Best Songs From 1988

The 1980s were an end of an era, as the cassette tape was phasing out and the CD becoming more prominent. This change didn’t slow the music industry down, though, as some of the greatest hits of all time came out in those years, and 1988 was no exception. With that said, here’s some of the best songs from 1988.

“Faith” By George Michael

Song Year: 1988

After George Michael broke from his Wham musical partner, Andrew Ridgeley, Michael embarked on a highly successful solo career. “Faith” broke records across the industry as a single, as did its debut album by the same name.

Bubbly, catchy, and emblematic of the singer’s hold on pop music, “Faith” remained at the top of the Billboard charts for several weeks. It was the #1 single of the year in the US. in 1988. 

“Sweet Child o’ Mine” By Guns N’ Roses

Song Year: 1988

There’s almost no one who listens to rock music who doesn’t immediately recognize the iconic guitar solo that kicks off “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” An MTV favorite, the band’s most famous tune catapulted to the top of both US. and UK charts in June of 1988.

The band’s producer suggested the musical breakdown at the end of the song, which was too long for radio but completes the lengthy single in its most well-loved form. This is Guns N’ Roses at their performance best.

“Need You Tonight” By INXS

Song Year: 1988

INXS are among the most successful Australian bands of all time, with over 80 million albums sold worldwide. Though they’ve produced more notable songs, “Need You Tonight” is arguably by far the most well-known and popular one, even to this day.

This song is all about texture. With the exception of a shouted phrase on the chorus, the voice part doesn’t offer much of a melody, deferring instead to the digital effects and groovy beat.

“Pour Some Sugar On Me” By Def Leppard

Song Year: 1988

There’s no more quintessential late-80s jam than “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” The heavy drums set the tone for the hard rock era that this song dominated while screaming vocals and guitar riffs complete the genre’s aesthetic.

VH1 ranked “Sugar” #2 on their list of “The 100 Greatest Songs of the 80s.” It lives on as a campy tune for parties, karaoke, or dancing.

“Man in the Mirror” By Michael Jackson

Song Year: 1988

It’s impossible to talk about the ‘80s without mentioning MJ. The consummate singer, dancer, and arena entertainer was already the prince of pop music as a grown-up member of Jackson 5, but with his 1987 album Bad, he rose to the status of king.

More than superficial entertainment, the inspiring message of “Man in the Mirror” shows the narrator encouraging himself to start changing the world, starting with himself. The accompanying music video shows a montage of cultures and humanitarian issues around the world.

“Heaven Is a Place on Earth” By Belinda Carlisle

Song Year: 1988

In among Madonna and Cyndi Lauper was Belinda Carlisle, with her hit single “Heaven Is a Place On Earth.” It inhabited the radio-friendly space straddling pop and rock to become Carlisle’s signature song.

Her 2017 album Wilder Shores features this song re-recorded in the form of an acoustic ballad.

“Got My Mind Set on You” By George Harrison

Song Year: 1988

The bluesy, old-fashioned rock song with a touch of soul is most people’s main association with George Harrison’s musical output. They may be surprised to learn that he only covered it. The original composer of “Got My Mind Set on You” is Rudy Clark, and James Ray recorded it first in 1962.

Reminiscent of the Beatles, the track uses hand claps, saxophone riffs, and three-part harmonies to punctuate the playful melody.

“Never Gonna Give You Up” By Rick Astley

Song Year: 1988

The red-haired kid with the voice of a grown man captured the world’s attention in 1988 with his biggest hit. In the mid-2000s, it rose to fame a second time with the help of an Internet bait-and-switch phenomenon called Rickrolling.

“Never Gonna Give You Up” layers a percussive groove with synth-string and bass effects and remains one of YouTube’s most-searched videos to this day.

“Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” By Billy Ocean

Song Year: 1988

The pop music juggernaut that was Billy Ocean came to a head in 1988 with this tune. His R&B-tinged voice combined with a bouncy digital track for one of the year’s biggest hits.

The music video was also iconic for its time. Ocean drives around town, showing off his Porsche while beautiful women and animated cartoon characters dance across the screen.

“Hungry Eyes” By Eric Carmen

Song Year: 1988

The writer of “All By Myself” saw another huge hit in 1988 with “Hungry Eyes.” Describing his unrequited lust for an unattainable woman, the musical aesthetic is a ballad but still fits squarely in the rock genre.

