Oh have I got a treat for you today, here are the best songs from 1985! A couple of songs released at the tail end of '84 also snuck in there if they were mainly popular in '85; I'll mention these hits as they come.
1. “Take On Me” by A-Ha
Norwegian pop band A-ha took a murderously catchy earworm of a keyboard riff, paired it with the preternaturally high voice of lead singer Morten Harket, and made a worldwide hit out of the result. A-ha became one of the few white acts booked on the TV show “Soul Train” on the heels of it.
But the video was the thing. Depicting Harket interacting, as a live human, with animated charcoal sketches was groundbreaking at the time.
Heavy rotation on MTV can make just about anything a hit, but that shouldn’t take away from the songwriting strength on display in “Take On Me.”
2. “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams
People who had never been in love before heard “Summer of ‘69” and longed to be in love. Those who hadn’t toured with a band heard it and wanted to do that. Baby boomers heard it and got lost in nostalgia.
Most people consider it to be Bryan Adams’ best song, and it’s a signature piece for him.
3. “I Feel for You” by Chaka Khan
One of the biggest hits of the whole year, “I Feel for You” reminded America that the Queen of Funk, that big-voiced woman who sang “I’m Every Woman” in 1978, was still a force to be recognized.
Written by Prince in 1979, “I Feel for You” hit the charts in late 1984 and stayed there until well into 1985. Ironically, Prince’s “Purple Rain” occupied the number one spot when “I Feel for You” was making its strongest charge up the charts, so Prince prevented his song from topping the charts.
4. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears
British duo Tears for Fears scored its first number-one hit with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” a piece of pop confection with dark undertones.
The lyrics paint a picture of power-hungry people and the issues and crises they can cause—whether in personal relationships or on the world stage.
5. “Smooth Operator” by Sade
While Sade released “Smooth Operator” in the UK in ‘84, it wouldn’t hit American radio stations until 1985. While the song was a solid hit for the band (Sade was the band name, and the singer’s name is Sade Adu), its biggest market was the Adult Contemporary chart, where it found a number one spot.
The song’s smooth-jazz feel, complete with saxophone, echoed the smooth moves of its titular con man but was also a distinctly different sound from most anything else on the charts in the 1980s.
6. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds
In the 1980s, if you could be part of a John Hughes movie, that was a ticket to superstardom. Think of all those Brat-Packers, right? And then there’s Simple Minds, who contributed what would become the theme song of the movie and cultural touchstone “The Breakfast Club.”
Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol passed on the song, but Simple Minds laid down a recording of it that went to number one in the US and other countries and spent two full years on the UK charts.
7. “Material Girl” by Madonna
As one of the singles from Like a Virgin, “Material Girl” first hit the airwaves at the end of 1984. However, its chart performance and ubiquitous MTV presence were all over the 1985 calendar.
Madonna was already a big star when “Material Girl” hit, and she had “Like a Virgin” as her signature song. But since most people refer to Her Madonnaship as the Material Girl, it seems “Like a Virgin” got displaced by this bubbly megahit.
8. “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen
“Born in the U.S.A.” had two things in common with some other big songs of its era:
- It was released in 1984 but rode the charts for months into 1985.
- It was misunderstood as an anthem to how great America is.
Like John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” political rally organizers blasted it at Ronald Reagan campaign events. Sure, it declares that I was born in the US, but the part that everyone seemed to miss was the rest of the sentiment, which ran along the lines of, “so I should have a much better life than I do.”
9. “Raspberry Beret” by Prince and The Revolution
You can’t have a 1980s anything without something from Prince on it. “Rasberry Beret” was the first single His Purpleness released on his own Paisley Park label, and many consider it one of his better songs.
Considering how unbelievably prolific a composer the man was, that’s saying something. “Rasberry Beret” remained a live staple for Prince until his death, and it charted again in 2016 after his untimely passing.
10. “Shout” by Tears for Fears
Dropping in late ‘84, “Shout” made quick work of its chart-climbing, reaching the top slot in Britain in January of 1985. The song climbed slowly in the States, spending all spring rising before hitting number one in August.
Not only is “Shout” the most recognizable Tears for Fears song, but it’s also one of the most enduring hits of the 1980s.
11. “You Give Good Love” by Whitney Houston
Songwriter La Forrest Cope wrote “You Give Good Love” for Roberta Flack, but Whitney Houston ended up with it as the lead-off single of her eponymous, debut album.
The song was intended to introduce a young, unknown singer to the R&B audiences of the time, but it enjoyed crossover success because no matter what people like, they can recognize an exquisitely lovely voice when they hear it.
Whitney Houston’s massive career as a superstar started here in 1985.
12. “Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears
As simple love songs go, “Head Over Heels” is a solid example. It’s also a fine instance of Simple Done Well. It doesn’t have the booming percussion of “Shout,” nor its anthemic nature, and it eschews the jangly guitar of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Instead, it’s a straight-up song that doesn’t suffer (as many 1980s songs did) from overproduction.
13. “Freeway of Love” by Aretha Franklin
“Freeway of Love” was one of Aretha Franklin’s 77 hit singles. Its 1985 debut found Franklin wielding the same command of her voice and the music as she did on any hit she released in the 60s and 70s.
The song rose to number one and earned The Queen of Soul a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
14. “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen
Seven hit singles came off of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 album Born in the U.S.A. “Glory Days” was the fifth one, and it made it to number five on Billboard’s Hot 100.
As its lyrics reminisce—somewhat comically—about the good old days, the overall garage-band feel of the single seems apropos.
15. “Crazy for You” by Madonna
Madonna’s first ballad single came from the soundtrack for a Matthew Modine vehicle called “Vision Quest.” Think “The Karate Kid” but for wrestling. And without an endearing mentor.
