We saw the final episode last night, the one listing the top 20 '80s songs and it was as shocking as it was sobering. Choices were obviously made by giddy web browsers who were remembering which one they loved while living in the '80s. Whereas I would vote on the top songs to have survived the decade and remained a classic song. So I've dissected the top 25 songs as voted by the Vh1 faithful.
1. Bon Jovi / "Livin' on a Prayer"
No. No no no. This is a fun song. This is a good rock song. But this is not the top song from the decade. No, that song is of course, "Every Breath You Take" by The Police. Overplayed, you say? Ruined by radio dedications on adult contemporary stations, you say? Yes. The song quickly was diluted by those who only glanced at the lyrics and heard what they thought was a romantic testament. It's not. It's a spooky-ass obsessive confession. But it's also a perfect pop song. It's without filler or flash, but it does feature a jarring, desperate plea followed by the chilling repeating chorus. VH1 had it at No. 46, which proves something depressing about humanity. I would put the Bon Jovi song in the top 20, but Your Sis would replace it with their "Runaway." Me, I prefer "Dead Or Alive."
2. Def Leppard / "Pour Some Sugar On Me"
I'm stunned this ranked so high, but I recognize people are assigning it a high number based on cheese factor. It's a goofy song. The lyrics have the cleverness of a high school bathroom stall. And Joe Elliot's high notes are a karaoke killer. But, and this is a big but, Sir Mix-A-Lot, the song rocks. The skittering lead guitar in the second verse is only a hint of the energy that awaits you in the song's concluding chorus. The guitar break is the weakest section, sadly, as the combination of words and percussion bombast make this an irresistible singalong. But this isn't the best raunchy sex rock song o f the decade. For that, you look to the pristine guitar and gravelly singing of ACDC's "Shook Me All Night Long."
3. Duran Duran / "Hungry Like the Wolf"
I can't complain with this. Thank God it wasn't "The Reflex." That song's fun, but it doesn't hold up to repeated listens. "Hungry" does. It's a song with the electronic sound to suggest an emotional detachment, but the rhythm section demands you dance.
4. Michael Jackson / "Billie Jean"
I've tried to describe how it felt to hear this song for the first time. And the best I can do is say it was like music we'd expected to hear ten years into the future. It was like Michael pulled this through time and unleashed it, and hearing it through our obvious inadequate stereos and TVs made it sound that much more unearthly. Exposure was a religious experience. We all became St. Teresa, mesmerized and agape. We had to dance. We had to somehow communicate our body-encompassing glee. But what makes the song great is that it still holds up. That bass line is vicious, and the tight drums underscore the pop-funk at work. Jackson could have sung about anything, and as long as he kept that lyrical cadence, we would have warbled along as best we could. This song is simply engineered by genius. Credit producer Quincy Jones, the same man who gave us the theme from "Sanford and Son."
5. Prince / "When Doves Cry"
An odd duck of a song. The production is almost doggedly soulless, and that allows Prince to inject the soul with his falsetto and clipped delivery, and even he's often singing in a flat tone. This shouldn't work. And it's not even the best song of the Purple Rain CD. That's "Let's Go Crazy," a song that proves Prince is one of the best players to ever pick up an electric guitar.
6. Hall & Oates / "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"
I love me some Hall & Oates. And I can't complain with this pick or placement. You can't help but move to the music even as we fail to match John Hall's high notes. Proof that skin color means nothing to making soul music.
7. Guns N' Roses / "Sweet Child O' Mine"
Maybe the best rock ballad ever because the band does everything it can to keep it rocking and refrain from the cheesy sentiment found in their later "Patience." The guitar is barely restrained, and that drummer offers no clue he knows he's playing for a love song.
8. Madonna / "Like a Virgin"
I hate early Madonna, but this is at least better than "Lucky Star," "Holiday," and "Borderline." And that squeaky voice processing is jarring today. For cultural impact, yes, there is no bigger Madonna song.
9. Run-D.M.C. / "Walk This Way"
The song turns to crap when Tyler sings the chorus. But when the rappers control the mic, this is pure gold. And that stuttering guitar lick to start the song is the best guitar sample ever heard.
10. AC/DC / "You Shook Me All Night Long"
Maybe the best rock song ever. Shamelessly joyous and infectious. Should have been higher on the list. Every heavy metal and hair-band song that came after wanted to match this song, and only my beloved Def Leppard came close.
11. Journey / "Don't Stop Believin'"
Yeah. It's that good. It's easy to mock Journey as dated and embarrassing. But these guys created a template for rock ballads. Steve Perry's voice is as sterling as you could hope for.
12. Whitney Houston / "How Will I Know"
At least it wasn't "Greatest Love of All."
13. U2 / "With Or Without You"
The only slow-tempo wail of despair to compete with "Every Breath You Take." I love that guitar work and the wounded "huooooo"hoping to say something words can't.
14. The Bangles / "Walk Like an Egyptian"
"Hazy Shade of Winter" (written by Simon and Garfunkel) was better. So was "Manic Monday" (written by Prince). But the girls had a solid groove going here.
15. Van Halen / "Jump"
The most inoffensive Van Halen song of course could reach a wider audience. Not their best song, but their most famous. It's not bad, mind you. The drumming is criminally under appreciated.
16. INXS / "Need You Tonight"
If any Top 40 rock song of the '80s could be called devil music, it's this.
17. Whitesnake / "Here I Go Again"
A cliche '80s song, a thoughtless inclusion. Still, it's the forerunner of Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."
18. Dexy's Midnight Runners / "Come On Eileen"
Maybe THE default '80s song. A novelty tune with web-thin lasting appeal beyond the singing style and violins. It's just goofy.
19. Cyndi Lauper / "Time after Time"
A standout love song. Almost impossible to reconcile with her other hits of the time.
20. Rick Springfield / "Jessie's Girl"
Not nearly as good as "My Sharona," another song about wanting the unattainable girl.
21. Michael Jackson / "Beat It"
I think a lot of people were afraid to say how much they didn't like this song at the time. The rhythm is simplistic, and the chorus is lifeless. The weakest song on an album that includes the almost painfully Caucasian duet with Paul McCartney.
22. The Cure / "Just Like Heaven"
One of two Cure songs everyone knows. The other is "Love Song." Everyone should know "Lovecats," but what can you do?
23. Cyndi Lauper / "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"
She's the only gal with two songs in the top 25, and she deserves it. The song just works.
24. A-Ha / "Take On Me"
Another disposable song famous for the decade in which it was released.
25. Go-Go's / "Our Lips Are Sealed"
The best California song Brian Wilson didn't write.
I'd add "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash, "Heart of Glass" by Blondie, "Once In A Lifetime" by The Talking Heads, and "What Time Is Now" by The Smiths.