Ask people which 80s songs ruled the airwaves and you'll find that their perspective depends on which genre they were loyal to during the Me Decade. For some, the 80s were all about the birth of hip-hop, while others listened to nothing but British post-punk and new wave. Of course, there is a more quantifiable way to figure out which songs were most popular in the days of neon and shoulder pads. A look at the top 10 best-selling albums of the decade offers a lot of clues about the songs music fans couldn't get enough of.
Popular 80s Songs
What were the most popular songs of the 80s? Well, it depends on how you define "popular," but the albums listed below sold more copies than any others. The reason their sales were so high? Because these albums contained at least one - and in some cases, several - of the songs that ruled the 80s single charts:
Michael Jackson - Thriller
When it comes to popular 80s music, Thriller is a no-brainer. Not only is this album the best selling of the 80s, some say it is the best album of all time. Thriller gave music fans Beat It, Billie Jean, P.Y.T., and of course, the epic title track. You couldn't escape any of these songs on radio or the newly launched MTV in the 80s - and that was just fine with many music fans.
AC/DC - Back in Black
Surprised? Many people write off AC/DC as "metal" - and many people think they don't like metal - but AC/DC managed to produce the second-highest selling record of the decade. That means some pretty impressive numbers. Back in Black sold because of the popularity of the title track and the perennial classic, You Shook Me All Night Long.
Billy Joel - Greatest Hits, Volume 1 and 2
Billy Joel's Greatest Hits track listing reads like a musical hit parade of 80s radio: Uptown Girl, Innocent Man, We Didn't Start The Fire, For The Longest Time - Joel was an 80s phenomenon, and his songs definitely rank up there in terms of popularity.
Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction
Guns N' Roses exploded on the scene when it was barely the 80s anymore, but did they ever come with a bang. Almost overnight, Sweet Child O' Mine became everyone's favorite song. Thanks to their punk-hard rock sound and lots of MTV rotation, subsequent tracks like Welcome to the Jungle and Paradise City meant Guns N' Roses ruled the end of the decade.
Bruce Springsteen - Born in the USA
Springsteen's stories of American life resonated with 80s music fans, and though Springsteen had been making music since the 70s, Born in the USA became his breakthrough. Quintessentially 80s and American in sound, songs from this album like the title track and Dancing in the Dark (and its video featuring a young Courtney Cox) were enormously popular singles.
Bruce Springsteen - Greatest Hits 1975-1985
It hardly seems fair, but Springsteen does indeed appear twice in the top 10 selling albums of the 80s list. Although not everything on this collection was recorded in the 80s, it is a testament of the popularity of songs like Born in the USA that this collection plowed past so many competitors.
Prince - Purple Rain
Pop music in the 80s wasn't created in a laboratory like it is today. No, 80s pop was funky, creative and hard-driving. Case in point? Purple Rain. Bolstered by the accompanying film, songs like Purple Rain, Let's Go Crazy, and of course, the 80s classic When Doves Cry, walked all over the competition on the airwaves and MTV.
Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston
No one in the 80s would have predicted the outcome for Whitney Houston. On this debut album, her velvet-voiced pipes turned songs like How Will I Know, The Greatest Love Of All and You Give Good Love into radio staples.
Phil Collins - No Jacket Required
Another entry that you might not have guessed, but on the strength of the infectious Sussudio and Don't Lose My Number, this Grammy-winning album wasn't just a hit with critics but with fans, too. Suddenly people who thought they didn't like Phil Collins liked Phil Collins.
Def Leppard - Hysteria
A testament to strength of rock in the 80s, this hard rock album that housed hits like the title track and Pour Some Sugar on Me was a major crossover hit.
More Hits from the 80s
The 80s are regarded by many as one of the richest musical decades ever, and the advent of MTV helped many artists break into people's living rooms as well as the charts. The following tunes are just a small sample of popular music from that era.
- Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran - This song and its Indiana Jones-esque video really put Duran Duran at the forefront of the MTV revolution.
- Goody Two Shoes by Adam Ant - "Don't drink, don't smoke. What do ya do?" Let your imagination figure it out.
- Another One Bites the Dust by Queen - This tune, with one of the world's most infectious bass lines, turned out to be one of the band's biggest hits worldwide.
- Material Girl by Madonna - This was Madonna's homage to Marilyn Monroe as she proudly proclaims to be a material girl living in a material world.
- Girls Just Want to Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper - Lauper's breakthrough hit became something of an anthem for young women in the 80s.
- Money for Nothing by Dire Straits (with Sting) - Dire Straits gave the music world that famous refrain, "I want my MTV!"
- What's Love Got to Do with It? by Tina Turner - This hit revitalized Tina Turner's career as a solo artist after divorcing her husband, Ike Turner.
- Jesse's Girl by Rick Springfield - This mega-hit was Springfield's lament about being in love with his friend's girlfriend.
- The One Thing by INXS - INXS had a great video for this song, appearing on MTV where it was massively popular even if the song only reached number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time. It made the American listening audience sit up and take notice of this Australian band.
- Vacation by the Go-Go's - This wasn't the all-girl band's first hit, but it was the most popular and was even featured in The Rugrats Movie.
- I Melt with You by Modern English - Modern English gave music fans the catchy refrain, "I'll stop the world and melt with you."
- Every Breath You Take by The Police - Sometimes referred to as, "the stalker song," Sting sang about obsessive love.
- Pride (In the Name of Love) by U2 - This song was written about Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was the first hit off the album The Unforgettable Fire.
- Love Shack by The B-52's - An upbeat, catchy tune that featured the iconic line, "Tin roof...rusted!"
- Bark at the Moon by Ozzy Osbourne - Ozzy, aka "the Prince of Darkness," sang about a werewolf-like beast that rose to wreak havoc against those who cursed and buried him.
- (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) by the Beastie Boys - This song became the anthem for party goers everywhere.
- Hit Me with Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar - One of the most recognizable songs from the 80s, Benatar sang about being feisty enough to handle love with a serial heart breaker.
- All Night Long by Lionel Ritchie - This Caribbean-influenced dance number went number one for Ritchie in 1983.
Relive the Fun
If reminiscing about these songs has made you feel nostalgic for the 80s, why not listen to them again? You can dust off your albums if you still have a turn table to play them on, but you can find most of these songs and so many more 80s tunes on YouTube, where you can also catch the videos and relive the entire MTV experience.