Ah, the 80s. Whether you were donning your finest spandex and getting tiddly on Cinzano or putting on the leathers and devil-fingering to Guns'n'Roses, it'll still go down as the most diverse, eclectic and extravagant decade in recent cultural history. We had New Order and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, U2, Prince and Cyndi Lauper, Springsteen, INXS, Bananarama, Duran Duran and the list goes on. Here, however, we whittle down a decade of societal decadence and political decay into the 100 tracks that defined it. Words: Ben Hewitt, Matthew Horton, Priya Elan

20'Push It'

Extraordinarily, ‘Push It’ started out as a B-side to ‘Tramp’, relegated by a grind around an Otis Redding sample. Everyone saw sense soon enough and this pumping, hollering groove topped charts all over the globe. It’s Spinderella’s record, scratching and diving between the proto-rave synths, while Salt-n-Pepa limit themselves to the occasional quickfire verse.


The song that John Peel played after announcing Ian Curtis’s death is unbearably close and brooding, but allows the occasional shaft of light. Stephen Morris’s pattering drums rouse ‘Atmosphere’ from troubled slumber, while Bernard Sumner’s glittering, chiming keyboards give it a bright beauty. It’s a shimmer that remains even as Curtis grips the microphone with increasing intensity.

18'Billie Jean'

The track that sent ‘Thriller’ interstellar casts Jacko as an unlikely daddy in the dock – far-fetched, but apparently based on a real accusation from a crazed fan. Still, we all know it’s just a chance to air those patented hiccups, brutally stark beats and an immortal bassline from Louis Johnson. Quincy Jones didn’t want the song on the album, which shows what he knows. Quite a lot, but you get the idea.

17'Livin’ On A Prayer'

It’s all about Richie Sambora’s talk box really, isn’t it? The guitarist rescued the tool from mid-70s Peter Frampton ignominy, to give us the “ooh-wa ooh-wah” sound that ate the world. But props, too, to Jon Bon Jovi and Desmond Child for their colossal chorus and some “gritty” blue-collar lyrics straight out of Springsteen for Dummies. Hair metal’s unimpeachable high point.


None of that quiet-loud stuff here – ‘Debaser’ is full throttle throughout, celebrating Black Francis’s new favourite thing, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s surrealist, eyeball-slicing movie Un Chien Andalou. But he didn’t like the sound of “Andalou” so switched it to “Andalusia”. The switch works, as does the mesh of guitars, ringing and scratching, manic as Francis’s delivery.

15'It's A Sin'

Only Neil Tennant could wedge his tongue so far in his cheek to set a rousing defiance of his Catholic upbringing to hi-NRG opera. ‘It’s A Sin’ is a riot of thunderclaps, chanting monks and villainous synth riffs from Chris Lowe, but that’s only half the story. Although Tennant was not openly gay at this stage, hindsight reveals what that perpetual “sin” was. You cheer him on all the more.

14'This Charming Man'

Where it all got going. The Smiths’ second single succeeded where ‘Hand In Glove’ had failed, piercing the Top 30 and getting a bunch of gladioli on Top Of The Pops. It introduced us to a chap with NHS specs, a superfluous hearing aid and a way with words not heard in British pop since – ooh – Ray Davies? Alongside Moz, Johnny Marr invents the indie jangle and drops metal knives on his Telecaster.

13'April Skies'

JAMC’s second album ‘Darklands’ proved they’d tidied up since the thrilling mess of ‘Psychocandy’. With Bobby Gillespie gone, they’d switched to crisp drum machine beats and ‘April Skies’ was almost conventional in structure. But look at that Jesus Christ pose on the sleeve, listen to the talk of “sacrifice” – there was more going on here, and a killer middle eight to boot.

12'Fools Gold'

The signs had been there in the clattering jam that ended ‘I Am The Resurrection’, but this was still a seismic shift for the Roses. Released as a standalone single following their gargantuan 1989 debut, 'Fool's Gold' saw Ian Brown serve up some mystic baloney while the rest of the band did the heavy lifting – Mani leading the tune, John Squire going all Sly and the Family Stone with his wah-wah licks, and Reni giving a ‘Funky Drummer’ masterclass that rendered all other baggy redundant.

11'Love Action (I Believe In Love)'

This is Phil talking, and he believes what the old man said. Bizarrely, that “old man” was Lou Reed but that’s the only trace of the past on a supple and deceptively complex slice of synthpop. ‘Love Action’ boasts at least three warring synth riffs – from Ian Burden, Philip Adrian Wright and Jo Callis feeding his guitar through a Roland 700 – each of which could fuel a Top 3 hit by itself.

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