Top 10 Best Hit Songs of 1987
Hi everybody, and welcome back for another one of my lists, this time taking a look back 1/3rd of a century to the far off year of 1987. Now, I came in with mixed expectations. On one hand, this year has had decidedly negative reviews in the past. Todd In The Shadows called it “a big gloopy mess of synth cheese” and Nerd With An Afro stated that it was the start of a musical dark age. On the other hand, I knew quite a few great hits from 1987 heading into this list, and I have a pretty high tolerance for 80s cheese, so I wasn’t likely to be fazed by this year. After listening to it, I’ve come to the conclusion that 1987 was somehow both good and stale when it came to popular music. This year isn’t the lightning in a bottle awesomeness that was 1983, and a lot it hasn’t held up all that well, but I still found a fair deal to like about this year.
All in all, the 99 songs that debuted on this Year-End list (the one that didn’t being the re-release of Stand By Me by Ben E. King) tallied up a score of 351/495, or a 70.9/100, a significant drop from the 78.8/100 scored by 1983 and significantly closer to the 67.8% scored by 2012, which actually had more 5/5 songs than this year (although ‘87 still gets the overall edge because 2012 also had a lot more bad music). As a result, this is the first time that I’ve only done a Top 10 Best List, as there were neither enough bad songs to warrant a Worst List nor enough great songs to expand the Best List to 15, as was the case in 1983 and 1992. As per usual with years where I don’t make an actual Worst List, I will be talking about all the songs that I thought were subpar, starting with the mediocre songs before moving on to the outright crap. So, without further ado, let’s-a-go!
La Bamba by Los Lobos (Peak: #1, Year-End: #11)
Look, I get that this is in Spanish, and is a tribute to (and cover of) early Latino rock star Ritchie Valens, but I’m sorry, this just does nothing for me.
Always by Atlantic Starr (Peak: #1, Year-End: #14)
One thing the 80s had a lot more of than the present day were duets, and while some of them were pretty great (as you will see on the actual best list), many of them were totally lame. Case in point, Always by Atlantic Starr. I already talked about this group when I did this same section for my 1992 lists, and yeah, this didn’t turn out any differently than their other hit from five years later. Let’s move on before I decide to take a nap.
Looking For A New Love by Jody Watley (Peak: #2, Year-End: #16)
On a whole other note, this is an entirely different side of mediocrity. While some Late 80s Pop has held up like fine wine (once again, we’ll get to that), much of it hasn’t aged all that well, and this is definitely in the latter category. The production could only have come from the Late 80s, the lyrics are typical “I’m done with you” stuff, and Jody Watley sounds like a B-rate Janet Jackson. You may be looking for a new love, but I’m looking for a new song.
Touch Me (I Want Your Body) by Samantha Fox (Peak: #4, Year-End: #44)
I must’ve looked in the wrong place for a new song, as it appears I’ve ended up with the same dated Late 80s Pop. While I could’ve seen this song being at the very least passable, Samantha Fox isn’t the right person to pull off this “I want sex, and I want it now” lyrical content, as she sounds a lot more desperate and clingy than seductive.
Carrie by Europe (Peak: #3, Year-End: #56)
Oh man, this song is cheesy. While there are quite a few great Hard Rock power ballads out there, this isn’t one of them. On another note, it’s hard to believe that The Final Countdown was caught between years, making neither the 1986 or 1987 lists.
Don’t Disturb This Groove by The System (Peak: #4, Year-End: #57)
It’s an okay song, but I can’t say that I’ve ever heard the word “groove” or “grooving” used as a term for sex before.
Can’t We Try by Dan Hill and Vonda Shepard (Peak: #6, Year-End: #63)
This has got to be one of the clearest examples of a “you hang up first” song that I’ve ever heard. Dan Hill and Vonda Shepard don’t have nearly enough chemistry to sell the desperation of the song’s theme (that being of a last-ditch attempt to save a dying relationship), and Vonda especially tries way too hard, basically ending up as the proto Christina Aguilera. I could’ve seen this duet being pretty good, but alas, that wasn’t the case.
