Top 10 Best 80s Alternative Songs That Defined a Decade

The 1980s were a transformative era in music, giving rise to a diverse range of alternative bands and songs that still resonate today. This period saw the emergence of various subgenres like new wave, post-punk, goth, and indie rock, each contributing to the rich tapestry of alternative music.

A colorful stage with neon lights, a crowd of energetic fans, and a band performing 80s alternative songs with passion and intensity

What makes 80s alternative music unique is its blend of innovation and raw emotion, capturing the spirit of a decade that was both turbulent and electrifying. Whether you’re a long-time fan or new to the scene, exploring the top 10 best 80s alternative songs offers a nostalgic journey through some of the most iconic tracks of that era.

1. The Cure – Just Like Heaven

  • Song name: Just Like Heaven
  • Album: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
  • Release date: 1987

Why we included this song on the list

“Just Like Heaven” is one of The Cure’s most well-known tracks. Its infectious melody and heartfelt lyrics resonate with many fans. The song showcases The Cure’s ability to blend alternative rock with pop, creating a timeless hit that continues to be celebrated decades after its release.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

Robert Smith, the band’s frontman, wrote most of the lyrics during a trip to the shore with his future wife. This personal touch adds depth to the song’s narrative. “Just Like Heaven” was recorded during sessions in southern France, adding a unique backdrop to its creation.

For more details, visit Just Like Heaven (The Cure song) – Wikipedia.

2. Echo & the Bunnymen – The Killing Moon

Released in January 1984, “The Killing Moon” by Echo & the Bunnymen is a standout track in the alternative music scene. This song was the lead single from their fourth studio album, Ocean Rain.

  • Song name: The Killing Moon
  • Album: Ocean Rain
  • Release date: January 20, 1984

Why we included this song on the list:
“The Killing Moon” is often considered one of the greatest alternative songs of the 80s. Its haunting melody and lyrics have left a lasting impact on listeners. The song’s atmospheric sound and deep emotional resonance make it a timeless classic in the post-punk genre.

Interesting or fun facts about the song:
The song reached number 9 on the UK Singles Chart, marking one of the band’s highest-charting hits. Ian McCulloch, the band’s lead singer, has said that “The Killing Moon” is his best composition. The song’s lyrics are known for their mystical and evocative nature.

Discover more about The Killing Moon on Wikipedia: The Killing Moon.

3. The Smiths – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

  • Song Name: There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
  • Album: The Queen Is Dead
  • Release Date: 1986

Why we included this song on the list

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths is a quintessential 80s alternative song. It captures the melancholic yet romantic tone that defines much of the band’s music. The song’s lyrics, written by Morrissey, resonate with themes of loneliness and desire, making it a standout track from their album, The Queen Is Dead.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song was written by guitarist Johnny Marr and Morrissey. Although it wasn’t released as a single in the UK until 1992, it has become one of the band’s most beloved tracks.

Many artists, including Noel Gallagher of Oasis, have covered the song. This further cements its status as a classic.

A notable live performance of the song can be found on the album Rank, recorded at the National Ballroom in London in 1986.

4. Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence

  • Song Name: Enjoy the Silence
  • Album Name: Violator
  • Release Date: February 5, 1990

Why we included this song on the list:

“Enjoy the Silence” is a classic track from Depeche Mode that encapsulates their unique sound. It combines dark, moody melodies with a futuristic vibe, making it a standout in the alternative scene. The song’s atmosphere and relatable lyrics resonate deeply with listeners, securing its place as a top 80s alternative song.

Interesting or fun facts about the song:

“Enjoy the Silence” became a massive hit, reaching the top ten on the US Billboard Hot 100. It’s a fan favorite, known for its compelling music video and lasting impact on synth-pop and alternative music. The track has been covered many times, showing its enduring influence on various musical genres.

5. Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime

  • Song name: Once in a Lifetime
  • Album: Remain in Light
  • Release date: 1980

Why we included this song on the list

“Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads is a quintessential 80s alternative track. The song combines quirky lyrics with an innovative sound that mixes rock, funk, and world music. David Byrne’s unique vocal delivery and the song’s philosophical musings on life and meaning make it a standout hit from the decade.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song was produced with Brian Eno, a noted British musician and producer. The technique used in the song was influenced by early hip hop and Afrobeat, particularly the music of Fela Kuti. The band recorded jams, picked the best parts, then learned to play them repetitively.

