Best Songs From 1980

Everyone has a preferred decade of music, but most people recognize that the 1980s were a pretty great time.

A list of the best songs from 1980 is long, but here are the top ones.

“Call Me” by Blondie

Song Year: 1980

As the main theme song for the 1980 Richard Gere film “American Gigolo,” “Call Me” had a broad audience from the start— the movie earned more than $50 million (1980 dollars) at the box office.

New Wave band Blondie recorded the song in bi-coastal sessions, but Debby Harry’s vocals were the only thing from the sessions to make it on the record. Since it scored Blondie a number-one hit, everyone in the band decided not to be mad about it.

“Magic” by Olivia Newton-John

Song Year: 1980

The talks about making the 1980 film Xanadu must have gone like this:

“Let’s have some roller skates. People like skating.”

“And dancing. Let’s make it about a guy opening a dance club. And the muse of dance.”

“Sweet!”

It’s an odd film, but it’s a musical, so that’s okay. The theme song, “Magic,” was a global hit. Gen Xers didn’t really have Songs of the Summer in the 80s, but that doesn’t mean that “Magic” wasn’t the Song of the Summer in 1980.

“Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by The Police

Song Year: 1980

Fact 1: Sting was an English teacher before joining The Police.

Fact 2: “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” is about a teacher obsessed with a student.

Fact 3: It’s not autobiographical.

Since the narrator gets caught having an affair with the student, one would think we’d have heard about it if Sting had told a true story about his pre-Police life.

It became the biggest-selling single of 1980 in the UK.

“Against the Wind” by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band

Song Year: 1980

The idea of running against the wind came from Bob Seger’s teenage days as a cross-country runner. He uses the concept as a symbol of aging to great effect in this bittersweet song about getting older.

“Against the Wind” spent nearly 20 weeks on the Billboard charts in 1980, and more than half of that time, the song was in the Top 40. It was the title track from the band’s 11th album.

“Fame” by Irene Cara

Song Year: 1980

Not many singers have their debut single go to number one before winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe, but that’s what Irene Cara enjoyed with “Fame,” the theme song for the eponymous film that swept the nation.

The film followed fictional students at the real New York’s Fiorello LaGuardia High. Cara starred in the film, and the movie won two Oscars and eventually spun off a television series and a remake in 2009.

“You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC

Song Year: 1980

When AC/DC frontman Bon Scott died in early 1980, many feared the worst for the band— that the Australian rockers would fade away, but then along came Brian Johnson.

“You Shook Me All Night Long” was the band’s first single with their new singer, and it ended up being a doozy. The song’s primal, hard-rocking nature and dizzying guitar solo made it a staple— so much so that it’s a rare night when the band doesn’t play it during a set.

“You May Be Right” by Billy Joel

Song Year: 1980

While the Brits didn’t care much for “You May Be Right” (it failed to chart there despite previous success for Billy Joel over there), US listeners loved it.

From Glass Houses, an album Joel used to shake things up in his career and his sound, “You May Be Right,” has a honky-tonk feel and relies heavily on a Rolling Stones-style guitar riff.

It wasn’t permanent, as he’s still one of the two piano giants of rock music, but it was something he tried, and it worked.

“Sailing” by Christopher Cross

Song Year: 1980

For a soft piece of music (and perhaps the granddaddy of all yacht rock), “Sailing” has lived a remarkably long and varied life. After the song brought Christopher Cross four Grammys and a slot at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, it went on to make appearances in some of the seemingly strangest places: Family Guy and Cobra Kai.

Not bad for a soft-rock song that everyone’s dad loves.

“Any Way You Want It” by Journey

Song Year: 1980

“Any Way You Want It” aside, Journey is a band whose “Greatest Hits” album spent more than 500 weeks on the album charts. That’s nearly ten years, and these guys know how to write great hit songs.

“Any Way You Want It” came relatively early in Journey’s run of fantastic music-making, and though it didn’t crack the Top 20, it was a Top 40 hit in 1980 and 1981. It further cemented singer Steve Perry’s reputation as the Man with the Golden Voice.

