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Music Review: 1984 – Year of Popular Music

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1984 is one of the most significant years for popular music ever on record. It was the year Prince graduated from superstardom into megastardom. It was the year when people actually discovered Madonna is white. It was the year that gave us unforgettable albums by Tina Turner (Private Dancer), Cyndi Lauper (She’s So Unusual), Bruce Springsteen (Born in the USA), The Cars (Heartbeat City), and many others.

Unlike many of the other musical years of the 1980s, some of the biggest splashes came from albums, released the year before, that continued to make waves. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was actually released at the end of 1982, but continued pouring hit singles throughout the spring of 1984. Huey Lewis & The News released Sports in 1983, but the album continued to produce hits all through the end of 1984. The same can be said about Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down, with the final single being “Penny Lover.”

1984 was a year that upset many of the “Disco Sucks” fanatics of the late 1970s. Hardcore club music became mainstream again thanks to such classics as “Holiday,” by Madonna, “Let the Music Play,” by Shannon, “Lets Here it For The Boy,” by Denise Williams,” “Breakin’,” by Ollie and Jerry, “Jump,” by the Pointer Sisters and many others. To many rock fans, it was the beginning of “bubblegum” music but to others, the diversity on the pop music scene was welcoming.

If one person could claim the crown for 1984, it would have to be Prince, who released his hit movie, Purple Rain. This classic movie spawned a mega-successful soundtrack, several hit singles and the beginning of the PMRC, a group that tried to censor the type of music people could listen to. Michael Jackson, who held 1983’s crown, started the year off well but made a major career miscalculation when recording Victory with his brothers.

1984 was also known as the year of “girl power” as many female acts dominated the industry all at the same time. Cyndi Lauper was the biggest female star of 1984 with her She’s So Unusual album, while Madonna was a brewing superstar waiting to explode after her self-titled debut, originally released in 1983, started spawning hit after hit. Tina Turner was the comeback queen after her Private Dancer album made her the first post-40 year old woman to score a number one hit, “What’s Love Got To Do With It.”

There were so many good singles released this year that it was very time consuming trying to figure out what my favorites are. Here is my final list:

1. “ Time After Time ”-Cyndi Lauper: One of the best songs to listen to when you are lonely and feeling sorry for yourself. The second single from She’s So Unusual is not only the best single of 1984, it’s arguably one of the best songs ever made due to the simple but effective keyboard rifts, Cyndi’s beautiful voice, and the meaningful lyrics.

2. “ Borderline Madonna: One of the best “I’ve had it with this relationship” songs ever made. Madonna’s streetwise,thin girlie voice and Reggie Lucas’ excellent production make this song stand up to even the best pop records today. Unfortunately, Madonna hasn’t performed this live since 1985.

3. “ What’s Love Got To Do With It ”-Tina Turner: The thought of a 45 year old having a number one hit single was unthought of until Tina returned with this classic. The bouncy ballad won her several Grammy awards the following year.

4. “ Purple Rain ”-Prince: The guitar work done on this hard rock ballad is absolutely stunning. It’s certainly almost as stunning as hearing Prince play the song live. In the fall of 1984, teenage girls everywhere were humming this song, as well as others, from the best soundtrack album ever created, Purple Rain.

5. “ Self Control ”-Laura Branigan: This song’s European synth sound, combined with Branigan’s whispery singing, is one of the most erotic songs ever made. To complete the “Self Control” experience, one really has to see the video as well.

6. “ Karma Chameleon ”-Culture Club: This is a possible nominee for the most catchy, “can’t get it out of my head” song ever recorded. Boy George’s outstanding vocals, combined with Steve Levine’s excellent production, propelled this song to the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 early in 1984.

7. “ Girls Just Wanna Have Fun ”-Cyndi Lauper: Cyndi Lauper’s first hit was all about female empowerment. The bouncy beat, upbeat synths, and Cyndi’s Betty Boop vocals made this song a pop music classic that still gets a lot of airplay today.

