The music industry is constantly changing in styles and sounds – and 1986 was no different. The year saw a flood of new bands on the scene from England, up-and-coming artists in America, and superstars in the making.
Here is a list of the best songs from 1986 in various genres.
1. “Kiss” by Prince
What better way to start this list than with one of the best and most popular songs of 1986 by one of the most talented and respected artists of all time? Prince was in a class by himself among many musical artists during his time. His musical talent and skills were exceptional.
He showcased his superstar status in this song. The song “Kiss” was one of the most popular songs of 1986. It was typical Prince – with the lyrics and musical accompaniment. It displayed Prince's musical creativity, range of vocal skills, and persona of being a sex symbol.
The title of the song describes the meaning of the song perfectly.
2. “West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys
In the 1980s, the music industry experienced a second wave of the British Invasion that resembled, to some degree, the one that took place in the 1960s on the American music scene. One of the many groups that hailed from London in the 1980s, the Pet Shop Boys hit it big with this 1980s song.
The Pet Shop Boys not only embraced the 1980s music sound and look, they even embraced rap which was blowing up the music scene. The song starts with the typical pop music sound from the 1980s. The band then begins to rap, which was uncommon for most European musical bands.
The group mixed the song with rap and singing, which was a perfect mix. The tune is upbeat and has a great dance tune. The song is about boys and girls meeting from different lowly towns in England.
3. “Word Up” by Cameo
This upbeat dance song by one of the most popular R&B bands of all time was a hit in two genres of music – R&B, and Rap.
Cameo understood to keep up with the youth, that it was necessary to show the younger generation that rapping just wasn't for the younger generation. Cameo showed the world they could rap and make a hip-hop song that was cool and hip.
The song was a huge success. It appealed to the hip-hop generation, and the lead singer showcased his rapping skills throughout. The lyrics are catchy, and the title comes from a slang term popular back in the 1980s.
4. “Take Me Home” by Phil Collins
Phil Collins, the lead singer of the music band Genesis, stepped out with his solo career with this popular song from the 1980s. The tune is upbeat and repetitive, with an almost hypnotizing beat that will make you move.
The lyrics are thoughtful and describe one's desire to go back to the way things were. Although he doesn't remember how things were after experiencing many disappointments, it still would be nice.
The song also talks about a long-lost relationship he desires to restore. Phil Collins's vocals, catchy tune, and personal lyrics make for one of the best songs from the past.
5. “Greatest Love Of All” by Whitney Houston
This beautiful song by one of the best voices in music history became a successful remake. Whitney Houston's voice is impeccable and a perfect fit for this inspiring song. Her smooth vocals are a match for the lyrics.
The song is about encouraging each other, especially children, with the positive things in life. The greatest love of all is for everyone.
6. “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco
An import from Austria, Falco hit it big with this satirical song of one of the most popular classical composers of all time. Not only did he make the song comical, but he rapped throughout the song as well.
This gesture was a compliment to the hip-hop and rap industry that was blowing up on the music scene at the time. The tune is upbeat, making the song a great dance tune. The song is funny and fun.
7. “Secret Lovers” by Atlantic Starr
Atlantic Starr produced one of the more popular songs by an R&B music group that crossed over to the Pop charts.
The song is a slow, romantic song about two people in love that enjoy spending time with each other. The lyrics are about love. The tempo is slow and steady, and the vocals match well with the tune.
8. “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” by Janet Jackson
A member of one of those prominent musical families in the world, the Jacksons, Janet struck out on her own and became an instant success with her albums. What may have been more popular than Janet herself or even the song, is the title.
“What have you done for me lately” is a popular saying. It has been repeated by many in situation after situation.
The song is about a lady in a relationship with a guy who keeps disappointing her. Her friends tell her to let him alone because he's not acting right – what has he done for you lately other than bring stress?
9. “Sara” by Starship
Starship was a music group from the more popular group, Jefferson Starship, which started in San Francisco. The group's sound is similar to the original group. The song is a typical 1980s-style song with the input of percussions and an upbeat tempo.
The lyrics are about the typical ups and downs of a relationship. The song is about a guy who finds the love of his life and loses her because of problems. He misses her, so he tries to rekindle their love for each other.
10. “What You Need” by INXS
INXS hailed from Australia and made a name for themselves on the American music scene with this popular song. The song has a tempo or tune that mixes pop and rock. Throughout the song, you can hear the strong drums and guitar playing with the percussion sound that was popular at the time.
The lyrics are uplifting, encouraging others to keep going despite what life brings. The message is simple – all one needs is encouragement and courage, and you can make it.
11. “ROCK in the USA” by John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp was a popular rock singer in the 1980s that represented patriotism in America. In the 1980s, patriotism was part of being an American.
It was something you did because you understood and appreciated that America is a free country with freedoms and liberties that many living in different countries do not have.
The lyrics and the song are a tribute to the American music scene in the 1960s. It depicts the 1960s as a time when music and life were changing. ROCK in the USA – we can ROCK freely in America. We can live freely in America.
12. “Maniac Monday” by the Bangles
This song is by an all-girl music group hugely popular in the 80s. Female rock groups started becoming popular during this time. The group had a hit almost everyone can relate to – Maniac Monday.
Trying to adjust to a new week, a new work week can be difficult, especially after a fun, relaxing weekend. The tune is upbeat as a great dance tune. The lyrics are relatable.
13. “The Rain” by Oran “Juice” Jones
Oran Jones had a one-time hit with this song. His song was extremely popular in the R&B community. The song brought back old-school R&B or soul music at a time when hip-hop and rap were blowing up the music scene.