To Be A Lover by Billy Idol (Peak: #6, Year-End: #64)
Moving down one spot on the Year-End list, and we To Be A Lover by Billy Idol, a cover of a Soul song from the Late 60s. Sticking to the throwback theme, Billy puts on a bit of an Elvis impersonation, and while I did chuckle a few times, this still isn’t anything but underwhelming and less than the sum of its parts to me.
Let Me Be The One by Exposé (Peak: #7, Year-End: #77)
Dated, middle of the road production? Check
Generic love/sex lyrics? Check
Yeah, pretty mediocre 80s Pop here. Hey, at least is has a guitar solo.
Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You by Glenn Medeiros (Peak: #12, Year-End: #85)
This was #2 on Todd In The Shadows’ Worst of 1987 lists, only beaten by Songbird by Kenny G, which will not be in this segment (you can thank Pixar for that). Anyway, back to this song. Originally performed by George Benson, Hawaiian teenager Glenn Medeiros won a radio competition covering this song, which soon made its way to the mainland and became a Top 20 hit. I bring this up because A: It’s interesting to see how this became a hit, and B: That is the only interesting thing about this lame, lame song.
Ballerina Girl by Lionel Richie (Peak: #7, Year-End: #95)
Man, this Lionel Richie song sure does exist, doesn’t it? Yeah, of course I was gonna sneak that joke in at some point, what could I say about the song itself, other than that it’d be good for kindergarten nap time.
I’ve Been In Love Before by Cutting Crew (Peak: #9, Year-End: #97)
Yup, (I Just) Died In Your Arms was not Cutting Crew’s only hit. There’s a reason we think of them as a one-hit wonder, however, and that’s because their other hit was completely forgettable.
Funkytown by Pseudo Echo (Peak: #6, Year-End: #99)
You’re not misreading that, there was indeed a cover of Funkytown that charted seven years after the original, this time performed by Australian Rock band Pseudo Echo. As with the original performers Lipps Inc., Pseudo Echo became a one-hit wonder, although they were much more successful back home Down Under. When it comes to the song itself, however, let me just say that it works better as a Disco song than a Hard Rock song.
Alright, that’s it for the Mediocre Tier, so now let’s move on to the three songs that I really didn’t like.
Head To Toe by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam (Peak: #1, Year-End: #17)
If I were to pick a genre from the 80s that has aged the worst, it would probably be Freestyle. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t good songs from the genre (I did like Rhythm Is Gonna Get You, albeit not enough to make the best list), but most of the genre has aged like milk, with Head To Toe by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam being one of the clearest examples of that IMO. I mean, the song opens up with incredibly date drum machines, and the “I love you from head to toe” line sounds incredibly childish, not helped by Lisa Lisa’s high pitched, chipper voice. In fact, the entire song sounds like a KidzBop version of 80s pop (except for the lines about making love). Overall, it’s aged extremely badly, and it’s no wonder why this song has been completely forgotten.
I Want Your Sex by George Michael (Peak: #2, Year-End: #24)
Ooh boy, this isn’t gonna be popular, is it? Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against George Michael (as you may or may not be seeing later on), and I have liked some raunchier songs in the past (just see my Best of 1995 list), but I’m sorry, this isn’t my thing.
Come Go With Me by Exposé (Peak: #5, Year-End: #62)
I could basically retread most of my segment on Head To Toe for this one, it’s another Freestyle song that’s aged almost impressively badly with annoying vocals and generic lyrics.
Alright, now that I’ve gotten past the subpar music from 1987, how about those Honorable Mentions?
Honorable Mention: C’est La Vie by Robbie Nevil (Peak: #2, Year-End: #6)
For the first of our Honorable Mentions, we have a song that was absolutely huge at the time, and yet has been for the most part left to the sands of time, and I’ve got to ask: why? Sure, the percussion sounds like the producers banged a bunch of pots and pans together, and the rest of the production is clearly of it’s time, but the lyrics about the struggles of everyday life and Robbie Nevil’s George Michael-ish voice more than make up for it. Plus, as someone who took four years of high school French, I’ve got to appreciate the title.