This classic tune found its way into the Dirty Dancing soundtrack as well as an M&M’s commercial a couple of decades later.

Song Year: 1988

“A Groovy Kind of Love” By Phil Collins

Song Year: 1988

Phil Collins dominated Top-40 radio in the 80s. After he left Genesis as their drummer, his independent career took off, churning out multiple hit singles that propelled him to solo fame.

One of his most recognizable tunes was “A Groovy Kind of Love,” based on a melody by classical pianist Muzio Clementi. The song was recorded by a handful of other artists but Collins is who shot it to notoriety.

“So Emotional” By Whitney Houston

Song Year: 1988

“So Emotional” is the anthem for women in love in the late ‘80s. Houston inhabits her signature power vocals as she screams passionately about the way her love interest has taken over her feelings.

The lyrics would lead someone to think the music to it would be a ballad. On the contrary, this tune is an upbeat dance track, propelling the beat forward and letting emotions take the driver’s seat. Play it at full volume while you get ready to go out on the town.

“Red Red Wine” By UB40

Song Year: 1988

The message here is a simple one: wine is a delicious beverage that helps you feel good. No one knew this better in the decade of the 80s than UB40 (though it became their only known hit).

An island vibe of steel drums, minimalist percussion, and lazy vocals create the perfect atmosphere for this summery jam. Reminiscent of Bob Marley, it doesn’t particularly matter which beverage you sip when “Red Red Wine” comes on as long as you can relax.

“When It’s Love” By Van Halen

Song Year: 1988

No one did the power ballad quite like 1980s Van Halen. “When It’s Love” was the most popular single from their album OU812.

With trademark Sammy Hagar vocals bursting with gravelly melodic content and a guitar solo that Eddie Van Halen claims was a nod to Eric Clapton, this is a tune that has a permanent place on any Van Halen fan’s playlist.

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” By Bobby McFerrin

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” By Bobby McFerrin

Song Year: 1988

Somewhere among the hard rock, glam bands, and synth-dance-pop of the era, eclectic singer McFerrin lent his unique style to the airwaves. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was the first a cappella song to reach #1 on Billboard. Its blend of choral effects and body percussion has stood the test of time even after its appearance in the movie Cocktail.

The accolades continued at the following year’s Grammys when McFerrin swept the ceremony and took home multiple awards.

“Candle in the Wind” By Elton John

Song Year: 1988

Although it only reached #71 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1988, “Candle in the Wind” deserves a spot on this list for its enduring legacy. John’s simple piano-and-vocals composition touches hearts everywhere with its simple beauty.

The ballad about Marilyn Monroe and her tragic life and death continues to be a favorite of pop-music aficionados and saw a resurgence in popularity after it was used for Princess Diana’s death in 1997.

“The Way You Make Me Feel” By Michael Jackson

Song Year: 1988

A catchy beat, syncopated melody, and doo-wop style create the framework for Jackson’s second of three big tunes in 1988. It won several awards in the categories of Dance Pop as well as Adult Contemporary.

No song of MJ’s is complete without eye-popping dance imagery. The music video showcases this in a superb way, with Jackson showing off his moves for a girl he takes a liking to. Fun and lighthearted, “The Way You Make Me Feel” is the epitome of feel-good ‘80s music. 

“Is This Love” By Whitesnake

Song Year: 1988

Next to Van Halen, Whitesnake had one of the biggest power-ballad hits of the ‘80s. It narrowly missed a spot as a top hit for Tina Turner, which turned out to be a better deal for Whitesnake in the long run.

The lyrics are unusually tender for a hard-rock band, with the narrator telling a love interest that he wants to explore the possibilities of a new and exciting connection. Surely there were plenty of lovelorn folks during this time period who thought of this as “their” song.

“Kokomo” By The Beach Boys

Song Year: 1988

Put this one on your summer barbecue playlist after “Red, Red Wine.” Various types of percussion, steel drums, and accordion effects combine for an evocative Caribbean feel.

No song by The Beach Boys is complete without layered harmonies, which join in on the chorus. You don’t have to be on location on a tropical island to enjoy this timeless tune.

“Anything For You” By Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine

Song Year: 1988

True love’s devotion never sounded so good. Estefan lends her famous pipes to this Hispanic-tinged ballad, which also features a Spanish guitar and synth brass section for extra flavor.

