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



70‘Road To Nowhere’

Legend has it that Talking Heads’ main man David Byrne only added the choral intro to ‘Road To Nowhere’ because he thought the track was too simple. He’s talking gibberish, surely: the slow-burn beginning is fantastic, true, but the whole ruddy song - with its balmy organ waltz and irrepressible feel-good factor – is the sound of Talking Heads at their most wonderfully accessible.

69‘Master Of Puppets’

James Hetfield claimed this was about how taking shitloads of drugs makes it impossible to function as a normal human being – whodathunkit! – but it’s hard to glean such subtleties when you’re being battered with a heavy metal sledgehammer. It's not just furious thrashing, though – the lengthy instrumental breakdown, which kicks in halfway through, is evidence of four dudes at the top of their game.

68‘Teen Age Riot’

One of the greatest songs from one of the greatest albums (‘Daydream Nation’) by one of alternative music’s greatest bands, ‘Teen Age Riot’ is essentially one awesome track split in two: a woozy, otherworldly intro featuring Kim Gordon’s ghostly spoken-word poetry, and then a belting, high-octane guitar riff that ushers in Thurston Moore’s yelped vocal.

67'Rio'

Nowadays, the video looks at best naff and at worst a bit pervy, as Simon Le Bon and co hop aboard a speedboat and whip out their binoculars to ogle some bikini-clad beauties. But Arctic Monkeys didn’t namecheck ‘Rio’ in ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ for naught – they knew that, despite the horrowshow haircuts, it’s still one of the sexiest and sunniest synthpop singles of the 80s.

66‘With Or Without You’

Now that they’re the punchline to a million stadium-rock sized jokes, it’s easy to forget what made everyone first fall in love with U2 many moons ago – namely, big ol’ emotional rock ballads like this. Plucked from their colossal album ‘The Joshua Tree’, its combination of shimmering, sheeny production and Bono’s walloping vocals saw them rightfully claim their place in rock’s big leagues.

65‘White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)’

As the cast of Grange Hill would prove later in the decade, it’s nigh-on impossible to sing an anti-drugs song without sounding like a bit of a berk. All the more kudos to hip-hop pioneer Melle Mel, then, who used the catchiest of R&B grooves and street-smart rhymes to make the whole Just Say No message sound a lot more exciting than it had any right to be.

64‘About A Girl’

Nirvana became one of the biggest bands on the planet in the 90s, but Kurt Cobain was already proving himself as a master craftsmen before that. Inspired by his ex-girlfriend, this is a ramshackle mixture of sweetness and snarkiness – for all its honeyed harmonies, there’s enough bite to Cobain’s lyrics to suggest it’s not just a simpering, doe-eyed declaration of love.

63‘Never Let Me Down Again’

How many bands could get away with lyrics as daft as “Promise me I’m safe as houses/ As long as I remember who’s wearing the trousers”? Yet with 1987’s ‘Music For The Masses’, Depeche Mode were in a rich vein of form, and ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ is one of their very finest: an ink-blotted masterpiece, from the gloomy synths right down to Dave Gahan’s molasses-rich vocal.

62‘Can’t Be Sure’

If only all debut singles were as self-assured as The Sundays’ inaugural bow. The first taster from their 'Reading, Writing And Arithmetic’ LP is a lovely breeze of jangling indie-pop reminiscent of Johnny Marr’s work with The Smiths, but singer Harriet Wheeler’s remarkable set of pipes - with her ethereal, wistful whisper - ensured they had a sound entirely of their own.

61‘The Whole Of The Moon’

Supposedly written by frontman Mike Scott on the back of an envelope to show-off to his girlfriend, 'The Whole Of The Moon' is undoubtedly The Waterboys’ definitive track – a moon-soaked ditty that’s full of dreamy, wide-eyed wonder. A pretty nifty way of trying to impress your other half, that.

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