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20 Biggest Songs of the Summer: The 1980s

Summer movie soundtracks and MTV faves reign over the summers of the Reagan era

20 Biggest Songs of the Summer: The 1980s

The Eighties were an age of big hair, bigger snare drums and massive hits. Music videos gave rise to a flashy new class of pop stars, and left behind the baby boomers that weren’t fit enough to strut it on MTV. Meanwhile, the hit-packed soundtracks of pop-savvy flicks like Flashdance and Purple Rain kept pace with the escalating box office grosses of the summer movie season. Here are the biggest summer jams from ’80 to ’89, dictated by peak chart positions and total length of run on the Hot 100. We’ve also ignored all the non-summery adult contemporary ballads (our apologies to the likes of Richard Marx and Peter Cetera). By Al Shipley

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8. Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”

The biggest of the string of Number One hits that made Whitney Houston a superstar, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” launched the summer 1987 release of her second album, Whitney. Since then, the song has been covered by everyone from David Byrne to the cast of “Glee.”

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7. Olivia Newton-John, “Magic”

A year after Grease, Olivia Netwon-John returned to the top of the charts with another soundtrack hit. The biggest of the six singles released from the Xanadu soundtrack, “Magic” accompanied the scene of Newton-John rollerskating in a dark auditorium.

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6. Madonna, “Papa Don’t Preach”

Right in the midst of her mid-Eighties imperial phase, Madonna dropped one of the most controversial songs of her career, a chart-topper about unplanned pregnancy. Pope John Paul II urged fans to boycott her 1987 concerts in Italy because of the song.

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5. Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”

When Sylvester Stallone couldn’t get the rights to Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” for Rocky III, he commissioned the band Survivor to write the theme song.

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4. Tears For Fears, “Shout”

As catchy and propulsive as it was ominous and deadly serious, “Shout” was one of the most uplifting bummers of the summer of 1985. And while many assumed “Shout” was about the same primal scream therapy that inspired the band’s name and their 1982 debut The Hurting, bandleaders Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal clarified that the song was really a call to protest. 

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3. Steve Winwood, “Roll With It”

Steve Winwood’s grooving Motown homage was easily the hottest pop song by a 40-year-old in the summer of 1988. The sweaty juke joint lovingly captured in the track’s sepia-toned video helped make “Roll With It” the anthem of a sweltering August.  

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2. The Police, “Every Breath You Take”

“Every Breath You Take” was the chart-topping lead single to Synchronicity that made the Police the biggest band in the world in the summer of 1983. But within a year, having felt that the band had “climbed Everest,” Sting began plans to launch his solo career and move on, and in 1986 they played their final shows for Amnesty International’s A Conspiracy of Hope tour, symbolically passing the torch to U2.

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1. Prince, “When Doves Cry”

The lead single from the Purple Rain soundtrack, "When Doves Cry" gave Prince a chart-topping song to match his Number One film and album. But while the song accompanied scenes of the Kid's romance with Apollonia, it was actually Prince's relationship with one of the other members of Apollonia 6, Susan Moonsie, that inspired the song.

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