top 20 alternative love songs of the 1980s
10. Blondie – “Heart of Glass”
There’s something haunting about Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” and despite its immediate acceptance into the pop music canon, the track has something far more irreverent than similar hits from that era. Perhaps it was Debbie Harry’s punk roots but her falsetto carries a flippancy that plays off the eerie synth notes and gives the looping disco lick a hint of darkness. She speaks of love like someone who’s not all that familiar with it, and yet despite the alleged fragility of her heart, she seems to deliver the story of losing her mind like an unsettling but oddly entertaining party anecdote.
9. Simple Minds – “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
Simple Minds will forever be associated with the film legacy of John Hughes, whose celebration of the teenage condition in the ‘80s peaked with The Breakfast Club. That movie’s theme, “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” is unusual for a love song. It eschews the usual regret and longing for an almost casual, easy reminder (amid some catchy synth stabs) that you’ve just been a part of something good, something you’d best not let slip away.
8. Modern English – “I Melt with You”
The ‘80s were full of subtle terms for sex, but “melt” is by far my preferred euphemism. “I Melt with You” was originally released in 1982, but it was then re-recorded in 1990, garnering it even more attention from yet another generation of listeners. When lovers “melt” with one another, it puts all the turmoil of the world away and stops time; science hasn’t figured out how to stop time, but sex has, apparently.
7. Tears for Fears – “Head over Heels”
Some love songs are about breakups, some are about discovering true romance, but Tears for Fears’ classic “Head Over Heels” depicts a conflicted perspective on love, particularly the idea of love at first sight, where crippling doubt and love-struck inspiration play an equal role. The song’s hook—“Something happens and I’m head over heels/ I don’t find out ‘til I’m head over heels”—reveals the innate irrationality of interpersonal affection, while the verses oscillate between obsessive desire and hesitation. With its chiming synths, overdriven guitars and booming drums, “Head Over Heels” is perfectly constructed, quintessentially ‘80s pop music.
6. Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
Joy Division and the late Ian Curtis are balm for the misunderstood teen, the strength of their conviction confirmed by his suicide. Naturally, the steely-eyed artist was a force for romantic despair. His band’s definitive statement on heartbreak, inspired by his failing marriage, was this single that Curtis didn’t live to see released.
5. The Smiths – “There Is a Light that Never Goes Out”
Steven Patrick Morrissey may write love songs to himself, but his best lyrics bridge groveling self-pity with humor (with no small thanks to Johnny Marr). This is one of Morrissey’s classic passive-aggressive torch songs. His fey croon delivers the hilarious, catchy promise that nobody will suffer for you as he does.
4. New Order – “Temptation”
How can a repetitive synth line sound so romantic? New Order’s fourth single would be a great love song even as an instrumental, its trancelike keyboards and rising bass line the sound of the besotted, its drumbeat the sound of the human heart. But Bernard Sumner’s yearning vocal makes it something you could actually sing to that special someone—but make sure you get their eye color straightened out.
3. The Cure – “Pictures of You”
Has there ever been a greater expression of longing and despair in song? The first real burst of emotion from Disintegration, “Pictures of You” is the Cure at their dramatic best. Arranged in a simple-yet-elegant way with beautiful washes of synthesizer and evocative guitar work, the song takes what could have been a disastrous mess of clichés and turns into something timeless.
2. New Order – “Bizarre Love Triangle”
A love song needn’t be delicate. Sometimes a pounding, four-beats-per-bar banger can move you to lose your shit on the dance floor at the same time it moves you to stare down your date with a creepy, stalker-like intensity, drop to your knee(s) under the flash of red-and-white flood lights and sing out in a terrible wail made inaudible by the chorus of vocoders, “Every time I see you falling/ I get down on my knees and pray/ I’m waiting for that final moment/ To say the words that I can’t say!” In the end you never say them, because you’re too out of breath.
1. The Cure – “Just Like Heaven”
This is likely the best-known Cure song in history, and it celebrates the uplifting, drunken/heady nature of falling in love, as well as the crash at the bottom after you land. Typical of many British love songs, it sports a Morrisey-flavored happy music and macabre lyrical theme. Many refer to it as the “perfect pop song,” but I’m not sure how many pop songs make you wonder if she really fell off that cliff or why he passed out (note: don’t fall in love with Robert Smith; it will end badly).
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