High Variance

Smooth Eighties Pop

I’ve been accused of having terrible taste in music. That’s not fair. I would instead say I have unsophisticated taste in music. Classical, opera, jazz, and Latin are all mysteries to me. I enjoy listening to them, but I don’t get excited about them. I like catchy simple rhythms and I like music that’s earnest and emotional. The pop music of the eighties hits a real sweet spot for me. I’m sure it also has something to do with the fact that I entered 7th grade in 1980 and graduated from college in 1989. From hair metal to boy band to new wave, and everything in between, I love it all.

Today I want to share my love of a particular sub-genre of eighties pop that I think is often overlooked. It’s that silky smooth jazzy soulful style mostly (but not entirely) performed by impeccably dressed Englishmen. Slow rhythms, horns, strings, clear vocals, just the right amount of keyboard–the whole thing feels like a soft wave crashing over you. Spandau Ballet, Johnny Hates Jazz, SImply Red, and George Michael were the leading lights. Other groups like Culture Club, Duran Duran, and Starship had a few songs that were right there, but they’re better known for their more upbeat numbers. Some bands came close but didn’t quite make it. Daryl Hall and John Oates and John Waite were all just too rockin. And Howard Jones and the real new wave bands were just too bouncy and synthy.

Without further ado, here are my top 20 smooth eighties songs, ordered as an extremely listenable playlist:

  1. “Shattered Dreams” Johnny Hates Jazz
  2. “Sara” Starship
  3. “Time (Clock Of The Heart)” Boy George & Culture Club
  4. “(I Just) Died In Your Arms” Cutting Crew
  5. “Careless Whisper” Wham!
  6. “Hands to Heaven” Breathe
  7. “Love is Stronger Than Pride” Sade
  8. “Father Figure” George Michael
  9. “I’ve Been In Love Before” Cutting Crew
  10. “Holding Back the Years” Simply Red
  11. “Save a Prayer” Duran Duran
  12. “Driving” everything but the girl
  13. “Rent” Pet Shop Boys
  14. “Heart” Pet Shop Boys
  15. “Breakout” Swing Out Sister
  16. “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” Tears For Fears
  17. “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” Boy George & Culture Club
  18. “Everything She Wants” Wham!
  19. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” Crowded House
  20. “If You Leave” Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark

You can also check out this playlist in the iTunes Store courtesy of Ping. And please let me know if you think I’ve forgotten any gems!