UPDATED: Can it really be SUMMER without ’80s music?

It started with Haircut 100.

My search, that is, for summer songs to play in the car with the kids – on the way to the pool, beach, movies. I was looking for clean, happy songs. I thought first of The Go-Go’s, of course. Playful songs with a girl power streak – just what my seven and nine year old daughters need! But then I couldn’t believe it when I realized: I do not own a Go-Go’s CD. How can that be?

All I Ever Wanted…

So I pulled out Haircut 100 (Pelican West – see even the album name sounds fun!) along with The English Beat (Special Beat Service) and put them on heavy rotation in the car. Well, when I could get a break from Disney’s Girlz Rock 2 and Abba Gold – damn you Mamma Mia!

The next night, with my husband on a business trip, I went online to rectify that Go-Go’s omission…

See here’s the problem with iTunes and your husband being away.

FORTY-SIX song purchases later, it’s one a.m. and like a mad musicologist, I’m sitting before the glow of the computer screen creating for my children MY DEFINITIVE ’80s PLAYLISTS!

I’m putting that in all caps because when you’ve grown up in the ’80s it really deserves emphasis. And even though you might call it lame nostalgia I’m labeling it an Important Learning Experience, like the time my mom made us watch Easy Rider on Christmas Eve by explaining, “Kids, this is your history.”

So, now that you are intrigued, what is on these precious playlists?

Talented & oh so stylish
Talented & Oh So Stylish

I’ve created five playlists, each with 20 to 22 songs, each playlist with a different theme (okay wiseguys, go ahead and joke). If you listen to all five lists, you’re introduced to a glorious 100+ of pure ’80s pop and you basically become a diehard OMD, Yaz (aka Yazoo) and/or Talk Talk fan forever.

I consider these tunes quality ’80s music – some were big hits, some more obscure. I like to think of my taste as a bit left of field, so instead of Huey Lewis and The News, you get Colourfield. No Wang Chung or Cyndi Lauper but plenty of The Smithereens and Scritti Politti. And when I do pick the mega stars I like the lesser known tunes like Spandau Ballet’s “Only When You Leave” or “Hazy Shade of Winter,” which is an absolute underrated gem from The Bangles (on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, written by Paul Simon btw).

Theme One – Favs

These are my top picks. Here I’ve got a cross-section of favorite tunes from around the globe, heavy on the British contingent however: Bananarama, ABC, Haircut 100, Human League, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Wham, Spandau Ballet, Talk Talk, The Smiths and rounding out with the classic “Blue Monday” from New Order. To represent the Yanks, I’ve included Madonna and Michael Jackson (“P.Y.T.” not “Beat It!”) as well as Prince and The Revolution and Nenah Cherry (remember her? She’s half-American, I think). And last but not least a couple of Australian bands (no, no, not Men At Work, get serious), namely INXS and The Divinyls. Listen to it again and again – “Pleasure and Pain” is divine.

Theme Two – Brits & a Kiwi

Let’s go deeper in to Brit pop, which had such a strong influence on me. Heck, I was a Texas kid in the suburbs – crazy hair bands from the UK were the exotic and sexy lead characters in my Eurorail-pass escapist dreams.

Here we have more contributions from the bands I listed above as well as Echo and the Bunnymen x 2 (“Rescue” and “The Cutter” kill me), Love and Rockets, Elvis Costello, A Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, Yaz, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (“Women III” – check it out!), The Psychedelic Furs, The Style Council and The Colourfield. I sneak in a quirky contribution from Kiwi band Split Enz – “Dirty Creatures” and top off the list with two definitive New Wave tracks: The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” Now we can all do that head-down, asymmetrical hair, mope-y dance.

Unfortunately I couldn’t include the sitar-bop of Blancmange’s “Living on the Ceiling” because it’s unavailable on iTunes! Any thoughts/suggestions on that would be most appreciated.

*UPDATE: since I wrote this, Blancmange has appeared on Spotify – yeah! So we can all now enjoy their exotic cool.

And can I just make a career suggestion here – one of you Mileys-Britneys-Demi’s-Selena’s-Ashley’s could kick so much pop ass if you did a Pharrell Williams-produced remake of “Situation” or “Don’t Go”. Think about it. (Katy P and Ke$ha, please don’t bother because we’re just counting the days til you go away.)

So at the risk of this turning in to my senior thesis (we don’t need that much nostalgia), I’ll wrap things up and run through the rest of the lists.

Theme Three – Dance

Think more Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna, Sheila E, George Michael, Rob Base and Eazy E and again with the techno-booty-shaking Yaz.

*UPDATE: I would have preferred to include Scritti Politti’s “Lover to Fall” but alas not on Spotify so we’ll have to enjoy “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin”. Hope you’re all okay with that.

Theme Four – Rock & Pop

This list is reserved for all those pop-rock artists who weren’t necessarily groundbreaking but made some great music in the ’80s: The Police, The Pretenders, The Cars, Midnight Oil, Talking Heads, U2, Lone Justice, The Reivers (Texas band alert!), Paul Kelly (covering Crowded House), etc. plus my beloved R.E.M. and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

*UPDATE: Very limited selection of Lone Justice, Paul Kelly and The Reivers on Spotify, so I’ve had to improvise. But I added some Marshall Crenshaw for good measure.

