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When Kate Bush's classic "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)" made a stunning resurgence, scoring her first top 10 charting single ever, it stood as one of the most refreshing moments in recent industry history. Where many songs are scrambling to squeeze themselves into optimal stream-ability, cramming ideas into briefer and briefer packages to maximize repeated listens, "Running Up That Hill" cut through the trends with stunning romanticism and breathtaking dramatics. Of course, this wouldn't have happened were it not for a certain Netflix original series, but Stranger Things only served to highlight the sky-scraping wonder of Bush's music. It left many of us wondering what other pop songs from the 1980's could see a similar renaissance in popularity. Compiled here are ten potential candidates for this year's big comeback.
Burning Up - Madonna
On her current Celebration Tour, the Queen of Pop straps on a guitar and shreds to her 1983 single, "Burning Up." The performance highlights the fiery power of Madonna's debut era. An underrated gem in her catalogue, "Burning Up" is the kind of in-your-face dancepop to truly age like wine. Layers of her iconic voice weave through pulsing synths and stride over a gritty guitar, all grounded in the Linndrum's dancefloor grooves. "Unlike the others, I'd do anything," she pleads. She gives audiences their first taste of the blurred lines between the character of Madonna and the artist's sincere sentiments. Is she being coy? Is this genuine desperation? The truth, smugly, lies somewhere in between. Tongue firmly planted in cheek: "I have no shame!" Heart longingly pasted on sleeve: "You don't even know that I'm alive!" Is she "Burning Up" with the passion of love, or is the object of her affections leaving her burnt?
When You Were Mine - Cyndi Lauper
Immediately following the untouchable "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" on the tracklist of She's So Unusual; Cyndi Lauper's cover of Prince's "When You Were Mine" never quite got the chance to shine. Listen to it and you'll hear what a shame that is. Her chameleonic vocals shout, shriek, whisper, and howl, driving out every ounce of emotion from Prince's love triangle narrative. "I know that you're going with another guy," she warbles, showcasing Lauper's daring subversions of gender. Her version is notably longer, slower, and more epic in sound. Where Prince performed with mixtures of shame and desire, Lauper reckons with the messiness of "When You Were Mine" like she's watching her lover sail away beyond the horizon. Arms extended, she shouts into the distance, "I don't care! 'Cus I love you, baby, that's no lie!"
Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger) - Donna Summer
In the post-disco era, pop music became more fiery, more danceable, and more fun. As the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer helped to bring us into this new era of liberation and looseness. Enter her 1982 single, "Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)," so full of charm and wit that it's practically bursting with vibrant color. "You better raise your heart up high / or love will blow you right away!" If any activity is ripe with nostalgia for the 80's era, it's a trip to the mall. The right music can be like a time machine, transporting you back. Summer's voice is a warp-speed journey to her joyous world. "There's been a change inside my life," she growls with a grin. There's no doubt that "Love Is In Control" could catch onto viral success were its unforgettable chorus to get some TikTok attention.
Closer To Fine - Indigo Girls
Perhaps the seeds have already been planted for the next 80's pop resurgence. If soundtracks are the best indicator of potential success, the Barbie movie might just have already given us what we're looking for. I'm of course referencing the incorporation of the Indigo Girls' classic, "Closer To Fine." With folk-pop storytelling most comparable to the current mega-star, Taylor Swift, Indigo Girls held a similar role of comfort and confidence for many young women in the 1980's. The message of their biggest hit, "Closer To Fine," might become a light for many today: don't agonize over life's significance. "The less I seek my source for some definitive / closer I am to fine." While markedly more direct than most current pop songwriting, "Closer To Fine" is nonetheless worthy of a resurgence in popularity.
Rooms On Fire - Stevie Nicks
Recent years have brought Stevie Nicks attention and credit more for her part in the indomitable Fleetwood Mac. But her solo career is the kind of mystical, epic pop that holds just as many gems as the rock band. I'll never cease to be awestruck by the anthemic, "Talk To Me," but I can't deny that her 1989 song, "Rooms On Fire," is a safer bet for this list. With it, Nicks seemed to truly pull together her magical and ethereal vision for pop into her most distinct and effective sound yet. "Well, maybe I'm just think that the rooms are all on fire / Every time that you walk in the room," she sings on the chorus in her unique inflection atop softer background layers. Even the acoustic guitar is soaked in reverb and delay to mystical effect, like a candle flickering in a dark room. In fact, it's this quality to most of the instruments that give the resulting wall of hazy noise a quality almost akin to the incoming shoe-gaze genre of the 90's.
