The 50 Best Songs of 1984
by Stephanie Benson | May 3, 2013
Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.
George Orwell's predictions included nothing to indicate that 1984 would be one of the hands-down finest years for pop music. Maybe it was, in fact, the terrifying concepts of his dystopian novel floating in our collective consciousness that pushed creative forces to new and invigorating levels that year. Or maybe MTV, which celebrated its third birthday in summer '84, had a little something to do with it -- or at least the way artists adapted to its groundbreaking format, and the way the rest of us discovered and consumed music. After all, it was the year of the first MTV Video Music Awards, and Madonna's unforgettable floor-humping performance of "Like a Virgin"; it was hot on the heels of Michael Jackson's Thriller video debut (December 2, 1983); and it was the year Run-D.M.C. brought rap to the masses with their video for "Rock Box."
It was a grand time for Prince, too, who had to one-up everyone and make a whole dang feature-length film with Purple Rain. Movies and music were working together to whip up storms when the theme songs for Ghostbusters and Footloose hit the Billboard charts. But 1984 was also the year of Sixteen Candles and a peak time for New Wave and post-punk, thanks to bands like Thompson Twins, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Cars, Depeche Mode and The Fall.
But let us not forget the rock, from its harder, hairier extremes (Van Halen, Ratt, Mötley Crüe, Scorpions) to its good-old-boy center (Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp) to its indie and punk fringes (The Smiths, The Replacements, Minutemen). And then there was Spinal Tap (!).
On the smoother end of the spectrum, 1984 was also a great year for soul and R&B, from Luther Vandross' beautiful quiet storm rendering of the Delaney and Bonnie song "Superstar" to Ashford & Simpson's biggest hit, "Solid (As a Rock)." Meanwhile, electro-funk pioneers like Newcleus and Midnight Star would provide fantastic fodder for future hip-hop hopefuls.
We've even saved a bit of room here for some classic cheese, like Lionel Richie's "Hello" and Billy Ocean's "Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)," stuff that'd leave even Big Brother weak at the knees. Enjoy.