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100 Best Songs of the ’80s (#100-91)

These are the top 100 songs of the 1980s.

92: The Police – Every Breath You Take (1983)

It’s been used as a wedding song, made its way onto countless mix tapes and playlists, and remains arguably one of the most misunderstood songs of all time. Its tempo and use of the words “baby” and “embrace” are deceiving. “Every Breath You Take” is not a love song, but instead a song about obsession and misery. Inspired by Sting’s crumbling first marriage (to actress Frances Tomelty) and the arrival of an affair with Trudie Styler (the second Mrs. Sting), the track would ultimately become the biggest hit in The Police’s discography, spending eight weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1983.

Whatever inspired the song and whatever it actually means, music lovers can’t seem to get enough of it. What makes it so intriguing? Andy Summers’ carefully articulated arpeggios in the introduction have a heartbreaking familiarity to them, though we also hear revelation. There’s something about the movement of the notes and the rhythms on which they land that seem slightly exotic, fresh even. Sting’s voice, always just shy of perfection, gives us the sense of a man on the edge of being able to fully articulate the full reach of his pain. Stewart Copeland’s drumming almost singlehandedly defines the concept of what it means to play “in the pocket.” His playing moves the song where it needs to go at precisely the moment it needs to get there. It’s never showy, never false; a textbook example of restraint.

Though the biggest hit The Police ever had, the song is decidedly unlike much of the trio’s output. The panicked angst of “Can’t Stand Losing You,” the humor of “Be My Girl—Sally” are absent, replaced by a calm, stiff upper lip tempo that would come to define Sting’s solo career. All that seems like the typical Police is the number’s exploration of humankind’s darker tendencies. On an album (Synchronicity) that also contained “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” “King of Pain” and “Synchronicity II,” it fits nicely on a thematic level even if it at first seems distinctly different.

The Police were on an incredible run in 1983: A top-selling album, a single (“Every Breath”) that wouldn’t quit and a tour that drew large crowds. Summers, Sting and Copeland knew that it wouldn’t last forever and so they quietly pulled the plug, exiting on the highest note imaginable. – Jedd Beaudoin

91: Journey – Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) (1983)

If you’re not playing the air synth during the opening bars of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” you’re doing it wrong. The opening track of 1983’s Frontiers remains easily accessible in pop music’s collective consciousness, both as the quintessential example of Journey’s hard/soft rock appeal and also due to its place in MTV history as one of the most hysterically, legendarily uncool videos of all time. Beyond the ‘80s trash fashion and crispy hair were some truly naïve production choices. Imagine the concept meeting: a prohibitively heavy keyboard Velcro’ed to a corrugated metal warehouse wall; the band unironically(!) playing air instruments; frequent, full-frame close-ups of all band members (a group who, as keyboardist Jonathan Cain politely admitted, “were not very photogenic”); literal miming of the song’s lyrics by silver-throated frontman Steve Perry. “Break those chains that bind you”!

Not coincidentally, the quality that made this video so precious is also what distinguished Journey as a landmark ‘80s band: their full-tilt dedication to selling sincerity. Perry’s voice was a singular instrument, and whether he was belting out inspiration on “Don’t Stop Believin’” or letting his voice glide and soar on “Open Arms,” he wasn’t just singing his heart out, he was taking you there. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” sees the band channeling their passion with an undercurrent of pained urgency. A teetering keyboard line opens the song before the full band crashes in with a hard rock thud. The tension between restraint and flare-up plays over and over again in the song, driving home an evocation of unfinished business. Known as a band who’d mastered the art of the power chorus, this one is a bit of an outlier. The full band hammers out phrases in punctuated bursts before Perry, in signature style, shakes free and arches into both high notes and high drama.

It’s hard to say whether the reputation of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” lives on in the new millennium more as a consequence of being a remarkable song or a terrible music video, though it is unquestionably both. Crack open the time capsule if you want a chuckle, but the band members might prefer you listen to this one on vinyl instead. – Stacey Pavlick

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