As the 80s progressed, the widespread proliferation of MTV, modern digital recording techniques and synthesizers, and the influence of New Wave music emulsified into a new form of Pop music that was more danceable than previous forms.
Many people seem to think that the 80s were only about cheesy dance-pop songs like “Maniac” by Michael Sembello, “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung, “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock Of Seagulls, “Take On Me” by A-ha, or “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club. But there was also a lot of great Pop music from this decade that wasn’t cheesy dance-pop.
For the purposes of this list, I’m going to include songs that aren’t necessarily cheesy dance-pop, but could have been used in a dance club. This means that I’m including some New Wave songs as well as slower paced Pop songs. I’m also going to include some one-hit wonders that never made it big outside of the 80s Pop charts (even though some of them are still making music today).
“You Can’t Hurry Love” by Phil Collins
The first song is from “Take Me Home,” the 1985 album by Genesis drummer, Phil Collins. This was his first solo album after leaving Genesis in the early 80s. It spawned three big hits: “Sussudio,” “One More Night,” and this one, which was a #1 hit in both the U.S. and U.K.
“Voices” by Cheap Trick
Cheap Trick formed in 1977 in Rockford, Illinois. They were originally called The Fuse until they changed their name to Cheap Trick after their first live gig at a club called The Esquire Ballroom in Chicago, Illinois in 1978.
They had their most successful period between 1979 and 1982 with five top 40 hits: “I Want You To Want Me,” “Dream Police,” “Surrender,” “The Flame,” and this one, which was a #1 hit for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (and reached #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart).
This song also reached #28 on the UK Singles chart and peaked at #7 on the Canadian Singles chart. It was co-written by Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, and Tom Petersson. Nielsen also contributed rhythm guitar, Zander wrote the vocal melody, and Petersson played bass.
“Sara” by Starship
The next big hit is from the 1986 album, “No Protection,” by Starship (formerly Jefferson Airplane). This was their first album after they changed their name from Jefferson Starship to simply Starship in 1985.
It was also their last studio album with lead vocalist Grace Slick before she left the group in 1988. The song was written by Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane/Starship fame and his then-wife, the late Grace Slick (lead vocals).
It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for three weeks and peaked at #2 on the Mainstream Rock chart in 1986. It was also a #1 hit in Canada and reached #4 on the UK Singles chart.
Kantner originally wrote this song as a ballad for Jefferson Airplane’s self-titled debut album released in 1967 (this song would be re-recorded as a ballad by Jefferson Airplane with vocals by Grace Slick for 1989’s “Citizen Jefferson” album). After Grace left Jefferson Airplane/Starship in 1979, Kantner rewrote the song as a rocker with his then-wife, Grace, for Jefferson Starship.
“Hold Me Now” by Thompson Twins
The next big hit is from “Here’s To Future Days,” the 1985 album by the Thompson Twins. It was written by Alannah Currie (lead vocals) and Joe Leeway (guitar).
It was their first and only #1 hit in both the U.S. and U.K. “Hold Me Now” also reached #2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, #3 on the Canadian Singles chart, and peaked at #27 in Australia and #30 in Germany. This song was co-produced by Alex Sadkin who also produced David Bowie’s 1983 album, Let’s Dance, which featured guitarist Nile Rodgers on lead guitar (Rodgers also co-produced this song).
Sadkin got his start as a sound engineer at Electric Lady Studios where he worked with Jimi Hendrix on unissued tracks from Electric Ladyland in 1968 and 1969. Sadkin went on to produce albums for many artists including Carly Simon, Eddie Rabbitt, James Taylor, Chaka Khan, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, and Diana Ross.
“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police
The next big hit is from the 1981 album, “Ghost In The Machine,” by The Police. It was written by Sting and Andy Summers. This song also reached #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart in 1981 and peaked at #1 in Canada, #6 in the U.S., #9 in Ireland, and #30 in Germany. According to AllMusic: “The song is notable for its prominent use of baritone saxophone (played by Branford Marsalis).”
“Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield
The next big hit is from “Working Class Dog,” the 1980 album by Rick Springfield (born Richard Lewis Springthorpe). This was his first top 40 hit song after having released several singles with little success (his first charting single was “Speak To The Sky” which only reached #98 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1975).
His biggest success before this song came out was his 1978 album, “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet.” He recorded this album under the name Ricky Springfield because he thought he needed a gimmick to promote himself and his music, and so he adopted the persona of a regular working class guy.
He was inspired to write this song by a girl named Jessica who worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken store in the late 70s. Springfield also was inspired by Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” (Elvis Presley played the part of Jessie, as in “Jessie’s Girl”).
This song was co-written by guitarist John Farrar and keyboardist Bill Cuomo (who later went on to form the group, The Power Station with Robert Palmer and Tony Thompson). It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for one week in 1982.
It also reached #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart and peaked at #5 on the UK Singles chart. This song was also recorded by Cyndi Lauper for her 1983 debut album, She’s So Unusual, which made it to #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart and sold over 12 million copies worldwide.