The best ’80s songs are somehow equal parts timeless and very of their time. After all, this was a decade of excess—big hair, big shoulder pads, and big egos—so it makes sense that music of the period still makes an impact so many years later.
The 1980s were an extremely transformational time for the music industry, and we continue to feel its effects today. Remember, this is the decade when MTV launched and introduced the concept of Music Video As Art. And every DJ topping the charts today should thank the ’80s for making synthesizers and other digital sounds mainstream. Rap and hip hop also made huge strides in the ’80s, paving the way for your favorite artists today.
It’s telling that when I asked the Glamour staff to share their favorite ’80s songs, I was met with an overwhelming response. Quickly, people jumped to share tracks that crossed all genres and moods. Cheerful love songs, moody goth rock, dance club hits, party jams—everything was represented. And somehow they all worked together in a playlist!
1. “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” by Stevie Wonder (1980)
Largely an ode to Bob Marley, this song has deep political messaging in line with Marley’s peaceful vision of the world. The reggae beat is unmatched, and although Wonder’s vocals are iconic, the song has inspired some worthy live covers, including otherworldly versions by Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill, and—don’t laugh—one by a 2012 contestant on American Idol that became one of the show’s coolest performances. —Perrie Samotin, digital director
2. “Super Trouper” by Abba (1980)
Honestly, there has never been a band as fun and dramatic as Abba, and I will die on that hill. The twinkling harmonies of “Super Trouper” just continued their legacy of movie-worthy bops. —Emily Tannenbaum, weekend editor and contributing writer
3. “Square Biz” by Teena Marie (1981)
I promise you: If you’re in a bad mood, put on this song, and it will all melt away. I love that no matter what year it is, you still hear this song played on the radio. —Lauren Brown, senior visuals editor
4. “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey (1981)
From cheesy arena rock anthem to ironically beloved throwback to, thanks in large part to Glee, a weirdly beloved classic, this power ballad by Journey typifies the strange, well, journey, of ’80s music. Yes, it’s campy, and yes, it’s more “fun” than “good,” but if you’ve ever had a dream, don’t you feel at least a little something when Steve Perry finally gets to the title lyric? —Elizabeth Logan, contributing writer
5. “You Make My Dreams (Come True)” by Hall & Oates (1981)
Find me a catchier song than this track by Hall & Oates, the pop-rock duo that dominated the 1980s music scene. I’ll wait. —Jessica Radloff, West Coast editor
6. “I Love Rock ’n Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (1981)
I don’t have access to a record machine, but no song gets me more hyped for a night out like “I Love Rock ’n Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Put another dime in the jukebox, baby! —E.T.
7. “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks (1981)
That pulsing guitar intro! The scratch in Stevie Nicks’s voice as she croons, “Just like the white winged doveeeee!” The fact that the title was inspired by a miscommunication with Tom Petty’s ex-wife Jane Benyo. This song is everything. Also, if it weren’t for “Edge of Seventeen,” we would never have been gifted the 2001 Destiny’s Child hit “Bootylicious.” —Anna Moeslein, senior entertainment editor
8. “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners (1982)
Nothing takes me straight back to Missouri college piano bars and late nights closing it down like “Come On Eileen.” It’s impossible not to feel fun and carefree when it comes on. —Lindsay Schallon, senior beauty editor
9. “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen (1982)
This was one of my mom’s favorite songs; as I’ve aged, it’s taken on a nostalgic quality for me—one that reminds me of Queens, New York, in the ’80s. —L.B.
10. “Valerie” by Steve Winwood (1982)
The English singer-songwriter has a voice so smooth and addicting, it’s no wonder he was so successful with songs like “Higher Love,” “While You See a Chance,” “Back in the High Life Again,” and more. But “Valerie” is my forever favorite. —J.R.
11. “A Night to Remember” by Shalamar (1982)
This is a classic PG-13 date-night song—sweet enough to slow dance to with your crush, or enjoy with your family at weddings. —L.B.
12. “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads (1983)
This song is so classic yet so fresh and is connected to a hundred different happy memories of mine. I could listen to it every day. —Bella Cacciatore, assistant beauty editor
13. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper (1983)
A song so fun it inspired a whole movie! This ode to youthful exuberance is an absolute classic and the de rigueur soundtrack to any beach day or road trip with female friends, but it’s also become something of an anthem. Just like Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” Cyndi Lauper’s hit speaks to the quest for freedom in a world that, well, wants to hide us away much of the time. –E.L.
14. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart (1983)
If you don’t get excited hearing those opening notes, you’re soulless. Annie Lennox is a goddess, and she and the band created one of the most intense, thrilling pop songs ever with this eternal banger, whose process is explained fully in this 2017 retrospective. —P.S.
15. “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie (1983)
It’s impossible to pick a favorite Bowie song, but this extremely vibe-y one is a strong contender. The beat is infectious—and as the name suggests, it makes me want to dance immediately. —B.C.
16. “All Night Long (All Night)” by Lionel Richie (1983)
With rhythms and beats that remind you of a tropical vacation, this, to me, is the best and most iconic song of Richie’s career. —J.R.