Honorable Mention: I Think We’re Alone Now by Tiffany (Peak: #1, Year-End: #18)
Well, there goes my man card again. Yeah, I can only assume that being a 19 (going on 20) year old guy admitting to liking Tiffany (even if it’s just one song) in 1987 would’ve been akin to that same guy admitting to liking Justin Bieber in 2010 (seriously, Early 2010s Justin Bieber did NOT deserve the amount of hate that he got), and it’s still a bit embarrassing admitting to liking this song, even though I wasn’t even alive at the time.
Anyway, about the song itself. Originally a Top 5 hit in 1967 (not the last 60s cover that will make this list, BTW), Tiffany covered it 20 years later and sent it to #1. Let me ask you: what is there worth hating about this song? The lyrics? Inoffensive enough, just about running off with your partner. presumably to engage in some mischief ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°). Instrumentation? Sure, it’s standard 80s Pop Rock stuff, but that’s no problem on it’s own. Tiffany’s vocals? Maybe a bit overdone at times, but she’s a solid enough singer. In conclusion, screw the haters, this is a bop!
Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now by Starship (Peak: #1, Year-End: #5)
And on the topic of easy targets and 60s nostalgia, here we have a #1 hit from Starship, the spinoff of 60s Psychedelic group Jefferson Airplane that is most known for putting out We Built This City, frequently regarded as one of the worst hits of the 80s, if not of all time (my thoughts on We Built This City? Cheesy as heck, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t at least like it a little bit). As for one of their other hits, I’m not gonna lie, it’s a banger. For one, it doesn’t have ridiculous lyrics like “knee deep in the hoopla” and “marconi plays the mamba”, and for two, it’s mid-tempo 80s Pop Rock perfected to a science. I honestly feel like I’m doing it a bit dirty by denying it a spot on the list proper, but alas, sometimes things turn out like that.
Honorable Mention: You Keep Me Hangin On by Kim Wilde (Peak: #1, Year-End: #34)
You know how I said that there was gonna be another 60s cover on here? Well, here it is. Not only that, but it’s a cover of The Supremes, whose hit You Can’t Hurry Love was covered by Phil Collins in 1983 and made my best list for that year (trend, maybe?). The cover transforms the original’s Motown Soul sound into a Hi-NRG dance jam (quite literally, Hi-NRG is the name of the genre). In the lyrics, Wilde rips apart her ex-boyfriend’s indecision and unwillingness to move on from the relationship (or at least that’s what I think the lyrics are about), saying that he needs to get out of her life. It’s a nice bit of venom mixed in with all the cheese of this year.
Honorable Mention: Don’t Mean Nothing by Richard Marx (Peak: #3, Year-End: #54)
The breakout hit for Richard Marx (who’d go on to be massive for the remainder of the 80s and on into the Early-Mid 90s), Don’t Mean Nothing is a bit of a commentary on the sleazy, vacuous Hollywood lifestyle that Marx had become accustomed to working in the music industry, all over probably the best instrumentation I’ve ever heard in one of his songs, going for a Blues-y Rock sound.
Honorable Mention: Jacob’s Ladder by Huey Lewis & The News (Peak: #1, Year-End: #41)
Huey Lewis & The News were absolutely huge in the 80s, scoring twelve Top 10 hits between 1982 and 1988, including three #1s, with this song being the third of them. Written by Bruce Hornsby (who had a few hits himself this year), this is a song about a guy rejecting the advances of street preachers and televangelists, stating that he’s just trying to live day by day and do the best that he can. However, this resonated with me for different reasons, as I try to live day by day while keeping my distance from the crapshow that is the world around me (especially in politics). Anyways, this is a great song, check it out.
Honorable Mention: (I Just) Died In Your Arms by Cutting Crew (Peak: #1, Year-End: #32)
You know how I said that Cutting Crew’s other hit was completely forgettable? Yeah, that doesn’t apply to this one at all, which is a classic of 80s Pop for a reason. The hook is instantly recognizable, and the lyrics about a regretful hookup are quite introspective by pop standards (and yes, this song is about sex). Overall, it’s one of the most definitively 9/10 songs I’ve ever heard, and it has more than deserved it’s longevity.
