top 20 alternative love songs of the 1980s
For a band that mainstream music fans all but ignored, the Replacements churned out some deceptively universal gems in the 1980s—the jangle pop of “Kiss Me on the Bus” off their major label debut, Tim, being among the best. Frontman Paul Westerberg itches for PDA like he’s covered in poison ivy, and rather than slink away from the prospect of rejection he doubles down in his search for romantic validation. It should be noted, love has bloomed from stranger places than public transportation.
19. The Replacements – “Androgynous”
It might seem strange that one of the best songs on the Replacements’ tremendous Let It Be is a spare piano ballad, but “Androgynous” is a masterwork and an ode to gender-bending romance decades ahead of its time in the largely trans- and homophobic 1980s. Beyond the social commentary, though, Paul Westerberg croons one of the simplest and most beautiful melodies he ever penned, with lyrics that characterize love as a mostly awkward and confusing mess. “Androgynous” is a love song for social outcasts, the misunderstood masses that find joy in connecting with someone else like them.
18. INXS – “Don’t Change”
“Don’t Change” is INXS’ greatest anthem, but it’s also something of an outlier for them. Driven by a simple, Eno-esque synth line, the song is near-perfect in execution, from the introduction of guitars to the stellar vocal work of Michael Hutchence and Kirk Pengilly. Through it all, the song retains an urgency that the band would be reluctant to revisit in its later years. Even now, it sounds anything but dated.
17. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Deanna”
Leave it to this Aussie vampire cowboy singer to pen a gothic romance tale about a “best friend” he skipped school with in order to rob people’s homes—at least that’s how he summed up the song’s inspiration to NME way back in 1988. Lest anyone think Cave treasured the relationship for the wrong reasons (read: $$$), this hypnotic garage rocker suggests deeper forces at play. “I ain’t down here for your money/ I’m down here for your soul,” Cave explains, and somehow, I doubt Deanna’s was the first or last soul Cave captured.
16. The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Don’t Ever Change”
Jim and William Reid had an uncanny capacity to sound like an undirected cacophony of destroyed, drunken surf rock on one track and then follow it up with some of the most touching and meaningful beauty on the next. “Don’t Ever Change” plays like some relationships: it begins with a playful, quiet and sincere coherence, strumming along beautifully and playfully during the honeymoon phase. Then, suddenly, it all begins to come apart at the seams as William’s vocals are crying out unabashedly, begging you, “Please don’t walk away/ You’ve got a hold on me and I am scared to let you go,” amid the reluctant realization that you’re probably already gone.
15. Talking Heads – “This Must Be the Place”
David Byrne’s take on love is that of rebirth: both lyrically and musically. “This Must Be the Place” recalls standing up and walking for the first time, becoming acquainted with this new, strange feeling. Call it new love, call it first love; Byrne isn’t sure what it is, other than that this is it.
14. The Cure – “One More Time”
The opening guitar arpeggio of this song softly coaxes the listener into the quintessential love song from 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. The short lyrical thrust heightens the sensitivity of the song, climaxing into a stratospheric yelp of “Take me in your arms tonight!” This womblike song is the perfect wrapper for a cuddly, sleepy, emotion-packed union between (ex?) lovers, and while it may be about breakup sex, it is definitely slow, patient and satisfying (pregnant yet?).
13. Peter Gabriel – “In Your Eyes”
Forever memorialized in Say Anything…, “In Your Eyes” is an undeniably romantic tale of devotion, attention and possibilities. Raw, powerful and primal, this song is typical of Gabriel’s work, integrating world influences such as African vocals and complex rhythms. You can play it in a boombox over your head in a Clash t-shirt and trench coat, or it can be the backdrop to an automobile tryst in the back seat—take your pick, teenage lover.
12. Roxy Music – “More Than This”
Bryan Ferry likes to play the unrepentant cad, his vampiric croon more menacing than romantic. On Avalon, Roxy Music moved away from decadent art-rock textures and spiky rhythms to lush, soaring synths and a smooth vocal that probably got Ferry laid a lot more. This is the album’s gorgeous centerpiece, its ambiguous lyrics carried by a glamorous, seductive soundscape.
11. The Cure – “Lovesong”
There’s nothing neutral about the way Robert Smith feels love. When he feels it, he feels it. “Lovesong” is arguably the most subtly-arranged song that the Cure have ever recorded, but the low-key arrangement only serves to highlight Smith’s vocal performance, which has enough depth and emotion to last a lifetime.