8. “ Drive ”-The Cars: With new wave classics such as “You Might Think” and “Magic,” who would have thought The Cars could be just as successful with a rock ballad? During the early fall of 1984, The Cars proved how versatile they could be with this song about testing the patience of a lover.

9. “ The Warrior ”-Scandal: Long before she became Don Henley’s singing partner on the number one single, “Sometimes Love Just Aint Enough,” Patty Smyth was a cool, new wave rock chick in this rock classic from 1984. Who can ever forget Patty Smyth singing, "Shooting at the walls of heartache Bang, bang!/I am the warrior/Well I am the warrior/And heart to heart you'll win if you survive, the warrior."

10. “ Sister Christian ”-Night Ranger: This rock ballad, one of the best in its genre, was written and sung by band member Kelly Keagy for his younger sister, Christine. It became a prom favorite and till this day, probably because of the music video, it makes one visualize their high school graduation.

Every year has its clunkers but it’s very difficult to find many in 1984. The major clunkers are by artists who also released memorable hits during the year but temporarily went astray.

1. “ Hello Again ”-The Cars: It’s difficult to follow up a song as incredible as “Drive,” but The Cars made sure that the fourth single from Heartbeat City was as different as possible from the rest. The only real difference between this song and the others was that it didn’t have a distinguishable beat or hook.

2. “ Cover Me ”-Bruce Springsteen: Besides “No Surrender,” this is the only other clunker on the otherwise solid Born in the USA album. Then again, what do I know: “Cover Me” had no problem becoming a top ten single in the autumn of 1984.

3. “ Money Changes Everything ”-Cyndi Lauper: After four top five singles in 1984, Cyndi tried for a fifth (and failed miserably) with this hard rock clunker that is also one of the worst live performance videos ever released.

4. “ Cool It Now ”-New Edition: Just about the most annoying record ever made. The lyrics, rapping, and annoying drum machine belong just where the song appealed to: a fourth grade playground.

5. “ Keeping The Faith ”-Billy Joel: The absolute worst song off of An Innocent Man, one of the best albums of the 1980s. Even Christie Brinkley’s appearance in the video couldn’t propel this song to the hit status of other singles from the album.

While I’m sure that there are some who may agree with my choices, other people may have a different take on the best and worst singles of 1984. What are some of your favorites that I missed? Were there any songs from this year that you absolutely despised?

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About Daryl D

  • daryl d

    If one of the editors has access to this, please-at your earliest convenience-correct the obvious formatting errors. I don’t think I submitted it like it is printed.


  • Daryl, I fixed this because I just happened to be wandering through, but in general it’s much more effective to email the editors directly with such requests.

  • daryl d

    Ok, will do. Thanks for your help, Lisa.

  • Shannon Hall

    I have to disagree totally with your review of Money Changes Everything, first of all this song is one of the greatest rock songs live,
    Everyone goes crazy when Cyndi sings this at her concerts b.c it totally Rocks!,

    Secondly the video is great as far as I’m concerned.

    Third CBS said it hit # 8 on the charts
    (which is disputed, but still it was the # 5 single on the album,
    How many # 5 singles especially at that time even got to # 27?, in fact had it got to the Top 10 it would have broken the Beatles long time record of 4 top 10 singles.).

  • daryl d

    Shannon, you made some excellent points. Keep in mind that I LOVE Cyndi Lauper but thought this wasn’t the right single to release after “All Through The Night.” That said, it was impossible in 1984 to have five singles in a row hit the top 5 (I think Madonna was the first to ever do this with “La Isla Bonita” in 1987).

  • Egbert Sousé

    ““ What’s Love Got To Do With It ”-Tina Turner: The thought of a 45 year old having a number one hit single was unthought of until Tina returned with this classic.”

    “unthought of” by people who didn’t pay attention to the following year when “Islands in the Stream” by 45-year-old Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton hit #1 on October 29. Not enough time to go back and point out the other artists who disprove this point.

