20 Biggest Songs of the Summer: The 1980s
Summer movie soundtracks and MTV faves reign over the summers of the Reagan era
The Eighties were an age of big hair, bigger snare drums and massive hits. Music videos gave rise to a flashy new class of pop stars, and left behind the baby boomers that weren’t fit enough to strut it on MTV. Meanwhile, the hit-packed soundtracks of pop-savvy flicks like Flashdance and Purple Rain kept pace with the escalating box office grosses of the summer movie season. Here are the biggest summer jams from ’80 to ’89, dictated by peak chart positions and total length of run on the Hot 100. We’ve also ignored all the non-summery adult contemporary ballads (our apologies to the likes of Richard Marx and Peter Cetera).
By Al Shipley
20. Paula Abdul, “Cold Hearted”
Paula Abdul’s debut album, Forever Your Girl, was released in the summer of 1988 to a cool reception, with its first two singles initially missing the Top 40. But by the time the summer of 1989 rolled around, “Cold Hearted” was just one of several chart-toppers the album eventually spun off.
19. John Mellencamp, “Hurts So Good”
“Hurts So Good,” his first top 10 single and the lead cut from the multi-platinum American Fool, was the hit that Johnny Cougar needed to finally regain control of his career and his name: His next album would be released as John Cougar Mellencamp, and eventually the Cougar would be dropped entirely.
18. Huey Lewis & the News, “The Power of Love”
Hot on the heels of the breakthrough success of 1983’s Sports, Huey Lewis & the News were drafted to write two new songs for Back To The Future. Huey even got a cameo in the film, as a judge at a Battle of the Bands audition who’s unimpressed by the rendition of “Power of Love” played by Marty McFly and his band, the Pinheads.
17. Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer”
Peter Gabriel only topped the Hot 100 once, as did his former band Genesis. And both songs hit in the summer of 1986, 11 years after Gabriel left the band – when “Sledgehammer” replaced “Invisible Touch” at Number One.
16. Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
The title track from the Eurythmics’ second album was a classic instance of MTV helping send a song to the pop charts thanks to a striking video. The album, released in January 1983, had three unsuccessful singles before “Sweet Dreams” topped the Hot 100 in the late summer.
15. Diana Ross, “Upside Down”
After a string of disco smashes with Chic and Sister Sledge in the late Seventies, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards got the call in 1980 to do their first work with a real superstar. Sitting down to thoroughly interview Diana Ross for days before beginning work on her Diana album, Rodgers and Edwards came up with “Upside Down,” an anthemic lead single with erudite lyrics like “Respectfully, I say to thee, I’m aware that you’re cheatin’.”
14. Billy Joel, “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me”
At the dawn of the Eighties, as artists like Blondie and Gary Numan were scoring Top Ten hits, the thirtysomething Billy Joel was feeling a little alienated by the burgeoning punk and new wave movements. And though he was no longer the only self-proclaimed “angry young man” of pop music, Joel put on a skinny tie and gave his own snarky spin to the new styles with his chart-topper of the summer of 1980, “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me.”
13. Michael Sembello, “Maniac”
Then-unknown singer Michael Sembello’s wife sent Paramount Pictures a tape of “Maniac,” a song about a serial killer inspired by William Lustig’s low budget horror movie of the same name. As a result, the song was repurposed, with a new lyric about a maniac on the dance floor, for the soundtrack to the box office phenomenon of 1983, Flashdance.
12. Ray Parker, Jr., “Ghostbusters”
A former sideman for Barry White and Stevie Wonder, Ray Parker, Jr. enjoyed a string of R&B hits in the late Seventies and early Eighties with his band Raydio and then as a solo artist. But agreeing to write and record the theme song for the comedy hit Ghostbusters was a double-edged sword for his career, giving him a Number One pop hit that detracted from his credibility with the core R&B audience, while Huey Lewis sued over the song’s similarities to “I Want A New Drug.”
11. The Human League, “Don’t You Want Me”
In the summer of 1982, the Human League helped kick off ‘the Second British Invasion’ when this video went into heavy rotation on MTV and rocketed to the top of the Hot 100. Within months, several other UK new wave and synth pop acts like Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls and Culture Club had also taken over the American charts.
10. Paul McCartney, “Coming Up”
Paul McCartney’s biggest hit of the Eighties that didn’t get an assist from Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson. “Coming Up” was a quirky nod to disco with Paul’s voice given a helium effect with sped-up tape. It was also one of the unlikely songs that motivated John Lennon to start working on music again in 1980.
9. Rick Springfield, “Jessie’s Girl”
“Jessie’s Girl” was the Number One song in America the week that MTV debuted in August 1981. But it was, of course, another channel that had more to do with Rick Springfield’s ascent to pop stardom – the singer/actor was then starring on the ABC soap opera General Hospital.
8. Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”
The biggest of the string of Number One hits that made Whitney Houston a superstar, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” launched the summer 1987 release of her second album, Whitney. Since then, the song has been covered by everyone from David Byrne to the cast of “Glee.”
7. Olivia Newton-John, “Magic”
A year after Grease, Olivia Netwon-John returned to the top of the charts with another soundtrack hit. The biggest of the six singles released from the Xanadu soundtrack, “Magic” accompanied the scene of Newton-John rollerskating in a dark auditorium.
6. Madonna, “Papa Don’t Preach”
Right in the midst of her mid-Eighties imperial phase, Madonna dropped one of the most controversial songs of her career, a chart-topper about unplanned pregnancy. Pope John Paul II urged fans to boycott her 1987 concerts in Italy because of the song.
5. Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”
When Sylvester Stallone couldn’t get the rights to Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” for Rocky III, he commissioned the band Survivor to write the theme song.
4. Tears For Fears, “Shout”
As catchy and propulsive as it was ominous and deadly serious, “Shout” was one of the most uplifting bummers of the summer of 1985. And while many assumed “Shout” was about the same primal scream therapy that inspired the band’s name and their 1982 debut The Hurting, bandleaders Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal clarified that the song was really a call to protest.
3. Steve Winwood, “Roll With It”
Steve Winwood’s grooving Motown homage was easily the hottest pop song by a 40-year-old in the summer of 1988. The sweaty juke joint lovingly captured in the track’s sepia-toned video helped make “Roll With It” the anthem of a sweltering August.
2. The Police, “Every Breath You Take”
“Every Breath You Take” was the chart-topping lead single to Synchronicity that made the Police the biggest band in the world in the summer of 1983. But within a year, having felt that the band had “climbed Everest,” Sting began plans to launch his solo career and move on, and in 1986 they played their final shows for Amnesty International’s A Conspiracy of Hope tour, symbolically passing the torch to U2.
1. Prince, “When Doves Cry”
The lead single from the Purple Rain soundtrack, “When Doves Cry” gave Prince a chart-topping song to match his Number One film and album. But while the song accompanied scenes of the Kid’s romance with Apollonia, it was actually Prince’s relationship with one of the other members of Apollonia 6, Susan Moonsie, that inspired the song.