I Don't Wanna Lose You - Tina Turner
We're sticking to the year 1989 for this entry, another culmination of 80's sound up til then. Tina Turner has plenty of songs demonstrating her status as the Queen of Rock & Roll, but it's her more soulful music that might resonate with 2024's emotional core. "I Don't Wanna Lose You" may no longer hold the same name recognition, but is a true encapsulation of Turner's magnetic personality. As a mid-tempo track, the pace never gets ahead of the emotional force behind her voice. "I don't wanna lose you / and I don't even wanna say goodbye," she sings exquisitely on the chorus. It takes the vocal and lyrical directness of soul music through a pop structure and instrumental to deliver one of the 80's most heart-warming songs. Rich saxophone, ensemble delivery, and electric keys all provide the perfect atmosphere. "I always wanna feel this way, oh, yeah!" Listening to Turner sing, I feel the same.
Little Red Corvette - Prince
Of course, it would be Prince's 1984 album, Purple Rain, that would bring the pop legend his status not just among the stars but above them. There's something, however, about his preceding album, 1999, that resonates with the moment even more. Perhaps its central theme of partying through the end of times rings particularly evocative in the current tapestry of world-ending dread. At the center of its synthesizer oblivion rests the triumphant "Little Red Corvette." A funk-rock-pop chimera of a song, it features Prince at his most luminescent and sultry. Flashing synths reflect off plumes of smoke in an awe-striking display of digital pop's potential for a bigger, brighter, and more romantic vision. "I say the ride is so smooth," he drives the last word like a falsetto corkscrew, "you must be a limousine!" The vocal performance full of passionate and affecting flair comes across more sincere as time passes. Separated from the scandalized reception towards its more explicit references, what was once painted as carnal and illicit now radiate with yearning and even sensitivity. It's impossible not to feel your heartstrings tug at his final, desperate coos.
Cloudbusting - Kate Bush
After the rebirth in popularity for Kate Bush's legendary "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)," it might be cheating to put another track from the new wave artist (let alone a song from the same album). But "Cloudbusting" proves that Kate Bush made music on the vanguard of pop that remains untouched today. Where plenty of artists have referenced Bush's work as inspiration, no one has yet to capture the magic she did in her heyday. And what a triumph "Cloudbusting" is: an unleashing of Bush's potential in writing, performing, and producing. Based on the 1973 memoir, A Book of Dreams, Bush distills pages of tainted innocence and childhood memories into a five-minute odyssey. "You're like my yo-yo," she sings with all the anguish of a son watching his father be taken away. What makes Bush such a powerful storyteller is her focus on feeling. "I can't hide you from the government," she shouts, perfectly capturing the experience of being helpless and powerless as a child. But "Cloudbusting" is the place between helplessness and freedom. "'Cause every time it rains, you're here in my head," she sings on the chorus, "like the sun coming out." So full of passion and longing, you forget the contradictions between these two images.
Tell It To My Heart - Taylor Dayne
At the heart of Taylor Dayne's iconic "Tell It To My Heart" is a sincere call for intimacy and honesty. "As long as I receive the message you're sending." She sings from a place of longing and desperation: hold on tighter or let her go. Released in 1988, the title track to Dayne's remarkable debut is fully entrenched in the sound of 80's dance-pop: building-sized synths, crashing snares, and dramatic vocals. Probably the most energized and invigorating track on this list, nothing gets me moving quite like Dayne's powerful voice over the enormous and kinetic sound. If one song was required listening for anyone looking to understand 80's pop, I would offer "Tell It To My Heart." It's no wonder it brought the then-unknown singer immediate fame. Listeners were immediately blown away by it, resulting in Dayne being forced to complete the rest of her debut album in just eight weeks to keep up with the attention.
How Will I Know - Whitney Houston
If you thought Whitney Houston wasn't going to make this list, you were dead wrong. With one of the most impressive and gorgeous voices in music history, Houston is more than deserving of appreciation every day of the week for the rest of time. "How Will I Know" is a dance-pop banger most matching the legendary "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" in the star's catalogue. Even without the same instant name recognition as the latter, "How Will I Know" is an immediate dose of passion to the heart. "How will I know if her really loves me?" she ponders on the memorable chorus. Despite this question going unanswered, Houston still fills the song with invigorating hope for long-lasting love. You'll never know the exact thoughts in someone's head, but expressing the truest thoughts in yours is the only way to connect.
Choosing only ten songs for this list is impossible without leaving dozens of amazing tracks out to dry. Janet Jackson, Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue, and Diana Ross were all heartbreaking exclusions (though the latter two fit less cleanly into the pop label). Frankly, each artist listed here could have a list of their own dedicated to this topic. These songs, however, represent the broad scope of what pop music was like in the 80's. From the luminescent and free to the mystical and enigmatic, pop music is a joy for its limitless potential to capture feeling and tell stories. The 80's was a time of incredible change for music: analog instruments were being replaced by digital synthesizers and machines. Some artists feared the entire destruction of music as they knew it (a fear we still rehash to this day), where pop music sought to evolve with these innovations of sound. While we continue to borrow from previous eras, such as the 1980's, listening to the most iconic pop of the time has brought out a new appreciation for the innovations that have yet to be matched to this day.
Written By Andy M.
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