  • daryl d

    I didn’t realize “Islands in the Stream” was actually a number one hit, but you’re right, it was.

  • Another nice piece from you Daryl. Well done. You are on a roll.


  • JC Mosquito

    Relatvely understated and even piece – keep up the good work, dd. I wish I could get inspired to write at least as often as you do.

  • Yet you missed THE best song of 1984, which was of course “Hyperactive” by Thomas Dolby (which would mix up good in your iPod next to “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones)

  • Darren

    Thanks for the article. So much great music was released in 1984. It’s interesting to think about how many of the artists you mentioned are still releasing music in 2007.
    Cyndi Lauper is still writing, touring and releasing new material to this day and the quality just keeps getting better. She mightn’t sell in huge numbers like Madonna but she has certainly remained true to herself.

  • Scott

    That’s true, I saw one of her concerts last year and she really was awesome, I’m not sure why people give her a hard time when she’s actually somebody who’s got lots of talent.

  • daryl d

    Thanks all, for the comments. Criticism, good or bad–as long as it attacks the writing and not the person–can only make one grow as a writer. Unlike many on this site who have been writing about music for years, I’ve only started recently.

    I hate when I am so sure of my facts and I end up being wrong. Tina Turner was ABSOLUTELY not the first artist in his/her mid 40s to have a number one hit. I guess her number one was more dramatic because of all she went through.

    JC-the only reason I am inspired to write so much is because, well, I don’t have a job right now! But I do like to write as well, especially about subjects I’m passionate about.

    Darren-you are absolutely correct about Cyndi. I don’t know much about her personal life, but believe she didn’t become a drug junkie, didn’t have a nervous breakdown, and still plays concerts and releases albums. And unlike other pop stars from the 1980s who despise Madonna-for no other real reason except that she continues to be somewhat commercial successful-Cyndi has complimented her several times. She’s not bitter about anything. I met Cyndi at The Coffee Bean in Westwood, CA last year and I couldn’t help acting like a crazed fan. She was so nice to me!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Am I the one who has to mention the kick ass album that was named after this great year in Pop…Do I really have to name it?

    Yes, Good Article, but you overlooked Van Halen’s album 1984 which had a number one single for 5 weeks for Night Ranger’s Sister Christian?? I guess maybe its not as poppy but that was VH’s first Grammy Nomination(Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group).

  • daryl d

    Damn, Van Halen! 1984! Jump, Panama, I’ll Wait (I think that was the title) and Hot for Teacher. I’m not just saying that I left this out to satisfy the readers, but yes, it was an unfortunate ommission.

    The only thing I will say is that even though 1984 is definitely one of the greatest albums of the year, it hasn’t aged as well as some of the other works of 1984. Could it be because of the direction Van Halen went in?

  • Scott

    Well Van Halen getting back with David Lee Roth is really good news (I just hope their individual egos don’t get in the way again).

  • Joey

    I think you’re spot on with including Laura Branigan’s “Self Control” at #5. She was ahead of her time with that video. MTV actually banned the video – kinda nuts in todays world where that would be considered very tame. The song was a huge hit world wide and I still enjoy the song and video to this day.

  • Robby D

    How can you mention music in 1984 and NOT mention Wild Boys by Duran Duran. Double D had one of the biggest albums (Arena) and one of the biggest tours that year (Sing Blue Silver). Not to mention overall music and cultural impact.

  • daryl d


    I listed what was, in my opinion, the best. I actually didn’t become a Duran Duran fan until 1992. Their teeny bopper image was a big turnoff for me in the 80s but I have come to respect their legacy. Their new material is pretty good, in my opinion.

  • By 1984, the first phase of Duran Duran was in its downward spiral. The band was crumbling.

  • I quite enjoy daryl’s writing, despite the fact that he has such, how can I put it politely, courageously shallow taste in music!

