The Top Five New Wave Songs of the 80s

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Nothing says 1980s like new wave music.

Emerging from London's underground music scene in the late 1970s, new wave music first reached the American shores in the early 1980s, just as disco was declared dead and MTV arrived on the scene. Music videos featuring British blokes with towering hair and heavy eyeliner dominated MTV's rotation in the early years of the eighties.

By the middle of the decade, the synthetic pop beats of the initial New Wave movement were being replaced by more experimental and less commercial sounds as post-punk music continued to evolve into the alternative rock, industrial music, and gothic rock sub-genres. By the end of the decade, this new British invasion had left an indelible mark on the American music scene.

Take a trip through time as we explore the best of the music that defined the eighties.


"Tainted Love" by Soft Cell

As the disco beats of the 1970s gave way to the techno pop sounds of the early 1980s, Soft Cell emerged on the New Romantic scene in London. The band was comprised of English duo Marc Almond on vocals and David Ball on synthesizer and had several hits in the U.K. in the early 1980s. Their 1981 cover of "Tainted Love," originally recorded in 1964 by Gloria Jones (later of T-Rex), was one of the biggest American one-hit wonders of the decade. It sat on the U.S. Hit 100 for a then-record 43 weeks. The B-side of the single contained a cover of the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go," and the band also released a 12-inch dance medley of the two songs.


"I Melt With You" by Modern English

This is the best known song of English New Wave artists Modern English, who released it as the second single from their sophomore album After the Snow in 1982. It was their biggest U.S. hit, reaching number 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983 after heavy MTV airplay and inclusion on the Valley Girl soundtrack. The band re-recorded the song in 1990 and the new version reached number 76 on the U.S. charts.


"Bigmouth Strikes Again" by The Smiths

No eighties compilation would be complete without an entry from The Smiths, who critics have called the most important British alternative rock band of the 1980s. Although the band's music clearly reflects its punk and post-punk influences, the Smiths rejected the synthetic sound and flamboyant fashions adopted by so many other artists of the time. "Bigmouth Strikes Again" was the first and only single from the band's 1986 The Queen Is Dead album. The album reached number 70 on the American charts but the single never charted. The Smiths, who were hugely successful in the U.K., broke up in 1987. The Smiths' vocalist Morrissey continues to perform the song live.


"True Faith" by New Order

The surviving members of English post-punk rock band Joy Division formed New Order after vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980. Their sound evolved into a combination of New Wave and electronic music that heavily influenced the 1980s dance and rave music scenes. "True Faith" was released as a new single from their 1987 compilation Substance. It was their first and biggest American hit, peaking at number 32 in 1988. The song was featured in two films, Bright Lights, Big City (1988) and American Psycho (2000).


"Just Like Heaven" by The Cure

British alternative rock band The Cure formed in the late 1970s. Initially considered a New Wave act, they became one of the definitive bands of the emerging gothic rock movement as their sound turned darker and edgier. They first saw commercial success in the United States with the release of their Head on the Door album in 1985, which they followed with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me in 1987. "Just Like Heaven," the third single from that album, became the band's biggest American hit when it reached number 40 in 1988.


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What is your favorite New Wave/alternative rock song of the 1980s?

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Relive the Music of the 80s

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Comments 63 comments

davenmidtown profile image

davenmidtown 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

OMG! what a great hub to find first thing this morning! I love the 80's music. They hve 80's night here 1-2 times a month and its mostly alternative music from the UK. Oh such a great selection here too... very nicely done!


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

What a fun Hub! Thanks for collecting these up for us!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Dave and Rebecca. I spent way too much time on this, just trying to narrow my list down to five. So many to choose from; I could have gone on and on. What are some of your favorites that I missed?


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

I love this hub! I voted for the Cure since the song is so lilting and romantic but I grew up on Tainted Love and I Melt With You. I remember those Burger King commercials with mmm-hmm in the background. But yes this is so awesome I can't take it! Thanks for the list :)!


peepingtomb profile image

peepingtomb 4 years ago

I voted for the Cure as well. Personal favorite. It is tough to narrow it down from the many new wave bands of that era. Without getting too obscure I might put The Promise by When In Rome up there, but could probably think of about 5 more within the hour that would knock them out.


davenmidtown profile image

davenmidtown 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

Tears For Fear Everybody wants to rule the world. and Shout!

Duran Duran Rio and Hungry like the wolf

Devo: So many to list!