Honorable Mention: Bad by Michael Jackson (Peak: #1, Year-End: #59)
Wow, Gabingston likes a Michael Jackson song, huge shocker! Yeah, while this probably isn’t the best single off of it’s namesake album, Bad definitely holds its own as yet another classic from the King of Pop and as a “I’m Back, B*tch!” single. Sure, the lyrics are pretty much meaningless, just being about how much of a badass Michael is, but MJ’s endless charisma and sound effects (Hee Hee! Shamone! Aaow!) carry it home.
Honorable Mention: Just To See Her by Smokey Robinson (Peak: #8, Year-End: #87)
Fun fact: both a tribute to Smokey Robinson and a song from the man himself were hits this year, and while the tribute is a pretty good song in it’s own right, I prefer Smokey’s hit about the lengths he would go to to see his girl (is using the word “to” twice is a row grammatically correct?). Smokey’s soulful voice laid over the pleasant 80s R&B instrumentation gives an effortlessly chill vibe (and yes, to say that a song has a “chill vibe” is the most Gen Z way I could’ve possibly put it). Yes, it’s total grocery store music (heck, it played at the grocery store I worked at from time to time), but unlike many other grocery store songs, this one is just a joy of a song.
Honorable Mention: Brilliant Disguise by Bruce Springsteen (Peak: #5, Year-End: #86)
I’m just gonna say it: Bruce Springsteen’s nickname of “The Boss” is fully deserved. His down to earth Heartland Rock was a much needed counterweight to the glitz and glamor of the New Wave, Synthpop and Hair Metal that dominated the 80s, and he brings it in full force on Brilliant Disguise, which was the final cut from the actual list. The stripped-back instrumentation and Bruce’s gritty voice are a perfect fit for the lyrics about having no confidence in oneself and not seeing why his partner is with him, thinking that she’s just fooling him. Once again, this song was a much needed contrast from the dominant trends of the time, and it’s a shame that it couldn’t make the actual list. So, what did?
#10: I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) by Aretha Franklin and George Michael (Peak: #1, Year-End: #36)
One thing I noticed about this year is that there was A LOT of 60s nostalgia. I mean, I’ve already talked about several covers of songs from the 60s in this list, but another trend in the 80s at large was that a lot of 60s artists had hits. Stevie Wonder (whose started as a child star in the Mid 60s) was still scoring hits right up to 1987, three of the four Beatles had #1 hits in the 80s and the Beach Boys would make a comeback the following year with Kokomo. Included in this wave of older artists having hits was Aretha Franklin, who scored her first #1 hit since the 60s with I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), a duet with George Michael.
To begin, I’ll talk about the lyrics. They’re quite similar to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (once again, 60s nostalgia), about how each of them has persevered through thick and thin to make it to where they are today, capped off by a typically catchy but still great hook.
“When the river was deep, I didn't falter
When the mountain was high, I still believed
When the valley was low, it didn't stop me, no no
I knew you were waiting, I knew you were waiting for me.”
George Michael gives one of his best vocal performances, and as for Aretha… well, she’s Aretha Franklin, what do you expect from the Queen of Soul? For two artists with an over 20 year age difference (Aretha had already charted on the Hot 100 by the time George Michael was born), they have surprisingly good chemistry, and when you add in the upbeat Pop Rock production, it adds up to an 80s Pop gem that deserves more recognition as the classic that it is. R.I.P. to both Aretha and George.
#9: Meet Me Halfway by Kenny Loggins (Peak: #11, Year-End: #96)
Hey, speaking of George Michael, how about a man who sounds exactly like him? Yeah, I can’t be the only one who notices that Kenny Loggins and George Michael have pretty much the same voice. Getting that observation out of the way, how about Kenny’s hit in 1987, Meet Me Halfway? Well, aside from sharing it’s title with a Black Eyed Peas hit from 2009 (although it made the 2010 Year-End list, that song is solid enough), it’s one of my favorite Kenny Loggins songs.
First, I’ll talk about the instrumentation. It’s pretty standard 80s Power Ballad stuff, with pounding drums, twinkling keys, horn-synths and Rock guitar. I’ll be honest, most of this song is pretty standard, including the lyrics.
“Meet me halfway
Across the sky
Out where the world belongs
To only you and I
Meet me halfway
Across the sky
Make this a new beginning of another life.”
