Best Songs From 1984

A large contingent of Americans will argue— forcefully— that the 1980s were the true golden age of pop music. And they’re right. Changes in social norms, economic norms, and music technology, not to mention the seismic shift the music industry faced with the advent of MTV, made for a time of innovation and true greatness.

Good music from 1984 demonstrates this as well as any other year from the decade. Here are some of the best songs from 1984.

1. “When Doves Cry” by Prince

Song Year: 1984

Not only was 1984 the year of George Orwell, but it was also the year of Prince’s ascension to the throne of rock royalty. He’d had solid hits earlier in the 1980s, but with the release of his semi-autobiographical film “Purple Rain” and the accompanying soundtrack album.

Purple Rain spent the last half of 1984 in the number-one spot on the album chart, and “When Doves Cry” was Prince’s first single to hit number one and the biggest-selling single the year it was released.

2. “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen

Song Year: 1984

Improbably, one of the most successful iterations of “Dancing in the Dark” was a dance club remix (improbably because a dance club seems the last place one would hear The Boss).

That doesn’t mean the single version wasn’t a hit. In fact, it was Bruce Springsteen’s biggest hit, reaching the number two spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and number one on several charts worldwide.

The song won him a Grammy, saw the addition of a synthesizer to the Springsteen sound, and introduced (the video, that is) the world to a pre-“Friends” Courtney Cox.

3. “The Reflex” by Duran Duran

Song Year: 1984

Duran Duran was already a big deal when the world rang in 1984. They would become a bigger deal with the release of Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the band’s third studio album. “The Reflex” was the album’s second single and the band’s biggest hit. It went to number one worldwide and kept “Dancing in the Dark,” among others, from ever reaching the top of the charts.

It’s true to the Duran Duran aesthetic, too: who knows what it’s about? Is it about the battle between good and evil in each of us? Tantric sex? There are plausible arguments for both.

Who cares? It’s a terrific song.

4. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson

Song Year: 1984

Michael Jackson had the biggest-selling album of all time with Thriller. To keep things moving forward, the King of Pop decided to, for the album’s eponymous single, forgo making a music video in favor of making a short film. In terms of MTV airtime, a 13-minute video was unthinkable. But it was Michael Jackson, so they kind of had to do what he said.

“Thriller,” complete with a voiceover by legendary horror actor Vincent Price, was never intended for release, as the Epic Records execs thought of it as a novelty tune and wouldn’t do well. They were proven wrong when the song, though never reaching number one, spent 52 consecutive weeks on the chart.

5. “Careless Whisper” by Wham!

Song Year: 1984

If for no other reason, “Careless Whisper” gets recognition as a great song from 1984 for that iconic saxophone riff played by Steve Gregory.

The song was a worldwide number-one hit for Wham!, and charted again in 2017 after George Michael’s untimely death in the closing days of 2016. It’s a soaring ballad of heartbreak and loss and is almost universally hailed as an exquisitely written pop song.

Of note is that Michael wrote it when he was 17. So what were you doing at 17? It sure wasn’t writing enduring pop masterpieces.

6. “Jump” by Van Halen

Song Year: 1983

Released as a single in late December of 1983, “Jump” was one of The Songs of 1984, as it was everywhere. It hailed from Van Halen’s sixth studio album, 1984, and marked the end of the David Lee Roth era of the band, which would give way to the marginal-at-best iteration with  Sammy Hagar.

“Jump” found guitar wunderkind Eddie Van Halen playing the synthesizer, which brought a band new sound to the band and was something that seemed like a new direction for the quartet. Producer Ted Templeman hated it. The world didn’t. It went to number one.

7. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes

Song Year: 1983

When Yes released 90125 in mid-1983, they were considered by many to be past their prime. As prog rockers from the ‘60s and ‘70s, Yes were gods. But those days were long gone, and by 1981, the band was all but defunct.

Former members joined with guitarist Trevor Rabin, who wrote “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” and added it to 90125, even though hardly anybody— from band members to tech staff to label execs— could stand it.

It’s a weird song, sure, but maybe that’s what made it stand out, climbing the charts well into 1984.

