1982 stands as a pivotal year in music history. Pop music takes its shape, hip-hop hits the mainstream, and indie rock has some early hits. There is so many top songs from 1982 it's hard to include everything. We will look at some of the biggest tracks of the year.
1. “I’m So Excited” by The Pointer Sisters
The Pointer Sisters were already well-established by 1982, but they produced one of their most beloved songs that year: “I’m So Excited.” The song was another big hit for the group, peaking at number 30 and proving that it was just as relevant in this young decade.
The song is upbeat and perfect to play at a club or party. Like many vocal groups of this generation, the Pointer Sisters took inspiration from the now-dead genre of disco for the production.
2. “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye had a public exit from the Motown label in 1981, and people wondered if he would ever reach the same heights without its support. Gaye responded to those critics with “Sexual Healing,” one of his most popular songs and proof he still had more music to make.
The song synthesizes disco, funk, and soul for unique instrumentation. Gaye sings about the power of loving someone and how it heals your soul. Gaye died two years later after being shot by his father, cutting his impressive career tragically short.
3. “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
1982 was one of the first years when hip-hop took off and reached a more mainstream audience. While hip-hop and rap were already established as musical genres, Grandmaster Flash was one of the first artists to discuss social issues the Black community was dealing with at the time.
“The Message” has the rappers talk about the condition of the inner cities in the 1980s. The group took inspiration from the transit strike in New York. The lyrics describe the poor standard of living in American cities and the issues residents dealt with daily.
4. “1999” by Prince
Prince created the Minneapolis sound, and “1999” perfectly demonstrates its mixture of funk and new wave. The song is the title track of one of Prince’s best records, and critics consistently rate “1999” as one of the eclectic rocker’s best songs.
The song details a party being held as the world is ending. There is nothing they can do but enjoy some debauchery until the end comes. The instrumentation is funky and upbeat to contrast with the macabre subject matter.
5. “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran
Duran Duran proved the artistic merits of the fledgling new wave genre with its smash hit “Hungry Like the Wolf.” The song put Duran Duran on the map and propelled it to international fame as the song sprang up the charts.
Lyrically, “Hungry Like the Wolf” has remained a mystery to many listeners. Duran Duran member John Taylor said he did not have a singular interpretation of the lyrics in mind, and pictures it as a song about meeting girls.
6. “Wolves, Lower” by R.E.M.
R.E.M. is one of the most beloved alternative rock bands of all time. In 1982, however, the group was just some college kids playing music in Athens, Georgia.
Despite its obscurity at the time, “Wolves, Lower” exemplifies what would make R.E.M. so unique. This song demonstrates the jangle pop sound the band employed in its early years. It is a wonderful song that is made better by its uniqueness and freshness compared to other rock music in 1982.
7. “Houdini” by Kate Bush
Kate Bush was a few years away from proving herself to be a force in art pop, but the writing was on the wall for the British singer’s rise in popularity. “Houdini” demonstrates the eclectic nature of Kate Bush that would captivate fans for years.
“Houdini” is a bizarre song where Bush attempts to push the boundaries of her songwriting. She succeeds with a haunting track that laid the groundwork for her later work.
8. “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash
The Clash made a name for itself as a punk band early in its career, but took an unprecedented shift in direction in 1982 with “Rock the Casbah.” The band embraced new wave music and nearly abandoned its early punk influences.
Lyrically, “Rock the Casbah” takes inspiration from the modern history of Iran, including the hostage crisis and the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The music video is cheesy and the band filmed it in Texas.
9. “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners
Dexys Midnight Runners are one of the first bands people hold up as a one-hit-wonder. But when you are talking about good music from 1982, you can’t go long without mentioning “Come On Eileen.”
“Come On Eileen” is a unique new wave song that includes a Celtic fiddle. The song is technically impressive with key and tempo changes throughout. For a mainstream breakthrough, “Come On Eileen” was ambitious and lives on in our memories.
10. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
It is hard to imagine a song with more plays in the gym than “Eye of the Tiger.” Survivor crafted this song for the Slyvester Stalone film Rocky III, and since its inclusion in the film, it has taken on a life of its own. Future WWF champion and Rocky III co-star of the film Hulk Hogan used the song' during his career.
The song describes a person getting ready for a big fight. They are ready to engage with confidence and poise.
11. “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force
Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force innovated both the electro and hip-hop genres with “Planet Rock.” The sparse production took inspiration from Kraftwerk and brought electronic music into the ears of many new listeners.
The rap also proved to be a game changer, as the group rapped off time with the music. This distinct rapping led to a shift in what people thought they could do with the genre.
12. “Temptation” by New Order
New Order formed out of the ashes of Joy Division and the band members explored new sounds and genres together. “Temptation” was the band’s attempt to make a dance song with synthpop influences.
The lyrics tell the story of a person longing for a past lover. It has been too long to spark the romance, so now they just remain a distant and bittersweet memory.
13. “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls
While it may be easy to think of “It’s Raining Men” as a novelty song, it was a big hit in 1982. The Weather Girls blended disco, soul, synthpop, and R&B to create something incredibly unique and memorable.
The Weather Girls sing about all the various men they enjoy being around, and the song stands out as a great anthem of women’s jubilation.
14. “Vacation” by The Go-Gos
“Vacation” is an anthem for many when they decide to take a trip. The Go-Gos perfectly capture the excitement of heading out on the road with this upbeat, new-wave tune. The lyrics describe the euphoria of going on an excursion.
Since its release, “Vacation” has been used as a needle drop in many television shows and films. Children growing up in the 1990s might remember the song from Rugrats, while new generations heard “Vacation” in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
15. “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton
“Atomic Dog” will never stand as George Clinton’s most commercially successful song, but it has grown in stature over the years critically. The song did not even break onto the charts back in 1982, but its reputation and legend remain thanks to consistent sampling from later artists.