However, what sets this song apart from the many, many other ballads this year had to offer would be two things. One, it may be standard, but it’s about as good as a standard song can get, and two: Kenny Loggins’ vocals. Yeah, Kenny just sells the admittedly basic lyrics as the most important stuff ever, I don’t think he gets enough credit as a vocalist. So, in essence, this is a pretty middle of the road song that managed to click all the right buttons and end up as one of my favorite hits of the year. However, that’s far from the only example of a middle of the road hit that made my best list…
#8: Breakout by Swing Out Sister (Peak: #6, Year-End: #66 😈)
Right, anyone ready for some serious 80s cheese? I sure am, because sometimes cheese can be a good thing. The only Top 20 hit from Sophisti-Pop group Swing Out Sister, Breakout seems to me at least to be somewhat of a good representation for the genre, and not just because the song is really good. The lyrical content is about the singer encouraging the listener to break free of whatever their s**tty situation may be, to take the leap towards something new.
“Don't stop to ask
And now you've found a break to make at last
You've got to find a way
Say what you want to say
The instrumentation is typically 80s, with a strong synth-driven groove and horn section that compliments singer Corinne Drewery’s distinct and quite British voice very well, creating an optimistic and pleasant song that I for one could really use right now (if only there was a way to break out).
#7: Lost In Emotion by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam (Peak: #1, Year-End: #31)
Ooh, bet you weren’t expecting this one to be on my best list. After all, didn’t I just say that Lisa Lisa’s other 1987 hit was one of the worst of the year? Well yes I did, but as Rihanna in 2012 showed, sometimes an act can put out both great and bad music in the same year.
On his Worst of 1987 list, Nerd With An Afro compared Lisa Lisa to Camila Cabello (in a negative light), and honestly, I think the comparison is pretty fair. They’re both pretty Latinas who got big at a young age and have… rather limited vocal abilities, relying on their charm and frankly adorableness to carry the song, though coming off as quite annoying if it goes wrong (see Head To Toe for Lisa and My Oh My for Camila, spoilers for my Worst of 2020 list that’ll be coming in about two months).
I’ll be honest, I don’t know why I like this song so much. I mean, the production is just as dated as it is on Head To Toe, and as mentioned in the last paragraph, Lisa really isn’t an impressive singer. However, I think this song plays much more to her strengths (whatever they may be) than Head To Toe did. Rather than being a typical cliche love song, this is a song about Lisa being madly in love with a guy and telling him her deepest secrets, even though she doesn’t know how she feels. Her somewhat innocent personality plays through, and the song gives a more puppy love vibe than something more mature. Yes, I know that most of the compliments I’ve been given have been rather backhanded, and this has all and all been quite an embarrassing entry, but eh, that’s just how it turned out. Now, how about I try and regain a bit of credibility?
#6: Sign O’ The Times by Prince (Peak: #3, Year-End: #60)
Yeah, this should get me a bit more respect, considering that music critics love social commentaries. Seriously, though, this is a great song. Considering how much nostalgia there’s been for the 80s, it’s kinda easy to forget (especially for people who weren’t around at the time, like me) that the decade had its own share of issues, many of which this song goes over.
I’ll begin with the instrumentation. It’s made of a keyboard line that sounds like something from a TV show, a gated drum machine and a simple bassline, clearly of its time and yet something that’s held up over the past third of a century, which brings me to the lyrical content.
Obviously, being a social commentary, the lyrics are gonna be where most of the meat is. I mentioned that this song tackles various social issues from the 1980s, so here are some examples.
“In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same.”
“At home there are seventeen-year-old boys and their idea of fun
Is being in a gang called 'The Disciples'
High on crack and totin' a machine gun.”
“In September, my cousin tried reefer for the very first time
Now he's doing horse, it's June.”
“It's silly, no?