8. “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince & the Revolution

Song Year: 1984

Another entry from the Purple Rain soundtrack album, “Let’s Go Crazy” opened the album and the film. It was an apt introduction to what both media would give to the world in terms of Prince’s music.

It hit number one on multiple Billboard charts and remains one of Prince’s most believed hits. That monster guitar riff did a lot to differentiate His Purpleness from the R&B pigeonhole many label execs and radio stations tried to fit him into.

9. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” by Tina Turner

Song Year: 1984

When “What’s Love Got to Do with It” hit number one, Tina Turner was 44 years old. She became the oldest female to reach that mark. And she won three Grammys for it.

The world knew and loved her from her Ike and Tina days, but she’d somewhat fallen off the radar once she escaped the abuse of her former husband. Private Dancer, the album that spawn this and two other smash singles, put her back on the map and made everyone recognize her as the national treasure she is.

10. “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins

Song Year: 1984

A movie about a town that outlawed dancing and the camera-ready teens who buck the system seems like a terrible, terrible idea. Who would go see that?

But put Kevin Bacon in it, fill the soundtrack with gems like “Footloose,” and tell the world that, in a ridiculously odd twist of fate, it was based on real events from a small Oklahoma town, and you’ve got a hit film.

The song was a big deal, too— it was Loggins’ only number-one hit and was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

11. “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper

Song Year: 1984

Recorded in 1983, “Time After Time” became one of the all-time great love songs, even though Lauper wrote it in the wake of relationship troubles. Despite the success of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in 1983, “Time After Time” was her first number one.

12. “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” by Elton John

Song Year: 1983

Too Low for Zero, Elton John’s 17th studio album, dropped in the spring of 1983, and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” was the lead-off single in April. That it appeared on multiple year-end charts from 1984 is a testament to how long the song remained on the charts, effectively serving as the Song of the Summer for two straight years.

Oh, and that’s Stevie Wonder on the harmonica.

13. “Like a Virgin” by Madonna

Song Year: 1984

“Like a Virgin” dropped in late 1984 but was an instant hit. Madonna, being the provocateur she was and remains, embraced the song’s innuendo and overt sexuality. It quickly reached number one.

The video featured Madonna and a lion, the implication being that it was hard to tell which one was hungrier. “Like a Virgin,” while not being overtly sexual in lyrical content, is one of the more lustful songs you’ll ever hear.

14. “New Moon on Monday” by Duran Duran

“New Moon on Monday” by Duran Duran

Song Year: 1984

If 1983 was The Year for Duran Duran, 1984 was the sequel. The year opened with “New Moon on Monday” charting in the top ten— not as big a hit as “The Reflex,” but still a successful track. It followed the usual Duran Duran rules of being sophisticated but also fun.

There’s some irony, here, though. Duran Duran revolutionized the video music industry, but the band members universally loathe this video. Note how uncomfortable drummer Roger Taylor is in the everybody-dance-together part at the end. Yikes.

15. “Nobody Told Me” by John Lennon

Song Year: 1984

Though John Lennon was murdered in 1980, “Nobody Told Me,” an unfinished piece he’d been recording at the time of his death. He wrote it for Ringo Starr to use on a planned 1981 album, but Starr dropped it after Lennon died.

Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, completed the recording process and released it as part of a 1984 album, one of several posthumous releases for the Lennon estate. “Nobody Told Me” was a worldwide top-ten hit, and it was nice to hear John singing again after such a tragic and wasteful loss.

16. “Better Be Good to Me” by Tina Turner

Song Year: 1984

Another single from Private Dancer, “Better Be Good to Me” was a cover of a 1981 Spiders song. It won Turner one of her three Grammys at the 1985 ceremony. Despite not writing it, Turner made the song her own, and she seems to be announcing to the world— on this song from her comeback album— that I’m Tina Turner, you schmuck. Do not mess.

17. “Hard Habit to Break” by Chicago

Song Year: 1984

Arranger and producer David Foster had a huge hand in the success of Chicago throughout the 1980s, ending up as important to the band’s sound— arguably— as Peter Cetera’s distinctive high tenor voice.

