7 Songs That Defined the ’80s

Eighties music means something different to everyone. There were one-hit wonders like Kajagoogoo; career bands emerged like Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Bon Jovi, and The Cure; and Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Queen, and other mainstay artists continued to release music as well. So picking songs that defined the decade is obviously subjective, and depends on one’s own background. But with that said, here are seven songs that helped define the ’80s.

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1. “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1983)

The debut song from Frankie Goes to Hollywood is a synth-pop classic, produced by the one and only Trevor Horn of the Buggles. The 1983 song climbed to No. 1 and sold a reported two million copies in the U.K. It also led to the big, bold-lettered t-shirt craze (“FRANKIE SAYS RELAX”). And what can you say about the lyrics?

Relax, don’t do it
When you wanna go do it
Relax, don’t do it
When you wanna come

2. “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” by Wham! (1984)

This hit single by Wham! was the song the cool kids wanted to hate. B no one could get away from its bouncy, happy bubblegum pop inanity. The 1984 single—which begins with the word “jitterbug” over and over before the opening line of, You put the boom-boom into my heart—was everything rockers hated about pop and even pop fanatics might have been ashamed to like. But, alas, like all catchy pop, there was something inexplicable that made it a classic and helped launch the career of George Michael. (Side note: be sure to check out the amazing Wham! documentary, which is a poignant lesson in true friendship.)

[RELATED: Watch: Official Netflix Trailer for ‘WHAM!’ Documentary]

3. “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell (1981)

This enduring 1981 single by British synth-pop pair Soft Cell was written in 1964 by American Ed Cobb, who wrote it for the artist Gloria Jones. It became an underground “Northern soul” hit in the early ’70s in the UK. Jones gave it another crack in 1976, cutting it again with her boyfriend, Marc Bolan, producing. But it wasn’t under Soft Cell heard it and gave it a slower, peppy treatment that it stuck for worldwide audiences.

4. “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners (1982)

The buoyant 1982 Celtic-pop hit that many thought was about a former girlfriend (it’s actually about Catholic guilt) is easily Dexys Midnight Runners’ biggest hit. The song—with its catchy “Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye-ay” refrain—is said to have been written by the English group’s frontman Kevin Rowland, along with Dexys’ Jim Paterson and Billy Adams, However, Rowland later admitted he “stole” the idea and sound for the track from former bandmate Kevin “Al” Archer. “Eileen” charted at No. 1 in many countries around the world, from the U.S. and the UK to South Africa and Australia.

5. “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls (1982)

The first thing one might think of when it comes to A Flock of Seagulls is the sky-high (and quintessentially ’80s) hair style of singer Mike Score. The second is the synth-heavy 1982 single “I Ran (So Far Away).” The wacky lyric about unrequited love—sort of—follows a man taken with a woman who has the kind of eyes that hypnotize me through. But the narrator ultimately tries to run away from his feelings, and in the end, as one might imagine…the subjects of the song are abducted by aliens.

6. “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League (1981)

This 1981 synth-pop song by The Human League was co-written by the British group’s Jo Callis, Philip Adrian Wright, and Philip Oakey, after the latter saw a photo story in a magazine. The duet between Oakey and Human League singer Susan Ann Sulley is presented from both their perspectives: the former boyfriend who views himself as a Svengali responsible for his ex’s success; and the former waitress in a cocktail bar who feels she would have found a much better place, either with or without you.” Oakey was apparently inspired by the film A Star Is Born to turn the track into a duet.

7. “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran (1982)

Duran Duran’s painfully metaphorical New Wave pop song utilized new ’80s instruments like Roland’s Jupiter-8 synth and an 808 drum machine. This helped cement the track’s influence for the remainder of the decade. The lyric is rather disturbing: a man who’s hungry like the wolf is on the hunt, I’m after you—so, singer Simon Le Bon is stalking the object of his affections, for the most part. Good thing he adds that light, catchy Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do after driving the point home that, Woman, you want me / Give me a sign / And catch my breathing even closer behind. But however one interprets the lyrics, this 1982 single became a phenomenon, breaking Duran Duran big in America (with an assist to the iconic video, which solidified the band’s image for young fans everywhere).

Photo: Courtesy of High Rise PR/Alexandra Baker

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