Songwriters John Bettis and Jon Lind feared Madonna’s dance-pop sensibilities made her a liability and didn’t want her to sing it. They were wrong because what else does the world remember from this movie? Journey’s “Only the Young”? That’s a no.
16. “Jungle Love” by The Time
The Time gained a lot of cachet from appearing in “Purple Rain,” with frontman Morris Day playing a foil to Prince’s protagonist. The band toured with Prince, and he is credited as one of the songwriters (albeit as Jamie Starr) alongside Day and Jesse Johnson.
Day handled the vocals while Johnson handled some of the guitar work, but every other sound on the record was made by Prince. Not to take away from Day’s stellar onstage performance and persona, but no wonder the song was a top-ten hit.
17. “Voices Carry” by ‘Til Tuesday
While “Voices Carry” rendered ‘Til Tuesday a one-hit wonder, it was a pretty big hit in 1985. It spent 20 weeks on the Billboard charts and reached number eight.
Aimee Mann presented the world with a woman it didn’t know what to do with: punky, bleached hair, seemingly pouty, but with a powerful voice, a strong energy about her, and she played the bass. That unusual combination (unusual in pop music, anyway), along with the dark undertones of the lyrics and the video, drove the song’s popularity.
Mann herself went on to great success as a solo artist and critics’ darling.
18. “What You Need” by INXS
INXS had been bubbling under for a few years, though they were pretty popular in their native Australia. When they finished recording 1985’s Listen Like Thieves, the label personnel felt that the album lacked a hit single and charged the band with writing one that night and recording it the next day.
It happened, and the result, “What You Need,” went to number five. It didn’t have the world-swallowing popularity of the band’s 1987 album Kick, but it sure set the stage for it.
19. “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits
A song told from the perspective of two blue-collar workers scoffing at the rock stars they see on MTV, “Money for Nothing” was one of three top ten hits Dire Straits ever had in the US and the band’s lone number one.
It happened because of MTV, which insisted on the band giving it a video for the song that was something other than the band playing the song “live.”
The result—a CGI video animation that was, at the time, mind-boggling— took the song places it never would have gone. Having Sting sing at the beginning and end helped, too, as the Police were still red hot when the song dropped.
20. “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” by Don Henley
Before Don Henley got all political and took himself way too seriously, he recorded the Danny Kortchmar-penned song “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” his biggest solo hit. While the song decried US policy in Central America, it was a fun listen.
21. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Written by Tom Petty and Dave Stewart from Eurythmics, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was supposedly inspired by a romantic tiff between Stevie Nicks and Joe Walsh from The Eagles.
No matter its origins, the song is widely considered one of the strongest in Petty’s catalog. It rose to the top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and number two on its Album Rocks Tracks list. The video featured Petty as the Mad Hatter in an Alice-inspired world. It was as weird as that sounds.
22. “Some Like It Hot” by The Power Station
Call The Power Station the first New Wave supergroup if you like. It featured John Taylor and Andy Taylor from Duran Duran on bass and guitar, respectively, with Chic drummer Tony Thompson backing up vocalist Robert Palmer.
The other three-fifths of Duran Duran formed Arcadia at the same time, and both projects spelled the end of the original incarnation of Duran Duran, which wouldn’t perform together again until the 21st century.
“Some Like It Hot” led to Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible”-powered solo career and allowed both Taylors to play a harder brand of rock than they’d done with Duran Duran.
23. “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago
Originally written for Kenny Rogers, “You’re the Inspiration” was a number-one single from the band’s 1984 album 17. The single continued in the same vein as the rest of the album, using David Foster’s production skills and way too many strings for hardcore Chicago fans’ liking.
Still, it was a huge hit for the band and played a large role in introducing Chicago to a new generation—kids whose parents had been Chicago fans in the 70s discovered this “new” band. Gen Xers thought they discovered everything.
24. “Would I Lie to You?” by Eurythmics
It was something of a 180 for Eurythmics, going from the haunting, minor-key synth-fest that was 1983’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” to the chunky guitar riffs and the horn section that drove “Would I Lie to You?”
It was the beginning of a directional shift for the duo as they began rocking a little bit harder. It was a global top-ten hit and topped the charts in Australia.
25. “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free” by Sting
With the de facto dissolution of The Police following the massive success of the band’s fifth album Synchronicity, the three members turned to solo projects. Sting booked a bunch of jazz players and tasked them with playing rock as an experiment.
As experiments go, it went pretty well, since “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free” spent three weeks in the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1985.
Since then, many people default to calling Sting’s solo work “The Police Lite,” but the mature songwriting skills he put on display for five Police albums have only improved over the decades.
26. “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran
Not that Duran Duran needed any reassurance as to their success in the music business, but once you get asked to do the theme song to a James Bond film, you kinda know you’ve made it. “A View to a Kill” was the band’s last number-one hit.
27. “Lonely Ol’ Night” by John Cougar Mellencamp
By the time he released 1985’s Scarecrow, John Cougar Mellencamp was moving more and more toward socially conscious lyrics, taking on the plight of American farmers and much of the middle class.
But “Lonely Ol’ Night” hearkened back to his earlier work, as it was just a song about love and loneliness set to a raucous beat. It was Mellencamp’s second number-one hit (after 1983’s “Hurts So Good”).
Top Songs From 1985, Final Thoughts
It’s hard to cull a list of the best songs from 1985, but we did our best to find the top songs from 1985.
There was so much great music that year (and every other year of that glorious musical decade). Sure, there were some comically bad songs, but we avoided those in favor of some of the greats. Did we miss your favorite one?