The 80s was the decade of Duran Duran and Dynasty, of pomp rock and poodle perms. It gave us the Pixies, New Order, Guns'n'Roses, Kylie and everything in between, while stumbling through Thatcherite Britain and rebelling from the underground. Here are 100 tracks that summed up the decade, in all its diverse, dramatic and often just damn ridiculous glory. Words: Ben Hewitt, Matthew Horton, Priya Elan



10'Paid In Full'

Featuring a fistful of samples, this pivotal rap tune would be the foundation of a number of soul numbers including tracks from Soul II Soul and Enigma. But it was Rakim’s brilliantly humble rap that elevated this track into the realms of the truly legendary.

9'Bizarre Love Triangle'

A shiny bauble of pure pop goodness from the fab four. Like the yang to 'Blue Monday'’s ying, this track was a tripped out love song to a strange relationship. Hooky’s bass was delicate and pounding and Bernard Sumner’s vocal line was deceptively boyish.

8'In Between Days'

A goth love song? What next? Robert Smith’s beautiful slice of pounding acoustic-pop was a surging, multi-tracked work of wonder that continued the band's run of brilliant singles, following ‘The Love Cats’ and preceding ‘Close To Me’.

7'Buffalo Stance'

‘Buffalo Stance’ came along at a time when dance, hip-hop and pop were creating thrilling hybrids (see also 'Salt N Pepa's 'Push It' and Tone Loc's 'Funky Cold Medina'). Punk survivor Cherry sounded effortlessly in control as she rapped about her crew (based on the very real Buffalo crew), making the listener feel totally part of her world. And what a chorus.

6'When Doves Cry'

Released as the lead single from his seminal Purple Rain album and film, the bass-free 'When Doves Cry' was a thing of graceful beauty. A slice of Freudian autography, the deceptively simple music was played by the man himself. A generation uniting number that would alter Prince’s career, confirming his place as a titan of 80s pop.

5'Ghost Town'

Unemployment, social unrest and racial tension powered ‘Ghost Town’, which caught the multi-cultural Specials at a politically febrile moment in time. The people of Britain were “getting angry”, and this was mirrored in the song's haunting production and sense of dislocation. More than a pop song, this was a brilliant piece of art-as-social-comment.

4'Once In A Lifetime'

Talking Heads and Brian Eno created this most postmodern of tracks. David Byrne's genius lyric about melting away in suburbia (and the existential crisis that ensues) was one thing. But combining it with a gigantic gospel-tinged chorus the world could sing along to? That was the real master-stroke.

3'How Soon Is Now'

US label boss Seymour Stein said it was “the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ of the 80s,” but though 'How Soon Is Now' was just as expansive and epic a beast as the Led Zeppelin classic, it beat with a far darker heart. Like nothing else in the Smiths cannon, it paired Morrissey’s most painfully personal lyric ("I am human and I need to be loved just like everybody else does") with Marr’s most musically inventive soundscape (he later cited obscure disco songs as influences). The result was indie gold.

The Smiths, 'How Soon Is Now' - Classic Song The Smiths, 'How Soon Is Now' - Classic Song
Video: The Smiths, 'How Soon Is Now' - Classic Song

2'Love Will Tear Us Apart'

Released one month before Ian Curtis’ death, NME's original review called the song a “tombstone”. It eerily prefigured the future. Curtis’ lyrics read like a suicide note (“There’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold,”) but there's something weirdly uplifting about the way the song hurtles towards that final chorus.

Joy Division, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' - Classic Song Joy Division, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' - Classic Song
Video: Joy Division, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' - Classic Song

1'Blue Monday'

Though New Order's dancefloor fillers were far removed from Joy Division's bleak nihilism, there was a no nonsense approach to both that united Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris' two ventures in direct and uncompromising brilliance. 'Blue Monday' - the best selling 12" of all time - was New Order's peak; a stunning explosion of drum machine beats, infectious hooks and Sumner’s deadpan vocals. Over 30 years later, it's still unbeatable.

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