Depech Mode: People are People


imatellmuva profile image

imatellmuva 4 years ago from Somewhere in Baltimore

I bet it was a challenge narrowing it down to only five! I was on a mission to find the 80's music that I love to this day. Many are classics....I found my music at nutsie.com, and had my own little party! Thanks for sharing, and the trip down memory lane!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

I had a hard time deciding between Just Like Heaven and In Between Days for The Cure and between True Faith and Bizarre Love Triangle for New Order. Also thought about including some Duran Duran (Rio or Hungry Like the Wolf) and Human League (Don't You Want Me). Maybe I should have made it a Top 10 list!

Thanks to you all for reading and commenting.


jenubouka 4 years ago

Tainted Love was my pick, although if you asked me tomorrow it may change. The Cure is timeless, they have always been a favorite of mine along with Depeche Mode. I think the 80's music era was the last known time for originality among the song writers, awesome Deb!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, jenubouka. I was so into the Cure back in the day. It's fun to revisit all these old favorites today. The funny thing is my husband never listened to this kind of music in the 80s; he was more of a Metallica guy. So he's just discovering some of these bands 30 years later.


KF Raizor profile image

KF Raizor 4 years ago

"Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads blows all these songs out of the water IMO. Thanks for the hub, nice trip down memory lane!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Talking Heads definitely deserve to be on some Best of the 80s list, but I limited my list to British acts from the "Second British Invasion." Maybe I should do a list of American acts. Talking Heads would be on there, as would REM. Thanks for reading and commenting.


jenubouka 4 years ago

Ah, Metallica, they are pretty legendary too. I saw them back in 96'. Pretty incredible live, but then again so was REO speedwagon and STYX, nothing beats doing the Roboto live in concert!


Farmer Brown profile image

Farmer Brown 4 years ago

Super fun hub!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Glad you enjoyed it, Farmer Brown. Thanks for stopping by.


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 4 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Great stuff, I love every single one of those songs. I was really into New Wave in the 80s.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

I had very, very tall hair during the '80s! Also a lot of black eye make up, hooped tights and DM boots. My vote goes to The Smiths, indeed I have been humming "Girlfriend in a Coma" quite a bit this week, for some reason.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane :-)


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Uninvited Writer and Judi Bee! Judi, your comment made me laugh. It was hard to have stick-straight hair back in the 80s. I could never get it big enough! And all those bad perms that made my hair fall out ...


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 4 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Good to see Smiths fans :) i had a rew bad perms myself :)


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Haha! I've been dreading the day that big hair and mall bangs come back in style.


albertsj profile image

albertsj 4 years ago from Pittsfield, Ma

What fun! Love the pic. :) Fun hub! Voting up.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks. That picture is my friends and me dressed for Halloween more years ago than I want to admit!


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Oh there's no real question here! (and everyone knows that I'm always right about everything! my opinions are more right than anyone else's anywhere! my momma said so!)

It's all about that Tainted Love!!!!

Hey, where's "Keep Feeling Fascination?"...I just was so sure that one would be in here....or maybe that song was in my imaginary but possible hub about new wave songs of the 80's???

With all the opinions in my head....it's easy to forget what is real, opinion, or the future...


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks a lot. Now I have that song stuck in my head. What's on the rest of your list? : )


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Oh I'm kidding!

I have no list....but if I did have one...then Tainted Love

Keep Feeling Fascination

Obsession (by Animotion)

Um....

heck - I'm not sure what else.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

My favourite song is Tainted love. I listed to The Cure and Modern English as well. I was a child in the 1980s.


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 4 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

I find Obsession to be one of the most annoying songs ever Wesman Todd :) "who do you want me to be to make you sleep with me"...really? Lol, I love 80s music.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

I'm telling you, Wesman, it's hard to narrow it down to just five. But if you come up with 2 more, stop back and let us know. : )


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Flora. I was in high school and college during the 80s and it was a great time to be young!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Impressive that you remember the words, Uninvited Writer! I didn't remember the song until Wesman Todd brought it up.


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

My vote was with "Tainted Love." Everything is so dramatic, and I was in high school during the 80s and loved these songs. GREAT HUB!! Votes and shares!


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 4 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Lol, Deborah. It bugged me so much then that I've never forgotten it :) The video got so much airplay up here in Canada.


ytsenoh profile image

ytsenoh 4 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

Oh my goodness, your hub and comments remind me how old I am. Thank you, I think! I think the music from the 80s was the best and even my grown children like 80s music. Isn't it really interesting how our favorite song list changes routinely and how it scrapbooks our lives?


amymarie_5 profile image

amymarie_5 4 years ago from Chicago IL

I loved reading this! Totally brought me back to my childhood. I love all these bands- especially The Cure!

