now”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Four
The self-titled second album from Boston boy band New Edition doubled as a chance for the group to fully form its identity; having signed to a major label and parted ways with architect Maurice Starr. "Cool It Now," the record's first single, is a rebuke to friends who might be worried about a pal's romantic longings, with the silk-voiced Ralph Tresvant expressing his torment over peppy synths and his bandmates' street-corner harmonies. Its blend of the sweet and the acerbic (not to mention the breakdown, in which Tresvant calls out "Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike" for not getting along with the program) helped it become the group's first Top 10 hit. M.J.

 

1984 thompson twins
26

Thompson Twins, “Hold Me Now”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 3
Forget Queen, U2 and whoever else: This song was the true star of Live Aid. The startling zenith of the follically resplendent U.K. trio's career, "Hold Me Now" is an all-timer, the lovers-quarrel lyrics just a shade darker than the gossamer, arpeggiated synth-pop splendor swirling around them. He doesn't assert himself until the final chorus, but the yelping backing vocals from synth/percussion specialist Joe Leeway — a former Thompson Twins roadie and current uncertified hypnotherapist — steal the show. The sneak-attack MVP of the Wedding Singer soundtrack, too. R.H.

 

1984 Rockwell
25

Rockwell, “Somebody’s Watching Me”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Two
Kennedy William Gordy was rock royalty — he was the son of Motown mastermind Berry Gordy, his middle name was gifted from Smokey Robinson's government name and he was even brother-in-law to Jermaine Jackson at the time (not to mention he was the future half-brother of LMFAO's Redfoo) — but he couldn't get a record deal. Finally, his dad was all ears when Rockwell got his childhood pal Michael Jackson to sing the hook on his first (and biggest) single "Somebody's Watching Me." It's hard to guess how far it would have gone without MJ's help, but the single was a great midpoint between Eighties R&B and Eighties New Wave regardless: It had the vibes of Men at Work's paranoia anthem "Who Can It Be Now?," a touch of electro and verses that Rockwell delivered like a cockney David Byrne. C.W.

1984 wham!
24

Wham!, “Careless Whisper”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
"Careless Whisper" is an anomaly in the Wham! catalog; initially credited to "Wham! Featuring George Michael," it's also one of the duo's few tracks with writing credits for both Michael and partner Andrew Ridgeley. The combination of simmering R&B — particularly the wailing saxophone line, played by British session man Steve Gregory — with Michael's impassioned vocal performance and Wham!'s then-ascendant celebrity made "Careless Whisper" an inevitable smash. In his 1991 autobiography, Michael said that he wrote the song's "not very good" lyrics "very flippantly." Nevertheless, its sustained mood and wide swath of appeal established Wham! as something more than a goofy teenybopper crew prone to wearing big slogans, thus setting the table for Michael's later solo triumphs. M.J.

1984 Van Halen
23

Van Halen, “Jump”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
In 1983, Eddie Van Halen fell in love… with a keyboard. He celebrated this new relationship by nicking a jumbo riff from "Kiss on My List" (well, at least so says Daryl Hall) that, in tandem with brother Alex's all-in drum punctuation, made walking across the bar to talk to a girl sound as perilous and world-historical as a space shuttle launch. Leaning nervously against a jukebox, super-stud David Lee Roth had to play against type as a timid wallflower — a wallflower who's still capable of emitting larynx-shredding arena howls, of course. K.H.

 

1984 culture club
22

Culture Club, “Karma Chameleon”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
How popular was Culture Club? They got a whole episode of The A-Team dedicated to them and it climaxed with a rowdy redneck crowd cheering on heavily mascara'd Boy George as he sang "Karma Chameleon." On the Club's only U.S. Number One, George bops through a deteriorating love affair, admitting his supposed shortcomings in a guileless attempt to nuzzle his way back into his lover's heart. And his footloose charm is all the more remarkable now that we know the song chronicles his tense, secret relationship with the band's drummer, Jon Moss. K.H.

1984 the cars
21

The Cars, “Drive”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Three
Despite singing lead on some of the Cars' biggest hits (from "Just What I Needed" to "Moving in Stereo" to "Let's Go"), Ben Orr's keening voice was too similar to that of the, uh, far more visually distinctive Ric Ocasek to earn him the spotlight he deserved. But still, working off 1984's Heartbeat City, as Ocasek became MTV's resident avant-garde creepy uncle, Orr snuck in this shattering ballad/aria, the sweetest and saddest thing the band (or Mutt Lange) ever produced. R.H.

1984 Van Halen
20

Van Halen, “Panama”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 13
Though fret-nerds worship Eddie Van Halen's solo firestorm "Eruption," the guitarist's greatest contribution to the Eighties Pop Culture Carnival was this display of everywhere-all-at-once mastery. The convulsive rhythm guitar, ferociously chugging riffs, preternatural chord progressions, mad harmonics, and yes, that lick-it-up pre-chorus that gets you tinglin' like a fistful of molly-laced Skittles. Supposedly, frontman David Lee Roth's leering double entendres were inspired by a car that he'd seen at a drag race, but that's definitely Eddie's Lamborghini revving during the breakdown (microphones were attached to the exhaust pipes). A Number 13 hit, "Panama" also boasted goofball aerial derring-do in the video, and was later used as part of the 1989 U.S. military operation to remove rogue Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega from the Vatican embassy in Panama City. The General proved no match for EVH's finger-taps and DLR's oh yeahs. C.A.

