Representative Songs From My Teenage Years (1980-1987)
The most popular music of the 80s was Micheal Jackson, Madonna, Van Halen, Whitney Houston, etc. I didn't listen to any of that stuff, but if you want to hear the hits, those are the bands you could look for. These are the songs that I loved by the most significant and often soon-to-be huge bands of the 80s.
Talking Heads are a very special band for me because they were Tina's favorite band when I met her. I didn't pay much attention to them in High School, but after meeting her, I listened to every album a million times and totally fell in love with them. I quote this song probably once a week. "You may find yourself in a beautiful house... with a beautiful wife... and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"
The Smiths were another one of my very favorite bands of the era. They were smart and hilarious. Morrisey's vocals are almost Sinatra-esq. He was always self deprecating and sarcastic. You never know when he's being serious. He's a one of a kind lyricist.
REM is probably one of my favorite bands of all time. I followed their entire career all the way until they broke up in 2011. This is from their very first full length album, which I bought the week it came out in 1983. People used to make fun of them because you can barely understand a word he says. He has said in interviews that there are lyrics that he, himself, doesn't know! They started off as a dark underground band and grew to be world conquerers much later.
Tears For Fears
Tears For Fears were another band that I loved who went on to be huge. They took themselves very seriously and I couldn't get enough of them! This is just one of their popular songs that your kids will probably like. I actually liked their first album better, but it's a lot more serious and dark. It might not be as fun as this track is.
U2 ended up being the biggest band in the world, but in the 80s they were just a cool post punk band with a medium sized following. I loved them at that early stage. They were overtly Christian, earnest, and passionate. They wanted to save the world. Again, and this is a theme of some of the corners of the 80s musical universe that I paid attention to, they took themselves very seriously!
Planet Claire was one of the first few new wave songs I ever heard. I was walking with a friend to this house. He had a boom box and he played it as we walked. It was like hearing music made by aliens! This is Rock Lobster, which I include just because it's probably more accessible and fun for the kids.
This is one of the most important songs from my life. In 9th grade I was on the bus on my way to school (which was 45 minutes away). My best friend Young Chang sat next to me and told me that his older brother had played something for him that he wanted me to hear. Up to this point in my life all I knew was my dad's music (Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Gordon Lightfoot). Young put a pair of foam headphones on my head and said "Listen to this..." The drum crack, like a gunshot, opened the song. Then the guitar and vocals, more aggressive than anything I had ever heard, exploded out of the tiny speakers. It blew my head off! I changed my clothes, my friends, and, of course, my music collection starting that day.
Devo was one of my first favorite bands after I discovered new music (with Young Chang, when he introduced me to The Clash). This is just a representative song. They were quirky and smart. They dressed like crazy people. Mark Mothersbaugh, the song writer and lead singer, went on to write movie scores for all of the Wes Anderson movies, the Rugrats, The Lego Movie, and dozens of others.
Prince, The Revolution
Prince totally crossed over social lines, which was not easy in the 80s (as you can see in the movie The Breakfast Club). Punk kids liked him, Rockers liked him, preppy kids liked him, kids of every race and ethnicity liked him. He had no boundaries. He has a lot of dirty, Rated R, lyrics. I chose this song because I always loved it, and the the lyrics are clean.
Blondie came right out of the punk scene in NYC. She played with The Ramones and Television at CBGBs, but they sounded different than any of those bands. They were cleaner, more danceable, more accessible. I include them partially so my list isn't all men!
The Cure was the coolest band. The lead singer looked like an alien. Their sound was dark and brooding. I loved them. All the dark kids who seemed to have secret unnamable troubles, and who dressed in long sleeved black shirts on 105 degree days, loved them.
There was a huge ska revival in the 80s, so to get a sense for the decade it's important to include at least one track from that movement. The best ska bands of the era were English Beat, The Specials, and Madness. Of them, Madness was probably my favorite. This is a representative song. It's lively and danceable. It's informed by reggae - really, it's basically sped up reggae. The bouncing guitar you hear in this song is in nearly every song, literally.