The best singles 1984-1989

To posit that freestyle mattered in the last half of the decade as much Sonic Youth and Public Enemy doesn’t sound so novel anymore. Easier to take freestyle for granted, especially if like me you grew up in a South Florida where bass, Italo disco, and British synth pop (Yazoo and Depeche Mode in particular) were the demotic. Hence the preeminence of “Give Me Tonight,” one of the rare followups to an epochal single that matches if not surpasses it.

The rest of the top twenty comprises what a complex decade sounded like to me.


1. Shannon – Give Me Tonight
2. Madonna – Open Your Heart
3. Prince and the Revolution – I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man
4. Def Leppard – Hysteria
5. Alexander O’Neal – Criticize
6. Noel – Silent Morning
7. Janet Jackson – The Pleasure Principle
8. Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock – It Takes Two
9. Stevie B – Spring Love (Come Back to Me)
10. New Order – The Perfect Kiss (Extended Remix)
11. Roxanne with U.T.F.O. – The Real Roxanne
12. Loose Ends – Hangin’ On a String (Contemplating)
13. Laura Branigan – Self-Control
14. Run D.M.C. – Can You Rock It Like This
15. Madonna – Into the Groove
16. George Michael – One More Try
17. Luther Vandross – Give Me a Reason
18. George Strait – Does Ft. Worth Cross Your Mind
19. Eric B & Rakim – The R (Extended Remix)
20. New Order – True Faith
21. Schoolly D – P.S.K. What Does It Mean?
22. Baltimora – Tarzan Boy
23. Level 42 – Something About You
24. Public Enemy – Don’t Believe The Hype
25. Hall and Oates – Out of Touch
26. Steve “Silk” Hurley – Jack Your Body
27. LL Cool J – Going Back to Cali
28. Rosanne Cash – Hold On
29. Morrissey – Every Day is Like Sunday
30. Randy Travis – Diggin’ Up Bones
31. Tears For Fears – Head Over Heels
32. Wham! – Everything She Wants
33. Duran Duran – Notorious
34. Scritti Politti – Perfect Way
35. Johnny Hates Jazz – Shattered Dreams
36. ABC – Be Near Me
37. Debbie Gibson – Out of the Blue
38. Madonna – Like a Prayer
39. Exposé – Come Go With Me
40. Madonna – Live to Tell
41. Young Cannibals – Johnny Come Home
42. Will to Power – Dreamin’
43. The Go-Betweens – Streets of Your Town
44. Prince and the Revolution – When Doves Cry
45. Sade – The Sweetest Taboo
46. Inner City – Good Life
47. S’Express – Theme from S’Express
48. Steve Arrington – Dancin’ in the Key of Life
49. Reba McEntire – Somebody Should Leave
50. Al B Sure! – Nite and Day
51. Guns ‘N Roses – Welcome to the Jungle
52. Bangles – Hazy Shade of Winter
53. Prince and the Revolution – Mountains
54. Talking Heads – (Nothing but) Flowers
55. Dimples Tee – Jealous Fellas
56. Dwight Yoakam – I Got You
57. Hüsker Dü – Makes No Sense at All
58. K.T. Oslin – Do Ya
59. The Replacements – I Will Dare
60. Patty Loveless – Timber
61. Bryan Ferry – Slave to Love
62. Randy Travis – I Told You So
63. Sonic Youth – Teenage Riot
64. Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill
65. Pet Shop Boys ft. Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This?
66. Grace Jones – Slave to the Rhythm
67. Public Image Ltd – Rise
68. Debbie Deb – Look Out Weekend
69. Rene & Angela – I’ll Be Good
70. Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy
71. Black Box – Ride on Time
72. Newcleus – Jam On It
73. Frankie Knuckles – Your Love
74. Bruce Springsteen – Dancing in the Dark (Blaster Mix)
75. R.E.M. – Fall On Me
76. The Cure – Inbetween Days
78. Don Henley – Boys of Summer
79. Pet Shop Boys – Love Comes Quickly (12″ Dance Mix)
80. Digital Underground – Doowutchyalike
81. Pat Benatar – Invincible
82. De La Soul – Buddy (Native Tongue Decision)
83. The Smiths – Ask
84. Sugarcubes – Birthday
85. Soul II Soul – Back to Life
86. Gwen Guthrie – Ain’t Nuthin’ Goin’ on But the Rent
87. Erasure – Oh L’Amour
88. Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus
89. Paul McCartney – Press
90. Young MC – Bust a Move

7 thoughts on “The best singles 1984-1989

  1. This list is where we may differ the most. Of course there is so much to hear here that has passed over my radar. You surely like gay Eurodisco -an oxymoron, perhaps- (“Tarzan Boy”) but you rightfully put the name who brought Italodisco to the American Airwaves: Laura Branigan. Now, I don’t care much for her, but I thought you would went with “Gloria”, instead. Which would serve as inspiration to the guitar riffs in “Disco 2000”. I didn’t grow up with Freestyle, either. I promise I will hear more of it in my expanded edition since it costed me to “understand” the genre when I first put an 80s list, exception being “Let the Music Play” because there were some hip-hop-like drumming there. Now I need to hear her “other” single. And “Open Your Heart” might be the single Madonna came nearest to freestyle, I think. “Causing a Commotion” didn’t approach that fast-paced drumming-synths combo. So it makes sense
    All the people I know who danced to “Oh L’amour” in 87 in my high school came out in the 90s. That song was a Rorschach Test for all of us boys in Catholic School. A little too on the nose to me, “It’s a Sin” represented me better. Epic guilt-cleansing you can also dance to. Slower, granted.
    But I’m surely seeing another pattern there. You wanted to dance your sexuality away, guiltless Most of us did without knowing. “A Little Respect” was bigger. Who would have thought Aretha’s “Respect” would turn it on its head by British white boys retooling it for a gay, disco-friendly generation? The 80s were awesome on that part. Sometimes I miss music this mainstream having this kind of impact anymore.

    1. “All the people I know who danced to “Oh L’amour” in 87 in my high school came out in the 90s.”

      hahahaha — yes, including me.

  2. “Gloria” sounds chintzy. “Self-Control” is quite well-written and -developed: an Italo-pop “Billie Jean.”

  3. I agree. I just don’t like the “oh-oh-oh; oh-oh-oh” interjections. That’s so… Italian soccer chant!! But it’s the better song. Now, if they put “Gloria” in a party it’s not like I refuse to dance it to, exactly. My point was that it was Branigan who brought italo-pop to Americans charts. When my older brother went to the US in October 84 for an internship he brought in “No Brakes”, “Chicago 17”, “The Woman In Red Soudtrack”, “Heartbeat City”, “Madonna” (!!!!), Poco’s “Inamorata” (‘???), Barry Gibb’s “Now Voyager” (!!!) Bowie’s “Tonight” (the best cover of all, let’s face it) and “Self Control”. I bet 80% of these were in Billboard’s top 10, as he was that kind of costumer. I also bet he liked Branigan and Madonna in the covers since he never knew them. He was a horny 24years-old heterosexual.

    It was funny to realise there was a song in “Self Control” called “Ti Amo”, which sounded exactly as Gigliola Cinquetti would have sounded had she made an album in English. Even at that age, it sounded alien to American tastes. It’s the kind of song MY MOTHER would have liked!! It was straight out of a San Remo contest!! Why not so crazy on ABBA and yes to Branigan? I bet there was a lot of horny heterosexual customers in there who didn’t know what they were buying. Only the gay ones understood, I’d add.

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