And everybody still wants to fly
Some say a man ain't happy truly
Until he truly dies
There are more topics touched upon in the song, but I feel like I’ve provided enough examples for y’all to get the jist of this song. I know it’s cliché for a music reviewer to praise a political song, and I have very little desire to bring politics into this blog unless it’s absolutely necessary (such as if a political song is in the Top 20 for a week I’m reviewing, as was the case for The Bigger Picture this summer). However, for as escapist as this blog (and much of the pop music I’m reviewing) is, it’s important to be reminded once in a while about the problems in the world, even problems that existed before I was around (that is to say most of them), and to be assured that, yes, the world has always been and always will be crazy. As Billy Joel once said, We Didn’t Start The Fire, for it has burned since before we were around and will burn long after we’re gone. Hey, how about another song that goes into some deeper material?
#5: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2 (Peak: #1, Year-End: #23)
Be honest: are any of you surprised? I mean, U2 made both my Best of 1992 and Best of 2001 lists (topping the latter one), and I’ve referenced the band in a positive light on numerous other occasions (just see my Best of 2017 or 2008 lists). So, when it came to covering what was probably their peak year in terms of success, there was no way that they were gonna miss this list.
I’ll begin with the instrumentation. In the age of Stock-Aitken-Waterman synthpop and over-the-top Hair Metal, I’m certain that the stripped-back and organic instrumentation of this song was a nice change of pace from all the glitz and glam. It’s just percussion and multiple layers of guitar, which fits very well with Bono’s voice.
What really sets this song apart, however, is the lyrical content, which is plainly obvious in the title. He’s busy soul-searching, not having found what he’s been looking for.
“I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you (X2)
I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for (X2)...”
Pretty much the entire song follows this pattern, which should get tiring, but never does, as Bono manages to keep it interesting the whole way through. Late in the song, it incorporates plenty of spiritual and religious imagery, which will almost always appeal to me if done tastefully, which is more than the case here. Overall, this is a fantastic piece of music that is right up my alleyway and captures an element of life that is far too neglected in mainstream music. However, you know what two topics aren’t neglected in mainstream music?
#4: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)/Didn’t We Almost Have It All by Whitney Houston (Peak: #1/#1, Year-End: #4/#22)
Whitney Houston absolutely RULED the latter half of the 1980s, sending a record setting seven singles in a row to #1, all of which are at least a good 7/10. Yeah, I’d call myself a fan of hers, and you can expect to see her on plenty of retro best lists going forward. Let’s just get going on this entry, starting with one of the most defining hits of the entire decade.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) is one of the most well-known and well-remembered pop songs of the 80s, and for dang good reason IMO. Just from its production alone, the song exudes pure, unadulterated joy and bliss like few other pop songs can. It’s the sound of Late 80s Pop at it’s very best, and it’s no exaggeration to call it one of the best sounding Pop songs of all time. Lyrically, it’s about Whitney going out at night to satisfy her lonely heart, hoping to find a man who she can dance with, and maybe find a long-lasting romance as a result.
“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody
I wanna feel the heat with somebody
Yeah, I wanna dance with somebody
With somebody who loves me (repeat).”
As for Whitney’s vocal performance, well, it’s Whitney Houston, what do you expect? Of course her performance is top-notch, and even that might not be giving her enough credit. I could shower praise upon her voice all day if I wanted to, but that’d quickly get redundant. I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) is about as perfect as a Pop song can get, and was an absolute shoe-in for this list. However, it wasn’t Whitney’s only hit this year, which brings me to her other gem of a song from ‘87.
Breakups are a very, very common topic in popular music. There have been many, many songs that have covered the topic, going for many angles. However, I can name very few that have done it as well as Didn’t We Almost Have It All by Whitney Houston. The composition, while definitely of its era, sets the perfect backdrop of twinkling keys, percussion and dramatic strings for Whitney to do her thing, and boy does she. She takes the pretty typical and admittedly imperfect lyrics and sells them as the greatest tragedy since the Titanic.
Didn't we almost have it all
When love was all we had worth giving?
The ride with you was worth the fall my friend
Loving you makes life worth living
Didn't we almost have it all
The night we held on till the morning
You know you'll never love that way again
Didn't we almost have it all…”
See, I’d normally find the last lyric a bit self-aggrandizing, but considering that it’s Whitney Houston we’re talking about, I believe it 100%. I know that this segment has been for the most part fanboying, but A: It’s a best list, that’s kind of the point, and B: Whitney Houston was one of, if not the, greatest female vocalists in the history of popular music, so if I’m gonna fanboy anyone, you can bet your ass that it’s gonna be Whitney. I look forward to seeing you in many best lists to come, Whitney, may you rest in peace.
