Yesterday, I brought out the bottom of the barrel for the year of my birth, so it’s only right to spotlight the best songs that 1984 had to offer. As a quick refresher for this series, I’m listening to the year-end Billboard Hot 100, giving every song a score, tallying those up and writing about the best and the worst. No one set the office on fire over the worst, so I’m back to do the best.
Honorable Mention: Michael Jackson – Thriller – Year-End: #78, Peak: #4
When I’ve got a tie around the #10 spot, I’ll add in an honorable mention or two so here’s this year’s. I don’t know if this song gets the respect it deserves because of the album it came from and the other chartbusting hits that preceded it. Plus, I think more people think of the music video for the track than the actual track itself. I don’t think that’s fair as the song itself is a great piece of sound theater, telling a story through lyrics and sound effects. And c’mon, Vincent friggin’ Price.
10. The Cars – Drive – Year-End: #41, Peak: #3
I’m hoping that some of the entries on this list will make what I said about 80’s soft rock in the worst list much more believable. Unlike several of the tracks on that worst list, the synth line here sets the perfect tone for the lyrics and don’t overpower the drums of lyrics. The song, the band’s highest charting track in the US, is also fondly remembered for it’s place in the Live Aid concert in July 1985. It’s lyrically ambiguous enough that you can draw multiple meanings from it, which only adds to the potential connections to it. Overall, it’s a beautiful ballad that solidified The Cars’ diverse place in the pop landscape.
9. Duran Duran – The Reflex – Year-End: #16, Peak: #1
Is there a more 80’s song than “The Reflex”? The bright guitars, the jangly synths, the odd touch of paranoia in the lyrics, all peak 80’s pop. Their first US #1 had the benefit of a Nile Rodgers remix to give it the signature sound that we all know and love.
8. Pat Benetar – Love Is A Battlefield – Year-End: #57, Peak: #5
This song punches you in the face right away and its beat does not let you go. It’s the most electronic of Benetar’s singles to this point, with the signature drum samples driving this track. Originally written as a slow ballad, Benetar simmers for most of the song. Her signature vocal power being just barely contained until the climactic final chorus. This is her best work of the decade.
7. Cyndi Lauper – She Bop – Year-End: #34, Peak: #3
Did he really put the tribute to female self-pleasure on the best list? Yes, yes I did. Why? It’s literally a bop, a great dance track with a darker feel thanks to the bass line and muted synths which are in direct contrast to the album’s more well known single, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”. The controversy adds to the legend of the song, but it’s legitimately one of the best dance tracks of the year.
6. Tina Turner – What’s Love Got To Do With It – Year-End: #2, Peak: #1
I don’t think anyone else could have done this song. The power and fury of Tina’s voice is hers and hers alone. It opens with an unmistakable synth flute line and the intensity just builds to the chorus when Turner’s power just hits you in the chest. At its base, this is a simple pop song. But Turner turns it into so much more.
5. Elton John – I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues – Year-End: #33, Peak: #4
I’ve always liked this song and I’m not sure why. It’s a very simple vocal line on top of a relatively basic piano pop song. But there’s something relatable in the song’s simplicity. There’s a feeling in the slow swinging beat that evokes nostalgia without sounding out of place. Bernie Taupin’s lyrics are vague enough that you can put any romantic struggle into the framework of the song and come out with some meaning for yourself. Fun fact I learned while doing research for this article: that’s Stevie Wonder on the harmonica.
4. John Lennon – Nobody Told Me – Year-End: #81, Peak: #31
Pieced together from some of Lennon’s final sessions, this was his final Top 10 single ad it pointed to a possible direction that John was heading in after Double Fantasy. It’s one of his happier sounding solo tracks, and also could have pointed to a harder rock sound in the future. Either way, it’s a poetic yet poppy track that is a great memory to add in the story to Lennon.
3. Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time – Year-End: #17, Peak: #1
Didn’t see a ballad coming did you? Here’s a third facet of Lauper, not the fun party girl or self-love advocate, but the love song writer. Musically, it’s simple: minimal synth line and drum machines, a jangly guitar line and a bass groove with a tight chorus featuring some simple harmony. At it’s heart, its a song about trying to work out problems in a relationship. There’s a universal message that has helped this become and enduring love song.
2. Prince – When Doves Cry – Year-End: #1, Peak: #1
One of the most iconic songs of the decade. From the first notes of the opening guitar flurry and the recognizable drum sequence, this is a musical masterpiece. Even more impressive after several listens and realizing that there is no bass line on the album track. Between the drums and synth, you get the illusion of bass but there isn’t actually a line being played there. Then what else can you say about the vocals? The simmering verses open up into a power play of a chorus, wrapped up with the tour de force of an outro. One of the best pieces from a true musical genius. But…
- Prince and the Revolution – Let’s Go Crazy – Year-End: #21, Peak: #1
… I just couldn’t put it at number one for the year. While “When Doves Cry” powered the Purple Rain album to all kinds of massive heights, “Let’s Go Crazy” is the more fun track. A great dance track with layers upon layers of production, it’s one that never fails to make you move. I’m not sure when I’d slip on a purple banana peel, but I’m all about it. Plus, Prince blazed on his two guitar solos on the track. While “When Doves Cry” was dominating pop radio, “Let’s Go Crazy” was the funky jewel that really made Purple Rain the record of 1984.
So those are my lists. Did I leave anything out? Annoying that your favorite song wasn’t one of my best of the year or, worse, placed pretty high on the worst list? Let me know in the comments section. Also, keep a eye out for the next installment of this little project. Next week, we jump forward to a very odd year indeed in pop music: 1991.
Before you go, I asked Zack for his comments on the lists, here’s what he sent me about this here particular top ten: “
My inner monologue, whilst reading the list: “This motherfucker has She Bop in the Top 10? I mean, I’m not against that, but how could he leave out one of the most beauti… oh. Okay then. List approved.”It’s kind of amazing though, considering that the single for Time After Time dropped in January, and yet it STILL was on the charts in December. It’s a testament to how much of a masterpiece it was.”