The Top Berlin Songs of the '80s

Terri Nunn of the group Berlin performs with guitarist David Diamond at the US Festival, Ontario, California, May 30, 1983.
Paul Natkin/Archive Photos/Getty Images

'80s synth-pop/new wave band Berlin delivered a number of classic tunes of the era, establishing a powerhouse combination of the main songwriter John Crawford and alluring frontwoman Terri Nunn. Built on bright melodies and smart, sparing use of guitars, the group's sound generated moderate success until a departure soundtrack ballad landed the band at the top of the charts. Unfortunately, that also meant the end was near, but here's a chronological look at the best Berlin songs of the period.

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'Sex (I'm a...)'

Though a calculated attempt to fit the popular synthesizer-based sound of the era, this 1982 single represents Berlin's first, most confident foray into national prominence. The band had formed at the end of the previous decade with Nunn at the helm, but her temporary pursuit of an acting career caused a momentum break in the band's early career. The group re-recorded its debut, Information, with an alternate female lead singer, but the edgy thematic boldness of "Sex" served as the true introduction to Berlin's core lineup. Devoid of guitars, the song focused instead on throbbing synth and the vocal interplay of Crawford and Nunn.

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'The Metro'

Perhaps Berlin reached its melodic peak and most appropriately balanced career point with this, its second charting single from 1982's EP Pleasure Victim. The track's cascading synthesizers and pulsing beats manage to blossom into a solid rock-oriented arrangement during the bridge and chorus. Nunn's breathy lead vocals help cut through the mechanized feel of the verses and bring some genuine passion to the proceedings. Ultimately, this is one of Crawford's finest story songs that also belongs in any conversation regarding the finest mid-tempo pop/rock songs of the '80s.

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Crawford may not have contributed to the composition of this richly layered single, but it is nevertheless highly representative of Berlin's strengths as a versatile mainstream pop/rock band. The emphasis on style over substance at times defined the music of the '80s, but in the case of Berlin, the songcraft and musical depth usually avoid the dated, sometimes shallow characteristics of some new wave. This is music that holds up very well 30-plus years after its release, mostly because the ensemble that performs it contains talented individuals that consistently elevate one another's work within the band construct.

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'Tell Me Why'

Released initially as the B-side to a 1981 version of "The Metro," this track serves also an anchoring album cut from Pleasure Victim. Once again projecting a full-bodied sound of complexity and emotional conflict, this tune also amps up the electric guitar to make it much more difficult for detractors to dismiss Berlin purely as synth-based fluff. Crawford and Nunn both remain sadly unheralded as major '80s music figures, but it's not because the quality of their best work belongs in the shadows of more popular or longer-lasting contemporaries.

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'No More Words'

Some fans will undoubtedly argue that this lead-off single from 1984's reigns supreme as Berlin's finest moment, and that position certainly has plenty of merits. Crawford was one of the decade's best ensemble songwriters when it comes to showcasing and exploring both melodic and anti-melodic impulses. For example, even as "Sex (I'm a...)" constantly bucks structural pop music conventions, Crawford turns around and deftly crafts a satisfying emotional narrative that stresses the importance of hooks at just the right places. Also, Nunn's importance as a female rock singer for the ages makes its point throughout an exciting arrangement that once again nails balance and precision.

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For this, a lesser-performing single from Love Life, Nunn's confident and even aggressive vocal stylings help to balance out the ethereal keyboard lines that would otherwise come off as excessively frothy. This is a delicate feat given the somewhat frenzied and chaotic arrangements that sometimes prevail in a typical Berlin track. Credit must go to the collaborative efforts of guitarist David Diamond, who certainly helped force a singular dynamic as co-writer. However, the friction resulting from so many musical ideas only works with the aid of Nunn's ability to master presentation.

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'Like Flames'

Of course, anyone looking for a serious discussion of Berlin's later years automatically expects an immediate focus on the chart-topping American hit "Take My Breath Away," which anchored the soundtrack so memorable. However, because that ballad actually has very little to do with the organic sound of Berlin, the act of skipping over the group's biggest hit seems wiser than it does dismissive. After all, this is a band that continued to promote internal songwriting on its final full-length releases, which means that some of the group's strongest work appears on 1986's.

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'You Don't Know'

A fuller, more guitar-oriented mainstream sound didn't necessarily mean the group was running out of ideas, and this arena rock-oriented track proves that there was far more to late-period Berlin than the ubiquitous single "Take My Breath Away." Unfortunately, the massive success of that hit song took the attention completely away from Berlin's ensemble essence and ultimately led to an early end to the group. Nevertheless, a closer look at the original band's final album reveals fine tracks like this one that show Crawford should have always been more appreciated.