1984 Ashford & Simpson
19

Ashford & Simpson, “Solid”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 12
More than a decade after releasing their first LP, Motown's King-Goffin scored their biggest hit — and only R&B Number One — by stripping back the upward mobility that defined the previous year's "High-Rise." "That song measured success by living in a high-rise apartment, but we found ourselves singing to a small segment of people," Valerie Simpson said at the time. "Perhaps a high-rise is a success to people in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but once you hit the Midwest, where success might mean owning a home, you've lost your audience. I think people have to relate personally." Twenty-five years later, the duo took another approach, recording the "Solid (as Barack)" tribute to the man for whom success meant moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.M.

1984 a-ha
18

a-ha, “Take on Me”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
The little Norwegian synth-pop song that could, "Take On Me" began its journey in 1984, when a-ha released the first version of their debut single, along with a cheap, performance-driven music video. A slightly different re-recording, and the now-iconic video with rotoscoped animation, helped drive the song to the top of the American charts in 1985. The band only had one more Top 40 hit in the States, but remained stars all over Europe for the rest of the decade. Few pop singles have the lasting legacy of this one — rock bands (mxpx, Cap'n Jazz) covered it in the Nineties, boy bands (the Jonas Brothers, A1) covered it in the Aughts and Pitbull recently scored a Top 10 hit by borrowing the melody for "Feel This Moment." A.S.

 

1984 sade
17

Sade, “Smooth Operator”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Five
"Minimum space, maximum joy:" It's not only the ethos of the lithe lothario in Sade's silky smash, it's a pretty apt description for the song itself, a lighter-than-air classic that crossed lines between R&B, jazz, adult contemporary, pop and dance music. The opening track on the group's debut album, Diamond Life, it signaled the arrival of a bright new star in frontwoman Sade Adu, and provided the soundtrack to a decade of excess and soft-focus sensuality. J.M.

 

1984 Tracey Ullman
16

Tracey Ullman, “They Don’t Know”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Eight
Tracey takes on… Lesley Gore? In 1984, British sketch-comedy repertory player Tracey Ullman was an unknown commodity in the States. Her debut album, You Broke My Heart in 17 Places, was a peak moment of new wave's obsession with the girl-group era, covering early-to-mid-Sixties singles from Irma Thomas, Marcie Blaine and Sandie Shaw (and even Sixties revisionists Blondie). But it was this cover of Kirsty MacColl's 1979 swooner "They Don’t Know" that became an international smash — Ullman made the connection more explicit by amping up the kitsch, adding Spectorian production, indulging huge harmonies and performing in a brilliantly acted video that showcased her comedy chops. Three years later she would have her own half-hour series in America that would introduce an animated family named the Simpsons. C.W.

1984 Nena
15

Nena, “99 Luftballons”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Two
At the height of Germany's anti-nuclear movement, two years before Chernobyl left radiation across the nation, six years before reunification, West Berlin Neue Deutsche Welle cuties imagine how "neunundneunzig" balloons floating over the Wall might turn the Cold War hot. In the B-side's English translation, its title seemingly references 1956 French art-film short The Red Balloon. "The war machine springs to life" and the city turns to dust — a.k.a., the abandoned post-atomic wasteland tomboy singer Nena strolls across in the video. Her musicians gave martial krautrock a synth-funk bubblegum bounce, and the German version barely missed topping ugly America's imperialist pop chart regardless. C.E.

1984 John Waite
14

John Waite, “Missing You”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
Former Babys vocalist John Waite scored his only solo hit with "Missing You," a song that desperately attempts to convince an ex that he isn't hurting as bad it seems. "John epitomized the tortured poet artist, the romantic figure that's my big weakness," MTV's Nina Blackwood recalled in VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave. "He was a walking Byronic archetype, down to his look and his cologne." Years after the two had exchanged letters and gifts across the Atlantic, Waite, now married, invited Blackwood to meet him at his studio. When she declined, he could do nothing but write "Missing You" — eventually playing it for her at Little Steven's 57th Street apartment. Later, when another VJ, Mark Goodman, asked if the song really was written about Blackwood, the tortured poet artist paused and responded: "It was written about her and a bunch of other women." N.M.