“I Will Follow” by U2

Song Year: 1980

For many members of Generation X, “I Will Follow” was the first thing they heard from U2. The band that would go on to world domination was, at one point, a collection of Irish kids who were just trying to rock.

The song, written from the perspective of U2 frontman Bono’s mother, who died when he was 14, is one of very few U2 songs to get played on every single tour the group has ever taken.

It was the opening track on the band’s debut album, Boy, it went to number 20 in the US, and its anthemic nature makes it perfect for live performances.

“Shining Star” by The Manhattans

Song Year: 1980

When you take some kids from New Jersey, have them sing Philly soul, and name them after a place in New York, you’ve got a lot going on. But it worked, and the Manhattans had 45 Billboard hits since 1965.

“Shining Star” hit the airwaves in early 1980 and was an instant hit. It earned the group its only Grammy and got to number two on the US Black Oriented Singles chart, an actual Billboard chart in the 1980s.

“Little Jeannie” by Elton John

Song Year: 1980

The last hit the world had heard from Elton John (he wasn’t a knight yet) was “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” his classic duet with Kiki Dee. That was in 1976, and for a songwriter as prolific as Elton, four years is a long time to go without a hit.

But then came his 1980 album 21 at 33, which spawned “Little Jeannie,” a lilting diddy that bordered on easy listening but had some bombast in the chorus. It spent 17 weeks on the charts.

“One Fine Day” by Carole King

Song Year: 1980

Originally recorded in 1963 by The Chiffons, “One Fine Day” was a top-five hit for the girl group. Carole King, who co-wrote it with Gerry Coffin, played piano and sang on the Chiffons’ version, though her vocals didn’t end up on the final version.

King covered her own song in 1980, providing lead vocals that couldn’t be cut. The song didn’t do quite as well on the charts as the original recording, but it still ended as the 73rd biggest hit of the year.

“Don’t Fall In Love With a Dreamer” by Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes

“Don’t Fall In Love With a Dreamer” by Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes

Song Year: 1980

Kim Carnes began writing songs for other artists in the 1960s, and while she worked towards having her very own singing career, it took until 1980 for the world to notice her.

She wrote “Don’t Fall In Love With a Dreamer” with her husband, and Kenny Rogers chose it to be part of his 1980 album Gideon and drafted Carnes to sing it with him. It was a top-five Billboard hit and earned the pair a Grammy nomination.

“Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc.

Song Year: 1980

“Funkytown” was as ubiquitous a hit as there ever was in 1980. Its disco rhythms and hyper-catchy synth riff made it a number-one hit in the States seemingly within minutes of its March 1980 release, but Lipps, Inc. didn’t stop there.

The song was a global smash, reaching number one on the charts from Australia to Israel, Canada to Belgium, and New Zealand to Switzerland. That’s just a few of the countries that fell in love with this song.

Not bad for a one-hit wonder, no?

“(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon

Song Year: 1980

When “(Just Like) Starting Over” dropped as a single in late 1980, John Lennon had been out of the recording industry. The song came from 1980s Double Fantasy, which followed 1975’s Shaved Fish.

It came out weeks before Lennon’s murder by a deranged fan, and while it was already on its way up the charts, the tragic news drove it to become a worldwide number one.

“Lady” by Kenny Rogers

Song Year: 1980

It was one of the odder pairings of the year: R&B master Lionel Richie from the Commodores? Meet Kenny Rogers, country superstar. Write a song for him.

Richie wrote “Lady” for Rogers, who included it on his Greatest Hits album, and it not only propelled Richie’s solo career, it gave Rogers his tenth number-one hit as a solo artist.

“Lady” ended up in the number one spot on three Billboard charts, and Richie’s cred with a decidedly non-country audience helped it get to number 42 on the R&B chart.

“Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen

Song Year: 1980

With that iconic bassline, how would “Another One Bites the Dust” not have been a hit? It was an unusual sound from Queen, but no one seemed to care because it was such a cool piece of music.

It was one of three singles from 1980’s The Game, alongside “Play the Game” and “Crazy Little Thing Caled Love.” The song was certified quintuple-platinum in the States and sold nearly 8 million copies worldwide.