Theme Five – A Little Edge

These songs close out the education with a slightly edgier look at ’80s rock plus a peek at rap beginnings: early Jane’s Addiction and Guns N’ Roses, Living Colour, Fishbone, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, The Plimsouls, The Sugarcubes (Bjork’s original band), Run DMC and LL Cool J (“Going Back to Cali” makes me think I’m cool), more R.E.M., a little Bowie and one of the GREAT college bands of all time: Guadalcanal Diary.

Oh, and a little Concrete Blonde.


Once when I was with my mom, “California Dreaming” by The Mamas and the Papas came on the radio and I sang along. My mom was surprised I knew the words and said, “You must have heard that in the womb!”

Now do I expect my girls to jump up and say, “Mommy this ’80s music is just so awesome, what IS it?”


But the hours I spent buying and organizing, rearranging and previewing were immensely enjoyable. Yes, I am the musical equivalent of a policy wonk. Yes, I indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Who doesn’t?

And maybe one day, I’ll catch my daughter singing, “We are young despite the years, we are concerned, we are hope despite the times.”

Long live the ’80s.

10 thoughts on “UPDATED: Can it really be SUMMER without ’80s music?

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  1. What a great blog and I couldn’t agree with you more!!! I myself am a life long Depeche Mode fan and am constantly forcing it on my 2 girls…lol I long for the day when they’re older and might just listen and appreciate them.

    The Less Than Zero soundtrack is one of the greatest ever!! What a line up on that album (I still have a vinyl copy)

    One of my favorite things to do while enjoying some adult beverages is search Live Aid on YouTube. As an avid 80’s fan it in my opinion is the ultimate fix!


    1. Thanks! The ‘Less Than Zero’ OST was harder than you’d think, for an ’80s movie. I just loved “Hazy Shade of Winter” and wished The Bangles had continued with that edgier sound. I will def have to check out Live Aid on YouTube.

  2. Aztec Camera – Oblivious and where is Oingo Boingo? Your girls (and everyone) needs Danny Elfman in their lives!

  3. Enjoyed the blog. I have been inspired to get back to my roots dial my ipod back a few years.

    I would guess that no Go-Go’s in the pantry is due to the fact that you never really appreciated their contributions to music like the other girl band from the 80’s. Have you softened on your stance?

    You also left out a possible Theme Six, the heavier side of the decade. If I am not mistaken, your concert stub shoebox will contain the likes of Dokken and Cinderella. Maybe even a Ratt show…

    1. Now this is a blast from (my) past. Gosh.

      In honor of ’80s metal, I put some Def Leppard on in the car, enjoyed about half of ‘Hysteria’. But sadly, most of those tunes from my headbanging days just haven”t aged well (kind of like Richard Gere or Anthony Michael Hall). Van Halen, yes. Cinderella, Poison and Ratt, um… no.

      Oh, and I did buy some Go-Go’s off of iTunes – still danceable and fun. Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin should be getting royalties from Katy Perry!

      And an odd bit of news to conclude: The Go-Go’s were scheduled for a farewell tour this past summer – finishing in AUSTIN in late July – until Jane injured her knee while hiking and required ACL replacement surgery!

      Get well soon, Jane! I don’t think David in Austin has ever seen y’all live.

  4. Speaking as a Brit, I’m impressed by your breadth of knowledge regarding the 80’s music scene in the UK. A few names came up on your playlist that took me up into my loft and into a dusty box containing rather a lot of authentic 80s audio tapes and yes, Blancmange are amongst them, as are most of the others you mention. I also discovered a few other gems – what of The Housemartins (latterly The Beautiful South and Fat Boy Slim) , The Blow Monkeys (I miss Dr. Robert and his Thatcherie political satire!) The Wonderstuff, Living in a Box and the winsome Prefab Sprout! Fear not though, the 80’s lives on. I have a friend who has seen both OMD and Simple Minds in the last few months and had no idea who I was talking about when I told her I’d been to see The Dead Weather (Jack White’s other band for those others who have not moved on). Now, onto your 90s playlists rockmom!

    1. Two Wheels Good! My freshman year roommate loved that album.

      Now how did The Housemartins beget Fatboy Slim? And if you had to choose between the following four gigs (all coming to HK this Fall), which would you choose: Fatboy Slim, Simply Red, Adam Lambert and Gorillaz? I have no idea if Fatboy and Gorillaz will be any good live – they seem like such studio constructs. Thoughts?

  5. Prefab Sprout! I’m still listening to Swoon and Steve McQueen, both have aged well. The Smiths have stuck solidly by my side too… Let’s throw some others into that 80’s indie mix… Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Cure, Joy Division, The Lotus Eaters (my French teacher at school!), Spear of Destiny, James, Bauhaus, The Fall, The Icicle works… I was the sad one who video taped all my faves when they appeared on The Tube, still got the tapes somewhere!

    1. Steve McQueen and Lotus Eaters are new to my ears. Hmmm… must check them out. Just read that James has reformed and is releasing a double-CD of new material. Can a reunion concert be far behind???

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