Although it was a huge hit, “Hard Babit to Break,” from the band’s 1984 album 17, was unusual for a Chicago song. It wasn’t written by the band members, and it favored synthetic strings over the group’s legendary horn section. Fans weren’t so disappointed that they didn’t drive the song to a number three spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

18. “Pink Houses” by John Cougar Mellencamp

Song Year: 1983

The landscape of rock hits remains littered with songs that people have no idea of their content. Such is the case with “Pink Houses.” It dropped in late 1983 but was a staple of ‘84 airwaves as red-blooded Americans misinterpreted the song’s lyrics as a paean to how great the country is, when in fact they are Marxist to the core.

No one cared. The song ended up as a top-five hit in ‘84 and still gets played at political rallies.

19. “Head Over Heels” by The Go-Gos

Song Year: 1984

The percussive piano opening is unmistakable and irresistible. “Head Over Heels” peaked at number ten, making it a lesser hit than “We Got the Beat,” but it’s a glorious piece of pop music. Does it make a political statement? No. Did it address the socioeconomic ills of the day? No way. That’s why it’s so delightful.

And they’re just so obviously having fun. It’s hard not to love it just for that.

20. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by The Police

Song Year: 1984

The fourth single from the Police’s swan song album Synchronicity, “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is a dark and brooding song that came on the heels of the ubiquitous “Every Breath You Take.” It may be the only top ten hit to reference Greek mythology and Faust in five minutes.

21. “Hello” by Lionel Richie

Song Year: 1984

Lionel Richie made a name for himself writing heartfelt ballads that bordered on corniness or cheesiness but never quite crossed the line. “Hello” may be the best example, as evidenced by its status as a global number-one hit.

The video featured Richie as a teacher in love with his student, which was apparently okay in the 80s.

22. “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon

Song Year: 1984

“Can’t Fight This Feeling” might not be the best power ballad ever written, but if it isn’t, it’s close. It’s got a lovely melody (which isn’t always present in a power ballad) and enough rock music instrumentation to still be a rock song. And a giant guitar sound. That helps.

23. “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” by Elton John

Song Year: 1984

As the lead-off single from Breaking Hearts, “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” was yet another Elton John / Bernie Taupin gem that rose high on the charts (number five) and stayed there awhile. Though it came out in 1984, Sir Elton still plays it live, so it’s a song with staying power.

Songwriting purists take issue with the fact that the song’s lyrics are sad but the music is decidedly not. But it’s insanely catchy and makes people feel good.

24. “We Belong” by Pat Benetar

Song Year: 1984

For years Pat Benetar and husband/producer/guitarist Neil Giraldo made rock anthems that moved the world. Between her powerful vocals and his monster guitar riffs and overall technically adroit work on the instrument, a Pat Benetar song was usually a big hunk of rock ‘n’ roll.

“We Belong” relied on synths, a children’s choir, and lush harmonies behind Benetar’s distinctive voice. It’s easily one of the catchiest Pat Benetar songs, and that’s saying something.

25. “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” by Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson

Song Year: 1984

File this one under “Weird Pairings for Pop Duets.” Outlaw country god Will Nelson paired with world-renowned crooner Julio Iglesias (and a steel guitar) to create an international smash hit. It’s one of those songs that everyone loves, whether they admit it in public or not.

Continuing the weirdness, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” won Iglesias awards from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.

26. “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” by Phil Collins

Song Year: 1984

Phil Collins scored the first of his seven number-one hits as a solo artist with “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” the theme song from Against All Odds, a rather forgettable film starring Jeff Bridges and James Woods. The only recognition the film received during awards season was for its musical elements.

It spent some time at the top of the charts, and Collins won a Grammy for it.

27. “Almost Paradise” by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson

Song Year: 1984

The soundtrack for “Footloose” had more to it than the Kenny Loggins joy-fest. Subtitled “Love theme from Footloose,” “Almost Paradise” was written by Eric Carmen, and while it didn’t win any awards, it was a top-five hit.

Mike Reno from Loverboy and Ann Wilson from Heart were both extremely hot properties in the 1980s, so a duet from the pair seemed like a sure thing. And it was.

Top Songs From 1984, Final Thoughts

A fantastic year for pop music, 1984 gave us pieces from The Big Three: Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. That trio alone would make any year a great one, but we also had Duran Duran, the “Footloose” crew, and Sir Elton John. What’s not to love?

Let us know your best songs from 1984 below.

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