17. “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel (1983)
There’s something about that wealthy girl, working-class guy romantic dynamic in this song that I love. It’s just so charming to me! —Paulina Jayne Isaac, contributing writer
18. “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince (1984)
The final single from Prince’s iconic Purple Rain album, I would—pun intended—die for this song to get more notice among the singer’s lineup of hits. It’s not as flashy or remembered as “Purple Rain” or “Let’s Go Crazy,” but the electronic synthesizer effects and grandiose lyrics perfectly capture the crazy sexy allure of Prince. —A.M.
19. “The Glamorous Life” by Sheila E. (1984)
I cannot think of anything more YES, WOMEN! than Sheila E. rocking out on drums while singing, “She wants to lead the glamorous life / She don’t need a man’s touch.” I’ll be playing this jam on repeat forever and ever. –A.M.
20. “Material Girl” by Madonna (1984)
The ’80s weren’t just sideways ponytails and shoulder pads. There was also a large part of the culture that embraced Wall Street’s “greed is good” mentality, including president Ronald Reagan. And ever up on the zeitgeist, Madonna was clever enough to simultaneously parody and promote the decade’s excesses in “Material Girl.” Boys are for getting cash because love fades but a diamond is forever. It’s not NOT true…. —E.L.
21. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” by Tina Turner (1984)
Long considered Turner’s big comeback song after her first success with her infamously abusive ex-husband Ike during the ’60s and ’70s. The pair split up in 1976, and it took eight years for Turner to truly emerge as the independent rock star she’s been since. Everything about this moody song is indicative of the 1980s—the slow-burn synth pop, the slight nod to easy listening, the incredible black-and-white music video. Kids might know it today from the Kygo remix, but nothing compares to the fiery original. —P.S.
22. “When Doves Cry” by Prince (1984)
This was Prince’s first number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100—and of course it was. This song is a full-on jam. Shout out to the incredible music video, which was considered “controversial” by conservative television executives on the wrong side of history for being too sexy. —A.M.
23. “Since Yesterday” by Strawberry Switchblade (1984)
Though they only have one full album, Strawberry Switchblade perfectly captures that perfect quintessential ’80s gothy pop. All their songs are excellent, but this one makes me feel like an anime witch, so it’s particularly strong in my book. —B.C.
24. “Take On Me” by A-ha (1985)
“Take On Me” captures the climactic, epic joy at the end of every classic comedy, every perfect party, every great night out that you remember for the rest of your life. It touches me on a soul level. Apparently that riff was written by a 15-year-old and the song is about a dorky seduction, but I don’t care—it makes me feel alive. —Jenny Singer, staff writer
25. “Shake the Disease” by Depeche Mode (1985)
Depeche Mode was a new discovery for me in college, but once I heard this song, I stopped in my tracks. Not only is it an incredible feat of songwriting, but the message really rang true with me. —L.B.
26. “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” by Billy Ocean (1985)
My personal anthem for when I’m going through any difficult time in my life or just need a pick-me-up song. It’s just so good. Plus, watch the music video with Michael Douglas, Danny DeVito, and Kathleen Turner—which was featured in their hit film, The Jewel of the Nile—and tell me it doesn’t bring a smile to your face. —J.R.
27. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears (1985)
Try listening to this iconic track for more than 30 seconds without breaking out into song and dance. I dare you. —Erin Parker, commerce writer
28. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds (1985)
There is probably no song that speaks to the legacy of ’80s culture and movies like “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds. If you didn’t picture John Bender raising his fist in the air at the end of The Breakfast Club as you read that, you’re too young. —E.T.
29. “I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz (1985)
Not only is this song a full-time, all-expenses-paid jam, but it has an excellent music video to boot. —L.B.
30. “Open Your Heart” by Madonna (1986)
Madonna is synonymous with ’80s pop music. She released four chart-topping albums throughout the decade and made history in the process. Each has a unique flair—but my pick for the ultimate ’80s Madonna track is “Open Your Heart.” With its thumping bass line and bombastic, exclamatory chorus, you can’t help but sing along. And while most of Madonna’s music from this era sounds dated, “Open Your Heart” feels evergreen—a timeless ode to wanting love so badly, you just have to scream about it. —Christopher Rosa, entertainment editor
31. “Kiss” by Prince (1986)
I love this song solely because of the scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts is in the bathtub listening to it before Richard Gere walks in on her singing. So memorable! —Paulina Jayne Isaac, contributing writer
32. “Nasty” by Janet Jackson (1986)
Control isn’t just an essential Janet Jackson album. It’s an essential album, point-blank. On “Nasty,” the pop icon laments that she has no time for rude, “nasty” boys, “nasty” food, or “nasty” cars. The only thing she likes “nasty” is a groove. And let me tell you, this song has that in spades. —C.R.
33. “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order (1986)
I’m sorry, it literally does not get any better than this when it comes to ’80s songs. Inject the synths into my veins. —B.C.
34. “Take Me Home Tonight” by Eddie Money (1986)
The ultimate ’80s pop-romance song to play as your drive down the Pacific Coast Highway with the windows down and the wind in your hair, courtesy of the iconic Eddie Money. —J.R.
