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?