My ultimate ’80s playlist (part 1)

I think all of us have an affinity for the music we grew up with; tracks that play on the radio in faded memories of childhood and adolescence. In this short series of posts I’m going to put together a playlist of some of my favourite tracks from the 1980s and 1990s – the music of my youth.

I remember my parents being adamant that the eighties was “the worst ever decade for music,” preferring instead the likes of Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, and other mainstays from the late fifties and early sixties. Again, we all have an affinity for the music of our youth! But for me, there are some great tracks from the decade. The music of the ’80s is more varied than the stereotypical synthesiser-driven pop or New Wave that many folks associate it with. Though it’s certainly true that the decade saw pioneers of electronic music, the picture is a lot more complex than that simplistic portrayal.

I made you guys a mix tape!

My taste in music can be quite varied too. Sometimes I’m happy with a modern chart-topper, others I want to delve into hard rock or mid-century bluegrass. My ultimate ’80s playlist is likewise an eclectic mix – and might include a track or two that you didn’t know were released during the decade!

The tracks below are all YouTube videos, and I know that in some countries (like Germany, for example) complicated copyright laws may prevent you from watching all of them. However, I daresay you’ll be able to find all ten on your music streaming platform of choice.

With all that out of the way, let’s get started! I hope you’re ready to rock out!

Track 1:
For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (1981)

The theme song for 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only had the difficult task of incorporating a somewhat clumsily-worded phrase into a pop song, but it actually worked really well! Sheena Easton, who sung the track, was an up-and-comer at the time, with an album already under her belt and a worldwide number-one hit. For Your Eyes Only is a slow track that plays well with the film’s romantic sub-plot; Bond films always see the debonair spy chasing at least one woman!

Maybe For Your Eyes Only wouldn’t make everyone’s list, but I like it – and not just because I like the film it’s from!

Track 2:
Jump – Van Halen (1983)

Jump is almost certainly Van Halen’s best-known hit – at least here in the UK. The up-tempo rock song would go on to be a worldwide hit, entering the top ten in no fewer than eleven countries, including much of western Europe. Jump was the lead single from Van Halen’s album 1984, but was actually released in December 1983! 1984 would also include the hits Panama and I’ll Wait. But Jump was by far the most successful single the album produced, and it’s also a somewhat unique track with its heavy keyboard and synthesiser sound which contrasts with Van Halen’s guitar-driven rock.

Songwriter and guitarist Eddie Van Halen sadly passed away in 2020.

Track 3:
Lifeline – Spandau Ballet (1982)

Few bands are as synonymous with the ’80s for me as Spandau Ballet. At the forefront of the New Romantic wave of pop music in the UK, Spandau Ballet’s hits all have a distinct early ’80s flair that couldn’t come from any other moment in British popular music. Lifeline has to be my favourite Spandau Ballet song. It has a strong synth-heavy beat that encourages dancing (or in my case, tapping my foot gently!)

The band’s name is derived from Spandau – a district of Berlin which housed a famous prison.

Track 4:
End of the Line – Traveling Wilburys (1988)

The Traveling Wilburys were a supergroup! Comprising ex-Beatle George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, the band’s first album was released in 1988. Tragically Roy Orbison would pass away shortly afterwards, and the group’s second album wouldn’t be the same without him. But End of the Line, their biggest hit, features Orbison’s distinctive voice alongside the rest of the group.

End of the Line is a gentle song, one with a beat that mimics a train ride – a metaphor for life that the song embraces.

Track 5:
Dead Ringer for Love – Meat Loaf & Cher (1981)

Often credited to Meat Loaf alone, this wonderful duet also stars Cher alongside the rock singer. The fast-paced rock song is great fun, depicting two strangers in a bar who get the hots for one another.

Meat Loaf never seemed to get as much love in his native United States as he did over here in the UK, where he’s held up as one of the great rock stars of the era. When I was at school a friend went to see Meat Loaf live – prompting no small amount of jealousy on my part!

Track 6:
Hip To Be Square – Huey Lewis and the News (1986)

Long before American Psycho featured Huey Lewis and the News, the band was already riding high! Hip to be Square is one of those just feel-good, up-tempo tracks that rock and pop outfits in the ’80s made their bread-and-butter. Though songwriter and bandleader Huey Lewis would deny it was intended this way, the song became somewhat of an anthem for “squares” – a slang term for someone uptight, studious, and somewhat out-of-touch with modern trends and fashions.

However it was meant, Hip to be Square became an icon of the mid-80s, and the scene featuring it in 2000 film American Psycho reintroduced the hit to a new generation of listeners.

Track 7:
The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over – The Highwaymen (1985)

The second supergroup to make the playlist, the Highwaymen are representing the country music genre! Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings teamed up in 1985 to put together an album, and though The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over wasn’t released as a single, to me it’s the standout track. I’ve always had a soft spot for country music, and that probably started with songs like this one. The genre never really broke into the mainstream over here in a big way, though there have been occasional country music hits.

As the ’80s wore on, more folks began to look forward to the millennium. And this song kind of epitomises the mood in the final years of the twentieth century – a nostalgic look back, wondering where all the time went.

Track 8:
Bette Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes (1981)

The best-selling record of 1981 in the United States, and Kim Carnes’ biggest ever hit in the UK, Bette Davis Eyes – a reference to the actress from the “golden age” of Hollywood – is a mellow New Wave song. Carnes has a unique, somewhat raspy voice that cuts through the arrangement to highlight the lyrics.

I have a distinct memory of cruising around Cape Town with this song on the radio; one of those youthful memories that sticks in the mind for reasons unknown!

Track 9:
Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi (1986)

Livin’ on a Prayer is an absolutely iconic rock ballad from Bon Jovi’s heyday. It wasn’t the band’s first hit, but it was the first to shoot to the top of the charts around the world and made the hard rockers a household name. It regularly places at or near the top of lists of the best rock songs of all time – and it’s hard to disagree!

I have been known, on more than one occasion, to sing along to Livin’ on a Prayer after a few too many beers! Not something I can do these days (I quit drinking, it interferes with medication – and god knows I take enough of that) but it’s fun to reminisce!

Track 10:
Right Here Waiting – Richard Marx (1989)

This love song is now slightly tinged with sadness for me, knowing that Richard Marx and his wife – for whom he wrote the song – ended up divorcing a few years ago. But the song is beautiful – and often mis-titled! It’s Right Here Waiting, not “right here waiting for you!” Marx wrote the song at a time when his new wife, actress Cynthia Rhodes, was out of the country shooting a film.

Right Here Waiting is the kind of sweet ballad that I think we all need to listen to from time to time.

Bonus Track:
The Imperial March – John Williams (1980)

Though we consider The Imperial March – a.k.a. Darth Vader’s Theme – to be inseparable from Star Wars, the brilliantly-composed tune only arrived in 1980 when The Empire Strikes Back premiered. It’s not unfair to say that few pieces of music – from the world of film, classical music, or pop – have become so iconic. Even non-Star Wars fans know it!

The intimidating piece of music has been used to signal the arrival of Darth Vader ever since.

So that’s it for now!

But stay tuned, I’ll be following this up with a second part soon. I find that, for a variety of reasons, I listen to less music these days than I ever used to. But once in a while it’s nice to go on a nostalgia trip like this; music can bring out emotions that even film and television fail to reach.

Part 2 will be coming soon, and then I think we’ll move on to the ’90s! Happy listening!

All songs on the playlist above are the copyright of their respective record company, studio, distributor, composer, artist, etc. All videos courtesy of YouTube. Videos are merely embedded here, and are not hosted by Trekking with Dennis. For copyright claims, please contact YouTube directly. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.