 

1984 Newcleus
13

Newcleus, “Jam on It”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 56
At the nexus of electro, funk, DJ culture and "Purple People Eater"-style novelty records lie Brooklyn quartet Newcleus, who bang-dang-diggy-diggy'd their way to a helium-voiced cult hit in 1983 with "Jam on Revenge." The even catchier "Jam on It" exploded while the band was on tour with fellow funkateers Cameo — Cozmo D said the bass line (inspired by Yazoo's slick new wave track "Situation") was always a crowd pleaser. But the fact that Chilly B rapped on it, an early pop triumph for the slowly rising hip-hop scene two years before Run-D.M.C. would hit the Hot 100, probably is the song's biggest legacy. "Sure enough, that record just kept going and going," said Cozmo. "So, now all of a sudden, we're rap artists!" C.W.

1984 U2
12

U2, “Pride (in the Name of Love)”

Hot 100 Peak: Number 33
U2's Top 40 debut was a dedication to the resilience of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision for peace. It's a big concept that required a big song, and luckily the group's soaring guitars and industrial-strength drums (not to overlook guest vocals by the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde) made for an anthem that was up to the task. Unsurprisingly, "Pride" has become a concert staple for the band and its message has transcended genres thanks to covers by everyone from C+C Music Factory to John Legend to the nü-metal group Flyleaf. K.G.

 

1984 tina turner
11

Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
"Survivor" and "comeback" are hideously overused critical clichés but damn if Tina Turner didn't deserve both of them. A musician so inseparable from "domestic violence" that Jay Z still peppers hit singles with references to it, Turner had gone more than a dozen years without a Top 10 hit. That personal history seemed audible in her rasp, adding a resonance to this anti-romantic ballad that even a great singer like Donna Summer, who'd turned it down, wouldn't have. At 44, Turner was the oldest solo female artist to score a Number One hit — a record that stood for 14 years until the 52-year-old Cher's "Believe." K.H.

1984 Sheila E.
10

Sheila E., “The Glamorous Life”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Seven
Prince and Sheila E. maintained a behind-the-scenes relationship for years — as her new memoir reveals — and it's not hard to hear on this irresistibly frisky funk-pop morality play: Prince didn't even bother mixing his guide vocals down. The song, written by her Purple pal, is one of the most generous giveaways of his career, full of coy turns of phrase ("They made love, and by the seventh wave she knew she had a problem") — though "The Glamorous Life" truly comes alive with percussion à la Sheila, mixed hot and up front. The horns are also an early sign of the jazzier touches that would come to adorn his music, particularly on 1987's Sign 'O' the Times. M.M.

1984 Bruce Springsteen
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Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the U.S.A.”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Nine
Originally recorded as one of the cassette demos that eventually became 1982's harrowing Nebraska, "Born in the U.S.A." keynoted its blockbuster follow-up, an album Springsteen was adamant be a lot more optimistic (i.e., not difficult, as evidenced by mega-hits like like "Dancing in the Dark"). Yet Springsteen's screaming vocal, coupled with Max Weinberg's reverbed-out military drumming, is just as unsettling once you grasp the lyrics' desperation — "Nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go" is no metaphor for the Vietnam-veteran narrator. President Reagan's re-election committee missed this entirely and requested to use it as a campaign song. Springsteen declined. M.M.

Prince 1984

Event: Artist: Photographer: Credit: Redferns Copyright Holder:

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

8

Prince and the Revolution, “Purple Rain”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Eight
Even edited down to a radio-friendly four minutes from the eight-and-half-minute LP version (which was already edited down from the 11-minute performance recorded at First Avenue in Minneapolis), "Purple Rain" feels long — and that's meant as the highest compliment. The emotional ground that Prince's signature power ballad covers — from Wendy Melvoin's introductory chords to his own climactic, heroic solo flight — is vast. And just think how weird it'd have been if Stevie Nicks had written the words, as Prince had asked her to. K.H.

 

1984 Don Henley
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Don Henley, “The Boys of Summer”

Hot 100 Peak: Number Five
This is what it sounds like when Eagles cry. For pure, lethal nostalgia, nothing beats this phenomenally catchy and casually devastating slice of synth-pop melancholy. Not only the bleeding heart of Don Henley's second solo album, Building the Perfect Beast, the tune's Jean-Baptiste Mondino-directed French new wave clip cleaned house at the second-ever VMAs in '85 — it was MTV's very own The 400 Blows. It lyrical legacy remains "Out on the road today/I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac," the "Deadhead" part later updated by pop-punkers the Ataris to "Black Flag" in 2003. Whoever covers it next can choose from "White Stripes," "Deadmau5" or "Death Grips." R.H.

 

1984 Cyndi Lauper
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Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time”

Hot 100 Peak: Number One
Written with Rob Hyman of Philadelphia's Hooters before that band's mid-Eighties heyday, this ballad was, as Lauper told Interview, "180 degrees" from its predecessor, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun": "They were opposites." But the song showcased Lauper's stylistic range and, especially, her vocal depth — she sounded both vulnerable and tough, like a Ronnie Spector who'd heard Patti Smith. She got the title, but not the plot, from a 1979 movie starring Malcolm McDowell as a time-traveling H.G. Wells. The following year, Miles Davis would cover it on his album, You're Under Arrest. M.M.