Guilty pleasures of the ’80s: Songs I (secretly) still enjoy
The ‘80s are back! OK, that’s not quite true, though it does seem that for a while now the ‘80s have very been the “in” retro style. (See e.g., Fox’ new show The Goldbergs.) I have been doing a deep dive into ‘80s music myself lately, listening to ‘80s alternative, indie and punk as much as possible while reading Michael Azerrad’s “Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991”, David Ensminger “Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons”, and books from the 33-1/3 series featuring legendary ‘80s albums, Daydream Nation (Sonic Youth), Doolittle (Pixies), and You’re Living All Over Me (Dinosaur Jr).
Today, though, I don’t want to talk about any of the great music (or even any of the not-so-great music) from some of my favorite indie/alternative ‘80s bands. Instead, I want to celebrate that decade the way most of us do – ironically and embarrassingly – by listing some of my favorite songs by ‘80s artists that I’m ashamed to put on any list with the word “top” in it. These are the songs you saw on MTV, and not on 120 Minutes. To make this list, there’s a pretty simple test:
- It must be song that I might hear on SiriusXM’s “classic alternative” station (1stWave) or some sort of “Best of the ‘80s” countdown (i.e., it’s familiar and nostalgic)
- If I heard it on the radio today, I wouldn’t change the station
- If I were alone, I’d probably sing along, mostly to the chorus and possibly butchering a verse or two
- If I were not alone, I definitely would not sing along (or at a minimum I would try and hide it) and if my companion changed the station I would not show any disappointment or change it back
With that in mind, the following bands are obviously not eligible: Pixies, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, the Smiths, the Clash, Blondie, New Order (though there was a time that I wasn’t aware that it was OK to like them), the Cure (though in retrospect I’m wondering if they should fill the shame-void once filled by New Order), Talking Heads, PiL, Echo & the Bunnymen, Midnight Oil, R.E.M., U2 (you forget that 1980s U2 was listenable), the Pretenders (no one would quibble with me liking “Back on the Chain Gang”), Elvis Costello (much cooler than you think), David Bowie (not as cool as you think, but still), Peter Gabriel (because too many respectable people think he’s cool), Prince, Jim Carroll, Iggy Pop, Tiffany (just kidding – wanted to see if you were still reading), Beastie Boys, Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails.
Now, finally, here are my Top 40 (or so) ‘80s Songs I (Shamefully) Admit to Enjoying, aka My Eighties Guilty Pleasures:
- The Go-Go’s: We Got the Beat – Want to see something really ’80s? How about the Go-Go’s performing “We Got the Beat” on Solid Gold?
- Depeche Mode: Just Can’t Get Enough – There was a time when you could have thrown Depeche into a cool NewWave threesome with New Order and the Cure. Time has not treated them well. Admitting to liking Depeche Mode has shifted from edgy to dorky. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if Depeche Mode were a kid ion your high school, they were the popular jock; now they’re the creepy old dude at the party.
- Rick Springfield: Jessie’s Girl
- The J. Geils Band: Centerfold
- Squeeze: Tempted – Since I’m being honest here, I may as well admit that just about every song from the Squeeze Singles compilation belongs on this list.
- Talk Talk: Talk Talk – The most “’80s” of any band/song title combination? I say yes.
- Adam Ant: Goody Two Shoes
- Men at Work: Who Can It Be Now – “Down Under” isn’t awful either, but doesn’t quite make the cut.
- Trio: Da Da Da – Probably got a second life from the Volkswagen commercials.
- Dexy’s Midnight Runners: Come On Eileen – From NME: “It shifted a million copies here to become 1982’s biggest selling single, then dosey doed over to America the next year to repeat the feat. Imagine a world where everyone rushed out to buy a brainstorm like this.”
- Bow Wow Wow: I Want Candy
- Culture Club: Do You Really Want to Hurt Me & Karma Chameleon (but not I’ll Tumble 4 Ya) – Boy George, secret genius? No. But he did produce a couple of highly enjoyable songs.
- Madness: Our House
- The English Beat: Save It For Later
- The Human League: (Keep Feeling) Fascination – A genuinely weird yet catchy song. Had they continued on this path the Human League could have been a sleeper pick for “great NewWave band everyone secretly loves.” Instead they’re where they belong, in the discount pile with Tears for Fears.
- Thompson Twins: Hold Me Now – Hold onto your hats people, it’s 1984 and it’s about to get ugly.
- Pet Shop Boys: West End Girls, What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1986) & Always on My Mind (1988)
- OMD: Locomotion & Tesla Girls
- Dead or Alive: You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) – OK, I’ll just say it: I like the original way better than the Alvin & the Chipmunks version.
- Dire Straits: Money For Nothing – And the video of course!
- A-ha: Take On Me – I own this on 45″ single. Keep that between us please.
- Tears for Fears: Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Somehow became the theme song to Dennis Miller’s HBO show.
- Oingo Boingo: Dead Man’s Party & Weird Science – Was every song that came out in 1985 used in a movie at some point? Sure seems that way.
- Simple Minds: Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Why are the words “Forget About Me” in the title but as a parenthetical? I need to understand the artistic choice Simple Minds was making here.
- Howard Jones: Things Can Only Get Better – You would think, but in 1986 they really don’t.
- The Bangles: Walk Like an Egyptian
- The Psychedelic Furs: Pretty in Pink – Total tangent, but have you ever heard the National’s cover of this song from their 2007 Daytrotter Session? Like everything else from the National, it’s beautiful.
- XTC: Dear God – Maybe things are beginning to get just a little less embarrassing as we head into the latter part of the decade?
- INXS: Need You Tonight – The first band I ever loved that wasn’t handed down to me from my dad. INXS’ Kick will always hold a special place in my heart.
- Michael Penn: No Myth – But really, what if I were Romeo in black jeans?
- The B-52s: Roam & Love Shack – It’s fitting that I close out the list with a song (Love Shack) for which even the video was one of my guilty pleasures.