Clinton did not put too much stock into the lyrics, and he said he ad-libbed most of them while in the studio. The funky production with a dash of electronic influence carries this track and makes it a standout of 1982.
16. “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls
1982 was a year full of excellent offerings from new wave bands. One of those new wave bands was A Flock of Seagulls, who achieved nearly instant fame with “I Ran (So Far Away).” The popularity of the song and especially the music video made A Flock of Seagulls major players in the so-called Second British Invasion.
The lyrics are bizarre and evoke science fiction. A poster the band saw of a couple running away from a UFO inspired the lyrics.
17. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
In 1982, Michael Jackson wore the crown of the king of pop. Jackson had a string of incredibly successful and acclaimed hits, and none was bigger than “Billie Jean.”
“Billie Jean,” tells the story of a man that a woman accuses of having sired a baby he does not believe is his. The track contains a toe-tapping beat that makes you want to dance from producer Quincy Jones and spirited vocals from Jackson. “Billie Jean” is one of many chart-topping singles from Jackson’s seminal album, Thriller.
18. “I Melt With You” by Modern English
Modern English drew from both new wave and punk music to craft “I Melt With You.” The song has a distinctive instrumental song that showcases the direction modern alternative rock would go. “I Melt With You” was the biggest hit for Modern English and is in numerous films.
The lyrics are a macabre affair. The band’s frontman Robbie Grey said he was in a bad place at the time, worried about nuclear war and economic troubles. So he wrote this song about a couple being intimate as a nuclear war breaks out.
19. “Jack and Diane” by John Cougar
John “Cougar” Mellencamp had the biggest hit of his career in 1982 with “Jack and Diane.” The story of the lyrics is a simple tale about two young lovers from middle America who go through the trials and tribulations of youth.
The instrumentation for this song is unique with a stop-and-start nature. Mellencamp said he had difficulties making the arrangement sound good with a whole band in tow.
20. “Africa” by Toto
Toto released one of the most enduring songs of the 1980s with “Africa” in 1982. The synth line drives the song as the lyrics describe the world on the continent. The music video is cheesy, showing the band in a library searching for information on Africa.
This earworm had plenty of staying power on the charts, eventually peaking in the next year at number one. It survives as a classic of the decade.
21. “Only Time Will Tell” by Asia
Asia was a supergroup containing members of various progressive rock bands of the time. The genre was on the downturn in the 1980s, but this group exploded onto the charts with its debut album. The best song on the album is “Only Time Will Tell.”
Driven by electric guitars and synths, the singer tells the story of a love that is coming to an end. Both participants in the relationship realize it is over, and only time will tell if they can successfully move on.
22. “Back on the Chain Gang” by The Pretenders
The Pretenders were on the pulse of where alternative rock was headed with its song “Back on the Chain Gang.” The song is catchy and has that distinctive jangle sound bands like R.E.M. were experimenting with.
The lyrics and atmosphere around the band were dour at the time. The band’s guitarist had recently died, and singer Chrissie Hynde wrote this song in memory of him.
23. “Subdivisions” by Rush
“Subdivisions” and the album Rush released it on, Signals, marked the beginning of the band using synthesizers heavily. The result is a song that retains Rush’s progressive rock roots while still pushing the band in a new direction.
“Subdivisions” talks about the expectations put on people by society. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart said the song was autobiographical and captured his feelings of isolation and inability to fit in.
24. “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen was already established as the face of heartland rock by 1982. So how did he continue his success as an artist? He ditched the E-Street Band and recorded the solo album Nebraska, featuring “Atlantic City,” one of the Boss’ most macabre songs.
“Atlantic City,” tells the story of a couple where the man gets mixed up in organized crime. It is a grim tale of the decline of the American city and the desperate measures many took to survive.
25. “Allentown” by Billy Joel
Much like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel also created a working-class anthem in 1982 with his hit “Allentown.” Joel sings about the plight of the blue-collar workers in the titular Pennsylvania town and the difficulties they face finding work as manufacturing jobs become harder to find.
“Allentown” has a mixed reception in the town Joel named it for. Some residents found the song to be an unfair depiction, while others sang it with pride.
26. “Maneater” by Hall & Oates
Hall & Oates was a hit-making machine in its heyday, and “Maneater” was another classic from the duo.
Most listeners assume the titular character is a woman, but John Oates said he wrote the song about New York in the 1980s. He saw plenty of greed that chewed people up and spit them out and decided to write about it.
27. “Abracadabra” by The Steve Miller Band
The Steve Miller Band went to new places with “Abracadabra” in 1982. Miller wanted the song to evoke the sound of a Diana Ross track.
Miller said he had to fight with the record company to release this song as a single, as they didn’t believe in it. “Abracadabra” was a worldwide success and put the band at the top of the charts.
28. “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant
Eddy Grant drew from funk and reggae to record “Electric Avenue.” The song did not have much success on his album Killer on the Rampage but found new life as a single.
Grant wrote the song about the 1981 Brixton riot and would soon leave England in response to the violence. The lyrics evoke imagery of the riot and the government’s response to it.
29. “Always On My Mind” by Willie Nelson
Numerous artists have performed versions of “Always On My Mind,” but Willie Nelson has a claim to the best cover of the staple. Nelson won three Grammys for the song, and it helped establish him to a new audience.
Some critics have suggested that this song is about a failing marriage and a partner who cannot get the idea of being cheated on out of their head. No matter your interpretation, no list of good music of 1982 is complete without this song.
Top Songs From 1982, Final Thoughts
There were so many top songs from 1982 that it was impossible to fit everything in. The year was pivotal in the careers of many artists and set the stage for the rest of the decade.
What is your favorite track from 1982? Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!