27 Best Songs From 1984

A large contingent of Americans will argue— forcefully— that the 1980s were the true golden age of pop music. And they’re right. Changes in social norms, economic norms, and music technology, not to mention the seismic shift the music industry faced with the advent of MTV, made for a time of innovation and true greatness.

Good music from 1984 demonstrates this as well as any other year from the decade. Here are some of the best songs from 1984.

1. “When Doves Cry” by Prince

Song Year: 1984

Not only was 1984 the year of George Orwell, but it was also the year of Prince’s ascension to the throne of rock royalty. He’d had solid hits earlier in the 1980s, but with the release of his semi-autobiographical film “Purple Rain” and the accompanying soundtrack album.

Purple Rain spent the last half of 1984 in the number-one spot on the album chart, and “When Doves Cry” was Prince’s first single to hit number one and the biggest-selling single the year it was released.

2. “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen

Song Year: 1984

Improbably, one of the most successful iterations of “Dancing in the Dark” was a dance club remix (improbably because a dance club seems the last place one would hear The Boss).

That doesn’t mean the single version wasn’t a hit. In fact, it was Bruce Springsteen’s biggest hit, reaching the number two spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and number one on several charts worldwide.

The song won him a Grammy, saw the addition of a synthesizer to the Springsteen sound, and introduced (the video, that is) the world to a pre-“Friends” Courtney Cox.

3. “The Reflex” by Duran Duran

Song Year: 1984

Duran Duran was already a big deal when the world rang in 1984. They would become a bigger deal with the release of Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the band’s third studio album. “The Reflex” was the album’s second single and the band’s biggest hit. It went to number one worldwide and kept “Dancing in the Dark,” among others, from ever reaching the top of the charts.

It’s true to the Duran Duran aesthetic, too: who knows what it’s about? Is it about the battle between good and evil in each of us? Tantric sex? There are plausible arguments for both.

Who cares? It’s a terrific song.

4. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson

Song Year: 1984

Michael Jackson had the biggest-selling album of all time with Thriller. To keep things moving forward, the King of Pop decided to, for the album’s eponymous single, forgo making a music video in favor of making a short film. In terms of MTV airtime, a 13-minute video was unthinkable. But it was Michael Jackson, so they kind of had to do what he said.

“Thriller,” complete with a voiceover by legendary horror actor Vincent Price, was never intended for release, as the Epic Records execs thought of it as a novelty tune and wouldn’t do well. They were proven wrong when the song, though never reaching number one, spent 52 consecutive weeks on the chart.

5. “Careless Whisper” by Wham!

Song Year: 1984

If for no other reason, “Careless Whisper” gets recognition as a great song from 1984 for that iconic saxophone riff played by Steve Gregory.

The song was a worldwide number-one hit for Wham!, and charted again in 2017 after George Michael’s untimely death in the closing days of 2016. It’s a soaring ballad of heartbreak and loss and is almost universally hailed as an exquisitely written pop song.

Of note is that Michael wrote it when he was 17. So what were you doing at 17? It sure wasn’t writing enduring pop masterpieces.

6. “Jump” by Van Halen

Song Year: 1983

Released as a single in late December of 1983, “Jump” was one of The Songs of 1984, as it was everywhere. It hailed from Van Halen’s sixth studio album, 1984, and marked the end of the David Lee Roth era of the band, which would give way to the marginal-at-best iteration with  Sammy Hagar.

“Jump” found guitar wunderkind Eddie Van Halen playing the synthesizer, which brought a band new sound to the band and was something that seemed like a new direction for the quartet. Producer Ted Templeman hated it. The world didn’t. It went to number one.

7. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes

Song Year: 1983

When Yes released 90125 in mid-1983, they were considered by many to be past their prime. As prog rockers from the ‘60s and ‘70s, Yes were gods. But those days were long gone, and by 1981, the band was all but defunct.

Former members joined with guitarist Trevor Rabin, who wrote “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” and added it to 90125, even though hardly anybody— from band members to tech staff to label execs— could stand it.

It’s a weird song, sure, but maybe that’s what made it stand out, climbing the charts well into 1984.

8. “Let's Go Crazy” by Prince & the Revolution

Song Year: 1984

Another entry from the Purple Rain soundtrack album, “Let’s Go Crazy” opened the album and the film. It was an apt introduction to what both media would give to the world in terms of Prince's music.

It hit number one on multiple Billboard charts and remains one of Prince’s most believed hits. That monster guitar riff did a lot to differentiate His Purpleness from the R&B pigeonhole many label execs and radio stations tried to fit him into.

9. “What's Love Got to Do with It” by Tina Turner

Song Year: 1984

When “What’s Love Got to Do with It” hit number one, Tina Turner was 44 years old. She became the oldest female to reach that mark. And she won three Grammys for it.

The world knew and loved her from her Ike and Tina days, but she’d somewhat fallen off the radar once she escaped the abuse of her former husband. Private Dancer, the album that spawn this and two other smash singles, put her back on the map and made everyone recognize her as the national treasure she is.

10. “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins

Song Year: 1984

A movie about a town that outlawed dancing and the camera-ready teens who buck the system seems like a terrible, terrible idea. Who would go see that?

But put Kevin Bacon in it, fill the soundtrack with gems like “Footloose,” and tell the world that, in a ridiculously odd twist of fate, it was based on real events from a small Oklahoma town, and you’ve got a hit film.

The song was a big deal, too— it was Loggins’ only number-one hit and was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry.

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