The song begins with a nice R&B tempo that makes you think it's going to be a lovely romantic song. However, the lyrics speak of a man seeing his loved one with another.
He talks about how he is very upset over this failed relationship and unfaithful partner. The best, or the most popular part of the song, is toward the end when the man/singer starts to talk or rap his confrontation to his lover.
He explains how he was so upset and was about to commit murder but remained cool and decided to remove everything she owned in the house and cancel credit cards. He explains or confronts her about how he did everything for her and was always there for her.
14. “Nasty” by Janet Jackson
Another 1986 hit for Janet Jackson during her solo career, this song expresses not only her independence but a break from her perceived wholesome image.
Janet Jackson wanted to establish her independence and image. This tune is upbeat and will have you dancing. The lyrics convey that the girl is not what people think she is despite her image or reputation.
15. “Tender Love” by Force MDs
During the rise of rap music and the hip-hop culture, many groups came out with names that linked them to the hip-hop culture – the Force M.Ds were one such group.
The group was made up of five men from New York. Although their name was often connected to the hip-hop movement, this song was not hip-hop but a romantic love song.
The song is a beautiful R&B ballad that showcased the vocal talent of a group that mirrored hip-hop but sounded like the acapella groups from the 1950s and 1960s.
The tune is slow and romantic, filled with beautiful lyrics. The song is about the love between two people – tender, sweet love that surrenders. This song would often be played as a wedding song.
16. “That's What Friends Are For” by Dionne & Friends Featuring Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder
This memorable song from 1986 by four of the top singers in the music industry is a beautiful collaboration of exceptional talent by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. The quartet of melodic voices made this song what it was.
The song begins with the harmonica played by Stevie Wonder and singing by Dionne Warwick's smooth, soulful voice.
The lyrics are encouraging and uplifting, a constant reminder of the importance of true friends and friendships. Our friends are for uplifting us, being there for us, comforting us, and enjoying our lives.
17. “Never As Good As The First Time” by Sade
This song is by Sade, an inspiring artist from the 1980s who made her debut on the world music scene with this song. The song reached the Top 100 Billboard chart in 1986. The singer has a unique sound that displays her strong African roots you can hear in this song.
This song has a mixture of African beats and pop music – a great combination. The lyrics speak of a romance built on first-time experiences. It's never as good as the first time reminds the singer of a feeling that can never go away but can never be duplicated.
18. “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin
Probably one of the most popular songs of 1986, this song is a beautiful melody about love. Although the group has the name of a city in Germany, they hail from America, California, to be precise.
The song has a tune that's very catchy and soothing. The lyrics are about what true love can do to someone – it can make them feel like their breath is truly taken away.
The female singer's voice is alluring and hypnotic. The song also became a hit as part of the first Top Gun movie soundtrack.
19. “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna
One of the superstars of the 1980s, along with Michael Jackson, Prince, and Whitney Houston, Madonna rose to stardom with simple songs that described real-life situations. This song is one of those songs.
Madonna's eccentric style is captivating, but she tuned it down a bit with this song which speaks about a young lady who refused to give up her relationship with a boyfriend and have an abortion despite her father's objection.
She explained to her father – please don't preach. The song tells of a story so many have experienced.
20. “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles
Another popular song by this popular female band of the 1980s, the Bangles held back no punches. The group's style, music, and lyrics showed they could compete with any male rock group, from singing to playing instruments. There is a strong guitar presence throughout the song.
This song is an upbeat dance tune. The lyrics are basic and pretty catchy. But what caused the song to become so popular was the title and the dance move that came from it. People were walking like Egyptians every time the song played.
21. “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel hails from England. He was once the lead singer of the popular band Genesis. After he left, Phil Collins became the lead singer of that group.
Gabriel went on to a solo career. Solo careers became popular in the 1980s. Before the 1980s, groups, and bands were popular. More groups or bands were playing together before the 1980s.
Sometime during the 1980s, solo careers became prevalent. Peter Gabriel's major hit was this song that spoke about relationships that cause one to fall in love in such a way that they don't mind being used as a sledgehammer that smashes all the difficulties of someone's life. The tune is catchy. and the beat makes the song easy to dance to.
22. “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer
Another English singer that invaded the music scene in the 1980s, Robert Palmer had a soulful pop style that made this song one of the most popular hits of the year. The song is a mixture of rock, pop, soul, and even reggae.
The beats are strong, and the guitar playing is solid. The song has a nice dance tune. It starts with a strong drum beat and electrifying guitar sounds, many people can relate to the title and lyrics. How many can attest to the fact that they have been addicted to love at one time in their life?
One more thing that made this song so popular was the video. Videos were huge back in the 1980s. Seeing the artists singing and performing enhanced the music experience.
What was different or unique about this video, and made it stand out, was that Palmer had models dancing and fake playing instruments throughout the entire video.
23. “Dancing on the Ceiling” by Lionel Ritchie
Like many artists in the 1980s, Lionel Ritchie broke away from his band, the Commodores, to start his solo career. He made a statement with this huge hit.
An upbeat dance tune that will have you feeling like you're dancing on the ceiling. The lyrics are fun and upbeat. And the video helps the song quite a bit, showing people dancing on ceilings and having fun.
Top Songs From 1986, Final Thoughts
There you have it – a list of some of the best songs of 1986. A wide range of musical talents and musical genres will satisfy any true music lover. There are love songs, dance songs, pop songs, R&B songs, and rock songs to satisfy your musical appetite.
When it comes to music, the 1980s were a decade of changes for many artists. They witnessed the move from bands to solo careers, the explosion of rap and hip-hop, the second British invasion, and the rise of superstars.