Rated up & awesome!


amberld profile image

amberld 4 years ago from New Glarus, WI

Some great 80's music! Love the hub.


roxanne459 profile image

roxanne459 4 years ago from Washington

What a great flashback! Got anything on the top 5 80's hairbands? ;) I voted for The Cure as well, couldn't help myself.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, sholland. It's so fun to go back and listen to music from back in the day.

Uninvited Writer, now I'm going to have to find that video on YouTube to see if I find it as annoying as you do. : )

Ytsenoh, that's a great observation. I'll have to think about my top 5 songs of all time. I'm sure there are a few that have remained fairly constant over the years. Springsteen's Thunder Road is one that immediately comes to mind.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, everybody! 80s hairbands ... hmmm. Now that might be interesting. I'll have to consult with my husband. He was more into the heavy metal stuff back in the 80s than I was. : )


rlaha profile image

rlaha 4 years ago from Spartanburg, SC

Wow! I love the 80's! Thank you so much for bringing back great memories! Voted up!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, riaha!


rlaha profile image

rlaha 4 years ago from Spartanburg, SC

You are welcome! :)


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Would I annoy the hell out of everyone if I brought up "The Safety Dance?"

HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Um, yes. : )


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

These are such great songs! I love 80s music, especially new wave. Voted up and awesome!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Jeannie! Appreciate the comment.


Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

I was a little young to truly appreciate New Wave the first time around, but I've found that 25 years later I love it! These songs are in "heavy rotation" on my iPod. Thanks for the great hub.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Brainy Bunny. Glad you've discovered these oldies but goodies. But now I'm feeling a little old, myself. : )


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK

Deborah, thanks for recommending this. Fantastic! This is more my thing! I love this era and music like this inevitably ends up on at the end of a good night! My I-pod is full of them! I particularly love the Smiths and Morrissey is one of my icons.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks for checking it out, Peanutritious. I had a feeling it would be more to your liking than the bad 80s rock ballads! : )


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Deb, checking this one out again since I'm in a musical mood, great hub!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks for stopping by again, Jools!


mythicalstorm273 profile image

mythicalstorm273 4 years ago

I am not very strong in my knowledge of songs of the 80's! I only knew one of these songs and I have no idea how I knew it! I learned a little bit from this list of songs! Nicely done :-)


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

I'm glad to help introduce you to the great music of the 80s, mythicalstorm. Thanks for checking out my hub. I'm curious, which song did you know? I'm guessing it was I Melt with You; that one has been used in some commercials recently.


mythicalstorm273 profile image

mythicalstorm273 4 years ago

Actually it was Tainted Love... I do not watch TV so I have not seen any commercials in over a year. Tainted Love was in the movie Cone Heads. I think that was it anyways... it was one of those songs that I will never forget!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

That's a great song, and it does have a tendency to get stuck in your head. : )


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

This was a wonderful visit to 80's music. I so enjoyed New Wave. After the wreckage of Rock and Roll, and the Disco which I hated but now like, New Wave had me listening to the radio again!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Dolores. Your comment about disco made me laugh. It's funny how our musical tastes tend to change, isn't it? Some of the newer alternative music reminds me a lot of the 80s new wave stuff. What goes around comes around.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 3 years ago from South Africa

Beautiful songs and interesting information. Thanks, Deborah!


mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

I enjoyed reading about these New Wave Songs, but I'm not familiar with any of them. Does that tell you something about me?? I know my grown kids would know them all!

It was fun to read, though.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 3 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks for reading and commenting, Martie.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 3 years ago from Iowa Author

Hi Mary. These were the songs of my youth. Now that I'm *ahem* approaching 50, I still enjoy listening to new music. The funny thing I'm noticing is a lot of the new songs today have an 80s sound to them.


oldiesmusic profile image

oldiesmusic 2 years ago from United States

I might be very young during the 80s but I grew to love all those songs you mentioned. I love the Smiths (as well as Morrissey's solo stuff). But I admit to say that I first thought that "Tainted Love" was a Soft Cell original hahaha. Thanks for the information and for the memories! :)


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 2 years ago from Iowa Author

Glad I could teach you something new, oldiesmusic! : ) Thanks for stopping by.

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