#3: Mandolin Rain by Bruce Hornsby & The Range (Peak: #4, Year-End: #65)
Bruce Hornsboy & The Range were a band that had a good degree of success in the Late 80s, and while the social commentary The Way It Is almost made the list, it was their follow-up single Mandolin Rain that really appealed to me. If there’s one thing I like, it’s a bittersweet ballad, and this might be the most bittersweet of them all.
I’m just gonna get straight into the lyrics, which are the centerpiece of this song. The lyrics compare the ending of a song to the ending of a relationship, and the elements of said song to the emotions that Bruce feels about it. It’s a mix of longing for better times and an acceptance that said better times are never coming back.
“Listen to the mandolin rain
Listen to the music on the lake
Listen to my heart break every time she runs away
Listen to the banjo wind
A sad song drifting low
Listen to the tears roll
Down my face as she turns to go.”
The instrumentation is an absolutely gorgeous mix of piano, percussion, delicate keys and, yes, mandolin, which is matched in equal measure by Bruce’s vocals, which while not the most powerful sell the emotions in the song excellently. However, the main reason this song hit so hard for me was because I compare the girl that Bruce sings about to all the friends I’ve known throughout my life that are no longer there, and the good times that have come and gone, from my golden years of nostalgia from 2007-2012 to things as recent as going to high school football games in my senior year, which was just two years ago as of now. I know it’s foolish for someone as young as I to look back to the past rather than looking ahead, but in times as s**tty as these, it’s hard not to look back fondly on days gone by. Overall, this is a wonderfully wistful song that brings back some good memories for me, and really, what more could I ask for?
#2: Livin’ On A Prayer/Wanted Dead Or Alive by Bon Jovi (Peak: #1/#7, Year-End: #10/#74)
Well, I can ask for two 80s classics by a band in the midst of their prime. Yeah, Bon Jovi was at their peak in 1987, both in terms of success and in terms of quality, leaving behind two of the most well-remembered hits of not only this year, but of the decade on whole.
The first of these two hits, Livin’ On A Prayer, needs no introduction. It is easily within the Top 10 most well remembered hits of the entire decade, probably Top 5. When people think of classic 80s hits, this is one that I’m sure comes to mind a good deal of the time, and for very good reason, as it deserves every bit of success and longevity that it’s got over the past third of a century.
To begin, the song just sounds awesome. This is 80s Hair Metal at it’s very best, with pounding drums, massive keys, screaming guitars and the iconic talkbox to open up the song. Vocally, this is easily one of Jon Bon Jovi’s best performances, as his voice is the best it ever sounded at this time. This all comes to fruition in the chorus, which is quite possibly THE best chorus in the entire history of popular music, and yes, I mean that 100%. Combine that with an awesome guitar solo, and you get a song that was already an easy 10/10, and that’s before I get into the lyrics.
Unlike so much Hair Metal that was incredibly sleazy and/or cheesy (yes, that was meant to rhyme), Livin’ On A Prayer is a bit more down to Earth, following a couple named Tommy and Gina who have come upon hard times. Tommy’s union has gone on strike, while Gina works a low-end job at a diner, leaving them dead broke. However, they’ve got the resolve to push on and keep fighting, regardless of how hard it may be.
“We've got to hold on to what we've got
It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot for love
We'll give it a shot.”
The storytelling combined with the over-the-top awesomeness of the instrumentation, vocals and chorus made this a strong, STRONG contender for the #1 spot, and it’s no exaggeration to call this one of the Best Hit Songs not just of 1987, but of the entire 1980s, full stop.
Oh, and there’s their other song, Wanted Dead Or Alive. Yeah, while it’s not quite as amazing as Livin’ On A Prayer (although it’s pretty damn close), this one’s pretty awesome too. A western-themed song, the lyrics compare the lifestyle of a touring rockstar to that of a cowboy or an outlaw, riding around the Old West.