  • daryl d

    I saw Duran Duran live in 1983 and thought they were just the coolest band in the world. I loved “Rio,” “Union of The Snake,” and “Hungry Like the Wolf.” When they released “The Reflex” they became a girlie bopper group and it made me absolutely sick. They were “New Kids on the Block” before New Kids actually existed. But I do like how Duran Duran came back in 1992 and think “Ordinary World” is one of the best songs of the early 90s.

    Christopher, I am legendary for my “bad” taste in music. But keep in mind, I am not a music critic; I am a music fan.

  • I see it the other way round, Daryl. You are quite a music critic but not much of a music fan! 😉

  • Omar Cyndi fan

    This person who made this article have to know more about Cyndi Lauper I’m sure he doesn’t had nor a little annoyance for know a little about Cyndi and only wrote speculating of her as every people , I’m sure he doesn’t know that true colors surpased at all to Shes so unusual and She has super hits beyond the 80s and 90s anyway Cyndi should publish more info of her debut for all people stop to say incoherences like that guy !!! n_n bye bye

  • Sean

    Cyndi Lauper continues is still making wondeful music. I actually love “Money Changes Everything” and the video was way cool. I saw her in concert, she did 19 songs live …I couldn’t believe how talented she really is. This woman is so underated! Her voice keeps getting better with age. If you have a chance to see her live..do yourself a favor…go and witness one of the most talented singers in the music industry today(2007). She really is a very gifted artist.

  • Peter

    Cyndi is absolutely brilliant! Time After Time is one of the most beautiful songs ever created! All Through the night is also a great song. Her new album “Savoire Faire” should be out early 2008. After seeing her in concert, I became an instand fan. She deserves much more success!

  • Lisa

    Cyndi Lauper is so underrated. She’s absolutely brilliant, but I disagree – the Money video is one of my favourites. It was one of the earliest videos of hers to capture the raw energy of her live shows. The way she shamelessly lets that makeup run down her sweaty face as she belts it out – I was in love from the beginning. 🙂

  • daryl d

    Cindy Lauper is not underrated because generally, people like her. Her career SHOULD have been more successful though. Maybe it’s for the better. Fame never destroyed Cyndi. She never had a nervous breakdown, never made a SEX book (sorry Madonna fans I like her but had to point this out), never turned into a drug addict (sorry Whitney fans, I like Whitney but am upset this happened), or destructed herself like so many stars. She simply did her own thing and her fans appreciate her for that. So there’s no feeling sorry for Mrs. Lauper and I’m sure she would agree.

  • djuncleandy

    Ok, Money Changes Everything peaked at #27–but in 1985, not 1984. She’s So Unusual became the first album by a solo artist to score 4 consecutive top 5 hits from a debut album; the beatles had 3 (later tied by Culture Club in 1982/83). We have to remember that the list is what the writer feels are the top ten … it’s his personal list…not a standard list to be set in stone. Naturally some great tunes will be missing but only 10 favs could be picked.

    Cyndi/She’s So Unusual had racked up 5 Grammy nominations by the end of 1984; all this from a single debut. and even though Pat Benatar and Stevie Nicks were the staple ladies of the music scene for the first four years of 1980, it was Madonna and Cyndi that changed the entire landscape in just 3 years; they made the entire decade their own.

    Prince deserves the crown of 1984 even though he proved to be far more talented than anyone else on the charts.

    Indeed 1984 was a great year for music it was also a great pop culture phenomenon.

  • Ann

    Cyndi Lauper is so cool. I really enjoy her music and her personality. I saw Cyndi in concert last year. She is extremely talented! Her energy is so contagious and her voice keeps getting better and bette with age. I am glad that she is still making wonderful music. If you have a chance to see her live…don’t think twice…she will not disspapoint you!

  • Angie

    Cyndi Lauper Rules!

  • daryl d

    Thanks for all the comments. Glad there are other Cyndi Lauper fans out there. I should write an article just on Cyndi and her influence.

  • oskarillo

    I agree totally: 1984 the best popmusic year (may be due I was sixteen by then ^_^), just
    look at this list, i think at least
    the first 60 are to be classics for ever
    . (sorry for my bad english)