100 Best Songs of the ’80s (#20-11)

100 Best Songs of the ’80s (#20-11)

These are the top 100 songs of the 1980s.

12. Madonna – “Into The Groove (1984)

Perhaps the most famous and infectiously danceable B-side in pop music history, “Into the Groove” shines on as one of Madonna’s most charismatic hits. She had no shortage of chart toppers at the time: “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” preceded its release, and no fewer than five Madonna videos were in heavy rotation on MTV. 1985 was wall-to-wall Madonna with international Top 40 dominance, fashion-forward videos and now movie tie-ins: after a brief appearance in Vision Quest (1985) (out of which “Crazy for You” substantiated Madonna as a capable vocal talent), she starred as the title role in the mistaken identity romp Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). “Into the Groove” is a song from the movie – and is indeed synonymous now in our collective memory with the film (who doesn’t see a fleeting image of Madonna airing out her pits with the restroom hand dryer when they hear this song?) – though it doesn’t appear on the official soundtrack due to contractual considerations. It actually was never a proper single on its own, as originally it was paired up as the B-side to the comparatively forgettable Like a Virgin track “Angel.”

Madonna’s inspiration for the song was a “gorgeous Puerto Rican boy” she noticed from across her apartment balcony. (A guy who, true to style, she approached, dated and discarded all before putting the finishing touches on the song.) Flirt and rebuff, expose and conceal – Madonna plays all sides while teasing us onto the dancefloor: “I’m waiting…” A synthesized bassline zaps and pulses, the drum machine claps on the upbeats. Dancing is a sensual activity – “We might be lovers if the rhythm’s right” – and Madonna extends the foreplay by enticing the voyeur: “Only when I’m dancing do I feel this free/ At night, I lock the door/ Where no one else can see.” In a peek-a-boo black lace crop top, vamped to the nines and bratty as hell, our beloved exhibitionist divulges her innermost inhibitions. Pure magic.

The Puerto Rican boy was but just a flicker; Madonna’s true love has always been dance. Putting aside the sexual innuendos, “Into the Groove” is a love letter to the art form, informed by scores of late nights at NYC’s Danceteria. “Music can be such a revelation/ Dancing around, you feel the sweet sensation.” Decades on, “Into the Groove” is among Madonna’s luckiest of stars, a song that leaves us exhilarated and a bit sweaty, if only we step to the beat. – Stacey Pavlick

11: Talking Heads – This Must Be the Place (1983)

With three of four members coming from an art school background, Talking Heads was always cerebral, which came across in their mannered, wiry songwriting. But it took some time for the group to develop a more emotional side to their music. When the time came, they didn’t find the anger, fear and paranoia associated with their punk and new wave peers. Instead, their most emotionally resonant songs were blissful, reveling in a contented life and simple pleasures. This concept first appeared as an out-of-place fantasy on “Once in a Lifetime,” but this is where David Byrne slowly began to accept it as reality. Onn what may have been Talking Heads’ finest hour as a band, Byrne finally learned learned to stop being suspicious of the world around him and to give in to the joy of living.

Coming off of an album (Speaking in Tongues) that had its share of big, crowd-pleasing songs such as “Burning Down the House,” “This Must Be the Place” seems relatively muted in comparison. Still, the beautiful synth work and the spirited rhythm section lend the song a bounciness that keeps its mood high despite a relatively spare arrangement. However, the true focus is on Byrne, who by this point had grown into the charismatic rock front man that just a few years before he had seemed to shy away from. His performance is typically nervy, and some lines (“I guess I must be having fun”) indicate that he doesn’t fully trust the bliss he’s experiencing. It’s all standard Talking Heads fare until the very end when, in a fit of vocal acrobatics, Byrne gives himself away to the happiness. For once, his paranoia doesn’t get the better of him. It’s a thing of beauty, and that’s what takes this from being just another pretty good Talking Heads song to Byrne’s crowning achievement as a songwriter. — Kevin Korber

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