The Best Pop and Rock Songs of 1980

The year that chaotically bridged the '70s and its latter trends of disco and punk rock with the new decade, 1980 was a dynamic and intriguing year for pop music. Accordingly, the best tunes from this year tended to contain elements of the decade just passed even as they forged new paths, such as the blending of disco beats with heavy use of synthesizer, an instrument that would play a huge role in the '80s. Here's a look at some of the best pop and rock songs of 1980, in no particular order.

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Blondie - "Call Me"

Blondie - "Call Me"


Smack dab in the middle of Blondie and frontwoman Debbie Harry's most pervasive period, it's difficult to pinpoint one song from 1980 as the band's best of that year. Even so, this tune ultimately stands out because it so deftly blends prevailing styles like disco, punk, and pop into a punchy, nearly perfect three-minute-plus single. "The Tide Is High" and "Rapture" were likewise huge hits in 1980, but each suffers from a stylistic imbalance not found here.

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Olivia Newton-John - "Magic"

In terms of pure loveliness, few melodies in the '80s could match this chart-topping offering from Olivia Newton-John, one of pop's finest, most enduring female singers. Another entry from a film soundtrack, in this case, this tune again blends disco rhythms with primo keyboard work, to excellent effect. Meanwhile, on full display are Newton-John's impressive vocal chops, which had never sounded quite so transcendent as they do here. Before she got memorably "Physical" a year later, Newton-John was often an unforgettably ethereal pop singer.

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Air Supply - "All Out Of Love"

Though much-maligned in the three decades-plus since its peak era, the Australian duo Air Supply crafted some rather inescapable melodies. This tune, perhaps more than any other, takes the art of the sappy love ballad to some kind of heretofore undiscovered stratosphere. The vocals of Graham Russell during the verses gently and liltingly imbue the song with emotion, while Russell Hitchcock's somewhat cloying presentation of the chorus gives new meaning to the term "over the top." Still, a great love song.

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Queen - "Another One Bites the Dust"

You have to hand it to Queen, a band known pretty much as a hard rock act previously, for the boldness of this unabashed disco tune. Containing one of the most memorable bass lines in rock history, the song was utterly omnipresent in 1980, and somehow it still stands up after all these years as a startling blend of Freddie Mercury's trademark showmanship and Brian May's constantly inventive guitar work. Perhaps never has guitar flash been so important in a dance-pop tune.

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Kool & the Gang - "Celebration"

Though it's not necessarily a positive critical endorsement of a song when it becomes standard fare at sporting events, such a phenomenon certainly cements a piece of music as a permanent part of the zeitgeist. Such is the case also with this tune, a party song that doesn't mess around with subtlety or complexity. Maybe it could also be characterized as the last hurrah for former funk band Kool & the Gang before the group resorted to somewhat lamer pop stylings in an attempt to ensure its chart survival.

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Pat Benatar - "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Sporting one of the all-time great rock guitar riffs (no, I'm not kidding), this song orchestrates a brilliant maximization of both Pat Benatar's sex appeal and her ability to strike a relatively believable feminist pose. The combination is irresistible, and although the tune merely scraped the bottom level of the Billboard pop Top 10, it remains a significant document of its time as well as a timeless rock song. It does what great rock and roll should: combine sexuality with bold theatricality.

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Christopher Cross - "Ride Like the Wind"

The owner of one of 1980's biggest albums, Cross made an evocative sort of melodic soft rock that could have resided within any number of decades. With a singer-songwriter sensibility that simply isn't capable of rocking too hard, Cross ensured himself of chart success with high, soaring vocals and memorable melodies. This tune also features a galloping rhythm, precise instrumentation and a well-placed Michael McDonald on backing vocals.

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The Manhattans-"Shining Star"

Boasting a significant amount of rather soulless dance pop as the '80s did, it was rather refreshing when old-school soul music found its way onto the charts. This song is a gem on many levels, obviously in its clear, soaring vocals and indelible melody but also in surprising ways. In fact, one of the most elemental pieces of the song's fabric is the gentle acoustic guitar flourish that repeats itself through the verses and chorus. As lovely today as when first released.

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Irene Cara - "Fame"

Perfectly encapsulating the youthful exuberance on display on the TV show of the same name, this memorable single charts the ups and downs and hopes and dreams of anyone striving for the top in his or her chosen field. Well, something like that. A great karaoke selection for the ages, Cara's first major foray into soundtrack music simply works from start to finish. It's a great melody well executed, and any year in any decade could use a few more of those.

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John Lennon - "(Just Like) Starting Over"

Any list that attempts to summarize the year 1980 musically must include a celebratory though a sober nod to John Lennon, so cruelly taken away from us late that year. This song is a painful reminder of just how much more Lennon had to offer musically and as a human being. It is simply one of the most touching and beautiful love songs of all time, and it's matched with characteristically innovative songwriting from one of the greatest craftsmen of all time.