Required Listening: 15 Songs That Defined the '80s

For greater appreciation of the decade, whether you were alive for them or not.

(Image credit: Future)

It seems like they're always on fashion's back burner (no one can ever decide if they're fully back), but the music of the '80s has proved timeless. Here, for a trip down memory lane—we won't tell if you skipped down that primrose path the first time around—the top 15 songs of the decade.

1.a-ha, "Take on Me"

"Taaaakeeee on meeeeeeee." You know the rest (even if your register doesn't go quite that far), which just goes to show how a good tune can still make a room full of millennials scream (and their parents before them).

2.Bon Jovi, "Livin' on a Prayer" 

Even if you think you only know him from a meme about a misspelled tattoo, you know this song. Everybody knows this song, probably because it is so thoroughly singable you can't help but join in, no matter how cool you think you are.

3.Cyndi Lauper, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"

These days, we might have added "-damental rights," but the jubilance and the "work hard, play hard" sentiment still hold.

4.David Bowie, "Modern Love"

Ah, the struggle between man and deity. But also, you can't help but tap your toes to this, at the very least,

5.Def Leoppard, "Pour Some Sugar on Me"

Okay, this has got a massive sound and sick guitar licks and wicked drumming, all the ingredients for an ever-popular record.

6.George Michael, "Faith" 

Provocative then with the word (gasp) "sex." But great, classic rock. He will be missed.

7.Journey, "Don't Stop Believin'"

Another one that lives on in memes and champagne-soaked singalongs, owed to the track's perennial feeling of outsiderness and the atmosphere it creates.

8.Lionel Richie, "All Night Long" 

Then: a hit that made Lionel Richie an international superstar. Now: SUCH A GOOD VIBE.

9.Madonna, "Like a Virgin"

An instant classic that earned thumbs up when it came out on Halloween 1984, and still does as one of the greatest pop songs of all time.

10.Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing"

You've got that chill Afro-Caribbean funk that people are still remixing today.

11.Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean"

An instance in which the video is just as important as the song. This was one of the first visuals by a black artist to air on MTV, thus paving the way for those who came after.

12.Pat Benatar, "Love Is a Battlefield"

A revelation (the storyline of that video!) that's wormed its way into pop culture (13 Going on 30, for one, ha).

13.Prince, "When Doves Cry"

People thought this was weird when it first came out, but that's the usual story with geniuses. And today, after the artist's passing, it's still visionary.

14.Tina Turner, "What's Love Got to Do with It"

Tina Turner: one of the greats, who's still going strong today at 77. But this track, which has since been analyzed as a feminist response to Turner's abusive relationship with husband Ike. That's how important it is.

15.Whitney Houston, "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" 

On the surface, this was and is a bona fide, throw-your-head-back-and-twirl-on-the-dance-floor Pop Anthem. But only she could inject it with a twinge of sadness that's appealed to so many throughout the years.

Chelsea Peng
Assistant Editor

Chelsea Peng is a writer and editor who was formerly the assistant editor at She's also worked for The Strategist and Refinery29, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. On her tombstone, she would like a GIF of herself that's better than the one that already exists on the Internet and a free fro-yo machine. Besides frozen dairy products, she's into pirates, carbs, Balzac, and snacking so hard she has to go lie down.