Its music video is iconic, featuring David Byrne’s twitchy dance moves and surreal visuals. The video became one of the most memorable of the early MTV era. Lyrics like “And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife” still resonate with many listeners today.

For more detailed information, you can check out the official music video and a deeper dive into its production on Wikipedia.

6. New Order – Blue Monday

  • Song Name: Blue Monday
  • Album: Power, Corruption & Lies
  • Release Date: March 7, 1983

Why we included this song on the list

“Blue Monday” by New Order is an iconic track in the 80s alternative scene. Its innovative combination of rock and electronic dance music set a new standard for future genres. The song’s influence is seen in both its widespread popularity and its impact on electronic and dance music.

The track’s driving beats and synthesizer riffs create an unforgettable experience that continues to inspire artists and listeners alike. “Blue Monday” is more than just a song; it’s a testament to New Order’s creative genius and unique sound.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

New Order’s roots were initially in punk rock as members of Joy Division. “Blue Monday” marks a significant shift for them towards dance music, showcasing their ability to blend different musical styles effectively.

This track became the best-selling 12-inch single of all time. Despite this success, the band famously lost money on each sale due to the costly design of the original sleeve.

The song’s influence stretches far and wide, with numerous covers and remixes by various artists through the years, solidifying its status as a timeless piece in music history.

7. Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead

  • Song Name: Bela Lugosi’s Dead
  • Album: 1979-1983 Volume One
  • Release Date: May 30, 1986

Why we included this song on the list

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is an iconic track in the gothic rock genre. Its eerie atmosphere and haunting vocals make it stand out. The song helped establish Bauhaus as pioneers of goth rock and influenced many bands that followed. Its unique sound and dark lyrics resonate with many alternative music fans to this day.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song was recorded live in one take. Its minimalist approach, with a repetitive bass line and sparse guitar, adds to the haunting mood. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was often performed at Bauhaus concerts, becoming a fan favorite. It also appeared in the 1983 horror film “The Hunger,” further cementing its place in goth culture.

8. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Spellbound

  • Song Name: Spellbound
  • Album: Juju
  • Release Date: 1981

Why we included this song on the list

“Spellbound” showcases the unique sound of Siouxsie and the Banshees. The song’s energetic tempo, powerful guitar riffs, and Siouxsie Sioux’s distinctive vocals make it a standout track. It represents the band’s ability to blend gothic rock with punk elements.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

“Spellbound” was a hit in the UK and remains one of the band’s most popular songs. The track was influential, inspiring many other post-punk and goth rock bands. The song’s release in 1981 marked a significant point in the band’s career, solidifying their place in the music scene.

9. Violent Femmes – Blister in the Sun

  • Song Name: Blister in the Sun
  • Album: Violent Femmes
  • Release Date: April 1983

Why we included this song on the list

“Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes is a defining track of ’80s alternative music. The song’s catchy, raw sound and relatable lyrics make it unforgettable. It became an anthem for rebellious youth, representing a shift in music culture during the decade.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song was written by Gordon Gano, the band’s lead singer. It talks about youthful energy and emotion. “Blister in the Sun” is known for its simple yet powerful guitar riffs. It remains a popular choice at parties and events due to its upbeat tempo and relatable theme.

The song also maintains a significant place in pop culture, being featured in movies and TV shows, further cementing its status as a classic from the ’80s alternative scene.

10. Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

Why we included this song on the list
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” is one of the most iconic tracks of the 80s alternative scene. Its haunting lyrics and post-punk sound capture the emotional depth and unique style of Joy Division. The song remains influential in alternative music circles and continues to be celebrated for its poignant exploration of personal struggles.

Interesting or fun facts about the song
The lyrics of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” were inspired by lead singer Ian Curtis’s marital problems and struggles with epilepsy. Released just a month after Curtis’s tragic suicide, the song became a posthumous hit, reaching a wide audience. The official music video for the song is available on YouTube.

The track’s enduring legacy is evident as it frequently tops lists of the best Joy Division songs, such as in the rankings by Slicing Up Eyeballs. Its timeless impact on the post-punk genre and music industry at large has solidified its place in the annals of music history.

