Rolling Stone once called 1984 “pop’s greatest year” and, in many ways, it was.
It was a big year for Cyndi Lauper and for Prince. Madonna, who had already become a star, now became a cultural phenomenon. Bruce Springsteen re-emerged to be rediscovered by a whole new generation. And the continuing stardom of Michael Jackson made him into even more of an unreachable star.
The year 1984 was a memorable cultural moment in other ways, too. It was the year of a presidential election, one where Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to be the VP nominee on a major party’s ticket. The Olympics were in Los Angeles (I got to go to the shooting preliminaries). “The Cosby Show,” “Murder She Wrote,” and “Miami Vice” all premiered on TV. And the movies! The Terminator, Footloose, Splash, The Natural, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Gremlins, Red Dawn, The Karate Kid, This Is Spinal Tap, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and, of course, Purple Rain, all came out in 1984.
I could make a list of just Prince, Madonna, and Michael for 1984 (or just 5 songs from each) but, instead, here’s 5 songs that snuck in around them to help make the soundtrack of the times.
5. “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” (Dead or Alive)
Few songs are more memorable in the decade than this dance hit. For that matter, few videos more reflective of the times. As much as the synthetic, rapid beat marked the times, the group was a bunch of New Wave, glammed up, baggy shirt wearing British guys. So 80s.
4. “Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)” (Wham!)
I can remember the first few times I heard this breakthrough single from Wham!, the duo of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. There was this peppy beat, harkening back to the 50s and 60s tunes that were the basis of a lot of 80s pop. But what were they saying? We kept listening to the song trying to figure out what they hell they were saying. And then we saw the video, and the next thing you know everybody seemed to be wearing one of those shirts. At some point I stopped caring about figuring out the song. It just was. Everywhere. And we liked it.
3. “People Are People” (Depeche Mode)
I had never heard of Depeche Mode until this song climbed the charts, but it felt like I was the last person to have heard of them when it did. I never really became much of a fan but this song takes me back to my youth like few others. I used to shower every day at 7:00, in my parent’s bathroom, and listen to the Top 40 station’s “7 at 7” countdown of top requests of the day. This song seemed to be there every day, and it seemed to stick around longer than any other.
2. “You Might Think” (The Cars)
Without a doubt, this is one of the most memorable videos of all-time. There’s nothing particularly good about it, at least not to our 21st century eyes, but at the time it seemed to be new, modern, and funny in a techno kind of way. The graphics, in particular, made it stand out, as did the movement of those graphics. It won the “Video of the Year” award at the very first MTV Video Music Awards. Oh yeah, the song was a hit, too, and not without justification.
1. “Take On Me” (A-ha)
Here’s how good 1984 was: this song–by a Swedish group who were an international hit–it simultaneously indicative of the 80s and yet, strangely, timeless. It still feels like a fresh hit to me, after all these years. It’s a beautiful song, hitting vocal notes most people can’t touch, and most of the lyrics are completely unintelligible to the US ear. On top of that, it just might be the best video ever made.