35. “Walk This Way” by Run-D.M.C. featuring Aerosmith (1986)
It’s totally common to hear a blend of genres in today’s top 40 hits, but in the ’80s Run-D.M.C. were considered ground-breaking pioneers for their hip-hop cover of this Aerosmith rock song. —A.M.
36. “Ask” by The Smiths (1986)
I have loved The Smiths since high school and can listen to any and all of their songs on repeat until the day I die. But this song in particular will always make me want to twirl around the room with a smile on my face. —L.B.
37. “The Pleasure Principle” by Janet Jackson (1987)
Janet Jackson was my first cassette tape as a kid in the ’80s. This woman captured my heart and got me to step away from the TV and dance. I love “Pleasure Principle” so much, but a few other bonus songs that always hit: “When I Think of You” and “Escapade.” —L.B.
38. “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” by Paul Simon (1987)
Every now and then, I realize I have been underdosing on Paul Simon, and I have to spend a day or two with the Artists section of my iPod on shuffle. The rhythm and the harmony on this one is great, especially with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. —Talley Sue Hohlfeld, copy director
39. “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure (1987)
I love being a goth teen. No other song captures that mood like “Just Like Heaven.” —B.C.
40. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston (1987)
A palpable magic permeates the air whenever “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” comes on in a gay club. (Clubs! I miss them! When can we go back?!) The song came out in 1987, sure, but it’s timeless—I have a catalog of sweaty, glittery nights at Manhattan bars as proof. Sonically, it’s fresh. Vocally, it’s superb. But “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” transcends decades for another reason entirely. The carnal, spontaneous desire to bump and grind with strangers underneath strobe lights is evergreen. It existed in 1987, and it certainly exists now—arguably even more so, since we haven’t been able to do it in over a year. No song illustrates that feeling more than “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” It doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 51, you feel it. You feel the heat. —C.R.
41. “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac (1987)
Listen, I love a Stevie Nicks lead vocal as much as the next witchy gal, but Christine McVie deserves some shine too. One of my all-time favorite Fleetwood Mac songs is this sunny, dreamy pop masterpiece that McVie wrote and sings lead on. —A.M.
42. “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes (1987)
Uh, two words: Dirty Dancing. Need I say more? —P.J.I.
43. “Birthday” by The Sugarcubes (1987)
Bjork will always be one of my favorite artists, and I love that this song marries her signature quirk with an upbeat, poppy track. —B.C.
44. “Tell It to My Heart” by Taylor Dayne (1987)
I want a new generation to fall in love with this song. It’s my favorite to sing at karaoke to get all my friends on their feet. —L.B.
45. “Waiting for a Star to Fall” by Boy Meets Girl (1988)
My favorite song not just from the ’80s, but also from one of my favorite movies: Three Men and a Little Lady. It’s just the perfect, carefree, falling-in-love pop song. —J.R.
46. “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman (1988)
Tracy Chapman has a great twang to her voice, and I love the terse energy. Every time I heard it, I wanted to hear it again and again. And more. —T.S.H.
47 . “Bust a Move” by Young MC (1989)
Young MC’s debut album Stone Cold Rhymin’ was a massive commercial and critical success in the late ’80s, and “Bust a Move” was its biggest hit. The song won a Grammy Award for best rap performance and remains a stone cold classic. —A.M.
48. “Like a Prayer” by Madonna (1989)
“Like a Prayer” is the pantheon of Madonna songs: a (literally) religious opus that catapulted her from pop hit maker to cultural maven. The song, brilliantly, mixes both of those concepts. “Like a Prayer” is an infectious earworm, yes, but Madonna stretches its power further with provocative, bold imagery that stunned the world—and pissed off the Catholic church. (Burning crosses! The horror!) Of course, that was Madonna’s goal: to push the boundaries of what pop music could sound and look like. And it hasn’t been the same since. —C.R.
49. “Get on Your Feet” by Gloria Estefan (1989)
Released in late 1989, “Get on Your Feet” was the perfect song to transition into the ’90s—a rousing, up-tempo track that inspires you to take action, in whatever form that takes for you. Get on your feet! Get up and make it happen! (Side note: This song is also behind the absolute best scene in Parks and Recreation.) —A.M.
50. “If I Could Turn Back Time” by Cher (1989)
I could cry just thinking about how much I love Cher and this soft-rock anthem. The music video—in which she wears a fishnet body stocking—is one of her most iconic looks of all time. —A.M.
51. “Express Yourself” by Madonna (1989)
“Like a Prayer” was such a gargantuan hit that it’s easy to forget Madonna’s other gems from 1989. Namely, “Express Yourself,” a stomping, feminist manifesto in which Madonna tells her female listeners, straight-up, “Don’t go for second best, baby.” The accompanying video, featuring Lady M in a sleek black suit, is pop-music canon. Take the song as seriously or lightly as you want, but the hook—filled to the brim with burn-the-patriarchy gusto—is undeniable. —C.R.
Anna Moeslein is the senior entertainment editor at Glamour.