30 Years of Music: 1985

1985 had a lot of truly awful and cheesy pop songs, friends, but never fear – we still have ten excellent songs to celebrate this week. Also, I may or may not become overly fixated on everyone’s hair.


Time – Tom Waits

I heard Tom Waits’ voice described once as sounding as though he “gargles with gravel,” which is about right. Yet, as anyone who likes his music can tell you, the combination of his songwriting skills and his voice is what elevates him to greatness. Admittedly, the first time I heard “Time” was when Tori Amos covered it, but I really love both versions. Tom’s version makes you want to drink. Tori’s version is more of a stare-at-the-ceiling, wonder-what-you-did-with-your-life meditation. Soon, I really must dig out the old Tom Waits vinyl I have.


Don’t Come Around Here No More – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers


This is one of my favorite Tom Petty songs, and the Alice in Wonderland video is appropriately mad. It’s one of my earliest MTV-watching memories. Seeing it now, the black and white checks also remind me of classic Doctor Who episodes. There’s a story arc with Two called “The Mind Robber” (1968), which has a lot to do with old stories, rhymes and riddles. To me, it resides in the same neighborhood of both this song and the video.



Walls Come Tumbling Down – Style Council

I really need to get myself this album, Our Favourite Shop – or if it’s the U.S. version, The Internationalists – because I could have talked about “Shout to the Top!” or many of the other songs on it. (Just click through to “Shout to the Top!” for me, all right? Yes? Good.) Paul Weller’s hair is generally unfortunate here, but no matter, especially when he was busy writing the following:


You don’t have to take this crap
You don’t have to sit back and relax
(You can actually try changing it)
I know we’ve always been taught to rely
Upon those in authority
But you never know until you try
How things just might be
(If we came together so strongly)


“You don’t have to take this crap” and Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s “Don’t dream it, be it” are basically my life’s mottos. Get in.


What About Love? – Heart

Speaking of unfortunate hair… Yes, yes, pointing out unfortunate hair in the ’80s is a bit oxymoronic, but why did we do the whole crimping iron thing, again? And look! Forging power ballads out of fiery depths! The painful corsets! The flaming spiral staircase! There’s just so much to unpack here. For all my giggling, however, do know that I love this song unironically. ’70s and ’80s Heart are good by me, and I get a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that this 1985 album is in my daughter’s frequent rotation.


In-Between Days – The Cure

Yes, another mimed TOTP performance! More crimped hair! You love it, I love it. “In-Between Days” scored an Honorable Mention in Alphabet Soup: The Letter I, so let us more properly give it attention now. This might be my very favorite Cure song.

Go on, go on
just walk away
Go on, go on
your choice is made
Go on, go on
and disappear
Go on, go on
away from here

I love the synth-organ, the acoustic guitar and bass, all of it. It’s the perfect, concise breakup song.


This Time – INXS

Another Alphabet Soup Honorable Mention, another all-time favorite song for a particular band. Why am I still obsessing over everyone’s hair? Michael Hutchence’s hair here is almost okay when viewed straight on, but then we see it go down his back in a near-mullet… I just can’t. But! But! Godtopus love him, he works those leather pants, man.

Oh, right, we’re talking about the music, aren’t we? This isn’t a breakup song, but rather a perpetual breakup song, in which two people can’t quite kick each other no matter how awful they can be. I love it for its honesty – “we know we are always wasting time” – and its soaring chorus. The end will come, but maybe not this time.


Never Understand – The Jesus and Mary Chain

Speaking of albums I really need to own, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psycho Candy is definitely one of them. Feedback-as-main-sound isn’t necessarily my thing, but they pair it with such a great bassline and drum beat here. And I love how this video is the anti-’80s video, with the refusal to lip-synch or consistently play their instruments. Considering what would come in the early ’90s, they were ahead of their time.


Running Up That Hill – Kate Bush

I came late to the Kate Bush party. The UK music magazines I read would always go on about her genius, and I’d never been motivated to listen to her much. Then I ended up watching a lot of the VH1 Classic version of 120 Minutes, and then came the season of So You Think You Can Dance that featured the heartbreaking choreography to Maxwell’s cover of  “This Woman’s Work.” I became a convert.

“Running Up That Hill” features choreography that is much like what was on SYTYCD, and to be honest, I love this song more. I like the drama of it, and yes, the “In the Air Tonight”-esque drum fill around the three minute mark. On headphones, this song is even more outstanding.


West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys

“West End Girls” is unavoidably catchy. I imagine that if you were paying any sort of attention to music in 1985, you soon grew sick of hearing it, and even during my 120 Minutes viewing, twenty-five years later, its repeated plays became tiresome. Still, I really do like this song, and I respect its contribution to music as a whole. It’s quite unlike a lot of other things from 1985, with Neil Tennant performing the lyrics in a space somewhere between spoken and hip-hop. It’s an excellent examination, though in an existentialist-dread sort of way, of the class system in Britain. And if you like literature references in your music, you’ll also be pleased to note that T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is a major influence. English Composition students, please submit your comparative essays…


Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade

Ah, look! It’s possible to be timely, even when talking about 1985. Great Christmas song, or Greatest Christmas song?

Does your granny always tell you the old songs are the best
And she’s up and rock n rolling with the rest

(Okay, I will also accept “All I Want For Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey as an answer, but we’re not yet to the mid-’90s, and by then I will have more to talk about.)

Those muttonchops are highly questionable.

And because I know that Liam and Noel Gallagher once fought over whether or not this was the Greatest Christmas Song (Liam’s argument was for “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” and Noel’s argument was that no one wants to get drunk and happily sing along to that), I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Noel’s cover of this Slade song. Somewhat predictably, I find it brilliant.

Now take a jaunt through Wikipedia, if you must, then tell me your favorites from 1985.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

19 replies on “30 Years of Music: 1985”

I always laugh and cringe looking through the wiki lists for the 80’s – so many memories, and so many are of listening to really bad music. (David Lee Roth and David Hasselhoff, anyone?)

El Diablo and Rose Arcana – Arcadia (from So Red the Rose, fucking awesome album all the way around)

Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo

Burning House of Love – X

Driver 8 – R.E.M.

Some Like it Hot – The Power Station

And this one, quintessential 80’s new wave/pop right here:

Leave a Reply