48: Pat Benatar – We Belong (1984)
“We Belong” was the lead single from Pat Benatar’s 1984 release Tropico, an album featuring quintessentially ‘80s cover art, with Benatar in a frilly gown holding an owl on a checkerboard floor(!). While elements of this song seem dated, the song is also a classic, completing the punch card for what a typical ‘80s pop song espouses. Not only could it have easily fit into the soundtracks for fantasy movies from the decade, such as Labyrinth or Legend, but Benatar reflects that same atmosphere in the video. Set with majestic waterfalls, gauzy sheets and a children’s choir dressed in white, Benatar croons into the camera with flawless eye makeup and teased hair.
And like Labyrinth or Legend, this song is still magical, datedness be damned. The thunderous drums shuffle over the first verse and blossom into Benatar belting out her anthemic, inclusive lyrics that could double as wedding vows (or a mid-2000s Sheraton Hotel commercial): “We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder/ We belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under/ Whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better/ We belong, we belong, we belong together.”
A well-deserved contender in this list, this song summarizes some of the pop feelz of the ‘80s: a potion of singalong chorus and positive lyrics about love all delivered in less than four minutes. Thankfully, she eschews the common practice of a guitar solo in lieu of a short instrumental verse, keeping the datedness quarantined to just the keyboard patch used.
Benatar is an oft-forgotten siren of the ‘80s who completely brings that decade into focus. Hell, this song so defines its era that it was included on a radio station within Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as well. Her strong, epic vocals have paved the way for the likes of Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine) or even Zola Jesus. And in the mid-‘80s, “We Belong” charted high and was in heavy rotation on the airwaves. So, crack open a Tab and request the video on MTV. You won’t be sorry. – Cedric Justice
47: Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City (1982)
When Nebraska arrived in the dimming days of 1982, American hope was on the decline. That the album found Springsteen stripping his songs to their barest essentials—a guitar, a voice, an occasional harmonica—set the deeply unnerving lyrical contents of the songs into starker contrast with what we’d heard before. Even the choice to place “Atlantic City,” the kind of tune destined to kick off an album, as the second cut showed how hard Springsteen was working against type.
It may be Nebraska’s brightest moment, littered among stories about sibling bonds that drift into ellipses, the inability of young men to shake the fates of their fathers and working class frustrations. Any song that references the explosive assassination of a Philadelphia mobster in its first line, something so far away from the day-to-day ache of existence, provides just a sliver of (dark) relief. The lives of the young couple we follow in the verses are being blown up too: They’re on the run to a better life, though what waits for them is more danger and entrapment. Our narrator hints that he’s going to work for the mob, and he’s aware, even as they roll into the future, that the end remains inevitable. There is no safe place and there is no relief.
Yet we find ourselves singing along, feeling a skip of excitement when the song begins, one of the many arrows the Boss holds in his quiver, the ability to convince us that there’s some hope, while also reminding us that it’s in short supply. It would seem a cruel trick if not for the empathy we hear in his voice and the fact that he’s already reminding us of something we already know. There have been a few convincing covers of this song, including the Band’s take on the LP Jericho, but this rendition remains essential. – Jedd Beaudoin