The Cultural Impact of 80s Alternative Music

Music from the 80s, especially the alternative genre, reshaped modern music and influenced various lifestyle choices. Bands like The Cure and The Smiths left their mark on fashion and personal expression.

Influence on Modern Genres

80s alternative music shaped many modern genres. Bands like The Cure and The Smiths brought new sounds that still resonate. Their music mixed punk, new wave, and goth, creating a diverse range of tracks. This unique blend inspired movements in alternative rock and indie music.

Jane’s Addiction and Dinosaur Jr. also played a major role. Their experimental styles influenced grunge and post-punk. The Replacements and Violent Femmes brought folk-punk and college rock into the mainstream. Today’s musicians, such as Arcade Fire and The Strokes, owe much to these pioneers.

Fashion and Lifestyle Trends

80s alternative music was about more than just the tunes. The aesthetics and attitudes of bands like The Cure significantly influenced fashion. Robert Smith’s signature look of teased hair and dark clothes became iconic.

Lifestyle trends from this era also included nonconformity and artistic freedom. Fans adopted the DIY ethic of their favorite bands, often creating their own fashion and art. This era encouraged self-expression and individuality, values that continue to resonate with today’s youth.

This music scene also promoted unity and community. Live shows and alternative clubs became places where like-minded people could gather. This sense of belonging and shared identity was as influential as the music itself.

Iconic 80s Alternative Bands

The 1980s saw the rise of numerous alternative bands that left a lasting impact on music. These bands were known for their distinctive sounds and styles, as well as their enduring popularity.

Defining Sounds and Styles

Many 80s alternative bands created music that was distinct from mainstream pop and rock. The Cure is known for its moody and atmospheric sound, often characterized by Robert Smith’s melancholic vocals and lush guitar effects. Depeche Mode paved the way with their innovative use of synthesizers and dark-themed lyrics.

R.E.M. emerged with a jangly guitar sound and cryptic lyrics, influencing countless bands that followed. The Smiths, led by Morrissey and Johnny Marr, brought a unique combination of wit and melodic guitar riffs to their music.

Siouxsie and the Banshees combined gothic influences with punk roots, creating an intense and theatrical experience. These bands not only defined the alternative genre but also pushed the boundaries of music during the decade.

Legacy and Continued Popularity

The legacy of these bands continues to resonate today. The Cure still enjoys a dedicated fanbase, regularly touring and releasing new music. Their influence can be seen in many contemporary artists who draw inspiration from their style.

Depeche Mode remains a significant force in music, consistently selling out arenas around the world and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. R.E.M. might have disbanded, but their music still enjoys regular radio play and critical acclaim.

The Smiths saw a resurgence in popularity as new generations discover their music through streaming services. Although they never reunited, Morrissey’s continued solo career keeps their legacy alive.

Siouxsie and the Banshees maintain a cult following, influencing genres such as goth, post-punk, and beyond. These bands’ lasting impact is evident in their continued presence in popular culture and the enduring appreciation of their music.

Lyrical Themes in 80s Alternative Songs

Lyrical themes in 80s alternative songs often tackled important social issues and conveyed deep personal emotions. The decade’s alternative music stood out for its willingness to explore topics that many mainstream genres avoided.

Exploration of Social Issues

Many 80s alternative songs looked at social issues with a critical eye. Bands like The Smiths and R.E.M. used their music to highlight the struggles of marginalized communities and the flaws within society.

The Smiths’ “Suffer Little Children” focuses on the horrors of the Moors murders. R.E.M.’s “Exhuming McCarthy” critiques McCarthyism and its impact on American society.

These songs made listeners think about the world around them, encouraging awareness and social consciousness. Punk bands such as Dead Kennedys also addressed topics like political corruption and social inequality with their provocative lyrics.

Personal and Emotional Expression

On the personal front, many 80s alternative songs delved into the complexities of human emotions. Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is a prominent example, exploring themes of love, despair, and loneliness.

The Cure’s “Pictures of You” reflects on memories and regret. These songs allowed listeners to connect deeply, feeling understood and not alone in their struggles.

Artists like Siouxsie and the Banshees also contributed to this theme with songs like “The Killing Jar,” exploring emotional trauma. Personal and emotional expression made 80s alternative music resonate on a deeply individual level, offering solace and a sense of community.

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