“I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride
I'm wanted (wanted) dead or alive
Wanted (wanted) dead or alive
And I ride…”
The instrumentation backs the theme up perfectly, with varied instrumentation that gives the vibe of traveling across the barren, desolate landscape of the American West (or any other dry, badass region with cowboys and outlaws, like the Australian Outback or Patagonia). To continue on the lyrics, Jon sings of the tiresomeness and lonesomeness of constantly being on the road and away from home…
“Sometimes I sleep, sometimes it's not for days
The people I meet always go their separate ways
Sometimes you tell the day
By the bottle that you drink
And times when you're all alone all you do is think.”
But also the thrill of playing in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans.
“I walk these streets
A loaded six-string on my back
I play for keeps 'cause I might not make it back
I been everywhere, still, I'm standing tall
I've seen a million faces
And I've rocked them all.”
Overall, these two Bon Jovi hits represent the very best that the Hard Rock and Hair Metal of the Late 80s had to offer, and this will almost certainly not be the last time you see these guys on one of best lists. However, for as amazing as these songs may be, neither of them were the very best that this year had to offer. So, what could that be?
Be honest here, you all saw this one coming from a mile away. If any of you have ever read this blog before, you know how much I like this song, as I’ve referenced it in a positive light on numerous occasions, and I put a very similar song high on my Best of 2008 list. While Livin’ On A Prayer was very, VERY close to claiming this honor, I did not believe it would be fitting to put any other song at the top of this list. So, without further ado, The Best Hit Song of 1987...
#1: With Or Without You by U2 (Peak: #1, Year-End: #15)
I’m just gonna cut to the chase here: this song is pretty much perfect. There are very, very few songs I’ve ever heard that are as completely and objectively perfect as this song. I am almost in awe at how perfect this song is, and I think it’s about time to talk about why.
First, the instrumentation. In stark contrast to the flashy Synthpop and Hair Metal that dominated in the Late 80s, With Or Without You (as with there other hit this year that I talked about earlier) is a very stripped-back and barebones song, only consisting of multilayered guitar, percussion and a chugging bassline, but still coming out with a rich, textured mix. It uses the very common four chords of pop about as well as you possibly could, producing a song that has not aged one bit in the third of a century that has passed since it came out.
That brings me to the lyrical content, which is… actually quite little. Seriously, I did not realize just how few lyrics this song has until I looked it up, this is not a wordy song at all. In fact, here is the entire song right here.
“See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I'll wait for you
Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails, she makes me wait
And I wait without you...
With or without you
With or without you
Through the storm, we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I'm waiting for you...
With or without you
With or without you, ah, ah
I can't live
With or without you
And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away...
My hands are tied
My body bruised, she got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose
And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away
With or without you
With or without you, oh
I can't live
With or without you
With or without you
With or without you, oh
I can't live
With or without you
With or without you…”
However, don’t for one minute think that this simplicity is a disadvantage, quite the contrary. There is a beauty in simplicity, and this is the clearest example of that I can think of. According to the song’s Genius page, Bono wrote this about the conflicted life he led at the time, having commitments to both his wife and his musical career. Being such a personal subject and song, Bono JUST. SELLS. IT. I cannot emphasize just how much Bono’s performance makes this already great song into a legendary song, one that is quite possibly in my personal Pantheon of all-time greats. It’s quite possibly the best performance of his entire career, and don’t forget that this is the same band that did Beautiful Day, another absolutely incredible song (more on that in my Best of 2001 list, you can guess where that song placed), so that is saying something. There are so many things I could say about this incredible, incredible song, but I want to keep this post at a reasonable length, so I’ll just leave it at this. With Or Without You by U2, The Best Hit Song of 1987…. maybe, Livin’ On A Prayer is pretty dang close, but this is the call I’m making as of this moment.
I’m sorry that this list took so long. I’ve been in quite a s**tty mood lately, and I really dragged my feet when doing this list, so I apologize for that. I’ll be going on vacation over the weekend, after which I will be ranking the Billboard Top 20, either for the week of October 17th or October 24th. After that, I will be doing the Best and (maybe) Worst Hit Songs of 1998, which will be my final list before List Season 2020 rolls around. I hope y’all have a great day, and I’ll see you guys next time.