Impact’s Music Essentials: The Sound of the 80s

colourful electric guitars
Ellie-Mae Davies

Ellie-Mae Davies picks her ten favourite 80s songs for Impact’s Music Essentials. 

The 80s is arguably one of the most notable eras of music because of the impact it had on popular culture and lifestyle. It established the start of the dance-pop generation and is known best to for its cheesy dance classics. The emergence of dance clubs and discos saw the rise in popularity for this particular style of music, perfect for dancing. Most 80s songs include musical elements such as synthesisers and textured instrumentation, an upbeat tempo and a catchy chorus. Also, cultural aspects such as the establishment of the music video as well as the prominence of fashion and politics help with the success of these songs.

Madonna- Like A Virgin

Madonna is one of the most prominent artists from the 80s. She not only dominated in the music industry but completely revolutionised fashion and popular culture. I have chosen Like A Virgin (1984) because of its distinctive upbeat 80s feel as well as the lyrical content pushing political boundaries by expressing female sexuality through music. Also, the music video was revolutionary with the costume choice of Madonna in a wedding dress, linking to the lyrics. I particularly love her softer vocals on the track and it is one of my favourite karaoke songs.

Wham- Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go

Wham had many hits in the 80s including Club Tropicana, Wham Rap and Last Christmas, which has become a classic around the festive season. However, I’ve chosen their song Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (1984) because it has many elements of the perfect dance song: the upbeat lyrical content with Michael’s powerful, belting vocals, the funky bassline and keyboard riffs as well as the brass section in the bridge. As well as it being their first number one hit in the UK and the US, the music video included the iconic “CHOOSE LIFE” t-shirts further promoting the positive message of the song.

Soft Cell- Tainted Love

Soft Cell’s hit song covered Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love originally recorded in 1964. The British duo reworked the song in 1981, switching out the live instrumentation, including horns, electric guitar and female vocals, for synthesisers and drum rhythm machines. Tainted Love hit number one in the UK charts and gained popularity in US shortly afterwards and was played dominantly throughout the club scene.

a-ha- Take On Me

a-ha is another synth-pop band adding to the list. Originally from Norway, the band recorded the hit song Take On Me originally in 1984 but it struggled to climb the UK charts until its third release in 1985. The song mixes instrumentation such as guitars, keyboard and drums with synthesisers as well as the incredible high-register vocals. My favourite part of this song is the iconic sketch-drawn music video matching the upbeat pace of the hit which was ground-breaking for the time.

Whitney Houston- I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)

The legendary Whitney Houston could have had countless songs included on this list. However, I have decided on her pop classic I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) because it is one of her most popular dance songs along with How Will I Know and So Emotional. Although the song’s initial reception was mixed with critics comparing it to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (another song I could have easily included on this list), it climbed to the top of the charts in countries including Australia, UK and US. I believe the song’s positive uplifting lyrics about simply going out and dancing with a lover blended with synthesisers and a drum machine make it a perfect pop dance song.

Tears for Fears- Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Tears for Fears rose to fame in the 80s and their song Everybody Wants to Rule the World (1985) is arguably their biggest hit. The song is much more political than other songs on the list commenting on the corruption of society. In contrast, the song contains elements of synth and is most recognisable for its guitar riff in the introduction. Despite it being a slower song than some of the others on this list, it gained global popularity.

Tiffany- I Think We’re Alone Now

Similarly to Soft Cell, Tiffany’s signature 80s song came from a cover. She covered Tommy James and Shondells song I Think We’re Alone Now and it hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1987. Essential to an 80s song, the hit has a powerful drum beat and elements of synth as well as various instrumentation. I also particularly the love the vocal harmonies in the chorus. As well as it being a dance hit, it’s a great karaoke song!

The Human League- Don’t You Want Me

The Human League’s hit Don’t You Want Me was a major hit in the year 1981. It was the biggest selling song in the UK in that year as well as being the Christmas number one. The distinctive use of synthesiser made it perfect for discos and dance clubs as well as the recognisable conversational singing between the two lead vocalists. I believe it is an essential song to add to an 80s playlist.

Huey Lewis & The News- The Power of Love

As a part of the Back to the Future soundtrack in 1985, Huey Lewis & The News’ song The Power of Love secured the band their first UK number one. It’s distinct music elements such as strong instrumentation, particularly guitar, make for an upbeat, powerful track. I have selected this song for the list because of the impact it had on culture, film, and music through the famous film but also as it promotes a positive message. 

Kenny Loggins- Footloose

Kenny Loggins’ signature song was released in 1984 for the soundtrack of the film Footloose. Since the song accompanies a film about dancing and music, it was perfect for dance clubs, especially as the lyrics to the song encourage it. The textured instrumentation seamlessly compliment Loggins’ powerful vocals. I have chosen this song because whenever I listen to it, it instantly puts me in a good mood.

Ellie-Mae Davies 

Featured image courtesy of Mohrez Labaf via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article videos courtesy of Madonna, Wham!, Soft Cell, a-ha, Whitney Houston, Tears For Fears, Tiffany, The Human League, hueylewisofficial and Kenny Loggins via@youtube.com. No changes were made to these videos.

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