“Anything For You” peaked on three different Billboard charts: Hot 100, Adult Contemporary, and Hot Latin. It also saw some success in the UK around the same time.

“Roll With It” By Steve Winwood

Song Year: 1988

A little bit of “Uptown-Girl”-era Billy Joel and a lot of Motown influence are apparent in this tune, a bluesy, funky offering that incorporates plenty of brass and organ overtop of a basic rock ‘n roll track. This makes a great road trip tune as well as a summer cookout jam.

The Roll With It album won several awards, including Album of the Year, and a handful of Grammy nominations. The comedy film Nuns on the Run used this song a couple of years after its peak.

“Girl You Know It’s True” By Milli Vanilli

Song Year: 1988

The controversy of this duo lip-synching their music has become so integrated into pop culture that the term “Milli Vanilli” is now synonymous with faking or outsourcing a task. They even returned their Best New Artist Grammy after their betrayal was discovered.

Despite this highly-publicized setback, the German performers attempted a comeback album in 1998, and “Girl You Know It’s True” is a poppy, perennial favorite among ‘80s music fans.

“You Got It (The Right Stuff)” By New Kids on the Block 

Song Year: 1988

Long before Backstreet Boys or Hanson took over the radio, NKOTB was the “it” boy band group of the 1980s. The catchy combo of R&B, dance, and synth-pop made sure that this earworm wouldn’t be soon forgotten by adolescents and young adults of the era.

The song was a huge international success, ranking top ten on the charts in the US and number one in UK and Australia, respectively. Since its release, it has remained relevant in pop culture, appearing in various movies, video games, and more.

“Listen to Your Heart” By Roxette

Song Year: 1988

Passionate and iconic, “Listen to Your Heart” is an ‘80s staple. The texture is rife with female vocals in a high register and a wailing electric guitar lead.

It’s no wonder Roxette is still a household name. They were impossible to ignore as they reached #2 most-successful-musician status in Sweden after ABBA. Belgian trance group DHT released a remix cover version that also climbed the charts.

“Wild, Wild West” By The Escape Club

Song Year: 1988

The music video shows exactly what you’d expect for a song with this title… sort of. Costuming and old-fashioned revolvers complement the band’s silly demeanor as they play and sing. It’s hard to know whether Escape Club is being tongue-in-cheek or they’re just a goofy symbol of their time.

Interestingly, this UK-based group never charted in their home country, despite their popularity in the US.

“The Flame” By Cheap Trick

Song Year: 1988

This was Cheap Trick’s only #1 hit, even though “I Want You To Want Me” is probably better remembered.

A mandocello, synth orchestra, and dramatic vocals outline a traditional rock band setup to create this power ballad. Critics of the song found it too sentimental, but fans would disagree, as “The Flame” shot to #1 on Billboard in July 1988.

“Dirty Diana” By Michael Jackson

Song Year: 1988

It was a big year for MJ. Rounding out his top-3 singles of 1988 was “Dirty Diana,” another single from Bad. Similar to “Billie Jean,” the message had to do with groupies while Jackson was on tour.

One of his most enduring tunes, this song has been covered by multiple artists and featured in several movies and other pop-culture references.

“Angel” By Aerosmith

Song Year: 1988

The rock world of the 1980s isn’t complete without a nod to Aerosmith. Their hit “Angel” drew comparisons to their previous hits, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” and “Dream On,” but saw greater success at the time it was released.

Steven Tyler’s soaring voice mixes with power-ballad guitars, broken piano chords, and string backup for the consummate ‘80s-style tune.

“Perfect World” By Huey Lewis and the News

Song Year: 1988

Huey Lewis and the News gave us “Hip to Be a Square” and other ‘80s hits that offered something a bit different. An offbeat rhythm and organ in their song Perfect World create a reggae texture that’s nothing like their fast-paced, rock n’ roll norm.

The message of the song suggests that even though there will never be such a thing, it’s worth continuing to dream so that we can make the world better.

Top Songs From 1988, Final Thoughts

All genres and styles came together in the late ‘80s for an eclectic musical landscape. Top 40 radio offered different songs and lyrics that delved into everything from love to a dream vacation.

Moreover, the rise of digital effects helped propel music into the future, as synthesized sounds could replicate any instrument. So we hope this list has reminded you of or introduced you to some of the top songs from 1988.

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