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.