“Celebration” by Kool & The Gang

Song Year: 1980

You’d have to argue pretty hard to convince anyone that “Celebration” wasn’t THE party anthem of all time.

Even though it was Kool & the Gang’s only number-one hit, it was such a big piece of music history that, in 2021, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry.

“Celebration” appeared in the number one spot on five separate US charts and was an international top-five smash.

“Kiss On My List” by Hall & Oates

Song Year: 1980

The blonde and the mustachioed one ruled the 1980s with hits like “Maneater,” but they started the best of all musical decades with “Kiss on My List,” the duo’s second number-one hit after “Rich Girl.”

The recording was a one-take demo, as Daryll Hall wrote the song for his then-girlfriend to sing. He made the demo, and someone from the studio found it and insisted Hall & Oates add it to their album Voices. They liked how it sounded, so they didn’t change much about it.

“I Love a Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt

Song Year: 1980

Eddie Rabbitt started writing “I Love a Rainy Night” in the 1960s. Looking through old tapes in 1980, he came across a snippet that would become the number-one hit that most people consider his signature song.

Rabbitt was largely a country artist, but “I Love a Rainy Night” proved to be crossover gold, topping Billboard’s Country and Hot 100 charts.

“9 To 5” by Dolly Parton

Song Year: 1980

Not only was “9 to 5” the theme song to the 1980 film of the same name, it was also the tentpole single of Dolly Parton’s 23rd studio album, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs.

The song painted the workaday doldrums so many people endure, though it didn’t really touch on the kidnapping Dolly and her fellow workmates perpetrate against Dabney Coleman’s sexist and sexually harassing corporate type character in the film. The movie is as much fun as the single.

“Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon

Song Year: 1980

Before REO Speedwagon became the kings of the power ballad, they had raucous hits like “Roll With the Changes.” Speaking of changes, “Keep On Loving You” was a huge power ballad, and since it was the band’s first chart-topper, it makes sense that they stuck with the formula, eventually scoring another smash with “Can’t Fight This Feeling” in 1984.

Kevin Cronin’s vocals drove the song, and with the soaring backing vocals, the “Keep On Loveing You”  hook was pretty unstoppable.

“Upside Down” by Diana Ross

Song Year: 1980

If Nile Rodgers from Chic has something to do with your song, it’s probably going to be a big deal. Ask David Bowie (“Let’s Dance”), Duran Duran (“Pressure Off”), and many others.

Diana Ross got the full treatment, with Rodgers co-writing and co-producing with fellow Chic alum Bernard Edwards. There was friction in the studio between the two and Ross— she was already a superstar and wanted things the way she wanted them.

She ended up remixing the song without them, but it still went to number one, so Rodgers and Edwards weren’t all that upset in the end.

“Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads

Song Year: 1980

As joyful as the music sounds (and as joyfully weird as David Byrne and the video were), “Once in a Lifetime” was actually a way for Byrne to cope with the death of his father. He wrote a song about the ups and downs of life, and since The Talking Heads were New Wave pioneers with legions of fans, the song took off.

Byrne has gone on to solo and Broadway fame, but he will always be associated with this Brian Eno-produced gem of 1980s music.

“Emotional Rescue” by The Rolling Stones

Song Year: 1980

The title track from The Rolling Stones’ 17th album Emotional Rescue went to number one in Canada, though it only got to number three in the States. Not bad at all, but Mick and the boys might have expected more, given their stellar past as one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Naysayers accused the band of making disco music, but Mick Jagger made a point of saying that it was inspired by New York City. Fans didn’t care and snapped up the single and the album.

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division

Song Year: 1980

Joy Division might have been one of the greats, and the band’s rabid fans argue that they did. But lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide stopped the band cold.

It didn’t stop the release of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” which dropped a month after his death. When he wrote it, he was having marital problems and dealing with epilepsy, and those dueling traumas are reflected in the lyrics.

Top Songs From 1980, Final Thoughts

Many other songs rode the charts around the world, but these ones represent a good chunk of the top songs from 1980. There are some we had to leave out, but don’t take it personally. We loved the decade, and this first year of it projected the greatness that was to come.

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